Thursday, August 25, 2011

Reviewer's praise: Colin Darch in the'South African Historical Journal' (vol.63, no.2, 2011)

Colin Darch, who is well-known for his work on the Makhnovist anarchist revolution in the Ukraine (1918-1921), published this positive review in the latest South African Historical Journal (vol.63, no.2, 2011, pp. 356-358). He describes the book as "a sympathetic, interesting and wide-ranging account of the anarchist tradition,"and an "enormous advance on the existing handful of feeble attempts by anarchists to construct an African anarchist tradition."

Black Flame: the Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism. By LUCIEN VAN DER WALT and MICHAEL SCHMIDT. Oakland, California and Edinburgh: AK Press, 2009. 395 pp. ISBN 978-1-904859-16-1.

Colin Darch
p. 356
It’s noticeable that reviews of books on anarchism often try to answer two questions that are not self-evidently related: first, is anarchism a coherent or practical ideological position, and second, is the book any good? In many cases, the answer to the second question is entirely determined by the answer to the first; if authors and reviewers agree on question one, then all is well. If not, the debate rapidly descends into polemic, often fierce. The truth, however, is that anarchists have indeed been important historical actors from time to time - notably but by no means exclusively in Spain and Ukraine- and that anarchism is a significant tendency within revolutionary socialist thought. The analysis of anarchist history cannot be abandoned by the rest of us as the exclusive preserve of libertarians.
This book is a sympathetic, interesting and wide-ranging account of the anarchist tradition, written by two South Africans, one an investigative journalist and the other an academic social scientist. It is the first of two instalments of an ambitious larger project, in which the authors’ threefold intention is to challenge ‘commonly held views about anarchism and syndicalism’, and synthesise the ‘global history of the movement’ (8).