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Anarchist Geographies and Revolutionary Strategies

Anarchist Geographies and Revolutionary Strategies

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Afterword

Anarchist Geographies and Revolutionary Strategies

Uri Gordon
Afterword

Anarchist Geographies and Revolutionary Strategies

Uri Gordon

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Published by: Radical Geography Weekly on Oct 17, 2012
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AfterwordAnarchist Geographies andRevolutionary Strategies
Uri Gordon
The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, Kibbutz Ketura, D.N. Hevel Eilot 88840, Israel;uri@riseup.net 
These are certainly fruitful times for anarchist intellectual publishing. Readingthrough the articles in this special issue of 
Antipode 
, I was impressed by thediversity and creativity of efforts to apply anti-authoritarian perspectives to thegeographical discipline, whose notorious breadth of application (“everything isspatial”) seems to offer unlimited possibilities for new avenues of research. I alsobegan thinking about two related issues that seem to run across much of whatappears in the preceding pages. The first concerns the anarchademic enterpriseitself, and its possible contribution to the development of anarchist politics. Thesecond concerns a more specific problematic, which accompanies the integration of poststructuralist insights into our understanding of anarchism, and the concomitantcelebration of prefigurative politics in the present tense. What connects the two isthe question of revolutionary strategies. Does the postanarchist shift of perspectiverequire us to abandon strategy as a valid category for our struggles? If not, howare strategies supposed to emerge as a conscious artefact of such a decentralizedand swarming movement? What is the role of anarchist intellectual labour in suchan emergence? Finally, what considerations—however preliminary and open todebate—can be presented as its starting point, and what might a geographicalperspective contribute to their elaboration?In what follows, I begin with some thoughts on the pitfalls of anarchist intellectuallabour becoming institutionalized in the academy. I then turn to look at thequestion of revolutionary strategies, a concept that I fear may have fallen victimto a careless misunderstanding of postanarchist insights. Finally, I reiterate a fewbasic coordinates, which I believe should at least be considered when projectingourselves into the future of social struggles.
Death by Peer Review?
The anarchademic enterprise, to use the terms suggested by Anthony Ince (2012)in this issue, distinctly involves its own process of territorialization. As anarchistacademics squat various compartments of the intellectual establishment, wedemarcate discursive space, marking turf through acts of bordering which separateours from other cross-disciplinary perspectives—perhaps most prominently fromMarxism, but also from any explicitly or implicitly statist variations of feminism,anti-racism, postcolonial studies, queer theory, and so on. This process is almostalways noticeable alongside any substantive discussion of theories and case studies.
Antipode 
Vol. 00 No. 0 2012 ISSN 0066-4812, pp 1–10 doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8330.2012.01036.x
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Antipode
Onthemoretheoretical endoftheenterprise,thepostanarchistprojecthasinvolvedits own explicit actofbordering,thistimebetween itselfandtheallegedly modernistand humanist tenets of the “anarchist tradition” (Newman 2001; but see Jun 2011).Being reflexive about the power-play we are engaging in within the professionalintellectual establishment should also lead us to more troubling questions aboutthe point of the exercise as a whole. That intellectual satisfaction is an insufficientrationale for anarchist intellectual labour seems to me uncontroversial. Is thenthe professional intellectual establishment a site of struggle in its own right?To be sure, most of the people who write for academic journals also have theopportunity of contact with students, whose critical thinking and openness toradical perspectives can be encouraged (and encouraging to see). Furthermore,as Rouhani (2012) argues in this issue, the tradition of anarchist pedagogy hasmuch to contribute to our efforts to make the classroom experience itself a siteof prefiguration, encouraging modes of learning that are “anti-hierarchical, non-coercive, autonomous and cooperative”. Struggles in the academic workplace, inwhich many of us are part-time, adjunct or otherwise precarious employees, areanother area in which we can bring our politics to bear, alongside solidarity withstudents’ struggles over tuition fees and campus policing (Cause Commune 2012; Various 2012). But what of the core of original intellectual labour—researching,writing, and publishing? While the flowering of anarchist scholarship may be thought of as an interventionin the battle of ideas, it also runs the risk of irrelevance to wider political aims.Considertheprocessofneutralization-through-academizationthatwesternMarxismsuccumbed to from the 1970s onward. Is anarchism likely to go through the sameprocess?Toputthingssardonically,ourbestdefenceagainstco-optationisthescantinfluence that anarchist academics have on the wider movement, making us less of an attractive target. On the one hand this derives from the nature of the anarchistintellectual enterprise itself: unlike its Marxist counterpart, it does not espouse claimsto objectivity and scientific validity which inform, as well as divide, the “rank and file”. But on the other hand, the cause may also be circumstantial: if we are notenough of a threat to warrant co-optation, is it simply because nobody is listening?Much has been written about the practice and ethics of engaged, militant,or otherwise socially committed research, with the experiences of anarchistgeographers providing some of the most insightful reflections (cf AutonomousGeographies Collective 2010). The latter’s emphasis on the need to break downthe dichotomy between intellectual work undertaken “inside” and “outside” theacademy certainly deserves to be absorbed by all anarchademics. Yet what happensontheothersideoftheprocess?Intheirintroductiontothelatestsetofcontributionson the topic, Gillan and Pickerill (2012:137) point to the sad fact that the outputsof much well intentioned research done with social movements remain physicallyinaccessible to the participants, thus blocking the flow of reciprocity. They also notethat even if such publication is freely shared, its language, findings and timelinessmay be of limited use. But even if we make the utmost effort to keep our languageaccessible and our findings timely and relevant, we should go back to asking whatexactly we mean by “freely shared”. In the case of research done with discreetgroups, it may be quite easy to ensure that they actually have the opportunity to
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 Afterword
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read the outputs. But in the more general sense of producing intellectual labour thatis relevant to activists, the fact that a book or journal issue can be freely accessedonline—whether legally or through piracy—does not mean that it will actually beread.Theformatitselfisprohibitive.Tome,thereseemstobenoalternativetodoingthe actual legwork and disseminating our ideas at speaking events, workshops and facilitated discussions.The point behind the preceding thoughts, however, is that almost allanarchademic efforts seem to begin from the standpoint of affinity with a politicalcommunity to whose struggles they seek to contribute. Whether this is done byabsorbing and refining the participants’ own insights, or by attaching them toconceptual tools and theoretical frameworks with which they may not be familiar,there seems to be a shared desire to function as agents of reflexivity for wider anarchist circles.But what, in turn, is this reflexivity supposed to achieve? Again, with researchinvolving discrete groups and struggles the dividend may be localized and specific.But as many of the articles in this special issue indicate, the sought-after audience isoftentheanarchistmovementasawhole.Thatsuchanentitycanevenbeconceivedof as an audience, that is, that it should be thought to have some common andoverarching concerns that intellectual labour can address, brings us closer to theconsideration of the question of strategy. Yet the term “strategy” itself requires some further clarification. For example, themembers of the Autonomous Geographies Collective (2010:256) refer to “strategicinterventions” as a matter of “orienting our educational and research agendas inways that will decisively help those on the front line of campaigns and struggles”. Yet it is not clear what qualifies such “decisive help” as specifically
strategic 
. In thenext section, I would like to dedicate closer attention to this term, specifically in thecontext of its apparent denigration in the postanarchist vocabulary.
Salvaging Strategy
This section constitutes a preliminary attempt to reinstate strategic thinking as acomponentofanarchismfollowingitsabsorptionofpoststructuralistinsights—albeitnot in the sense of “strategic” which the postanarchist framework rejects. To do this,let me return to the source distinction elaborated by Todd May.May categorizes political philosophies into three types: formal, strategic, andtactical. Formal political philosophy cleaves “either to the pole of what ought tobe or to the pole of what is at the expense of the tension between the two” (May1994:4). Rawls’s
A Theory of Justice 
and Lukacs’s
History and Class Consciousness 
aregiven as examples of either option. Strategic and tactical political philosophies, onthe other hand, inhabit that tension explicitly. May (1994:7) writes that strategicpoliticalphilosophyincludesananalysisoftheconcretehistoricalandsocialsituation“not merely to realize the ethical program but also to determine what concretepossibilitiespresentthemselvesforintervention
. . .
theethicalprogramislimitedandperhapspartially determinedbythatsituation”.Thischaracteristic, Maymakesclear,is also true of tactical political philosophy. The difference between them, however, isthat strategic political philosophy also “involves a unitary analysis that aims towardsa single goal. It is engaged in a project that it regards as the centre of political
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