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Steven H Propp
- Published on Amazon.com
George Woodcock (1912-1995) was a Canadian anarchist thinker, essayist and literary critic. This 1962 book was the first post-War history of anarchism. He wrote in the Prologue, "Few doctrines or movements have been so confusedly understood in the public mind, and few have presented in their own variety of approach so much excuse for confusion. That is why, before beginning to trace the actual historical course of anarchism, as a theory and a movement, I start with a chapter of definition. What is anarchism? And what is it not?"
He says that all anarchists would accept the proposition that "man naturally contains within him all the attributes which make him capable of living in freedom and social concord... clearly those who attempt to impose man-made laws.. are the real enemies of society, and the anarchist who rebels against them, even to the extent of violence and destruction, is not antisocial after all." (Pg. 22-23)
He observes that "After (Peter) Kropotkin, (William) Godwin became recognized by the more intellectual anarchists as one of their predecessors, but his influence, which was potent, has mostly lain elsewhere." (Pg. 60) Godwin was, however, one of the first to describe clearly the link between property and power "which has made anarchists enemies of capitalism as well as of the state." (Pg. 75) Michael Bakunin, on the other hand, "failed, to begin, where most of the great anarchists have succeeded---as a writer." (Pg. 146) Bakunin is the anarchist who is associated with violence, when in books such as his 'Principles of Revolution' he stated that the methods to be utilized were "extremely varied---poison, the knife, the rope, etc." (Pg. 173)
Woodcock laments the "rather pitiful efforts" of anarchists in the late 19th century, although he suggests that this "meagerness" was in part attributable to "a persistent effort on the part of the anarchists to infiltrate the congresses of the Second International, which the social democrats were then in the process of establishing." (Pg. 261) He observes that a "specifically anarchist movement" did not even appear in Russia until the middle of the 1890's." (Pg. 399)
About the turning of French anarchists of the 1890s to violence, Woodcock notes soberly that "their shadows walk darkly beside any historian of anarchism; he cannot dismiss them as intruders on the road. By the right of tragedy alone they deserve their place." (Pg. 307) More optimistically, he notes that all Anarchism has "a moral-religious element which distinguishes it from ordinary political movements," and that this tendency is "far more strongly developed in Spain than elsewhere." (Pg. 382)
Turning at last to Latin America, Northern Europe, Britain, and the United States, he observes happily that "Anarchism has thriven best in lands of the sun, where it is easy to dream of golden ages of ease and simplicity, yet where the clear light also heightens the shadows of existing misery." (Pg. 425) Nevertheless, English anarchism has never been anything else than a "chorus of voices crying in the wilderness, though some of the voices have been remarkable." (Pg. 439)
In the final chapter, he poses the questions, Why did the movement founded by Bakunin fail? and "Is there any reason why the anarchist idea... should survive it?" (Pg. 469) To this end, he suggests that "to acknowledge the existence and the overbearing force of the movement toward universal centralization... is not to accept it. If human values are to survive, a counterideal must be posed..." (Pg. 475)
Woodcock's excellent book is essential reading for anyone interested in anarchism.