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4.0 out of 5 stars A Useful Study Of A Criminally Neglected Political Group, 2 Nov 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The Anarchists (Hardcover)
James Joll introduces and studies the historical development of libertarian ideas leading to the 'modern' anarchism of the 19th Century.
The book is divided into three sections, the first dealing with the more abstract and ancient origins of anarchism in Europe. The second section covers the creation of Anarchist ideology and theory in the 19th Century and the final section deals with the practical application of this theory.
The Book includes a good study of the anarchists in Spain as well as across Europe and the tragic downfall of much misrepresented political group. Joll studies the people who were anarchists and finds that only an extreme minority were the hardened nihilists they have been historically portrayed as.
The book finishes rather pessermistically saying that in the modern world anarchism is finished; although in the 1979 edition the preface mentions that anarchism is not dead (in reference to the 1968 Student revolution in Paris).
This book is both useful to historians and to anyone with an interest in the historical struggle for freedom.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Disorganised Politics, 26 Dec 2013
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
James Joll was an excellent historian whose book 'The Anarchists' traces the history of anarchism without getting bogged down in philosophical analysis. He does not ignore philosophical anarchism, but follows the movement from Godwin and Proudhon, through its development by Kropotkin and Bakunin, to its influence amongst working class movements in Europe and the United States. His conclusion is that anarchism has been an exercise in futility and represents generational outbursts of frustration with the reality of the world. The theory and practice of anarchism has 'provided a continuous and fundamental criticism of the modern concept of the state and have challenged the assumptions of nearly all schools of contemporary political thought. They have attacked, often in the most brutal and direct manner, the institutions of the established social and moral order'. Although futile, farcical and tragic, anarchist protest reflects 'a recurrent psychological need' which continues despite its failure as a serious political and social force.

Anarchism is a product of the impact of industrial society on the peasant or artisan society, thriving on the myth of the revolution of 1789. That revolution failed to produce the ideal society leading anarchists to attempt to abolish the industrialised state itself. Temperamentally, the anarchists were like heretics in Catholic Europe whose heresy was less important than the political consequences of their beliefs which identified the Church as corrupt, worldly and self-seeking. It was a revolt against control of the individual by those occupying positions of power. At the time of the Enlightenment Rousseau wrote, 'Man was born free and is everywhere in chains' which anarchists adopted within a rationalist framework and misguided belief in the goodness of mankind. William Godwin's 'Enquiry Into Political Justice' (1793) argued 'that justice and happiness are indissolubly linked' and that 'the practice of virtue is the true road to individual happiness'. This can be achieved because man is born without innate ideas which enables him to be moulded into the perfect social and political animal rather than the distorted product of a discreditable state. Mankind can flourish by voluntary cooperation rather than by clockwork uniformity.

Godwin argued government existed to suppress injustice against individuals and provide common defence against invaders. He applied the same principles to marriage which he considered subjected one personality to another, advocating that women be available to any man who wanted to have intercourse with her. He married Mary Wollstonecraft despite his opposition to the institution of marriage. He argued children would be brought up according to rational principles which is ironic given that he mistreated and hated his children claiming they were not his while the one who was not his, Fanny Imlay, committed suicide. People would not be educated but would educate themselves. Although 'Godwin unfolds a vision of man and society that remains the most complete statement of that type of anarchist doctrine which is based on unbounded confidence in the rational nature of man and the possibilities of his improvement' he consistently avoided any appeal to violence.

According to Kropotkin 'The Great French Revolution' was the source and origin of communist, anarchist and socialist conceptions. 'The blood they shed was shed for humanity' a comment which endorsed the murderous 'Republican marriages' and senseless killing of anyone perceived not to share the revolutionaries' perception of liberty, equality and fraternity. The French Revolution was, as Joll points out, 'an established myth which historians of various schools were busy interpreting for their own ends'. Yet neither decentralisation nor the abolition of property - both prerequisites of all anarchists conceptions of society - followed. This did not happen because of the revolt against the ideas of Jacques-Roux, Jean Varlet, Les Enrages and Babeuf's 'Conspiracy of Equals' all of whom were committed to violence to secure social revolution. In the early nineteenth century utopian socialists such as Saint-Simon, Fourier, Robert Owen relied on cooperation to restructure society, all failing miserably. Proudhon translated ideas into revolutionary sloganeering with "What Is Property?' and defining it as theft. Proudhon rejected reorganising society through using its existing components, arguing in favour of individual self-sufficiency and the abolition of the existing structure of credit and exchange. While seeking to discover the 'laws of society' Proudhon diverged from Marx stating 'after demolishing all a priori dogmatisms, do not let us dream of indoctrinating the people in our turn', which is precisely what Marx sought to do resulting in the schism with Bakunin.

Bakunin's passion for destruction was a consequence of his despotic mother and his sexual impotence. He advocated the virtue of violence for its own sake and spent his lifetime establishing imaginary secret societies based on strict control by himself and unconditional obedience. Baukinin argued the oppressed were naturally revolutionary and only required leadership to make them rise in revolt. He stated 'I detest communism because it is the negation of liberty'. He understood Marx and Engels demanded total commitment through centralised organisation in opposition to Bakunin's claim freedom could not emerge from an authoritarian organisation. Marx declared 'the proletariat can only act as a class by turning itself into a political party', attacking anarchism and moving the General Council to the United States. Bakunin retired from the fray but Italian followers took up the idea of 'propaganda by the deed'. Assassinations of various heads of state were based on anarchist symbolism and the misplaced belief that assassinations would result in the state withering away.

Kropotkin moved from conspirator and agitator to philosopher and prophet advocating repetitive illegality. The assassins were characteristically border-line insane, half delinquent and half fanatic. The Bolsheviks suppressed anarchism in Russia and attacked it during the Spanish civil war. Sorel's syndicalism survived in the minds of liberal academics unaffected by its violence. Anarchism flourishes in the minds of the young because of their naivety, lack of analytical intelligence and misunderstanding of human nature. Yesterday's anarchists are today's civil servants. Joll's book is as fresh as when he wrote it. Five stars.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful History of the Anarchist Movement, 4 Jan 2011
This review is from: The Anarchists (Paperback)
The Anarchists is a book concerned with the history of the Anarchist movement (particularly in Europe) and the particular Anarchist thinkers that have influenced it. Written by a known historian, James Joll, the book has the advantage of being free from propaganda or political motives - it is a book written by a historian, and it reads like one.
As a summary of the history of Anarchism, this is a priceless gem in anyone's library. Books covering this subject are rare, with perhaps "Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism" being the only decent alternative.

Apart from the anarchist thinkers and activists, a number of important figures are also mentioned in the book such as Garibaldi, Marx, Mazzini, Bismarck, Engels, Franco, Louis XVI, Mussolini, Napoleon III, Lenin: the list goes on and on. Many other events are also mentioned such as the French and Russian Revolutions, The Franco-Prussian war, the Spanish civil war, the revolutions of the 19th century, the two World Wars and the unifications of Germany and Italy.

Therefore, The Anarchists is a history book that covers the history of its subject in the shadow of broader historical periods and events. A general understanding of European history from late 18th to the middle of the 20th century would be extremely helpful, or even essential, in understanding Joll's work.
Have also in mind that this is not a work of political philosophy. If you are looking for a summary of anarchist ideas, this is not the book to look for.

This review refers to the second edition of the book.
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The Anarchists
The Anarchists by James Joll (Paperback - 21 Jun 1979)
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