John William Ward’s essay on Alexander Berkman’s Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist originally appeared inThe New York Review of Booksin 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.
‘You can die for an idea, but never kill’: Madrid City Council has approved the naming of a street after Melchor RodriguezGarcía (1893, —February 14, 1972) anarchist militant, former bullfighter, Director-General of Prisons in Madrid during the early part of the Spanish Civil War, and the last Republican Mayor of Madrid. Also known as El Ángel Rojo (‘The Red Angel’) he was responsible not only for the prisoners’ security and prevention of escapes, but – more importantly – for preventing their extra-judicial murder by political opponents and vigilante lynch mobs. The most notable of such incidents occurred following an air raid on Alcalá de Henares air base when a group of protesters, some them armed, arrived at the prison, stormed the gates demanding that the cells be opened and the nationalist (fascist) prisoners be handed to the crowd. Melchor Rodríguez rushed from Madrid to the prison and confronted the crowd, ordering them to disperse, telling them he would rather arm the prisoners than hand them over to the mob. Among the saved prisoners were rightist General Valentín Gallarza, notable football player Ricardo Zamora, politician Ramón Serrano Súñer, Rafael Sánchez Mazas and Raimundo Fernández-Cuesta. During his term as DG of Prisons, Melchor Rodríguez García also revealed that José Cazorla Maure, a counsellor of state security of the Council of Defence of Madrid was running a network of private, illegal prisons (chekas) under the control of the Communist Party of Spain. Later in the war he became one of Madrid’s counsellors, on behalf of the Iberian Anarchist Federation. After the fall of Madrid in 1939 it fell to him, as Mayor, to officially pass the city administration over to the Francoist victors.