on 25 December 2010
At least in Sweden, Daniel Guérin's book "Anarchism: From Theory to Practice" is *the* book everyone interested in anarchism reads. I know from personal experience than all teenagers who consider themselves anarchists read it, or at least used to read it when I was in high school. I also read it and found it interesting and well-written. I think it was the first political book I ever read!
Guérin was a French left-wing intellectual, and wrote several books that are relatively well-known in leftist circles, including "Fascism and Big Business" and "Negroes on the march". He belonged to the PSOP, a rather small socialist party in France, roughly similar to the Spanish POUM and the British ILP. Later, he became an anarchist of the "platformist" current, which emphasizes class struggle rather than alternative lifestyles, and calls for a centralized revolutionary organization, something many other anarchists consider anathema. (The founders of platformism were Peter Arshinov, Nestor Makhno and Ida Mett. See my review of Arshinov's book on the Makhnovists for a background.)
"Anarchism: From Theory to Practice" was first published in 1965. However, the anarchist political myths are still the same, and the book can therefore still be read by students of intellectual history (or budding anarchists, perhaps). Guérin describes the main anarchist thinkers of the 19th century: Proudhon, Bakunin, Stirner and Krapotkin. He attempts a kind of synthesis of their rather disparate ideas. Other anarchists mentioned include Malatesta and the perhaps lesser known Diego Abad de Santillan. The section on the history of anarchism concentrates on those anarchists that were active in the labour movement and called for class struggle, rather than on hippies, religious communes or terrorists. All the usual anarchist stories are included: the French CGT, the Spanish CNT and the Spanish revolution, Makhno, Kronstadt... There is also a chapter criticizing "workers self-management" in Algeria and Yugoslavia. Today, this part of the book looks curious, but back in 1965, many left-wingers probably saw these nations as some kind of libertarian alternatives to Soviet Communism. In Sweden, the more moderate wing of anarcho-syndicalism was certainly positive towards Tito's Yugoslavia.
While Guérin isn't entirely uncritical of the anarchist tradition, "Anarchism" is nevertheless a work of propaganda, and should be read with that in mind. I find it interesting for the reason I mentioned earlier: many people got their first positive exposure to anarchism from this book.
PS. Perhaps I must point out, that I'm not an anarchist...