An anarchist critique of visionary confinement
In the last twenty to one hundred years, encapsulating without tethering anarchy has been a challenging prospect for those who engage in discourse over it. To accomplish this goal, some who chose to remove tactical preferences from their anarchism also advocated a practical indifference in tactics themselves, favoring a multifaceted opposition to authority on all conceivable social levels. Sadly, anarchists who think this way didn’t have it so easy on the timeline leading us to right now.
Late into the 19th century, sporadic shows of tactical and philosophical defiance (illegalism, platformism, synthesis, expropriation, etc.) carved out a recognizable anarchist movement; one composed of different perspectives into the origin and behavior of authoritarian society, each coming to their own conclusions on how to carry anarchism beyond its usual barriers.
I think a significant realization of practical indifference is so rare because of the way an anarchist movement came to be. What cemented the divides between these perspectives probably has to do with what happened that only future generations could put into words, and what their detractors would insist is the rational continuation of an ideological and social body that advocates for an “anarchist society.”
After different global conflicts in the 20th century, it seemed that almost half of the anarchists in the world receded back into the annals of debate where they could interact easier and refine their ideas. The evolution of conflict was halted for the first time to make way for efforts to prefigure the dos and don’ts of a specific anarchy, only worsening the sense of urgency in argument rather than action. The idea being to win swiftly, cleanly, efficiently and globally. To find some sort of agreement among the people assumed to be effected by this hypothetical transformation. And while not an incorrect prospect, it seems to be the direction only a few got lost in, who then used the shame of previous mishaps to enforce it onto their peers for fear of another failure, which became the Anarchism™️ many found themselves making less than commendable choices for.
One of the defining things to come out of this environment were the symbolic efforts in both creating these theories and acting on them, the latter making a dependency of large organizations and/or popular support (I’ll elaborate on these two later.) These required passionate factions to export their energy into the ways we could detail, fine-tune and pre-package anarchy to meet those needs. As an abstract guiding ideal, this anarchy relates itself through carefully designed social functions that interlace to drive economic formations after capitalism specifically is defeated.1 (Here we reach an interesting feature into the logic at play: An expectation of a hole left by capitalism, something replacing it and what “replacing” entails. To abandon the hole entirely, or to fill it — and with what?)
This takes a lot of effort to present itself as the swiftest and most foolproof course toward communism, but always talking about itself in a sketch of a late industrial world that is subtly becoming less recognizable as the one we’re living in. As the news and discussion around automation, the gig economy, the role of the left and the bankruptcy of leadership changes, it feels only sensible to update our responses to these and alter the paths we’ve been going on rather than try to withstand time and personal development.
One of the more recent lessons is that historical records are always at risk of being made into iconic symbols of glory and might when that particular fuel is tossed onto the fire of present-day class rage. In the absence of an active will enabled by other autonomous individuals, there is sometimes a yearning for the vague assurance of mass groups and dense organizations, not awfully different from our blissful surrender to gods when things seemed out of hand.
The end result is a style of revolt typical of authoritarian socialists: brandishing well-intended dialogs against the capitalist order, but failing to expel its adapted logic from the very trajectory against the boss. It is suggested, at least, that anarchists aren’t immune to this.
While the advent of broadband Internet would appear instrumental in dispelling the glorification of a routine anarchism that aligns with the playbook of the current order, it seems to have smeared the mess rather than absorbing and eliminating it (not to say the Internet hasn’t been exceptionally useful in other ways.)
The online community is overwhelmed with a pious allegiance to models and identities that point to these nostalgic fervors. Every week we can expect video essay Q&As where the publisher expectedly praises two or three of the most popular and done-to-death treatises on anarchist communism or the IWW. Or group chats committed to the familiar cycle of discussions, questions and answers. And let’s not forget the memes depicting anarchist or libertarian figures ridding the world of capitalism in eccentric ways.
I don’t think we should self-police a more erratic anarchism in light of this, one without shows of passion and humor in our downtime. But I suggest that it might be healthy to go outside, breathe in some different air, observe the patterns of non-human life, use the word “comrade” less often, or even just open the curtains — anything to go against the grain of what we’ve been doing.
Obviously this is only one of a myriad problems, and fixing it involves a totally different discussion. But we would be foolish to disregard how the existing order, among other tactics, adapts to commodify exchanges of dissent through new technology and integrate them into surveillance as a factor in the direction being presented.
So where does all this leave us now? For those who like to think of tactics as response to the specific moment instead of allegiance, how do we brave the path we’re currently on?
Because of my personal relationship with anarchist theory, I don’t consider left-critical or post-left anarchy to be a perfect solution to this problem. I think the monopoly on anarchism by revolutionary measurement can be surpassed by repositioning the values it shares with the factions it differs with tactically. It seems to me that they both intend to safeguard and propel struggles through different enablers of different actions. The hope is for the goal to register more comfortably with each participating how they choose, but there are a few other cautionary possibilities to be elaborated going forward.
There are often complaints about this line of thought being nebulous and impractical. Apparently disassociation from unionism as a lifestyle is an act of frenzied nihilism in itself. I suppose I could simply be naive in the inverse, anti-orthodox sense, but it seems to only take an adjustment in where your energy is going with the idea in mind to embrace the uncertain through different things happening at once.
It also helps to reconsider the notion of ideas being practical to a fault “off paper,” especially if you’re calling yourself an anarchist. Clearly that mentality wasn’t born out of anti-authoritarian interest, just as the people who wrote about capitalism being a great idea were never homeless in midwestern cities in 2018.
We’ll have to address some problems with the linear imagination of anarchy if we want to conjure the proper exit from thinking like city planners with our hypothetical participatory world. To imagine in a linear way means to throw caution to the wind in developing a provisional idea of a successful conflict and basing a strategy on the trust given to this prediction of the future.
Thinking this way requires us to give superhuman strength to these tactics against the unknowable, which either collapses any real chance of success, reduces participants down to their labor for the continuity of democracy, or opens itself to infiltration and repression.
It’s not often that we see any previous revolution actualized twice, which is because breaking free from control happens according to the container it reacts in. Sometimes it happens with armed workers’ formations during civil conflict. Other times, it happens with neighbors creating community gardens, retail workers banding together in spite of their managers’ dictates, or affinity groups in squatted Greek towns committing themselves to permanent conflict with authoritarian society. Even these few examples are reductive! Control extends itself in more ways than just repression, which gets different reactions from those being subjugated. No example of this fact but the fact itself can be used to measure where we’re going. We are simply compelled to respond uniquely, and substituting those responses with vague stability in a hasty sketch of an aftermath is both excessively hopeful and managerial of anarchist activity.
We sometimes find a suggestion within anarchist discourse, of all places, to make certain compromises: to settle for participation in reformist activism, non-violent protest or labor movements, being necessary to win the “popularity” component of revolution. But these would-be allies always refuse to compromise the other way around when it comes to immediate success against hierarchy and domination, even if it’s just a temporary direct action for future participants to derive motivation from without being made into an idol. Furthermore, these particular instances of insurrection are where organizations play a quite effective part in joining together to comprise wider bases of support. It only seems more effective than trying to integrate our frustrations into their very sources, or pestering our friends to live permanently on the run.
This is combined with an odd relationship to goals and accomplishing them, which comes with linear imagination. I think most people would agree that there’s a difference between sympathizing with goals and pursuing them. While anarchists are out making a case for the power of individual free initiative, those who stridently advocate pursuit in the form of purely symbolic shows of force2 also sympathize quite highly with reliability expressed through programs.
I call it “reliability” because I get that impression from every “anti-nihilist” or “anti-insurrectionary” perspective I read. Simply put, those in favor of an anarchist society established through specific programs typically argue that it’s the only “stable” course (predictable, stagnant) toward a functional post-revolutionary society; one that has taken all needs into account via some excuse or blueprint for its hypothetical circumstances. These concepts are always disconnected from any lived personal critique that could call its carefully designed cogs into question. All this is presented in an obscured time and place (borrowing common or trending fears and uncertainties), already admitting a precise set of actions for an imprecise, unknown image of time, events and relationships.
It seems these people find more accomplishment in expanding their desperation for revolutionary measurement than taking the obvious shortcut in the entire playing field. This one-track focus on reliability is strictly the product of life under hierarchy, attaching the qualifying pattern of state and capital to the likelihood of a social equilibrium between egalitarian collectives and autonomous individuals. It often feels like a holier-than-thou conquest to reify activity into the revolutionary protocol and impose new institutions built on formalized hope, waving the red-and-black flag. Not a careful accommodation for the variety of human needs and desires, but an obstacle against discovering new desires and reshaping our tools and practice as we wish.
I would go further and say that this conception of reliability runs counter to anarchism entirely. Even when reliability can be experimented with as a prerequisite to meeting needs, we outright establish a new social quota for the container it’s put in instead of abolishing absolutist modes of association outright.3
One example I find of people indirectly becoming the instruments of a program, instead of the other way around, rests in the collectivization in Graus during Spain’s revolution. While not a forced collectivization — allegedly helpful in the needs of the concerned, it appears as an economic configuration that made it necessary for people to adapt themselves to it rather than itaccommodating and adapting to varied desires.
There was no forced collectivization. […] But even if isolation were possible, the obvious benefits of the collective were so great that the right to secede was seldom, if ever, invoked.
The setting speaks to the obviously harsh struggle against the fascist, reactionary and anti-socialist enemies the revolutionaries had to defend themselves from, as well as the regional preference for collectivist anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism. But as for us, the ones presently looking at this as a testimony for something we intend to create for ourselves: if we are consciously striving toward a focal point of anarchy where participation is caused by a saturation of nostalgic revolutionary measurement, applied by the pressure of a loose revolutionary class system, where we conveniently invoke “reliability” and “voluntary” as the excuse for inflexibility on the part of the social programs revolutionaries demanded, we will not find a stranger in taking orders under bold talk of “anarchism.” Sam Dolgoff’s 1976 conception of voluntary does not answer for immobile programs founded on capitalistic logic of production and efficiency. If we continue to align ourselves with the ideas of figures before our lifetimes in a highly repetitive design of an anarchist movement, we are assuring ourselves a quick defeat at this point in late capitalism.
Talking about reliability always requires some speculation of what is or is not reliable in a new world. It simply isn’t a relevant question when compared to asking ourselves what comes during and after any measure of successful engagement. As anarchists, we normally lend our trust to certain actions or arrangements when we can determine their worth in person and in good faith. What is reliable to one section of a community is not guaranteed to be in line with another, and where one sections ends and one begins, either in territory or jurisdiction, cannot be laid out from the blueprint’s point of view without imposing revolutionary borders on our activity. At the rate we begin aligning ourselves with these pacifying impressions of safety, the doors are opened to authority and the formations that came together around reliability are dissolved once more.
At what point do we stop retrying the past?
The informal rule of experts and the authority of the blueprint they impose are what comes between free people and anarchy. When we overlook and effectively combat the details of immediate situations for a blueprinted program, we’re not creating a better social setting for ourselves and each other. Instead, we are delegating trust from ourselves to the alleged means of our self-interest. Instead of relating to these as parts of a cluster of necessary actions and reactions, we act in a manner of dependence to these complex social vehicles, treating them as schedules for revolution. We imbue them with the power to at least capture the lifeblood of that legendary social transformation, when in the end they can only instill a fleeting sense of abstract momentum without actually vanquishing the obstacle at hand and salting the earth of it.
A covenant has been made between the bulky desperation of the organization and those who tend to its ghost. Pretty soon, the obligations of interacting with capitalist society become blurred with interacting with the organization. A spectacular hysteria of commodity fetishism brought to light through some resurgent post-left figures, which is where things will get difficult in staying non-sectarian. Nevertheless, I think they hold up in this particular discussion where I’ve grown more sympathetic to them.
North American organizations have been fumbling again and again for just about a hundred years now around the desire to lead swathes of proletarians through the streets of New York, Chicago, Boston, Toronto and other cities to reclaim the factory, farm, store and office for themselves. I think there is a profound and useful energy in this drive, backed by a sort of optimism that I think has room in anarchy. But this drive exists in a decaying portrait of its former self, seeking to band together today’s working class the same way they did eighty years ago in a global neoliberal gig economy nearing a post-climate erosion hellscape. Putting aside its dusty workerist interaction with present struggles and quasi-vanguard martyrdom, this is because the visionary points of impact remain focused on a program of self-management instead of a new and whole self-organization against the totality of what originally spawned the institutions and obligations we are now looking to run collectively. To top it off, these anarchists appear totally fixated on the quick and cheap release of dopamine in designing the grunt work of mass organizational movements, convinced that the way into communism is to make more and more of this grunt work and get more people to deal with it and become specialized in it until a revolution comes about, maybe.
The question is no longer if this is practical, viable or necessary. I think most anarchists have learned to be somewhat skeptical of all courses, especially this. The question now is if the direction it has necessitated, as far as chasing The One True anarchism, is what we really need (given everything we’ve been through.) After all, if anyone has done anything beyond advocating the ideas of dead thinkers, it’s those who have acted immediately out of common affinity in minimal associations.
When it comes to betting on the future, the contingency is obvious, but so is the capacity of human actors to influence this contingency and help to shape the future. And in those cases where the bettors thought that they knew the shape of the future by virtue of their grasp of historical laws of progress or scientific truth, whatever awareness they retained of the contingency seemed to dissolve before their faith.
— James C Scott, Seeing Like a State
At this point, it’s usually the choice of post-left anarchists to stage an immediate and permanent break with organization, revolution and ideology. To dart off into [what’s left of] the wilderness — trusty copies of The Ego and Its Property and Against His-Story in hand — demolishing every pebble of concrete and industrial implement they come across to disrupt the contingency. I’m with them only half way on this: I admire the transformation of pacifying ideology into a lived praxis, as well as an insurgency against civilizational imposition, but I don’t think a fixed antagonistic approach (that sometimes lends itself to pessimism and its own convoluted anti-moral high ground) replaces or builds on what organization leaves for us to deal with.
The call to Organize!, power in numbers, etc., are probably just appropriations of what some people choose to do when they feel the need or desire to. So it seems to me that the anarchistic thing to do is hardly to proceed in an alternate direction, because the direction has been ours this entire time. It doesn’t terminate in one specific location because we consciously alter it toward whatever destination we continue talking about. I think so far we’ve created a very skewed and inconvenient juncture on the path into the unknown.
Ultimately none of this means we “can’t” or “shouldn’t” use certain tactics, but enabling them as anarchists should look for modes outside the politics of jumping through hoops and sticking the landing to get as many people on board as possible. At the same time, every impact by every type of action should resonate in such a way to open a truly free association rather than preaching about a handful of issues and bestowing ourselves with an alternative moral high ground against (but functionally similar to) capital.
I don’t think it’s a betrayal to anyone to suggest that we could benefit from reinvesting our energy likewise. I think another way of putting it is, “we haven’t found the ideal form of anarchist association yet.” Which is fine. Maybe we don’t need one. This is also not to discredit the advantages in large-scale organizing, but it has obviously been the boldest enabler of what I personally can’t stand being centered in the abolition of authority for a moment longer.
To argue that one big social transformation should and can happen anywhere is a gross negligence of material conditions and an insult to those who live and create in those places. It contests that people in different regions should chain their desires for insurrection until the rest of the world (namely the west) can come to some kind of Kumbaya unanimity on loosing its chains through membership and symbolic “solidarity.” On the other hand, it’s equally negligent of many different possibilities to argue that everyone should shred their union card, debit card and personal safety in favor of perpetually running through the streets, shouting off about esoteric concepts to be a “real” anarchist.
Further, nobody has a claim to be the moral police of revolt, whether dispensed by the lecturing tone of the activist class that winks at the cops during our presence on the streets, or the mostly white, straight, cisgender, neurotypical and/or able-bodied demographics of all strict dogmas. The complex nature of oppression means that revolt is a reactive substance in each individual, ignited by the myriad infractions on self-determination and sustained by the agency of those revolting. It’s not a specialized or governable sphere of social activity that can be condensed into facebook events or permitted marches. All sides involved in this will have to make peace with an adjustment to the mode of actions if we’re going to have a serious grasp on the situation we always talk so highly of.
My personal bias is in favor of doing everything at once, correcting as needed and overlapping/decentralizing avenues of involvement and decision-making. But I enable such a preference through the hope of acting on desires instead of having to choose a side in an utterly pointless schism, or put faith in any single program that hasn’t earned my trust.
Perhaps the most disappointing feature of programmatic anarchism is its perception of struggle. This is another thing with leftist content creators that always peeved me. It can almost be summarized as “inspiration porn” into the possibilities when we come together, make fun of “ancaps” and right-libertarians on the Internet, argue over markets, and maybe unionize after watching a video essay. Repeatedly enriching a language of visionary faith and leaving the physical parts of enacting it up to the audience, instead of making the span of actions particular to the context it’s aimed at. Much talk of joining, thinking and acting in the hope — The Cause of accomplishment, but not as much directed at relating, interacting or building on what accomplishes things now. Although we sometimes hear “Direct action gets the goods,” it’s often cut with the centricity of workers’ formations instead of some effort to dissolve tactical and ideological boundaries. This would make direct action not only what gets the goods, but what reinforces and advances every other aspect of struggle to maximize the range of possibility for everyone.
But firm organizations that center revolutionary measurement are far more interested in reducing struggle down to a generational science project. This becomes the main expression of activity. The initial focus is to offer a vision and inform on it: To explain anti-capitalist organizing, unionism, etc., to everyday people. Prerequisite to membership and publicity. But when informing has reached its limit of usefulness, the program, or designing phase of it, becomes a form of this advocacy which is sometimes enlarged into demonstrations, committees, speakings and workshops. These rarely, if ever, use their chosen avenue to overlap with other tactics. Instead the aim is always to cultivate some kind of popular yet alternative legitimacy. This alone is expected to spark a revolution in a perpetual game of chicken over who makes the first move or when “the time is right.”
At this level of organizing, we also encounter organizations’ self-policing of an internallegitimacy. The masses become a beacon of resolution, placing an exceptional favor on a process that extracts a decision, the majority, from the demos which is specialized over those who they impact — the individual; always citing a few things in its defense:
- With the many, we can accomplish anything—
- Therefore, the many should have some means of legitimizing and enforcing their decisions (kratos)
- Otherwise, the will of the many is betrayed and the revolution is at risk.
The political interplay is based on an interchanging monopolistic subversion of agency. Although we are always promised everyone’s full inclusion in the demos, it exists precisely as the rule of all by all, licensing each would-be associate who is also part of the majority a role in policing their victory over a new class of others. When we get to its actual deliverance of action, there is more curtailment of free activity and silencing or reduction of proposed overlaps that comes from a central, legitimate process than whatever promise it makes of opening channels for difference and taking initiative. Are we really supposed to believe that we can consistently participate in securing leverage for the marginalized while stratifying each other and creating our own internal imbalances of power along the way?
The idea of losing hegemony over individuals is more frightening to democratic blueprints than failure in the program itself, because at least with the collapse of the program they might still have a means of extracting and imposing a momentum to try again.
Perhaps the most defining feature of limitation or control is baiting people into it. Leaders and experts have been carefully adapting notions of efficiency, loyalty, and collaboration between rulers and ruled, extending them into spheres that integrate struggles with states or sow their own types of hierarchy. Overcoming control isn’t limited to the organized physical recourse against social structures. It involves, in equal amount, the interpersonal abolition of all notions assumed to be unchanging and indefinitely correct.
Anarcho-syndicalists are well-known for invoking civil war Spain as the brightest accomplishment of revolutionary unionism. Despite the heaps of critical vantage points waged against the syndicalist program, my main gripe is against its implication that functional and trustworthy are synonymous and inherently compatible. This is where we exit mere visionary practices and enter a form of assumption that is deeply harmful to an anarchistic path. I have more tactical sympathy for anarcho-syndicalism than most economically-focused anarchist forms, insofar that it can cultivate relations between workers that pose a specific threat to authority over labor. But despite the success in that particular sphere, the energy and mode it uses is derived from an understanding of authority that assumes the severed head of the wage system and hierarchical workplace as moral bargaining chips. These are used in everything from theory (outlining the centricity of a limited anti-state class analysis), to vision (a speculative grasp on the future meant to codify prescriptive planning in attaining it), to publicity (adjusting and popularizing this analysis and its program.)
Whether or not a program has a specialized function tells us very little about its implications for participants. We are continually met with an appeal for the alternative politics-as-usual that we would bemoan in the so-called mainstream. This is always sustained by some form of apologetics for overriding genuine initiative to widen and transform our palette of engagement. In other cases, we’re treated to a sentimental urge for camaraderie and unity to reignite some collective power as a class.
I don’t believe in sanctifying resistance or its significations. Resistance as a social sphere interacted with in authoritarian society, and not a personal inclination toward whatever series of short-term and long-term choices, is a different and lesser object than the potential adventures along the paths of active desire. To me, what makes any social resistance beautiful is an ever-developing social insurrection that can offer motivation, empathy and community for those seeking and consenting to it.
Workers’ formations have purpose, that isn’t being challenged. But if we assume that workers’ formations, no matter how situated, are the solution, we’re not reasoning differently from leninism or militarism. And when we attach the word “anarchist” to this, it seems that we only customize these formations through the sentiment of decentralization without removing the logic that begets authoritarian behavior. E.g., planning similarly to urban development, or retaining managerial relationships that revolve around the logic of work. Even if we reach some kind of Revolutionary Catalonia in North America, how long could it be until we risk finding a demand for fossil fuels because we didn’t shape an economy to a localized and sustainable framework? And what if a majority decides that we need to honor this demand out of some crisis?
The answer has consistently been an addition to the problem: Calling for endless referendums, rotations and checks & balances — throwing our arms up in the Enlightenment-style of surrender to the “natural order” of what is thought to be “inevitable.” Instead of promising ourselves a quick return to feelings of disconnection and wanting, let’s trust ourselves to create and do what we want right now in the spirit of a better world that has no material commonality with the one we were desperate to escape.
Along with expunging democratic entrapments, removing impersonal associations from all power is essential for anarchy, because the nature of such institutions is shaped by the continuity of coercive authority. In the absence (or criticism) of meeting needs through intimate channels, we find fragments of institutions (whether in physical or theoretical form) that can promise the satisfaction of rising needs, but at the cost of standardizing an asymmetric role in the revolutionary course. Those who go through these institutions are reduced to an identifier within a lower stage of representational buffer, formalizing a chasm between givers and receivers; possessor and non-possessor transforming into non-interchangeable points of transaction. If this seems too direct and horizontal, a myriad of smaller associations can easily congeal to do the same thing, but with indirect and often hierarchical processes of communicating, storing, analyzing and discriminating identifiers in the aim of “efficiency.”
The same dominant social ethos that necessitates perpetually side-eying the clock and nervously submitting to the crowd around you, “comrades” or not, cannot be transplanted into anarchy without introducing the same logic that references authoritarian incentive and places its content in the direction built under it.
Local, community and individual self-sufficiency are strikes against these authoritarian resurgences. With any investment in defense and sustenance, empowerment becomes a discovery rather than something you’re walked-through by some expert. In these self-sufficient discoveries, the remnants of previous attempts or the tactics of others in the present can change up a scenario until one fits the right time for something else.
When adapting, it’s sometimes necessary to use known options to expand on the support for new ones. This is hardly exclusive to pluralistic approaches: if union members can’t determine the right time to leave the picket line and destroy property, what is the relationship between the union and the members? And if a group of friends can’t go through the trouble of unionizing, what is the relationship between these individuals and the expected, “reliable” paths of deviation?
When can we stop asking ourselves how to see the path to liberation and begin making it? The process of creation sometimes involves the spheres of hypothesis and experiment used in tandem. Different ways of mixing these up extend into different areas, but I think we can find ways to accomplish and reshape goals organically, if not simultaneously, that blueprints could only hope to.
The latest political climate has made anarchist programs appealing once again, and rightly so. Simply living in routine suffering doesn’t make anyone an expert on how to thoroughly and substantially eradicate coercive hierarchies. Certainly not to the standards of any well-read anarchist who regularly steeps in the jargon. This very fact has been a gift for those who want to popularize a specific anarchy, reducing struggle down to what can fit into its worker-centric Internationale-on-replay mode of resistance. With the question of rising discontent among other people, blueprints find a moral supplement to its stage of popularization.
People in the United States who are curious about alternative political channels often find themselves in the DSA or tagging along with the latest disruption of white supremacist assembly. Some anarchists in the middle of this can be found marching with banners, distributing the same few zines and using “solidarity” as a slogan for an amorphous revolutionary ethos. These aren’t ineffectual undertakings, but certainly not the place to ease the pressure. Especially after someone from the local workers’ organization awkwardly reassures that “there’s a few anarchists in the group.”
But creating anarchist missionary trips out of these times and places is how we take on the same popularizing tactics of blueprinting with black fabric on wooden dowels. This does nothing but set a desperate and artificial precedent for free initiative. On the other hand, we can cultivate relationships and open different clusters to each other over any amount of time as we wish. This expresses a redundancy to encase various spontaneous activity, which is probably the most fruitful direction that anti-authoritarians take. Here we find an excruciatingly powerful starting point for every individual. This is a reach into the total diameter of objects and their uses in the given setting. Conferring this look into possibility lends itself to each perspective of plurality, which enlarges the original scope by the number of those sharing in it.
This is more anarchistic to me than any commune or act of property destruction. “Spontaneous” doesn’t have to mean frantic or aimless. It doesn’t take long for a group of people to deduce something obvious for themselves on any scale, this is just a sign of things coming easily within our spaces of encounter. This is precisely where we should place the time frame for most of what we concern ourselves with.
At this point, those in the insurrectionary sphere are interrogated as to how the sick, disabled and so on will be cared for and assured well-being without plans to repurpose the frameworks of stratification. These types of questions assume that we can simply “reclaim” the society modeled after the prison and be free by maintaining it as is. What seems to me like effective negation extends well beyond discernible economic matters taken down on paper, but this means little for how people act on their free will or simply continue living.
One of the good things about mutual aid is its sheer resilience. It can be practiced however people choose to with diligence according to the issue at hand. Necessary implements aren’t affected in this sense, they retain the same form of things we make use of. That’s about the short of it. But the institutions they exist in are left out of the meditations we embark on, assuming something’s mere presence isn’t coercive. The testament of many anarchists is that the need for, say, cancer treatments and the various requirements for their manufacturing will diminish along with the prevalence of what causes cancer. The same for the eventual decline of cars and highways when the origin of rush hour ceases and new desires spawn what they will. And of course, nobody will be coerced out of doing or making something as long as consenting parties take responsibility for it and it isn’t encroaching on others.
This is another thing that blueprinting can’t take into account without contradicting itself. Part of the reason people turn to blueprints is to delegate action to a later time, imagined as an image that is preserved and developed in its frozen state until the time is ripe. The course has to be perfected before anything else can happen. Even when adjustments can be made, they typically happen in isolated environments that value an intellectual reduction of situations over living through problems and solving them as we’re motivated to. In this sense, there’s a displacement of drive with any constructive action. I think many anarchists speak of insurrectionary joy becauseof a sudden break from rigidly measured paradigms of revolt. The participants understand in a very sudden and exciting way, not only by the literature they read and decisions they come to — but also the endeavors they set out on, that the starting point of all anarchy is invested in themselves. Individual and collective have no real difference, only extensions of the same immediate grasp that we confer to friends and associates.
What happens when we set a standard for ourselves in an environment that most aren’t acquainted with? Unless we’re talking about individuals who’ve lived in and out of conflict and destabilized regions, anarchists would probably make things a lot easier on themselves if they accepted that life in anarchy is something we don’t have total grasp of. We talk a lot of our centuries of study into authority, institutions, the very definition of power and the prospect of running our own lives. And yet we know in ourselves that every conflict is totally different. Every encounter with each other yields different moods, content and reactions which propels different directions we never considered. This isn’t even accounting for authority’s different recourses against us that adapt over time. The image in our minds is consistently bested by the ongoing flow of life. The reality is that our situation as anarchists is incredibly dense and erratic, while our means of pathfinding a success in our task are just reactions to its different parts.
We’re probably better off steering our vessels when the way becomes obvious. To cross that bridge when we get to it. It isn’t desirable to reprimand ourselves for not staying the course when the entire voyage was faulty all along. This doesn’t mean going down with the ship, but setting off anywhere and everywhere, inspiring others to do likewise. This is hardly just some empty thrust into the unknown.
Understanding what each of us are able and willing to do in our areas, opening communication and building trust across lines of involvement — even just through acquaintances in common places — is how we fortify our social ties without anchoring them to one type of involvement or structure, or even one handful of types.
We shouldn’t take this to mean leaving our success and safety up to chance for the sake of making it easier for adapting ideas. But it does mean abandoning the limited patterns that come with not answering to ourselves. The anarchist program has yet to prove itself as the salvation from social woe, while the anarchists are simply pursuing their varied will against the coercion of society in ways that are small enough to slip through its net.
There is a reason programs exist. None of this is to build a case against revolutionary unionists or activists, but to illustrate how the drive for programs probably relates to the end goal far more presumptuously than how anarchy would actually flow. So I choose not to shame technically or economically-minded anarchists, but I think by now the substitution of the program for the participants’ general flexibility in building power on any scale has got to end.
I guess what would make me happy, if I needed to make it as simple as possible, which seems like it would peeve both organizational anarchists and post-left anarchists alike, is if we re-invent all factors of revolt as tools (in an actual, tangible sense,) advance the creation of local autonomous groups and reject the identitarian transactions of campaigns, programs, so-called mass movements and ideologies — insofar that they create an environment of excessive visionary measurement, democratic reductionism and incompatibility with free and spontaneous action.
Instead of a program, even beyond doing something else in its place, I suggest a foresight.
An anarchist foresight can be thought of as a kind of familiarity or knowledge of situations as they emerge, employing whatever response or tactic that directly corresponds with the agency of those taking action. There is minimal if any investment in laying something out or reducing it to its parts. But at the same time, it’s not a demand to leave something up to chance at the last moment. Foresight has more to do with positioning ourselves with problems in a way that makes activity the result of the lived details, leaving room open for anything.
Blueprinting is also a kind of foresight, but one that positions its goal on the other side of calculated revolutionary chores for a membership to fulfill. This is meant to capture and compartmentalize details to adjust an isolated course before deployment. Anarchist foresight, however, is only a catalyst for the likely or ongoing activities that connect present desires, constantly reshaping the options according to what’s happening. This is part of “the anarchist way of conceiving life […] to grasp back the totality of our own […]”4
This contrasts from blueprinting in its immediacy. It’s just any other way of planning given to the constant moment of now instead of placing a hope for ourselves in a time that hasn’t and might not come. Much like protest movements that base themselves on a symbolic demand, blueprinting can only put more distance between accomplishment and pursuit, while foresight is a constructive self-determination based on the setting from where we start, retaining the same connection between inspiration and willful continuity.
In large enough contingencies with familiar clusters of relationships, different groups with their own foresight can focus on what they care about while intersecting simultaneously. The specific organizations, understood as tools wielded by individuals, could be set to disintegrate at the first show of failure if needed. That, or the burden of continuing these groups when the situation has changed would be incentive for participants to fragment into smaller clusters, alternating coverage back and forth until something influences them to merge and act at once in large numbers.
This is also about respecting our own energy and attention. People of different personalities can be foresighted about things across levels of intensity and responsibility. We always have basic coverage that exerts energy only in things determined to be worth it. But in this way, we also connect future needs through an investment right now. Unlike blueprinting, which imposes a strategic prophesy on the next ten to fifty years, foresight aims to make every passing moment the results of the combined interests of motivated participants. While the blueprint exerts force against the unknowable by placing authority on current knowledge, anarchy encourages us to make peace with the unknowable by out-witting its tyranny through our creative-adaptive nature. After all, there’s no future without us.
To plan a future society is to imply a myriad infractions on the unaccounted people and groups that make any society possible. But to plan or construct self-theory by living among those effected is to synchronize our desires with our conditions and means. This is how we imagine and create in a way that informs itself on the perils and triumphs of earlier, so we are building a new world from the inspirations of the present instead of building it from the interests of the old and done. Instead of pursuing revolutionary indulgence in a depressing blah, we shake free from homogeneous forms of interaction to merge insurrection with downtime. Future worlds with current relationships.
We find that we’re less dependent on formulaic vision and more attentive with the changes in what we do. Eventually they will be used to salt the earth of the paternalist workings of the program, giving full control to us. This isn’t as nebulous as those who steep in anarchist programs make it out to be. Insurrection versus organization is an embarrassing notion that comes out of the classical anarchist milieu and its contemporary allegiance, as if to be reenacted for play. When it comes to success over hierarchy, it has very little to do with one strategy or another, but the specific range of confining us to revolutionary hope.
To choose the immediate over the program, or at least modify the program to fit with the immediate, is to deviate from the expert’s foresight and align with our own. So it seems obvious to me, at least, that we actually aren’t surrendering anything “in the name of” becoming different from authority, but knowing that a vibrant anarchy can only really come if we evolve our connections to what we build and how those creations relate to our energy in maintaining them.
Immediacy has been left for distortion since leftists clutched their pearls at the provocative critiques of work, morality, civilization and the whole point of being an anarchist. At the same time, it was the hubris of post-left anarchists to cover their tracks with esoteric gibberish that only started a fight for the rest of us to break up. I think the time has come to move on from this non-sense entirely.
An autonomous, pan-tactical, foresighted anarchism without adjectives seems to me like a reasonable starting point for a series of conflicts against a series of obstacles. To win the game in our committees and meetings only to fail in the streets once more, or to endure every part of life’s adventures one-by-one. An anarchist foresight is about basing actions on the developing circumstances, a portable effort to merge zones of activity so they can renounce the forms of blueprinted economic procedure, and assume the personal forms of creative free activity we feel more at home with; more powerful and far less governable with.
Thus, desire, as a drive rather than a longing, acts immediately to attack all that prevents it from forcefully moving.
- My personal divorce from centering economy in anarchism comes from its reduction of stratified relationships. Obviously capitalism is one of the main forces in authoritarian society, but its hardly an independent sector of domination that can be completely removed by a mere change in economic configuration. Social ties that are built around any economy can become just as subordinate to efforts of production and distribution, no matter how cooperative or horizontal.
- Referring to the habit of revolutionaries to set a precedent for gathering in public by making use of numbers in the most wasteful and performative ways. There are people who have little choice in their participation due to whatever personal limitations who are not included in this criticism.
- Referring to tactical or economic reductionism which suggests a clear, singular path toward a single goal that can only be legitimately participated in through one or a few acceptable forms of activity.