To speak of anarchism as a way of life, as an ethics, takes us to difficult questions about what it is to be, to act, as an anarchist. And perhaps among what is most important about the written work of Tomás Ibáñez is that he has never shied away from confronting them directly, as he does in the work that we share below, translated from the French and published with Grande Angle Libertaire. And it is a reflection which calls up again the centrality of mutual aid in anarchist practice.
If the reference to the “existential element” of a political option refers to the fact that, apart from a membership of simple convenience, people who commit to it integrate this political choice as a structuring element of their social and personal identity, with all of the repercussions that this has on their lives, it is clear that this is certainly present in anarchism, but also, from left to right, in the whole, broad range of political ideologies.
On the other hand, if this reference refers to the fact that a political option carries an existential dimension, the range narrows considerably and anarchism then presents itself, not only as one of the options which satisfy this condition, but again as one of those where it asserts itself most clearly. From my point of view, there is no doubt as regards this matter, the existential element is constitutively part of anarchism.
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.
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.
PROUDHON WAS BORN in the same year, 1809, as Charles Darwin, at about the moment when the reaction against the French Revolution, led by the old imperial monarchies and the British aristocratic oligarchy, began to triumph. That triumph was short-lived but at the time it was clear to only a very few men that Europe was facing a century of revolution.
It was in the half-century following Proudhon’s birth that a number of men of talent and two men of genius, Proudhon and Karl Marx, sought to give form and practical applicability to the social, political and economic philosophy to become known as socialism. Thus Auguste Blanqui, who when not fighting the monarchy and the bourgeoisie, was in prison working out the principles of communist trade unionism and was the father of the French Socialist Party, was only four years Proudhon’s senior; Alexander Herzen, the great publicist of socialism in Russia, was born in 1812, as was Louis Blanc who developed revolutionary socialism out of the idealistic proto-socialism of Saint-Simon. Michael Bakunin, the Russian anarchist and Marx’s most troublesome enemy, was born in 1814; Marx in 1818 when his master, Hegel, was not yet fifty; and Engels in 1820. Lassalle, founder and master of the formidable German Workers’ Party, was born in 1825.
Paul Eltzbacher (18 February 1868 – 25 October 1928) was a German law student whose professorial appointment was due, largely, to his PhD on anarchism, which became the basis for the present book, first published in English in 1907. ‘Anarchism’ is an overview consisting of seven chapters which deal, principally, with Eltzbacher’s academic take on the various elements and trends of anarchism as defined by the leading anarchist thinkers of the time: Godwin, Proudhon, Stirner, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Tucker, Tolstoy.
Every person who examines this book at all will speedily divide its contents into Eltzbacher’s own discussion and his seven chapters of classified quotations from Anarchist leaders; and, if he buys the book, he will buy it for the sake of the quotations. I do not mean that the book might not have a sale if it consisted exclusively of Eltzbacher’s own words, but simply that among ten thousand people who may value Eltzbacher’s discussion there will not be found ten who will not value still more highly the conveniently-arranged reprint of what the Anarchists themselves have said on the cardinal points of Anarchistic thought. Nor do I feel that I am saying anything uncomplimentary to Eltzbacher when I say that the part of his work to which he has devoted most of his space is the part that the public will value most.