Tinea's Reviews > Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism

Black Flame by Michael   Schmidt
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Feb 01, 12

bookshelves: anarchism-and-activism
Recommended to Tinea by: Common Struggle
Read in February, 2012

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.

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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)

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