Anarchism, as a body of thought, has been misinterpreted, misused and mystified by both those who agree or disagree with it, yet according to the authors of the recently published book Black Flame, despite the wide berth of anarchist ideas some important definitions and distinctions can be made. Using a fresh and thoughtful framework, Black Flame analyses the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism, producing a coherent and cohesive overview of tactics, strategies and praxis to both illustrate an anarchist history of struggle and revolution, and to push the current movement forward.
In the following interview, the authors of Black Flame share their own thoughts on the book, its genesis, and its usefulness in our current context. Read and enjoy!
AK PRESS: There has been quite a buzz around Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism. This is, am I right, volume one of what you call Counter-Power. Can you tell us a bit about what how people have responded to the book?
LUCIEN VAN DER WALT: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’re very happy with it. Of course, not everyone agrees with us on everything: that’s only to be expected, and anyway, we make it clear in the opening chapter that we want debate and welcome critique. Some folks, of course, don’t like the book at all—but no book can please everyone! Anyway, we want to stir things up a bit.
AK: Who is the book aimed at?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT: We have three main audiences in mind: activists on the left, university students and faculty, and the general reader interested in ideas, history and politics. The book is pretty much free of jargon, and tries to be as accessible as possible.
AK: What makes the book different to the existing general studies, such as Woodcock’s Anarchism?
Michael: Let’s start by making it quite clear that we greatly respect the earlier syntheses of writers like Woodcock, Joll, Marshall, Kedward—not to mention writers from within the movement, like Max Nettlau and Daniel Guérin. These inspired us, and helped lay the basis for our own project.
That said, one of the distinctive contributions of Black Flame is its global scope. We have set out to develop a genuinely global history of anarchism and syndicalism. In most studies, the focus has really been on parts of Western Europe, and to a lesser extent North America. In our project, we have placed movements in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australasia, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Latin America centre-stage.
This is a single global story we are telling, though: we are not setting up any arbitrary divisions, positing any sort of binary “Northern” versus “Southern” anarchism. There is one movement, although it varies according to local conditions and initiatives.
AK: Why does a global perspective matter?
Lucien: It has a number of concrete implications. For one thing, “Spanish exceptionalism”—the notion that Spain, alone, developed a significant anarchist mass, popular, movement, especially in the early 20th century —simply cannot be defended anymore. It only works if you compare Spain to a narrow range of West European countries, and even then it falters when you look at the strength of contemporaneous movements in France and Portugal.
And once you look globally, you find mass movements of comparable, sometimes even greater, influence in countries ranging from Argentina, to China, to Cuba, to Mexico, to Peru, to the Ukraine and so on. What gets a bit lost in studies that focus on Western Europe is that most of anarchist and syndicalist history took place elsewhere. In other words, you can’t understand anarchism unless you understand that much of its history was in the east and the south, not only in the north and the west.
Read more here.