Welcome to the first episode of Season three of the Brilliant podcast.
Audio version – http://thebrilliant.org/podcast/episode-65-what-is-anarchism-in-2018/
The Brilliant podcast is about anarchist ideas and their implications. I’ll try to give a quick and dirty definition here but broadly anarchist ideas and theory concerns themselves with what anarchism could be, what anarchist practice is, what anarchism, anarchy, insurrection, destruction, negation, power, authority all mean. It is both recursive and speculative, impossible and practical, common sense and high theory. We attempt to get at anarchist ideas from the multitude of perspectives that comprise the relationships I have as an active anarchist engaged in the thick of the milieu over the past 20 years. This snapshot, over the next year, is not going to be a litany of all the things that anarchists oppose, which is clearly the interest of most introductions to the idea, but instead as much of an examination as we are capable of doing, in conversation, of what we do, what we are for, and what we are planning in the short and long term.
Anarchism was a leaf blowing in the wind of the 20th century.
A central conceit of the Brilliant is that we are in the second wave of anarchism, although perhaps nearing its completion. This is in direct contrast to the historical purists that describe anarchism as having a singular story that reached its apex on the fields of Catalan in the 1930s and has been chasing proletarian revolt ever since. It instead says that Anarchism, or perhaps more properly the idea of Anarchy was reborn on the streets of Paris in 1968 after dying in the aformentioned Spanish Civil War.
Here is the slightly modified introduction to the LBC pamphlet on the topic of Second Wave Anarchy
In his review of Todd May’s The Political Philosophy of Post-Structuralist Anarchism, John Moore raised a series of questions that demand consideration. He did this by describing the history of anarchism as having two periods, or waves, following the conventions of the history of feminism. The transition for feminism from first to second wave, if greatly simplified, is the transition from a concern with suffrage, or the universal right to vote, to a concern with equality more generally and economic equality in particular. The transition in Anarchism can be understood by George Woodcock’s description of Anarchism as having faded from favor as a mass working class force for social change after the end of the Spanish Civil War and its rebirth in the modern (1960s) ecological and feminist movements.
In his introduction to The Anarchist Reader (1977) Woodcock states that “Anarchism, in summary, is a phoenix in an awakening desert, an idea that has revived for the only reason ideas revive—that they respond to some need felt deeply by people.”
The concerns of second wave feminism are both caused by and orthogonal to those of first wave feminists. On the one hand the failure of universal suffrage to actually transform the role of women in society (as predicted by Emma Goldman in her essay “Woman Suffrage”) led to the understanding that feminism had to broaden what it actually meant by equality. On the other hand the concerns of lesbian separatists, careerists, and the explicit arrangement of society around the oppression of women raised more fundamental issues with human experience than with the form of equality.
Anarchists follow form in this regard. Prior to the Spanish Civil War anarchists generally aspired to an anarchist communist society that abolished wages, and posited voluntary association as the end goal of a social transformation that anarcho-syndicalism would be the mechanism of. After the failure of the Spanish Civil War, anarchism as a particular body of thought, as an ideology, largely disappeared. This is not to say that there were not still anarchists, or that the idea of freedom as understood by anarchists was gone, but that, to follow Moore’s metaphor, that wave of anarchism had crested and subsided.
The second wave follows a few decades later. In Moore’s view the second wave can be represented by the Situationist International. While not anarchists (they were in fact harsh critics of the anarchist organizations that existed at the time, such as they were) the SI brought modern analysis to the same questions that anarchists were asking a hundred years earlier. Additionally the SI benefited from being in the lineage of the radical art movement, framing their politics in the experience of daily life and the events of May ‘68.
More important to the project of trying to understand, or frame, the way in which Anarchism has changed in the past forty years is to see the consequence that the SI had to modern anarchism. Following Moore you can demonstrate the trajectory from the SI to Primitivism (and Zerzan in particular), Hakim Bey, so-called post Anarchism: Fifth Estate and Crimethinc (in North America), Post-Left Anarchy, and aspects of Insurrectionary Anarchism. This influence demonstrates the ways that Second Wave Anarchy is concerned both with the same things that anarchism has always been concerned about and with things completely different.
It is worth noting that Woodcock presents another source of departure for Second Wave Anarchy in the modern ecological and feminists movements. This shouldn’t be discounted. Clearly Green Anarchists, Anarcha-feminists, and anarchists influenced by Race Traitor are both modern manifestations of anarchist thought and influenced by events of the sixties. The question remains how these tendencies break with and have similarities to the movements that predate them.
Seeing a break and a new beginning allows us to seize the anarchist project away from those people who self-righteously use the label to demonstrate exactly how obscure, irrelevant, and archaic a living political tendency can be. Anarchists should easily be able to understand the difference between a noble, beautiful history and a living body of ideas, strategies, and practices but often times seem closed to ideas that differ from canon.
Moore’s review from Anarchist Studies frames the topic here, and we present three additional articles as examples of the kinds of questions that Second Wave Anarchists concern themselves with. This is not to say that any of these authors would describe themselves as Second Wave Anarchists (none of them would). While the term “anarchism without adjectives” has lost favor since Voltairine de Cleyre’s time the idea that anarchists lose more than they gain by narrowing their self-identification has become more general. These articles are presented as examples of how much has changed rather than as descriptions of how anarchists are labeling themselves.
Saul Newman’s article, “Anarchism and the Politics of Ressentiment,” from the recent book I am Not a Man, I am Dynamite challenges the motivation of many, if not most, anarchists along the lines of Nietzsche’s conception of slave morality. Wolfi Landstreicher presents ideas about exactly what differences there are between first and second wave anarchy (although not in those terms) in “From Politics to Life.” Finally an essay by Aragorn!, “Locating an Indigenous Anarchism,” presents an explicit vision of Anarchy that breaks from the revolutionary tradition of western Europe.
When John Moore passed in 2002 anarchists suffered a great loss. His contributions will continue to be mined for decades as representing the best of eclectic non-dogmatic anarchist thought. Second Wave Anarchy is an idea he dropped in a book review, his Primitivist Primer is still one of the clearest expositions of a perspective he later abandoned, and his essay on Maximalist Anarchy is still inspiring. Preserving and disseminating the idea of Second Wave Anarchy is part of remembering John Moore as the important figure he remains.
Now clearly if we were going to track anarchism to feminism we’d refer to the changes in feminism (referred to as third wave or even fourth) and how they relate, and don’t, to anarchism. But that is a different discussion not exactly parallel to the break between first and second wave anarchism. Our break relates to the break from the workers movement to counter-culture which doesn’t exactly map to the feminist history either. For anarchism to have another break, or another wave, there will need to be something as fundamentally different as the workers movement (or the anarchist practice of attentat against nodes of bourgeoisie power) is from hippies and punk counterculture (or the linkage of anarchism to living everyday life). Because this difference isn’t the case (or if it is it is only in the excesses of a small set of people) we at The Brilliant are satisfied to say that Anarchism continues to be in its second wave.
Anarchism should be Earth centered
In the nineties there was a type of farcical split between green and red anarchists. Environmentalism was just coming into vogue and was largely portrayed as what it fully matured into later… a consumer ideology. At the same time the red anarchist patter was running thin. While no one denies that the working class engaged with its power with regard to the means of production could seize them and run society, linking that idea to either the relics that survived into the 90s from the seventies, the spanish civil war, or the anarcho-punks that mostly comprised both sides of this particular debate was high fantasy. Like elves and talking trees fantasy.
Sadly this situation hasn’t changed. The dreamers of an empowered proletariat are more likely to wear cravats, live in cities, and be under-employed than in the nineties and greens are more likely to fetishize a wildness they have no first hand experience with than then but the rest is more-or-less the same. Arbitrary lines between fixed positions based in fantasy that big men declared at least a generation ago.
In lieu of The Revolution or The Collapse we follow the Desert line that our future is going to be a direct consequence of what is left of the Earth to provide us. This is called climate change in other circles but our interest is in working through what it means to live in a place that has no future now and not in an imagined no future future. From Desert.
Given our obvious inability to re-make the entire world the way we might like it to be, some replace the myth of ‘global revolution’ with a belief in imminent ‘global collapse’ — these days usually some mix of climate change and peak oil. As we shall see later (both in the next chapters and our future years) global heating will severely challenge civilisation in some areas and probably vanquish it in others. Yet in some regions it will likely open up possibilities for the spread of civilisations rule. Some lands may remain (relatively) temperate — climatically and socially. As for civilisation, so for anarchy and anarchists — severely challenged, sometimes vanquished; possibilities for liberty and wildness opening up, possibilities for liberty and wildness closing. The unevenness of the present will be made more so. There is no global future.
We no longer think that addressing these questions by way of abstractions like civilization is fruitful Sure civilization is one way of thinking through how we got from there to here, a way that prioritizes history and anthropology as the specializations by which we get to think. But I don’t want to follow a new breed of specialists just because the specializations of politics, economics, and street fighting have given such meager rewards. All of these ways of thinking and specializations are progressive. By this we don’t mean to create another boogie man or margarine word where we attach all the baggage of the constituents of these ideas to the ideas themselves but the Western project has as one of its foundational pillars a concept of increasing knowledge as a way to go from low to high, from darkness to light, from savagery to enlightenment. From the DM manifesto…
The myth of progress is to us what the myth of god-given warrior prowess was to the Romans, or the myth of eternal salvation was to the conquistadors: without it, our efforts cannot be sustained. Onto the root stock of Western Christianity, the Enlightenment at its most optimistic grafted a vision of an Earthly paradise, towards which human effort guided by calculative reason could take us. Following this guidance, each generation will live a better life than the life of those that went before it. History becomes an escalator, and the only way is up. On the top floor is human perfection. It is important that this should remain just out of reach in order to sustain the sensation of motion.
Similar to the critique of Civilization the critique of the Western or Enlightenment project is a rich abstraction. I can already imagine the future anarcho-easterners dressed in coolio outfits, feather headdresses, or cossack hats and tunics. This fetishization of the abstraction and aesthetification is besides the point. It happens, usually by young people with too much time and too little power to actually implement their ideas upon the world. I don’t blame the young for misunderstanding. I blame the old for lying, instead of honestly expressing the difficult story of the journey of living authentically, they try to give answers to impossible questions, to boil their answers into bite sized pieces, ones related to their own self-aggrandizement because they, if fact, have no more knowledge of authentic life than the young.
Like other traditions we believe that an anarchist, by which we mean libertarian who opposes any monopoly of violence and exchange relationships as a hostile abstraction from authentic life, should also oppose truth. This isn’t necessarily true forever but this, right here, right now, is a world of lies and deception. To describe the depth and complexity of the deceit woven into the fabric of daily life would take more time than we are allowing for in this introduction but suffice it to say that it cannot be accomplished by responding to lies with something called truth.
Truth is, in our experience, another lie. It tends to be a clear lie because its fabrications are all developed from a set of first principles. Find the principle at the heart of a priests words and you will see what he’s selling today. But if we can’t speak in truths then how do we speak at all? I’ll first give the answer that DM has given
Uncivilised writing. Uncivilised writing is writing which attempts to stand outside the human bubble and see us as we are: highly evolved apes with an array of talents and abilities which we are unleashing without sufficient thought, control, compassion or intelligence. Apes who have constructed a sophisticated myth of their own importance with which to sustain their civilising project. Apes whose project has been to tame, to control, to subdue or to destroy — to civilise the forests, the deserts, the wild lands and the seas, to impose bonds on the minds of their own in order that they might feel nothing when they exploit or destroy their fellow creatures.
Against the civilising project, which has become the progenitor of ecocide, Uncivilised writing offers not a non-human perspective—we remain human and, even now, are not quite ashamed — but a perspective which sees us as one strand of a web rather than as the first palanquin in a glorious procession. It offers an unblinking look at the forces among which we find ourselves.
It sets out to paint a picture of homo sapiens which a being from another world or, better, a being from our own — a blue whale, an albatross, a mountain hare — might recognise as something approaching a truth. It sets out to tug our attention away from ourselves and turn it outwards; to uncentre our minds. It is writing, in short, which puts civilisation — and us — into perspective. Writing that comes not, as most writing still does, from the self-absorbed and self-congratulatory metropolitan centres of civilisation but from somewhere on its wilder fringes. Somewhere woody and weedy and largely avoided, from where insistent, uncomfortable truths about ourselves drift in; truths which we’re not keen on hearing. Writing which unflinchingly stares us down, however uncomfortable this may prove.
While I have written this presentation today, we have done it grudgingly. We prefer communication in the flow of ideas and conversations between you and I rather than in the written form. This is why The Brilliant podcast has always been one involving conversations with 2 or more people. Our theory on this matter is one we share with Russell Means from For America To Live Europe Must Die
The only possible opening for a statement of this kind is that I detest writing. The process itself epitomizes the European concept of “legitimate” thinking; what is written has an importance that is denied the spoken. My culture, the Lakota culture, has an oral tradition, so I ordinarily reject writing. It is one of the white world’s ways of destroying the cultures of non-European peoples, the imposing of an abstraction over the spoken relationship of a people.
We are resigned to writing rather than embracing it.
That said we’ll finish this section with the proper ending to the DM manifesto. While the DM manifesto ended with a proper list of principles, my guess is that it was in response to the all-too-common request in the Aglosphere that one almost must follow a criticism with a set of constructive proposal so as to imbibe the reader with a feeling of their own power and capacity to act on the ideas espoused. Suffice it to say we feel no need to empower you and feel it is insulting to propose that anyone can do that but yourself. From the DM manifesto.
This is a moment to ask deep questions and to ask them urgently. All around us, shifts are under way which suggest that our whole way of living is already passing into history. It is time to look for new paths and new stories, ones that can lead us through the end of the world as we know it and out the other side. We suspect that by questioning the foundations of civilisation, the myth of human centrality, our imagined isolation, we may find the beginning of such paths.
If we are right, it will be necessary to go literally beyond the Pale. Out- side the stockades we have built — the city walls, the original marker in stone or wood that first separated ‘man’ from ‘nature’. Beyond the gates, out into the wilderness, is where we are headed. And there we shall make for the higher ground for, as Jeffers wrote, ‘when the cities lie at the monster’s feet / There are left the mountains.’ We shall make the pilgrimage to the poet’s Dark Mountain, to the great, immovable, inhuman heights which were here before us and will be here after, and from their slopes we shall look back upon the pinprick lights of the distant cities and gain perspective on who we are and what we have become.
What does all of this have to do with an Earth centered approach? In our view an earth centered approach doesn’t concern itself with a 10 bullet program, a nicely designed logo, or a campaign you can yeah, or neigh in rapid order. We are going to use a term here that will make both of us very uncomfortable but I’m not sure how much longer we can avoid it. The Earth is the place where we live. It is where all of our activity occurs. It is literally the gravity that pulls us all in the same direction. It is the substrate where all yearning towards the sun occurs. The Earth is the start of our understanding of the earth. I call this relationship, one so fundamental, a spiritual one.
But instead of using that word, as I live in a secular world, I’ll talk about the Story. The Story is the way I can talk about the sublime and the fundamental without sounding too woo. But in fact the story, our relationships, and the place we do these things is all pretty woo. It is woo all the way down, but I’ll leave it there and repeat our simple truth. Our anarchism is Earth centered, we believe all anarchism is, and our central question is what do we do from there?
Indigeneity and Race
The anarchism I’m interested in has more connection to a lifeway that may or may not have existed in North America before colonization rather than in the fantasy of a workers movement or utopian socialist paradise. If you have 500 nations (or 50000 tribal groups) you will have complexity, organization the size of human communities, a priority to face-to-face relationships, and a total transfiguration of urban social life.
This is not to say that I’m committed to the idea that I, or anyone living, has an accurate vision of life prior to contact with Europe but the anarchism of imagination can sweep its hand and say if this world is shit, that world sure seems like it would be an improvement along the axis of mental health, sense of community and belonging, quality of work/life balance, access to resources, and the lack of things that make this world so shitty.
It’s also worth saying that while I am not declaring the truth of a past world that I have heard stories. Stories that inspired, frustrated, made me angry, motivated me to action, and disappointed me. A story is not true, it lives in the tension of all the other stories. Life can be considered the process by one hears all the stories. Piece by piece these stories build the shape of a person. Here is a brief example of a story from the 2017 BASTARD Chronicles.
One story from the Southern Ute goes like this:Coyote was sitting in his shelter as it began to rain. A hole in the roof was leaking on him so he asked his youngest daughter to climb up and fix it. As she stood over him he saw her exposed vulva and became aroused. He began to make plans on how to sleep with her. The next day he pretended he was injured by an enemy tribe and told his family to bury him. His son saw Coyote escape the pyre, but the mother did not believe him. She told the boy that he had only seen Coyote’s ghost leaving his body. Coyote came back to his family as a handsome young buck and asked to marry the daughter. The mother approved the match and they were married. Later, she told her mother how her new husband sucked her breasts and mother became angry. “Coyote has disguised himself, you did the unspeakable!” She beat Coyote until he agreed to come back to her and only be with her forever. The young girl was so embarrassed that she rose into the sky and became a star.
Indigeneity is a complicated term that we will define in two different ways. An indigenous person is both the modern politically correct way to discuss the first people from a place, specifically in our case we are mostly going to be talking about Turtle Island. This is more complex than is may appear on first glance because the descendents of first people are mostly a racial blur who should blur the lines of what it means to be a native but also live in the modern tension of being a problem largely because of their nativeness. To be indigenous is to exist (in the negative sense of the term) and to not exist (because of the genocide of blood quantum and urbanness). The second definition is as follows, and this is taken from my yet to be titled book on anarchism and indigeneity.
This chapter is also going to take a different take on a central issue than other chapters. It is going to assume that race does not exist. That race is a frame of mind and a way to separate us and make us mistrust each other. It only exists insofar as those in power have determined that our difference from one another is important but not in any important biological, socialogical, or ethical way. Race is an expression of power over and the lingua franca of how a State controls a population. On the other hand we are all indigenous, but perhaps ignorant of what that means or how that could have meaning in our lives. This chapter makes some furtive attempts to contextualize indigeneity as a type of rosetta stone to reconcile living in this world and remembering another world, the world of spirits, our relations, and one that still exists.
So our interest and involvement in this issue is to embrace the tension and the complexity of race as it is experienced by indigenous people. This is a theoretical topic that many scholars approach from a rational, third person perspective. We are in the complicated position of having first hand experience as an indigenous person while at the same time spending most of my adult life with people outside of that experience articulating it for them. As an adult I do not have a great deal of experience theorizing indigeneity with other natives. When I communicate with other adults about topics around race I feel strange unease, both because of the lack of shared experience and because those people who are the most articulate on the topic tend to have the most political orientation around it.
Regardless, I want to share my experiences, to the extent possible and reconcile a libertarian politics with our origins without instrumentalizing or essentializing either. I believe this will be most successful to the extent to which we can talk about them in the context of stories, stories that are part of all the stories, that each of us use to build the people that we are.
We came into radical politics for the same reason everyone else does. We want to change the world. Moreover we want to change it into our image of what a better world should be. Anarchist. This means the abolition of the State and the means everyone I’ve ever known knows how to eat, live, and work. I became an anarchist because the changes I wanted to make in the world when I was young were impossible changes in the existing order. In hindsight they were social democratic goals concerning health care and education, more nice and less mean but it was clear how impossible they were in a world of democrats and republicans, nazi skinheads, and a Gulf War on the horizon. But the conclusion of this line of thought was that if what I desired were impossible I should be honest about it and desire what I actually wanted, which was the total freedom represented by anarchism. The next decade was spent figuring out the implications of that freedom.
After about a decade of realizing that all our efforts were meager gruel compared to what would actually be necessary to change the world I reset. Rather than considering myself a revolutionary anarchist I have decided that while social change is an interest of mine that the arc of sinner to the redeemed wasn’t holding my interest for me. I called this despair nihilism but obviously that word is loaded and has since been defined in a dozen different ways. Here are some excerpts of how I framed this in Consequences: on revolutionary despair
1. There is not a liberating vision for humanity. Every so-called revolutionary at best fails and at worst establishes yet another fiefdom. The rhetoric of liberation makes for great bedtime stories, keeps starry-eyed dreamers warm at night, and should be seen for exactly what it is. Charlatans either believe that they speak for the oppressed and that the weight of their opinion is greater because they summon the power of representation, or that they are the first ones to come up with the ideas that they have.
2. The idea of a singular, recursive, or iterative approach to positive social change works better in a classroom than in lived experience. The kind of social science that results from these explorations resembles a secular monotheism. As an organization of society, or a modeling of the transformation of society, apocalypse has a long track record and it is entirely reactionary. This is to say that whether called an insurrection, a revolution, a singularity, or a collapse, a similar thing is intended: more of the same.
3. Is the quiet misery of daily life preferable to a reactionary rupture? The lesson of the German Revolution (1918-1919) is the lesson of historical Anarchism: glorious failure. Whether it is France, Spain, Germany, or Russia the story of social revolution has not been one of triumph. Instead, and at best, it has been a set of stories about moments worth living.
4. How many lives are we willing to sacrifice for our moment? Shall we stack them for barricades? Fill the trenches with them after the tanks roll in? Use their blood to write the history books that tell of our glorious time?
7. Revolutionary strategy is a failure from the perspective of providing a mechanism to get from here to there. This is not to say that there is not the possibility of wide social transformation but that to the extent that it follows the lead of the glorious losers (anarchists), Nechys, or Micheals of the past it will fail in succeeding either on its own terms or on the terms of being a liberated social change.
8. This is not to say that we are free or satisfied. We are at an impasse. This impasse is one part frustration at the rhetoric of transition available to us (without words it is hard to understand where one is or where others are), another part anger at the grinding death of a denatured daily life and another part ennui at the futility of our social or political power. Without the ability to control our own life, political action, and social relationships, our vivid imagination lay fallow. There is nothing to eat here but a gray paste that keeps us alive. But for what?
9. This problem extends to the west generally. We understand that past formulations are out of date. We lack for new ones.
Rather than seeing Occupy, Black Lives Matter, or the current fading antifa movement as steps on the road to the liberation of humanity they seem to vindicate the approach I took nearly 15 years ago when the Consequences piece was written. But I’m not there any more. I still have an abiding interest in the category we’ll call social change but my interest is in the people who problemitize it rather than this weeks set of bright eyed believers. I believe we have all heard what they have to say.
Say what you will about identity politics and call out culture but the reason I still pay close attention to it is because of how disruptive it is to former models of social change organizing. Obviously there are those that point to the failure of our just cause(s) at having a single source, a state source, an omniscient they. But one glance at a public forum on trans exclusion, black lives matter, or Atassa will tell you all you need to know. We disagree, but especially about the need to agree at all.
This season of The Brilliant podcast is going to attempt to extend the conversations from the past two seasons into a kind of definition of anarchism that contains the multitudes I’ve sketched out here. The tent poles are anarchisms: green, second wave, indigenous, and the impossibility of libertarian social change. We are going to veer from these topics as is natural, we’ll probably have a set of discussions about egoism in particular, and probably some detailed conversations about the role of computer hacking later in the year, but I think this is an introduction to what we are trying to do. I hope you enjoy what we have come up with.
Hey I’d love to hear another conversation with Bellamy on egoism. Also would interviewing Squee (who used to be on Free Radical Radio) be possible?
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