Uri Gordon (b. 30 Aug 1976) is an Israeli activist and academic. He is the author of Anarchy Alive!: Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory (Pluto Press). While completing his doctoral research in Oxford he organized with community initiatives and anti-capitalist networks including Dissent!, Indymedia and Anarchists Against the Wall. He has also published articles in the journals Anarchist Studies and Refractions. Gordon now teaches environmental politics and ethics at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, which brings together Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and International students. His research continues to focus on grassroots sustainability, radical peace-making and anarchist politics. He is also active as a facilitator, trainer and translator.
Last update - 18:11 24/11/2008
A conversation with Uri Gordon
The author of 'Anarchy Alive!' says the economic meltdown is a sign capitalism has reached its limits and explains why he won't be voting or serving in any army
Over the telephone Uri Gordon does not sound like he's gloating, but for an anarchist such as himself, the earth-shaking economic developments of the past six weeks have to have provided some satisfaction. After all, today's anarchists are certain of the wrong-headedness of the modern capitalist system, with its inevitable march toward a greater concentration of the world's wealth in an increasingly smaller number of hands. Most also see the need for a radical change in humanity's relationship with the environment, an understanding that seems to have been adopted by at least much of the West in recent months, as the effects of oil depletion and climate change become felt.
Gordon, 32, is the author of "Anarchy Alive!: Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory" (Pluto Press, 183 pages, $26.95/16 pounds), a somewhat high-brow analysis of contemporary anarchism. Raised in Haifa, Gordon received his doctorate in political theory from Oxford University in 2005; his thesis served as the basis for the book. But as he describes in the book's introduction, he arrived in the United Kingdom in the fall of 2000, after the anti-globalization movement had begun to draw tens of thousands to its demonstrations, and shortly before the huge protests in Europe against the imminent allied invasion of Iraq. He soon found himself spending as much time on the barricades as in the library. He resolved the apparent conflict, he writes, when he realized that "I could easily construe my activism as fieldwork, and actually gear my academic work to the needs of activists."
"Anarchy Alive!" deals with most of the big questions curious readers might have about the movement: its connection to the violently revolutionary anarchism of the early 20th century, and the views of today's anarchists on violence; the attitude of anarchists to technology and to environmental issues, and why it is that so many of the protesters against Israel's West Bank separation barrier seem to be anarchists - part of a general discussion of anarchism and the question of Israel/Palestine.
Gordon describes the integral concept for anarchists of "prefigurative action," which in the simplest terms means that they are not waiting for a revolution in order to begin living according to their beliefs. Since another major tenet of the movement is the need for decentralization of all aspects of life, it makes perfect sense that many anarchists live in small communities, and try to achieve a level of sustainability. Gordon, for example, is a resident of Kibbutz Lotan, up the road from Ketura, where he teaches politics and ethics at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. (He has also contributed several opinion articles on environmental themes to Haaretz English Edition.) He spoke to us from there.
How did you happen to become an anarchist?
I grew up in a left-wing family, although my parents were not politically active. I did my army service in Army Radio, and reported from the West Bank during 1996-1997, covering the redeployment from the cities. I became interested in environmental issues after my release, when I picked up a book, "Our Angry Earth," by Isaac Asimov and Frederick Pohl. It helped me realize that this would be the defining issue of the coming century. I started studying politics and economics at Tel-Aviv University, looking at environmental issues from a philosophical and economic perspective; I also became involved with groups like Green Action and in the struggle against the Trans-Israel Highway. It became clear to me that exploitation of nature by humans is intimately connected with the exploitation of humans by humans.
How would you summarize the basic tenets of anarchist beliefs?
We object to centralization of power, to hierarchical structures in society and to the institution of the state. We're opposed to capitalism and social classes, to school systems designed to produce obedient workers and citizens, and to most forms of organized religion. We believe in horizontal forms of organization, in voluntary association and mutual aid, and believe that decisions should be made at the smallest or most local level possible.
Does this mean that you won't vote in the upcoming election in Israel, or wouldn't serve in the army today?
I probably won't vote. In principle, I don't want to signify my consent to be ruled, or my acquiescence to a system whereby we get to choose who pushes us around. Elections give people the illusion of democratic participation, but as the famous Jewish anarchist Emma Goldman said: If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal. And no, I wouldn't serve in any army of any country. If everyone were an anarchist, there wouldn't be armies and there wouldn't be wars.
You seem to be ignoring the basic characteristics of human nature. Given the choice, societies - even the kibbutz - seem to prefer capitalism, inegalitarian as it may be. And humans also seem to be naturally aggressive, no?
I don't agree. If you ask people, do you want to take orders or do your own thing, to compete or to cooperate - I think that if they had the choice to think about it, rather than being indoctrinated by a society based on competition and hierarchy, they would choose cooperation. Anarchists always say that their forms of organization are not novel. Most human relationships are naturally horizontal and cooperative. There's a difference between order and hierarchy. Anarchy is also a form of order, but it's based on agreement, rather than command. On agreed rules rather than enforced laws that protect the privileged from the many.
But just look at the way people behave in Israel, driving - and parking - as if there were nobody else on the streets.
People behave the way they do because of their culture and their mutual expectations. It's not surprising that in a culture that educates us to compete with each other and either to command or to obey, you'd get people trying to elbow their way around and do as much as they can for their own benefit. Anarchism also calls for a revolution in consciousness and culture, one that will allow free rein to human sociable instincts, to mutual aid.
It all sounds good, but what if everyone really were an anarchist? Would we have institutions like hospitals, universities, or even airlines?
Centralized economies aren't the only way to organize production and services. In an anarchist system, any form of productive activity would be owned and run directly by the workers, rather than by private bosses or the state. Production would be for need, not for profit. Various workers' enterprises would coordinate between themselves to perform any larger scale tasks. The basic idea is that, if you leave people to their own devices, they will organize quite well, and that top-down, centralized forms of organization are in place to maintain existing systems of privilege and domination, rather than in order to get things done.
Look at Catalonia, during the high stages of the Spanish Revolution, in 1936. There was a well-formed anarchist system. The peasants owned the land, tram workers ran the trams, and everything functioned - and this was in middle of a civil war. The original kibbutzim were also anarchistic, even if they didn't call themselves that. In Degania, the founders said, we are trying to create a society without exploited and exploiters. We want direct democracy, from each according to their ability and to each according to their needs.
You say you wouldn't serve in the army today. But what if every Israeli said that - surely you don't deny that Israel has genuine defense concerns?
I think that occupation creates terrorism, and not vice versa. If all Israelis had the political consciousness to refuse to go to military service, we would have already arrived in a revolutionary situation. It would mean that they had all shed their artificial, drummed-up fears and risen up against their exploiters. In general, though, when people discuss politics, they put themselves in the place of the politician and imagine what they would do. But people like you and me aren't being asked what we think the state should do. Whatever agreement the political elites end up signing is not going to be the end of the conflict. It's only the beginning of the peace process. What matters at this stage is building ties of binational solidarity and cooperation, to have grassroots movements that seek to show and demonstrate with their own acts and lives that another Middle East is possible. You don't have to be an anarchist to agree that it's through everyday relationships that peace is accomplished. So when my friends and I go to villages of Palestinians whose lands are being confiscated for construction of the segregation barrier, we are showing with our own bodies that something is stronger than the perpetual threat being projected by parties on all sides of the political spectrum. We are showing that we have values that transcend all forms of separation.
Do you see the economic meltdown as a vindication of your beliefs?
I think the current global financial crisis is definitely a strong indication that capitalism is reaching its limits, and so I am convinced that various efforts to "buy time," in this sense, are not going to cut it. On one hand, we are reaching the limits of the finite planet that we live on - of the resources we can extract, and the pollution we can emit − and on the other, a system of capitalism based on speculation on future debt is no longer managing to function. The way out is not for governments to bail out the banks, but for people to begin creating grassroots structures that are self-sufficient, and that will allow them to detach themselves from both capitalism and the state.
We're talking just before the election in the U.S., but it occurs to me that you probably don't care who wins it.
Actually, I want Obama to win, because I hope that when he breaks everybody's hearts, people will then wake up to the fact that it doesn't matter whether it's a blue or red puppet in capitalism's hand. At the same time, in the short term, we've had eight years of a very right-wing administration in Washington, which has dragged the whole world into a very bad position, and just the relief from that will make a difference in the lives of many Americans, and many Iraqis, hopefully, and Palestinians and Israelis.
Anarchy Alive - Uri Gordon speaking in Liverpool Fri 15th Aug
nfn 2008-08-12 12:54
News From Nowhere Radical & Community Bookshop presents anarchist author Uri Gordon
speaking about his book "Anarchy Alive! Anti-Authoritarian Politics From Practice to Theory", at
7pm, this Friday 15th August, at Liverpool Social Centre, basement 96 Bold St, Liverpool L1 4HY
http://www.liverpoolsocialcentre.org. (Entrance next door to bookshop - ring basement bell). All
Anarchist politics are at the heart of today’s most vibrant and radical social movements. From squatted social centres and community gardens to acts of sabotage and raucous summit blockades, anarchist groups and networks are spreading an ethos of direct action, non-hierarchical organizing and self-liberation that has redefined revolutionary struggle for the 21st
Book cover - Anarchy Alive by Uri Gordon - ISBN 9780745326832
Anarchy Alive! is a fascinating, in-depth look at the practice and theory of contemporary
anarchism. Uri Gordon draws on his activist experience and on interviews, discussions and a vast
selection of recent literature to explore the activities, cultures and agendas shaping today’s
explosive anti-authoritarian revival. Anarchy Alive! also addresses some of the most tense debates in the contemporary movement, using a theory based on practice to provocatively reshape anarchist discussions of leadership, violence, technology and nationalism.
Uri Gordon has been tear-gassed in several major European cities. An Israeli activist and
journalist, he wrote his PhD on anarchist politics at Oxford while organising with the Dissent!
network, Indymedia, Peoples' Global Action and Anarchists Against the Wall.
[Indymedia does blah. Content is good, and free to use for non-commercial purposes under the Open
Content license. if you have questions, email someone.]
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Anarchy Alive!: Anti-authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory
By Uri Gordon
University of Michigan Press
In Anarchy Alive! Israeli activist and ‘anarchademic’ Uri Gordon draws on his own activism as well as extensive researching of anti-authoritarian lifestyles, philosophies, and actions of activist communities to propose a theorem of contemporary anarchist ideology. The time at the end of the twentieth century where there was a global uprising against corporate tyranny is recalled and exemplified in mass demonstrations such as the worldwide J18 demonstrations, the Seattle WTO protest, and the Genoa protest against the G8 summit. Different activist communities were united in the fight to end oppressive systems, and it seemed a time, Gordon writes, that would “accelerate in an unstoppable crescendo until genuine social transformation was achieved.”
The change that came in late 2001 was not one people expected. The war against terror also became a war on the global activist movement, changing the way people demonstrated and engaged. Anarchy Alive! suggests the “tides are turning” again, and that “a new surge of struggle may be on the horizon.”
Offering his perspectives in a much larger conversation of contemporary political theory, he confronts issues such as ‘violence’ and ‘technology’ as areas where activists differ in perspectives, and uses historical as well as current examples to reinvigorate these debates. The chapter on power is particularly interesting for a feminist perspective, and Gordon does well of highlighting the contributions of feminist, queer, anti-racist, anti-war, and all other activists to this all-encompassing contemporary anarchist theory.
Gordon notes that what sets apart his contemporary anarchist theory from the old-school definitions of ‘capital A’ Anarchist theory is, in part, the wide variety of symbolic actions of protest against dominant culture, whether one is defined an anarchist or not. Hacking a corporate computer system, starting a community garden, and spraying paint on an advertisement are all acts of anti-authoritarian direct action. Not just celebrating these acts of culture jamming and DIY action, Gordon is proposing a common way forward, to extend past these acts and to envision an end result. He attempts to weave these anti-authoritarian threads together to re-form a solid movement under the term ‘anarchism’.
The most interesting aspect of Anarchy Alive! is the final chapter in which Gordon visits the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He talks of his involvement with Anarchists Against the Wall – a group of Israeli activists who oppose the barriers being constructed between Israeli and Palestinian territories. From this he talks of the idea of ‘bioregions’, which is a model of co-existence not built upon nation states, or the hierarchical features of them: patriarchy, racism, consumerism, etc. It is in this idea of co-existence that the wide variety of anti-authoritarian protests and actions are called to once again unite their actions for this common goal.
A result of his doctorate on contemporary anarchist theory written at Oxford, Anarchy Alive! assumes some knowledge of contemporary activist issues, and perhaps anarchist leanings. It is written in a heavy academic style, but is engaging and dynamic, offering an intelligent, inclusive, and ideological vision of contemporary anarchist politics.
Right of Reply: Anarchy in the Holy Land!
URI GORDON, THE JERUSALEM POST Jun. 12, 2007
It's pretty rough being an Israeli anarchist these days. On a good day you are dismissed as irresponsible and naive, ignorant of history and blind to reality while your dedicated, life-risking activities are, at best, an easily-absorbed tantrum in the Nanny State.
And that's on a good day.
The normal treatment is a bit less savory. You are violently despised, branded a fifth column for Iran and al-Qaida, and all the beatings, tear-gassings and shootings you and your comrades endure are gleefully cheered on, alongside the usual calls to put the anarchists up against the wall.
In his May 24 "Power & Politics" column "Anarchy has its place", Elliot Jager is just the man to give you a bit of both. After a rhapsody of belittling rhetoric designed to brand anarchists as irrelevant, we are back with the usual vitriol and bad faith: well-rehearsed cheap shots, stock phrases and smug moralizing alongside harangues of abuse and dehumanization of the enemy.
Hate, not reason, is behind the accusation that Israelis who take direct action against the Segregation Barrier effectively aid those who would murder Israeli civilians. This is manipulative nonsense. Get real - as if every publicly dismantled roadblock or hole in the segregation barrier isn't closely guarded and soon repaired by contractors.
At most we're costing the state some money and man-hours. The main thing that happens is that everybody gets to see our weekly demonstrations violently repressed.
Symbolic actions are only the most visible part of a much wider struggle that includes more sustainable actions, from interfaith dialogue to the accompaniment of olive harvesting to joint ecological projects, as well as demonstrations, publishing and educational work.
The point of all this is not only to dismantle barriers but to get the army out of Palestine, dismantling the entire regime of occupation with its apparatus of death, imprisonment and confiscation. We are not interested in better managing of the conflict - we want to end it by reconciliation among enemies.
AND THAT'S just for starters. Jager invokes Leviathan, Hobbes's metaphor for the State. It is the sovereign to which everyone supposedly cedes his autonomy, so as to avoid a war of all against all and a precarious life that is "nasty, brutish and short." This is what we are told about human nature.
Now tell me one thing: If you don't trust people to get along without rulers, how can you possibly trust them to rule other people?
Leviathan is not as Jager imagines it. The cadaverous beast is an artificial social machine of domination, with living human beings as operating parts. We all fuel the matrix of hierarchical and coercive institutions, and we can destroy it by constructing a new society from the grassroots even as we confront injustice.
Leviathan speaks from the mouths of those who apologize for having lost faith in their capacity to make their own history. Those who know they can do so reject its easy lies.
People with this kind of analysis don't inhabit cafes and art galleries. And so when Israeli activists get out of their comfort zones and put their bodies on the line for the future, suddenly they're a threat.
THERE ARE remarkable parallels here to the civil resistance to the withdrawal from Gaza - a self-organized, grassroots campaign of disobedience and direct action if there ever was one, brutally repressed by the forces of the state in the name of majority rule.
Many anarchists, by the way, opposed the disengagement - as they would any armed unilateralism toward citizens or non-citizens under military occupation.
The truth is that Israeli anarchists are demonized because their actions are coherent and bold. The joint Palestinian-Israeli struggle transgresses the fundamental taboos put in place by Zionist militarism. Alongside the living example of nonviolence and cooperation between the two peoples, the struggle forces Israeli spectators to confront their dark collective traumas.
Israelis who demonstrate hand-in-hand with Palestinians are threatening because they are afraid neither of Arabs nor of the Second Holocaust that they are supposedly destined to perpetrate.
Notice how everything comes out when the anarchists are vilified: the fear of annihilation, the enemy as a calculated murderer, and victims' guilt expatiated through the assertion of self-defense and just war as unexamined axioms.
And this is threatening on a deeper level than any hole in the fence - but, then again, anarchists didn't get their reputation as trouble-makers for nothing.
Refuse communion at the edge of the Abyss.
"Disimagine" this nightmare disguised as reality, where victims of victims victimize each other until one day we are all blown away to Kingdom Come. We can still break out of the vicious cycle of drawing the justification for present atrocities from the living memory of the horrors of the past - if only we realize that in doing so we are playing into the hands of all those who mean to rule us.
AS FOR ourselves, in manifesting our solidarity with Palestinians we have no intention of romanticizing their struggle, or of hiding our opposition to anyone who would rule the peoples of this land. Rather it is a question of starting to practice desertion, refusal, sabotage, attack against every violent authority, all coercive power, and every state.
The writer is an Israeli activist and lecturer in environmental studies. His book Anarchy Alive: Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory is published by Pluto Press.
Past postings from Israel Academia Monitor regarding Uri Gordon: