No Gods, No Masters / Anarchism


No Gods, No Masters: An Anthology of Anarchism

Edited by Daniel Guérin. AK Press, 699 pp, $24.95, softcover.

Anarchism:A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas

Edited by Robert Graham. Black Rose Books, 519 pp, $28.99, softcover.

The French anarchist historian Daniel Guérin says the title of his fat anthology of anarchist writings No Gods, No Masters comes from Peter Kropotkin, the Russian prince who put the -ism in anarchism and uttered the catch phrase on his deathbed in 1921. In Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Guérin's Canadian opposite number Robert Graham traces a close variant of the same battle cry to Bao Jingyan, a minor Taoist sage in fourth-century China.

Therein lies the difference between these two superficially similar books.

Although it gives us some hard-to-find material by undeservedly obscure theorists, Guérin's selection of excerpts from manifestos, tracts, and the like””originally published in France in four volumes””sticks pretty close to the canonical anarchist thinkers of 19th-century Europe. As he says: “Attention has focused upon the great masters, and those we have considered their second-rate epigones have been left out.”  Yet even the obvious are represented by out-of-the-way texts, including some “kept hidden in the shadows by a conspiracy of silence.”  People looking to get to know, say, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (“property is theft” ) will find him here, but not as he's commonly showcased.

By contrast, Graham, in this first volume of a projected set, goes much farther afield, not only in scope and time but also in geography. Classical anarchism was usually most conspicuous wherever the Catholic or Orthodox church was strongest””one needs such iron-fisted authority to rise up against””and Graham wisely pays attention to Latin America, the growth area for such polarity.

Another thing: Graham's approach is informational, and his introduction and notes are written in an easy, nonconfrontational style. In contrast, Guérin is adversarial. He enjoys taking a combative stance, “more ideological than historical and anecdotal,”  as though he were wearing boxing gloves while he writes. The one approach isn't necessarily right and the other wrong; they're simply different.

Anthologies of anarchist writings have been popular since the 1960s and '70s. These two take for granted, as starting points, the sort of material found in Leonard I. Krimerman and Lewis Perry's Patterns of Anarchy and George Woodcock's Anarchist Reader, which were carried in many a backpack.