Anarchism : A History Of Libertarian Ideas And Movements (Excerpts)

Anarchism : A History Of Libertarian Ideas And Movements
GEORGE WOODCOCK
Meridian Books
The World Publishing Company

 

Tolstoy preached nonresistance and his greatest disciple, Gandhi, attempted to give practical expression to this doctrine. The pacifist anarchists have accepted the principle of resistance and even revolutionary action, provided it does not incur violence, which they see as a form of power and therefore nonanarchist in nature. This change in attitude has led the pacifist anarchists to veer toward the anarchosyndicalists, since the latter’s concept of the general strike as the great revolutionary weapon made an appeal to those pacifists who accepted the need for fundamental social change but did not wish to compromise their ideal by the use of negative (i.e., violent) means.

 

In contrast to Bakunin’s bohemian energy, Kropotkin showed an extraordinary mildness of nature and outlook. No one has ever thought of describing Bakunin as a saint, but those who knew Kropotkin often spoke of him in the terms of sanctification which in our own age have been reserved for men like Gandhi and Schweitzer. “Personally Kropotkin was amiable to the point of saintliness,” Bernard Shaw once wrote to me, “and with his red full beard and lovable expression might have been a shepherd from the Delectable Mountains.” Writers as varied as Oscar Wilde, Ford Madox Ford, and Herbert Read have given similar descriptions of Kropotkin.

 

…the most important single Tolstoyan convert was undoubtedly Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi’s achievement of awakening the Indian people and leading them through an almost bloodless national revolution against foreign rule lies only on the periphery of our subject, but at this point it is worth remembering that Gandhi was influenced by several of the great libertarian thinkers. His nonviolent technique was developed largely under the influence of Thoreau as well as of Tolstoy, and he was encouraged in his idea of a country of village communes by an assiduous reading of Kropotkin.

Godwin, Tolstoy, Stirner, Thoreau, made their contributions to the anarchist idea from outside and even in opposition to the movement. And the traces of that idea are to be found not only in organized anarchism but also in movements like Russian and American populism, Spanish federalism, and Mexican agrarianism. It provided the Indian Nationalists with the technique of passive resistance that won the great conflict against the British overlords. And it helped to inspire some of the movements that in our own day have risen encouragingly in resistance to the totalitarian trend, such as the Israeli kibbutzim, the village community movement in India, and the Credit Unions of North America.

 

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Anarchism by George Woodcock [Review]

by Frank Mintz

The postscript from July 1973 is like the book, and although, after the book was first published, anarchism was, as far as Woodcock was concerned, nearly dead, it “has emerged again, rejuvenated.” He says he foresaw this possibility in his 1962 book, but in fact, he is surely confusing that with his anarchist book of 1944. For Woodcock, the present situation is due to “a scholarly interest” (p.456) and to a “growing political faith among young people and especially among intellectuals and students.” (p.457). So, “the new libertarianism is essentially a revolt — not of the under-privileged — but of the privileged who have seen the futility of affluence as a goal.” (p.462) and Woodcock tells us that where anarchism is firmly rooted in the people is in India with the movements of Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan.

 

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