Thoughts on Liberation. A Personal Anarchist Dictionary (Excerpts)
Anarchy is a social condition in which people live together without presupposed authority and hierarchy. That means no special caste of politicians, judges, lawyers, teachers, cops, bosses, or any of that. Anarchism stands for the combined artistic, theoretical, and practical efforts to create, maintain, and defend such a condition.
The way in which people organize their communal life in an anarchist environment is completely open to any procedure imaginable. There's no model for an anarchist society. By definition it creates and recreates itself permanently. As long as there are no presupposed authorities and hierarchies, it's anarchic.
That doesn't necessarily mean it's paradise. Egotistical people can always take advantage of such a condition. But: At least it allows for the possible creation of communal life in equality, justice, and solidarity, while at the same time respecting individuality and diversity. No other social condition can do that.
In that sense anarchy can be anywhere. In a house, a festival, a group, a movement, a commune. Even within or next to the State.
The State (representing presupposed authority - see the resp. entry) might never go away. So what? Find its cracks and escape. The statist forces might hunt you down again after a while, but hey, then there are always other cracks, right?
Create and recreate. That's anarchism.
Anarchy stands and falls with its uncompromising commitment to anti-authoritarianism.
Yes, there are people who know more about certain things than others or who have superior skills in certain fields, and it's fine, often actually very beneficial and helpful and therefore appreciated, when these people share their knowledge with others, act as temporary guides, or whatever. This has nothing to do with acting out authority, it has simply to do with individual contributions to a collective life of solidarity.
Authority starts where certain individuals are awarded a special status of power due to their (real or supposed) knowledge and/or skills. With this, hierarchy and injustice are introduced into the community, and all doors to repression and corruption opened. Anarchists can’t have that.
The people who help others with their knowledge and skills in an anarchist community won't receive special status, attention, or reward. Not even special respect, other than the respect everybody gets. They do what you do if you're an anarchist. You share. Plus, whoever has something to give in certain fields, has to take in others. And if there's anarchy, no part of social life is worth more than another, so special status is impossible.
Plus, anarchists know the difference between self-confidence and self-righteousness. They will always listen to questions and suggestions concerning what they say or do.
Anarchists give each advice, solve each conflict, and make each decision as equals. People suggest, propose, defend, question, get excited and passionate ... but they never tell others what to do. That's for politicians, cops, or teachers. Anarchism doesn't know of such people.
Art as a creative process is in itself revolutionary since creativity is an inherent part of anarchist activity (see ‘Anarchy/Anarchism’). In a certain sense anarchy itself is an artform.
Works of art, however, do not just express revolutionary creativity, they might also express the artist's conscious or subconscious intentions, aesthetic norms of certain social groups in certain places at certain times, etc. And they definitely do not just inspire revolutionary creativity, since they might be (both rationally and emotionally) interpreted in non-revolutionary (even reactionary) ways, used for political propaganda, capitalist brainwashing, or artistic escapism. So, art as a whole is by no means per se revolutionary. But all art holds revolutionary potential.
The freer the artist and his or her environment, the clearer this becomes. That's why, in general, a DIY-Punk-gig in a squat is still a way more revolutionary event than a classical opera performance in an opera hall. But as the Punk-gig can turn out to be a boring non-event, a certain opera performance can free a certain individual. We never really know.
If art is liberated from realpolitical and economic use, it becomes a truly revolutionary force. As such it is nothing but enlightening and energizing. It goes both ways: The artists have to liberate themselves from the State and Capital through their art and its presentation; and we have to liberate them from the State’s and Capital’s pressures. As always, it demands a collective effort.
1. No schools. Not in anarchism. Schools are the prototype of hell. Demanding conformity, preparing an obedient work force, injecting competitiveness, killing creativity, introducing rules and formality as law. I detest schools. They contradict everything anarchism stands for.
2. No family parenting. The nuclear family is the State's microcosm. It's a social prison that hardly any modern individual can ever really escape from. (For more, see 'Family'.) Again, attempts may have gone wrong, but in an open community of solidarity there is no alternative to communal education. That doesn't mean kids can't stay with, or even know, their parents. If the community thinks that's best, fine. I don't know. But it means that the kid's emotional universe won't be reduced to mom and dad and maybe uncles and aunts. They are everybody's children and should be raised as such.
3. No punishing. Self-explanatory. Not only is it educationally disastrous, it would bring authority and cruelty into a community that created itself to eradicate such evils.
Of course, sometimes kids might have to be pulled away from a fire, denied access to potentially harmful areas, reasoned with if their behavior is socially unacceptable, etc. It's part of their learning experience. But that doesn't change the principle. Hell, everybody knows the difference between making someone (in this case kids) understand what kind of behavior interferes with the freedom and happiness of others on the one hand, and authoritarian commands on the other. It's damn obvious.
Plus, anarchists will always treat kids with respect and understanding, even in the above scenarios. They are part of the community, and will be treated as such. Independence and responsibility will inevitably be developed soon.
Kids learn from work and exchange with others, and mainly from play. Special hours might be set aside by communities for the teaching of, for example, reading or writing, but even that will depend on the more general organization (see resp. entry) of the community.
Anyway, kids in an anarchist community will always learn what they need for life. I honor knowledge a lot (even academic knowledge), and I'm convinced it is one of the most stable grounds of independent individuals. But I have not the slightest doubt it'll always be best acquired by kids growing up in a by definition stimulating anarchist environment.
Individualism contradicts all anarchist ideas. Anarchism is about solidarity. Individualism is about separation, isolation, competition, envy, greed. It's capitalism's little brother. It's the life of the bourgeois egomaniac. It is a total and complete obstacle on any road to an anarchist community.
Unfortunately though, individualism has been mixed up with what I'd simply like to call individuality by some leftist radicals propagating a society where equality gets confused with conformity: a totalitarian, bureaucratic, mind- and creativity-killing guarantee of frustration and unhappiness. This will always inevitably lead to individualistic rebellion, because no notion of the anarchist union of individuality and solidarity that allows for individual freedom within communal equality could have ever been developed.
Life is as diverse as it is interconnected. Solidarity acknowledges the latter, but it needs individuality as its necessary alter ego to acknowledge the former. And there's no contradiction. As solidarity provides a base on which each individual can grow and develop his or her unique and free personality, individuality provides the community with personal characteristics necessary for its anarchist character: independence, self-esteem, critical reflection, creativity, a multiplicity of talents and skills.
Individuality is a personal and social virtue, and as such essentially anarchist. It creates individuals as well as communities that are free, diverse, creative, and happy. It makes life a blast.
Individualism on the other hand is one of capitalism's clone-ideologies. It creates individuals as well as communities that confuse winning with joy. It makes life a battle. Fuck that.
The bourgeois idea of eternal heterosexual monogamous love seems a highly unrealistic, dangerous, and at times despotic notion, born out of a patriarchal tradition ready to serve the State with establishing mini-units of its omnipresent power (see also 'Family').
In reality, love mostly remains nothing but an exclusive, egotistical cover-up for dominance and dependency.
In its imaginary romantic version, which remains an escapist dream of a better world without loneliness, love stands in the way of radical social change, not unlike religion. That's how Hollywood sells tickets, not how we make revolution.
If we wanna use the term at all, it only makes sense to associate it with embracing the ideals of solidarity, in which your love to others will be expressed as a feeling of brother- and sisterhood that shows in your everyday action. This love can lead us out of our miniature social prisons and onto a community of respected equals.
There will always be feelings of a special closeness to certain individuals, triggered by whatever, and in no way are especially intimate relationships between such individuals (as parents and children, siblings, life-long friends, lovers, whatever) against any anarchist ideas. We're not closing our eyes in front of human emotions here. But these special relationships will at least be lived within a wider community of solidarity, and hence they will allow for the openness and unexclusiveness necessary to prevent stagnation, dissatisfaction, and bitterness.
Intimacy will always be complicated, and never will I suggest anarchist communities to be paradises on earth not knowing of longing, rejection, or jealousy. It's a question of creating realistic notions and social environments that allow to handle these feelings in the best of possible ways. That's all we can do, it seems. Really put into action, it'd still be a hell of a lot though.
I don’t think markets are inherently evil. In fact, markets can be places of fun and communication. People trading things is part of life.
Unfortunately, the market as a nice social center where people get together in brotherly and sisterly spirit to chat and look and trade is today all but an ideal. What we know as markets today - especially in official economic debate - are a far cry from this. Firstly, money introduces abstraction into the process of trading with all the harmful implications this brings (see ‘Money’). Secondly (and more importantly), the precondition for the only form of trade not violating basic notions of fairness is economic justice (which we, obviously, do not have). Only if the basic material needs of all people involved in the trade are sufficiently taken care of and satisfied, then trading goods can be enjoyed as a sort of social game that has no direct impact on an individual’s or a community’s basic material supply and well-being. Only then can there be choice in trade (“if the price is okay, I’ll take it - if not, I won’t”). If someone does not have such a choice but has to buy a certain product just to be able to live in dignity, then fair trade becomes impossible, and exploitation by the rich becomes the rule. Only if survival does not depend on how successful you are on the market, trading can be fair and fun. (See also the entry on ‘Fair Trade’.)
And this is why an anarchist economy can never be a market economy: because a market economy makes success in a competition over essential resources a condition of survival. You gotta become a good competitor in order to live a life not defined by permanent existential concerns. Losers are an inevitable part of the game. Allowing markets to be the dominant economic force will always leave us a long, long way from a life of equality, justice, and solidarity.
As anarchists we have to fight all forms of markets related to market economies. Only where we are able to create social justice instead, will we get the opportunity to experience genuine markets as aspects of truly communal life.
People have the right to go wherever they want, whenever they want. The only things to be kept in mind are the general anarchist principles of respecting others' freedoms.
So, if you move to an area where other communities are already established, you'll settle as a friend, not as a conqueror. As an ally, not as a colonizer. At the same time, if people move to where you might be established, you let them settle as friends and allies, not slaves or inferiors. Imperialism and xenophobia go hand in hand. Obviously, both suck.
For anarchists, the bottom line must be: Where people who don't know each other find themselves wanting to share space, they'll have to figure out a way to do it. With good will that'll always be possible. Only disrespect and arrogance bring war.
But should it come this far, anarchists will always support the ones having been originally disrespected. Both, anti-colonial local struggles against fascist conquerors, and anti-racist migrant struggles against fascist locals, will always have anarchist support.
Generally speaking, nations are abstract collective entities used by frightened individuals to give themselves an identity, and with this identity supposed dignity. Needless to say, this existential hook doesn't rest on personal merit, but presupposed exclusion and inferiority of others.
A lot of people seem ‘naturally’ attached and connected to something that's home to them, whether it's a certain community or territory. This I don’t see as a problem. But only as long as the relations are actually concrete. No nation is concrete. And as everything that's abstract and politicized, it's highly dangerous.
Being aware of where you're coming from and allowing that awareness to be a part of your individual identity, and even taking pleasure in the feelings of comfort and familiarity it brings, is no problem. Taking pride in belonging to some special and exclusive group of people by birth or blood or passport is.
Nations divide, conquer, rule, and oppress. Per definition, anarchism must be anti-nationalistic.
Transnationalism might even be a better term than internationalism to name the opposed anarchist principle, but words don't matter much, as long as we know what kind of fight they signify.
Confusion might occur where anti-colonial struggles supported by anarchists (see 'Colonialism') are also launched in the name of 'national liberation'. I guess it's just one of the ironies of the complexity of global politics that under certain circumstances certain terms carry different meanings. In anti-colonial struggles nations mainly refer to an oppressed native community that's denied self-determination. The colonial process has usually first forced them into such a collective identity by colonial labeling in order to control and exploit. The oppressed then simply lack alternative collective terms to articulate themselves in. Hence, if used as an anti-colonial tool to give people self-determination, nationalist struggles have to be understood differently and be supported by anarchists.
Nevertheless, each nationalism carries the dangers mentioned above, which very often become immediately obvious once a nationalist movement gains power, sometimes even before, during the struggle.
Native, or aboriginal, or just people's struggles seem to be better terms under which to fight anti-colonial struggles under all circumstances, but again, if the fight really is for liberty and justice, it'd be pedantic to let names matter much.
But we always gotta be careful with nationalisms. In whatever way they present themselves.
I understand power as a term used to describe the influences people have on each other within the complex network of people's relations. It has been said that in this sense power is everywhere (Foucault and others), and I'd agree (and, hence, politics too, I might add - see the resp. entry).
We could say that people don't 'have' power, people rather 'act' power, according to their possibilities defined by the social field: the State, for example, allows cops or judges to act a lot of power, kids or immigrants not; the Capital allows rich people to act a lot of power, the poor not; the bourgeois family allows the man to act a lot of power, the woman not; etc.
This means a) that revolutionary action is not about 'taking over' power, but rearranging the social field so that power can be acted more equally. This, of course, implies the necessity to pursue anarchist communities since these alone allow the widest possible distribution of power and consequently avoid harmful and dangerous points of concentration.
And it means b) that since power relations are here by definition dynamic, there is (practically) always something that can be done about them. In other words: Resistance can be and can start everywhere, and every kid breaking some of a teachers' power acted over him or her becomes an important subversive. There's always hope.
The classic model of centrally located and possessed power simplified social relations and led to inappropriate revolutionary fantasies. The concept above allows for more complexity in analysis and action. Anarchists should go with it, until something better comes along (see 'Theory').
Respect is what realistically unites people. Never will everybody get along well with everybody else; life's just too complex, I guess. But that we all get along doesn’t seem necessary either; what’s important is simply respect for others' lifestyles and beliefs (as long as they remain modest and pose no threat to others).
Respect is not just tolerance. The latter can remain arrogant and condescending, hence both provocative and fragile. Respect is much stronger. It acknowledges the equal value of different antifascist lifestyles; individually as well as collectively.
That's all that has to be asked for in the pursuit of a diversity of communities living with one another in inspiring exchange and relative peace, rather than in mistrust and conflict. - Maybe not peace as in love and harmony, but as in solidarity and multiplicity. A lot of colors to beautify. A patchwork of non-fascist communities. An anarchist life.
This is a rather sensitive issue since the idea of mass revolution is still very precious to a lot of anarchists who believe that giving up pursuing this idea equals a betrayal of anarchism itself. Even though I respect this opinion, I don’t think that the dream of mass revolution should actually be at the center of anarchist attention.
Revolutions do happen, and sometimes they can be a big move towards a more just society. But they don't happen regularly. And they are hardly ever truly anarchist and hence prone to decline, abuse, and corruption; in fact, they very often just exchange one oppressive order for another. And anyway, mass revolutions are very unlikely in contemporary capitalist societies with their subtle but immensely effective forms of indoctrination and control.
Remaining exclusively focused on the revolution as the only worthy goal for the anarchist struggle might lead to frustration and despair and the wrong impression that the struggle leads nowhere because the revolution doesn't come closer.
I don't think we necessarily need a revolution. We much rather need something like revolutionary processes that are constantly challenging the prevailing political, social, cultural, economic orders, are permanently changing according to them and their own intrinsic dynamics, and are always an expression of anarchist life itself, not just means to get there.
There will never be a paradise, and there will always be fascist threats in form of racism, sexism, etc., so anarchist life will always include resistance. Sure, resistance might be more at the heart of anarchist activity in certain social orders than in others, but this doesn't change the fact that anarchist life is not some imaginary event at the end of history but a social condition that is made a reality by living according to its principles; anywhere, anytime.
Anarchist lives can always be lived, and anarchist communities can always be created, even if just within a shared flat. Don't wait, not for the revolution, not for anything else. Just make things happen.
Sometimes a slightly snobbish attitude towards sports can still be found within anarchist circles. It mostly evolves around aspects of sports’ supposed political insignificance; its function to delude the masses; its potential to stir up nationalism; its competitiveness; or its commercial character.
What I don't agree with at all really is the alleged political insignificance. Sports are as political as everything else. Identifying politics with realpolitik only limits our understanding of social dynamics. (See 'Politics'.)
The other points of critique I understand. However, I don't think sports are to be blamed, but rather the political and economic framework sports are condemned to exist in today. Sport is just another victim: Its delusion of the masses is due to its instrumentalization by the ruling forces - the same goes for popular arts, for example. Its potential to stir up nationalism exists because we live in a nationalist world - no nations, no nationalist sports. Its competitiveness reflects capitalist doctrines - no capitalist ideologies, different (more play, less fight) attitudes in sport. Its commercial character fulfils capitalist needs - again, no capitalism, no commercialism.
I like sports. They are fun and socially acceptable means of releasing negative emotions (anger, frustration, etc. – these will never fully disappear; again, anarchism is no paradise – see 'Anarchy/Anarchism'). Furthermore, playing games and/or being part of a team can be very valuable social learning experiences.
Winning and losing is part of many games, true, but I don't see this as a big deal, as long as there are absolutely no social rewards for winning, or social punishments for losing. These would be highly dangerous and extremely harmful to any anarchist community. But as long as the win or loss concerns nothing but the game, and both sides follow original sports notions of mutual respect, it's just a part of playing.
It sometimes breaks my heart to see the use of sports in today's society, but that's probably true for everything. Then again, there are moments of individual and collective antifascism in sports, even if they are rare. Plus, everything can be DIY, and so can sports. In the end, it's always just up to us.
The State is the anarchist's ultimate enemy. It embodies, manifests, organizes, and maintains everything anarchism stands against: authority, hierarchy, oppression, injustice, social control (see 'Anarchy/Anarchism').
I do believe there are much worse States than others, and there is a difference between, for example, States based on a liberal parliamentarian constitution on the one hand, and a military regime on the other. To deny the levels of relative freedom and justice within different State systems can easily become very cynical. Nevertheless, even the 'best' State remains a State.
Moreover, it seems to make sense to suggest that the State actually does not only signify a certain way of national political organization, but also a general model for relations between people that can be, and is, reproduced everywhere: in the family, at the workplace, in a sports club. As much as we gotta get rid of the State as a political entity, we gotta get rid of it as an idea in our heads. The enemy is everywhere, and will always be, at least as a potential danger. The anarchist's fight against the State is permanent. It's part of an anarchist's life.
Seeing the State as being more than just a political entity is actually rather liberating than demoralizing, I think. This is because it means that the State's power is not reduced to its governmental representations. If the State can be reproduced everywhere, it can be eliminated everywhere. A bunch of people (even an individual) who don't reproduce the State in daily life and who might actually deconstruct it, create little State-free zones, so to speak (kinda like what Hakim Bey calls 'Temporary Autonomous Zones', I suppose), in which anarchist life can flourish.
Of course these zones are never entirely free, and the modern nation State is extremely totalitarian, and I'm aware of the fear expressed from within anarchists' ranks that the ideas presented here are (or might lead to) substituting privatist escape for revolutionary struggle, but I don't think this necessarily has to be the case. Yes, of course ‘State-free zones’ don’t equal total anarchy, and of course there are dangers of exclusive retreat, but what is ever total and without dangers? I do not only believe that these State-free zones can coexist with the revolutionary struggle - I do believe they can play a very important part in it: since anarchists experience bits of what they are fighting for in these zones they constitute an ideal base to create anarchist identities, gain self-respect, tank energy, and provide examples of anarchist ways of life.
In the end, if we don't cling to the quasi-religious idea of an ultimate, global, eternal revolution, which I do not suggest (see also 'Revolution' and 'Utopianism'), this is all we'll ever fight for: eradicate State power relations wherever as widely as possible, and thereby open up spaces to create something else.
The State is dull and static. Anarchism is creative and dynamic.
Nobody likes too much blah blah. We all know that. Nevertheless, it doesn't make a lot of sense, I think, to come up with vulgar anti-theoretical stands because of this. If theory means to reflect upon certain social, political, or economic relations and complexities in order to try to understand the interconnectedness of things and their functions, and, based upon that, try to find ways of change or resistance, theory is an integral part of anarchist life and struggle. In order to save it from academic degeneration (see also 'Academia'), I'd say the following points should act as guidelines:
1. Theory doesn't belong to a particular group of people, but to everyone.
2. Theory shouldn't be pretentious and universal and general, but modest and local and specific.
3. Theory shouldn't be self-centered, but created and debated in direct relation to our everyday lives and struggles.
Theory like this won't be separated from praxis, it won’t try to model or lead. It'll be the praxis of thought, being at the heart of the struggle. A weapon. It's up to us to make it as sharp as possible.