Sunday, April 24, 2005

[Study] A Talk on Anarchism and The Left
by Andrej Grubacic

Originally published on

I would like to start with a famous remark by Theodor W. Adorno. Anarchism is, as Adorno noted in the famous essay, nothing more but the “return of the ghost”. I agree with Adorno although the explanation I would like to offer is slightly different. If Anarchism is the "return of a ghost," as Adorno insisted, we may ask why this "ghost" continues to haunt us today. Is it perhaps because, to use another famous line of Adorno, traditional Marxism is “the longing for the totally other” for the revolutionary left?

Let me admit something at the very beginning of this talk: it is my intention to be a bit playful. I am speaking here as an anarchist. And anarchism is, all too often, caricatured as some sort of a poor cousin of Marxism, an anti intellectual cousin, somehow incapable of expressing itself in a “serious theoretical language”. I don’t have any respect for graduate school/ elitist/ incestuous/ privileged revolutionary ‘discourses’. And the idea of writing simply is pretty simple, and very much political. To be revolutionary implies a responsibility to attend to reality, not to indulge only a tiny fraction of privileged readers who are able to ‘comprehend’ high theory. But, as I have noticed that a good number of really nice people are, for some reason, really unable to understand simple language, in order to be participatory and inclusive, this time I will try to make my point in a more obscure form.

I think that the ghost of anarchism will haunt the revolutionary left as long as it’s program is centered around traditional Marxist mythologies, which prevents us from building a self-reflexive revolutionary movement. The old specter which is haunting the new revolutionary left today is the one of new anarchism.

What is new anarchism? I would say that new anarchism is a (learning) process. It is an emerging property that is, at the same time, as an ethics of practice, a general inspiration and the product of the global movement of movements. The emergence of new anarchism can only be a product of continuous interactions. New anarchism, therefore, exists only in a dialogue: it came into being by interaction with other participants in the planetary circulation of struggles. The secret of new anarchism, of it’s “irresistible charm,” is it’s openness to the world of struggles.

New anarchism therefore, is in the making. It is a process which tends to recognize and acknowledge the need for culture-based, economy-based, and gender-based, as well as for direct democratic, concepts and practice, and it attempts to produce, in the here and now, many compelling political, economic, cultural visions.

But why, and how, is this anarchism “new”?

New anarchism refuses the national state, both as a unit of political action and as a unit of analysis. It adopts a global space instead.

New anarchism has two temporalities. The first one is a revolutionary temporality of impatience in which we “make the new in the shell of the old” (this is life despite capitalism). The second temporality is the visionary temporality of the experience (this is life after capitalism).

New anarchism does not seem to be interested in the traditionalist Marxian debate between reformism and revolution. Why should it be? Revolution and reformism are both state-centred approaches. New anarchism opposes the state illusion. It talks about the hidden history that is repressed in the affirmation of a certain kind of revolution, as a part of the process of negating other (libertarian) forms of considering revolution.

This could be the place to say that two approaches, the new anarchist one and the traditionalist one with its nation states, apocalyptic timelines, and state centeredness, co-exist today, creating one of the most salient cleavages in the global movement of movements.

New anarchism expresses itself in all sorts of forms of organisation - most notably networks - which focus not on bringing consciousness to the masses but, instead, on forms of organisation which emphasise horizontality in place of verticality, direct democracy in place of democratic centralism, openness in place of sectarianism.

It means thinking about organization in its most basic sense: the elaboration of cooperation among people in the struggle, and internal organization by any self-defined group of people in struggle. It is the elaboration of a politics of difference that minimizes antagonism.

That is what Boaventura de Sousa Santos is writing about when he asks us to start the “work of translation”, as an attempt to create, in every movement, strategy or knowledge, a sort of contact zone that might render it porous to other movements, strategies and knowledges. Translation, according to Santos, aims to reinforce the common without canceling a difference: “The goal is to have host-difference replace fortress-difference. Through translation work diversity is celebrated , not as a factor of fragmentation and isolationism , but rather as a condition of sharing and solidarity”.What shall we translate? Well, certainly not the traditionalist Marxist intellectual projects that too often identify the university with the world. There has been poetry – good poetry – before, after, and outside of the Marxist seminars. We can still learn a lot from Marxism, and from autonomous and libertarian Marxism a fortiori. But what we should try to unthink and unlearn - and I think that new anarchism is instinctively doing this - is the crude economist reductionism of Marxism(s). Even in it’s more progressive forms (Negri and Hardt 2004; Holloway 2002) what Marxism leaves us with is the idea of the proletariat/multitude/industrial working class related only to production and capital, while disregarding, systematically, racism, political power and gender (and sometimes, like in the case of the eurocentric perspective of Hardt and Negri, even contemporary indigenous struggles). The anarchist, libertarian communist or non-hierarchical society, can never be constructed on the basis of an authoritarian notion of class alone as social agent. And, in reference to autonomist Marxism, it is difficult for me to imagine how it could be done on the basis of “multitudinous” concepts that obscure other independent priorities, like polity, culture or gende.

Let me, at the end, say that what this old ghost, new anarchism, can offer us is (one) solution to what is, as it seems to me, probably the greatest challenge for revolutionary movement today: articulation of practice that moves us from the movement to society, by the way of understanding and transcending the differences between the movement and society, by developing a horizontal and inclusive process – and process is a keyword of the new anarchism – using participatory outreach practices, like the ones developed at anarchist meetings, and illustrative visions, like parecon, or social ecology, or inclusive democracy, or anarchist consensual democracy, or so many others, that invite and motivate people outside or at the margins of the movement.

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