Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism

Black Flame is now available online as a PDF! Download it here.

Anarchism, as a body of thought, has been misinterpreted, misused and mystified by both those who agree or disagree with it, yet according to the authors of the recently published book Black Flame, despite the wide berth of anarchist ideas some important definitions and distinctions can be made. 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.

"A good definition is one that highlights the distinguishing features of a given category, does so in a coherent fashion, and is able to differentiate that category from others, thereby organising knowledge as well as enabling effective analysis and research. The usual definition of anarchism fails on all these grounds."

For Schmidt and van der Walt, the usual definition of anarchism, or at least one that is held up by some, is its antistatism. The 'seven sages' of anarchism — Godwin, Stirner, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Tucker and Tolstoy — are generally accepted as developing or influencing anarchist thought. Yet as Black Flame illustrates, while antistatism is a necessary component of anarchist thought, the grouping of these loose figures and their ideas are "simply too vague to really distinguish anarchism from other bodies of thought and action, resulting in anarchism being defined so loosely that it is not clear what should be included and what should not, and why some things are included and others are not".

Instead, Black Flame uses a framework identifying anarchism as a result of specific socialist and working class praxis developed in the 1860's and the realm of the First International, and firmly placed in the tradition of revolutionary class struggle: "It is our view that the term anarchism should be reserved for a particular rationalist and revolutionary form of libertarian socialism that emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century". The argument that anarchism can be traced back into antiquity or is a natural or universal aspect of society or the psyche is disputed and convincingly disproved: "not only is it the case that anarchism did not exist in the premodern world, it is also the case that it could not have, for it is rooted in the social and intellectual revolutions of the modern world."

"Anarchism was against social and economic hierarchy as well as inequality — and specifically, capitalism, landlordism, and the state — and in favour of international class struggle and revolution from below by a self-organised working class and peasantry in order to create a self-managed, socialist, stateless social order. In this new order, individual freedom would be harmonsised with communal obligations through co-operation, democratic decision making, and social and economic equality, and economic coordination would take place through federal forms."

Having established their framework, named in the book as the 'broad anarchist tradition,' Black Flame goes on to re-examine anarchist ideas, its relationship with technology, classical Marxism, syndicalist struggles and tactics, organisation, unions, the IWW, and race and gender — and portrays an internationalism refreshingly void of the narrow focus on Western sources. This 'broad anarchist tradition' enables the authors to critique past definitions:

"it follows that commonly used categories such as 'philosophical anarchism', 'individualist anarchism', 'spiritual anarchism', or 'lifestyle anarchism' fall away. Because the ideas designated by these names are not part of the anarchist tradition, their categorisation of variants of anarchism is misleading and arises from a misunderstanding of anarchism. Likewise, adding the rider 'class struggle' or 'social' to the word anarchist implies that there are anarchist who do not favour class struggle or who are individualists, neither of which is an accurate usage."

Many agree with the framework and resulting definitions used in the book (myself included). Black Flame has sparked some very positive discussion since it was published earlier this year (see any anarchist forum or Wayne Price's review), and of course, disagreement from the 'post-left anarchists' and 'anarcho-primitivists', who, as a result of the book's framework, fall into the traditions of Stirner, individualists, or other thinkers outside of the 'broad anarchist tradition'.

Definitions aside, Black Flame is a truely valuable and practical book, with something to offer both the newbie to anarchist thought, or those looking to further their own previous understandings.

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