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0 votes
In an effort to better understand Anarchism and its historical development I'm looking into the key thinkers within the tradition.

In terms of Berkman, can anyone suggest what ideas, arguments, themes or criticisms he added to the school of Anarchist thought? Or any reading that may reveal this?

I've read a biography of Berkman but this, and most of the stuff I can find online, is biographical (which is really interesting) but I'm looking more specifically for his ideas.

So far, I've found his idea of "the Bolshevik Myth" as unique (in its earliness) and useful (in its articulation of the relationship between the Bolshevik vanguard philosophy and the development of the Russian Revolution).

Are there any others?

Thanks in advance.

I personally haven't read much by him, but you can find his writings on the anarchist library.

that's kind of my impression from talking to people who read and loved him. many people have been deeply influenced in particular by his prison memoirs, but it seems along the lines of him being a human struggling with these ideas, rather than a theorist who thought things in a different way.
@human Thanks for this, it looks like a great resource.

I think I do too, I think there's something tragic and romantic about him and his whole life.

I guess 'propaganda of the deed' could be an idea associated with him, although others articulated it earlier.

Thank-you, I think it is his actions that reveal more about his philosophy than his writing.

I guess another example of the tragic vulnerability you are getting at is his death just weeks before the Spanish Revolution.
And I'd just like to say; thank-you everyone who took the time to reply.

It's amazing having a community here to help with questions like this.
@williamguest - what do you find significant in his work? Who are other anarchists you are finding provocative? Part of what keeps this site interesting is when the discussions extend beyond just one question, and personally, I always find conversations most interesting here when they involve new voices who challenge me. :)

1 Answer

+2 votes

I have a soft spot for Berkman, and think he is one of the most inspiring of that generation of anarchists, at least that are known in North America, but it is hard to put a finger on what in his writing makes him so.

I think partly the problem is that Sasha didn't have a lot of groundbreaking ideas, but was emblematic of the beautiful idea, while also able to (sometimes grudgingly) adapt his understanding of the idea to his actual lived reality. The other thing I find endearing is that, adaptable as he was, he still always was in favor of bombs and one needs to read more of my gushing about Prison Memoirs, but yes to all that. It is one of my very favorite books.

As far as publishing goes, in addition to his Prison Memoirs,  he was the editor of Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth, and also the publisher and editor of his own paper The Blast. After he and Emma were deported to Russia, he was among the first to sour on the Bolsheviks, and after leaving Russia began work on his book The Bolshevik Myth but set aside the project to help with Emma’s own book My Disillusionment in Russia (which used much of his source material). Later, at Emma’s prompting, he wrote Now and After: The ABC’s of Communist Anarchism, which is somewhat dated seeming now, but still a good intro, even if I don’t share his affinity for Anarcho-communism (or Communist anarchism, or whatever).

His dedication to anarchism and selflessness is noteworthy (even if I might be critical of the latter part at this juncture), but his humanity, flawed nature, and vulnerability are what make him really stand out. He was also prolific in his influence.

There was the attempted attentat where he shot and stabbed Frick multiple times but couldn't do the deed. He had a small bird as a friend while incarcerated which was murdered by the screws. When he got out, he both helped found the Ferrer School, and was the likely ring leader of another dynamite plot against Rockefeller that failed and resulted in the death of four people. Fleeing New York, he threw himself into agitating against U.S. entry into World War I and in defense of a Galleanist bombing in San Francisco. When he decided to kill himself, he again managed to not do a good job of it and ended up dying a horrible death.

If ever an anarchist really meant well and continually failed to achieve his expectations, it is Berkman, and frankly, I find a lot of resonance in that.

(edit: this answer started as two comments that I expanded into an answer)

by (22.1k points)
Shit. I actually have more to say on this, re: his interactions with children and animals, and his perspective(s) on homosexuality... answer is as yet incomplete.