Anarchy After Leftism by Bob Black ( C.A.L Press, c/o AAA, P.O. Box 11331, Eugene OR 97440 $7.95 + $2.05 s&h) reviewed by John Filiss

Bob Black's Anarchy After Leftism is a seminal work from one of the seminal figures in the anti-authoritarian milieu. Written as a response to Murray Bookchin's abrasive Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm (AK Press, P.O. Box 40682, San Francisco, CA 94140-0682), Black revives a type of intellectual exchange all but moribund in our modern era of encapsulated thought and belief: he attacks his opponent not at his weakest points, but at his strongest. Not only is it marvelous critique on its own, it remains so with the object of critique next to it--the written works of Murray Bookchin. Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism was written as a rather personal attack on the views of a number of contemporary anarchist authors who actually took the idea of anarchy, or freedom from rule, seriously. Whether it be the mystic flights of Hakim Bey, John Zerzan's critique of symbolic culture, or Fifth Estate's search for useful concepts within primitive lifestyles, Bookchin attacks with an ire which does little to support his occasionally valid points. Interestingly, it is often where Bookchin founders in his attempts to bring down his opponents at all costs that the poverty of the prevailing vision--both his and his target's--is made most apparent. To give one example, Bookchin states: "Ironically, even the collective that produces Fifth Estate found it could not do without a computer and was `forced' to purchase one--issuing the disingenuous claimer, `We hate it!' Denouncing an advanced technology while using it to generate antitechnological literature is not only disingenuous but has sanctimonious dimensions". (p.49) Though the weakness of Bookchin's argument for a moralistic purity of the means of expression is all too obvious, being read as it is on paper and ink doubtless created through capitalist and ecological exploitation, it shows as well Fifth Estate's own puritanism, a tendency to retreat from this world into restrictions and modes, rather than an uninhibited search for a utopia to supersede the current nightmare. The question is not whether new technology generally excels and surpasses within the limited spheres that technology creates (I'll take my modern word processor over my turn-of-the-century Oliver typewriter any day), but whether we can create a world where the processing of words is needless for our fulfillment. When Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism first came out, I had mixed reactions towards it. While disliking Bookchin's (unwarranted) smugness and tone of debate, I granted it had, again, some valid points, and hoped that at some level it would foster intelligent input on issues which need input, and from as broad a spectrum of thought as possible. After reading Anarchy After Leftism, I realized above all else that we do not need to be ridiculed, not in an era where the most tiresome and inane proponents of the existing order pose as its iconoclasts. With Bob Black as defender of many of the most liberatory tendencies within modern anti-authoritarian thought, it is an issue which will surely come up with decreasing frequency in the years ahead. The reasons for this are well known to Murray Bookchin. Black is a gifted satirist, whose penchant for pugnaciousness occasionally spills over into his writing, as well as being a much talked about aspect of his private life (an area I am hardly qualified to discuss or pass judgment on). Though as well or better known than anyone mentioned in Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism as a major theorist of the more radical of anarchist tendencies (e.g., having written the essay on zero-work), Black is nowhere mentioned in the book, certainly an attempt by Bookchin to escape Black's wrath. And yet it is Black in this instance who comes off as being chivalrous in his critique. Though Anarchy After Leftism is cutting and sometimes merciless (and frequently hilarious), not one statement seems unwarranted against Bookchin, who gives us such gems of constructive and thoughtful criticism as "I would love to see the Bey and his disciples surface at an 'old-time libertarian picnic'!"(p. 24) Further, Black has enough respect for his readers and possible detractors to furnish an index, absent in Bookchin's book. Incidentally, another book has recently been published in response to Bookchin: George Bradford's Beyond Bookchin: Preface For A Future Social Ecology (contact Fifth Estate, 4632 Second Ave., Detroit MI 48201). Though certainly of interest to those who have long dwelled upon the thought of Murray Bookchin, it hardly ranks with Black's effort. Bradford's ponderous overstriving for eloquence and lack of concision--he never uses one sentence where three will do--will unfortunately turn off the majority of readers merely curious about the debate. If not one in ten of those who buy Bradford's book will actually finish it, Black's book, by contrast, will be passed from friend to friend. Black's writing has the uncanny charm of awakening interest in topics previously thought to be of no interest. Bradford's efforts are somehow tragic, as his writing shows some insight, and it seems that with a little effort, he could improve upon it dramatically. Black, too, has all too frequently done less than he is capable of, among other things directing his scathing wit at individuals w.ho could hardly be expected to match his skill at satire or polemic. Anarchy After Leftism is Black at his best, a lengthy yet stimulating dissection and critique of a multifaceted and intelligent thinker, Murray Bookchin, placed within a broader critique of the intellectual currents which made a Bookchin possible. Black bites hardest when he bites with ideas, which he does with elan. As important as are its contents, just praise must be given to its format. Personalizing a debate, yet staying within appropriate boundaries, and making the core of the critique the ideas propounded by one's opponents, is a superb and too-little-used method of bringing one's viewpoints to a broader audience. Exposing as intellectual sham a trite, yet undeservedly cult figure within a given circle, whose members have probably had little or no exposure to the most emancipating concepts of modern anarchist thought ... brilliant, Bob. I only hope he continues to ripple in ever-larger circles, with an ever-growing audience. I would love to see a similar book on Chomsky. In short, Anarchy After Leftism is an important part of the growing effort to wean anarchy off of leftism, with-a future none can easily foresee; an attempt to create something unique, wonderful, and ultimately real. I realize, dear reader, that so far it seems I have only discussed this book in superlatives, and have done little of the critiquing here or there which gives a review an air of objectivity. Be that as it may. I haven't written a book review in two years and wouldn't have bothered now if I weren't so impressed. If you have any interest in the doctrine of social ecology, in primitivism, the abolition of work, or simply anarchy--qet this book! John Filiss Port Jervis, NY