I'd like to offer some thoughts on anarchism, both as it has existed historically and as I envision it. This political worldview may become a significant force in the 21st century, and I'd like to explore its core ideas and its potential.
Sort of surreal to watch this on a PBS video, but still a wonderful interview. Graeber is a magnificent anarchist intellectual, and here gives brief accounts into current insight about radical history and the role of anarchism in the world pre-WWI.
(Incidentally, for a more literary presentation, check out Pynchon's latest book Against the Day.)
I saw a movie last night, one that shall remain nameless for this post. It was impressive on quite a few levels, but a few scenes in it made me think about the meaning of anarchy and anarchism again.
They're problematic words, and part of me wishes we could just abandon them and pick another set of terms. After all, they're just nouns, and given the absence of any large, nonlocal, "prospering" anarchist associations or organizations in America, they only serve as placeholders for people of similar sentiment to find one another and conceptualize interventions in the world. They honestly seem to be a hindrance in two major ways. External to the anarchist community, people get scared by the idea. Internal to that community, it looks and feels often enough life a self-reaffirming subculture instead of a movement or even a coherent worldview.
We might define the economic goal of anarchism as the progressive reduction of intermediary steps between the experience of creative, social desire and the expression of that desire into material (social, aesthetic, technical, organic) form.
Thus, the most appropriate anarchist economic projects are those that most readily shift a singular instant of desire into a concrete, transmissible form.
What could this mean, practically?
In production, DIY networks based on the sharing of skills and home-based, decentralized manufacturing technologies.
In distribution, cooperatives and collectives of interested users.
In innovation, participatory design and constant feedback.
In knowledge, the dynamic stability of a community of learners.
Just thought I'd write a rough list of current projects focused in America organized along anarchist lines, either deliberately or by, I don't know what you'd call it, convergent evolution? This isn't meant to be exclusionary, so add on or critique this list as much as you want.
*P2P filesharing in general
*Food Not Bombs
*Food Not Lawns
*Yellow Bike Project
*Micropower and/or cooperative radio stations
*Ithaca Health Fund
*Infoshops and collective bookstores
*Freeschools and skillshares
I've been hanging out with some unabashed Bolshies lately, and it has gotten me to thinking about the nature of the radical political party. Marxists always seem to organize in the form of a radical party or something that looks like a radical party. Like-minded folks organize to espouse a set of political beliefs in different organizations vested with Power in society or attempting to form a counter-power (unions, mass movements, etc). The party exists as a core of devoted organizers and intellectuals and either leads popular movements or maintains a constructive dialog with those movements, ideally at least.
I've considered myself an anarchist for a very long time, but figuring out what that means can be a bit tricky. The anarchist tradition is very diffuse, and contemporary anarchist cultures and movements are a bit incoherent (like most of the left). So I've been trying to find a tangent of anarchism that seems the most viable. Most people don't like identifying themselves with an "-ism", and I can understand that given that this is generally a stifling, limited, empty gesture, something to guide chatter in a coffeeshop, with little real bearing on one's life.
From the publisher: Long before Antonio Negri became famous around the world for his groundbreaking volume Empire, he was infamous across Europe for the incendiary writings contained in this book. Books for Burning consists of five pamphlets that Negri wrote between 1971 and 1977, which attempt to identify and draw lessons from new conditions of class struggle that emerged in the course of the 1970s. Conceived as organizational hypotheses intended for debate among the members of the political movements Workers' Power (Potere operaio) and Organized Autonomy (Autonomia organizzata), these texts were later misread and misrepresented by the Italian state in its attempt to frame Negri as responsible for the assassination of former Italian president Aldo Moro, as the leader of the Red Brigades, and as the mastermind of an armed insurrection against the state.
Lucy an Albert Parsons are remembered as some of the most famous anarchist partisans in American history. Their lives also present an amazing and inspirational story of ferocious dedication against the oppression of the world.
Albert was a a Confederate soldier and relative of George Washington. His experience in the Civil War led him to a total life transformation, turning from a Confederate volunteer into a radical who rejected slavery and discrimination of all kinds and worked for Reconstruction and the rights of emancipated slaves. He married Lucy Gonzales in Texas. Lucy was a Texas native, of African-American, Mexican, Native American and Caucasian ancestry. They were married in Austin and lived in Waco. Together and individually they published pamphlets and newspapers tied to the radical labor movement and anarchism.
Peter Kropotkin, one of the most famous anarchists in world history, wrote extensively on the conditions of possibility for an anarchist society. In what is widely considered his most provocative book, he argues that the Darwinism of the age has overly influenced society to accept competition as the basis of all life, giving legitimacy to the social Darwinism popular in political and economic culture. Kropotkin argued that if we observed nature we easily saw the prevalence of cooperation as a biological force, and that cooperation and symbiosis is in fact a norm in a nature that seeks to minimize the destructively competitive encounters. This view, long a marginal scientific position, has gained much recent attention in scientific fields dealing with evolution (evolutionary biology, ecology, etc.).
This is an impressive book that helped keep alive a rare intellectual current into the modern day. Well worth reading.