Anarchist Social Movements Do Not Exist

If I were to write a book about post-anarchist social movements it would be titled: “anarchist social movements do not exist.” This argument occurred to me during a conversation with a friend this afternoon. His claim, which is not at all an unfamiliar one for anarchist scholars, was that anarchist social movements do not follow the logic of the new social movement paradigm (e.g., a demand for recognition). I remembered Richard Day’s influential claim that anarchist social movements are not what sociologists would describe as social movements at all. Instead, he referred to them as the ‘newest social movements,’ and outlined their alternative logic.

I want to push further in this direction. It is not that the newest social movements – anarchist movements – have an alternative logic. Rather, it is that they simply do not exist. They are ‘not-all’ in the sense of not being entirely included within the symbolic system. Mine is an ontological claim, which positions anarchist social movements within the domain of standing a bit outside of the symbolic system of rule – they are, to borrow Ranciere’s expression, ‘not-part’ of it.

Put differently, anarchist social movements are collective formations of remainders. They feel themselves to be outside of the authority of the state and of all of the various apparatuses of ruling. This was a crucial distinction during the time of increasing state repression, and it may very well be important during the time of Trump. However, something new is going on these days within the world of symbolic authority. Lacanian pscyhoanalysts have described this as the age of ordinary psychosis, that is, as the time when the symbolic has a hole.

At this time, then, it is important to return to the modern anarchist notion of autonomy. Auto-nom-me indicates the self-authorization of the anarchist social movement, it is the anarchists’ means of recovery from the hole in the symbolic. This is a mode of ‘ontological repair’ that occurs not through recognition but through a return to identification. Thus, my guess is that the concept of ‘identification,’ which was so ferociously critiqued in the last few decades, will soon return to a central place within anarchist thinking.

Identification is one means of repairing the hole in the symbolic, and it occurs, perhaps, through auto-no-me, that is, through the self-naming exercises of marginalized populations. It provides a source of stabilization in ‘tough times’ for anarchist social movements, who struggle, due to a lack of hysterical identification with external authority, with simply being.

Contemporary anarchist social movements will have to return to the classical concepts and reclaim them. Autonomy is one such concept. After having passed through the critique of identity and essentialism, we can, finally, return to a notion of identification and autonomy stripped of its inherent multiplicities but also stripped of its quest for recognition by an authority of one kind or another.


2 thoughts on “Anarchist Social Movements Do Not Exist

  1. Thanks for this interesting commentary Duane. I am particularly struck by the concept of ‘anarchisms’ being outside and beyond the register of the hysteric. The problematic here is of a critical discourse which fails to take account of ‘value the automatic subject’ (Marx) and if so, which of the classic four discourses might these movements operate within, in terms of a Lacanian reading do you think? Or has a new paradigm been suggested? Perhaps there is a particular set of ideas you can recommend which explores this.
    Also, the relatively recent Lacanian concept of contemporary society as psychotic due to a hole rent within the fabric of the symbolic: Anselm Jappe’s forthcoming collection of essays could be seen to compliment this reading in some ways – a reading that describes a society of real abstraction, constituted by value, and as such beyond any of the traditional ‘values’ that kept society functioning, to some degree.

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