Anarchism for beginners by Marcos Mayer and Sanyu [Review]

I have long been a fan of the For beginners series, right back to the first one published in the UK by Ruis on Marx. Like that one, this volume started out as a Spanish language book, this time originating in Argentina. The basic format is retained with big illustrations and text. However this one seems a more haphazard volume. There is no clear structure to the text and it meanders through anarchist theorists and history, giving prominence to 6 of the Eltzbacher 7: Godwin, Proudhon, Stirner, Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Tolstoy (Tucker is omitted) with other featured activists / theorists including Malatesta, Goldman and Santillan. Being of Argentine origin, it has a fair amount about anarchism in South America but nothing in Africa or Asia. Historically it presents anarchism as being a working class movement prior to the second world war but anything more recent concentrates primarily on the more artistic side of things, from Dada through Situationism to Punk with a final nod to the environmental movement and Murray Bookchin.

The text is full of factual howlers, ranging from The French Revolution happening in 1748 (p.10) to the claim that Paolo Freire founded the “famous and questionable” (sic) Summerhill School (P119). The index is poor - the item on the French Revolution isn’t included and there’s also an entry for “Pilles Deleuze” (fortunately the text gets his first name right.) One of the most important roles of an introductory text is open up the subject to interested readers, but there’s no guide to further reading, no source material listed. The text also has suffered in translation, it should really have been properly sub-edited. I’m even not over enthusiastic about the quality of the illustrations, much preferring the style of artists such as Borin van Loon (who has illustrated other volumes in the series.)(Now being replaced by the “Introducing” format.)

This book has little to recommend it. If you want a graphical introduction to the subject I’d suggest you getting Clifford Harper’s “Anarchy - a Graphical guide”, if you can find a copy. (AK Press are due to publish a much revised and expanded edition some time in 2010 I understand.)

Mayer, Marcos (author) and Sanyu (Illustrator) “Anarchism for beginners”. For beginners, Danbury CA, USA. 2008. Pbk 172pp. Illus, index. ISBN 978-1-934389-32-4 RRP $14.95 (US) / $16.95 (Can) / £8.95 (UK)