The back cover of Orgasms of History says, “Every now and then, they explode. Riots, uprisings, revolutions, new and bizarre social groups spring up seemingly from nowhere. Our standard histories tend to treat these as oddities, if treated at all, or as misguided responses to hard times, limited by lack of responsible leadership. Here’s an illustrated people’s history to puncture that balloon.” French writer Yves Fremian presents over twenty-five rebellions, revolts, and nontraditional philosophers. From the Greek cynics to the San Francisco Diggers, Fremian gives a few pages to each. He attempts to connect them all with a general anarchist outlook. He makes statements like, “Between feudalism and bureaucracy, between capitalism and private western imperialism and the State capitalism and imperialism of the ‘socialist’ countries, there are few, if any, essential differences.” Most historians, and myself, disagree. Although there are certainly some broad statements that could be made, such as “Power corrupts,” that are relatively true throughout history, there is a huge difference between feudalism and capitalism. The demands of English peasants in the thirteenth century are not identical with those of the American working class in the 19th century.
Unfortunately, Fremian seems intent on over-simplifying. He ignores a lot of negative aspects to the rebellions he writes about and calls a number of events and people “anarchist” before the term was commonly used. Fremian does pick some interesting events and history. A novice might want to pick this up to get some ideas about historical events he or she might want to read more about. Of course, it is clearly not Fremian’s intent to provide a comprehensive history. And he does do a pretty good job of delivering the basics. In the introduction, he says, “A book is no substitute for a gun.” I guess us non-gun-toting revolutionaries are screwed. Oh well. -Maddy (AK Press, PO Box 40682, SF, CA 9410-0682)