Tomás Ibáñez, not without hesitation and only as a heuristic, employs the term “neoanarchism” to refer to the resurgence and changing nature of the movement in the wake of May 1968, France. But these changes have not been without their critics, so that in what follows, the second chapter of Ibáñez’s essay, Anarchism is movement, he endeavours to both explain and defend what he considers to be the virtues of our new anarchism.
Originally published by Autonomies.
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Read Anarchism is movement: Tomás Ibáñez (1) here.
2. The form that the resurgence of anarchism takes: neoanarchism
It is very obvious that the kind of anarchism that was slowly created after May 68, and that gained a sudden impulse in the beginning of the years 2000, marked an inflection in relation to what had existed hitherto. To paraphrase the poet Paul Verlaine, one could say that it is no longer “ni tout à fait le même ni tout à fait un autre” [neither completely the same nor completely different]. It about in effect a somewhat different form of anarchism which generated itself in and through some practices of struggle against domination that began to extend themselves towards the end of the 1960s, following in the wake of the events of May 68.
It seems particularly clear that if anarchism regained protagonism, it has been, above all, because the changes that have occurred at various levels of social, cultural, political and technological reality have created conditions today in consonance with some of the characteristics of anarchism. This consonance explains how contemporary anarchism responds far better than other currents of socially engaged political thought to the particularities and the exigencies of the present.
Nevertheless, if this harmony between certain features of anarchism and certain characteristics of the current epoch have permitted its expansion, such that anarchism reveals itself as a well adapted instrument to the struggles and the conditions of the present, it has also had a retroactive bearing on some of its features. Indeed, these features have been modified as a consequence of the involvement of anarchism in present reality and as a return effect on its very capacity to have an impact on reality.
We have then, on the one hand, the constitution of a new reality that presents the peculiarity of lending itself to anarchist intervention and, on the other hand, an anarchism that renews itself precisely because of its action on this reality. It is from this double process or, stated differently, from this coupling between reality and anarchism, that this latter has again become truly contemporaneous, meaning by “contemporaneous” that which finds itself in consonance with the demands of the struggles provoked in present day reality.
Even knowing full well that no such current exists, that there is neither a doctrine nor an identity that presently calls itself neoanarchist and that to promote a new adjective for anarchism – one more – is of little interest, I resort to this expression as a convenient and provisional way to designate this somewhat different anarchism that we find in the beginning of this century.
2.1. Anarchism outside its own walls
If there is something that powerfully calls our attention when we observe contemporary anarchism, it is, without any doubt, its significant expansion beyond the frontiers of the anarchist movement. It is true that anarchism has always overflown the contours, ultimately considerably confused, of the anarchist movement, but this overflowing has been amplified in a spectacular fashion since May 68 until the most recent protest movements, with their massive occupations of public squares and streets (Seattle, the 15M movement, Occupy Wall Street, etc.).
This expansion of anarchism outside its borders is not only of a greater dimension than in the past, it also presents somewhat different features. In effect, it is no longer a matter of an essentially cultural type of overflow, as when some artists, certain singer-songwriters and a few intellectuals sometimes expressed their proximity to libertarian ideas. Today the overflow manifests itself in the very heart of specific struggles undertaken by opposition movements that make no direct claim to anarchism.
Firstly, in the final stages of May 68, we witnessed the creation of new social movements that struggled, on identitarian bases, for the recognition of certain categories of people that were strongly discriminated against and stigmatised. These movements were not anarchist, far from it, but on some matters, they moved close to it. In any case, they moved away from classical political schemas, far more centralised in their forms of organisation and struggle, as well as showing themselves to be much less sensitive to the problematic of relations of power. It was in this way that struggles against various types of domination gained, little by little, a certain importance side by side with more traditional struggles anchored in the economic sphere and the world of work.
Subsequently, towards the end of the 1990s, a new inflection occurred with the appearance of the alter-globalisation movement, a movement of movements. Despite its enormous heterogeneity and despite all of the criticism that can be directed at it, it is a movement that bears strong libertarian resonances. It is made up, basically, as everyone knows today, of collectives and people who are active outside specifically anarchist organisations, but who encounter or who reinvent, in struggles, anti-hierarchical, anti-centralist and anti-representative political forms that are quite close to anarchism, as much with regards to decision making methods, as to forms of organisation and the modalities that characterise their actions; actions that in fact often make theirs, principles of direct action.
A good part of the activism associated with it – not all, of course – shows itself to be more fiercely committed to the defence of certain anti-authoritarian practices than some so-called anarchists. At times, it even occurs that they demonstrate themselves to be more intransigent than the anarchists in the demand that the characteristics of the actions undertaken, as well as the modes of decision making and the forms of organisation adopted, be truly prefigurative. That is, that they not contradict but, on the contrary, reflect in their very characteristics the goals sought.
Finally, at the beginning of the second decade of this century, occurred the massive occupations of public spaces in Spain’s cities, followed by those of Wall Street in New York and in other cities of the United States, which also adopted forms of organisation and modes of action with close affinity to those that characterise anarchism.
The novelty therefore is that today the anarchist movement is no longer the only depositary, the only defender of certain anti-hierarchical principles, nor of certain non-authoritarian practices, nor of horizontal forms of organisation, nor of the capacity to undertake struggles that present libertarian tonalities, nor of mistrust towards all apparatuses of power, whatever they may be. These elements have spread beyond the anarchist movement, and are taken up today by collectives that do not identify themselves with the anarchist label and that sometimes even make explicit their refusal to allow themselves to be closed within the folds of this identity.
To avoid possible misunderstandings, it is important to clarify that this is not a matter of enlisting under the flag of anarchism movements that make no reference to it and of qualifying as anarchist any popular demonstration that bases itself on direct democracy. Neither the great protest of Seattle, nor the 15M movement, nor Occupy Wall Street were anarchist, and their subsequent shifts can even end up contradicting their initial libertarian tonalities. Anarchism does not only consist of certain formal organisational modalities, but is also based on substantive ideas that are fundamental to define it. In fact, the paradox could occur of certain social movements adopting anarchist organisational models to promote political notions that are its antipodes. It is obvious that horizontal and assembly based functioning is not sufficient to be able to speak of anarchist practices.
However, it is undeniable that the movements that I have referred to present a “family resemblance” with anarchism that places them clearly in its ideological field and that these demonstrations form part of an anarchism in action, even if they do not claim the name for themselves and even if they effect some few changes in its traditional forms. It is in part to designate this somewhat diffuse, non-identitarian, form of anarchism, forged directly in contemporary struggles and outside the anarchist movement that I have recourse to the expression “anarchism outside its own walls” [anarquismo extramurros]. Curiously, this kind of anarchism also includes, at least in Spain, people who defined themselves as anarchists, but who renounced the label so as to be closer and to be more involved in the kinds of practices and sensitivities, globally libertarian, that characterise some of the new rebellious movements.
2.2. The new activist fabric and the anarchist identity
Non-identitarian anarchism is part of neoanarchism, but it does not exhaust its extension, but only represents one of its aspects, one of its facets. The other face of neoanarchism is comprised of collectives and people – generally very young – who even though they affirm themselves as explicitly anarchist, they nevertheless express a new sensibility with respect to this identitarian ascription. There way of assuming anarchist identity is marked by a flexibility and an openness which articulate a different relation with the anarchist tradition, on the one hand, and with opposition movements outside this tradition, on the other hand. The borders between these two realities in fact become more permeable, more porous, the dependence on the anarchist tradition becomes more flexible and, above all, this tradition is understood as having to be cultivated, enriched and, therefore, transformed and reformulated by inclusions and, even, by a hybridisation, by a certain blending [mestizaje], with contributions coming from struggles carried out within the framework of other traditions.
It is not a matter of incorporating into anarchism a few elements of a political thought elaborated outside it. It concerns rather, and above all, of producing together, with other collectives also committed to struggles against domination, elements that are incorporated within the anarchist tradition, making it move. This openness of neoanarchism could be illustrated in that famous phrase which states, more or less, the following: “Alone we cannot, but, in addition, it would be pointless”. It is this same sensibility that we find in the declaration of the Planetary Anarchist Network (PAN), where one can read:
We are, however, profoundly anti-sectarian, by which we mean two things. We do not attempt to enforce any particular form of anarchism on one another […] We value diversity as a principle in itself, limited only by our common rejection of structures of domination. Since we see anarchism not as a doctrine so much as a process of movement towards a free, just, and sustainable, society, we believe anarchists should not limit themselves to cooperating with those who self-identify as anarchists, but should actively seek to cooperate with anyone who is working to create a world based on those same broad liberatory principles, and, in fact, to learn from them. One of the purposes of the International is to facilitate this: both to make it easier for us to bring some of those millions around the world who are, effectively, anarchists without knowing it, into touch with the thoughts of others who have worked in that same tradition, and, at the same time, to enrich the anarchist tradition itself through contact with their experiences.
This identitarian redefinition has important repercussions on the anarchist imaginary and this is significant because, as we well know, it is not generally due to a previous knowledge of theoretical texts that young people approach the anarchist movement. It is not by virtue of the writings of Proudhon or Bakunin that there are those who adhere, but because of a particular imaginary; and it is not until later that the canonical texts are eventually read.
The anarchist imaginary has in fact never ceased to enrich itself integrating, among other things, the great historical episodes of struggle against domination, as these manifested themselves in different parts of the world. What it has made its own over the last years has been, for example, the barricades, the occupations and the slogans of May 68 and, after 1986, a series of phenomena such as the anarcho-punk scene (that developed with force starting in the 1980s and which was an authentic breeding ground for young anarchists) or the okupation movement, with its unique aesthetic and lifestyle. These are the elements that have continued to nourish and spur on this imaginary.
It has however undoubtedly been the great international episodes of struggles against various forms of domination (that, without wanting to be exhaustive, go from Chiapas in 1994 to Taksim Square in 2013, passing through Seattle in 1999, Quebec, Gothenburg and Genova in 2001, the No Borders camp in Strasbourg in 2002, the Athens neighbourhood of Exarchia uninterruptedly since 2008 until today and Madrid, Barcelona or New York in 2011) that have revitalised the current anarchist imaginary. This imaginary, a little different from that of the 1960s, which generally began with the Paris Commune, moving through the Chicago Martyrs and the misnamed Tragic Week of Barcelona, on to the mutinous sailors of Kronstadt and the Maknovtchina of Ukraine, finishing in the Spanish Revolution, is that which today provokes identitarian adherence among anarchist youth. It seems obvious that the new elements which constitute it inevitably redraw the outlines of this identity.
In brief, the contemporary anarchist identity is not at all the same as the old one. It cannot be the same because what constitutes its imaginary sustains itself also from the struggles developed by current protest movements, and these present features different from the older struggles.
These new forms of struggle do not appear by chance and they are not the result of a new political strategy deliberately elaborated somewhere. They are rather the direct result of a recomposition and of a renovation of the apparatuses and modalities of domination that accompany the social changes of these last decades. The practices of struggle against domination are changing at the same time as the forms of domination change; and this is absolutely normal because the struggles are always provoked by and defined by that against which they constitute themselves. It is the new forms of domination that have appeared in our societies that give rise to the current resistances and which give them the structure that they possess.
The configuration of society in a network, the path from the pyramidal to the reticular and the horizontal, the deployment of new information and communication technologies (from hereon, NITC), all of it evidently puts into movement new forms of domination. It also however facilitates the development of extraordinarily effective practices of subversion which happen to be in consonance with the organisational forms proper to anarchism.
It is the forms adapted by the practices of struggle against the current forms of domination and, more specifically, those that are developed by the new movements of opposition, which find themselves incorporated, partly, in contemporary anarchism and which serve to outline a neoanarchism.
As long as it finds itself in direct connection with these struggles, neoanarchism shares in their imaginary and joins their principle characteristics with an anarchist imaginary which cannot but be modified.
2.3. The current revolutionary imaginary
One of the most striking features of this modification concerns the revolutionary imaginary itself.
The stimulus and incitement value that generalised insurrection bears in the classical revolutionary imaginary is effectively replaced in the neoanarchist revolutionary imaginary by the attraction to what could be called the continuous and immediate revolution. That is, revolution comes to be considered as a constitutive dimension of subversive action itself. Revolution is conceived of as something that is anchored in the present and that it is not therefore something that is only desired and dreamed of as a future event, but is essentially lived.
The revolutionary is the will to break the apparatuses of concrete and situated domination, it is the effort to block power in its multiple manifestations, and it is the action to create spaces that are radically separate from the values of the system and the modes of life induced by capitalism. The emphasis is thus placed on the present and on its transformation, limited but radical, and it is therefore for this reason that so many efforts are dedicated to creating spaces of life and forms of being that are situated in radical rupture with the norms of the system and which give rise to new radically rebellious subjectivities.
It can indeed be seen clearly today that the old revolutionary imaginary conveyed the hope of a possible dominion of society as a whole, and that this hope was the bearer of inevitable totalitarian deviations that were translated into actions, in the case of politics referenced to Marxism, and that remained only in outline, though still perceptible, in those inspired by anarchism.
Likewise, beneath the standard of universalism which could be nothing other than – as with all universalisms – a masked particularism, this imaginary concealed a will to dissolve differences within the framework of a project that, claiming to be valid for everyone, negated in practice the legitimate pluralism of political options and values. Finally, the messianic stink of an eschatology that strove to subordinate life to the promise of living, and to justify all sufferings and renunciations in the name of an abstraction, was so profoundly encrusted in this imaginary that it blocked the exercise of any trace of critical thought.
Nowadays, the explicit rejection of our iniquitous social conditions of existence remains intact, as well as the desire to illuminate radically different conditions. Nevertheless, the concept of revolution is profoundly redefined from a fully presentist perspective: the idea of a radical rupture continues to be held, but without any eschatological point of view. On the contrary, nothing can be proposed for the day after the revolution, because it cannot be located in the future. Its only home is the present and it is produced in each space and in each instant that it is possible to withdraw oneself from the system.
What is new in the present is that the will of radical rupture can appeal to nothing more than the negation of obedience, to rebelliousness and to profound disagreement with the established reality. No object of substitution is necessary to reject what is imposed upon us; no progress towards …, no advance in the direction of … are required to measure the reach of the consequences of a struggle. The measuring rod with which the new antagonists evaluate the compass of their struggles is not exterior to them and is in no way guided by the more or less wide path that struggles have been allowed to use to approach an objective that would exceed the situated, limited, concrete and particular character of the same.
This is, for example, what one comes away with from a text by the US collective CrimethInc, in which the following can be read:
Our revolution must be immediate revolution in our daily lives … [W]e must seek first and foremost to alter the contents of our own lives in a revolutionary manner, rather than direct our struggle towards world-historical changes which we will not live to witness. (Days of War, Nights of Love)
It seems clearly evident that the new struggles contribute especially to multiply and disseminate centres of resistance against very concrete and distinctly situated injustices, impositions and discriminations. It is perhaps this dissemination that explains the great diversity that today characterises a movement fragmented into a multiplicity of currents that run from green anarchism to insurrectionism, from anarcho-feminists to the anarcho-punk movement, from anti-speciesism and veganism to the self-named organised anarchism – generally, of the communist libertarian variety -; without forgetting that anarcho-syndicalism continues to have strong roots in a country like Spain, where it counts on two principal organisations that represent, grosso modo, the two traditional currents of Spanish anarcho-syndicalism.
Either way, it is not only that the perspective of a global transformation that gives birth to a new society no longer constitutes the nerve that today dynamises and orients struggles. It is moreover that the struggles which aspire to be global or totalising inspire, rather, a certain mistrust because they are seen as tending to reproduce, sooner or later, that which they purport to combat. If in fact capitalism and the apparatuses of domination need, imperatively, to affect the totality of society, it is because they can only function in a context where no one of its fragments – neither the most negligible, nor even its interstices – has the possibility of escaping its control. Conversely, the resistances would fatally separate themselves from their reason for being if they intended to mould society in its totality and in all of its aspects. It is a matter then of attacking the local establishment and manifestations of domination, renouncing a confrontation on a more general level, something that would call upon resources of a similar power and nature to those used by the very system to control the ensemble of society.
For this reason, even though the effort to regroup as many forces and wills as is possible continues, the construction of large organisations solidly structured and anchored in a specific territory can no longer be found on the current subversive agendas. On the contrary, what is seen to is the preservation of the fluidity of the networks that are created and the avoidance of the crystallisation of excessively strong organisations, which only present the appearance of efficiency and which always end in sterilising struggles. This fluidity is especially emphasised in the insurrectionalist position, inspired at its origin by the Italian anarchist Alfredo Bonanno, but which, since then, has evolved and diversified itself. Let us recall that insurrectionalists advocate four major tactics: desertion – exodus – consists of escaping the places where practices of hierarchical domination exist; sabotage; the occupation of spaces – streets, places, official buildings, etc. – and, finally, the articulation of two kinds of spaces theorised by Hakim Bey: the TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zones) and the PAZ (Permanent Autonomous Zones). Although they virulently criticise classical anarchist organisations, proposing much more lax, fluid and informal organisational structures and privileging the creation of small autonomous groups based on relations of affinity, the insurrectionalists continue to defend an idea of revolution that has certain resonances with the traditional.
2.4. The construction of the present and constructive anarchism
The emphasis that contemporary anarchism places on the transformation of the present and on the redefinition of revolution as a reality that does not await us at the end of the path traveled by struggles, but as something that occurs within the current struggles themselves and the forms of life that they give rise to, is not unrelated to its present day success.
Indeed, to remain coherent with its wager on the present, anarchism sees itself as summoned to offer, in the context of present day reality, concrete realisations which make it possible to live now, even though only partially, in another society, to weave other social relations and to develop another mode of life. These realisations go from self-managed spaces to networks of exchange and mutual aid, moving through okupied spaces to all kinds of cooperatives.
It is basically with concrete achievements and not with cheques to be covered in the future that the promises of the revolution are paid, and they intensely seduce a part of those who reject the current society. It is therefore also because anarchism offers an ensemble of concrete realisations which transform the present and which permit changing oneself, that it today enjoys an undeniable success among certain groups of youth.
To struggle no longer consists only in denouncing, in opposing and confronting, it is also to create, here and now, different realities. The struggles have to produce concrete results without ceasing to be conditioned by hopes placed in the future. To learn how to struggle without illusions with regards to the future leads us to locate the whole value of the struggle in its own features. It is in the very reality of the struggles, in their concrete results and their specific approaches wherein lies the whole of their value, and this must not be sought in what is to be found beyond them: for example, in this or that final objective that would give them legitimacy.
It is consequently about tearing away spaces from the system, to develop community experiences that have a transformative character, because only when an activity truly and radically transforms a reality – even if only in a provisional and partial manner – does it establish the bases for going beyond a mere – though always necessary – opposition to the system, creating a concrete alternative that in fact defies it. This is an approach that Proudhon already advocated when he questioned the virtues of destruction and of opposition, and when he emphasised the construction of alternatives. It is also what Colin Ward defended in the 1970s when, anticipating certain neoanarchist positions, he said that anarchism, far from being negation, was the construction here and now of alternatives that abide by principles other than those of domination. It is lastly what Gustav Landauer proclaimed in the beginning of the last century when he wrote this phrase that I already cited in the preamble: “Anarchism is not a thing of the future but of the present: it is not a question of demands but of life”.
It is accordingly necessary to act upon a milieu that we transform, while this allows us to transform ourselves, modifying our subjectivity. This is possible creating different social ties, constructing complicities and relations of solidarity which outline, in practice and in the present, a different reality and another life. As stated in the French journal Tiqqun: “it is a matter of establishing modes of life that are in themselves modes of struggle”. Of course, none of this is completely new and it can be related, in part, to the lieux de vie – places of life – created by individualist anarchists towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.
The criticisms of these approaches also began long ago. It is indeed clear that the system cannot tolerate an outside with respect to itself and cannot accept that certain fragments of society escape its control. It would therefore be absurd to think that spaces removed from the system can proliferate to the point of being able to progressively subvert and dismantle it. The little islands of freedom are a danger and the system draws its claws well before the threat grows. This marks the limits of the pretensions to change society by means of the creation of another society in the midst of that already exists.
This realisation certainly invalidates the excessive confidence placed in the constructive dimension of anarchism, but it does not diminish in any way its interest. The system cannot control everything permanently and in its totality, and in the same way struggles are possible because they encounter and open spaces that escape, in part and during some time, the strict control of the system. So too the spaces that are removed from the system by the concrete realisations of anarchism can subsist for a more or less prolonged period of time.
This is important because, as we well know, besides oppressing, repressing and crushing human beings, the apparatuses and practices of domination always constitute modes of subjectification of individuals: they mould their imaginary, their desires and their way of thinking such that they respond, freely and spontaneously, in a way that the dominant authorities expect. It is for this reason that we cannot change our desires if we do not change the form of life that produces them, and thus the importance of creating forms of life and spaces that permit constructing practices of de-subjectificiation. It is ultimately an issue, today as in the past, of producing a political subjectivity that is radically rebellious to the society in which we live, to the commodity values that constitute it and the relations of exploitation and domination that ground it.
It is not uncommon to hear neoanarchists say, with strong Foucaldian accents, that it is a matter of transforming oneself, of changing our current subjectivity, of inventing ourselves outside of the matrix that has formed us. But, notice, this does not refer to a purely individual practice, because it is obvious that it is in relation to others, in the fabric of relations, in collective practices and common struggles, where materials and tools are found to carry out this labour upon oneself.
Coincidentally, the importance that practices of de-subjectification have today put directly into question the famous dichotomy that Murray Bookchin established, in the mid-1990s, between social anarchism and lifestyle anarchism, because both kinds of anarchism, far from being opposed to each other, are intimately connected. The necessary construction of a different subjectivity through struggles, whether with a local or global perspective, implies in effect that there is no social anarchism that does not involve strong existential elements and that there does not exist lifestyle anarchism that is not impregnated with social aspects. Despite this, it is often said that, contrary to what occurs with rebellions rooted in the social question, that the rebellions qualified as existential are totally innocuous for the system because, even though they may overflow the strictly private sphere, they do not cease to remain confined to reduced spaces which are unable to perturb the well functioning of the system.
Things are not however like this. If anarchism, which is also – above all, some would say – a way of being, a mode of living and of feeling, a form of sensitivity and, therefore, a clearly existential option, represents a problem for the system, it is because in part it opposes a strong resistance, not only in the face of its repressive intimidations, but, above all, against its manoeuvres of seduction and integration. In spite of evident exceptions, it is in fact quite frequent that those who have been profoundly marked by their anarchist experience remain irrecoverable for ever. In keeping alive their irreducible alterity with respect to the system, they obviously represent a danger for it. It is not that they permanently challenge it by their mere existence, but that they also serve as relays so that new rebellious sensitivities are born. This sustains a certain relation with something that Christian Ferrer, a good friend and anarchist philosopher, used to say to me: “anarchism is not taught and nor is it learned in books – though these may help -, but is spread by contagion; and when someone is infected, more often than not, it is forever”.
I believe then that social anarchism, also called organised anarchism, and lifestyle anarchism, mutually imply each other. This is indeed so to the degree that, on the one hand, the challenge represented by the adoption of a lifestyle different from that which the established system defends and the refusal to abide by its norms and values constitutes a form of struggle which corrodes its pretension to ideological hegemony and which gives rise to social conflict, when the system takes normalising measures or when dissidents develop activities of harassment. In either case, lifestyle anarchism produces effects of social change that may sometimes be notable.
On the other hand, it is obvious that no one can fight for collective emancipation and commit themselves to social struggles without this profoundly affecting their lifestyle and their way of being. It turns out, in addition, that the two forms of anarchism frequently coincide on the terrain of concrete struggles. This does impede certain determined elements of the anarchist movement from raising barriers between these two ways of practicing anarchism. It is because I am convinced that these barriers weaken anarchism, that I would like to argue briefly here against those who try with effort to consolidate them.
In general, those who are catalogued, in the majority of cases against their will, as supporters of lifestyle anarchism – among whom would be included the majority of neoanarchists – show themselves to be little belligerent as regards the differentiation between libertarian ideological currents and feel themselves to have little interest in internal struggles within the movement. It is more often those who are in favour of social or organised anarchism – that overlap, in good measure, with libertarian communist positions – who strive to extend their sphere of influence in the heart of the movement and confine to its margins “lifestyle” anarchists. It is therefore their arguments that I would like to discuss here, but not without first spelling out certain points, to avoid misunderstandings.
It is obvious that an anarchism “without adjectives” is only sustainable as anarchism if it is committed to social justice and freedom among equals. Not only must it denounce exploitation and social inequalities, it must also struggle against them in the most efficacious way possible; it must be present among those who have committed themselves in these struggles and must endeavour to expand its influence among those most directly affected by the injustices of the system. There is nothing to be said consequently against the efforts, on the contrary, that certain anarchists deploy to organise themselves with the aim of contributing to better develop those struggles. Nevertheless, it is also obvious that social or organised anarchism conveys, with excessive frequency, practices and political assumptions that surreptitiously distance it from its libertarian roots. Either because it adopts insufficiently horizontal structures – if not on paper, in practice – or because it lets itself be tempted by a certain vanguardism, or also because it is inclined to develop sectarian practices, among other things.
Capitalism is of course our most direct enemy and it should not be given any respite. The struggle against it constitutes an unrenounceable exigency for anarchism. However, considering the cultural diversity, or other kinds of diversity, that characterise the more than seven billion human beings who inhabit the planet, it is unreasonable to think that our values and our social models can succeed in bringing together the preferences of the majority. Totalizing perspectives are of no value to us, therefore, neither within the frame of the vast “global world”, nor also in the frame of a particular society. If we do not wish to resuscitate eschatological illusions, we must accept that, for those of us who are committed to combats in favour of emancipation, that we will never know the final success of these combats, nor the advent of the kind of society that we dream of. What we will only come to know is the experience of these struggles and their never definitive results. Consequently, social anarchism or not, organised anarchism or not, in the last instance, we have to wager on the modification of the present – a necessarily local and partial modification – turning a deaf ear to the songs of the totalising sirens and abandoning eschatological illusions.
If it is not possible to establish a generalised libertarian communism, nor to render anarchist the whole of the human population, or even a particular society, what can anarchism aspire to and what is left?
Well, even so, what remains is the ongoing struggle against domination in its multiple facets and this includes, of course, domination in the economic sphere, even though it goes well beyond this. What also remains is the transformation of the present, always localised and partial, but radical, and this includes our own transformation. And finally, we have to escape from our confinement and our ghetto, to act together with others, not to convince them, but to accept them; not for strategic reasons, but for reasons of principle.
To act with others? You are right comrades, those of you who struggles in the heart of the anarchism that proclaims itself “organised”. To act with others as you often do is honourable, however it also means to act with anarchists who do not enlist under the flag of organisations laying claim to “social anarchism”, but who, far from finding refuge in the private sphere, are also committed to radical struggles. As indeed usually happens with dualisms, the dichotomy suggested by Bookchin deforms reality because there are not two categories of anarchism, but a single continuous one. At one extreme, we find a lifestyle anarchism withdrawn into itself and totally indifferent to social struggles, while at the other extreme, one finds a social anarchism impermeable to everything other than the social struggle against capital. Between these two extremes, unfolds an array where all of the doses between the two types of anarchism are represented.
What creates the dichotomy, leaving as it does only two possibilities open, is the eventuality of belonging or not to a specific organisation. But if the dichotomy originates in this fact, then it is obvious that it cannot serve to say that “social anarchism” is to be found on one side and that what is found on the other side is not social.
The same comment can be applied to the expression “organised anarchism”. There is not an organised anarchism, on the one hand, and another which is not, on the other hand. It is obvious that one has to organise oneself and that the development of any type of collective activity always calls for some form of organisation, as well as the deployment of a certain organised activity, even if only to publish a few pages or to debate an issue. Therefore, the question is not whether to organise oneself or not, but how to organise oneself. And the answer is that to know how to organise ourselves, we have to know for what purpose we want to organise. This conditions the form of organisation.
The traditional model presupposes the creation of a permanent, stable and encompassing structure, articulated around a few programmatic bases and some common objectives of a sufficiently general nature such that the structure disposes of an ample temporal perspective. It is a model that got on poorly with actual social conditions and that lost a considerable part of its effectiveness, in times characterised by velocity and the rapidness of changes. The current reality demands much more flexible, more fluid, models, guided by simple aims of coordination to carry out concrete and specific tasks. To the degree that, to be effective, the form of organisation must adjust to the nature of the tasks and the objectives for which it was created, and to the degree that these latter are diverse and, sometimes, variable and transitory, a multiplicity of organisational forms must coexist in as complementary a way as possible, without doubting that they can disappear or transform themselves according to the rhythm of social changes and events.
The question of organisation should probably be rethought and given new meaning in the same way as occurred with the concept of revolution, not to proclaim the absence or uselessness of organisation, but to renovate its conceptualisation, its forms and practices. Its clear that the fascination currently exercised, in certain activist circles, by the old model of organisation – brandished as a panacea to increase the effectiveness and diffusion of anarchism – in no way facilitates this task. The efforts dedicated to the construction of an anarchist organisation and the priority conceded to this labour diverts attention away from tasks more directly tied to struggles, and sustains the illusion that the difficulties that trouble current struggles are due principally to the absence of a grande libertarian organisation and that these will disappear as soon as the latter sees the light of day.
The preoccupation to organise and organisational activity must be constant such as to be able to develop collective activities. However, this is very different from the determination to construct an organisation. For this reason, the use of the expression “organised anarchism” is deceptive. It is an expression that basically refers to anarchism framed in a classical type of organisation or to anarchism bound to the insistent effort to construct such an organisation and suggests that, no matter how organized certain anarchist groups or collectives are for carrying out concrete and specific tasks, these form no part of organised anarchism.
The expression is deceitful, but also dangerous because it introduces, as almost all dichotomies do, an asymmetry of value and a hierarchisation between the two poles of the created duality. Accordingly, given that the fact of organising oneself constitutes, obviously, a positive value, valid anarchism is organised anarchism and the other type of anarchism is contemptible. Evidently, the difference between them does not reside in being organised or not, both are, but because one is marked by a specific organisation or aims to construct it and the other is not. But of course, if things were said in this manner, the valorising and hierarchising effect that emanates from the expression “organised anarchism” would be lost, and the call to construct “the organisation” would be weakened.
My way of dealing with this question should not be interpreted as an argument for an anarchism closed within the sphere of the individual and resistant to all organised action. To question the dichotomy created by reference to social anarchism and organised anarchism does not mean that anarchism should not achieve a social projection and, more precisely, a projection within social movements. If anarchism has revived in the present, it is precisely because it has been present in the large popular mobilisations of the beginning of this century; and it is obvious that if anarchism wants to have any kind of validity, it must pervade the broadest social movements possible – as Spanish anarchism did until the end of the 1930s -. This implies of course that these movements cannot be composed principally of anarchists, nor must they be specifically anarchist. This libertarian impregnation, due to the presence of anarchist militants, as well as people and collectives that act in a libertarian manner, even though they do not define themselves as such, can be observed more recently in the multitudinous mobilisations that do not cease to amplify and radicalise themselves in France, since 2008 until today, against the construction of an airport in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, in Brittany, or the mobilisations against evictions in Spain.
If contemporary anarchism changes, it is precisely because it finds itself involved, with other collectives, in current struggles and because it incorporates into itself the principal characteristics of these struggles. Because it finds itself in harmony with these struggles, neoanarchism participates in their imaginary and gathers into itself some of their features in an anarchist imaginary which cannot therefore but see itself modified. Ultimately, the anarchism that changes is the anarchism that struggles and that struggles in the present.
As I already indicated, “neoanarchism” is the expression that appeared to me to be the most convenient to refer to the change experienced by a significant part of contemporary anarchism; this expression though can contribute to cover over certain continuities with the anarchism of earlier epochs. In reality, neoanarchism re-encounters and reformulates some characteristics of anarchism that, while it is true that they had practically disappeared after the defeat of the Revolution of 1936, it is also true that they marked anarchism during the first third of the 20th century, above all in Spain. Thus for example, the desire to transform the present and to transform oneself without waiting for the revolution; or the effort to construct concrete alternatives to the system in multiple domains – such as education or production – or, also, the eagerness to tear away spaces from the system so as to be able to develop other ways of life … these were aspects that were constantly present from the end of the 19th century to the first third of the 20th century, in different countries, while they acquired a spectacular intensity in Spain after the 19th of July of 1936.
It is very likely that there exists a relationship between the current resurgence of anarchism and its re-encounter with principles that made its strength possible in its moments of greatest vigor. However, the terms “re-encounter” or “reinvent” should not be undervalued, because, in effect, it is not about a mimesis, a mere reproduction by imitation, but that these old principles are constructed in a new context that marks them with certain different characteristics. The existing continuities and similarities do not take away one iota of value from the process of reinventing and reformulating by oneself, instead of simply repeating, reproducing or receiving what is inherited.
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