Perspectives on Anarchist Theory

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Vol. 4 - No. 1
Spring, 2000


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What's Happening: Books & Events

Noam Chomsky

It is unusual for innovative thinkers to receive a balanced treatment during times of great social polarization such as our own. This is doubtlessly one of the reasons why Noam Chomsky's work has been divided into linguist and political categories but rarely treated as an integrated whole. This unfortunate fact, which deprives radicals of a full confrontation with his broad intellectual project, will receive a small corrective in two recent works. Chomsky by James McGilvray (Blackwell Publishers, 268 pages, 1999) examines Chomsky's rationalist philosophical commitments and shows how they provide the basis for his political views as well as linguistic studies. It includes a chapter titled "Anarchosyndicalism and the Intellectual" among others. Chomsky: Ideas and Ideals by Neil Smith (Cambridge University Press, 1999, 288 pages) pursues a similar trajectory. Smith analyzes Chomsky 's studies of language and the mind and the relationship between these studies and his political ideas. Smith argues that several themes - rationality, creativity and modularity - unite the disparate strands of Chomsky's vast output.

While anarchism can be considered an influence upon Chomsky's work, it is the explicit concern of L'imaginaire des libertaires aujourd'hui (trans: The Imaginary of Libertarians Today) by Mimmo Pucciarelli. (Atelier de Création Libertaire, 365 pages, 1999). This book examines the history of anarchist ideas, contemporary variations and developments within the tradition, and speculates about the future of the anarchist vision.   

Ascona, Switzerland 

Two new books will emphasize anarchism's influence upon important figures of early 20th century politics and culture. Max Weber and The Culture Of Anarchy edited by Sam Whimster (St. Martin's press, 248 pages, 1999) contains the first complete publication (in English or German) of letters written by Weber in 1913 and 1914 during his time spent at an anarchist settlement in Ascona, Switzerland. The letters show Weber debating free love, eroticism, patriarchy, anarchism, terrorism, pacifism, among other issues, and are complemented by a collection of essays relating Weber's writings to anarchist ideas and the anarchist movement. Explosive Acts: Toulouse-Lautrec, Oscar Wilde, Felix Fénéon, and the Art & Anarchy of the Fin de Siecle by David Sweetman (Simon & Schuster, 512 pages, 1999) shows that Toulouse-Lautrec was not just a dangerously self-destructive bohemian artist (as he is typically regarded) but also participated in a community of anarchist revolutionaries and the cutting edge of radical art in fin de siècle France. Sweetman introduces a new way of looking at Toulouse-Lautrec who, with Oscar Wilde, Félix Fénéon, and others, confronted many of the same social and political issues that we currently face.

English-language literature on antiauthoritarian resistance during the first half of the twentieth century will grow by two volumes this year, thanks to AK Press and Paul Sharkey's indefatigable translation efforts. Partisanas: Women & Armed Resistance to Fascism 1936-45 by Ingrid Strobl (AK press, 320 pages) will be released in July. Originally published in German in 1989 and written while the author was in prison on charges of membership in the alleged terrorist groups Revolutionäre Zellen and Rote Zora, this book contains material that should be integral to any history of antifascist resistance. Also forthcoming from AK Press is the first translation of volume one of Nestor Makhno's three-volume memoirs: The Russian Revolution in the Ukraine: March 1917 - April 1918 (AK Press, 220 pages, forthcoming). This work, introduced by Alfredo M. Bonanno, contains firsthand accounts of the insurgent peasant movement led by Makhno.

Three new works should be of interest to students of more recent antiauthoritarian movements. Victoria Johnson and Jo Freeman (author of the famed "Tyranny of Structurelessness" essay) have produced a new anthology: Waves of Protest: Social Movements Since the Sixties (Rowman & Littlefield, 400 pages, 1999). This collection focuses on specific groups (from ACT-UP to the animal rights movement and many others) as well as the changing nature of social movement theory. Peter Coyote's memoir, Sleeping Where I Fall: A Chronicle (Counterpoint, 367 pages, 1999), details his experiences in West Coast counter-cultural groups during the 1960s and 1970s such as the Diggers and the San Francisco Mime Troupe. David Castillo's Catalan-language novel El Cel de l'Infern (trans: Heaven's Hell) examines personal and political struggles lived out in Barcelona's antiauthoritarian movements during the 1980's (Proa, 206 pages, 1999). 

Two new bibliographies are available: Anarchism: Contemporary Theories: A Bibliography, edited by Joan Nordquist (Reference & Research Services, 72 pages, 1999) and, for Portuguese readers, A Bibliografia Libertária - um Século de Anarquismo em Língua Portuguesa by Adelaide Gonçalves, & Jorge E Silva (Editora Imaginário, São Paulo, 1999). 

Residents of New York and enthusiasts of alternative culture would do well to read Selling the Lower East Side: Culture, Real Estate, and Resistance in New York, 1880-2000 by Christopher Mele (University of Minnesota Press, 408 pp., February 2000). New York's Lower East Side has been a center for anarchist and other forms of revolutionary activism for more than a century, yet it has also been subject to sustained attack by real estate interests who use the area's marginality as a marketing device. Selling the Lower East Side examines the shifting views of the Lower East Side, from ghetto to 'desirable' urban niche. Another perspective on the history of anarchism in New York can be found in Fighting Faiths: The Abrams Case, The Supreme Court, and Free Speech by Richard Polenberg (Cornell University Press, 464 pages, 1999). This book tells the story of four Russian Jewish anarchists from New York who were prosecuted and deported to Russia for distributing leaflets protesting American intervention in the Russian Revolution. Polenberg traces the Jewish immigrant experience, the lives of the convicted anarchists before and after the trials, the careers of the major players in the court cases, and the effects of this case on present-day First Amendment rights.

The Biblioteca Social Reconstruir (BSR), an anarchist archive and educational center in Mexico City, has issued an urgent call for financial assistance. The BSR, now more than 22 years old, holds more than 3000 books and 4,700 magazines, including many that are extremely old and rare. It is a vital resource for researchers (both academics as well as activists) and a meeting center for radicals from Mexico and around the world. However, the BSR has been overwhelmed by the costs of rent, telephone and other necessities of their work, and needs the assistance of comrades to overcome their grave economic situation. Please send contributions to: Biblioteca Social Reconstruir, Morelos 45 Despacho 206 col. Centro, A.P. 9090 C.P. 06002 Mexico 1 D.F., tel-fax 55-12-08-86. You can also contact them at: libertad@mail.internet.com.mx or visit their web site at www.libertad.org.mx. 

There will be many good opportunities to discuss radical ideas and formulate strategies this year. The International Meeting on Anarchism and Judaism in Venice will be held from May 5th to 7th. This conference, which is organized by the Centro Studi Libertari/Archivio 'Giuseppe Pinelli' of Milan and the Centre International de Recherches sur l'Anarchisme (CIRA) of Lausanne, will include a study conference, theatrical and musical performances, debates and original documentary films. The study conference will feature participants from Europe and beyond and simultaneous translation (Italian/English/French) will be available. For more information write: Centro Studi Libertari, via Rovetta 27, 20127 Milano, tel/fax 02 28 46 923, email: eleuthera@tin.it. Brazilian comrades are organizing an Encontro Internacional: Cultura Libertária e Mudança Social (trans: International Meeting: Libertarian Culture and Social Change) from September 4th to 7th of this year in Florianópolis/SC, Brazil. This conference will offer radicals an opportunity to exchange experiences and discuss the limits and possibilities of libertarian culture."  For more information write: Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Centro de Educação - NAT (Núcleo de Alfabetização Técnica), Campus Universitário Trindade, Cep: 88010-970 Florianópolis/SC, Brasil. Send email: molypey@brasilnet.net or anapreve@zaz.com.br. Also of interest is Organize! An Activist-Academic Conference on Social movements and Organizing scheduled for April 8th and 9th at Columbia University. This conference will bring together academics and activists to discuss the many issues confronting those who organize for social change. For more information email: organize_1999@ yahoo.com, Fax: (212) 854-2963, or write Organize! Conference, Dept. of Sociology, 413 Fayer-weather Hall, Mail Code 2551, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027.

    ~ Chuck Morse