Empowering Anarchy: Power, Hegemony and Anarchist Strategy – Tadzio Mueller

Posted: December 5, 2014 in Musings
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extract from Post Anarchism: A Reader. Prologue to Chapter 5

Empowering Anarchy: Power, Hegemony and Anarchist Strategy
Tadzio Mueller
PROLOGUE: ANARCH-Y/-ISTS/-ISM
How does one define something that draws its lifeblood from defying
convention, from a burning conviction that what is, is wrong, and from the
active attempt to change what is into what could be? Definitions necessarily
try to fix the ‘meaning’ of something at any given point, and they imply that
I, who do the defining, have the power to identify the limits of ‘anarchism’,
to say what is legitimately anarchist. It is probably better, then, to start with
clarifying what anarchism is not: it is definitely not a question of ancient
Greek etymology, as in: ‘the prefix “an” linked to the word “archy” suggests
that “anarchism” means …’; neither is it a question of analysing the writings
of one dead white male or another, a type of approach that would look at
books written by anarchist luminaries like Kropotkin or Proudhon, and would
then proclaim that the essence of anarchism can be found in either one, or
a combination of the two;2 nor is it, finally, a question of organizational
continuity with the rebels who were killed in Kronstadt or the anarchists who
fought in the Spanish civil war.
This is not to say that a historical approach to anarchism is not relevant –
only that an attempt to seek a purely historical definition of anarchism would
in some sense commit an act of intellectual violence against those people who
today think of themselves as anarchist, anarchist-inspired, or as ‘libertarian
socialists’: most of those have not read Kropotkin, Bakunin, or even more
contemporary anarchists such as Murray Bookchin, or did not read any of
their works prior to thinking of themselves as anarchists. Barbara Epstein has
tried to come to terms with this relative lack of ‘ideological purity’ by arguing
that today’s anarchism is not really ideologically proper anarchism, but rather
a collection of what she terms ‘anarchist sensibilities’ (Epstein, 2001: 4).
However: in suggesting that today’s anarchists are not really anarchists, even if
they think of themselves as such, Epstein has made precisely the mistake that
academics frequently make when talking about activists, that is, to define a
‘proper’ way of doing/being/thinking, and then identifying the ways in which
activists diverge from the true path as identified by the intellectual elite.3
How can we then avoid this type of definitional ‘violence’, but still have
something to talk about, that is, something that is identifiably ‘anarchist’?
First, I suggest, by letting those people who actually think of themselves as
Post-Anarchism Hits the Streets
anarchists or acknowledge certain anarchist influences in their political work
speak and act for themselves. Because if anarchism is anything today, then it
is not a set of dogmas and principles, but a set of practices and actions within
which certain principles manifest themselves.4 Anarchism is not primarily
about what is written, but about what is done: it is the simultaneous negation
of things as they are, the anger that flows from viewing the world as riddled
with oppression and injustice, and the belief that this anger is pointless if one
does not seek to do something different in the here and now. What makes
these practices specifically anarchist in the eyes of today’s activists does of
course vary from group to group, from person to person. For now, however, I
will understand anarchist practices in the realm of political organization and
expression as those practices that consciously seek to minimize hierarchies
and oppose oppression in all walks of life, a desire which manifests itself in
various organizational forms such as communes, federations, affinity groups
and consensus-seeking structures.5 In other words, anarchism is a scream,
not one of negation,6 but of affirmation: it is about going beyond rejecting,
about starting to create an alternative in the present to that which triggered
the scream in the first place (‘prefigurative politics’).7 This is not to say that
anarchist practices always achieve that – in fact, the main body of this chapter
will deal with the question of which barriers there are in anarchism itself to
reaching its own goal. Instead, this merely gives a broad frame of reference to
a discussion of anarchism, a frame that will be refined as the chapter develops.
One disclaimer before the discussion starts: since I have suggested that it
is only by letting today’s anarchists talk and act that we can find out what
anarchism ‘really’ is, I have been forced to rely on the anarchists that I have
met, and those anarchist texts that I have been able to get and read, to gather
my ‘data’. These are, for a number of reasons, mostly from Europe and the
United States. The questions faced by anarchists that I will discuss in this
chapter come from this context, and the answers will be relevant, if at all,
only in that context.

 

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