There exists a way of defining left vs. right as a spectrum of political philosophies in which anarchism happens to be on the far-left.
I think it would be good to use and promote this definition because… if having one more opportunity to advertise our elemental philosophical similarities with political philosophies on the left would help clarify a clear road map for encouraging people to the far-left, as well as towards anti-authoritarianism, then doing so will likely help bring about an anarchist world faster.
I don’t find any solace or warm fuzzy feelings about identifying with the left, I just value a cold hard calculation of the benefits of being open about existing under a big tent of philosophies that if at strategically important times all pull together stand a better chance of achieving an incrementally less bad status quo, in the same way I would hold my nose and vote or pull the lever in the trolley problem.
The term anarchist often evokes ridicule today
Most people hold a ton of misconceptions about what being an anarchist entails, whether it be that we’re naive about human nature, or that we all just want chaos and disorder.
If we came up with an entirely new word to call ourselves tomorrow, like ‘benows’, the media would simply again make the word synonymous with chaos, such that more people would be using ‘benows’ in conversation to refer to a state of chaos than the amount of people who even knew about anarchism.
So, either we acknowledge that fact and make a point of explicitly relating elements of our philosophy to leftist remedies which are less extreme, or we define ourselves as being outside the left vs. right paradigm and stand a far greater chance of people never shaking off the idea that we hold to some ridiculously irrational ideas.
In order to have any hope of upping our success rate at persuading more people over to our philosophy, we have to make the pragmatic optics decision in explicitly making clear that we’re both leftists and anarchists, that way for now, anchoring the term anarchist explicitly to a mainstream struggle of left vs. right economic & egalitarian politics.
The same way many socialists make the optics decision to tag on democratic to the word socialist.
That’s not to say we have to support or even be happy about every leftist tactic. Nor does it mean we can’t still be loud about our unique position on the radical fringe.
It’s simply about establishing one reference point for people to latch onto about our comparative elemental similarities, before we can then go on to distance ourselves in other elemental ways.
The most important thing about the Overton window, however, is that it can be shifted to the left or the right, with the once merely “acceptable” becoming “popular” or even imminent policy, and formerly “unthinkable” positions becoming the open position of a partisan base. The challenge for activists and advocates is to move the window in the direction of their preferred outcomes, so their desired outcome moves closer and closer to “common sense.”
There are two ways to do this: the long, hard way and the short, easy way. The long, hard way is to continue making your actual case persistently and persuasively until your position becomes more politically mainstream, whether it be due to the strength of your rhetoric or a long-term shift in societal values. By contrast, the short, easy way is to amplify and echo the voices of those who take a position a few notches more radical than what you really want.
For example, if what you actually want is a public health care option in the United States, coordinate with and promote those pushing for single-payer, universal health care. If the single-payer approach constitutes the “acceptable left” flank of the discourse, then the public option looks, by comparison, like the conservative option it was once considered back when it was first proposed by Orrin Hatch in 1994.
This is Negotiating 101.
Why can we not just only be friendly with vaguely anti-authoritarian people who are easier to win over to anarchism?
I think we should be open to comparing elemental similarities with any person we hope to advocate over to our philosophy and strategies. So with centrists we should be open to arguing that we hold some positions they can relate to that are near to them on the left, and to liberals that we hold some positions which are near to them on the far-left, and to the far-left that we hold some positions that are near to them on the anti-authoritarian far-left to leave every avenue open.
In terms of appealing to socially conservative people who are skeptical of authority, the fact that we’re anti-authoritarian is clear in identifying with anarchism. I’m just not willing to give up the best optics chance we have of achieving our goals incrementally by being in common cause with big-tent leftism, because being colloquially left or right entails an important defining difference over ones economic and egalitarian values.
Also, to the extent we’re working on campaigns that have less ambitious goals than transitioning a piece of land or workplace to an entirely anarchist run project, I think it’s important for that campaign to have at least some big-tent leftist goals. Even if what the campaign is fighting for is the government to be less involved in some aspect of social life, because what we should want is to hold onto as much funding for social institutions like hospitals as we can until we can take over management.
Therefore I think big-tent leftist goals mostly overlap with seeking the kind of incremental positive liberties that would make for an easier shift towards anarchism.
Wouldn’t that mean sometimes walking shoulder to shoulder with left-authoritarians?
Sometimes yes, like for instance if we wanted to be most effective at preventing a group of fascists from marching through an immigrant neighborhood and potentially hurting innocent people. I think we should accept our tactical allies in that circumstance.
Philosophy and history places us on a philosophical spectrum close to ML’s in some ways, like our similar desires to maximally meet everyone’s basic needs. In the same way that anyone right of us have elements of their philosophy which is more similar to fascism and weird anarcho-feudalists/capitalists.
But obviously the nearer we get to a far-left world, the more the differences between anarchists and tankies will be highlighted. So, I think that, in trying to reject that categorization by taking a hostile approach to leftists, when they’re trying to achieve incremental improvements, you actually doom us to being associated for longer.
Being overly concerned with this association, like the egoists who call social-anarchists ‘Lenin-light’ reminds me of anti-civs who accept the liberal critique of anarchism in believing that industrial society would be too difficult to maintain co-operatively, so requires force and coercion to be upheld.
Maybe you think you’re preserving a purer anarchism with a clearer focus, but you do so at the expense of tactical unity with people whose incremental remedies would help you, thereby weakening your resistance to the status quo.
So, yes if we were to naively imagine we could be allies to the very end and walk off into the sunset together we would likely be walking blindly into a backstabbing again. But I doubt history would call 1 anarchist and 1 ML working together against an entirely fascist world a death sentence. To the extent we ever look to have moved the Overton window even close to the far-left, we can begin to diverge on insisting our mass movement organizations focus on libsoc issues, then purely anarchist issues.
The importance of voting
It’s often obvious which party is the lesser evil long-term and I think it’s virtuous to vote that way as more people will have a qualitatively less bad experience than the few who do. So it’s the trolley problem. We wouldn’t desire to put in the electoral system ourselves, but some of us engage with it for a few hours every 4 years and use the discourse surrounding it to rally people to the far-left.
I think we need to get well educated on how even the baby step policies toward the left would be an improvement on where we are now, we need to learn the internal politicking of government and get good at having friendly and persuasive arguments to appeal to friends and acquaintances basic intuitions.
The goal being that we can talk the latest news and (1) Win over conservatives to obvious empirically better policies on the left, and (2) Win over liberals when center-left parties are in power to feel dismayed at the slow pace of change, and so acknowledge how much better it would be if there was a market socialist in the position willing to rally people to demonstrate and strike to push through bills.
This still must entail a cynical clarity about how many swing voters you meet will be responding to the see saw effect in politics of blaming the last person in power for everything wrong, so knowing how much time to invest and picking your battles.
Having solely anarchist organizations that use solely anarchist tactics is important too
Here is some advice that entails a mix of both pursuing big tent leftist goals and solely anarchist goals:
Mutual aid – We should put the time into helping our neighbors and volunteering, for example on a food not bombs stall, to both manifest and get enjoy the positive benefits of a communalist caring society.
Direct action – We should try to mostly choose targets which the largest amount of people can sympathize with most, for instance the sabotaging of a fox hunt in order to highlight the direction we’d like to move in with legal animal rights, going from mostly ending blood sports, to mostly ending animal captivity, to mostly ending hunting for taste pleasure.
Education – We should be educating ourselves and helping others know what work and rent union to join, what to keep a record of at work, how to defend yourself from rapists and fascists, how to crack a squat and how to write a press release, etc. Anarchist bookfairs and social centres can be great places to dip your toe in.
Campaigning – We should look for the easiest squeeze points to rack up small wins, like the picketing of a cafe to reclaim lost wages, so that word spreads and it creates a domino effect. Organisations like the International of Anarchist Federations can be useful for finding collaborators, but obviously don’t feel bad about forming your own allied organising group if the larger groups stop feeling useful to you.
Disclaimer: I know this is heavy subject for many people, so I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea and think that I’m making it because I’m depressed or anything like that, I do plan to try and live a long life, I just thought it would be a useful exercise to talk in detail about exactly what I’d like to have happen after I die, as I think it can help put into focus how I want to live my life, what kind of world I want to build and finally encourage others to think in this way also.
My Last Will & Testament
So I’ll start off by explaining my 4 main desires, then I’ll explain what got me thinking about this and there’ll be time codes in the description if you want to jump around.
Firstly if possible I want to be an organ donor and I want to offer my body for medical students to poke around in and get skilled up till their hearts content.
Secondly I want to share out some amount of money to any family and friends who are poverty stricken. And for what’s left to be donated to whatever political campaign organisation or charity that the person I’ve chosen and trusted to be the executive of my will knows that I value most, so today it would be the charity ‘Rewilding Britain’.
Thirdly, at my funeral I don’t want there to be any religious people there in an official capacity.
Finally, I would like to be buried at a green burial site on land acquired specifically for restoring dense wildlife habitat. To emphasise the importance of this desire, under an ideal legal situation I would desire that my body be carried to a beautiful location where large predators like wolves exist and that my body be left as a donation of energy to larger animals that could benefit from it most, as smaller animals like flies can get by on almost anything like rotting veg just fine.
Big Tent Veganism
So, what got me thinking about this is I know that in holding rare desires like this I dumbfound even some vegans, and that some vegans might desire that I keep quiet about stuff like this to not muddy the name of veganism with eccentric desires. But I do think we should make room for lots of different people with niche interests to be loud and attract attention to vegan politics in their own unique way. So long as the person isn’t saying you must hold this niche interest in order to call yourself vegan.
It’s simply the difference between an actually effective big tent vegan political alliance and a fractured group of purist vegans all defining veganism in their own way.
The Freegan Debate
Now my ideal desire to have my body be used as a resource for wild animals in this way extends to seeing it as an entirely positive practice for humans to use dead animals they find in the wild, and even dead animals that were unjustifiably killed by other people, so long as you don’t help perpetuate the cycle of killing.
Issues like this one and countless others like whether vegans should date non-vegans gets to the heart of a debate over what vegans’ philosophical foundation and central focus should be.
The Free Rider Objection
For instance, one objection some vegans raise is that people who use second hand leather are free riding on the bad actions of others, but this often stems from a misunderstanding about what philosophical foundation the other person is using. For instance I would never claim that the reason it’s a character vice for people to buy animal products is because all use of animals bodies is wrong, so I’m not free riding on a less bad use of an animal after someone has already made the greater sin of paying to keep the cycle going of animals being killed to be sold. I simply think sometimes using animal bodies after they’re dead can be an entirely positive character virtue, like finding a deer killed along the road and learning to turn its hide into clothing.
The Speciesism Accusation
Another objection is that we wouldn’t use a human body for leather after they’re dead, so we’re unreasonably devaluing non-human animal life by viewing them with less dignity. But non-human animals don’t experience a worse quality of life worrying about what’s going to happen to them after they’re dead, humans do as a species norm.
So even for babies and the mentally disabled it’s reasonable to project onto them this cultural norm of desiring to relate to them as people who if they had grown up or not had a mental disability, that they would likely have desires for what happened to them after they’re dead.
But with other animals I think we would likely be perpetuating an entirely toxic relationship to project onto them this cultural norm.
The Pet Rights Objection
Firstly because the most common way I see this intuition play out is among vegans who had a pet as a child and would like to consider every domesticated animal a kind of citizen of their own community who they would like to extend funerary rights to.
But, I think this intuition precisely comes from liking the way we’ve bred infantile traits into some dogs to relate to them more as infant humans. So, it’s buying into the delusion you desired be created. You imagine that they could have grown up to be people who could suffer a worse quality of life worrying about how other people might intend to treat their body after their death.
So I think it’s more respectful to think of domesticated animals like their wild ancestors, where it would be normal for other animals to eat them after they’re dead.
The Separate Eco-Systems Objection
The second way I see this intuition playing out is where the person would have liked to think of animals as existing in ecosystems that are almost entirely cut off from us, where they live, die and get broken down without interference from us. Whilst we pursue challenges entirely separate from them.
But, as well as joining campaign groups working towards restoring dense wildlife habitat, I simply think it’s a positive to maximize the use value of natural resources in ways that don’t have a long-term negative impact on the eco-system. Whether that be finding thatching for roofs, or skinning a dead deer on a hike and leaving the flesh for scavengers.
These are skills that positively teach us how to achieve a task like how to make a set of shoes using the minimum viable technology necessary to do it, so gaining a whole host of skillsets that can be rewarding for a child to grow up learning to do.
So again abstaining from pursuing tasks like this would in my view be relating to the animal with much less dignity than you could show by putting that animals body to use in the value of the happy flourishing you could achieve in your community.
So that’s everything, feel free to leave your thoughts in a comment down below, and like and subscribe, cheers.
Some groups and projects try to put together an aims and principles list to explain what campaign news and philosophy they’ll focus on and I think this can positively influence what actions people take and think are justified. Some examples I know of include:
You also have people using slogans like ‘by any means necessary’ going all the way back to Malcolm X & Franz Fanon in the 60s, which I guess is an attempt to say we’ll go as far as we’re pushed, so be careful what state terror tactics you use on us.
My aims are reflected in the CrimethInc exercise in what an anarchist program might look like. And I’ve already written about my ethics broadly, but I’ll try to be more specific here, in experimenting with drawing up a list of principles that I think would be useful to the calculation of what tactics I think are useful and justifiable in the UK today which is in my view a non-revolutionary period, which to me just means a time when social tensions are not at their height:
1) Never act with reckless indifference to human and non-human animal life.
2) Never physically hurt people for the purpose of achieving political goals as it runs counter to our philosophy on the left that material conditions create the person and so we should make every peaceful effort to rehabilitate people.
Some tricky to explain examples that are justified, but only just outside this principle are:
(A) Community self-defense and self-defense by proxy, where you might desire to fight fascists in the street in order to block them from marching through immigrant communities or where you might desire to push your way through huntsmen in order to save a fox from getting mauled to death by dogs.
(B) Survivor-led vigilantism, where to the extent that some current institutions fail to rehabilitate people and the process of seeking justice through the institutions available can sometimes cause more trauma than its worth, then personal violence in order to resolve feelings of helplessness in the face of evil acts can sometimes be reasonably viewed as justified to regain feelings of agency.
3) Never take actions on the basis of anti-science beliefs or with the intent to propagate anti-science beliefs e.g. disproven conspiracy theories.
4) Take care to respect the difference between property which is personally and privately owned.
So, it could be seen as ethical to choose material targets of evil actors in order to cause economic damage and make a statement, so long as in the case of personal property, the item has no intrinsic sentimental value and can be replaced because the person is wealthy and that the item was paid for through the exploitation of others labor. Or is private property, meaning the means of production which should be owned collectively anyway.
The action would be an outlet for legitimate anger against that which causes us suffering and a means of developing people’s thinking and creating a wider base of people joined in sympathy for those ideals.
For example, if taking the risk to slash slaughterhouse trucks’ tyres in the dead of night both draws attention to animal suffering and also helps you to develop stronger bonds with a group of people and learn from other liberation struggles, then the action is both productive and leads to personal growth.
5) Never take actions in the hopes of helping in part instigate a revolutionary war sooner than it’s reasonable to believe you would have the capability to win. Similarly don’t use rhetoric about how tensions in society have escalated to the state of civil war or a third world war. For example, even if the revolutionary left got really good at assassinating captains of industry and getting away with it, there would be reasonable fears around the psychology of people who would take such an act against people who they could have grown up and been socially conditioned to be themselves, which would inexorably lead to a more authoritarian society and worse foundations on which to work towards a better society.
I do think we can hypothesize the unrealistic case of 99% of society desiring a referendum on a shift from parliamentary representative system to a federated spokes council system and the MP’s dragging their feet, the same way both parties gerrymander the boundaries to make it easier to win despite it being the one issue most everyone agrees is bad, and people needing to storm the halls of power to force a vote to happen.
More likely though, an opportunity for revolution might arise from such a confluence of events as climate refugees and worker gains forcing the state and corporations into trying to crack down on freedoms in order to preserve their power and enough people resisting that move, who are then able take power and usher in radical policy change, with either the army deciding to stand down or splitting into factions.
Most can sympathize with quick revolutions against dictatorships where the result is a freer society, like the Kurdish uprising in Northern Syria which took power from a regime who had rolled tanks on demonstrators and outlawed teaching of their native language.
But, even there, there are key foundations you need to work from, like the probability you won’t just give an excuse for the oppressor committing even worse horrors as was the case with the Rohingya militants who ambushed a police checkpoint, resulting in army & citizen campaign to burn down many villages, plus murder and rape those that couldn’t get away.
As well as a responsibility to put down arms after winning political freedoms and a majority are in favor of diplomacy through electoral politics, like in Northern Ireland today.
Under representative democracies, the sentiment of most is that, even if it could be argued that a war of terror (not a revolutionary war) against the ruling class was the easiest route to produce a better society, that it would still be ethically wrong to be the person who takes another’s life just because it’s the easiest way. Since regardless of manufactured consent or anything else you still could have worked to build a coalition to overcome those obstacles.
And I agree, it would be an act of self-harm to treat life with such disregard when we could have been that same deluded person shrouded in the justificatory trappings of society which normalizes that behavior. I don’t think the way we win today is by treating a cold bureaucratic system with equally cold disregard, by justifying our resort to threat and violence because we have fewer resources, and a belief in the importance of our message. Time on earth is a foundational value worth fighting for, and everybody deserves some amount of breathing room to make mistakes and learn from them.
How getting hurt as a child lead me to have a strong scepticism of unjustified authority
Pretty obvious outcome I guess, but it’s not how it always goes.
Here’s another outcome that can happen:
Something bad happens, and the person thinks; ‘this sucks, my pain was totally undeserved, if I could just set an example for how to behave better and encourage everyone to emulate the aesthetics of doing better, then everything would be alright with the world.’
Here’s the only way I knew how to accept what happened to me:
Something bad happened, my pain was the almost random result of people existing and then developing essences according to social conditioning, but I can find solace in collaborating with people grappling with similar environmental conditioning and where possible challenge any power that works through these social contracts.
Now, I’m not saying that because of the way the first person dealt with their pain they can’t also become strongly sceptical of unjustified authority, I’ve just noticed a trend whereby it seems many of these people gravitate towards policing other people’s behaviour according to simple and rigid rules, where if you act in a way that looks outside the mould enough times you’re treated as not being trustworthy.
The way I prefer to go through life is finding unique people precisely in order to scrape the bottom of the barrel of socially uncool mannerisms, to work out whether or not that socially uncool behaviour is something the status quo society was right to have deemed as something you should be ashamed of or not. So as to reason backwards whether the social norms we’re enforcing are even good ones to begin with.
How you get convinced as a child that fucked up shit is actually ok is being taught that it’s just part of the status quo social norm. And I understand people jumping to the simplest solution, and hedging all their bets on the probability that if someone had only enforced a better social norm and taught their abuser not to be abusive that it wouldn’t have happened to them, and I can agree that it wouldn’t have in that way, and those remedies are needed, but I can’t stop there and open myself up to pain by imaging that we have all the answers for how to put checks and balances in place to make sure everyone is on a good path in life.
Anyway, as well as needing to live in doubt, and do this observation work to question every social norm, even the status quo good ones, I felt the call to adventure to simply rack up as many wild and complicated experiences as I could immediately, saying fuck it to the risks I chose, because at least I was out of the stifling social norms I’d been brought up to believe were healthy and had only hurt me. The steps that lead to someone becoming an abuser are so disgustingly simple and boring that they adequately suit the phrase ‘the banality of evil’, so at least by adventuring I was racking up complicated experiences which were the opposite of that.
Suffice to say as part of this bare bones existence I got to witness lots of people trying to play by the established rules, and falling behind or never even getting off the ground due to circumstances outside their control, which lead me to desire radical solutions.
My desire to live this bare bones existence left me with one intuitional bias about what type of activism I think is likely more productive, which people may or may not already find obvious and useful.
It has to do with a kind of harm reduction, welfare based politics where a group desires to be assimilated into the whole under certain conditions vs. an oppression abolition based politics where a group desires simple autonomy and positive liberties.
I have this scepticism of whether some of the protests done to achieve media attention for the civil rights struggle were well thought out or not, which is a semi-heretical claim to make today. But, I basically align with Malcolm X on this issue, who was the biggest voice given a microphone at the time questioning this.
The logic of the protests were simple, black civil rights activists would attempt to carry out every day civilized activities that white people got up to in their white only spaces where you know you’re going to receive abuse and show up to the media the uncivilized nature of the attacker. Thus making a solid case against restrictions on integration, because the black community have upright social norms and are capable of shouldering their share of the burden of responsibilities in society.
Most famously you have the Montgomery bus boycott after the planned disobedience of Rosa Parks, a middle class, respectably dressed woman. Now an extra piece of trivia to this story that most, but not everyone who knows about the disobedience knows, is that inspiration for the planned disobedience was drawn from the arrest of a Claudette Colvin who wasn’t well suited for the media attention as “she did not have ‘good hair’, she was not fair-skinned, she was a teenager, she got pregnant.”
Anyway, this whole back story is to say; I respect more the spontaneous fight that teenager faced than the planned disobedience of Rosa Parks precisely because it was based on a spontaneous desire to confront injustice and do so regardless of any planned strategy. And although I think the way they went about the planned disobedience and boycott was likely a clever strategy, there were also many protests that were ill thought out and failed to get the required media attention. This meant people subjecting themselves to abuse for worse reasons than their own spontaneous choosing. So, I just don’t think we should lose sight of the authentic bedrock inspiration for these struggles.
MLK said himself he was disappointed that engagement with the civil rights struggle dropped after the passage of the civil rights amendment, so I can’t help wondering if the civil rights movement of the time took a calculated risk not to put so much of their time and money behind the harm reduction politics of asking to be assimilated into respectable society, and instead into the basic means of survival in black communities, like labour and housing unions, then America might be a more equitable society today.
Finally, this calculus has implications for other struggles, like with the legal animal rights movement, whether we need to be cheerleaders for every KFC that offers a vegan option, or whether we should feel more energized about building up our own vegan cafes and forming contentious alliances of our own choosing, not only when it suits a multi-million dollar companies profit incentive.
So, my advice; live in doubt, try to stay open to holistic problem solving methods for remedying the foundational issues in society. Observe people’s lack of autonomy living under various unjustified hierarchical relationships. Try to live a more frugal existence so as not to get lost in the rat race of consumer capitalism and find happiness in the small things like the fun you can have joking around with friends to get them to accept you for who you are or not to accept you at all, so as to create deeper connections which builds stronger communities:
“It can be annoying or hurtful when others presume they know everything about you. But rather than assert their wrongness and make them defensive, you can acknowledge it as a common human failing and find creative ways to hold a mirror up to what life experiences they’ve had that lead them to jump to those conclusions.
One way is a kind of playful authenticity, telling a lie about a lie, to get back closer to the truth. So don’t outright challenge the idea, but don’t live up to it either, in fact live down to it. Playfully undermine the idea by failing to live up to the glamour of what it would mean to be that person, then find a way of revealing that it was a misunderstanding all along, so they needn’t worry about it applying to you.” 
“I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” 
I was recently told by a Kaczynski fanboy that anyone who doesn’t want to destroy all electricity grids is a reformist. So I just wanted to make this graphic as a friendly reminder against travelling down the eco-purist rabbit hole of more and more rigidly dogmatic political theory, where you begin to believe it’s only worth reading the way a few authors view the world.
I have nothing against green anarchism as the promotion of a style of critique not often seen, like black-anarchism and anarcha-feminism, as it can simply help identify you as someone who has been able to have the time to research the ways expertise in building democratic institutions, green architecture and rewilding will help get us to a better world.
And obviously I don’t think the revolution would end at worker control, but I do see anarchists as part of a big tent libertarian socialist movement, where securing workplace democracy would be a massive improvement in society.
The diagram text is not meant to be a perfectly summarized version of each ideology. It’s an analogy for how some people will take a bunch of contradictory twists and turns down a list of more and more fringe ideologies, in pursuit of the most rigidly simplistic way of viewing the world so they can say they have the answers to almost all life’s questions.
I’m simply using an analogy that someone could go from desiring a ‘libertarian socialist revolution’ to a ‘vulgar anarchist insurrection’ because people can buy into anarchist ideology for all the wrong reasons the same way an anorexic person can just be using veganism as a way to restrict their diet on the way to raw veganism, etc.
People move over to the far-right for contradictory reasons, like first being convinced that the civil war was just about less taxes on cotton, to second that black Americans are lucky to be in the US, then third that the civil war was about white people keeping slaves to pick cotton and they had a right to protect their interests.
With green anarchists, it could be first being convinced that giving up various direct action campaigns for thinking solely being against technology is necessary for the most amount of people to get a clear message, reducing the amount of people they’re trying to coalition build with. Then secondly that killing and terrorizing people is a necessary evil to showing the direction society needs to be heading in. To thirdly hope for changing people’s minds is pointless, we need to just take pleasure in embracing our violent hatred for all things ‘unnatural’.
I made a call out in November of 2021, for volunteers to help get Kaczynskis’ unpublished and badly scanned up book ‘Truth versus Lies’, retyped up without all the annotations, so that people can easily read it online, quote it and print nicely formatted versions.
The edits are mostly finished now, so we have an almost identical retyped up 1st draft of Kaczynskis’ 1st draft. I’d just like to solve the issue of what changes he potentially wanted to have happen for the 2nd draft of the book and solving the issue of what the missing text is that is obscured by the scanning blotches. Then we can move on to trying to get both the original copy published and creating a version with some cosmetic edits like changing the awkwardly abbreviated names into fake names, whilst preserving the which fake names refer to which abbreviated names in a table at the back.
The project has also since expanded into an archive collection, a biography, and a useful tool for writing other books and essays.
All the documents linked here are restricted, but if you’d like to get involved, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org, you can email me to let me know how you’d like to help, if you’d like to join the email group, to just discuss ideas, to send me text relating to any of below. Or finally if you’re logged into your gmail now, you can go to the page you want to work on and click the ‘request edit access’ button in the top right corner, and simply explain how you’d like to help. I can also send you the documents via email or disroot.
The Email Group
11 people who responded to the call out joined the email group. We mainly used it to coordinate making edits to the Truth versus Lies document, like who was working on what chapter offline and things like what formatting rules to follow.
Some people talked about hoping to work together on a translated version.
I mostly talk about my trials and tribulations trying to find someone to go down to the University Library to request items they have lol.
And generally, I hope if there’s any way I can be of help with someone gaining some use from this project for their own pursuits, like transcribing a specific section for an essay they want to write or whatever, that they can email me or use the group email to update us on what they’re up to.
As well, I’ve started a reddit group chat and discord channel on my server for anyone who would prefer to discuss using instant messaging as well:
We’re doing tasks like transcribing prison letters and getting tons of writing by and about Kaczynski into an easily browsable catalog. At some point ideally we could build a website to create an easily searchable archive. And I’ll reach out to some university libraries encase they want to add material from it to their collections or create a new one.
Ted Kaczynski finished writing a book in 1999 critiquing all the media representations of his life called ‘Truth versus Lies’:
“During the media frenzy that came to be known as ‘Club Ted,’ a report surfaced that the accused Unabomber was writing a second manifesto. He was in fact at work on this compelling book that deftly treads the line between eloquent memoir and uncompromising defense. This intriguing artifact is Ted Kaczynski’s attempt to tell the other side of the tale spun by his family, who told the world he was insane to save him from the death penalty. It is also an outspoken rebuttal of the lies told by the many-media-charmed acquaintances and opportunistic strangers who surfaced to offer their stories in exchange for fifteen minutes of fame.”
Many publishers turned him down, Context Books almost printed a slightly edited version, but Ted rejected this proposal. I think the publisher was worried about copyright e.g. quoting some sources in their entirety and libel e.g. Ted calling his brother, David, “a Judas Iscariot (who) … doesn’t even have enough courage to go hang himself.”
In 2002 he donated a draft copy of the book which Context Books made to the University of Michigan along with a tonne of journals, letters and other material which the book references.
So, I copied the text into a google document and started working on cleaning up the scanning errors with 3 other people:
Next, we want to decide together on a few changes we’d like to suggest to Kaczynski, which will give the book a higher chance of getting a book publisher to mass print it, without risking libel and copyright. Ideally we could just black out the parts we can’t print, and then write an article on the missing parts and where to find the unedited version:
1. Truth versus Lies – 1C. Book publisher version
Finally, we’ll create a document which is an automatic text comparison between documents 1A and 1B for transparency:
1. Truth versus Lies – 1D. Photocopy of book; text comparison
And a document discussing the pros and cons of the few changes we might want to make between Docs 1B and 1C:
As well, I’m condensing the book down to where Ted is just talking about his memories and how he felt about them and using the text along with other material for two books:
A biography called ‘The Unfinished Autobiography of Ted Kaczynski a.k.a. The Unabomber’.
And a fictional novel called something like ‘The Imagined Autobiography of Ted Kaczynski …’
I’m mainly writing the second one to just get a clear timeline in my head of what moments Kaczynski finds most significant about his life. So, I’m writing them in two columns alongside each other at first:
I’ve finished transcribing a bunch of video media on Kaczynski which I’ve now sent him as encouragement to write his own autobiography or make any further changes to his book ‘Truth versus Lies’, to get a further clarifying window into his mind as an intriguing case study in political violence:
I’m also going to try reaching out to David Kaczynski about either getting permission to use long quotes of his writing in a biography of the both of them, and/or if I can get paid as a researcher on a 2nd edition of his book which contained a fair few inaccuracies about the timeline of events:
You can help transcribe prison letters and/or copy any interesting writing by or about Kaczynski which you think might be useful for the autobiography, as well as for a future archive – 0. The Ted Kaczynski Archives – Part 1
You can help with discussing potential corrections we might need to make to get a book publisher to mass print the book, but that aren’t too big such that they would distort the original text to a degree that Kaczynski wouldn’t consent to changing when asked – 1. Truth versus Lies – 1E. Book publisher version corrections
Finally, you can give your advice and suggestions, which would be greatly appreciated 🙂
This just started as a hobby project, so I’m not in a position to be able to pay upfront for every hour worked, but I’m happy to talk about percentage revenue sharing or back-paying based on hours contributed if the book sales reach some threshold. Everything will be discussed transparently and if we can’t agree as a group on an end product, then members can always take the writing and develop it however they like in a separate document.
I’ve no idea if the person who was going to print it ever held or still holds sole right to publish Truth versus Lies, or if either Kaczynski will say yes to any corrections needed to avoid libel. I’ve emailed the book publisher person once, but will try again.
I’d also like to pay royalties to the survivors of Kaczynski’s bombings, I know they’re supposed to receive any money Kaczynski makes as part of a $15 million restitution order, but I’m not sure if he co-writes a book what that means in terms of a percentage. I’ll email the two organizations who have published his work when we’ve finished.
My contributions are made mainly for myself and researchers similarly fascinated by his life with the goal of wanting to make the writing easier to sort and skim through.
I’d like to include a thorough critique of Kaczynski’s philosophy in any publicity we do for the books and in the forward for the biography I’m writing. I’m pro-technological advancement, and against ever physically hurting people unless in a bunch of rare circumstances like if it was; medically in their own interest, in self-defence, in the case of a justified revolutionary war or a survivor-led vigilante action.
Here are some of my past critiques of anti-technology, anti-industrialist, primitivist, anti-civilisation and misanthropic ideologies:
Howard J. Ehrlich was a sociologist who founded and edited the journal Social Anarchism.
These are clips taken from an interview recorded in February 2011 in Baltimore, for a documentary never finished by its original producers, which hoped to show anarchism in all its forms around the world today and in history. But, I think it succeeds even better at that task as a video catalogue for those interested enough to find the clips that piqued their curiousity.
To see the full catalogue of interviews click here.
Here’s a little bit of background on Howard, who passed away on February 2nd, 2015:
Howard Ehrlich, of Baltimore, Maryland, was an American sociologist and anarchist activist. Formerly a professor at University of Iowa, he was co-founder of Research Group One that conducted research on behalf of activist organizations in the US. Subsequently, he co-founded a collective that produced a successful syndicated radio program called the Great Atlantic Radio Conspiracy, a free school, and in 1980 he co-founded a peer-reviewed journal called Social Anarchism, of which he was Editor-in-Chief until his passing.
After years of teaching in higher education, he became the Director of the Prejudice Institute, a sociological research organization that studied ethnoviolence. In his later years, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and Dementia.
Ehrlich was the author or editor of the books: “The Best of Social Anarchism”, “Reinventing Anarchy”, “Reinventing Anarchy, Again”, “Hate Crimes and Ethnoviolence: The History, Current Affairs, and Future of Discrimination in America”, “The Social-Psychology of Prejudice”, “Race and Ethnic Conflict: Contending Views on Prejudice, Discrimination, and Ethnoviolence”, and “Intergroup Tensions and Ethnoviolence in the Workplace: A Manual for Trainers”.
My name is Howard J Ehrlich, I was born in a log cabin in NY. I came to anarchism in a strange way. I was at a peace rally when a group of people waving a black flag ran up to the lectern, yelled some things that were incomprehensible and left. And I turned to the person I was with and said what was that. He said, those were the anarchists. I said, who are they? And he said, you mean you don’t know Marx and Bakunin? Marx and Bakunin I said? I was embarrassed I said. I’ve never heard of Bakunin. And he said, their correspondence is famous. And so I ran to the library to look for the Marx and Bakunin correspondence and there wasn’t any, but in the process I had read an awful lot of anarchism and decided, hey, there was something to this. And that’s sort of how I came to anarchism.
What campaigns do you remember most fondly?
As an anarchist, I think my major work has been in my later years, as a writer and an editor, I’ve edited several anthologies and I am the editor of the magazine of social anarchism.
Earlier, I was strongly involved in the peace movement against the vietnam war, I was a regional traveling organizer for a while and I helped organize what was the national organization called the new university conference one of the more anonymous but really powerful organic anti-war organizations.
How does sociology influence your politics?
I have in my work as an anarchist never been able to forget nor did I want to that I trained as a sociologist and social psychologist and the reason why I mentioned that is that no matter what I look at from a political standpoint i’m also looking at as a social scientist and so I have a very different view I think of both social science and anarchism
What role do socioligists play in the anarchist movement?
The best way I can talk about combining an anarchist perspective with a social science perspective is to talk about what it is I think a radical social scientist ought to be doing I think we can still go about the process of testing hypotheses and building theories but we have to understand that we’re building theories for a reason and that reason is is to build a new and better society and so as a sociologist what I want to do is to test propositions that confirm or disconfirm our way about building a new society.
What is one feature you miss from campaigns in the 60s era?
We compiled reinventing anarchy um as a means of introducing people to the various dimensions of energism and I think we did a good job uh we sold several thousand copies of the of that book but to me the thing that was and is most intriguing is about 10 years later we decided to put out a new edition and not to use things that were more than not use articles that were more than 10 years old so that it would still be quite contemporary in fact 80 of the second anthology was new but the interesting thing about it from a political standpoint is that there were very different books that um the reinventing anarchy again which we called it was deadly serious whereas reinventing anarchy was fun but if you look at the two books side by side you’d see that there were all these cartoons flyers clever little pieces if you look at reinventing anarchy again there was the humor was gone and it and it reflected the times the first in the late 60s and the second 10 years 10 years later and anarchism had couldn’t escape the change in the times from the anti-war activities the mass organizations like sds students for democratic society the new university conference science for the people all of these came together with great humor and good propaganda subsequently uh the propaganda is still there if you want to call it which I think we can but the humor isn’t and I felt there was nothing we could do about it we were trying to represent the field and that’s the way it stood.
How do people react to you being an anarchist?
When I would tell people who asked what is anarchism they’d often laugh. How can you be an anarchist? Anarchists have no organisation and you’re one of the most organised people I know. And I tried to tell them, one of the things about anarchism is that it is a theory of organisation; in fact I argue that anarchism is a theory of organisation, a theory of radical social change…and a personal philosophy. And people have a great deal of difficulty comprehending that. In fact, tell you a story…tells story about how he loaned magazine to woman who kept thinking people were staring at her when she tried to read it…
Of course people always want to joke about anarchism and organisation, but when they see that I’m serious about it, they usually turn it into conversation.
What does anarchism mean to you?
I think it’s important to…look at the various components of this ideology, this set of beliefs we call anarchism, and one is to understand that it’s a way of life…anarchism is a way of life. It’s a way in which we deal with people in terms of how we live, in terms of violence and non-violence, in terms of…stop there.
I believe that…I have to…any anarchist has to…put together anarchism as a way of life, to understand it as a theory of organisation…And as a theory of organisation, people often have a great deal of difficulty with it, because the stereotype of anarchism is of course chaos…not to mention violence. So when you begin to talk about someone who is naïve to the area, those are the two things that come up: how can you be serious, given the violence that anarchists have manifested. And often they’ll point to Berkman and Goldman – Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman – Berkman who thought by assassinating one of the big capitalists of the day, that this would motivate people to join in the anti-capitalist movement. He was of course mistaken, it was not…mumbles.
And then there was the anarchist who shot McKinley. And so these remain, these are sort of the iconic symbols of anarchism; iconic from the standpoint of…of people who are…rejecting the idea of…
When I talk about anarchism as a theory of organisation I let people know that hierarchy and the absence of hierarchy are theories of organisation themselves, and that, nobody laughs when you talk about anarchist…when you talk about organisation from an anarchist standpoint, but…they can’t conceive, they simply can’t conceive of a group, of an organisation, of a city, being run on non-hierarchical principles. Note in the recent Egyptian struggle: none of the commentators talked about this, none of the commentators except maybe Al Jazeera – not sure about that – none of them talked about this as an anarchist-like uprising. It was a spontaneous uprising, it was a mobilising that tried to maintain a non-violent perspective…but anarchism is written out of the dialogue
What role does power play in anarchist philosophy?
I maintain that the central concept of anarchist theory is power. That, um…we need to understand that power is manifest in many different ways, um, for example, class, gender…policing, violence and so on. That…all of these are the, the oppression of women, the oppression of persons by class, these are ways of maintaining power and dominance over them, and that to understand the different theories of anarchism you have to understand the way in which um, power gets played out. And what happens is that a lot of anarchists focus on the dimensions like class and gender to the, I think, mistake of ignoring the higher order construct, namely power.
What’s the main reason we need an anarchist world?
If we believe that people are truly equal, then we need a world that reflects…that kind of…mumbles. That reflects egalitarianism…I know of no political ideology that does this other than anarchism. People will talk about democracy, but typically democracy goes only so far. We need an anarchist world because we won’t, I don’t think we’ll survive, both from a political, a political or economic or ecological standpoint, unless we can deal with each other in a manner that recognises ourselves as being equal, and being equal means that we need to build organisations which are non-hierarchical. Hierarchy is a form of manifestation of power and the worst form of hierarchy is of course bureaucracies.
What is the anarchist critique of majority rule democracy?
Anarchism probably had some of its roots in democratic theory…but…if you’re going to have a society in which a minority of – I’m sorry – in which a majority can determine the relations of people and institutions, that means that somebody’s going to be on top and somebody’s going to be on bottom. And that is antithetical to the notions of anarchism. The…when we’re talking about the economy and building a participatory economy, as opposed to building a capitalist economy, whether we’re talking about voting for somebody for political office as opposed to a collective decision and collective decision-making, democracy simply is still a main way of maintaining power and hierarchy.
What is the anarchist critique of beurocracy?
We need to look at the mechanisms by which people maintain power and control over others. I think that possibly the most violent institutional form is a bureaucracy. It’s violent because it legitimates hierarchy; it’s violent because, um…it tells people that they’re not responsible for their actions. That is to say, one acts of bureaucracy according to the rules of bureaucracy, but the rules of bureaucracy are ones we say, listen, um, you’re not accountable for this, this is the way we do things. So one of the things that happens is that people get socialised into actions and mechanisms which maintain the power base in the society. It also comes about with respect to maintaining levels of discrimination, particularly where race and ethnicity and gender are involved. Discrimination I would say, and I’ve tried to persuade my sociological colleagues, discrimination is the underlying basis of ethno-violence.
Is violence justified in order to bring about an anarchist world?
I think when it comes to violence anarchists are divided…and…I think that’s okay. We don’t have all the answers. But we need, I think, as we build an anarchist theory as a sketch, that’s not to think we have a full-blown theory, we have a sketch of a theory…Sooner or later as a population engages in insurrectionary activities, um, they move in some cases to violence, but, was the Egyptian revolution we just witnessed violent? Well, many people are pointing to it as a non-violent revolution, but, um, both the police, the military and the protesters were doing things that were violent. So I say, what we need to do is to minimise as much as we can the exercise of violence. Um…And understand that has to be the absolute last resort. We can’t build a peaceable society on the basis of violent revolution. I just don’t think that can happen. On the other hand, how we go about building a society of people at peace is something that we have to work at and work at I think, really hard.
What is one example of an important anarchist principle?
Well the first principle, I think, for anarchists, um…is a principle of egalitarianism. We have to, um, be able to build institutions in which hierarchy and, hierarchy and the maldistribution of power are central to organising. I think that we need to learn how to live and work collectively and that collective work is one of the principles that is subsumed under power, that is, once we can, um, minimise, reduce, do away with power differentials, I think we can live a different kind of life.
I think, and excuse me if I’m just sort of random but this is a tough question, um, I think we need to be able to deal with our technology differently. That is to say, we need to build, as Murray Bookchin put it, a liberatory technology of…so for example, um…Wind power or solar may be construed as a liberatory technology, whereas, um, fossil fuel burning plants require a high degree of concentration of, um…dealing with, with resources which won’t last – oil, coal, for example, particularly oil – and nuclear power, which is now being pushed once again, even at the level of the presidency of the US, um, nuclear power is a centralising form of energy and so we need to work on that.
We need to work on dealing economically and to developing a kind of participatory economics in which the people who are affected by economic decisions have a legitimate role in helping to make those decisions.
We probably need to work hard at building…um…We probably need to work hard at building egalitarian institutions. I don’t think…I have a poster upstairs that says there can’t be a revolution without women, or as Mao put it, quoting Mao in an anarchist documentary is ? …women hold up half the sky.
We need to be able to…deal with race and ethnicity in a manner we have not yet been able to do.
How do anarchists make sure their organizations are welcoming to people from all kinds of backgrounds?
When talking about race, ethnicity and so on…People say…that’s the way we were born. That prejudice is an inborn characteristic. And I think they say that, and this is where social science and anarchism intersect, I think they say that because children learn so early the basic dimensions of race and ethnicity. That by the age of three children in most Western societies have already learned some of the basic stereotypes. So it comes so early it deludes us into thinking that it is almost instinctive. Of course at one time what is believed to be instinctive now is a little iffy…How it impacts on anarchism particularly is a fact that…even as anarchists we can’t escape the fact that we live in a racist society, and so everything we do, is coloured by the fact that either one time we act out a stereotype and at another type we act out with due diligence an egalitarian social form. We have to work at…mumbles…we have to work at fighting against racism, prejudice, bigotry, however you want to label it. And I think that one of the ways we do it – and I guess in part this is a principle of anarchist organisation – we need to have systems of internal education. That is, for an anarchist organisation to really survive, they’ve got to be able to come together at regular intervals and literally have, not necessarily an alternative school – although that would be great – but literally have a regular time and place in the everyday activities of the organisation in which one acts out in an egalitarian, non-racist, non-sexist manner. And I think that the failure of many groups, including anarchist groups, to maintain themselves together, is the fact that they have not been able to educate themselves, if you will, as to the basic principles of anarchism.
Take for example something like a food coop. You can bring people together, and anarchists have been involved in food coops and other alternative institutions, you can bring people together and help them purchase food more cheaply. You can bring people together and have them purchase more nutritious food, but unless there’s also an understanding of the whole process of the growing of food, of the processing of food, of the way in which food is distributed around the world, unless you can have that there’s no politics here. And in that regard, anarchists have to maintain their politics upfront.
Why is there so much unproductive infighting within anarchist circles?
There are many different styles of anarchism…and I don’t think that’s bad. I would like to see greater cooperation than there is, but…for example, the class war anarchist versus the anarchist syndicalist versus the social anarchist and so on. All these are different modes of expression which are really trying to do the same thing, namely to build a society based on equality…It…seems to me, many different paths to an anarchist community. As long as we don’t allow ourselves to fight with each other because we’ve chosen a different path, and I think there has been a little bit of that, coming from places where they should have known better. That is to say, um, I don’t see why I can’t live with an anarchist syndicalist, but I know they’re wrong. I don’t see why I can’t live with a class war anarchist, but I think they’re too Marxist. And so I have objections to all but my own variety of social anarchism, which I think is the right path to take, but I certainly will not allow that to assault anarchists who, who want to walk on a different path.
Where did the term social anarchism come from?
I’m not exactly sure where the term social anarchism originated. I think it comes from an Italian work by Giovanni Baldelli, in a book entitled Social Anarchism. We selected the name social anarchism, we spent a lot of time when we were starting up our magazine, and, we selected, we had several choices. One was, we thought of calling it Broccoli – I’m serious! We thought of calling it broccoli because nobody would know what it meant and that would give us the opening to talk about this. We thought of calling ourselves White Rose because there was a collective at that time in Cambridge called Black Rose and the White Rose in Germany…There were already too many roses there. Um…We had some other titles in mind, but we chose social anarchism once one time because it confused people. That is it went, the notion of social anarchism went against the stereotype of anarchism as violent and chaotic and we figured that might make people talk, and it did, it does to this day when I tell people I’m a social anarchist they’re ready to talk about it, assuming they don’t walk away giggling, um…I don’t know of when people started using social anarchism since we adopted it from Baldelli. This was what, 1978 I think, so, and then when Murray Bookchin came out with his book on social anarchism, it had nothing really to do with social anarchism, but it popularised, among anarchists, it popularised the term.
Why do anarchists who are small in number not for now simply spend all their time helping larger organizations succeed?
One of the central mechanisms we have not yet talked about is that of the alternative institution…By alternative institution I mean some institution that deals with a vital resource, that operates under principles of non-hierarchy, anti-authoritarianism if you will, um, that has a process of internal education, and that these, put together, participatory decision-making on all of the issues that, um, are important to the group you’re working with, and in opposition to the straight, narrow, capitalist group presumably you’re opposed to, um, put them all together and you have an entirely different form of organisation. And it’s that organisation that I think is one of the central to building a revolutionary transfer culture. That is, transfer culture in the sense of raising the question, how do we get from here to there? And building alternative institutions I argue is one of those ways that we get from here to there.
Isn’t anarchism simply against human nature?
The response to critics of anarchism who believe that somehow or other hierarchy and violence are part of human nature…the response is two-fold. One is that it, um…there’s no evidence for that. That is to say, um, anything that you can point to and say this is part of human nature, I can point to its contradiction. So that human nature becomes an ideological tool…I can attack you because you’re violating principles of human nature and you can attack me because I don’t know what I’m talking about when I’m saying human nature is, basically good. That human nature is a function of the way in which we raise our children, it’s a function of the way in which we treat each other, um, and it’s a level of abstraction I hate to get caught up in.
How optimistic are you that we will reach an anarchist world?
Well I don’t want to answer a question about how optimistic or pessimistic I am because it depends on what day it is. But I also, um…am willing to say that I don’t want to think in terms of building a world on anarchist principles. I’d like to start out by thinking of building an alternative institutions, by building a community, by building a network of workers in the same area. In other words, um, I want something more modest as a goal than, um…the world in which everybody is wonderful. And furthermore, I have a feeling that if we were able to build an anarchist community we would discover all kinds of things that we didn’t think of before, and so we’d still be building an anarchist community that in fact there’s maybe no end to that.
Saul Newman is a political theorist & post-anarchist.
This is a clip from an interview recorded in London in March 2011, for a documentary never finished by its original producers, which hoped to show anarchism in all its forms around the world today and in history. But, I think it succeeds even better at that task as a video catalogue for those interested enough to find the clips that piqued their curiousity.
To see the full catalogue of interviews click here.
My name is Saul Newman, I teach politics, mostly political theory, here in the Politics Department at the University of London. I have an interest in anarchism, anarchist political theory, have been interested in anarchism for many years actually. And I do quite a lot of research in this area, exploring various aspects of anarchist political theory, try to apply to contemporary radical political struggles. I’ve written a number of books on anarchist, and what I call post-anarchist, theory, which is an attempt to rethink certain central aspects of anarchism.
How did you discover anarchism?
I first discovered anarchism when I was a university student and prior to that time I was a bit interested in Trotskyism, actually. Then I started reading about the Trotskyist and Bolshevik suppression of the anarchists after the Bolshevik revolution 1917. And, you know, I started becoming interested in sort of anarchism as a critique of some of the more authoritarian central aspects of Marxist-Leninism. And, I think the emphasis in anarchist theory on freedom and autonomy and the indispensable nature of freedom along with the quality of which pretty much appealed to me. And so I started looking into anarchism more and exploring it and. To me it seems like the political philosophy which makes the most sense and which I find most appealing.
What is anarchism?
Anarchism is a heterodox political philosophy, by which I mean that it encompasses many different voices and perspectives and positions, but these I think are generally united by an anti-authoritarian ethos, a radical skepticism about the nature of political power, a critique of all authoritarian social and political and economic structures, such as the state, such as capitalist economic relations, such as family relations and patriarchal relations and so on, and a general belief I suppose in the ideals of freedom, autonomy, solidarity and equality.
Isn’t anarchy just chaos and disorder?
Not according to the anarchists. On the contrary, the classical anarchists like Proudhon and Bakunin and Kropotkin argued that chaos in the Hobbesian sense is actually fomented by the state. In other words the state as a centralized political structure is the organisation which creates war and violence and inequality and therefore sows the seeds of chaos and disorder. So, their contention was that a different type of society was possible, and that the best chance for stability and peaceful coexistence would actually be established once the state was actually abolished and replaced with self-governing, autonomous, community-based structures.
Didn’t the 20thcentury prove socialism can never work?
Anarchism is not socialism of course and I think we have to make a very important distinction here. The experience of socialism during the 20th century of course was symbolised by the disastrous totalitarian regimes that one found in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union which had very little to do with the original conception of socialism, certainly very little to do with Marx’s original conception of communism, which, if we read Marx properly, was actually very close to anarchism. So Marx characterised communism as a society without a state, a society in which state power had withered away or had been transcended, a society of free association where one could get to explore one’s human subjectivity in the fullest sense. So I think it’s quite misleading to talk about socialism in that sense and to look at the experience of the 20th century and to understand statist, bureaucratic, totalitarian structures as socialism as such, even though they obviously drew on certain elements of socialism and Marxism and it’s even more misleading to point to the experience of actual existing socialism or so-called socialism and to associate that with anarchism. Anarchism of course, even though it’s related to socialism, is also quite different and I think probably the most important aspect of anarchism is its very radical critique of what it saw as some of the more authoritarian aspects of socialist thought. So no, I don’t think…the 20th century experience of socialism really tells us much at all about anarchism other than pointing out some of the disastrous mistakes that were made by the Marxist-Leninists.
Why do anarchists tend to focus on the working class?
The working class as the central revolutionary agent is obviously still important. I don’t think we can say the working class has disappeared. I think on the contrary with the crisis of global capitalism more and more people are thrown into the ranks of the underclasses, even in our apparently prosperous capitalist societies, but nevertheless, I think one of the key differences between anarchism and Marxism was that anarchism had a much broader notion of class. For the anarchists like Bakunin for instance, class was not a sort of strictly defined socio-economic demographic, and as a matter of fact Bakunin preferred the term mass to class. The word mass was something which expressed the heterogeneity if you like of the revolutionary subjectivity, and in this mass he included not just members of the proletariat, the industrial proletariat, but also peasants, intellectuals declasse, the lumpenproletariat and various other forms of subjectivity which were not typically included within the traditional conception of the working class as defined by the industrial proletariat. So my answer to that question is that we have to have sort of a broad and heterogeneous conception of what the working class actually is. Many people of course in white collar professions are still exploited, they still work long hours, they still work under terrible conditions doing labour and so on, so I don’t actually think we can restrict the revolutionary agency to the traditional blue-collar worker.
Would anarchism be a more democratic means of organizing society than what we see today?
Obviously anarchism and democracy are in some respects closely related, but I think that once again you have to make a few distinctions here: certainly anarchism has very little to do with formal parliamentary democracy. I think we need to rethink actually what democracy really means. To me, democracy really has nothing to do with representation and with the formal practices and formal rituals of voting and electing representatives and so on. To me this is a kind of a discourse and a ritual which only reaffirms state power. So I think when we talk about democracy and its relation to anarchism we have to think about a different, more radical conception of what democratic politics actually means, and this would be closer to certain forms of direct democracy and consensual decision making rather than formal representative democracy. But certainly there is a relationship, and a very important relationship, between anarchism and democracy as defined by the notions of political autonomy and equality. One of the dangers, one of the tensions, possible tensions, between anarchism and democracy is always the danger of the so-called tyranny of the majority, whereby the majority as defined in terms of popular sovereignty overwhelms or overpowers the wishes and desires and the freedoms of certain minorities, so I think it’s quite useful to reconceptualise democracy through anarchism and to try to sort of think democracy in slightly different ways, ways which avoid the perils of popular sovereignty. So in other words we have to try to balance or reconcile the democratic will with the freedoms and the autonomy of minorities and individuals. Maybe we should think about a democracy of singularities rather than democracy in the classical sense.
Is anarchism a form of liberalism?
There are certain parallels but there are also certain very important differences. I don’t think it’s correct to just see anarchism as a version of liberalism, but nevertheless, anarchism bears certain similarities to it, particularly in terms of the emphasis on freedom, on individual freedom, which has always been one of the central values or core values of classical liberalism. But I think that the main difference lies in the fact that even though classical liberalism values…well actually there’s two differences. The first is that classical liberalism values the individual and individual freedom. It always sees the state as a condition for preserving individual freedom, so classical liberalism is usually based on contractarian theory, whereby we in the state of nature give up or sacrifice our natural rights and freedoms and we inaugurate a sovereign who establishes a system of law and order which is designed to protect my freedom from the freedom and the desires of other people. So the point is that it’s always freedom within certain limits, it’s always freedom which is sort of guaranteed and secured by the state, but the problem with that is that to some degree it’s a logical contradiction because if you have freedom which is secured by the state, then the logic of securatization often works against freedom, and of course we’re seeing this now aren’t we, with the securatization of the neo-liberal state. So I think anarchism is obviously…anarchism claims that individual freedom can only be guaranteed in the absence of the state rather than through the state. The other major difference of course is that classical liberalism is based upon notions of private property and the capitalist free market, which anarchists see as actually working against individual freedom, because private property and capitalism only offers you a very sort of narrow conception of freedom, it’s only freedom for property owners, it’s only the type of consumerist freedom or the freedom of exchange in the marketplace and it only enshrines the rights to exploitation which of course works against the freedom and the autonomy of the majority of people. So let’s say that even though there are certain parallels between classical liberalism and anarchism in terms of the emphasis on individual freedom and the suspicion of the state, anarchism wants to see individual freedom in the absence of the state and in the absence of capitalism and the institution of private property.
How do hierarchies of power work today?
I don’t think today that resistance to power, resistance to state power, resistance to capitalism, can really be expressed with the revolutionary paradigm which characterised not just classical anarchism but also classical Marxism and so on, in which the forces of society were pitted against state power, where state power was visible and identifiable and it was simply a matter of demolishing this kind of political structure, which was seen as oppressive and dominating and exploitative and so on. I think one of the problems is that power today is much more complex, much more decentralized, I mean, where does one actually locate power today, therefore, how does one have a clearly identifiable revolutionary target which is easy to topple or demolish or destroy. I think it’s much harder, I think power is much more dispersed, it’s obviously much more globalised, it’s much more networked. So therefore it seems to me that the whole notion of resistance to power has to be rethought, has to be seen I think in terms of more localised struggles for autonomy or around particular issues, rather than a sort of totalising revolution with a capital R. So yes, post-anarchism certainly points to the way in which resistance to power is much more complicated today; this is something which radicals and revolutionaries and those who resist have to contend with.
What do anarchists like yourself mean when you talk about micro-politics?
By micropolitics I mean not only the localisation of struggles, but also the way in which our subjectivity, in other words who we are, how we identify ourselves, is very closely bound up to the power that we closely resist. So in other words, we have to critically investigate the ways in which we are attached to the power that we claim to resist, the ways in which power bestows upon us a kind of identity. In other words there is a kind of statist structure or a certain kind of authoritarianism in all of us. This is something which people like Wilhelm Reich pointed to, the internalised authoritarianism which makes, well he said this is the kind of thing which makes fascism possible or rather authoritarian political movements and so on. So, what we have to do, I think, is kind of work ourselves out of the bind of power, we have to try to invent or create new ways of living, new practices, new forms of relating to other people which are non-authoritarian. Until we do that, until we sort of work ourselves psychically out of the state, then we’ll always be doomed if you like to reinventing the very forms of power that we claim to oppose.
Isn’t anarchism completely utopian?
There is a utopian dimension to anarchism, certainly, but think this is one of the things which makes…which gives it its radical force. I don’t think that any sort of radical politics worthy of its name can really dispense with the utopian dimension. The point I would say is that utopianism, or the concept of utopia, has to be rethought here. In other words, the idea of setting out a blueprint for a future society, I think that that way of thinking is doomed to disaster. It has a certain sort of totalitarian implication. I think utopia should be seen, on the contrary, as an attempt to sort of think the future within the present. In other words, to actually invent autonomous space and alternative practices, ways of living, ways of relating to other people, alternative conceptions of community within the present, precisely as a way of reflecting upon the very limits of our contemporary society. In other words, we have to, I think, retain some notion that our current society has limits that we can always have a different type of society or a different way of living, but that doesn’t actually involve you know, setting out revolutionary blueprints, what it involves is a certain kind of experimentation with different practices, and to me I think that this is the kind of utopia which is the most important in anarchism.
Why is there so much unproductive infighting on the left?
I remember reading an old slogan, an old anarchist slogan actually, which said something like, with all of the mud that we keep slinging at each other, all of the rocks that we keep on throwing at each other, we could have brought down the state already. I think one of the problems within contemporary anarchism is a certain kind of desire to sort of totalise and rigidify one’s own particular perspective to the exclusion of other perspectives. One finds this quite a lot actually, in many debates amongst anarchists. One also finds this actually with the sort of out and out rejection of, for instance, post-structuralism and other perspectives. Anarchism to me has never been a sort of total unified theory. To me the strength and the originality of anarchism has always lain in its heterodox nature, by which I mean that it has always been open to different voices and articulations and perspectives and so on, and I think that this is what makes anarchism vital and interesting as a political philosophy. So I think the sectarianism one finds in many debates in contemporary anarchism is only damaging it really as a form of politics. Anarchism has to be open to a sort of multitude of different perspectives. It also has to be open to forming relations and even political alliances with people who don’t identify themselves as anarchists. People who, while they might be attempting to live non-authoritarian lives, and might be struggling around certain issues which share a common ground with anarchism, don’t see themselves as anarchists. I think if anarchism closes itself off to this, if it tries to turn itself into a doxa, into some kind of revolutionary orthodoxy, then it really is doomed to irrelevance in our contemporary age.
What are the greatest challenges for anarchism going forward?
So what are the challenges to anarchism today? A number of challenges actually. I think anarchism has to once again make itself relevant to the contemporary struggles of ordinary people around the world. I think it has to, to this end, overcome some of its sectarianism, and open itself up to different perspectives and viewpoints and articulations and so on. Anarchism has to increasingly situate itself upon a sort of global terrain. Of course struggle has become globalised as well as becoming localised as well, so anarchism has to try to understand itself in terms of the horizon of globalization. It obviously has to engage in a variety of different struggles, whether trade union struggles or struggles on behalf of environmentalists or indigenous people or the general struggles for equality and autonomy that one finds around us today. I think also anarchism has to rethink certain tenets of its own theory or its own philosophy. I’m not necessarily suggesting that post-anarchism offers all the answers here, certainly not, but nevertheless I think that anarchism has to rethink the concept of revolution with a capital R, it has to try to, as I see it, dispense with a certain universal meta-narratives which characterise classical anarchism. It also has to see itself as a theory as well as a practice. One of the things that I’m often struck by when I have a look at certain debates about anarchism on the internet for instance, or on chat groups, is the hostility to theory, the hostility to anything which suggests intellectual work. Many people have this idea that anarchism is just simply about smashing the state, it’s got nothing to do with theory, it’s not a philosophy it’s simply a practice. To me I think anarchism has to acknowledge the fact that it is theory, it comes from a certain philosophical tradition, it’s a way of thinking as well as a way of practicing and doing politics and the two are very much interrelated, and I think that there’s certainly a very important role that theory has to play in forming political struggles today. So I think anarchism has to recognise itself today as a theoretical as well as a praxis.
What is post-anarchism?
Post-anarchism is not supposed to mean the end of anarchism or the fact that we’re living in a period after anarchism for instance, in other words it’s not supposed to signify a being-after anarchism, or the exhaustion of anarchism; on the contrary I see post-anarchism as an attempt to rethink and to revitalize certain aspects of the anarchist political philosophy, mostly through post-structuralist theory, through the theoretical interventions of thinkers like Michel Foucault, Deleuze, Jacques Derrida and so on. The main project I suppose of post-anarchism is to try to think about what anarchism means without the deep ontological foundations which I see as characterising classical anarchism. What I mean by that is that if you read the works of Bakunin, Kropotkin, Proudhon, Godwin and various other 19th and 18th century anarchist thinkers, what you find is certain claims about human nature, about human essence, a certain ontology based upon notions of natural law, a certain positivist conception of social relations, so for instance Bakunin and Kropotkin believed that one can take a sort of a scientifically objective view of the world and observe certain natural tendencies at work in social relations which will unfold towards an anarchist society. Kropotkin, for instance, believed that you could find the tendencies towards mutual aid and assistance within animal species, so he had a certain, he drew upon evolutionary biology to explain human behaviour and to point to the elements of solidarity which he claimed were essential to us as human beings. I think to some extent we have to abandon some of these notions. Radical politics generally can no longer rely on this type of foundationalism within human nature, or within the laws of society and so on, so I think anarchism as a theory today has to come to terms with the very instability of identity and the absence of some of these deep ontological foundations and also what Lyotard referred to as the crisis of meta-narratives. So we have to think, in other words, about what anarchism means today in the contemporary world, in a world which can no longer be expressed or summed up in a universal meta-narrative, whether it’s human nature or emancipation or revolution…so that’s what I see the project of post-anarchism as being: the attempt to rethink, to revitalize and to update certain aspects of anarchism while at the same time reaffirming and holding onto what I see as really central to anarchism which is the ethics of equal-liberty, anti-authoritarianism and solidarity.
How optimistic are you that we will ever reach this better world?
I have some optimism and some pessimism here. It seems to me that with the general crisis of global capitalism today, more and more people have become radicalised, more and more people are becoming disenchanted with formal politics, with formal representative politics, many people are seeing the sham that representative democracy represents, or embodies. Many people are seeking alternative forms of politics and so on. I think we can see this in many places. Today for instance, many people are taking to the streets, engaging in protests and other forms of dissident activity and so on, and there’s certainly a very important role that anarchism can play here in informing some of these struggles and allowing people to see their place within these struggles in a slightly different way. Whether we’re actually moving towards a kind of anarchist society, in other words a society without a state, I think…I’m somewhat skeptical about that actually. I don’t there’s any sort of revolutionary telos here, or revolutionary unfolding. There’s nothing inevitable about anarchism and anarchist society to the extent that we can actually think about what that means. It has to be something that is fought for, struggled for, struggled over. So yes, I’m hopeful in some respects, pessimistic in other respects, because I also think that there’s going to be a reaction, and a reaction from the right, not from the left. What we often find of course in times of economic turmoil and recessions and depressions of course isn’t so much a kind of, well not only a resurgence of radical left, but also a resurgence of the radical right, and we can also see this in terms of increasing racism and xenophobia and the hostility towards immigrants and multiculturalism and so on. So I think all these forces and tendencies being generated at the moment in the current climate, there’s obviously nothing inevitable about a sort of anarchist sensibility emerging here, but there are nevertheless certain hopeful signs in certain sort of important respects.
What can each of us do to bring about this better world?
What can anarchists do? A number of things: they have to both think and act, not simply act. They have to think about, I suppose, what anarchism means to the average person, they have to try to perhaps overcome this fear I suppose that people might have about what anarchism actually means; people usually associate it with chaos and instability, the violence of the state of nature. So I think one of the main responsibilities is for anarchists to try to explain what anarchism actually is, or what it really is, and try to sort of communicate this to people who don’t necessarily identify with anarchism, people who might be hostile to the very idea of anarchism. Also, of course, most anarchists are of course involved in various radical political struggles and so on, but obviously there’s a very important role for them to play in politics on the ground and getting involved with social movements and trade unions and community action groups and so on. All of this is happening of course, so it’s going on, but what I’d say is that anarchists have to communicate more effectively about what their political objectives are and try to develop or promote certain non-authoritarian relations and ways of living.
Shachaf Polakow is a professional photographer, with experience as an organiser with the group Anarchists against the Wall in Palestine.
These are clips taken from an interview recorded in Tel Aviv, Israel, for a documentary never finished by its original producers, which hoped to show anarchism in all its forms around the world today and in history. But, I think it succeeds even better at that task as a video catalogue for those interested enough to find the clips that piqued their curiousity.
To see the full catalogue of interviews click here.
My name is Shachaf, I’m an Israeli anarchist, I grew up in Israel, mostly in Tel Aviv.
I’ve been involved in activism and from a very young age, since the age of 12 more or less, more in a political way, more in the democratic game in Israel.
I followed the normal route in Israel. I went to the army, I did community service for a year before.
And, after the army I became more and more radical, partially because of my army experience and then more because of the reality of Israeli politics becoming more and more extreme and right wing.
And since 2007, I’ve been active in a lot of Anarchists Against the Wall actions, organizing stuff sometimes. And also a member of activist students collective which is an activist photography collective, where most of us are anarchists as well.
Why did you become an anarchist?
I think the core reason for why I’m an anarchist is the education I had at home where human rights and equal rights between people is one of the basic values that we were raised with in my house.
And, my father left South Africa because of apartheid, my parents were involved in a lot of left organizations in Israel for many years.
Only in recent years I started to call myself an anarchist, but looking back I can see that a lot of my values were anarchist values, ike equality and justice before nations and flags. And very often in Israel, nationality is really important.
So it was not always there, but it was there even before I went into the army and after the army it became stronger, where I start to understand that probably if I would define myself as something it would be an anarchist. And when I became active in Anarchists Against The Wall it was important to me to define myself publicly as an anarchist, just because how anarchists in the world or at least in Israel were being portrayed negatively, so I also defined myself as an anarchist in order to show a positive example.
What is it like to be an anarchist in your culture?
I think with being an anarchist in Israel, the image we have in Israel as of anarchists it’s something very relative to what we did and how the anarchist against the world started, the anarchist movement before wasn’t as strong.
There were parts of left-wing organization that some of the people or some organization concerns have anarchists, but in the early 90s, or late 80s, there weren’t really political anarchist group for quite a while.
And today, for people in Israel it doesn’t really matter if you’re anarchist or radical left, they pretty much hate. Specifically in the last year or so, maybe two years, the nationalist patriotic feelings are getting really high, the propaganda is really based on de-humanizing anything that is pro-Palestinians. And because Anarchists Against The Wall most of our work is towards the Palestinian issue, so you are being demonized. Many times when there are some demonstrations or actions they try to portray that we do it, even if we are not part of it.
Anarchist didn’t used to be a bad word in Israel, it had no meaning for many people, it’s not like some countries that anarchist has a full history behind it and has been demonized or praised, it doesn’t really matter.
I think as political activists in general, we are facing harder and harder times, like legal system supporting the nationalist side of the situation, with more more arrests in demonstrations, they’re trying to pile up more and more legal cases in different ways it’s gonna be illegal gathering it can be trying to stop us going to Palestine and then charging us for going to e to close military zones or places we can’t go.
So, it’s not exactly about it’s anarchism, but it’s easy for them to portray a lot of this pro-Palestinian stuff as anarchist things.
How did Anarchists Against The Wall come about and how did it evolve?
Okay, I’ll start in the beginning of anarchists against the wall is what I heard from different people and this is how I usually introduce anarchists against the wall Israel started to build the apartheid Israeli security fence what however you want to call it in 2002, 2003 was the beginning of it and during the thing it’s around April 2003 there was an activist camp in in the village of Moscow which is in the west bank it’s a Palestinian village it’s a pristine it was a pristine call for solidarity and actions against the world there were Palestinians Israelis and internationals over there there were a lot of direct actions going out from there or a lot of brainstorming and at some point the media wanted to talk with people and the Israelis after some process they find himself as anarchist against the world is how it started since then the group and the members been go some people stayed in the then some people start to focus on different aspects of the struggle, but we mostly are working with with our calls for solidarity from Palestinians this is most of the work we do at least in Palestine which is where we came most of us stuff we do we used to do more stuff also in Israel but also legally it’s a higher cost sometimes and in terms of energy it’s it’s better to believe Palestinians and better and do the solidarity actions demonstrations direct actions than just being in Israel where actually the crowd in the streets don’t care that much like we do have demos and it’s become more frequent recently because of the aggression of the Israeli government or Israeli policies is also becoming much higher.
What were some key events in the campaign against the Israeli wall?
So after the camp ended and this were actually the one of the stronger points of the popular struggle the pristine purple struggle which the ark is joined and the camp was I think raided or had to be stopped because of the army from some for different reasons and the then we had uh several demonstrations in different villages that joined the struggle against the world this hello captain in in its village work of the popular committee the Israeli oppression was stronger in some villages was less stronger than others somebody just kept demonstrating and some people we just stopped a lot of them uh till this day I’m not quite sure the exact numbers but also some people consider it as part of the struggle that between 17 to 23 people died in demonstrations and when somebody died in a village it’s really hard to not hard but somebody just don’t don’t want to risk any more after it or if the world is already constructed. We came to a point today where there are at least four villages every Friday with a constant demonstrations that we what we do is mobilizing Israeli crowds in some internationals or at least people that live in Israel it can be tourists and it can be Israelis we mobilize them to the to the demonstrations. We actually did some street medics or demonstration medics courses to be sure that there’s some medical people other medics and then we also take responsibility in the legal side of it for people who’ve been arrested we have legal teams that work with law firms that support people who ask us for legal support, it can be Israelis and Palestinians
Among the years as I said some the struggles in some villages were shorter than the others, most of it were where it’s focused today it’s the region of Ramallah where there are three villages demonstrating in one village near Bethlehem which also now has uh almost a week once a week or twice a week direct actions to try to stop the bulldozers who tried to construct construct the wall over there we also join other direct actions in uh and staff around the west bank, unfortunately the Gaza strip is prohibited to get close, if you get close you cannot be sure to probably be stopped before and we didn’t really have a call of work with them we’re not imposing ourselves on anybody else so we just answer calls.
What are some common direct action tactics anarchists in Palestine use?
Well as I said before it’s it’s really depends on reality we during constructions of the world we have places where directors and direct action takes more places because it’s it’s happening and you can try to stop a bulldozer you can try to do sit-downs you can try to there’s no confrontation while the or direct confrontation with soldiers and border police while the wall or the fence is constructed you know you’re pretty much facing a wall you’re not facing anybody else there were a lot of actions in the last years and now as I said in the village of Wallachia which is between Jerusalem and Bethlehem they’ve been stopping the bulldozers in the last few weeks several times in the in nearly in Ramallah there was a success there was two successful actions in the last year of actually taking down parts of the concrete wall which is five and seven meters tall we do have other again it’s it’s really hard for us to to actually come with an idea of direct action because we can come and say oh let’s go and tear down part of the world but we go back home while the Palestinians will suffer from the army aggression later on so it’s we’re waiting for a Palestinian initiative that we can give our advices from our experience and see if they’re willing to pay the price we’ll be there to be with them with solidarity if we’re invited again there was a one direct action in Tel Aviv a week ago when they painted one of the when the main fountain in Tel Aviv with a red color so they dyed it to look like blood it was against the seeds in Gaza and Israeli aggression there were direct actions where people put barbed wire in the middle of the street and blocked over the streets in Tel Aviv in Jerusalem declaring a closed military zone these days I think most of the direct action uh are in the places where the construction is still going on because it’s something you don’t need to plan too much it’s either you succeed to do it or not.
We had at least one success, I think it’s I can guarantee it’s a real fact but the people who built the wall the constructor builds well in the village of Neolin where we succeed to stop the boulders around dozens or times or suddenly stopping the bulldozers also when a demonstration gets close they had to go away for the security so it’s actually stopping the work and apparently he got bankrupt because he lost a lot of money from damage to the bulldozers and losing a lot of our hours and none of the insurance company in Israel is willing to ensure a new person work on the fence so for apparently we succeeded to do some kind of like some kind of achievement even if the world is there but somebody lost something because of it.
Your group was started by Israelis, so do you define your group as a secular organization, Jewish, or by some other term?
First of all, in our case, it’s a group of people that we don’t really have definition like we’re not it started with people that were more anarchist maybe the members today sounds them a lesson okay it’s a group that wants to mobilize people a lot of the really active people are anarchists a lot of the people will be finding some anarchists but the group is open to everybody we we don’t we try not to define ourselves as as anything because while you define people you dismiss other people into the struggle we try to bring people into demonstrations or actions as long as they have respect and understanding that the Palestinians are leading the these demonstrations and they need to respect the Palestinians we we don’t we can’t define ourselves as Israeli you know it’s not something we were actually talking about the disgusting music we are based in Israel most of us like are Israelis but there were international activists that didn’t come with the international solidarity movement or other movements in Palestine that actually felt that they want to work with us as they came and were active with us and help in some aspects we open to everybody that feel comfortable we’re not trying to tell somebody not to be because of the nationality or because of their beliefs we have people that come to demonstrations that believe in god we don’t not only they believing that we we’re working with Palestinians that every demonstration that starts on a Friday starts actually from the Friday prayer, so there’s the issue of being secular or ethicist is something that we don’t raise much we raise among ourselves in some discussions but it doesn’t show how the nature of the group is.
In the short term should we be advocating a one-state or two-state solution?
Well it’s I’m kind of the no instrument today but it’s really because of the trying not to have any political stand specifically for the solution and I think most of us there’s no group decision because to start we we don’t join petitions most of the time we don’t try to to show a specific decision because we want to have the freedom of each member to have his own decision what is the right thing in the end we won’t accept people that are against the Palestinian you know or acting against Palestinians even if the consumers are proposing we won’t accept them so as a group I think most of us will talk about one state it is the closest thing we can think about some kind of uh of justice two states is something that will continue to separate between Palestinians and Israelis it continue to do some injustice while one state with a concrete uh and built up constitution which would be circular giving the freedom to worship but doesn’t include inside the politics might lead to some kind of a state that can look better from what we’re having now we actually have one state but we have a segregated apartheid state with the Israelis control of the area and we control four million people and it’s one state we want we don’t want this situation to stay obviously a lot of us will have utopian fault of no states and no borders but utopia is one thing and reality is the other thing and in the one state can be one thing that we can I think we can again it’s like compromising in a way but it’s it’s what we in reality is what might work won’t be easy but I think two states won’t solve any of the uh hate between both communities.
Do you think the term apartheid system applies to the situation in Palestine? Is it similar in that way to South Africa?
It’s a totally personal answer not like a group answer just to clear it actually when people started to use apartheid for Palestine I felt a bit uncomfortable I think it’s two racist systems that have a lot of similarity there’s all this separation idea of based on race nationality in is Israel and South Africa so you had the bus two tents here that enclosed people in their own communities their permits to work in specific places and in Israel we we actually as breaking down the Palestinian territories into smaller and smaller segments and it’s easy to take history definitions and imply to apply to a current situation but I think it’s more complicated I think uh while South Africa were South African were actually proud of it the regime here was very clear we this is a very slow this is what we believe in and it’s what’s going to be it’s why in Israel the Israeli government froziers always try to have an excuse and dismiss the idea that it’s a racist separation they always say it’s a security issue but the core of both of them come from a very colonialist starting point which evolved to two different nationalists or racist systems it doesn’t really matter how you look at it and while the Israelis being more and more advanced through the years this clarity of apartheid had more resistance around the world because it was so clear Israel is smart enough to to have the people to talk for this kind of separation as a security issue not a racist issue but but it’s uh but it’s very familiar you send settlers to sit on an indigenous land and then you just develop your own system of what is better to separate the indigenous people from the colonies people and then people can use the terms apartheid I think it’s it’s good because people refer to something on the other hand I think it should be something more defined as a specific thing to for Israeli policy we need to find a world a definition that will when people say apartheid they don’t have the South African apartheid Israeli apartheid they have they’ll have something about Israeli separation system which is of course not good uh definition but something a word that will be in history and at the moment uh reflect directly only for Israeli policies.
What is the International Solidarity Movement and what are your thoughts on their effectiveness?
I’ll talk generally and go specifically about Israel and Palestine what we do see in the last 15 20 years is people travelling to do good stuff in other places this house they call it all volunteering charity it’s become more and more popular because mobilizing around will become easier NGOs and globalization make things much more accessible unfortunately those people that come to a place that doesn’t have any context relevant to what they where they are you have if you come here in South Africa and you go to Soweto you have a few blocks that are renovated and look nice look like the middle of I don’t know a village town in Europe if you had some greens around it or the red bricks nice side-walks people go there a few minutes and go away have no reflection to the millions of people around and they live in checks and not connected to electricity don’t have basic needs and same thing can be in in let’s say environmental volunteering when you go to some places and you’re like oh we save the turtles what about the communities that are really poor over there that you don’t care about you sit in extend evidence and very clear in Palestine so organizations that bring people and doing I my kind of provocative term is occupational safari they take a bus they stop in a demonstration for two hours then they go to another place they eat the ethnically Arabic food in the in the restaurant to go to some tourist areas they do get a glimpse of what the occupation is but they don’t really refer and a lot of these people my my a lot of other activists main problem is that these people are not active home on their own issues I don’t need 30 Italians to come and tell me what’s right and what’s wrong you know we had the Italian woman telling one of our members the cheese member inactive for seven years after the terrier started in one of the villages he said oh now you’re happy with your government it’s like what do you mean first of all we anarchist against oh we’re not happy with the government as a but definition of anarchist second this person she’s mobilizing an organizing thing for seven years and then you have tourists that come for just a glimpse and think oh you are like the soldiers because you are Israeli or because you’re living here and that’s why I i don’t like this I don’t like to go and like I wouldn’t go to any struggle and be there for like a few days and trying to say that I’m that I know everything about it actually even if I move let’s say I moved to South Africa I would move to job and I’m starting to be involved here about issues I won’t make suggestions after only one after a while just when I feel really comfortable of like how things are and that I actually understand what’s going around not let’s bring stupid ideas around it it’s the same thing in Palestine and you and you have times when it’s really big numbers because it’s very easy for them to be with solidarity with Palestinians of course it’s a very clear oppression compared to other oppression you have a new country you know it’s easier to go and see Palestine because it’s an easy place to get to with all these Israeli Israeli attempts to pro to make people make it harder to people together it’s still much easier what about poverty in your country what about other ethnic groups in your country most of people come from western countries doesn’t do any solidarity work with people in their countries so this is my problem and some other activists as well like it’s all about the idea of them coming there it’s about the idea of having a glimpse and thinking they know everything and being only active on specific things and not in a global issue.
How would you briefly explain anarchism to someone who had never heard of it before?
I think my vision of anarchism and how I will introduce it it’s the idea that it’s a to believe that equality justice basic human rights or animal rights for a lot of anarchists are the core of many societies we need to we’re responsible for each other and we need to fight for it there’s nothing there’s no institute or a person that can stand a group of people that can stand above it I can make it this is like the easiest way for me to explain this is saying I don’t the idea of people dying because there’s some vague border being decided many years ago it’s pretty bad the idea of people dying for some vague ideas that are just for institutional or governmental things or for people names or for sacred places is for me it’s one of the worst formation where humanity came to so for me anarchism is the opposite for it what you fight for dignity equality human rights animal rights it’s a I don’t have a specific thing I think it’s a right to be to have your own life with respect to others maybe the basic.
How do you practice anarchism in your day-to-day life?
Well I think first of all being active in anarchists against the wall and confronting the idea of the Israeli government authority it’s like this is a big thing that I would I’m feeling it’s part of my anarchist belief having solidarity part of a fight as it supports oppressed people where anarchists were part of in many places around the world this is where I feel that I’m active as a photographer I try to document a lot of social struggles I try to bring up the issues of people that being oppressed by the system by their society by government, by the neighbours, it can be many things, on the other hand I try to to consume less where I can obviously as a photographer I have a lot of like mainstream commercial consumerism of computers and camera and electricity and everything that belongs to technology actually but on the other hand if I can do dumpster or place where I can do dumpster diving I’ll try to do dumpster diving I there are times that maybe I shoplifted I can’t I can’t be sure if it was shoplifting or I just had a special sale the deal for myself and then and the main thing is going in and talking with people and sharing the idea of sharing is a big thing in my life from very young age not making money to be what control my my daily life so if I have friends or even comrades or people like tell me oh we can’t eat or we don’t want we can’t go to our to this hike because it’s so expensive and at that moment of time I have the money to spend on them I will do it in and the other thing is trying because I’m travelling a lot as a photographer and actively trying to network between different communities that I know as anarchists or activists and talking about it as much as I can and trying to explain to people my views in different places.
Why do many anarchists practice alternative lifestyles?
Well I think it’s an evolution in society, we try to make autonomous areas and define our own places. So a squat is can be excluded from the city where you’re living it you can have your own ideas and community inside where things that for the normal people so-called normal people normal society looks strange and you can define like if you feel comfortable only with vegan people so you can have your vegan community in a squat or in a house it doesn’t matter and you don’t need to hear the criticism of the people around you unfortunately uh anarchy is being criticized all the time and when you the thing you mentioned veganism squatting dumpster diving always look weird for people so you’re creating your own places which are our alternative for what we not believing in we don’t believe in the capitalistic money chasing society so we’re creating something better we don’t believe in animal abuse so we we people get been being vegan I’m not vegan so I don’t want to talk in the name of vegans but many of my friends is this how they say vegan and they it’s what they believe and a lot of this anarchist uh way of life is also confronting the idea that you need to be as people tell you to be telling you to rent a house and telling it to work in this thing and when you’re doing the things that you’ve been told you you actually supporting the system that you’re trying to be against and you make it stronger your money goes to people that you don’t want it to go the abuse and injustice of different people and animals and even continuing if you are continuing with the normal way of life so we create an alternative where we can live in obviously we are privileged to do it compared to other people if you ask me what I think about it and it’s great that we have the opportunity but you have a lot of squatters that being a squatter is a highlight of their anarchism they won’t go and do solidarity work with anything else many squatters will do solidarity work many activists will even squat but it’s happening that it’s very privileged in specific societies look at the landless people here look what they’re facing compared to the privilege of being able to squat in Europe in different cities look at the at house eviction house demolitions in Israel we can’t squat in Israel it’s very harsh but it’s it’s thing that’s been tried so it is great that people can do it but we always need to remember that we are privileged to to do most of these things it’s a privilege that we can choose a lot of people don’t have the choice to to go to a lot of those alternative things.
What are your thoughts on the many different tendencies within anarchism and the often unproductive infighting?
Well, I’m not familiar enough with the reason that there are so many conflicts, I tend to believe that all these conflicts are almost signs of as much even if people call themselves anarchists it’s almost like being a politician you know I think the great idea of being an anarchist that you can define your own reality if some people tell you you’re not anarchist enough it’s their problem it’s not yours I know I’m not trying to prove to anybody so when people argue about it it’s great I think it’s good to have these discourses and discussions and I don’t know if you can call it the evolution of anarchism or ongoing things but need to remember that practising anarchism is more important than talking about it uh for me that’s why I don’t have many views about it.
How optimistic are you about reaching an anarchist society or world?
In the anarchist 12 I’m not optimistic in a revolutionary way I don’t think the world will ever be none of the world won’t be ready for it and not that you don’t see more popular or social movements growing up in many places I just think the forces we’re facing are much more stronger they’re controlling much more and they have the ambition to control while we as anarchists trying to change to our reality was there’s no control and it’s very hard to do it on the other hand I do see merging again of societies and autonomous autonomies areas where people who live in anarchist point of views or anarchy’s values I mean you can buy you can create syndicalist farm networks in in some areas it will work better than the capitalistic way of living you can as we said before it can be something smaller like a squat it can be your flat I just think the revolution if you aim on a revolution you you missing the reality at the moment and it’s too far away it’s to do it because we are we are not strong enough not not even as a number of people you know even if we reach the numbers that are strong enough for evolution then we need to have the equipment to do it and unfortunately uh the other side being much stronger you see it when the when the anti-g8 the anti-G8 protest started or it’s you can say that the initiative moment of the time point the beginning was Seattle in ‘99 well it became more global and more famous you had a G8 protest after it but if you really look at the movement or the movement of movements as it’s called from the after Genoa and to find out start to just break down unfortunately we didn’t know how to go on from it with as a global movement and we don’t network enough between people around the world and uh until we maybe when we start to network more then we’ll have a better chance to show some kind of alternative but it doesn’t mean it will be anarchist alternative it might be more it just means that it might be more powerful the simple person you know for more power to the people around the world.
Anarcho-primitivist author and host of Anarchy Radio.
These are clips taken from an interview recorded in Eugene, USA, for a documentary never finished by its original producers, which hoped to show anarchism in all its forms around the world today and in history. But, I think it succeeds even better at that task as a video catalogue for those interested enough to find the clips that piqued their curiousity.
To see the full catalogue of interviews click here.
This is one of a few ex-leftist authors in the mix of the larger documentary series which I’m uploading. This is being done to better understand their ideas, in order to properly critique them. To see a conversation I had with Zerzan on direct action, school shootings, authenticity & more, click here.
Well, I’m an old anarchist writer who lives in Eugene. I’ve been here since ’81. I’ve spent a lot of time in California. I mainly write and do a weekly radio show, Anarchy Radio. I like the Pacific Northwest and that’s it, I guess.
How did you first get involved in anarchism?
I first got involved with anarchism in the 60s. I was in the Bay Area, in San Francisco and Berkeley back in the 60s. Well placed, that was a lucky place to be. I had just gotten out of college. Height-Ashbury and Berkeley, those exciting days. Although it wasn’t… In the US here anarchism wasn’t very much a part of the situation explicitly. I think it was really even among the communist groups, there were somewhat more anarchist because America is a more individualist place, I guess. I was influenced a lot by the Situationists back then in the 60s, early 70s, which by then was over. Anyway, that was my first experience with that sort of thing.
What has been some of your involvement?
I think my original involvement with anarchism was with an independent do it yourself union in San Francisco. It was a white collar public employees union. It had welfare workers, clerks, hospital workers. We didn’t use the word anarchism but it was very anti-hierarchical, no paid people, we were not attracted to signing a contract. It was sort of Wobblie-like, it was sort of IWW like. Probably more chaotic than that. You know, the late sixties. That was a huge experience, a huge learning experience. It wasn’t, it really wasn’t reading the anarchist classics that brought me into that, it was a hands on thing. What do you see when you start something that’s outside of the accepted thing? We were outside the organized labour thing. We were attacked more by the big unions, official unions than City Hall or other business interests. That was pretty informative. It made me think you can’t be independent of that totality is going to be attacked from all sides. The media, for example, we would get those really excited journalists, what an amazing experiment you have here, that’s really excited. That’s going to be an interesting story. And we would say it’s never going to get published. We weren’t conspiratorial, but we had seen it a bunch of times .. these stories never saw the light of day. Because in San Francisco the unions don’t want people to hear this because it might give them ideas. So, in other words, it wasn’t the anarchist canon or anarchist groups. I looked around for them in the Sixties and only found the Wobblies, and they aren’t really anarchist, they’re syndicalist. And they were doing their union thing. They kind of slipped right through the adventure of the Sixties, they played no part in it. So we never thought any anarchists but we were anarchists without using the circled A.
What is anarchism?
I’m certainly still an anarchist, and I think that anarchy means getting rid of domination, identifying what domination consists of, and the green anarchy thing, or anarcho-primitivism, it’s called a variety of names – anti-civ, roughly speaking the same thing – is, I think, mainly adding to the list of what is domination, and certainly there are still quite a few anarchists who don’t want the list lengthened; they don’t see the factories, they don’t see globalised, standardised life as domination, we do, we want to get rid of it,and that, that’s the split in the anarchy situation around the world, and I think what’s coming on is the green thing, I think there are more kids that are way more turned on by that than self-managing mass society.
What is anarcho-primitivism?
Anarcho-primitivism? That’s kind of a mouthful, and again these labels, they quickly solidify into ideologies, and that’s a vexing problem in itself, the formation, the ideology formation dilemma; I mean it’s okay as a shorthand but I think one of the things it is, is stressing the anarchy part of trying to stress the questioning and the openness, keeping it fluid instead of hardening it into a set of answers, because I think we’re just, I think we’re trying to contribute to the sense of raising good questions and in terms of the anarchist lineage, there are people now that don’t seem to see that we’re in the second decade of the 21st century. This isn’t 1870 any more, you know, Kropotkin and so forth, it’s almost unavoidable that we’d have different questions or some added questions. People in the 1800’s weren’t quite so in a position to see where all this was leading, environmentally and psychologically, although there was already a lot of evidence there, and some people did see it a long while ago, but the primitivist part, I think, one way to say it is there won’t be a future unless it’s primitive in some way or another; we simply cannot continue to assume that the industrialising, modernising, massifying tendency is, can be assumed, can be taken for granted, can be left outside of what should be problematised.
And that certainly includes technology, I think that’s one of the most clear aspects of it. What is technology? It’s not neutral, it’s always, it’s never value-free, it’s, you can read what society is in the technology, and if you come to that conclusion, then you open up a whole different, a whole new dimension I think to what anarchy is. It isn’t sailing along going well we have to have all this, well we gotta have technology. We have to domestication, we have to have mass society, we have to have civilization. Well, why are we in this terrible crisis, this totalising crisis that, that everyone can see now. If we just keep sailing along, how are we really different from the dominant culture, the dominant values that certainly wants to preserve all this and keep going forward.
What are the specific problems we are facing?
Well the problems we face now are, I mean nothing is new, we can safely say that, I mean nothing is totally novel, and a lot of this has been developing for the longest time actually, but now we’re seeing to some extent unprecedented phenomena that are systematic and I think it’s not only the, the unfolding, the catastrophic unfolding of what’s happening to the physical world, but it’s also what’s happening to inner nature, the inter-personal, the social, the personal, I mean…One of the things I bring up a lot on my weekly radio broadcast is the shootings, these uh, now this sort of chronic thing where you’ve got these out of the blue, supposedly out of the blue mass shootings. Multiple homicides usually ending in suicide, so often appended with the description, this person was never a problem, never missed work, never got in an argument, never had a mental health issue, just killed fifteen people. What is that saying about the nature of this civilization? Nobody seems to want to look at that. I’ve never seen anyone on the Left go near that question, and yet how horrific does it have to get before you can see the thing unfolding or maybe even unravelling.
What often hits me, and it’s kind of dismaying, is not only that people who are radical, who have something to offer in terms of what explains all this, are missing the most obvious things – where is the, this doesn’t count, these shootings, for example? These pathological things that are unfolding? And of course along the same lines at the same time, the unfolding of the industrial disasters is just so clear, it’s just, you know, reality pounding on the door; in other words, what’s happened in the past, say, since last summer, summer 2010, not only the five billion, five million?, five million barrels gushing from the Gulf of Mexico floor, but then the toxic geyser in Hungary, the sludge flowing into the Danube and into the Black Sea, the neighbourhoods engulfed in natural gas leak explosions…it just goes on and on. And at the same time though we’re always told that technology is the answer; it will provide the solution, we’ll have the breakthrough. And then what we really have is a record of disaster, and the disaster is deepening, the disaster is all part of the massive assault on not only the natural world but all the rest of it, on the built out. It hasn’t worked out. What promise has been fulfilled? And we can look at the alienation not just of something as spectacular as the shootings, that sort of thing, but the isolation, the lack of connection, the disembodied, what passes for connection among people. It’s exactly the opposite of connection among people – it’s machine connection, it’s people living a more synthetic existence all the time, a more separate, dispersed existence. There’s no…community itself has almost vanished, and direct experience has almost vanished.
These are epochal developments, and yet you could spend your lifetime looking at Leftist writings and you wouldn’t get a hint – you’d still think, you could close your eyes and think: oh, I bet this was written in maybe 1951 or something, not 2011. You know, people are not even, you think well, that’s something to ponder isn’t it, it gets your attention? No, it doesn’t. I mean that’s the, that’s the danger of ideology again, to put it another way. If you’re so locked in to the 19th century that you can’t see the disastrous course of life now, and look at the way it’s spreading and the…the avaricious pace of the technological pace is just phenomenal how fast it’s moving. And yet that too seems to be of no interest to what passes for radical theory. You get the big stars of philosophy now: Badiou, Zizek. Two Stalinists, two Maoists. That’s unbelievable – why not two Nazis? I mean, it’s just a scandal that this passes for thinking, thought in this condition that we’re in. It’s just a very bitter joke.
What led to these problems?
What accounts for the situation we’re in, what brought it about is, um…the answers to that are lacking and, um, I think the answers, the answer to why it’s lacking is interesting in itself. In other words, if you implicate the whole, all of civilization, then, you know, that’s not going to be welcomed, for various reasons: what do you do with it, and besides the fact that it’s too radical to propose it that way. But that’s what you have to do, in other words the question of civilization I think is basically the question of domestication and I often go back to Freud’s civilization and its discontents which really is about domestication; more precisely he’s talking about what happens when people are domesticated and he concluded that you get neurotic people, you get people that have this psychic wound that never heals because you don’t get over domestication, it’s a condition that is unhealthy, that has banished instinctual freedom and Eros, so, how could people be happy. I mean it was a very radical insight that he had. And that’s, it’s, civilization comes on the heels of this move of taming people, of starting with taming or domesticating animals and then plants. In other words agriculture. And various people have said it was the biggest mistake of human beings to, that shift to domestication, away from the foraging existence, a hunter gatherer taking freely from nature what is provided by nature rather than engineering it and capturing it in terms of private property and farming.
So, in fact, you can go further back. Even more basic social institutions which in turn sets up the domestication, which in turn sets up civilization, is specialisation, division of labour, which seems to have laboured very, very slowly along for thousands of generations, which is probably why it wasn’t so much resisted, it was…because all of society is incorporated, or goes along with something that primary as slowly emerging specialisation, but that slowly emerging specialisation sets up tensions and inequalities, and one can see it, if we flash back to the present, we see ourselves as completely under the effect of control of specialists. We’re deskilled, we’re wholly reliant on different experts…well this began somewhere. Again, maybe almost imperceptibly, but you have these differentials and perhaps the shaman was the first full-blown specialist with power over others…not that that’s always so malignant but it’s a condition that was not there before that, so, with the movement of division of labour, that sets the stage, I think it’s probably fair to say, for the advent of domestication. That’s the take-off point. But there wouldn’t be the take-off basis without the specialisation coming along, and then the next move, the pivotal move of alienation, is to domesticated life. And that’s exactly what we have now and it’s genetic engineering and cloning and nanotech and all the rest of it; it started with farming and this is the logical fruition, the extension, it’s just another step of control, it’s an inner logic, to use Adorno’s phrase, and unless it’s cut off it continues – you have more and more control, you have more domination of nature and you know with more resources to flesh it out; flesh it out is the wrong way to put it I guess, but to bring it along to further heights of control.
What’s it gonna take to bring it all down?
Well to bring all this down, to break out of it I think requires that we become less tolerant of some of the things that hold it all together, for example the Left. If anarchy is still going to be a flavor of the left, and by the left I mean the historical left, including traditional classical leftist anarchism. That doesn’t break with the mainstream of the dominant culture at all, and so there’s a real chasm, it’s not a sectarian divide, there’s really some pivotal stuff at issue. And that’s just the way it is, again, if people want the mass production society, mass culture, mass society, then they do. And some of these people aren’t willing to, in terms of the anarchist left, they’re not willing to admit that, that they want to preserve all this, that they really want more of it.
They have a very different orientation than anarcho-primitivists, for example, one thing that’s telling I think, and has to do with the breakout, has to do with the solution… Is how little respect they give the indigenous issue, the indigenous reality. They really, people who are leftists, want natives to become workers, consumers and voters. They do, they don’t see the integrity or the value of those lifeways.
And I’m referring back to, it goes all the way back to non-domesticated people, nomadic hunter-gatherers, or others, horticulturalists, who have been outside of the force-field of civilization. They don’t want that, they never have, sometimes you see people kind of flirting with that, but you know we have to look at the consistent points of view.
And I think this starts for anarchism, I’d just reiterate that we won’t get anywhere if we’re part of the left, that the left’s dead, and it should be dead, and we should just be dumping the dirt on it’s corpse and move on, otherwise we don’t move on. That’s the first thing, and there’s so much more to tackle, so if that’s what your definition of anarchism is, how can you expect some kind of solution, how can you expect something that inspires people with the same old shit that no one wants anymore. Nobody cares about the Spanish Civil War 80 years ago.
What does it have to do with right now? What it says to me is keep production going, I don’t want to see production keep going, I want to see the end of production. It’s an orientation that has to take itself seriously and fight for the conclusions. Instead of saying, we have this point of view now, and we’re comfortable with that. You can’t be comfortable in this world with anything that counts.
Isn’t anarchism utopian and against human nature?
It’s sometimes said that the anarchist view is utopian and it goes against human nature, but as I like to think of the way Kevin Tucker puts it: we, there were human species for about two million years, we were hunter gatherers in other words, for that period of time, so wouldn’t it be a more reasonable assumption to think that that’s our human nature? And we see now, this has been a huge, probably the key, maybe the key inspiration for anarcho-primivitism is the revision of what is now the orthodox view of what that life was like, in other words a life of sharing. There’s absolutely no question about it in the literature if you’re looking at anthropology, ethnology, all that – egalitarianism was the cardinal point of the ethos of hunter gatherer life and the rest of it filled it by so many people: Marshall Sahlins being one of my favourite in terms of how little people had to work. I think all this has to do with human nature. In fact, actually, the term work is a modern term and probably doesn’t apply as a separate activity, as part of existence, social existence…mumbles…but the amount of time spent some way or another on subsistence, um, very often, um, a fraction of what we spend at modern wage labour. And Sahlins also pointed out, as culture moves along, people work more and more, and that’s kind of interesting: technology promised us we’d work less and less but just as with war, civilization has chronic war, it’s certainly chronic work, and so these things are imposed it seems like, so what is the human nature part if people before they were defeated in their basic orientation to each other and the world and domesticated, before private property and social classes, which really started with domestication, that human nature seems to be the a priori one. That seems to be the one that obtained. So, in other words, for example, people, you also hear people say, well it’s human nature to always be changing things, always trying to improve things. You’ve got to always keep transforming stuff, well, it wasn’t really transformed for about two million years, in fact that’s what’s always vexed the archaeologists – how could the stone tool technology if you want to call it that be so unchanging and yet they knew how to take care of things; they had about the same IQ as ours a million years ago at least, so, if it’s human nature to change things, and they didn’t change things, then there’s probably something wrong with that conception of human nature…
And I would say to that, why change it? If you’ve got a good thing going on, it was very workable, it wasn’t destroying nature, it wasn’t causing war, it wasn’t causing stratification or hierarchy, all the things that as anarchists we supposedly revere, and strive toward, that was the original anarchist society, not only the original affluent society as Sahlins puts it, but the original one and the only one, so, that kind of human nature was very very stable and workable; it was the original adaptation to the Earth, in fact the only one, there hasn’t been any successful adaptation, quite the disastrous opposite of that since civilization. The always-forwarding of the attack on the unbuilt world, the attack on the natural world, so I don’t know, this, it’s a very modern take on what is human nature, and of course that’s the ideology of civilization, we’re supposed to make those assumptions, we’re supposed to just accept them and honour them, well, it’s human nature to do X,Y and Z…well, it wasn’t for 99% of our existence, so that’s just something that if we swallow we keep it going, but if you rethink that then it looks a bit different I think.
How optimistic are you?
I am incurably optimistic and I’m always mocked for that too, but I guess it’s probably because I sort of came of age in the 60’s, when it seemed like things were really turning, it seemed like the winds were turning as they say, and I don’t know, I’ve never lost that feeling that a lot is possible. And I think, and maybe this is just because of that, umm, predisposition to see things in a better light, I tend to emphasise how, how weak the system really has become. I think it’s, it doesn’t have, it has very little ideological base left. In the US you have over 2 000 000 people in prisons. When…I mean I’m just using that as an example, but I think, if you don’t have any greater allegiance than that and you have to fall back on coercion, if you have to fall back on brute force, you’ve kind of already lost the battle. And, you know, in terms of the whole, speaking of ideology, I remember in my age I certainly remember the American dream stuff, you know the ‘your kids will have it better than you’ that’s just an assumption ‘it’s getting better’ you know there’s all these wonderful new developments…nobody believes that any more and this system doesn’t even bother trying to say it, it would just be, it’s too laughable to say it, so, it just doesn’t have any answers, it just doesn’t have any, any solutions that are cogent, I mean you just look around and you can see that.
So now, I think it’s, somewhat akin to locking people up now, it’s more, this is where it’s at, better get on board or you’re, you lose, you’re screwed, you just don’t have a choice. It isn’t that it’s so attractive that you rush to join, you just…I think more and more people just feel trapped and, um, without a choice in the matter, and so, that, when you get that kind of erosion of faith in, in the future of the system or the goodness of the system, it shows a fragility there that we should ponder a little more. Sometimes we seem to feel so overpowered and we are overpowered obviously, but…but our enemy is weakening I think. It’s really, it’s showing itself to be nothing but bad news, and so I think what has taken the place of the ideology of the dominant culture is technology; it now relies so much on technology. And even in terms of social-type questions, everything will somehow, someday soon, magically be healed and solved and taken care of by technology. That’s the last part of the ideological armoury, and it works to some degree, we’re all held hostage to it, we surely are, so it’s not an illusion, but it’s not the same as people actually believing in the different components of what is trapping us. And that’s what we have to get past, and that’s as old as civilization, by the way, you know. From cities that were walled cities, um, you can’t go out there, that’s, it’s very hazardous, it’s dangerous, you’ll get killed out there, it’s a good thing you’re safe in the city, we have the army, we have the temple, we have all the stuff and you’re secure here, it’s still saying the same thing. Except it isn’t secure here, it, it’s anything but secure, and really everybody knows it. There’s so much anxiety in any developed country you can cut it with a knife and that shows, another way of showing that no one is believing in the promises, no one feels they’re protected, so, I think, in a way the road is open, it’s much more open than we think, to get somewhere against the prevailing, still dominant controls.
What can each of us do now?
I think individually what we can do is…is try to see through our captivity to understand it better and to share that instead of, too often we accept the terms of the dialogue in any political culture which leaves out every important question or issue, it simply does, when you look at American politics for example, it’s really nothing but trivial. There’s nothing at issue, it doesn’t question anything important. I’m not saying…I’m not so arrogant to say that there are not issues that affect people, certainly, but nothing fundamental is on the table, and we have to stop that, we have to, we have to interrupt that, and it’s harder to do individually, but that’s part of it too though. But I think that’s just speaking out and interrupting the false, or phony, or pseudo-dialogue that takes place in society and start injecting it with some reality. That’s all it is, it’s just really that simple…
This is a great nation of denial, it’s probably the most…the most in denial one…I don’t know that for sure…So it’s not easy. I think individually, I don’t think it’s a positive thing to be told, which the dominant culture does tell us every day, and I’m sure it’s not just in America, that if you recycle more or take a shorter bath or something like that, you will have some real impact, you won’t, it’s just, you just, it’s just a lie. I look at recycling as just making room for more production. All, none of this stuff has any meaningful reality, and of course we hear about green and sustainable endlessly, and I’ve seen it in India actually and not just the US, of course, but, and it’s easier, if you want to console people, they need to have some sense that they can do something. They can vote, they can be more assiduous in their recycling, or whatever it is, these things that are just a compensation, and actually only strengthen the system, they’re nothing about the solution, I’m sorry, but, it’s a waste of time. You have to look at where does the energy or the water go, for example, if you’re looking at your personal consumption habits, that only reinforces the consumerist mentality. But that’s another thing we can each do, is see through that and reject that and not just keep it to ourselves. We can mock these things that…I think that so many people know it’s just a joke, but it’s socially reinforced and we just go along with it. It’s counter-intuitive to say that these things are not helpful, but, insofar as they’re not helpful, it’s our job, I would say, to find that out, and let other feel encouraged and emboldened to, we can all go a little further, if we each you know, point out the lies, it’s more comfortable to just go along with it of course, but that’s something we can do.
But wouldn’t anarcho-primitivism mean billions of people have to die?
‘We know that anarcho-primitivism certainly means the death of billions of people, almost all of the billions of people, let’s face it. And professor Noam Chomsky points this out very well, he’s called us genocidists. He’s pointed out that it would not just be the unintended consequence if there was somehow a primitivist shift, but it’s the desired consequence.’ Of course this is real deceit. This is just, it’s really hard to believe. But I think actually it’s just the opposite, people like Chomsky and lots of other people, they’re the ones who really don’t care about the six billion people. They’re the ones who want to see them staying in these cities, megacities especially, in these tower-block apartments, where, when everything fails, they’ll be dead in a few days because they have no skills, they have no access to getting along without the whole artificial aspects of modernity. We’re talking about reskilling ourselves and spreading that information and I think there’s a great psychological bonus to that, by the way, I’m not, I don’t pretend to be very far along on that road at all, but I, the one thing I’m struck by, people who have reskilled in terms of knowing how to start a fire, or find edible plants, or make a shelter, or simple tools, they are much more likely I think to be fine with this, because if you want to pull down civilization, and you don’t know how to live without it, you’ll probably hesitate. At some level or other when you’re pulling it down, it’s harder to pull down, it can’t be as fully desired if you’re not ready for what can follow, so I think that’s an important aspect that’s…to, to reverse the picture, I’m not just being rhetorical here, but we’re the ones that are thinking about the six billion people far more than those who not just blithely accept but promote this direction we’re going in, this suicidal, poisonous, pathological train we’re on. If you don’t question that then you don’t give a damn about the six billion people because you’re consigning them to what is already unfolding. All the major cities in the world you can’t breathe the air, so, you know, we gotta keep on industrialising, we gotta bring factories everywhere, you know, that is the opposite of our position, again, because we’re thinking about life on this Earth and I don’t think the people who are making these fantastic charges against us have the right to say that they’re the ones concerned about it.
Does history prove or disprove the Noble savage myth?
Anarcho-primitivism has been accused of largely continuing the noble savage myth, and I plead guilty, because there was a noble savage, and it’s very, it’s very hip to scoff at that, to jeer at that, and that doesn’t mean that we think there was some perfect Eden or something like that, but compared to this nightmare now, especially, and given what we learn from the standard literature, not having to inflate anything, or make up anything, or go into rhapsodies about the absolute perfection of hunter gatherer life, we know how workable it was, and noble or not noble, but yeah, the savage life was much superior, it simple was.
Can you talk a bit about the history of anarcho-primitivism?
When anarcho-primitivism, so-called, first started getting around, there was maybe more of a, kind of, I don’t know if you can call it a purist kind of a view, if it wasn’t nomadic hunter-gatherer then it was horrible and it wouldn’t be worth pursuing, that would simply be the goal, and that hasn’t been eclipsed I would say, I don’t think that’s been lost sight of, I think it’s fairly clear that’s kind of an ideal anti-hierarchical condition, the nomadic part, before you get to sedentarism, but on the other hand there are people, including Kevin Tucker, who have written persuasively that there are a lot of small-scale horticulture-based societies that have been exemplary, that have not fallen into the usual things that come from domestication, and you know, some of this, again, the domestication thing is the watershed, for example, people say, oh you’re all in love with the primitive and what about cannibalism or genital mutilation or human sacrifice or, you know, stuff like that, well none of those things existed before domestication.
So, I think it’s more important to keep that in mind as a general thing rather than try to say that we’re going to have some litmus test or blueprint or something like that in terms of a return.