Rudolf Rocker

By: Brian Berger
March 25, 2014

Rudolf Rocker. CP, Fonds Chambelland

If the history of American anarchism seems longer on gesture than triumph, consider RUDOLF ROCKER (1873–1958). Born Catholic in Mainz, Germany, Rocker was an orphaned teenage Socialist and apprentice bookbinder, which trade he shared with Johann Most, the influential German-American anarchist whose biography he’d later author. In 1893, Rocker moved to Paris, immersing himself in the Jewish anarchist community there before leaving two years later for London, home of exiles Peter Kropotkin and Errico Malatesta. Here Rocker met his lifelong partner, Milly Witkop, a Ukrainian-born Jew; learned Yiddish; tirelessly wrote (often for Der Arbeter FrayndThe Worker’s Friend — which he’d eventually edit), organized, and lectured until 1914, when the Rockers were sent to the Alexandra Palace internment camp. Back in Germany for the 1918–19 revolution, Rocker remained staunchly anti-authoritarian, denouncing — in 1921 — Russian communism and later co-founding the syndicalist book club, Gilde Freiheitlicher Bücherfreunde, for whom he translated William Godwin’s remarkable 1794 proto-anarchist novel, Caleb Williams. Shortly after the February 1933 Reichstag fire, Rocker fled: Switzerland; Saint-Tropez, France, where he was re-united with longtime friend Emma Goldman; the U.S.A. All Rocker brought with him was an intellectual history-in-progress, Nationalism and Culture. Published by Covici-Friede in 1937, its greatest praise came two years later in Los Angeles, where the program for a banquet honoring Rocker and Bertrand Russell included encomiums from Albert Einstein (“Extraordinarily original and illuminating”); Charles Beard; Will Durant; Thomas Mann; Lewis Mumford (“worthy to be placed on the same shelf that holds Candide, the Rights of Man and Mutual Aid.”)

MORE ACTIVISTS: Mother Jones | Alexander Berkman | Eugene V. Debs | Tina Modotti | Big Bill Haywood | Lucy Stone | Antônio Conselheiro | Emmeline Pankhurst | Félix Fénéon | Meridel Le Sueur | Pierre-Joseph Proudhon | Zo d’Axa | Mikhail Bakunin | Voltairine de Cleyre | Emma Goldman | Will Allen | Rosa Luxemburg | Simone de Beauvoir | Émile Henry | Pancho Villa | Joe Hill | Margaret Sanger | Aldo Leopold | Screaming Lord Sutch | Nestor Makhno | Dorothy Day | Garry Kasparov | Adriano Olivetti | Mildred Harnack | Frederick Douglass | Murray Bookchin | George Orwell | Bayard Rustin | Abbie Hoffman | Ti-Grace Atkinson | Gloria Steinem | Rudolf Rocker | Stokely Carmichael | Angela Davis


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Gloria Steinem, Cecil Taylor, Flannery O’Conner, David Lean, Frances Glessner Lee, Melora Creager.

READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Anarcho-Symbolist (1864–73) and Psychonaut (1874–1883) Generations.