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Keywords: Politics, Libertarianism, Anarchism

Title: Anarchy Alive!

Author: Uri Gordon

Publisher: Pluto Press

ISBN: 0745326838

 

From the day that Pierre-Joseph Proudhon adopted it, in the middle of the 19th century, 'Anarchist' has remained a politically loaded term. A badge of honour or term of abuse, it is still a part of the political lexicon in the 21st century, long after the oft-predicted demise of anarchism as a movement and political philosophy. While membership of explicitly anarchist groups remains numerically insignificant, the influence of anarchism on the politics of anti-globalisation, animal liberation and other diverse protest movements is obviously significant. For those for whom anarchism is only dimly understood, Uri Gordon's 'Anarchy Alive!' aims to present a picture of contemporary anarchist theory and practice that is clear, accessible and engaging.

From the outset the author makes clear that there is a real and important difference between those anarchists who are members of the 'official' anarchist movement - members of the various Anarchist Federations and Anarcho-syndicalist groups for example - and those who identify as anarchists but are members of broader coalitions, such as the People Global Action and other anti-globalisation groups. While there is obviously some overlap, this difference between 'big A' and 'little A' anarchism is important in understanding the kind of anarchism that Gordon presents here. More importantly Gordon claims that this is a generational difference, that these new anarchists represent a new generation of political activists that has little do with previous generations of anarchists.

Where previous generations of anarchists have been fired class difference and economic injustice, this new generation of anarchists is the result of cross-fertilisation of movements and philosophies that had no overtly anarchist tradition. As he puts it:

'These include the radical, direct-action end of ecological, anti-nuclear and anti-war movements, and of movements for women's, black, indigenous, LGBT and animal liberation'.

Notably absent from that list are radical working class and militant anti-fascist movements. Where 'classical' anarchism was primarily rooted in class politics, this has, for the most part been left behind. Instead of an analysis of capitalism that is based on economic injustice and class oppression -core tenets of the anarchist tradition - there is instead a diffuse and subjective rejection of 'domination'.

If the working class baggage has been dropped from this new generation anarchism, what remains? Gordon identifies three central themes that defines contemporary anarchist culture: domination, prefigurative direct-action and open-endedness/diversity. Domination, as should be clear, means a rejection not just of the state and capitalism but of all forms of domination - it is this that unites the animal liberationist and the anti-racist, those suffering sexual oppression and those organising against climate change. Prefiguration is a fancy way of saying that the ends and means are inseparable - you cannot build a non-hierarchical society by reproducing hierarchical forms of organisation. More subtly it means that anti-authoritarians are attempting to build a new society in the here and now rather than waiting for 'the revolution'.

Finally, open-endedness and diversity recognises that there in no 'one true way', and that this new form of anarchism is open to different forms of organisation, accepts differences of strategy and tactics and accepts that there is nobody has all the answers.

In addition to expanding on the characteristics of this anarchist culture, Gordon also looks at a number of key issues that confront this movement. The first is Anarchism and Violence (a perennial favourite that harks back to the 19th century), Anarchism and Technology and finally a chapter on Anarchism and the struggle in Israel/Palestine.

The chapter on Anarchism and Violence does little to re-visits old ground with little new to say, despite a sprinkling of philosophical attempts to define what violence is.

There is more to be gained on the chapter that looks at anarchist approaches to science and technology. Given that technology is at the heart of the networked approached to organising that is a key feature of anti-authoritarian politics, there is a certain amount of tension on display. While the fruits of technology are potentially liberating, Gordon ultimately has more sympathy for those who reject science and technology than with those who are interested in techno-utopias. While not adopting an out and out primitivist stance, Gordon certainly feels some attraction to those who reject technology and industrial society as a whole.

The chapter on Israel/Palestine focuses for a large part on the Anarchists Against The Wall project, where Israeli/Jewish anarchists are organising against the barrier being erected by the Zionist government. Gordon does a good job in describing the difficulties involved, both theoretical and social. He describes the physical and emotional dangers, the burn out of activists and the problems posed by either a blanket 'no state' slogan or coming out in support of a 'two state' solution.

Ultimately what emerges from this book is a picture of a diverse movement that has, to a large extent, parted company with what many people would regard as 'classical' anarchism - of the type that is still exemplified by the small groups of activists organised in the various Anarchist Federations and the International Workers Association. This new movement is diverse and diffuse, a coalition of disparate protest groups and campaigns that share a minimal set of principles in common, enough to work together around large symbolic actions (WTO and G8 meetings, for example) or for specific events.

In particular it is clear that Gordon's vision of an anarchist culture is at heart deeply reactionary. This is nowhere clearer than in his discussion of science and culture. Here he rejects not just capitalism but also industrial society as a whole. He falls back on Arcadian visions of a pre-industrial, indeed pre-agricultural society, of small groups of hunter gatherers living in harmony with nature (ignoring recent scientific research which shows that hunter gatherer societies were plagued by very high levels of violence and destruction). Such a vision entails a massive de-population of the world. The planet cannot sustain 6 billion hunter gatherers, it's that simple.

Where the roots of anarchism are rationalist, this new movement is not just irrationalist, it is tinged with the same distrust of reason that one detects in organised religion. It is based not on a vision of a new and better world, but on a picture of a pre-historic (and probably pre-verbal) world that harks back to Eden. There is an obvious overlap here with some post-Modernist thinking, which Gordon acknowledges, and indeed there are some who talk of post-Anarchism as the term that encompasses the overlap between post-Modernism and this new form of anarchism.

The distrust of rationality and science is not just incidental, it is a core feature of this movement and can be seen at work in those issues that are high on the agenda. Environmentalism, climate change and anti-globalisation. In the case of climate change there is a complete lack of engagement with the science - man-made global warming is accepted as fact, the most extreme predictions are taken as gospel and there is no room for doubt of any kind. The fact that climate change is the biggest gift to statists and authoritarians the world over is barely noticed.

Similarly the anti-globalisation movement relies not on evidence but on conjecture, emotion and grand gestures. The complexities of the world are pushed to one side in an enormous act of faith. There is a very obvious refusal to engage with the evidence or to admit that globalisation might have positive as well as negative features.

Gordon does a good job of introducing the movement that he calls 'anarchism reloaded', providing a readable and succinct account of the key ideas, features and issues that it is engaged in. He examines some of the issues within this movement, describing the internal tensions and disputes that are taking place within it. For those wanting to understand this movement this is a good place to start. For those who are already familiar with the territory there is plenty of polemic too.

Review © Pan Pantziarka, 2008. Site © London Book Review 2008. Published February 19 2008