“‘Whoever denies authority and fights against it is an anarchist,’ said Sebastien Faure. The definition is tempting in its simplicity, but simplicity is the first thing to guard against in writing a history of anarchism. Few doctrines or movements have been so confusedly understood in the public mind, and few have presented in their own variety of approach and action so much excuse for confusion.” These are the opening sentences of this book, which brilliantly effaces confusion by providing a critical history of anarchist thought and practice.
Mr. Woodcock traces the development of anarchism from its earliest appearances, and the rise and fall of anarchism as a movement aiming at practical social changes during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He discusses the ideas of the principal anarchist thinkers—Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Tolstoy, among others—and explains the various forms—anarchist individualism, anarchist communism, anarcho-syndicalism—that anarchist proposals for change have taken. The development of anarchist organizations, the various forms (peaceful and violent) of anarchist political action in Europe and America, the reasons for the appeal of anarchism at certain periods and to certain people—all these are given full treatment in Mr. Woodcock’s comprehensive work, which closes with a discussion of the causes of anarchism’s failure as a movement and with a consideration of whether there are any elements in anarchist thought that—despite the failure of anarchism as a political panacea—may still be worth preserving in the modern world.
“The essential introduction to the classical anarchist thinkers.”—Mark Leier, Director, Centre for Labour Studies, Simon Fraser University