AK Press Collective member, Zach Blue, recently conducted an email interview with David Berry, the author of AK’s forthcoming paperback edition of A History of the French Anarchist Movement, 1917–1945. The book will not be available until December, but David is busy with plenty of other projects in the meantime. He is the reviews editor of Anarchist Studies journal and is currently co-organizing the first Anarchist Studies Network conference at Loughborough University (UK), where he teaches French and politics. David has been active on the Left in one form or another for over thirty years, most recently in the local branch of his union. He’s also on the editorial board of the Journal of Contemporary European Studies.
* * *
Thanks for taking some time to answer these questions today, David. For starters, could you tell us about the Anarchist Studies Network: what work does it do and what do you hope for it to achieve?
The ASN was basically established, I suppose, to do two things: create and foster links between the growing number of people doing research on anarchism (whether they were students/academics or not); and, building on that, to promote further research in the area and help disseminate the results. A group of us (lecturers and postgraduate research students) in the Politics Department at Loughborough University who were working on various aspects of anarchist history, politics, and theory were keen to raise the profile of research on anarchism—because, without wanting to be paranoid, it’s still difficult to get scholarly (i.e. properly researched) work on anarchism taken seriously within the education system in Britain. Some of us belonged to the Political Studies Association, which allows its members to create “Specialist Groups” on all kinds of subjects, so we set up a Specialist Group for the Study of Anarchism, which means that we get a certain amount of funding from the PSA. The name was later changed to ASN. With the help of our more techie members, we’ve since set up a wiki web site and an e-mail discussion list. There have also been a couple of annual meetings where all the members got together to discuss plans. The PSA funding (which has no strings attached so long as it’s used to do what we want to do in any case, i.e. promote the study of anarchism) has allowed us to fund various seminars, workshops, and conferences, and to give financial support to members who needed help to be able to attend these events—not to mention the forthcoming ASN conference in Loughborough this September.
In its succinct definition of anarchist studies, the ASN states “For a number of us, what we are calling ‘anarchist studies’ no longer necessarily takes anarchism as its object of study but as a standpoint from which to study the world. Anarchist contributions to thought are making a reappearance in a number of fields, challenging established orthodoxies. Perhaps, against all odds, we are witnessing the emergence of a new anarchist paradigm in academia.” Can you describe some current examples of how anarchist ideas are informing new approaches to the imposing challenges leveled by capitalism in recent years? And what is the relationship of anarchist studies to the ongoing revolutionary project to achieve anarchy? (more…)
Film fans and anyone interested in the history of anarchism during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) will want to check out La Mujer del Anarquista (Trans: The Anarchist’s Wife), a new movie by Marie Noelle and Peter Sehr. Although it has yet to be released in Europe or the United States, it has already earned one award (the Bernhard Wicki Peace Price) and will likely win others.
The story begins in 1937 in Madrid, at a time when the city was besieged by fascists and in the throes of war and revolution. Justo, the anarchist, is a radio propagandist who does battle on the airwaves and in the trenches, while his wife Manuela and their daughter Paloma desperately try to preserve a semblance of domestic normality in the midst of the tumult. However, what little stability they acquire is soon robbed from them when Justo is seized and disappears. His separation from the family, it turns out, will last for years, as Europe descends into the chaos of World War Two. Throughout it all, Manuela never stops fighting to reunite her family, which, one day, she manages to do.
Anarchist viewers will probably be annoyed by the sexist implications of the story and the title–why is it that he has politics and she is just the wife?–and disappointed by the fact that Justo’s anarchist activities are really only a backdrop for the story of this particular family. However, perhaps the movie’s exploration of love, loss, and redemption will resonate with some, despite these political issues.
We really appreciate it when people review our books. It helps get the
word out about AK publications and also prompts discussions
about the ideas that they contain. Those are very,
very good things!
We will publish reviews of AK books on this blog as often as we
can. Below is a review of Murray Bookchin’s Social and
Communalism (AK Press, 2007). It first appeared in TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on
world events. We repost it here with permission.
The American presidential election season has pundits and pollsters proclaiming “change” a primary factor in the minds of many voters. It’s little wonder that this stark period – marked by the so-called “War on Terror,” the extension of neoliberalism across the globe, and the urgency of global warming – has motivated such vague desires among the citizenry. Undefined, undifferentiated and ultimately relegated to mere platitudes, “change” here means little; it is cosmetic, commodified, and reinforces the status quo. Absent is a lens, a coherent perspective through which current and future movements might comprehend and ultimately transcend the prevailing order, inspiring the crucial transformative “change” so necessary to reverse today’s regressive and reactionary tendencies.
While the US Green Party struggles on and plans yet again to rely on a presidential candidacy to foster a “trickle down” growth for state and local parties, there is little to suggest that Greens or any other marginalized American Left movements are positioned to fill this void of coherent analyses and strategies for reconstructive action. Yet the American Green movement’s early history included the influence of social ecology, a body of thought primarily developed by Murray Bookchin, that articulates just such a vision based on ecological principles, notions of radical democracy, and a celebration of our uniquely human potentialities. Bookchin was a keynote speaker at the first national gathering of US Greens in 1987 and his work, including more than 20 books, numerous essays, articles, speaking engagements, and the co-founding of the Institute for Social Ecology, affected the formation of the Left Greens and played a prominent role in debates over direction for the nascent American Green movement.
Social Ecology and Communalism, a recently released collection of four essays written in Bookchin’s later years, offers an accessible introduction to social ecology’s fundamental rejection of social hierarchy and domination, critique of instrumental reasoning in favor of a dialectical philosophical orientation, and it’s ecological “libertarian municipalist” political strategy. It should be noted that Bookchin’s version of “communalism” bears no relation to the (largely religion-based) sectarianism it evokes in South Asia. Instead, here communalism refers to the theory and system of government in which local communities are associated in a confederation. (more…)
Call for Submissions for Anarchitecture / Building / Power
The editors of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory are seeking essays, photo-essays, project documentation, interviews and book reviews for an issue of theoretical, practical and activist engagements with architecture
Theory & History: ANARCHITECTURE
We are seeking anarchist reflections on the relationship between social change and the built environment, the peculiar relationship of modern construction to capitalism, and aphorisms that fumble towards an anarchist theory of the city.
We are seeking documentation of alternative practices in the built environment, detailed discussions of alternative models of property or the architecture of anarchist communes, discussion of vernacular architectures and practical examples of autonomous construction.
Domination unfolds in space: How have people challenged domination in space? We are interested in everything here from professionals engaged in combating Eminent Domain / displacement and grassroots organizations challenging the spatial agenda of the War on Drugs/Terror to collective efforts to reimagine the city and private spatial experiments in freedom.
We welcome finished essays as well as proposals for new work. If you are interested in writing for this issue, but do not have a specific topic, please send us a statement of interest and we may provide you with a project to respond to. We also welcome suggestion of projects / actions that we should consider.
This issue will be published in Spring 2009. Statements of interest, suggestions and proposals for new essays should be submitted by December 15th, 2008. A statement of interest is not required for submissions of completed works: Completed works may be submitted before May 15th, 2009. (Please inform us if any submissions have been published previously.) Final drafts of all submissions will be due in December 2008.
This issue is guest edited by Alexis Bhagat, Francesca Manning, and Etienne Turpin.
Perspectives on Anarchist Theory is the publication of the Institute for Anarchist Studies (IAS), a nonprofit foundation established in 1996 to support the development of anarchism. The aim of the IAS is to promote critical scholarship that explores social domination and reconstructive visions of a free society. Primarily, the IAS is a grant-giving body, supporting work by radical writers. To date, the IAS has funded almost sixty projects by authors from countries around the world, including Argentina, Canada, New Zealand, Lebanon, Chile, Ireland, Nigeria, Mexico, the Philippines, Germany, Uruguay, South Africa, the Czech Republic, and the United States. Additionally, the IAS annually organizes the Renewing the Anarchist Tradition (RAT) conference in Vermont and the Radical Theory Track at the National Conference on Organized Resistance (NCOR).
The Public School Nightmare: Why Fix a System Designed to Destroy Individual Thought?
By John Taylor Gatto
John worked as a scriptwriter in the film business, an advertising writer, a taxi driver, a jewelry designer, an ASCAP songwriter, and a hotdog vendor before becoming a schoolteacher. He climaxed his teaching career as New York State Teacher of the Year after being named New York City Teacher of the Year on three occasions. He quit teaching on the Op Ed page of The Wall Street Journal in 1991 while still New York State Teacher of the Year, claiming that he was no longer willing to hurt children. His books include: Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling (1992); The Exhausted School (1993); A Different Kind of Teacher (2000); and The Underground History Of American Education (2001).
I want you to consider the frightening possibility that we are spending far too much money on schooling, not too little. I want you to consider that we have too many people employed in interfering with the way children grow up-and that all this money and all these people, all the time we take out of children’s lives and away from their homes and families and neighborhoods and private explorations, gets in the way of education.
That seems radical, I know. Surely in modern technological society it is the quantity of schooling and the amount of money you spend on it that buys value. And yet, last year in St. Louis, I heard a vice-president of IBM tell an audience of people assembled to redesign the process of teacher certification that, in his opinion, this country became computer-literate by self-teaching, not through any action of schools. He said 45 million people were comfortable with computers who had learned through dozens of non-systematic strategies, none of them very formal; if schools had pre-empted the right to teach computers use we would be in a horrible mess right now instead of leading the world in this literacy.
Now think about Sweden, a beautiful, healthy, prosperous, and up-to-date country with a spectacular reputation for quality in everything it produces. It makes sense to think their schools must have something to do with that. Then what do you make of the fact that you can’t go to school in Sweden until you are seven years old? The reason the unsentimental Swedes have wiped out what would be first and seconds grades here is that they don’t want to pay the large social bill that quickly comes due when boys and girls are ripped away from their best teachers at home too early.
It just isn’t worth the price, say the Swedes, to provide jobs for teachers and therapists if the result is sick, incomplete kids who can’t be put back together again very easily. The entire Swedish school sequence isn’t twelve years, either-it’s nine. Less schooling, not more. The direct savings of such a step in the United States would be $75-100 billion-a lot of unforeclosed home mortgages, a lot of time freed up with which to seek an education.
Who was it that decided to force your attention onto Japan instead of Sweden? Japan with its long school year and state compulsion, instead of Sweden with its short school year, short school sequence, and free choice where your kid is schooled? Who decided you should know about Japan and not Hong Kong, an Asian neighbor with a short school year that outperforms Japan across the board in math and science? Whose interests are served by hiding that from you?
One of the principal reasons we got into the mess we’re in is that we allowed schooling to become a very profitable monopoly, guaranteed its customers by the police power of the state. Systematic schooling attracts increased investment only when it does poorly, and since there are no penalties at all for such performance, the temptation not to do well is overwhelming. That’s because school staffs, both line and management, are involved in a guild system; in that ancient form of association no single member is allowed to outperform any other member, is allowed to advertise or is allowed to introduce new technology or improvise without the advance consent of the guild. Violation of these precepts is severely sanctioned-as Marva Collins, Jaime Escalante and a large number of once-brilliant teachers found out.
The guild reality cannot be broken without returning primary decision-making to parents, letting them buy what they want to buy in schooling, and encouraging the entrepreneurial reality that existed until 1852. That is why I urge any business to think twice before entering a cooperative relationship with the schools we currently have. Cooperating with these places will only make them worse.
Out of the dusty, desolate, dreary, dark depths of the Bay Area comes a ray of hope, a new ambition, a harbinger of good things: it is the Alexander Berkman Social Club!
The ABSC is a group of anarchists who want to talk about what anarchism is, how anarchists see things, and what anarchy could look like. Named after the editor of San Francisco’s mighty The Blast, they hold continual monthly meetings that are open to all.
Their second event, like the first, was a tremendous success. Held in commodious chambers on a third floor of San Francisco’s 522 Valencia Street, it featured a broad ranging discussion of anarchism and sexuality. Esteemed anarcho-archivist Jessica Moran began the discussion with a fascinating introduction to anarchism and free love in the United States in the late nineteenth century; AK author, Terence Kissack spoke about his excellent new book, Free Comrades: Anarchism and Sexuality in the United States, 1895-1917; and long-time Sanfranarchist, Joey Cain, brought the evening to a close with a thrilling presentation on Edward Carpenter, who was arguably the great grandfather of the modern gay rights movement. There were also delicious snacks and the (now world-famous) ASBC raffle!!
To keep informed about future meetings and see more photos, go to the Alexander Berkman Social Club website. You can also download audio recordings of the first two events at this website.
The next event will occur on Thursday, August 28 and will focus on prisons and prisoners. It will feature Barry Pateman, who will speak about the early days of the Anarchist Black Cross; Isaac Ontiveros from Critical Resistance, who will speak on prison abolition; and music by the ABSC house band, featuring Devin Hoff.
Jessica Moran, speaking on anarchism and free love in the US.
“Call for Proposals & Ideas”
The ninth edition of the Renewing the Anarchist Tradition (RAT) conference, sponsored by the Institute for Anarchist Studies (IAS), once again aims to provide a participatory and scholarly space in which to reexamine, reinvigorate, and make relevant the social and political tradition of anarchism.
Each year, RAT brings together anarchists, anti-authoritarians, and libertarian leftists who want to critically engage both the tradition itself and the world in which we live. Participants and presenters at the conference thereby contribute to developing a more rigorous contemporary theoretical framework for anarchism as well as a stronger basis from which nonhierarchical movements can organize and resist.
2008 is a strange time to be an anarchist in North America. Thomas Friedman is calling for a green revolution, and Bono is at the forefront of a global war on poverty. The bright light of the U.S. presidential election campaign, anointed by Silicon Valley capital, has harnessed massive popular desire for radical social transformation–“Change”–to propel himself toward the White House. The reception he receives abroad articulates a thirst for a genuine internationalism, even as he signals his readiness to command more of the same military interventionism that has devastated people and social movements around the world. As anarchists and anti-authoritarians, it is easy to feel marginal, dissipated, defeated, and irrelevant as we watch some of our dearest ideas co-opted, sucked of content, turned inside out, and projected into the mainstream political scene.
What better moment, then, to come together to reflect on and honestly appraise the practices, platforms, convictions, dogmas, truisms, and theories that anarchism offers? What better moment to reimbue that tradition with a crucial sense of urgency and the substance that can genuinely challenge racism, imperialism, sexism, colonial pillage, capitalist exploitation, and the multifold and mutually reinforcing forms of oppression and systems of domination?
RAT is also a place to discuss and share theoretical tools from beyond the anarchist tradition that can add to building more sustainable social movements and practices, and eventually a world characterized by freedom, justice, and dignity for all. (more…)
The first anarchist bookfair in Salamanca, Spain will begin on August 14 (today) and runs through August 17. There will be films, discussions, panels about new books, workshops on book production, music, and lots of vegan food. Attendance is free. Anyone interested in going can find out more here (site in Spanish).
Welcome to AK Press’s new blog, Revolution by the Book.
Our goal is to inform people about anarchist publishing in general and AK Press in particular.
We will post interviews with AK authors, reviews of and excerpts from AK books, and reports on the events at AK. We will also post news about other anarchist publishers and booksellers, translations, interviews with activists behind other projects, and lists of relevant conferences. We will use video and audio whenever possible.
Initially, we will post new material three times per week, although we hope to publish with greater frequency in the near future. We encourage anyone interested to subscribe to our RSS feed and stop by as often as possible.
We would also like to know what you think about this blog. Posters will be required to register (which you do here) and please bear in mind that we expect participants to be nice to each other (we will delete off-topic comments and ad-hominem attacks).
We would be honored if one day our friends and comrades count this blog among the many others in which important and helpful discussions occur.
Please go here to learn more about AK Press and go here to browse our catalog.