Archive for the 'Anarchism' Category

Murray Bookchin: anarchism vs anarcho-syndicalism (1992)

“Presyndicalist forms of anarchism were occupied with human liberation, in which the interests of the proletariat were not neglected, to be sure, but were fused in a generalized social interest that spanned a broad horizon of needs, concerns, and problems. Ultimately the satisfaction and resolution of these needs, concerns, and problems could be met only in the commune, not in a part of it, such as the factory, workshop, or farm.”


in “The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism,” available here.

RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE: We’ll stop with the Bookchin after this!!

Murray Bookchin: anarchism is “simply not a social theory” (2002)

“By the same token, anarchism – which, I believe, represents in its authentic form a highly individualistic outlook that fosters a radically unfettered lifestyle, often as a substitute for mass action – is far better suited to articulate a Proudhonian single-family peasant and craft world than a modern urban and industrial environment. I myself once used this political label, but further thought has obliged me to conclude that, its often-refreshing aphorisms and insights notwithstanding, it is simply not a social theory. Its foremost theorists celebrate its seeming openness to eclecticism and the liberatory effects of “paradox” or even “contradiction,” to use Proudhonian hyperbole. Accordingly, and without prejudice to the earnestness of many anarchistic practices, a case can made that many of the ideas of social and economic reconstruction that in the past have been advanced in the name of “anarchy” were often drawn from Marxism (including my own concept of “post-scarcity,” which understandably infuriated many anarchists who read my essays on the subject). Regrettably, the use of socialistic terms has often prevented anarchists from telling us or even understanding clearly what they are: individualists whose concepts of autonomy originate in a strong commitment to personal liberty rather than to social freedom, or socialists committed to a structured, institutionalized, and responsible form of social organization. Anarchism’s idea of self-regulation (auto-nomos) led to a radical celebration of Nietzsche’s all-absorbing will. Indeed the history of this “ideology” is peppered with idiosyncratic acts of defiance that verge on the eccentric, which not surprisingly have attracted many young people and aesthetes.

In fact anarchism represents the most extreme formulation of liberalism’s ideology of unfettered autonomy, culminating in a celebration of heroic acts of defiance of the state. Anarchism’s mythos of self-regulation (auto nomos) – the radical assertion of the individual over or even against society and the personalistic absence of responsibility for the collective welfare – leads to a radical affirmation of the all-powerful will so central to Nietzsche’s ideological peregrinations. Some self-professed anarchists have even denounced mass social action as futile and alien to their private concerns and made a fetish of what the Spanish anarchists called grupismo, a small-group mode of action that is highly personal rather than social.”


from “The Communalist Project” which is available online here, where it indicates that the essay was first published in Communalism: International Journal for a Rational Society, 2 (November 2002).



Obviously this piece belongs to Bookchin’s post-anarchist Communalist period. Here, as with the works of many politically-engaged intellectuals, one should be sure to untangle the author’s perceptive historical and philosophical insights from their polemics.

Errico Malatesta: nineteenth-century anarchism impregnated with marxism

“Almost all the anarchist literature of the nineteenth century was impregnated with Marxism.”

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cited in Daniel Guerin’s “Marxism and Anarchism,” in David Goodway (ed), For Anarchism: History, Theory and Practice (London & NY: Routledge, 1989), p 117.

Albert Meltzer: variants of anarchism dreamed up by professors (1996)

“In other words, there were entirely different philosophies referred to as anarchism. It took me a time to find there were two contradictory theories, one working class and revolutionary, the other an offshoot of liberalism. Now there are a great many variants, some dreamed up by the press or professors. When there were only two, some activist anarchists did not see it that way, and thought of the undoubted differences between the two conceptions as different degrees of commitment and action. They were doomed to frustration or else gave up the struggle in despair trying to reconcile the two.”


from Albert Meltzer, I Couldn’t Paint Golden Angels (SF/London/Edinburgh: AK Press, 1996), p 174.


RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE: While I certainly don’t agree that there are two “entirely different philosophies referred to as anarchism” (and if I did, one of them would not be “an offshoot of liberalism”!), I have come to appreciate Meltzer’s insightful wisdom that professors are apt to dream up new variant theories of anarchism.

Henri Lefebvre: I am “a Marxist, of course… so that we can all be anarchists some time in the future.”

“In my first meeting with Lefebvre in 1978 I clumsily asked him, ‘Are you an anarchist?’ He responded politely, ‘No. Not now.’ ‘Well then,’ I said, ‘what are you now?’ He smiled, ‘A Marxist, of course…so that we can all be anarchists some time in the future.’”

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from Edward W. Soja, Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-And-Imagined Places (Oxford, UK & Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996), page 33 footnote 8.

Octave Mirbeau: “anarchism has a broad back, like paper it endures anything” (1894)

“A mortal enemy of anarchism could not have done better than Emile Henry when he hurled his inexplicable bomb in the midst of peaceful anonymous people who had come into a cafe to drink a beer before going to bed…. Emile Henry says, affirms, claims that he is an anarchist. It is possible. But anarchism has a broad back, like paper it endures anything. Today it is a fashion for criminals to claim a connection with it when they have perpetrated a good crime…. Each party has its criminals and its lunatics because each party has its human beings.”

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cited in James Joll, The Anarchists (NY: Grosset & Dunlap, 1964/1972), p 145-46. Joll’s footnote  says the citation is taken from Jean Maitron, Histoire du mouvement anarchiste en France (1880-1914) (Paris 1951), p. 227, and that Maitron gives his source for the quote as Le Journal, February 19, 1894.

An online version of  the second edition of Joll’s book is available here.

Max Weber: can anarchists be legal scholars? (1913)

“Admittedly, attempts have been made to set certain limits on purely ‘logical’ grounds. One of our leading jurists explained on one occasion, when he was declaring himself against the exclusion of Socialists from university posts, that even he could at least not accept an ‘anarchist’ as a teacher of law, since an anarchist would deny the validity of laws as such; and he clearly thought this argument conclusive. I am of exactly the opposite opinion. An anarchist can certainly be a good legal scholar. And if he is, then it may be precisely that Archimedean point, as it were, outside the conventions and assumptions which seem to us so self-evident, at which his objective convictions (if they are genuine) place him, which equips him to recognise, in the axioms of conventional legal theory, certain fundamental problems which escape the notice of those who take them all too easily for granted. For the most radical doubt is the father of knowledge.”

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from “Value-judgments in Social Science” in Max Weber: Selections in Translation, edited by W. G. Runciman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), p 75. This essay was originally a paper presented in 1913 and first published in 1917.

RADICAL ARCHIVES thanks Dana Williams for finding this quotation, which we had been looking for for years!

Bookchin on Malatesta and syndicalism (1977)

Syndicalism, to be sure, has many shortcomings, but its Marxian critics were in position to point them out because they were shared by Socialist parties as well. In modeling themselves structurally on the bourgeois economy, the syndicalist unions tended to become the organisational counterparts of the very centralized apparatus they professed to oppose. By pleading the need to deal effectively with the tightly knit bourgeoisie and state machinery, reformist leaders in syndicalist unions often had little difficulty in shifting organisational control from the bottom to the top. Many older anarchists were mindful of these dangers and felt uncomfortable with syndicalist doctrines. Errico Malatesta, fearing the emergence of a bureaucracy in the new union movement, warned that “the official is to the working class a danger only comparable to that provided by the parliamentarian; both lead to corruption and from corruption to death is but a short step” (fn 3) These Anarchists saw in syndicalism a shift in focus from the commune to the trade union, from all of the oppressed to the industrial proletariat alone, from the streets to the factories, and, in emphasis at least, from insurrection to general strike.

footnote 3:  Although Malatesta was to change his attitude toward syndicalism, he accepted the movement with many reservations and never ceased to emphasize that “trade unions are, by their very nature, reformist and never revolutionary.” To this warning he added that the “revolutionary spirit must be introduced, developed and maintained by the constant activities of revolutionaries who work from within their ranks as well as from outside, but it cannot be the normal, natural definition of the Trade Union’s function.”

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Murray Bookchin, The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years 1868-1936 (NY, Hagerstown, SF, London: Harper Colophon Books, 1977), pp 136–37, 156.

Schiz-Flux: “War Chest Tour” (1988)


Schiz-flux held a ‘roving’ demonstration last May Day called the War Chest Tour. We sought to emphasize a total critique of the war economy by ‘hitting’ various businesses and institutions ranging from McDonald’s to the ROTC. In between these confrontations were excursions into ‘liberated zones’, areas pre-designated for the free (fore)play of radical subjectivity. Plans included a smoke-in at the Memorial Union, the burning of American, Soviet and McDonalds flags, and a May Pole dance in Peace Link park where participants would dart from the dance to the porn shops on State St. where, charged with fertile adrenalin, they would form a circle inside of which a ‘free exchange of pleasure’ could occur. Artsy props and banners were prepared for the whole occasion and over 500 flyers were distributed prior to the event asking other activist groups to plan actions on the same day.

The response was dismal. At noon we arrived with sundry props at the steps of the union and danced around while taking turns with the bullhorn exhorting students to quit work, quit school and join the ‘revolution of desire’. About 40 students gathered while huge joints of homegrown were shared with all in the vicinity. Chief of Campus Police Bozo Hansor appeared with a walkie talkie in hand to keep an eye on this small-scale insurrection as we walked around the back of the union chanting “Smash the war machine”. Once inside more joints were shared and students were invited to join  the march.

The pot must’ve spaced everyone out, though, because only 10 of us made it to the next target on the tour, the ROTC building. Also, the concept behind the Tour was not understood by the initial participants: the War Chest Tour was conceived as a fast-moving, highly-charged performance which integrated a militant anti-capitalist perspective with the liberating energy necessary to subvert the system. It was a failure because the crucial link between art, politics and pleasure is unfamiliar to most of the liberals, peaceniks and leftists that the Madison area is positively crawling with; where political asceticism and sad militancy are the prevailing models. But WATCH OUT! We may be back. If you’re interested in organizing War Chest Tour this May Day, get in contact with us!

Madison, WI

from SMILE #2 (Madison, WI), 1988,  p13.

Anarchists Against National Self-Determination, Part 1 – Joseph J. Cohen: “The Right to Self-Determination” (1951)

Joseph J. Cohen

Words are bound to be the first victims in any era of great social disturbance. Their meaning and content are interpreted in various ways depending on the angle from which the person or group using them looks at the trend of general development.

Viewed in the light of the vanishing past, in which subjugated national groups were forcibly held together in the Hapsburg Empire of Austria, or in the Ottoman Empire of Turkey, the right to self determination of nations,  promulgated by President Woodrow Wilson in his historical Fourteen Points, appeared a progressive step leading to greater freedom and a better chance for the peaceful development of international relations. To the nations on the checker board of Europe at the conclusion of the first World War, the right to self determination appeared to be a just solution of the many complex problems arising out of the breaking up of the gigantic combinations of empires competing for supremacy in a world of power politics.

But when we study this problem from present-day experience and the standpoint of the new social order slowly but surely emerging from the chaos of repeated world wars, we find the solution proposed by President Wilson is in reality a stumbling block to lasting peace.

Parceling of each continent into separate hegemonies walled in by guarded boundary lines, tariffs, competing valuta and restrictions against foreigners, tends to insulate the peoples of the earth into antagonistic national sovereignties, suspicious of one another and hostile to everything cloaked in unfamiliarity.

The small, independent governments in Europe, created by the treaty of Versailles as a result of President Wilson’s formula, did not contribute to the solution of a single one of the problems confronting the western world at that time. Rather did the problems become more complicated. The racial groups of Europe are so integrated and blended that nothing short of uprooting and resettling whole populations could separate them into their component parts. Whether they like it or not, they must live together. And any encouragement toward separatism, toward self-determination, is bound to lead to more harm than good.

The baneful tendency of the right to self-determination manifested itself in the newly created states which had owed their very existence to the promulgation of the principle. No sooner had they become autonomous than they began to limit the rights of their minorities. Poland, which had suffered oppression under the Russian tsar, the German kaiser, and the Austrian emperor, immediately set out to oppress, and curtail the freedoms of, millions of Jews and Ukrainians who had lived within her borders since time immemorial. The same thing happened in Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Latvia, and all the other newly created states.

The concept that a nation is endowed with the right to determine its destiny and regulate unhindered the conditions of life within its territory is based on the outworn principle of absolute right to property and on the fallacy that the rights of a nation are parallel to that of the family. Since the law recognizes the individual’s right to own and dispose of property in his own way, people are willing to grant the same right to a nation. The result is demonstrated in Australia, where 7,500,000 people occupying a territory nearly as large as the United States, by reason of their right of self-determination, do not permit people to settle there unless the latter qualify in certain limited classifications. In like manner, the 13,000,000 citizens of Canada occupying an area much larger than the United States feel justified in shutting their doors against newcomers.

Yet this is absurd. It can find no support in morals, ethics, or human usage based on any principle other than force. And any social arrangement depending solely on force must sooner or later lead to conflict and a test of arms. We are slowly coming to realize that, if we are to survive, our existence will depend on the unification of the peoples of the world and their integration into one family. One world or none is not merely a well sounding phrase, it is the sine qua non imposed upon our race by its historical development and the invention of such tools of destruction as the atom bomb and gas and bacterial warfare, which threaten to annihilate us all. Every effort to divide and separate human beings, even when based on the most idealistic of slogans, is a step backward and a hindrance to progress.

By the very nature and logic of its concept, the right to self-determination is applicable only to the basic human unit composing society, the individual. He is perfectly justified in claiming for himself freedom of action and conduct with the sole qualification of not infringing upon the rights of others, and being willing to limit his freedom by the equal right to freedom of his neighbor. Large groups of peoples, whole nations organized as sovereign states, based as they arc on compulsion and guided by raison d’etat, can hardly be expected to do justice to the term. Any recourse to the right of self-determination on their part must bring only discredit to a principle once cherished by well-meaning idealists.

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from “The Right to Self-Determination” in the anthology The World Scene From The Libertarian Point of View (Chicago: Free Society Group of Chicago, 1951), pp 56–57.

The anthology’s “Notes on the Authors Herein” says Cohen “was formerly editor of the Jewish weekly Freie Arbeiter Stimme in New York City” (p 95).

RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE: We took the basic content of this essay from a somewhat garbled, text-recognition scan of the whole anthology, which  is available here, and corrected it against the original.