The term “anarchism” doesn’t evoke images of strident manifestos and charismatic leaders, the way that other “-isms” do – we might just associate it with a vague sense of chaos, perhaps even violence.
Rooted in a philosophical tradition dating to the 19th century, however, anarchism offers a potentially liberating political philosophy that triumphs individual rights and community cooperation while rejecting oppressive structures – often rejecting government altogether.
Israeli anarchist theorist Uri Gordon has written not only on anarchy’s theoretical underpinnings, but on its practical applications as well, adapting its tenets into solutions to the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gordon spoke at Le Cagibi in Mile End last Thursday about the details of anarchist activism in the West Bank and launched his new book, Anarchy Alive!, which addresses both practical and theoretical aspects of anarchism.
Gordon based Anarchy Alive! off of his University of Oxford doctoral thesis, modifying it for the sake of accessibility, as well as to provide readers with techniques for anarchist mobilization. “My book is anti-authoritarian politics from practice to theory, and the inversion of the usual order in which we hear those words is intended to convey the attempt to ground the theory and commentary in everyday practices as activists,” Gordon explained.
In keeping with this sentiment, Gordon spent a large portion of his talk discussing the day-to-day reality of organizing what he termed the “joint struggle” of Israelis, Palestinians, and international citizens against Israeli occupation.
In recent years, much of the anarchist activity in Israel and Palestine has been in protest against Israel’s construction of the West Bank barrier, a project begun in the early 2000s. However, since much of the fence has already been constructed, Gordon described the protests as more symbolic and part of a routine than an active tool for change.
Gordon talked about the weekly protests in the West Bank village of Bil’in, describing the typical chain of events as “a rally at the village centre, we’ll march towards the fence, there’ll be 200, 300 people…[and] speeches for five or 10 minutes, then inevitably tear gas. Kids from the villages throw stones a bit, there are a bit more altercations, and then by 4 o’clock it’s pretty quiet.”
More important – and “more anarchist” – are what Gordon describes as “positive, constructive actions.” These include projects like community health groups in West Bank villages or replanting olive trees, activities which fall under the anarchist categorization because of their non-hierarchical, anti-authoritarian, and particularly their bi-national, Israeli-Palestinian, organization.
Indeed, Gordon stressed that anarchist activity in Palestine does not require dogmatic adherence to ideology, saying that “we are not there to teach people about anarchism, but as a solidarity group and to follow the lead of local grass-roots committees.”
To those who aren’t anarchists, this non-ideology can seem counter-intuitive, or even hypocritical, particularly when anarchist organizers – including Gordon – accept certain state-based solutions. According to McGill undergraduate Emma Cusumano, “they don’t really seem to be proposing an anarchist solution to the conflict – what makes it anarchism if they’re willing to use litigation or accept a two state, or any state, solution?”
However, Gordon emphasized that anarchism is compatible with pragmatism. “If the Palestinians and the Israelis sign an agreement, it’s going to be two states, or one state, but it’s not going to be no states. I support an independent Palestinian state tomorrow. If the Palestinians agree to it, two states tomorrow, no problem. It does no good to tell the Palestinians, ‘sorry, you have to remain non-citizens under occupation until conditions are ready for one, socialist state.’ There are humanitarian reasons that trump everything else.”