Review of Black Flame


This is an excellent work. It is wide ranging, both in terms of subjects covered and geography. The latter makes a welcome break from most accounts of anarchism, which are sadly all-too Eurocentric. The former sees anarchist analysis expanded from the usual subjects of political authority and economic class into gender and imperialism (and national liberation struggles). It covers such perennial issues as anarchist organisation (including ‘Platformism’), the Spanish Revolution and a host of others.

Black Flame gets almost everything right. It concentrates on the mainstream of anarchism, class struggle anarchism (collectivist, communist and syndicalist anarchism, in other words). It is comprehensive, discussing all important issues, people and movements.

The authors are right in showing the anarchist roots of syndicalism and exposing the Leninist myth that anarchism and syndicalism are fundamentally different. They debunk the notion that Sorel was the creator or main theoretician of syndicalism. They place anarchism where it should be: as part of the wider socialist movement, its libertarian wing. It is right to say that anarchism is “a product of the capitalist world and the working class it created” (p. 96) and that thinkers and activists alike “defined anarchism as an anti-capitalist ideology and a form of socialism.” (p. 46)

I have two somewhat minor quibbles about it. The first, minor criticism is the claim that Daniel De Leon, Big Bill Haywood and James Connolly can be included in the broad anarchist tradition. They were Marxists! By no stretch of the imagination can they be considered anarchists. Syndicalism is an anarchist tactic, and like other tactics can be utilised by non-anarchists.

My major criticism is their relegation of Proudhon to being a forerunner of anarchism. It is strange to read that Proudhon was not an anarchist and that “the anarchists took [from him] the notion of the self-management of the means of production, the idea of free federation, a hatred of capitalism and landlordism, and a deep distrust of the state”! (p. 84) So, except for anti-statism, anti-capitalism, anti-landlordism, federalism, communes, self-management, the vision of a revolution from below, the name “anarchist”, what has Proudhon done for us?

It rightly rejects the “dictionary definition” of anarchism – as if a rich socio-economic theory and social movement can be summed up in such a way! As Black Flame stresses, anarchism needs to be defined in terms of its ideas and history, not by whoever calls themselves an “anarchist” or has been so-labelled.

Black Flame is a wonderful book which every anarchist will enjoy reading. It is well researched, well argued and should be read by every one interested in anarchism.

Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism
Lucien Van der Walt and Michael Schmidt
AK Press (2009)

This is an edited version of a longer review that can be read at the link below

From Workers Solidarity 112 November - December 2009

Download the PDF of WS 112