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#Anarchism Colin Ward: Temporary Autonomous Zones

On Januar 11th we reblogged “Temporary Autonomous Zones” by Hakim Bey. Today we reblog a text about the book by Colin Ward.

Originally published by Anarchist Library

I’ve a big agenda of books I would like to read or write and for ordinary reasons, like a low income, I stay at home but get lured abroad when somebody else pays the fares. This explains why anarchists from several countries, like France, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy, have asked me for my opinion on the views of Hakim Bey. [1]

It is always an embarrassment since for a long time I had no idea about who this person and his opinions were or are. Plenty of us, including myself, are hesitant about revealing the vast scope of our own ignorance. Two sources have explained to me what these questioners were talking about. One, of course, is Freedom’s invaluable feature ‘Food for Thought … and Action!’ and the other is Murray Bookchin’s recent book Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm [2].

Bookchin and I have opposite ways of coping with people whose ideas have some kind of connection with our own but with whom we disagree. His is to pulverise them with criticism so that they won’t emerge again. Mine is to follow the policy of Paul Goodman, who had been a subject of the Bookchin scorn. Goodman enjoyed telling a fable:

’Tom says to Jerry: ‘Do you want to fight ? Cross that line!’ and Jerry does. ‘Now’, cries Tom, ‘you’re on my side!’ We draw the line in their conditions ; we proceed on our own conditions.”

As a propagandist I usually find it more useful to claim as comrades the people whose ideas are something like mine, and to stress the common ground, rather than to wither them up in a deluge of scorn.

What I learn from Bookchin’s book is that Hakim Bey’s book is called TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchism, Poetic Terrorism, that the author’s real name is Peter Lamborn Wilson, and that his book has a whole lot of notions that wouldn’t appeal to people of the Bookchin/Ward generation. And after his demolition job, Murray asks: “What, finally, is a ‘temporary autonomous zone’ ?” He explains it with a quotation from Hakim Bey describing how:

“The TAZ is like an uprising which does not engage directly with the state, a guerrilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself, to re-form elsewhere / elsewhen, before the state can crush it.”

And he goes on to quote from Hakim Bey’s essay how in a TAZ we can “realise many of our true desires, even if only for a season, a brief Pirate Utopia, a warped free-zone in the old Space/Time continuum” and how ‘potential TAZs” include “the sixties-style tribal gathering, the forest conclave of eco-saboteurs, the idyllic Beltane of the neopagans, anarchist conferences, and gay faery circles” not to speak of, as Murray quotes, “night-clubs, banquets” and “old-time libertarian picnics” — no less.

Murray Bookchin, naturally, comments that “having been a member of the Libertarian League in the 1960s, I would love to see the Bey and his disciples surface at an ‘old-time libertarian picnic’!” And he makes some down-to-earth comments on Hakim Bey’s praise for “voluntary illiteracy” and for homelessness as “in a sense a virtue, an adventure”.

Rightly, in my view, Murray remarks that:

“Alas, homelessness can be an ‘adventure’ when one has a comfortable home to return to, while nomadism is the distinct luxury of those who can afford to live without earning their livelihood. Most of the ‘nomadic’ hoboes I recall so vividly from the Great Depression era suffered desperate lives of hunger, disease and indignity and usually died prematurely — as they still do today in the streets of urban America.”

He wins us over to stern realism, but that one concept of Temporary Autonomous Zones is so familiar to me, and probably to him too, that it’s worth considering outside the Hakim Bey context. Plenty of us must have been in situations when we reflect that we all have certain experiences that seem to us to be the way things would happen if we were living in an anarchist society.

I think it was as long ago as 1970 that a reader of Anarchy, Graham Whiteman, was writing there about the equivalent of temporary autonomous zones that he perceived in the vast rock or pop festivals that started happening in 1967, notably the event at Woodstock in New York State in August 1969. There were plenty more closer to home in the subsequent 25 years.

But once the phrase Temporary Autonomous Zones lodges in your mind you begin to see it/them everywhere: fleeting pockets of anarchy that occur in daily life. In this sense it describes a perhaps more useful concept than that of an anarchist society, since the most libertarian societies that we know of have their authoritarian elements, and vice versa. I was reading recently the biography by Michael Holroyd of the painter Augustus John, a self-declared anarchist who was also rather a monster in creating around himself the particular version of anarchy that appealed to him. Holroyd is describing John’s return, in his 73rd year in 1950 to St-Rémy in France, to a place he had left in a hurry in 1939:

“French feeding wasn’t what it had been and the wine seemed to have gone off. But in the evening, at the Café des Variétés, he could still obtain that peculiar equilibrium of spirit and body he described as ‘detachment-in-intimacy’. The conversation whirled around him, the accordion played, and sometimes he was rewarded ‘by the apparition of a face or part of a face, a gesture or conjunction of forms which I recognise as belonging to a more real and harmonious world than that to which we are accustomed’.”

The old painter’s last phrase describes rather beautifully the sensation of what another Freedom contributor, Brian Richardson, calls “golden moments”. His unaccustomed glimpse of a more real and harmonious world is the meaning that I am inclined to ascribe to the words about Temporary Autonomous Zones.

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#Anarchism Temporary Autonomous Zones by Hakim #Bey

A book about Temporary Autonomos Zones (TAZ) by Hakim Bey.

TAZ-theory tries to concern itself with existing or emerging situations rather than with pure utopianism. All over the world people are leaving or “disappearing” themselves from the Grid of Alienation and seeking ways to restore human contact. An interesting example of this — on the level of “urban folk culture” — can be found in the proliferation of hobby networks and conferences. Recently I discovered the zines of two such groups, Crown Jewels of the Hlgh Wire (devoted to the collection of glass electrical insulators) and a journal on cucurbitology (The Gourd). A vast amount of creativity goes into these obsessions. The various periodic gatherings of fellow-maniacs amount to genuine face-to-face (unmediated) festivals of eccentricity. It’s not just the “counter-culture” which seeks its TAZs, its nomad encampments and nights of liberation from the Consensus. Self-organized and autonomous groups are springing up amongst every “class” and “sub-culture”. Vast tracts of the Babylonian Empire are now virtually empty, populated only by the spooks of MassMedia, and a few psychotic policemen.

Originally published by the Anarchist Library

TAZ-theory realizes that THIS IS HAPPENING — we’re not talking about “should” or “will be” — we’re talking about an already — existing movement. Our use of various thought — experiments, utopian poetics, paranoia criticism, etc., aims at helping to clarify this complex and still largely undocumented movement, to give it some theoretical focus and self-awareness, and to suggest tactics based on coherent integral strategies — to act the midwife or the panegyrist, not the “vanguard”!

And so we’ve had to consider the fact that not all existing autonomous zones are “temporary”. Some are (at least by intention) more-or-less “permanent”. Certain cracks in the Babylonian Monolith appear so vacant that whole groups can move into them and settle down. Certain theories, such as “Permaculture”, have been developed to deal with this situation and make the most of it. “Villages”, “communes”, “communities”, even “arcologies” and “biospheres” (or other utopian-city forms) are being experimented with and implemented. Even here however TAZ-theory may offer some useful thought-tools and clarifications.

What about a poetique (a “way of making”) and a politique (a “way of living-together) for the “permanent” TAZ (or “PAZ”)? What about the actual relation between temporariness and permanence? And how can the PAZ renew and refresh itself periodically with the “festival” aspect of the TAZ?


Recent events in the US and Europe have shown that self-organized/autonomous groups strike fear into the heart of the State. MOVE in Philadelphia, the Koreshites of Waco, Deadheads, Rainbow Tribes, computer-hackers, squatters, etc., have been targeted for varying intensity-levels of extermination. And yet other autonomous groups go unnoticed, or at least unpersecuted. What makes the difference? One factor may be the malign effect of publicity or mediation. The Media experience a vampiric thirst for the shadow-Passion play of “Terrorism”, Babylon’s public ritual of expiation, scapegoating, and blood-sacrifice. Once any autonomous group allows this particular “gaze” to fall upon it, the shit hits the fan: — the Media will try to arrange a mini-armageddon to satisfy its junk-sickness for spectacle and death.

Now, the PAZ makes a fine sitting target for such a Media smart-bomb. Beseiged inside its “con-pound”, the self-organized group can only succumb to some sort of cheap pre-determined martyrdom. Presumably this role appeals only to neurotic masochists??? In any case, most groups will want to live out their natural span or trajectory in peace and quiet. A good tactic here might be to avoid publicity from the Mass Media as if it were the plague. A bit of natural paranoia comes in handy, so long as it doesn’t become an end in itself. One must be cunning in order to get away with being bold. A touch of camoflage, a flair for invisibility, a sense of tact as a tactic…might be as useful to a PAZ as a TAZ. Humble suggestions: — Use only “intimate media” (zines, phonetrees, BBSs, free radio and mini-FM, public-access cable, etc.) — avoid blustering-macho- confrontationist attitude — you don’t need five seconds on the Evening News (“Police Raid Cultists”) to validate your existence. Our slogan might be: — “Get a life, not a life-style.”


People probably ought to choose the people they live with. ”Open-membership” communes invariably end up swamped with freeloaders and sex-starved pathetic creeps. PAZs must choose their own membership mutually — this has nothing to do with “elitism”. The PAZ may exercize a temporarily open function — such as hosting festivals or giving away free food, etc. — but it need not be permanently open to any self-proclaimed sympathizer who wanders by.


Once again, this is already happening — but it still needs a huge amount of work before it comes into focus. The sub-economies of “lavoro nero”, untaxed transactions, barter, etc., tend to be severely limited and localized. BBSs and other networking systems could be used to link up these regional/marginal aeconomies (“household managements”) into a viable alternative economy of some magnitude. “P.M.” has already outlined something like this in bolo’bolo — in fact a number of possible systems already exist, in theory anyway. The problem is: — how to construct a true alternative economy, i.e. a complete economy, without attracting the IRS and other capitalist runningdogs? How can I exchange my skills as, say, a plumber or moonshiner, for the food, books, shelter, and psychoactive plants I want — without paying taxes, or even without using ally State-forged money? How can I live a comfortable (even luxurious) life free of all interactions and transactions with CommodityWorld? If we took all the energy the Leftists put into “demos”, and all the energy the Libertarians put into playing futile little 3rd-party games, and if we redirected all that power into the construction of a real underground economy, we would already have accomplished “the Revolution” long ago.


The hollowed-out effigy of the Absolute State finally toppled in “1989”. The last ideology, Capitalism, is no more than a skin-disease of the Very Late Neolithic. It’s a desiring-machine running on empty. I’m hoping to see it deliquesce in my lifetime, like one of Dali’s mindscapes. And I want to have somewhere to “go” when the shit comes down. Of course the death of Capitalism needn’t entail the Godzilla-like destruction of all human culture; this scenario is merely a terror-image propagated by Capitalism itself. Nevertheless it stands to reason that the dreaming corpse will spasm violently before rigor mortis sets in — and New York or LA may not be the smartest places to wait out the storm. (And the storm may already have begun.) [On the other hand NYC and LA might not be the worst places to create the New World; one can imagine whole squatted neighborhoods, gangs transformed into Peoples’ Militias, etc.] Now, the gypsy-RV way of life may be one way to deal with the on-going melt-down of Too-Late Capitalism — but as for me, I’d prefer a nice anarchist monastery somewhere — a typical place for “scholars” to sit out the “Dark Ages”. The more we organize this NOW the less hassle we’ll have to face later. I’m not talking about “survival” — I’m not interested in mere survival. I want to thrive. BACK TO UTOPIA.


The PAZ serves a vital function as a node in the TAZ-web, a meetingplace for a wide circle of friends and allies who may not actually live fulltime on the “farm” or in the “village”. Ancient villages held fairs which brought wealth to the community, provided markets for travelers, and created festal time/space for all participants. Nowadays the festival is emerging as one of the most important forms for the TAZ itself, but can also provide renewal and fresh energy for the PAZ. I remember reading somewhere that in the Middle Ages there were one hundred and eleven holidays a year; we should take this as our “utopian minimum” and strive to do even better. [Note: the utopian minima proposed by C. Fourier consisted of more food and sex than the average 18th century French aristocrat enjoyed; B. Fuller proposed the term “bare minimum” for a similar concept]


I believe that there exist plenty of good selfish reasons for desiring the “organic” (it’s sexier), the “natural” (it tastes better), the “green” (it’s more beautiful), the Wild(er)ness (it’s more exciting). Communitas (as P. Goodman called it) and conviviality (as I. Illich called it) are more pleasurable than their opposites. The living earth need not exclude the organic city — the small but intense conglomeration of humanity devoted to the arts and slightly decadent joys of a civilization purged of all its gigantism and enforced loneliness — but even those of us who enjoy cities can see immediate and hedonic motives for fighting for the “environment”. We are militant biophiles. Deep ecology, social ecology, permaculture, appropriate tech..we’re not too picky about ideologies. Let 1000 flowers bloom.


A “weird religion” or a rebel art movement can become a kind of non-local PAZ, like a more intense and all-consuming hobby network. The Secret Society (like the Chinese Tong) also provides a model for a PAZ without geographic limits. But the “perfect case scenario” involves a free space that extends into free time. The essence of the PAZ must be the long-drawn-out intensification of the joys — and risks — of the TAZ. And the intensification of the PAZ will be….Utopia Now.

Hakim Bey

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