Home / The Anarchist’s Dilemma: an Interlude

The Anarchist’s Dilemma: an Interlude

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Since my last article, “The Anarchist’s Dilemma, Part One,” met with a lukewarm reception, it’s time to recast the project in light of the ensuing criticism.

Never mind that I prefaced my exposition by saying it applies to the best of all possible worlds, if and only if . . . . It’s a meaningless qualification to put forth, the entire project is meaningless, while Rome is burning. Also, never mind that there are reasons, good reasons, why the peoples and the governments of the world ought to unite in a common cause in order to forestall whatever dangers or challenges face humankind in this or the next generation. People don’t usually do what they ought to just because there are good reasons for them to do so, only when they are compelled to so act; so that’s another moot point, I’m afraid, to add to the aforementioned irrelevancy. Indeed, it’s a height of folly to be engaging in armchair philosophizing in times such as these, a luxury I can’t possibly afford, and I must thank my critics for pointing it out. So it’s back to the drawing board, I guess.

In the course of the ensuing exchange, I’ve been introduced to a number of radical texts and sources I had no idea existed. Of the latter, the most prolific was Tiqqun, a French philosophical journal with strong anarchistic leanings and, quite understandably, anonymous in authorship. Some of the texts which made an indelible impression were: ”The Coming Insurrection,”, an anarchist manifesto made popular by Glenn Beck’s hysteria about the world coming to an end; ”Introduction To Civil War,” a blueprint for anarchistic activity and program; “This Is Not a Program,” a redefinition of the kind of conflict facing us and the struggle ahead; and lastly, “How is it to be done?” which turns the idea of revolutionary struggle on its virtual head.

Of the numerous texts I’ve been introduced to, ”The Politics of Incivility: Autonomia and Tiqqun” is the most scholarly and down-to-earth, while “How is it to be done?” is the epitome of the poetic and the ephemeral. The first is a no-nonsense account of the momentous events in Northern Italy in the spring and summer of 1969, events which, in no uncertain terms, have disproved Marx’s thesis of class struggle, or updated it, in any case; the second reads like apocalyptic literature from way back when, like a Book of Revelations minus some of the symbolism and hidden meanings.

To give you an idea, here are some excerpts from the cited works:

From whatever angle you approach it, the present offers no way out. This is not the least of its virtues. From those who seek hope above all, it tears away every firm ground. Those who claim to have solutions are contradicted almost immediately. Everyone agrees that things can only get worse. ‘The future has no future’ is the wisdom of an age that, for all its appearance of perfect normalcy, has reached the level of consciousness of the first punks.

– from The Coming Insurrection

Historical conflict no longer opposes two massive molar heaps, two classes — the exploited and the exploiters, the dominant and dominated, managers and workers —between which, in each individual case, it would be possible to differentiate. The front line no longer cuts through the middle of society; it now runs through each one of us. . .

– from This Is Not a Program

Society no longer exists, at least in the sense of a differentiated whole. There is only a tangle of norms and mechanisms through which THEY hold together the scattered tatters of the global biopolitical fabric, through which THEY prevent its violent disintegration. Empire is the administrator of this desolation, the supreme manager of a process of listless implosion.

– from Introduction to Civil War

Empire means that in all things the political moment dominates the economic one. A general strike is helpless against this. What must be opposed to Empire is a human strike. Which never attacks relations of production without attacking at the same time the affective knots which sustain them . . . . There is a whole new Luddism to be invented, a Luddism of the human machinery that feeds Capital.

– from How is it to be done?

Where does the truth lie? one may ask. How much of it is sheer poetry and how much pure fact? A more fruitful question might be: What’s going on here?

Well, for one thing, what I do believe we’re seeing is an honest-to-goodness attempt to re-invent the right kind of language, a kind of language that would reflect and deal with the present-day realities because the old ways of talking and thinking have been found wanting. The following passage from The Coming Insurrection makes it abundantly clear:

There will be no social solution to the present situation. First, because the vague aggregate of social milieus, institutions, and individualized bubbles that is called, with a touch of antiphrasis, “society,” has no consistency. Second, because there’s no longer any language for common experience. And we cannot share wealth if we do not share a language. It took half a century of struggle around the Enlightenment to make the French Revolution possible, and a century of struggle around work to give birth to the fearsome “welfare state.” Struggles create the language in which a new order expresses itself. But there is nothing like that today. Europe is now a continent gone broke that shops secretly at discount stores and has to fly budget airlines if it wants to travel at all. No “problems” framed in social terms admit of a solution. The questions of “pensions,” of “job security,” of “young people” and their “violence” can only be held in suspense while the situation these words serve to cover up is continually policed for signs of further unrest. Nothing can make it an attractive prospect to wipe the asses of pensioners for minimum wage. Those who have found less humiliation and more advantage in a life of crime than in sweeping floors will not turn in their weapons, and prison won’t teach them to love society. Cuts to their monthly pensions will undermine the desperate pleasure-seeking of hordes of retirees, making them stew and splutter about the refusal to work among an ever larger section of youth. And finally, no guaranteed income granted the day after a quasi-uprising will be able to lay the foundation of a new New Deal, a new pact, a new peace. The social feeling has already evaporated too much for that.

Fair enough. Lest we get carried away, however, let’s be mindful of Foucault’s admonition not to be overwhelmed by the “narcissism of the present,” the temptation to see the present as the apocalyptic realization of some general ontological or human condition. As Jason Read puts it in “A Million Blooms: Tiqqun and Negri on the Actualization of Ontology,” a commentary on How is it to be done?:

Alienation and production, the common and isolation, exist in different articulations, different modifications, throughout history. This is not to say that “there is nothing new under the sun,” but that what exists is not the realization of some hidden tendency, just the rearticulation of already existing forces.

Another thing to consider: To what extent, if any, are these texts representative of the universal human condition rather than lamentations over the badly damaged Western psyche?

It comes as no surprise that their point of origin was mostly French, admittedly the locus and site of the highest form of civilization ever known to humankind. It only stands to reason that, just as in the case of their colonial misadventures, it were the French who felt most guilty for their trespasses and misdeeds and most eager therefore to make emendations, it’s no different now: a sense of guilt, especially when experienced by the most cultured and the most civilized, can be a powerful motivator indeed. But if that’s the case, then we certainly must distance ourselves from this particular perspective and program for, in being regional and not universal (idiosyncratic may be a better term), it certainly misses the point. And we must likewise distance ourselves from all appeals to repair or to reconstitute our personal identity as part of the solution, the Charles Taylor grand project (see, for instance, Philosophy And The Human Sciences: Philosophical Papers 2 or Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity, both of which espouse a reconstruction of our identities as a solution), for underneath it all, however well intended or thought-through, it also fails to address the human condition in universal rather than regional terms, in terms, that is, which aim at repairing the damaged psyche in order to move on.

The point of contention is, not all identities may have been damaged enough to be in need of so severe a reconstruction or repair. It’s the exclusive province resulting from the age-old tradition of Western nations, I contend, the ancient Greeks included, which have made it their main business to colonize and to exploit the indigenous peoples the world over, whenever and wherever the conditions were ripe, as their main instrument of expansion. Only they bear the kind of guilt which comes from having done wrong, only their psyche stands in dire need of repair, a shock therapy. The indigenous peoples the world over, the colonized and the exploited ones, are just fine. Their identities are intact, much more intact and much more wholesome than we can possibly imagine!

This point I owe exclusively to Marthe Raymond, aka Moonraven. For better or worse, these are Marthe’s words:

I don’t see any of the French-based anarchy stuff paying off. It doesn’t interest me as my own brand of anarchy rises, as I have said a number of times, from the belief that the indigenous folks’ way of living as part of the world instead of working to subdue it is the only sustainable model. And it has sustained itself, despite the various genocidal campaigns to exterminate us and our way of seeing life on the planet. I remember when the big revisionist lie was that we beat all the woolly mammoths into extinction with clubs–how absurd, especially when you remember that only the white man has destroyed his potential food supply as well as his living space. Whites are a mutation within the species that has put all life forms at risk.

And further down:

A lot of the French stuff is pretty much reincarnating Che Guevara’s writings on guerrilla warfare. The French guy Regis Debray bears a lot of blame for his focus groups model–and Che’s ill-fated Bolivian caper which led to his death (AND to Debray’s being captured and tortured by the CIA when Che booted him out) is a good example of why focus groups do not work to promote revolution.

But nothing will happen in the US. I remember posting a quick and easy model for bringing down the US government maybe in about 2006 and folks pissed their pants right there in virtual space because “some people might get killed”. Chickenshits talking about the need for revolution–save me.

Save us all….

I can’t help but to concur. And if she’s right, then perhaps Franz Fanon rather than Michel Foucault should be the voice we ought to heed here and now for having a better grasp of the human condition in the present, the wars of liberation and against colonialism, against oppression and domination worldwide, promising to be the major form of struggle for times to come, the Marxist or anarchist theories, both products of the decadent West, necessarily taking a back seat, always welcome to follow the liberation struggle but never to lead. Indeed, perhaps there can be no such thing as a comprehensive theory of the revolution in the absence of a universal theme uniting all struggling peoples the world over, in the absence of a “language for common experience” – only strategies and tactics. The theorist in me cringes at the very thought, but face the facts I must.

Can the language barrier possibly be overcome? Is a universal theory of the revolution possible under the circumstances or is it just a pie in the sky? Can the West and the East put aside their cultural and ethnic differences and rise together against the common oppressor, or are they destined to pursue their own destinies independently of one another?

In articles to follow, I intend to pursue these and related topics for your and my own edification. Meanwhile, I can’t help but wonder how my anarchist project, so perfect in design, or so I thought, only awaiting proper execution, could have gotten so derailed.

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About Roger Nowosielski

  • test2

  • bliffle

    Good article. I haven’t yet finished the citations. But here’s one of Chris Hedges’:

    “In “Les Misérables” Victor Hugo described war with the poor as one between the “egoists” and the “outcasts.” The egoists, Hugo wrote, had “the bemusement of prosperity, which blunts the sense, the fear of suffering which is some cases goes so far as to hate all sufferers, and unshakable complacency, the ego so inflated that is stifles the soul.” The outcasts, who were ignored until their persecution and deprivation morphed into violence, had “greed and envy, resentment at the happiness of others, the turmoil of the human element in search of personal fulfillment, hearts filled with fog, misery, needs, and fatalism, and simple, impure ignorance.”


  • ozarkmichael

    Here in the embers of your old discussion I feel that I am not disturbing the fires of your present discussion elsewhere. I will remain behind and comment after your fellow travelers are done… so I dont interrupt your brainstorming while it is happening. After you read this I think you will agree it is better this way.

    First, I don’t like your introduction, in so many words: “The last article was a mistake because people didn’t like it.” Yarg! You should never cast aside your hard work just to placate disgruntled people. I found some of those disgruntled commenters to be the most shallow, not understanding what you were asking for and not caring to understand, the type of person who ought to be dispatched with a good dose of irony. You are a little too nice, maybe because you want more people engaged with you? If what you really want is to be more popular you should have picked a different philosophy. Being an Anarchist is like being a Protestant. One has thrown out the ‘lets all stick together so we can validate our vague belief by sheer numbers’ for the sake of ‘here is what I think the scripture means, and until proven otherwise… dont ask me to settle for a dilution of it’

    But taking a principled stand like that takes some development and maturity or it is mere dogmatism. Conservatives, especially on talk radio, might present one fact but then leap into an unreasonable, unnatural, and unkind stance. I must turn them off for 10 minutes before coming back and hoping to hear something worthwhile. This article of yours swerves into that sort of trouble. In your last article I was agreeing with you in principle but amending or warning of some potential errors, but today I wave your plane off entirely because I think you are coming in too hot and you are coming across the wind of you own first principles.

    I found much food for thought in this article, but better enjoyed the first one. In your first article I saw you completely committed to a just global peace that is the presumed ground for anarchism, groping around possible pitfalls of world federation, inviting others into the process(which is perfect because that is just how a federation has to form. I love it when the mode of discussion reflects the process under discussion) and I was happy and curious as I read it. In this current article I see that process thrown overboard, and your idealism, which in the first article hovered with the thoughtfulness of a cat before it steps in a shallow puddle, now here suddenly you eject all prudence and splash down into a deep pothole. Just because some of your fellow traveler’s didn’t approve or your first thoughtfulness?

    Well, that might have been be a bit too harsh. Especially if you really believe what you wrote in this article. In which case we will have a good argument about it. A good argument is more beneficial than an artificial agreement, yes? And you would rather lose an argument that you really believed in, than win an argument by co-opting yourself?
    Me too. Looking forward to it.

  • ozarkmichael

    “Empire means that in all things the political moment dominates the economic one. A general strike is helpless against this. What must be opposed to Empire is a human strike. Which never attacks relations of production without attacking at the same time the affective knots which sustain them.”

    ‘Attacking the affective knots’ is a fine phrase which conjures a tangled physical mess in such a way that it cries out for the tangle to be cut away.

    What you hasten to cut asunder, I would pause and wonder about for a moment. The “affective knots” are all those habitual, traditional, cultural connections which are maintained by a sort of love, which means they are the property of a community. Affectie knots are developed by a communal process over thousands of years, and each generation contributes, and then hands it down to the next generation. Partaking is not necessarily a rational process, but it is primarily an emotional(affective) process.

    The ‘affective knots’ can thus be said to be an accumulation of wisdom from the past which is readily available for the common man(since it does not require an intellectual to tap into this wisdom), existing uniquely in each locale on the planet where human beings gather together. To borrow from Lincoln, these “mystic chords” of affection are a type of archetypical memory which are touched by the better angels of our nature.

    If I was to “attack”(even accidently) the “affective knots” on another culture, you would rightfully raise hell over it. To attack the “affective knots” that knit another culture together is like defacing an artifact. Who has the right to destroy the irreplaceable? You would call it “capitalist imperialism” in effect even if i did it for other reasons. You would point out that no one has the right to make such a judgment of superiority over and against others, to ruin(even accidently) their heritage, which steals from children their cultural birthright. Very well. I agree.

    But here you are now, knowingly(for it is no accident) planning the same process for a different culture. Ours. You propose to “attack the affective knots” that hold things together for us. You propose to tear asunder the loving relations between people as well as destroy the stabilizing relations between people and their institutions, thus stealing the cultural heritage and birthright from future generations forever.

    Against this I must protest.

    • troll

      I wonder if some affective knots within our culture might not be a collection of stupidities accumulated over generations and how one might tell the difference.

      • ozarkmichael

        Those are two big questions.
        Let me start with something positive. The mistakes of the past, and all forms of stupidity and foolishness, probably have as much impact on a culture as the successes. The bad outcomes gradually turned into the mythical stories, folklore, and proverbs that every culture has.
        However, your question assumes the negative… that the evolution of one’s own culture takes wrong turns, which is a remarkable and unusual judgement for you to make. Interestingly, your unusual questioning has the distinctinction of arising from the Western tradition. In other words, the questioning of one’s own culture and the power for an individual to judge one’s own culture… is part of our culture.
        I wonder if you can tell me if that questioning is a positive part of our culture, as I have outlined above, or the questioning is a negative part(a wrong turn) that your question insists upon? How do you tell the difference?

        • troll

          Good morning ozarkmichael. First, I note the shift to the past tense in your, “The bad outcomes gradually turned into the mythical stories, folklore, and proverbs that every culture has.” What of those that are ongoing?

          Next, as my questions to you essentially were if what you’re calling wrong turns are possible and how one could tell a right turn from a wrong one, you’ve gone a bit overboard in your response.

          Finally, imo, the questioning you describe is a positive part of our culture even if hardly unique to it.

          • troll

            ozarkmichael, I realize that I haven’t answered your last (parroted) question. I’ll have to consider what I could say about it that would make sense to you, as the short form is that it’s an aesthetic thing in large part, I guess.

          • ozarkmichael

            I think if we are talking about “evolution”, it could be that we who stand in the present make a judgment of the past

  • ozarkmichael