Thinking Anarchism

I have lived more than half of my life as an anarchist. The majority of that time was spent learning about anarchism as a type of activism. As a result, for many years of my life I believed quite strongly that anarchism was nothing more than a particular subset of activism. You can understand this as a statement about the orientation of anarchism toward practice. Activism, for me, was something that one did in the world, it was act-based and not, as it were, thought-based. It took me at least a decade to begin to disrupt this prevailing orientation. Now I believe that it is quite the opposite: activism is something like a subset of anarchism, or, to be more precise, something which can be partially united with anarchism. But it is explicitly not something that can be entirely reduced to it. Rather, thinking, it seems to me, already has within it the possibility of acting, of, to borrow a phrase from Alejandro de Acosta, “direct action at the level of thought.”
At this point I am willing to maintain that anarchism is *not* a practice. I realize that this goes against much of the tradition that we know and love, and that, more than that, it goes against the prevailing orientation of the pro-anarchist milieu. In fact, it goes against my own previous understanding. But the point must be made, and it must be made well: anarchism is primarily a type of thinking. Already I have two concepts which deserve to be interrogated by all anarchists: act and thinking. We shall find, I have no doubt, that in order to act, and to act authentically in the world such that our results are meaningful from the perspective of revolutionary strategy, one must begin to think what it means to act. To these two concepts I would like to add another: tradition. 


At the very beginning of this blog I used the word tradition in a fairly casual way. Tradition is something we take for granted. Naive anarchists often claim that if anarchists had a tradition it would be necessary that we destroy it. In this understanding, tradition is something which is an authority, and, moreover, which coerces us, and perhaps robs us of our freedom. However, tradition also authorizes our freedom. To Dostoevsky’s point that “if God is dead, everything is permitted,” Lacan reformulated: “If God is dead, then nothing is permitted.” Well, it is the same with tradition: if tradition is dead, if it has no authority, then freedom is not permitted. This means that we have no way to transmit our experiences as anarchists to future generations. As a result, anarchism dies at fairly young age, as it always has. And so we must locate within our tradition points which make anarchism relevant for the experiences of our time, and, moreover, to the people who make use of the tradition.

The question arises: how can we locate within tradition these points? Most of us tend to believe that traditions are hard knowledges, things which do not change, as if they are hard-coded into history. The task of thinking consists of disrupting this understanding of tradition. Previously, many anarchists have been content with this understanding of tradition as hard knowledge, and this is why on the one hand, we have dogmatists whose reading of the tradition is so fixed that it no longer speaks to our experience, or, on the other hand, we have nihilists (the bad kind) who reject tradition entirely. The latter group of people do not realize that by rejecting tradition for being authoritarian one also inadvertently presumes that tradition has more power than it actual does. And so we must think. Thinking is always a practice of reading tradition for new points of departure. And through this process we find the ability to act.

To act is never to repeat, unless that repetition disrupts the prevailing orientation of the world. Tradition, in some sense, is precisely a form of repetition. And so to act is to produce a new form of repetition into the world. We produce something that can be repeated through a language that can be understood. An act is not a repetition of an old tactic that has never worked within this world. It is the construction of a new tradition within and against the coordinates of the prevailing order. An act finds what from the very beginning disrupts the present and opens up a hole in the future. As an anarchist, this has been my experience. From the very beginning I have been thinking about the possibility for acting.

And so this leads me to a plea. If, on the one hand, there are more anarchists within the university than ever before, and if, on the other hand, anarchism, as a body of thought, no longer seems to have anything holding it together in the form of a tradition – or, dare I say it, in the form of a serious journal, then the only hope we have for the future is to renew the tradition. I once described this as fortifying the troops, but that is an unfortunate idiom – the point is that we need to act now to save our tradition precisely so that an authentic act – and make no mistake about it, anarchism is *the* thinking of authentic acts, what anarchism offers politics as a form of thinking – can remain possible. There may very well be other avenues for thinking the political act, I have no doubt about it. However, I believe, as I hope many of you do, that anarchism still offers the most fertile conceptual toolkit. Our tradition has always been a thinking of the act.


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