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Black Flame is the first of two volumes that reexamine anarchism’s democratic class politics, its vision of a decentralized planned economy, and its impact on popular struggles in five continents over the last 150 years. From the nineteenth century to today’s anticapitalist movements, it traces anarchism’s lineage and contemporary relevance. It outlines anarchism’s insight Black Flame is the first of two volumes that reexamine anarchism’s democratic class politics, its vision of a decentralized planned economy, and its impact on popular struggles in five continents over the last 150 years. From the nineteenth century to today’s anticapitalist movements, it traces anarchism’s lineage and contemporary relevance. It outlines anarchism’s insights into questions of race, gender, class, and imperialism, significantly reframing the work of previous historians on the subject, and critiquing Marxist and nationalist approaches to those same questions. Lucien van der Walt teaches at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Michael Schmidt is a Johannesburg-based senior investigative journalist. Recent praise for Black Flame: “A book with a deeply impressive quality of research, analysis and writing, this very important and much-needed work is an unexpected delight and an excellent piece of work”. —Mark Leier, Simon Fraser University, author of Bakunin: the creative passion “An enjoyable read, from which I have learnt a great deal—fascinating, revealing and often startling. Thanks to both and each of you”. —Alan Lipman, anti-apartheid activist and exile, author of On the Outside Looking In: colliding with apartheid and other authorities “A useful and insightful treatment of one of the most fascinating alternatives to industrial capitalism and the modern nation state. At the heart of their scholarship is an effort to provide clarity to a much maligned and misunderstood movement and also to examine it as a social history of ideas that percolated from below as well as directed from above by intellectual giants. The authors are careful to present their analysis in a jargon-free language. Readers will be introduced to influential historical actors from across the globe. A grand work of synthesis. An excellent starting point”. —Greg Hall, Western Illinois University, author of Harvest Wobblies: The Industrial Workers of the World and Agricultural Laborers in the American West, 1905–1930, in WorkingUSA “Brilliant, a really wonderful book and an outstanding contribution to anarchist theory and history. What does Black Flame get right? Well, almost everything! It is comprehensive, discussing all important issues, people and movements, and the authors do a great job in discussing the ins and outs of our movement and theory, using history to illuminate the ideas and show how they were applied in practice. Do yourself a favour and buy it now! You won’t be disappointed”. —Iain McKay, author of The Anarchist FAQ, volume 1 “Black Flame is an outstanding contribution to a modern anarchist perspective. Its view is focused on the working class but also supportive of every struggle against oppression. Besides covering the major controversies within historical anarchism in a fair way, it is particularly unique in examining anarchism from a worldwide perspective instead of looking at it only from a west European angle. I learned a good deal from reading it, and think others will also”. —Wayne Price, author of The Abolition of the State: anarchist and Marxist perspectives “This book fulfills a daunting task. Covering anarchism in all parts of the world and emphatically tying it to class struggle, the authors present a highly original and challenging account of the movement, its actions and ideas. This work is a must for everybody interested in nonauthoritarian social movements”. —Bert Altena, Rotterdam University, author of Piet Honig, Herinneringen van een Rotterdamse revolutionair


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Black Flame is the first of two volumes that reexamine anarchism’s democratic class politics, its vision of a decentralized planned economy, and its impact on popular struggles in five continents over the last 150 years. From the nineteenth century to today’s anticapitalist movements, it traces anarchism’s lineage and contemporary relevance. It outlines anarchism’s insight Black Flame is the first of two volumes that reexamine anarchism’s democratic class politics, its vision of a decentralized planned economy, and its impact on popular struggles in five continents over the last 150 years. From the nineteenth century to today’s anticapitalist movements, it traces anarchism’s lineage and contemporary relevance. It outlines anarchism’s insights into questions of race, gender, class, and imperialism, significantly reframing the work of previous historians on the subject, and critiquing Marxist and nationalist approaches to those same questions. Lucien van der Walt teaches at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Michael Schmidt is a Johannesburg-based senior investigative journalist. Recent praise for Black Flame: “A book with a deeply impressive quality of research, analysis and writing, this very important and much-needed work is an unexpected delight and an excellent piece of work”. —Mark Leier, Simon Fraser University, author of Bakunin: the creative passion “An enjoyable read, from which I have learnt a great deal—fascinating, revealing and often startling. Thanks to both and each of you”. —Alan Lipman, anti-apartheid activist and exile, author of On the Outside Looking In: colliding with apartheid and other authorities “A useful and insightful treatment of one of the most fascinating alternatives to industrial capitalism and the modern nation state. At the heart of their scholarship is an effort to provide clarity to a much maligned and misunderstood movement and also to examine it as a social history of ideas that percolated from below as well as directed from above by intellectual giants. The authors are careful to present their analysis in a jargon-free language. Readers will be introduced to influential historical actors from across the globe. A grand work of synthesis. An excellent starting point”. —Greg Hall, Western Illinois University, author of Harvest Wobblies: The Industrial Workers of the World and Agricultural Laborers in the American West, 1905–1930, in WorkingUSA “Brilliant, a really wonderful book and an outstanding contribution to anarchist theory and history. What does Black Flame get right? Well, almost everything! It is comprehensive, discussing all important issues, people and movements, and the authors do a great job in discussing the ins and outs of our movement and theory, using history to illuminate the ideas and show how they were applied in practice. Do yourself a favour and buy it now! You won’t be disappointed”. —Iain McKay, author of The Anarchist FAQ, volume 1 “Black Flame is an outstanding contribution to a modern anarchist perspective. Its view is focused on the working class but also supportive of every struggle against oppression. Besides covering the major controversies within historical anarchism in a fair way, it is particularly unique in examining anarchism from a worldwide perspective instead of looking at it only from a west European angle. I learned a good deal from reading it, and think others will also”. —Wayne Price, author of The Abolition of the State: anarchist and Marxist perspectives “This book fulfills a daunting task. Covering anarchism in all parts of the world and emphatically tying it to class struggle, the authors present a highly original and challenging account of the movement, its actions and ideas. This work is a must for everybody interested in nonauthoritarian social movements”. —Bert Altena, Rotterdam University, author of Piet Honig, Herinneringen van een Rotterdamse revolutionair

30 review for Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lois

    The author is a Nazi. https://libcom.org/forums/news/michae... The author is a Nazi. https://libcom.org/forums/news/michae...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Roxana

    Even if you don't identify as an Anarchist, this book is worth reading if you're curious about Anarchism Even if you don't identify as an Anarchist, this book is worth reading if you're curious about Anarchism

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tinea

    Finished this and feel like my initial thoughts were spot on. The book has a fantastically useful first few chapters exploring the socialist origins and ideas of anarchism, but then gets deeply into boring territory. Lots of debate about syndicalism and proper labor strategy without ever really bothering to explain all the jargon. See the critiques for chapters 1&2 below for my thoughts on the authors' biases-- just note that their decision not to examine race (because anarchism is already a col Finished this and feel like my initial thoughts were spot on. The book has a fantastically useful first few chapters exploring the socialist origins and ideas of anarchism, but then gets deeply into boring territory. Lots of debate about syndicalism and proper labor strategy without ever really bothering to explain all the jargon. See the critiques for chapters 1&2 below for my thoughts on the authors' biases-- just note that their decision not to examine race (because anarchism is already a colorblind philosophy! /sarcasm) is even worse than their mishandling of gender. The lack of ecological analysis made some of their labor strategies seem pointless and irrelevant. I did appreciate, however, the diverse international history throughout the text. ==== Chapters 1&2 So far, I am loving what they have to offer and teach, especially the breakdown of Kropotkin and Bakunin's philosophies into digestible, analyzed, contextualized quotations. I like the history, rooting anarchism in post-Enlightenment socialist movements. I am learning a lot from this book and already found myself quoting it when someone at a Punxgiving potluck asked "So what's anarchism?" I do have some nits to pick. The authors have an agenda, which they're frank about, to create a definitive, narrow frame for Anarchism as a theory and movement. In doing so, they dismiss or ignore a lot, like anti-civ critiques and situationism. They also incorrectly write off anarcha-feminism as an unfair singling out of women anarchists' gender. In reality, anarcha-feminism is a theoretical concept that takes the anarchist rejection of hierarchies of power and resources and applies it to personal relationships. They also fail to attribute feminist theory for the concept of "intersectionality," instead using weak quotes by dead white men about how women should ally themselves first with their class and not their gender since poor women take the biggest brunt of class oppression. I read ahead to the section on gender in the last chapter of the book, and the authors' decision to stay within the narrow frame they set for themselves means they don't get to quote any of the works by women of color social justice theorists who have, in the past 40 years, effectively deconstructed the 'white supremacist capitalist hetero-patriarchy.' While bell hooks may only use the word 'anarchism' in her latest book, the anti-capitalist, anti-oppression radicalism of hooks and other authors cannot be denied as paradigmatic influences on anarchism today. In sum, while I deeply appreciate the history lesson and broadening of my understanding of the origins of anarchist concepts here, in terms of defining anarchism, I'll stick with Graeber's living theory and the Anarchist FAQ's trust in the ability of folks to critically self-define around a few key values-- mutual aid, direct action, and direct democracy. Ch. 3 From Kropotkin's stress on the satisfaction of human needs as a measure of progress, it is possible to derive a different conception of what is commonly called 'development.' For liberal economics, development consists of the creation of the competitive market system. For economic nationalists, development consists of creating a powerful national economy, even at the cost of popular living standards and labour rights. By contrast, for Kropotkin, development is about increasing the ability of society to meet human needs as well as facilitate individual freedom and fulfillment, and neither the free market nor state power can undertake this task for the mass of the people. Measured like this, capitalism is not necessarily a highly developed form of society; it is perhaps less developed than egalitarian tribal societies. The achievements of a powerful industrial base is meaningless in itself. Indeed, unless the majority of people benefit directly, by having the scope of their individuality and ability to meet their needs increased, it may even be a retrograde move [& even moreso when ecology is taken into account]. (p.92)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    A historical review of social anarchism and syndicalism from the time of the first international in the 1860s to World War 2. The authors -- correctly in my view -- clearly differentiate social anarchism -- a form of socialist politics -- from individualist anarchism. Although this is a very good, comprehensive historical overview, I think that its main failing is that it's a bit thin in terms of theoretical discussion, such as on the issues surrounding the political positions characteristic of A historical review of social anarchism and syndicalism from the time of the first international in the 1860s to World War 2. The authors -- correctly in my view -- clearly differentiate social anarchism -- a form of socialist politics -- from individualist anarchism. Although this is a very good, comprehensive historical overview, I think that its main failing is that it's a bit thin in terms of theoretical discussion, such as on the issues surrounding the political positions characteristic of this political viewpoint. I think they could have benefitted from more of an "intersectionalist" approach to how class, race and gender relate.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Javier

    Originally I had given this volume 5 stars, as I really enjoyed it, but that was before I learned that one of the co-authors, Michael Schmidt, is a white supremacist and "national-anarchist." I cannot discount the book's contributions, nonetheless, and I do not find much indication of Schmidt's views in the book itself--indeed, there is much in here that greatly contradict the politics he seems to have come to espouse. If not for that, I would have changed my re-scoring to 1 star. Originally I had given this volume 5 stars, as I really enjoyed it, but that was before I learned that one of the co-authors, Michael Schmidt, is a white supremacist and "national-anarchist." I cannot discount the book's contributions, nonetheless, and I do not find much indication of Schmidt's views in the book itself--indeed, there is much in here that greatly contradict the politics he seems to have come to espouse. If not for that, I would have changed my re-scoring to 1 star.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rhys

    The authors did a great job delimiting 'anarchism' by defining its shared principles. (I have never felt comfortable with Elzbacher's evaluation that included Stirner, Tolstoy, Godwin, and others). And Marshall's Demanding the Impossible cast a very wide net, indeed. The first few chapters were very strong - I learned a lot about syndicalism, which I am grateful for. The last half of the book was well researched but they did strain my attention with too much detail (organizations, acronyms, numbe The authors did a great job delimiting 'anarchism' by defining its shared principles. (I have never felt comfortable with Elzbacher's evaluation that included Stirner, Tolstoy, Godwin, and others). And Marshall's Demanding the Impossible cast a very wide net, indeed. The first few chapters were very strong - I learned a lot about syndicalism, which I am grateful for. The last half of the book was well researched but they did strain my attention with too much detail (organizations, acronyms, numbers, etc), and distracted from a strong thesis and great scholarship. The book also offered historical examples for effective organisation and action. "The syndicalist position that existed within mass anarchism centred on two positions: the view that reforms and immediate gains were positive conquests for the popular classes, and played a central role in improving the lives of ordinary people, building mass organisations, and developing the confidence of the popular classes in their abilities; and the notion that the unions could take the lead in the struggle for revolution and form the nucleus of the new society" (p.134)

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jankyhellface Hellface

    I've already said that this is an amazing book, but now that I've gotten through it all I have a better grasp on the entire work. Some comments: 1) The "anarchist tradition" argument needed to be made. And, in fact, I would have liked to have read a better development of this in relation to historical trends within anarchism. 2) I think the authors got a bit off track with trying to argue against too many different arguments that are leveled against class-based anarchists. 3) The chapters towards th I've already said that this is an amazing book, but now that I've gotten through it all I have a better grasp on the entire work. Some comments: 1) The "anarchist tradition" argument needed to be made. And, in fact, I would have liked to have read a better development of this in relation to historical trends within anarchism. 2) I think the authors got a bit off track with trying to argue against too many different arguments that are leveled against class-based anarchists. 3) The chapters towards the end which dealt with racism, feminism, anti-imperialism were very uninspiring and not well thought out. I would have liked to have seen a more in-depth analysis rather than internationalism vs imperialism, race vs class dichotomies that are prevalent among anarchists. but these are just minor squabbles. Overall it is an amazing book to read. And while, I wouldn't recommend it to everyone, I would say that if you are at all interested in anarchism you should pick it up.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Shane

    Difficult and divisive are words that fit Black Flame perfectly, but it will remain a classic on organizational anarchism that remains a must-read. The analysis of anarchist history remains too narrow for most people's comfort, and the long-winded union histories will drive most readers to a mid-afternoon nap. That said, it is a solid volume that takes a particular point about radical organizing and drives it home with a sledgehammer. Difficult and divisive are words that fit Black Flame perfectly, but it will remain a classic on organizational anarchism that remains a must-read. The analysis of anarchist history remains too narrow for most people's comfort, and the long-winded union histories will drive most readers to a mid-afternoon nap. That said, it is a solid volume that takes a particular point about radical organizing and drives it home with a sledgehammer.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kris

    One of the best books I've read about the history and theory of anarchism. Highly recommend to anyone interested in this radical political theory. Interview with authors: http://www.revolutionbythebook.akpres... One of the best books I've read about the history and theory of anarchism. Highly recommend to anyone interested in this radical political theory. Interview with authors: http://www.revolutionbythebook.akpres...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    So far its great. A key text that I think all folks who want to seriously learn and have a fair understanding of revolutionary anarchist politics should read. There's a number of interesting arguements that attempt to reframe how anarchism is understood. More later. So far its great. A key text that I think all folks who want to seriously learn and have a fair understanding of revolutionary anarchist politics should read. There's a number of interesting arguements that attempt to reframe how anarchism is understood. More later.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Flint

    This has come highly recommended to me.

  12. 5 out of 5

    J. Rogue

    One of these days I will write a review. I'm behind in my GoodReads! One of these days I will write a review. I'm behind in my GoodReads!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Karol Ujueta Rojas

    I assumed this would be a type of Anarchism 101 book but I was very wrong. You need to know a bit of the history of anarchism and syndicalism to be able to follow because it took me weeks to finish this with the constant googling of people and events that this book mentions. Otherwise it was very interesting and it taught me a loooot.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Timothy

    Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism is the first book in a series of two. The authors seek to create a collected work of the history & theory of anarchism. The authors argue that instead of a divided, convoluted ideology comprised of petty bourgeois, artisans & peasants, it's history is rooted in class struggle that came out of the First International. It evolved as an alternative to political socialism. The idea that "every anarchist is a socialist, but no Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism is the first book in a series of two. The authors seek to create a collected work of the history & theory of anarchism. The authors argue that instead of a divided, convoluted ideology comprised of petty bourgeois, artisans & peasants, it's history is rooted in class struggle that came out of the First International. It evolved as an alternative to political socialism. The idea that "every anarchist is a socialist, but not every socialist is an anarchist". The first volume seeks to explicitly define the theories & beliefs that went into the broad anarchist movement; from the period it came out of to defining who the main theoreticians were (& were not). The book also seeks to define the ideology as to what lead to the great anarchist uprisings & the ideas that pushed those movements. In doing this the authors can correctly characterize anarchism instead of what it is nominally known for, which is anti-statist beliefs. Some of the other arguments that take place are usually ones that happen within anarchist movements themselves. Whether it be mass anarchism vs. insurrectionist anarchism; Anarcho-syndicalism vs. anarcho-communism; organization vs antiorganizationalism; anti-imperialism & national liberation movements; race & gender. It is also the authors' beliefs that syndicalism was a current paralleled with anarchism & ties it in well to other mass anarchist movements. These arguments also seek to define the principles & connect movements that were anarchist or had strong anarchist currents within them. All in all, this book is an excellent source for those who are seeking to know more about the history, theories & the activists themselves that have added to the struggle of the popular classes. Whether you self-identify as an anarchist, or just a curious individual, I highly recommend this book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Fasching-Gray

    If you are what the media call "a self-described anarchist" and you are in an organization and you are tired of going over the same unsolvable debates about tactics and strategy, this book will help. Their solution: toss the nutters out, and if there's anything else you can't agree on, then split into different groups. The authors toss Proudhon, Stirner, and Tolstoy out and add people like James Connolly and Big Bill Haywood to the "Broad Anarchist Tradition." That's sure to turn some people off. If you are what the media call "a self-described anarchist" and you are in an organization and you are tired of going over the same unsolvable debates about tactics and strategy, this book will help. Their solution: toss the nutters out, and if there's anything else you can't agree on, then split into different groups. The authors toss Proudhon, Stirner, and Tolstoy out and add people like James Connolly and Big Bill Haywood to the "Broad Anarchist Tradition." That's sure to turn some people off. They are definitely sympathetic to the "Platform" and groups like the Friends of Durruti, the FAI and Bakunin's Alliance. In other words, they like small, militant minorities that counter reformist and Marxist factions within the larger mass movements. The best thing about the book is its global perspective, bringing in historical examples from across East Asia and Latin America as well as Southern Africa. They do not neglect Eastern Europe either, looking past the Makhnovshchina to movements in the Balkans. I am really looking forward to volume II, and sincerely hope that this book will have an impact on those in the "scene" who are still reluctant to build a movement.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Miquixote

    A very unique contribution to the history of anarchism. Actually, no. To modern history in general. This history focusses on anarcho-syndicalism and platformism, so written because of the authors' belief that understanding anarchism and syndicalism as absolutely necessary to understanding history. Basically the gist is pro-Bakunin and Kropotkin. And against anti-cooperation abstract individualist William Godwin, extreme individualist insurrectionary Max Stirner, racist/misogynist Proudhon, Proudh A very unique contribution to the history of anarchism. Actually, no. To modern history in general. This history focusses on anarcho-syndicalism and platformism, so written because of the authors' belief that understanding anarchism and syndicalism as absolutely necessary to understanding history. Basically the gist is pro-Bakunin and Kropotkin. And against anti-cooperation abstract individualist William Godwin, extreme individualist insurrectionary Max Stirner, racist/misogynist Proudhon, Proudhon's follower Benjamin Tucker and non-resistance religious contemplator Tolstoy as part of the anarchist tradition. The authors reject grouping these types with real revolutionary socialists like Bakunin and Kropotkin. The argument is that making anarchism so broad it weakens it with insurmountable contradictions. In so doing the authors' do not intend to de-base the contributions of mutualism (Proudhon and Tucker), rather they put them where they consider they should be, with Marxism: as contributors to anarchist theory, but not real anarchists.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    The authors exhibit a poor, tenuous understanding of Marxism, and a complete ignorance of the history of Marxism. It's about as useful to understand Marxism as most Marxist books I've ever seen on anarchism. Also, there are a number of points at which anarchists are given a historical pass, while Marxists are held to a consistent standard. Marxists are occasionally labeled anarchists or relevant to anarchist history, meanwhile, many anarchists are dismissed as not actually anarchists here. Still The authors exhibit a poor, tenuous understanding of Marxism, and a complete ignorance of the history of Marxism. It's about as useful to understand Marxism as most Marxist books I've ever seen on anarchism. Also, there are a number of points at which anarchists are given a historical pass, while Marxists are held to a consistent standard. Marxists are occasionally labeled anarchists or relevant to anarchist history, meanwhile, many anarchists are dismissed as not actually anarchists here. Still, the book has a lot of very interesting information about anarchist history. The use of "mass" v. "insurrectionist" anarchism was useful, as well as compelling arguments (although, never taking Lenin's criticisms on, head-on) on syndicalism not being economistic.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Daithi Coombes

    The glue, the scientific prove, this book holds the keys for a solid, peaceful, naturally evolving society in its pages. This book is more an encyclopedia of anarchism and syndicalism than a book. There is so much analysis in this book that of course contradictions appear. But what I love is the authors have no fear of spitting on false labels attached to all political flags, even their own - especially their own (the book is on anarchism and syndicalism). Get this, put it on a shelf, then when yo The glue, the scientific prove, this book holds the keys for a solid, peaceful, naturally evolving society in its pages. This book is more an encyclopedia of anarchism and syndicalism than a book. There is so much analysis in this book that of course contradictions appear. But what I love is the authors have no fear of spitting on false labels attached to all political flags, even their own - especially their own (the book is on anarchism and syndicalism). Get this, put it on a shelf, then when you come across a group, a writer, a revolutionary, use this book as a reference.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    A comprehensive, well-referenced look at the history and major ideological platforms of historical anarchism and syndicalism, from Bakunin and the First International to the major labor movements of the early 20th century. Recommended for anyone with an interest in those topics and the schism between anarchism and the Marx-Lenin school of socialism.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Autumn

    Basically the encyclopedia of anarcho-syndicalist thought. It's better used as a reference than a cover-to-cover read. The authors were very courageous in composing a comprehensive history while injecting their own personal stances into the text, which makes Black Flame as much of a position paper (or, series of position papers) as it is a history. Basically the encyclopedia of anarcho-syndicalist thought. It's better used as a reference than a cover-to-cover read. The authors were very courageous in composing a comprehensive history while injecting their own personal stances into the text, which makes Black Flame as much of a position paper (or, series of position papers) as it is a history.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Steven Fake

    Very important unearthing of the forgotten vibrant history of anarchist mass movements.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ciaran Daly

    I FINALLY FINISHED IT

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mackel

    Holy shit. I just only finished the introduction and this book rocks. I'm looking forward to it. Holy shit. I just only finished the introduction and this book rocks. I'm looking forward to it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Walter Schretz

    First several chapters very intersting then downhill.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Donald

    One of the best books on anarchist history I've ever read. One of the best books on anarchist history I've ever read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gurty

    Yo this guy has Long since been exposed as fash and this book blows anyway.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Derek Lorenz

  28. 5 out of 5

    Colin Jenkins

  29. 5 out of 5

    Fission Chips

  30. 4 out of 5

    Doren Loitongbam

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