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(en) Britain, *Organise! #63* - Book Revies - I.

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 18 Apr 2005 09:28:28 +0200 (CEST)


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Kropotkin: The politics of community,
A socialist's guide for the 21st century,
Orgasms of History: 3,000 years of spontaneous insurrection,
Thinking allowed: A manifesto for successful political change in Britain and the world
>>>Kropotkin: The politics of community Brian Morris 2004 Humanity Press, New York
Brian is well known to the pages of Organise! and Freedom. He is one of those
rare academics who want to spread ideas through teaching and writing for a wide-range
of publications rather than through obscure academic texts. His writing is always
well researched and scholarly whilst remaining accessible to a wide audience.
His new book on Kropotkin is the result of any years of research.

Parts of this research have already appeared in previous issues of
Organise! It is not only an excellent and
thorough presentation of Kropotkin's ideas,
but also provides the reader with an
overview of the anarchist communist or social
anarchist current within anarchism as
distinct from syndicalism, individualism and
'propaganda by the deed'.

The book, though written in a
lively and down-to-earth style,
is still an academic book and is
best appreciated by those with
some background in political
and social theory. However,
anyone can gain something
from the straightforward
presentation of Kropotkin's
ideas.
Brian's main aim is to "affirm
the contemporary relevance of
Kropotkin and the social
anarchist tradition he
theorised and defended."
In the introduction he attacks
the "despair" preached by
today's intellectuals who may
criticise the current system but
offer no alternatives and end
up effectively propping up the
status quo. In many ways, he
is addressing the same
problems discussed in the
pamphlet by Sarah Young
(reviewed also in this issue),
but from the perspective of
those engaged in public
theorising. This might seem
irrelevant to the average
person, but the despair of
these intellectuals is filtered
down to the rest of us indi-
rectly through the mass media
and has therefore contributed
to the general feeling of
hopelessness. Though he
agrees to an extent with their
critique, he lambastes them
for their failure to provide any
useful theory or ideas for
actually understanding and
changing the world.
Instead, Brian is adamant in
his belief that it is Kropotkin
and the tradition of social
anarchism that offer "the only
viable alternative to demo-
cratic liberalism and Marxism,
both of which, as we have
noted, are politically bank-
rupt" (p.20).
Brian does not give whole-
hearted support to everything
Kropotkin did or wrote.
Anarchists, unlike Marxists,
do not tend to treat any of our
forbearers as infallible. He
takes an approach of "critical
sympathy", acknowledging the
enormous debt we owe
Kropotkin and others who
developed both the theory and
practice of social anarchism,
but recognising that like
everyone, he is a human being
who may make errors of
judgement and analysis.
This book offers the reader a
superb overview of the
tradition that the Anarchist
Federation comes from and is
aiming to develop. It will
show people who are fed up
with the main political options
(see the pamphlet by Sarah
Young, reviewed in this issue),
that there is an alternative
politics for developing a
movement of resistance and
constructing a new society.
-----------------------------------------

A socialist's guide for the 21st century.

Jack Grassby. TUPS Books. £4.95. 149 pages.
A belated review this, because
it's been out for a few years.
An odd book. The writer says
that he adopts a basic Marxist
perspective. He gives a brief
description of Marxism, and
then goes on to discuss
postmodernism and existen-
tialism, chaos/complexity
theory, socio-biology, before
devoting a chapter to the
State. This chapter barely
mentions anarchist criticisms
of the State and blurs the
distinction between Leninist
and anarchist approaches to it.
Political parties are dealt with
next, starting with the Labour
Party and gradualist/evolu-
tionary socialism, before
looking at the 'revolutionary
socialist' tradition, where it
picks out the Socialist Party of
Great Britain and the Socialist
Workers Party as examples of
this tradition, in a somewhat
odd choice. It then touches on
the anarchists. The writer
acknowledges that
anarchism's "current expres-
sion of anti-capitalist direct
action gives it a contemporary
expression. However, he then
goes through the usual
categories, irrelevant in this
period, that anarchism is
divided into by so-called
experts outside of the tradi-
tion. So we get individualist
anarchism (just how many
individualists are there in
today's international anarchist
movement? Not a lot!) as
developed by Max Striner (he
means Max Stirner); and
Tolstoyan anarchism (again,
how many Tolstoyans are
around these days?), when
Tolstoy, whilst exhibiting some
anarchist outlooks was careful
never to call himself an
anarchist. The Industrial
Workers of the World, the
revolutionary union set up in
the States, is mistakenly
referred to as anarcho-
syndicalist. Then the writer
comments that the greatest
prevailing anarchist influence
has been in education, in
particular higher education
where a " generally demo-
cratic, non-authoritarian
climate prevails". Hmmm.
The Anarchist Federation is
then mentioned. Georges
Fontenis' Manifesto of
Libertarian Communism is
then described as the founda-
tion document of modern
anarchism. Now, Fontenis's
document, written in 1953, is
very interesting, but is it really
the "foundation document" of
modern anarchists? The
author says that he is reprint-
ing it in full on the following
pages, instead of which we get
the Aims and Principles of the
Anarchist Federation!
The author investigates direct
action, looking at the anti-
capitalist mobilisations that
began with Seattle, Reclaim
the Streets, and the Claimants
Unions. He touches upon the
trades unions, and despite
criticisms, still sees them as
"the best examples of mass
democratic action around- or
can be". Surely not the same
bodies that attempt to control
workers when they undertake
wildcat actions?
The police are seen as the
public arm of the State, but
then the author goes on to
peculiarly say that "as they
have sometimes seen more of
the injustices perpetrated by
society than the rest of us,
some are actually sympathetic
(but usually covertly) to
socialist values. In the double
vision of the law the police
belong to the people as well as
to the state. The Human
Rights Act should heighten
this dichotomy of responsibil-
ity." I would agree that the
police need to be subverted,
and propaganda aimed at
them, but when it comes to the
crunch, the overwhelming
mass of the police will side
with the State and the boss
class. Illusions about human
rights enshrined in the law
and their positive effects are
all too common in this book.
I really would like to be more
charitable about this book.
The writer is not dogmatic,
and is genuinely looking for
solutions about how to
reconnect to the mass of the
population. Unfortunately this
book is sloppy in its research
and its conclusions. Ethical
foreign policies are touched
upon, where there is precious
little evidence that such
policies are actually imple-
mented, and somehow
organisations and institutions
connected to the United
Nations are seen to be estab-
lishing socialist values!
The Rich at Play: Foxhunting,
land ownership and the
'Countryside Alliance'. 75
pages. Revolutions Per
Minute. £4.
This pamphlet shows that the
main forces behind those
campaigning to keep
foxhunting are the major
landowners and the aristoc-
racy. It goes on to prove that
leading members of the
monarchy, Anne, Charles,
Phillip and William are
actively and enthusiastically
involved in hunting, and give
just as active and enthusiastic
support, undercover or
otherwise, to the Countryside
Alliance.
The section the Land Ques-
tion touches upon the origins
of foxhunting and shows how
it is intimately related to the
firm establishment of feudal-
ism by the Norman conquer-
ors. William the Conqueror
established the principles of
land management in Britain.
He emphasised hunting
"Namely, that facilitating the
private pleasure of the
privileged few was a legitimate
basis for determining the
allocation of land in Britain.
Secondly that the landowner
possessed the right to do
whatever he liked ...with his
land irrespective of the impact
of his land-use decisions on
other members of the commu-
nity" p. 6.
With this came stringent laws
against poaching of game by
the mass of the country
population.
With the industrial revolution
came the displacement of
many via enclosure of the land
and criminalisation of those
who objected. The rising new
industrial elite looked to
pickings in the countryside.
Bankers, brewers and lawyers
were among those of the new
rich who bought up land to
enhance their social status.
They aped the habits of the
rural aristocracy and gentry,
putting on lavish hunt
breakfasts, generously
subscribing to the local
foxhounds and stocking their
coverts with pheasants.
The pamphlet advances the
theory that the defenders of
foxhunting have created an
elaborate mythology around it
to restrict the debate to issues,
which whilst important, are
subsidiary to the main ones.
That is, "that the rich are
using massive areas of land
that were stolen from the
ordinary people of Britain to
pursue their own personal
pleasure."
The pamphlet then systemati-
cally demolishes these freshly
minted myths, like the so-
called working class following
for foxhunting. It playfully
suggests the following
programme
1. A right to roam and
repossession of the land
2.Stop foxhunting with
hounds, either with concerted
political action or direct
intervention on a local basis,
normally with other local hunt
saboteurs
3. The right to hunt the rich
The pamphlet argues strongly
for the land question to be a
main plank in the fight against
foxhunting and the Country-
side Alliance, as a mobilising
factor in drawing together the
largest number of people
possible. It is noted that the
Countryside Alliance is not
just a movement against
foxhunting, but a conscious
manoeuvre by sections of the
ruling class against recent
attacks on their privileges like
the right to roam and the
growth of environmental
concerns and the environmen-
tal movement. The right are
mobilising and are prepared to
use direct action to protect
their privileges. We have to
encourage counter-
mobilisation on a mass scale.
We need to use the language of
class struggle to break any
alliance (always an unequal
one) that the Countryside
Alliance and its supporters are
attempting to forge between
the wealthy landowners and
sections of the rural working
class. In that fight, this
pamphlet can be a useful
weapon. Use it to back up
your arguments, take addi-
tional copies of this pamphlet
and sell it to your friends and
workmates. As the pamphlet
concludes "combine your
activities, invite other
organisations from the town
and cities to join and get out
into the communities and
workplaces to build a mass
campaign, which will end fox
hunting for good and set the
people on a course to `reclaim
the land'".
------------------------------------------

Orgasms of History: 3,000 years of spontaneous insurrection.

Yves Fremin. AK Press. £12.00. 248 pages.
This book, written by a
French veteran of May 1968,
attempts to take a look at the
riots, uprisings and revolu-
tions that "spring up seem-
ingly from nowhere". It's a
wide-ranging work, touching
upon the Cynics, Spartacus
through to the Bavarian
Council Republic and the
Spanish Revolution up to 1968
and beyond. And this is what
flaws it. Fremin should have
stuck to an account of the real
'orgasms of history'- those
events that radically broke
with the past, not schools of
thought like the Cynics of
Ancient Greece. He also has an
odd and anachronistic way of
using the term 'Stalinism' in
relation to events hundreds of
years before the birth of
Stalin. In his introduction he
admits this, seeing it as an
"archetype of totalitarianism
and authoritarianism".
Fremin also has admiration
for the peasantry and he is
careful to include several
examples of peasant uprisings.
The book is entertaining and
often informative read, but it
is too often too eclectic, mixing
up thinkers with revolutions.
It seems a bit odd to have
various social experiments like
La Ruche or the Cempuis
Orphanage, worthy as they
are, shoulder to shoulder with
the Makhnovist insurrection
in the Ukraine, when the book
is entitled Orgasms of History.
Especially when bohemian/
hippy experiments like
Christiania or the San
Francisco Diggers feature.
Nevertheless, Fremin's heart is
in the right place and his
outlook is always cheerfully
and optimistically libertarian
with a class struggle approach.
Despite its flaws an interesting
read.
--------------------------------------

Thinking allowed: A manifesto for successful political
change in Britain and the world Sarah Young 2004

This is an important and
original pamphlet that
addresses key questions that
are often ignored by many
political activists, including
anarchists. Political propa-
ganda is usually directed at
exposing the horrors of
capitalist exploitation and
state oppression with the
hidden assumption that this
will make people so angry that
they will want to do something
about it. Sarah questions this
strategy. Her starting point is
that there are a whole layer of
people who are well-aware of
the horrific state that the
world is in. "A tremendous
amount is known about what
is wrong with the world."
However, despite all this
knowledge, people are not
doing anything. "We know the
world needs to change, but we
have no clear vision of how
this is going to happen". This
pamphlet addresses this
crucial question- how can we
go from despair to active
participation in the overthrow
of capitalism and the construc-
tion of a new society.
The pamphlet seems to be
directed specifically at young
people, but it is relevant to all.
She starts from the real life
conditions faced by the
average young person, writing
in such a way that a person
can easily identify the feelings
expressed. So instead of
beginning with the global
problems of war, economic
exploitation and ecological
crisis, she begins with the
problems that young people
are experiencing in their own
lives such as the uncertainty of
future employment and
housing, the lack of opportuni-
ties for living a fulfilling life,
and the psychological prob-
lems of the pressures to
'succeed' and to conform.
The pamphlet then takes an
extremely critical and percep-
tive look at what is on offer for
people who do decide that they
want to get involved. Though
her critique of electoralism,
reformism and trade unionism
could be more developed and
hard-hitting her exposure of
the manipulative and effec-
tively counter-revolutionary
antics of the revolutionary
parties is excellent. She
lambasts them for their
manipulative and authoritar-
ian politics that have effec-
tively put so many people off
political activity altogether.
She then goes on to discuss the
potential for change. Again,
she bases her analysis on the
actual lives of people rather
than on abstractions. She uses
voluntary work, vocational
paid work in such areas as
health and education and
single issue campaigns in the
work place and community as
examples of spaces where
individuals are able to make a
difference. By doing this she is
not supporting gradualism,
working within the system or
localism, but is trying to show
the kind of activities that
people do that can give them
"expertise and confidence";
two things that are essential
for building a revolutionary
movement that is capable of
creating a new society.
"Our small but creative lives
are of great magnitude of
importance because they allow
the possibility that change can
happen and be successful."
The pamphlet's main point is
questioning the way in which
revolutionary politics is
something people often
separate from their everyday
lives. Political activists will go
on demonstrations, take direct
action and issue propaganda
on street corners but then not
'talk politics' to their families,
neighbours, workmates or to
people 'down the gym or pub'.
As Sarah says, politics is a
'hobby' that people do 'in
addition' to their normal lives.
This is a message that all of us
in the anarchist movement
should take seriously for three
main reasons.
We need to recognise that
social change does not happen
overnight and that the big
changes only occur as a result
of countless small actions that
people have taken in their
everyday lives. Physical
scientists call this the 'butter-
fly effect'-where a small
change in one particle can
affect a particle elsewhere.
The same effect is at work in
society- small actions can have
big effects without it being
obvious how this has hap-
pened. In other words, just
because an action may seem
small and insignificant doesn't
mean that if hasn't had an
impact. You just can't see
obvious evidence of that
impact.
Secondly, politics must not be
something people do but
something people live. This
point is especially important
for British anarchists. In
countries such as Italy, Spain
and France, anarchism is
much more of a living tradi-
tion. They are more likely to
remain active anarchists
throughout their lives because
it is more incorporated into
their everyday lives, which will
include work, families and
hobbies. In Britain, the
movement is dominated by
relatively young 'activists' who
operate in a kind of anarchist
ghetto. They are unlikely to
continue this so-called
anarchist lifestyle very long
and therefore risk dropping
politics because their ap-
proach to politics will not be
able to accommodate being
political with work and
families.
And thirdly, we have to think
carefully about how we build
up people's confidence to fight
back. The AF has taken this
into consideration with our
monthly bulletin Resistance.
Instead of spreading more
'doom and gloom', we try and
show examples of people
actually resisting capitalism
and the State.
However, as an organised,
social anarchist I would take
issue with two issues.
Firstly, there is no explicit
discussion of the working
class. Though we in the AF
have a very broad definition of
working class, and recognise
that some people shy away
from the term because it seems
to include only miners and
factory workers, it is impor-
tant that we are clear about
the basis of a new revolution-
ary movement. Sarah's focus
on those in certain occupations
that she calls vocations,
involves a very narrow sector
of the working class. That
doesn't mean the point she
makes is invalid. But there are
many other jobs where
important skills are being
learned- construction, design,
plumbing, farm work to name
a few. Revolutionary move-
ments have often included
skilled workers who took
pride in their craft- such as
the Jura watchmakers- the
founders of the first anarchist
international. Confidence also
comes from all manner of
work place resistance, often
outside the trade union
structures, and also helps to
build confidence and expertise
in organising.
It is also important to consider
the class character and
political orientation of many
single issue campaigns.
Though she stresses commu-
nity fight backs, which will of
course involve working class
people, many of the current
single issue campaigns such as
Stop the War, Greenpeace
actions and anti-G8
mobilisations are dominated
by students, unemployed
'activists' and Trotskyists. The
recent European Social Forum
as well as the alternative
'Beyond the European Social
Forum' in London could be
seen as something the pam-
phlet is arguing for- the
linking up of a number of
different campaigns. However,
both the official and unofficial
forums had little relationship
to the vast majority of
working class Londoners. It
was primarily a place for
'activists' or people sponsored
by well-heeled organisations to
meet up. It is hard to see how
such events can contribute to
the building of a working class
revolutionary movement.
Secondly, the final conclusion
of the pamphlet argues that
there is no worthwhile
organisation or political
theory that can take us
forward. The pamphlet
doesn't offer us anything more
than a view that people can
only take small actions and
begin to link up, somehow
hoping that something new
will emerge.
In the Anarchist Federation
we of course believe that our
tradition, based on the
principles of anti-capitalist
and anti-State working class
resistance, is a viable alterna-
tive to the bankruptcy of
reformism, leftist parties and
the lack of relevance to the
working class of ESF-style
events. The anarchist prin-
ciples of federalism and
rejection of central committees
and majority (or in many
cases minority) imposed ideas
and actions, combine co-
ordination of action and
sharing of ideas on the local,
national and even interna-
tional level, with individual
freedom. The fact that we exist
as an organisation means that
this pamphlet can be given the
publicity it deserves.
Organise! is read around the
country as well as abroad. Of
course, our practice does not
always fit our theory and there
is always a need to be open to
new ideas that emerge out of
new experiences and struggles.
But there is no need to wait
around for an alternative to
reformism and leftism, and
remain as isolated individuals
and groups. The author of this
pamphlet is clearly an anar-
chist - she should join us!
You can order copies from
Sarah by e-mailing her at
northernsky@hush.com.

If you have a book you
would like us to review,
please send it to: AF, c/o
84b Whitechapel High Street,
London, E1 7QX
=============================
* Organise! #63 - Winter 2004 FOR REVOLUTIONARY ANARCHISM -
the magazin of the anarchist federation


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