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"Global Anarchisms: No Gods, No Masters, No Peripheries " Review of the September 21 & 22 Cornell University, USA Convention.
Article published on 26 October 2012
last modification on 22 May 2017

by r-c.
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Though postcolonial scholarship has resulted in broader appreciation of the extent to which colonial relationships enabled meaningful cultural and intellectual exchange, anarchism nonetheless remains, for most, associated with a very particular European (and later Euro-American), post-Enlightenment tradition. The organizers of the “Global Anarchisms: No Gods, No Masters, No Peripheries” Conference sponsored by the Institute for Comparative Modernities at Cornell University (September 21-22, 2012, New York, USA) set about precisely to challenge the centrality of this association, focusing instead on a variety of non-(Western) European sites in which anti-statist mutual aid movements drew on both “local” and “global” influences that together force a reconceptualization which displaces “anarchy” as a uniquely Euro-American phenomenon.

To substantiate this rebuke of the “diffusionist line” (that anarchism was imported from the metropole to the colonial satellite), an impressive collection of historians and humanities scholars were assembled to present individual papers over the conference’s two days (these essays are tentatively intended to be gathered in book form and individual presentations should be available on Cornell’s website soon). David Porter (Kabylia early 2000s), Steven Hirsch (Peru 1903-1929) and Geoffrey de Laforcade (pre-Peron Buenos Aires) provided detailed examples of locally originated anti-authoritarian movements which were to varying extents cognizant of, yet nonetheless never subordinate to, European-based anarchist currents.

The role of European migration, imperative in the presentations of Hirsch and Laforcade, were addressed well in conference co-organizer Ray Craib’s discussion of the turn-of-the-century Spanish/Chilean radical Casimiro Barrios who, though born in Spain, would ultimately organize in (and later be expelled from) the working-class districts of Santiago, Chile. Craib did well to emphasize how, in the case of Barrios, the immigration process resulted not in the wholesale introduction of Spanish-style anarchism but in the creation of a new politics thoroughly permeated by the context from which it emerged. In this way this presentation captured the central thrust of the conference: that anarchy (perhaps better used here than the more programmatic and narrowly European “anarchism”) occurs at multiple, interconnected sites and that by insisting on focusing only on what occurs in the West or in forms we most readily recognize, we will not only postpone a more complete understanding of Euroamerican “anarchy” but also obscure exciting and crucially important developments ongoing elsewhere. Whatever the “global” actually is (as it too often is a code for a cosmopolitan “European” set in contrast to the particulars of exotic “localities”), it is without doubt in part an amalgamation of myriad local projections.

Several of the most exciting implications of this expansion of historical scope were realized in separate presentations by Mohammad Bamyeh and Maia Ramnath. Ramnath drew in part from her 2012 volume Decolonizing Anarchism to suggest that through preserving the anti-statist elements of anti-colonial movements (specifically, for her, in South Asia), one can perceive liberatory frames weakened neither by the dismal legacies of national liberation movements channeled into the creation of repressive state apparatuses nor by the lingering colonialist pretensions of so much Euroamerican anarchist discourse. This talk built upon the morning’s Anarchism and Indigeneity panel featuring the scholar/photographer Jolene Rickard and political scientist Glen Coulthard (reputed by many to be the conference’s strongest panel).

Bamyeh, in turn, urged anarchists to reconsider tradition not automatically as a target of revolutionary scorn, instead emphasizing—like Porter—the presence of latent anti-authoritarian traditions saturating North African society and the immanent accountability offered by related forms of customary authority in stark contrast to the despotic indifference of the authoritarian state.

The essence of his proposal was in some ways evidenced by the Lebanese-Egyptian historian and artist Behia Shehab in her presentation of a graffiti campaign she embarked on during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.

"There are people who have been imprisoned so you can live freely."

Drawing from the collection of fourteen centuries of Arabic script depictions of the word “no” collected for a recent installation, Shehab began spray-painting anti-military, anti-authoritarian messages around Cairo, messages which, because of their often-classical Islamic iconography and anti-repression content, were embraced by both secular and religious elements of the anti-regime struggle. Shehab’s presentation provided academic evidence for that which those who regularly read the more globally-inclined anarchist news sources are already quite familiar, that “anarchy” (intended here in a robustly ecumenical sense) has always been a global phenomenon and that recognition of this by academics and classical anarchists is, if anything, overdue.

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