[See : Recommend your favourite Anarchist texts, Fieldnotes & Footnotes, May 29, 2013.] I don’t know that I have any particular favourite anarchist texts, though there are several that have assumed particular importance to me over the years.
In high school, the first extended analyses of anarchism I read were George Woodcock’s book on its history (in its second, 1986 edition) and Noam Chomsky’s essay ‘Notes on Anarchism’, which I read in the form of a zine distributed by local (Melbourne) Spanish anarchists-in-exile. The book I enjoyed because, while flawed (as I discovered later), it served to introduce me to a whole world of political and social movement which had previously been almost completely unknown to me outside of song; the essay because it was written so clearly and precisely. (It was written to serve as the introduction to Daniel Guerin’s Anarchism, which is also worthwhile reading.)
Peter Marshall’s Demanding the Impossible (1992) – which has come to take the place of Woodcock in terms of being the standard, English-language account of anarchism’s global history – is also a good resource. Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt do a good job of drawing attention to some of the central flaws in both these earlier accounts in chapter two of 2009’s Black Flame, faults which they argue proceed from particular conceptual failings in the pair’s approach to defining ‘anarchism’ (the second volume of Black Flame will also provide something of a counter-narrative to Woodcock and Marshall).
NB. Gabriel Kuhn has written an interesting review of some of the definitional problems that emerge from Black Flame; he has also translated into English important writings by the German anarchists Gustav Landauer and Erich Mühsam.
With regards introductory texts, I really like Clifford Harper‘s illustrated volume Anarchy (1987), partly ’cause it’s simply-written, partly ’cause I’m a fan of his art. Otherwise, I like Colin Ward’s new-ish (2004) Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction. Albert Meltzer’s Arguments is OK, as is Nicholas Walter’s About Anarchism and so too Kropotkin’s 1910 encyclopedic contribution. Sean Sheehan’s Anarchism (2003) is, if I recall correctly, good in parts and ungood in others.
Of the Russian and Spanish revolutions, there’s a number of good anarchist writings. Of Russia, I think Voline’s Unknown Revolution and Gregory Maximoff’s Guillotine (1940/1979) are good (though there are of course many, many more, and I especially appreciate Aufheben‘s articles on the subject of (what was) the Soviet Union). Regarding Spain, I liked Vernon Richards’ Lessons, and I also liked Stuart Christie’s history of the FAI. Both texts helped me to understand how mass organisations like the CNT and FAI both failed and succeeded in their respective roles. Three other really good texts are Blood of Spain by Ronald Fraser, Mujeres Libres by Martha Ackelsberg and (of course) Homage to Catalonia (1938). Orwell’s writings are reminiscent of many of the classic anarchist texts in their simplicity and elegance.
When Woodcock published the first edition of his history (1962) he declared that anarchism was dead, or at least insofar as it constituted any kind of serious, revolutionary doctrine capable of commanding any real or serious attention. Some contend that since then a new, qualitatively different anarchist philosophy and movement has, can or must (be) develop/ed: Paul Nursey-Bray’s essay on this subject is really useful, while Heather Gautney’s essay helps to distinguish other, recent anarchist theoretical developments vis-a-vis autonomism and autonomist Marxism.
Most recently, I thought Uri Gordon‘s book Anarchy Alive! (2008) was really good, and many of the writings in Anarchy are useful and interesting, as are those emanating from segments of the ecological, feminist, indigenous, socialist, Marxist, peace and queer camps which examine anarchist themes: the Anarchist Studies Network provides really useful reading lists by, on, about and drawn from these subjects. The Institute of Anarchist Studies also provides many useful resources.
CrimethInc’s book Days of War, Nights of Love (2000) is an interesting, easily-digestible but also flawed recent re-articulation of anarchist politics of which Ken Knabb provides a really useful critique. His essay on the ‘Joy of Revolution’ is a really good, radical, libertarian account of revolutionary politics, the anarchist equivalent of which I’m yet to encounter (though I’m only familiar with English-language materials, and there are simply vast amounts of anarchist literature in French, Italian, Spanish and so on).
Finally, I really enjoy reading biographies: autobiographies of Alexander Berkman (1912), Stuart Christie (2007) and Albert Meltzer (1996); Dorothy Gallagher’s biography of Carlo Tresca, Mark Leier on Bakunin (2006) and Anne Coombs’ book on the Sydney Push (Sex and Anarchy, 1996) are all recommended. The Kate Sharpley Library draws attention to less-celebrated figures from the history of anarchism, and is an excellent resource.