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Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism Paperback – 19 Nov 2007
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'Massive, scholarly, genuinely internationalist and highly enjoyable.’ David Widgery, Observer
'An exhaustive and authoritative study which is bound to become the standard account.’ John Gray, The Times
'Indispensable.' Richard Boston, Guardian
'This is the most comprehensive account of anarchist thought ever written. Marshall's knowledge is formidable and his enthusiasm engaging.' J.P. Pick, Scotsman
'Large, labyrinthine, tentative: for me these are all adjectives of praise when applied to works of history, and Demanding the Impossible meets all of them.’ George Woodcock, Independent
About the Author
Peter Marshall is a historian, philosopher, biographer and travel writer. He has written fifteen books, has taught at several British universities and occasionally works in broadcasting. He lives in Devon.
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An ‘easy’ read – in that it is so well structured and brilliantly written – but covering some ‘difficult’ subjects, it is well worth taking your time over this book, but I do have one warning to any potential reader: try to guard against being overwhelmed! Practically every page – and there are nearly 800 of them – contains pertinent references to other authors, articles, pamphlets, books, and events, and if you tried to track them all, let alone follow them, you’ll be lucky to remain sane. Instead, what this book can really do for the interested reader is to guide them to specific areas that they may want to develop in more detail in the future, and hopefully then provide a wider framework within which to gain insight into how these areas fit together under the banner of modern anarchism.
For what it does, it is very good. But what it does is provide a broad-ranging survey of everybody who has a vaguely anti-authoritarian impulse. And so it includes people who upheld class society, who support the state and capitalism, whose politics are really just moralistic and focussed on living 'better' lives rather than changing society, etc.
If you are looking for a history of anarchism, rather than a mismatch of things vaguely enthused with a libertarian spirit (which is that Demanding the Impossible offers), then I highly recommend Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism. This book (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Black-Flame-Revolutionary-Syndicalism-Counter-Power/dp/190485916X) charts anarchism as a coherent political and economic movement originating from within the First International, as well as challenging the view that it was only in Spain that anarchism flourished.
However, this book is good and I found it very interesting, but really its definition of anarchism is one that renders the word practically meaningless - much to the frustration of anarchists like myself.
Given its scope, it's not surprising that this is a long book. Nonetheless, Peter Marshall succinctly summarises the theories of the great anarchist thinkers, and puts them in the context of the times in which they were formulated. In perhaps typical anarchistic fashion, Marshall's own views are never far from the surface as he points out what he sees as the flaws within different strands of anarchist thought. For example, he says of Kropotkin, "He was right to see anarchy is natural order and that harmony is a law of nature, but he erred by talking of nature as if it were a kind of providence." Marshall may be right and Kropotkin wrong, or vice versa (or both of them may be wrong!), but the point is that the book is as much an invitation to debate as it as a dry historical account of anarchistic theory. The result is a lively text that maintains interest throughout.
The book looks at theory, the contribution of individuals and anarchism in different countries in turn, so there is some inevitable overlap and repetition. Bakunin, for example, turns up in the section on theory, as a major figure and, given his peripatetic career as a revolutionary, also appears in the accounts of anarchism in several countries. The good thing about this approach is that this is a book that can be dipped into as well as read through. All in all, this was a good introduction to anarchism and the fierce debates that it always seems to engender.
Every era of history and every prominent figure of anarchism is here (even if they didn't describe themselves as anarchist). The subject is so broad ranging, that this book stands as a great history book, as well as a philosophical work. Keeping alive an idea that has never been allowed, but will never go away.
An excellent book for anybody interested in politics; history; philosophy; psychology and human beings in general.
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Just to give you an example at page 299 it examines Bakunin's statement of "everyone shall work, and everyone...Read more