Paul Avrich, 74, a Historian of Anarchism (Obituary)





Paul Avrich, a historian of the anarchist movement that played a role in the Russian Revolution and flourished in America in the 19th and early 20th centuries, died on Feb. 16 at Mount Sinai Hospital. He was 74 and lived in Manhattan.

The cause was complications from Alzheimer's disease, said his wife, Ina Avrich.

Named distinguished professor of history at Queens College in 1982, Dr. Avrich, whose field was Russian history, wrote 10 books, mainly about anarchism, the belief that society is better off without the constraints of government.

Dr. Avrich became the confidant of well-known figures in the anarchist movement.

"He considered himself a scholar, teacher and chronicler of the movement and had great sympathy and affection for them," his wife said. Dr. Avrich took issue with the prevalent image of the anarchist as violent and amoral.

"Every good person deep down is an anarchist," he was quoted as saying in the announcement by Queens College of his elevation to distinguished professor. Three of the 20th century's literary giants, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw and Eugene O'Neill, were anarchists in their youth, Dr. Avrich said, and he had hoped to write a book about O'Neill.

In an interview with The New York Times in 1972, he said that the Vietnam War and the women's movement had reignited interest in the concept of personal freedom over government control. He added: "In America, such individuals and groups were in a sense pioneers of social justice. Many of the anarchists in this country and in the world have either been neglected or scorned, and I would like to play a role in resurrecting them."

The subjects of his books included the Kronstadt naval base rebellion of 1921, an uprising of sailors against the Bolshevik regime that left more than 10,000 dead or wounded; the Haymarket Riot of 1886, in which seven Chicago police officers were killed by a bomb thrown at a workers' gathering; and the Sacco and Vanzetti case. He interviewed hundreds of adherents of the movement for one book, "Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America."

Born in Brooklyn to Rose Zapol Avrich, an actress in the Yiddish theater, and Murray Avrich, a dress manufacturer, he graduated from Cornell and earned his master's and doctoral degrees at Columbia. His dissertation was on the labor movement in the Russian Revolution, and after Khrushchev opened the country to exchange students, he went to the Soviet Union to do research.

In New York, his interest intensified when he met a number of anarchist thinkers at a meeting called by Freie Arbeiter Stimme (Free Voice of Labor), an anarchist Yiddish newspaper.

Mrs. Avrich said her husband collected letters, papers, books and photos of leading anarchists and donated a collection of 20,000 items to the Library of Congress. He even named his cats for the anarchists Piotr Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin.

Dr. Avrich spent his entire academic career at Queens College, where he began as a Russian history instructor in 1961 and retired in 1999. He was also on the faculty of the City University Graduate Center.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Jane and Karen Avrich of Manhattan, and a sister, Dorothy Avrich of Miami.




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