Margins and Problems: A Note on “Possible Anarchisms”

Constructing Anarchisms

Part II—Anarchist History: Margins and Problems (An Idiosyncratic Survey)

General Resources:
II—Anarchist History: Margins & Problems:
I—Constructing an Anarchism:

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I use speculative fiction—mostly vignettes and snippets of prose, stored safely away in notebooks or word-processing files—as a personal tool to supplement more traditional sorts of study and analysis. I have been known to share fragments from that work here in the Labyrinth, but the bits tend to be somewhat less than intelligible, depending, as they generally do, on knowledge of the weird interpretive multiverse that I carry around in my head.

One of these days, I will perhaps feel myself sufficiently free of more pressing projects to settle down with that material as a primary focus, but, for the moment, I always seem to feel like I’m racing to keep up with the lines of thought already more fully opened.

The one of the fictional or near-fictional projects that has seemed to me worthy of more immediate and public attention has been The Rise and Progress of the Great Atercratic Revolution, the exercise in “alternate historiography” that I have woven into this phase of Constructing Anarchisms. It’s fictional elements—a wooden box full of old pamphlets (discovered and promptly lost, like a good MacGuffin) and a small cast of “possible historians”—are obviously just tools for a certain kind of historical analysis, doomed to be remain vague sketches, representatives of all that is inevitably lost in the translation of the anarchist past into anarchist history.

I’ve been tinkering, over the last few months, with the framing narrative for the work, involving a chance meeting between radical historians, one of whom promptly disappears (like a good MacGuffin) after giving the other enough of a look at the contents of the wooden box to know that here is a current of radical history unknown to him, in the form of a series of pamphlets, broadsides and books published (and nearly all self-published) over more than a century—all part of a critical conversation among amateur historians, at the center of which sits the 1875 work of Jacques Dime (or Jack Deames) called The Rise and Progress of the Great Atercratic Revolution.

In the context of Constructing Anarchisms, this is just the kind of context suitable for a note between more substantive offerings. But I have wanted, before we get too much deeper into our own uses of the material, to at least introduce that context. What is likely to be most useful to participants is the fact that each of the “possible historians” we will encounter is just a placeholder for a particular historical perspective, which hopefully becomes a bit easier to imagine and sympathize with when we dress it up as an individual.

But the other really important function of these “possible historians” and the tales they might have told is indeed to represent, in what is hopefully a playful and entertaining way, a range of real texts and actual anarchists lost to us through the passage of time, as well as a range of roads not taken by anarchists historically, which are nonetheless imaginable on the basis of just the bits of the anarchist past that are in fact known to us.

We’re starting by simply playing with a familiar designation—philosophical anarchism—as if it had become familiar at an earlier moment. There will be, I think, some very useful lessons to be learned from that strategy, particularly as we’ll supplement that possible anarchism with others.

I hope that some of the possibilities will be startling, without appearing implausible when the evidence for their possibility is presented. We can, for example, fairly easily imagine a sociological anarchism emerging in the 1860s and developing in subsequent decades, but, if we don’t shut ourselves off from the possibilities suggested by known texts (assuming one or another of the things we often assume about the past), we can perhaps also imagine the emergence of an active, feminist “mutualism” before 1850.

Some of the less expected of these possibilities will undoubtedly underline the failures of anarchists in the past, but they should, at the same time, provide some guidance for whatever attempts we make to reclaim elements of the anarchist past not yet (as we put it in “Constructing an Anarchism”) activated in our present milieus.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.