What’s Happening: New Anarchist Books

What’s Happening: New Anarchist Books for 2007


John Petrovato for The Institute for Anarchist Studies


The Institute for Anarchist Studies, in its mission to encourage critical thought and discourse about anarchism, has given out over 50 grants to writers over the past decade.  It was our hope that by assisting anarchist writers with encouragement and financial support, that more and better anarchist writings would appear.  The fruits of these labors are now apparent,  and half a dozen of the anarchist books reviewed below are projects by IAS grantees. The first part of this column will review some of the books IAS grant recipients have published very recently.

AK Press has just published IAS grant recipient Marina Sitrin’s enlgish-language version of Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina. Published originally in Spanish, the book documents the beginning of the popular rebellion in Argentina in December, 2001 by collecting the testimonies of the participants themselves. After the economic collapse of the Argentinian economy due to international financial policies, ordinary Argentinians took to the streets. The resistance initially focused on the freezing of their bank accounts, the devaluation of the currency, and the bankrupt political estabishment but later became a rebellion calling for a restructuring of society along the lines of radical economic and political democracy. This rebellion, which included different classes, created a social movement of hundreds of neighborhood assemblies involving tens of thousands of people. Dozens of factories were taken over and run directly by the workers.  Of interest, is that the social movement that emerged was one that didn’t depend on new leadership or hierarchy. The book is an inspiring record of the possibilities of radical renewal, solidarity, determination and hope.
(AK Press, 2006).

Since the beginning of the anarchist movement, anarchists have always had an interest in the relationship between art and revolutionary politics. Indeed, anarchism has informed many of the most important artists, novelists, and poets., yet the connection has not been well understood or analyzed. Two books published this year, both of which were authored by previous IAS grant-recipients, attempt to give insight on this topic..

Allan Antliff’s Anarchy and Art: From the Paris Commune to the Fall of the Berlin Wall reviews the various critical moments when anarchist artists have responded to pivotal events over the past 140 years. He looks at diverse time periods such as Gustave Courbet’s activism during the 1871 Paris Commune, anarchist art during the fall of the Soviet empire, the French neoimpressionists, the Dada movement in New York, anarchist art during the Russian Revolution, political art of the 1960s, and gay art and politics post-World War II. Throughout, Antliff explores art’s potential as a vehicle for social change and how it influences political events.
(Arsenal Pulp Press, 2007)

IAS grant-recipient Josh Macphee, along with Erik Reuland, has co-edited a new book called Realizing the Impossible: Art Against Authority. The book addresses the gap in our understanding of the role of art in revolutionary movements. From do-it-yourself printmaking to Zapatista Video, from radical puppetry to the monuments of the Haymarket martyrs, the book encompasses a sprawling collection of essays by writers and artists. Included are IAS board member Cindy Milstein, Davide Graeber, IWW print maker Carlos Cortez, British Anarchist Graphic artist Clifford Harper, Allan Antliff, and others.

Chuck Morse, the founder of the Institute for Anarchist Studies and previous editor of Perspectives, has completed and published a translation of Durruti in the Spanish Revolution by Abel Paz. In this new and unabridged translation of the definitive biography of Spanish revolutionary and military strategist, Buenaventura Durruti, Paz provides much more than a biography of Durruti, but rather an in-depth look inside the Spanish Revolution. Paz weaves intimate biographical details of Durruti’s life—his progression from factory worker and father to bank robber, political exile and, eventually, revolutionary leader—with extensive historical background, behind-the-scenes governmental intrigue, and blow-by-blow accounts of major battles and urban guerrilla warfare. Including a thorough and sympathetic understanding of the anarchist ideals that motivated Durruti, this is an amazing and exhaustive study of an incredible man and his life-long fight against totalitarianism in both its capitalist and Stalinist forms. (AK press, 2007)

In their text, Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigation, Collective Theorization , editors Stevphen Shukaitis and David Graeber pose the question of what is the relationship of radical theory to movements for social change?  Stevphen Shukaitis, is an IAS grantee for his work on Autonomous organization, and David Graeber,is author of the Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology.  Together they question the value of detached intellectuals in a world where an increasing number of global struggles resist vanguard practices and authoritarian practices. In this collection, over two dozen academic authors and engaged intellectuals, including Antonio Negri and Colectivo Situaciones, provide some challenging answers. In the process, they redefine the nature of intellectual practice itself. (AK press, 2007).

Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism (Counter-Power vol 1) by Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt  is the first of two volumes that reexamine anarchism’s democratic class politics, its vision of a decentralized planned economy, and its impact on popular struggles in five continents over the last 150 years. Der Walt, an IAS grant recipient from 1998, and Schmidt trace anarchism’s lineage and contemporary relevance. They outline anarchism’s insights into questions of race, gender, class, and imperialism, significantly reframing the work of previous historians on the subject, and critiquing Marxist approaches to those same questions.
(AK Press, 2007)

Emma and Mikhail

Two of anarchism’s most interesting and important characters, Emma Goldman and Mikhail Bakunin, are each the subjects of two new books.

Feminist Interpretations of Emma Goldman, edited by Penny Weiss and Loretta Kensinger, recognizes the iconic figure that Emma Goldman is in the history of American radicalism and women’s rights. Unfortunately, little analysis has been written of her influence on social, political, and feminist theory. The editors, along with writers such as Martha Ackelsberg, Voltairine de Cleyre, Candace Falk, Alice Wexler and Kathryn Pyne Addelson, examine her thinking in its proper social, historical, and philosophical context believing that “only by considering the sources, influences, and specific significance of Goldman’s ideas can her proper place in feminist theory be truly understood”. (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007).

Another book about Goldman, long out of print (but now made available again by our friends at AK Press) is Vision on Fire: Emma Goldman on the Spanish Revolution edited by David Porter.  The book collects the most important writings from the turbulent last years of Emma Goldman’s life as an observer of the Spanish Revolution and representative of the CNT-FAI. The thematic chapters include: The Spanish Anarchist Movement, The New Society, Collaboration with Statist Forces, Communist Sabotage of the Spanish Revolution, The International Context, Anarchists, Violence, and War,The Role of Women in the Spanish Revolution, Overall Assessments of the Spanish Revolution, and General Reflections on Anarchism and the Movement.  It is an inspiring and important book for those interested in an honest account of the revolution. (AK press, 2007)

The first of two recently published books about the Russian anarchist writer and revolutionary Bakunin is Bakunin: The Creative Passion by Mark Leier.  This text looks at Bakunin the thinker, rather than Bakunin the personality. Over the years, a number of Marxist writers have sought to discredit Bakunin’s ideas by focusing on his strong and colorful personality rather than on his writing. Leier corrects the misperceptions around Bakunin and focuses rather on Bakunin’s intellectual roots in German idealism, the influence of Hegel, as well as his relationship to revolutionary movements of the day. The book successfully provides insights into this still relevant anarchist thinker (Thomas Dunne Books, 2006).

To be published shortly by Cornell University press, The House in the Garden: The Bakunin Family and the Romance of Russian Idealism by John Randolph investigates the interweaving of intellectual history and biography.  The book reinterprets Bakunin, as well as other famous Russian thinkers, by looking at their youthful activities in and around the Bakunin home, and by trying to define the relationship between intellectual activity and social spaces that make it possible. (Cornell university press, 2007)

The history of Anarchism is also the subject of a number of other new books. Anarchism, Revolution And Reaction: Catalan Labor And the Crisis of the Spanish State, 1898-1923 by Angel Smith looks at the violent Barcelona “labor wars” that were brought to a close with the coup d’état launched by the Barcelona Captain General, Miguel Primo de Rivera, in September 1923. In his detailed examination of the rise of the Catalan anarchist-syndicalist-led labor movement, the author blends social, cultural and political history in a novel way. With an in-depth usage of primary sources, he analyzes the working class “from below” and the policies of the Spanish State towards labor “from above.” (Berghahn Books, 2006)

In Free Comrades: Anarchism and Homosexuality in the United States 1895 – 1917, Terence Kissack looks at journals, books, and public records to add a new foundation to the history of homosexuality in the United States. The author argues that the anarchist position on individual freedoms had been used to defend same-sex partnerships and break down taboos within their own milieu. 19th and early 20th century Anarchists, in their challenge to social and political constraints to individual liberty (“the personal is political”), took on the issue and defended same-sex partnerships. Lectures and writings by anarchists such as Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Will Durant, and Benjamin Tucker are explored.  (AK Press, 2007)

Another book of interest to the history of the Left in the U.S. is Sing a Battle Song: The Revolutionary Poetry, Statements, and Communiques of the Weather Underground 1970 – 1974  edited by Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayres, and Jeff Jones. The book compiles the three complete publications produced by the Weathermen during their most active period underground. Famous for their bold and violent revolutionary activities in which they attempted to “bring the war home”, the group undertook low-level warfare against the American government through much of the 1970s. Evading one of the largest FBI manhunts in its history, the group wrote and published communiqués from the underground in the years 1970 to 1974. Included is the Weather Eye: Communiques from the Weather Underground, Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism, and Sing a Battle song: Poems by Women in the Weather Underground Organization. (Seven Stories Press; 1st Seven Stories Press, 2006)

British Anarchist scholar David Goodway, author of For Anarchism: History, Theory, and Practice , has just published Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow: Left-Libertarian Thought and British Writers from William Morris to Colin Ward.  The book seeks to recover and reinvigorate the left libertarian tradition in Britain by illustrating the rich cultural history it has played there. Beyond a history of this movement, Goodway brilliantly shows how this tradition could be recovered for a contemporary anarchist practice (Liverpool Univ. Press, 320 pages, dec., 2006).

Maverick radical publishing house Autonomedia has or will soon release a number of exciting books. One of these is Richard Kempton’s Provo: Amsterdam’s Anarchist Revolt. In this first book-length, English-language study of this legendary insurrectional movement, Kempton narrates the rise and fall of Provo from early Dutch "Happenings" staged in 1962 through to the so-called "Death of Provo" in 1967. Using extensive primary research, Kempton investigates Robert Jasper Grootveld’s anarchist anti-cancer campaigns, the riots against Princess Beatrix’s marriage to an ex-Nazi, and the famous White Bicycle program. Then, in seven appendices, he comments on parallel contemporary and near-contemporary movements, including Dada and Situationism, studies Amsterdam’s previous anarchist traditions, chronicles the spread of Provo through the Netherlands, discusses the development of the Kabouter (Gnome) party, and offers an existentialist critique of Provo and other anarchist movements of the 60s.

Another Autonomedia title, The Old World Is Behind You: The Situationists And Beyond In Contemporary Anarchism by Karen Goaman, is an anthropology of the Situationist influence on contemporary anarchism. The book places the debates around Situationism in context and examines their milieu. By examining in close ethnographic detail the texts and practices of post-Situationist anarchism, this book traces that oppositional impulse through to today’s movements. Goaman’s work shows the lived world of Situationist-themed anarchism. Building on traditional anthropological methodology, this book also develops an important critique of the way anthropology is done and points to ways in which an anarchist-influenced anthropology can arise. (Autonomedia, 2007).

Finally, another Autonomedia title to be released this year, Subverting The Present – Imagining The Future: Insurrection, Movement, Commons edited by Werner Bonefeld , Harry Cleaver, Mariarosa Della Costa, and Midnight Notes will examine the socio-historical constitution of capitalism and analyze the contemporary means of subversion-in-movement. The book also assesses the trajectory of struggles in the Americas, from Argentina to Mexico, from Bolivia to the United States of America and shows how subversion is a human and realistic response to intolerable exploitation and domination. (Autonomedia, 2007).

In the realm of anarchist theory and practices, a number of other exciting new books have also been released.

In Rebel Alliances: The Means and Ends of Contemporary British Anarchisms, author Benjamin Franks examines the main principles that distinguish the anarchist class struggle movements from competing Leninist, liberal, and social democratic organizations.  Franks, a lecturer of social and political philosophy at the University of Glasgow and a frequent contributor to the British scholarly journal Anarchist Studies, promotes an "ideal type" of anarchism (a distinctive anarchist ethic) against which he assesses the theory and practice of contemporary political groups. (AK press, 2006)

In what may be a controversial book to some anarchists, James Horrox’s A Living Revolution: Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement argues that the Kibbutz movement in Israel should be understood as an anarchist experiment. Inspired by anarchist ideals, this intentional community movement is based on cooperative social principles and has and continues to have a major role in the development of Israeli society. While many anarchists argue that the kibbutz has actually strengthened the Israeli state, as well as laid groundwork for the colonization of Palestinian lands, Horrox argues against these views. (AK Press, 2007)

C.H. Kerr has reprinted C. L. R. James & Grace C. Lee’s Facing Reality. This celebrated "underground classic," (written with the collaboration of Cornelius Castoriadis), is known as "C. L. R. James’s most anarchist book”. The authors examine the practical process of social revolution in the modern world. Inspired by the October 1956 Hungarian workers’ revolution against Stalinist oppression, as well as by the U.S. workers’ "wild-cat" strikes (against Capital and the union bureaucracies), James and his co-authors looked ahead to the rise of new mass emancipatory movements by African Americans as well as anti-colonialist/anti-imperialist currents in Africa and Asia. Virtually alone among the radical texts of the time, Facing Reality also rejected modern society’s mania for "conquering nature," and welcomed women’s struggles "for new relations between the sexes." Originally published in 1958, this 21st-century edition includes a new introduction by James’s longtime friend, John H. Bracey, situating the book in its 1950s/60s context, and accenting its continued relevance in our time. (Charles H. Kerr, 2006)

Radial thinkers have been long interested in the question of how social movements succeed, fail, organize and influence future movements. Barbara Epstein’s excellent Political Protest and Cultural Revolution  is one book that explored this topic.  Another is a new book by Australian political theorist, Giorel Curran, 21st Century Dissent: Anarchism, Anti-Globalization and Environmentalism.  This text will be of interest to those who want to understand Anarchism’s considerable influence on the modern political landscape. As anarchism and anarchists are being denounced or criticized by many observers, Curran explores the contemporary face of anarchism as expressed in environmental protests and the anti-globalization movement and contends that the anti-capitalism protest has propelled an invigorated – but reconceptualized – anarchism that is the heart of 21st century dissent. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)

John Petrovato

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