Review of
Michael Schmidt, Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism (Oakland/Edinburgh: AK Press, 2013)

AK Press has now published Michael Schmidt's Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism, originally published in French by Montreal's Lux Éditeur.

Schmidt's introduction is euphoric as usual. He claims that anarchism has provided "the most devastating and comprehensive critique of capitalism, landlordism, the state, and power relations in general, whether based on gender, race, or other forms of oppression"; that the "broad anarchist tradition had constructed, and continues to construct today, concrete projects to dissolve the centralist, hierarchical, coercive power of capital and the state, replacing it with a devolved, free-associative, horizontally federated counter-power"; that "anarchist counter-power creates a haven for revolutionary practice that serves as a school for insurgency against the elites, a beachhead from which to launch its assault, and as the nucleus of a future, radically egalitarian society – what Buenaventura Durruti called 'the new world in our hearts'"; and, finally, that "in a sense, anarchist counter-culture provides the oppressed classes with an alternate, horizontal socio-political reality".

It is hard, as an anarchist, not to be enthused by this. But how valid are these claims? For example, does the fact that the "initially anarchist anticolonial" Ghadar Party, founded in 1913, "linked radicals within the Indian Diaspora" ensure an actual influence of the party on the Indian independence struggle? Do the many splits of the Argentine Regional Workers' Federation (FORA) after 1915, and the existence of several organizations "affiliated" with the different splinter groups, indicate an anarchist mass movement or a decline into what in Swedish is called "the Left of letters", referring to an impenetrable jungle of acronyms? What does it mean that the Chinese city of Guangzhou "was run as an anarchist commune" from 1921 to 1923? And how do we know about the "continued anarchist domination" of the Bolivian Regional Workers' Confederation (CORB) in the 1950s? However, it is one of the merits of Schmidt's work to even draw attention to these organizations, movements, and events, and it is up to us to collectively study them, and their impact, in more detail.

Most people who have read Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, authored by Schmidt and his South African compatriot Lucien van der Walt, will have already asked themselves questions such as the above. In fact, they will meet many familiar themes in Schmidt's "cartography". The book sometimes feels to be half summary of Black Flame and half announcement of its long-promised follow-up volume Global Fire: 150 Years of International Anarchism and Syndicalism. Readers encounter the same arguments for a Bakunin-rooted "broad anarchist tradition" as the only legitimate form of anarchism, the same impressive scope of historical research, and the same insistence on anarchism's historical significance for revolutionary development. Added are several new examples of anarchist activities and organizations and, particularly, the "Five Waves" thesis that divides anarchist history into five main periods:

1. the "poorly-understood international First Wave of 1868-1894";

2. the "Second Wave of 1895-1923, including the Revolutions in Mexico, Russia and Ukraine";

3. the "Third Wave of 1924-1949, which embraces the Revolutions in Manchuria and Spain and which, together with the Second Wave, constitutes anarchism's 'Glorious Period'";

4. the "Fourth Wave of 1950-1989, which peaked with the Cuban Revolution in 1952-1959 and again with the New Left of 1968";

5. the "current Fifth Wave, generated in 1989 by the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the rising 'horizontalist' challenge to hoary old Soviet-style Marxist 'communism' (in reality, authoritarian state capitalism), right-wing dictatorship, and neoliberalism by the new movements of the globalised popular classes".

Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism is probably most recommended for those who do not find the time to read through the Counterpower volumes (that is, Black Flame, and the forthcoming Global Fire). However, it also serves as an excellent introduction to the history of anarchism in its own right. The range of sources is remarkable and confirms Schmidt as one of anarchism's most prolific historians. In light of this, it is of no big concern whether or not one agrees with his evaluation of anarchism's role in history, his definition of anarchism, or his unconcealed platformist sympathies.

Gabriel Kuhn

(August 2013)