Here and now, returning to geography’s radical roots

A brief personal note. Reviewing Springer’s chapter about geography’s anarchist roots was the opportunity I had for coming back to my anarchist roots too. It was like a mediated encounter with a ten-year-ago version of myself, just that this time the level of the discourse was a bit higher or, at least, more specialized. Working on anarchism from an academic perspective is something I always have wanted to achieve, but I have never dared to do it. I can name many excuses to try to justify that situation; I can blame everything around that keeps me busy, and still, it would not be enough. However, and that is something I will evolve in a complementary text, the epistemological constructions resulted from my work on urban-STS, especially from ANT, —and as a sort of serendipity— could be packed into a proposal for an STS-anarchist program. But for now, let us move to the review.

“Returning to Geography’s radical roots” is the third chapter of Simon Springer’s The Anarchy Roots of Geography: Toward Spatial Emancipation, a clever and well-structured attempt to overthrow the Marxist academic dictatorship on critical studies, not only on geography, the chapter is an effort to restore anarchy’s position, first, in critical debate in geography and, then, inside the whole discipline. It starts by introducing the nowadays panorama of radical geography and how, in general terms, Marxism has usurped and co-opted the role of being the only reference on this sub-discipline despite the strong influence of anarchist thinkers like Piotr Kropotkin and Élisée Reclus since its origins. But Springer’s actions of claiming anarchist’s position in geography are going further: not only this chapter but all his book is a remarkable contribution to situate anarchy once again into the academic debate.   

As it was already presented, the current and general panorama in the self-proclaimed radical geography is predominantly Marxist. The primary reference of that kind of geography, David Harvey, has systematically ignored anarchist contributions to the discipline by drawing a skewed and totalitarian discourse where there is only a place for Marx’s perspectives. As Springer points, Marxist’s tendency to ignore anarchism is nothing new. “Thus to diminish anarchism to nothing more than a political tendency against state is to willfully exclude anarchism from its place in the wider social movement. This makes sense from a Marxian perspective, as it allows Marxists to present their ideology as the only serious anticapitalist option.” (Springer, 2016 p.67).

To support his statement, Springer first leans on classical anarchist ideas from Bakunin (1873[2002]); Goldman (1917[1969]); Kropotkin (1912[1994]), and Malatesta (1897[1977]), showing how the accusation of being just an anti-state ideology is nothing more than a caricature. Among other things, he highlights anarchist academic and political efforts on undermining class power; proposing new forms of organization; “balancing cross-cultural exchanges, and reforming gender relations.” (Springer, 2016 p.70). Second, he demonstrates how most of Marx’s key ideas were previously proposed and developed by French anarchist Pierre Joseph Proudhon. 

Piotr Kropotkin by Arturo Espinosa

“Marx, like Proudhon before him, argued that abolishing interest-bearing capital was destructive of capitalism. Marx, like Proudhon before him, differentiated between possession and private property and argued that cooperatives should replace capitalist firms. Marx, like Proudhon before him, argued that the working classes must emancipate themselves. Marx, like Proudhon before him, regarded property as the subjugation of the labor of others by means of appropriation. Marx, like Proudhon before him, saw the cooperative movement as a necessity of transitioning away from capitalism and thus recognized the need for communal land and workplaces. Marx, like Proudhon before him, proclaimed the need for ‘scientific socialism.’ Marx, like Proudhon before him, argued that the state was an instrument of class rule, although they differed in terms of whether a temporary proletariat dictatorship was necessary to see it properly undone.” (Ibid., p.76).

Despite the evidence, the Marxist negation of anarchism’s ideas and, in a more critical matter, of its own anarchist roots or, at least, influences, seems to be an authoritarian practice either of academic reductionism or political strategy. Springer points how meanwhile Harvey and his disciples mostly ignore or poorly reference anarchist contributions and influences to radical geography and Marxism, others like McKay (2011 p.70) consider those impacts as just coincidence: “‘all this [the previous work of Proudhon on the same key ideas Marx presented in The Capital] could be just a coincidence and just a case of great minds thinking alike—with one coming to the same conclusions a few years after the other expressed.’” (Springer, 2016 p.77). 

The chapter ends with another interesting topic: the sense and meaning of revolution. The Marxist idea of revolution, a sort of authoritarian vanguardism —that runs in a parallel path than messianism— denies the spontaneity, the effervescences of daily life, and prioritizes class-centric structures based on an economic-centric model of understanding and organizing collective life. Following its strategy of neglecting others, Marxism tries to convince that the only valid way of socialism is their way, a utopian proletarian dictatorship. Meanwhile, anarchism, Springer argues, focuses on here and now, on changing the current situation of things instead of looking for a possible future. 

We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing this minute.

Buenaventura Durruti

Llevamos un mundo nuevo en nuestros corazones. Ese mundo está creciendo en este instante

Buenaventura Durruti

References

Bakunin, M. (1873[2002]). Statism and Anarchy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Goldman, E. (1917[1969]). “Anarchism: what it really stands for?” Retrieved from: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/emma-goldman-anarchism-and-other-essays.

Kropotkin, P. (1912[1994]). The Conquest of Bread. New York: Dove.

Malatesta, E. (1897[1977]). Errico Malatesta: His life and ideas. Richards, V. (ed.). London: Freedom Press.

McKay, I. (2011). Property is Thief! A Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Anthology. Oakland: AK press.

Springer, S. (2016). Anarchist Roots of Geography: Toward a Spatial Emancipation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.