Thursday, November 24, 2011

Five notable books on leaderless revolution

Carne Ross, a former British diplomat, is currently on Occupy Wall Street’s general assembly. His latest book, The Leaderless Revolution, explores alternative systems of organizing world affairs, in particular anarchism.

He discussed five books on leaderless revolution with Eve Gerber at The Browser, including:
Homage to Catalonia
by George Orwell

Let’s turn to George Orwell’s account of what he saw while volunteering for various factions against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Tell us the story of Homage to Catalonia.

This is just a wonderful book. Like all of Orwell's work it's incredibly well written. It's a very powerful piece of prose. Usually this book is seen as a picturesque account of an ultimately failed attempt to fight fascism, but what made a big impression on me was the fact that people like Orwell and 30,000 other foreign volunteers went to fight fascism in Spain at all. It's in such contrast to the way we think politics works now. In those days people realised that to fight fascism you had to go risk your own life. Thousands of foreign volunteers didn't return from Spain. These days, we're led to believe that signing our name on an internet petition is really going to end genocide in Darfur. That was the contrast that really hit home to me in that book.

The other thing that's interesting about it – and the reason why it's one of the books that led to The Leaderless Revolution – is that in Republican Spain, before Franco's victory, anarchist society came into being. There were organisations of peasants and workers, intercollectives and self-managing groups. And it worked. So it's actually one of the few examples of anarchism in practice. Orwell writes about it beautifully and clearly he found it very compelling. He later admitted that where in the book he joined a communist group in Spain called POUM, if he had his choice again he would have joined the anarchists – which is a very little noted fact about Orwell.

He gives great narrative detail about his journey through this war, from seeing those anarchist symbols and early organisation to his injury when he is shot through the neck.

It's wonderful to read, and a great book in its own right of a man going to fight in a foreign war.
Read about the other books Ross tagged.

Homage to Catalonia also appears among Samuel Muston's ten best travel books, Harold Evans's five best books on reporting, and Michael Symmons Roberts' ten best books on civil war.

--Marshal Zeringue