You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘radical theory’ category.

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.

* * * * *

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.


A very interesting article — though not without its issues — on the decline of the anti-globalisation movement, the rise of the anti-war movement, and the politics of confrontation/maximal demands versus the united front/minimal demands, from a Canadian perspective (though with many resonances with the South Pacific too):

United front politics – as they have been constituted by the current anti-war movement – deliberately limit the possibility of developing anti-imperialist or anti-capitalist consciousness. By rigidly limiting its slogan to “stop the war” or “troops out now,” it produces a mass movement that can and will be easily recuperated by social democratic forces and even ruling class elements who believe that particular military initiatives have been tactical mistakes. Meaningful anti-war movements should not focus on trying to formulate a better imperialist foreign-policy.

Despite the logic of the united front, flattening out political demands yields lack of interest as often as it yields conversions to radical politics. However, as the US continues its attempted military remaking of the Middle East, and as the Canadian body count (not to mention the scores of murdered civilians) in Afghanistan continues to rise, it seems inevitable that the sections of the North American anti-war movement that have not forgotten the lessons that stood at the heart of Québec City will come to the conclusion that a positive orientation to direct action, direct democracy, and coherent and explicit anti-capitalism is needed once again.

The resolution to this problem cannot be found in efforts to reestablish the hegemony of the pedagogy of confrontation. We musn’t forget that the innovations of the anti-globalization movement rested on mass mobilizations that had much in common with the logic of united front work. Even the “anti-capitalist” wing of the movement constituted itself around a minimal self-definition aimed at allowing a diversity of “anti-capitalisms” to co-exist and cross-fertilize more or less uncomfortably. Moreover, without implantation in a movement with a minimal mass character, these innovations are like fish out of water. The way forward lies in recognizing, synthesizing and transcending these seemingly antithetical terms on a mass scale.

I’ve been having an ongoing discussion about the the distinction between ‘political’ action, and ‘personal’ or ‘lifestyle’ action with a friend of mine. Lifestylism is considered a political slur amongst anarchist circles, and is almost as bad as petit-bourgeois is considered in Marxist circles. However, I feel the debate around it is really quite ill-thought out.

To be a lifestylist is to, apparently, falsely believe that personal decisions can be political… or something like that. The usage of the word came about in Bookchin’s vitriolic polemic Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An unbridgeable chasm from around 1995, by which point he was well past his prime of writing. From his conclusion (note the insulting use of ‘petit-bourgeois’ – you just know he has Marxist roots!):

Minimally, social anarchism is radically at odds with anarchism focused on lifestyle, neo-Situationist paeans to ecstasy, and the sovereignty of the ever-shriveling petty-bourgeois ego. The two diverge completely in their defining principles – socialism or individualism. Between a committed revolutionary body of ideas and practice, on the one hand, and a vagrant yearning for privatistic ecstasy and self-realization on the other, there can be no commonality. Mere opposition to the state may well unite fascistic lumpens with Stirnerite lumpens, a phenomenon that is not without its historical precedents.

My contention, firstly, is that there should not be an opposition between the ‘personal’ and the ‘political’, and rather that political, indeed all macro social structures, are actually constituted through practices of everyday life. My second contention is that the aim of anarchism shouldn’t be either socialism or individualism, but rather what a number of authors have called communal individualism.

The collapsing of the macro and the micro into a single field of relations and practices has been attempted by a number of theorists: this is Delueze and Guattari’s ‘plane of immanence’ and the ‘abstract machine’; it is Bruno Latour’s ‘flat social’ (a quite conservative social theorist otherwise however); and it is the turn to everyday life of the Situationists, of Lefebvre, and of much of post-structuralism. Put simply, it is the idea that when we talk of ‘the State,’ for example, we are not talking about a concrete thing but rather a conglomeration of social relations that, through their repeated performances of certain key practices and their collective orientation that is, on the whole, the same, they create the notion of the State. The State is therefore not the reified conception that some are prone to, but rather a mass of social practices in which certain key practices (ie. obedience to agents of the State, obedience to the Father) are critical in maintaining the overall illusion. The State is constituted through practices of repression and violence, but similarly through obedience and consent.

What this means is that there is no secondary sphere of political action, nor a sphere that is simply personal, but that relations of everyday life are already political. The distinction between lifestylism and politics ceases to make sense, except for the Statists who consider only those actions within the sphere of the State as political (a claim which makes no sense for those seeking the abolition of the State).

It is obvious what those who make the attack of ‘lifestylism’ are getting at. It is usually a charge of a lack of collective action, or a charge of consumer-oriented change. That it is always up to individuals to change their behaviour is always going to be the reality, but it is also a reality that freeing ourselves from oppressive social relations comes through a mass refusal to perpetuate those relations. This is not a charge against ‘lifestylism’ per se, but rather a distinction of effective action, and one which could easily be levelled against the mass marches that are so fetishised as being political, and which so often fail to count as “mass” at all. Secondly, the critique of consumer-oriented change is similarly valid but not against lifestylism, instead against naive liberal notions that we can buy buy buy our way to a better world.

Secondly, Bookchin sets up a fantastic division between egotistical individualists and social revolutionaries, and of course this is nothing but the classical distinction between individualists and socialist anarchists. The former puts the self above everything else, while the latter instead prioritises the collective. As for me, anarchism only makes sense when it is concerned with the freedom of the individual (what sense does it make to talk of the freedom of collective?), but it is both a negative freedom-from and a positive freedom-to. Certainly, the latter can only be generated through communal action. This is the notion of communal individuality, where the measure of freedom is based on the freedom of the individual, but that this freedom is extended and fostered through communal action. The development of the ego (in the Stirnerite conception of ‘the unique one’, NOT the popular conception) should therefore be of primary concern; that is, the development of selves both willing to defend their freedom, and to extend it further, à la Stirner’s ‘union of egos.’ Any ego freed from the ‘spooks’ in their heads will immediately realise the paralysing and repressive social order with which they are met and that any desire that they may have for ‘privatistic ecstasy’ immediately becomes a social desire aimed at abolishing the conditions that make that desire impossible.

The charge of lifestylism maintains the division between the public and the private spheres, between the personal and the political. I believe instead that the terrain of political action is the terrain of everyday life; there is no secondary or tertiary spheres of politics or ideology. Moreover, the development of selves radically desiring of freedom is essential to any revolutionary project aimed at communal individuality, one that is opposed to the subjugation of the individual to yet another collective spook.

From Fifth Estate… worth a read:

Revelation Vertigo

Stevphen Shukaitis

Autonomy is both the goal sought after and that whose presence–virtual–let us say, has to be supposed at the outset of an analysis or a political movement. This virtual presence is the will to autonomy, the will to be free. – Cornelius Castoriadis

There exists a tendency, shared across different strains of radical political thought, to see the horrors of our present as comprising a false totality, that when torn asunder, will reveal a more liberatory existence hidden beneath. This is to understand revolution as revelation; as the dispelling of the conditions of false consciousness, and a reclamation of an autonomous existence that continues to live on, albeit deformed, within this world we must we leave behind. Read the rest of this entry »

FistsThe post on Unite and the ensuing discussion got me thinking about unions as a form of class organisation, and the possibilities they offer to a revolutionary project, as well as their limitations. I’ve also been thinking that some form of modified anarcho-syndicalism, with a presence beyond work and in the community, could well prove to be project that might alleviate some of these limitations and is worth investigating further. For the meantime, however, here are some (incomplete) notes about existing forms of anarcho-syndicalism, starting with its essential aspects.

The Essential Aspects

Unions for workers, run by workers, with no separation between organisers and members, with no hierarchy whatsoever. Controlled from the bottom, using mandated, recallable and temporary delegates, and with no authority positions outside the shop floor, voted or otherwise. This is an attempt to stop the formation of power over workers in the form of a union bureaucrats which, despite their best intentions, develop interests of their own that come to partially align with those of capital, and become a class of their own (leftist managerial class).

Industrial unionism, not trade unionism. Unions will be organised around the workplace, not the individual trades. A hospital, for example, will be organised as a single union, not in multiple unions such as cleaners, doctors, junior doctors, receptionists, etc., in recognition of a common enemy in the employer and in recognition that no one job is more valuable than any other. Unions within a similar industry will cooperate in federation to stop scabbing and unions in a geographic locale will also cooperate in federation to organise strike support and local workers initiatives (education, food coops, etc.).

Use of direct action to get the goods. This means non-cooperation with any form of State-based worker-employer arbitration board and rather a reliance on, and development of, workers’ own strength. It means avoidance of contracts, etc. except in conditions of very weak workers’ power, as contracts prohibit direct action for agreed lengths of time.

Anti-parliamentary position. A refusal, on all accounts, to engage in State-based politics, whether backing a left party claiming to act on their behalf, or seeking reforms (as reforms invariably are made after they are established on the ground).

Preparation for the general strike/general insurrection. This includes not only preparation for the defence of workers when they take back the means of production in the form of community militias, but more importantly the preparation for continuing production (in industries worth continuing, that is) after the productive tools are expropriated. This means developing relationships with workers in other industries for which cooperation is required, developing skills among workers within an industry to continue production by themselves, etc.

The Possibilities

Schools of the revolution. Anarcho-syndicalist unions teach through practice the various essential tendencies required for an anarchist society, including cooperation, mutual aid, solidarity, egalitarian and non-authoritarian forms of organisation, reliance on themselves and not on others, etc.

Preparation for worker-run industries. This preparation doesn’t mean a continuation of the status quo of industrial society, either. It merely means that in the immediate aftermath of any general insurrection the material necessities can be provided while more thorough material changes can be made (ie. decentralisation of industry, etc.).

The Limitations

Social struggle reduced to class struggle. Anarcho-syndicalism, primarily, is organised around production and our material existence. It may not be well suited to other sites of social struggle, such as racism and indigenous oppression, patriarchy, etc., without concerted effort and an adaptation of tactics.

Tendency towards pure economism. That is, a tendency to focus almost exclusively on day to day and immediate economic issues, seeking just the bread but neglecting the roses. Other social issues well suited for anarcho-syndicalism to attack, such as war, may be sidelined (as the Spanish CNT found). As well, a vision of a general insurrection and its preparation will tend to be deferred to focus on immediate needs.

Tendency to just focus on workers, and exclude others from class struggle, ie. unemployed, single parents, students etc. This arises from the difficulty of unemployed to fight against WINZ as, unlike workers, they don’t have their labour power to deny. New tactics are required for these groups whose struggle is very much class oriented.

Opposition between workers’ immediate interests under capitalism and other social struggles. For example, between miners and ecological destruction. Successful compromises, such as the green ban, require workers to go beyond their immediate and even mid-term interests. However, the end of all coal mining industries, for example, which is necessary to halt climate change is too conflictual under capitalist relations for a working compromise.

(This video is an excerpt from the movie Raspberry Reich – it’s a quite funny parody of the theories of Wilhelm Reich and the Red Army Faction. Worth watching before the morality police on YouTube flag it as inappropriate.)

In a response to my last post on Conceptualising Queer Oppression, @ndy raised a simple question that I’ve found surprisingly difficult to answer:

what would a ‘queer’ world look like? and, further, given this vision of a future imagined community, what forms of authority and power would be abolished / in what ways would they be transformed?

The need for a vision of a future set of social relations, even if they are seemingly utopian, could certainly help provide a better feel for exactly what is wrong with contemporary sexual relations and, even more importantly, what needs to be done.

The vision that dominates most the the current gay rights movement is the liberal State paradise, one based on legalised protection of “gay rights”, education programmes promoting “gay is OK”, “nice” media representations, etc, etc. Not exactly inspiring, huh?

So what would a radical queer vision look like? I’m really not sure, but here is one scenario.

Most queer theorists and those that study sexuality will attest to sexual identity as being a social construction. The fact that the homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual identities were invented only as late as the 1890s by medical institutions and discourses attest to this. Rather than sexuality being something innate, biological or inherent, it is something that is learned.

Compulsory heterosexuality is the notion that there exist institutions and discourses that ensure that what is learned is that heterosexuality is natural and normal, and anything else is deviant and unnatural. Compulsory heterosexuality requires of people that they practice sexual relations that are exclusively heterosexual, and that they in turn police other people’s sexuality.

So, obviously queer liberation involves the destruction of compulsory heterosexuality. But it is a curious thing that the development of compulsory heterosexuality came about at the same time and through the same institutions as the invention of sexual identities. Indeed, they can hardly be separated. Does this mean that queer liberation actually means the destruction of identities of sexuality?

While some feminists I have talked to found the vision terrifying, there was something I found quite appealing in the description of sexuality in Ursula Le Guin’s book The Dispossessed. Here, sexual identity seemingly didn’t exist, and instead there existed various sexual practices that could be freely engaged without reference to any associated sexual identities – akin to sexuality prior to the 19th Century, just without the hierarchy of sexual practices.

The problem is I cling to my identity as gay – I feel I need it as a base from which to recognise and fight heterosexism. This is similar to how the feminists mentioned before felt about the dissolution of gender in The Dispossessed. However, I think the dissolution of sexual identity would be the natural result of the end of its social significance, ie., queer liberation, at which time there would cease to be a need to base ourselves in this identity.

This is my point: queer liberation cannot simply be the vision of the liberals of equality and peace between sexual identities, as these identities are themselves constituted on material and social inequalities. Rather, the destruction of heterosexism, compulsory heterosexuality and patriarchy would result in the disappearance of identities of sexuality and an unconstrained fluidity of sexual practices.

Please note: This is me thinking out loud.

Having come to the realisation that compulsory heterosexuality relies on an underlying level of violence has helped me understand my own oppression a lot more. It seems that just like patriarchy requires rape and sexual violence for its maintenance, so too does queer oppression require instances of physical and psychological violence. And just as the police work to maintain capitalist relations primarily through the threat of violence, so too is patriarchy and queer oppression maintained by the threat and fear of violence. I hadn’t understood many womyn’s sometimes all-encompassing fear of rape until I made this association with my own fear of queer bashing.

I suppose this violence flies in the face of those who dismiss queer oppression as “merely cultural.”

So I guess the next question is where does this come from? The traditional class model originally used to describe capitalism is sometimes also applied to ethnicity, patriarchy and queer oppression. However, I believe this simply does not work. Economic classes (at least according to Marx, not, eg., Weber) are defined from a priori notions of domination and exploitation. But ethnicity, gender and sexuality can’t be treated like this. Ethnicity, gender and sexuality are not defined based on exploitation, rather they are firstly social categories and only secondly roughly correspond to categories of oppression and exploitation. To be clear, heterosexuals do not, as a class, oppress queers.

Only a minority of heterosexuals will actually engage in violence against queers (much like the police force as a percentage of the general population, I guess). A majority will likely engage in some level of psychological violence. But the question remains: where does this come from? What legitimates this violence, both physical and psychological?

And at this point it seems necessary to drag out Foucault, in particular his notions of discourse and institutions. Keeping things really simple, discourse is essentially a specific way of understanding, interpreting and engaging with the world. It is filter through which we make the complexity of the world in which we live intelligible. Think of it as a more nuanced form of ideology.

Of course, discourses don’t come from thin air, and are intimately linked to power, constructed through our engagement with the various institutions of our lives: the family, school, work, specific public and private spheres, etc. What makes discourses socially prolific or hegemonic is the way they are overdetermined (to borrow this from Althusser); that is, each institution broadcasts and reinforces the same discourse.

I think I just butchered Gramsci, Althusser and Foucault. Apologies.

So, clearly, queer oppression is linked strongly with these institutions — in my experience especially the family, school and work — and the particular discourses they inscribe on the social fabric with regards to compulsory heterosexuality and heteronormativity (and a whole host of linked patriarchal discourses). In turn this creates and legitimates the use of psychological and physical violence against queers, which in turn feeds back into the originating institutions.

The next and final question, then, is how do we resist this? Unfortunately, Foucault was never very helpful here. Is it enough to focus on the violence or do we have to oppose the institutions and hetero-hating discourses? If we must also do the latter, how do we do this? Does this require the rise of new homo-friendly hegemonic discourses, or does it require an anti-hegemonic strategy? What the fuck would that look like?

It’s a classic recruiting tactic. The Black Panther Party in the U.S. would give out free lunches to poor kids and as a result built considerable community support. Hezbollah, too, clearly gained popular sympathy through their welfare-type services in the South of Lebanon. And here in New Zealand Destiny Church has been using the provision of similar services to bolster their position and recruit new members.

The provision of social services has even found support amongst anarchists in Aotearoa. At the 2004 anarchist conference in Christchurch there was much talk about providing social services for poor areas of New Zealand in an effort to compete with the likes of Destiny Church. The expansion of Food Not Bombs, especially, was discussed.

Anarcho-charity“, however, is not the same as mutual aid. Mutual aid is a form of social organisation whereby people voluntarily come together to meet their own individual and collective needs based upon reciprocity. This last aspect is critical. Reciprocity encourages egalitarian relations, self-acitivity and genuine solidarity. Charity, on the other hand, creates relationships akin to that of a child to its parents, based on dependency at the expense of their own self-organisation, self-activity and solidarity.

The welfare state is a classic example of this and is renowned for smothering or integrating grassroots forms of mutual aid organisation within its State institutions, whether these be health co-ops, unions, or workers education associations. In New Zealand and elsewhere this top-down provision of services has worked to destabilise and dismantle anarchistic initiatives.

The widespread advocacy of initiatives like Food not Bombs is a curious development and needs to be properly examined. Food not Bombs arose in the early 1980s in the U.S. as part of a rejection of corporate and State spending on military expenses rather than social services. They began handing out free vegan food to the homeless and poor made from dumpstered food from around the city. In addition to the anti-militaristic and pro-welfare perspective, the tactic went onto also illustrate the waste involved in normal capitalist relations.

The rhetoric sounds painfully social democratic but it varies greatly depending on the local Food Not Bombs chapter. Here in New Zealand I’ve never seen any literature like this so painfully social democratic at an FnB stall; instead they are usually used for general anti-war literature.

But it isn’t the literature that makes FnB a poor tactic. It’s the form of this tactic in itself. Principally, it isn’t based on mutual aid. While there are occasional efforts to get those who are eating to help out, it is mostly a one-sided exchange: take your food and take your literature. It isn’t essentially different to the Christian stall that was in town yesterday: free bibles with your free hot dog.

FnB is not based on reciprocity, self-organisation or self-activity. Rather it maintains the split between organisers and eaters and does not encourage solidarity or the collective action of those receiving the free food. It is largely a charitable service whose apparent radical-ness is derived from the fact that it survives off the waste of Western capitalism and distributes radical literature.

Perhaps most importantly, while as a survival tactic it is necessary, it exists within the cracks of capitalism and hardly works to challenge the property relations that are the cause of the poverty we find ourselves in today. Distributing dumpstered food is a far cry from organising against slum lords, self-reduction campaigns or proletarian shopping, for example. As far as I can see, it offers no scope for revolutionary change.

“Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification.

Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others – even by those allegedly acting on their behalf.”
As We See It

I should stress that there is a world of difference between State welfare/services and services provided by members of one class to members of that same class. Nonetheless, I do believe this does not encourage revolutionary tendencies when it is organised in a service model, rather than a participatory model.

This short interview from Murray Bookchin about how he became an anarchist is from a little-known 1981 documentary called Anarchism in America (available via bittorrent). The documentary is interesting in some parts, notably this interview with Bookchin and it was interesting to see real life footage of Emma Goldman too, but bizarre in that it seemed to meld anarcho-capitalism with the rest of anarchism and also tried to portray the American character as inclined towards an anarchist outlook — a peculiarly nationalist perspective for an anarchist movie!

In any case, Bookchin’s interview is interesting. I can see how he became so popular — he’s not only a good writer but clearly a lively and engaging speaker.

The most interesting aspect though, is his thesis that the factory and proletarian existence par excellence is not a revolutionary force, as the Marxists have always made out, but rather a domesticating force, inclining workers towards a reactionary work ethic rather than a desire for fundamental change. This is a thesis Bookchin also advanced in his book Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution: The Heroic Years (vol. 1 — sadly there is no vol. 2). In this book, Bookchin goes onto observe that it is instead the newly transplanted peasants, the hobos, the unemployed, youth and generally those least integrated (and most alienated) into the regimen of the capitalist mode of existence who, time and time again, are the ones to spark rebellion and call for revolutionary change.

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.


These are my musings, take them as they are.

I'm from Te Whanganui a Tara, Aotearoa. My main project is publishing radical literature from the deep South Pacific as part of Rebel Press, and also the irregular anarchist journal imminent rebellion.

Email me. :)