The Floodgates of Anarchy by Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer : some thoughts

Any work on anarchism must respond to a century-plus of arguments and myths. The Floodgates of Anarchy was written when the Vietnam war and Communist Party rule were current facts, not historical events. Some of the arguments here, like debunking the media notion that the struggles of the 1960’s were purely a ‘youth revolt’, are of their time. But challenging the myth that anarchists are ‘enemies of society’ is still necessary.

The strength of Floodgates is that it talks about anarchism as a current movement: ‘If nowadays we have a little more to lose than mere chains, so much the more reason for making sure of victory.’ [p19] If you want to discuss anarchism and society now, you might realise that some things have changed since 1970. But not everything: ‘When the ambitious have power, they preach self-sacrifice by others.’ [p32] Some lines, for example, ‘The theme of politics is always the same – that one must work harder and get less’ [p76] could have been written yesterday. Economics is used to make choices appear natural and change (or at least change for the better) unthinkable. This book is valuable for attacking such notions.

Floodgates of Anarchy also asks what anarchists should do. Christie and Meltzer stood in the mainstream tradition of class struggle anarchism. For them, ‘class struggle implies not merely collective action but the breaking down of that sequence of events ingrained in our society as command-and-obey.’ [p15] They emphasise that social change is the result of social conflict: ‘It is not possible for the revolutionary to shift people from deliberately induced apathy, within a framework acceptable to the Metropolitan Police or the capitalist press. […] Nor can one change the economic basis of society to approving nods from the judiciary.’ [p112] Inevitably the issue of violence arises. Christie and Meltzer clearly point out that the true question is often not violence but legitimacy: ‘they deplore the type of violence that the State deplores and applaud the type of violence that the State practices.’ [p111]

Floodgates reflects the divide between class struggle anarchists and ‘militant liberals’. ‘It is absurd to speak of anarchism as a doctrine of love, non-violence, even of freedom. This is a description of the society at which we are aiming […] the assertion of these ideas as high ideals but devoid of practicality for lack of economic change in society, or used as a criterion by which to reform present institutions, we have here described as militant liberalism.’ [p103] The terminology does not matter as much as the widely differing principles and practice. Christie and Meltzer opposed the idealising view that ‘there must be a revolution in men’s minds before there could be a change in society.’ [p128] This ‘sectarian’ desire to distinguish themselves from ‘liberals’ or ‘perfectionists’, to have anarchism as a program for action, not a safe ideal, is possibly the most important idea in the book. As Phil Ruff says in The Albert Memorial ‘it was the discovery of class struggle anarchism through the ‘sectarianism’ of Black Flag under Albert’s editorship that convinced so many anarchists of my own and subsequent generations to become active in the movement.’

The Floodgates of Anarchy by Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer

Originally published by Kahn & Averill, 1970. Republished PM Press, 2010. ISBN 9781604861051. The Floodgates of Anarchy and the Spanish translation, Anarquismo y lucha de clases, are available on Kindle from Christiebooks.