“Listen, Anarchist!” A personal response to Simon Springer’s “Why a radical geography must be anarchist”
City University of New York, USA
Simon Springer (2014) has written a lively and polemical piece in which he argues that a radical geography must be freshly anarchist and not tired-old Marxist. As with any polemic of this sort, his paper has its quota of misrepresentations, exaggerations and ad hominem criticisms, but Springer does raise key issues that are worthy of discussion.
Let me first make clear my own position. I sympathize (but don’t entirely agree) with Murray Bookchin, who in his late writings (after he had severed his long- standing connection to anarchism), felt that “the future of the Left, in the last analysis, depends upon its ability to accept what is valid in both Marxism and anarchism for the present time and for the future coming into view” (Bookchin, 2014: 194). We need to define “what approach can incorporate the best of the revolutionary tradition – Marxism and anarchism – in ways and forms that speak to the kinds of problems that face the present” (2014: 164).
Springer, judging from his piece, would want no part in such a project. He seems mainly bent on polarizing the relation between anarchism and Marxism as if they are mutually exclusive if not hostile. There is, in my view, no point in that. From my Marxist perspective, the autonomist and anarchist tactics and sentiments that have animated a great deal of political activism over the last few years (in movements like “Occupy”) have to be appreciated, analyzed and supported when appropriate. If I think that “Occupy” or what happened in Gezi Park and on the streets of Brazilian cities were progressive movements, and if they were animated in whole or in part by anarchist and autonomista thought and action, then why on earth would I not engage positively with them? To the degree that anarchists of one sort or another have raised important issues that are all too frequently ignored or dismissed as irrelevant in mainstream Marxism, so too I think dialogue – let us call it mutual aid – rather than confrontation between the two traditions is a far more fruitful way to go. Conversely, Marxism, for all its past faults, has a great deal that is crucial to offer to the anti-capitalist struggle in which many anarchists are also engaged.
Geographers have a very special and perhaps privileged niche from which to explore the possibility of collaborations and mutual aid. As Springer points out, some of the major figures in the nineteenth century anarchist tradition – most notably Kropotkin, Metchnikoff and Reclus – were geographers. Through the work of Patrick Geddes, Lewis Mumford and later on Murray Bookchin, anarchist sentiments have also been influential in urban planning, while many utopian schemas (such as that of Edward Bellamy) as well as practical plans (such as those of Ebenezer Howard) reflect anarchist influences. I would, incidentally, put my own utopian sketch (“Edilia”) from Spaces of Hope (2000) in that tradition. Continue reading