Shapiro on Jun, 'Proletarian Days: A Hippolyte Havel Reader'

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Shapiro on Jun, 'Proletarian Days: A Hippolyte Havel Reader'
Nathan Jun, ed.  Proletarian Days: A Hippolyte Havel Reader.  Chico  
AK Press, 2018.  450 pp.  $24.00 (paper), ISBN 978-1-84935-328-1.

Reviewed by Shelby Shapiro (Independent Scholar)
Published on H-Socialisms (June, 2019)
Commissioned by Gary Roth

Hippolyte Havel

Hippolyte Havel, the anarchist publicist and activist, was born in 
1869, in what was then Bohemia, and died in New Jersey in 1950. 
Converted to anarchism in Vienna as a student before emigrating to 
America, he met Emma Goldman in London in late 1899; after the two of 
them travelled to Paris, they came to the United States in 1900. 
Havel would become very close--both personally and politically--with 
Goldman, and was a leading collaborator with her and others in the 
anarchist journal _Mother Earth._ 

Havel was not a theoretician, unlike Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) or 
Rudolf Rocker (1873-1948). He excelled at small pieces. Kropotkin, on 
the other hand, wrote large treatises, such as _Fields, Factories, 
and Workshops_ (1898), _Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution _(1902), 
and _The Conquest of Bread _(1892), among others. Kropotkin's _An 
Appeal to the Young_ (1880) remains to this day a call to idealistic 
youth to fight for social justice. Kropotkin's historical study _The 
Great French Revolution, 1789-1793_ (1893) and his autobiographical 
volumes, _Memoirs of a Revolutionist_ (1899) and _In Russian and 
French Prisons_ (1887), continue to be valuable reading. Nor did 
Havel make his mark as an organizer. Informing the world about 
anarchism and seeking to inspire thought and action was the essence 
of his career in the movement. Havel's forte was the small essay, 
simultaneously informing and exhorting.  

Of the fifty-seven pieces in the book, thirty-one first appeared in 
_Mother Earth_ from 1908 to 1914, two were published in _Greenwich 
Village_ in 1915, two came out of _The Social War _in 1917, and four 
were printed in 1929-30 in _The Road to Freedom_. Only a few items 
lack information as to who published them: "Among Books" (1910), 
"Among the Books" (1930), "A Victim of Communist Treachery" (1930), 
"Kotoku's Correspondence with Albert Johnson--Continuation" (1911), 
and "The Voice of Gary" (1928). Since the first part of Kotoku's 
correspondence appeared in _Mother Earth_, it is likely that the 
continuation piece appeared there as well. 

The editor has arranged the essays in chronological order. The 
readers thus witness the anarchist movement in real time, a 
continuous present, as events occurred. With a journalist such as 
Havel, this makes more sense than dividing them up by topic, an 
arrangement that also places the events and actors more in the past. 
Havel did not write in a systematic manner; his was very much a 
literature in response, reacting to the events of the day, to those 
he knew or met; what comes through most clearly is Havel's passion, 
his fervent belief in the anarchist ideal.  

Havel did not restrict himself to the American and European anarchist 
movements. Four pieces deal with Denjiro Kotoku (1871-1911), the 
Japanese anarchist executed in 1911, who wrote as Kotoku Shusui. 
Other pieces deal with the martyred Spanish educator/revolutionist 
Francisco Ferrer and Russia's Peter Kropotkin. Havel's essays on 
literature demonstrate the width and depth of his knowledge and 
interests.  The book contains pieces on the American author Jack 
London (1876-1916), the Russian writers Mikhail Artsybashev 
(1878-1927) and Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-81), and from Britain, H. G. 
Wells (1866-1946). In writing about Jack London, he devotes one essay 
to London's autobiographical novel, _Martin Eden _(1909), a work 
which unfortunately London's other novels have eclipsed in 
popularity--_Call of the Wild _(1903), for example. While _The Iron 
Heel_ (1908) is very interesting as London's prophecy of an 
authoritarian future as well as an experiment in telling a story in 
the form of a diary, it still lacks the emotional and psychological 
force of _Martin Eden_; and it is upon this attention to 
psychological forces that Havel focuses. 

Surprisingly--and whether this is true of these selections or Havel's 
oeuvre in its entirety this reviewer cannot say--there is but one 
mention of the Wobblies, members of the Industrial Workers of the 
World (IWW), the closest thing to syndicalism which that existed in 
North or South America. Beyond the Sacco-Vanzetti case, Italian 
anarchists receive no mention at all. Of all the non-English-speaking 
anarchist groups in America, the Italians were the most numerous. 

This book is a gem: crafted, polished, and set. It serves as a model 
for what an editor/compiler should do. The editor has tracked down 
all of the publication details for each article (with the few 
exceptions noted above) and provides annotations so the reader will 
know about whom or what Havel was referring. He further notes where 
Havel erred. One of the most fascinating aspects of this book is its 
resurrection or reminder of the forgotten--forgotten people, events, 
places, publications. 

Citation: Shelby Shapiro. Review of Jun, Nathan, ed., _Proletarian 
Days: A Hippolyte Havel Reader_. H-Socialisms, H-Net Reviews. June, 
2019.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=53449

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons 
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