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Review : Whither Anarchism?

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.

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Review: Anarchist Education and the Modern School

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.

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Review: Liberating Society from the State

Erich Muhsam’s life is an incredible story full of inspiration that ends with one hell of a foretelling heartbreak (If you don’t know the story, I suggest you look it up as it could itself be a 500 plus word article). For a long time, how Erich’s life ended overshadowed his work during his life. Outside of his home country, some of this was due to the fact that not much of his writing was translated from his native German. In“Liberating Society from the State” we have a collection of Muhsam’s journal entries, articles from various publications (some of them run by Muhsam himself) and long form essays some of which are available here for the first time in English.

The collection provides both the authors diary entries and letters allowing us to get a greater picture behind his thought process and intent. In some instances this is very helpful to understand when Muhsam changed his view point (in some cases almost as soon as his article was published) or to see how he ended up with a pro-war stance during the outbreak of The Great War in 1914. We also get to see the after effects of these stances, how other leftists responded to Muhsam and how he replied in turn. By showing someone’s thought process and de-mystifying the author, it allows us to see that the writers we all look to and hold up as pillars did not just magically awaken one day with said ideas. It is a process of growth and sometimes people mis-step.

Included are also several entries on some of the most under represented periods in leftist history; the Bavarian Council Republic and interwar German with the rise of Hitler and the Fascist National Socialist German Workers’ Party from the perspective of an Anarchist living in and recording events in real time. Muhsam’s participation in the Bavarian Council Republic is also documented in a separate book also translated by Kuhn (“All Power to the Councils!” published by PM Press) but here we are given here Muhsam’s account of events he wrote while imprisoned which he intended to confront distortions from the Communist Party. As for the rise of Hitler, included is a collection of short diary entries dating from August 1922 to February 1924 which may seem eerie to people living across the globe in 2019.

The title of this book takes it’s name from the longest piece which closes out the book. “Liberating Society From the State” was published as a pamphlet and is Muhsam’s attempt to explain Anarcho-Communism and to answer the common questions asked of the political ethos. It is Muhsam at his most focused and because of that, his best. Muhsam defines Communism in the libertarian sense and is free with his criticisms of both Marxism and Marxists. He offers some of the best arguments against Marxism’s use of the state while also showing why he believes Anarcho-Communism to be a more realistic vehicle to bring about a stateless society. The reader comes to this point now the background provided by having read a wide selection of Muhsam’s writing up to this point, this essay pulls together his best ideas and is a wonderful conclusion to this edition. The final essay alone should be high on the list of introductory literature on Anarcho-Communism and combined with Muhsam’s other writings this book is surely not to be miss.

Kevin A – is a blogger and reviewer who likes to reply to “would you like to review for Organise?” type posts on social media. If you’d like follow Kevin’s lead and write reviews and articles for us, shoot us an email at organise@afed.org.uk

Liberating Society from the State by Erich Muhsam (translated by Gabriel Kuhn) published by PM Press, 2011

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Review: We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. In 1872, the International Working Men’s Association split along statist and anarchist lines bringing into the world the most self-destructive infighting that remains a stain of the left to this day. This split has been written about pretty extensively from the Marxist perspective but there’s not much written from the Anarchist one. For an event that in many ways gave birth to the Anarchist movement, you’d be hard pressed to find a deep dive on the history, cause and after effects of said split. Thankfully, Robert Graham has seen fit to write “We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It” and gives us a view of these events from a vastly under represented side.

Writing in a narrative style, Graham saves us from a purely historical text and breathes some much needed life into what could have easily become a stiff list of dates and matter-of-fact reporting. Nor does he see the need to play it down the middle, using his own anarchist believes to flavor these events and to cast judgment where he see’s fit. It’s refreshing to read someone not only stick up for their anarchist believes but to defend them and their historical context when so much attention has been paid to the other side.

While the spot light may be on the split itself, Graham does a wonderful job of going back to the beginning to build a strong foundation that helps us understand the split, the major players in it and the their motivation. With his coverage of events after the split, a wonderful service is paid to the birth of the Anarchist movement and its growth after its expulsion by Marx and those in his camp. Graham paints us a straight line from this expulsion to the Haymarket Riots, The Spanish Revolution and beyond.

It is important for anyone who considers themselves an anarchist to know this history, to know where and more importantly why this split occurred and how it gave birth to the Anarchist Movement. It may also be insightful for Marxists to see this infamous event from a different perspective and to understand those of us who side with it. Equally important, Graham’s inclusion of major figures in the anarchist movements support for Marx’s work is something to be commended. He is sure to point out the vast respect and incorporation of Marx’s Das Kapital into anarchist thought and practice. This ties together the book nicely which otherwise could, from a Marxist perspective, be looking to stir up old arguments with it’s display of some of Marx’s incredibly questionable tactics while trying to remove Bakunin and the anarchist wing. We must remember that while there are divides on the left, there is common ground. Upon hearing of the split between anarchists and Marxists, Otto Von Bismarck said the following; “Crowned heads, wealth and privilege may well tremble should ever again the Black and Red unite!” That is an incredibly powerful statement and a reminder that at one time the combined left was so large and organized that it posed a serious threat. It’s a reminder we should all hold close that while we have our differences, we are all stronger when we are united.

Kevin A – is a blogger and reviewer who likes to reply to “would you like to review for Organise?” type posts on social media. If you’d like follow Kevin’s lead and write reviews and articles for us, shoot us an email at organise@afed.org.uk

We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement by Robert Graham (AK Press, 2015)