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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)

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On Anarchism: Dispatches from the People’s Republic of Vermont

Reading this collection of essays, it’s clear David Van Deusen has lived an interesting life. To start, Van Deusen takes us on an exciting history of his involvement in The Green Mountain Anarchist Collective. He writes about efforts against racist group The Minutemen, daily struggles of organization and introduces the question of violence and non-violence used as a tactic and strategy, a topic he goes in to in more detail later in the book. Reading the first chapter on the history of Van Deusen and the collective he was part of does intrigue the reader to get stuck in to the book. It intrigues as you build a mental image of the man in your head and after the opening stories, you want to know what else he has been part of. Although the title may suggest more enjoyment for people familiar with the northeast of the USA, the book still has lots to offer those who are not. The second set of essays focuses on Theory, including two great reads The Rise of Capitalism and Authoritarian Communism as An Incomplete Resistance. These two essays are written with pace and vigor sometimes lacking in other parts of the book. Some of the essays are so crammed with theories and ideas, I needed a rest between them to let it sink in. A nice touch here: Van Deusen intersperses the theories with song lyrics from the Who, the Clash, Public Enemy and many others; this helps the reader to digest the previous essay and get ready for the next.

Van Deusen describes some comprehensive tactics he has used in demonstrations; this chapter is extreme and makes you wish there were more Anarchists organizing themselves as he suggests. Although this section was first published in 2000, it’s still relevant and hopefully some folk will take note. He even compares the tactics of the US Army to what can be used on the streets. For your information, if there are over 1000 of you hitting the streets, keep a reserve of about 300. This chapter has over 20 essays and ends with an account of a huge organized demonstration being postponed when the World Trade Center was attacked in September 2001.

The forth chapter has essays under the heading Organization. There are more stories from Van Deusen’s experiences; by this point you realize the guy has done a fair bit. He explores workers’ councils and unions and looks at the difference between talking about them being valuable and the reality of starting one. Reading about bosses intimidating workers and capitalism generally making lives unhappy rings all too true of struggles around the world today.

These ideas roll over to the following chapter, ‘Workers’. Van Deusen writes about starting a union and strategies to help workers. This is met with backlash from bosses who try to intimidate their workers who join. They use different tactics to respond, claiming some victories. It takes place in a small New England City, but the stories feel like a microcosm of larger systems. Tactics like filling diners with people only drinking coffee during peak dinner time do get a message across. It doesn’t feel like this is being mirrored around the world and, on the grander scale, if only a few people boycott companies like Nestle, Amazon etc., the bosses will continue to exploit. But without a few people like Van Deusen getting things going, of course it would be even worse.

The final chapters of this book talk about the 2007 secession from Vermont and a story about a road trip to New Orleans. Van Deusen visits to assist/witness the aftermath of Katrina’s destruction in 2005. A nice end to the book, a good one to read if you need to refresh the idea that ACAB.

Anarchists need to communicate and organize themselves, this book is a healthy read to assist in communication across countries. What has happened and been tried in Vermont can help someone in China. Anarchists will certainly find interest in some of these essays and groups can learn from what has worked and what hasn’t for Van Deusen. There are many points which can lead to interesting discussion in established groups, organizers of radical events and new budding Anarchists. If completely new to Anarchism, this book may not be an ideal starting point; in parts it is quite heavy. To someone well read on the topic, there are certainly many essays that can coax progressive ways of thinking about Anarchy.

Although Van Deusen is yet to have influenced as many as Bernie Sanders in Vermont; let’s hope this book encourages a few more in to direct action. Now the planet is on the verge of collapse, politicians have lost their people’s faith more than ever before and the Alt-right are gaining a voice, maybe it’s time to learn from Van Deusen more than ever.

Hopefully this quote from Jeff Jones, writer of the foreword, will give you an idea about the author and how the book is written:

David [Van Deusen] identifies as a revolutionary: that is, he believes in and works for a complete transformation of our society as presently constituted. What’s more, he believes this transformation is possible.”

Let’s do it!■

Nik Ray occasionally reviews books for magazines. He lives in South East Asia with his partner and kids, working when he has to. He reads too.

On Anarchism: Dispatches from the People’s Republic of Vermont by David Van Deusen / Algora Publishing, 2017

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Pereira Maintains

Pereira maintains he is non-political. He edits the culture page of the Lisboa – an evening paper, and therefore not in the same league as other newspapers of Lisbon, but he was sure it would sooner or later make its mark, even if the culture staff consisted solely of himself, one man sweating with heat and discomfort in a squalid cubby-hole under the eye of a caretaker who was probably a police informant. It was the twenty-fifth of July Nineteen Hundred and Thirty-Eight and Lisbon was glittering, literally glittering in the purity of an Atlantic breeze, and the city seemed entirely in the hands of the police that evening. The day before, in Alentejo, they had killed a carter who supplied the markets, because he was a Socialist. This explained why the Guarda Nacional were stationed outside the market gates. But the Lisboa hadn’t had the courage to print the news, and who could be expected to have the courage to print news of that sort, that a Socialist carter had been shot down on his wagon in Alentejo, and had drenched all his melons with blood? ‘World’s Most Luxurious Yacht Sailed Today from New York’ the Lisboa’s headline read that day.

There are countless novels written about fascist Italy, Germany and Spain. Patrick Creagh’s translation of Pereira Maintains is the only one I know of in English about the Portuguese ‘Estado Novo’, arguably the world’s longest ruling fascist regime. I say arguably because it is difficult to say when fascism started in Portugal. There was no violent coup like in Germany, no march on the capital like in Italy, no civil war like in Spain – just the gradual consolidation of power by Salazar and his circle, and the slow creep of authoritarianism working its way into every corner of Portuguese life. Like being lay in a bath with the water temperature slowly rising, it’s difficult to say at what point you’re being boiled alive. Such was life in Portugal. By the time of the Carnation Revolution in 1974, after forty plus years of dictatorship under the banner ‘Faith, Fatherland and Family’, Portugal had the highest rate of infant mortality in Europe.

Tabucchi’s novel is set as the heat rises on its hero, Pereira. The heat rises, the walls close in, the grip on his collar tightens, and the question is: how heroic is he? How heroic can anyone be expected to be under the tyranny of a police state? I’m only the obscure editor of a second rate evening paper, said Pereira, and every day the proofs are examined by the state censors. It isn’t easy in a country like this for a person like me. But a wild idea had struck him, he maintains. There is no time to lose.

Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi, Feltrinelli, 1994. ISBN-13: 88-07-01461-0

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Chav Solidarity – Review

Trigger warning. This review recounts abuse and violence, the book more so.

D. Hunter is a an ageing chav, whose first 25 years depended upon the informal economy including sex work, robbing and dealing. For the last 12 years he has been an anti-capitalist motivated community organiser.”

This book is built on the backs of those who walked alongside in the first 25 years of my life. The dead, disregarded and the disgraced. Forever in my heart, always on my arms.”

Whatever psychological scars I carry with me today would have been far worse were my skin a different colour. I honestly believe that had I been anything other than White I’d be dead.”

This self-published autobiography is, for the most part, about the earlier life of an anarchist comrade in Nottingham who most local activists will know. Some will even know snippets of his testimony now written down for the world to see.

It’s a blunt story of survival along with generous acknowledgement of how a young working class person’s life is moulded, good (in this case to being formed into anarchist) and bad (very), by family, friends, fellow travellers and circumstance. An abusive father who rejected the state whilst horribly tormenting those closest, community defence in the midst of terrible social distress, escapism via drugs and booze and suicide – attempted and achieved. A political book given at the right time, a moment of care after prison abuse, revenge meted out at the time of abuse or years later, sex workers looking out for each other and an account of serious racism with tacit recognition of the existence of a white supremacist patriarchal capitalist system. The writer doesn’t shy away from their own role or make excuses – we read how he used white supremacy to get advantage in boxing ring using racist slurs, did better (relatively) than Black or Brown men in youth offenders institutions and prison, got stopped and searched less.

The working class solidarity in the title of this amazing book really shines through. But there is a big challenge to the anarchist movement which is framed in terms of the vast majority of us now, especially after widened educational opportunity (but also then), having so many more choices and so much more ‘cultural capital’ than in the chav world the author identifies with but has managed, in part, to leave behind. In an increasingly unequal society, with a continued viscous attack on welfare, and the total disregard of the humanity of poor and working class people of colour such as with the Grenfell fire and an increasing racialised discourse during Brexit, many more people could soon be facing reduced choices, abandoned by the state. There is also the challenge to activists to really understand the 2011 riots, and to respond properly and practically to the critique of the former Black Panthers Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin and JoNina Abron-Ervin) who visited the UK a few years later having been invited to the London Anarchist Bookfair in 2014 – whose meetings at the Sumac Centre (Nottingham’s anarchist social centre) and an afro-Caribbean community centre were hosted locally by the author and members of Nottingham AF, amongst others. Anarchists, the AF included, have yet to help make a real difference, in spite the much higher awareness of intersectional oppression.

The book is very well written and in accessible language. To find out more and get the book go to: chavsolidarity.com
You can read the titular essay here:- Chav Solidarity



Chav Solidarity Things by D.Hunter, Self Published, 2018.

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A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things

Welcome to the Capitalocene. Humans, at least some of them, are killing everything, from megafauna to microbiota, at speeds one hundred times faster than the background rate. The scale of destruction can’t be simply extrapolated from the excesses of our knuckle-dragging forebears. What has really changed since the 1400s is capitalism – and this is what the book is about: showing how the modern world has been made through seven cheap things – nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives.

Take the humble chicken, Gallus gallus domesticus, product of post WW2 freely-sourced genetic manipulation to produce the most profitable fowl. It reaches maturity in six weeks, can barely walk, has an oversized breast, and is slaughtered en masse, at the rate of sixty billion a year. Cheap Nature. In the United States two cents for every dollar spent on fast-food chicken goes to the poultry workers. Cheap Work. Eighty-six percent of workers are in pain because of repetitive hacking and twisting on the production line. Denial of injury claims is common. The result is a fifteen percent decline in income for ten years after injury, so recovering workers depend on family for support – outside the production circuit but central to maintaining the workforce. Cheap Care. So chickens don’t fart methane like cows, but they are bred in huge barns that need fuel to keep them warm. Low-cost chickens require loads of propane. Cheap Energy. Franchising and public subsidies for private profit mitigate the financial risks of commercial sales, right through to the land on which soy is grown to feed the chickens, in China, Brazil and the United States. Cheap Money. Last, persistent acts of chauvinism against animal and human lives – women, the colonized, the poor, people of colour and immigrants, make these six cheap things possible.

Of course there’s resistance, from indigenous peoples whose flocks provide the genetic material for breeding to care workers demanding recognition. ‘The social struggles over nature, money, work, care, food, energy and lives that attend the Capitalocene’s poultry bones amount to a case for why the most iconic symbol of the modern era isn’t the automobile or the smartphone but the Chicken McNugget.’

The Medieval Warm Period ran from around 950 to 1250 across the North Atlantic. Populations swelled, towns multiplied. Europeans nearly tripled in number to 70 million. Agricultural surpluses soared. Relative prosperity fuelled expansionism. Beginning in 1095, the Crusades were commercialised military operations targeting the wealth of the eastern Mediterranean. Conquest was made to pay by imposing tribute; the forerunner of colonial capitalism. The greatest conqueror of all, however, was cultivation; by the fourteenth century, agriculture took up a third of all European land use, a sixfold increase in 500 years, much of it at the expense of forests.

Then famine returned with colder, wetter weather. Massive rains struck Europe in May 1315 and did not ease up until August, ending with a cold snap. Europe’s population shrank by twenty percent in five years and the so-called Great Famine continued until 1322. This was the Little Ice Age that lasted until the 19th century. Feudalism crashed, not least because feudal lords wanted cash or grain, and they consumed any surpluses rather than reinvesting in agriculture. Left to their own devices, peasants would probably have shifted to crop mixes, including garden produce. Peasant autonomy would have allowed medieval Europe to feed up to three times as many people. But the transition never happened. In 1347 the Black Death struck an already weakened population. Almost overnight, peasant revolts became large-scale threats to the feudal order.

Repressive legislation to keep labour cheap, through wage controls or outright re-enserfment, was the response, for example England’s Ordinance and Statute of Labourers. ‘The equivalent today would be to respond to an Ebola epidemic by making unionisation harder’, the authors write.

Capitalism was born out of this mayhem. Ruling classes didn’t just seek to restore the surplus but to expand it, and it was the Iberian aristocracy that stumbled on a solution, especially in Portugal and Castile. To make war with the Moslem powers on the peninsula – the Reconquista – they depended on financiers. War and debt remade society and spurred the earliest invasions of the Canary Islands and Madeira. ‘The solution to war debt was more war, with the payoff being colonial profit on new, great frontiers.’

Madeira was a case in point. In the 1460s a new way for producing food took shape. One traveller reported in 1455 there was not a foot of ground on the island not covered in great trees. By the 1550s it was hard to find any wood at all. The reason: sugar production. It had arrived in Ibera by the 14th century and by 1420 it was being grown commercially, funded by German banks and cultivated near Valencia by a mix of slaves and free workers. In the 1460s and 1470s farmers on Madeira gave up wheat and grew sugar exclusively. The sugar frontier spread to other islands in the Atlantic, then on a massive scale to the New World. And like palm and soy monocultures today, it rapidly exhausted soils, cleared forests and encouraged pests. As for the workers, they were indigenous people from the Canary Islands in the case of Madeira, North African salves and in some cases paid plantation labourers from Europe.

When Madeira’s trees were all consumed, sugar production crashed. Capitalism reinvented itself. After sugar came wine, the casks being imported from the ‘cheap’ forests of the New World. Commodities flowed the other way: Madeira was a conduit for the African slave trade, and in a more recent reinvention, today that grim history is exploited and marketed in the form of tourism.

Here then, is the central theme of this highly readable, heavily-sourced book: ‘Capitalism not only has frontiers; it exists only through frontiers, expanding from one place to the next, transforming socioecological relations, producing more and more kinds of goods and services…For capitalism, what matters is that the figures entered into ledgers – to pay workers, to supply adequate food for workers, to purchase energy and raw materials – are as low as possible. Capitalism only values what it can count and it can count only dollars…this means that the whole system thrivers when powerful states and capitalists can reorganise global nature, invest as little as they can, and receive as much food, work, energy and raw materials with as little disruption as possible.’ ■

A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things, by Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore, Verso, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-78873-213-0