Mini-reviews: Biographies

The J. Abrams Book: the life and work of an exceptional personality

Jack Abrams was part of the New York Frayhayt group (with Mollie Steimer and others) and deported to Soviet Russia for protesting against intervention. The bulk of the book (and of great value) are his autobiographical writings. They cover his childhood and first years in the revolutionary movement in Russia, and his disillusion with the bolshevik system after his forced return. A series of tributes throw light on his life in exile in Mexico. Abrams was generous enough to help even Leon Trotsky after his fall from power, but also willing to point out where they differed ‘Comrade Trotsky[…] I agree with what you say about your former comrades when you condemn them. However, here’s where we part ways. I don’t agree that if you were in Stalin’s place, you would be better. Dictatorship has its own logic; perhaps you would be even worse.’ [p63]

First published just after his death, Ruth Murphy’s translation from the Yiddish means this can (and should) be much more widely read.

301 pages ISBN 9780997819007

D. Hunter Chav solidarity

Parts of it are hard to read (because they’re grim, not because they’re incomprehensible): ‘We found ways to make it clear that, if we were gonna be fucked with, we would not provide the lubricant.’ [p28] But it’s as thoughtful as it is angry: ‘All of this book, all of these essays are an attempt to communicate the idea that the people I grew up with are complicated and contradictory fuckers, with rich inner lives, as human as any other.’ [p239] It’s also a (self-)criticism of political movements: ‘All the criticism that I have of these movements and all the vitriol that might pour out, I also aim at myself’. But there’s no holding back: movements aiming at liberation and transformation ‘are as diverse as an E.ON executives meeting, and as strategically coherent as a year 5 trip to Cadbury’s World.’ [p106-7] That’s from the chapter ‘Movements with false teeth’ which isn’t, as I was expecting, about making room for older comrades.

No ISBN, Buy from

On the way to Magadan by Ihar Alinevich is a first-person account of the repression of the anarchist movement in Belarus. In part, it stands in the tradition of prison literature (‘Magadan’ is a reference to the Stalinist Gulag). Yet it’s also completely modern, containing among the prison stories an account of working on a cruise ship and the ‘caste system’ used to control the workers there.
Anarchist Black Cross Belarus, 2014 (188 pages, no ISBN)

Guy Bowman

We have recently received Mal Function’s pamphlet Who is Guy Bowman, this Frenchman with an English name? : a modest report on the problems encountered when answering a seemingly simple question. He’s on record, mainly for his syndicalist activities, only from 1906-1916. As Mal says ‘the search continues.’

And from the postbag

… I have delayed replying to you because I wanted to finish reading the May Picqueray book – wow! To say I thoroughly enjoyed it, is an understatement. It was so vibrant I almost felt she was sat in the same room as me. An absolutely fascinating life & I think it is a credit to the translator, Paul Sharkey on his marvellous work. Often the translators are forgotten or remain in the shadows.

The book was never dull. It was full of fascination & cast light on the numerous personalities that she encountered in a very full and tremendously active life.

The appendix was particularly useful. After reading the final page, my senses were overwhelmed with a flood of admiration for May herself, for the translator & for AK/KSL for publishing it. What a wonderful, wonderful book. It absolutely held your attention & it has centrally enriched me…

Rick Shaw


This issue of the bulletin produced in January 2020. Issue 100! Forty years of the Kate Sharpley Library! 100 years since Albert Meltzer was born!

It’s been a long while coming and could have had even more pages. We hope you find it interesting. Please write in with your feedback.

KSL collective

[Thanks to Rick Shaw for his letter. The other reviews are anonymous.]