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Renewing the Anarchist Tradition 2006

By: 
Malav Kanuga
Date Published: 
February 01, 2007

The annual Renewing the Anarchist Tradition (RAT) met September 29 to October 1 at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont for a weekend of presentations and discussions by anarchist and libertarian left scholars, activists, educators, students, and writers. The gathering has become a tradition in its own right since it began meeting annually in 2000, joining together hundreds of anti-authoritarians from all over the country and some international travelers as well.

RAT is sponsored by the Institute of Anarchist Studies, an organization founded in 1996 to foster the development of anarchism and cultivate community among those who share a similar political vision. The weekend was as full of rigorous political discourse as networking with other radicals, decompressing, and dare I say it, communing with nature.

This year’s conference continued the critical inquiry and reflection on anarchist theory and practice today. In an open environment where everyone contributed to discussion, the weekend was a chance to take stock of the ideas and actions motivate our practices. RAT organizers specifically resisted structuring the weekend around strictly theoretical panels and presentations that are often inaccessible. Rather, many of the attendants were also presenters, and ultimately it was a place to bring one’s ideas and experiences and test them in a supportive environment.

Re-conceptualizing anarchism

While the conference represented only a fraction of the anarchist movement, topics addressed were quite diverse. Presenters discussed forms of dissent throughout anarchist history—from Lucy Parsons and the Chicago anarchist movement, to Gloria Anzaldua’s thought, the legacy of Murray Bookchin, and an analysis of queer anarchist histories.

Discussions also drew from international movements in places such as Bolivia and Lebanon. One series of discussions sought to “rethink international solidarity,” looking at the challenges and strategies of reaching across borders specifically coming from a North American context.

Other discussions covered a wide range of topics including redeveloping the very core of radical ontology; the role of aesthetics in social change; public space, memory, and power; multicultural feminism; animism in anarchist traditions; and the possibilities of experimental communism today.

Sessions also addressed the role of propaganda in spreading ideas of social change, strategies for healthy living in a contaminated world, the links between anarchism and disability studies, queer/erotic influences on anti-authoritarian political frameworks, and anarchist perspectives on race. One panel questioned the implications and effects of traveling activists from North America upon movements for social justice abroad.

Most panels looked to re-conceptualize the philosophical tenets of anarchism and add to the arsenal of anarchist thought. Some explored the classical concerns of individualist anarchism, the “who” of the political anarchist subject, the politics of anarchist humanism, the relationship of power to autonomy and revolution, the problems of ownership, and the notion of “revolution as festival.”

The gathering also included a small book fair of radical publishers and infoshops, literature tables, a screening of Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo’s Burn, and an experimental musical performance by the band Collapse. And if the rest of the conference wouldn’t have already caught her eye, Emma Goldman was surely looking down on RAT during the impromptu dance party one evening.

While it conjures up a vast history of polemics, scholarly writings, armed struggles, and actions, the anarchist tradition that endures is more than its rich history, but it is the ideas and values that we take from the past and struggle with today. RAT provided the space in which to rethink and renew the social and political tradition of anarchism, but the weekend can only be as good as what we do with it. While the conference ended far too soon, the task ahead is to take what we said, heard, saw, and did throughout the retreat and advance it in our communities.

This, after all, is the core mission of RAT: to understand anarchism in the context of our lives, movements, and present-day social conditions, and to nurture new generations of anti-authoritarian intellectuals.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Malav Kanuga is a collective member at the worker-owned Bluestockings Bookstore in New York City, and spends most of his time looking at books and only some of the time reading them.