From Socialist Worker Review, No.128, February 1990, p.35.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
SETH HARMAN is wrong to belittle Alexander Berkman’s account of the decline of the Russian Revolution (January SWR).
Berkman was not a mere political tourist who came late to anarchism as a way of resisting the necessity for a revolutionary party. His response to the assassination of Tsar Alexander II was to espouse nihilism while still a schoolboy in Russia. On his arrival in America he joined the movement around the anarcho-syndicalist newspaper Freedom.
The judicial murder of the four strike leaders who were framed for the Haymarket bombing in 1887 led Berkman to the conclusion that bosses who perpetrated murder should pay with their lives.
When Frick ordered the Homestead massacre during the steel strike of 1892, Berkman put his beliefs into practice. He was a bad shot however, and survived 12 years of solitary confinement to be welcomed in Bolshevik Russia as a serious representative of the class struggle in America.
As such he and Emma Goldman were asked to mediate in the Kronstadt rebellion. Only after they failed were they given the job of collecting revolutionary archives. The other mediators, except for Victor Serge, were arrested by the Bolsheviks.
We should take Berkman’s anarchism more seriously at a time when we are being told that workers’ direct action in the Eastern Bloc is leading today’s revolutionary movement into anarchy.
Last updated: 29 May 2010