Dorset’s fourth Radical Bookfair will take place on the 8th August 2020 at Dorchester Corn Exchange. Invitations will go out soon, if you’d like to be involved please get in touch:
Please note we now have our own paypal, use the above address to pay direct to the bookfair account, but remember to select “friends and family”, or you will be making a donation to a corporation with annual net income of 2.5 billion USD, at our expense!
In 1998 Murray Bookchin wrote a response to the critics of his Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm entitled Wither Anarchism?. Twenty years later appears a pamphlet bearing the same name and in a way covering the same issue – the state of the movement. Only the most blinkered anarchist would disagree that this is a valid question – and one we need to address even if the rest of the revolutionary left is hardly much better and without the benefit of having a viable theory.
By Kristian Williams, who has been active in the American anarchist movement since the early 1990s and the author of Between the Bullet and the Lie: Essays on Orwell, this pamphlet is divided into three sections. The first, on Anarchism, is excellent. It presents a good, short, introduction on why Anarchism is an appealing theory and one which has, and will continue to, attract rebels. The second attempts to understand something many an anarchist has wondered at some stage in their political life – why, if anarchism is so good a theory, is the movement in such a state? The third is an attempt at beginning the discussion on how to bridge that gap.
I will concentrate on the second and the third parts as these are the important aspects of the pamphlet.
In his opening address to the conference William D. ‘Big Bill’ Haywood of the Western Federation of Miners stated that ‘We are here to confederate the workers of this country into a working class movement that shall have as its purpose the emancipation of the working class from the slave bondage of capitalism’. The Preamble to the IWW made it clear that ‘The working class and the employing class have nothing in common’. As well as taking aim at American capitalism the conference also attacked what delegates saw as the inadequacy of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the principal American labour organization of the period. As a craft-based organisation, the AFL, by design or default, excluded the majority of American workers from its ranks – women, those who were unskilled, migrant workers, and, of course, recent immigrants. The IWW saw its mission as to go out and recruit those workers into the struggle against capitalism and to avoid all forms of conciliation with their employers. In essence this meant organising in areas that had never been organised and often working with ethnic groups in whom the AFL appeared to have no interest and whose presence in America some of its membership actively opposed.
After a stuttering start the IWW grew into an impressive and, it might be argued, rather prescient organisation. It soon showed itself capable of remarkable creativity in its use of tactics. Banned from speaking at street corners in a city it would create a battle over free speech. Every time an IWW member was arrested for speaking, another would take their place with the aim of flooding jails and jamming the legal system. It employed the use of song and cartoons to rouse members and mock opposition. It practiced sabotage in all its aspects while encouraging and supporting strike action whether organised
For anarchists—those defined in the most general terms as believing in a political and social theory of society without government and through voluntary relationships—the written and published word has been central to their movement. From early on, anarchists in the United States and Europe published and collected their ideas and written work. This published literature was one of the main sources of anarchist propaganda and a means to communicate and spread ideas. Newspapers, pamphlets, and, books were instrumental in sharing and documenting the philosophies and actions of the anarchist movement; anarchist libraries were a natural continuation and followed shortly thereafter.
Many early English language anarchist periodicals produced pamphlet series, often with some sort of anarchist library subtitle. For example, early American journals such as Liberty, Free Society, and Mother Earth had pamphlet series called the “Liberty Library,” “Free Society Library,” and the “Mother Earth Library.” The long-running English anarchist paper Freedom also maintained a pamphlet series called the “Freedom Library.” The collecting of anarchist ideas in this format became a regular feature of anarchist periodicals and publishers and developed a body of knowledge—or library—usually not available elsewhere, that anarchists and those curious about anarchist ideas could draw from, discuss, and share.
But anarchists were not only interested in publishing and distributing their ideas in pamphlet and, later, book series; they were also interested in libraries in the more traditional sense. In Philadelphia,
It shouldn’t really be me writing this obituary of Donald Rooum the anarchist and his time with Freedom Press, as I knew him for a mere 17 years, a relative drop in the ocean of his experiences. But the truth is that those of his friends and comrades who would have known him best, the likes of Phillip Sansom, Colin Ward and of course Vernon Richards, all passed away before him.
With Donald passes the only remaining direct link to the anarchist movement of the 1940s, when he began to involve himself just weeks before Sansom, John Hewetson, Richards and Marie Louise Berneri were arrested for their anti-war writing in War Commentary, as Tom Brown and the syndicalists planned a takeover of the stricken publication, where splits that would rock the movement for decades to come began
Born on April 20th, 1928, he was among the last to remember a Britain at war with fascism, although too young to be called up a principled horror of war and bombs would infuse his work ever after.
Though he was known first as a Bradfordian and then for 65 years as a Londoner, Donald Rooum’s first steps as an anarchist were actually taken via a Kent hop-picking project in the autumn of 1944. The son of a left-leaning mother and trade unionist father in a red city which had produced the very first splash headline of the Communist Daily Worker, the 16-year-old already had links to the Communist Party, briefly held, when he was sent to the fields as part of a Ministry of Food placement scheme.
But he was starting to become disillusioned with the Party’s positions, and on his day off he took a trip to Hyde Park, where he came across an anarchist speaker and was immediately impressed, taking out a subscription to their paper War Commentary (which would revert to the name Freedom from August 1945) in short order. Speaking on a long interview with The Final Straw shortly before his death, he recalled:
The ACG has just published Anarchism and Organisation by Errico Malatesta. Written over a century ago, Malatesta’s arguments for the importance of organisation are as relevant today as ever. However for many in the anarchist movement the idea of ‘organisation’ is a dirty word. Malatesta, by stressing the importance of organisation for anarchists confirms an important point for us in the ACG- a national political anarchist communist organisation. Therefore, Malatesta’s insistence on the importance of anarchist organisation is important support for our struggles to create effective organisation in Britain today.