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What is Anarchism? Paperback – Jul 1 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: AK Press (July 1 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1902593707
  • ISBN-13: 978-1902593708
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.3 x 21.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #492,337 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

About the Author

Alexander Berkman was a leading writer and participant in the 20th century Anarchist movement. The young, idealistic Berkman practiced propaganda by deed" attempting to assassinate Henry Clay Frick during the Homestead Steel Strike of 1892. While imprisoned, he wrote the classic tale of prison life Prison Memoirs of and Anarchist. After his release, Berkman edited Emma Goldman's Mother Earth and his own paper The Blast!. Deported from New York City to his native Russia in 1919, were he sawfirst hand the failure of the Bolshevik revolution and dedicated himself to writing the classic primer on Anarchism, What is Anarchism?.

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Format: Paperback
This is a very straightforward, accurate introduction to the political philosophy of anarchism. Berkman wrote this book so the "anglo-saxon american working class would understand and relate to it". In other words, the book is very easy to read, unlike a lot of other anarchist literature of the era. He divides quite a few topics into short separate chapters. He speaks about war, labor, capitalism, etc. I suggest this to those who are anarchists, or those who just want information on REAL anarchism. (not mindless "chaos" or "disorder" as some people believe this philosophy to be about)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
wonderful introduction to the above Jan. 11 2004
By chad thompson - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a very straightforward, accurate introduction to the political philosophy of anarchism. Berkman wrote this book so the "anglo-saxon american working class would understand and relate to it". In other words, the book is very easy to read, unlike a lot of other anarchist literature of the era. He divides quite a few topics into short separate chapters. He speaks about war, labor, capitalism, etc. I suggest this to those who are anarchists, or those who just want information on REAL anarchism. (not mindless "chaos" or "disorder" as some people believe this philosophy to be about)
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Anarchism as Commonsense Jan. 13 2005
By Dana Garrett - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Emma Goldman records in her autobiography that Berkman found *What is Anarchism* a difficult book to write. He wanted to write a book that would explain anarchism to the average American. Given that the average American misunderstood anarchism to be about throwing bombs, Berkman had to begin on a basic introductory level.

He pulled it off masterfully. Berkman takes a commonsense and conversational tone throughout the book, and he covers considerable ground. He explains to readers how the capitalism is basically a system of wage slavery and he discusses the other great social harms it produces. He differentiates left anarchism from western European socialism (a system of reformist capitalism) and from Marxist socialism. In fact, Berkman often discusses the Bolsheviks in the USSR, who imposed an oppressive system of, effectively, state-capitalism that he witnessed first hand. Other topics include trade unions, war, religion, violence, revolution and others. Berkman is particularly effective in discussing how an anarchist revolution would not be one given to wanton destruction, that it would try to preserve as much life and infrastructure as possible. And he sketches how an anarchist society would operate.

Those who are completely unfamiliar with anarchism will find this book worthwhile. Anarchists will also find this book helpful because Berkman shows how to explain anarchism on an intuitive level.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A well written powerful book by a great man Dec 27 2007
By Chris - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is remarkable in its power and simplicity. Indeed the reactionary H.L. Mencken was moved to write in the mid-20's that though he had a distaste for their political ideas Berkman and Emma Goldman were very good prose stylists, showed a great deal of intelligent and clear thinking and that the United States sorely needed Berkman's contribution to the debate on national problems.

Of course, Goldman and Berkman were among the many hundreds of non-naturalized Americans who were deported during the Mitchell Palmer Red Scare of 1919 for actively speaking out against American participation in World War I. Berkman himself was a terribly reviled figure. He served prison time for attempting to murder Henry Clay Frick while the latter was killing strikers and successfully crushing the union movement at Andrew Carnegie's steel plants in Homestead Pennsylvania in 1892.In this book Berkman gives a history of some of the martyrs in the struggle for the dignity of labor in the United States. He notes the case of the militant union activist Tom Mooney. An investigator from the Department of Labor concluded that the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce had been actively trying to frame Mooney for a variety of crimes. Mooney kept getting arrested and released but during a preparedness day parade in San Francisco in 1916 a bomb went off and Mooney, along with Warren Billings, was charged with having personally set off the bomb. Berkman notes that after Mooney's conviction many police witnesses came forward ( they were backed in this by the sworn testimony of three police officials) and said that they had been bribed and threatened so that they would perjure themselves. However Mooney's death sentence was only commuted to life imprisonment and he remained in prison until 1938.

From reading Goldman's and Pateman's introductory notes to this book I thought that the book might be a little patronizing when it was said that it was intentionally constructed with the most simplicity possible in order that the general worker might comprehend anarchism. But it is anything but patronizing. In this book Berkman exhorts the worker to understand how foolish she is to believe that she has the same interests as her bosses and how workers are duped into fighting wars for imperialism and profit.

He exhorts the working class to understand that it is the laborers who create the wealth of society not the bosses who shuffle papers, speculate on the stock market and figure out how to squeeze more work out of laborers while maximizing profits. It is the workers who should manage business enterprises themselves. He outlines his industrial syndicalist method which he believes provides the best chance to bring this society about. Workers should form councils in their individual workplaces made up of workers of all skill levels and crafts. These councils especially need to attract professionals like engineers. Industries of course need managers trained in technical matters but these managers are merely administrators of the industrial plans laid out for them by the workers of an individual firm and offer advice but certainly do not have any authority over the workers. All the workers need to acquire the basic outline of the sciences and methods of operation required to run their industries according to Berkman. The worker's council in one firm federates with other worker's councils at the local, regional and national levels.

Berkman explains that incentives to workers are pretty irrelevant. When one sees a lazy worker it is evidence that they are being forced into a line of work that is not stimulating to them. Under anarchism everyone will have the ability to be educated and trained for a line of work of their own choosing, to explore the possibilities of their own intellects, unhindered by the need to survive by enrolling in wage slavery for some job you don't like.

When workers have a direct ability to manage their own affairs in voluntary cooperation with their fellows, it exercises their intellects and gives them self-respect. It is quite the opposite in capitalism of course where the worker is directed and bullied and squeezed by the boss day in and day out.. It was this idea that inspired the Russian revolution, Berkman observes. The Bolsheviks on the contrary believed in a hierarchal one party dictatorship but in the several months before November 1917 they embraced anarchist ideas and rode to power on them. However within six months the soviets (workers councils) of the Russian soldiers, workers and peasants were emasculated, becoming only tools of a centralized dictatorship. The spirit of voluntarism and sacrifice evaporated which had motivated many poor and miserable Russians to defend their cities against the White armies and help get the factories and farms moving again. The philosophy of the Bolsheviks, as Berkman quotes Bukharin, was to make socialists out of Russians by making them undergo compulsory labor and executing anyone who objected. Having no say in how their country was governed, Russian workers and peasants lost enthusiasm for work. Workers started to desert their factors for rural areas. Bolshevik hoodlums came around to villages and terrorized people and requisitioned entire villages' agricultural produce. Then famine came along. Bolshevik commissars received the best rations of all and lived in decent comfort while the rest of the population starved. No one gave more fuel to the fire of counterrevolution than the Bolsheviks' own policies.

Berkman was a very courageous man. He could have been a good soldier and kept quiet about what was going on in Russia and hoped that things would get better. The refuge he and Emma Goldman found in Russia after 1919 was now closed to them and for the rest of his life he lived in France on a very precarious passport, deported a number of times but always managing to get some strings pulled to get back in. He committed suicide in 1936, too soon for him to see the anarchist revolution in Spain.

His discussion of the bourgeois criminal justice system and the proper treatment of counterrevolutionaries is interesting and thoughtful.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
a smart and elucidating book everyone should read July 9 2010
By Akira Touya - Published on
Format: Paperback
i do hope this book has been translated to many other human languages for this book is truth in form of paper. this book will allow anyone and everyone to understand anarchism for what anarchism in a true manner is, not as news outlets and governments want anarchism to appear.
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Amazing Book! April 4 2006
By C - Published on
Format: Paperback
Hands down one the best books I've read about Anarchism. Very inspiring. Easy to read, hard to put down. Definitely check this book out!