Avrich circa 1980
|Died||February 16, 2006 (aged 74)|
|Known for||History of anarchism|
|The Haymarket Tragedy, Anarchist Voices|
Paul Avrich (1931-2006) was a historian of the 19th and early 20th century anarchist movement in Russia and the United States. He taught at Queens College, City University of New York, for his entire career, from 1961 to his retirement as distinguished professor of history in 1999. He wrote ten books, mostly about anarchism, including topics such as the 1886 Haymarket Riot, 1921 Sacco and Vanzetti case, 1921 Kronstadt naval base rebellion, and an oral history of the movement. As an ally of the movement's major figures, he sought to challenge the portrayal of anarchists as amoral and violent, and collected papers from these figures that he donated as a 20,000-item collection to the Library of Congress.
Paul Avrich was born August 4, 1931, in Brooklyn to parents of Jewish and Ukrainian heritage from Odessa. His parents, Rose (nee Zapol) Avrich and Murray Avrich, were a Yiddish theater actress and a dress manufacturer, respectively. He completed his undergraduate studies at Cornell University in 1952, and his graduate studies at Columbia University in 1961. His doctoral dissertation addressed the labor movement in the Russian Revolution. When the Soviet Union was opened to exchange students during the Khrushchev Thaw, Avrich conducted research there. Anarchists he met through his research into the anarchist Yiddish newspaper Freie Arbeiter Stimme sparked his interest in the movement. He later named his cats after Mikhail Bakunin and Piotr Kropotkin. Avrich was married, and had two daughters and a sister.
Avrich was a historian of the 19th and early 20th century anarchist movement in Russia and the United States. He wrote ten books in his career, mostly about anarchism, including topics such as the 1886 Haymarket Riot, 1921 Sacco and Vanzetti case, 1921 Kronstadt naval base rebellion, and an oral history of the movement. As a teacher and historian of the anarchist movement, Avrich had sympathy and affection for the cause and became a trusted colleague of its major figures. Accordingly, he sought to communicate to his students an affection and solidarity for anarchists "as people, rather than as militants" and challenged the perception of anarchists as amoral and violent. He wanted his work to resurrect the thought of marginalized anarchists, who he saw as "pioneers of social justice" worth revisiting in the revival of libertarianism following the Vietnam War and second-wave feminism.
Avrich joined Queens College as a Russian history instructor in 1961, where he remained for the duration of his career, though he also was a member of the City University of New York Graduate Center faculty. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship for Russian history in 1967. When named distinguished professor of history in 1982, his announcement quoted him: "Every good person deep down is an anarchist." He retired in 1999. Avrich collected books, photos, and papers from key anarchists and donated a 20,000-item collection to the Library of Congress. He died on February 16, 2006, in Manhattan's Mount Sinai Hospital from complications due to Alzheimer's disease.
His Soviet research and documents on the suppressed Kronstadt insurrection led to several books on anarchists in the Russian revolution, including Kronstadt, 1921. He interviewed Soviet exiles in New York, where he first met members of the Freie Arbeiter Stimme. Avrich then moved to major figures in American anarchism, and published a book in 1980 on the Ferrer Schools inspired by Francisco Ferrer. His 1984 book on the Haymarket Riot won the Philip Taft Labor History Book Award, and his 1991 book on Sacco and Vanzetti presented the pair as revolutionaries rather than philosophical anarchists. Avrich's last book, in 1995, compiled 30 years of interviews across the anarchist movement. Several of his works were nominated for Pulitzer Prizes.