By Gabriel Kuhn
Pierre Ramus (born Rudolf Grossmann) is Austria’s best-known anarchist. Born in 1882 into a Jewish family of traders, he was sent to relatives in the US at the age of sixteen, after socialist agitation had got him into trouble in school. In New York, he joined the anarchist movement and was heavily influenced by Johann Most and Emma Goldman. He started to write for several anarchist journals, including Most’s Freiheit and the Chicagoer Arbeiter-Zeitung.
In 1902, Grossmann was sentenced to five years in prison due to his involvement in a silk strike in Paterson, New Jersey. He managed to escape and get on a boat to England under the name of Pierre Ramus, an alias he kept for the rest of his life.
In England, Ramus continued to contribute to anarchist journals, including Germinal, edited by Rudolf Rocker. Meetings with Peter Kropotkin, who resided in England at the time, made a big impression on him.
In 1907, Ramus returned to Austria, where he edited the journals Wohlstand für alle (1907-1914), Die freie Generation/Jahrbuch der freien Generation (1906-1914), and Erkenntnis und Befreiung (1918-1933). He founded the “Bund herrschaftsfreier Sozialisten” in 1919, and was involved in radical union organizing. During World War I, he was put under house arrest. As an uncompromising pacifist, he was critical of most socialist currents in Austria during the interwar period, including the Austromarxists who led the Social Democratic Workers’ Party (see the PM Press release Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety: Forging a Militant Working-Class Culture).
In 1938, Ramus was forced into exile when the Nazis annexed Austria to the German Reich. He spent time in Switzerland, France, Spain, and Morocco, before boarding a ship bound for Mexico in 1942 in order to rejoin his family. Ramus died en route.
The Vienna-based anarchist publisher Monte Verità has now launched the ambitious project of publishing Ramus’ collected works in an eight-volume series. The first volume, including Ramus’ portrayals of William Godwin, Mikhail Bakunin, Leo Tolstoi, Edward Carpenter, and Francisco Ferrer, has just been made available. It is introduced by an 80-page essay of the series’ editor, Gerhard Senft, an economist at the University of Vienna with a long record of anarchist publications. Senft is also involved in the Pierre Ramus Gesellschaft, founded in 1992.
On a personal note, it was Monte Verità that published my very first books in the early 1990s, including the essay Leben unter dem Totenkopf. Anarchismus und Piraterie, which eventually led to the much more extensive PM Press release Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age Piracy.
The Collected Works of Pierre Ramus will be another milestone in the historiography of European anarchism. The series will be of great use for both activists and scholars. Hopefully, it will also prompt more Ramus translations into English. Both the publisher and the editor deserve great appreciation for taking on this time-consuming but highly rewarding task.