Five Books that Made (and Keep) Me an Anarchist
By SAM BUCHANAN
Comet in Moominland (Puffin Books, 1971) was the first of the Moomin books I read as a child. Some of Moomin Valley’s inhabitants, notably hemulems, still show a fondness for authority, but this is regarded as a character flaw by sensible people.
Small silent wandering hattifatteners, something like a white sock with small hands and eyes, give people electric shocks, particularly those with a predilection for wearing uniforms (it’s the metal buttons), but there’s a reason for their behaviour that you’ll need to read the books to find out.
Comet is part of a series by Tove Jansson, a leftist bohemian from the Swedish minority in Finland. Her books are able to be read on many levels, as cute fairy stories, as psychological examinations of a range of human types and as a depiction of a tolerant, respectful and freedom-loving community. The gender roles of the characters follow no prescription, everyone is accepted – those who play very traditional roles as well as those who don’t (the publishers weren’t so enlightened, pretending Jansson lived alone on an island, rather than admit the existence of her female partner). Moomin Valley is still my favourite picture of anarchism and I’m always a bit surprised to find people have managed to become anarchists despite never reading Jansson’s books.
Years later, as a budding activist, I stumbled across a copy of the British Anarchy magazine in a lefty bookshop in Wellington. I read it from cover to cover enthralled, not so much by the political analysis, but by the writing – it was, in stark contrast to all the worthy leftist political magazines and newspapers I’d seen before – genuinely funny! Amid the thoughtful political content, it had cartoons and jokes by people who did more than just have a go at their political opponents. There must be something in this anarchism thing, I thought.
This thought was reinforced by George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia , his account of his time in Spain, fighting in a militia during the civil war. Orwell Started out sympathising with the communists, but his experiences pushed him towards the deeper radicalism of the anarchists, impressed by their willingness to collectivise factories and villages and bring their ideas to life, rather than let themselves be pawns in the wider political game played by the fascist states, the Soviet Union and the Western democracies.
Headquarters of the once 700,000 strong Confederación Nacional del Trabajo anarchist union in Barcelona. Photo 2005 by JEREMY ROSE
The Women’s Room by Marilyn French is the only book I’ve read that’s as much about women as most books are about men. All men should read it every few years as an antidote to our increasingly sexist culture.
During a bad year, Bill Waterson’s There’s Treasure Everywhere, a compilation of Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strips reminded me to keep looking out for the everyday miracles people can experience, and make, if they remain open to them. In the title strip the six year old Calvin is digging for treasure in his back yard, his stuffed tiger happens by and asks him what he has found: “A few dirty rocks, a weird root and some disgusting bugs”. “On your first try??” exclaims the genuinely impressed tiger. “There’s treasure everywhere!” replies Calvin.
Sam Buchanan is a Wellington writer and activist.
If you’ve got five books on a particular theme you would like to recommend, email them to jeremy[at]scoop.co.nz