Looking back at the back issues

It seemed a simple idea: look through back issues of the Kate Sharpley Library’s bulletin to find some interesting articles, and then encourage people to read them and think about anarchist history. The stuff is there, it’s just it got me thinking about history too.

I already knew I should mention tributes we printed to historians who influenced us like Antonio Téllez and Paul Avrich. [1] Then there’s the profile of Andre Prudhommeaux, back when we thought we could number the unknown anarchists we were commemorating (and is this the first piece Paul Sharkey translated?) [2]

What really struck me, though, were the patterns. There are lots of loose threads: ‘This pamphlet is coming soon,’and it never does, or ten years later. John Creaghe of Sheffield & Buenos Aires had to wait from 1993 to 2005.[3]

 Another recurring thread is the idea of showing what the Kate Sharpley Library holds. At first the hope was ‘for a partial list’ to be printed in issue 2 of the bulletin. [4] Later (moving with the times, that’s us) ‘We do have a working catalogue. […] We have toyed with the idea of putting it on the web.’ But we were painfully aware of the downside of that: ‘We haven’t because we don’t want to flatter to deceive. No one works full time in the KSL. It’s all volunteer work. We are wary of advertising ourselves too strongly until that changes. We can just about deal with the requests for help we get now (and we would stress the just about). Any increase would tip us over and disappoint people.’ [5] We know that failure is an option: Jessica Moran asked in her survey of anarchist libraries: ‘What happens to these collections when those currently involved in the projects no longer have the time, energy, or ability to be part of them? In darker moments, I despair.’ [6]

I think Stuart Christie’s Cienfuegos Press has been an important influence on the Kate Sharpley Library. Firstly, it shows what’s possible (and the Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review has influence long after it stops publishing). Secondly, the end of Cienfuegos shows that you can only do so much on a shoestring (no matter how much energy you have). Finally, and partly because the unpublished manuscripts of Cienfuegos formed an early part of the KSL, you’re aware that there’s always more to do.

Looking back at the back issues, I can feel the effort going on to not just ‘celebrate’ anarchism and anarchists but to worry at the ‘rough edges’ of what we know (or think we know). Here’s Barry Pateman talking about the dangers historians (‘however anarchist they are’) face: ‘The rough edges of anarchism, as well as the apparently smooth and straightforward areas, should be their territory; the contradictions that initially puzzle and the anomalies that are too worrying to ignore. Historians should be the irritatingly sober person at the party warning you not to get too pissed on the historical correctness of your ideas. The awkward truth is that mining seams of anarchist history purely in the light of our own present pre-occupations is at best ahistorical and at worst potentially dangerous for the movement. Such methodologies can easily dismiss the complexities of anarchism in favour of comforting and rather one-dimensional interpretations. They can just as easily lead us to draw wrong conclusions about what we are doing now and how we go forward because we may have drawn erroneous or simplistic conclusions about both what people believed and how their actions reflected that belief.’ [7]

So, if you think the next issue is late, thin, or it all starts to look a bit too ‘work in progress’; dig out your back issues, or go and download them. You might find your own loose thread to pull at (gently).


1, ‘Antonio Téllez Solà, the Herodotus of the anti-Franco maquis’ by Stuart Christie in KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No. 42, (May 2005) https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/m37qpw and ‘Paul Avrich 1931-2006: a historian who listened to anarchist voices’ in KSL No. 46-47, (July 2006) https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/2z358c
2, Andre Prudhommeaux - Profile By Charles Jacquier (Forgotten anarchists No.1) in KSL No. 6, (September 1996) https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/w6mb32
3, Mentioned as ‘planned’ in KSL No. 4 (1993) https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/s1rpcs
4, ‘Library news’ in KSL No. 1 [1991] https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/59zwr2
5, ‘Twenty-Five Years of the Kate Sharpley Library!’ in KSL No. 40, (November 2004) https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/wm38tp
6, ‘To Spread the Revolution: Anarchist Archives and Libraries’ in KSL No. 86-87, May 2016 https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/7sqwg0.  Originally published in Informed Agitation: Library and Information Skills in Social Justice Movements and Beyond, edited by Melissa Morrone. (pages 173-184) Sacramento, California : Library Juice Press, 2014. ISBN 9781936117871.
7, ‘Anarchist History: confessions of an awkward pupil’ by Barry Pateman in KSL No. 84, October 2015 https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/02v7v0