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Making Another World PossibleReview - Making Another World Possible
Anarchism, Anti-capitalism and Ecology in Late 19th and Early 20th Century Britain
by Peter Ryley
Bloomsbury Academic, 2013
Review by Diana Soeiro, Ph.D.
Mar 18th 2014 (Volume 18, Issue 12)

Before addressing the book, a few words are in order concerning the volume's publishing house and its series' editors. In 2010, Bloomsbury became the first international academic company publishing peer-reviewed monographs in anarchist studies, having launched a new series titled "Contemporary Anarchist Studies". Showing a commendable coherence with the series' theme, each volume has a paperback and hardback version, being also available under a Creative Commons (2.0) License which ensures that permission for non-commercial reproduction of the books is granted, by the publishers, free of charge to voluntary, campaign and community groups. The series is edited by Laurence Davis (National University of Ireland, Maynooth), Uri Gordon (Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, Israel), Nathan Jun (Midwestern State University, USA) and Alex Prichard (London School of Economics, UK). The first four volumes were launched almost simultaneously, in 2013 (between August 1st and October 24th), and the current volume being reviewed, by author Peter Ryley, was the second one of the series ­-- launched on September 12th.

Following the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 -- which started with the housing bubble in the US, in 2006, and then gradually developed into a full blown world-wide recession between 2008-2012 -- a series discussing politics and alternative political positions like 'anarchism', 'communism', 'individualism', 'liberalism', 'socialism', 'economy', 'ethics' and concepts like 'property', 'ownership', 'hierarchy', 'community', 'exchange', 'free currency', 'progress', 'evolution' and 'ecology', we can certainly say it is good timing. But more than that, it is a brave bet, that not only foresees a rise of the general public's interest in such topics but also, by the topics' own nature, it breaks down with the tradition of dealing exclusively with a limited set of topics, that are usually approached from the same perspective and that are also, usually, those that are taken as being the ones deserving to be treated with academic rigor in political science. This series is therefore a bet that the academic world should welcome -- and I personally do.

Making Another World Possible was based on the author's PhD thesis, awarded by Manchester Metropolitan University (England/UK), in 2006. Having worked for more than thirty years in adult and higher education Ryley is currently retired from University of Hull (England/UK) and works as an independent scholar.

The book intends to break the idea of anarchism as a doctrine and instead, understanding it as being rooted in an ethical choice, the one of living without hierarchy. (p.x) Also, by mapping three main moral principles (communism, hierarchy and exchange) to distinguish two main currents in their approach to anarchism: 'anarcho-communism' which emphasizes collectivism, mutual aid and social solidarity and; the 'individualists' who favor ownership, mutualism and markets. (p.xi) Though the book's title indicates that its focus is on Britain, particularly because London welcomed a large number of European exiles, the city became the center of the international anarchist movement. Therefore, while aiming to understand anarchism in Britain, one gets an understanding of the movement in its whole.

Chapter 1 has as its main questions: Is the right to property and ownership essential to man's identity and mankind's progress? What is the relation between property and work? Should labour entitle one to ownership? Rousseau, Hodgskin, Locke and Adam Smith come to play. Particular attention is given to Pierre-Joseph-Proudhon, the one coining 'anarchism' not as 'chaos' but as 'without rule'.

Chapter 2 focuses on Pyotr Kropotkin and the rise of anarchist communism. His ideas stand as a basis to define what Anarchism is: emphasis on agriculture, collective ownership, no wages, no market, no mutualism, and collective collapse of capitalism by spontaneous uprising. In his time, Kropotkin was accused of being over-optimistc. He was an early bio-regionalist, defending that the organization of human life should not correspond to the limits of the nation but to the geographical, natural, limits of sustainable regions, aiming at a self-sufficient local economy.

In Chapter 3 we learn that if one hand we had anarcho-communism, on the other hand we had a two split opposing side, which presented differences among themselves: English Individualists (Ch. 3), whom not openly assumed themselves as such and; individual anarchists (Ch 4). Primarily influenced by Herbert Spencer, English Individualists, defended libertarian feminism (Josephine Butler), anti-statism (Wordsworth Donisthorpe), voluntary state (Auberon Herbet), and personal rights (Joseph Hiam Levy). Perhaps they were not anarchists, but they were for sure in the margins of anti-capitalism and presented an alternative.

Chapter 4 focuses on individual anarchists, the "left wing" of the individualist movement mainly influenced by Henry Seymour. While the root of the problem to communists is property, to the individual anarchists, the root of the problem, is monopoly, particularly, monopoly of money. They favored mutualism and the one thing uniting individualists and communists was an animosity towards the sate. Individual anarchists showed a large diversity in their views, almost as diverse as the number of people in it.

In Chapter 5 Ryley states that because anarcho-communism got the biggest rise, it was the side that most negatively captured the imagination of the Victorians perceiving them as an impending threat. While individual anarchists saw the use of force as legitimate in self-defense, mainstream anarcho-communists argued that the revolution could only take place with the use of violence and education was its necessary precursor. The chapter also approaches atheists and Christian anarchists.

Either because alternative solutions were hard to come up with, either because it was hard to find consensus among the many anarchist voices, finally, two topics emerged as common poles of interest to all anarchists: 1) emancipation of the individual, liberty, sexual and social emancipation and; 2) ecology. Concerning ecological anarchism, geographer Elisée Reclus and his close friend Patrick Geddes were the two main prominent figures. Geddes, was one of the founders of town planning (profoundly influenced by Kropotkin) and a mentor to architecture critic Lewis Mumford. They were the ones who shaped anarchist ideas into action, on small-scale practical change (reformist pragmatism).

Why is Anarchism relevant nowadays? Because anarchists were the first ones to see limits to growth, to stress the importance of intellectual, ethical and cultural development and arguing that the maximization of human liberty and self-determination was integral to human progress. They were the ones, deriving economic and social theories drawing on Darwin's evolution and Ernst Haeckel's concept of ecology, applying it to urban planning.

Peter Ryley's book is highly relevant nowadays, and while diligently dwelling on the many divergences within Anarchism (which is sometimes, inevitably, confusing) it gives you enough information for you to continue to learn on the topic, while confronting the general long-standing negative stereotype on Anarchism. For sure it has the ability to interest you enough for you to do so.

 

© 2014 Diana Soeiro

 

Diana Soeiro (b. 1978). Philosophy, PhD (2011). Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Institute for Philosophy of Language/ New University of Lisbon. Updated information: www.linkedin.com/in/DianaSoeiro


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