News, views & reviews of Lucien van der Walt & Michael Schmidt's groundbreaking, widely praised book, 'Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism'. First of 2 volumes, 'Black Flame' re-examines anarchism's democratic class politics, vision of a decentralized economy, &1 50 year impact on popular struggles worldwide. Launched in Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Germany, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden & USA.
Black Flame co-author Lucien van der Walt will discuss the book at the forthcoming conference "Labour Histories from the Global South", 25-28 October 2010, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, UFSC (Florianópolis, SC, Brazil).
Lucien's book discussion will be part of a panel on new books, Lançamento de Livros, and will take place on Tuesday 26th October, 18:15-19:00, presumably in the Auditório da Reitoria at UFSC.For more on the conference, see here.
Lucien will also be presenting a paper at this conference, on “Indian revolutionary syndicalists in Durban, South Africa, 1915-1921: race, class and Indian Ocean networks”. This is provisionally scheduled for the 7pm session in the Auditório da Reitoria on Monday 25th October.
There will also be Black Flame events in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, in the week of 1-6 November.
Copies of the book will be on sale at all events.
A march by Brazil's Landless Workers Movement
(Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem-Terra - MST).
Linda Givetash, March 17, 2010, The Cord, Wilfrid Laurier University, here.
On Monday, South African journalist and author Michael Schmidt delivered a lecture at Wilfrid Laurier University, where he discussed the influence of social anarchism and syndicalism on labour structures and class movements.
Schmidt’s talk focused on the tradition of anarchism as presented in his book Black Flame (Counter-power, Volume 1), which he co-wrote with Lucien van der Walt, a professor at the University of Witwatersrand.
“We actually wound up with a much broader tradition than we expected,” said Schmidt. Black Flame analyzes the impact of anarchy around the world in the last 150 years, beginning with what Schmidt identified as its first wave from 1867 to 1894.
Schmidt exemplified later movements that had a greater impact on class and labour structures with the development of an international union called the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
The formation of the IWW – whose power peaked in the 1920s – is one of several “organized industrial trade unions [viewed] as a radical working class movement,” according to Schmidt.
Schmidt attributed the growth of what began as a maritime application to syndicalism with the growth of the IWW.
“Through seafaring members of the IWW and returning immigrants, the idea of industrial unionism spread to Australia, Latin America and Europe.” Finally, Schmidt explained that anarchism today is in the form of anti-capitalist movements.
He concluded by quoting an edition of the New York Times: “Anarchism remains an idea that will not die.”
Grahamstown seminar, Wed. 6 Oct. -> 'Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism', @ Rhodes Sociology, Eastern Cape
RHODES UNIVERSITY, GRAHAMSTOWN, EASTERN CAPE, SOUTH AFRICA
The Faculty of Humanities together with the Department of Sociology invite you to attend the following seminar :
"Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics Of Anarchism And Syndicalism"
PRESENTED BY: Lucien van der Walt & Michael Schmidt
DISCUSSANT: Dr Kirk Helliker, Sociology Dpt.
VENUE: Faculty of Humanities Seminar Room, cnr Prince Alfred and Somerset Street, Grahamstown
TIME: 06 October 2010 @ 5pm
Nate Hawthorn, writing in the most recent Ideas and Action, a North American anarcho-syndicalist paper, says the following in a a review with the wonderful title "Let’s Talk About Another Burning Color: Black Flame vs. Red Fire Extinguisher?"
"The book is so good that every anarchist should read it and set up discussion groups on it. The organization I belong to, the Workers Solidarity Alliance, and our sister organizations should hold speaking events for this book, where we present its main arguments and encourage people to read it. We should also discuss the book more in our movements’ publications, both carrying out further analysis using the book’s framework as well as debating the framework. I mean all this sincerely: go read the book".
Every rose has some thorns, of course, and here's some from Nate's paper: "At the same time, in this article I’m going to talk about one area where the book is not as good, which is Black Flame’s treatment of marxism". He argues we need to engage with libertarian Marxists, and treat Marxism too harshly and crudely.
A small reply:
We will do a formal response in Ideas and Action soon (ish), but its worth stressing that we do agree that libertarian Marxists have a lot in common with anarchists, and that there should be a discussion - although not a synthesis - between the two. However, there is no getting around the fact that the "classical Marxism" that Black Flame discusses is far and away the the main current in Marxism, comprising most of Marxist history, most Marxists and (of course) every single Marxist regime. And Marx's "public persona" (Black Flame, p. 93) stressed precisely the determinism (pp. 93-4) and statism upon which these regimes drew (pp. 23-24, 88). We're for a historical - which means properly balanced - view of Marxism, not the view that all Marxisms are equally worthy of discsussion.
Anarchist Studies, which describes itself as "an inter-disciplinary journal of scholarly research into the history, culture and theory of anarchism", recently carried a critical review of Black Flame by Spencer Sunshine. The authors were permitted to write a reply, which addressed some of the issues raised by Sunshine.
In summary, Sunshine's review praised Black Flame for "the best assemblage of research I have encountered on classical anarchism’s complex relationship to questions of nationalism, imperialism and race", and its "stress on the rich anarchist and syndicalist traditions in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean," "a ‘crucial corrective to Eurocentric accounts’". However, he also claimed the book was "infuriating", since it had a "highly unusual" definition of anarchism (i.e. anarchism as a form of libertarian socialism), leading to the exclusion of the (so-called) "philosophical, individualist, spiritual and ‘lifestyle’ traditions" (supposedly the "majority" of today's anarchists).
In response, Lucien van der Walt noted that Sunshine provided no serious evidence to refute the book's core theses e.g. that the global anarchist movement emerged in the First International, that syndicalism is an integral part ... that this tradition centres on rationalism, socialism and anti-authoritarianism ... the writings of Mikhail Bakunin and Pyotr Kropotkin ... and that this ‘narrow’ definition is both empirically defensible and analytically useful". In presenting the book's view of anarchism as a "highly unusual", he ended up having to present the views of pretty much all major anarchists and syndicalist activists and movements as "highly unusual" forms of anarchism, and to do this through the use of loaded rhetoric.
Michael Schmidt, co-author of Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, talks to an audience at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario in March 2010. The talk was presented by Common Cause and AK Press.
Ian Liebenberg and Petrus de Kock, " Review Article: Transforming the state away from the State? Radical social action and ‘minority attractions’ under scrutiny", South African Journal of Philosophy, 2010, vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 195-208
"Anyone interested in the theory and socio-philosophical background to anarchism and syndicalism will find the Black Flame an active reflective utterance and a valuable reference work for some years to come ... despite ‘multiple deaths’, anarchist philosophy and action still manifests itself [and] forms part of and influences social movements that continue to utter a radical “No!” to centralist power, global capitalism and economic exploitation, ecological destruction included".
BOOK LAUNCH/ EVENT
BLACK FLAME: The revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism
Lucien van der Walt & Michael Schmidt
'Black Flame' examines the anti-authoritarian class politics of the anarchist/syndicalist movement, and its 150 years of popular struggle on five continents.
Professor Martin Miller, Duke University editor of The Russian Revolution (2001) and P. A. Kropotkin. Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution (1970, 1976) , and author of Freud and the Bolsheviks: Psychoanalysis in Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union (1998), The Russian Revolutionary Emigres, 1830-1870 1986) and the definitive biography Kropotkin (1976), writes:
This extraordinary volume should be required reading for anyone interested in the relevance of political thought on all sides of the spectrum. It is the most comprehensive analysis of anarchist theory to date, covering the entire sweep of the 19th and 20th centuries. While making clear their own interpretive preferences for the transnational and syndicalist aspects of anarchism, the authors are judicious in their assessment of the entire movement’s wide range of thinkers from Bakunin to Bookchin. The scholarship is impressive and the book provides a wealth of references for further research. Black Flame not only succeeds in bringing anarchist ideas into vivid relief in their historical contexts, but also shows the increasing relevance of an anarchist critique for our own time.
Mark Leier, review essay 'Under the Black Flag: Anarchist Histories', Labour/ Le Travail, no. 65, 2010, pp. 175-180
The contribution of this book is three-fold: it offers a much-needed corrective to the liberal lifestyle and philosophical trends that have attached themselves to anarchism; it demonstrates and contributes to the diversity,themes, and arguments within anarchism; and it draws our attention to movements that have ... too often been ignored, often for political rather than historical reasons. In lively yet carefully crafted prose, the authors have provided an excellent analysis of anarchism rooted in class struggle, and a proposed second volume will examine the influence of anarchism around the world. The depth and breadth of the research are impressive, the arguments sophisticated, and the call to organize timely.
Devan Pillay (University of the Witwatersrand), in Amandla ("SA's new progressive magazine, covering politics and more. Now stocked at more than 80 booksellers nationwide!"), Issue 13 March / April 2010
"For those who have learnt about anarchism only through the writings of Marxists and Leninists, this volume gives fascinating insight into the early world of anarchism. It is a highly readable synthesis of a wide range of secondary sources, covering events and personalities in many different countries. It deserves to be read by all those on the Left seeking to understand the diverse contributions to democratic socialist thinking and practice.
"If you have a passing interest in radical politics, get this book. If you have an interest in anarchism, get this book. If you are an anarchist already, whether you agree with the authors' perspective or not, get this book. This is a thoroughly researched narrative of a political movement that promises freedom, equality, and social viability for us all..."
"What is unique about Black Flame is that it illustrates the universality of anarchism, which until now, other literature has not done as it has tended to focus on the European anarchist tradition ... [with] ... countless examples of large movements globally from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Cuba and the United States, to South Africa, Egypt, Korea and Japan, and of course Spain, Italy, Russia, the UK and Ireland ...
"For South Africans in particular the final chapter provides important insights into the anarchist perspective on issues which continue to undermine our struggles. It shows how anarchism, based on the fundamental tenets of equality and solidarity, was non-racial, non-sexist and supportive of the struggles against imperialism long before other socialist movements.
"Black Flame comes like a breath fresh air. An excellent text - readable, free of jargon, engaging, well-researched, and very well argued, and, most gratifying, affirming the importance and centrality of
anarchist communism or revolutionary socialism."
Brian Morris, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Goldsmiths College at University of London, author inter alia of Kropotkin: the politics of community (2004) and Bakunin: the philosophy of freedom (1993).
In the political report for the 2-milllion-strong-COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) 2009 congress, prepared by Zweli Vavi (long text, which specifically cited Black Flame), there are a few "points of interest":
"... Marx has given us the tools to understand society but not a blueprint. It falls on our shoulders ... to Build Marxism. In carrying out this task we must be open-minded and grasp what is useful in critiques of Marx from both the right and the left ...For example, the communitarian anarchist movement, critique of classical Marxism on the grounds that is has latent features of authoritarianism, has to be engaged. Anarchists by definition are anti-authority and hierarchy. They make a compelling argument that hierarchical organisations or societies like capitalism tend to reproduce rather than eliminate inequality ...As socialists anchored in the Congress and Comintern tradition we differ with some of the theoretical, strategy and tactics of the Troskyites and Anarcho-Syndicalists, but it will be folly to ignore some of their valuable critique of bureaucratic socialism ..."
First up: "Using a fresh and thoughtful framework, Black Flame analyses the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism, producing a coherent and cohesive overview of tactics, strategies and praxis to both illustrate an anarchist history of struggle and revolution, and to push the current movement forward... Black Flame is a truly valuable and practical book, with something to offer both the newbie to anarchist thought, or those looking to further their own previous understandings". More here
Second: In "Anarchism and Revolutionary Syndicalism: a critical review of the book by Fabiana Toledo, from the visions of Michael Schmidt, Lucien van der Walt and Alexandre Samis", Brazilian writer Felipe Corrêa draws on "two great books published in 2009" - Black Flame, and Minha Pátria é o Mundo Inteiro: Neno Vasco, o anarquismo e o sindicalismo revolucionário em dois mundos, de Alexandre Samis by Alexandre Samis - to interrogate Edeline Toledo's Anarquismo e Sindicalismo Revolucionário: trabalhadores e militantes em São Paulo na Primeira República. Tledo's book is a study of anarchism and syndicalism in Brazil. The English-language translation of Corrêa's piece is here and the Portuguese-language original is here
South African writer and activist Michael Schmidt, co-author of Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, will be in several Ontario cities between March 15 and March 21 to promote and discuss this important new book on the global history of anarchist movements and ideas. The tour, organized by Common Cause with support from AK Press and several local sponsors, is scheduled to pass through the following cities listed below.
To promote the tour Common Cause has also produced a short video which can be seen here and set up a Facebook page. Copies of "Black Flame" will be available for purchase at each tour stop.
The Kate Sharpley Library, based in the UK, specializes in anarchist history - it has produced a series of wonderful pamphlets and bulletins; its work played no small part in inspiring the authors of Black Flame. See http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/ So, a review by the KSL is of especial interest. The full review by "M. Bookunin" (!) is online at http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/c2frv6.
Here are some highlights to whet your appetite for that thoughtful commentary:
"This ... introduction to the history and ideas of anarchism [is] ... not like any you’ve read before ... Against the lowest-common-denominator approach of writers from Eltzbacher to Marshall they limit anarchism to the class struggle anarchist movement (that is, libertarian socialism) from the mid-nineteenth century onwards ... This is a helpful and necessary distinction ...
"... Schmidt and van der Walt take a global approach, pushing beyond the 'usual suspects' in Western Europe and North America, to Latin America, southern Africa and East Asia ...their potted biographies of thinkers and militants are very useful ... Thankfully, the authors are able to make their discussion of anarchist ideas accessible. There’s no jargon introduced for its own sake ...
"This book is obviously the result of a huge amount of work and a valuable synthesis of an awful lot of historical and political writings. Their clear idea of what they wanted from it has kept their writing to the point ...
"... unlikely to end debates about 'what is anarchism?' ... it’s a useful (if not perfect) contribution to them ... a great contribution to anarchist history. Not everyone will like the political choices they make, but anyone would be able to learn something from their work.
"... this is not just about history, nor just about ... internal affairs ... After the blind alley of authoritarian 'socialism', it’s about putting liberation back on the agenda, and how to make it a reality.
"It’s enjoyable to read something where the 'big picture' is handled so confidently. Roll on volume two, a global history of anarchism."
Invitation to a workshop on class struggle, anarchism and syndicalism (revolutionary trade unionism) as part of the launch of the book Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism by Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt
We find ourselves at a critical juncture - nearly a million jobs have been lost in South Africa since the onset of global crisis in 2008. The planet is teetering on the brink of environmental collapse. The United States continues to wage war on the world's poorest regions.
The workers' movement remains the key force for defending the popular classes from neoliberal and government onslaughts, and in building a sustainable, egalitarian and just society. If we do not act, we should not complain.
But how? In his Political Report to the 10th Cosatu national congress, Zwelinzima Vavi argued for the need to "Build Marxism" by learning from other left traditions. In particular, he mentioned anarchism as useful for "developing a vision for socialism in the 21st century", laying "the basis for the unity of the left in our country".
Vavi made especial mention of a new book from South Africa: Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism, by Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt. This was launched at Wits University last year, at a major gathering of intellectuals, trade unionists, social movement and students activists.
A Soweto launch of this book is being organised by the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF) and the Orlando West study circle on anarchism. This will be part of a workshop on class struggle and revolutionary trade unionism on the 6th of March 2010 at 1 pm. Both authors of "Black Flame" will be present to discuss topics covered in the book, and the importance of anarchism for the revolutionary social and political praxis of the workers' movement and the socialist project.
We hereby invite you, or your organisation to send shop-stewards, organisers and rank-and-file delegates to this event, which we have no doubt will prove to be both very informative and inspiring, giving us lots to consider as we set about building a revolutionary workers' movement for the 21st century.
BLACK FLAME: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism
Lucien van der Walt & Michael Schmidt
'Black Flame' examines the anti-authoritarian class politics of the anarchist/syndicalist movement, and its 150 years of popular struggle on 5 continents. An indispensable conceptual and historical road map, with close attention to Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America, looking at its:
· Opposition to hierarchy, capitalism and the state
· Strategy: building revolutionary counter-power
· History: labour, community, anti-imperialism
· Agenda: participatory, cooperative economics
· Revolutions: Mexico, Spain, Ukraine, Korea
· Revival: today’s struggles
This groundbreaking volume has been praised by reviewers as "deeply impressive", "fascinating, revealing and often startling", "a grand work of synthesis", "remarkable" "outstanding", "inspired" and "a welcome antidote to Eurocentric accounts".
THURSDAY 11 MARCH 2010 @ 5.30 for 6.00
The Book Lounge, 71 Roeland Street (corner of Buitenkant), Cape Town
With thanks to Leopard's Leap Wines.
Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org / 021 462 2425.
MORE INFO: http://black-flame-anarchism.blogspot.com/
A recent issue of Upping the Anti: A Journal of Theory and Action (no. 9, November 2009, Toronto, Canada: www.uppingtheanti.org) has a fine (and carefully considered) Black Flame review by Sean Benjamin. Its entitled "Fanning the Flames" (p. 159 onwards). Some quotes:
"... Schmidt and van der Walt avoid the 'great thinkers' approach to historical research instead focusing on excavating the histories of largely unknown individuals and movements in order to analyze various strategies and tactics among these groups. They devote less attention to individual thinkers and focus instead on anarchist ideas and the movements they informed ... "
"While most historical studies of anarchism have focused on Western Europe and North America, Black Flame counters this Eurocentric approach. As the authors explain, 'the broad anarchist tradition was an international movement that cannot be adequately understood through the focus on Western anarchism that typiﬁes most existing accounts' (8). Anarchist movements in Africa, East Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and (to a lesser extent) the Middle East are amply documented."
"In recent years, there has been an upsurge in class struggle anarchism, or social anarchism ... In these circumstances, there is a need for a clear and more forceful theoretical statement of principles, and Black Flame serves as an excellent opening statement of the relevance of class struggle anarchism in a twenty-ﬁrst century context. Whether or not one accepts all of the components of the authors’ analysis
of the broad anarchist tradition, this book is an impressive introduction to the history of anarchist theory and anarchist movements.
"It radically reframes the debate over anarchism and how it is perceived by both its advocates and the world at large, and successfully argues for anarchism’s relevance in contemporary struggles. Their forthcoming second volume, Global Fire: 150 Fighting Years of International Anarchism and Syndicalism, will focus on the history of the global anarchist movement to complement the theoretical focus of Black Flame. If the second volume is as good as the ﬁrst, they will stand together as a truly signiﬁcant contribution to both anarchist theory and history."
The January/ February 2010 issue of Direkte Aktion (no. 196) includes a review of Black Flame. Direkte Aktion is published by the German anarcho-syndicalist group, the Free Workers Union (Freien ArbeiterInnen-Union, FAU). The reviewer, Gabriel Kuhn, is editor of the forthcoming Gustav Landauer, Revolution and Other Writings: a political reader (PM Press, 2010).
Here are some translated quotes: "With its more than 400 pages, Black Flame is a remarkable study of (social) anarchism's international history, and a reflection on key issues of organization, strategy, and tactics ...
"Considering the range and scope of the collected material, the book must count as a milestone, and it will without doubt claim its place in the canon of anarchist historiography. This is certainly well deserved. The book's international reach ... is exceptional and can only be compared to Max Nettlau's notes, with two main differences: van der Walt and Schmidt were able to collect much more material on Latin America, Asia, and Africa, and they had the time to work their data into an immaculately structured and highly readable narrative...
"In conclusion, the virtues of Black Flame are without question: it is an outstanding study, and highly recommended to all anarchists! Those who agree with the authors' definition of anarchism will rejoice. Those who don't will be challenged to assess their understanding of anarchism in relation to the syndicalist, anarcho-communist, and platformist traditions."
"... a corrective to the previous histories of anarchism by the likes of Peter Marshall and George Woodcock ... clearly written and well-presented and the arguments well put ... AK Press have done an excellent job with the book, there's enough illustrations to show the human face of anarchism and the international coverage is exemplary. The price should be within range of most libraries ... and even many comrades should be able to afford a copy ... I look forward to seeing the second volume!" - Richard Alexander, in Black Flag no. 230, 2009.
Richard Estes and Ron Glick interviewed Lucien van der Walt, co-author of Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, on their show “Speaking In Tongues,” KDVS, 90.3 FM, University Of California, Davis. The interview took place on September 25, 2009.
The transcript (which I’ve edited slightly for clarity- Charles Wiegl) is below. If you’d like an audio recording of the interview, go here or here. For a higher quality recording of the entire show, go here.
And thanks to Richard and Ron, who have interviewed several AK authors and collective members on their show.
The interview is wide-ranging, covering issues like anarchism and trade unionism today, globalisation, immigration, race, and of course, Black Flame.