Anarchy or Chaos

M. P. T. Acharya and the Indian Struggle for Freedom

June 2023 9781787389489 352pp, 16pp b&w illus
Available as an eBook Available from Oxford Scholarship Online
EU Customers


In this fascinating biography of the Indian revolutionary M. P. T. Acharya (1887–1954), Ole Birk Laursen uncovers the remarkable transnational networks, movements and activities of India’s most important anticolonial anarchist in the twentieth century.

Driven by the urge for complete freedom from colonialism, authoritarianism, fascism and militarism, which are rooted in the idea and politics of the nation-state, Acharya fought for an international vision of socialism and freedom. During the tumultuous opening decades of the 1900s—marked by the globalisation of radical inter-revolutionary struggles, world wars, the rise of communism and fascism, and the growth of colonial independence movements—Acharya allied himself with pacifists, anarchists, radical socialists and anticolonial fighters in exile, championing a future free from any form of oppression, whether by colonial rulers or native masters. Drawing on a wealth of archival material, private correspondence and other primary sources, Laursen demonstrates that, among his contemporaries, Acharya’s turn to anarchism was unique and pioneering in the struggle for Indian independence.

Anarchy or Chaos is the first comprehensive study of M. P. T. Acharya. It offers a new understanding of the global and entangled history of anarchism and anticolonialism in the first half of the twentieth century.


‘[Anarchy or Chaos] vividly captures the itinerant lives of anticolonial revolutionaries… providing a rare glimpse into the racial Indian diaspora and migrant communities worldwide.’ – Asian Review of Books

‘A thorough and refreshing biography of a fascinating intellectual that will not only prove of interest to students of anarchism or the Indian national movement, but will also provide solid ground for those historians working on intellectuals and mobility.’ — H Soz Kult

‘A rich and illuminating account of a forgotten but significant presence in the intertwined histories of anticolonialism, socialism and anarchism. Laursen’s meticulous research and lucid narration redresses a major gap in the annals of anticolonial resistance and global struggles for justice.’ — Priyamvada Gopal, Professor of Postcolonial Studies, University of Cambridge, and author of Insurgent Empire

‘Shining a spotlight on an under-researched area of anarchism in Indian history, this biography places Acharya fully into the historical record—alongside political giants of his generation such as Subhas Chandra Bose, Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. An exciting tale.’ — Neilesh Bose, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Victoria, and author of India after World History

‘In his impressive biography of one of the main protagonists of Indian leftist activism, Laursen skilfully connects the story of Indian nationalism with the wider global history of communism and anarchism. A compelling, ambitious and highly original book.’ — Harald Fischer-Tiné, Professor for the History of the Modern World, ETH Zurich, and author of Shyamji Krishnavarma: Sanskrit, Sociology and Anti-​​Imperialism

‘Carefully researched and lucidly written, this captivating book tracks the political life of a dynamic but peripheral figure in South Asian anticolonialism, uncannily present at many critical events in the global history of Indian nationalism. Placing anarchism at its centre, Laursen nuances the development of leftist thought in South Asia.’ — Kama Maclean, Professor of History, South Asian Institute, University of Heidelberg, and author of A Revolutionary History of Interwar India


Ole Birk Laursen is Affiliated Research Fellow at the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin. His research focuses on South Asian history, anticolonialism and anarchism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He is the editor of a collection of essays by M. P. T. Acharya, We Are Anarchists.

Request an academic inspection copy Request a press review copy
Inspection Copy Request
Review Copy Request
Join our mailing list

Subscribers receive exclusive discounts and early access to new books from Hurst.