TVO, “The surprising history of anarchists in Ontario”

While they were few in number in the 1930s, the province’s anarchists played vital roles in a transnational web of activists and intellectuals — and helped develop and sustain the movement

Daniel Panneton, November 10, 2020

Canada in the 1930s was a lonely place to be an anarchist. Mainstream society had turned its back on anarchists due to their left-wing politics, but so, too, had many Canadian leftists who were concerned by anarchists’ anti-Soviet views. Many believed that the movement’s moment had passed and left to join the newly legal Communist Party. Anarchists faced violence from both the police and communist agents and often had trouble maintaining jobs or housing thanks to unsympathetic employers and landlords. Because of this, they relied on strong mutual aid, communication, resistance — and migration networks that they developed amongst their comrades across Canada and the globe.

Anarchism encapsulates a broad set of ideas rooted in opposing capitalism and hierarchy. One is mutual aid: the voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services. Anarchist and former Russian prince Peter Kropotkin wrote in 1902 that mutual aid and support are seemingly so prevalent in the wild that he suspected they are “a feature of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life, the preservation of each species, and its further evolution.”

Though solidarity and non-hierarchy are among its key principles, anarchism itself is routinely conflated with a state of perpetual riot. The anarchists of the 1930s show us, though, that many were drawn to the philosophy not out a desire for violence but because of the safety net and the maintenance of community.

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