Happy Bastille Day!

Happy July 14th! All together now, "La Marseillaise":

Come, children of the Fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us tyranny's
bloodied banner is raised...

And to mark the date, AFAQ blog has a discussion of another revolutionary anthem, The Internationale. It was written by a follower Proudhon and a Communard, and originally planned to be sung to the tune of "La Marseillaise".

I've appended a short review of Marge Piercy's City of Darkness, City of Light, a great novel about the French Revolution which recounts the revolution from the perspective of various famous participants (Danton, etc.). But, then, we are talking about the author of that great libertarian SF classics Woman on the Edge of Time and Body of Glass (both great, btw). Her book got me motivated to read Kropotkin's Great French Revolution, which I would recommend to all radicals and anarchists. It is a wonderful piece of historical analysis and revolutionary history, with a great feel for how social change comes from below. It needs to be complemented by more recent material, of course, such as Daniel Guérin's Class struggle in the First French Republic : bourgeois and bras nus, 1793-1795 or the first volume of Murray Bookchin's The Third Revolution.

We should not forget that Kropotkin pointed to the experience of the French Revolution of 1789 and the "sections" of the Paris Commune as the key example of "a people governing itself directly -- when possible -- without intermediaries, without masters." It is argued, based on this experience, that "the principles of anarchism . . . dated from 1789, and that they had their origin, not in theoretical speculations, but in the deeds of the Great French Revolution." He argued that the general assembly of the community "in permanence - the forum always open -- is the only way . . .to assure an honest and intelligent administration" and is based upon "distrust of all executive powers." [The Great French Revolution, vol. 1, p. 210, p. 204 and p. 211]

I should note that Kropotkin's work inspired my own article on the revolt against neo-liberalism in Argentina and my review of Bookchin's last work I point out how his anti-anarchism lead him to deliberately ignore Kropotkin ideas on the sections.

I should also note that I decided to blog about The Internationale in part because I'm a bit sick of others appropriating libertarian or libertarian influenced events and symbols by others (most obviously, the stealing of "libertarian" in America by propertarians, the free-market right!) One appropriation that seems to be on the go now is that of the Chicago Anarchists by Marxists. I've blogged and written on this before, and I'm sure I'll comment on this again but statements like these annoy the hell out of me:

'Still, there is today a new opening for saying hello again to "the soul of Eugene Debs" and, I would add (being a socialist in the left libertarian tradition), to the souls of Anton Pannekoek, Rosa Luxembourg. Mikhail Bakunin, Gerrard Winstanley [18], the real and radical Marx, Rudolph Rocker [19], Joe Hill, the Chicago Haymarket Martyrs (who were what historian James Green calls "socialists of the anarchists sort") and the broader fluid and eclectic, radical social-revolutionary movement and milieu - at once Marxist and anarchist - that August Spies, Albert Parsons, and Adolf Fischer (who said that "every anarchist is a socialist, but not every socialist is necessarily an anarchist") epitomized' (Paul Street, Re-Imagining and Recovering Revolutionary Socialism)

The notion that the Chicago Anarchists were Marxist and anarchist is just nonsense -- Marx thrust parliamentarianism onto the workers movement, which the rejected and Engels said next to nothing about them. Strange that -- oh, and of course, they called themselves Anarchists! Parsons even produced a book called Anarchism. As for the "the real and radical Marx", well, the real Marx was pretty much a social democrat ( misreadings of "The Civil War in France" not withstanding!).

I suppose the issue is that certain Marxist academics fail to understand that socialist does not equal "Marxist" and that anarchism does not preclude a perspective based on class analysis and conflict, as well as an awareness of the need to work in unions and seeing the working class is the agent of social change, plus the need to overthrow the state and capitalism... After all, if the notion that calling yourself a socialist, using class analysis and supporting union organising makes you an Marxist then Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, and so on were all Marxists! As discussed in AFAQ, few, if any, of the standard Marxist assertions about anarchism are anything other than myths...

It seems that we anarchists are fated to see things inspired by our ideas appropriated by Marxists -- the First International, the Paris Commune, the Internationale and now, apparently, the Chicago Anarchists. Annoying, but I guess I can understand why -- genuinely Marxist movements such as social democracy and its offsprings (like Leninism) are hardly inspiring...

This is not to suggest that there is nothing useful in Marx, far from it! Marx's analysis of capitalism is a strong foundation to build upon and other aspects of his ideas are useful. It is just to stress that he is not the be-all-and-end-all of radical politics, that much of his analysis was flawed (particularly as regards the state, and the notion of "political action", most obviously). Suffice to say, I think Bakunin was right -- and in their anti-parliamentarianism and revolutionary unionism, so did the Chicago Anarchists! Position which, it should be stressed, Marx and Engels explicitly rejected (and mocked Bakunin for holding)

But enough of one of my pet hates. Until I blog again, be seeing you...

A Tale of Two Classes

City of Darkness, City of Light

Marge Piercy
Penguin
ISBN 0-14-026606-2
£6.99

It was the best of books. It was the worse of reviews.

No review can really do Marge Piercy's wonderful City of Darkness, City of Light justice. Set during the French Revolution, she paints a vivid of the reasons for that Revolution and the Revolution itself. Drawing on the lives of six historical characters (the famous -- Robespierre, Danton, Madame Roland and Condorcet -- as well as the not so famous -- the san culottes Pauline Leon and Claire Lacombe) she combines the personal and the political to show the nature of the peoples revolution and its ultimate defeat by the rich and the very instrument created to protect it, the new, Republican state.

Piercy, as readers of her excellent Science Fiction novels Woman on the Edge of Time and Body of Glass, is a feminist writer with a strong libertarian theme to her politics and writing. This libertarian theme is also at the fore in City of Darkness, City of Light. The liberating nature and effectiveness of direct action as a means of social change is brought home by the development of the two female san culottes. Thus the revolutionising of individuals and social relationships is stressed along with the revolutionising of the wider society. Similarly, the progression of the revolution from its moderate original aims towards a social revolution is also vibrantly portrayed, with the very process of direct action producing wider, more radical demands and changes in society and individuals.

This book makes one want to buy and read Kropotkin's The Great French Revolution to find out more about those turbulent times. It truly is a book which you will not want to put down. This review, as I said, cannot do it justice!

  


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