REVIEW [+PDF] Lucien van der Walt, 2012, Berry and Bantman (eds.), “New Perspectives on Anarchism, Labour and Syndicalism: the Individual, the National and the Transnational”
September 1, 2014 Leave a comment
Lucien van der Walt, 2012, “David Berry and Constance Bantman, eds., New Perspectives on Anarchism, Labour and Syndicalism: the individual, the national and the transnational ”, Anarchist Studies, volume 20, number 1, pp. 123-126.
David Berry and Constance Bantman (eds.), New Perspectives on Anarchism, Labour and Syndicalism: the Individual, the National and the Transnational, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010, 228pp.
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This fine collection draws together studies of anarchism and syndicalism, mainly covering the 1890s to the 1940s in Europe. These underline the important role of anarchism in labour movement history, and, conversely, demonstrate anarchism’s and syndicalism’s commitment to a libertarian, revolutionary class struggle politics. The individual chapters are remarkably interesting and solidly researched; the editors’ introduction is insightful; and the volume is cohesive, as important synergies make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
Berry and Bantman make a case for the importance of global – especially transnational – approaches to labour and left history. They argue for the utility of biography, network analysis, comparative analysis and attention to political languages, in shifting
from the ‘methodological nationalism’ (p.6) that has long shaped these fields. Bert Altena’s stimulating survey picks up these analytical issues. He argues against approaches that treat syndicalism as something ‘abnormal’, a ‘Pavlovian reaction’ triggered by external structural conditions such as the second industrial revolution, social democratic failure etc. Inc problem is that mass syndicalism existed where many of these conditions did not apply (e.g. Spain, 1870s, France, 1890s), and was conversely absent (e.g. Belgium) or only a minority current (e.g. Germany) where they did apply. Second, structuralist arguments fail to examine syndicalism on its own terms, as a revolutionary movement with its own political culture, driven by the *ideas* and *aspirations* of working class people in particular communities and contexts.
The editors apologise for their ‘Eurocentrism’, but this is surely unnecessary. The methodological problems of Eurocentrism reside not in a focus on Europe *as such*, but in a conflation of world history with (West) European history, with other regions ignored or caricatured. This is certainly not the approach of Berry and Bantman, who are keenly aware that European anarchism/syndicalism was but part of a global movement. Levy’s fine discussion of anarchist ‘global labour organiser’ Errico Malatesta’s role in anti-colonial risings in Bosnia and Egypt, and in activism and networks in North Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean and Latin America, Read more of this post