Utopianism and Anarchism

Kenneth Rexroth, Communalism: From Its Origins to the Twentieth Century
      An excellent account of communalist tendencies throughout history, from “primitive communism” through medieval millenarian movements and nineteenth-century utopian colonies to the sixties counterculture. The book is long out of print, but it is online at this website.

Thomas More, Utopia  [1516]
      The original “Utopia.” It is naturally historically limited in many respects, but More’s genial and lively style still make it an interesting read.
      [Rexroth essay on More’s Utopia]

Victor Peters, All Things Common: The Hutterian Way of Life  [1965]
      A study of the Hutterites, a religious sect that has maintained a communistic social organization for nearly 500 years.

Charles Fourier  [1772-1837]
      Fourier was an extremely inventive visionary, whose delightful though rather loony utopia was based on encouraging the interplay, rather than the repression, of the variety of human passions. The best anthology is The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier (ed. Beecher & Bienvenu). Another good one is Harmonian Man (ed. Mark Poster). The earlier collection, Design for Utopia, is not so good.

William Morris, News from Nowhere  [1891]
      Probably the best utopian novel. As I tried to show in the last chapter of “The Joy of Revolution”, no single utopian description could come anywhere close to conveying what a liberated society would really be like, because such a society would be characterized by an enormous diversity of social forms. Morris’s work is simply one person’s vision of some of the features he would like to see. But it’s one of the most open-ended and sensible ones.

Martin Buber, Paths in Utopia  [1949]
      Examines utopian socialists, Proudhon, Kropotkin, Landauer, and various experiments from cooperatives to kibbutzes. Buber’s optimism regarding the promise of the kibbutzes proved unjustified.

Marie Louise Berneri, Journey Through Utopia  [1950]
      Excellent. The best general survey of utopian novels and visions.

Aldous Huxley, Island  [1962]
      The economic and political aspects of this utopia remain rather vague, but there are some interesting points about the psychological and “spiritual” features of a liberated society.

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Daniel Guérin (ed.), No Gods, No Masters  [1965]
      A comprehensive anthology of anarchist writings, focusing primarily on the revolutionary historical expressions of anarchism.

Leonard Krimerman and Lewis Perry (ed.), Patterns of Anarchy  [1966]
      Another good anthology. More eclectic and less historical than Guérin’s selection, it is organized by topics, including anarchist perspectives on criminology, education, and community planning.

Mikhail Bakunin  [1814-1876]
      A good anthology is Sam Dolgoff’s Bakunin on Anarchism, but there are several other pamphlets and collections. For a brief examination of the Marx-Bakunin split and of anarchism in general, see Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle  ##91-94.

Peter Kropotkin  [1842-1921]
      Back in 1969, when I was first discovering anarchism, my favorite was Kropotkin. He probably strikes many modern readers as a boring old fuddy-duddy, but personally I still like his mature, low-key style, his humanistic magnanimity, his striving for ecological balance and for the integration of mental and manual activity. His most well known work, Mutual Aid, demonstrated that cooperation as well as competition plays an important role in evolution. He and his fellow anarchist Élisée Reclus were among the first ecological thinkers (back then they were referred to as “geographers”). In this regard their writings have come to have a relevance in some ways even greater than they did at the time, even if they are dated in other respects. Check out one of the collections of Kropotkin’s pamphlets and articles. If you like him, you might also try his Memoirs of a Revolutionist.

Errico Malatesta  [1853-1932]
      There are several anthologies of this important Italian anarchist. Vernon Richards’s Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas also includes some good biographical material.

Emma Goldman  [1869-1940]
      Goldman was important not only as a powerful propagandist for anarchism, but as a “revolutionary within the revolution” who introduced cultural, feminist and sexual issues into a radical movement that was often rather philistine, chauvinist and puritanical. There are several collections of her writings and speeches, the most comprehensive of which is Red Emma Speaks (ed. Alix Kates Shulman). Her autobiography, Living My Life, is also quite interesting.
      [Rexroth elegy for Emma Goldman]

Alexander Berkman  [1870-1936]
      Though dated in some regards, Berkman’s What Is Anarchism? is still probably the best popular exposition of revolutionary anarchism. The perennial questions and misconceptions are answered so clearly and systematically that it is hard to imagine how anyone could fail to understand. Note: What Is Anarchism? (AK Press) is the complete work. It has also been published in two separate parts: ABC of Anarchism and What Is Communist Anarchism? Berkman’s moving Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist has been reissued in several different editions, including one with an introduction by Rexroth, another with an introduction by Paul Goodman.


Section from Gateway to the Vast Realms (Ken Knabb, 2004).

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