Never has there been a better time for a lucid, lean, inclusive primer-history about anarchism. We’re blessed that it’s from Faculty of Social Sciences professor Ziga Vodovnik, someone deeply knowledgeable and personally passionate about those who are linked officially and ontologically by a “suspicion of authority.” A previous work of his, Ya Basta! Ten Years of the Zapatista Uprising (AK Press, 2004) cohesively detailed how regional revolutionary acts in 1994 would eventually lead to the rising of the anti-globalist movement internationally at the turn of the century. In a similar, more sweeping way, Vodovnik here superbly elucidates how many levels and layers of anarchism have fed into each other or synchronistically arrived at the same roots of rebellion.
An anarchist can be defined as someone “suspicious of authority.” It is someone who doesn’t necessarily think that authority can solve disorder and injustice; in fact, its arguable that the government and marketplace might be their primal cause. This book happily comes out at a time when popular mainstream writers often fear and mock sloppily suggest that anyone wanting to use force to overthrow authority or endorsing a lack of civil commitment to others is an ‘anarchist’ (misunderstanding the majority of beliefs and behaviors). Vodovnik shows that anarchists were often the only ones left in society concerned with all-encompassing oppression, exclusion, and economic exploitation, and not willing to “trade revolution for a dictator.” Vodovnik weaves theories from anarchist argued “classics” into concise reporting on anarchy’s greatest peaks and certain valleys, succeeding in constructing a nimble narrative of ideas, actions, personalities, struggles, and even successes (Orwell’s Catalonia; May 1968 in Paris and what that spawned, for example).
It’s refreshing to have this book’s clear-headed analysis on a way of life that somehow bizarrely connects Cartesian philosophers; Taoists and Buddhists; the arrival of Proudhon’s political definition of the term; pacifistic New England Transcendentalists; the arrival of German immigrants who wanted to extrapolate the freedom of the human spirit at the end of the 19th century; the evolution of ideological traditionalists; the Dadaist usurpers of the spectacle; the pop-up inspiration of Temporary Autonomous Zones; and the phenomenon of transglobal citizens. Listed are individualized and collectivized protests against the horrors that have been done in the name of obedience throughout recent regime and market-driven civilization.
A Living Spirit of Revolt is not a bloated text of controversies, contradictions, and mystifications; it doesn’t strive to take down every internal conflict and dogmatic detail of clans and cliques throughout anarchism’s official existence since Proudhon. As Vodovnik has quoted Zinn in the press, the work of anarchy is often done by people not professing the ideology by name. Sometimes anarchy is that one person standing against something that seems reasonable, such as democratic rule. Sometimes it is a group with altruistic motives which came together for the sake of social justice (but its organizational aspects and altruism may not seem ‘anarchist’ on the surface). What are their basic histories and how may they all fit in with each other? Most importantly, what do they all really have in common, if much at all? Vodovnik finds what worked best for each, but doesn’t leave out the mistakes or possible problem areas. He does openly favor the non-violent and stresses unity, but A Living Spirit of Revolt makes a solid argument that only true freedom could be the living mother of real (human, non-oppressive) order.