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(en) Workers Solidarity #76 - New history of anarchist organisation

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 4 Aug 2003 08:31:44 +0200 (CEST)


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Alexandre Skirda: Facing the Enemy: A History of Anarchist
Organisation from Proudhon to May 1968. (AK Press) 19
Euro incl. postage from WSM bookservice

Facing the Enemy kicks into gear with a look at Bakunin's
ideas on the necessity of anarchist organisation and
thereafter studies individualist anarchism, syndicalism, the
Organisational Platform of Russian exiles, a quick chapter on
the Spanish movement and a somewhat bizarrely detailed
account of post-war French anarchism. Also, included are
almost one hundred pages of original documentation, mostly
relating to the Organisational Platform.

Bakunin favoured two types of organisation; a mass based
trade union which would gather together the masses, and a
much smaller group of committed anarchists who would
attempt to influence the larger organisation with libertarian
ideas.

Roughly speaking these two types have surfaced repeatedly
in different guises in the 130 years since.

Skirda considers the retreat from organisation after the
demise of the First International (1870s) to have been a
disaster for anarchism: individual acts of assassination may
have been understandable given the circumstances of the
time, but unfortunately Marxism gained a solid foothold
among the working class due to its superior organisation.

The emergence of revolutionary trade unionism (syndicalism)
in the late 19th century provided anarchists with the
opportunity to engage once again with systematic collective
action. This is perhaps the most interesting section of the
book as the arguments for the necessity of organisation are
described well, particularly those aired at the important
international anarchist congress of 1907.

Thereafter the book alights briefly on the role of anarchists in
the Russian Revolution before devoting a considerable
amount of space to the lessons gleaned by some of the
participants in it. The primary lesson Makhno, Arshinov et al
took was that a coherent anarchist organisation was
necessary if a social revolution was to be a successful one.
Their reflections produced the Organisational Platform,
which in turn became (and still is) the focus for much debate
on anarchist organisation.

There's a lot of worthwhile reading to be had from Facing the
Enemy for the extent of Skirda's familiarity with anarchist
history is impressive. And yet the book frustrates as well as
fascinates.

This is probably simply to do with it cramming so much
history into too few pages. However one would question the
decision to allot double the space to post-war French
organisations to that of the pre-war Spanish ones. It is true
that much has been written about the Spanish Anarchists,
but, to be blunt, that is because they're worth writing about.

It's as if Skirda is alternating between a history of the ideas
on anarchist organisation and a history of anarchist
organisations themselves. Ultimately the book focuses more
on the former, and as such a more straightforwardly
theoretical approach may have been appropriate. Skirda,
however, includes lots of minute detail and anecdotes which,
though interesting in themselves, tend to dominate the theme
of the book. The problem with this is that the history itself is
told in snatches, and is therefore unsatisfactory.

Worth a read, particularly if your level of knowledge of
anarchist history is somewhere between total ignorance and
geeky genius.

James O'Brian

See also

* The international anarchist movement
http://struggle.ws/wsm/international.html

This page is from the print version of the
Irish Anarchist paper 'Workers Solidarity'.
http://struggle.ws/wsm/paper.html

Print out the PDF file of this issue
http://struggle.ws/wsm/pdf/ws/76.html

Print out the PDF file of the most recent issue
http://struggle.ws/wsm/ws/latest.html


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