Journal: June 7, 2018

“The anarchist rainbow is too broad, anarchism includes elements too disparate for anyone to unite them. There are not two anarchists worthy of the name — among those who think for themselves — who have exactly the same conception.” — Ferdinand Fortin, “Anarchist Unity or Linkage?” (1934)

A THOUGHT ON THE “ANARCHISTIC COUNTERCURRENT”: Anarchism develops internally by constantly “anarchizing,” while many of the practical projects of anarchists are driven by entirely different concerns—or kinds of concern—which almost inevitably draw our attention aware from the “beautiful ideal” of anarchy. So anarchism survives and thrives by finding a space in and among a variety of struggles—and a balance with them—rather than by attempting to be the vehicle for all kinds of struggle and improvement. This has been recognized, more or less clearly, by anarchists right in what we think of as the core of “classical” anarchism, but the obvious difficulties of making it the core of anarchist theory have meant that this most anarchistic form of anarchism has remained largely potential.

GOOD INTENTIONS: I had intended to do these journal posts considerably more regularly, but the truth is that—between a week-long research trip, all of the madness associated with getting to book projects to the point where they could be announced for publication and an injury that has disrupted my daily routine for the last ten days or so—it’s been a while since I’ve hard a very regular schedule. And I don’t know that I expect that to change, particularly as one of my goals is to get a much earlier start on the manuscripts that I’ll be finishing up in the fall. But I’ve had a burst of energy and a bit of luck lately, so I should probably at least take this opportunity to sketch out some of what is going on.

A QUERY: I’m curious if I know folks would be interested in attempting a kind of continuation of Faure’s Anarchist Encyclopedia project, and particularly in attempting some short, regular contributions on the miscellaneous topics that tended to make up so much of most of the radical encyclopedias. There‘s a genre of pithy, suggestive entries—beyond the “hot take” level, but not really essays—that seem to work well and remain provocative, particularly when more than one has been contributed.

BOOKS: There is some work yet to do before publication, but I’ve done what is necessary to be pretty sure that both a new edition of Max Nettlau’s Short History of Anarchy and a first collection of his writings on the progress of the anarchist movement—New Fields: Early Reflections on Anarchism—will see publication sometime early in 2019. The collection was one of those project that came apart at the last minute, but then rapidly came together again. I’m quite happy with the result, both in terms of the articles collected and with the framing that I’ve given them. In fact, the approach I took there marks a new kind of clarity for me about what it is that I want the anthologies I’m assembling to do, what kind of tools I want them to be. More about that soon, but for now it’s worth mentioning that the lessons learned working on New Fields have cleared away most of the mental obstacles I’ve been wrestling with regarding Anarchist Beginnings: Declarations and Professions of Faith and Konigstein, Translated: Prison Writings of Ravachol. So those ought to be the next two projects off the desk.

PROJECTS: With the first Anarchist Beginnings volume nearing completion, I’ve been thinking about whether or not it should be the last. You can read my latest thoughts in the new “Beginnings” section on the project page. And I’ve been piling up smaller projects all around it, both to strengthen the digital archive and to explore the possibilities for print. For example, I’ve archived most of “The Why I Ams,” a series of short personal explanations for various political and economic positions, solicited and first published in the 1890s. And I’ve started to translate a series of responses, first published in the Revue Anarchist, to the question: “Is the Anarchist Ideal Achievable?” The work on A Good Word, my history of the development of the language of anarchy, got an unexpected boost when I took another look at Benjamin R. Tucker’s 1881 pamphlet “Anarchism or Anarchy?” It revolves around what might have been a rather trivial dispute over the use of those two terms, had it not occurred at such an early date that their use was hardly established. And—last, but very far from least—a dip back into Nettlau’s correspondence produced a set of “Suggestions for Discussion,” circulated by Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman in 1928, as well as a good deal of related correspondence that shines a fascinating light on the views of various anarchist pioneers on the progress of the anarchist movement. The details are worth engaging, but the first lesson is that Nettlau was far from the only major figure who was pessimistic and thought a fairly major change of direction might be necessary in order for anarchism to thrive.

LET US NOT OVERLOOK VITAL THINGS: I’ve put up a page dealing with the material I addressed last year in my session at the Seattle Anarchist Book Fair and the abortive BASTARD Conference session, under the title “Vital Things.” This is the line of research and speculation that ties the introduction to Anarchy and the Sex Question to the forthcoming Bakunin Reader, where he is portrayed as “a partisan of life.” We’ll see what develops, but it seems to me much more than likely that much of the writing I have ahead of me will have something to do with the question of positive anarchy.

BEYOND THE LABYRINTH: I got beyond the maze I usually run for most of a week in Seattle, on a very nice, but surprisingly unsocial hostel trip. I spent an afternoon scanning microfilm pages on “Free Communism vs. Free Communalism,” from one of the Home, WA newspapers, for a chapter in What Mutualism Was. (The fact that commercialism was, just for a brief period of time, one of the labels for individualist or mutualist anarchism never ceases to bring a smile, however wry, to my face.) But mostly I walked, scribbled in notebooks, picnicked in various pleasant spots, walked, scribbled in notebooks, etc. It wasn’t quite a vacation, but it was a useful change in routine.

AND, FINALLY, TELEVISION: The two Lars Martin Johansson series on MHz Choice are an entertaining mix of detective and spy stories. If you watch Scandinavian television, many of the Swedish cast members will be familiar, but there are also nice appearances by Paul Guilfoyle (CSI), Antti Reini (Private Eye Vares), etc. Both stories move back and forth between the present, in which some crime investigation has been reopened for political reasons, and the past, where many of the same characters were involved in the events under investigation. The tone is very much set by the involvement of the security police, with lots of post-Le Carre touches. The dialogue is minimal and often extremely well-crafted. The resolutions are predictably partial. Rolf Lassgård, in the lead role, gets to laugh and smile a bit more than he did as Wallander or Sebastian Bergman, but his capacity for portraying world-weariness certainly gets some play. Helena Af Sandeberg is a fine foil. And the rest of the cast of character is a delightful assortment of familiar types given real life by careful writing and solid performances.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 1949 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.