There and Back Again

Kicking free from the mutualist label in March and April of last year was part of an attempt to achieve two fairly specific outcomes: to clarify my own thinking about the core concepts of anarchy and anarchism; and to attempt to confront some methodological questions, particularly some key questions relating to anarchist historiography, which seemed to be eluding me. I can certainly recommend the exercise of jettisoning one’s keywords as at least a potential means of focusing on ideas instead of words—not always such an easy task in our label-centric, more-or-less fundamentalist culture. And I hope that the emerging theory of the “anarchism of the encounter” strikes at least a few others as a return worthy of the gambit. I’m working now on a very simple presentation of that theory, stripped of most of its historical and factional baggage. “Simple” in this case is, of course, not easy. It’s like the tip of the iceberg, once you’ve whittled away the rest of the iceberg. But there clearly is a moment when you can lift key insights out of their original contexts and see if they can make it in the wide world on their own. The methodological shifts have been more difficult to achieve, and the advance sometimes feels positively glacial to me—but both in the sense of slow-moving, and in the sense that lots of stuff seems to be getting moved around, if not in the daintiest of manners. What I announced some time ago as the atercratic approach to radical history has been a little more difficult to present in any very clear form, but by summer I expect that things will be taking a little more definite shape. In the meantime, I’ll be spending some time setting things up here on this blog, as I try to tackle a group of questions that have emerged from my work on the Bakunin Library and my recent excursions into the history and theory of anarchist collectivism.

My intention is to spend quite a bit of my blogging time, and whatever free translating time I can muster, addressing the period from just before Proudhon’s death in 1865, though the First International and the Paris Commune. I’ll be translating more of Proudhon’s Political Capacity of the Working Classes and material relating to the workers associated with the “Manifesto of the Sixty,” as well as some texts by and about the group of Proudhon’s friends who saw to the publication of his posthumous works. (See, regarding the last group, The Execution of Gustave Chaudey and Three Gendarmes.) I’ll also be working away at some of the primary documents of anarchist collectivism, which I’ve started to assemble for a Collectivist Reader, as part of the Bakunin Library project. The focus here will be split in a familiar way, between concern for the details of history and attention to the ways in which the management of anarchist history has shaped anarchism itself. But an important part of what will be at stake for me in this segment of the journey will be a return to mutualism as a keyword, armed now with the lessons of the last year, and an attempt to address what I have recently identified as “the challenge in Proudhon’s thought,” that is, the urgency of making what seems promising about mid-19th century anarchism take its place as a means of addressing our own struggles and concerns in the 21st century.

For readers of the blog, I would like to encourage you, as we move deeper into this particular phase, which I launched with the post on “scraping some rust off the “two guns” of mutualism,” to take the challenge seriously. There is, it seems to me, plenty in “mutualism” that speaks very directly to our current conditions, but only if we are ready and willing to do a significant work of adaptation and translation. I can suggest some of the directions for that, but ultimately it’s a work that has to be done by anyone who wants to take up any of these old labels.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2620 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.