Living at the Edges of Capitalism: Adventures in exile and mutual aid.

Author:Jandric, Petar
Position:Book review

Andrej Grubacic and Denis O'Hearn, Living at the Edges of Capitalism: Adventures in exile and mutual aid

Oakland: University of California Press, 2016; & Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2016; 336pp; ISBN 9780520287303

Since the dawn of human civilisation, those who disagreed with the mainstream have been voluntarily or involuntarily exiled from society. However, as the contemporary world has slowly but surely shrunk into a global village and a global marketplace, new spaces for exile have become increasingly scarce. Therefore, instead of escaping to pastures new and unexplored, contemporary exiles need to claim territories and structures that lie within the reach of global neoliberal capitalism. Situated at the fringes of capitalism, yet never completely detached from it, contemporary spaces of exile are faced with a myriad of challenges. One of these challenges is as old as the hills: Which principle should lead the organisation of exiles, Kropotkin's mutual aid or Darwin's evolutionary race? What can we learn from the organisation of exile societies about human nature at large?

In order to explore questions pertaining to exile, and link them to the ancient dispute between Kropotkin and Darwin, Living at the Edges of Capitalism starts by exploring various links between material life and exilic spaces and practices. Looking at a wide body of literature from (neo-)Marxists to postmodernists, Andrej Grubacic and Denis O'Hearn create a theoretical point of departure by insisting that 'the unit of analysis of any understanding of nonstate spaces must be a unitary capitalist world-economy, and that the analysis of non-state spaces or activities must be carried out within that context' (p 6). It is a bit surprising that this analysis does not make any reference to Hakim Bey and his temporary autonomous zones. Nevertheless, this initial inquiry sets a useful theoretical background for the rest of the book.

The second part of the book explores two different examples of exilic societies. The first example, the Cossacks gathered around the river Don (in what is today Russia), provides a brilliant study of the complete life cycle of an exilic community, and roughly divides it into three main phases: exit-with-autonomy, exit-without-autonomy, and autonomy-without-exit (p 89). Covering several centuries, wide historical brush-work provides a great overview of large scale issues facing exilic societies, and careful interpretation...

To continue reading