Post-Anarchism – Introduction

Post-anarchism means ‘late anarchism’. It is not separate from anarchism, nor is it merely the combination of anarchism and post-structural analysis. It can be described as a reunification of anarchism after the split between anarcho-communists and anarcho-individualists. It also attempts to step out of the shadow of political anarchism, which predominantly consists of anti-fascism and anti-statist communism. Not to deny this aspect of anarchism, just to emphasize that this is not fundamental to anarchism.

Post-anarchism is a deconstruction and reconstruction of anarchism that is still underneath the umbrella of anarchism. Since anarchism is inherently anti-dogmatic it has no problem with revisionism. However, this is not a platformist attempt. Instead it is in itself an example of the type of organizations or federations it promotes, namely ones that start with one person reaching out to other people with similar thoughts, although not necessarily the same thoughts. Each person or group has their own focus and this is true for this text as well. Basically, post-anarchism, as I present it in this text, is how I think post-anarchism should be defined, meaning I’ve given myself the right to define it after having given myself the right to proclaim myself a post-anarchist.

After re-reading my latest writings a number of times I’ve come to the conclusion that the main feature of my post-anarchism is that it reduces all the problems in anarchist analyses to organizations and so to relationships and so to the subject in the world. This includes property, capital, violence, bureaucracy, representation et cetera. This allows for all previous theories to still be true and relevant and so doesn’t negate the past of anarchism and its bedfellows but rather provides a base structure in which all the different analyses can come to rest in their proper places and in their proper relationships to each other. I believe anarchism should have a place in organizational theory next to Max Weber, game theory and common laissez-faire realpolitik. However, that is a major undertaking and this text is merely an introduction.

I will introduce my view on post-anarchism/anarchism by listing a few topics which I believe are relevant to analyze, without going into too much detail. The list is not meant to be complete and it’s not in any specific order and my ramblings on each topic are meant as kick-starters rather than as closing statements. Since I’m rambling a bit and not trying to clarify many demarcations it helps if you already know what anarchists have focused their analyses on in the past.

In short, people in Europe were criticizing God, the king and the nobility after the Enlightenment. In the 19th century Stirner talked about the equality of individuals, Déjacque about compassion that ignored family and lineage, Bakunin and Proudhon about mutual engagement in labour. Just before WW1, Kropotkin, the last major figure in anarchism, talked about natural organization. More recently, the anarchist critique against oppression has been combined with black liberation, feminism, ecology, LGBTQ, disabilities and various other issues. However, all the combinations haven’t necessarily combined with each other and some of the newest combinations, like anarcho-capitalism, contradict the rest of anarchism. Bookchin stopped calling himself an anarchist because of the anarcho-capitalists and the post-left anarchists have been trying to reformulate the red-and-black current but little has changed since Kropotkin. I’m focusing on theory but just to have it mentioned, anarchists were most active in France and Germany during the 19th century, and then, in chronological order, in the Russian (including in the Ukraine), Spanish and Syrian civil wars. We might also add the many assassinations of the rich and powerful, like Prince Franz Ferdinand, and uprisings like the Zapatistas’ in Mexico and further note that anarchists take part in anti-fascist demonstrations,union strikes, squatting, street occupations et cetera. For all of these events it’s unclear to which degree and how many of the participants are anarchists.

  1. Home
  2. State
  3. Economy
  4. Identity
  5. Subject
  6. Language
  7. Communication
  8. Ideology
  9. Territory
  10. Cities
  11. Power
  12. Freedom
  13. Organization
  14. Bureaucracy
  15. Prison
  16. Revolution
  17. Informal relationships
  18. Education
  19. Representation versus responsibility

The concept of home needs to be deconstructed. Does it need to be a physical territory or a certain building or is it a state of mind? Whatever it is it shouldn’t replace your identity with a generalization that you are like those who are (physically) around you.

Sure, the language and culture in my immediate environment are important to me, but the history of “my” land/country/state/nation/culture is not relevant beyond whatever has survived, in the form of culture and artefacts, into the present. My siblings might have influenced my identity, but mere historical facts have not, and either way it’s not generalizable. We have virtual homes online as well, on platforms like wordpress.com, which represents both a complex infrastructure and a single brand that can be adopted as a symbolic identity for a group.

Should I not open “my” home to you? Why is this piece of the planet mine and not yours? Should we really have toll stations on every threshold? It’s not easy to answer these questions. Similarly, on the one hand I wish the oppressed peoples of the world were freed, but if that means they then create nation-states of their own, then we’re still going to have to deal with that problem. How small units must we divide ourselves into and on which basis? Maybe that question is the wrong one anyway.

Language is important for identity, although not to the extent that ideologies or ideas are shaped solely by words as many ideas exist prior to and next to the words that represent them. You might feel at home when you identity yourself with someone you meet and language matters; social, dialectical and regional differences in language can create walls between you that are at the very least bothersome to overcome. If you share an interest you also share the terminology of that field and connect through this communication. If we all spoke the same language should we expect the creation of a global government or is translation just a matter of efficiency on the global level? Still, language is just one aspect of your identity.

Identity and subject are of course also fluent concepts without clear delineations.  Personally I see in the interdependence of Buddhism and of Maurice Merleau-Ponty that sentient beings are both dependent and independent, meaning we cant rely on simplifications like freedom and collective because reality is more complex than that. Here’s a quote from Joseph Déjacque’s 1858 “The Humanisphere”:

“The society acts on the child and the child reacts again upon society. Solidly they move, neither to the exclusion of the other. There is not a wrong that I have named, that to reform society, must not first necessarily be begun by reforming childhood. All reforms come in pairs.”

Identity as fluid and dynamic stands in contrast to the identitarian movement. This is similar to the conflict between anti-fascists and fascists/racists and a natural continuation of this anarchist tradition.

Physical territory and geography play many important roles besides the state itself. Historically, people have settled by rivers and large cities have formed where communication and resources have flowed the most. What’s a city? Is a farm essentially a a city? Is it just a specific density of people or is it defined by the access to a super-fast connection to a virtual reality simulator? The royal dynasties and their home towns are not in control of the surrounding fields just because of their fortified castles, but everyone in the town, whether propelled by propaganda or elsewise, is a cogwheel in a dense machinery and perhaps nobody is really in control of the machine. This, in contrast perhaps, to the merchant who might freely travel far and wide to get the desired goods or price. Mao spoke of the relationship between urban and rural areas as imperialistic, which seems reasonable even though his implementation of agrarian policies resulted in catastrophe. Here’s a video of anarchism in Athens, described as a combination of square occupation and neighbourhood assemblies, which highlights the urban issues. Strategically we also face the problem of the logistics of people in power; it is difficult to occupy each private jet, gated mansion and penthouse office, all of which are far from the concentrated masses of ordinary people.

Since Socrates roamed the Athenian pavement 2500 years ago most thinkers and most of those in power have lived in cities. Jesus was the son of a carpenter and spent his time in synagogues, his episodes out into nature seem incredible, as if representing the romantic fantasies of writers living in the city. Marx was the son of a lawyer, a student at a university and an observer of the industrialization. I only mention these three to be able to write the following joke. Socrates, Jesus and Marx walked into a bar, because they all lived in cities. If you didn’t get it, I got one more. If a bar is opened in the forest, will anyone ever hear of it? Ok, I’ll stop.

Marx and Engels tackled this topic as well, although their view of the city is largely informed by their ideas on production. In The German Ideology they write that the “existence of the town implies, at the same time, the necessity of administration, police, taxes, etc.; in short, of the municipality, and thus of politics in general. Here first became manifest the division of the population into two great classes, which is directly based on the division of labour and on the instruments of production. The town already is in actual fact the concentration of the population, of the instruments of production, of capital, of pleasures, of needs, while the country demonstrates just the opposite fact, isolation and separation. The antagonism between town and country can only exist within the framework of private property.”

Anarchism has been mostly about anti-statism and anti-capitalism. But anarchism is about animals and should include the understanding that there is no border between the human sphere and the sphere of the universe, all of which is material. It’s all connected, meaning we must also take into account what trees and the weather are doing, even though these are not sentient agents. Humans don’t have any more metaphysical free will than any other subjects either so we can’t reduce organization to human affairs but must take into account all the relationships between all objects in the world.

We must break away from the left-right polarization of economics. Although anarcho-communism is defined as the main current within anarchism, we can see that this is often based on political rhetoric. Anarcho-communists who are first and foremost communists believe the economy is the base of society and the prefix anarcho- to them is only the idea that the state should not be used to achieve communism. Anarchism is in my opinion much more than this simplistic anti-statism and I wouldn’t hesitate to lump many anarcho-communists with anarcho-capitalists and call them both anti-statists rather than anarchists.

We don’t have to break with tradition though, instead we have an opportunity to reanalyze the state and it doesnt matter if we call our analysis socialism, anarchism, post-anarchism or change the labels altogether, it only matters that we break with the political rhetoric and can advance in our analysis of the state and other topics of socialism. It doesn’t mean that anarchism is not communism, it just means that the question, by presupposing this binary, has been put the wrong way. Apparently the Japanese anarcho-communists agreed with me already a century ago (I also share with them being influenced by farmers as opposed to only by industrial workers):

“because anarchist syndicalism based itself on union organisations that were outgrowths of the capitalist workplaces, it would replicate in its social relations the centralisation, hierarchy and power found under capitalism… Hatta and Iwasa… argued that victory in the class struggle at most changes the pecking order between classes but does not bring about the classless condition which is implicit in anarchism.”

Can a state have borders if it has no army? We can’t simply rely on the old definition of the state and we must realize we always must have bureaucracy in some form, where bureaucracy is defined as communication effected by an officer, by an agent. We’ll always have this because organization requires communication of some sort. Revolution is thus necessarily constant.

In my opinion, the issues of organization and economy can both be resolved while ignoring the lack of a universal solution; indeed, anarchism can be described as fundamentally opposing universal solutions in favour of individual, situational, temporal and local solutions. Kropotkin describes the world as a resultant. Society is the resultant of all the activity of its citizens. An individual is the resultant of all the cells in its body. The cells are a resultant of its constituent molecules and so on. This should be combined with post-structuralist thought on the other, as well as the one. One can be that which two relates to, and one can also be that which the constituent parts of a set (as in set theory) relates to. One is also in flux.

This in contrast to the views of e.g. Engels and Stalin, who both in a pseudo-scientific vein described the whole as greater than the sum of its parts. I think Nagarjuna offers a solution, separating our scientifically gathered description of sums from the objective truth about the details as epistemology versus ontology. We look for sums in nature, we look for concepts and patterns to fit the many parts into. Its practical to talk about the wholes instead of having to go through every detail each time, we just have to remember that a description is a generalization and that the generalization doesn’t have real existence. I think that’s what anarchism refers to, the idea that an organization is not the top-level resultant, but its smallest constituent parts.

Anarchism might however start with the relationship between two individuals. This relationship might be emotional or economical. It might concern a specific object or a large number of abstract values. It might exist in isolation or as part of a complex network of many relationships between any number of individuals. It might be a silent agreement or a very precise and fixed written formulation. It might include stipulations like demanding that a signatory is informed on specific issues prior to signing the agreement. It might also include punishments for breaking the rules, ranging from being quietly disliked to being executed.

This may seem chaotic and in a sense it is, but it is also evident that given a sufficient number of these agreements we end up with a world that is as complex as and in most ways identical to today’s world. What this amounts to is that we don’t need to define any of the aspects of an organization or an economy to have de facto organizations and economies. That may scare some people and create an uncertainty that is very dangerous, but this is no different from the uncertainty involved in established relationships. E.g. you don’t know if someone will call you a freak in school tomorrow or if someone will fall asleep while driving a car and run you over.

If we create new relationships or agreements that originate with the specific, we will end up with a simpler bureaucracy instead of creating universal laws that try (and fail) to cover every possible scenario involving every possible individual at any possible time and place and then remake the law with amendments after each time it fails. Most relationships are not based on formal agreements, e.g. if you meet a rabbit in the forest. How you and the rabbit behave can’t be stipulated by universal contracts, certainly since the rabbit can’t read modern English. We have a general idea that specific things will hurt the rabbit, but we can’t presume anything. The exploitation of space and resources which we call private property presumes the universality of concepts like e.g. “Finders, keepers.” It’s also not enough that two people are in agreement, they don’t exist in a vacuum and the situation will change in the future and so will they. If they do agree on something it needs to be temporary and recognize that external factors will inevitably change things.

How do you take into account the feelings and opinions of a two-month-old baby or a spider? Do we try to make educated guesses as to whether spiders prefer the Big-Endians or the Little-Endians? History guides the answer. At one point in history kings ruled over specific territories with armies, using language and religion etc to control the area, then nobility wanted a piece of that power, then the merchants wanted some, got it eventually and then all adult males and then even the women and black people got a share! What’s next; children, animals. According to Murray Bookchin, the biosphere is the next battlefield (although he makes a clear distinction between humans (humans = society = socialism) and the rest of the biosphere, which I don’t):

“Times do change. The proletariat and, more marginally, the peasantry which anarchosyndicalism turned as a ‘ historical subject’, or agents for revolution, are numerically diminishing at best or are being integrated into the existing system at worst. The most crucial contradictions of capitalism are not those within the system but between the system and the natural world. Today, a broad consensus is growing among all oppressed people – by no means strictly industrial workers – that ecological dislocation has produced monumental problems, problems that may well bring the biosphere as we know it to an end. With the emergence of a general human interest, largely the need to maintain and restore a viable biosphere, an interest around which people of highly disparate backgrounds and social strata may yet unite, anarchosyndicalism is simply archaic, both as a movement and as a body of ideas. If anarchist theory and practice cannot keep pace with – let alone go beyond – historic changes that have altered the entire social, cultural, and moral landscape and effaced a good part of the world in which traditional anarchism was developed, the entire movement will indeed become what Theodor Adorno called it – ‘a ghost’. “

We might of course introduce a universal basic income, direct democracy, land value tax and decentralize power until society is fairly flat, but how far should we decentralize? Is there a smallest unit of identity? Anyway, we’d still have representation and accumulation of capital. At the same time it’s possible that this is the best we can hope for or that it is the only possible step forward to something better. Still, it doesn’t address non-human beings or the current state borders or the consequences of historical injustices.

We must also ask ourselves how to vote. Do we want representative democracy? Maybe it’s unavoidable to have some representation in some form, but each person can’t have a representative so representation must reduce a group to a person, which obviously is a generalization or false identification. How does one person take responsibility for a group or vice versa? Isn’t it freedom to be yourself? And if you can change your vocation to equal your identity, to include every aspect of your daily life, so that you are what you do, aren’t you then responsible, in a positive sense, for your actions? Responsibility is complex, it is not merely the owner of a company who is responsible, neither is it only the member of staff you are directly interacting with; responsibility is always shared to some extent.

Maybe the question of voting is confused with questions of territory. Should we perhaps divide ourselves into different constituencies without formalizing supposedly natural divisions like geography? Is a city an entity in itself as the idea of society suggests, should each city have a right to be one á la Henri Lefebvre? All questions are global because everything is connected, but at the same time, “Do you want to have sex with me?” seems like a very local question. That’s something for you to ponder, but I will finish my ramblings with another example from a group of Humanispherians:

“Once a week, more or less as needed, they assemble in the conference salon, called the small internal cyclidion. They discuss and execute great works. Those who are the most knowledgeable in the question take the initiative. Statistics, projects, plans appear in the printed journals; there is comment in small groups, urgency generally recognised or rejected by each individually. Often it is one voice, a unanimous voice that acclaims or rejects.

They do not vote, the majority or the minority never make law. If a proposition sways a sufficient number of workers to execute it, these workers are the majority of the minority execute the proposition; it is the will of those who adhere to it. More often a majority rallies a minority, of the minority the majority. Like a party campaigning proposing to go to St. Germain others to Meudon, some to Sceaux, some to Fontenay, those who differ leave until in the end each cedes and finds an attraction and rejoins the others. And all take with common accord the same route, without authority other than that of pleasure governing the attraction is the law of their harmony. But at the point of departure, each is always free to abandon himself to his caprice, to go with others or converge, stay on the road, if fatigued, or take the road of return if bored.”

References

The following three texts constitute the primary inspiration for my post-anarchism, although there is arguably an unbroken chain in human history, linking these ideas through e.g. Buddhism, Jainism, Max Stirner, Pyotr Kropotkin and Murray Bookchin.

“Anarchism, Marxism and the Bonapartist State” by Saul Newman: http://www.rebelnet.gr/articles/view/Anarchism–Marxism-and-the-Bonapartist-State/original

“What Comes After Post-Anarchism” by Duane Rousselle: http://www.continentcontinent.cc/index.php/continent/article/view/83

“Anarchism as a Theory of Organization” by Colin Ward: http://www.panarchy.org/ward/organization.1966.html

I recently found a fourth text that takes the deconstruction of identity several steps further, “No Selves to Abolish, Afropessimism, Anti-Politics and the End of the World” by K. Aarons: http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/no-selves-to-abolish-afropessimism-anti-politics-and-end-world

I also found a fifth text to add that seems quite relevant, “Anarchism: Ideology or Methodology” by Dave Neal: http://www.spunk.org/library/intro/practice/sp001689.html

Just a note on that last text: I think it contains ideological presumptions about the evil of hierarchy and the good of “organizing solidarity among working people” that leads me to the conclusion that method and idea necessarily must coexist and co-create each other, even when the emphasis is placed on the method. The notion that fascism can’t be a grass roots movement like anarchism is similarly presumptuous and requires deconstruction.

A sixth text to add to the list, “What is Communalism” by Murray Bookchin: http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/bookchin/CMMNL2.MCW.html

Bookchin talks about how individualists paradoxically presuppose general laws of the market, about the inevitability of structures and about the size of an urban commune. His view of Marx is pointing in the same direction as my own view: “What made their [socialist theorists’] focus uniquely ethical was the fact that as social revolutionaries they asked the key question — What constitutes a rational society? — a question that abolishes the centrality of economics in a free society. Where liberal thought generally reduced the social to the economic, various socialisms (apart from Marxism), among which Kropotkin denoted anarchism the “left wing,” dissolved the economic into the social.”

Bookchin also says: “As Bakunin and Kropotkin argued repeatedly, individuality has never existed apart from society and the individual’s own evolution has been coextensive with social evolution” and “In short, both society and the individual were historicized in the best sense of this term: as an ever-developing, self-generative and creative process in which each existed within and through the other.”

I’m thinking Bookchin’s democratic confederalism might be the practical solution to our problems, expanding and threatening other societal systems, but as much as I agree that the individual is dependent on the society and so shouldn’t be considered the root of society, it seems to me that the co-evolution of individual and society results is neither an axiomatic ego nor an axiomatic society. Furthermore, the distinction between (human-only) society and the rest of the universe is equally complex. We can’t reduce relationships to two sentient beings at a time either as this relationship is just as complex and not an isolated phenomenon. In other words, the borders of the commune are necessarily fuzzy and it is not clear how to assemble the individuals of a specific commune. It’s worth noting that in our digital age it’s easy to form groups and leave groups almost independently of your physical situation.

Three more texts can be added, two of which are anarchist classics. Stirner’s “The Ego and His Own” and Kropotkin’s “Anarchism – Its Philosophy and Ideals” and one on the inherently colonial nature of capital by Jason W. Moore called “Endless Accumulation, Endless (Unpaid) Work?”

I’ll also add that I’ve written a text on the concept of property and another text on the history of Marxism and the question of capital.

Lastly, two quotes from Wikipedia to further illustrate what specifically post-structural anarchists are up to:

“Anarchist Hakim Bey describes Fourier’s ideas as follows: ‘In Fourier’s system of Harmony all creative activity including industry, craft, agriculture, etc. will arise from liberated passion — this is the famous theory of “attractive labor.” Fourier sexualizes work itself — the life of the Phalanstery is a continual orgy of intense feeling, intellection, & activity, a society of lovers & wild enthusiasts.'”

“Wolfi Landstreicher has also criticized the ‘ascetic morality of sacrifice or of a mystical disintegration into a supposedly unalienated oneness with Nature,'[4] which appears in anarcho-primitivism and deep ecology. He has criticized John Zerzan saying that ‘I understand alienation as the separation of our existence from ourselves through a system of social relationships that steals our capacity to create our lives on our own terms in order to use our energy to produce and reproduce what is necessary to maintain separated, centralized wealth and power. What is alien to me is thus that which I cannot enjoy as my own. Alienation, in this sense, cannot be caused by an idea or way of thinking. Its source must lie in social relationships. At times, Zerzan seems to use alienation in this way, but usually he is far more abstract, speaking of human alienation from nature in a quasi-mystical sense. And this latter conception seems prevalent in much of the anarcho-primitivist milieu. It is as if they see nature as a metaphysical entity with which humans once had an intimate relationship of unity and from which they have become separated. This is a precise parallel to christian theology, but god has been replaced with a unified nature. The idea of a “fall” into civilization (a term Zerzan frequently uses) follows logically from this.'”

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4 Responses to “Post-Anarchism – Introduction”

  1. yasuakikudo Says:

    Let me add education to your list – I think it naturally lends itself to Anarchism and is a great place to start. For example, I attend various comouter programming groups – they are free and voluntarily run by the members themselves.

    I am starting to think this might be the best place to realistically start practicing Anarchism🙂

  2. enleuk Says:

    I added education to the list. By coincidence I just randomly looked at your twitter-profile like a few hours ago. I was reading about anarchism in Russia and China and was just about to continue on anarchism in Japan, starting with this text: http://www.spunk.org/texts/places/japan/sp001883/japchap2.html

    Anyway, I agree that education is extremely important, and not just for kids, but throughout one’s life. This has also been a big part of the labour movement, but I think it’s important that it doesn’t turn into propaganda, it should be, as you say, voluntary, and the path a person chooses should be decided by their interests and not by politicians. At the same time it’s complicated, because you want people to at least have some minimum understanding of certain things, like history and biology perhaps, and it’s obvious that it’s easy to convince people of lies if they don’t have the understanding necessary to question those lies and search out the truth.

    Do you talk about anarchism in the computer programming groups? There’s a person on twitter who tweets a lot about encryption in relation to anarchism and how technology can be used to create communities online where people can vote anonymously and so on. The twitter-handle is: @stmanfr

    Oh and also, in China there were lots of anarchists in 1917 and they invited the Bolsheviks to join in and set-up study groups and establish themselves in China, and then of course they killed all the anarchists when they got into power.

  3. yasuakikudo Says:

    Hi,

    Yes sometimes we discuss Anarchism but it’s mostly because I profess to be one🙂 I subscribed to the twitter account you mentioned, it looks interesting. Regarding the history of Anarchism, I also tried to learn – like you mentioned, it seems there were a few of them before ww2 but they were killed, arrested, etc…

    When I look for information on Anarchism in Japan , mostly what I find is this historical stuff – but I think it’s not so relevant now. what do you think?

  4. enleuk Says:

    I think it’s similar in many places. Communists have dominated the political rhetoric to the point where they’ve been able to convince people that anarchists are simply misguided communists. And since communism didn’t work out very well, that means nobody is interested in anarchism. And now social-democracy dominates that rhetorical space.

    Those who do think it’s a good idea often think it’s too unrealistic in today’s society and might not happen for hundreds of years and so they sort of give up. It’s mostly young people who are angry at society who go out in the streets and throw molotov cocktails at the police. There are anarchists in Japan, I’m sure, but not very many and most likely they’re part of organizations that don’t use the label anarchism.

    Personally I don’t think it will happen in my life-time. The reason for this is that I believe the revolution has to be mostly peaceful or people will demand vengeance and the only way to stop the counter-revolution would be even more violence. And if it has to be peaceful then nobody knows how long it will take. It’s possible that if all the people in the developing countries got access to Internet and cell phones, that could lead to awareness and a large enough movement to force the West to take it seriously. Then again, sometimes things change much more quickly than anyone could have predicted.

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