Is Daniel Guérin's "Anarchism: From Theory to Practice" a good introduction to the philosophy of anarchism?

In answer to Quora question "Is Daniel Guérin's "Anarchism: From Theory to Practice" a good introduction to the philosophy of anarchism?"

A2A. IMO Guérin's brief work is just so-so for reasons I outline below. Also remember that it was written in the late 1960s, and so it won't really bring you up-to-date on anarchist theory and history.

As for theory, Guérin admits from the beginning that this is his take on things - his own distillation of anarchist thought - rather than an introductory survey. As such, it reflects his own bias. I think this becomes clear in how he defines his terms. For example, he frequently equates anarchism with libertarianism with individualism; while he does show how collectivist and individualist approaches and concerns were in active dialectic as anarchist ideas developed over time, to my ear his individualistic (atomistic and Stirner-esque) preferences tend to bleed through. The same is true of his depiction worker self-management and organization vs. the importance of community self-governance; anarcho-syndicalist leanings seem to overtake anarcho-communist concerns in this instance. This is just my take, of course, and perhaps the evidence is subtle.

Guérin does touch (skillfully, I think) upon the central problem inherent to anarchism: that organization, governance and the rule of law are in fact necessary, but that they must somehow be arrived at voluntarily, after total emancipation of all individuals from any societal or institutional constraints. This is the perpetual conundrum that various anarchistic models of collective councils, trade-union associations, federalism, etc. are intended to address - even as these tend to replicate the bureaucracy and representative authority that anarchism rejects. This is the one contradictory aspect of anarchism that I think Guérin clearly defines.

As for the actual history of anarchism, Guérin covers a lot of ground pretty swiftly. However, many of his assertions about what happened in Russia, Spain, Yugoslavia, etc. are not well-supported in this particular work - in other words, they lack copious external references. As to their accuracy, I'm not an expert myself, so I can't really say.

In conclusion, I would say that Anarchism: From Theory to Practice is a relatively easy, short and informative read, but has some inherent bias and tends to gloss over both historical events and ideological issues. It's terminology is also pretty dated. To contrast Guérin's approach (vis-à-vis an alternative bias), and to gain a more modern perspective, you might try Marshall's Demanding the Impossible, which I think presents a much broader, more comprehensive and nuanced history of anarchism and libertarianism. You might also consider Chomsky On Anarchism; Chomsky has his own axe to grind, of course, but it also offers additional contrast and nuance to these other works.

My 2 cents.


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