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Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism — Book Excerpt

Posted on January 19th, 2009 in AK Book Excerpts

Good news for those of you who have been asking about it: our printer now has Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism. The book, the first of two volumes in the CounterPower series by Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt, should be in our warehouse in three weeks. These two books (the second volume will be titled Global Fire) reexamine anarchism’s democratic class politics, its vision of a decentralized planned economy, and its impact on popular struggles in five continents over the last 150 years. Schmidt and van der Walt trace anarchism’s lineage and contemporary relevance, outlining its insights into questions of race, gender, class, and imperialism. In the process, they significantly reframe the work of previous historians on the subject and, especially, question Marxist approaches to revolutionary theory and practice.

Below we offer a brief snippet from the Introduction of Black Flame, in which the authors outline the contours of their important, and exhaustive, project. And, following that, you can check out the book’s table of contents.


Our Project

We want to look at the ideas and history of the broad anarchist tradition since it initially emerged. It is a tradition rich in ideas, and one that has had an enormous impact on the history of working-class and peasant movements as well as the Left more generally. While the broad anarchist tradition has received more attention in recent years due to the prominent role of anarchists in the “antiglobalisation” movement and the rebirth of significant syndicalist union currents, its ideas and history are not well known today. In many cases, a proper appreciation of the ideas and activities of the movement have been obscured by unsympathetic scholarship and media, but the problem goes deeper than that. Even sympathetic accounts often misunderstand the core ideas and underestimate the historical reach of the broad anarchist tradition.

In our two volumes, we will undertake several key tasks: challenging many commonly held views about anarchism and syndicalism, reexamining the ideas of the broad anarchist tradition, and synthesising a global history of the movement. In doing this, we are motivated in part by a concern with demonstrating that an understanding of the role of anarchism and syndicalism is indispensable to the understanding modern history. It is simply not possible to adequately understand the history of, for instance, unions in Latin America or peasant struggles in East Asia without taking anarchism and syndicalism seriously. The history of the broad anarchist tradition is an integral—but often forgotten—part of popular and socialist history. Besides, it is a fascinating body of thought and history.

The first volume concentrates on several main areas. First, it defines anarchism and outlines its main ideas, developing the case that anarchism is a form of revolutionary and libertarian socialism that initially arises within the First International. This volume then examines the relationship between anarchism and other ideas, particularly the views of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865), the classical Marxists, and economic liberalism. Third, it explores the relationship between anarchism and syndicalism. It then looks at the major strategic and tactical debates in the movement. Next, the first volume discusses some of the major historical themes in the history of that tradition, such as its class character, along with its role in union, peasant, community, unemployed, national liberation, women’s emancipation, and racial equality struggles. Sixth, it argues that the broad anarchist tradition was an international movement that cannot be adequately understood through the focus on Western anarchism that typifies most existing accounts. And finally, it suggests that an understanding of the broad anarchist tradition can play an important part in informing progressive struggles against contemporary neoliberalism.

We reject the view that figures like William Godwin (1756–1836), Max Stirner (1806–1856), Proudhon, Benjamin Tucker (1854–1939), and Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910) are part of the broad anarchist tradition. Likewise, we reject the notion that anarchist currents can be found throughout history: the anarchist movement only emerged in the 1860s, and then as a wing of the modern labour and socialist movement. If we exclude Godwin and the others, for reasons that will become apparent, we include under the rubric of the broad anarchist tradition syndicalists like Daniel De Leon (1852–1914), James Connolly (1868–1916), and William “Big Bill” Haywood (1869–1928). The key figures in defining anarchism and syndicalism were, however, Bakunin (1814–1876), and Pyotr Kropotkin (1842–1921).

The broad anarchist tradition was profoundly influenced by both Proudhon and Marx, but its outlook went far beyond the ideas and aims of both, was centred on an internationalist politics that sought to address a wide range of social issues in a class framework, and was historically primarily a movement of the working class even if peasants also played an important role. If we pay a great deal of attention to syndicalism in our work, it is because syndicalism is central to the story of the broad anarchist tradition. When we speak of syndicalism, we mean a revolutionary union movement capable of a wide range of tactics and actions: syndicalism should not be narrowed down to the politics of forming brand-new unions, for many syndicalist unions were created through capturing and revolutionising existing unions.

Contrary to the view that anarchism was “never more than a minority attraction,” the poor cousin of other Left traditions, we demonstrate that mass anarchist and syndicalist movements emerged in a number of regions, notably parts of Europe, the Americas, and East Asia.3 Having laid out this framework in this volume, we turn in volume 2 to developing a global history of the broad anarchist tradition. Volume 1 looks at the class politics that fuels the black flame of the broad anarchist tradition, and examines how that flame was lit. Volume 2 explores the global fire of anarchist and syndicalist struggles over the last 150 years.

Throughout both volumes, we use a basic distinction between principles (the core ideas of the broad anarchist tradition), strategies (broad approaches to implementing the anarchist agenda), and tactics (short-term choices made to implement strategy). What we aim to do in the two volumes is, in short, to weave together a story and an analysis that examines the politics of the broad anarchist tradition, discusses the lives and struggles of anarchists and syndicalists as well as their movements, and demonstrates the historical importance of the broad anarchist tradition.


Table of Contents

Preface, by Stuart Christie

Chapter 1  Introduction

Our Project
Beyond Capitalism: History, Neoliberalism, and Globalisation
Rethinking the Broad Anarchist Tradition
Social Base and Global Reach
What Is the Broad Anarchist Tradition?
Insurrectionist Anarchism, Mass Anarchism, and Syndicalism
Organisational Dualism
War, Gender Issues, and Anti-Imperialism
Anarchism and Marxism
Before We Start

Part 1  Theory and Analysis

Chapter 2  Socialism from Below: Defining

The Meaning of Anarchism: Debating the Literature
The Need for a New Approach
Starting Again: Socialism, Bakunin, and the First International
Against Hierarchy
Against Capitalism and Landlordism
Against the State
The Rejection of State Socialism
Elements of the Social Revolution
The Popular Classes
Internationalism, Social Equality, and Anti-imperialism
Counterpower and Counterculture
For a New World
Crime and Social Order
Anarchism Redefined: Socialism, Class, and Democracy
In Conclusion: The Modernity of Anarchism

Chapter 3  Proudhon, Marx, and Anarchist Social Analysis

Cooperatives, Proudhon, and Peaceful Change
A Critical Appropriation of Marxist Economics
Marxist Economics and Anarchist Communism
History, Progress, and the State
The Vanguard and the State
State Capitalism and Libertarian Socialism
Economic Determinism and the Broad Anarchist Tradition
The Anarchist Understanding of Class
In Conclusion: Toward an Anarchist Social Analysis

Part 2  Strategy and Tactics

Chapter 4  Roads to Revolution: Mass Anarchism versus Insurrectionist Anarchism

Anarchist Communism versus Anarcho-syndicalism?
The Insurrectionist Tradition
Mass Anarchism, Possibilism, and Syndicalism
Syndicalism: Prefiguring the Future in the Present
Against Economism: Direct Action versus “Political Action”
Anarcho-syndicalism, Revolutionary Syndicalism, and
De Leonism
In Conclusion: Building Tomorrow Today

Chapter 5  Anarchism, Syndicalism, the IWW, and Labour

Bakunin, Sorel, and the Origins of Syndicalism
The First International and the First Syndicalists
The First Wave: Syndicalism before the French CGT
The IWW and Syndicalism
De Leon and Connolly
The “Glorious Period” of the mid-1890s to mid-1920s
In Conclusion: Syndicalism and the Broad Anarchist Tradition

Chapter 6  Ideas, Structure, and Armed Action: Unions, Politics, and the Revolution

Union Activism, Anarchist Ideology, and Union Bureaucracy
Mass Anarchism, Radical Counterculture, and Syndicalism
Anarchist Schools and Syndicalist Education
Democracy and Direct Action
An Iron Law of Oligarchy?
Alliances and the Struggle outside the Workplace
Defending the Revolution
The Question of Power and the Spanish Revolution
In Conclusion: Anarchism, Syndicalism, and Counterpower

Chapter 7  Dual Unionism, Reforms, and Other Tactical Debates

The Antimilitarist Tradition and Popular Revolt
Reforms, Laws, and Compromises
Boring from Within and Dual Unionism
Tactics in Context and Organisational Dualism
Syndicalism and Rank-and-file Movements
In Conclusion: Reform and Revolution

Chapter 8  Militant Minority: The Question of Anarchist Political Organisation

Insurrectionist Anarchists, Antiorganisationalism, and Stirner’s
Syndicalism and Anarchism without Adjectives
Bakuninism, the Organisation of Tendency, and the “Platform”
From Bakunin to the “Platform”
Rethinking the “Platform” Debate
Other Responses to the “Platform”
In Conclusion: Militant Minority and Mass Movement

Part 3  Social Themes

Chapter 9  The Class Character and Popular Impact of the Broad Anarchist Tradition

The Case against “Spanish Exceptionalism”
Broader Impacts and Infusions
The Class Character of the Broad Anarchist Tradition
The Broad Anarchist Tradition in the Countryside
Behind the Rise of Peasant Anarchism
In Conclusion: Labour Movements and Peasant Revolts

Chapter 10  Anarchist Internationalism and Race, Imperialism, and Gender

Anarchist Class Politics and Race
An International and Internationalist Movement
Imperialism and National Liberation
Anarchists and Syndicalists in Anti-imperialist Struggles
Anarchism, Syndicalism, and Women’s Emancipation
Women, Class, and Counterculture
Anarchist and Syndicalist Women’s Activism
In Conclusion: Class Politics and Human Emancipation

Chapter 11  Conclusion to Volume 1 and Prologue to Volume 2