Anarchy alive!: anti-authoritarian politics from practice to theory

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Pluto Press, 2008 - Political Science - 183 pages
Anarchist politics are at the heart of today's most vibrant and radical social movements. From squatted social centres and community gardens to acts of sabotage and raucous summit blockades, anarchist groups and networks are spreading an ethos of direct action, non-hierarchical organizing and self-liberation that has redefined revolutionary struggle for the 21st century.Anarchy Alive! is a fascinating, in-depth look at the practice and theory of contemporary anarchism. Uri Gordon draws on his activist experience and on interviews, discussions and a vast selection of recent literature to explore the activities, cultures and agendas shaping today's explosive anti-authoritarian revival. Anarchy Alive! also addresses some of the most tense debates in the contemporary movement, using a theory based on practice to provocatively reshape anarchist discussions of leadership, violence, technology and nationalism. This is the ideal book for anyone looking for a fresh, informed and critical engagement with anarchism, as a mature and dynamic political force in the age of globalisation.

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Review of Anarchy Alive! by Alex Prichard, Anarchist Studies 16:1 (2008)
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It is widely recognised that these are exciting times for anarchist theory. Uri Gordon's book is one of many by the young veterans of the varied anarchist practices of the last ten years (at least) and can only add to this excitement. It is hugely learned and yet easy to read; it is also short and to the point, un-pompous and hugely informative, for the adept or novices in anarchist thought alike. For those with more theory than practice, this book ought to be required reading. In fact, I'd say that not only will it become required reading in the anarchist movement, but it will have a sizeable impact on the academy, (or `anarchademics' (p. 163) - one of a number of neologisms, like `r/evolution', I loved). In short, I believe this will be a defining text in anarchist circles for the next few years at the very least.
But why? What are the virtues of the book and where do they come from (aside from style and length of course)? Let's begin, somewhat conventionally with the introduction. It is short but clear in positioning itself in pedagogic social praxis. It is the product of participant observation and theoretical reflection and it is unashamedly contemporary in terms of both. The book is not designed to contribute to academic debates about the fineries of anarchist theory (though, as I will show, it does), but is designed as a tool for activists trying to understand anarchism, and inadvertently helps theorists see that practice helps us understand theory. The book does this through engaging with some key practical and theoretical conundrums facing the contemporary movement. This makes it something of a user's manual for anarchist activism, written by an engaged and intelligent academic that has seen his fair share of the front line.
The impact of Gordon's Oxford background, particularly the ideas of Michael Freeden who has blazed a trail through the study of ideologies, is clear. Gordon discuses anarchism as a `political culture' or social praxis, ironically simply allowing Gordon to be an anarchist in refusing to reduce ideas to other social, economic or political forces and to see anarchism as a lived plethora or `network' of ideas and practices in social and historical context. Unfortunately Gordon's historical context does not stretch far enough back into the past and so the novelty of contemporary ideas is overplayed. For example, Gordon argues that "the most prominent feature of the new anarchist formulation [...] is the generalisation of the target of anarchist resistance to all forms of domination in society" (p. 30). This presentism is a standard flaw in contemporary anarchist literature. Anarchism has always been about more than just the state and capitalism. Emma Goldman was a feminist, Reclus an ecologist, Landauer and Rocker were concerned with race and ethnicity. Still, this is not to detract from the force of Gordon's work, only to contextualise it within the dominant discursive frameworks set by Marxism as a way of understanding the left's past.
However, the book is not a history of ideas. It is about how anarchist practice can help us understand and develop anarchist theory. Chapter 3 investigates the ongoing issue of power and authority within the anarchist movement and settles a number of debates in unexpectedly clever ways. For example, Gordon argues that democratic participation is not always a good in itself. Rather, the values of democratic practices need to be understood in context. Protesters cannot always be transparent and not everyone wants to take part, so neither democracy nor transparency is a transcendent good. Gordon claims that while both participatory democracy in anarchist communities and consensus are valuable, they are not imposable because "anarchist organising is built on pure voluntarism" (p. 76). The ethic is clear here, but perhaps he overstates this a little. Gordon


What Moves the Movement?
Anarchism Reloaded
Power and Anarchy

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About the author (2008)

Uri Gordon has been tear-gassed in several major European cities. An Israeli activist and journalist, he wrote his PhD on anarchist politics at Oxford while organising with the Dissent! network, Indymedia, Peoples' Global Action and Anarchists Against the Wall.

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