the anarchists


Still, one greets this larger-than-life study of the modern revolutionary’s vocation with a certain puzzlement—a kind of variation on the age-old radical quandary “What is to be done?” While reading Avrich’s excellent chronicle of Berkman and Goldman’s lives and times, I was once again moved by the depth of their idealism and commitment—but I was also repeatedly struck by how different our current situation is from theirs. Their experience of injustice and inequality was tangible. It meant something to speak, as Goldman and Berkman did, of “parasitic capitalists,” “capitalistic thieves and idlers,” in a world where labor truly was “the creator of all the wealth in the world,” where “everything in this city was created by our hands or the hands of our brothers and sisters.” Amid the present-day polarization of wealth, however, such evocations of a shared historical plight among the dispossessed, rare as they are, have little resonance. Thanks to the steady financialization of the economy and the export of manufacturing jobs to the impoverished developing world, fewer and fewer of us make anything—and certainly not under the exploitative conditions of the nineteenth-century factory. And this radical change in our everyday lives appears to have sharply weakened, if not altogether severed, our direct relationship to the rich.

more from Rochelle Gurstein at Bookforum here.