The votes are in! This month’s book will be Alexander Berkman’s ABC of Anarchism. The group will meet Sunday, June 26 at 2pm at Bluestockings.
Here are my notes from the Berkman discussion:
1. Different Editions:
This book has a confusing history, as it has been printed under numerous titles at varying lengths. “The ABCs of Anarchism,” sometimes called “The ABCs of Anarcho-Communism” are basically the second and third parts of the longer book “What is Anarchism,” which was sometimes printed as “Now and After: What is Anarchism.”
2. Contrast with Contemporary Writers:
It’s hard to think of a bigger contrast within the anarchist tradition between a writer like Berkman and Gordon, whom we read last month. For Gordon encourages working with others despite their ideological positions, is doubtful about both the feasibility and the purpose of a single revolution that would overthrow the state, is happy to read anarchic tendacies and practices into non-anarchist identified groups and organizations and to some extent embraces the understanding that anarchists will continue to be a minority well into the future. Berkman has basically the opposite opinion on all these views, as he argues that only workers, guided and inspired by a specifically anarchist vision, have the ability to create anarchism. It is interesting to think how much of these differences is due to the different time periods of the writers, for Berkman was living in the period of great revolutions, and how much contemporary thought is a result of experimentation of previous ideas. I personally see threads of Gordon’s position in Berkman’s re-evaluation of revolution in light of his travels through Russia and his emphasis on the focus on the strike rather than on violent confrontation with the state.
3. Communism through the Impossibility of Ownership:
It was pointed out that Berkman, like Kropotkin, emphasizes the communism aspect of anarchism through what I call the impossibility of ownership, which is based on the notion that it is impossible to evaluate one’s time and possessions in a quantified measure because the overlap between one individual and another individual and another individual and society. This argument is shared with other communists, including Marx.
Anarchists frequently critique authoritarian communists based on the impossibility of a state-based transition to a communist society. Interestingly, I haven’t heard of many anarchist critiques of communists for not practicing communist principles immediately, although American society provides some amount of experimentation with ownership.
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