Comment on recommending my favourite anarchist texts

[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.

Finally, Richard Porton’s Film and the Anarchist Imagination (1999) is neat and also provides a good, analytical account of anarchism.
[More blah blah blah of possible interest here and below.]

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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9 Responses to Comment on recommending my favourite anarchist texts

  1. Argon says:

    Thanks. You’ve given me some titles I’ll have to go and look up. I’d already read many of these (and more, in my local uni library in some cases), but not all.

    Cheers big-ears.

  2. Luke says:

    Long time. No comment.

    Did you really like Stuart Christie’s History of the FAI? I thought his autobiography was brilliant, but found the FAI history clunky as a historical work. Blood of Spain is a fascinating oral history, though. Great to see you list it.

    Heaps of stuff here to read up on – thanks for the recommendations – when I actually find some time to read something that isn’t related to education and remote.

  3. LeftInternationalist says:

    Liberating Society From the State And Other Writings: A Political Reader, is a collection of Musham’s writings, edited by Rick Kuhn. It’s an absolutely neccesity on the bookshelf of every radical. Definetely one of my favourites. He’s quite amusing at times as well. For example, he explains that (in 1927) ‘The American rulers have proven innumerable times… that they recognise no moral restrictions… the use of torture during court cases, the shameless violence against foreign populations resisting exploitation… and the infamous treatment of Sacco and Vanzetti… prove that the land with the most advanced technology is also the land with the least developed ethics’ (Muhsam, cited in Kuhn 2011:178). Sounds familiar to our own time…

  4. @ndy says:

    @Luke: Yeah, I did. I don’t recollect much apart from the fact that I thought it contained an interesting discussion regarding its evolution, which I think he used Michels’ organisational theory to explain. I don’t think I agree but I appreciate attempts to explain both the emergence, rise, decline and fall of social movement organisations… Maybe I should look at it again.

    Yeah, Blood of Spain is neat. I’ve also got Beevor’s 2006 book sitting on the shelf, unread, and there’s a dozen or so anarchist accounts which are worthwhile – Chomsky’s essay was one of the first critical historiographies I read and I don’t think I’ve looked at mainstream histories the same way since.

    Finally, I like some of Alan Carter’s writings on anarchist theory, and a range of insurrectionist and other samizdat publications, as well as a broad range of scholarly writers and texts. The most recent such thing I read was some essays in an anthology the name of which escapes me for the moment…

  5. @ndy says:

    @LI: That’s GABRIEL Kuhn.

  6. LeftInternationalist says:

    Sorry, typed wrong. Didn’t notice my mistake. GABRIEL Kuhn has edited a number of great books. The Abel Paz biography of Durruti is pretty good too – very in depth. I hear a biography of Murray Bookchin may be coming out sometime soon… looking forward to that.

  7. @ndy says:

    Yes, Gabriel has done a lotta great stuff (Rick is of course a Marxist academic): contains some of it; ‘The Anarchist Hypothesis, or Badiou, Žižek, and the Anti-Anarchist Prejudice’ is a worthwhile examination of the topic Paz and José Peirats are prolific and essential. Re Bookchin, I found Chuck Morse to be useful.

  8. Grant says:

    I haven’t read Beevor’s Battle for Spain (2006) but his Spanish Civil War (1982) was one of the first books that led me towards anarchism. The other was Kropotkin’s Great French Revolution.

    Also, Anarcho’s

    The Anarchist FAQ clinched the deal for me.

  9. This is such an interesting post, Andy. Many of the titles you’ve shared aren’t familiar to me so I guess I’ll have to search for them. I just wish we have them in our local library. I also want to know about the works of Gabriel Kuhn.

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