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Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism (Counter-Power): 1 Paperback – 4 Mar 2009

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Paperback: 500 pages
  • Publisher: AK Press (4 Mar. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 190485916X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1904859161
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 2.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 709,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


This highly worthwhile book represents the fruit of considerable scholarship and deep reflection. The authors have done a remarkable job in drawing together a vast international body of literature. They show convincingly that anarchism and syndicalism were far more significant political forces in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century world than historians have generally given them credit for. They provide excellent accounts of the movement's global political reach, supported by an impressive knowledge of disparate literatures. Schmidt and van der Walt also make a powerful and lucidly written case for anarchism as a serious and coherent political philosophy. --Jonathan Hyslop, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

This book fulfills a daunting task. Covering anarchism in all parts of the world and emphatically tying it to class struggle, the authors present a highly original and challenging account of the movement, its actions and ideas. This work is a must for everybody interested in nonauthoritarian social movements. --Bert Altena, Rotterdam University

A well-thought out and nuanced study of the intellectual, political, and social history of anarchism. --Steven Hirsch, University of Pittsburgh

About the Author

Michael Schmidt is a Johannesburg-based investigative journalist and journalism trainer, with more than twenty years experience in the field as a reporter for South Africa's leading newspapers including the Sunday Times and ThisDay, and as a co-editor of the anarchist news and analysis website anarkismo.net. A seasoned activist, his work has taken him to Chiapas, to Guatemala during the civil war, to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Rwanda, Darfur, Lebanon, and beyond. Lucien van der Walt is based at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where he teaches in development, economic sociology, and labor studies. His recently completed PhD on the history of anarchism and syndicalism in early twentieth-century South Africa was awarded the prestigious Labor History international prize for the best doctoral thesis of 2007. He has written and lectured widely on contemporary working-class struggles and the relationship between race and class, and, together with Steven Hirsch, he is the editor of the forthcoming volume, Anarchism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940 (Brill 2009).

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Format: Paperback
Black Flame is an interesting work, particularly in this time where most (new) works on 'anarchism' focus on individual actions or identity politics. Its main thesis is that anarchism is not as disjoint and incoherent as has been generally supposed by mainstream political science and even many of its adherents. Instead of defining the term by characteristics such as opposition to the state, emphasis on personal liberty or even the belief that liberty and equity are vital to each other, a very convincing case is built for defining it in terms of the social movement that championed it from the 1840s on. This historical definition is then used to show various facets of both the history of that movement and the political theory that can be said to underpin it.

It's not entirely flawless, though. Some of the choices of what belongs to the "broad anarchist tradition" feel rather arbitrary: the exclusion of Proudhon's mutualist disciples from anarchist canon, but inclusion of Daniel De Leon and his disciples instead seems a particularly strange choice. Those are minor nitpicks, however. The basic idea is strongly presented, and some disagreement is always to be expected. For anyone interested in the historical significance of anarchism, and the basic political positions of the historic anarchist movement, this book is a must-have.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9486a1e0) out of 5 stars 5 reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x942dcc24) out of 5 stars Suprised that there isn't already a review... 17 Mar. 2011
By G.E. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I'm suprised that there isn't already a review for this work, as I consider it to be one of the most important anarchist writings in the last 50 years. Maybe even THE most important...that's how much of an impact it had on me when I initially read it. If you're tired of reading turgid anarchist prose from the turn of the 20th century, you'd do well to check this out.

The book (the first in a series of two) seeks to trace the general theoretical trajectory of anarchism and syndicalism. The authors classify anarchism into two camps: insurrectionary anarchism and "mass struggle" anarchism (I believe that's how they phrased it, it's been a while since I've read the text). Insurrectionary anarchism was primarily conceived by Luigi Galleani, an Italian militant who was hounded by the authorities for most of his life, and who's followers commited multiple terrorist actions in the United States (Sacco and Vanzetti were followers of Galleani). The primary belief of these anarchists was that revolution could be inspired & emboldened within the people by attacks on capital and state power (it's worth noting here that the "neo-insurrectionary" movement that seems to be en vogue with some anarchists today is not directly related to the propaganda-of-the-beliefs of paleo-insurrectionists like Galleani and Most. It's much more philosophically-based...see Tiqqun, Alfredo Bonanno and The Coming Insurrection for more info). Insurrectionary anarchists were very suspicious of unions, viewing them as just another way that power/capital subverted struggle (interestingly enough, this point is also shared with the left communist current within Marxism). "Mass struggle anarchists" on the other hand supported working within the trade union structure...these are the people commonly known as "anarcho-syndicalists". The authors also include non-anarchist syndicalists like Bill Haywood, James Connolly and Daniel DeLeon in the "broad anarchist tradition". Personally I think that the authors may be stretching a little bit on this point...it's unlikely that these men would accept the "anarchist" label at all, and in fact people belonging to Haywood's Marxist tendency within the IWW wrote attacks on anarchists. You can't just throw historical figures into your camp because you think they may have been solid individuals.

The real strength of this work, IMO, is that it gives a comprehensive view of how significant the anti-authoritarian labor movement was over the course of history. And indeed it was significant: as the authors point out, even Marxist historians like Eric Hobsbawm conceed that the dominant socialist current in the later years of the 19th century/early years of the 20th century was revolutionary syndicalism. This was later crippled by aggressive persecution both in capitalist states (such as the Palmer Raids in the USA) and socialist states like the USSR...anarchists and syndicalists faced a significant degree of persecution under Lenin, only to be totally liquidated under Stalin. Cuba had a small-but-significant syndicalist movement that was also liquidated under Castro. Anarchism and revolutionary syndicalism have been seen as threats to different ideological structures simply because the anti-authoritarian core of their ideologies makes them difficult to control, whether by capitalist political parties or socialist vanguard parties. The belief commonly expressed by some (less sophisticated) Marxists that anarchism 1) has no roots in the working class, and 2) is a Euro-centric movement with no pull in the colonial world is also critiqued by the authors, who do those seeking to understand the anarchist movement by providing examples of anti-authoritarian labor movements in places like Mexico, China, Korea, Cuba and The Phillipines, and giving plenty of examples related to the class nature of groups like the FAU in Germany and the CNT in Spain. The international syndicalist movement has remained stagnant for a long time in the modern era, often degenerating into a shadow of it's former self...the IWW in particular is especially depressing, having gone from an aggressive pro-working class organization that was heavily prosecuted to what almost amounts to a historical re-enactment society.

One thing that's important to note: the authors write from a very specific ideological perspective, and their commentary can hardly be considered non-biased. They argue in the book for a Platformist strategy, a position that has historically been controversial amoung anarchists, with even prominent anarcho-syndicalists like Rudolf Rocker being in opposition. The author's defense basically amounts to: "they just didn't understand it!" Keep this in mind when reading the book. The authors take the position that people like Proudhon, Tolstoy and Tucker have nothing to do with the anarchist tendency. This may be easier to argue with the latter two, but totally ex-communicating Proudhon from anarchism seems like a fool's errand. It's another example of the authors picking and choosing who they want in the anarchist camp: they'll throw out the man who coined the term "anarchist", had a big impact on French syndicalism, and whom every anarchist from Bakunin to Goldman credited for starting the tendency, yet they'll "recruit" avowed Marxists like Haywood into their tendency. To be sure, I mostly agree with their point that the anarchist movement started at around the First International, but I hardly think that you can drop Proudhon from the discourse.

Anyway, this book is well-worth your time if you're even slightly interested in the subject matter. The next book called "Global Fire" is going to be about the history of the anarchist movement, but who knows when that's coming out.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x942dcc78) out of 5 stars Formless into Form 2 Dec. 2011
By Plumber - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Without a doubt, Black Flame is the most important book to come out on this subject in 50 years! This book sits on the same shelf as "Anarcho-Syndicalism"(Rudolf Rocker) and "God and the State" (Michael Bakunin). This book is not only about the concrete history of Anarchism, it is also an empirical investigation of political coherency. On one hand the authors use extensive research to form a common thread from Bakunin onward. Then they use that data to draw important conclusions about the labor and social movements that Anarchism encompassed. The amount of work that went into researching and assembling this information should compel people to take a close at Black Flame.

In addition to the extensive research that this book exudes, the authors are able to put this information in a form that is highly accessible. The murky waters of Anarchism can sometimes be hard to navigate and the authors do a good job of parting the sea. From the First International to the Russia Revolution to the CNT, a commonality is clearly articulated. Black Flame contextualizes Anarchism in the class struggle through the past 170 years. This puts form into a sometimes mysteriously amorphous philosophy, which may be its greatest attribute.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x941cd0cc) out of 5 stars Excellent 10 Dec. 2012
By Jakob - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For anyone interested in a clear understanding of what anarchism is and what it means today, this is the book to go to. The book provides an excellent overview of anarchist thought and history. Although Ive read countless books on anarchism, this is undoubtedly the clearest and most engaging book Ive encountered, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in what anarchism is and what it was. Dont waste your time with the other long histories or difficult philosophical texts, just spend some time getting through this book and you will appreciate that you did.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x941cd0b4) out of 5 stars A good summary on the history of class-struggle anarchism 29 April 2012
By Kissy Kissems! - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was a pretty good book that made excellent arguments against some of the theories within classical marxism and leninism. It also gave a comprehensive history of the "broad anarchist tradition" that spanned across all livable continents. Many books on anarchism tend to focus on Europe the United States, but this book gave some interesting facts about anarchism in China, Japan, Korea, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Australia and so on. One thing I didn't like about it, however, was how it threw thinkers like Proudhon out of the "broad anarchist tradition," yet included socialist party members like Connolly and DeLeon. Connolly and DeLeon were not anarchists.
HASH(0x941cd480) out of 5 stars Four Stars 16 Mar. 2016
By Michael L. Mcclanahan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very informative on the foundations of anarchy, its beliefs and politics.
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