Benutzereinstellungen

Kommende Veranstaltungen

North America / Mexico | History of anarchism

Keine kommenden Veranstaltungen veröffentlicht

Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist by Alexander Berkman, annotated and introduced by Jessica Moran and Barry Pateman [Book review]

category north america / mexico | history of anarchism | review author Dienstag April 04, 2017 17:42author by KSL - Kate Sharpley Library Report this post to the editors

Review of the annotated and expanded edition of Berkman's classic Prison Memoirs, which came out in 2017.

Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist is a classic for good reason: the drama of the story drives it along. Berkman’s mission to assassinate Frick is interspersed with effective flashbacks showing his development to that point. In the prison there’s plenty of conflict which makes you wonder: how can he survive 22 years? Can the prisoners expose their mistreatment and the scams of the management? Will the escape plan work? I loved the cover: a piano with a pick and shovel leaning against it as a nod the outside comrades who dug a tunnel for him, covered by Vella Kinsella ‘tinkling the ivories’. There’s also the odd bit of unintentional comedy, like Berkman’s puzzlement when he first comes across prison slang: ‘I should “keep my lamps lit.” What lamps? There are none in the cell; where am I to get them? And what “screws” must I watch? And the “stools,”—I have only a chair here. Why should I watch it? Perhaps it’s to be used as a weapon.’ [p112]

Adding to the drama is Berkman’s internal conflict and growth. At the start, schooled in the Russian revolutionary tradition, he’s very serious and self-denying. He’s happy to lay down his life for The People, but people as individuals disappoint him. Even the imprisoned strikers don’t measure up to his heroic expectations. Yet Berkman follows the advice of ex-soldier ‘Wingie’ to ‘get acquainted’ [p125] and comes to understand, value and even love his fellow prisoners. This doesn’t just happen by simple observation. Berkman’s anarchist comrades Carl Nold and Henry Bauer are in the same prison for the first five years of his time. Rigorously kept apart, they communicate with the help of fellow prisoners like Horsethief Bob. Then they make and circulate an illegal newsletter; first in German and then an English one with an expanded set of reader-contributors. Berkman recalls the effect of these growing connections: ‘There is Evans, the aged burglar, smiling furtively at me from the line. Far in the distance seems the day when I read his marginal note upon a magazine article I sent him, concerning the stupendous cost of crime. I had felt quite piqued at the flippancy of his comment, “We come high, but they must have us.” With the severe intellectuality of revolutionary tradition, I thought of him and his kind as inevitable fungus growths, the rotten fruit of a decaying society. […] But the threads of comradeship have slowly been woven by common misery.’ [p351]

Moran and Pateman both spent years at the Emma Goldman Papers Project and have written on American anarchists, so if you wanted anyone to work on a book by Berkman, it would be these two. The footnotes give you as much helpful context as they can, without claiming no-one will ever find anything else to say, nor ‘telling readers what to think or how to interpret passages or events.’ [1] As well as the footnotes, this edition contains the diary Berkman kept while writing Prison memoirs. It shows how hard it was to write, and also how he struggled after his release: ‘much of Berkman’s future life would be a struggle between who he was, or wanted to be, and what the Western State Penitentiary had done to him.’ [p2] The diary also lays bare his relationship with Rebecca (Becky) Edelsohn, which was non-exclusive, painful and complicated. This would also be invisible without their editorial work: Edelsohn appears only as ‘Alice’ and ‘Tess’ at the end of Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist [p437 and p448]. And that would be less visible if it wasn’t for the quality of John Barker’s indexing.

Most importantly, as their introduction makes clear, Moran and Pateman know better than treat the memoirs as simple autobiography. Berkman himself in his diary says ‘it would require half a dozen volumes to give all the incidents etc—even only the typical ones—of a life of 14 years. I must therefore select, combine types & incidents into typical representation.’ [p479] And Berkman aims not just to recount what happened: ‘His use of dialogue ensures that ideas and information are conveyed to us without didacticism. Some of these characters did exist, and it’s quite likely that others—George and Boston Red for instance—didn’t. Of course people who were like them, did. It is unlikely, however, that they had these conversations with Berkman at one time as presented in the book, or even at all. It might be better to see them as characters providing us with information and attitudes that Berkman picked up and came to terms with over his fourteen-year sentence.’ [p9]

I was struck by the importance of imagination in Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist. Prison is not what he expects it to be: ‘I thought I would be sitting on the floor in a gruesome, black hole, with my hands and feet chained to the wall; and the worms would crawl over me, and slowly devour my face and my eyes, and I so helpless, chained to the wall.’ [p110] Then he dreams of a magic ring that ‘dissolved the prison walls’ [p114]; and later imagines himself escaping as a letter: ‘all the while the real “me” is snugly lying here in the green box, peeping through the keyhole, on the watch for the postman.’ [p135] I don’t think this is just the inevitable response to the dullness of prison life. Perhaps imagination is central to his personal growth as well as his survival. Berkman never surrenders; he always sees himself as ‘an Anarchist in the hands of the enemy’ [p441]. Yet he doesn’t decide that victory will come if the anarchist movement is more fierce or more cunning. Berkman’s achievement is to know that it has to be more human – we need not only persistence but also ‘hearts that grow not cold’ [p373].

This edition of Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist is a must-read for anyone interested in anarchism or anarchist history. Beyond that, I think there might be some productive digging to be done on how the stories that we tell ourselves – or that we get told – affect our lives and our world. As Moran and Pateman say, after release Berkman would ‘make his own script.’ [p11] Not matter how long ago the opening of those prison doors seems, that makes Berkman’s struggles not just interesting but also inspiring.

Notes

1, from Jessica Moran and Barry Pateman ‘Alexander Berkman’s Prison Memoirs annotated: an interview’ in KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No. 89, January 2017, p.2. http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/ns1t5h

Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist by Alexander Berkman, annotated and introduced by Jessica Moran and Barry Pateman.

AK Press and the Kate Sharpley Library, 2017. ISBN 9781849352529 https://www.akpress.org/prisonmemoirsofananarchist.html

Verwandter Link: http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/t76k1f
This page can be viewed in
English Italiano Deutsch
George Floyd: one death too many in the “land of the free”

North America / Mexico | History of anarchism | en

So 17 Jan, 07:58

browse text browse image

textChaim Weinberg's 1930 Jewish Anarchist Memoirs Are Now Online 17:56 Di 29 Mai by KSL 0 comments

Wooden Shoe Books and the Dead Anarchists website are proud to announce the online release of Chaim Leib Weinberg’s Forty Years in the Struggle: The Memoirs of a Jewish Anarchist, which are translated by Naomi Cohen and edited by Robert P. Helms. We present this book for the first time in English, and in the only form that is now available to a general readership.
[Forwarded by KSL]

textNew pamphlet, "Alcatraz – Uncle Sam's Devil's Island" 21:43 Sa 10 Mär by KSL 0 comments

The Kate Sharpley Library has just published a new edition of Philip Grosser's account of his time imprisoned on the notorious prison island of Alcatraz. Philip Grosser was sent to Alcatraz because he didn't want to murder anyone, even on government orders. He was a Boston anarchist and anti-militarist who refused to be drafted into the slaughter of World War One.

textNew pamphlet: George Brown, the cobbler anarchist of Philadelphia By Robert P. Helms 17:51 Mi 04 Okt by KSL 1 comments

The Kate Sharpley Library are please to announce the publication of a new pamphlet examining the life of George Brown (1858-1915), Philadelphia anarchist activist. Robert P. Helms traces the life of this anarchist shoemaker from freethinking Northamptonshire to Philadelphia's burgeoning anarchist movement of the 1890s. Never famous, and only occasionally infamous, Brown was typical of many of the militants who made the movement what it was, and his story sheds a fascinating light on the microcosm of a social movement.

textMemorial Statement for Murray Bookchin (NEFAC) 22:16 Do 17 Aug by Open City Collective 1 comments

The Northeastern Federation of Anarchist-Communists (NEFAC) extends its deepest sympathies to the family, friends, and all of the comrades of Murray Bookchin. Comrade Bookchin was a man who rigorously believed in the ideal of a free society.

textSpanish Civil War veteran to speak in Montreal 04:08 Mi 17 Mai by Rebelworker 1 comments

In 1936 tens of thousands of volunteers from around the world illegally made their way to Spain to help in the first battle against the spreading tide of Facism in Europe. French national George Sossenko, driven by his antifascist politics, made this incredible sacrifice at only the age of sixteen. Once in Spain he was a member of the Legendary Durutti Colum and was introduced to the politcs of Anarchism. Fisrt hand he saw the incredible revolutionary movement of the Spanish workers and peasants and would be changed by what he saw for the rest of his life.

videoFrom Nukes to Occupy Nov 27 by Robin J. Cartwright 0 comments

The "Battle of Seattle," which began November 30th, 1999, was a major event in the history of US radical struggle, and one of the high-points of the "non-violent direct action movement." Exactly 20 years later, Robin J. Cartwright analyzes the the rise, fall, and inner contradictions of the non-violent direct action movement, as well as the lessons we can learn from it today.

imageAlbert Parsons: The life of the Chicago anarchist and labour martyr in his own words Mai 01 by Albert Parsons 0 comments

As a tribute to one of the most remarkable agitators in labour history, we publish on May Day the autobiography of Albert Parsons. He was one of the five Chicago Anarchists who were tried in 1886-1887 and executed in November 1887 for their role as 8-hour working-day agitators and as anarchist militants. This mock-trial in 'the land of liberty' is one of the most shameful events in the history of labour in the whole world, and gave rise to May Day commemorations all over the world -the day was picked, because the repression which ended up in the 'legal lynching' of the Chicago Martyrs started after the general strike for the 8 hours working-day in May 1st 1886. This day is commemorated all over the world in memory of the Chicago Martyrs -unsurprisingly, one of the few countries which does not commemorate May Day is the land where this barbaric crime took place -the United States. They invented their own 'Labour Day' in September, with the purpose of severing the working class in the US from its radical tradition, and to devoid of meaning the conquest of the 8 hour working-day, a product of struggle and enormous sacrifice, not a gift from the capitalists. The life of Albert Parsons is instructive of the trajectory of many working class agitators in the US in the 19th century, a period of remarkable radicalism which was crushed with unspeakable ruthlessness and repression. His life story goes from fighting in the Confederate States Army during the US Civil War as a 13 year old, to republican and civil rights' agitator, advocate of the emancipation of the slaves, then trade unionist, socialist and anarchist. He was married to Lucy Parsons, a mixed race woman herself born a slave, who would become a prominent socialist and anarchist, and who was a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World, IWW, in 1905. A remarkable organiser and orator, he was the soul of the most progressive and active workers' movement in the USA at the time: in Chicago. Parsons was the only US citizen of 'pure stock' among the Chicago Martyrs (his ancestry going back all the way to one of the pilgrims in the Mayflower in 1632) -all his comrades being German. The immigrant nature of these anarchists was the cause for a racist and xenophobic uproar that no doubt was crucial to justify their barbaric execution -these racist, xenophobic tendencies are still alive and healthy in the USA, as we can see from the current state of affairs in the country. This is why, being not only a remarkable speaker, but also a well-self-educated man (at a time when the workers' movement still placed much emphasis on the self-education of the workers), he chose to strike a chord with public opinion and counter arguments that socialism and anarchism were 'foreign' and 'alien' ideas, by appealing to texts such as the US Declaration of Independence and opinions of Thomas Jefferson, while also appealing to the conservative and religious frame of mind prevalent, ended up by quoting the Bible. Of course, nothing would save him from the fury of the capitalists' class hatred, but this autobiography is a masterpiece of engaging with the prevalent environment at the time from a radical perspective, of showing in a sober manner his process of radicalisation and the logic behind it, and also, a staunch defence of the anarchist principles by which he lived and which he did not betrayed when confronted to the gallows. Our best tribute to this titanic figure is to resist the current onslaught of the global capitalists against hard-won workers' rights, while to keep faithful to the cause of a free and just world. José Antonio Gutiérrez D.
1st May, 2019

imageAddress Of Enrique Flores Magon In The Federal Court, Los Angeles, June 22, 1916 Jan 27 by Enrique Flores Magon 0 comments

Powerful address by the Mexican anarchist-communist revolutionary, Enrique Flores Magon, brother to fellow anarchist-communist militants Jesus and Ricardo Flores Magon. This address was given to a US court, defending the brothers' fight for "the emancipation of the downtrodden, particularly of the Mexican proletarians, and of the disinherited all over the world in general." It defends the then-ongoing Mexican Revolution against imperialism and capitalism, argues for anarchist-communism, and makes an internationalist appeal to the American working class for joint struggle against tyrants and exploiters, stressing common class realities.

The brothers Enrique and Ricardo Flores Magon were at the time in exile, in the USA, conducting revolutionary work. They were arrested several times, this speech being given during the trial that followed their arrest in 1916 for distributing "indecent materials" (both were found guilty). Ricardo was again arrested in 1918 for sedition, given 20 years, and died in a US prison in 1922. Enrique was released in 1923 and returned to Mexico.

textThe Rise and Fall of The Green Mountain Anarchist Collective Sep 27 by David Van Deusen 0 comments

For a decade the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective did its part... This is its story...

imageAudio: Translating Anarchy: The Anarchism of Occupy Wall Street Aug 22 by andrew 0 comments

A 30 minute talk by Mark Bray, author of Translating Anarchy: The Anarchism of Occupy Wall Street followed by an hour of discussion. Translating Anarchy tells the story of the anti-capitalist anti-authoritarians of Occupy Wall Street who strategically communicated their revolutionary politics to the public in a way that was both accessible and revolutionary.

more >>

textChaim Weinberg's 1930 Jewish Anarchist Memoirs Are Now Online Mai 29 0 comments

Wooden Shoe Books and the Dead Anarchists website are proud to announce the online release of Chaim Leib Weinberg’s Forty Years in the Struggle: The Memoirs of a Jewish Anarchist, which are translated by Naomi Cohen and edited by Robert P. Helms. We present this book for the first time in English, and in the only form that is now available to a general readership.
[Forwarded by KSL]

textNew pamphlet, "Alcatraz – Uncle Sam's Devil's Island" Mär 10 Kate Sharpley Library 0 comments

The Kate Sharpley Library has just published a new edition of Philip Grosser's account of his time imprisoned on the notorious prison island of Alcatraz. Philip Grosser was sent to Alcatraz because he didn't want to murder anyone, even on government orders. He was a Boston anarchist and anti-militarist who refused to be drafted into the slaughter of World War One.

textNew pamphlet: George Brown, the cobbler anarchist of Philadelphia By Robert P. Helms Okt 04 Kate Sharpley Library 1 comments

The Kate Sharpley Library are please to announce the publication of a new pamphlet examining the life of George Brown (1858-1915), Philadelphia anarchist activist. Robert P. Helms traces the life of this anarchist shoemaker from freethinking Northamptonshire to Philadelphia's burgeoning anarchist movement of the 1890s. Never famous, and only occasionally infamous, Brown was typical of many of the militants who made the movement what it was, and his story sheds a fascinating light on the microcosm of a social movement.

textMemorial Statement for Murray Bookchin (NEFAC) Aug 17 NEFAC 1 comments

The Northeastern Federation of Anarchist-Communists (NEFAC) extends its deepest sympathies to the family, friends, and all of the comrades of Murray Bookchin. Comrade Bookchin was a man who rigorously believed in the ideal of a free society.

textSpanish Civil War veteran to speak in Montreal Mai 17 NEFAC 1 comments

In 1936 tens of thousands of volunteers from around the world illegally made their way to Spain to help in the first battle against the spreading tide of Facism in Europe. French national George Sossenko, driven by his antifascist politics, made this incredible sacrifice at only the age of sixteen. Once in Spain he was a member of the Legendary Durutti Colum and was introduced to the politcs of Anarchism. Fisrt hand he saw the incredible revolutionary movement of the Spanish workers and peasants and would be changed by what he saw for the rest of his life.

more >>
© 2005-2021 Anarkismo.net. Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by Anarkismo.net. [ Disclaimer | Privacy ]