Uri Gordon Anarchy Alive! Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory, Pluto Press: London, 2007; 208 pp.: 0745326838 16.99 [pounds sterling] (pbk)
In 2004, David Graeber (2004: 2) noted that although 'anarchism is veritably exploding right now', academia has failed to keep up, offering little other than caricatured understandings of a complex movement. Whilst he was perhaps overstating his case a little, even then, Uri Gordon's Anarchy Alive! Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory shows that a thoughtful, nuanced understanding of contemporary anarchism is not an impossibility in the university. Developed from his Ph.D. thesis (written at Oxford University, no less) it offers a compelling vision of an ideological movement whose relevance now is even stronger than it was in 2004.
The subtitle of Gordon's work talks of a move 'from practice to theory', inverting the more standard approach of books which proclaim the relevance of a particular political ideology. Yet Gordon's book actually goes further, undermining the dichotomy between practice and theory: it is perhaps best thought of as a work of praxis, in which theory and practice are irreducibly bound together in a mutually reinforcing relationship. It is a work which puts 'organisation, action and lifestyle on the same footing with ideas and theories' (p. 27), and what results is that each of these facets of anarchism asks awkward questions of the others such that a precise definition of 'anarchism' can never be established. Any initial fears that encoding key issues in anarchist practice into a work of theory might bring about an ossification of the movement are thus unfounded, and despite a cautiously optimistic tone throughout, Anarchy Alive! is bookended with assertions that its purpose is to ask 'relevant questions' (p. 7), and that 'there are more questions than answers' (p. 164). Indeed, the book's refusal to fix the meaning of anarchism once and for all--and the liveliness of the debates it draws on--perhaps offers an answer to the questions Sartre posed in Critique of Dialectical Reason, where he wondered how it was possible for revolutionary politics to avoid ossification into bureaucratic forms of organisation, killing its vitality (Sartre, 2004).
It may seem odd, then, that Gordon considers anarchism an 'ideology'--a concept often seen by many anarchists as the site of precisely such ossification (see McQuinn, 2011; Landstreicher, 2001). Yet drawing on...