Elif Genc, Payton McDonald, Max Haiven, and Alex Khasnabish

Oct 11, 2023

Mutual Aid and the Anarchist Radical Imagination

With Elif Genc, Payton McDonald, Max Haiven, and Alex Khasnabish

New Books Network 2023

This episode of Darts and Letters examines the theory and practice of anti-statist organizing.

There’s a story you can tell about the post-Occupy left gravitating towards a more state-oriented kind of politics, exemplified by the enthusiasm around Bernie Sanders, The Squad, and others. However, this misses autonomous and anarchist-inflected (and sometimes, explicitly anarchist) social movements that have brought enormous energy, and enormous change–from the movement for black lives, to organizing for Indigenous sovereignty, and so much more. In this episode, we look at the Kurdish movement, and mutual aid experiments across North America.

First, we look at the work of the late libertarian socialist Murray Bookchin. Bookchin broke with Marxism, and later anarchism, and eventually developed an idiosyncratic ecological and revolutionary theory that said radical democracy could be achieved at the municipal level. This Vermont-based theorist has been enormously influential, including in an area formerly known as Rojava. There, the Kurdish people are making these ideas their own, and developing a radical feminist democracy–while fighting to survive. We speak with Elif Genc about these ideas, and about how the Kurdish diaspora implements them within Canada.

Next, what is mutual aid? Peter Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid: A Factory of Evolution (1902) examines how cooperation and reciprocity are core to nature. To anarchists, this should be generalized to radical political program, and a radically new way of living. Darts and Letters producer Marc Apollonio speaks to Payton McDonald about how the theory and practice of mutual aid drives many social movements across North America. Payton is co-directing a four-part documentary series called the Elements of Mutual Aid: Experiments Towards Liberation.

Finally, how do social movement scholars understand (or misunderstand) autonomous social movements? There’s a tendency to dismiss movements that do not make clear tangible demands, and deliver pragmatic policy victories (see: Occupy). However, Max Haiven and Alex Khasnabish say that this misses something key to radical social movements: their radical imagination. These movements do not want to just improve this system, they want to imagine, and create (or prefigure), a different system. We discuss their book the Radical Imagination: Social Movement Research in the Age of Austerity, the blind spots of social movement theory, and whether there might be a new style of organizing emerging that is somewhere between the the statist and the anti-statist.

This episode received support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. It’s part of our mini-series that we are producing which looks at the radical imagination, in all its hopeful and its sometimes troubling manifestations. The scholarly leads are Professors Alex Khasnabish at Mount Saint Vincent University and Max Haiven at Lakehead University. They are providing research support and consulting to this series. For a full list of credits of Cited Media staff, visit our about page.

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Gordon Katic

Gordon Katic is an award-winning radio producer and journalist with a background in health, science, and climate reporting. He is director of Cited Media Productions, which produced Cited Podcast and CRACKDOWN. Now, Gordon hosts Darts and Letters. When he’s not making podcasts, he’s working on a PhD at the University of Toronto focussed on theorizing a critical theory of science communication. Previously, he earned a Masters in Journalism from the University of British Columbia.

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