What is Anarchism? by Alexander Berkman [Review]

As the introduction shows, Berkman was a tireless militant, always learning, always struggling. This is why he wrote What is Anarchism? which could just as easily be called How Do We Change the World? “Capitalism robs and exploits the whole of the people; the laws legalize and uphold this capitalist robbery; the government uses one part of the people to aid and protect the capitalists in robbing the whole of the people. The entire thing is kept up by educating the people to believe that capitalism is right, that the law is just, and that the government must be obeyed.

Do you see through the game now?” (p.17)

War, authority, politics and religion all get it in the same easy style - “The prophets of religion are dead and forgotten; there remain only the profits.” (p.62)

Berkman looks at the need for and the nature of revolution, which also ties in with his thoughts on the Bolsheviks and the need to explain the failure of the Russian revolution. “‘They are not against the big stick,’ as a clever friend of mine is wont to say; ‘they only want to be on the right end of it.’” (p116) This is not some academic point-scoring exercise, but simply asking what went wrong? Can we escape “new chains which are stronger than the old?”

What is Anarchism? has hardly been out of print since the nineteen twenties, but it is good to see it back with both halves (‘Now’ and ‘Anarchism’ aka ‘What is Communist Anarchism’ and ‘The ABC of Anarchism’) together. Read it. Chew it over, and if it inspires you to do your own version, that’s all to the good.

What is Anarchism? is available from the KSL.

What is Anarchism? Alexander Berkman. AK Press, 2003. ISBN 1-902593-70-7 £10/$13.95