Top positive review
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on 11 August 2012
Anarchists have a bad name. At best, your first thoughts are the rebellious Iroquois hairdo punks wearing leather jackets and listening to the Clash. An ancient picture, really. At worst, and most likely, they are the masked youth carrying vigorous aggression in their eyes. A suited and booted former British diplomat enjoying highlife and business class airline tickets would not be your first guess, surely.
Yet, in his latest book Carne Ross fiercely advocates that various forms of anarchy should be the means and end of what we strive to achieve in building local, regional and international communities. Being honest, if I was introduced to The Leaderless Revolution in that way, I would not have bothered ordering it from Amazon. I would have missed out on a very well-argued and thought-provoking read, too. Convincing? Comme ci, comme ça...
Having been following Mr Ross' work for the past few years, I may say that his career is of some inspiration for wannabe diplomats and young adepts of foreign policy-making and international relations. Fast-tracked to the FCO, he quickly joined the highest ranks of the UK's mission to the UN. Who would not dream about that? (Writing these words, my application to the UN is open in other window.) It would have been an overstatement to say that Mr Ross left the diplomatic corps in a heroic attempt to fight for his moral beliefs. Nevertheless, an underlying explanation why he did it has borne fruit with this latest book.
Strangely-structured - at least these were my early thoughts - The Leaderless Revolution begins with a number of somehow randomly chosen examples of citizens' direct participation or the lack thereof. As an ex-insider in the diplomatic circles, Mr Ross mixes it with some very uncomfortable truths about the uncritical nature of diplomats' work and their blind commitment to the state's "interests". No names are mentioned but establishing them does not pose a challenge. In a way, the book contributes to an already broad literature on the Iraq inquiry and the 2003 invasion's unexpected outcomes.
"Stop naming, stop dividing," encourages Mr Ross when discussing local community-building processes. Yet his book provides exactly that. In a powerful manifesto, the author presents the case for "us" and "them" as the nation-state-centric world is no longer a vision for the future. "Us" the people should take more direct actions rather than relying on "them" the government, the old system. Eventually, nearer to the end, the transformation into a new, post-frontline diplomacy Carne Ross is explained.
Through an engaging narrative, Mr Ross invites the reader to follow his personal experiences, almost as an underlying plot to the book's story. Sometimes dramatic, it is a thorough demonstration of critical thinking about day-to-day, modern affairs across the world. For instance, surprisingly for an anarchist, further processes of globalisation are encouraged in order to deal with major global problems - i.e. "mankind's suicide pill", as Mr Ross calls WMDs.
The Leaderless Revolution does not actually call for a revolution but small actions and changes to everyday patterns of behaviour. German anarchist Gustav Landauer (or, as Mr Ross calls him, "a 19-century theorist") is quoted saying:
"The State is not something that can be destroyed by a revolution, but it is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently."
Even in an unlikely scenario of becoming a devoted anarchist, I would not have been able to advocate in favour of anarchism any better that The Leaderless Revolution tries to, hence the following comment should not be taken as criticism: Mr Ross patiently builds up the narrative explaining how some forms of anarchy, although often not called by its name, are proven more successful than conventional; he challenges old-fashion anarchists and opposes the actions of anti-globalists as misguided. Yet, there is something missing in his defence of anarchism. A clear message that anarchists are good and their intentions are wrongly portrayed by those aiming to maintain status quo, is subtle, timid, almost hidden. There is a need for something much stronger that would change this negative perception. If the author is to follow this path, The Leaderless Revolution is just a step towards his future work on redefining international anarchy, hierarchy and diplomacy (a hypothetical idea). The book has opened my mind to a new angle of thinking, provoked, but has not changed it.
It may be a long process. In the example mentioned a few times in the book, Gandhi's "Salt Satyagraha" and India's independence were separated by 17 years of further struggle. However, like in any committed advocacy, it has been missed that one man's fight for democracy could have also been seen as another man's pursuit of anarchy. Mr Ross is certainly well aware of some shortcomings.
Despite positively starting with some common sense arguments, the overwhelming advocacy of anarchism further down the line is what surprised me the most in this book. It would have put me off but, eventually, it did not. Therefore, Dear Reader, I secretly hope that you are coming across this review only upon turning the last page of the book. After all, I have warned you.
The Leaderless Revolution has a point, argues it well but, in my opinion, is not convincing enough to overcome a deeply embedded stigma of anarchism. Not this time, at least.