PRISON MEMOIRS OF AN ANARCHIST by Alexander Berkman — eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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John William Ward’s essay on Alexander Berkman’s Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist originally appeared in The New York Review of Books in 1970. It was composed against the background of the 1960s, with an eye to the rioting in America’s inner cities and to the increasing violence of the opposition to the Vietnam War. But Ward also addresses a larger issue: the seemingly inescapable presence of violence in American social life. His reflections on that subject remain as pertinent today as when they were written.

Alexander Berkman’s book is vivid, candid, honest.” —New York Times

“No other book discusses so frankly the criminal ways of the closed prison society.”—Kenneth Rexroth

On July 23, 1892, Alexander Berkman, an immigrant Russian Jew, idealist, and anarchist, forced his way into the Pittsburgh office of Henry Clay Frick in order to kill him. The assassination was, in the anarchist tradition, to be an attentat, a political deed of violence to awaken the consciousness of the people against their oppressors. Frick, manager of the Carnegie steel works while Andrew Carnegie was on vacation in Scotland, had crushed the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers in the infamous Homestead strike, which ended in a fatal battle between Pinkertons and strikers. Berkman was there to continue the struggle between the workers and their capitalist oppressors. He failed. He failed to kill Frick. He failed to arouse the workers. The outcome, instead, was a book, a classic in the literature of autobiography, Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist.

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THE CONQUEST OF BREAD by Peter Kropotkin — eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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Review by Gary Hayter: The Russian anarcho-syndicalist activist and theoretician, G.P. Maximov (1893 – 1950) used to bemoan the fact that so few militants in the libertarian movement bothered to read the classics of anarchism, and as a result often found themselves out manoeuvred by their political opponents. Today we have very little excuse for not studying the works of the founders of the libertarian tradition. Those of Peter Kropotkin, for example, are readily available in affordable English translations. These include “Mutual Aid”, “Fields, Factories and Workshops”, “The Great French Revolution” and perhaps his most widely read book, “The Conquest of Bread”. It is this work I want to take a closer look at now.

The Conquest Of Bread” first appeared in Paris in 1892, although Kropotkin had expounded his theories a decade earlier in the pages of the anarchist journal “La Revolt”. 1906 saw its first appearance in English when it was published in London. The book is similar in many ways to his “Fields, Factories and Workshops” (1912), which was also a compilation of articles written between 1888 and 1890. Both books are supplemented by a large number of contemporary statistics which are used to bolster the arguments Kropotkin is presenting. These may be skipped over by the modern reader who will be more concerned with the ideas being put forward.

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FIELDS, FACTORIES AND WORKSHOPS: or Industry Combined with Agriculture and Brain Work with Manual Work by Peter Kropotkin — eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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Fields, Factories and Workshops: or Industry Combined with Agriculture and Brain Work with Manual Work is a persuasive landmark anarchist communist text on the theories and practice of workers’ self-management by Peter Kropotkin. Arguably, it is among the most influential and positive statements of the anarchist idea of its time, and is viewed by many as the central work of his writing career. In it, Kropotkin shares his vision of a more harmonious and decentralised way of living based on cooperation instead of competition, emphasising local organisation, and production, obviating the need for central government. His focus on agriculture and rural life, makes it a contrasting perspective to the largely industrial thinking of contemporary Marxian communism and socialism.

His view is that communities should strive for self-sufficiency in goods and food, thus making import and export unnecessary. The book remains as relevant today as it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A must-have if learning about anarchist-communism and the application of theory to everyday worker’s self management of industries and land cultivation.

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IN RUSSIAN AND FRENCH PRISONS by Peter Kropotkin — eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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“The man who is shut up in a prison is so far from being bettered by the change, that he comes out more resolutely the foe of society than he was when he went in.”

This statement is the animating principle of Peter Kropotkin’s libertarian classic, IN RUSSIAN AND FRENCH PRISONS, first published in 1887 From its pages emerges a portrait of man’s inhumanity to man as old as Socrates of the Phaedo and as new as Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

Kropotkin’s first experience with prisons came when he was assigned to collect facts on the penal system of Siberia. But when his findings were completely rejected and all hope of reform dashed, he embarked on a program of revolutionary activity that eventually led to his own arrest and imprisonment, first in St. Petersburg and, later in his life, in France.

In his new Introduction, Paul Avrich writes, “There are a great many books about prison life, some of them of genuine literary distinction. Yet within this vast genre, IN RUSSIAN AND FRENCH PRISONS holds a special place. it is the most eloquent statement of the libertarian view-point written from personal observation and experience.”

Paul Avrich (1931-2006) was Professor of Russian History at Queens College, New York, and the author of The Russian Anarchists (1967) and Kronstadt Nineteen Twenty-One (1970)

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REFLECTIONS by Voltairine De Cleyre — eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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This stimulating collection of the writings of Voltairine de Cleyre, an important anarchist writer of the late 19th and early 20th century, covers such diverse topics such as the Paris Commune, Crime and Punishment, the Mexican Revolution, Sex and Marriage, the McKinley Assassination —and of course her distinct interpretation of anarchism.

Voltairine De Cleyre (1866-1912), anarchist, poet, lecturer, writer and teacher lived in St. Johns, Michigan until 1880, when she was sent to a convent school in Sarnia, Ontario. After graduating she became active in freethought circles, and moved quickly from socialism to anarchism. From the late 1880s until her death in 1912, De Cleyre was an energetic anarchist and a prolific writer, living in Philadelphia and then Chicago. She was a contemporary and acquaintance of Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Benjamin Tucker and other prominent anarchists of the time. Emma Goldman described her as “the poet-rebel, the liberty-loving artist, the greatest female anarchist of America.” Max Nettlau, a historian of the anarchist movement, considered her to be “the pearl of Anarchy,” outshining her contemporaries in “libertarian feeling and artistic spirit.” She published hundreds of poems, essays, stories, and sketches, mainly on themes of social oppression, but also on literature, education, and women’s liberation. She died on June 23, 1912 and was buried in Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago.

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