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  • Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History
  • Eric Smith
Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History Staughton Lynd and Andrej Grubačić Oakland: PM Press, 2008; 261 pages. $20.00, ISBN 1604860412

Serbian Andrej Grubačić and American Staughton Lynd team up for the conversation of the book's title, with Grubačić serving in the role of interviewer and Lynd as the interviewee. Their dialogue is clearly pointed at activists—the "new anarchists," in particular—and intent on reconnecting1 the two historically divided political orientations, anarchism and Marxism. For scholars, Wobblies and Zapatistas serves as an oral history, both an intellectual autobiography of two activists and a (sort of) manifesto. The book also continues the mission of its Oakland publisher.

The chapters are divided by theme but revolve around three main ideas: "Burnham's dilemma" and the Zapatista example, the historical interconnection of Marxism and anarchism, and "accompaniment" as a best method to bring this about. In addition to Wobblies and Zapatistas, the authors make frequent reference to Student Nonviolent Coordinating Comittee and Students for a Democratic Society and the civil rights movement, Lynd's Youngstown work, and his earlier scholarship on the American Revolution. Throughout, Lynd frequently references and summarizes his earlier work (both scholarly and [End Page 139] organizational). By the end some of the points have actually become repetitive. Their novelty lies in the synthesis of ideas in this anarchist-Marxist dialogue.

According to Lynd, the Zapatista example has made a major break from previous revolutionary movements in building regional institutions rather than seeking power, a strategy that actually came out of the failed attempt to realize precisely that objective. For Lynd, this example solves the long struggle he has had with James Burnham's The Managerial Revolution, which argued that capitalist institutions developed prior to capitalism and so made the development of socialist institutions impossible. What the Zapatistas have made clear is that the revolutionary "project should be to nurture an horizontal network of self-governing institutions down below, to which whoever holds state power will learn they have to be obedient and accountable" (50). For this reason, Lynd then proceeds into a discussion of "accompaniment," his own theoretical term stemming from a combination of personal experience and the liberation theology of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Its main premise is captured by the hope expressed in his concluding comments that "individuals will find it more and more possible to reconcile, to find common ground, to prefigure another world in the way we relate to each other" (241).

It does not take a deep reading of Lynd's comments to ascertain his discomfort with both the shortcomings of his own youth movement and that of the "new anarchists," especially a perceived atheoretical anarchism he saw at work in Seattle, Genoa, and Cancun over the previous decade (and probably in Copenhagen, too, had he been writing after those events in December 2009). Indeed, through the course of the book it becomes clear that they are the intended audience of this volume, and the hope is that they might begin to build a movement in their own communities rather than focus—exclusively, Lynd and Grubačić suggest—on organizing to protest the next big global conference.

Given the book's intended audience and its format, a standard criticism of content and approach would be inappropriate. This short volume is rife with aphorisms like "if organizing is personal expression alone, more oft en than not it will fail to give rise to mass action" (109), and "‘bread and butter' issues are the essence of lower-class politics and resistance" (130). The book ends with an all-too-brief treatment of nonviolence that contradicts the book's opening and closing discussions of the Zapatistas and only tangentially recognizes that any incoherence exists. Had Lynd and Grubačić argued that [End Page 140] violence as a political device has historically existed within a cultural and temporal context, they might have resolved the matter. The Zapatistas initially resisted by force because force has been an effective tool for change in Latin America for centuries. Their entire movement today rests on the initial surge of...


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