I just received a copy of Green Anarchy (issue 23) today — an American “anti-civ” journal.

Now, I must admit before going any further that I used to call myself something of an anarcho-primitivist. The images of going back to a simpler, more peaceful, “wild”, undomesticated existence really did something for me, and in many ways they still do. But I think anti-civ anarchists have really lost the plot, and I’m really not surprised that this is a current largely confined to the US (and a little to Britain).

Anti-civ anarchists are strongly influenced by insurrectionalism, though they probably don’t know it as they religiously claim to be “anti-ideology”. This critique of insurrectionalism applies very well the anti-civ crew. It seems the anti-civ fetish with small-scale militant direct action, their perceived social isolation and their perceived backwardness and brainwashing of the majority of people are very much a reflection of their desire for radical change in the face of ecological destruction but the lack of mass struggle. I can understand their rejection of mass organisation, but not their rejection of mass movements. They seem to be very much trapped in the American individualist tradition and quite out of touch with popular struggles in North America (excepting their fetishising of indigenous struggle… they’re wild peoples, you see). In fact, they remind me a bit of the desperation of militant groups in 1970s US, like Weather Underground, who became more militant the more apathetic the general population became.

The other major point of critique has to be questioning exactly what the fuck “civilisation” is. Having read a lot of this, I know that the definitions of this are all over the place. It seems bizarre to reify such a vacuous concept and create a whole political ideology seeking its abolition. They claim they seek the end of domestication, while “leftist” anarchists merely seek the destruction of the State and capitalism. What do they mean by domestication? Well, at times it refers to human domestication, at other times it refers to animal domestication and at other times to all forms of domestication of life, including plants. Surely the first is the aim of any anarchist project, and the second the aim of any anarchist project with the slightest of an animal-lib tinge. The third is more bizarre, and obviously aims for a hunter-gatherer lifestyle simply not possible in a lot of countries (NZ included) and not possible with current population levels. Their reasoning for it is based in Marxism and some recent, rather weak, anthropological studies that point to the domestication of plants and the resulting surplus as the seed of domination. This fails to take into account all the anthropological evidence, from the likes of David Graeber, that show that hunter-gatherer societies come in both authoritarian and non-authoritarian varieties, as do horticulturalist societies. See Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology for more on this (he takes a particularly vicious swipe at John Zerzan).

John Zerzan, while we’re on the topic, also seeks as part of his abolition of civilisation the abolition of time, language and symbolic thinking. Go figure. Thankfully most of the anti-civ peeps haven’t taken this on board.

Anti-civ anarchists go to great lengths to characterise other anarchists as latent authoritarians, going so far as to claim that after our revolution 99% of social life will be the same. Well I certainly hope not. I would imagine the destruction of the State, capitalist relations, patriarchy, ecological domination, etc. would mean a quite major shift in daily life for most people.