Shorter reviews from Black Flag #219 (2000) including a James Bond film, The Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War by Robert Alexander and books by Marge Piercy and Donald Rooum.
The World is Not Enough
United International Pictures Cert.12
Why even mention the new James Bond movie in Black Flag? Well, for starters, Robert Carlyle plays the main thug, a terrorist labelled an 'anarchist' by MI6. Needless to say, the usual lies about anarchists are spread - this 'anarchist' is said to believe in "nothing" and aims at "chaos" (according to MI6, the villain does not say anything about his politics, or lack of them, bar saying that Bond is "preserving Capital" while he is helping his girlfriend monopolise oil production!) Now with the end of Stalinism, will we anarchists (suitably misrepresented as believers in chaos) become the major villains to defend the 'free world' against? After Seattle, probably.
What about the film? It is a bit disjointed and the set pieces impressive but, like the rest of the film, cold (saying that the friends I saw it with and my workmates rated it higher than me). The last one was far better and Pierce Brosnan is no Sean Connery (although far better than Moore).
City of Darkness, City of Light
Marge Piercy / Penguin £6.99
Piercy's novel paints a vivid picture of the French Revolution and its background. Drawing on the lives of six historical characters (the famous - Robespierre, Danton, Madame Roland and Condorcet - as well as the not-so-famous - the san culottes Pauline Leon and Claire Lacombe) she combines the personal and the political to show the nature of the people's revolution and its ultimate defeat by the rich and the instrument created to protect it, the new Republican state.
Piercy, as readers of her excellent science fiction novels Woman on the Edge of Time and Body of Glass, will know, is a feminist writer with a strong libertarian theme to her politics and writing. This libertarian theme is also at the fore in City of Darkness, City of Light. The liberating nature and effectiveness of direct action as a means of social change is brought home by the development of the two female san culottes. Thus the revolutionary transformation of individuals and social relationships is stressed along with the revolutionising of the wider society. Similarly, the progression of the revolution from its moderate original aims towards a social revolution is also vibrantly portrayed, with the very process of direct action producing wider, more radical demands and changes both in society and in individuals.
Twenty Year Millennium Wildcat
Donald Rooum / Freedom Press £1.95
Donald Rooum is Freedom Press' long-established cartoonist. Freedom publishes reprints of anarchist classics and a paper that hardly anyone reads. They also regularly attack the memory of Albert Meltzer, one of Black Flag's founders, of whom they are evidently jealous. Rooum's latest collection contains a caricature of Albert as a rat, with the 'youthful activist' character Wildcat taking the side of the Egghead (symbolising Rooum, or perhaps FP more generally). Readers taken in by this rubbish might wonder where all the youthful activists who took Freedom's side are? So do I. Freedom Press might not like being called liars, liberals and quietists, but it doesn't stop it being true.
NB: The following review did not appear in the printed version of this issue of Black Flag, but was included on the web version:
The Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War
Janus Publishing Co. - £16.95 per volume
This two volume work is a useful addition to the existing studies of the Spanish Revolution and the role anarchists played in it. It is essentially a summary of previous studies, complemented by extensive interviews. The author visited Barcelona in August 1936, while on holiday in Europe. From this visit to revolutionary Barcelona came a life long interest in the Spanish Revolution ("one of the most interesting social experiments that has taken place in the twentieth century" as he puts it).
Volume One is the more useful of the two, with an overview of both the rural and urban collectives. What comes out most from the discussion of both the successes and failures of the collectives is that, for all their faults, there were far more of the former than the latter. Another interesting aspect of his discussion is how many collectives were built from existing forms of libertarian and working class organisation (for example, before the war the CNT had established health service institutions which were built upon and expanded after the revolution). This suggests the importance of thinking about alternative forms of social life and organisation we can create today, to aid the class struggle and build for the new world in the existing one. By so doing, we show the viability of our ideas and tactics to other working class people. The evidence he presents indicates that the worker-managed collectives were a viable alternative to capitalism - an alternative which anarchists should study in order to better understand the dynamics of a social revolution in order to be prepared for the next time.
Alexander also discusses the roots of Spanish Anarchism as well as pre-revolution visions of what an anarchist society could be like. He discusses the role of anarchists in the Republican military, exposing a few myths along the way (such as the "indiscipline" of the militias and the alleged flight of the Durruti Column under fire on the Madrid front). Alexander also discusses the role of force in creating the rural collectives, presenting evidence to show that Stalinist claims of CNT terror were, as anarchists claimed at the time and since, lies. The bulk of useful and interesting information is contained in this volume. Volume 2 is mostly about the communist betrayal of the revolution, with a useful appendix on anarchist violence during the civil war. There is also a useful bibliography and an index (which will help in its use as a resource for anarchists).
On the negative side, both volumes are riddled with typing mistakes, which is very annoying. A major problem is the author's desire to expose the Stalinist betrayal of the revolution. This leads, for example, to a chapter in volume 2 of over 300 pages called "The Anarchists Role in Republican Politics" being mostly about the role of the Communists! Also, the author is not an anarchist which means that much of his analysis and discussion ignores many of the questions anarchists would seek to answer - namely what lessons can be drawn from the revolution, the role of the CNT and FAI, the functioning of the collectives. However, this work will be an essential resource for any comrade seeking to produce such an analysis.