on Anarchism

Anarchy is the goal, and anarchism the movement. Or movements. Or something. It’s hard to say anything too definitive without ending up looking like a bit of a buffoon, which doesn’t stop most of us from getting downright dogmatic from time to time about this anti/political whatchamacallit whose flag we fly. Anarchism is a “pretty big tent,” and it probably has been for nearly as long as there has been something worth calling by the name. And, as I suggested in an early post, it hasn’t always been crystal clear about its core goals and demands. My journey through some of the contemporary currents, roughly from anarcho-syndicalism to mutualism, was largely precipitated by the Usenet border skirmishes between “social anarchists” and “anarcho-capitalists” in the 1990s. Studying the 19th-century individualists, I “went native” in what has turned out to be a pretty big way. I’ve learned a lot about what “anarchism” can mean, and has meant at various times, as I’ve dedicated a good deal of the last decade to historical research and activist experiments. I suspect (with necessarily mixed feelings) that my labors have muddied present-day definitional waters a bit, hopefully “in a good way,” by teasing out forgotten and half-forgotten possibilities, clarifying productive contradictions in properly Proudhonist fashion. I don’t know that anarchists are necessarily any better at dealing with complexity, or “surfing” contradiction, than anyone else in our increasingly fundamentalist cultures. But if “we mean it, man,” if we’re not just poseurs, and particularly, with regard to those of us who identify with the Alliance of the Libertarian Left, if we are taking this question of alliance seriously, we probably need to be.

Anarchism is high-risk politics. The people who dismiss us as nuts or dreamers probably feel that aspect of it at least as well as we do most of the time. We’re asking to take our share of the world and its work and drape it squarely across our own shoulders, and we have the audacity to ask our neighbors to do the same thing. Anarchists who don’t, at least once in awhile, feel the enormity of their desires and demands, are probably insufficiently reflective, and might just be dangerous. There’s nothing simple about the tasks we set ourselves, or light about the burdens we’re asking to shoulder. That’s a big part of what makes the anarchist demand worthwhile—beautiful, really, or perhaps sublime—it’s audacious, thoroughgoing, enormity. If nothing else, we provide a counterpoint to the crushing, seemingly omnipresent, indifference that seems to characterize modern politics—but only if we don’t ape its smugness and self-satisfaction.

As is perhaps obvious, these first few posts are a sort of wind-up, a first dip into the pool of key-terms and concepts around which any viable left-libertarian coalition will have to crystalize. For my own purposes, I wanted to revisit familiar terrain, under the new conditions of our declared alliance, and with the concern that, in the past, we have been prone—and too often content—to “talk past one another” fixed firmly in my mind. I have some dubious intuition that such a personal, public exploration of the territory of alliance may be on some use. (Either that, or my intellectual exhibitionism is once again confirmed.)

Next up: on ALLiance

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2607 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.

1 Comment

  1. It is truly not something to be taken lightly. The folks trying to argue for a round earth had an easier task because someone just had to sail to prove their point. We are sailing, but must clear mine fields and gunboats to make our passage.

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