Leier (director, Center for Labour Studies/Simon Frasier Univ.) traces the experiences, politics and ideas that influenced Mikhail Bakunin, the founder of modern anarchism.
This intellectual portrait is overwhelmingly sympathetic. Criticisms from Bakunin’s contemporaries and later historians are often debunked before they are fully explained. The argument that Bakunin's ideology was informed by sexual dysfunction is raised, only to be dismissed out of hand. The author describes Bakunin's writings in breathless prose, as if his subject’s pamphlets were clearly destined for greatness. Yet the anarchist's vision of a just, stateless communal society is not clearest in soliloquy; it emerges more sharply in the chapters devoted to his recurring feuds with Karl Marx. Leier laments that anarchists are often misinterpreted and derided, and communism provides a sharp contrast. Bakunin detested communism as the “negation of liberty,” and rather than granting even more power to the state, he called for its abolition. Leier's writing varies from earnest reporting from the frontlines of dangerous revolutions to a chatty tone that implies anarchism should not be foreign to modern readers. Sometimes it works—such as when he compares recent WTO globalization protests to 19th-century leftist movements—and other times it does not, when, for instance, he invokes the movie Fight Club to reference vulgar combat. Leier also likes to mix personal politics and life musings with his history, which some readers may find discordant. His aside that there are no conservative intellectuals, “for in accepting and supporting the status quo, they have given up meaningful criticism,” may turn off potential readers, though probably not potential anarchists.
A thorough and conversational biography that celebrates as much as it recounts.