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Book Review: "Anarchy Alive!: Anti-authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory"

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Anarchy Alive!: Anti-authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory, By Uri Gordon, Pluto Press, 2008, 183 pages.

Book Review by Hans Bennett

When Israeli anarchist Uri Gordon first moved to Europe in the fall of 2000 to begin his doctoral studies at OxfordUniversity, he was planning to study environmental ethics. However, Gordon explains that "the IMF/World Bank protests in Prague had just happened, the fresh buzz of anti-capitalism was palpably in the air, and I was eager to get a piece of the action." After attending a report-back from locals that had traveled to Prague, he quickly became involved in protests locally and around Europe. "I soon ended up doing much more activism than studying," writes Gordon, who had now been "tear-gassed in Nice, corralled in London and narrowly escaped a pretty horrible beating in Genoa." He soon decided to shift the focus of his PhD thesis to anarchist politics. The completed thesis has now been published as Anarchy Alive!

Gordon boldly declares: "In case anyone hasn't noticed, anarchism is alive and kicking. This past decade or so has seen the full revival of a global anarchist movement on a scale and on levels of unity and diversity unseen since the 1930s. From anti-capitalist social centres and eco-feminist farms to community organizing, blockades of international summits, daily direct actions and a mass of publications and websites -- anarchy lives at the heart of the global movement that declares: 'another world is possible'"Its euphemisms are legion: anti-authoritarian, autonomous, horizontalist"but you know it when you see it, and anarchy is everywhere."

A major strength of this highly-recommended book is Gordon's ability to write both for the seasoned activists as well as readers new to anarchism and the various resistance movements that have sprung up this decade. It is also a useful tool for US activists to learn more about the various struggles throughout Europe and in Israel. The first few chapters (which Gordon himself advises the veteran anarchists to skip) focus on the basics of what anarchism is, and what role it has played in various global struggles. The later chapters will be more interesting to the seasoned activists, where he looks self-critically at the movement from his perspective as a participant in various struggles, including work with such groups as Peoples' Global Action, Earth First, and the Dissent! network resisting the 2005 G8 summit.

Thankfully, Gordon transcends the divisive and self-righteous "I'm more of an anarchist than you are!" attitude that unfortunately has infected much of anarchist literature today. Instead, his book is a sincere attempt to establish common definitions and begin an honest and constructive dialogue about the most controversial issues facing the movement today. This approach by Gordon is seen in his chapter "Peace, Love, and Petrol Bombs," which addresses issues of violence, non-violence, and the "diversity of tactics" strategy for large protests. He shows how activists on all sides of this debate have been dogmatic, and have twisted definitions to support their views. As a result, most dialogue is unproductive. So, by laying out the different arguments and definitions around the use of violence (ranging from corporate property destruction to actual armed struggle), Anarchy Alive! will hopefully make a significant contribution to the development of activist strategy.

Anarchism in Israel Today

In his final chapter, titled "Homeland," Gordon argues that "anarchism has been a continuous undercurrent in the politics of Israel/Palestine for decades," which dates back to "the earliest Kibbutz groups in the 1920s," who were "organized on libertarian-communist principles" and read Kropotkin and Tolstoy. While estimating 300 self-identified anarchists living in Israel today, he writes that the "contemporary Israeli anarchist movement fused together during the wave of anti-globalization activism at the end of the 1990s, bringing together anti-capitalist, environmental, feminist, and animal rights agendas"Since the beginning of the second Intifada, activities have focused on the occupation in Palestine, in particular against the building of the Apartheid Wall."

Gordon contends that the Israeli anarchist approach of "taking direct action alongside Palestinians" is an important strategy because "joint Palestinian-Israeli struggle transgresses the fundamental taboos put in place by Zionist militarism. Alongside the living example of non-violence and cooperation between the two peoples, the struggle forces Israeli spectators to confront their dark collective traumas. Israelis who demonstrate hand-in-hand with Palestinians are threatening because they are afraid neither of Arabs nor of the Second Holocaust that they are supposedly destined to perpetrate."

Gordon writes about the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which is a Palestinian-led organization that began in summer 2001 to coordinate European and North American volunteers to accompany non-violent Palestinian actions in the occupied territories. The ISM does not identify itself as anarchist, but he argues that "two clear connections to anarchism can nevertheless be made. First, in terms of the personnel, international solidarity activities in Palestine have seen a major and sustained presence of anarchists, who had earlier cut their teeth on anti-capitalist mobilizations and local grassroots organizing in North America and Europe," thus constituting "the foremost vehicle for on-the-ground involvement of international anarchists in Palestine. Second, and more substantially, the ISM prominently displays many features of anarchist political culture: lack of formal membership, policy and leadership; a decentralized organizing model based on autonomous affinity groups, spokescouncils and consensus decision-making; and a strategic focus on short-term campaigns and creative tactics that stress direct action and grassroots empowerment."

In 2003, many of the Israelis that had been working with the ISM "felt the need to give more visibility to their own resistance as Israelis, by creating an autonomous group working together with Palestinians and internationals," writes Gordon. While participating at a protest camp in the village of Mas'ha, this direct-action group soon named itself Anarchists Against the Wall. Since eviction from Mas'ha, these anarchists have participated in several other joint actions, where sometimes "Palestinians and Israelis have managed to tear down or cut through parts of the fence, or to break through gates along it," reports Gordon.

Studying To Win

In the conclusion, written from Kibbutz Samar in Israel, Gordon acknowledges that his book provides "more questions than answers," but this is the most important thing about it. By looking at the anarchist and global anti-capitalist movements self-critically, and asking tough questions, Anarchy Alive is a powerful tool for all activists, so that we can improve our strategies.

Alongside Gordon's self-criticism is his optimistic belief that things can change when people come together and fight. He concludes by arguing that "these days anarchists and their allies are again sensing that the tides are turning. With the defeat, in Iraq and elsewhere, of the US attempt at global hegemony, things are shifting in the global system and a new surge of struggle may be on the horizon"There are new questions for anarchists to face now -- questions about winning."

--This article first appeared in the October issue of Z Magazine. Hans Bennett is an anarchist and independent multi-media journalist.

Hans Bennett is a multi-media journalist mostly focusing on the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners. An archive of his work is available at and he is also co-founder of "Journalists for Mumia," (more...)

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