Perspectives on Anarchist Theory

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Vol. 7 - No. 1
Spring, 2003

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By Chuck Morse

From Baghdad

The U.S. government has now concluded a war that few wanted and that lacked legitimacy among the public as a whole. Although it won the military struggle in Iraq, it lost the battle for public opinion and is disdained by billions around the globe as a ruthless instrument of ruling elites. The world’s only super power is actually quite vulnerable.

Anarchists should exploit this vulnerability and radicalize the debate about the war. We must show that the aggressions of the Bush administration not only reflect the insanity of a particularly aberrant president but also the underlying barbarity of the present social order.

Numerous new books should help us expose the bankruptcy of pro-war arguments. In Against War with Iraq: An Anti-War Primer, three legal scholars from the Center for Constitutional Rights argue that the war against Iraq is unnecessary for the United States’ national security as well as illegal (by Michael Ratner, Jennie Green, and Barbara Olshansky, Seven Stories Press, 2003, 80 pages). Milan Rai’s War Plan Iraq: Ten Reasons Against War on Iraq (Verso Books, 2002, 256 pages) argues that arms inspections are a genuine alternative to war and that the Bush administration has deliberately undermined the inspection process. War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know by William Rivers Pitt and Scott Ritter (Context Books, 2002, 96 pages) attacks the Bush administrations pro-war rational and Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War, edited by Anthony Arnove, places the war against Iraq in the context of the United States and the United Kingdom’s sanctions regime (Pluto Press, 2003, 264 pages).

Other books provide a radical perspective on some of the longstanding contradictions from which the war emerges. Shattered Illusions: Analyzing the War on Terrorism, an anthology edited by Aftab Malik, examines U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East, with a focus on its “war on terror.” It addresses questions such as: is “terrorism” what really lies at the heart of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, as the Sharon government contends? And what is driving the United States toward war with Iraq? It explores the histories and implications of these conflicts for the United States and the peoples of the region (Amal Press, 2002, 384 pages). Noam Chomsky’s Middle East Illusions takes up questions such as: What are the roots of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and how has it been influenced by the United States? Why has the U.S. brokered “peace process” repeatedly failed to deliver peace? What are the prospects for a just resolution? What interests underlie U.S. strategic doctrines in the Middle East and how do we look beyond them to find more peaceful and viable alternatives? (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003, 304 pages).

To Seattle

Although the anti-globalization movement has largely disappeared from the U.S. political landscape since the September 11th terror attacks, we should study its accomplishments and problems and try to renew its presence in the current environment. Globalize Liberation: How to Uproot the System and Build a Better World, edited by David Solnit, aims to deepen, popularize, and update ideas derived from the movement and provide practical ideas for maintaining its spirit of resistance and innovation (City Lights, June 2003, 248 pages). Naomi Klein’s Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (Picador, 2002, 267 pages), a collection of her journalistic pieces from 1999 to 2002, also reflects some of the needs and conflicts of the movement. Works on specific demonstrations are also valuable. Jonathan Neale's You Are G8 - We Are Six Billion: The Truth behind the Genoa Protests is an account of the July 2001 protests written by one of the organizers of the demonstrations (Vision Paperbacks, 2003, 288 pages). There is also Resist: A Grassroots Collection of Stories, Poetry, Photos and Analyses from the Quebec City FTAA Protests and Beyond, edited by Jen Chang et al, (Fernwood Books, 2001, 192 Pages). This work presents personal accounts, images, and analyses of the April 2001 demonstration in Québec City. It challenges readers to step beyond mainstream media reports and reassess their role in the movement.

A treatment of some of the theoretical issues raised by the anti-globalization movement can be found in Debating Empire, an anthology edited by Gopal Balakrishnan (Verso Books, May 2003, 288 pages). Here various theorists analyze Michael Negri and Antonio Hart’s Empire from political, economic, and philosophical perspectives, and Hardt and Negri respond.

Democracy From the Bottom Up

A defense of participatory, democratic organizing can be found in Francesca Polletta’s Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements (University of Chicago, 2002, 296 pages). This book offers portraits of American experiments in participatory democracy throughout the twentieth century. Polletta challenges the claim that participatory democracy is worthy in purpose but unworkable in practice by showing that social movements have often used bottom-up decision-making as a powerful tool for political change. She traces the history of democracy in early labor struggles and pre-World War II pacifism, the Civil Rights, New Left, and Women's Liberation movements, and in today's faith-based organizing and anti-corporate globalization campaigns. Polletta uncovers neglected sources of democratic inspiration—Depression-era labor educators and Mississippi voting registration workers, among them—as well as practical strategies of social protest. The book also highlights obstacles that arise when activists model their democracies upon familiar nonpolitical relationships such as friendship, tutelage, and religious fellowship


Two new books engage the anarchist tradition as such. Lewis Call’s Postmodern Anarchism (Lexington Books, 2003) delves into Nietzsche, Foucault, and Baudrillard, and the cyberpunk fiction of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, to examine new philosophical currents where anarchism and postmodernism meet. His perspective moves beyond anarchism's conventional attacks on capital and the state to criticize forms of rationality, consciousness, and language that implicitly underwrite all economic and political power. There is also Anarchism by Sean Sheehan (Reaktion Books, 2003, 224 pages). Sheehan presents anarchism as much as an attitude as a set of formulated doctrines, describes anarchism’s history through anecdote and dramatic events, and offers explanations of the issues behind this movement. He looks at instances of anarchist thinking and influence in political thought, the history of ideas, philosophy, theories of education and ecology, as well as film and literary criticism. Systems of thought such as Buddhism and Taoism, art movements such as Dada and Surrealism, literary treatments of anarchist ideas in the work of Blake, Wilde, Whitman, Kafka and Eugene O’Neill, anarchism in relation to sex and psychology in the work of Reich and Fromm, as well as aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy as expressions of anarchist individualism—all these and other topics are also tackled. Readers interested in anarchism’s literary influence may wish to check out Simon Casey’s Naked Liberty and the World of Desire: Elements of Anarchism in the Work of D.H. Lawrence (Routledge, 2003, 160 pages).


The anarcha-feminist tradition has always been vibrant, but we have lacked comprehensive statements of the perspective for a long time. Quiet Rumours: An Anarcha-Feminist Reader should help change this. This anthology, edited by the Dark Star Collective, contains works by anarcha-feminists from the Old Left, New Left, and the contemporary period (AK Press, 2003, 120 pages). And of course the most well known anarcha-feminist, Emma Goldman, continues to attract the attention of researchers and activists. An important new resource is Emma Goldman: A Documentary History of the American Years, Volume One: Made for America, 1890–1901, edited by Candace Falk, Barry Pateman, and Jessica Moran (University of California, 2003, 696 pages). This work, the first of a multi-volume series, tracks the young Goldman's introduction into the anarchist movement, features her earliest known writings in the German anarchist press, and charts her gradual emergence from New York’s radical immigrant milieu into a figure of national and international importance.


Anarchist contributions to the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939 are an inexhaustible source of interest for historians. Anarchism and the Spanish Civil War by Julián Casanova (Routledge, December 2003, 224 pages) is a synthesis of political, social, and cultural history concerning the anarchist revolution by one of Spain's leading historians of the period. Red Barcelona: Social Protest and Labour Mobilization in the Twentieth Century, edited by Angel Smith should be rewarding to those interested in radical urban politics and anarchist history (Routledge, 2002, 272 pages). Class, Culture and Conflict in Barcelona by Chris Ealham (Routledge, May 2004, 240 pages) investigates urban conflict, popular protest, and social control in Barcelona from the turn of the century to 1937. His work focuses upon the sources of anarchist power in the city and the role of the organized anarchist movement during the Second Republic and concludes with an analysis of the decline of the anarchist movement during the civil war and the local conditions that made Barcelona the capital of European anarchism. ~


Perspectives on Anarchist Theory - Vol. 7, No. 1 - Spring 2003