Anarchism: Arguments for and against [2023, review]

Most political reformers have some part of the unfree system they wish to abolish. Republicans would abolish the Monarchy, Secularists would abolish or disestablish the Church; Socialists would, or used to want to, abolish the apparatus of exploitation; Pacifists would abolish the Army. Anarchism is unique in wishing to abolish all. The only true definition of an Anarchist is one who believes it is desirable to abolish all; who believes it possible to abolish all, the sooner the better; and who works to bring such abolition about.’ [p.42-3]

Albert Meltzer spent his whole life working in the anarchist movement, and arguing for anarchism in books, papers, pamphlets and in person. This book, when first published, drew on 45 years of activism: ‘First published in 1981, Anarchism: Arguments for and against is the most reprinted of Albert’s writings. Albert’s first written response to an objector came in War Commentary in May 1944. The roots of this text lie in his 1968 pamphlet Aims and principles of Anarchism: an essay at defining what the Anarchist Movement is and how wide a field it covers, the book he co-wrote with Stuart Christie The Floodgates of Anarchy (published in 1970) and a series of articles on ‘objections to Anarchism’ in Black Flag in the early seventies.’ [p.3, KSL intro]

This is a reprint of the final version published after Albert’s death. Thankfully, Active were able to get hold of those files. This edition has no contents page and I miss the cartoons from earlier ones. But it is ridiculously cheap, so there’s no financial obstacle to reading it. The cover shows Albert pecking away at a manual typewriter, but the text feels painfully up to date:

It may be that in some technological society of the future, run by the State, in a sort of boss utopia, the working class will be displaced as a productive class.’ Reduced … ‘to turners of switches and openers of the scientists’ doors; to secretaries and receptionists; to janitors and clerks; to domestic servants of the rich. Anarcho-syndicalists think such a society must be resisted. ’ [p.59-60] It’s good to have this classic back in print.

Anarchism: Arguments for and against by Albert Meltzer. Active Distribution, 2023. £2 ISBN 9781914567223