Anarchy Alive!

Book by Uri Gordon; Pluto Press, 2008, 208 pp.

When Israeli anarchist Uri Gordon first moved to Europe in the fall of 2000 to begin his doctoral studies at Oxford University, 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 who 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 by then had been "tear-gassed in Nice, corralled in London, and narrowly escaped a pretty horrible beating in Genoa." He decided to shift the focus of his PhD thesis to anarchist politics, which has now been published as Anarchy Alive!

Gordon 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 anarchism 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 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 U.S. activists to learn more about the various struggles throughout Europe and in Israel. The first few chapters (which Gordon advises veteran anarchists to skip) focus on the basics of what anarchism is and what role it has played in various global struggles. In the later chapters, he looks 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 infects 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. This approach is reflected in his chapter "Peace, Love, and Petrol Bombs," which addresses issues of violence, non-violence, and the "diversity of tactics" 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.

In his final chapter, "Homeland," Gordon argues that "anarchism has been a continuous undercurrent in the politics of Israel/Palestine," dating back to "the earliest Kibbutz groups in the 1920s," which were "organized on libertarian-communist principles" and whose members 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 the summer of 2001 to coordinate European and North American volunteers who accompany non-violent Palestinian actions in the occupied territories. The ISM does not identify itself as anarchist, but Gordon argues that "two clear connections to anarchism can nevertheless be made. First, in terms of 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." They thus constituted "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 decisionmaking; 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, they 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.

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 activists to use to improve strategies.

Gordon’s optimistic belief is that things can change when people come together and fight. He concludes by arguing, "These days anarchists and their allies are again sensing that the tides are turning. With the defeat in Iraq and elsewhere of the U.S. 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."

Hans Bennett is an anarchist, an independent multi-media journalist, and co-founder of Journalists For Mumia Abu-Jamal.