Archives par mot-clé : Anarchism

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.

When the sun rises in the West. French Anarchists and the Mexican Revolution (1911-1913)

In 1911-1912, controversy raged within the French anarchist movement as to the real nature of the Mexican Revolution. Should they offer it their enthusiastic support, or remain more circumspect? This episode sheds light on the international information circuits of the time and its mediators.


In France, anarchists and revolutionary syndicalists were the first to take up the cause of the Russian Revolution, as early as March 1917. Given that reliable information was scarce, they scanned the bourgeois press for hints liable to fuel their enthusiasm. This “desire to believe” has been the subject of various studies.[1] Rather less well known is the fact that this phenomenon had been foreshadowed six years earlier, with the Mexican Revolution.

The Mexican Revolution began in November 1910, as an armed confrontation between two factions of the bourgeoisie: on the Right were the supporters of the old general Porfirio Diaz, on the Left those of the democrat Francisco Madero. Only six months later did the French anarchists discover, dumbfounded, that there was a “third front” in this war — a class front, opened up by an organisation of libertarian tendencies curiously named the Mexican Liberal Party (PLM). Co-founded by Ricardo Florès Magon, this PLM was directed by a “junta” in exile in Los Angeles, had a weekly entitled Regeneración, and had an army of volunteers which planted its red flag stamped with the slogan “Land and Freedom” in several Mexican towns… The result was astonishment, and feverish excitement..

This was the point the main French libertarian organisation, the Revolutionary Communist Federation (FRC), got stuck in: it published 2,000 large posters celebrating the “social revolution” in Mexico, described as “communist”, in violent tones. It circulated a subscription in favour of the PLM and tried to send militants across the Atlantic (though this proved impossible, for lack of money). Above all, its weekly Le Libertaire followed the events closely, trying to interpret them as best it could.

This support for the Mexican Revolution was not, however, unanimous in the libertarian movement. Jean Grave’s weekly, Les Temps nouveaux, was openly sceptical and deemed the PLM’s epic in Baja California an instance of what we would today call storytelling. This prompted a highly scandalised response from the FRC, which never ceased to combat it citing proof of the Mexican libertarians’ sincerity.[2]

The two titles drew on different anarchist sources. In Le Libertaire’s case, they were reading Mother Earth (an English-language, New York publication edited by Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre) L’Era nuova (an Italian-language publication published in New Jersey), and Cultura proletaria (Spanish-language, New York). Finally, from July 1911 onwards, the newspaper received direct reports from Regeneración, whose news it could comment on at three weeks’ delay. Les Temps nouveaux, for its part, relied on correspondents in the United States who sometimes relayed the badmouthing of the PLM in La Cronaca sovversiva (an Italian-language Vermont publication).

The dispute lasted for almost a year, until April 1912, when the great voice that was Kropotkin spoke out in favour of the PLM and Les Temps nouveaux conceded. Le Libertaire continued its almost weekly chronicle of events, then spaced it out during 1913, when the Mexican Revolution took on the aspect of a series of coups de main by rival military factions.[3]

Three things are worth taking from this episode: firstly, the effect of the time lag as information arrived; secondly, the importance of polyglot intellectuals in orienting the debate; thirdly, the singular enthusiasm of the FRC and Le Libertaire.


Time lags

Ironically, by the time the FRC took up the cause of the PLM’s Fuerzas Insurgentes in May 1911, these latter had already been virtually defeated, and with them the attempt to create a “red base” in Baja California.[4] The diagram below summarises this time lag.




The big dailies like Le Matin, connected by telegraphic wires to the world’s main capitals, relayed the Mexican news about forty-eight hours after the events had taken place. The circuits on which the militant press relied were much slower and more erratic. The FRC got its information by reading Mother Earth and, subsequently, directly from Regeneración. However, some crucial issues likely never made it to France. Hence, a text as fundamental as the Manifesto of 23 September 1911 — in which the PLM for the first time made public its anarchist-communist programme — was known in Paris and published by Le Libertaire only six months later, in March 1912. Even this only came after Les Temps nouveaux, being a good sport, had sent it a translation![5]


The importance of polyglot intellectuals

The anarchist movement before 1914 had several overlapping information circuits.

The most episodic was the international congresses: Paris 1889, Zurich 1893, London 1896, Paris 1900, and Amsterdam 1907. The international anarchist congress in London, in August 1914, was supposed to discuss the Mexican Revolution, but the war prevented it from being held.

Another circuit was that of migrant workers and political exiles, in contact with their countries of origin by means of written correspondence. From this point of view, large cosmopolitan cities such as Paris, London and New York were nodes in anarchism’s networks. Between 1909 and 1911 alone, the Paris anarchist movement was able to count one German group, one Italian group, seven Russian groups, and doubtless also some Spaniards.[6] Les Temps nouveaux had a not inconsiderable network of French correspondents living as émigrés abroad.

Lastly, a third circuit was made up of polyglot intellectuals, real look-outs for what was happening in the most distant lands, from Japan to China and Latin America. Figures like the Cuban Tarrida del Marmol, the Russian Alex Shapiro or the Frenchman Aristide Pratelle best represented this type of intellectual. To their names we can add a celebrity like Charles Malato. He initiated the French Free Cuba Committee in 1896 and had connections in Italy, Spain and Great Britain. In 1908 the PLM appointed him to represent it in Europe.

It was Aristide Pratelle who first mentioned the existence of the PLM in March 1911, citing Ricardo Florès Magón.[7] As for Tarrida del Marmol, he published a balanced analysis of the “socialist, expropriating, clearly libertarian movement, of which General Emiliano Zapata is the arm … and of which the anarchist agitator Ricardo Flores Magón was the inspiration and remains the brain“.[8]


The FRC and Le Libertaire’s “desire to believe”

As in the case of Russia in 1917, the enthusiasm for the Mexico of 1911 provides an indication of the revolutionary sincerity and determination of the different tendencies of the French workers’ movement.  But in this respect, the FRC and Le Libertaire clearly stood out.

The Mexican Revolution hardly encountered any response among the French Socialists. L‘Humanité published a few articles by the Spaniard Fabra Ribas, aligned with the reading of the US social-democrats who stuck by support for the democrat Madero. Further to the Left, we might have expected that La Guerre sociale — the influential weekly edited by Gustave Hervé, enfant terrible of the Socialist Party leadership — would have relayed news from the Mexican Revolution, just as it had chronicled the Portuguese Revolution of 1910. But La Guerre sociale kept its silence. This lack of interest was noticed by its rivals in the FRC, and can probably be explained by Hervé’s political shift, during his own conversion to parliamentarism.

As for the trade unions, the reformists took absolutely no interest in Mexico. However, La Bataille syndicaliste, unofficial daily of the revolutionary syndicalist majority of the CGT, did take up this subject. It called for funds to be sent to the PLM, whose forces it greatly overestimated,[9] and also hailed the “communist revolution” that was underway.[10] This is, however, unsurprising if we know that Malato officiated at La Bataille syndicaliste and that this daily sometimes served as a bridge between the confederal CGT leadership and the FRC. Conversely, Pierre Monatte’s union monthly La Vie ouvrière remained silent.

Lastly, we get to the anarchists. Given Les Temps nouveaux’s circumspect approach and the silence of the individualist weekly L’Anarchie, only the FRC and Le Libertaire passionately committed themselves. For the FRC, which considered that, “since the communalist [sic] movement of 1871, the most important movement for the working class …is indeed the Mexican proletarian insurrection”,[11] the blindness of the left and far-left press spoke to a reprehensible lack of coherence. What was the point of all the anti-capitalist proclamations if, at the precise moment when a social revolution broke out abroad, everyone looked away and changed the subject?

This passion, this desire to believe, would be found again in 1917, when the anarchist-communist movement was among the first to welcome the Russian Revolution.


Guillaume Davranche


[1] Jean Maitron, Histoire du mouvement anarchiste en France, tome II, Gallimard, 1992 ; David Berry, A History of the French Anarchist Movement, 1917 to 1945, AK Press, 2009.

[2] For an account of these exchanges, see “Controverse : la Révolution mexicaine est-elle communiste ?” in le Alternative libertaire’s special dossier on the Mexican revolution, December 2010.

[3] “La Révolution mexicaine”, Le Libertaire, 26 April 1913.

[4] On this revolutionary initiative see “Les anarchistes dans la Révolution mexicaine”, special dossier, Alternative libertaire, December 2010.

[5] “La Révolution mexicaine : Manifeste de la junta du Partido Liberal mexicain”, Le Libertaire, 30 March 1912.

[6] Guillaume Davranche, Trop jeunes pour mourir. Ouvriers et révolutionnaires face à la guerre (1909-1914), L’Insomniaque/Libertalia, 2014.

[7] “L’Intervention”, Les Hommes du jour, 1 April 1911.

[8] Tarrida del Marmol, “La Révolution mexicaine “, Les Temps nouveaux, 2 February 1912.

[9] “Une révolution sociale va commencer au Mexique”, La Bataille syndicaliste, 10 May 1911.

[10] “Le caractère communiste de la Révolution mexicaine s’accentue”, La Bataille syndicaliste, 14 May 1911.

[11] “Au Mexique : Le communisme ou la mort !”, Le Libertaire, 2 September 1911.


On the History of Socialism in Denmark before 1914  FULL VERSION


Résumé en français


We are publishing Bertel Nygaard‘s communication (Aarthus University, Denmark) delivered on the 15th of February 2016 at Rouen University, please find here the full version.


To study the history of socialism in Denmark is to study the history of European socialism from a specific type of European semi-periphery, i.e. a nation which has looked towards the social and cultural centres of Europe (especially Britain and France) and conceived itself as a rightful part of this European heritage, while also being aware of its marginality, not only in a basic geographical sense, but also politically and culturally. Being a small state for centuries and having a distinctly non-revolutionary, consensualist and pragmatist political culture, Denmark has been on the receiving end of most political and intellectual innovations during the last 250 years, yet it has often integrated these innovations with a remarkable degree of national pride. The European revolutionary waves of 1789, 1830 and 1848 were invariably greeted with enthusiasm for progress and enlightenment, combined with horror of the revolutionary forms of change, all tackled by means of pre-emptive, moderately progressive political and economic reforms. This long tradition of consensualism inevitably put its mark on the development of socialism in Denmark, too.

Early socialism, 1840’s

The history of socialism in Denmark should begin some decades before the growth of a strong, avowedly socialist labour movement. The first debates on socialist views and the first few supporters of socialism in Denmark began, as in many other European countries, during the 1840’s. For the hegemonic forces of the Danish public sphere at that time, socialism (and its more sinister twin, communism) was a horrifying spectre – and a very French spectre too, conjured by the French July Revolution of 1830 and carrying the French revolutionary and utopian promises of a radically different future into new extremes. Yet, many Danish commentators tended to regard the Parisian centre of modern political culture indirectly, especially through German writers whose own semi-peripheral perspectives on ‘Frenchness’ and whose somewhat comparable social background often made them easier to identify with for Danish sommentators. Thus, for example, the first comprehensive account of French Socialism and Communism in Danish, published in the liberal newspaper Fædrelandet in 1842 and 1843, was based on Lorenz von Stein, the enlightened Prussian observer of Parisian socialism during the early 1840’s. Like Stein, Danish liberals argued that socialism ought to be taken seriously as a sign that the current processes of commercial, liberal civilization risked leaving the workers behind.

The first tiny wave of outright socialist sympathies emerged in Denmark during the 1840’, in dialogue with French left-wing figures such as Proudhon, Louis Blanc and, to a certain degree, Charles Fourier and his followers. Such new political currents were a source of inspiration for the small democratic newspaper The Copenhagen Courier (Kjøbenhavnsposten) from the mid-1840’s till around 1849. During the European Revolutions of 1848, when Danish absolutism was toppled by a combination of peaceful reform and violent civil war with Prussia concerning the national fate of Schleswig-Holstein, a small group of artisans somewhat inspired by the Buzhezian socialism of l’Atelier briefly appeared at the head of the democratic left. But the most prominent socialist figure of this first wave – and the only one recalled by later generations of socialists – was the young medical student Frederik Dreier who published some remarkable books and pamphlets along with the first outspokenly socialist journal, The Reform of Society (Samfundets Reform) in the early 1850’s. But this was only a small and weak current, with very limited support even within the early labour organizations formed during the same time. And with the political reaction following the defeat of the 1848-49 revolutions and with the early death of Dreier in 1853, this early wave of Danish socialism died out.


After the Paris Commune: Social Democracy

It took the Paris Commune of 1871 to reinvigorate the memories of socialism and communism, among the frightened bourgeois as well as among the growing class of (more-or-less) industrial workers. While most of the Danish public sphere was thoroughly frightened by the Commune, a small group of worker agitators, led by the postal service official Louis Pio, formed The International Working Men’s Association in October 1871. This organization openly declared itself socialist, publishing the weekly journal Socialisten. Swiftly gaining a membership in the thousands, it was affiliated to the First International from the first months. During the first years, it functioned as both a political movement and a trade union movement.

By now, it was possible to regard the German Social Democratic Party as the main model of a Socialist movement. To a certain extent, the politico-cultural centre of Socialism – as viewed from the North – became Berlin rather than Paris. The first proper congress of the Danish Social Democratic momvement, held in 1876 with 6.000 delegates, adopted a program very close to the Gotha program of the German SPD (the one famously criticized by Marx). This constituted the beginnings of the earliest of the Scandinavian Social Democratic parties that were all to become highly influential in designing different versions of the Scandinavian welfare states, with the Norwegian party founded in 1887 and the Swedish party in 1889.

The organization was severely repressed by the authorities by the mid-1870’s. The original leadership was in part pressured, in part bribed to move to the United States. A more moderate group of leaders then took over, still committed to socialist ideals, but with a less outspoken, radical political identity. In 1878 the trade union wing was separated from the political wing, which then was renamed the Social Democratic League (Socialdemokratisk Forbund).

During the 1880’s and 1890’s the party and its influence began to grow again. The main newspaper of the movement, named The Social Democrat (Social-Demokraten) since 1874, became the widest circulated national newspaper in the 1890’s, and a number of local Social Democratic newspapers appeared during the same period. Winning its first few seats in the lower chamber of Parliament in 1884, it won representation in 25 municipalities too during the 1890’s. At the last parliamentary election before the outbreak of the First World War, the party achieved the largest number of votes, just below 30 percent, though the liberal peasant party still won the most seats, due to election rules. During the war itself, in which Denmark held a position of principled neutrality, the Social Democratic party won its first seat in the national government. In the interwar years, the party grew steadily, forming its first coalition government (with the Radical party, rallying the support of urban intellectuals and poor farmers) in 1924. Eleven years later, in 1935, it achieved the best parliamentary result of any Danish political party ever, with 46.1 percent of the votes. While the Norwegian and Swedish Social Democratic parties achieved even better electoral results during the next three decades – with the Swedish party peaking at 53.8 percent in 1940 – this attested to near-monopoly of this party within the Danish labour movement.


Evolutionist, reformist Marxism

During the 1880’s and 1890’s the Danish Social Democratic leadership followed the German SPD in skipping some elements of Lassalleanism in favour of Marxist elements. This was codified in the new party program adopted in 1913, just before the war.

However, the versions of Marxism adopted by Danish Social Democratic leaders in these years clearly tended to accentuate the elements of gradualism, evolutionism and reformism of the Marxism of Karl Kautsky and the German party. The main figure among the very small core of knowledgeable Marxists in the movement, the historian Gustav Bang, defined the long-term socialist objectives of the party along such lines:

”The task of socialism,” he wrote in a newspaper commentary of 1902, ”is to maintain the social production created by capitalism, but also to make the appropriation social, to allow the working society itself to reap the profits”. Modern socialism, as opposed to the earlier, utopian types of socialist thought, was characterized by having ”both feet on the ground and only seeking to understand and to follow the main lines of the existing development”.[1]

The evolutionist, gradualist implications of this conception of socialism was perhaps even more clearly stated by another leading party ideologist, Frederik Borgbjerg, in a parliamentary speech in 1899:

”Socialism means that a new society, socialist society, grows out of the present society, just as the present society grew out of the previous, feudal society. […] In the midst of capitalist society germs of a new society have arisen gradually, socialist germs here and there […]. In time, these germs will grow, until the point when all working members of society will gain the the full results of the labour value that they produce, and by that time, socialism will be in existence […]. Socialism is a mighty international movement progressing year after year because it is carrying the truth and is itself carried by development”.[2]

Socialism was thus identified with the result of a long-term development already unfolding. This long-term development was sometimes termed revolution, while revolution in the sense of a rapid, violent overthrow of the existing order was persistently rejected. Accordingly, the immediate, main task of the party was not that of creating a radically different society. It was, rather, that of supporting the existing, already ongoing historical evolution of society, while working for any political or social improvement in the lot of the workers.

Also, socialism was identified not with the decline of state power, but with the full development of the state, that is with its omnipotence in the sphere of production and its political democratization. In one of the first longer Marxist texts of any Danish Social Democrat, Peter Knudsen – the party chairman for almost three decades (1882-1910) – identified socialism with state ownership of the means of production. This, according to Knudsen, would realize the very purpose and essence of the state:

”When the state […] owns the means of production and is in charge of production, then its relation  to all its individual members will be the relation proper to its purpose [Bestemmelse]. […] At that point, the state will be identical with the people as a whole, and will fully realize its purpose of being a means to securing each of its citizens all of the goods that they are unable to acquire individually”.[3]

Weak left-wing oppositions

There was little opposition to these conceptions of socialism within the Social Democratic movement. At the time of the formation of the Socialist International in 1889, a left-wing opposition did develop within the party, seeking to take the revolutionary rhetoric of the party literally, but it had few independent ideas or alternative strategies to support its course, and it achieved only limited membership support. Its main members were excluded, and after a brief period of seeking to build a new labour party, it dissolved in the early 1890’s.

Thus, throughout this entire period, the Social Democratic party and its leadership retained its unity and remained the only political force within the workers movement. The anarchist ideas spreading in many countries during these years had practically no influence in Denmark. It was only in the last year before the war that a left-wing opposition of some strength appeared in Denmark. A syndicalist movement emerged around 1910, gaining about 4.000 members but gaining significant support in some trade unions before the war. Also, the Social Democratic youth organization developed positions clearly to the left of the party, and during the war, the majority of the youth organization participated in the founding of what would become the small Communist Party of Denmark.

A tradition of moderation

The characteristic moderation of the socialist movement in Denmark, and the near-monopoly of the Social Democratic party over the definition of socialism, continued throughout the First World War and into in the interwar years. During the 1920’s and 1930’s the party succeeded in redefining itself as a popular party, that is a party for all classes, without suffering any significant losses among its core supporters, the industrial workers. The Communist Party of Denmark, established in 1920 and gaining two members of parliament twelve years later, certainly had  a visible presence in some workplaces and in street demonstrations, but it remained marginal until the mid-1940’s, when the Social Democrats temporarily had to pay the cost for supporting austerity politics during the war and the German occupation of Denmark.

While the consensualist welfare state type of democracy characterized all Scandinavian countries during the interwar years and, even more, after the Second World War, the Danish case was still relatively peculiar in this context. Admittedly, Swedish Social Democracy has been even more successful in combining elements of socialist though with notions of popular unity and the welfare state, which in turn positions the party clearly to the left of Danish Social Democracy today. The Norwegian party, Arbeiderpartiet, on the other hand, has a more complex history of shifting between the extreme moderate left (even joining the Communist International after the First World War). But even the Swedish party has had some very persistent (even if marginal) contenders to its monopoly position: Syndicalism, for example, did not simply die out in Sweden after the First World War, but remains an organized force in the Swedish extreme left to this day. Thus, Danish socialism was relatively peculiar in its long continuity of combining political moderation with a practically unchallenged Social Democratic hegemony within the labour movement, later transferred into a hegemonic position in the political arena at large. A crucial element in explaining this is, undoubtedly, the continuity of consensualist, pragmatist political culture in Denmark, reaching  back to the 18th century at least.

 Bertel Nygaard


Archival resources

Arbejderbevægelsens Bibliotek og Arkiv (ABA), Copenhagen (voluminous archive on the Danish labour movement)

(Not much is digitalized here, but a few documents are available at ; the programs of the main labour parties at ; and a few movies produced by the Social Democratic and Communist parties at )

Scholarly journals

Arbejderhistorie (Labour History), published by Selskabet til Forskning i Arbejderbevægelsens Historie (Society for the Study of the History of the Labour Movement). In Danish but with English abstracts. Still in publication. All issues since 1995 are available in digital form at . Index of earlier issues at

(Predecessors of the journal from the 1970’s and 1980’s available at )

Selected primary sources. Journals

Socialisten / Social-Demokraten (national news paper of the Danish Social Democratic party, all issues from 1871 on are digitalized and available through . Only issues before 1917 are accessible from all computers, however. More recent issues are only available at a few Danish research libraries)

Rigsdagstidende (published minutes of the Danish parliament, are being digitalized currently, though only the years 1985 till the present are available yet at )

Selected primary sources. Books & articles

Bang, Gustav. ”Fra Kapitalisme til Socialisme” (1902), in Uffe Østergård (ed.), Den materialistiske historieopfattelse i Danmark før 1945, I, Aarhus: Modtryk 1973, pp. 235-244. (This particular article has not been digitalized, but several articles by Bang are available at ).

Knudsen, P., ‘Socialismen’ (1885), in Østergård, Den materialistiske historieopfattelse, pp. 33-61.

Selected literature

Nik Brandal, Øivind Bratberg, Dag Einar Thorsen, The Nordic Model of Social Democracy, Palgrave Macmillan 2013.

Claus Bryld, Den demokratiske socialismes gennembrudsår, Copenhagen: SFAH 1992.

Gerd Callesen, ”Denmark”, in Marcel van der Linden & Jürgen Rojahn (eds.), The Formation of Labour Movements, 1870-1914, An International Perspective, Leiden: Brill 1990, pp. 131-160.

Gerd Callesen: ”A brief history of the Danish labour movement” (1990),

Christiansen, Niels Finn. Arbejderbevægelsens forhistorie, Copenhagen: SFAH 1986.


[1] Gustav Bang: ”Fra Kapitalisme til Socialisme” (1902), in Uffe Østergård (ed.), Den materialistiske historieopfattelse i Danmark før 1945, I, Aarhus: Modtryk 1973, p. 244.

[2] Frederik  Borgbjerg, speech in parliament, 23 March 1899, in Rigsdagstidende. Folketingets Forhandlinger. 51de ordentlige Samling 1898-99, Copenhagen: J.H. Schultz 1899, columns 5158-5159.

[3] P. Knudsen, ’Socialismen’ (1885), in Østergård, Den materialistiske historieopfattelse, p. 44.



Le socialisme au Danemark est à comprendre dans le cadre spécifique d’un pays de la « semi-périphérie » de l’Europe ; il est historiquement imprégné de la culture politique consensuelle et pragmatique qui traverse tout le champ politique.

Comme dans d’autres pays, le socialisme apparaît dans les années 1840. Signe de l’effroi que provoque ce concept « français », le premier commentaire à son sujet paru dans le journal libéral Fædrelandet se fonde sur la lecture du prussien Lorenz von Stein.

Au lendemain de la Commune de 1871, un premier petit groupe socialiste se forme. En 1876 le premier congrès social-démocrate danois avec ses 6000 délégués s’inspire ouvertement de la social-démocratie allemande et de son programme de Gotha adopté l’année précédente. En 1878 le mouvement syndical se structure avec le Socialdemokratisk Forbund. Comme d’autres pays européens, le parti gagne d’importantes positions dans les années 1880-1890. Il réalise 30 % des voix avant la guerre et en 1935 regroupera 45 % de l’électorat.

Avant 1914, si la social-démocratie est nettement influencée par le marxisme, son orientation gradualiste et réformiste est nette dès le tout début du vingtième siècle. C’est particulièrement clair lorsque nous lisons Gustave Bang, historien et un des rares théoriciens du mouvement social-démocrate danois. Gustav Bang (”Fra Kapitalisme til Socialisme” (1902), in Uffe Østergård (ed.), Den materialistiske historieopfattelse i Danmark før 1945, I, Aarhus, Modtryk 1973). Le rejet de la révolution, si on l’envisage comme un renversement violent et radical, est précoce. Le président du parti, Peter Knudsen, identifie le socialisme avant tout avec la propriété étatisée des moyens de production. Les dissidences de gauche contestant cette orientation demeurèrent très faibles. Ce n’est qu’à partir de 1910 qu’une aile gauche syndicale se structure, tandis que l’organisation de jeunesse sociale-démocrate conteste l’orientation modérée.

Par la suite, dans les années 1920, le parti se définit rapidement comme un parti « du peuple » plus que comme un parti de classe. Le Parti communiste danois, à l’origine formé par des dissidents de gauche, restera très minoritaire. Sur un plus long terme, dans le cadre des pays scandinaves, la tradition de modération politique du Danemark reste spécifique, l’histoire du mouvement ouvrier suédois ou norvégien étant par exemple moins linéaire et heurtée par des dissidences de gauche.

Full version and french summary.pdf