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#Anarchism is movement: Tomás Ibáñez (3)

Engaging directly with the contemporary resurgence and renewal of anarchism, Tomás Ibáñez, in the third chapter of Anarchism is movement, endeavours in part to conceptualise what he calls the “constitutively changeable” nature of the movement. 

Binding together thought and action, anarchism develops within mutually sustaining relations between practice guided by and creative of ideas, and ideas generative of and resulting from practice.  And to the extent that anarchism in turn develops within a historical context, this same relationship between thought and action is paralleled at the broader level of the movement’s relationship with any particular historical moment: anarchism is made possible (as thought and practice) by the context from which it emerges, while that context is changed by anarchism. 

In other words, the anarchist movement’s capacity to surge up anew depends on its renewal and its renewal depends on its capacity to produce the conditions of its resurgence.  And it is in this immanent to and fro between idea and practice, and between both and historical setting, that rebellious subjectivities are forged.  Should these ties be severed, then anarchism and anarchists will only be found in libraries and museums.

Originally published by Autonomies.

Read Anarchism is movement by Tomás Ibáñez  chapter 1 with the preamble here and chapter 2 here.

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3. The reasons for the resurgence/renewal of anarchism

If anarchism is surging back again with force at the dawn of the 21st century, it is undoubtedly because some of the changes that our societies have experienced during the last decades are in tune with some of its characteristics and because, consequently, a kind of concordance between specific aspects of reality and certain aspects of anarchism have been established.  In other words, if some of the characteristics of the contemporary sociopolitical, technological and cultural changes favour the deployment of certain anarchist practices, it is because there exists a certain isomorphism between these said characteristics and practices.  As a result, it is in the intersection, in the encounter or, better, in the interaction between these elements – that is, between, on the one hand, the changes that have taken place and, on the other, anarchism; but neither in the one or the other, considered separately.  It is in the loop that anarchism forms with the changes that have recently occurred where the secret of anarchism’s riding again is to be found.

Accordingly, for example, if we consider changes of a technological kind, its clear that parallel to the undeniable danger that they represent for our freedoms, NICT [New Information and Communication Technologies] also favour the horizontality of decisions, exchanges and relations, while increasing the possibilities of self-organisation and permitting the rapid dissemination of local initiatives, to mention only a few of the effects of these technologies which move entirely in a direction similar to that advocated or called for by anarchism.

Likewise, if we consider sociopolitical changes, it turns out that the expansion and the growing sophistication of the procedures of control and of the exercise of power that are applied to evermore numerous aspects of our daily life demonstrate that anarchism was completely correct in insisting on phenomena of power, and this contributes to increasing its credibility.  Furthermore, this proliferation of microscopic interventions of power multiplies the occasions for deploying practices of resistance against domination, as anarchism maintains.  Other changes, more circumstantial, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, have also played a facilitating role in the development of anarchism.  These events effectively put an end to the Marxist hegemony in the challenge to capitalism and unblock the search for other references to direct contemporary radical politics.

Lastly, if we contemplate the cultural changes, we can observe that the crisis of the legitimating ideology of modernity and, especially, the questioning of its essentialist presuppositions – that negated the possibility of freedom – , as well as the collapse of its eschatological perspectives – which sacrificed the present in benefit of the future – and the criticising of its totalising pretensions – which crushed singularities and diversity -, could not but reinforce, through a rebound effect, certain anarchist assumptions.

Before developing these themes, it is worthwhile to stop a few moments before the fact that this is not only about a resurgence of anarchism, but also, simultaneously, about its renewal.

3.1. Resurgence and renewal in one delivery

The resurgence and renewal of anarchism take place in unison.  This concomitance is not surprising because it follows from the fact that the resurgence that we can presently verify is only possible because anarchism renews itself and is able, in this way, to harness itself to the new conditions that define the current epoch.  Indeed, if it did not renew itself, no matter how favourable present conditions were to it, it could not surge back again.  It could not do so for the simple reason that these favourable conditions are, at the same time, new, that is, unprecedented in the path that anarchism has traveled until now.  It is therefore necessary for this latter to change so at to adapt itself to the new conditions and to integrate the novelty that appears along its own journey.  The very fact that it surges up again today indicates, in principle, that it has succeeded in carrying out enough of a renewal to be able to connect with the changes that have occurred in its milieu.  Therefore, renewal is a necessary condition to render its resurgence possible, but, at the same time, given that this resurgence articulates itself with the necessary adaptation to novel conditions, it cannot but reinforce, in turn, the renewal of what made it possible.  Which means that the resurgence of anarchism acts as a necessary condition that makes its own renewal possible.

Resurgence and renewal acquire the form of a loop that sustains itself in a continuous movement and that recalls what I already mentioned with regards to the interaction between the characteristics of anarchism and those of specific social changes.  To applaud the resurgence of anarchism and to lament, at the same time, its movement away from its traditional forms – as some anarchists do and, even, some anarchist currents – constitutes therefore a contradiction that only becomes evident when the relationship between these two aspects is grasped.  Here also a choice is imposed, because anarchism would not have been able to surge back again if it had remained unchanging.  To oppose its renewal is to act, inevitably, against its reappearance.

While not forgetting that resurgence and renewal are mutually inseparable elements, I am going to separate them, exclusively for the purpose of exposition, presenting, firstly, a few considerations about the renewal of anarchism, following then with its resurgence.

3.2. The reasons for the renewal of anarchism

3.2.1. Anarchism as a constitutively changing reality

The renewal of anarchism is to be explained by the fact that by its very nature, it is a changing reality, and not only accidentally so.

Insofar as it is immersed in the flux of historical time, anarchism, like any other current of thought, necessarily gathers within itself some of the new elements that are produced within it and is thereby modified in a more or less significant manner.  In this sense, that anarchism changes with the passage of time is evident, and in noway mysterious.  What would be completely unusual would be instead its total invariability.

Anarchism however is not limited to experiencing conjunctural modifications, the outcome of historical avatars, but is a constitutively changing reality.  This means that change is to be found directly inscribed in its manner of self-constitution and in its way of existing.  Consequently, if change defines anarchism’s way of being, it could not continue to be what it is if it did not change.

In other words, anarchism is necessarily changeable because its immutability would contradict the kind of reality that it is.  This way of being is not without consequences because, for example, if what I put forth here is true, then there is nothing further removed from anarchism than to conceive it as a timeless, inalterable, immutable thing, defined once and for all.  And this immediately pushes aside any pretension to watch over its original purity and any fancy to institute oneself as a guardian of the temple.

The reasons that render anarchism constitutively changeable rest principally on the symbiosis between idea and action that mark anarchist thought and practices.

As Proudhon and Bakunin clearly stated, the idea has as much an origin as a practical value; it is born in a context of action and is directed towards producing practical effects through the action that it in turn engenders.  In this sense, anarchism, contrary to Marxism, is not an ensemble of analytical and programmatic texts that have the aim of guiding action, but an ensemble of practices within which certain principles are manifest.  These are principles that constitute themselves therefore through action, that are born from it and that in turn steer it.

The symbiosis between idea and action is what is at the origin of the constitutively changeable character of anarchism.  This is very easy to understand as soon as we stop for a moment at what characterizes action.  It is in fact clear that far from occurring in a vacuum or in the abstract, all action finds itself necessarily inserted in a historical context.  As every historical context is, necessarily, specific and singular – precisely because it is historical -, action that develops within it cannot but be, also, specific and singular and, therefore, change itself in accordance with the inevitable variations that the historical context invariably undergoes.  A historical context which, behind each of the changes that it undergoes, is newly singular and specific, and will demand consequently that the actions which develop within it be so as well, if they are to produce any kind of effect.

Of course, as action and idea are intimately bound in anarchism, the changes that action meets with produce, in turn, changes in the conceptual content of what action produces, at the same time as action is a consequence of those changes.

Ultimately, to not be constitutively changeable would mean then for anarchism to break this so particular tie between idea and action that comprises one of its formative elements, and we would find ourselves therefore before something that would be anything but anarchism.

Anarchism does not preexist the practices that institute it and it cannot survive beyond the practices that continuously produce it, except as a historical curiosity.  It cannot do so because it is not something that inspires or activates these practices, that is latent below them, for it is nothing else but these practices in themselves and the principles that result from them.

3.2.2. The formation of anarchism in the struggles against domination

Anarchism can be defined, among other ways, as what contradicts the logic of domination, at whatever level it is deployed.  It is therefore in the midst of the practices of struggle against domination where it is engendered.  This indicates, yet again, that it necessarily evolves.  In effect, these antagonistic practices cannot but transform themselves to the extent that, in the course of history and the social changes that accompany it, the apparatuses and modalities of domination modify and recompose themselves.

If it is true that struggles are not born spontaneously from nothing, but are always provoked and defined by that against which they constitute themselves, then it can be inferred that it is the new forms of domination that have arisen in our society which inspire present day resistances and which bestow upon them their form.  In other words, antagonistic movements neither invent themselves nor create that to which they are opposed and against which they constitute themselves; they only invent the ways to oppose these realities.  So, for example, it is because the apparatuses of domination currently adopt reticular forms that the resistances also adopt them.

Stated differently, that against which anarchism struggles changes and, consequently, the forms of struggle also change giving way to new experiences and new approaches which, in being gathered into anarchism, make it evolve.

It also has to be taken into account that the new social conditions not only modify the apparatuses of domination and the corresponding practices of struggle, but also produce modifications in the symbolic fabric and in the cultural sphere.  On the one hand, they give rise to new discourses of legitimation that are necessary to support the new apparatuses of domination, but, on the other hand, that also give rise to new analyses and new antagonistic discourses that enrich critical thought.  That is, a modality of thought that, in the words of Foucault, put into question all forms of domination, and in which can be found, despite the enormous differences that separate them, as much Castoriadis, as Deleuze, Foucault or Chomsky, among others.

Insofar as this way of thinking also constitutes a form of struggle against domination, it approaches and borders an anarchism that, for its part it, cannot avoid encountering this thought, receiving its influence and therefore changing with the integration into its own discourse of some of the formulations of contemporary critical thought, as we will see in the chapter dedicated to postanarchism.

Ultimately, the only way to render anarchism invariant, fixed and stationary is to tear it away from the milieu where it lives and embalm or mummify it, because living anarchism breaths in the fluidity of the change that animates it and, as said earlier, that makes it not be in every moment “neither totally itself nor totally something other”.  It is a constitutively changeable way of being and whose mode of existence consequently consists of finding itself in a perpetual becoming.

3.3. The reasons for the resurgence of anarchism

Among the changes that favour the growth of anarchism, I will only mention those related to the development of NICT and, furthermore, those that result from the current proliferation of relations of power and the effects of domination.

3.3.1. NICT, collective mobilisations and the self-institution of a new political subject

Although they contain evident freedom destroying features, it is obvious that the NICT also permit the constitution of a milieu favourable to the development of anarchist practices, facilitating horizontality, self-government and the exercise of direct democracy, while stimulating collective creativity and propitiating direct action.

A quick examination of the popular mobilisations that have taken place these last years show that the use of NICT impresses upon them characteristics that favour the expansion of anarchism.  So, for example, the extraordinary rapidity and amplitude, sometimes surprising, of the mobilisations that are called through social networks based on electronic exchanges (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are possible because behind them there are no – or at the origin of the call to which they respond – potent organisations, afflicted with all of the inertia and all of the weight that inevitably accompany stable and lasting structures; and this confers on these moblisations certain qualities that bring them close to libertarian modes of functioning.  In effect, in the absence of a permanent centre of decision making and of already established structural frameworks, the initial call functions simply as a trigger, more than as an organising body, and leaves, thus, the essential part of the mobilisation and its success in the hands of the participants, depending on their sense of self-organisation and their initiative, which in these conditions, cannot but privilege horizontality and collective creativity.

The mobilisations that constitute themselves on the bases of social networks and the NICT have not displaced those that answer to the call of traditional organisations.  Both today coexist, but, of course, they give rise to very different dynamics.  Classical demonstrations can occasionally be seen to be overwhelmed and to take unpredictable directions, but in principle, everything falls under the control of the organisations that call them and the margin of initiative left in the hands of the participants is minimal.  The preparations are long and labourious, prudence is obligatory because an eventual failure of participation represents certain costs for the organisation…  By contrast, mobilisations called for without any stable organisational infrastructure can materialise in a way that is practically immediate, and what can happen escapes all control and all prediction.  In general, these mobilisations often conclude without anything extraordinary happening, but sometimes the libertarian potentialities that characterise them gain form in very precise circumstances that we will see next.

Certainly, the majority of the popular mobilisations, both those of the past and those of today, have precise demands and they maintain themselves as long as the collective energy that emanates from social discontent is sufficiently intense to sustain them.  When this energy abates, either because results have been attained that diminish the discontent, or because of fatigue, dejection or repression, the mobilisation ceases and the return to order is produced, as the good people like to say.

Sometimes it happens that these struggles give way to the deployment of a collective creativity that puts into question and makes falter the very logic of the system.  A second kind of movement of rebellion is thus outlined in which can be seen that the thousands of people who invade the streets and public spaces do not do so only to protest against this or that particular aspect, or to demand this or that concrete measure, but also to institute or, better, to self-institute itself as a new political subject.

This process of self-institutionalisation that is carried out within the very mobilisations demands that the people who organise themselves, converse, collectively elaborate a political discourse that is proper to them and construct in common the elements necessary to keep the mobilisation going and to develop political action.  This requires that the imagination be put to work to create spaces, construct conditions, elaborate procedures that permit people to elaborate, by themselves and collectively, their own agenda at the margin of the watchwords that come from a place other than the mobilisation itself.  This labour of creation of a new political subject then takes the lead over the particular demands that provoked the mobilisation.

In this kind of situation, new social energies form next to those that originate with the initial social discontent, feeding back upon themselves, losing intensity to then, in the following instant, to grow back again, as in a storm.  These energies rise up and constitute themselves within the very situations of confrontation.  That is why great social uprisings have an unpredictable nature and come under the sign of spontaneity.

To subvert normal functioning and established uses, to occupy public spaces, to transform places of passage into places of encounter and expression, all of this activates a collective creativity that invents, in each instant, new ways to extend subversion and have it proliferate.

Liberated spaces therefore illuminate new social relations which create, in turn, new social ties.  People transform and politicise themselves in very few days, not superficially but profoundly, with incredible speed.  It is, as a matter of fact, the concrete realisations, here and now, that reveal themselves capable of mobilising people, of inciting them to go further and to make them see that other ways of life are possible.  However, for these realisations to see the day, it is necessary that people feel themselves to be protagonists, that they decide for themselves.  And it is when they are truly protagonists and they really feel themselves to be so, that they involve themselves totally, exposing their bodies in the development of the struggle, thereby permitting that the movement of rebellion amplify itself well beyond what could have been prognosticated in view of the discontent, source of the first confrontations.  This process of self-institution of a new political spacecreated in the very midst of struggles, is very close to what anarchism advocates and calls for.

It was a phenomenon of this kind that occurred in Paris in May of 1968; long before, therefore, the existence of the Internet, which demonstrates that the NICT are not necessary for these events to happen.  Nevertheless, it is also a phenomenon of this kind that filled the public squares of Spain with protesters from the 15th of May of 2011 on.  All the same, what seems quite clear when we observe the struggles of the beginning of this century is that even though the NICT are not, in any way, necessary for the formation of the conditions of collective creativity, direct democracy and self-organisation, they nonetheless encourage their appearance, thus promoting mobilisations with a strongly libertarian character.

3.3.2. The proliferation of power and its reconceptualisation

In commenting on the reasons for its renovation and, more precisely, of its formation in struggles, I said that anarchism could be defined as what contradicts the logic of domination.  Anarchist thought has in effect put so much effort into unmasking the multiple damages that power inflicts on freedom and in delegitimating and dismantling the apparatuses of power, that it has instituted itself as the ideology and the political thought of the critique of power, while other emancipatory ideologies that originated in the 19th century confined this subject to a secondary or derivative level.  It is precisely the importance given to the phenomenon of power that accounts for the vigorous actuality of anarchism.  This latter today harvests, so to speak, the fruits of the secular obstinacy with which it has denounced the harmfulness of power and sees itself, finally, absolved of the accusation of having remained blind to the principal causes of injustice and exploitation, that some situated exclusively in the economic sphere.  However, we also have to recognise that in its questioning of power, anarchism has not always been correct.

In showing that relations of power are forged within social ties and that they are created incessantly in the vary fabric of society, the research of Michel Foucault has contradicted the anarchist belief in the possibility of radically eliminating power, obliging a fairly profound reconsideration of this entire problem.

Paradoxically, the refutation of anarchism on this precise point seems to assure its permanence for a very long time, because if it is certain that relations of power are inherent to the social and that anarchism is fundamentally a desire to criticise, confront and subvert relations of power, then something of what inspires anarchism cannot but persist while societies exist.  And not because anarchism is called upon to perpetuate itself throughout the centuries, but because it is unlikely that a political current which, under different names or other modalities, continues to make the criticism of power its principal preoccupation, whatever the concrete techniques adopted by domination, will completely disappear.

The political importance and actuality of anarchism has grown as the importance and the sophistication of the relations of power of daily life have increased.  In revealing the abundant plurality of the modalities of the exercise of power, and in questioning overly simplistic analyses that rendered these invisible and in this way shielding them from any possibility of contestation, Michel Foucault’s research has contributed decisively to highlight the extension of power and to magnify its perceived presence in the social field.  This has enormously amplified the field of anarchism’s theoretical and practical intervention, underlying its importance.

However, it has not only been our perception of the modalities of the exercise of power that has been diversified and amplified in the last decades.  We have also witnessed the proliferation of those aspects of our lives subject to the interventions of power.

In contemporary society, power operates with an ever finer surgical precision, gaining access to the smallest details of our existence – so as to, among other things, extract surplus value -, while at the same time increasing the areas in which it intervenes and the diversity of its procedures.  Procedures that transform us, for example, into “entrepreneurs of the self”, extending the logic of business to the whole social body, or which use our freedom to make us more competitive.  With the multiplication of the facets of our existence that become targets of the interventions of power, the occasions for the concrete intervention of anarchism also consequently multiply and, in parallel, the feeling that the exercise of power constitutes an omnipresent phenomenon that should be a principal concern, as anarchism always affirmed, intensifies.

This omnipresence today awakens a more than justified anxiety that the present does not cease to feed.  The feeling that the apparatuses of power are in a position to control our most anodyne actions and that nothing can escape their gaze, finds ample sustenance in episodes such as WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, or Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States, as well as in the revelations about the use of big data to generate information and economic benefits from the traces left behind by the steps we take in the electronic fabric.  Likewise, the procedures of continuous, exhaustive and “for always” recording and storage of exchanges and consultations that pass through the medium of the Internet and mobile apparatuses, accompanied by the unlimited capacity to treat this information, augur or, better, illustrate our already total transparency before the gaze of power.  If to this we add that with the use of drones and other techniques for the physical elimination of individuals branded undesirable  – poisonings, for example -, power has gone well beyond, and without embarrassment, the control of information, then the considerable expansion, in some parts of the population, of the hostility to power and the desire to combat it, is understandable.

This extension of power also has a bearing on the situation in the world of work.  Until a few decades ago, resistances were activated and armed on the bases of the conditions of exploitation that weighed upon the workers.  Today these conditions continue to sustain important struggles.  However, domination, which is much more diversified than in the past, has proliferated outside the field of productive labour, thereby considerably weakening the strength of the workers movement.  Today, it is not only a matter of extracting surplus value from labour power; all of the activities which workers give themselves over to, outside their workplaces, also produce benefits to a degree and with a diversity of procedures unknown until the present.  Their savings, their leisure, their health, their houses, the education of their children, care given and received, etc., produce dividends that, if they were always substantial, today have acquired a much more considerable volume.

It is thus not surprising that the coming to political awareness increasingly originates in the experience of the control exercised over our daily life and in the perception that our whole existence is commodified.  It is from this experience and this perception that originate the new antagonistic and radical subjectivities of our time.

It is sufficient therefore to consider simultaneously the contributions of critical thought to a new analysis of the relations of power and the characteristics adopted in the exercise of power in contemporary society, to see that the field that opens up before anarchist struggles is experiencing a spectacular deployment.

The social, cultural, political and technological changes of these last decades are creating conditions favourable to the resurgence of anarchism, while at the same time obliging it to renew a certain number of its presuppositions and perspectives.  On the level of practices, this renewal has taken on, in good measure, the form of what I earlier called neoanarchism, while on a more theoretical level, it has taken on, in part, the form of postanarchism, as we will see in what follows.

The first– along with the preamble – and second chapters, of Ibáñez’s essay, have been published earlier.


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