This year marks the 125th anniversary of the 1889 London Dock Strike. While this strike was preceded by others which showed of a new spirit of revolt amongst the unskilled, including the match-girls strike and the unionisation of London gasworkers, the dockers’ strike had more of an impact due to the numbers involved. As well as an important event in British Labour history, it also played a key role in the development of anarchism as it provided a concrete example of the power of organised labour and the importance of anarchist involvement in it.
“Either competition, – that is, monopoly and what follows; or exploitation by the State, – that is, dearness of labour and continuous impoverishment; or else, in short, a solution based upon equality, – in other words, the organisation of labour, which involves the negation of political economy and the end of property.”
– Proudhon, System of Economic Contradictions
This article appeared in Anarchist Studies (volume 22, number 1) in the spring of 2014
The links between the two schools of revolutionary socialism – Marxism and class struggle anarchism – have produced much debate, some more helpful than others. Into the helpful pile comes Libertarian Socialism: Politics in Black and Red (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) edited by Alex Prichard, Ruth Kinna, Saku Pinta and Dave Berry. Twelve excellent chapters and a terrible one are sandwiched between a useful introduction and conclusion. Overall, it is essential reading for all those seeking to enrich libertarian socialism in the 21st century.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), the first person to proclaim himself an anarchist, is rarely treated with respect. Thanks to various hatchet-jobs (Marx, Schapiro, Draper), if he is mentioned it is often with contempt but usually with incomprehension. The notion that he was contradictory is so well engrained in the secondary literature (itself usually based on repeating previous secondary sources) that what Proudhon actually argued is lost. It is so bad that many people think he advocated ideas he publically refuted holding.
“every individual is a child of his time” (Hegel)
The British anarchist Albert Meltzer once noted that since Marxists find it hard to critique anarchism, they usually attack anarchists. In the case of the earliest anarchist thinkers, Proudhon and Bakunin, this is often easy to do as they were not consistently libertarian in their views.
This is a write-up of a talk I gave at Housemans bookshop for An Anarchist FAQ volume 2 publication event. It is based on my notes and is what I intended to cover. So it may not be exactly what was said on the night. And as one member of the audience rightly noted, it is very much focused around white, male Europeans. This is simply because there is still much work needed to get the ideas and histories of non-European countries into English (sadly, this also applies to much of European anarchism as well!). Still, we need to correctly understand anarchist history in order to develop it to meet the challenges of today. Hopefully this talk contributes to both processes, correctly understanding the history of anarchism and building anarchism today as a theory and movement. Whether I succeeded or not rests with the reader!
Lucy Parsons (c. 1853-1942) is worthy of a great biography. She took an active part in the American anarchist and labour movements from the 1870s to her death and should be better known to today’s radicals. Anyone described by the Chicago Police Department as “more dangerous than a thousand rioters” is worthy of remembrance. So the reprinting of Carolyn Ashbaugh’s Lucy Parsons: American Revolutionary should be welcome news – except that the book is so terrible.
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