The Limits to Marx: David Harvey and the Condition of Postfraternity

Simon Springer’s response to David Harvey’s critique ¨Listen, Anarchist!¨

Simon Springer
Department of Geography, University of Victoria

Responding to David Harvey’s critique of my paper ‘Why a radical geography must be
anarchist’, I once again reiterate the importance of anarchist perspectives in contemporary
politics and geographical praxis. In challenging Harvey on the limits to Marx, I urge him to
think again about the hidden vanguardism, implied statism, and veiled hierarchy that
continue to lurk within the Marxist project, and importantly how these specters constrain
both our collective political imagination and the possibilities of radical geography. I am
admittedly very critical of Harvey, but I nonetheless refuse to close the door on dialogue
between the Black and Red, even in the face of ongoing Marxist ridicule of anarchist politics.
Accordingly, I propose an agonistic embrace of a ‘postfraternal’ or ‘postsororal’ politics on
the left, where we come to appreciate ongoing conflict as a sign of a healthy leftist milieu. In
doing so we can move beyond the misguided idea that all disagreements over strategies,
tactics, and organizing methods will ever be resolved. Ultimately, what I have dubbed ‘the
condition of postfraternity’ keeps us alert to the continually unfolding possibilities of a
thoroughly politicized and forever protean space. By embracing this shifting horizon, not as
a static limit to our politics, but as a beautiful enabler of visionary possibilities, the rhizomes
of emancipation grow stronger.
anarchism, anarchist geographies, David Harvey, hierarchy, radical geography, Marxism,
Brotherhood is a two-way street.
– Malcolm X (quoted in Paris 1978: 1513)
I’m flattered that David Harvey has taken the time to write a reply to my paper, ‘Why a radical
geography must be anarchist’ (Springer 2014d). Clearly he didn’t have to do so, and although he
isn’t on side with much of my argument, I can’t help but take his response as a huge
compliment. At the same time I have to be honest in saying that I feel quite disappointed
with the end result of what he’s actually written. In asking me to ‘listen’, it’s both ironic and
disheartening that Harvey is not really offering the same courtesy in return. While I’m happy
to concede that he makes some worthwhile critiques, at the same time he problematically
pushes the same threadbare Marxist arguments that anarchists have been responding to for a
very long time. In some instances, these are criticisms that Mikhail Bakunin (2002[1873]) and
other anarchists demonstrated as fallacious Marxist caricatures over a century ago. Moreover,
it is curious that Harvey chose to focus entirely on my essay alone, rather than dealing with
the broader currents of contemporary anarchist geographies (Springer 2013), as though a
single article is the beginning and end of what has been and might be said among the diverse
and expanding group of scholars working within this (re)emerging field. He also entirely
neglects any of my other work, and particularly my recent ‘Human geography without hierarchy’
(Springer 2014b), which is far more critical of his work than the piece he takes aim at. Had
he read this other essay he might have noticed that it pre-emptively answers most of his
criticisms about horizontalism, decentralization, and prefiguration, which makes his response
all the more curious. Perhaps most confusing of all though is that he also ignores the rest of
the dialogue that my original essay spawned (Clough 2014; Gibson 2014; Ince 2014; Mann
2014; Waterstone 2014), including my final response (Springer 2014a), which again, already
answers some of his critiques. All of this suggests that Harvey hasn’t really taken the
anarchist position in geography very seriously at all, thus making it particularly difficult to
think about the possibility of “fertile collaboration” between Marxists and anarchists that he
speaks to in concluding his essay. To Harvey I apparently “want no part in such a project”
anyway, and he suggests that I’m “mainly bent on polarizing the relation between anarchism
and Marxism as if they are mutually exclusive if not hostile”. Well no, not quite. There is an
enduring if not peculiar sense of kinship between Marxism and anarchism. Certainly I don’t
deny this, not least because they both spring from the same socialist root. Nonetheless there
is something of a sibling rivalry, where anarchists and Marxists can bring out the worst, and
crucially, the best in each other when each side is prepared to listen and respond to the other’s


Far from wanting to close down or shut off this conflict, I think we should view it as
a symptom of a healthy politics on the left. In this regard I take an agonistic view of conflict,
which implies a politics of mutual admiration characterized by a sense of both respect and
affect for the other party. Agonism affirms the perpetuity of contestation, a dimension that
is fundamental to political struggle and social transformation. So just as children will wrestle
and squabble as part of their growth, a circumstance that will often continue in various ways
into adulthood, such engagement confirms a fraternal or sororal bond. I want to argue that
such conflict is actually critical in maintaining the vibrancy of radical politics. With respect to
the relationship between anarchism and Marxism we might productively consider the present
situation to be one of ‘postfraternity’ or ‘postsorority’. Of course my chosen title plays on
the titles of two of Harvey’s major works (Harvey 1982, 1989), which carries forward the
emerging theme of this ongoing dialogue and the tradition started by Marx (2013[1847])
when he rearranged the nouns in Proudhon’s The Philosophy of Poverty (2011[1846]). Beyond
the obvious mirth, I think there is something very useful in doing so. In the first instance to
acknowledge that there are indeed limits to Marx, just as there are limits to anarchism. There
is no failsafe solution to politics given that their expression is always like shifting sands in the
winds of social change. In the second instance I follow James Sidaway (2000) in his musings
on colonialism, where he identifies one particular sense of ‘postcolonialism’ – in its
unhyphenated form – as signifying a continuation meant to suggest that while formal
colonialism has ended, it still has innumerable resonant effects on the present. The same can
be said of socialism. The era of fraternal relations ended with the First International, but
there are many conversations, confrontations, and consternations left to be unfurled in the
immediate family of radical geography, and broader still, among the cousins, aunts, and
uncles of the academic and activist left. I want to show my respect for Harvey and the


profound contributions he’s made by continuing to challenge him on his reading of
anarchism as well as the version of Marxism he advocates by pointing to the ways in which
he flirts with authoritarianism by perpetuating state-centrism and vanguardist ideals, even as
he wishes to deny their presence in his thinking. Welcome to the condition of postfraternity!
Bowdlerism or Balderdash? Radical Geography Then and Now
It’s so difficult, isn’t it? To see what’s going on when you’re in the absolute middle of
something? It’s only with hindsight we can see things for what they are.
– SJ Watson (2011: 266)
There are of course points of similarity between Harvey and myself where some form of
camaraderie might be built, and in particular I found the autobiographical components of his
response fascinating insofar as I could easily see myself reflected within them. Harvey recalls
having to publish at an excessive rate to be taken seriously as a Marxist, something I’ve also
felt the weight of in arguing as an anarchist. If the place of radical geographers in the
academy was “touch-and-go” in the 1970s, then the problem seems all the more acute today
where the neoliberalization of academia ensures that the stakes are even higher as evermore
incredibly talented scholars are relegated to the part-time employment of sessional hell
(Purcell 2007). I too recognized that as a radical geographer my only chance at career
stability was more than mere ‘publish or perish’, but I nonetheless willingly carried with me
all the baggage of that “vile and dangerous” word ‘anarchism’ (Goldman 1969[1917]: 6). I
did so precisely because I insist this emancipatory philosophy deserves a seat at the academic
table, having much to offer in these times of systemic crises. Yet despite being extremely
productive in the first half decade of my own career, this still wasn’t enough in the eyes of
three out of ten members of my department who silently voted to deny my tenure. On the
back of six extremely supportive evaluations from my external referees, enthusiastic student


evaluations, and a formidable service load, these three colleagues anonymously voted ‘no’,
not owing to my track record, but presumably because they don’t like my politics. Sadly,
history repeats itself.
Yet Harvey is less than happy with my apparently “bowdlerized” reading of the
development of radical geography, and in particular his position within it, as though I
somehow wouldn’t understand the precarity of being a young radical geographer. Note that I
never suggest that Harvey’s prolific writings “imprisoned radical geography in the Marxist
fold”. These are his words, not mine. I wasn’t around in the 1970s to witness the early
development, but I can certainly appreciate all too well how difficult the terrain must have
been. What is a little peculiar though is how he expects that I might know all the ins and outs
of early radical geography in the same way as someone who lived through it. “Springer
should correct his erroneous view from ‘hindsight’”, Harvey scolds, “as to what actually
happened in radical circles in North America after 1969.” Yet isn’t what ‘actually happened’
a particular claim to a single truth, rather than an admission of the multiple intertwined
narratives that inform the history of radical geography? This sort of singular view is basically
my problem with Marxist geography all along, as though other views or variants of leftist
politics don’t really matter. “The idea that I ‘solidified what Folke had considered obligatory’
is way off the mark”, Harvey complains. But is it? This is where hindsight becomes critically
important. Throughout his essay Harvey wants to imply that his version of Marxism is
somehow unorthodox or unusual, a sentiment he repeats several times during his talk at the
most recent AAG meeting in Chicago (Harvey 2015). Unfortunately I don’t buy it. Harvey’s
(2008, 2010) interpretation of the quite heterodox Henri Lefebvre is, for example, far from
progressive. He attempts to read Lefebvre’s expression of the ‘right to the city’, and
particularly autonomous and radical democratic social movements, “through old lenses:


namely… statism, centralism, and hierarchy” (Souza 2010: 315). Setting aside the question of
how orthodox Harvey’s Marxism actually is, we can look to the consistency of his work as
having cemented Harvey’s legacy as one of the biggest Marxist figures to ever grace the
academy. Sure, back in the 1970s his place in the history of geographical thought was not
assured, but today there stands the David Harvey, a legend (Castree and Gregory 2008). I
have to admit that I was pretty giddy when I received his email informing me that he had
written a response to my paper, even if I knew I was in for a bumpy ride.
Harvey’s influence is undeniably monumental, and all I can do is read the landscape
from the present moment. So when Harvey suggests that “it seems mighty odd that Springer
has elected to write a rebuttal to [Folke’s] not very influential piece some forty two years
after its publication and without, moreover, paying any mind to its historical and
geographical context” one might rightly ask if this is really a fair criticism? Besides, I actually
don’t begrudge him for being a leading light in the discipline, rather I simply point to that
being a contemporary matter of fact. There is no denying that Harvey’s work has set the
tone for a great degree of scholarship that has followed, and consequently I don’t think my
historical reading of the contemporary shape of radical geography is actually incorrect.
Harvey seems oddly unaware of his current position in the discipline, suggesting he has only
really mattered in the last ten years. This is quite peculiar given that he’s been making waves
in geography for several decades. Social Justice and the City (Harvey 1973), The Limits to Capital
(Harvey 1982) and The Condition of Postmodernity (Harvey 1989) all made a tremendous impact,
where the latter is one of the most influential social science books of all time. What is indeed
‘mighty odd’ is that a tribute to the impact of Harvey’s scholarship would be written only
three short years into his “really ‘influential writings’” being published (Castree and Gregory
2008), as though anything prior to A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Harvey 2005) hadn’t already


assured his legacy. Even if it is the case that Harvey only came into his own in the past
decade, by the time I embarked on my PhD in 2005, Harvey was already established as a
household name in geography circles. Perhaps Harvey is simply very humble, I don’t know.
Yet modest though he may be, Harvey should still be willing to admit that my original paper
isn’t any more a direct rebuttal to Folke (1972) than his paper is to Bookchin (1986[1971]).
Harvey knows as well as I do that we both chose these titles as a form of wry amusement to
draw readers into a conversation about anarchism and Marxism. While this discussion of the
contours of radical geography’s historical trajectory is important to point out in terms of
defending my particular reading of the contemporary dominance of Marxian analysis, it
doesn’t form the crux of my problem with Harvey’s rebuttal. I’m more concerned with the
troubling caricature of anarchism that Harvey seeks to perpetuate, a concern I turn my
attention towards now.

Denial of the State and the State of Denial: The Hidden Vanguard
As far as my purely personal preferences went I would have liked to join the Anarchists.
– George Orwell (2000[1938]: 96)
Harvey’s use of Barcelona in the 1930s as an example of anarchism gone wrong is a curious
choice, not least because it was such a successful realization of anarchist ideas (Breitbart
1978; Ealham 2010). Notwithstanding all that could be said about this particular case, let’s
take the “two broad lines of critique of the conventional anarchist position” that arise from
Harvey’s reading seriously. The first criticism is the ostensible anarchist contempt for power
and the “failure to shape and mobilize political power into a sufficiently effective
configuration to press home a revolutionary transformation in society as a whole”. We could
first begin by unpacking power in a Foucauldian sense (Foucault 1980), which allows us to
recognize that anarchists do not disregard power at all, but actually use this circuitous and


fluidic concept quite effectively when considered as an ‘entanglement’ of social relations
(Sharp et al. 2000). We might also point out that in order to demonstrate this supposed
anarchist disdain for power Harvey uses Holloway (2002), which is amusing insofar as
Holloway is of course a Marxist. It also skirts around the arguments I presented against the
“totalizing spatial logic” of a Marxian version of revolution, whereby the Promethean
impulse of remaking everything and sweeping up everyone in a singular moment of
complete transformation disregards the notion that ‘other worlds’ are already happening
(Gibson-Graham 2008). Not everything needs to be remade. There is a colonizing character
to such a view of revolution that is undeniable, and one has to wonder where indigenous
peoples and other minority groups fit in to such a program? Of course recognition for such
diversity has long been the Achilles heel of Marxism and its class-centric outlook. In
Harvey’s own words he admits that he “personally do[es]n’t trust continuous insurrections
that spring spontaneously from self-activity. …Self-liberation through insurrection is all well
and good but what about everyone else?”. Here is the hidden vanguard, sneaking unseen like
a 6’ 3.5” tall invisible rabbit in a James Stewart film.
Yet what about everyone else? Are they in need of a grand salvationary gesture?
Didn’t European colonialism marshal the exact same rhetoric in asking the colonized to trust
its motives, all while perpetuating a deep suspicion of the ‘Other’? For anarchists, as the
insurrectionary ethos moves through a community, it mobilizes political power by circulating
ideas and making room for voluntary association. Such a view of power isn’t actually
individualist, but rather it’s necessarily a relational assemblage, where the individual and the
community are continually negotiated categories. And what of Marxists in a revolutionary
conjuncture of totalizing change? The vanguard simply decides what’s best, and those who
don’t want to be liberated or assigned roles are dragged along kicking and screaming? In


spite of these limits Harvey remains committed to his state-centric view of radical politics,
arguing, “the state cannot be neglected as a potential site for radicalization”. But doesn’t this
perpetuate a narrow view of how political power might be mobilized? Aside from
disregarding the inherent authoritarianism that rests at the heart of any version of the state, I
also wonder if Harvey has given any thought to the idea that in advocating for the
radicalization of the state he is also actually arguing for the radicalization of capital? Certainly
he is aware of the interplay between state and capital, noting the contradiction between “the
supposedly ‘free’ exercise of individual private property rights and the collective exercise of
coercive regulatory state power to define, codify and give legal form to those rights” (Harvey
2014: 42). Kropotkin (2002[1903]: 181) recognized the origin of capital and the state as
irrevocably intertwined, where “these institutions developed side by side, mutually
supporting and re-enforcing each other”. Marx (1976[1867]) knew this too, giving it the
name ‘primitive accumulation’. Harvey (2003) for his part has acknowledged the ongoing
character of this bloodthirsty relationship between capital and the state calling it
‘accumulation by dispossession’, demonstrating that he knows this story well. So why lean
on a statist crutch?
Just how deeply this relationship between capitalism and the state runs has long been
the focus of anarchists, particularly in critiquing nominally socialist states as in fact versions
of state capitalism (Goldman 1996). Bookchin (1986[1971]: 207) asked Marxists to ‘listen’
when he argued that,
Marxism… is assimilated by the most advanced forms of state capitalist movement – notably
Russia. By an incredible irony of history, Marxian ‘socialism’ turns out to be in large part the very
state capitalism that Marx failed to anticipate in the dialectic of capitalism. The proletariat, instead
of developing into a revolutionary class within the womb of capitalism, turns out to be an organ
within the body of bourgeois society.


In this light, isn’t any view that sees potential in the state ultimately a fetishization that allows
the foundations of capitalism to remain intact? Doesn’t such a position leave us vulnerable
to neoliberalism, particularly if, as Harvey (2014: 27) contends, “some semblance of state
power has to exist in order to sustain the individualised property rights and structures of law
that, according to theoreticians like Friedrich Hayek, guarantee the maximum of non-
coercive individual liberty”? In spite of lifting his title from Bookchin’s essay, the message
seems to have been entirely lost on Harvey who refuses to accept that state power will
always operate in the narrow interests of the few given the hierarchical nature of this form of
organization. If anarchism is susceptible to a neoliberal politics in one way, then Marxism
surely is in another. The difference is that while some Marxists have acknowledged this limit
to Marxism and have responded by moving ever closer to an anarchist line through the
development of autonomist theory (Wright 2002), such a critique of anarchism is only
possible through caricature. It is a willful misreading of anarchism to present it as
synonymous with radical individualism. In a communal spirit, Barker and Pickerill (2012)
show us why it is important for anarchists to understand and learn from indigenous peoples,
while Kahnawake Mohawk scholar Taiaiake Alfred (2005) articulates a case for anarcho-
indigenism. Yet Harvey attempts to discredit the communal forms of action advanced by
indigenous communities, and championed by Chomsky (2007) and Scott (2009), by implying
that such examples are not real invocations of anarchist praxis. This insinuation is not only
misguided given that harmony (Clark and Martin 2013), mutual aid (Kropotkin 2008[1902]),
and a certain sense of spiritualism (Springer 2014c) are core themes of anarchism, but equally
it is indicative of Harvey’s own “non-negotiable ideological position” that the state can be
reformed. Given the deep communal roots of anarchism, the use of anarchist themes by


neoliberals is quite frankly nonsense, and nothing more or less than the misappropriation of
I’m willing to nonetheless accept that anarchists need to be vigilant against neoliberal
infection, in the same way that Marxists should be weary of the colonizing potential of the
state (Springer 2012). The Khmer Rouge radicalized the state in Cambodia. We know the
result, but here’s the rub: the Communist Party of Kampuchea’s leadership were also in
denial about their vanguardism, and in fact they continue to be to this day as the ongoing
tribunal has made clear. Obviously I’m not accusing Harvey of secretly harboring genocidal
machinations to ensure his Marxist project is seen through, but genocide was not Pol Pot’s
dream either. In my latest book I recount my Khmer language teacher’s history with Saloth
Sar, a man she remembers as gentle and kind (Springer 2015). Prior to becoming known as
Brother Number One, having transformed himself into Pol Pot, Saloth Sar was her
childhood teacher. Here, in its most startling reveal, we find Hannah Arendt’s (1963)
‘banality of evil’, wherein history’s profoundest moments of malice are seen as being fulfilled
not by sociopaths or fanatics, but by the blinkered recklessness of ordinary people. Yet we
might correct Arendt’s formulation because the banality of evil is not actually banal at all.
Instead, it represents an acceptance of the premises of the state, its function as the
institutionalization of power, and the erasure this brings to our ability to see the violence it
unleashes. Evil is not of the everyday. Pol Pot was not born a monster. He was once a sweet
and innocent baby. Arendt could only view evil as banal because she failed to notice the
banality of the state itself, with its ugly, twisted trawls of codified rules, vested not in
specialization or common good, but in the interests of an elite, a vanguard. The moment we
attempt to crystalize our relations in concrete form and invest them with authority is the
exact same moment that we fail in our radical, revolutionary trajectory. So we see mass


killings as a common feature of Marxism put into practice, not because there is something
wrong with socialist ideas, but rather because the state represents the apotheosis of human
capacity for violence. People are not good or bad. Neither are co-ops, and surely they are
only as good as their members’ desire to make them such. It follows then that organization is
not good or bad, yet states are of an altogether different stripe. They do something to us.
They arrange the circuits of power in such a way that attempts to make it flow in one
direction. They render us cogs in a fixed machine with a self-replicating logic, rather than
voluntary associates within a continually unfolding process. The state can never be radical. It
is an abomination that always serves the few, while demanding blind obedience from the
many. Such a demand is achieved in the best incidents through flags waved and anthems
sung, and in the worst through shots fired and blood shed.
Stretching the Horizontal Vision: Federation Beyond Hierarchy and Authority
Life already shows in which direction the change will be made. Not in increasing the powers of
the State, but in resorting to free organization and free federation in all those branches which
are now considered as attributes of the State.
– Peter Kropotkin (2002[1887]: 68-69)
The second major claim that Harvey draws from Barcelona is that anarchism lacks the ability
“to stretch the vision of political activism from local to far broader geographical scales”. He
means to warn us of what Harvey (2012a: 7) elsewhere refers to as the “fetishism of
organizational preference”, or what he assumes to be a mistaken prioritization of the method
of organizing over its desired outcome. To Harvey, such a prefigurative politics, which is the
here and now of anarchism (Ince 2012; Springer 2012), supposedly prevents anarchists from
being able to plan major infrastructures, manage environmental concerns, or service
transport and communication networks. Of course I already provide a partial answer to this
in my original essay (Springer 2014d), where I point to Colin Ward’s (2004) example of


postal services functioning not through a central world authority, but via voluntary
agreements. Kropotkin (2002[1887]) makes the same point with respect to the independent
federation of European railways in his time. Harvey attempts to preempt being called out on
the inaccuracy of his claim by stating that “anarchist town planners (including Bookchin)
understood this problem but their work is largely ignored within the anarchist movement.”
To say this work is overlooked only reveals Harvey’s limited knowledge of the literature and
the scant attention he pays to anarchist writings, and particularly to anarcho-syndicalism,
anarchism’s oldest answer to industrial relations wherein worker-managed production
systems are networked into a stateless socialist society (Rocker 2004[1938]; Solidarity
Federation 2012). Harvey knows of Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism, but he doesn’t take
it seriously. Demonstrating the depths of his state-centric imagination he lampoons it by
saying “if it looks like a state, and feels like a state, and quacks like a state, then it’s a state”
(Harvey 2012c: np). Elsewhere he suggests Bookchin’s idea about assemblies is “well worth
elaborating as part of a radical anti-capitalist agenda” (Harvey 2012a: 85), yet instead of
actually doing so, Harvey falls back on a centralization argument, where the state takes
center stage.
Perhaps the most confounding statement in Harvey’s entire essay is that the
“dialectic between decentralization and centralization is one of the most important
contradictions within capital… and I wish all those, like Springer, who advocate
decentralization as if it is an unalloyed good would look more closely at its consequences and
contradictions.” Given that I dedicate an entire essay to this exact question (Springer 2014b),
I’m sorry that Harvey can ask me to listen when he clearly doesn’t do so himself. Far from
treating decentralization as a pure virtue, I attempt to work through what a progressive,
anarchist view of decentralized horizontalism actually means. In the process I identify the


contradictions that lurk within Harvey’s hierarchical political outlook, arguing that he
“poisons the well of decentralization by pre-emptively refusing its possibilities and
positioning every movement towards a more autonomous political arrangement as a device
that somehow necessarily greases the rails for a neoliberal future” (Springer 2014b: 403).
Harvey dismisses anarchism’s coupling of decentralization with anti-capitalism precisely
because Marxism cannot accommodate prefigurative politics, treating horizontality as a
charming but ultimately limited if not futile distraction from realizing the bigger
revolutionary picture. Horizontalism is consequently positioned as something that might
happen after the promised great withering, and so we see can plainly that the ‘stages of
history’ is not a caricature, but an unacknowledged specter that continues to haunt the
Marxist project. Failing to understand this particular limit to Marxism, Harvey invokes the
idea that “it is difficult if not impossible… to take consensual horizontality to much larger
scales” and that it is “impossible to proceed without setting up ‘confederal’ or ‘nested’
(which means inevitably hierarchical in my view but then this too may just be semantics)
structures of decision making that entail[s] serious adjustments in organized thinking as well
as forms of institutionalized governance”. I’ve already offered a lengthy response, where I
make clear that the relationship between scale and hierarchy is not mere semantics (Springer
2014b), yet Harvey is content to ignore the whole critique of the scalar imagination and the
emancipatory politics that flow from a flat ontology (Marston et al. 2005; Woodward et al.
2012). To Harvey it would seem that a caricature of authority is a better reply than thinking
through how a rhizomic politics can indeed “stretch the vision of political activism”, and
how it does so without resorting to the hierarchical politics that are necessarily implied by
scalar thinking. Federalism is of course the longstanding anarchist answer to hierarchy


(Proudhon 1980[1863]; Ward 2011), yet Harvey apparently can’t be bothered to work
through their differences.
Instead of a serious discussion of authority we get nuggets like “I certainly would not
welcome a pilot landing at JFK proclaiming that as a good anarchist she does not accept the
legitimacy of the air traffic controllers’ authority and that she proposes to disregard all
aviation rules in the landing process.” While Harvey assumes he has stumbled upon the
ultimate trump card, he simply confuses specialist knowledge with authority. This a question
that Bakunin (2010[1882]: 24) answered long ago when he wrote:
In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals,
or railroads, I consult that of the architect or the engineer. For such or such special
knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the
architect nor savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the
respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my
incontestable right of criticism and censure.
This isn’t good enough for Harvey though, and he routinely ridicules horizontal
organization, using extreme examples like nuclear power plants and air-traffic control to
make his case. For example in a lecture delivered to LSE he argued that horizontalism is
impractical because “there are many aspects of contemporary life that are now organized in
what you might call ‘tightly-coupled systems’ where you need command and control
structures. I wouldn’t want my anarchist friends to be in charge of a nuclear power station”
(Harvey 2012b: np). Yet since horizontal organizational tactics in anarchism are usually part
of a broader class struggle (Solidarity Federation 2012), it is absurd to suggest that there
would ever be a time where anarchists would enter into assembly (federated or otherwise)
during a nuclear meltdown or the complex operation of landing an airplane. Indeed, without
a discernable hierarchy to oppose, “in what possible circumstance would collective struggle
be necessary during such risky periods?” (fkshultze 2013). Nonetheless mutual aid in times
of disaster – both natural and manufactured – is a recurrent human theme, where people


regularly come together and organize themselves effectively around an ensuing crisis in the
complete absence of a centralized authority. We saw this with spectacular effect in the wake
of hurricane Katrina, where the state was more concerned with restoring ‘law and order’ and
criminalizing desperate people than it was with relief and rescue efforts. In response to the
state’s failure people instead helped themselves and each other, particularly through the
formation of the Common Ground Collective. For Kropotkin (1902/2008: 137), the
tendency for mutual aid “has so remote an origin, and is so deeply interwoven with all the
past evolution of the human race, that it has been maintained… notwithstanding all
vicissitudes of history”.
The Marxist Cartoonist and the Anarchist Other: Of Caricature and Insurrection
You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the
world for you.
– Walt Disney (quoted in Disney Miller 1959: 89)
Some of Harvey’s response is so wilfully misguided that I can’t help but find significant
humour in it. He entirely misses the political implications of reciprocity, active critical
thinking, and a healthy skepticism for authority that rest at the center of both my essay and
anarchist praxis (Springer 2014). Rather than appreciating that what I am speaking to with
my examples of the mundanity of anarchism are principles of mutual aid, voluntary
association, self-management, and direct action, Harvey reduce his argument to silliness.
“Perpetually questioning authority, rules and codes of behavior and disobeying stupid or
irrelevant rules is one thing”, Harvey writes, “disobeying all such mandates on anarchist
principle as Springer proposes is quite another.” Of course I don’t propose any such thing,
and the idea of an anarchist ‘mandate’ is preposterous. The only hard and fast proposition
present here is Harvey’s political imagination, which appears to be cast in ideological stone.


Although Harvey says he is tempted by parody he doesn’t actually resist the urge to dive
headfirst into mockery where his distaste for anarchism becomes palpable. What of
polarization and hostility? While disregarding a posted sign that says “poisonous snakes are
in this area” is an amusing analogy, ask Rosa Parks in 1955 about a sign that said “Negros at
the back of the bus” and it isn’t so funny anymore. Suddenly we become well aware of the
emancipatory potential of a single act of disobedience or personal insurrection. This
sentiment isn’t meant as senseless violence, but in Stirner’s (1993[1845]) etymological sense
of insurrection as an act of rebellion, a ‘rising up’ above oppressive socioeconomic and
politico-ideological conditions. The point is that anarchism is a form of politics that compels
us to think critically about rules and whose interest they actually serve. The caricature Harvey
perpetuates is that anarchists have no rules at all. Maybe there is a sensible reason to follow a
sign, such as a warning about venomous animals, but if a “Whites only” sign is posted
outside a bathroom there exists a very good reason to challenge it. While Rosa Parks was just
one of many who took such a risk, when refused to sit at the back of the bus she liberated
herself as an act of insurrection. Her defiance was part of a broader movement, but she
didn’t wait for a vanguard to show her how everyone else could be liberated. She took direct
action herself because she was tired of giving in, a moment of remarkable courage that
allowed the rhizomes of emancipation to grow stronger.
Harvey finds the assertion that all authority is illegitimate “ridiculous if not
dangerous”, which of course he should, but his ridicule is misdirected and should be aimed
at the cartoon he’s drawn. His caricature of anarchists’ thinking on authority doesn’t “give
anarchism a bad name”, it gives Harvey one, and if he placed more value on hindsight he
might be slightly embarrassed in having attempted to pin such nonsense on anarchism.
There is not a willy-nilly disregard of anything and everything. We are talking about anarchy,


not anomie, which means that there is critical thought about what rules are silly and what rules
work. Anarchism doesn’t mean ‘no rules’. It means ‘no rulers’. Shouldn’t we be willing to
question any set parameters, particularly when they have been nailed down and codified as
sovereign law? When anarchists call the legitimacy of authority into question this is meant to
imply that authority is fundamentally contestable and any decision to follow must be entered
into via one’s own volition, not through force or fraud. As Bakunin (2010[1882]: 24)
affirmed, “[i]f I bow before the authority of the specialists and avow my readiness to follow,
to a certain extent and as long as may seem to me necessary, their indications and even their
directions, it is because their authority is imposed on me by no one, neither by men nor by
God”. Yet it would appear that Harvey resorts to parody because he has little else to go on.
When one starts to take the possibilities of anarchism seriously, rather than perpetuating
ridicule, it becomes clear just how much potential it has to offer. Harvey has dedicated his
career to Marxism, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that he protects the citadel, but he
does so by building walls with the stonework of contempt. Yet to Harvey I am the mason,
and he accuses me of constructing “a fantasy narrative of anarchism in geography as
victimized by Marxism to support his central objective which is to polarize matters at this
particular historical moment (for reasons I do not understand)”. Thanks be to Harvey for
informing me of my “central objective”, but yet again he’s unfortunately missed the mark.
Why isn’t it fair game to identify ongoing blind spots within Marxian analysis? Why
can’t we have a dialogue about the lack of attention that has been afforded to anarchism,
owing in no small part to the strength of Marxism in contemporary geographical thought?
Why am I blamed for perpetuating “paranoid nonsense” simply because I’ve raised a series
of questions about the limits of Marx and suggest it is time for a re-examination of the
anarchist roots of radical geography and an exploration of the promise that anarchist


geographies might hold today? The dismissive and derisive responses I’ve received from
Marxists aren’t exactly indicative of brotherly love (Mann 2014; Waterstone 2014), and the
idea that there shouldn’t be an ongoing conversation about how the left is organized seems
highly apolitical. Harvey speaks to openness, but then closes the door in my face through his
liberal use of satire. Obviously an insurrectionary swell has to be more than me borrowing
my mother-in-law’s car, but this is an expression of reciprocity located in the everyday where
we actually exercise our agency. The point here is to signal a politics of possibility, which
finds its impetus in mundane acts of ordinary insurrection (Scott 2012). In the same way,
surely Harvey sees his writing as pointing to a politics and doesn’t imagine that an entire
revolution will be born from and live its life through the tip of his pen. His contribution is
the radical geographical imaginations that he conjures by the words that flow across his page.
The point of horizontalism and the negation of vanguardism is that we all play a role, we all
contribute, we all matter. But I’m not here to speak to victimhood. I’m happy to take a kick
in the teeth, but my lament all along has been that geographers have scarcely paid attention
to anarchism. It is undeniable that the bulk of radical critique over the past forty years has
been in a Marxian vein. And yes, the profound influence of Harvey has something to do
with this whether he’s willing to admit it or not. This statement shouldn’t be misread as
blame, but rather as a testament to the quality and strength of his analyses. Make no mistake:
David Harvey has done a hell of a lot of good for geography! But he’s not beyond critique.
I’d like to think that Harvey would necessarily agree. I’m not the first challenger to arrive on
the scene in contesting the Marxist orthodoxy in radical geography. Both Rosalyn Deutsche
(1991) and Gibson-Graham (1996) got Harvey’s goat many years ago by dismantling the
totalizing impulses of Marxism. In Chicago he admitted being “pissed off” with the latter,
saying “these were supposed to be colleagues” and so he “took a little cut at them, but…


frankly, I think they actually deserved it” (Harvey 2015). Fair enough I suppose, as such back
and forth is the nature of healthy debate, representing the continuing unfolding of and need
for politics. I certainly hope that late in my career I have young guns giving me a tough time
because it will mean that my work has mattered, that I’ve given the geographical community
something to chew on, and that the essence of radical intellectual critique lives on.
It’s Only Castles Burning: Disagreement and The Politics of Listening
Blind man running
through the light of the night
with an answer in his hand
– Neil Young (1970)
Anarchism is a serious contemporary imperative that can no longer be ignored. The fact that
Harvey is taking some notice suggests to me that somewhere, perhaps very deep down, he is
cognizant that there is a changing of the guard on the political left. There is no doubt that
Harvey has made a tremendous impact on the shape of geographical thought, but if ‘Listen,
Anarchist!’ is the standard by which the relevance of contemporary Marxian theory is to be
measured, then I think it is in even worse shape than I had considered in my original essay
(Springer 2014d). One of the key problems is Harvey’s willingness to also listen without
simply falling back on his own caricatural assumptions. At times he does take heed,
suggesting that “If, as Springer says, anarchism is primarily ‘about actively reinventing the
everyday through a desire to create new forms of organization’ then I am all for it.” Such an
admission is welcome because at a fundamental level this is what anarchism is all about. It is
the embrace of the everyday, where the here and now of anarchism form the geography of
insurrectionary change. No rhetoric, no hyperbole, with anarchism the revolution is literally
at our feet! Yet elsewhere Harvey frustrates with his obvious lack of attention. For someone
concerned about the apparent “quota of misrepresentations, exaggerations and ad hominem


criticisms” within my paper, Harvey certainly could have spent more time considering how
he replicates these attributes, wherein “the critique incorporates and mirrors far too much of
that which it criticizes”. A case in point is when he refers to my positioning of horizontalism
as the optimal organizational form as “exclusive and exclusionary dogma”. Of course I
answer the question of horizontalism at length elsewhere (Springer 2014b), but clearly he
paid it no mind. In my response to those involved in the original dialogue, I also made my
position on radical geography very clear by stating that,
My mission is only to call for the necessary space wherein we can collectively decide for
ourselves what is possible within geography, rather than being bound to particular
methodologies and parochial ideas. … You can call this ‘anarchism’, ‘critical anti-hegemonic
iconoclasm’, ‘paradigm destabilizing recalcitrant analysis’, ‘non-conformist insurgent praxis’,
or ‘don’t tell me what to do theory’ for all I care. The point is, we are talking about a mindset
of breaking archetypes, tearing up blueprints, and scribbling over leitmotifs (Springer 2014a:
Yet Harvey is content to make unfounded antagonistic statements like “Strange that
Springer, the open-minded freedom-loving anarchist, should seek to foreclose on the
intellectual and political possibilities open to us at this time in this way”. The problem again
of course is that Harvey isn’t really listening at all, which speaks to a soul tormented by an
unacknowledged vanguardism. Others must listen to his answers, but there is a limited
willingness to return the favor.
The shape of contemporary social movements look very different from the politics
Harvey imagines. As the winds of change blow through the social sciences his response
reads like a reactionary effort to stay relevant when instead Harvey should be putting up his
sail and enjoying the ride! He no longer needs to ensure his legacy. It is cemented. Harvey is
one of the greatest minds to ever grace our field and he is rightfully an inspiration to us all.
One thing is certain: I would not be an anarchist if Harvey wasn’t first a Marxist. For this I
owe him a huge debt of gratitude. I have a deep sense of respect for the contribution he’s


made, which will remain a tremendous gift to the (re)radicalization of geography. But this
doesn’t change where we are at today in the current conjuncture of heightened
authoritarianism and a wolven state that hides in neoliberal sheep’s clothing. The state can
no longer represent the limit of our geographical imaginations, and it is for this reason that
the Marxist sun is setting in our field. More and more young scholars are awakening to the
vibrant potential of an anarchist dawn. This isn’t mere ideology. Instead, as the Occupy
Movement made crystal clear, the political climate of the world actually demands it. As
academics we need to listen to the politics of the people, and not simply feign that we are.
Fortunately not all Marxists are as stalwart to the “spirit and letter of Marx” as Harvey
(Walker 2004: 434), and there is an increasingly autonomist character among those who seem
to recognize anarchism as “the ultimate horizon of all forms of radical politics” (Newman
2010). If the Black and Red are to resolve their differences, then we would all do well to
recognize and appreciate this outer edge of radical possibility, not as a limit, but as an
aspiration to live into. The limits to Marxism are to be found in the stunted idea that there
should be parameters to radical possibility, a character that defines the ongoing politics of
waiting, the hidden vanguardism, and the continuing state-centric appeal to authority that
Harvey demonstrates so clearly. We must instead become the horizon, living and breathing
its possibilities without considering it as a static endpoint or fixed boundary, but as a
beautiful enabler (Springer 2016). After all, a stateless society characterized by free
association was also Marx’s future vision. The difference is that anarchists are not content to
reside in the fragile dreams of tomorrow, gathering strength today by turning castles in the air
into earthly dwellings here and now.
There is no foreclosure within my version of radical geography, only a notion that
there is much to be gained by returning to anarchism and exploring once more the


emancipatory terrain traversed by Kropotkin and Reclus. In this light, Harvey’s seemingly
apolitical lament that “[s]adly, this comes not only at a time when the conjuncture is right for
a revival of interest in Marxist political economy, but it also coincides with a political
moment when others are beginning to explore new ways of doing politics…” seems both
ironic and misguided. Those studies that remain Marxist are moving ever closer to an
anarchist line, something Harvey rails against in Rebel Cities (Harvey 2012), but there is
nothing ‘sad’ about rekindling a conversation around political organization, unless of course
one’s point is to attach a defibrillator to a expired version of Marxism that no longer
resonates with the political realities of emancipatory struggle on the left (see Dean 2012).
And so Harvey suggests that the gulf between anarchism and Marxism is one that I am
“concerned to deepen if [I] can”, which entirely misses the point. I only want to reassert and
reinsert anarchist ideas into contemporary geographical praxis. Throwing down the gauntlet
was an attempt to compel Marxists to listen (and in turn for them to ask me to also listen)
and thereby open a renewed dialogue, hence the publication of my original paper here in
Dialogues in Human Geography. To my chagrin I naively didn’t anticipate the ridicule and attack
from some Marxists that followed (Mann 2014; Waterstone 2014), and it remains unknown
to me why some feel the need to defend Marxist thought to such an absurd and self-
defeating extent. If in this response I’ve been extremely critical of Harvey it is only because I
view him as a worthy adversary with something very important to say. I embrace adversarial
politics in an agonistic sense, which means I see Harvey as representing a legitimate (sibling)
rival. As an anarchist I don’t think we need a consensual politics where conflict is avoided or
eradicated. Instead, I embrace the possibility of difference and dissent against the apolitical
end-state utopianism that assumes we’ll all ever agree (Springer 2011, 2014c). So I propose
that perhaps we might embrace a postfraternal or postsororal politics on the left, where we


move beyond the idea that everything will be resolved between anarchists, Marxists,
feminists, poststructuralists, Situationists, autonomists, and so forth. I want to argue that
with any healthy family comes some degree of adversity and an acceptance of disagreement.
The condition of postfraternity keeps us alert to the continually unfolding possibilities of a
thoroughly politicized space in the sense that Massey (2005) avows, but also acknowledges
our enduring kinship on the left. Postfraternal politics are more than a two-way street; they
are a busy intersection without traffic lights! But like those European planners who are
experimenting with the removal of traffic signs, we can begin to recognize that the approach
actually works. The number of accidents can be dramatically reduced so long as we are
willing to listen to each other, interacting “as brethren – by means of friendly gestures, nods
of the head and eye contact, without the harassment of prohibitions, restrictions and
warning signs”(Schulz 2006: np). In the spirit of postfraternity, I take my hat off to David
Thanks to Jamie Gillen, Marcelo Lopes de Souza, Richard J. White, Reuben Rose-Redwood,
James Sidaway, Chris Wilbert, and Anthony Ince for their helpful comments. Although these
colleagues helped to refine my argument, the ideas herein along with their deficiencies are
my responsibility.
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