New historical syndicalist book

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Red Marriott
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Mar 3 2009 00:30
New historical syndicalist book

A new book from AK Press; Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism. The book, the first of two volumes in the CounterPower series by Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt. Excerpt here;
http://www.revolutionbythebook.akpress.org/black-flame-the-revolutionary-class-politics-of-anarchism-and-syndicalism-%E2%80%94-book-excerpt/
The excerpt from the intro looks historically confused - and/or is deliberately trying to rewrite history to fit its own political agenda. It says anarchism began in the 1st International, which included significant numbers of Proudhonist trade unionists, iirc, acknowledges that "The broad anarchist tradition was profoundly influenced by both Proudhon and Marx" but "reject the view that figures like ... Proudhon... [are] part of the broad anarchist tradition." Even though Proudhon was (one of?) the first to call himself an anarchist. Yet they describe Bakunin - who openly cited Proudhon as a key libertarian influence - as, alongside Kropotkin, "The key figures in defining anarchism and syndicalism" .

Yet "we include under the rubric of the broad anarchist tradition syndicalists like Daniel De Leon" - who was a Marxist and explicitly not an anarchist and who stood several times as an electoral candidate - and also "James Connolly" - who never called himself an anarchist, afaik, and who led a nationalist insurrection. So the breadth of "the broad anarchist tradition" seems, for these authors, to vary considerably at different points.

akai
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Mar 3 2009 10:44

And what did you expect? It's common that people slant histories of anarchism. It's much worse if the author has a sectarian agenda. I haven't read the book and don't know how it's presented but from the preview it looks like some revisionist purge. Tucker, Proudhon, Stirner, Tolstoy and Godwin out, Sorel, Haywood, DeLeon. Connelly in. As I say, I haven't read it, but I suppose I can predict some of its arguments. That said, there are plenty of anarchists who I don't like or whose anarchism does not suit me, but I'd be against playing with labels like that and would prefer to simply analyse differences or point out where ideas would not be consistent with a certain approach.

The inclusion of figures like Haywood (a statist socialist who ended up in high Bolshevik circles (disillusioned by Stalin no consolation) and DeLeon looks to be part of a pattern of fuzzy attitudes towards left statists.

Has anybody read the book?

Deezer
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Mar 3 2009 12:09

Not yet but I will be - I am also very wary of histories of "Anarchism and Syndicalism" since Bookchins false, and forced, division between Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Spanish revolution. Wil have a look before making any comment though.

syndicalist
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Mar 3 2009 13:51

Comrades,

Perhaps it's prudent to read the book (I haven't seen it yet) and then comment on the actual contents.

akai
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Mar 3 2009 18:39

People were commenting on the preview. I for one will make no assumptions before reading the book, but the preview does explain who the authors consider and don't consider part of the anarchist tradition. We can read it and see how it's played.

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Felix Frost
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Mar 3 2009 21:44

I haven't read the book, but I assume the authors are discussing anarchism/syndicalism as an organized part of the labor movement which got its start in the 1860s, and are explicitly not discussing anarchism as an abstract philosophy. From this point of view, I think it makes good sense to exclude thinkers like Stirner and Goodwin, but include Marxist syndicalists.

Of course, one might argue that "the broad anarchist tradition" isn't the best choice of label for this, but I don't think they are trying to rewrite history.

Personally, I find one of the biggest problems with most histories of anarchism is that they focus way too much on the abstract ideas, while mostly ignoring the labor movement. Reading books about anarchism, you get the impression that anarchism was a good idea that was invented by some old guys with long beards sometime in the 19th century, but that unfortunately never really cought on among ordinary workers...

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Mar 5 2009 15:18

If they'd admitted they were talking about a 'narrow syndicalist tradition' rather than a supposed "broad anarchist tradition" things would be clearer. As it is, with their revisionist purges, they're trying to claim all of anarchism for syndicalism - and, with their embrace of marxists and nationalists, all of syndicalism for anarchism. It doesn't make for accuracy or sense.

According to their logic, they might just as well define MSP Tommy Sheridan and his fellow Trots as being within the "broad anarchist tradition" on the basis of their membership of the ridiculous Scottish Parliamentary branch of the the IWW.

There might be other reasons to make the book worth reading, but the preview doesn't inspire confidence.

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Mar 5 2009 21:31

They're not talking about a 'narrow syndicalist tradition' though - they are talking about the tradition of organized class struggle anarchism and syndicalism. I think the authors are actually platformists and not syndicalists, so they definitely wouldn't try to 'claim all of anarchism for syndicalism'.

But I agree that it would have been better if they had chosen a better term than 'broad anarchist tradition' for what they are describing.

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Mar 5 2009 23:15

You may be right, Felix, though they give the impression of "anarchism and syndicalism" as being synonymous - but their categories still seem a historical mess.

Zeronowhere
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Mar 6 2009 14:22

Well, I'd count De Leon from 1904 onwards (before which his beliefs were practically the opposite of what is generally considered De Leonism) as a libertarian socialist. He did support use of the ballot, but as a purely destructive measure, whereas before that he saw that as the 'sword' of a revolution, and the union as the 'shield'. He also moved away from his authoritarian tendencies, which were pretty evident in his earlier works. He also seemed to have a rather misguided view of what 'anarchism' was, conflating it with the 'chessboard view of society' (hell, some Lennienists still do this), but then again, I do have a soft spot for his variations on 'Kropotkin'. Though he did seem to decrease his stuff on 'anarchism' after 1904 too, though I wouldn't know if he didn't mention it in any of his articles from then.
Certainly, the guy wasn't a 'left statist' as is generally used.

Also, I notice that the book has a chapter on De Leonism. I wonder if that's up to scratch, or just some of the 'iron law of wages' bullshit Connoly made up when De Leon wasn't being nice enough towards the church.

akai
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Mar 6 2009 14:12

From an article by Wayne Price published today on Anarkismo:

Among anarchists, the most famous Christian was Leo Tolstoy, although Jacques Ellul, better known for his critique of technology, was also one. Probably the most wide-spread anarchist ppublication in North America is the Catholic Worker, founded by Dorothy Day. The Jewish theologican Martin Buber was influenced by anarchist-communism. The Hindu Gandhi was not an anarchist (he founded the Indian state!) but he was a decentralist, and exchanged letters with Tolstoy.

Maybe the platformists can organize a debate on whether or not to include Tolstoy in the anarchist tradition. smile

syndicalist
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Mar 6 2009 17:39

I dunno about De Leon, Ret. I sort of get where you're coming from. If by libertarian socialist the SLP belief in the Paris Commune as the guide, ok. Even the whole split with the IWW is clear enough line of demarcation between over the question of the ballot (in tanem with building industrial unions). At what point does the libertarianism start and end, the parlimentarian socialism begin or end?

BTW, there's a wierd & kinky sounding SLP pamphlet "Daniel De Leon: The Disciplinarian". Not very libertarian sounding approach to me.

Anyway, I think-think- there's a connciousis reason for the split in the tilte: Anarchism and Syndicalism. Coming up in the movement, I always thought they were the same. Obviously there are some differences. So, I'll be interested to see what is written.

Zeronowhere
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Mar 6 2009 19:33
syndicalist wrote:
I dunno about De Leon, Ret. I sort of get where you're coming from. If by libertarian socialist the SLP belief in the Paris Commune as the guide, ok.

De Leon referred to the Paris Commune as basically a 'magnificent but fruitless display of heroism' (quoting from memory). De Leonism does support the possibility of immediate recall of people elected for administrative functions, and is generally libertarian (while the Paris Commune, what with the Jacobins and Blanquists, was not completely)

Quote:
BTW, there's a wierd & kinky sounding SLP pamphlet "Daniel De Leon: The Disciplinarian". Not very libertarian sounding approach to me.

Sounds like Petersen, judging from the title (the titles of his works on De Leon must be seen to be believed, generally). To say the least, Petersen was something of a 'disciplinarian' himself.

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Mar 6 2009 21:18
akai wrote:
From an article by Wayne Price published today on Anarkismo:

..The Hindu Gandhi was not an anarchist (he founded the Indian state!) but he was a decentralist, and exchanged letters with Tolstoy.

This is highly questionable. Given that Gandhi broke ranks with the Congress Party over the question of village autonomy and was planning campaigns against the new Indian state over a number of issues, his role in the formation of the Indian state has to be de facto to the extent that he led the struggle agianst the British and aceded to the interim government headed by Mountbattenat, but he certainly could not be fairly described as the "founder" of the state.

David in Atlanta
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Mar 8 2009 18:12

If you're considering the syndicalist movement aside from anarchism, it only makes sense to put aside Sterner and Tucker and pick up Haywood and Connelly although it doesn't make sense to try to claim them as anarchists. In Big Bill's defense, the study of the the Kubass colony shows us what Lenin thought of him
Heywood is a semi-anarchist. He's more sentimental than businesslike. Aside from skipping bail, he was a decent if heavy-handed union administrator, so i'll assume Lenin meant he couldn't be trusted to create an unquestioning Bolshevik enclave

x359594, i didn't know that about Ghandi I don't think he or Connelly would have been happy with "the Brits have left but nothings changed"

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Mar 9 2009 16:41

David, thanks for the link to the article on the Kuzbass colony.

It's worth noting that several anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists found refuge in Soviet Russia, and many supported the revolution as late as the repression of Kronstadt in March 1921.

As for Haywood, his ideology is not easy to pin down. At least in print, everything he wrote on the labor struggle was in conformity with the preamble of the IWW's constitution, as far from Bolshevism or any variation of Lennism as you can get.

Yes, you're certainly right that neither Gandhi or Connelly would have been satisfied with merely ousting the British and leaving the structure of the capitalist state in tact.

akai
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Mar 9 2009 19:16

Well, Lenin had a lot of strange impressions. In any case, there is a lot of evidence which would suggest that the anarchists who went Bolshevik were not very consistent ones. Haywood's activity in the US showed that he was in favour of politics and government. If Lenin thought he was "an anarchist" it was probably because Lenin was a sick man when it came to the point of anarchists. And probably a whole range of people who weren't as authoritarian as he could qualify.

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Apr 7 2009 15:15

I've since read the book and found it valuable and stimulating. The authors exclude all tendencies except class-struggle anarchism which they declare to be the only authentic school of anarchism. The sub-title of Black Flame is "The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism", and as a an examination of class struggle anarchism the book is excellent. Broad and comprehensive it covers developments in Asia, the Pacific, and Africa as well as Europe and the Americas. I look forward to reading volume II.

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Jan 10 2010 23:40

Does the book mention these Stirnerite anarcho-syndicalists - http://libcom.org/history/not-life-story-just-leaf-it-robert-lynn - or are they disqualified as only half-anarchist?

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Jan 11 2010 21:15

I know it'd be the eclectic Glasgow anarchists!

Boris Badenov
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Jan 12 2010 18:28

don't mean to derail discussion, but concerning Gandhi, I guess his role in founding the Indian state is more nuanced than people usually think, but is there any proof that he ever embraced class struggle? I don't think so, and his relationship with Tolstoy (an interesting fellow yes, an anarchist no imo) supports that view if anything. His vision of autonomy was ultimately rooted in religious/mystic notions of "compassion" and so on, while his adherence to "non-violence" is anything but admirable (iirc he thought the jews should have just given up and embraced death during the holocaust).
As for the Glasgow anarchists, I don't see why they shouldn't be included. If the example of Guy Aldred is anything to go by, then I see nothing wrong with their politics.

Anarcho
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Jan 12 2010 22:48

Black Flame is a good book. I have my criticisms of it -- namely excommunicating the likes of Proudhon and including Marxist-syndicalists. However, do not let that put you off!

Here is my review (as appeared in Freedom):

http://anarchism.pageabode.com/anarcho/review-of-black-flame

Plus my initial blog (with added Monty Python):

http://anarchism.pageabode.com/anarcho/black-flame

I would recommend it -- the issue of Proudhon (et al) and De Leon (et al) is pretty minor and should not put you off reading an excellent book.

gypsy
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Jan 13 2010 09:39

Guy Aldred was english...and didnt represent all glasgow anarchists

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Jan 13 2010 17:42
allybaba wrote:
Guy Aldred was english...and didnt represent all glasgow anarchists

Not sure what you're responding to - who said he did? If you read the article, which is not about Aldred's group, it says;

Robert Lynn wrote:
In a certain sense the Glasgow Anarchists of that period made a unique contribution to the broad Anarchist movement in Britain. Most of the comrades could accept the philosophy of Egoism and dovetail it into the Syndicalist tendency within the movement.
[...] Guy Aldred was not exactly endeared to the Syndicalists, although many of the Wilson Street Anarchists, such as Rab Lyle from Burnbank, were frequent visitors to the Strickland Press and had a lot of time for Guy. Nevertheless the industrial expression of Anarchism was conspicuous by its absence in Guy's paper "The Word'.
syndicalist
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Jan 13 2010 19:15

On Aldred.... I thought I read a very brief mention that he was married to Millie Rocker's sister. But this was a one-liner either in Fermin Rocker's "The East End Years: A Stepney Childhood" or Rocker's "The London Years", I think the latter.

Anarcho
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Jan 13 2010 21:50
allybaba wrote:
Guy Aldred was english...and didnt represent all glasgow anarchists

He lived in Glasgow for decades and the rest of his group were Scottish. Aldred was somewhat egotist (rather that egoist!) and his personality drove some away while provoking intense loyality in others. The last of that generation of Glasgow Anarchists, John Taylor Caldwell, died a few years back.

I meet both Lynn and Caldwell, being one of those anarchists Glasgow seems so good at producing...

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Nov 29 2010 10:33

There's a torrent of the book here.

I have read only some parts of it, and it does have interesting info on Asian and African movements, but it really felt revisionist. The Anarchist label is thrown almost like as a synonym of "things we like, things we agree with" instead of an accurate definition. Trying to exclude Proudhon was the most outrageous thing in the book... Bakunin was a racist too and was involved with pan-slavism, some "National Anarchists" point out to this to justify their bizarre and contradictory ideas, will someone try to exclude him too? There is something strange about Anarchists feeling more close to state socialists than to Proudhon and Tolstoy...

And like it or not, the ideas and the movement cannot be separated, they're part of the same tradition.

By the way, on the claim that the Erebango colony on the south of Brazil founded by Russian immigrants was somehow "influenced" by the platform... As far as I know, there is no literature or personal account anywhere that says anything like they read about the platform or their reactions to it. This claim was based on the sole fact that they merely received the Golos Trouda paper... That says nothing about anything. They also received books and papers by Emma Goldman, Volin and Alexander Berkman, who saw the platform as an attempt to bolshevise Anarchism. That "argument" was spurious, to say the least.

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Nov 30 2011 19:32

Anybody just start reading this or about to? My copy is in the mail. I would like to discuss it as I go along once I start it..

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Dec 1 2011 00:43
Dano wrote:
There's a torrent of the book here.

I have read only some parts of it, and it does have interesting info on Asian and African movements, but it really felt revisionist. The Anarchist label is thrown almost like as a synonym of "things we like, things we agree with" instead of an accurate definition. Trying to exclude Proudhon was the most outrageous thing in the book... Bakunin was a racist too and was involved with pan-slavism, some "National Anarchists" point out to this to justify their bizarre and contradictory ideas, will someone try to exclude him too? There is something strange about Anarchists feeling more close to state socialists than to Proudhon and Tolstoy...

And like it or not, the ideas and the movement cannot be separated, they're part of the same tradition.

By the way, on the claim that the Erebango colony on the south of Brazil founded by Russian immigrants was somehow "influenced" by the platform... As far as I know, there is no literature or personal account anywhere that says anything like they read about the platform or their reactions to it. This claim was based on the sole fact that they merely received the Golos Trouda paper... That says nothing about anything. They also received books and papers by Emma Goldman, Volin and Alexander Berkman, who saw the platform as an attempt to bolshevise Anarchism. That "argument" was spurious, to say the least.

I can see what you mean, but I disagree with some of what you say. The term anarchist/ism is quite clearly defined by the authors with good reasons given. They actually usually use the term 'broad anarchist tradition' when referring to, for example, the IWW, who they see as sharing ideas and praxis with anarchists without usually calling themselves anarchists. You can certainly argue that their term 'the broad anarchist tradition' is not helpful, but they certainly do not throw it about haphazardly, they define what they mean quite closely, with carefully reasoned argument, and stick to their definition.

As for Proudhon, any sensible historian of anarchism should note the very major differences between his ideas and those of the anti-state section of the IWMA which became the anarchist movement. Proudhon inspired mutualists and anti-state socialists of the IWMA had lots of disagreements. Excluding Proudhon from the broad anarchist tradition, whilst still acknowledging his very major influence, is perfectly legitimate within the authors' conceptual framework which, as I say, they lay out quite clearly.

As for Bakunin, he was not at any point both a pan-slavist and an anarchist. He was first the former and then the latter. Which is not surprising since the two are incompatible.

As for anarchists feeling closer to state socialists than Tolstoy or even Proudhon, it's hardly surprising since at the birth of the anarchist movement they were part of the the same organisations (the IWMA, the unions, etc.) where as most anarchists would have had no idea of Tolstoy's political views and outside of France and areas of north america mutualism was never a big deal, where as anarchists were constantly organising alongside and debating with state socialists.

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Dec 2 2011 13:45

I can't imagine that the authors would claim that the book is meant to be an "objective" look at anarchism and syndicalism. The book, while of great interest and special historical place in such studies, is goverened by a certain political perspective. So, I wouldn't even try and guage or put it under any "objective" magnifying glass. This isn't meant as a criticism of how I view the author's approach. I think they are very much trying to drive home some political perspectives which they share. So, on that basis, I would think, comrades can be critical or not of the aproach taken..

After nearly 40 years of being in the movement, I must admit my absolute theoretical weaknesses. I've not really read much of the theoretical works of almost any of the "founders"
or subsequent thinkers, writers, militants. Small samples and very simple pamphlets, yes, major works, no.Lots of histories, yes, for sure.

I guess I'm almost embarssed to ask, but most of the elderly comrades who I met in my teens/early 20s seemed to hold Prodhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin (and to a degree Malatesta)
in a similiar vein. These comrades represented the generation coming out of the late 1920s and 1930s. Similiarly the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists, all seem to have placed Prodhon and Bakunin as the developers of what has become the basis for anarchism.

So I am wondering, aside from the appropriate criticisms of Prodhon's failings regarding woman, race, semitism, why would the generations closer to the more classical or traditional
anarchists or anarchism, place Prodhon with Bakunin? From my very rough and rudimentary theoretical understanding, it would seem to me that mutualism combined with a class perspective would be the basis for anarchist-communism. Yes? No? Maybe?

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Dec 2 2011 18:30

I think Proudhon played a key role in the development of anarchist theory (and also Marxism, but that's another story). Whether one chooses to call him an anarchist or not depends on the definition one is using, I think. If being anti-state and having some sort of class perspective is enough, then I think Proudhon was an anarchist. I personally think that in historical terms it is helpful to define anarchism a bit more tightly, especially to include a revolutionary approach to social change, which Proudhon lacked, as far as I can tell. If one people who are against the existence of the state and see exploitation in terms of private ownership of productive assets, I think the net is spread a little too wide and does not capture the spirit of the historical anarchist movement and includes figures like Godwin and Tucker, in other words the radical end of classical liberalism.

Additionally, regardless of the thought of important theoretical figures, a movement with the characteristics of what we might call classical anarchism did not emerge until after Proudhon's period of political activity, largely in Switzerland, Italy and to an extent Spain. Proudhon had little impact on this movement as a whole, but did on some of it's prominent thinkers. For this reason as well I think it is fair to exclude Proudhon from the anarchist tradition.

So if we were to do a genealogy of anarchist thought I think a suitable starting point would be Proudhon, but I'd put him in the pre-history of anarchism rather than at it's true begining, if you see what I mean. Again, I wouldn't say my approach (and that of the authors of black flame) is the 'correct' one, but to me it is the most useful in understanding the history of anarchism as a social-historical phenomenon.