Individualism And The Social Question
By Andre Lorulot
(From the “L’Anarchie” pamphlet, “L’ Individualisme; Doctrine de révolte et de solidarité”. No date, probably circa 1912)
Are individualists revolutionaries or can they be disinterested in the Social Problem? Do they enter into struggle with the milieu, go forth attempting to modify institutions and turning principles upside down? Or do they seek to adapt as best as possible to conditions of capitalist life?
We have said that the individualist is the individual who wants to live at any price, who wants to realize their happiness and not be bruised, a person who wants to be neither stifled by absurd customs nor barbaric constraints. In this situation, and in order to reach our goal, do we have an interest in rebelling – or would it be much wiser, as certain people whisper to us, to quiet down and resign ourselves to the given reality?
Does the individualist lick the boots of power only in order to reap some scraps? Will they fill practice deceit and arrivisme their entire live in order to dominate and exploit their fellow human beings? Do they abandon all propaganda, all struggle, all activity and become peaceful and respectable, satisfied with some comfortable pay-offs, contented gnawing at a bone? Could they sink even further and justify the most vile actions by becoming a cop or a pimp?
In brief, can individualist theories provide a cover for such despicable and dubious acts? Certainly, some people pretend individualist theories provide such a cover. It is useful to describe here, in greater depth and with more precision, our conceptions of individualism.
When we rebel and affirm our thirst to live, it is certain that we do so not only to resolve the “question of the stomach”. Without denying the significance of this issue, which in capitalist society pursues and haunts those who own nothing, we can be say that this desire is not essential for us and doesn’t hold the primary place in our aspirations.
Certainly, to eat to satisfy our hunger, to drink to quench our thirst, to rationally satisfy all our needs is an ideal by standards of the innumerable miseries presently imposed on us by an absurd arrangement which grinds at us every day.
But all anarchism is not like that. Our conceptions are not restricted to economic questions. And we have criticized, moreover, the socialists who only consider men and women by their stomachs!
Anarchists feel other aspirations. We experience not only material needs, but also moral needs, pressing on each individual who thinks. And our love of liberty cannot be quenched in face of the satisfactions provided by nutrition. . .
If hunger is an atrocious suffering, is not slavery another? Not to think freely, not to say what one believes, to lead an existence of continual hypocrisy and cowardly shiftiness, consenting to all villainies, to all renunciations for a crust of bread – could such a state of existence satisfy an anarchist?
Hardly Individualist want to flower completely, they pursue the blossoming of all the qualities and all the values they hold dear. I want to be myself and to enjoy life in every way. I do not want to be alienated mentally or emotionally in order to placidly swallow the meager scraps stingily dispensed by the exploiters!
The individualist is like a wolf who prefers the dangers of liberty to the routine of domestication. Individualists compare themselves to the bird who would prefer to suffer and struggle on its branch than to die a slow death in the servitude of a gilded cage.
To live completely – yes!; to fill up the stomach – yes! But to free the “heart” and develop the “mind” as well.
There is my point of view, the individualist conception of life. It does not let itself be restricted but to the contrary pursues the full development of the human personality. That is my only interest.
For the majority of comrades, it is evident that rebellion could be detrimental to their immediate interests. Many of us are excluded by our views from advantageous situations
and reap only the scorn of their families and surrounding circles. Comrades sometimes end up poverty-stricken by the constraints of performing jobs unfamiliar to them; they are hunted and pursued. Defiant in every respect , they suffer at length . . .but remain content. To be a little more free, to hold one’s head up high from time to time, to spit out contempt to those who merit it – for the rebellious, these pleasures compensate for the spite the crowd of good citizens inflict upon them . . . Some, left to struggle, become discouraged and return to the niche. Of course, people are weak and the efforts that must be put forth to oppose their will to that of a formidable milieu designed to crush them are incredible . . .
0nly true individualists will not knowingly put up with servitude. For them, servitude is a temporary stop gap, an imposed obligation But what can be said is that our ideal manages to extricate us at any price since, to the contrary, we have always voluntarily sacrificed something by engaging in this battle for an anarchism that we so intensely love.
The foreman on the job, arrogant towards the proles and deferential in front of the boss, this brutalized guard-dog would not know how to be an individualist. No more so than the bureaucrat on high who takes seriously his grimaces, his bowing and scraping, his violence. And the cop and pimp, all those who are violent, who foam at the mouth, who defer, they all repulse me!
Forced by constraint to become a worker, a wage-earner, I will produce champing at the bit, trying to cheat the boss as much as possible, fighting him, evading his exploitation. But nothing obliges me to become a boss, to become one who flays or who deprives. Nothing is more foreign to individualism than tyranny and usurpation. Can we not see that camaraderie and friendship are necessary? Or see that the millionaire, adulated by millions but alone as well, doesn’t have one genuine friend; that the leader, the boss, the master are wary and fearful of everyone. The only joys that they can experience are the pathological instincts of domination and ambition. What is there in common between these gestures of neurotic potentates and our fine and logical individualist theory?
Individualists are anarchists. We rise up against everything that blocks life. We want to be free and thus we become enemies of a society that obstructs our most basic rights.
Capitalism crushes us directly. We must witness hunger before the squandering and the debaucheries of the gold-holders. The individualist cannot taste the innumerable riches built by the collectivity, the individualist owns nothing.
Deprived in the name of property, poverty inevitably makes the individualist a slave, a serf. If they want to eat, it is necessary to work . . .for another: he who owns. And this exacts a heavy cost.
Individualists therefore combat the property that limits their lives, they fight the thievery which subjugates them. Individualists become anti-capitalist, they struggle against an authority in all its forms that has its goal to maintain the inequality from which they suffer. An authority which leads individualists into battle against the army, religion, magistrates and parliaments. This is why we make propaganda by “interests” and not by “oughts”. It is in our interests to bring the most number of individuals around to think as we do, to rid themselves of external prejudices. The more numerous the rebellious, the stronger their reactions and the less likely that they will be suppressed.
Thus individualism is not the theory as presented to the easily conned.
Our detractors say that individualism is the most ferocious egoism, the continual struggle of all against all. We have shown that only individualists are capable of understanding solidarity and of instituting genuine brotherhood; a brotherhood based not on words, sentiments or false illusions but on INTERESTS; interests at the same time particular to each and common to all.
Some add still that individualism is a theory of adaptation, of resignation, when it is the only doctrine of revolt.
Yes, we have rebelled because we are “egotists”, because we want to live the free and good life and because present-day society torments and disgusts us.
And if it not this individualist instinct which drives our rebellion, on what do we base ourselves? Do we base ourselves on more or less idealist speculations or humanitarian considerations? On my part, I am an anarchist because I suffer from authority. I want neither to be ruler nor ruled. I am an anarchist because society treads on me, while I want to live freely.
It seems to me that individualism is the most solid point of departure since it leads to rational solidarity and conscious revolt.
As anarchists, we know that the fight to change society is the fight to transform people. We know that is the slave who makes the tyrants and it is necessary to change minds for a freer life to arise . . .
To make the revolution around the self, it is first necessary to be capable of making it within oneself. Anarchists try to improve themselves, to educate themselves, to harness their passions, to free themselves from routines and flaws, to reject violence and brutality, biases, pride. Anarchists must have the utmost value for reason, free examination and discussion.
And they uproot everything that they can. They don’t wait for a distant and paradise-like future society before they affirm themselves. Each time anarchists want to infringe upon the code and step over the bounds of legality, it is out of satisfactions at the results obtained for themselves and their friends and there are no misgivings or guilt which prevents them from doing so.
Certainly the job is difficult and thankless But aren’t there truly men and women who in their everyday actions are differentiated from the brutalized who surround them? Aren’t there comrades who escape life in the barracks, who desert the workplaces, who reject servitude?
Individual action – on himself / herself and on the milieu. Education and revolt, such are the factors of transformation and social regeneration that individualists propose and practice. What work could be better than work consisting of making individualists, that is conscious and free men and women?
And in the face of the political party spirit, in face of the incoherence of various tactics and the feebleness of the results obtained by such tactics, we are conscious that our method is good and our work profitable.