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.
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.
Although the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936 was followed by a far-reaching social revolution in the anti-Franco camp—more profound in some respects than the Bolshevik Revolution in its early stages—millions of discerning people outside Spain were kept in ignorance, not only of its depth and range, but even of its existence, by virtue of a policy of duplicity and dissimulation of which there is no parallel in history.
—BURNETT BOLLOTEN, in “The Grand Camouflage”.
IN THE PREFACE TO The Spanish Labyrinth Gerald Brenan quotes Karl Marx’s observation that the knowledge of Spanish history in his time was altogether inadequate. Marx went on the explain that this was because historians ‘instead of viewing the strength and resources of these people in their provincial and local organisation have drawn at the source of their court histories’. Paraphrasing Marx one could say that the inadequacy of Mr. Hugh Thomas’ The Spanish Civil War 1 lies in the fact that he is so fascinated by the personalities of politicians and military men, so carried away by considerations of military strategy and international political intrigues that he more or less overlooks the chief actors—the revolutionary workers—in a struggle that held the world’s attention for nearly three years. The military insurrection in July 1936 would have been one more coup d’état with which we are all only too familiar, for the Spanish government deprived of its real source of authority could only hope to save its skin by either arming the people or seeking to negotiate with the rebel generals. And in July 1936, the government of Casares Quiroga pinned its hopes on the latter. Indeed the socialist journalist Julian Zugazagoitia asserts2 that Quiroga not only refused to arm the people but also announced that anyone who gave arms to the workers without his orders would be shot. Mr. Thomas writes:
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.