Anarchy Alive!: Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory

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For those of us who consider ourselves anarchists or who are sympathetic to the idea of anti-authoritarian, bottom-up forms of organizing, it is occasionally frustrating that many of the books written on the topic are decades old. While there is much to learn from Emma Goldman’s Living My Life, the writings of Peter Kropotkin, or other classic anarchist texts, you can’t help but feel that they are rather dated and in many ways simply don’t apply to the current political situation. This is unfortunate because popular movements from the ground up–whether they call themselves anarchist or not–have been at the forefront of the most exciting political changes in the past decade.

In this context, Uri Gordon’s Anarchy Alive!: Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory is a welcome addition to the writing on anarchism. Gordon’s purpose is not to argue the case for anarchism–he writes that case has been made well in two-hundred years of anarchist writing–but rather to explore “the development of anarchist groups, actions and ideas in recent years, and aims to demonstrate what a theory based on practice can achieve when applied to central debates and dilemmas in the movement today.”

It’s a book that is written primarily for anarchists or those who are knowledgeable about the movement, but it does offer a couple of introductory chapters that provide a quick introduction to the topic. Gordon argues that anarchism is a contemporary social movement that has an intricate political culture that revolves around shared political orientations. These include agreement on the use of direct action, decentralized and horizontal organizing, and shared political language emphasizing resistance to capitalism, the state, patriarchy, and domination. Gordon acknowledges that diffuse networks and constantly evolving thought characterize anarchism. The first chapter, “What Moves the Movement?” looks at many of the characteristics of the movement and its political activities while the second, “Anarchism Reloaded” examines anarchist ideology and how that has evolved over time. Gordon mixes his examination with relevant quotes from contemporary and historical anarchist literature as well as personal experience and succeeds in creating an exciting introduction to contemporary anarchism.

Following the introductory chapters, Gordon delves into some of the most serious debates in contemporary anarchist thinking–power, violence, technology, and the nation-state. In each of these sections, Gordon provides overviews of the current debate by frequently incorporating the thinking of various anarchist tendencies. After showing where the debate has taken place thus far, he offers his ideas for where it could go or how to advance the thinking. To be sure, these are just one anarchist’s ideas, but they often provide valuable insights that are worth considering. For example on the issue of violence, he writes that arguing over what constitutes violence is rather futile and that the real question to ask is when is violence justified. Never? Is it justified if it prevents greater violence? These questions are accompanied by numerous examples and grounded in a through knowledge of both past and contemporary anarchist theory as well as in modern anarchist practice. Of these issues, his discussion of Palestinian solidarity work and how it intersects with anarchist anti-statism is quite interesting, while his chapter on power–and the many problems associated with it–will likely resonate with many anarchists. Gordon examines how power functions, the problems that can occur when one group or individual holds a disproportionate amount of power, and other such issues.

The book does get a bit muddled at times and occasionally delves into theoretical territory that can try the reader’s patience. But those who stick through it will be treated to a book that is at once inspiring and shows that anarchism–far from being an “infantile disorder”–has the capacity to offer compelling answers to many of humanity’s most serious problems.

Uri Gordon, Anarchy Alive!: Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory, (Pluto Press, 2008).

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