Anarchism by Daniel Guérin, introduction by Noam Chomsky [Review]

This book is well worth reading, probably the best of the books titled Anarchy or Anarchism. As the author claims in the preface "the reader will be presented in turn with the main constructive themes of anarchism and not with personalities." In fact the book is really in two main parts, the first a study of the constructive themes, the theory and basis of anarchism. He quotes directly from Proudhon, Bakunin, Stirner, Malatesta, Voline and Santillan. The second the practice: the Russian Revolution 1917, Italy after 1918, the Spanish Revolution 1936.

The book starts with the statement that all anarchists are socialists but all socialists are not anarchists. Guérin himself obviously prefers the term libertarian socialist to anarchist as far more self-explanatory. He keeps the issues clear and unmuddled, by concentrating on the main themes and not getting sidetracked by the personalities thus the message comes across clearly. One is always aware the basic choice is Libertarian or Authoritarian. One the status quo, the other the alternative.


Anarchism makes many points that are important in today's struggle but above all the one that comes over clearer than the others is the importance of remembering the socialist part of anarchism. The necessity of being active within the class struggle, within the area now covered by the trade unions and the CP. In a very powerfully argued section of the book, Guérin points out that when first divorced from the working class, anarchism split into cliques and even accused Bakunin of having been "too coloured by Marxism." He shows clearly that when anarchism has been involved with the mass working class movements, its words and theory have been accepted and always led into a mass upsurge of revolutionary spirit. However today the fact is that all trade unions represent authoritarian organisation; the factory worker of today is faced by authoritarian organisation at every turn, the firm, the union, the CP etc. No alternative is in sight. The book is involved throughout with workers' control (management/councils).

There is no doubt that today workers' participation is a popular issue, the Labour Party, the Liberal Party, etc. all give it lip service, but without a libertarian structure, the authoritarian will corrupt even workers' control until it is no more revolutionary than the annual wage demand and strike.

In case I have given a too one-sided look at Guérin's book, it is worth saying he has a constructive look at Stirner, putting him in context. Stirner does not go uncriticised for his excesses, but he shows Stirner to be the great thinker he undoubtedly was, and sums Stirner up by saying "his entire work was a search for a synthesis, or rather a 'equilibrium' between concern for the individual and the interest of society, between individual power and collective power".

His ending on workers' control in Algeria and Yugoslavia was I thought optimistic and unconvincing.

As an introduction to anarchism, there is in my opinion no better book; as a guide or a book to remind you of the basics it is well worth the effort of reading.

From: Anarchy #12 [ie London, Anarchy second series, 1970s].