What’s Happening:

What’s Happening: New books, 2008


John Petrovato


“Wargames are a continuation of politics by other means,” says Guy Debord, the influential member of the Situationist International. Debord is best known for his 1967 book Society of the Spectacle he suggested that “spectacles” and commodity exchange had replaced social relationships. His searing critique of contemporary consumer and media culture have shaped debates on modernity, capitalism, and everyday life and continue to have an influence on the contemporary anarchist milieu. Three new works have been recently translated and published for the English-speaking audience:

 A Game of War is a board game that Debord considered one of his most important achievements. Originally released in French in 1987, this game and book by Debord and his partner, Alice Becker-Ho, has just been translated into English and published by Atlas Press. The game, for Debord, is the culmination of his life-long study of the logic of war. He believed that by playing and learning from this game, that it might assist revolutionary activists how to fight and succeed against the oppressors of spectacular society. (Atlas Press, 2008).

 In A Sick Planet three key essays by Debord are collected.
The first essay, “The rise and fall of the “Spectacular” commodity-economy”, is an analysis of the Watts riots in Lost Angeles in the summer of 1965. “The explosion point of ideology in China” examines and celebrates the decomposition of bureaucratic power and its ideology in China. Lastly, “A Sick Planet” presents a polemic on global environmental degradation. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith (Seagull books, 2008).

To be published later this year is Correspondence: The Foundation of the Situationist International (June 1957 – August 1960).
This volume traces the first years of the Situationist International movement. Debord’s letters–published here for the first time in English–provide an insider’s view of just how this seemingly disorganized group drifting around a newly consumerized Paris became one of the most defining cultural movements of the twentieth century. Circumstances, personalities, and ambitions all come into play as the group develops its strategy of anarchic, conceptual, but highly political "intervention." The collection of letters offers an excellent introduction to the Situationist International movement by detailing, through original documents, how the group formed and defined its cultural mission: to bring about, "by any means possible, even artistic," a complete transformation of personal life within the Society of the Spectacle. (Semiotext(e), November, 2008).

Murray Bookchin

Bookchin was one of the most important anarchists in the second half of the twentieth-century. His work has influenced movements and ideas from radical ecology to urban planning, from environmental ethics to debates about radical democracy, from utopianism to contemporary anarchism. Weaving unique insights from Hegel, Marx, Kropotkin and Mumford, Bookchin’s work is still very much relevant. Two books have recently been published about and by Bookchin.

In Bookchin: A Critical Appraisal Damian White provides an overview of the work of Murray Bookchin.  This accessible introduction maps the evolution of his project by tracing his controversial engagements with Marxism, anarchism, critical theory, postmodernism and eco-centric thought. It also evaluates his attempt to develop a social ecology and considers how his thinking relates to current debates in social theory and environmentalism, critical theory and philosophy, political ecology, and urban theory. (Pluto, 2008).

Social Ecology and Communalism by Murray Bookchin (edited by Eirik Eiglad), collects four essays written between 1989 and 2002 that provide an overview to his work. The essays were chosen to support Bookchin’s thesis that “the solution to the enormous social and ecological problems we face today fundamentally lies in the formation of a new citizenry, its empowerment through new political institutions, and a new political culture”. (AK Press, 2007).

Anarchist theory

Anthropologist and anarchist, David Graeber has just published Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire. Revisiting themes he raised in his Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, Graeber explores the nature of social power and the forms that resistance to it have taken. Using ethnographic and historical detail, Graeber shows how scholarly concerns can be of use to radical social movements. (AK press, 2007).

Emma Goldman has long been an iconic figure in the history of anarchist and women’s rights movements.  In Feminist Interpretations of Emma Goldman, editors Penny Weiss and Loretta Kensinger understand that there has been surprisingly little substantive analysis of her influence on social, political, and feminist theory. The collection presents essays that resist a simplistic understanding of Goldman and instead attempt to examine her thinking in its proper social, historical, and philosophical context. Contributors include Martha A. Ackelsberg, Kathryn Pyne Addelson, Candace Falk, Kathy E. Ferguson, Marsha Aileen Hewitt, Alice Wexler and numerous others. (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007).

Black Frame:  Revolutionary Class Poltics and Syndicalism by Lucien Van Der Walt and Michael Schmidt is the first of two volumes that will reexamine anarchism’s democratic class politics, its visions of a decentralized planned economy, and its impact on popular struggles in five continents over the last 150 years.  It traces anarchism’s lineage and contemporary relevance and outlines anarchims’ insights into the questions of race, gender, class, and imperialism. (AK press, 2008).

In Anarchism and the Crisis of Representation: Hermeneutics, Aesthetics, Politics  Jesse Cohn offers a new take on anarchism challenging conventional readings of the tradition. Looking at contemporary theorists such as Deleuze and Rorty, Cohn questions the idea of “representation” and asks on what grounds can it adequately stands for its objects, authorizing some of us to speak for others. (Susquehanna University Press, 2007).

In Anarchy Alive!: Anti-authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory, Uri Gordon provides an in-depth look at the practice and theory of contemporary anarchism. The book draws on his activist experience and on interviews, discussions and a vast selection of recent literature to explore the activities, cultures and agendas shaping today’s explosive anit-authoritarian revival. The book also address some of the most tense debates in the movement, using a theory based on practice to provocatively reshape anarchist discussions o leadership, violence, technology and nationalism. (Pluto press, 2008).

Two long time anarchist activists in the Northeast have both published books recently. One is New York’s Wayne Price whose The Abolition of the State: Anarchist and Marxist Perspectives explores what exactly do anarchists and Marxist mean when they advocate to abolishing the state.  A question such as what is “the state”? What institutions would be necessary to replace its functions? These and other questions are approached with the goal of providing an understanding of how might occur using historical examples such as workplace councils and neighborhood assemblies. (Authorhouse, 2007).

The other is by Boston activist James Herod whose Getting Free: Creating an Association of Democratic Autonomous is a study of contemporary anarchist strategy. He advocates that anarchists need to shift their focus away from seizing the state or the means of production and towards a seizing decision-making. He identifies three strategic sites for fighting – neighborhoods, workplaces, and households – that he believes will not only enable us to defeat capitalism but also to build a new society in the process. (Lucy Parsons Center, 2007).

Anarchist History

Stuart Christie, founder of the Anarchist Black Cross, Black Flag magazine, and Cienfuegos press has spent a lifetime advocating and participating in anarchist projects. He had spent time in prison for attempting to deliver dynamite to Madrid to be used to assassinate Spanish dictator Franco and who later was arrested on suspicion for being a member of the armed group The Angry Brigade whose stated goal was to overthrow the British government. Two books by Christie have recently been published. The first, Granny made me an Anarchist: General Franco, the Angry Brigade and Me provides a personal account of his life, chronicling clandestine political maneuverings, life in prison, and life in the movement. (AK press, 2007)

The other, We, the Anarchists! A Study of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) 1927 -1937 provides a detailed, scholarly study of the FAI, a group of 20th-century militants dedicated to keeping Spain’s largest labor union, the CNT, on a revolutionary, anarcho-syndicalist path. Christie’s analysis covers the history of Spanish anarchism and the Spanish Civil War, and provides lessons relevant to today’s largely neutered labor movement. (AK press, 2008).

A movement that most contemporary anarchists, myself included, could embrace is explored in Tom Goyens new book Beer and Revolution: The German Anarchist Movement in New York City, 1880 – 1914.  Goyens examines the rollicking life and times of German immigrant anarchists in NYC. Largely seen as bomb wielding radicals bent on violent destruction, Goyens, rather, shows that they were more interested in public events – usually centered at beer halls where political meetings and lectures were held and where festivity and defiance were the grounding for this infamous political movement. (University of Illinois press, 2007).

HERBERT READ: The Stream and the Source by anarchist historian George Woodcock is a welcome re-release. Republished by Black Rose books this year, this critical study of the intellectual career of Herbert Read, looks at Read’s criticism, writing, art theory, and anarchist philosophy. Woodcock does not divide Read’s writings on politics from those on art and culture as Read saw art, culture, and politics as a single expression of human consciousness. (Black Rose Books, 2008).

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