Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Quote of the Day

Communist historian Eric Hobsbawm's 1969 essay "Reflections on Anarchism" (collected in 1973's Revolutionaries, currently in print in a 2001 edition by New Press) is mostly a by-the-numbers Marxist, largely dismissive take on classical leftist anarchism (and needless to say more than a little befuddled at anarchism's revival at the time); he treats the movement as romantic and quixotic (quite literally, saying it's no coincidence that classical anarchism's last hurrah was in the land of Cervantes), and intellectually lightweight: saying that Kropotkin is the only "anarchist theorist who could be read with real interest by non-anarchists", due to his scientific work, as opposed to mere artists like Pissarro and Signac (and presumably the likes of Herbert Read, Thoreau, Tolstoy, and Wilde), and whose substantial ideas are redundant with those on other strands of the left. But at one point, the essay suddenly goes in an unexpected direction:
It is possible to construct a theoretical model of libertarian anarchism which will be compatible with modern scientific technology, but unfortunately it will not be socialist. It will be much closer to the views of Mr Goldwater and his economic adviser Professor Milton Friedman of Chicago than to the views of Kropotkin. For (as Bernard Shaw pointed out long ago in his pamphlet on the Impossibilities of Anarchism), the extreme versions of individualist liberalism are logically as anarchist as Bakunin.
Not to mention Karl Hess or David Friedman. What's really funny about Hobsbawm seeing anarcho-libertarianism as suitable for the modern world is that he's known (some would say notorious) for usually taking a Whig-history approach to left movements, seeing them as more advanced the closer they are to Marxism and then Communism; in fact, it is for just that reason that he dismisses the classical anarchist movement, and Civil War-era Spanish anarchism in particular (see here and here for anarchist responses to Hobsbawm on Spanish anarchism), as quixotic and doomed to failure.

See also Jesse Walker on Hobsbawm ("Obviously there's nothing to admire in the distinguished historian's pro-Soviet politics, but I like a lot of his work nonetheless, flaws and all.")

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