The Eastern Mediterranean and the Making of Global Radicalism, 1860-1914 / Edition 1

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In this groundbreaking book, Ilham Khuri-Makdisi establishes the existence of a special radical trajectory spanning four continents and linking Beirut, Cairo, and Alexandria between 1860 and 1914. She shows that socialist and anarchist ideas were regularly discussed, disseminated, and reworked among intellectuals, workers, dramatists, Egyptians, Ottoman Syrians, ethnic Italians, Greeks, and many others in these cities.
In situating the Middle East within the context of world history, Khuri-Makdisi challenges nationalist and elite narratives of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern history as well as Eurocentric ideas about global radical movements. The book demonstrates that these radical trajectories played a fundamental role in shaping societies throughout the world and offers a powerful rethinking of Ottoman intellectual and social history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A dazzling array of published and archival sources in Arabic, Ottoman, Italian, French, and English."--Arab Studies Journal

"Effectively disputes tired and old paradigms. . . . An essential contribution to the literature of the origins of left-wing radicalism."--European Legacy

Arab Studies Journal
“A dazzling array of published and archival sources in Arabic, Ottoman, Italian, French, and English.”
European Legacy - Fraser Ottanelli
“Effectively disputes tired and old paradigms. . . . An essential contribution to the literature of the origins of left-wing radicalism.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520262010
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2010
  • Series: California World History Library Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Ilham Khuri-Makdisi is Associate Professor of History and Middle Eastern Studies at Northeastern University.

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The Eastern Mediterranean and the Making of Global Radicalism, 1860-1914

By Ilham Khuri-Makdisi


Copyright © 2010 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-94546-3


The Late Nineteenth-century World and the Emergence of a Global Radical Culture

In the last few decades of the nineteenth century, various groups of people throughout the world—workers, peasants, intellectuals, activists—began agitating for social justice, using similar and interrelated discourses and adopting similar terminologies and praxis and circulating their ideas through print, performance, and word of mouth. Their activities fostered a plethora of ideas and practices pertaining to social justice, while simultaneously reflecting a convergence in the ways those ideas were articulated and implemented, and led to the establishment of an entangled worldwide web of radical networks. As a result, I would like to suggest, one can write about a global radical moment lasting roughly from the 1870s until the 1920s and about the making of a global radical culture during this period. In this chapter I examine the emergence of this global radical moment: its key players in the four corners of the world, the networks and institutions that helped them disseminate their ideas locally and globally, the movements' main ideas and causes célèbres, and their literary and political canons and reading lists. I focus on the players, movements, and networks that had a direct impact on the story of radicalism in Beirut, Cairo, and Alexandria and emphasize the links between world regions that help explain the interconnectivity of these radicalisms and the making of a global radical moment.

Most traditional histories of the Left have crafted their genealogies on the works of specific Franco-German (and occasionally British) thinkers. These genealogies start somewhere in the early nineteenth century, with ideas of the French Revolution overlapping with the effects of the Industrial Revolution and proletarianization. In this framework the seeds planted by Fourier, Saint-Simon, and Owen eventually climax with Marx's work and the establishment of the First International. After this peak the genealogies usually proceed by tracing the lines between the Second International, the establishment of socialist and social democratic parties, and the Russian Revolution and the dominance of communism and communist parties. My aim is different; it entails circumventing the whole project of genealogy and decentering it from northwestern Europe. Instead, starting with the 1870s and using a synchronic lens, I will try to conjure up a polyvalent, polyglot, and global leftist radical moment in which various, and very often unofficial, impure, and popular interpretations of the Left were gaining ground all over the world. This will in no way be a comprehensive study; rather, I select certain networks, schools of thought, and ideas as well as particular trends and developments affecting different world regions and intertwining their histories. I focus on those that had a direct manifestation in the Eastern Mediterranean, specifically in Beirut, Cairo, and Alexandria. These particular networks seem to have been both crucial and exemplary in spanning a global radical field and providing a radical matrix, or a radical package of ideas and practices. Hence rather than create a standard genealogy of the Left, I seek to show the matrix from which a global radical framework emerged. some of the elements that shaped it were not always radical in nature but could nonetheless be vehicles for the articulation and dissemination of radical thought and praxis.


The late nineteenth century ushered in developments that caused the world, or more accurately increasing numbers of regions, to become inextricably linked, responding to similar rhythms and flows in sync. The wave of globalization that began around the 1870s was associated with a deeper integration of regions that had been semiperipheral into the world capitalist system and the world economy, which made them more vulnerable to economic fluxes such as commodity production and price fluctuations, integrated their regional labor markets into a global market, and made them dependent on foreign investments and loans. Globalization meant faster and greater circulation of capital, commodities, and labor, as well as the building of necessary infrastructure: extensive railway networks, port expansions, the digging of the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal, the establishment of various steamship lines connecting the four continents, banks and money wiring services, and the like. The circulation of all these elements was not random or among equals; rather, capital, labor, goods, and to a lesser degree information usually followed paths suggested by, if not dictated by some form of political and economic imperialism. Between 1870 and 1914 this circulation also seems to have exacerbated inequalities between peoples, regions, and states, or what Chris Bayly terms the "differentials of power." It also prompted a rethinking of both social order and world order. Globalization can thus be described as "a moment when crises in ... global world orders produced an urgent attempt to rethink the very bases of politics, culture, and activism—on a local as well as a regional and global level" Globalization was also connected to the growing and faster circulation of information and ideas through the increased flows of people, but also through new media: telegraphs, newspapers and periodicals, and postal services. As such it allowed for the emergence of specific and global forms of challenge and resistance to the status quo. It is within this framework that radicalism can be best understood, both as an indicator as well as a maker of globalization.

Let me offer three caveats. First, although I am generally arguing that radicalism, as it manifested itself in the late nineteenth century, was partly a global response to global changes, it is also important to understand it as more than a purely reactive movement and to characterize it (and the changes brought forth by globalization) as something other than a pure rupture. A second caveat concerns ideas and their material base. I am not suggesting an overly deterministic and materialist approach to the history of ideas, such as that the economic factors of globalization necessarily, or linearly, explain the various ideas (and therefore practices) that constitute radicalism. Rather, I argue that they certainly provided a framework for understanding why radicalism emerged as a worldview or mental structure. A third caveat is that by suggesting the existence of a global radical moment or culture, I am in no way pitting the global against the local nor suggesting a hierarchy of importance between the two in which the global would have the upper hand. Rather, I insist that the two are inextricably linked and so tangled in the period under study that they are necessarily complementary rather than opposite (albeit flawed) categories; as a result, they can be understood only in tandem.


In the late nineteenth century discussions and ideas pertaining to social inequality, wealth redistribution, the value of wage labor (versus capital), workers' rights, workers' housing, mutual aid associations, mass education, and generally the question of how to establish more just societies that would defuse the time bomb of class warfare became quasi-universal, transnational, and global. A multiplicity of communication channels circulated these discussions throughout various parts of the world. To explore some of the main communication channels, I suggest thinking of four interconnected units that played a central role in the articulation of radical leftist ideas and provided structures for their dissemination at a global level: international (and internationalist) organizations and associations, networks, nodal cities, and the printed word.

Any discussion on international organizations that articulated and disseminated radical ideas in the second half of the nineteenth century should include the International Socialist. Much has been written on the First International (1860-89) and the Second International (1889-1916), and my aim here is not to summarize the history of these organizations nor to add much to the body of writings on them. What I underline, in the case of the Second International, is the establishment of a structure that self-consciously and explicitly intended to spread socialism, help workers of the world unionize and gain rights, establish a global working-class consciousness, and, last but not least, foster the creation of socialist parties throughout the world. The extent to which the two Internationals were successful is debatable; certainly the International remained very much a European affair, with a handful of exceptions. What is undeniable, though, are the offices and services the Internationals provided, which were theoretically accessible to socialists all around the world: namely, political, financial, and infrastructural support to form workers' associations that would link to the International. Under "infrastructural support" came publications: pamphlets, booklets, and periodicals that would help spread socialism among the masses. Furthermore the International Socialist Congresses, regularly held starting in the 1880s, and the establishment of International Trade Secretariats (many of which were based in Western Europe, especially in Germany), gave socialism visibility and respectability as increasing numbers of European socialist parties became successful national parties and played the parliamentary game, a point to which I will return. However, if the International Socialist has figured prominently in the history of the Left, it has tended to overshadow another movement, whose principles and activities in fact gained much greater popularity outside of northwestern Europe. Indeed if there was one radical current which became global, or at least had a serious impact throughout the world in the late nineteenth century, it was anarchism.

Anarchism and Anarchosyndicalism

Around 1870 anarchism emerged as a major political ideology in Europe, most vibrantly in Italy and Spain. Anarchism's main tenets were the elimination of private property and class differences and the economic and intellectual emancipation of workers. Visceral anticlericalism and the refusal to work within the system by playing the parliamentary card (in contrast to the policy followed by socialists in the 1890s) also occupied a central place. Following a "decade of regicide" political assassinations, and bomb attacks blamed, rightly or wrongly, on anarchists, after which many fled from repression during the concomitant rise in mass migrations, anarchism quickly gained ground throughout the world, from South America to East Asia. By the late nineteenth century anarchists and anarchist ideas were to be found, in different shades and degrees, in many parts of the world due to the strong connection between migration and anarchism. Indeed anarchism was the radical ideology that seemed to have had the greatest appeal for (or worked best for) workers on the move, as well as intellectuals in the diaspora. Specifically, but not exclusively, it was associated with Spanish and especially Italian migrant and diasporic communities and networks, most strongly in South America but also in the United States, Europe (including France, Belgium, and England), and the Eastern Mediterranean. Anarchists were particularly adept at establishing transnational networks of communications and exchange of information, propaganda, and militants. One of the most vivid manifestations of their success in this domain was the web of Italian anarchist periodicals circulating throughout various cities in Italy, as well as Alexandria, Cairo, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Paris, and Paterson, New Jersey. This is not to say that anarchist ideas circulated exclusively within the confines of a diaspora, or exclusively along ethnic lines; there were certainly anarchist networks revolving around periodicals that were not exclusively connected to one specific diaspora but cut across ethnic and linguistic groups. Such was the case for Jean Grave's Le Révolté (which was initially founded by Kropotkin and subsequently was called Les Temps Nouveaux), one of the most famous and highly esteemed anarchist periodicals, issued in Paris after 1885, whose readership spanned continents and many ethnolinguistic groups, as attested by the subscribers' names, addresses, and letters to the editor. Le Révolté seems to have been a central node for information and news connected to various anarchist networks.

Nonetheless, although such periodicals did exist and played an important role in the forging of connections between anarchists, many of the anarchist networks in the period under study were linked to a specific diaspora and to the activism of exiled militants. This was certainly not an exclusively European phenomenon. In the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first years of the twentieth Japanese anarchism (as well as socialism) was intrinsically linked to the presence and activism of Japanese militants in the United States, specifically in the San Francisco area, where "Japanese socialists and anarchists had found refuge from government repression in Japan, and were able to voice their dissent—in spite of the fact that their destinations were shaped by racial exclusion and discrimination. Also, the United States was where the labor movement in Japan 'had immediate roots'" Similarly the Chinese anarchist movement had strong connections to Paris as well as the United States and elsewhere.

Anarchism's success as a global radical set of networks and a global radical movement can be attributed to the following features: the flexibility of its ideology; its work among and attraction to people from all classes, leading to its genuinely popular appeal; and its connection to migration and migrant labor, which represented a larger component of the global workforce than ever before, contributing to the geographic dissemination of anarchist ideas. Indeed partly because of its fundamental aversion to centralized authority and because it was a movement that was often underground and whose members were constantly on the move, anarchism consisted of a rather flexible package of ideas. As a loose set of ideas it could offer something to everyone. Its malleability, perhaps even its emotionalism and its mar tyrs allowed people from diverse backgrounds to relate to it, as well as plunder from it whatever might suit their needs and prove resonant in their own local contexts. In some ways, then, it was a revolutionary movement (rather than an ideology per se) or a revolutionary mind-set, allowing for selective adaptations of bits and pieces from the long set of items on the anarchist wish list. Like the Spanish freethinker and educator Ferrer (an important character in this book), anarchism's supporters were often "plutôt qu'un révolutionnaire ... un révolté." Although certain anarchists and their followers were more intransigent regarding the purity of their doctrine, or the difference between it and socialism, the boundaries between these two ideologies were not always clearly demarcated before World War I. Partly because anarchism never quite became orthodox, the meaning of belonging to an anarchist organization was rarely formalized outside of Europe and South America. This meant that anarchists, even when they did have parties, were not as restrictive regarding membership.

Instead anarchists had an equal opportunity approach when it came to doing propaganda work and spreading their message. In contrast to socialists, for instance, they did not favor urban skilled workers, but instead went to work in the city and in the countryside among skilled and unskilled workers, artisans, peasants; migrant, stable, and middle-class white-collar employees; artists and intellectuals. They tailored their multiple publications and messages according to their targeted audiences. Significantly, among audiences who were often illiterate their periodicals proved particularly successful thanks to their use of simple language and the fact that they "easily lent themselves to being read aloud" Furthermore in the 1870s and 1890s anarchists in Spain and southern Italy were involved in massive rural uprisings, during which peasants occupied landholdings and destroyed land records and mobilized against the Church and its representatives, which sided with large real estate owners. Later, in the first decade of the twentieth century, Spanish anarchists would often occupy and destroy Church property. This particular combination of anticlericalism and the struggle over land and property was to prove especially resonant in parts of the world experiencing similar battles, such as Mount Lebanon.


Excerpted from The Eastern Mediterranean and the Making of Global Radicalism, 1860-1914 by Ilham Khuri-Makdisi. Copyright © 2010 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents



1. The Late Nineteenth-century World and the Emergence of a Global Radical Culture
2. The Nah.a, the Press, and the Construction and Dissemination of a Radical Worldview
3. Theater and Radical Politics in Beirut, Cairo, and Alexandria 1860–1914
4. The Construction of Two Radical Networks in Beirut and Alexandria
5. Workers, Labor Unrest, and the Formulation and Dissemination of Radical Leftist Ideas

Conclusion: Deprovincializing the Eastern Mediterranean



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