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In attempting to answer whether anarchism belongs on the ash-heap of history (to use Trotsky's phrase), or whether it is in fact part of an inexhaustible human impulse, James Joll has written a spirited work. It is a many-levelled account of the movement from its Enlightenment glimmerings to its swan-song during the Spanish Civil War, quite possibly the best thing of its kind since To the Finland Station. This is not to say, of course, that Joll approaches Edmund Wilson's in-depth analysis, or in a more important sense, that he shares his socio-philosophical concerns. But he can, like Wilson, through a fine meshing of scholarship and dramatic incident, bring history to life- history with its odd nuggets of belief, its personality clashes, its pattern of seemingly accidental eruptions. The men treated- England's Godwin, France's Proudhon, Russia's Kropotkin and Bakunin, Italy's Malatesta- being quirky, larger than life specimens, idealists engaged in one form of violence or another, are well-suited to Joll's style- panoramic yet psychologically informed, highly learned but never detached. And Joll's thesis that these men have produced the most extreme criticism of industrial society and as such exist outside of Leftist or Rightist ideologies as we know them, seems inescapable. For a projected ""morality without obligations or sanctions"" must hit at the roots of the bourgeoisie as well as at Marxism. Indeed for the anarchists Marxism was a cul de sac, the replacing of one tyranny over another, as events behind the Iron Curtain have well proved. However, anarchism remains a dream, more curious (and tempting?) as technological centrality advances wherever one turns.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1965
Publisher: Little, Brown-A.M.P.