Paper mobilities: Anarchist printing and its transnational circulation, 1880-1914

A developing field of study has examined print culture and the circulation of the printed word as vectors of exchange in the anarchist and syndicalist worlds. Scholars have probed both their symbolic and (difficult to determine) practical modalities.[1] The French anarchist-communist press and other types of publications associated with the movement — from theoretical books and works of fiction to pamphlets and posters — occupied an important place in this circulation of the printed word.

This piece explores the practical functioning of these exchanges. To borrow a term today dear to specialists in the history of the press, the anarchist press is well-known for the “virality” of its content. But how, concretely, did this virality operate? My main line of questioning here concerns how anarchist publications were transported from one country to another — a focus which in turn allows me to briefly address some other major questions. What obstacles hindered circulation, and how were they overcome? How was the international “correspondence” in the French press obtained, and what can be said of how information about France was sent abroad?

Through these various questions, the aim here is to sketch out a brief overview of what we know about anarchist print’s international networks and how they functioned.


An overall picture

We should, nonetheless, begin by emphasising that more is known about the obstacles to circulation than about how it operated. That is, we above all know about the censorship, the seizure of documents at border crossings (though this does provide an important source for historians), and the close surveillance of identified “smugglers” and local distributors.

Various quantitative inventories and mapping exercises give an idea of the importance of this circulation in terms of its volume, the geographical distances involved and the languages concerned. One such example is Tom Goyens’s very substantial work on the correspondence networks of the German periodical Freiheit.[2] Another is my own attempt to map and classify the circulation of texts, information, money, correspondence, and printed matter by the publisher Emile Pouget in his work on the London series of Père Peinard. Focusing on the months between September 1894 and February 1895, this gives us an idea of the constitutive importance of these links for the paper’s various functions.[3] A far-reaching collaborative project on the networks of Les Temps Nouveaux (1895-1914) — as expressed in this periodical’s own pages, and its networks of circulation and readers — is, I hope, also forthcoming. In more qualitative terms, this was a focus of my recent biography of Les Temps Nouveaux’s editor, titled Jean Grave and the Networks of French Anarchism (Palgrave, 2021) but all the work of mapping and quantifying remains to be done. It is clear, however, that this paper was internationalised in its every aspect, albeit with substantial spatial and chronological variations.


The role of individuals in the international circulation of printed matter

One first point worth emphasising is the importance of individuals in the circulation of printed matter, indeed across various roles. First among these were publishers, who were in most cases the recipients and organisers of communications. For example, in the case of the Père Peinard, the regular correspondence between the French émigré Louis Goaziou in the United States and Émile Pouget allowed for close links between their respective periodicals. This same Goaziou regularly corresponded with Grave and his paper Le Révolté and — as we learn from the work of Michel Cordillot and Ronald Creagh on the question,[4] as well as various recent or ongoing doctoral studies[5] — he provided an essential link in the emergence of the Franco-American revolutionary movement, starting with his activism among the Pennsylvania anthracite miners. In the South African case, we could cite the example of the Englishman Henry Glasse, who settled in Port Elizabeth in the 1880s. Glasse corresponded with Freedom in London and various French publications, translated Kropotkin and disseminated anarchist material of European origin.[6] That individuals should have played such a role in a movement like anarchism is not itself a surprise, but it is a little more surprising when we consider the reach and density of this intense web of circulation. It was these individual exchanges, whether sustained or occasional, which, over time, constituted anarchism as a worldwide movement and contributed to making anarchist internationalism a practical reality.


Between transparent circulation and circumventing censorship

Numerous sources suggest that newspapers and printed matter often simply circulated through the post, and often through subscriptions. Take the example of Le Droit Social (Lyon), below; here, the box on the bottom left shows that this practice of subscriptions and foreign mailing was already well established and would not, on the face of it, seem to have been overly subject to surveillance.




Similarly, anarchist papers were sold openly in “international bookshops”, such as those of Achille Leroy in Paris or Armand Lapie in London. In some cases, however, transporting them was clearly problematic and thus required that various precautions be taken to avoid the material being confiscated. Hence, the sources also reveal much more complex subterfuges being used to allow the circulation of periodicals: the intervention of some third party; the use of antiphrasis, as we see throughout Le Rothschild (London, 1891) which concluded with the call “Exploiters of all countries, unite”; hiding a publication inside a different one; or changing the title with each issue, as in the case of the London Père Peinard.[7]

Another tried and tested technique was, of course, to involve smugglers, for example women and figures experienced in handling contraband such as Jacques Gross. A member of the First International and later an anarchist, to this day Gross is described on the International Institute of Social History (IISG) website as “one of the most successful distributors and smugglers of forbidden socialist and anarchist publications such as L’Avant-Garde, Le Révolté, Freiheit and Der Sozialdemokrat.”[8]


Private correspondence between publishers, translators and correspondents

The postcard sent to Charles Malato by the Uruguayan newspaper Adelante! illustrates how an exchange of publications could be established, in accordance with the principle of reciprocity which was so fundamentally important for the anarchist press:



With thanks to Gino Negro for sharing this document.


Here, we can also note in passing the use of French as an anarchist lingua franca — all the more interesting here as Malato was himself one of the multilingual comrades who did so much to make these concrete transnational links possible, in the same way as such figures as  Voltairine de Cleyre in the USA, Max Nettlau or indeed Aristide Pratelle.

However, here again, we should not overestimate anarchist multilingualism and the “virality” of circulation. Jean Grave himself explained that he had been slow to learn of the seriousness of the Montjuich tortures in Spain, for he had not been able to decipher the first, Spanish-language, letter sent to him on the subject.

Lastly, it seems clear that the correspondence between publishers and activists could be both rare and dense; in this sense, we often have cause to speak of limited but effective networks. A single letter of a few pages between two activists could thus perform many functions in the circulation of money, printed matter and information between several publications. These could include information on the international social movement, for rapid publication; theoretical and editorial discussions; shipments of literature in both directions, and the organisation of the relative payments; information useful for the sale of various publications via newspapers; or the exchange of third parties’ contact details to obtain other publications or information…


Circulation and mass migration

We have little information on the more mass-scale circulation of these publications, in the context of international industrial and professional migration. For example, spy reports on periodicals produced by French exiles in London suggest shipments of the order of a few hundred at most. Yet this does not seem very plausible, or at least not to have been usually the case, if we consider the practical modalities of press distribution mentioned above.

The US networks of the London-published edition of Père Peinard nevertheless seem to fit within a broader process of mass migration. The logics of this newspaper’s circulation, and the two-way flows of information, money and printed matter around it, suggest a certain “swarming” in particular localities. Within an about 200-mile radius of Pittsburgh, where Louis Goaziou was then located, the paper circulated in large urban centres in which dynamic immigrant or native anarchist groups already existed, as well as in the French-speaking industrial centres of the Northeast.



The circulation of anarchist printed materials took place across conditions of both legality and illegality, from the most complete transparency as to their places of sale and circulation levels, to more secretive practices concerning, for example, the names of subscribers — and even oft-elaborate strategies to circumvent censorship. Of course, this also reflects the history of censorship and the subversive charge that anarchist writings embodied in this period. The vast and still little-explored field of study regarding the material reality of circulation requires more work in the police archives and the use of other collections (including both local and international ones). And this will also mean making use of international collaboration, in order to properly establish the multidirectionality of these forms of circulation.


Constance Bantman,
University of Surrey, UK


[1] See for instance James Yeoman, Print Culture and the Formation of the Anarchist Movement in Spain, 1890-1915 (London and New York: Routledge, 2019); Andrew Hoyt, ‘And They Called Them “Galleanisti”: The Rise of the Cronaca Sovversiva and the Formation of America’s Most Infamous Anarchist Faction (1895-1912)’ (unpublished dissertation, University of Minnesota, 2018).

[2] Tom Goyens, ‘Freiheit: Geographical Reach of an Anarchist Newspaper (1879-1910)’,, consulted 3 December 2021.

[3] Map of the London Père Peinard’s networks, Google Maps,, consulted 3 December 2021.

[4] Michel Cordillot, La Sociale en Amérique, dictionnaire biographique du mouvement social francophone aux États-Unis, 1848-1922 (Paris : Editions de l’Atelier, 2002), p. 201. Ronald Creagh, ‘Socialism in America: The French-Speaking Coal-Miners in the Late Nineteenth Century’, in Marianne Debouzy (ed.), The Shadow of the Statue of Liberty: Immigrants, Workers, and Citizens in the American Republic, 1880-1920 (Urbana, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992).

[5] Stacy Swiney, ‘Radicals on the Move: French Migrants in the United States, 1850-1900’ (unpublished dissertation, University of Texas at Arlington, 2021). Spencer Austin has explored some of the exchanges that developed in Pennsylvania, as part of his ongoing doctoral study at Stony Brook University on transnational social movements in Europe and the United States.

[6] Bantman, Jean Grave and the Networks of French Anarchism, p. 38, p. 122.

[7] Constance Bantman, The French Anarchists in London, 1880-1914. Exile and transnationalism in the first globalization (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2021 (2013)), pp. 77-79.

[8] Biographical note on Jacques Gross on the IISG site,, consulted 3 December 2021.

Citer ce billet
Frank-Olivier (2022, 9 février). Paper mobilities: Anarchist printing and its transnational circulation, 1880-1914. EUROSOC Normandie. Consulté le 20 mai 2024, à l’adresse

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