Sunday, July 21, 2019

FFB "classic": TOMORROW'S CRIMES by Donald Westlake (Mysterious Press/Warner Books 1990); THE RELEVANCE OF ANARCHISM TO MODERN SOCIETY by Sam Dolgoff (Charles H. Kerr, 1989)

written for (in*sit) ca. 1991, and eventually published in its successor Liberation, Summer 1992; this transcription running a week+ late for the late Westlake's birthday anniversary...

anarchism made stupid:
Tomorrow's Crimes by Donald Westlake (Mysterious Press/Warner Books 1990); The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society by Sam Dolgoff (Charles H. Kerr, 1989)

We have here two volumes by intelligent, talented men who've produced major works in their respective fields; one's a pamphlet comprised of the third revision of a long essay first published in 1970, the other's a collection of some of the fantasticated  fiction of a writer best known for hardboiled and absurdist crime fiction, this book largely given over to a short novel called Anarchaos, first published in 1967. They are two of the sorriest introductions to anarchist thought one could have, and both [still could be] betraying that function for dozes or hundreds of readers as you cast your eyes over this.

The Dolgoff is a relentlessly vague, repetitious and mean-spirited screed that frequently undermines the few points it tries to make. He's in trouble from the first paragraph, where he introduces a theme which will run throughout the piece: the "real" anarchists are those who follow "Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, [and] Malatesta"...who didn't agree with each other on various issues rather central to their philosophies (for example, Malatesta and Bakunin would look with less revulsion on armed conflict than would Kropotkin the pacifist); if we follow the thread Dolgoff traces through the thought of these four (without once suggesting they had any differences), we still hit upon discrepancies:  Dolgoff (justly) ridicules those who think The Revolution Just Around the Corner will settle all differences between anarchists and more authoritarian sorts of socialists, then later approvingly quotes Malatesta instructing us to "support all struggles for partial freedom [presumably this includes those of authoritarian socialists] because we are convinced that one learns through struggle, and when one begins to enjoy a little freedom one ends by wanting it all." Tell that to the anarchists who fought in the Russian Revolutions, to the anarchists who at first were willing to work in good faith with the Leninists in the Spanish Civil War (till the CP made it clear that sabotaging the anarchists' efforts and punishing the Trotskyists was more important to them than actually beating the Francoists, Carlists and fascists); tell them how the people in revolt, once they've suffered so much bloodshed from both their old oppressors and those who promise one sort of partial freedom or another, will simply rise up and be decimated again in an attempt to gain the "complete freedom" that Malatesta also speaks of (and which Dolgoff here tells us is unattainable), rather than desperately settle for the mite of any greater freedom they might now have. Malatesta might be excused for the avoidance of practical concerns; Dolgoff the historian and anti-utopian can't be. Dolgoff clearly realizes this, as he spent the first part of his essay severely criticizing "escapists" and bohemians, Nechayevist nihilists and "anti-social" types: one of his redundancies is in breaking these two types of pseudo-anarchists into four, with escapists and bohos almost identical in his descriptions, the nihilists and anti-socials likewise, which he attempts to disguise by arranging them Escapist, Nihilist, Bohemian, Anti-Social. Both Malatesta and Dolgoff were playing More Proletarian Than You, Dolgoff less authentically. 

The rest of the essay is similarly dissatisfying, with a few quotations from non-anarchists who seem to reaffirm anarchist tenets: under the heading "Self-Management", Dolgoff gets excited by the [then] growing attempt to include staff discussion in business decision-making, a la Thriving on Chaos and the like, without bothering to inquire into whether the new tendencies aren't simply a way of masking old hierarchies in friendlier faces, which they usually are. In fact, the coercive use of false consensus is approved here when not glossed over, one of the inherent problems with almost all anarchosyndicalist argument. Anarchists can agree that people should be as much in control of their own activity as possible, and there is consideration here toward an understanding of the advantages of interdependence over isolation, the anarchist potential within our current society, and a legitimate place for sophisticated technology within anarchism, but none of it is compellingly argued. The snottiness toward those with whom Dolgoff [had] disagreed, however, is much in evidence. If you're not already Dolgoff's sort of syndicalist, it won't convince might even turn you away from any sort of anarchism.

Something sure turned Donald Westlake off. His novel, Anarchaos, published originally under his "Curt Clark" (as in rude writer) pseudonym, closes out this collection of stories that frequently verge on our favorite kind of libertarianism. The first Westlake story I read is here, "The Winner" (Nova 1, edited by Harry Harrison, 1970, reprinted in such places as the classroom magazine Read in ca. 1976), about a political prisoner (an "obscene" dissident poet) in an experimental near-future US prison. The
"humanitarian" warden, whose metaphorical name is Wordman to the poet's Revell, can't understand why the poet won't simply resign himself to his imprisonment; this story has stuck with me for [at time of writing the review] more than fifteen years. The other science fiction stories here, notably the rather deft Cold War satire "The Spy in the Elevator" (Galaxy, October, 1961; link to the story here), also evince little patience with such concentrations of power as governments and corporations and the useless idiots who abet them. So what are we to make of such pronouncements in Anarchaos as "The first generation on Anarchaos [a planet], in fact, didn't do too badly, but of course they had been trained on other worlds and understood discipline and group effort, those two hallmarks of government."? The page before, he throws together the prescriptions of "such anarchist, nihilist, and syndicalist writers as William Godwin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Benjamin Tucker, Josiah Warren, Max Stirner, Prince Pyotr Kropotkin, Georges Sorel and Sergius Nechaev [sic]" as the basis of Anarchaos society. If Dolgoff has presented us with a disingenuously-homogenized bunch of anarchists, Westlake is in comparison entropic; it's difficult to imagine Warren and Nechayev in the same room for more than a minute, much less the entirety of this exceedingly unlikely crew of Founding Fathers.  One wonders if Westlake [was] an irritable liberal who read an encyclopedia article about anarchism once, or a closet Marxist who believes every slur the anti-libertarian socialists and others ever came up with. He, or his narrator/protagonist, tell us after the first generation the devolving syndicates were take over by interplanetary conglomerates, who have subtly encouraged such institutions as slavery...yet he, or his clueless narrator, keeps referring to "anarchist slavers", to "rugged individualists" who engage in behaviors that even Ayn Rand's most deranged followers probably wouldn't. Strange.

A scanned transcript of the 1977 version of the Dolgoff essay.

As not noted in the original review, the story "Nackles" is a fine and amusing fantasy (more than borderline horror) about a sort of latter-day Krampus, made up by an abusive father and husband to terrify his children. That CBS executives refused to produce Harlan Ellison's script from the story led to Ellison's resignation from the first The Twilight Zone television series revival in the 1980s. See the index below to learn where the story and teleplay are available side by side.

A number of Westlake's short stories up at a fan-site here.

The ISFDB index (good for detailing all SFnal appearances) to Tomorrow's Crimes:

The Locus Index (for first publication sites at a glance, and more):
Tomorrow’s Crimes Donald E. Westlake (Mysterious Press 0-89296-299-2, Sep ’89, $18.95, 263pp, hc) Collection of nine fantastic/speculative fiction stories and one short novel by a well-known mystery writer.
  • 1 · The Girl of My Dreams · ss The Midnight Ghost Book, ed. James Hale, 1978
  • 13 · Nackles [as by Curt Clark] · ss F&SF Jan ’64
  • 22 · The Ultimate Caper: The Purloined Letter · ss The New York Times May 11 ’75
  • 26 · The Spy in the Elevator · ss Galaxy Oct ’61
  • 46 · The Risk Profession · nv Amazing Mar ’61
  • 75 · The Winner · ss Nova 1, ed. Harry Harrison, Delacorte, 1970
  • 87 · Dream a Dream · ss Cosmopolitan Aug ’82
  • 93 · In at the Death · ss The Thirteenth Ghost Book, ed. James Hale, Barrie & Jenkins, 1977; EQMM Nov ’78
  • 108 · Hydra · ss F&SF Mar ’84
  • 115 · Anarchaos [as by Curt Clark] · n. New York: Ace, 1967
"Curt Clark" was the primary but infrequent pseudonym Westlake used for his speculative fiction work in the 1960s, after contributing a "farewell to SF and fuck you very much" short essay, "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You", to Pat and Richard Lupoff's magazine Xero in 1961, and then continuing to publish in the field (more often in the '70s and later).  He'd insulted a number of the editors in the field, including at least one he would continue to sell to, though he let his agent offer the "Clark" manuscripts, and I don't  know to what extent the editors in question had any illusion these new stories weren't coming from Westlake. Barry Malzberg has advised me that "The Winner" had been a "trunk" story of Westlake's, which Harrison was happy to take for the first volume of his new-fiction anthology series, and it was the first piece by Westlake in SF media under his own name since the "resignation" letter had been published.

The online scan of the entire October 1961 issue of Galaxy, edited by Frederik Pohl though "officially" the ailing H. L. Gold was still editing.
Impressive issue generally (FictionMags Index entry): 

Todd Mason

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