Ziga Vodovnik, A Living Spirit of Revolt: The Infrapolitics of Anarchism
Oakland: PM Press, 2013; 256pp; ISBN 978-1-60486-523-3
When I first heard about this book, I understood that it was an attempt to rescue anarchism from its own sclerotic dogmatism by reference to the 'Transcendentalist' movement in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. The actual discussion of the relationship between nineteenth-century American Transcendentalism and anarchism comes about halfway through the book, and makes up less than one third of the text. The first part of the book is really an introduction to, and survey of, anarchist ideas and movements, which provides the basis for Vodovnik's comparisons between anarchist 'politics' and the 'infrapolitics' of the Transcendentalists (primarily Walt Whitman, R.W. Emerson and Henry David Thoreau).
The book comes with some effusive endorsements from the likes of Noam Chomsky, James C. Scott, Andrej Grubacic, and the late Howard Zinn who wrote the introduction. According to Zinn, Vodovnik's book 'rescues anarchism from its dogma, its rigidity, its isolation from the majority of the human race' (pxiii). Assessments like these create high expectations that would be difficult for any author to meet.
Vodovnik himself sets his task as enriching 'social scientific and humanistic thought with the contributions of modern anarchism', leaving 'the task of identifying the relevant and the anachronistic within the new anarchism to the reader' (pxix). He begins with a description of a city in revolt, with popular assemblies and committees coordinating medical and social services, food distribution, and defence against counter-revolutionary paramilitary groups. While this sounds a lot like Barcelona in 1936, it's a description of the Mexican city of Oaxaca in 2006.
By beginning with a popular uprising in the new millennium, one which has not been identified as a specifically anarchist movement, Vodovnik sets the stage for the rest of the book, where he argues that it is the content and practices of social movements which are important, and not the ideology attached to them. He describes this as part of the 'new' anarchism that developed after World War...