Remembering David Porter | The anarchist library


Long duration Fifth domain friend and contributor, David Porter, died Dec. 29; he was 79 years old. A dedicated teacher, anarchist scholar, and grassroots community activist, Porter applied his anti-authoritarian principles to numerous projects.

Growing up near Chicago, Porter graduated from Oberlin College near Cleveland in 1961. He then attended the Institute of Political Studies in Paris. His doctoral studies in politics at Columbia University included a year in Algeria to learn first-hand about the workers’ self-management movement there.

Porter then taught at several colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. His last position was at SUNY-Empire State in Saratoga Springs, where he taught for 25 years.

Perhaps his best-known books on anarchist subjects are his 1983 anthology Vision on Fire: Emma Goldman on the Spanish Revolution and his 2011 study, Eyes to the South: French Anarchists and Algeria.

vision on fire enriches our understanding of both the life and libertarian ideas of Emma Goldman and the Spanish events she interpreted as a dedicated anarchist witness. The book, which took eight years to research and write, has been reprinted and translated into several languages.

eyes to the south has also been useful to many anarchists and other anti-authoritarians.

In his review for Fifth domain #389 (Summer 2013) Kathy E. Ferguson states: “The great strength of the book is that it lets French anarchists speak for themselves…A recurring theme in Porter’s narrative is the relationship of anarchism to nationalist struggles anti-colonial, states, and other progressive actors. Anarchists oppose the oppressive racist practices at the heart of colonialism, but how is this opposition best expressed? Should anarchists support national liberation struggles because they strike blows against empire, or oppose them because they usually end up creating new states?

Ferguson noted that Porter concretely described the circumstances in which anarchists of various leanings approached these complex issues.

A longtime resident of New Paltz, New York, Porter has been active in addressing threats to the local environment and economy posed by corporate development. Among other activities, in the 1990s he co-founded a grassroots group that helped frustrate plans to inflict a Walmart and mall on his hometown and region. He considered participating in the campaign as one of his life’s achievements.

Emerging from the years-long struggle, Porter, along with Chester L. Mirsky, wrote Megamall on the Hudson: Walmart, planning and grassroots resistancepublished in 2003. It has much to say to community and environmental activists facing new struggles.

David’s contributions to FE include in-depth articles on the anarchists of the Spanish Revolution and its aftermath and discussions of the life of Emma Goldman, as well as articles on grassroots activities in Algeria, Egypt and the Arab Spring.

Ten of his articles are currently online on our website (with more to come) for viewing and downloading from the growing archive, Type David Porter into a search field. Those interested in libertarian analyzes of the Spanish Revolution, women’s issues, autonomist organizing, among other topics, will find them interesting.

In a 2011 article relating to the Arab Spring, David describes the Egyptian situation with words that also describe his general outlook as a libertarian rebel:

“While the human face of the oppressive regime – like Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia and Bouteflika in Algiers – is rightly despised, such targets also symbolize a wide and deep range of grievances that stretch from national bodies from the state and the military to the daily humiliations at the local level of the contempt of civil servants, the exploitation of bosses, the mistreatment of students and the exclusion of women from work and political life. These are the larger realities of the existing ‘regime’ of oppression. And this much broader dimension of the popular revolution poses a completely different question of leadership. When certain movement ‘spokespersons’ or independent ‘power brokers’ settle in – encouraged by the negotiators of the old regime or by the media or by their own promotion – it is doubtful that these deep levels of revolutionary aspirations are heard. This will be a key dynamic to watch in Egypt in the coming weeks. »

(See “On ‘Leaderless Revolutions’ and the Fall of Mubarak,” available at

David Porter will be greatly missed. His commitment was energetic, creative and long, and he left a beloved example of the rebels of free thought and action.


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