Changing Anarchism: Anarchist Theory and Practice in a Global Age

By Jonathan Purkis; James Bowen | Go to book overview

Karen Goaman


9
The anarchist travelling circus: reflections
on contemporary anarchism, anti-capitalism
and the international scene

Introduction

The phrase 'anarchist travelling circus' was uttered in stern tones by Tony Blair, as, after the European Union summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, in June 2001, he condemned the protests that have converged on every significant such gathering over the last few years. The unintentional note of joyfulness, play and spontaneity captured by this phrase was quickly recuperated by the movement itself, appearing on a banner, and reproduced for May Day 2002 in London. Here the May Day Collective called for an Anarchist Travelling Circus strand, a 'mobile, spontaneous and collective performance, reclaiming the roots and culture of mayday!' For future economic summits, more extensive itineraries, linking many cities and countries, are planned.

The echoes of play and pleasure evoked by the notion of the 'anarchist travelling circus' connect to the following discussion on the power of the symbolic to expose the hollowness of everyday capitalist existence by appropriating the spaces of power. The highly visible expressions of the Anarchist Travelling Circus at economic summits and beyond are analysed in terms of their significance in allowing a central drama to unfold; as examples of 'modern pilgrimages' with the capacity to defamiliarise the familiar; and as examples of an unlicensed carnival by inversion. Anarchism is a central characteristic of the 'anti-capitalist/anti-globalisation' movement, though much of the mainstream Left has had trouble acknowledging this. Another central feature of the anti-capitalist movement is the significance of grassroots movements of the global South, which have provided much of the inspiration for the movement, and with which networking and support are exchanged. The rural and 'peasant' dimensions of anarchist history and practice are often overlooked.

There is now a strand of anarchism which, as well as criticising hierarchy, capitalism and the State also opposes industrialisation, modernisation and the impact of technology. This strand is strongest, ironically, in the United States, expressed most coherently by theorists such as John Zerzan (1994, 1999) and the writers of the periodical Fifth Estate such as David Watson (1996, 1999). This

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