A short update. Suffice to say, I’m been very busy of late. I decided to get back to revising An Anarchist FAQ, namely its appendices – starting with the critique of David McNally’s terrible “Socialism from Below” pamphlet. It has taken more time than I had anticipated – mostly due to how bad it is.
This is particularly the case in relation to Proudhon. I tracked down two quotes he provides and – Quelle Surprise! – the context shows that McNally really is distorting his ideas. Also, of course, Property is Theft! means that we now have a host of new works by Proudhon available in English which helps to destroy the Leninist myths McNally is mindlessly repeating. The level of scholarship is so bad that refuting it takes time. Still, aiming for the first update of An Anarchist FAQ in four years on the 18th of March – to mark the Paris Commune, of course (and Kronstadt as well).
I have been busy just before the Solstice holidays writing a few reviews and an article for Anarchist Studies. The reviews are a short version of my Victor Serge review and short version of the review I have just posted of the excellent book Libertarian Socialism: Politics in Black and Red. I’ve basically chopped almost all of my comments on Paul Blackledge’s terrible chapter for Anarchist Studies – talking of which, I aim to complete and post my next – and hopefully final – blog on Blackledge in the next few months. And the article includes an updated version of my Incomplete Kropotkin Bibliography plus a discussion on the importance of primary sources and the relationship and interplay of leaders and movements (I avoided the vacuous term “dialectical”, you will be pleased to know). I will post that here in due course.
And, finally, my new Kropotkin anthology Direct Struggle Against Capital has been published (or is very close to being published). Anyway, it is on the US AK Press webpage now. As a result, I’ve been asked by answer a few questions on why I did the book and why people should buy it. My answers have been put on the book’s webpage by AK Press (along with the contents page), but I thought I would include them here in my blog as well.
Hope you enjoy the answers and please, if you buy the book, buy it direct from AK Press or your local radical bookshop.
Until I blog again, be seeing you…
1. Why did you decide to edit this book, and how do you hope that it will contribute to the understand of Kropotkin, his work, and our understanding of anarchist history?
When I was working on volume 2 of An Anarchist FAQ, I took the time to read Kropotkin’s Memoirs and thought that the more political discussions within it should be better know. In addition, Caroline Cahm’s Kropotkin and the Rise of Revolutionary Anarchism, 1872-1886 showed that there were important works by Kropotkin on the labour movement in the early 1880s which should be available to the English-speaking world – particularly given the all-too-common myth (so beloved by Marxists!) that Kropotkin rejected the class struggle in favour of some kind of inter-class co-operation.
So I thought it would be good to collect these works and others like them into one volume, focused on his views on the labour movement but including his opinions on anarchism and social revolution. I felt vindicated in this when I read an article by Kropotkin in Freedom complaining that his views of the labour movement had been misrepresented and that he often thought of produced a volume of his newspaper writings to refute such claims. Sadly, he never did and he continued to be subjected to such misrepresentations – particularly by Marxists.
Another important area the book covers is Kropotkin’s view of revolution and stresses something which seems to be often overlooked, namely that he recognised that social revolution was marked by economic disruption and faced numerous difficulties (not least, they required defending). While he is often painted as being optimistic over the ease of social transformation, the opposite is the case.
It should enrich our understanding of anarchist history by showing that the notion that anarchists turned to syndicalism in the 1890s or that syndicalism and anarchism are different things are simply not true. Anarchist support of syndicalist tactics arose in the First International and were championed by Bakunin. Kropotkin placed himself in this tradition and repeatedly argued the need for anarchists to support popular movements like trade unionism and revolutionise them from within.
It will, then, hopefully confirm what should have been obvious from a close reading of the works previously available, namely that Kropotkin was a committed revolutionary who embraced the class struggle as the means of creating anarchism and who had a practical and realistic view of social change and revolution. Not for him the notion of “one-day” revolutions which appear as if by magic!
2. Who are you trying to reach with this book? What unique understandings of Kropotkin that you hope readers will take away?
First and foremost, anarchists! This is because the issues Kropotkin raised are still relevant today – not least, because Marxists tend to repeat the same old nonsense about anarchism and Kropotkin. So, second, I am trying to reach other radicals and show them that anarchist thought is worth investigating, that the caricatures we read by opponents of anarchism are precisely that. And, finally, to those who write about anarchism (academics or not). Perhaps with this anthology and my Proudhon one (Property is Theft!) then some of the more common misunderstandings and misrepresentations about anarchism and its history will be stopped. However, I will not be holding my breath!
In terms of unique understandings, well, I hope that readers will gain a better idea of the breadth and depth of Kropotkin’s ideas and his contributions to anarchism. There was a reason he was so respected within the movement, not least his ability to explain basic anarchist ideas well in plain and understandable words. So I hope that readers will gain a better idea of what anarchism stands for, where it came from, how it developed and where Kropotkin repeated previous ideas and where he contributed to new developments.
3. What was the most challenging aspect of putting together a book like this? What was the most rewarding?
The most challenging aspect was tracking down the Russian texts which are newly translated in Direct Action Against Capital. Suffice to say, an important book would be made if someone took the time to collate and translate all of the articles and pamphlets Kropotkin wrote to influence the fledgling Russian libertarian movement before 1914. Another challenge was trying to limit the articles and pamphlets to include – Kropotkin was such a good writer that the temptation was naturally to think that there could be space for one more! However, common-sense had to prevail and it was a case of balancing what was important and already available in other works and material collected in book form for the first time.
In terms of the most rewarding, well, there is nothing like reading a translation of an article you think is important and discovering that you were right!
4. What do you want readers to take away from this book? What are the essential lessons and narratives?
Basically, that Kropotkin was a realistic revolutionary who viewed the difficulties anarchists faced both in class struggle today and in any future social revolution squarely in the face. This is in contrast to the all-too-common picture of him as the gentle prince of co-operation who viewed the world through rose-tinted glasses. He was not – he was a committed revolutionary class struggle anarchist, as this book confirms.
The essential lessons are two-fold. First, is that anarchists need to, like Kropotkin, use the scientific method – look at the world, analysis it and draw conclusions. Second, as Kropotkin always stressed, anarchists need to take an active part in popular struggles and movements – primarily, but not exclusively, the labour movement. Unless we do that then we will not be in a position to develop the anarchist movement, libertarian theory nor see a successful social revolution.
Kropotkin argued this in the 1870s in the Russian Populist movement, in the 1880s and 1890s in the French anarchist movement and, again, in the 1900s to the Russian anarchists. He was right to and I hope this book will show why that was the case.