I thought I might as well upload my honours project from last year, and let those of you with masochistic tendencies have a read. It’s entitled:
Post-Anarchism and Social War
Post-Structuralism, and the Revival of an Anarchist Subterranean
I’m trying to re-write the thing into a 3,000 word article for imminent rebellion coming out in April, so if you just want the gist maybe wait till then.And don’t point out all the spelling and grammatical mistakes, there are loads – I only had 15 days to do the thing in the end.
Download the PDF.
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From the conclusion:
The collapse of the utopian project in the post-World War Two era is widely accepted as a given, as if those that previously fought for the total reorganisation of society had finally given themselves to the lesser task of the more rational and humane management of the status quo (social democracy, the third way, etc.). The failure to see the continuation of a utopian project, or rather a multitude of such projects, is due precisely to a shift in the very conception of revolution and utopia. The very real and substantive difference between Marxism and classical anarchism over the question of the State and power masked the fact that both were really quite similar – as products of Enlightenment thinking – in their foundational assumptions. These assumptions, the a priori that haunts classical anarchism, can be reduced to two key aspects: firstly, a notion of power as transcendent to the social body and originating in the singularity of the State, working in a simple top-down fashion upon the otherwise autonomous organisation of society; secondly, a humanism that posited a human essence that was essentially freedom-desiring, cooperative, that tended towards egalitarian relations and which was suppressed under the ‘yoke’ of the State. Upon these assumptions were built the familiar utopian project. Freedom, the aim of the classical anarchist project, was conceived unproblematically as the absence of power, in which conditions the natural cooperative tendencies of humanity could be unleashed so as to realise, once and for all, the revolutionary society. Revolution, therefore, was the destruction of the State – a cataclysmic rupture and qualitative change with previous social organisation – and was to be conducted by the revolutionary subject embodied in that broad mass in whom lay the seeds of change and are collectively known as the ‘oppressed’. A utopian project conceived such as this – Marxist or anarchist – has indeed largely subsided in the post-World War Two era. But the utopian impulse has not died; rather, it has been eclipsed by a project that bears little superficial resemblance. The singular and totalising conception of revolutionary change of the classical emancipatory theories, the notion of becoming-major to use Deleuze’s formulation, has instead been replaced with a dispersed, decentred and viral becoming-minor of contemporary, second-wave anarchism.
Post-anarchism is a systematic attempt to build an anarchism without the a priori faults of its predecessor, to further deepen the tendencies of contemporary – as opposed to classical – anarchism, and to commit itself to an understanding of the social founded upon an ontology of immanence. In the first instance, power is conceived as decentred and exercised from innumerable points, as immanent and necessary to all interactions, and as constitutive of larger relations of domination. This latter aspect forms the basis for Deleuze’s separation of micro- and macro-politics. These domains don’t correlate simply to the State and society, and nor are they fixed to any particular strata, but rather describe the processes whereby emergent strata are ontologically produced from the complex and non-linear interactions – the micro-politics – of the strata below. Power, therefore, is for the most part bottom-up, where macro-assemblages and large-scale relations of domination are produced in the micro-politics of everyday life. While macro-politics remains important (it is not one or the other, as Deleuze insists, but ‘and, and, and…’), the micro is primary. Moreover, fundamental changes in social relations necessitate a total transformation in the relations of everyday life or else risk, as Foucault warned, simply a reconstitution of the politics of old. This is a non-functionalist conception of macro-politics, where the historical construction of macro-assemblages is not teleological, but arises through the capillary and contingent spread of certain techniques at the expense of others. Crucially, in regards to this discussion, freedom is conceived not as an absence of power but rather a specific organisation of power, one that avoids the asymmetric and frozen relations that characterise conditions of domination, and which seeks the free flowing exercise of power distributed throughout the social terrain. This is not a static state, but instead a becoming, a practice, an ‘ongoing actuality’. In the second instance, post-anarchism views the subject not as transcendent to the forces that act upon the body but as produced by them, as an effect. The ‘oppressed masses’ cease to occupy a pure space of resistance and come instead wholly complicit and produced by the everyday practices of which they are part. The revolutionary subject of post-anarchism, therefore, cannot be founded upon an existing social category that is produced out of relations of domination; its aim, in fact, is for the eventual abolition of those very categories. The revolutionary subject must instead be an orientation, an inclination towards permanent revolt against practices of domination and a tendency towards social experimentation and reorganisation of power relations, aiming always to further maximise conditions of freedom. In a similar vein, the notion of revolution is transformed. Social change must be approached in a fashion concomitant with the operations of power. Cataclysmic, qualitative change is replaced with widespread change in degree, and utopian finality is replaced with an open-ended conception of revolution, as a process never fully realised.
A radical new underpinning such as this necessarily entails a shift in practice, in the conceptions of social change. The classical anarchist project contained within itself three tendencies of resistance: the insurrectionary tendency, the evolutionary tendency, and anarcho-syndicalism. The first was heavily rooted in classical anarchism, representing a purely destructive moment and relying on the egalitarian impulses of the masses. The second, the evolutionary tendency, was its opposite and focused entirely on the constructive moment in the creation of alternative institutions, but in lacking a destructive aspect and often choosing institutional legality, the evolutionary tendency was limited and risked full integration into hegemonic practices. Of the three, anarcho-syndicalism was the most developed, aptly integrating both the destructive and constructive moments, but it was limited by its focus on simply on the condition of work. In addition to an insistence on both the destructive and constructive moments to anarchist practice, and in its opposition to the totality of relations that constitute domination, the post-anarchist project brings a number of insights from its revised view of the social. The politics and transformation of everyday life becomes an essential aspect, both in the reconstitution of macro-political assemblages and equally in the creation of new subjectivities. These transformations must be treated as experiments, and must be conducted not en masse as a singular project, but rather as a multiplicity of small-scale projects, each designed with the aim for their reproduction and spread across the social terrain. Moreover, this is a tactical model of change. In opposition to a singular strategy, a multiplicity of tactics works in accordance with the decentred, bottom-up, and non-linear nature of power, constantly pressing against various practices, transforming some, and creating other relations anew. Contemporary anarchist practices offer many such examples of possible tactics, including the notion of exodus, direct action, and the creation of autonomous spaces. In all, the aim is a prefigurative politics: withdrawing ourselves from practices deemed antithetical to relations of freedom, similarly fighting against and disrupting those of which we are not a part, and seeking out fissures of time and space so as to create new relations with one another and with our material world. This notion of social war, of revolutionary practice without end, is one that seeks not the conquest of power but rather a generalised revolt and the viral adoption of these tactics throughout the social terrain, opening and creating spaces of becoming-minor.
The central question with which we started – ‘What is to be done?’ – remains perhaps only partially answered. Indeed, more concrete answers lie in the substantial and expansive practical work in implementing and experimenting with the multiplicity of tactics and relations that are available in pursuing freedom as an ongoing actuality. Nevertheless, the criticisms of the ‘spectacles of resistance’ made of the anti-globalisation movement ring even stronger in this evaluation. The large anti-summit protests, at least by themselves, make for a weak tactic precisely because they maintain the notion that there exist centres of power to global capitalism, whether in the Group of Eight, the World Trade Organisation, or otherwise. Indeed, in many ways they marked a return to the insurrectionary model with all of its faults. It appears, in fact, that since the decline of the anti-globalisation movement it is to the alternative praxis advocated here that many have turned, and perhaps there is in that some hope.