MICHAEL BAKUNIN. A Biographical Sketch by James Guillaume — eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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James Guillaume, Bakunin’s friend and comrade-in-arms, edited the last five volumes of the six-volume French edition of his collected works. Guillaume’s biographical sketch of Bakunin, originally appeared in his introduction to Volume II of that edition.

This sketch is a primary source not only on the life of Bakunin, but also on the most significant events in the socialist movement of that period. It incidentally contributes valuable background information for many of the other selections in the present volume. Guillaume, who did not limit himself to recording events but also took part in shaping them, had been inclined toward anarchism even before he met Bakunin in 1869. Earlier, he had been one of the founders of the First International in Switzerland, where it held its first congress, in Geneva, in 1866. He attended all its congresses, and eventually published a four-volume history of the International. Guillaume also wrote widely on libertarian theory and practice and edited a number of periodicals. His extensive writings on cultural subjects included substantial contributions to the theory of progressive education as represented particularly by the early-nineteenth-century Swiss educator Johann Pestalozzi.

Cover illustration by Agustín Comotto

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VOTE! WHAT FOR? by Robert “Bobby” Lynn — eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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The pamphlet “Vote! What For?” by Robert “Bobby” Lynn, the Glaswegian Stirnerite anarcho-syndicalist who “radicalised” me as a 15-year-old (apart from my granny!), is a timely insight into the true nature of representative democracy and universal suffrage. An unforgettable street corner speaker, his proselytising patter was second-to-none. Here he is talking about the division of labour: “a man operating a machine in repetitive work day-in day-out becomes an automaton. He produces a nut and a bolt, a nut and a bolt, a nut and a bolt. … Finally you don’t know whether he is a nutter from the bolt factory or whether he has bolted from the nut factory.”

“This pamphlet is not meant to be a panorama of a possible future real world. It’s meant to be an observation on present day society with a view to changing it, as I believe it to be an insane asylum. It is so gigantic that most of us do not notice it. Most people have visions of a society of their desires but because of miseducation their views are frustrated. They have been so indoctrinated by their “teachers”: the classroom, from the pulpit, from parents who came through the same sausage machine indoctrination. From the cradle to the grave they are nurtured and subjected to varying degrees of subservience. In consequence they sniff for their master like an obedient pet dog. They seek their messiah, divine or mundane.

“If I could lead anyone into the land of milk and honey, I wouldn’t do it. Why? Because if I could lead anyone into it then I could lead them out of it. No one has the power to give you what you want without having the power to snuff it out. I want to be neither a mister somebody nor a mister nobody but merely a mister this body: neither to be possessed nor dispossessed. If I could change the social system by myself I would do so. But because of my incompetence I need allies: I need more strength; I need you. It is self-interest but an interest that is mutual. At present I hack at the social system as best I can like laboriously cutting away with pick and shovel at a mountain to get to my destination; Forever trying to muster sufficient dynamite in order to blow it out of existence. So I speak to you, especially you of the working class who have an immediate economic interest in destroying our maniacal social system. Economic freedom is the concrete base of all other freedoms. Without economic freedom another freedoms are merely spooks.

“I ask you then to rid yourself of spooks. Organise to achieve real freedom from your compulsory asylum. Karl Marx once exhorted the working class to unite. “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains, you have a world to win.” However, he spent so much time in the British Museum that it would seem he had forgotten to advise them where to unite.

“In my pamphlet I try to show the futility of organising in political parties. I advise industrial and social organisation. A do-it-yourself movement and make the politicians redundant. Send them and the tycoons of industry into the museums of antiquity along with the spinning wheel and the bronze axe. One last word I hope after reading the pamphlet you may find the rational core within the mystical shell and boycott the vote.” — Robert Lynn

The cover illustration depicts the suicided Ajax, impaled on his sword, being covered by Tekmessa. When Achilles was killed it was Ajax who saved his body from the Trojans, hoping to be rewarded with Achilles’ magical armour, but Odysseus who had also been involved in the fighting also wanted the armour. To settle the matter the Greeks leaders, under Athena, voted by piling stones in front of the opponents; Ajax, who lost by one vote, went off in a hissy fit and slaughtered the Achaeans captured livestock, then commited suicide. How very unlike the post-electoral behaviour of our own dear politicians.

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THE ANARCHIST COLLECTIVES Workers’ Self-Management in the Spanish Revolution, 1936-1939 by Sam Dolgoff (Editor) — eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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Sam Dolgoff, editor of the best anthology of Bakunin’s writings, has now produced an excellent documentary history of the Anarchist collectives in Spain. Although there is a vast literature on the Spanish Civil War, this is [was] the first book in English that is devoted to the experiments in workers’ self-management, both urban and rural, which constituted one of the most remarkable social revolutions in modern history. —Paul Avrich

Lenin once identified “the sum total of the conditions necessary for socialism” as large-scale capitalist engineering and planned organization subordinated to a Soviet state, that is, a “proletarian dictatorship” ruled by a vanguard party. The eyewitness reports and commentary presented in this highly important study reveal a very different understanding of the nature of socialism and the means for achieving it.

Libertarian communism, as it was realised during the Spanish revolution, was truly the creation of workers and peasants. It was a “spontaneous” creation—for which, in fact, the groundwork had been laid by decades of struggle and education, experiment and thought.

Varied, complex, often inspiring, the achievement of the people of Spain is unique in the history of 20th century revolution. It should be carefully studied, not merely as the record of a remarkable human accomplishment, but also for the insight it provides into the problems of constructing a social order that is just and humane, committed to freedom from exploitation and oppression, whether by a capitalist autocracy or an authoritarian state apparatus.

For a brief period, the Spanish people offered the world a glimpse of a future that differs by orders of magnitude from the tendencies inherent in the state capitalist and state socialist societies that exist today. —Noam Chomsky

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THE CHINESE ANARCHIST MOVEMENT Robert Scalapino and George T. Yu — eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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Chinese Anarchists were inspired by the ideas of Pierre Proudhon, Michael Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin and Elisée Reclus. Many were exposed to Anarchist ideas while they were students in Europe and Anarchist books were soon translated into Chinese and Esperanto, a popular language among Chinese students. They used the term “Anarchist Communist” interchangeable with the word “Anarchist.” The Chinese words for Anarchist-Communist (Wu-Zheng-Fu Gong-Chan) literally meant “Without Government Common Production” and in no way implied Bolshevism or Maoism. On the contrary, theirs were the Libertarian Socialist ideas of the First International which reflected the traditional Chinese Anarchistic teachings of Lao Tzu while Maoism reflected the authoritarian bureaucracy of Confucianism.

Like the word “communism”, the word “collectivism” also has a different literal meaning in Chinese than when it is commonly used in English. In Chinese, the word for a “collective enterprise” (Ji-ti Qi-ye) literally means an assembly of people in a bureaucracy (a “tree of people”) — very different from our understanding of Michael Bakunin’s Collectivism or a workers’ collective — more like Bolshevism or Fabian Socialism — The Chinese Anarchist Shih Fu substantiated this translation by identifying Karl Marx as the father of “collectivism” in his writings [1].

Historically, Marxism was unable to make inroads into China until after the Russian Revolution of 1917 when Lenin’s followers, bankrolled by the Bolshevik government, began their attacks on Anarchists in Russia and neighboring countries. This book describes some of the early history of Chinese Anarchism up to the period after the Bolshevik counter-revolution when Russia began to send Marxist-Leninist missionaries like Chou En-lai to try to try to infiltrate and take over the student movements in Europe. It includes some of the ideological debates which ensued between Chinese Anarchists and their Marxist-Leninist adversaries.

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AT THE CAFÉ. Conversations on Anarchism by Errico Malatesta — eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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In 1897, Errico Malatesta, on the run from the police, was a regular visitor to a cafe in Ancona, Italy. He had shaved his beard, but was still taking a risk, especially as it wasn’t a known anarchist café; it had a variety of customers, including the local policeman. The conversations recorded here between a small group of people at a café became the basis for the dialogues that make up the book, which remained unfinished until 1920 — several wars and revolutions later! An excellent primer on anarchism, it answers, in a commonsense and matter-of-fact style, most questions people ask about the arguments for and against anarchism. Translated and introduced by Paul Nursey-Bray, this is a classic defence of anarchism that anticipates the rise of nationalism, fascism and communism.

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