Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Nice review in "Ideas and Action" by Nate Hawthorne (and a response or two)

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.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

EXCHANGE on "Black Flame" between Spencer Sunshine and the authors, in recent "Anarchist Studies"

NEW: Italian translation here.

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.