Anarchism, despite being a rich historical tradition with theorists and thinkers from all over the world, and which has influenced a great many social movements, is unfairly maligned at times. Some pigeon hole it as an anachronism, based on the worship of a prelapsarian past; a mindset of the small-society and essentially obsolete today. Others malign it as overtly and centrally European, unequipped to deal with the struggles faced by people of colour and colonised peoples today who may demand a nationalism of their own for the sake of safety. Beyond this, some – often of the more traditionally Marxist stripe – tend to label it utopian and divorced from material change: too busy focused on what could be to deal with what is.
Given that these criticisms are some of the most common that anarchists, and Anarchism more broadly, face, there is always a concern when a book with a historical angle crosses the desk, and has a focus on the thinkers of the past. While it is unquestionably valuable for a modern movement to be aware of the thoughts and struggles of those who came before, is this not just re-affirming some of those critiques above to centralise them in a book of this kind? The pivotal issue of a work such as Ruth Kinna and Clifford Harper’s new Great Anarchists is whether it manages to avoid the trappings of simply repeating and glorifying those of the past, becoming a project of immediacy and relevance, or whether it becomes mired in celebrating long dead men.
Immediately the question is answered: in the introduction, they establish the important principal that, ‘although these contexts were special, many of the issues the anarchists wrestled with still plague our lives’, and that the purpose of the investigations in the book are ‘not just interesting archaeological exercises’, but instead opportunities to examine how classical anarchists thinkers influenced modern movements and offer insight into lessons that apply to modern living. From the very beginning, the project is set up with a powerful motivation towards a useful and ultimately successful goal.
Originally published as a series of pamphlets, Great Anarchists serves as a crash course through individual prominent anarchists and thinkers of influence to the anarchist movement, and to this extent each segment is dedicated to a single individual. Further, Clifford Harper’s beautiful illustrations begin each segment, showing an artful and striking portrait of the subject. The heavy, stark lines and strongly textured designs draw on images of classical woodcuts but without the clutter that can often confuse and bury less expert attempts at the style, and compliment the book in a unique manner. Addition of art such as this breaks up the text, and transforms Great Anarchists from a piece of raw educational material into a singular project, a kind of didactic art-book, fusing the theory with an aesthetic quality that calls to mind the aesthetic and joyful narratives implicit in so much of anarchist thinking.
Comprised of ten miniature biographies of thinkers associated with anarchism, one of the strengths of the project lies in the selections themselves. It would be tempting to approach a project such as this with the desire to nail down all of the ‘canonical’ thinkers, and it is precisely this temptation that Kinna and Harper avoid. While prominent names such as Kropotkin certainly appear, and it can be somewhat disconcerting to see a list of ‘great’ anarchists that doesn’t include Emma Goldman, the choice to include early pre-anarchist figures such as William Godwin, mavericks such as Max Stirner, and those with legacies which have been largely depoliticised by history and education such as Oscar Wilde, allows an image of anarchism to be built more broadly. Further, it implies a vital piece of information: anarchism is somewhat unique among ideological traditions in that while it invariably draws from thinkers in the past, there is no name-giving origin point or presumed ‘central’ figure of authority. Anarchism can be found in any number of places, drawn out from any number of thinkers, and there are more of them around than you might think.
Kinna’s clear and concise style provides a great sense of ease to the reading. Never difficult, there is an almost conversational tone to much of the writing which can allow a reader to almost miss exactly how much information is being presented. Further, and perhaps most importantly to avoid the curse of hagiography, Kinna is never afraid to present critiques of the figures contained in the book: whether it is highlighting Kropotkin’s infamous views on the First World War, Bakunin’s anti-Semitism, or the long-standing tension between Stirner and much of the general anarchist movement, there is always room for nuance in Great Anarchists, and it is precisely this care that avoids the book sliding into myth-making.
All of this is extremely positive, however, that does not mean that Great Anarchists is without some degree of concern. To begin with, there is the first and obvious issue of the selection covered. While it is absolutely true that, shy of writing a tome thousands of pages long, Kinna and Harper would always be forced to make decisions to exclude certain thinkers in a project of this kind, the choice of who to include is worth examining. Inclusions of Oscar Wilde and William Godwin are certainly appreciated, and as mentioned earlier, open up the world of anarchism more broadly than simply focusing on the anarchist ‘canon’ might have, however the limitations of the figures selected do seem evident: other than Lucy Parsons, every figure discussed in the text is white, and with no exception at all, every figure is either of European or North American origin. Given the generally European flavour of most early anarchist theory, it is difficult to critique Kinna and Harper themselves for this issue, but in a text in which they are willing to include figures who pre-date the anarchist movement (as typically thought of) itself, it seems slightly strange that no figures from Asian, African, or South American anarchism are discussed.
It must be emphasised that this is not a damning criticism, and does nothing to impact the valuable nature of the work that is included in Great Anarchists, nor is it intended to downplay the significance of any thinker who has been included. Instead, it simply must be stated that the anarchist movement is broad and multifaceted one, and it might have been nice to see an inclusion of a figure such as Itō Noe (to give but a single example) in order to reflect that and also to combat the idea of anarchism as being a Eurocentric concept.
Further, there is a single note worth making, which is that while the downsides of various thinkers as individuals is a subject of discussion – anti-Semitism, or personal views on war, as mentioned earlier – there is fairly little critique of their thought itself in the broader sense. As Great Anarchists is more of an introduction to thinkers on their own terms than a text of theory in its own right, this is not truly an issue in my view. However, it is easy to imagine an anarchist coming from an anti-civilisational or primitivist perspective taking issue with the discussion of Louise Michel’s support for scientific and technological advancement in an uncritical tone – addressing only potential ‘deeply unscientific practices’ – as if these views were in a state of firm consensus amongst the anarchist community in general.
Neither of these downsides counteract or deny the useful and overall very fun nature of Great Anarchists, which manages to achieve its stated goal of balancing historical education with an emphasis on shared struggle with the present almost effortlessly, and is an enjoyable read.
The question for someone new to the world of radical leftist thought – particularly anarchist thought – is often where to start learning. It can be incredibly difficult without any particular guide to know where to begin, both in terms of which thinkers one should approach first, but also the texts they wrote and which ones should be considered the most urgent to read. Perhaps the most commonly suggested classical anarchist work among modern radicals is Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread, and while still a fantastic work filled with powerful explanation and convincing argument, there is some truth to the claim that the style can be challenging for people with little background in reading older texts. By contrast, many of the attempts that have been made to write modern groundings and introductions to the radical movements of anarchism take an altogether different route and, while they do provide an overview of common perspectives, it is fairly normal for them to avoid delving too deeply into the history of anarchism. Preferring to give modern day examples, and discuss modern day events, this strategy can be very useful but for a number of new readers it can be frustrating: where did these ideas come from, the question is asked?
Kinna and Harper’s new collection strikes a delicate but vital balance between the two approaches. Maintaining constant connections with the movements and struggles of revolutionary groups and radical thinkers of today, they draw a line directly between historical writers and activists without entangling themselves too deeply in what might be intimidating theory for the newcomer; their language is clean and concise, and they refrain from approaching the topic with the assumption that any given reader will already know what they seek to discuss. Given this mixture of the present with the past, as well as the brilliant use of illustrations throughout the book, Great Anarchists takes a centre stage as one of the most useful and beautiful introductions to the history and, more importantly, the present of radical thought. While not without potential nitpicks, the next time you are pressed to show a curious individual something to get them tumbling into the radical movement, Great Anarchists should be near the top of the suggestions. ■
Jay is an anarchist, poet, amateur philosopher, and basketball fan. He did his degree in English at the University of Lincoln, and is a fan of animals, good coffee, and horror movies. You can find him on Twitter @JayFraser1, or trying to find his face mask for the millionth time.
Great Anarchists by Ruth Kinna and Clifford Harper is available now from Dog Section Press for £6. Visit www.dogsection.org/press to buy, and read online.
Ruth Kinna is a professor of Political Theory at Loughborough University, and is currently the editor of Anarchist Studies. Clifford Harper is a radical illustrator, whose work can be found in a number of radical publications.
An essay collection united around an examination of class, justice, and social perception, D. Hunter’s Tracksuits, Trauma, and Class Traitorsa powerful set of arguments delivered in a tone that switches from the personal to the academic with ease. Blending scholarship with experience, Hunter adopts the methodological framework of the auto/ethnography, and attempts to situate his often harrowing life experience within a framework that embraces class politics, restorative justice, and social understanding over the course of ten essays of varying length. As the author tells us in the introduction to the collection, ‘’one of the aims of this book was to emphasise not only the humanity, but also the insight, intellect, and determination of those living in poverty.’’
Following the author’s previous book Chav Solidarity, the thematic through-line is obvious, and Tracksuits follows through on many of the themes that were established previously. Despite this, there is no need to have read the prior work to understand the new one; this is perhaps one of the largest strengths of Tracksuits, as Hunter’s writing is clear and accessible even when dealing with some of the more academic subjects. Marrying the unornamented and raw background of their life experiences with the theoretical allows a window of insight that should make even those without much background in theory to dive in without any issue. This conversational and almost casual tone combined with the brevity of many of the essays makes it excellent introductory reading, and would be easy to pick up and dive into for anybody at any level of academic experience.
Hunter’s essay collection begins with a content warning, and although this review will not touch on everything mentioned by the author, it is my responsibility to warn any prospective readers to take the content warning serious; discussions of mental health issues, violence, drug usage, and sexual abuse are frequent throughout the book and there are visceral moments in the reading which may be difficult.
A question that is commonly asked is the role of theory and analysis on the left: for many, it is an interesting curiosity, but there is a lot of discussion of how central it should be. There are some who suggest that it is, in fact, obnoxious to insist on analysis; further, there are those who claim that theory is a barrier to the ‘real working class’, getting in the way of Real Politics. While there is some truth to that – others have written before on the class barriers built into education, as well as the difficulty of certain authors – there are also many (of whom I am a representative, in a small way) who believe that theory is often powerful and liberatory, and that there is an inbuilt classism and derision in insisting that people who are working class or from traumatic backgrounds are unable to grasp ‘advanced’ concepts.
Hunter provides a powerful example of the way theory should be used, or at least one vision for how it could be. Utilising the framework of personal experience, lived encounters with the harsh realities of life under the myriad oppressive structures of modern capitalist society, Hunter leans over the boundary between the ‘real’ class conflict and the analysis. Here, theory is a way to consider experience, to step back and think about it, rather than to dissociate from it, and Hunter’s writing moves from the merely demonstrative to the functional when it funnels trauma into, for example, ideas of restorative justice.
In the first major essay of the collection, ‘Naming Football Teams’, the question ultimately arises of how one is supposed to deal with having been wronged. Without going into the specifics, there is essentially a scenario in which somebody has harmed another in a way that seems to, under the current shape of society, scream out for punishment; for vengeance, even. There is a punitive urge that underlies out current cultural logic, but Hunter calls instead for ‘a form of justice that does not require cages, keys, police, courts, and a violent class system’, but rather a process designed to ‘deconstruct abusive interpersonal relationships, and generate responses to them which do not merely reproduce the same dynamics’. Essentially, it is a call for a justice based on empathy, but Hunter is not simply engaging in wishful thinking here: referencing various cultures which have engaged (and continue to engage) in justice that differs greatly from the carceral, as well as philosophers and activist groups, the outlines that reconciliatory justice may take are eminently practical, and yet are informed by the theory.
Another great strength of Hunter’s writing must be highlighted here; it is all too easy for somebody who is distanced from, say, Indigenous American culture to simply point to the Other from the comfort of whiteness and decide to pick and choose which elements of this culture are fit to adopt. Avoiding this trap, however, Hunter tries to clarify that they are ‘’careful not to stake a claim to ownership of these ideas’’. Vital to avoid a kind of mythologising of the Other, Hunter acknowledges these other justice systems as ideas from which to draw inspiration, to prompt the thought that there are other ways to do things, rather than simply claiming that any one none-white, none-European tradition is the true path to peace.
Careful consideration of race at the intersection of class returns more prominently in another later essay, ‘You’re Just a White Boy’. While the title of this essay from other authors could be worrying – we’re not going to get another self-serving narrative about the problems of being dismissed as white in progressive spaces, are we? – Hunter quickly does away with that, opening with a quote from Jackie Wang’s incisive book Carceral Capitalism, which describes whiteness as ‘’a category [that] is, in part, maintained by ritualized violence against black people’’, and the discussion does not get any more conciliatory from there. Hunter details his relationship with MD, someone who they have known for a long period of time and who is currently in prison, and whose blackness contrasts heavily with Hunter’s whiteness despite their shared experiences and background, and who is not afraid to confront Hunter with this; ‘’ He tells me he doesn't know how much of my willingness to make the worst possible decision in every situation was generated by the assumption that being white I would get away with stuff. […] I reply by telling him that as a white person some of those repercussions don't apply. He nods, but looks far off over my shoulder and says, “I reckon you don't think they should, either”.’’
Hunter’s willingness to be challenged in these circumstances and to discuss the nature of that challenge is admirable, though it must be noted that admiration is clearly not the intention here. Moving from this personal connection and contemplation in a way that has become trademark of the author by this point in the book, Hunter crashes from anecdote to theory: ‘’ whiteness becomes a stigma that can nevertheless be inhabited as long as it is reflexively acknowledged as stigma.”, as the quote is given. Reminiscent of Slavoj Žižek’s conception of the ‘’liberal communist’’, who simultaneously disavows capitalism and inhabits it fully, allowing the disavowal to absolve him of his behaviour, Hunter outlines a perspective on race wherein as long as whiteness is performatively acknowledged and apologised for, it can be effectively surpassed. This perspective is rejected in part, in favour of a critique of whiteness that becomes more granular and sees the varieties of whiteness spread through the intersection of class and gender and sexuality and which acts in concrete ways to change everyday life. Yet we are reminded as the essay closes that this kind of examination, while important, is also one that is in part facilitated by the privilege whiteness grants: ‘’black people don’t make these cages, we just live in them. We just die in them. White people make them.’’, MD reminds us.
‘You’re Just a White Boy’ may be one of the most contentious pieces in the collection, if only for the difficulty in discussing such a monumental issue from a perspective that is necessarily cut off from that reality. Hunter takes great pains to be careful with the subject of race, acknowledging and expressing understanding of his own racial background and the differences in material conditions and experiences that people from other racial backgrounds have had to live with, but it is a difficult balance to strike. For some, it may not be entirely successful, but it does seem to be honest and frank, which mitigates some of the worst tendencies that this kind of writing can often inhabit: if it is not successful, it is at least not in bad faith, which is far from the worst misstep one could make when writing something of this kind.
While it would be very easy for me to continue in this fashion, recounting and detailing particular essays, that would be missing the point; the examples and discussions above serve to demonstrate some of the particulars to a reader and to examine that style of the analysis Tracksuits contains, but it would be inappropriate for me to continue removing pieces from context and breaking them down; instead, it is important to discuss the conclusions. After detailing and discussing various aspects of their own life and the lives of others, Hunter concludes with the following lines that echo Michel Foucault’s call in his introduction to Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, which instructed us to kill the fascist inside our heads;
‘’We need to abolish the White supremacist in us, the ableist, the patriarch, the transphobe, the parts of ourselves that still think, feel, act and organise as if some humans are worth more than others, that some bodies matter more. This is collective work, this is done in vulnerability with one another, and with an openness to making mistakes, speaking the worst of ourselves and trusting in “our” class that we can find new answers to old questions.’’
This is the fundamental takeaway from Tracksuits, Trauma, and Class Traitors; the idea that the it is only through collective and communal work that recognises that the flaws in most people are not the result of their personal unpleasantness (although that can be a factor) but are in fact expressions of their lives, their circumstances, and the culture in which they have lived and survived. We have patriarchy inside us because it is impossible to escape the world, and the world is patriarchal; this is the same for white supremacy or ableism, or homophobia and transphobia, which are so commonplace as to be banal if not for their insidiousness. The way through this is not to personally disavow these things, as if stubborn refusal could change the world, but to work together, to communicate, to provide material aid wherever possible, and to challenge the world on our own terms and with the staunch acknowledgement that everyday life can and must be different.
While it is certainly possible to quibble with elements of Tracksuits – some people will certainly find the more graphic passages uncomfortable or even impossible to read, depending on their own experiences, and it is true that the tonal shifts can be abrupt and somewhat rough here and there – the final result of the collection is one that expresses solidarity and makes a demand for a new world that is made together. Ultimately, while Tracksuits fails to be a silver bullet for the world of social ills, and definitely will not be for everyone’s tastes, it does present a detailed portrait of a life lived in extreme difficulty but with a sense of awareness and sensitivity that is often left out of these kinds of narratives. Weaving back and forth through critical writing and biography, it is an experience that isn’t easily forgotten and which points arrows at many of the right places. ■
Jay is an anarchist, poet, amateur philosopher, and basketball fan. He can be found on Twitter, or anywhere that has good coffee.
Tracksuits, Trauma, and Class Traitors by D. Hunter is available for pre-order from The Class Work Project and will be be released on the August 4th. You can follow D. Hunter on Twitter at @dhuntertheclaretchav
Fragility is a book written by a white woman talking about why it is
so difficult for white people to talk about race, and to realise our
own compliance in maintaining the racist structures we see in place
in society. As the author points out at the start – there are also
many books by people of colour about this subject that you can also
read to educate yourself.
I will start by saying that this book is probably best to read if you are already in agreement that we live in a white supremacist society and white privilege is something we (I’m speaking myself as a white person) benefit from. If you do not come to this book with an open mind and willingness to learn, then to be honest, it seems pretty pointless and you’re not going to get much out of it. I think this book may also be useful for those of us who think we are not racist, and are ‘progressive’ about ideas regarding race, and those who consider themselves ‘colour blind’ i.e. that we no longer need to consider race as an issue.
I think one of the most important aspects of this book is the explanation that it isn’t just ‘bad’ people who are racist – we have all grew up in a white supremacist society and we are all guilty of being racist, sometimes overtly, but often in more subtle and subconscious ways and without realising, and we prop up and perpetuate the racist structures that are in place. It is not just those who describe themselves as racist or are outwardly aggressive to non-white people who are – we need to look inwards at ourselves. We need to look at how we uphold these institutions ourselves and this book outlines how we, as white people, have deeply ingrained racist attitudes that manifest in many ways.
There are great chapters in the book that deal with white fragility as a form of bullying and also white women tears as a particular form of white fragility, and the historical context that it refers too. DiAngelo includes numerous anecdotes in her book of when this fragility has occurred and that I found useful to consider.
I found the end of the book to be the most useful, which deals with ways to deal with feedback or criticism. As people who benefit from this system, it is important that we are able to deal with the discomfort this can bring to us, and also learn from it. As pointed out, in this book and many others, we have far less at stake when we do this compared to people of colour, and it is often the case that white people are often far more receptive to other white people when discussing issues of race. We need to purposely put ourselves in interacts that challenge the racist status quo and consider why the spaces we are in, if they are overwhelmingly white, why is this? This is definitely something I need to work on a lot harder in my own life and the spaces I engage with.
If this book makes you uncomfortable at times, that is not a bad thing, and a reason to keep reading. It did for me at times. Despite the book sometimes feeling somewhat repetitive at times, and it being quite basic, I think it’s an important book for white people to be reading. We need to be clear that race is important, and so is how we address the issues around it. ■
Northern Jam is an Anarchist and Feminist from reet up North. Passionate about cross stitching, reading and the downfall of the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
Published September 20018 by Beacon Press. Written by Robin DiAngelo
Carne Ross’ The Leaderless Revolution is refreshing because of its atypical perspective. Contemporary anarchist literature is often written by academics who have studied political theory, or by working class people, who have struggled in a Neo-liberal capitalist society, and understand the need for change. Ross is neither of these; a former British diplomat, he was a lead official at Britain's mission at the United Nations in New York dealing with Iraq. He was responsible for the policy on weapons of mass destruction and the pre-war sanctions. Ross states that Britain and their allies knew that Saddam Hussein did not possess significant WMD. Therefore, the sanctions and the subsequent invasion of Iraq were unjustified, and led to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary civilian deaths. Rather than critiquing the establishment, their systems and institutions from the outside, Ross has been enmeshed in the inner workings of the machine, and has decided it is broken.
This book is for those new to anarchism as a political theory, but who are dissatisfied with the state of the world, and yearn for something better. Many veteran anarchists’ first reaction to Carne Ross might be one of distrust - he was part of the establishment, he wears a suit, looks like a civil servant, and is still involved in international diplomacy, albeit advocating independently for marginalised groups. However, the fact that he is a non-conventional anarchist, might be Ross’ greatest strength. Brexit and Trump were arguably a result of people’s dissatisfaction with current systems, and a desire for radical change. Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion have engaged a wide range of people not normally involved in radical politics. This seems a potentially fertile time for enlisting people to anarchism, and many might be more easily recruited to the cause by a well-spoken, respectable former diplomat, than a dreadlocked crusty with a black bandana over their face. Ross’ experience and former position afford him an air of respectability and legitimacy that may make his messages more palatable for many people.
Ross eschews established examples of anarchism in action, such as the Paris Commune or Spanish Civil War, instead presenting more contemporary examples, such as the autonomous region of Rojava in North-eastern Syria, participatory democracy at the municipal level in Porto Allege, Brazil, or even communities’ abilities to respond to their own needs following emergency situations more effectively than the authorities and institutions entrusted to do so, as witnessed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or the Grenfell Tower fire.
Where Ross’ vision of an egalitarian society differs from many anarchists is his commitment to non-violence, and his suggestion of a gradual transition to an anarchist society, rather than through revolution. The belief that large worker-owned co-operative institutions could be built within a capitalist state, and that they would be so appealing, and productive, that the existing capitalist alternatives would simply wither away, demonstrates a naivety on Ross’ part. This book is a gateway drug, which will hopefully lead people to seek out stronger substances in the future. ■
In the summer drought of 2018, rivers across Europe hit record low levels, revealing ‘hunger stones’, warnings from past generations that if the water level gets this low, pain is coming. One stone in the River Elbe read ‘Wenn du mich siehst, dann wein’ translating to ‘If you see me, weep’.
As I write this, large areas of the arctic are on fire.
In Siberia, a new trade is booming in selling the bones of woolly mammoths as they are being revealed by the thawing permafrost.
Within this context, Desert, now republished by Active Distribution, is looking worryingly prophetic.
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Desert has become something of an online sensation since publication by an anonymous author in 2011. It starts from the quite plausible premise that we will not be able to limit climate change in any meaningful sense; that runaway heating is inevitable, that large sections of the globe will become uninhabitable. As this happens, human populations will shrink rapidly due to wars, malnutrition and the vulnerability to disease that these bring. It is not an optimistic view of the future. Humanity will not be able to pull itself together to do anything about it. Unsurprisingly, it has developed a cult following amongst Nihilists and anarcho-individualists.
As well as some worrying predictions about the future of the climate, Desert also has some home-truths for the anarchist movement, our capacity and what we can hope to achieve. In this it calls out the Anarchist Federation, and other groups, for proposing that an anarchist revolution will be complete and worldwide; suggesting this is unrealistic and that ultimately, we’re selling a fantasy not unlike the priests and politicians.
There are some valuable points to consider, and certainly there is some truth in this, however I feel this is a slight misreading of our message.
We do not believe there will be an ‘anarchist revolution’, we believe revolutions are spontaneous events and that ultimately all we can do is try to push them in a more libertarian and communist direction. We must try to build new structures which are effective against the inevitable counter revolution and which mitigates against the prospect of a single group seizing power again over the working class. What (I think) we meant, was not that we would ever have enough anarchists to take over the whole world at once, but that we will never be able to co-exist peacefully with capitalism. Ultimately, if capitalism still exists anywhere in the world it will always try to expand and regain control of our lives. Whether we will be successful in eradicating it remains to be seen.
The author also tries to put to bed the misconception that there will be a ‘singular anarchist future’, however this is not an assumption I was labouring under. In revolutionary Spain, a small part of a relatively small country, there was not one system of doing things. Some villages banned money, some kept it, whereas some issued work tokens. We have never claimed to have the perfect system; there is no set programme; there is no end goal. The beauty of anarchism is that it is constantly evolving, that is adapts to new localities and conditions.
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While I feel these points need clarification, ultimately the message of Desert is one that needs to be heard. There is a naivety amongst the anarchist movement that if we can come up with the perfect organisational structures or blue-print for the future, the working class will arise. The fact is that we are at a low ebb and unfortunately the climate isn’t going to wait until we regain our strength. We must accept that the revolution is unlikely to come about from positive action on our own part, from some glorious moment, more likely it will be due to the collapse of states as they are no longer able to provide for their citizens. We need to accept this, and we need to start planning for it.
That’s not to say that imagining futures together is not valuable. Understanding together what a utopia might look like can help us to get there. These ideas can break the spell of capitalist realism and help people begin to think of new relations between each other and new relations to the rest of nature. This is where Desert brings an important message. Whilst talking of these utopias we must also be realistic about we can achieve in the here and now. We must not preach these utopias as if they are just around the corner or they will be easy to achieve. Anarchist ways of organising have a lot to offer but we as a movement are a long way from being able to build alternative power structures, from being able to provide for communities. This is where our true weaknesses lie: we are not the CNT in 1930s Spain. We do have the structures in place to be able to take over or defend our gains if a revolution happened tomorrow.
Somewhere along the line this sense of realism has been lost amid hopeful speeches aiming to inspire people to anarchist ways of thinking. In early 20th century Italy, Malatesta discussed with other anarchists how they would provide for the people after an uprising in the city- ‘We’ll feed ourselves from the warehouses’ was the reply. But how much food was actually in the warehouses? Malatesta checked and was surprised to find barely any. He realised the city could not survive without help from food brought in by railroad, the same railroad which would also bring reinforcements for the army if it was kept it open. He surmised: ‘we must face the cannons if we want the corn’. This is a useful story of realism meeting revolutionary exuberance. It will not be easy and Desert acknowledges that. We can achieve a lot, just look at anarchist disaster relief efforts across the globe, but we should also be aware we may not be the only force trying to consolidate ourselves as the capitalist order collapses.
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Desert paints a future in which capitalist civilisation crumbles as it becomes unable to provide for its citizens in any meaningful way. Many will die in the global south (the author seems slightly blasé about this fact) but humans will expand north into the previously uninhabited zones. What will remain are pockets of societies, some more anarchist that others and some more successful than others. However, this is not the only way a society ravaged by global heating could evolve. Let me discuss two other possible dystopias.
First, as global warming accelerates the state realises the threat this presents and that it must step in to manage the crisis. The industrialised countries in the temperate north close their borders to keep out climate refuges and foster an increasing nationalism, an us vs them narrative over access to resources. The land purchased by US and European corporations in Africa is used to maintain our standard of living. How many disruptions to supply will the US tolerate before it sends in its army to subdue the locals and manage food production? In this dystopia, society continues in the temperate zones, albeit under strong state control and rationing of resources. Those outside these zones become client states, forced into production to service Europe and the US with food. In reality, this is simply an acceleration of the current dynamic between the industrialised nations and their former colonies.
Second, as climate breakdown becomes increasingly obvious with drought and famine in the less temperate zones, the potential rewards for technologies like direct air capture of CO2 become huge. States are deeply indebted trying to manage extreme weather events and the upgrading of infrastructure, meaning the development of these technologies is in corporate hands. Will Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos be kind to us when they have the power to save humanity, or will they extract as much as possible for their empires? Already they have international operations which flaunt local laws and are developing their own currencies to do this further. In this future the corporations are the ones who build alternative power structures outside the state. For those who can afford it, or who can sell their skills, the climate crisis will be managed. For everyone else, the future is less rosy.
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In planning theory, when dealing with uncertain futures, one approach is to map out the possible scenarios and try to pick a strategy which works with each one. This is often termed ‘no regrets’ decision making. While the solution might not be optimal in any given scenario, it will allow you to survive whichever possible future turns out to be true. Essentially, you’re not putting all your eggs in one basket.
Desert has offered one possible scenario and I have given a further two here. What strategies can we develop which benefit us no matter which turns out to be true? I would like to suggest as a start that in each of these scenarios, being able to provide for ourselves would be incredibly beneficial. The less dependence we have on the state or corporations, the less likely they are to be able to enslave us further.
Unfortunately, taking back the land has proved somewhat tricky despite our best efforts, but perhaps this isn’t the only way we can view this problem. Providing for ourselves could mean engaging with the local council to build community-scale solar schemes. When the time comes we disconnect from the grid and have an energy system which we can manage ourselves. Community growing projects increase knowledge of farming practices, build community networks and show mutual aid in action. Group therapy sessions build our capacity for self-care and international networks grow our knowledge of how other communities have faced similar problems and won. Our unions offer an alternative structure which connects knowledge in different industries with regional-scale understanding of production and distribution systems.
Each of these projects would improve our chances if any of the possible future scenarios of state collapse, state domination or corporatism came true. These, and probably many more, are the ‘no regrets decisions’ we can be making to increase our chance of surviving and thriving in the future. Perhaps Desert’s greatest strength is making us realise the urgency of taking these steps and being realistic about where the movement is today.
Desert is a welcome addition to anarchist ideas about what the future may hold for us. There has been a debate in the climate movement for years about the best way to frame the problem to increase awareness and action. Do we give messages of hope about what the future could hold if we act now or visions of doom if we get it wrong? Ultimately I think both are necessary, people need to be aware of the risks if we don’t get this right and Desert injects a healthy dose of doom into the debate. Just don’t lose hope, another future is possible. ■
John Warwick is an Anarchist and Environmentalist based in the UK.
Desert, a warning written by an anonymous author, republished by Active Distribution ISBN 978 1 909798 72 4
Read Desert for free online at The Anarchist Library
The End of Tolerance was written by Arun Kundnani twelve years ago – the book now seems to serve as some kind of eerie foreshadowing, or horrific prologue to where we are now.
The book traces racism in England back before the Empire, going as far back as the Victorian area, becoming more detailed as we come towards modern day, with the main focus being on immigration control under New Labour. He highlights how the concept of ‘whiteness’, and the idea of a racial hierarchy, has changed over time to suit the needs of the changing economic systems in place.
Later in the book, it focusses mainly on how Islamophobia has become more prevalent in recent years, and what has helped lead up to that fact. Kundnani specifically focuses on the idea that ‘British’ values and ‘Muslim’ values are somehow incompatible. Of course, reviewing this book in 2019, it’s scary to think how much this idea has permeated into mainstream media, and it is often this rhetoric that is used by the far right. The author points just how ill-defined and nonsensical these terms are, and how ideas of freedom and democracy that politicians like to use when discussing these supposed British values, are contrary to our colonial and racist past, and present.
Kundnani’s knowledge of the laws, legal system and statistics is beyond impressive and I was amazed by the detail he was able to go into. I think this element of the book helps make it so compelling – it’s the type of book I’d give to someone who may have more liberal ideas or hasn’t really considered just how institutionalised racism is. The policies put in place, especially under New Labour, and the effect they have had, can’t be considered anything but racist. Of course, these have continued, and worsened by the coalition government and the Conservative Party – with the Home Secretary, Theresa May, declaring the ‘hostile environment’.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book is how Kundnani explains how through the idea of multiculturism it was possible for politicians to keep race policy and immigration policy as two separate things. He asserts that this was often used as a form of control in an attempt to depoliticise Asian and black youths who had rose up in anger at their conditions, and with this came the purposeful separating of different ethnic groups in an attempt to fragment a broad reaching political movement. Of course, we see how this has now been turned into the idea of a ‘refusal’ to integrate within wider society. Reading the book, I was made aware just how much government action and policy has shaped racism in modern Britain, and how this is was often done intentionally in order to keep state control.
Kundnani focuses specifically on immigration control and how this is often arbitrary and meaningless. These controls are far further reaching than just the visa process, and they have gradually become a part of the benefits system, housing and education. He details the role of globalisation, contrasting the movement of people to the movement of capital and how this has meant that the old colonial, more developed countries have been able to amass large amounts of wealth, often at the expense of the global south.
I learnt lots of interesting, and horrible facts, for example:
Roughly two-thirds of all asylum seeker claims are refused.
Out of 380 decisions made on applications by Iraqis in the ﬁrst quarter of 2008, 280 were refusals.
The percentage of asylum applicants refused at initial decision reached its highest point at 88% in 2004.
As Kundnani points out, this approach to people who are trying to seek escape from persecution, leads to more trafficking, and people being forced to put themselves, and possibly their families, in unsafe conditions or work – which the government then uses as a reason to condemn people.
Aspects of this book feel slightly outdated, it is now over a decade old, which is a lot in political terms. However, I do think this is a great background text to understanding the government’s role, with a particular focus on New Labour, in shaping race relations in Britain. I learnt a hell of a lot from this book, and it is interesting (and infuriating) to see how these ideas and laws, continue to have impact in the present day. ■
Northern Jam is an Anarchist and Feminist from reet up North. Passionate about cross stitching, reading and the downfall of the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
The End of Tolerance. Published September 2007 by Pluto Press . Written by Arun Kundnani
Coincidentally, I started reading this book two days before an MEP from Scotland called Churchill a 'white supremacist mass murder' on twitter - a statement I already agreed with from what I knew of him. I didn't start this book completely uninformed, I certainly didn't think much of Churchill beforehand, knowing what I did about his opinions on India (amongst other places and people), and I had heard the odd quote from Amery in passing, however, reading Madhusree Mukerjee's book was eye-opening and the extent of which the Bengali famine could have been avoided, is both heart breaking and infuriating. Even more so within the context of the British cultural show of admiration for a man who deserves nothing but condemnation for being a racist, imperialist piece of scum.
It is a tough a read. It took me over a month, stopping and starting when it got too heavy and the statistics tired me down. I guess that is the nature of a book like this. The book is filled with sources and footnotes; however, I have to be honest and say I have not checked these sources so can't confirm their reliability. However, the fact that are so many provided, from so many different sources, certainly seems a good thing; maybe one day I will get around to looking at the primary sources. The author, who is Indian herself, also talks to survivors of the famine and relatives, which adds a more personal touch to a very dense book.
The books main focus is on the Bengali famine of 1943, where according to most sources, roughly 3 million people died. Mukerjee analyses the British response regarding food shortages at the time - many of the issues leading to which were caused by prior British policies and also the general disdain members of the British government felt for South Asians which lead to a lack of action. However, the book also looks at this within the wider context of World War Two and at British policy in India on a broader scale, including the potential invasion of Japanese ships, British efforts to divide religious persons to try to combat opposition to colonial rule and India’s huge contributions to the war effort.
Between Churchill and his aide, Cherwell, a eugenics fan and supremacist himself, it is clear that their neglect of this issue was not based on either ignorance nor necessity (whatever that actually means…but that’s a whole other blog post) but their racist, colonial attitudes and their personal hatred towards Indian people, particularly Hindus. This tragedy could have been prevented at numerous times by the British government but it was allowed to take place due to ideological reasoning, convenience and a desire to discredit, and weaken those who opposed British rule. Of course, this attitude wasn’t exclusive to India, it is part of Churchill’s wider attitude towards colonised peoples, the working-class and anyone who was non-white.
As I say, this is a tough read and it isn't a pleasant read either. However, in my opinion this is an important book about a subject that is often overlooked or defended as a necessary tragedy. I would recommend this book to anyone who is British or has an interest in learning more about the horrors of British imperialism; this book is about a man who is often idolised by politicians and media and a lot of discourse is left behind in favour of the old troupe 'he fought the Nazi's so he must be great'. I can’t imagine anyone reading this review is a fan of Churchill anyway, but for a more in-depth analysis of his role in the famine of 1943 this is book is great addition. ■
NorthernJam is an Anarchist and Feminist from reet up North. Passionate about cross stitching, reading and the downfall of the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
Churchill's Secret War. Published by Tranquebar Press 2010 . Written by Madhusree Mukerjee.
Kristian Williams is not mincing words or beating around the proverbial bush in his pamphlet “Whither Anarchism?” Frankly, good for him and it is good for all of us who call or think of themselves as anarchists. It is not mystery to anyone who has spent any time in anarchist circles, physical or digital, that there are issues that hold up progress. Issues that drive infighting and disorganization. By shining a light on what he thinks these problems are and what may be done about it, Kristian does Anarchists a much needed service.
Whither Anarchism begins with an introduction stating Kristian’s reasons for the inclusion of the three essays that make up the pamphlet and he does not take much time to let us know that the anarchist movement in his opinion is not in a great place. Hell, he goes so far as to ponder if the word “movement” is even the correct word for what anarchism currently is. He follows this introduction with what his own, personal believes are and defines what anarchism means to him. There is a lot in this first essay that most anarchists would agree with but it is nice to give readers a foundation for the essay that follows and to understand where the author is coming from.
The second essay which takes up the bulk of this pamphlet is where Kristian lays out what anarchism currently is and the evolution of how it became so. He raises some points and gives the historical reasons for aspects of anarchism that weren’t always considered “Anarchist” and discusses just how the have become so ingrained. Things that some Anarchist tendencies take for granted as always being a part of the philosophy, such as pacifism, are shown here to be outgrowths of world events and the evolution of an idea in an active and changing world. Kristian argues that we should pay more attention to the fact that ideas have changed and not retroactively assign ideas as golden rules that have always been, riding the line between stagnation and evolution. We need to understand foundational ideas in anarchism but we cannot hold on tightly to ideas and practices written in a time and place alien to our own. Towards the end of the this essay, Kristian writes “Our prefigurative practices should be guided by a strategic need to avoid establishing new tyrannies, not by a moral demand that we fully realize some pristine utopia. In fact, among the tyrannies we should avoid creating are those based in perfectionism and moral purity.” which is a statement so powerful and simple we should hope it becomes a rallying point to begin the work suggested in this pamphlet.
In his conclusion, Kristian addresses the fact that his two main themes in the essay Whither Anarchism? are in conflict. He states “ ...while I find the ideas of anarchism compelling, I recognize that my argument for them is lacking in some fundamental respects.” This idea was floating in the back of my mind the further into his essay I read and I’m glad he acknowledges it. If left to understand out where he stands after reading the essay, one might feel that Kristian is arguing against trying to save Anarchism from itself. In reality what Kristian is trying to get across is that yes, anarchism has some serious and deep issues but that in the end, it is worth taking a look at these issues and moving anarchism forward. For the philosophy of anarchism to remain in its current state is to watch it wither and to die and without a philosophy, there is no anarchist movement. Kristian believes, as I think most anarchist would, that anarchism as both a philosophy and a movement, is worth saving. ■
Whither Anarchism? By Kristian Williams, Published by To the Point/AK Press 2018
Kevin A. lives in New York and enjoys coffee. Sometimes too much.
I stumbled upon this book when looking for more books by people of colour to read. The book is a collection of 21 short stories by black, Asian and minority ethic writers (BAME), mainly first and second-generation immigrants, who have grown up in the UK and details the difficulties they have experienced, and the racism and prejudice they have faced here. Nikesh Shukla has collected a series of stories ranging from somewhat humorous anecdotes to a more sombre approach to the subject matter, so there’s a pretty broad mix of styles included.
A lot of the stories focus on the idea of a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ immigrant and this idea that immigrants, or basically, those who are non-white, have certain expectations pushed upon them by society that white people just don’t have to contend with. There is the idea that people of colour must ‘prove’ themselves in order to be accepted into ‘British culture’ – something which is problematic in itself and is steeped in a history of violence, colonialism and xenophobia; many of the writers focus on the feeling of being unwanted by the country they were born in, despite the huge contributions migrants have made here.
It also looks at just how ingrained institutional racism is in our everyday society. As white person from Sunderland, a rather homogenous city up in the North East of the England, I have to be honest and say it is something that isn’t always on my radar, and is something I need to be more mindful of, including in my own interactions. This book was a rather stark reminder of just how ingrained this is in our society and the horrendous consequences it has on people’s everyday lives.
There isn’t a single focus in this book, there are discussions on being mixed race, what it means to be black, the idea of the Asian ‘model minority’, however within the diversity and breadth of discussion there is commonality in the way all these authors have been treat in this country. Stand out essays for me were ‘A Guide To Being Black’, ‘Airports and Auditions’, ‘The Ungrateful Country’ and ‘Beyond Good Immigrants’.
I think it is important to mention that the writers in this book all know the author ■ (as she points out in the preface) and that they are all considered to be relatively successful people within current society, which therefore means the demographic being represented is somewhat limited. We still don’t get to hear the voices of those who are facing poverty, unemployment and unable to access the basic services they need. There are some working-class voices in the book, although these seem to be fewer in number.
Considering the UK’s horrific past of colonialism, our continuing onslaught of imperialism around the globe and our ongoing battle against racism, this book is a great starting point to try to understand and empathise what those around us routinely suffer through and how we attempt overcome these issues. It’s 2019, and we’ve got a long way to go yet. I recommend this book to everyone really, but especially white people, it’s extremely relevant and will probably leave you feeling a mixture of despair, shame and rage. ■
Northern Jam is an Anarchist and feminist from reet up North. Passionate about cross stitching, reading and the downfall of the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
The Good Immigrant. Published by Unbound 2016 . Edited by Nikesh Shukla
In the concluding chapter of Anarchist Education and the Modern School, Robert Haworth reminds the reader that Francisco Ferrer, his Modern School and his ideas about education are these days often mentioned in passing and are perhaps not given the due they deserve. There is a resurgence in radical education in some pockets and corners of Anarchism but most of the focus and headlines tend to be focused on black blocs, protests and the like. Not to say these tactics don't have their place; they certainly do. However, what one could argue is one of the defining aspects of anarchism seems to be severely falling behind. Education has long been a weapon of the state as well put by Tolstoy when he wrote “The strength of the government rests on the ignorance of the people, and it knows this, and therefore will always fight against education.” With the political climate of 2019 being what it is, Mark Bray and Robert Haworth working with the translation work done by Joseph McCabe have given us a new, cleaned up and expanded collection of one of anarchism's most influential radical educators just in time to help navigate what is possible in the face of public school's being under funded and left to rot only to make way for private schools run by those who have a vested interest in maintaining the ignorance of the people.
Included here is the entirety of Ferrer's The Modern School: Posthumous Explanation and Scope of Rationalist Education along with background information about Ferrer himself, excerpts from the Modern School's bulletin, Ferrer's writings on the General Strike, critiques of Ferrer and his Modern School, reactions and musings about his death and more. Most of this volume has been translated into English for the first time here (by Bray) and while some are surely familiar with Ferrer and have read his writings before, here they are presented with the full history behind them. We are shown Ferrer's political evolution from a Republican (not in the USA GOP sense) to an Anarchist who worked behind the scenes as well as in public view. His writings on the General Strike are quite aggressive and give us a glimpse of the two Ferrers. He published them under a pen-name so as not to bring unwanted attention to his school which was operating at the time and one can easily see why. In Spain, where the Church held more power than the government in most cases, statements such as “The complete emancipation of the workers will come neither from the Church nor the state, but rather from the general strike that will destroy them both” was sure to land someone in some hot water.
The critiques are also a welcome addition as when reading Ferrer's work, one could themselves have some issues with certain aspects of how he put his ideas into practice. On more than one issue Ferrer would say one thing but in reality do quite the opposite. For example, in all matters of the Modern School, Ferrer held final say which seems to go directly against the very nature of open and rational education. Also, in the first year of the School, Ferrer would publish remarks about the students, good or ill, in the schools Bulletin for all to see which seems to go against his writings on having “neither praise nor punishment.” It is important to see that over the course of the school, ideas changed and to remember that Ferrer was operating in uncharted territory in a very hostile, very Catholic Spain.
Ferrer was by no means a perfect. And that's the point, none of us are. He believed so deeply in rational and radical education that he forged his path and brought into the world a school and philosophy about education that still has practical applications. Like all theorists and activists, Ferrer was a product of his time and place and wasn't the first or last to hold ideas about education in a radical sense. In discussing his death at the close of this collection, the most powerful thing to come away with was the spread of the Modern School and how no two schools were the same. Most took pieces of Ferrer's model to some extent but they adapted and changed these ideas and put them in to practice. The point of reading theory isn't to try and replicate it perfectly but to take it, apply it to our lives and to make it our own. Ferrer surely would be glad to see his ideas still being circulated (even if he wouldn't enjoy the cult like status placed on him at the time of his death). It would be a wonderful thing if we could take lessons from him, apply them to our communities and truly start giving education the attention it so rightfully deserves as a radical tool.
Kevin A. lives in New York and enjoys coffee. Sometimes too much.
Anarchist Education and the Modern School. Published by PM Press, 2018. Edited by Mark Bray and Robert Haworth. Translated by Mark Bray and Joseph McCabe.