In May of 2011, the New School for Social Research in New York hosted a conference called “The Anarchist Turn.” The purpose of the conference was to make a contribution to the growth of anarchism’s academic presence as well as to provide a platform for the promotion of anarchism as a viable, flexible, and relevant political philosophy for today. In contrast to both the capitalist system and so-called “state-socialism,” anarchism is presented as the “unmistakable horizon of our present condition.” The conference papers have since been compiled and arranged as chapters in The Anarchist Turn.
Simon Critchley’s introduction declares, “Anarchism is not so much a grand unified theory of revolution based on socio-political metaphysics and a philosophy of history, as a moral conviction.” Indeed, as an exposition of anarchism as a practicable set of ethics, The Anarchist Turn hits its mark. This is especially so in essays like “Friendship as Resistance” by Todd May, which argues that personal social arrangements can serve either to legitimize or undermine the broader social order. When it comes to presenting anarchism as a set of politics for the masses, however, the book falls short.
Most of the anarchism presented by the various authors is of a tradition which eschews an explicitly class struggle oriented politics. Several of the authors enthusiastically promote a version of communism and even a convergence between Marxism and anarchism, as in Chiara Bottici’s “Red and Black: The Freedom of Equals,” but the vision of resistance offered is generally “post-class” and sounds more like Empire authors Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri rather than Marx and Engels. One of the most cited texts throughout the various essays is The Coming Insurrection, the “invisible committee” tract that promotes a vague conception of decentralized revolution devoid of working- class organizations or programs.
Perhaps the most interesting contributions are Cinzia Arruzza’s “Of What is Anarcha-Feminism the Name?” and Laura Corradi’s “Black, Red, Pink, and Green: Breaking Boundaries and Building Bridges.” The former provides a sketch of anarchism’s relationship to women’s liberation from Emma Goldman to materialist-feminism and queer theory, and the latter explores the ways in which the terms communism, anarchy, feminism, and ecology are understood and married in the minds of different activists, including Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.
A bit of controversy surrounds the book’s publication. One of the original editors, Duane Rousselle (editor of Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies), was dropped from the project shortly before its completion and the present edition does not mention his name. He has written about this process in some detail at his blog, Dingpolitik.wordpress.com. The book can also be a tedious read for those who either are not used to or just dislike academic writing. Taken as a whole, The Anarchist Turn could be considered exemplary of contemporary anarchism as a movement. There is much to take seriously and critique, but in its presentation of anarchism as both a superior code of ethics and as a set of politics articulated for mass engagement, there is room for improvement. .