Book launch, talks, Lucy Parsons and anarchism

Well, the anarchist bookfair has come and gone. I had a good time, did not spend too much on books and saw a few people I’ve not seen for a while. But since then, the usual grind of work-work and union-work has taken its toil, although I’ve managed to write up my two talks – one on anarchism and syndicalism, the other on anarchist economics. In other news, volume 2 of An Anarchist FAQ is now out and I’m launching it soon in my hometown of Glasgow in December.

The kind folks at AK Press managed to get a copy of volume 2 to me at the bookfair and it was strange to finally see it, complete so to speak (yes, I know, I have the appendix on the Russian Revolution to finish and general revisions of all the appendices to do!). It has been four years since I launched volume 1 in Glasgow – it is going to be strange to be back. Also, it is not only my hometown but also An Anarchist FAQ’s as well. It was started there around 20 years ago (time flies). I came across an early email print-out once of the initial idea of the contents – well, let me say that it was much shorter when it was initially raised as an anti-"anarcho"-capitalism text!

Anyways, the book launch for will be at Glasgow's Anarchist End of Year event:



14th of December 2012

Kinning Park Complex

Cornwall Street


(next to Kinning Park Undergound).

As well as me speaking, there will be a discussion period followed by an Anarchist Social. There will also be a Radical Independent Bookfair mini-stall.

I will need to make some concrete plans on what I’m going to cover at the launch, got a few ideas already – mostly mocking Marxists over their terrible accounts of anarchism. Which brings me to my talks at the bookfair, particularly relevant as I was pointed to this terrible article by an American Leninist on Lucy Parsons. I made a few comments on their (simply wrong) account of Emma Goldman (they really do seem to hate her for some reason, as I’ve explored before), but I should make a few comments as this nonsense shows all the bad points of Marxist "scholarship."

First off, it gets basic facts wrong – such as proclaiming Emma Goldman, or anarchism in general, was opposed to class struggle. Simply not true. Second, it is a rehash of another work by a Marxist, namely Carolyn Ashbaugh’s (terrible) Lucy Parsons: American Revolutionary. Marxists generally seem to consult other Marxists on anarchism (going back to Marx and Engels, never Bakunin or Proudhon!). It seems they are unable to consult the source material and so they just repeat utter nonsense.

This can be seen from this pamphlet which proclaims Kropotkin as a pacifist. Where could you get such a wrong statement from? Well, from Ashbaugh who states that Kropotkin was "gentle anarchist theoretician of non-violence." (160) Really, only someone who did zero research could make that claim – or repeat it!

Ashbaugh’s book is clearly by someone who won’t let anything as trivial as evidence get in the way of her assumptions about anarchism. Like other Marxists, she does not understand revolutionary anarchism. Thus we find her proclaiming that:

"Bakunin’s theories were orientated to ‘mass’ rather than to ‘class,’ and the Chicago revolutionaries were orientated to class and trade unions. By 1885 Lucy Parsons held a position which could be called syndicalist. She rejected the need for a state or political authority, but felt the ‘economic’ authority would fall under the jurisdiction of the trade unions" (58)

Yet Bakunin clearly expressed class analysis and class orientation, calling repeatedly for workers to organise by trade union and that these would be the structure of the free society (see my reply to Ralph Darlington in Anarchist Studies for evidence). Rather than being "anarchists", the "Chicago leaders, as early as 1883, were syndicalists; they had given up political work for work in the unions which they believed would provide the social organisation of the future" (45) I could quote Bakunin here, but let me quote someone a Marxist may take seriously – Marx and Engels.

Marx attacked Bakunin for thinking that the "working class . . . must only organise themselves by trades-unions" and "not occupy itself with politics." Engels argued along the same lines, having a go at the anarchists because in the "Bakuninist programme a general strike is the lever employed by which the social revolution is started" and that they admitted "this required a well-formed organisation of the working class" (i.e. a trade union federation). Indeed, he summarised Bakunin's strategy as being to "organise, and when all the workers, hence the majority, are won over, dispose all the authorities, abolish the state and replace it with the organisation of the International." (Marx, Engels and Lenin, Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, 48, 132, 133, 72) So, clearly the Chicago anarchists were revolutionary anarchists like Bakunin…

It was precisely to refute this sort of nonsense which produced section H.2.8 of An Anarchist FAQ, as well as my talk at this years book fair:


"Direct Struggle Against Capital", or anarchism and syndicalism

What is the relation between anarchism and syndicalism? According to Leninists, there is none as anarchism is petit-bourgeois individualism which rejects class organisation and struggle. In reality, revolutionary anarchism has class struggle at its heart. Join me as I explore the anarchist roots of syndicalism – or the "Direct struggle Against Capital", a quote from Kropotkin used as the title of my new anthology of his writings due out next year from AK Press.

This ignorance of what revolutionary anarchism can be seen when she proclaimed that the "most successful anarchist paper… was Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth, which reflected the dissociation of anarchism from strictly class struggle movements" (225) before noted a bit later that Emma Goldman gave a lecture on "Syndicalism, the Strongest Weapon of the Working Class, a Discussion of Sabotage, Direct Action and the General Strike" (233) But you would know that she, like every revolutionary anarchist, placed class struggle at the centre of her ideas and, crucially, she saw it as the way to create an anarchist society if you bothered to read her:

"It is this war of classes that we must concentrate upon, and in that connection the war against false values, against evil institutions, against all social atrocities. Those who appreciate the urgent need of co-operating in great struggles . . . must organise the preparedness of the masses for the overthrow of both capitalism and the state. Industrial and economic preparedness is what the workers need. That alone leads to revolution at the bottom . . . That alone will give the people the means to take their children out of the slums, out of the sweat shops and the cotton mills . . . That alone leads to economic and social freedom, and does away with all wars, all crimes, and all injustice." (Red Emma Speaks, 355-6)

Not to mention the strangeness of stating that "Lucy did not separate ‘anarchist’ from socialist thinkers" (58) – as if anarchists were not socialists and did not regularly proclaimed themselves as such (e.g., Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, etc.). If we are to believe Ashbaugh, the likes of Albert and Lucy Parsons did not understand the ideas they advocated… Needless to say, her happiness to note how uncritical Lucy Parsons was of the Soviet Union is a mark against her, not for her! In short, the likes of Goldman and Berkman were the best of the anarchists, rather than those like Victor Serge who embraced party dictatorship – until it was far too late…

Finally, I should mention the other talk, namely the one on anarchist economics. This was a panel event, three anarchists talking about anarchist economics and Michael Albert trying to sell Parecon to anarchists (not very successfully, I think). It was interesting, and although I did not get to use my notes on the (very obvious) flaws in Parecon (I did get to say "It won't be Parecon because it will not work" but did not get to expand on it). I plan to write these up into an article on its impossibilities, when I get the time.

Suffice to say, I think we need to discuss how a free society will produce and distribute goods and do so without impossible assumptions (like Parecon or "everyone will just want to do what is needed, so no worries" abolition-of-work types). Yes, we need to demand the impossible in the sense of demanding what capitalism cannot provide but we need to have a feasible vision of libertarian socialism, one which does not involve impossible assumptions and structures (like Parecon or Marx’s vision of social planning).

Talking of which, I was reading market socialist Alec Nove’s The Economics of Feasible Socialism in preparation for my talk. I also have a very old copy of the SWP’s International Socialism which has what claims to be a review/refutation of Nove’s book – and I have to tell you, that article is only convincing if, firstly, you have not read Nove’s book and, secondly, you don’t understand the problems of information overload, tactic knowledge, dynamic change, uncertainty and a host of other issues associated with a real economy (see the sub-sections of section I.1 on right-wing claims about the "impossibility" of socialism). At one stage, the SWPer "refutes" Nove by seriously suggesting that central planning would make investment changes very slowly – which makes you want to bang your head against a brick wall. This is what passes for Marxist intellectuals!

Still, this sort of Marxist distortion has a long history, starting with Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy… Oh, and I will also be talking in Brighton, 19th of January on "Proudhon and the Birth of Anarchism", at the Cowley Club, 12 London Road, Brighton BN1 4JA.

Until I blog again, be seeing you….


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