Rejoinder to a Toothless Critique

The ‘political’ legacy of anarchism is hard to measure; even more so if the standards applied to anarchism come from lateral projects like state socialism or communism.

Anarchism comes from utopian socialism and often unknowingly continues politically paralyzing assumptions that are unnecessary to anarchism more generally. The two most common are: 1) a naive Rousseauian faith in the ‘goodness’ of human nature, which presumes that projects based on cooperation generate superior outcomes to those based in competition; and 2) a reactionary conservatism based in romantic attachment to pre-industrial ways of life.

A clear example of the first are the Utopian Socialist experiments (Fourierism, Owenism) during early industrialism. The rhetoric of ‘cooperation’ was used to bring together families to start a town (in Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Indiana, for instance). To expand: poor people were told that one need not move West to line the pockets of a capitalist by working in a newly opened mill, but they should move west to start a cooperatively owned and managed town where everyone benefits! But as history shows, and how Marx ‘scientifically’ elaborates, that a capitalist market sets the ‘objective’ conditions of competition (and therefore a rate of exploitation that holds more-or-less true across the board) for all firms whether they are cooperatively owned and managed or not. Simply put – capitalist hegemony can only be avoided by becoming non-competitive. The insistence that ‘cooperation’ creates a built-in advantage against competition is a silly fiction (CVI, Part IV/Chp 13).

The second is often manifest in a polar opposite manner. Experiments birthed by adherents to the philosophy of Young Hegelians (Bruno Bauer, Max Stirner) often resisted capitalist as if it was trying to upset the pacific life of traditional communities. Stirnerites, for instance, founded utopian communities that practiced nudism and other socially-libertine lifestyles that would innoculate them from industrial integration (no shirt, no shoes, no service). Today, there’s a legacy of these communities in the ‘intentional communities’/eco-villages that span across the US and the world. A quick demographic survey of these communities would demonstrate their politically inefficacy within parts of the world formally subsumed by capitalism. Many of the residents are former business execs who ‘cashed out’ their retirement to live in the serenity of communes that are ‘closer to nature.’ These communes don’t provide much of a basis for anti-capitalist revolt.

Avoiding these two pitfalls doesn’t require expunging the utopian socialist roots from anarchism, however. Rather, an assessment of the elementary terms of the utopian socialist critique reveals the key opposition that most Marxists have yet to come to terms with: the social is a produced sphere of life from which the political can be opposed. Society itself is not a good — this is where Foucault’s history of the creation of ‘society’ proves absolutely essential — but a fragmented material of practices that has no necessary relationship to ‘the political.’ It is ‘from society’ that politics emerges: in, beside, above, or below ‘the social.’ Social-ism, therefore, is the acknowledgement of the social as a key category of theorization. Strangely enough, when Marxism becomes ‘scientific socialism’ or ‘the science of society’, it does so to subtract out a politics. As a strawman, some Marxists claim that Utopian Socialism subtracts out ‘the social’ from ‘the political’ to generate quiestism (moralism, lifestylism, washing ones hands, etc). Anarchism represents a third way.

On to the article:
There are a lot of quick swipes made at anarchism (indirectly equating it with liberalism, arguing that its non-political, reducing it to subjectivism, etc) — but the most ‘concrete’ points of the article may be the four propositions.

-Proposition One: Stagism. The author argues that capitalism is an improvement on “horribly oppressive” “pre-capitalist” societies.

-Propositions Two: Inter-nationalism. The author claims that revolt against any single nation-state will fail.

-Proposition Three: A Military of ‘Regulars’. The author states that irregular forces can never defeat a regular military.

-Proposition Four: The Working Class. The author asserts that only the working class has the potential to overthrow capitalism.

Let’s consider each one, quickly.

Stagism — The way stagism is posed in this article is extremely flippant and quite surprising to me. Modernization is posed as an absolute good that must be pursued at any cost. Yet a historical assessment of primitive accumulation, as done by Federici, Midnight Notes, or De Angelis, not to mention Latin/South American scholars, echo the violence and ‘bloody legislation’ outlined by Marx in Part 8 of CV1 (the ‘original sin’ of Primitive Accumulation). Post-colonial scholars working in political theory are definitive on this question, in my mind.

Inter-nationalism — No doubt the capitalist mode of production, even from its beginnings in merchant capitalism, has always had global aspirations. Wallerstein and others have highlighted the increasing divergence between national politics and the world market. But to claim that anarchist are focusing on the nation-state is patently absurd — it’s _Lenin_ who focused on the ‘chain of imperialism.’ Anarchists look to develop society/politics outside the _frame_ of nationalism, which is something that most inter-nationalists are still unable to do. And to the extent that people still reading Lenin, Gramsci, or Mao (let alone Castro, the Bolivarians) orient their politics toward the state or a collection of states – they are more ‘national’ than anarchists.

‘Regular’ Armies — This is definitely the ghost of Lenin back to haunt. What about ideology? What about ‘the age of terrorism’? While I hated Hardt and Negri’s “Multitude” book – the first section on War probably hasn’t been commented on because it’s appears at first to be a lit review, but is absolutely essential for understanding the terrain of struggle today. War is no longer about regular armies facing down in a clear field of battle.

The Working Class — In recent years, there has been more ink spilled on this than blood. Anarchism in its best form identifies immanent forms of revolt. Some Marxisms have similarly ‘open’ approaches — the dialectical acrobatics of the Frankfurt School or the strategic flexibility of Autonomia — but most remain focused on realizing aspects of a political project developed to address forms of production specific to the 1840s-1870s. 150 years later, and during the generalization of post-industrialization, it’s time to rethink.

More generally, I think that Day’s dispute is based on history. So let’s contrast the roles of history as they relate to the ‘revolutionary subject’. Anarchists don’t care much about history, nor do they find subjects looking to be self-criticially historical in the sense of extending a historical trajectory already set in place. Conversely, this article advocates for _nothing but_ the identification of historical elements that, through political action, can be made non-reversible.

The Spanish Civil War is a strange example. Day’s argument feels like finger pointing for the purpose of maintaining a fairly conservative Marxist line despite its historical failures. The Republicans (who were fighting Franco the Fascist and the Nationalists) were supported primarily by the USSR and was composed of many more communists/socialists than anarchists. To me, it speaks more of the failure of inter-national socialism than anarchism or communism. In fact, anarchists rarely aspire for taking over (let alone smashing) a single nation-state. Syndicalists occasionally dream of replacing the state with federalism, but they’re dinosaurs like Chomsky. To me, ‘anarchism’ represents the best chance for theorizing a global (not inter-national) political movement.

My current project is to politicize “the people without history”. In contrast to a mainline Marxist approach, which would be to transform them into Historical Peoples — I want to eviscerate history itself. Disembowel it. In one sense, it is a reductive move that equates history with the power of the state form. But more generally, it is a fragmentation of the organs of society to free them from the orthodoxy of historical determination. Revolution is an uncertain endeavor, and to limit our vision is a conservatism worse than moralism. The real strategic question should be: break down or break through.


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