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Lehr-und-Wehr Vereine

Tom Goyens


Lehr-und-Wehr Vereine (Education and Defense Societies) emerged in the 1870s in the United States and became a controversial component of the German radical movement, although similar working-class self-defense groups existed among radical Irish and Czech immigrants. Lehr-und-Wehr Vereine trace their origin to the Turner (gymnastics) associations, the Swiss military organization Hilf Dir (Help Yourself), and the various ethnic battle units during the American Civil War. During the first national labor uprising of the 1870s, American employers enlisted the help of state and federal troops to quell protests by way of club and bayonet. Reacting to the violence, German radicals began to form armed defense units to protect fellow workers during strikes or demonstrations. Socialist moderates, however, opposed bringing weapons into the movement, a position that in 1880 led to the secession of the radical, now anarchist wing. Arming workers became a popular, if controversial, goal of German anarchists in the United States. Invoking the Second Amendment of the US Bill of Rights, Johann Most, the leading figure among the revolutionaries, preached combat readiness and even insurrection. Together with the Haymarket bomb explosion of 1886, the familiar stereotype of the anarchist became part and parcel of collective memory. To anarchists, armed self-defense was a necessary response to intimidation, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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