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From owner-imap@chumbly.math.missouri.edu Mon Feb 17 17:00:42 2003
Date: Sun, 16 Feb 2003 11:46:05 -0600 (CST)
Organization: The Soylent Green Party
From: Dan Clore <clore@columbia-center.org>
Subject: [smygo] Response to Towards an Another Anarchism
Article: 152049
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

News for Anarchists & Activists:

Subject: Re: Towards an Another Anarchism
Date: 14 Feb 2003 13:53:17 -0500
From: gcf@panix.com (G*rd*n)

Response to Towards an Another Anarchism

By G*rd*n, 14 February 2003

I have decided to take AnimaMinima's barb seriously and write a critique of an anarchist article published in these newsgroups, that by Andrjej Grubacic (hereinafter AG), for actual anarchists. Liberals may, of course, read it, but I will not be responding to either the usual propagandistic abuse they emit, or to criticisms which presuppose the fundamentalist liberal dogma so prevalent in these newsgroups -- even if it offers the usual opportunities for humor. Followups have been directed to the anarchy newsgroups. While much of what I write may seem picky or negative, it should be taken in the spirit of William Blake's apothegm Opposition is true friendship.

First of all, I must point out that this article or speech suffers from severe historical foreshortening and narrowing of view. Anarchism has existed since the invention of slavery, thousands of years ago, as the rejection and struggle against the assertion of slavery. Far from being just another feature of 19th-century radicalism, anarchistic ideas and movements show up again and again in the history of the ancient, medieval, and early modern worlds[1]. At the same time, in the present and the immediate past, there have been innumerable persons who have acted anarchistically, who have refused to support the State, yet have not ideologized or publicized their politics as explicit anarchism[2]. Is this important? Well, it certainly leads to errors of observation, such as the statement that anti-capitalism is a constant of anarchism. On the contary, during the English Civil War, anarchists generally allied themselves with liberals. While the rejection of capitalism may be a reasonable or necessary position for anarchists to take it is by no means a historical constant. In fact, in spite of its susceptibility to class war, national war and imperialism, capitalism has often operated in a revolutionary and liberatory way[3]. One might even see in it a sort of incomplete realization of anarchist ideas.

Just as the focus on a particular 19th-century European scenes incorrectly views embryonic (!) anarchism as commitedly anti-capitalist, so it is also said to be atheistic. But in fact religion has often provided the intellectual framework for substantial anarchist projects and populations, such as the Dukhobors and the Catholic Workers. In fact, I would say religious anarchists have probably done much more on the ground towards evolving anarchist communities than the atheistic sort, although I suppose the point could be argued either way.

The lack of a broad historical and cultural view seems especially unfortunate to me because it is something of a privilege to go off to a nice Brazilian city and confer with smart, educated, virtuous people from all over the world even if one has to sleep on the beach. The privileged are supposed to be able to take the long views denied, most of the time, to the rest of us. It is a pity this opportunity seems to have been foregone. I wouldn't particularly pick on the overview, but AG does say he is giving a short history of anarchism, and thereafter draws conclusions from his view of this history; if conclusions are to be derived from the view, then surely its dimensions are of some importance. This is especially so if the author is making a distinction between tradition and innovation a principle point of his argument.

This summarizes my dissatisfactions with the historical overview. The remainder of my critique deals in a rather desultory manner with AG's criticisms of existing anarchism and his suggestions for the future.

AG says, 'I think it is high time for a certain, to quote Max Weber, dis-illusioning of anarchism, an awakening from the dream of post-modernist nihilism, anti-rationalism, neo-primitivism, cultural terrorism, simulacrums. It is time to restore anarchism to the intellectual and political context of the Enlightenment project that is nothing else but understanding that objective knowledge is a tool to be used so that individuals could take informed decisions on their own.' Unfortunately, nihilism, anti-rationalism, primitivism, and so on are precisely outcomes of the Enlightenment project, although they have much longer and deeper roots. It seems like a waste of time to huff oneself up about them; the Enlightenment fans among us will just have to live with them and occasionally come to grips with their criticisms.

In general, there is a practical reason for not attempting to extrude non-Enlightenment anarchists from one's imaginary fold: it is necessary to deal with the world as it is, rather than as one wishes it might be, and the sad fact is that the Enlightenment, for all its many virtues, has fallen rather short of achieving the Godlike omnipotence and omniscience once advertised for it, and a large number of people are acutely aware of this fact and think and act accordingly. Consider primitivism: from the Enlightenment point of view (technology is good) it may seem romantically silly at first, but it turns out that many, many people believe, with a certain amount of reason, that high technology and large institutions require a class system and State power. If this is so, if one has to choose between freedom and material power, then the issue is not quite so romantic: a hard choice will have to be made. And that is but one example of the Enlightenment assumptions which do not seem as assured as they did a century ago.

AG wants anarchists to desert class reductionism. I suppose _class_ is being used in a narrow, vulgar-Marxist sense here. In fact class is an essential aspect of the fundamental social model against which anarchists struggle: the division of the community into categories with different, institutionalized political functions. It seems clear (to me, anyway) that racism, sexism, and other such assignments of persons to statuses of oppression are resonances or expressions of the class war which is necessary to maintain class systems; hence their recurrence or regeneration after centuries of disuse[4]. In the broader, less vulgar-Marxist sense of class, it is simply not possible to expand anti-authoritarianism and desert class reductionism unless we have somehow emerged from the world in which language and logic mean anything. Authority _is_ class; class _is_ authority.

Again, there is a practical reason for not forgetting the facts of class: while we may wish to do so (you and I, the _good_ people), class warriors will not, and will turn up in surprising places including the councils of the most anarchistic. They may even turn up inside our skins. And they will certainly turn up at any large gathering: Where the corpse is, there the eagles will gather.[5]

In this, I am not contradicting my previous observation of the sometimes non-hostile relations between anarchists and capitalism. In fact, is precisely because anarchists will sometimes find themselves allied with capitalism fans and other liberals that they must bear class analysis of social relations in mind.

Perhaps, though, AG means to criticize only the narrow vulgar-Marxist notion of class, that of economic role in the established job / welfare / poverty work machine. In that case I agree with him (but oppression through the work machine must not be forgotten, either).

AG complains about extremes of intellectualism and anti-intellectualism. I wish he had been more specific here; while there is certainly a broad spectrum of intellectuality among soi-disants anarchists (and those who are anarchist in practice and thought if not in name as well), I don't perceive the sort of empty space in the middle AG does. I do agree that there is a significant need for some sort of verifiable alternative to the bourgeois mass media and academic institutions which would be one of the features of the middle ground. This sort of thing may appear once anarchists become sufficiently dissastisfied with them. (How many of you read _The_New_York_ _Times_?) The material basis of such media already exist; the question is when, how and by whom they will be put to use.

(Speaking of intellectualism, we need to bear in mind that a society that lacks a ruling class cannot expect to nevertheless support some sort of intelligentsia who will do the thinking for everyone else, as has been the case in feudal, bourgois, Soviet and other recent class societies. That sort of division of labor almost certainly requires the use of State force. Anarchy, on the other hand, has to work for the simple as well as the smart. I don't think the creation of an anarchist intelligentsia was recommended, but it may have been assumed.)

In the realm of AG's suggestions for the future: I find them rather heavily weighted toward media and other means of information exchange. While (as I note just above) these are certainly important, from my point of view, we already have a lot of media and information exchange, and what we lack are people who are willing to begin constructing, or maybe I should say growing, a new anarchist society within the shell of the old system in more material and physical realms. I fear that continued focus on media, conferences, demonstrations and the like are distracting people from the more difficult tasks of producing and eating anarchist food, dressing in anarchist clothes, and living in anarchist houses. History has taught us that we can't change the condition of the world through wars, elections, or appeals to the emperors. We have to change it ourselves where we live _against_ the wars, elections, and emperors.

As an example of my complaint, one might consider the Participatory Economics which is advertised on ZNet and mentioned by AG. When I read ZNet with any regularity, I became interested in this seemingly very pragmatic alternative to capitalist organization. However, the discussion forums for discussing the theory contained ten times as many entries as those for discussing the practice. People at a nearby commune which owns and operates several stores and a vacation resort / spa told me their efforts to construct some sort of cooperative system (much less a full-blown PE) with other similar organizations had met with very little interest. Now, state-socialist proponents of the proposal may have no problem with instituting it by force, but obviously anarchists can't and won't go this route; it has to be feasible on a basic, voluntary level and scalable upward as opportunity appears. But if no one starts doing it, it will never happen, regardless of the amount of theory about it churned out by intellectuals. Science and engineering are about material facts; those fond of the Enlightenment should appreciate this reminder.

I think that's about it for the moment. Again, I hope my words will be received in the same cranky, querelous, but nevertheless good faith with which they were given. Let us see how the experiment turns out.

[1] One might take a look at Chistopher Hill's _The_World_Turned_Upside_Down_.

[2] A good and notorious example would be the so-called hippie movement.

[3] As observed by Karl Marx in _The_Communist_Manifesto_.

[4] For example, the revival of slavery at the beginning of the modern era.

[5] Matt. 24:28. See also Naomi Klein's Bad Capitalist! No Martini, http://www.tompaine.com/feature.cfm/ID/5103 and elsewhere.