Books are a funny thing. I love ’em; always have. But sometimes, when I walk into a (good) library or a (good) second-hand bookshop, I have a momentary feeling, and that feeling is that I could wander forever in the Vast Realms of human knowledge contained in these millions upon millions of precious pages — and still remain a slack, dumb, bastard.
Ah well. As US philosopher Mike Brady famously put it, ‘Wherever you go, there you are’. And here I am.
And I can has…
Haymarket: A Novel by Martin Duberman (Seven Stories, 2003), made available to this slackbastard courtesy of PEte (and by way of Owen). A novelisation by a US labour historian of The Haymarket Affair (1886), a torrid period in US history what gave birth to the modern May Day, an occasion the significance of which persists despite over 120 years of denial and historical revisionism.
In addition to providing an account of the class war in late nineteenth century Chicago, Martin, moreover, imagines the lives of two of its key players: Albert Parsons and Lucy Gonzalez (Lucy Parsons).
The relationship of Albert and Lucy forms the centre of the novel. Even without the drama of the Haymarket affair, theirs is a remarkable story: An ex-Confederate soldier who first became a Republican, then labour agitator and anarchist, and an African-American woman who forever maintained she was of Spanish and Native American origin, a political militant in her own right who was prepared to call for class violence against the rich. So, there are plenty of political arguments in the book, along with debates on sex and, inevitably, race. The radical culture of the Chicago anarchist movement, from beer halls to workers’ militias, is also shown.
The happy idea of using a proletarian holiday celebration as a means to attain the eight-hour day was first born in Australia. The workers there decided in 1856 to organize a day of complete stoppage together with meetings and entertainment as a demonstration in favor of the eight-hour day. The day of this celebration was to be April 21. At first, the Australian workers intended this only for the year 1856. But this first celebration had such a strong effect on the proletarian masses of Australia, enlivening them and leading to new agitation, that it was decided to repeat the celebration every year.
‘May Day’ is still ‘celebrated’ in Australia, although it might be fairer to characterise the assembly — in Melbourne, by the trades union movement and the remnants of the left, on the first Sunday following the First of May — as more closely resembling a funeral procession.
(See also : The ONLY Spies I trust!, May 9, 2006.)
After several years of pestering by LK, I also finally gots me a copy of Talkin’ Up to the White Woman by Aileen Moreton-Robinson (University of Queensland Press, 2000) (reviewed by Carolyn Hughes). In the period since its publication, an ‘Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Association’ (an academic network) has been established, which further explores the relationship of feminism to whiteness, indigenous women, and — obviously — much more besides. Like, whiteness. (See also : Why Whiteness Studies?, b o r d e r l a n d s e-journal, Vol.3, No.2, 2004).
Both Michael Connor @ Quadrant and the meatheads on Stormfront Down Under hatesss the nasssty ACRAWSA, which is a big plus in my book. Curiously, an article in the ACRAWSA e-journal (Vol.4, No.2, 2008) by Denise Cuthbert on ‘FORBIDDEN KNOWLEDGE? THE POLITICS OF VOICE, WHITE PRIVILEGE AND THE ETHICS OF RESEARCH’ cites my blog [PDF].
Speaking of race and stuff, Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigations // Collective Theorization (Edited by Steppven Shukaitis + David Graeber with Erika Biddle, AK Press, 2007) gots an essay by Ashar Latif + Sandra Jeppesen what looks ‘Toward an Anti-Authoritarian Anti-Racist Pedagogy’ and n-n-n-n-nineteen other explorations of the rocky road ‘from the ivory tower to the barricades’ (and back again).
Speaking of anarchy, I also picked up a copy of 21st Century Dissent: Anarchism, Anti-Globalization and Environmentalism by Giorel Curran (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). I haven’t penetrated the text much further than the back cover, but as elsewhere it raises what, to me, is the rather thorny question of the relationship between the anarchism of crazy kids like Albert and Lucy and the more recent wave of ‘post-ideological’ anarchy.
‘Classical anarchism’ is well and truly buried, it seems, and certainly not for the first (or the last) time by Julián Casanova in Anarchism, the Republic and Civil War in Spain: 1931–1939 (Routledge, 2004 (1997)); or: ‘classical anarchism’ rendered as an unhealthy excursion, propelled by Latin temperaments, and constituting a detour in the otherwise implacable progress of capitalist development in (a temporarily backwards) Spain. Funnily enough, the scientific socialists of the wsws.org have a crack at Professor Paul Preston (who may be blamed for the publication) as:
The Spanish Civil War “remains very much a burning issue of contemporary political significance,” an audience at the British Academy heard Professor Paul Preston of the London School of Economics say introducing an evening discussion entitled “Civil War and Foreign Intervention in Spain” on April 2.
Professor Preston was chairing a panel made up of Professor Angel Viñas of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid and Professor Helen Graham of Royal Holloway College, London. The meeting was to commemorate the end of the Spanish Civil War on March 31, 1939.
“Political debate today in Spain still rages around issues of the Spanish Civil War and particularly,” Professor Preston noted, “that has been the case over the last six or seven years.”
“The generation of what one might call the grandchildren of the Civil War have started to ask questions,” he stressed. Scarcely a village in Spain is now without a Group for the Recovery of Historical Memory who are excavating unmarked mass graves. (See video: “‘So many thousands of unknown nameless people’—Franco’s mass graves”.)
“The controversy,” he continued, “has been an important part of the political tension that surrounds elections in Spain and it’s as burning today as it was at the death of Franco.”
From the start, the discussion at the British Academy took on an explicitly political character and reflected the highly polarised character of contemporary Spanish politics.
Preston set the tone by condemning George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, a book which gives an account of the Spanish Civil War based on Orwell’s personal experiences in Spain and particularly of the May Days or May Events in Barcelona. Orwell wrote his book to expose the role that the Stalinists were playing in suppressing the Spanish revolution. The Stalinists and their allies tried to prevent the book’s publication at the time. Over half a century later, the discussion at the British Academy demonstrated that the question of Stalinism’s role in Spain and the events in Barcelona remain as controversial as ever…
One, on this question, both Stuart Chrsitie’s We The Anarchists!: A Study Of The Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) 1927–1937 (AK Press, 2008 (2000)) and the rather lengthy section of the Anarchist FAQ on ‘Marxists and Spanish Anarchism’ are useful:
In this appendix of our FAQ we discuss and reply to various analyses of Spanish anarchism put forward by Marxists, particularly Marxist-Leninists of various shades. The history and politics of Spanish Anarchism is not well known in many circles, particularly Marxist ones, and the various misrepresentations and distortions that Marxists have spread about that history and politics are many. This appendix is an attempt to put the record straight with regards the Spanish Anarchist movement and point out the errors associated with the standard Marxist accounts of that movement, its politics and its history.
Hopefully this appendix will go some way towards making Marxists (and others) investigate the actual facts of anarchism and Spanish anarchist history rather than depending on inaccurate secondary material (usually written by their comrades).
With the crowd of commonplace chatterers, we are already past praying for: no reproach is too bitter for us, no epithet too insulting. Public speakers on social and political subjects find that abuse of anarchists is an unfailing passport to popular favour. Every conceivable crime is laid to our charge, and opinion, too indolent to learn the truth, is easily persuaded that anarchy is but another name for wickedness and chaos. Overwhelmed with opprobrium and held up to hatred, we are treated on the principle that the surest way of hanging a dog is to give it a bad name. ~ Élisée Reclus (March 15, 1830–July 4, 1905)
Also: my bro gave me a copy of what is now certainly the biggest book in my library: a copy of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Facsimile of the Extant Manuscript, edited by Peter Davison (Secker & Warburg, 1984). Apparently, it’s one of only 275 copies published by the company.