DEMOCRACY & NATURE, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Issue 10) (1997)

Review of Anarchist Studies

Issues 2(2) (Autumn 1994) and 3(1) (Spring 1995)

Published by White Horse Press, Cambridge, U.K.

printable version



For those of us concerned with the articulation of a non-statist, non-capitalist alternative at an intellectual level, there is a lamentably small amount of anarchist material available.

The Marxists, with their affinity to the academic establishment, have always been well represented in the literature of the radical left, but in recent years the banner of anti-statism has been taken up by the pro-market New Right. Their literature is frequently referred to as itself “radical” and their vision, where it can be called that, is offered as the only alternative to an increasingly omnipresent and stultifying state bureaucracy. The rapidly expanding Green literature has gone some way to offsetting the shift to the Right, but although often anarchist in inspiration the concerns of environmentalism seem to increasingly mirror the agendas of the existing political spectrum. So a journal which is openly and self-consciously anarchist is welcome ― perhaps vital in a time of growing political disenchantment in the face of the very visible failures of the statist Left.

Although Anarchist Studies is now in its third year of publication, these are the first two issues I have seen. My aim in reviewing it is less to look at the individual articles in detail than to examine the journal as a whole. I hope in doing so I can do justice to Anarchist Studies, although I apologize if my “snap shot” does not reflect reality of Anarchist Studies over its lifespan.

The problem any intellectual anarchist journal has to contend with is not becoming immersed in the past ― as Nicholas Walter has pointed out. The anarchist literature of the past weighs heavily on the present and makes it hard for us to produce new literature for the future.

It can justifiably be suggested that if the wisdom of (among others) Ancient Greeks, Florentine patriots and German expatriates is still considered worth studying by scores of academics, why not the anarchists? Surely their insights are equally pertinent? More importantly for anarchists, are they not valuable because they are part of our “shared past”, and are therefore “the basis of our consciousness”, as Brian Morris has contended? To an extent, all the above is true. Equally, historical research can often reveal aspects of the past that are not only inspiring and challenging, but pertinent to the struggles of the present.

Nevertheless, all the above have to be qualified ― we are living in different times, with different struggles, and different enemies (or perhaps the same enemies in different guise). We need to confront and challenge the prevailing wisdom of the moment ― even if some of it may appear transitory and spurious (which is, perhaps, a good reason to challenge it). And we need to guard against insularity, though at the same time being careful not to disown our heritage and the many insights that the authoritarian tradition has seen fit to ignore or belittle.

There is an inevitably limited potential in looking to the struggles of the past to illuminate the present ― what happened  one hundred years ago can only offer so many pointers today. Attempts to draw parallels and inspiration, then, though worthy, are not always legitimate.  Is it really possible to argue, as Jon Bekken does in issue 3(1), that the “separation between the [anarchist] movement and its media is by no means inevitable” by looking at the history of the anarchist daily Chicagoer Arbeiter-Zeitung. Times change ― Rupert Murdoch, internet, global TV. If this excellent article serves as inspiration to those attempted to (re)form an anarchist press, then all well and good. But this is by no means inevitable or even possible.

So while these pieces are certainly (in their context) valuable, it is noticable that they represent a significant portion of the journal's copy. In each issue there are three “leading” articles ― that is, not review pieces (which I will look a later). In the issues I have three of these are concerned with some aspect of the classical anarchist movement ― two with theorists (Kroptokin and Malatesta), one with the first anarchist daily newspaper. Although these are all well-written and stimulating pieces, their preponderance generates the kind of historical feel that I would suggest anarchist journals may be prone to and should (unless that is their specific remit) avoid. Consequently, the  other articles dealing with sustainable development, a fascinating account of grassroots anarchists views on violence and social change, as well as an extended review by John Clark of Peter Marshall’s Nature Web, are unable to offer a sufficient counter-weight to offset this “feel”. Unfortunately, the inclusion of John Clark's review upsets the balance of the journals even more.

As well as the leading articles Anarchist Studies has a copious selection of book-reviews of one form or another ― both review articles, dealing with several books under a common theme, as well as more straightforward, and shorter, reviews of individual books. Again, these tend to be informative and well-written, and in many respects the book review section is the best part of journal. The problem is, again, balance. In all thirty eight books are reviewed in one form or another in the two copies I have, and this far outweighs anything else the journal carries. It almost seems as if it could function as an “Anarchist Review”.

I presume the problem is copy; if articles of sufficient quality were being written, they would presumably be included. The editorial mentions a need for material on anarchism and sexuality, post-modernity, green issues and the Third World among others, subjects that would be thought to inspire the wide-ranging interests of anarchists. It is unfortunate that there appear to be too few people willing or able to write on these issues.

The problems of lack of copy and the preponderance of book reviews lead to another. The journal appears to be aimed at academic institutions, and is printed and bound accordingly. However, this means it is expensive ― currently £6 ($9) an issue. This is a lot of money for an individual to spend, particularly for only three articles an issue, even with the excellent book review section. A corresponding more mainstream (not anarchist) journal is more likely to have at least twice this number, for the same price.

I find myself drawing the harsh conclusion that Anarchist Studies is expensive and lacking in content in some respects. This should not detract from the excellent work that appears in it, nor the evident commitment and dedication of the editors; it is hardly their fault if people do not respond to the challenge and produce sufficient copy. If the book review section appears to dominate that in part reflect what the editors have to work with and also, it has to be said, indicates the success of the book-review editor's work. Ultimately, if Anarchist Studies is to succeed it needs anarchists to write articles and subscribe to the journal (neither of which, I have to admit, I have done at present). It may be that the anarchist movement is unable or unwilling to take up the challenge of having its own intellectual journal, and if so it may have to close. This would be unfortunate because journals such as Anarchist Studies are sorely needed.