Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Anarchism Today

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Anarchism Today

Article excerpt

Randall Amster, Anarchism Today Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2012; 230 pp; ISBN-13: 978-0313398728

Randall Amster teaches at Prescott College in Arizona. He has been active in the anarchist movement for many years. In Anarchism Today, he presents an overview of contemporary anarchist theory and practice, showing the continuing appeal and coherence of anarchist ideas. His survey of various anarchist currents, from more traditional forms of class struggle anarchism to primitivist and post-modernist approaches, is balanced and comprehensive. For the most part, he lets each perspec- tive speak for itself, but occasionally presents some critiques of these various and sometimes opposing currents.

It is a very ecumenical approach, which has the advantage of emphasising the positive aspects of contemporary anarchism, presenting a clear picture for people unfamiliar with anarchist ideas, helping to dispel common misconceptions and to rebut more facile criticisms of anarchist ideas and movements. The book is an easy read.

Amster is generous with his quotations, with various anarchist perspec- tives being expressed in the words of their proponents. Occasionally, he presents muted criticisms of some contemporary anarchist currents, but generally tries to emphasise common ground rather than to focusing on sometimes divisive issues. By downplaying the differences between competing schools of anarchist thought, there is a risk that contemporary anarchism may appear to be more unified than it really is, making disputes between various currents difficult to understand, and the actions of one faction unfairly attributable to another. On the other hand, focusing on the differences and disputes would tend to obscure the anarchist forest for the trees and would probably be even more confusing. This book is, after all, an introduction to contemporary anarchist theory and practice, such that Amster's focus on common themes, emphasising the general coherence of anarchism, far better serves that purpose.

Instead of coming up with 57 varieties of anarchist thought, Amster strives for 'a synthesis that weaves together past and present incarnations of anarchism', a project similar to that of earlier anarchists, such as Sébastien Faure and Voline, who also tried to develop an 'anarchist synthesis', taking what was best from the various schools of anarchist thought and combining it into a coherent whole (see Voline, Anarchist Synthesis', Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume One: From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE-1939), ed. R. Graham). Amster's approach is also reminiscent of Alan Ritter's sadly neglected attempt to develop a conceptually coherent anarchist theory around the notion of 'communal individuality', which he defined as 'the greatest individual develop- ment with the greatest communal unity' (Ritter, Anarchy, Law and Freedom', in Anarchism, Volume Three: The New Anarchism (1974-2012), ed. R. Graham). Similarly, Amster sees anarchism as 'a theory of radical egalitarianism as much as one of individual autonomy'.

Amster develops his own framework for analysing anarchism using several sometimes interrelated, sometimes seemingly conflicting, concepts: anti-author- itarianism, voluntarism, mutualism, 'autonomism', egalitarianism, naturalism, anti-capitalism, 'dynamism', pragmatism, utopianism and decentralism. While I had a little trouble getting used to the neologism, 'autonomism' (my brain keeps wanting to read 'automatism', which is pretty much the opposite), Amster clearly explains the concept of autonomy as both individual and social self-governance or self-rule, which for him implies both freedom and responsibility: the freedom to determine one's own actions and values, and the responsibility to do so. The other concept that requires some explanation is 'dynamism', which Amster uses to refer to the 'creative, spontaneous, and playful actions' often advocated and practised by anarchists, as well as revolutionary direct action and so-called 'propaganda by the deed'. …

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