We’re eagerly awaiting the release of our new graphic novel Prisoner 155: Simón Radowitzky by Agustín Comotto, and in the meantime we thought we’d get you excited about it too! So we’ve put up a few sample pages for you to flip through to get a sense of the beautiful artwork and Comotto’s storytelling.
You can preorder the book now for 25% off list price, and get your hands on a copy as soon as it’s released!
We’ve just published the incredibly important (if we do say so ourselves) English translation of Anarchism in Latin America, Ángel Cappelletti’s sweeping overview of the movement’s origins and development across the region, from the Caribbean to Mexico and Central and South America. It’s hard to choose an excerpt, given the varied histories Cappelletti shares, but this snippet of a few pages from his Preface should give you a good sense of the book—and of Gabriel Palmer-Fernández’s wonderful translation.
As with other ideas of European origin, anarchist ideology was a product imported to Latin America. But ideas are not simply products. They are also living organisms and, as such, ought to adapt themselves to new environments; in so doing, they evolve in lesser or greater ways. To say that European immigrants brought anarchism to these shores states only the obvious. And to take that as a kind of weakness is plain stupidity. Like the very ideas of nation and of a nationalistic ideology, anarchism comes to us from Europe.
Anarchism is not merely the ideology of the working and peasant masses who, arriving in the new continent, are robbed of their hopes for a better life and witness the exchange of oppression by the ancient monarchies for the no less brutal oppression of the new republican oligarchies. Soon some of the native and also indigenous masses adopt the anarchist view of the world and society, from Mexico to Argentina, and from Francisco Zalacosta in the Chalco to Facón Grande in Patagonia. It is seldom noted that the anarchist doctrine of self-managed collectivism has a close resemblance to the ancient ways of life and organizations of the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Peru, ways of life that were practiced prior to the imperialism of not only the Spanish, but also the Aztecs and Inca before them. To the extent that anarchists reached the indigenous, they did not have to inculcate exotic ideologies but only to make conscious the ancient peasant ideologies of the Matagalpan calpulli and the Andean ayllu.
At the same time, a tendency towards liberty and indifference towards all forms of statist structure was already present in the Creole population. When that tendency was not usurped by the ways of the feudal caudillos, it proved fertile soil for a libertarian ideology. Few mention the existence of an anarchist gauchaje in Argentina and Uruguay, or its literary expression in libertarian payadores. But those matters aside—undoubtedly they will be looked upon as having little consequence by academic and Marxist historians—without hesitation we can say that anarchism took root much more deeply and extensively among indigenous workers than did Marxism, perhaps with the exception of Chile.
It is important to note that from a theoretical perspective, even if the Latin American movement did not make fundamental contributions to anarchist thought, it did produce forms of organization and praxis that were unknown in Europe. For example, the Federación Obrera Regional Argentina (FORA), a labor union that was majoritarian (becoming almost the only union), never conceded to syndical bureaucracy, and developed an organizational form as different from the Confederación National del Trabajo (CNT) and other European anarcho-syndicalist unions as it was from the North American Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). A second example, typically Latin American, is the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM). Primarily through the efforts of Ricardo Flores Magón, within a few years of its founding it adopted an ideology that was unquestionably anarchist, nonetheless keeping its name while continuing as a political party, and thereby earning sharp criticism from some European orthodox thinkers like Jean Grave.
With the exception of that singular case, anarchism in Latin America is nearly always anarcho-syndicalism and is essentially linked to workers’ and peasants’ organizations. To be sure, there were some anarcho-individualists in Argentina, Uruguay, Panama, and other places, as well as anarcho-communists, the latter foes of the syndical organization in Buenos Aires in the 1880s and 1890s. But the vast majority of Latin American anarchists were adherents of a revolutionary and anti-political syndicalism—not, as some say, a-political. That is an important difference between Latin and North American anarchism. An anarchist syndicalism was evident in the United States and its greatest witness was the sacrifice of the Chicago martyrs. It represented the continuation of the anti-slavery movement into the industrial context, and was promoted by Italians, Germans, and Slavic immigrants, with the German Johann Most as its revolutionary prototype. Later a revolutionary syndicalism emerged (anarchist or quasi-anarchist) among the working classes, organized through the IWW. There was also an earlier movement unrelated to the working classes, represented by important literary figures such as Thoreau and Emerson. Its predecessor is found in the liberal radicalism of Jefferson and other eighteenth century thinkers, and is perhaps represented today by what is known as “libertarianism.” While it was not an anti-workers’ ideology—although today there are Right-libertarians—it developed along lines quite alien to the struggles of the working classes, and its principal concerns include individual human rights, anti-militarism, and the abolition of bureaucracy and the State.
But anarchism developed in different ways in the various Latin American countries. In Argentina, FORA was sufficiently radical to be considered extremist by the Spanish CNT. In Uruguay it tended to be nonviolent, as Max Nettlau notes, perhaps because it was less persecuted, except during the last dictatorship. In Mexico it influenced government not only because of Magonist participation in the revolution against Porfirio Díaz, but also because La Casa del Obrero Mundial provided Venustiano Carranza his “red battalions” in the fight against Villa and Zapata, and because the leadership of the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT) engaged President Obregón in public political debates. In Brazil, on the other hand, it was always at the margins of the state, and the military-oligarchic republic did nothing but persecute, ostracize, or assassinate its leaders. A phenomenon common in several Latin American countries between 1918 and 1923 was anarcho-Bolshevism. Following the Bolshevik revolution many anarchists in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and especially Mexico supported Lenin and declared their unconditional support of the Soviet government, yet still considered themselves anarchists. With Lenin’s death this trend disappeared. Those who still chose to follow Stalin no longer dared to call themselves anarchists.
In addition to a vast newspaper propaganda and extensive bibliography, anarchism in all Latin American countries produced many poets and writers who were among the most prominent in their respective national literatures. They were not, however, equally numerous and important in all regions. It is safe to say that in Argentina and Uruguay most writers publishing between 1890 and 1920 were at one time or another anarchists. Likewise in Brazil and Chile, where during this time there were more than a few literary anarchist writers, though not as many as in the Río de la Plata region. In Columbia, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico, if a properly anarchist literature did not fully flourish, the influence of a libertarian ideology was greater among writers and poets than in the workers’ movement. But even in those places where literature and anarchism were nearly synonymous, as in the Río de la Plata, anarchist intellectuals never played the role of elite or revolutionary vanguard, nor did they have any dealings with universities or official culture. In this respect anarchism’s trajectory differs profoundly from that of Marxism.
The decline of the anarchist movement in Latin America (which does not imply its total disappearance) may be attributed to three causes. First is a series of coups d’état, mostly fascist, in the 1930s—Uriburu in Argentina, Vargas in Brazil, Terra in Uruguay. All are characterized by a general repression of the workers’ movement, Left-leaning groups, and particularly of anarchists. In certain cases (e.g., Argentina) the state achieved the total dismantlement of the organizational and propagandistic structure of the workers’ anarcho-syndicalist federations. A second factor is the founding of communist parties (Bolsheviks). The support of the Soviet Union and of affiliated European parties gave them a strength sorely lacking in anarchist organizations, which had no other resources than the dues paid by their own militants. Some anarchists chose to join the communist party, more in some countries (Brazil) and fewer in others (Argentina). Finally, the emergence of nationalist-populist sentiments more or less linked to the armed forces and, in a few cases, with the promoters of fascist coups completes the factors that caused anarchism’s decline.
The unique situation of dependence in which Latin American countries found themselves with regard to European and, above all, North American imperialism caused the class struggle to be substituted by struggles for national liberation. Consequently, workers conceived of their exploitation as arising from foreign powers. The bourgeoisie, both domestic and foreign, together with various sectors of the military and the Catholic church, convinced them that the enemy was not Capital and State as such, but foreign Capital and State. Skillfully manipulated, this very conviction was the principal cause of the decline of anarchism. All else is secondary, even the intrinsic difficulties faced by anarchist organizations in the actual world, such as the need to make unions function without bureaucracy or the impossibility, real or apparent, of concrete proposals.
1 In the language of the Matagalpan Indians calpulli refers to a group constituting the fundamental unit of Aztec society. Ayllus were the basic political and social units of pre-Inca life (Trans).
2 In Argentina, Uruguay, southern regions of Brazil, as well as in parts of Paraguay and Chile, a musical form accompanied by guitar (Trans).
Get your copy of the book here!
If you’re someone who hasn’t yet picked up a copy of our recent title The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Final Public Speeches of Subcommander Marcos, then here’s a glimpse of some of the poetic and political wonders that await. We’re proud to have helped editor Nicolas Henck and translator Henry Gales get this one out into the world and, hopefully, refocus attention during these dark days on the struggles and social experiments in Chiapas.
On Specialists and Specialties
[excerpted from the speech “Seven Winds in the Calendars and Geographies of Below“]
A serious historian could certainly pinpoint the moment in human society when specialists and specialties appeared. And maybe that historian could explain to us what came first: the specialty or the specialist.
Because, in our looking out at and being astonished by the world, we Zapatistas have seen that oftentimes people define their ignorance or shortsightedness as a specialty and call themselves specialists. And they are praised and respected and paid well and ceremonies are held in their honor.
We do not understand. For us, someone with limited knowledge is someone who should push themself to learn more. But it turns out that in academia, the less you know, the more research funding you receive.
Old Antonio, on one of those mornings that surprised us walking downhill, laughed about this when I told him and said that back then the first gods, those who birthed the world, were specialists in specialties.
Anyway, it is well-known that our limits with intellectual production are encyclopedic, so now we would like to briefly talk about a special species of specialists: professional politicians.
Later on in this festival, tomorrow I believe, we will have the opportunity to listen to—in the voice of Insurgent Lieutenant Colonel Moisés—some portrayals of internal political tasks in Zapatista communities.
One of these political tasks, not the only one, is governmental work. There is also, for example, political work of the Zapatista women—which Commander Hortensia will tell us about—and much more.
And it turns out that this work not only is unpaid, it is also not considered a specialty. In other words, someone who is autonomous municipal president one day was in the fields the day before, or on the coffee plantation, planting or harvesting. Many of our Zapatista leaders did not even go to school or do not even know how to speak Spanish; in other words, they are not specialists in anything, much less in politics.
And, nonetheless, our autonomous municipalities have more advances in health, education, housing, and nutrition than the official municipalities that are governed by professional politicians, by political specialists.
Anyway, we’ll wait for those talks by my compañeros to try to understand us. Right now, I only want to point out some of our inabilities to understand the political tasks of above, at least in Mexico.
For example, we do not understand how it gets decided, accepted, and made law for congresspeople to make more than construction workers. Because construction workers do something: they work, they build houses, walls, buildings. And they know how to make the mixture, how to place bricks or blocks.
Here, for example, you have this auditorium that we are in. More people can fit right here than in the City Theater here in San Cristóbal de las Casas, and they tell me it was built—from its design to its completion— by indigenous hands. The floor, the levels, the walls, doors and windows, roof, metalwork, and electrical installation were done by nonspecialists, indigenous people, who are compañeros of the Other Campaign.
Well, going back to construction workers, they work. But congresspeople . . . congresspeople . . . well, could someone maybe tell us what congresspeople do? Or senators? Or secretaries of state?
Not long ago we heard a secretary of state say that the economic crisis, which had been dragging on for several years, was nothing more than a common cold.
Oh, we thought. A secretary of state is like a doctor who diagnoses a disease. But, we were left thinking, why would someone with the least bit of sense pay a doctor who says that someone has a cold and it turns out that they have pneumonia and the doctor gives them hot tea with lemon leaves to feel good as new. But it looks like the secretary of state in question gets paid well, and there is a law that says that he has to make a lot of money.
Someone will tell us that congresspeople and senators make laws and that secretaries of state make plans for those laws to be implemented. OK. How much did it cost the nation to do, for example, the indigenous counterreform that violated the San Andrés Accords?
And several months ago, a PRD lawmaker, questioned about why he voted in favor of an absurd and unjust law (like the majority of laws in Mexico), said in his defense . . . that he had not read it!
And when there was a debate about oil in the country’s nerve center (that is, in the media), did the Calderón administration not say that people should not be consulted because it was something that only specialists understood? And did the so-called oil-sector defense movement not act the same way when it entrusted a group of specialists with crafting its proposal?
Specialization is, according to us, a form of private property for knowledge.
Those who know something treasure it and—complicating it to the point of making it look like something extraordinary and impossible, something that only a few can access—refuse to share it. And their pretext is specialization.
They are like sorcerers of knowledge, like the old priests who specialized in talking with the gods. And people believe everything they say.
And this happens in modern society, which tells us indigenous people that we are the backward, the uneducated, the uncivilized.
In our lengthy tour through the Mexico of below, we had the opportunity to directly meet other native peoples on this continent. From the Mayas on the Yucatán Peninsula to the Kumiai in Baja California, from the Purépechas, Nahuas, and Wixaritari on the Pacific coast to the Kikapus in Coahuila.
Part of what we see will be better explained by our compañeros from the Indigenous National Congress, Carlos González and Juan Chávez, when they accompany us at this table. I only want to note a few reflections on this issue of knowledge and Indian peoples.
− In the meetings prior to the Indian Peoples of the Americas Continental Gathering, the different cultures of Indian leaders did not vie for supremacy or hierarchy. With no apparent difficulty, they recognized difference and established a type of deal or agreement within which they respect one another.
On the other hand, when two different conceptions of reality—two cultures, that is—confront each other in modern society, the issue of one’s supremacy over the other is usually brought up, a question that is not infrequently resolved with violence.
But they say that we Indian peoples are the savages.
− When the ladino or mestizo world encounters the indigenous world within the latter’s territory, the former develops what we Zapatistas call “evangelizer syndrome.” I do not know if it was inherited from the first Spanish conquerors and missionaries, but the ladino or mestizo naturally tends to take the position of teacher and helper. Due to some strange logic that we do not understand, it is held as self-evident that ladino or mestizo culture is superior to indigenous culture in breadth and depth of wisdom and knowledge. In contrast, if this contact between cultures takes place in urban territory, the ladino or mestizo assumes a defensive and distrustful position or a position of contempt and disgust when around indigenous people. The indigenous are backward or peculiar.
On the contrary, when the indigenous come across or encounter a different culture outside of their territory, they naturally try to understand it and do not attempt to establish a dominant/dominated relationship. And when it is within their territory, the indigenous assume a position of curious distrust and a zealous defense of their independence.
“I’ve come to see what I can help with,” mestizos tend to say when they get to an indigenous community. And it may come as a surprise for them when, instead of having them teach or lead or command, they are sent to go get wood, or carry water, or clean the pasture. Or wouldn’t it be very strange for the indigenous to respond, “And who told you that we need you to help us?”
There may be cases, but as of now we do not know if anyone has gone to an indigenous community and has said, “I’ve come so you can help me.”
1 This event was held in Vícam, Sonora, from October 11 to 14, 2007, and brought together more than 570 indigenous delegates representing sixty-six indigenous peoples from twelve countries.
Get your copy of The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Final Public Speeches of Subcommander Marcos.
At AK Press, we’re always on the lookout for good kids’ books to distribute. One of the recent stand-outs was The Worms That Saved The World, which is always fun to hand off to a kid when we’re tabling somewhere. Here’s an interview with the author, Kevin Doyle, about how the ideas in the book were spawned by real-life struggles in Cork, Ireland. And if you’d like a copy of the book itself, just click here.
Q: The image on the cover of The Worms That Saved The World shows a big group of earthworms marching along a headland. There’s lots of them and they look happy. Some are holding placards announcing ‘We Live Here Too!’, ‘The Headland for All’ and ‘Free The Old Head’. So what’s this all about? Who are these happy protestors?
A: This is a storybook for kids. We decided that a direct appeal to their natural rebellious instincts was what was required. In our book a community of earthworms must fight for their home and their lives. Struggling to win a better world brings them together so that’s in part why they’re happy. Also, in the end, they win too – so they are happy for that reason as well. Oops, spoiler alert there!
Q: Too late. So a happy ending. But apart from that this is not the usual fare for a children’s book?’
A: No, but then the book market does need shaking up. All those celebrities writing children’s books is making things worse not better.
Q: It’s a crowded market.
A: Not content wise. Our book is about the environment and standing up for your rights. In reality there’s not that much around in the book-market that tackles those sorts of things and ideas for the age group we’re interested in anyway. Loads of books about princes and princesses of course! Maybe we can help reboot an old trend, fun books about rebellion.
Q: The earthworms in The Worms That Saved The World are very cuddly. You could almost take them home with you. How did you come to choose earthworms for this story?
A: The idea for the book came around the time I was reading stories to my own children. My daughter, Saoirse, had a wormery in the garden that had a glass window in it that you could look through and see what the worms got up to. To be honest the worms were always vanishing. They didn’t like being cooped up. So that was there that aspect came from.
Q: Earthworms get a lot of bad press don’t they. You’re rehabilitating them?
A: We’re big fans. Did you know that in one acre of land, there can be more than a million earthworms! I could go on. They are also essential to composting too. Listen, without worms this planet would be kaput.
Q: We hear you.
A: Obviously we have taken liberties. Our worms are able to do lots of things. They can read and write and they know how to draw up a manifesto. In addition they can do complicated maths calculations.
Q: Brainy! There’s a long history of animals and species being used to point up some of the injustices in our world?
A: Yes, by using animals or birds and plants one’s able to create stories that deal with all sorts of complex and interesting ideas. Children of course identify strongly with all sort of unusual birds and animals and their imaginations are open to these creatures doing this, that and the other. It’s lovely to write for children in that sense.
Q: In your story the earthworms come face to face with a ruthless enemy.
A: Yes. A bunch of greedy developers who buy their home and turn it into a luxury golf course. So ours is a bit of a David versus Goliath story in a sense. The golf club owners have no interest in anyone other than themselves and their clients. The worms don’t think that this is right and they ask for a meeting. Things start to downhill for the worms when the developers try to eradicate the worms. The worms realise that they must fight back.
Q: How do they do that?
A: You have to read the book to find out! No, only kidding. As mentioned above there are lots of worms under the ground. They band together. Strength in numbers and all of that. Our worms are smart as well. They know that some of the other animals and birds living on their headland are being affected by the golf course development too, so they ask them for help!
Q: There’s one scene I like a lot. The seagulls are moaning about the helicopters arriving on the headland. One of them is nearly blown out to sea.
A: Yes, in our story the worms get help from the seagulls, the foxes and the badgers. The different animals and birds on the headland are affected in different ways. Even the ramblers are affected. They are prohibited from walking on the headland because if might affect the golfing experience.
Q: The worms lead the fight on behalf of everyone.
A: Sort of. One of the ideas that is explored in the book is the idea of cooperation. These days we often only hear about the survival of the fittest. But the anarchist Kropotkin explored the cooperative nature of life on earth and how interdependence and mutual aid that is also part of survival. So that idea is in our story. By cooperating we can overcome obstacles. It dovetails with the wider idea that it is crucial to respect the environment and not destroy life and diversity.
Q: So is this an anti-capitalist book?
A: Guilty as charged really. Our planet is now under extreme pressure. The pursuit of profits motivated by untrammelled greed – essentially that’s what capitalism is about – is at the root of this. The very world that we all rely and depend on is being exploited to the point of exhaustion. In our story that way of thinking is represented by the luxury golf course. We’re not suggesting that all golfing is the enemy, of course. But golfing as an industry is super exploitative in regard to land and water. Many golf course over-indulge in the use of chemicals, insecticides and pesticides too. There was a fine film made only recently about the luxury golf industry and the antics it gets up to. It’s called A Dangerous Game and is widely available. Well worth a look at.
Q: I was reading that your book was inspired by a campaign to oppose such a development near where you’re from in Cork, at the Old Head of Kinsale. What happened there?
A: The Old Head is one of Ireland’s natural treasures for sure. A beautiful place, with walking trails and bird sanctuaries but now – since the 2005 – annexed for the sole and private use of a select group of well-heeled golfers.
Q: I saw a promo for the Old Head of Kinsale on an Irish tourist film about Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, so how can it be annexed as you say.
A: It is! It’s still heavily promoted as a site to visit but you can only look at it from a distance. Or take a cruise boat and tour around the seas off the headland. But no walking!
Q: But it was open to the public once?
A: Completely. Many people talk of it and walked there. Then in the late eighties the headland was purchased by a millionaire developer who had this dream of putting a luxury golf course on the headland. He wanted it to be exclusive and only for those who had a lot of money. He made no bones about this – it was his dream. And that’s how it is now. It’s €30,000 to join for a year. To play there for just the day costs a lot. So it was that and the campaign that emerged to fight the injustice that sparked the idea for the book.
Q: What did the campaign actually fight for?
A: For the right of the public to walk on the headland as they had always done. The public right of way was what was at issue. It was brave campaign, initiated by a coalition of socialists, anarchists and environmentalists. In was always going to be an uphill battle to win though. We were up against people with deep pockets. They went to the courts, took on Cork County Council and Ireland’s Planning Board and eventually they won. Once they did, the cops rowed in to enforced the rule of law. It was touch and go after that. We really needed more public support and it didn’t arrive. Even so I felt myself though that the campaign had a lot of very positive aspects to it.
Q: What struck you as positive about the campaign?
A: The willingness of people to defy the law. Unjust laws must be broken, we all know that but to go ahead and do it is another thing. The centre piece of the protests was a mass trespass. This involved a lot of people scaling a high wall to gain access to the traditional walks. It was quite amazing to witness these protests.
Q: Why a children’s book as opposed to say a pamphlet or book about the campaign? It seems like that might have been an option too?
A: I thinking standing back from the actual events at the Old Head itself, a children’s book about the issues is probably more valuable. It’s an investment for the future too. See, when the campaign was going on at Kinsale, I was a bit immersed in children’s books as I had young daughters. There are lots of great books about but you notice that the selection is narrow too.
Q: What do you mean exactly?
A: So many story books re-enforce and uphold traditional values. Right now those books dominate the book-market. Why? For me it’s plain, simple bias. Partly it is the market re-enforcing itself with the repetitive use of the formula books that work. But clearly there’s lot more to it than that as well. For example some recent studies have looked at gender roles. The video “The Ugly Truth About Children’s Books” is a great example. It’s on YouTube and well worth a look. A mum and her daughter remove books from a bookcase using the following criteria. Is there a female character? Does she speak? Do they have aspirations or are they just waiting for a prince? In the end there’s not a lot of books left for them to read. One bald fact tells you a lot: 25% of 5,000 books studied had no female characters at all.
Q: And we wonder why women are sometimes less visible.
A: Precisely. Across the broad range of children’s media, less than 20% of products showed women with a job, compared to more than 80% in respect to male characters. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out what the situation in going to be like around topics poverty, exploitation or challenging authorities. It’s a very limited market in many ways.
Q: Let’s turn to the illustrations. People have remarked on them. They are so vibrant and some on their own are almost stories in themselves. How did this come about?
A: So Spark Deeley is the illustrator. She has written and illustrated her own books. She worked on all the illustrations for our Worms book in her spare time. She did an amazing job.
Q: Did you know one another and how did the collaboration begin?
A: I didn’t know Spark at the time that I was thinking about the story idea. I actually looked around for illustrators who might have an interest but not that many did. I got to know Spark from a few protests that were happening around Cork at that time. Spark also attended the Free The Old Head protest picnics but I’m not sure if I met her at any of those. Here own book Into The Serpent’s Jaws came out and I knew from that about the quality of her work. So I asked her and she was enthusiastic from the outset. The key thing, I feel now, is that we had shared sense of what the story was trying to talk about. We are both socialists in that sense, from somewhat different perspectives, but with loads in common. In the time that we worked on the story we both grew to appreciate that books that elaborate on socialist and radical ideas are vital in a world that is increasing under the sway of neo-liberalism.
Q: So you had the story idea and Spark was interested in doing the illustrations, what happened from there?
A: It all took a long time really. Initially we looked into idea of trying to interest some publisher in it. We felt the environmental theme would be attractive to publishers but we had no luck. We must have sent out about twelve packages. That all takes time and money and you have to wait ages to hear back and often you never hear at all. Crazy. It was frustrating and we came away from it thinking it’s down to us. Publish or be damned sort of. We looked into ideas like of crowd-funding too but in the end we felt we could get the money together and publish it via Chispa Publishing. The big thing was for Spark to find time do the illustrations. The finished book is testimony to her commitment and talent.
Q: What was the publishing experience like?
A: It’s rewarding for sure but there’s a lot of work that you need to do to make it happen. There are lots of things that you need to get right too. We wanted tour book to be a quality book so we tried from the outset to hit a high mark with layout and printing. Lots of people read and looked at mock-ups of the book and made suggestions. We went to a few young readers too and asked them for their views. As the book was for them their views were especially welcome. A friend of mine who works as a copyeditor went thought the manuscript for us for free. Even with all of that the big issue is distribution. We’ve done most of the distribution in Ireland ourselves but we’ve been really lucky that AK Press, in Scotland and in the States, have taken the book under their wings. That’s a breakthrough for a small production like ours.
Q: I saw a promo piece for the book and it went something like ‘Direct Action For Kids’. Did that raise any hackles?
A: Surprisingly few so far. When it does get raised we’ve countered by reminding people about all the prince and princess books. Of course some people don’t see these as ‘political’ at all. The point in a way is that there are lots of values embedded in all children’s books. But I would say that, for us, the book is really a positive exploration of interesting ideas. The book presents a series of situations and scenarios: the luxury golf club owners actually try to eradicate the worms at one stage; the worms asking other animals and birds for help; the idea of having to stand up for your rights. If you are reading this book and you get to talk to the young people in your life about these sorts of things, it can’t be bad.
Q: What has the reception been like so far?
A: Very positive. It’s not easy to publish in today’s inhospitable book market but we think we’ve done quite well. Our launch in Cork was mighty. Lot of people turned up from various campaigns which have happened over the years. Our most recent news is that we are on the shortlist for this year’s Indie book awards in Ireland. So happy days!
We recently chatted with Shane Burley about his new book Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It. Given the current political situation, both the book and Shane’s strategic suggestions are important for all of us to consider, debate, and expand upon.
Q: I know that you’ve been at this a while. Could you give us some background, your previous efforts as an antifascist organizer and researcher?
A: This traces back many years for me, though I have to be honest in that my primary organizing work has been in labor and housing justice. Those who have done the hard work of antifascist organizing over the years often go unheard, so I tried to bring those voices into the book and my journalism.
Back when I lived in Eugene, Oregon, the University of Oregon started a forum that was bringing controversial speakers that were supposed to have “challenging” views. Most of these at the start were communist party organizers from decades past, deep green ecological types, and alternative science proponents, and many around the area were supportive of this project, and I and others would help to promote their events. They were especially active in Palestinian solidarity, despite being widely unpopular with certain student and faculty groups.
Then they brought a Holocaust Denier, then another, and another. The organization was the Pacifica Forum.The Southern Poverty Law Center, who tracks hate groups, now lists it as a white nationalist organization. They eventually became more and more public about their anti-Semitism, their allying with Third Positionist fascist projects, and were enthusiastically embraced by neo-Nazis of the area.
What made this transition so horrifying for so many nearby was that they really could not see it coming until it was fully formed, and even then the rhetoric was baffling. The pathway the Pacifica Forum took to full fledged fascist politics was not through the traditional path of far-right conservative Americana. Instead, it really sidestepped through popular areas of the left, including anti-capitalism, international solidarity, anti-war politics, and environmentalism. Our protest actions, small at first and led by local synagogues, did little to shut down the organization, which continued for years until finally petering out.
A couple of years later, in 2011, a community organization I had worked with in Rochester, New York began an organizing plan to confront an incoming appearance of David Irving. Irving is the most famous Holocaust Denier in the world, starting out as a mainstream, yet far-right wing, historian who slowly shifted his public opinion to one that sees the major claims of Holocaust historians as a hoax. Irving, who has served time in places like Austria for hate speech, now has to have private events when promoting his books, which he was having in the neighboring Syracuse, New York. While we were only able to get the final hotel location hours before the event started, our actions to have the hotel intervene were met with little concern. Even though the meeting hall was packed full of open neo-Nazis and KKK members, no one seemed concerned. This was exactly the response organizers often got from much of the left when forming antifascist committees to confront public neo-Nazi shows or organizations on the fringes of the GOP, which were then trying to move into mainstream discourse through the Tea Party phenomenon. The idea was repeated to us over and over, that fascism was no longer the real issue, global capitalism, neoliberalism, American imperialism, environmental destruction, and all the normal oppressions of the status quo were important. Fascism was unstable reactionary mass politics, something a capitalist class would never allow again.
In preparing for those actions, I was focusing in on researching the growth of white nationalist projects like the American Third Position Party (now the American Freedom Party). I stumbled on a podcast named Vanguard Radio with a young and articulate host, Richard Spencer. His website AlternativeRight.com was unfamiliar to many of us, and from first glance it might even look like some type of leftist publication. Criticisms of capitalism. Heavy focus on paganism. Environmental treatises. We have had the “suit and tie Nazi” types for years, but this was a step further away from the American white nationalist political program. They were taking inspiration from the academic fascists in the European New Right and the “identitarian” street movement pushing against Muslims and immigrants in France. They were taking the language of post-colonialism, anti-capitalism, environmentalism and the like for making a philosophically fascist argument, stating that humans were unequal, that democracy was the rule of the weak over the strong, and that we needed to rediscover identity. While it seemed as if this Alternative Right could never have currency in the U.S., I got a feeling that, given the right circumstances, this new brand of fascist politics, which really attempted to create a philosophical foundation and a whole “meta-politics,” could have legs. It was in 2015 when we saw the return of “white identity politics” and Trumpism that the foundation was laid, and we finally saw what a mass fascist movement could look like in the U.S. One that did not try to hide from its politics, but embraced the most horrifying positions openly.
Q: Related to that, what do you see as the relationship between research and organizing, and more specifically, the relationship you intend/hope for between Fascism Today and the struggle against fascism. (more…)
HISTORY may not have ended, but it certainly has gotten strange. The social contract neoliberalism once imposed—a patchwork of economic shell games and the political rituals needed to foist them on people—has shredded with surprising speed in recent years. The result has been a rapid universalization of precarity. Unpredictability and groundlessness are ubiquitous parts of our lives, which unfold in a supposedly “post-truth” world where the basic prerequisites for understanding almost anything seem lacking—or at least seem to change with each news cycle.
This new reality was both cause and effect of Donald Trump’s election as forty-fifth president of the United States. His campaign successfully harnessed the fear and desperation of our social unraveling, and he rose to power with promises to end it. He would, he said, stop the erosion of our dwindling sense of security and restore the certainty of clear borders (national and racial) and steady jobs. The trains would run on time.
Trump’s success-from-the-fringe took US liberals by surprise. Anything other than the staid electoral ping-pong between managerial representatives of this or that political party had been unthinkable to them. Further along the left spectrum, there was surprise among many radicals, but perhaps less shock: they at least had the theoretical arsenal with which to explain the situation— after the fact.
The left is no less subject to historical uncertainty, nor really any more prepared to meet it or predict what’s next. Lately, many radicals have been engaged in the same grasping at straws that motivated Trump voters. When the way forward is unclear, they seem to think, it’s safest to go backward, into the past. They search for answers in the tried and true—even when that truth is one of massive historical failure. Thus we’ve seen a return to social democratic strategies, first with the tepid “socialism” of Bernie Sanders, more recently with the resuscitation of the Democratic Socialists of America. Voters in Europe figured out long ago the pointlessness of electing so-called socialists to over see a capitalist economy. The US, as usual, has failed to learn from others’ mistakes.
The hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution, the occasion for this book, has put an even more bizarre spin on these developments. Many see the centennial as an opportunity to rehabilitate, even celebrate, outdated forms of authoritarian state socialism. It’s a tricky celebration, though, one that must either carefully ignore the human devastation that the Bolsheviks set in motion in 1917 or push it past an imaginary border beyond which, the story goes, communist possibility was hijacked by evil men, and marched off to a land of gulags and forced collectivization. Judging from their lists of recent and forthcoming titles, leftist publishers around the world will repeat these elisions and fairy tales in scores of books that praise Lenin, reframe the Bolsheviks, and attempt to rescue the Marxist jewel buried beneath a mountain of corpses.
If it was just the old guard and zealous party officials spinning these fictions, this book would be unnecessary. Their influence has steadily declined and they will eventually all die off. In these strange, unsettled times, though, a number of young people have become enamored with the ghosts of dictatorships past, sharing “Hot Young Joseph Stalin” memes on social media and sporting hammer-and-sickle baseball caps and jeweled necklaces. There’s often an ironic edge to the new Bolshevik bling, like the punks of a previous generation wearing Nazi symbols. But the punks at least had a raw nihilistic honesty: they were referencing the horror behind their regalia to make a point. Today’s new, young communists are either much more oblivious to the history behind their gestures or are slyly hedging their bets by pretending there’s no substance to their style, and thus no accountability. All this suggests a more pressing need for this book.
“Of all the revolts of the working class,” writes Cornelius Castoriadas, “the Russian Revolution was the only victorious one. And of all the working class’s failures it was the most thoroughgoing and the most revealing.” We might quibble about the word “only,” but Castoriadas’s point remains: there is something important to learn from the possibilities that the Russian Revolution both opened and demolished. The catastrophe in Russia obliges us, he says, to reflect “not only on the conditions for a proletarian victory, but also on the content and possible fate of such a victory, on its consolidation and development” and, most importantly, on the “seeds of failure” inherent in certain approaches to revolutionary strategy. According to Marxist-Leninists, when it comes to the Russian Revolution, those seeds were entirely external and “objective”: the defeat of subsequent revolutions in Europe, foreign intervention, and a bloody civil war. The historical importance of these factors is incontestable, and largely besides the point. The real question, as Castoriadas notes, is “why the Revolution overcame its external enemies only to collapse from within.”
To answer that, we need what Maurice Brinton calls, in his preface to Ida Mett’s history of the Kronstadt commune, a new, genuinely socialist history. “What passes as socialist history,” according to Brinton, “is often only a mirror image of bourgeois historiography, a percolation into the ranks of the working class movement of typically bourgeois methods of thinking.” State-socialist hagiography, in all its Leninist, Trotskyist, Maoist, and Stalinist varieties, is simply a thinly veiled “great man” vision of the past, with kings and queens and presidents replaced by revolutionary “leaders of genius,” brilliant strategists who supposedly led the masses to victory—or who would have if “objective factors” hadn’t intervened, which, strangely, they always seem to do.
This anthology is an attempt to contribute to that new history. It is, again following Brinton, a history of the masses themselves, written, as far as possible, from their perspective, not from that of their self-declared representatives. We’ve collected works spanning the last century, from 1922 to 2017, that serve two purposes.
The first is to uncover the living revolution beneath the myths that the Bolsheviks and their state-socialist heirs have piled up to legitimize their otherwise indefensible actions. The living revolution is the potential inherent in any mobilized populace. It is made, not decreed, bestowed, or legislated into existence. And it is a powerful force. The initial stage of the Russian Revolution, stretching from February through October, was famous for its lack of blood shed. When the masses rise up as one, there is no power that can oppose them. They create new revolutionary forms, agreed-upon practices that may or may not take institutional form. These practices, which cohered in Russia into the soviets, factory committees, and cooperatives, are the embryonic structures through which a new society might be organized.
A socialist or anarchist history must also seek to locate the seeds of failure in any revolution. These also belong to the masses. The blame for the “degeneration” of the Russian Revolution can be, and has been, spread liberally. However, making simple boogeymen of the Revolution’s betrayers—Stalin being the most familiar, especially for Leninists and Trotskyists seeking their own absolution—avoids the fact that the masses could be betrayed in the first place. They fell for pretty lies and stirring speeches. They failed to resist at crucial moments or, when they did resist, they didn’t go far enough. They surrendered, inch by inch, the power that they had taken, and they let their enemies build a very different sort of power over them. There is a reason why Lenin could say that the October coup was “easier than lifting a feather”: the way had already been cleared and the state already smashed. There was nothing to lift. The masses had made the revolution and the Bolsheviks had only to step over the rubble and into the oppressors’ abandoned palaces. The fact that they could do so is a warning and a lesson that the authors in this collection drive home in countless ways.
The forms of genuine revolution and the ways they were violently dismantled by Lenin and his comrades are the main themes of this book. If there is a slight emphasis on the latter it is because the anarchists, council communists, and anti-state Marxists in the pages ahead a) have an implicit faith in what Emma Goldman calls “the creative genius of the people” and b) hesitate to prescribe the details of a future society that remains to be born, under conditions and meeting challenges we cannot foresee. Real revolutions are never staged, they don’t happen according to any theorist’s timetable, and they rarely need help getting underway. While that fact is made clear throughout this book, there is also a crucial focus on what happens next, on the traps and pitfalls, on everything that can go wrong.
Rudolf Rocker traces the genealogy of the factors that led to the Russian Revolution’s failure through the often-prophetic debates in the First International and back to the late eighteenth century. Marx and Engels, whose ideas Lenin adapted, borrowed their theory of revolution from the Jacobins and authoritarian secret societies of the French Revolution. Specifically, says Rocker, they relied upon distorted bourgeois histories of those figures. The resultant Marxist concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat is the “dictatorship of a given party which arrogates to itself the right to speak for that class.” It is “no child of the labour movement, but a regrettable inheritance from the bourgeoisie … linked with a lust for political power.” Rocker contrasts this concept with the “organic being” and “natural form of organisation … from the bottom upwards” that the labor movement itself forges though struggle: councils and committees networked inflexible, nonhierarchical federations.
Luigi Fabbri also sees bourgeois roots in Leninist ideology, “a frame of mind typical of bosses.” Writing just after the October revolution, Fabbri cuts through the numerous misrepresentations of anarchism that even the earliest Bolshevik propaganda promulgated—and that state socialists still push—to reveal the main ideas “separating authoritarian from libertarian communists.” The “fatal mistake” of Lenin and company was their belief that building a powerful state would somehow eventually lead to that same state withering away, the precondition for communism according to both Marxists and anarchists. For Fabbri, as for most contributors to this book, “The state is more than an outcome of class divisions; it is, at one and the same time, the creator of privilege, thereby bringing about new class divisions.” Moreover, it “will not die away unless it is deliberately destroyed, just as capitalism will not cease to exist unless it is put to death through expropriation.” Or as Iain McKay puts it in his analysis of one of Lenin’s most famous books: “The Russian Revolution shows that it was not a case of the State and Revolution but rather the State or Revolution.”
Leninist distortions of other revolutionary traditions hasn’t changed much in the last century. Fabbri and others writing at the time of the Russian Revolution, both eye witnesses and close observers, focus our understanding of what non-Bolshevik militants were fighting for. They also give us a more clear picture of the possible forms of human liberation that the Bolsheviks methodically foreclosed. Several essays in the pages ahead give detailed accounts of the methods that the newly established state used to achieve this. Maurice Brinton and Ida Mett each focus on the massacre at Kronstadt, one of the clearest examples of how ordinary people, workers and sailors in this case, sought to push the revolution beyond the outmoded bourgeois political and economic forms Lenin imposed, only to face the guns and bayonets of Trotsky’s Red Army. Barry Pateman describes the many dedicated revolutionaries who wound up in “communist” prisons, as well as the networks of solidarity that tried to get them out. Iain McKay maps the growing (rather than withering) Soviet state as it absorbed one by one the democratic, federalist institutions the masses had created in Russia, which posed a threat to the growing dictatorship. Otto Rühle describes the disastrous effects of Leninism when it was exported to Europe. Lenin’s influence, says Rühle, was not merely an impediment to the revolutionary struggles of European workers, it also provided the model for fascism in Italy and Germany. “All fundamental characteristics of fascism were in his doctrine, his strategy, his social ‘planning,’ and his art with dealing with men … Authority, leadership, force, exerted on one side, and organization, cadres, subordination on the other side—such was his line of reasoning.”
Ultimately, though, the differences between the Bolshevik dictatorship and its many leftwing critics boils down to different ideas about how and why revolutions are made. To the Russian anarchists, certainly, Lenin’s absolute divorce of theoretical, communist ends from immediate, repressive means was in itself a guarantee of revolutionary failure. The very word communism—with cognates like communal, commons, community—implies an obvious and practical set of political guidelines, a militant ethics. Yet as Nestor Makhno, who organized forces to fight both Red and White armies in the Ukraine, notes, officials at the Fourteenth Congress of the Communist Party, which was held only eight years after the Bolsheviks came to power, agreed that the word “equality” should be avoided in anything but abstract discussions of distant social relations; it had no place in the Communist present.
Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman emigrated to Russia in 1919. While the immediate reason for their voyage had been deportation, they returned to their homeland with high hopes and a commitment to help build a new society. Within two years, those hopes had been dashed. They left in December 1921, both writing damning books about their experiences soon after (Berkman’s The Russian Tragedy and Goldman’s My Disillusionment in Russia). Those experiences, which ranged from the inspiration of seeing revolutionary energies unleashed on a mass scale to the horror of watching them destroyed, lend a sharp-edged clarity to the pieces we’ve included here, a stark contrast between competing visions of social transformation. “The Bolshevik idea,” writes Berkman, was “that the Social Revolution must be directed by a special staff, vested with dictatorial powers.” This not only implied a deep distrust of the masses but a willingness to use force against them, an unsurprising observation to those of us on this side of the Russian Revolution, but a shocking idea to many at the time. Berkman goes on to quote Bolshevik theorist Nikolai Bukharin: “Proletarian compulsion in all its forms … beginning with summary execution and ending with compulsory labor, is a method of reworking the human material of the capitalist epoch into Communist humanity.”
Compulsion was necessary because the Bolsheviks claimed to already know the path the revolution needed to take, even if workers and peasants seemed to be moving in a different direction. Lenin used a Marxist playbook. His apparent flexibility, his often contradictory positions, had less to do with open-mindedness than with a single-minded focus that allowed him to say whatever was necessary to achieve his goal. He was, as Emma Gold man put it, “a nimble acrobat … skilled in performing within the narrowest margin.” After meeting him, she was convinced that “Lenin had very little concern in the Revolution and … Communism to him was a very remote thing.” Instead, the “centralized political State was Lenin’s deity, to which everything else was to be sacrificed.” For Goldman, the revolution depended more on the “social consciousness” and “mass psychology” of Russian workers and peasants than on any allegedly objective conditions, at least those that were written in the Marxist playbook. At first, Lenin had no choice but to endure the popular forces that were “carrying the Revolution into ever-widening channels” that weren’t under Bolshevik control. “But as soon as the Communist Party felt itself sufficiently strong in the government saddle, it began to limit the scope of popular activity.” It was this desire to keep all power in the hands of the Party, the supposed advance guard of the proletariat, that explains, says Goldman, “all their following policies, changes of policies, their compromises and retreats, their methods of suppression and persecution, their terrorism and extermination of all other political views.”
As we’ve mentioned, a stock excuse for the degeneration of the Russian Revolution into one of modern history’s most oppressive regimes is that the Civil War demanded strict political discipline and severe economic measures. “War communism” was supposedly the revolution’s only hope. Readers will be forgiven if this reminds them of the US military’s claim that it was necessary to destroy a Vietnamese village in order to save it. As Iain McKay points, out most features of war communism—one-man management of factories, centralized economic structures borrowed from capitalism, the destruction of the soviets—“all these occurred before the Civil War broke out in late May 1918.”
The same is true of the Red Terror, the period of political repression and mass killings the Bolsheviks launched, ostensibly to eradicate enemies of the revolution. “Terror,” here, is not a word applied by appalled historians after the fact; Lenin and Trotsky embraced the term to describe their ruthless policies at the time. Lenin died early enough to avoid having to answer for them. Trotsky, on the other hand, had to spend much of his time wriggling out of his responsibility for what the revolution became. He almost singlehandedly invented an entire genre of political apologetics, firmly establishing the practice of blaming Stalin for pretty much everything. Whatever he couldn’t lay at Stalin’s feet, according to Paul Mattick, he blamed on historical necessity, presenting early Bolshevism as a sort of “reluctant monster, killing and torturing in mere self-defence.”
The problem, says Mattick, is that there is almost nothing in Stalinism that didn’t also exist in Leninism or Trotskyism. While there may be differences in the total number of victims each could claim, this had less to do with any “democratic inclinations” on Lenin’s part than on his relative weakness, his “inability to destroy all non-Bolshevik organisations at once.” And it was all non Bolsheviks who were in the crosshairs, not just explicitly White reactionaries, and not excluding those who had recently fought alongside the Bolsheviks, regardless of their political orientation. “Like Stalin, Lenin catalogued all his victims under the heading ‘counterrevolutionary.’” The main organ charged with carrying out Lenin’s repressive orders, the Cheka (The All-Russian Emergency Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage), was created only weeks after the Bolsheviks came to power. “The totalitarian features of Lenin’s Bolshevism were accumulating at the same rate at which its control and police power grew.” In practical terms, most of the Russian population—from anarchists and Social Revolutionaries to striking workers to sailors demanding democratic election of their officers to the entire peasant class—could qualify as counterrevolutionaries. Nonetheless, as Mattick observes:
If one wants to use the term at all, the “counterrevolution” possible in the Russia of 1917 was that inherent in the Revolution itself, that is, in the opportunity it offered the Bolsheviks to restore a centrally-directed social order for the perpetuation of the capitalistic divorce of the workers from the means of production and the consequent restoration of Russia as a competing imperialist power.
On the centennial of the Russian Revolution, if there is one thing we hope you take from this book, it is the fact that all the published panegyrics to Lenin and Trotsky, all the political parties that model themselves on tyrants, all the eulogies to the “leaders of genius” at the vanguard of the Russian masses—these tributes are honoring the actual counterrevolutionaries of history, the destroyers of revolutions, people with the hearts of prison wardens and hangmen.
“The history of how the Russian working class was dispossessed is not, however, a matter for an esoteric discussion among political cliques,” writes Brinton. “An understanding of what took place is essential for every serious socialist. It is not mere archivism.” If it was, to paraphrase Marx, these dead authoritarians wouldn’t still weigh like nightmares on the brains of the living. Inexplicably, Marxist-Leninist and Trotsyist parties still exist. And even when not members of such parties, many radicals have matured into political adulthood in a Marxist milieu that suffers from a split personality that no amount of dialectical reasoning can cure. Ever since the formation of the Comintern, thousands have left their countries’ Communist Parties in waves, unable to tolerate this or that new betrayal. Those who remained formed extremely hard shells, but even the ones who fled had to somehow justify their relationship to a bloodstained legacy.
Unfortunately, all the soft, insulating layers of “Western Marxism” in the world cannot disguise the Leninist pea beneath the mattress. No number of “returns” to Marx—or, even better, to early Marx—can escape the inherent aw at the core of every single instance of actually existing socialisms. Every time Marxism has been filtered through state-centered models of social change, the results have ranged from bad to horrific. This is the defect hidden within all parties, vanguards, cadre, cabals, and bureaucrats: they lead not to communism but to a new class of oppressors.
A century has been long enough. It is time for a clean break. We must remove Leninism from our revolutionary formulas and critique whatever aspects of Marxism lent themselves to the Bolshevik disaster. We must learn from the history contained in the following pages, and then make our own.
—The Friends of Aron Baron—
1. All quotations in this introduction are taken from the authors’ essays in this anthology.
YOU CAN GET A COPY OF THIS BOOK HERE: https://www.akpress.org/bloodstained.html
Gabriel Kuhn wrote a very thoughtful review of Jonathan Smucker’s Hegemony How-To.
“Smucker opens his book with a reference to his friend Carmen Trotta who once asked him: ‘Do you ever think we came to the game too late?’ In Smucker’s words, Trotta meant to raise the question of whether ‘we had literally been born too late to do anything to stop humanity from destroying itself completely’. (p. 9) It seems that just about any radical of my generation must have asked themselves that question. Apart from the brief period between the anti-WTO protests in Seattle in November 1999 and the brutally suppressed anti-G8 protests in Genoa in July 2001, there has hardly been a time of optimism among the radical left in the industrialized nations for about forty years. This, however, must not lead to despair. Otherwise, we are really out of the game. To remind us of this is one of Smucker’s most important achievements, along with his many astute observations and splendid suggestions. Work like Hegemony How-To is needed to bring us forward, and I hope that as many radicals as possible will read, discuss, and build on it”
Go to Alpine Anarchist to read more…
ANATOLE DOLGOFF speaks on his new book, Left of the Left: My Memories of Sam Dolgoff.
Sam Dolgoff (1902–1990) was a house painter by trade and an activist in the Industrial Workers of the World since the early 1920s. He was a key figure in American anarchism and radical labor history, and published books on the Spanish and Cuban Revolutions and a major Bakunin anthology. This instant classic of radical history, written with passion and humor by his son, conjures images of a lost New York City, its immigrant and working-class neighborhoods, and the blurred lines dividing proletarian and intellectual culture.
” Sam Dolgoff was a mythic figure in a certain corner of the radical left … and his son, Anatole, has written a wise and beautiful book about him.” Paul Berman, author of A Tale of Two Utopias
“If you want to read the god-honest and god-awful truth about being a radical in twentieth-century America, drop whatever you’re doing, pick up this book, and read it. Pronto! If you’re not crying within five pages, you might want to check whether you’ve got a heart and a pulse.” Peter Cole, author of Wobblies on the Waterfront
Anatole Dolgoff was born and raised among the Wobblies and anarchists of the latter two-thirds of the twentieth century. He was for many years an Associate Professor of Physics at CUNY and is currently Professor of Geology at the Pratt Institute.
This event is sponsored by the Twomey Center for Peace Through Justice. For further information please contact John Clark at email@example.com or 504-920-6523.
Call it the return of the repressed. Reviewing footage from the D.C. demonstrations on January 20, I couldn’t help but weep. Between the people locked down with PVC pipes in static blockades, the demonstrations that swelled to proportions so great that even journalists were forced to use adjectives like “historic,” and the magnificent meme-able resurrection of the swarming black bloc, the scene could not help but remind me of the exaltation that overtook an earlier generation of radicals at the dawn of the new millennium. Seattle may have been a riot, but it was also a game changer. It upped the ante, and it set the tone for the cycle of struggle that would follow.
Like radiation emitted along with its glow, though, Seattle also unleashed a series of heated debates that were never fully contained or resolved. Unhelpfully, these debates were often framed as showdowns between propositions that were as abstract as they were antithetical. Did we need mass action or direct action? Should we do summit hopping or local organizing? Did politics demand that we produce a new world or should we struggle for better representation within this one?
It was questions like these that compelled me to write Black Bloc, White Riot, a book released by AK Press a full decade after the dust kicked up by the Seattle cycle had settled. I imagined that, if the polarizing debates were reviewed and reassessed, they might yield new insights that could be of use as we planned our next move. In particular, I wondered whether the question of violence deserved fuller consideration than had been allowed under the terms of that uneasy truce so many of us had signed beneath a banner proclaiming our “respect for a diversity of tactics” (I didn’t have much respect for tactics that wouldn’t work).
Consideration or not, I didn’t have to wait long for the violence to return. Around the time the book was released in the summer of 2010, the debates flared up again—this time in Toronto, where an obscene meeting of the G20 (surrounded by fences and thousands of cops) succumbed to umbrage as smoke billowed up from burning police cars. When Occupy Oakland began rioting against police evictions the following fall, the discursive polarity reached new heights as journalist Chris Hedges—otherwise so austere—embraced his new role as cartoon villain.
Because recursions such as these suggest that the questions under consideration are impossible to repress (because they point toward truths that are impossible to ignore), events like N30, the Toronto G20, Occupy Oakland, and our most recent J20 must be viewed as being both politically and analytically significant. Still, the fact that debates since the inauguration now sound so familiar, the fact that they’ve fallen so readily into the ruts we carved at the turn of the century, suggests that—collectively—we still have some working through to do. To this end, and once again, I propose that we recall our past failures so that we might finally trace a new course.
Learn more about AK Thompson’s book, Black Bloc, White Riot, here.
“Today more than ever anarchists, the romantics forever being vilified by every brand of realist, need to stake their proud claim to political far-sightedness and the cultural dignity of their tradition and to turn them into weapons, instead of tossing them overboard as jetsam.”
AK Press has just released the first of ten volumes (Volume III “A Long and Patient Work”) in the Complete Works of Malatesta. This interview with editor Davide Turcato about the Complete Works is from 2012. It first appeared in A Rivista Anarchica, and has been translated by Paul Sharkey.
During his recent stay in Italy we met up with Davide Turcato, who lives in Canada [now Ireland]; he is the supervising editor of the Complete Works of Errico Malatesta. Out of that meeting came this interview. —The editors of A Rivista Anarchica (Milan).
Q. Where did the plan to publish Malatesta’s Complete Works come from?
A. My long-term turning to Malatesta’s writings, initially in my youth, and then, more recently, my study of the three volumes of collected writings that Luigi Fabbri and Luigi Bertoni were going publish as Malatesta’s complete output, although their plans were interrupted. But this current plan proper goes back to a quiet evening in September 1999. I was just finishing my reading of Luigi Fabbri: Storia d’un uomo libero by Fabbri’s daughter Luce, when I stumbled upon a description of the outline of the project that Fabbri had had in mind. “Now is the time to see that plan through,” I said to myself. And so our plan was born. I am not the sort who makes decisions easily. And it still stuns me that it happened …
Q. For whom is the project intended? What sort of reader do you have in mind?
A. We have two types of reader in mind. First and foremost, we are aiming not merely at anarchists eager to deepen their knowledge of the thinking of one of their “greats,” but also at the young and at every educated person with an interest in political thought and keen to know what anarchism is from the mouth of one of its chief exponents. From that point of view, we need to produce books for reading rather than monuments. We are at pains to produce volumes that will not intimidate the reader and so we have, insofar as we can, eased up on the “encyclopedic” aspect of the series by publishing volumes that are self-contained and that can stand alone. We have kept notes to a minimum, confining ourselves to giving briefings on events and people that might not be familiar to contemporary readers or to cross-referencing articles that lend themselves to that. We have, however,tried to avoid notes that “explain” Malatesta to the reader. Malatesta’s writing is plain and meant for everybody and certainly requires no explanation. At the same time, we are also catering to the researcher and academic because we reckon that this somewhat stooped little man with perpetually dirty hands (in the literal sense rather than what Sartre’s Mains Sales had in mind) may be one of the towering figures of political thought worldwide, and his writings deserve a place in the university libraries around the globe. And so we have also sought to produce something that measures up to the current high standards of critical rigor and editorial accuracy.
Q. Allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment. Don’t you think that the literature already available about Malatesta is enough with which to arrive at a proper understanding of his thought?
A. Malatesta’s thought is like a mine, much of which has yet to be explored. Existing anthologies tend to favor some of his newspapers—L’Agitazione, Umanità Nova, Pensiero e Volontà—to the detriment of other short-lived but very important ones such as L’Associazione and La Rivoluzione Sociale. Not to mention fundamental articles written in other languages and virtually unknown these days. Then again, it is in the nature of an anthology to adopt a thematic approach and thereby present a flattened and rather touched-up picture of Malatesta’s thought. But the time aspect is crucial when dealing with somebody active in the movement for sixty years. There is an exemplary consistency in Malatesta from start to finish. But he was also a cook who tried out his recipes and adjusted them in the light of experience. Capturing the evolution in his thinking opens the way to a much deeper understanding. Finally, the tendency to date has been to focus upon the “peaks” in Malatesta’s struggle, which is to say, during the times he was back in Italy. But in order to appreciate that evolution, it is important to study the transitional times, the intervals, the shadowy areas, and the isolated articles that mark turning-points.
Q. Still playing the devil’s advocate I ask: how much store do you place today by the tradition of so-called “classical” anarchism?
A. “Tradition” is one of those terms that have earned a bad name because of the bad company it has kept. “Tradition” is associated with “traditionalism,” the dogma that “we have to do this because it has always been done that way.” Interpreted that way, obviously the idea of tradition should be rejected. But in politics as well as in science and the arts nobody conjures anything up out of nothing. Anybody who tries to do so winds up reinventing the wheel. The important point is to understand the tradition one belongs to, in order to stand above it and take it further. In this regard, no one has done a better job than Malatesta of defining anarchism, that is, the mainstays of our tradition. Then again, being anti-authoritarians, anarchists often have to point out that they have no masters and traditions to be respected. Which is, to some extent, a sort of self-inflicted wound. If the passage of time has shown anything it is that the anarchists have always been in the right. Gramsci himself implicitly admitted as much back in 1920, yet urged anarchists to acknowledge dialectically “that they were in the wrong … in being in the right” And in a recent book on Malatesta, Vittorio Giacopini has rightly written that it is typical of anarchism to “lose whilst being in the right.” Today more than ever anarchists, the romantics forever being vilified by every brand of realist, need to stake their proud claim to political far-sightedness and the cultural dignity of their tradition and to turn them into weapons, instead of tossing them overboard as jetsam.
Q. Getting down to the specifics of the project, how are the volumes laid out and in what order are they being published?
A. Ten volumes are projected. Of these, eight stick to chronological order, from the First International through to Pensiero e Volontà and his last writings. Besides articles, each volume will contain interviews, reports on talks and cross-examinations, most of it hitherto unpublished material. The remaining two volumes, by contrast, take a thematic approach: one containing correspondence and the other his pamphlets, manifestos, programs, and other miscellaneous writings, such as, say, a play written by Malatesta. As to order of publication, this will be done by fits and starts, but there will be a certain rationale to it. We did not want to begin at the beginning because the first volume is one of the most demanding, in terms both of the traceability and of the attribution of texts. Nor did we want to start at the end because that is what Fabbri and Bertoni did, whereas we wanted to break new ground with something new rather than merely reprinting materials already available. So we start from the middle, from the volume that covers the years 1897–1898, which is to say the L’Agitazione years. Another reason for kicking off with that volume is that by our reckoning it is the one most likely to attract non-anarchists as well, in that it is the one in which Malatesta places the greatest emphasis on partial gains rather than upon a new departure ushered in by insurrection. From there, we shall proceed in chronological sequence right to the end after which we will jump back to the very first volumes in the sequence. The volume containing his correspondence will almost certainly be the final one because it too involves a lot of hard work, whereas the volume containing the pamphlets, manifestos, and the like represents a sort of a “jolly” and we have yet to decide where in the sequence it should be inserted.
Q. From what you say, as the volumes see publication, your research is still ongoing?
A. Yes, that’s it. Let me state first and foremost that the title Complete Works is a lie. The real title should be Works As Complete As Possible. Especially as regards his correspondence, the completeness of which is an unattainable ideal. Let me seize the occasion here to put out an appeal to your readers. If anyone knows of or possesses notes or letters by Malatesta, we would be profoundly grateful if you would let us know about them. That said, we should say that I have already gathered about 95% of our materials. But if there is one thing that I have learned from the experience of the first volumes, it is that that final 5% demands nearly as much time as it took to gather all the rest together.
Q. And to finish, what can you tell me about the latest volume to be published?
A. The title is (in English) Towards Anarchy: Malatesta in America, 1899–1900. It deals mainly with Malatesta’s time in the United States at the turn of the century, during which time he took over from the anti-organisationist Ciancabilla as editor in chief of La Questione Sociale in Paterson [New Jersey]. Since it deals with America, we asked the top US expert in Italian anarchism, Nunzio Pernicone, to write the introductory essay. The volume covers one of the periods of which an understanding might bring the greatest benefit to an anthology of all his writings. If we look at his writings one by one, separately, that period is a sort of a puzzle. Within the space of just a few months, we find Malatesta writing, on the one hand, a pamphlet like Against Monarchy in which he calls, as a top priority, for an alliance between revolutionary factions with an eye to an insurrection to overthrow the Savoyard monarchy, and also touches upon the subject of military tactics. Which has prompted some critics to talk about a sort of 1848-style regurgitation on Malatesta’s part. On the other hand, he was writing an article such as “Towards Anarchy,” in which he asserts that “any victory, no matter how slight […] will be a step forwards, a step along the road to anarchy.” And thereby seems to be hinting at the theme of gradualism that he was to develop completely a quarter of a century later. Yet, reading these writings together, one can detect a coherence in them. Now, do not ask me what the solution to the puzzle is because, as I said earlier we are not out to explain Malatesta to the reader, and I do not want to contradict myself even before this interview finishes. Essentially, the beauty of Complete Works is that one should no longer borrow the interpretations of “experts,” i.e. the few people who have hitherto been privileged to have access to all of Malatesta’s writings. Now everyone can come up with his own interpretation, now that we have all the resources at our disposal.
A Rivista Anarchica (Milan) Year 42, No 375, November 2012
The English-language volumes will be:
The Complete Works of Errico Malatesta
“Whoever is Poor is a Slave”: The Internationalist Period and the South America Exile, 1871–89
“Let’s Go to the People”: L’Associazione and the London Years of 1889–97
“A Long and Patient Work”: The Anarchist Socialism of L’Agitazione, 1897–98
“Towards Anarchy”: Malatesta in America, 1899–1900
“The Armed Strike”: The Long London Exile of 1900–13
“Is Revolution Possible?”: Volontà, the Red Week and the War, 1913–18
“United Proletarian Front”: The Red Biennium, Umanità Nova and Fascism, 1919–23
“Achievable and Achieving Anarchism”: Pensiero e Volontà and Last Writings, 1924–32
“What Anarchists Want”: Pamphlets, Programmes, Manifestos and Other Miscellaneous Publications
“Yours and for Anarchy…”: Malatesta’s Correspondence