René Berthier's comments on Black Flame

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sherbu-kteer
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May 31 2019 05:53
René Berthier's comments on Black Flame

Not sure if anyone else has been paying attention, but the French anarcho-syndicalist writer René Berthier has been posting on his website some very interesting and detailed comments on Black Flame:

http://monde-nouveau.net/spip.php?article676
http://monde-nouveau.net/spip.php?article692
http://monde-nouveau.net/spip.php?article693
http://monde-nouveau.net/spip.php?article741

Anyone have any thoughts on them? I find myself agreeing with his discussion on Kropotkin, but I think his dislike of Malatesta is maybe a bit too strong

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May 31 2019 12:48

TBH, I haven't thought of that book in a long time. I would think that it has mostly been discredited after it was revealed that one of the authors, Michael Schmidt, was a white nationalist. Additionally, the context in which people found this book useful, where different competing boundaries of anarchism were being contested and contrasted against each other on the Western Left, just doesn't seem to exist any more or be as relevant. Does anyone care anymore if people who call themselves egoists and read Zerzan consider themselves anarchists? Seems irrelevant in the face of a resurgence of a type of fascism and the re-ascendancy of social democratic movements.

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May 31 2019 13:13

The Black Flame authors were dishonest in their revisonist history;
https://libcom.org/forums/history-culture/new-historical-syndicalist-boo...
http://libcom.org/forums/history-culture/books-italian-anarcho-syndicali...
... and dishonest in their responses to revelations about Scmidt's nationalism;
https://libcom.org/forums/general/ak-press-says-michael-schmidt-fascist-...

syndicalist
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May 31 2019 14:04

Ironically, I was just re-reading the “militant minority” section recently.
Still a sad and messed up situ overall. Anyway, I think this has been discussed to death

radicalgraffiti
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May 31 2019 14:08
Juan Conatz wrote:
TBH, I haven't thought of that book in a long time. I would think that it has mostly been discredited after it was revealed that one of the authors, Michael Schmidt, was a white nationalist.

i actual saw someone recommending it a couple of months ago, they had accepted the idea that van de walt had written most of it and so it wasn't affected by the revelations about schmidt, and was generally a good history of anarchism

sherbu-kteer
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May 31 2019 15:04

The thing about Berthier is that he writes a lot, in incredible detail, so even though his stuff is often framed as a response to a book or negative review or something, you get a lot of supplementary information. One time a Leninist professor wrote a hack review of his book on the First International. Berthier wrote 82 pages in response! [pdf] But there's so much info in there it's completely worth reading, and you'll be glad you did.

It's a similar deal with his comments on Black Flame. For instance, the 'digression on anarchism and syndicalism' is mainly a history of the genesis of French syndicalism. 'Anarchism and social change' contrasts the framework Schmidt and van der Walt used with that of Gaetano Manfredonia, a contemporary historian, presenting his ideas in English for the first time that I know of. The Kropotkin thing stands on its own as an analysis of Kropotkin's relationship with syndicalism.

As for the organisationalist/syndicalist vs. anti-organisationalist/insurrectionist/egoist/blah blah blah stuff, I agree with you Juan that this dispute seems a bit irrelevant now, but these egoist types are still around, giving us all a bad name, and Berthier's comments are mainly to do with syndicalism and platformism anyway, which is a separate discussion and although maybe just as marginal, its still important.

Also -- the social democrat stuff is not ascendant everywhere. In some places it seems to be totally running out of steam. Syriza's failures are well known and their vote is declining. Podemos is shrinking also. Where I am in Australia, I can't see any such ascendant social democracy on the horizon, considering that the Australian Labor Party is openly reorienting towards the centre/right again after some superficial flirting with the left.

And in cases where the social democrats are filling up most of the 'radical' space, eg Corbyn and Sanders, there's going to be immense disappointment from their supporters somewhere along the line when their messiahs inevitably either betray their supporters (like Tsipras did) or fail to achieve their goals (again, like Tsipras). These movements are going to fracture at some point and libertarians have a role to play by demonstrating the feasibility and positivity of libertarian socialism -- anarchism, communism, whatever -- in the face of what will likely be a very nihilistic political atmosphere. Getting ourselves in order is an essential part of this.

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May 31 2019 16:05
radicalgraffiti wrote:
i actual saw someone recommending it a couple of months ago, they had accepted the idea that van de walt had written most of it and so it wasn't affected by the revelations about schmidt, and was generally a good history of anarchism

It doesn't even seem plausible that Lucien van der Walt wrote most of Black Flame. Michael Schmidt was the sole author of Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism. And he was/is writing the sequel to Black Flame, titled Global Fire, by himself. It seems as though he was the one most involved in this project.

What's interesting about this work is that they decided to divide it into themes (Black Flame) and history (Global Fire). Wouldn't it have been better if they combine the two and put out multiple volumes covering each "wave" in anarchist history - which is centrally important in their historicising of anarchism? I think a big flaw in Black Flame is that it seems the authors were very intent on sticking a single "definitive" position on every topic - which is pretty weird for a movement that spans the globe and 150 years.

It's kinda surprising that aside from the comments posted by Red Marriott, I haven't come across any negative reviews on the book. It's reception was unanimously favorable among class struggle oriented anarchists at the time of it's release.

MT
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Jun 1 2019 23:33

Those René Berthier's texts are really interesting to read.
I wondered if he is a member of any group in France but the wiki is not really clear, or rather indicates that he was more of a union organizer in traditional unions that in anarchosyndicalist ones. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ren%C3%A9_Berthier_(libertaire)
Not that it mattered much actually...

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Jun 1 2019 23:42
Agent wrote:
It's kinda surprising that aside from the comments posted by Red Marriott, I haven't come across any negative reviews on the book. It's reception was unanimously favorable among class struggle oriented anarchists at the time of it's release.

Those anarcho-syndicalists and platformists who felt most favoured and flattered by BF’s revisionism were its biggest defenders, willing and eager to turn a blind eye to its narrow idealised ‘history’ which privileged their political current at the expense of historical accuracy/truth. They also tended to be the ones least willing to accept the facts of MS’s white nationalism. (Btw, whatever happened to their ‘court of enquiry’ into the scandal?)

sherbu-kteer
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Jun 2 2019 00:55
MT wrote:
Those René Berthier's texts are really interesting to read.
I wondered if he is a member of any group in France but the wiki is not really clear, or rather indicates that he was more of a union organizer in traditional unions that in anarchosyndicalist ones. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ren%C3%A9_Berthier_(libertaire)
Not that it mattered much actually...

He's a member of the Fédération anarchiste but you're right in that he doesn't seem to have been part of any specifically anarchist or revolutionary union, just the typesetters section of the CGT.

Battlescarred
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Jun 2 2019 05:40

Rene was in the Alliance Syndicaliste Revolutionnare et Anarcho-Syndicaliste (ASRAS)founded after May 68. After the dissolution of the ASRAS he joined the FA, along with other ASRAS militants in the mid 1980s. THere's several texts by him about the ASRAS on the internet

sherbu-kteer
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Jun 2 2019 06:17

Battlescarred do you happen to know of any texts on ASRAS in English? Most of what I can find is in French which I can't read very well

Battlescarred
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Jun 2 2019 10:08

Nothing in English apart from the Putting The record Straight On Bakunin, which I translated back in the 1970s for LIbertarian Communist Review, theoretical magazine of the Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists. When I lived in Paris in 1972 I attended meetings of the ASRAS.
You can always use google translate for the Frebnch texts, you know.

Battlescarred
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Jun 2 2019 10:10
Red Marriott wrote:
Agent wrote:
It's kinda surprising that aside from the comments posted by Red Marriott, I haven't come across any negative reviews on the book. It's reception was unanimously favorable among class struggle oriented anarchists at the time of it's release.

Those anarcho-syndicalists and platformists who felt most favoured and flattered by BF’s revisionism were its biggest defenders, willing and eager to turn a blind eye to its narrow idealised ‘history’ which privileged their political current at the expense of historical accuracy/truth. They also tended to be the ones least willing to accept the facts of MS’s white nationalism. (Btw, whatever happened to their ‘court of enquiry’ into the scandal?)

Tosh, I always thought it was spurious, and so did most class struggle anarchists I know

sherbu-kteer
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Jun 2 2019 12:34
Battlescarred wrote:
Nothing in English apart from the Putting The record Straight On Bakunin, which I translated back in the 1970s for LIbertarian Communist Review, theoretical magazine of the Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists. When I lived in Paris in 1972 I attended meetings of the ASRAS.
You can always use google translate for the Frebnch texts, you know.

Thank you, I will check that out. I do use Google translate but it can be a bit patchy so I try not to rely on it for the details of things in case I misinterpret something.

Anarcho
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Jun 2 2019 16:41

Reading Berthier's comments on Kropotkin, I would say that he seems intent on mis-understanding (or misrepresentating) Kropotkin's ideas. Much of what he says is wrong -- Kropotkin, for example, repeatedly suggests that unions should be the means of organising production during and after a revolution. He raises this idea before the rise of syndicalism in the mid-1890s.

Indeed, as a good "Bakuninist," Kropotkin was arguing for anarchist participation in the workers movements since 1872 -- even in Russia, he argued that the populists should prioritise working with workers and peasants. Once in exile, he argued for this in France -- and pointed explicitly to the Spanish movement as the example to follow. This is in 1880 and 1881. The 1889 docker's strike say him return to this theme, given the example of the power of the labour movement is gave.

So, an example. Berthier states in relation to the 1905 Russian Revolution:

Quote:
Nettlau's text does not suggest that Kropotkin adhered to the idea that trade unions were “embryo-cells” of the future society;

In fact, Kropotkin argued:

Quote:
anarchists look to the workers’ unions as cells of the future social order and as a powerful means for the preparation of the social revolution, which is not confined to a change of political regime but also transforms the current forms of economic life, e.g. the distribution of the manufactured riches and their means of production. (Direct Struggle Against Capital, 467)

Also:

Quote:
The social-democrats consider the workers’ unions as an aid in their political fight; the anarchists, on the other hand, consider them as natural organs for the direct struggle with capital and for the organisation of the future order—organs that are inherently necessary to achieve the workers’ own goals. (476)

This repeats comments made in, for example, 1892:

Quote:
No one can underrate the importance of this labour movement for the coming revolution. It will be those agglomerations of wealth producers which will have to reorganise production on new social bases. They will have to organise the life of the nation and the use which it will make of the hitherto accumulated riches and means of production. They—the labourers, grouped together—not the politicians.(344)

Berthier seriously underestimates Kropotkin's writings on the labour movement and syndicalism, both in terms of articles for the libertarian press (French and British) but also in his more general introductions to anarchism. I include many of them, by no means all, in the section entitled "The Workers’ Movement and Class Struggle" in Direct Struggle Against Capital -- which comes to over 120 pages...

I would suggest that Berthier is somewhat negative towards Kropotkin (and Malatesta), a negativity which gets in the way of his objectivity (I mention this in my review of his otherwise excellent book Social Democracy and Anarchism in the International Workers’ Association 1864-1877). It is a shame, as this does harm important contributions.

I should note that my next "Precursors of Syndicalism" (the first on the International, the second on the "Chicago Idea") will be on Kropotkin (and perhaps Malatesta, although he may be the fourth installment). In this, Black Flame (for its flawds) is right and Berthier wrong

Anarcho
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Jun 2 2019 17:06

Another couple of points. Berthier writes:

Quote:
Jean Grave’s publication, Le Libertaire, gathered, at least until 1899, the anarchists who were vigorously hostile to trade unionism.

Except, Grave was involved with Les Temps nouveaux (as was Kropotkin) and not Le Libertaire, which was founded in 1896 by Faure and Michel. This is a serious error, as when he also writes:

Quote:
When Kropotkin finally came to the conclusion that the terrorist attacks had beena dismal failure, he published in La Revolt (September-October 1890) a series of articles [...] Now, Kropotkin advocates joining the unions [...]

Except that Kropotkin had been writing articles on anarchist participation in unions ten years previously (for example, this two part article on "Workers' Organisation" from 1881), and before that. Caroline Cahm shows that Kropotkin raised "the spririt of revolt" as an alternative to "propaganda by the deed" in the early 1880s (see her excellent Kropotkin and the rise of revolutionary anarchism 1872-1886 -- pdf, a book Berthier seems unaware of).

Berthier also writes:

Quote:
And old Guillaume wrote in the preface to the fourth volume of his International, documents et souvenirs: “And what is the General Confederation of Labour, if not the continuation of the International? »

I should stress that Kropotkin, likewise, wrote on many occassions on how syndicalism was the rebirth of the International -- and that the International was his ideal for the labour movement. The difference is what Kropotkin (like Bakunin) recognised the need for anarchists to organise as anarchists to influence the unions, for unions are not inevitably revolutionary (as most unions prove, surely?) as he put it:

Quote:
My opinion is absolutely that which was expressed by Malatesta… The syndicate is absolutely necessary. It is the only form of worker’s association which allows the direct struggle against capital to be carried on without a plunge into parliamentarianism. But, evidently, it does not achieve this goal automatically, since in Germany, in France and in England, we have the example of syndicates linked to the parliamentary struggle, while in Germany the Catholic syndicates are very powerful, and so on. There is need of the other element which Malatesta speaks of and which Bakunin always professed. (Direct Struggle Against Capital, 41)

Berthier is right to note that some anarchists, including many French ones, did not support syndicalism. Kropotkin, however, was not one of them. Nor does it mean that revolutionary anarchists had not advocated syndicalism as a tactic from the start, within the First International -- a position Bakunin championed and which Kropotkin continued. In this, Black Flame was right even if wrong on other points (see my review).

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Jun 2 2019 18:29
Battlescarred wrote:
Tosh, I always thought it was spurious, and so did most class struggle anarchists I know

I wasn't agreeing with 'Agent...' that all anarchists worshipped BF but saying that it was the syndicalists & platformists who went overboard on it. You were one of the critics in the link I gave earlier; http://libcom.org/forums/history-culture/books-italian-anarcho-syndicali...

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Jun 2 2019 19:17

The MS matter aside. Absolutely there was a lot of revisionism and stretching. There was also some ok stuff as well.

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Jun 3 2019 12:03
sherbu-kteer wrote:
He's a member of the Fédération anarchiste but you're right in that he doesn't seem to have been part of any specifically anarchist or revolutionary union, just the typesetters section of the CGT.

The typesetters union within the CGT for long was a stronghold of revolutionary syndicalists and / or anarcho-syndicalists and Berthier was one of its best-known militants. There are a quite a number of French syndicalists (CSR, parts of AL) ) that are critical in respect to forming specific revolutionary syndicalist unions and advocate to turn the CGT back into a revolutionary syndicalist union again.

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Jun 23 2019 22:58
radicalgraffiti wrote:

i actual saw someone recommending it a couple of months ago, they had accepted the idea that van de walt had written most of it and so it wasn't affected by the revelations about schmidt, and was generally a good history of anarchism

That is incredibly bizarre to me. Particularly considering that anarchists and syndicalists have long avoided recommending or even speaking about Sorel, and his connection to fascism was more tenuous than the co-author of Black Flame. I can't imagine recommending Black Flame in 2019 is a very good idea. If someone had recommended a book co-written by a white nationalist to me when I was first getting into things it would have for sure repelled me from anarchism.

syndicalist
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Jun 23 2019 23:49

Funny you mention Sorel. I recall some many years ago, I heard about Sorel. Picked up his book "Reflections on Violence" (or something like that). I didn't get his connections to libertarian syndicalism. Sometime thereafter I asked, Dolgoff, about Sorel. All I remember is something like "That piece of shit. Never an anarchosyndicalist. A real marxist son of a b__ch"..... Anyone who knew Sam can hear is gravely voice uttering these words. I also asked Paul Avrich who was a tad more different in his academic reply. Both left me with the impression that a whole lot of misinformation on Sorel and his ties to French (and global) revolutionary unionism was out there at the time (mid-1970s).

sherbu-kteer
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Jun 24 2019 02:26

Sorel's most syndicalist text is 'the Socialist Future of the Syndicates' which is not widely available in English, I have the pdf and will try to upload soon. But even that is pretty uninteresting from a syndicalist POV, it's clear he's just a Marxist intellectual (albeit a unique one) with an interest in unions.

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Jun 24 2019 08:09
Battlescarred wrote:
You can always use google translate for the Frebnch texts, you know.

Not if you want to properly understand them!

syndicalist
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Jun 25 2019 16:54
sherbu-kteer wrote:
Sorel's most syndicalist text is 'the Socialist Future of the Syndicates' which is not widely available in English, I have the pdf and will try to upload soon. But even that is pretty uninteresting from a syndicalist POV, it's clear he's just a Marxist intellectual (albeit a unique one) with an interest in unions.

Link please

Battlescarred
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Jun 25 2019 18:54

If you say so, prof.

sherbu-kteer
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Jun 26 2019 09:04
syndicalist wrote:
sherbu-kteer wrote:
Sorel's most syndicalist text is 'the Socialist Future of the Syndicates' which is not widely available in English, I have the pdf and will try to upload soon. But even that is pretty uninteresting from a syndicalist POV, it's clear he's just a Marxist intellectual (albeit a unique one) with an interest in unions.

Link please

Here you go

syndicalist
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Jun 26 2019 16:54
sherbu-kteer wrote:
syndicalist wrote:
sherbu-kteer wrote:
Sorel's most syndicalist text is 'the Socialist Future of the Syndicates' which is not widely available in English, I have the pdf and will try to upload soon. But even that is pretty uninteresting from a syndicalist POV, it's clear he's just a Marxist intellectual (albeit a unique one) with an interest in unions.

Link please

Here you go

Thanks!

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Jun 26 2019 19:11
Battlescarred wrote:
If you say so, prof.

Are you seriously disagreeing? You can read French, at least, you must be able to see what a mess google translate makes, and the fact that it can produce reasonable work and then completely mess something up.

Anarcho
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Jun 26 2019 19:45
Juan Conatz wrote:
That is incredibly bizarre to me. Particularly considering that anarchists and syndicalists have long avoided recommending or even speaking about Sorel, and his connection to fascism was more tenuous than the co-author of Black Flame.

Trying to link anarcho-syndicalism to fascism has a long history amongst those seeking to discredit any form of class struggle anarchism. Bob Black, for example, did it a few years back. Based his case on an academic book which noted that the Italian syndicalists who became fascists considered themselves as Marxists -- as I mention here.

Juan Conatz wrote:
I can't imagine recommending Black Flame in 2019 is a very good idea. If someone had recommended a book co-written by a white nationalist to me when I was first getting into things it would have for sure repelled me from anarchism.

Oh come on. When Black Flame was published no one suspected that Michael Schmidt was a white nationalist. Moreover, there was nothing in the book itself which suggested he was -- which in part explains why it took many class struggle anarchists a long time to accept the evidence.

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Jun 26 2019 20:16

Several years on and I still don't know what to make of Michael Schmidt, his motivations that is. His public persona was that of a sincere anarchist activist and an earnest researcher of anarchist theory and historiography, a public persona that he attempts to maintain to this day, and yet he was caught red-handed maintaining an online presence in support of white nationalism and posting some really vile racist bullshit on a major white nationalist web forum.

As for Black Flame. Well, I think that whatever one's opinion of the theoretical premise of Black Flame, or the validity of Schmidt's attempts at anarchist historiography in general, that the one conclusion that can't be escaped is that Schmidt's reputation has obviously been severely compromised by the revelation of his sympathies for white nationalism. And rigtly or wrongly, because it contains his authorship much the same can be said for Black Flame.

It's sad, and really a shame on so many levels, one of which is because Schmidt is one of the very few contemporary writers to theorize and write about anarchist approaches to armed defense in consideration of contemporary technological developments, and a look at a blog that he maintains shows that he continues to write about this. To what end? I'm not sure, because he certainly doesn't seem to have the ear of too many anarchists anymore, and it seems very likely that no one in the anarchist movement is ever going to trust him again, or buy his books, or suggest them for study?

Although I've only read the summaries of Berthier's critique of BF it is refreshing to see that his criticisms appear to be based upon the substance of BF's theoretical propositions rather than upon ad hominem arguments against one of it's co-authors.