Anarchism: pre-, post-, and unfiltered in 7 painless sections
A call for a "deeper
democracy" was issued in 1999 by Anthony Giddens, the
current dean of sociologists and founder of the "third
way" between left and right political traditions.
This call followed logically
from the admirable analysis of global changes in his series of lectures
for the BBC
radio. These lucid chapters are also
available in a book I often assign,
Runaway World: How Globalization is Reshaping Our Lives.
Giddens eloquently discussed global
changes in: family; assumptions
communication, sex, romance; current
battles over tradition, religious
fundamentalism, over modern choices;
and also the advent of a technocratic
"risk" society. Each of
these domains is intimately interconnected, as a careful hearing of
Giddens will show.
Describing such historic trends of global modernity, Giddens also
prescribes the more positive emergence of social equality and respect
for dialogue that can be found. This takes a long view of
change, and it requires that we momentarily set aside the rather obvious violence and
ignorance that continue to destroy as always. Nevertheless,
long view does reveal some progress. In prescribing more of
progress as needed for tomorrow, he summed it up in the phrase,
"democratising democracy". Democracy itself will have to
in order to deal with the new global realities, and with the higher
expectations of modern citizens who have the same access to information
as their governors. What he recommends is a more
more participatory civic sphere -- independent of both the "free"
market and of the government bureau. Giddens concludes
the lecture series and the book with a final claim:
runaway world doesn't need less, but more government - and this, only
democratic institutions can provide."
Giddens is a good liberal progressivist, yet one who notes that the
current state of democracy is insufficient and increasingly incapable
of addressing itself to the new "transnational" activities, the
emerging conditions of economic and cultural interactivity that bypass
national borders and thus current legislation. Where Giddens
beyond the run-of-the-mill liberal is in his recommendation -- not
simply for more state regulation -- but for the creation of deeper
participation in community affairs than is currently available under
parliamentary representation. He supports the rise of NGOs
that monitor and intervene in transnational problems, and in
rise of community organizations that make decisions on matters that
affect the same people who are deciding. This I take to be
as far as the progressive liberal mind has gone today.
Giddens is decidedly not an anarchist, he is realizing something that
the old anarchist tradition of Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, and
Goldman had long since realized.
That tradition goes by many names and also gets aligned with both the
Left and the Right at times. Let's be blunt about one simple
matter: the actual anarchists were always already on the
left of the Left. They enacted equality, fraternity, and liberty
in a manner that is unsurpassed -- moreover despite all the
conflicts implied therein. Theirs was the deepest democracy
history. Their ideals are sometimes borrowed and repackaged
the Libertarian Right, but this is a bastardized form that emphasizes
the right to individual Property instead, meanwhile forgetting all
about equality and fraternity. The actual anarchist tradition
always focused on communal organization and mutuality, on
interdependence and participation, on open-minded tolerance and on
worker's control over their own products. Anything that
harm this community would then be appropriately changed by that
community with the full involvment of those concerned. A
corporation, for example, that exploited people and polluted their air
would simply not be allowed. Most actual anarchist
would simply change the corporation (one of the biggest headaches
facing us today) at its most fundamental level: capitalism itself.
What are those many names? Here are a few:
anarcho-syndicalist, syndicalism, worker's councils,
communes, libertarian socialists, autonomists, situationists, social
ecology, wobblies, etc.
Every political economy
been tried and found wanting. History is cluttered with the
garbage remaining from communism, capitalism, representative democracy,
socialism, feudalism, oligarchy, slavery, imperialism, etc.
Anarchism is unique in this regard too. It either
been tried or it has never failed; this alternative depends on the
depth of your historical knowledge.
Particular anarchist communities did rise and fall. The
Paris Commune of 1871 is one. Spain
is another -- in the few years before and after 1936, when most of the
country and industry was run by anarchist communities. I take
these two as essential examples of why anarchists fell: they
killed by hired militias.
While most literate readers today realize that Noam
is a real anarchist, very few realize how many famous writers in the
mainstream literary canon were anarchists by definition and by
profession. This has been suppressed. Here's a
at random: P. B. Shelley. William Blake, George Orwell, H. D.
Thoreau, Ernest Hemingway, Ursula LeGuin, James Joyce,
etc. The list is significantly longer. I'm working
anthology to propose for publication now, because I discovered that no
such anthology has been printed.
Postmodern academics have recently moved through marxism to
postmarxism, and through structuralism to poststructuralism.
of these movements meet up with anarchism, which has been waiting for
them to catch on. Postmarxism is perhaps easier to get.
When Marx projected the eventual "withering away of
State" he was wrong; but he was wrong precisely because marxists
advocated the centralization of control over production led by the
vanguard party, in other words, a strong state bureaucracy.
History has thus shown that Bakunin
won the argument with Marx. Marxists also advocated authority
over the production process within the factory. Marxists also
rejected the revolutionary potential of non-proletarians.
on so many counts, so easy to spot in hindsight. Postmarxists
today tend thus to recapitulate anarchism, without knowing it, and only
in very advanced
jargon. Something like this occurs with
poststructuralism, which is too elaborate to be introduced in a web
site. But the three most
you can read about this explain why postmodern academics are
recapitulating anarchist theory and also, equally crucial, what they
offer to improve upon the limitations of traditional anarchist theory.
These three books sum up what's called "postanarchism".
Contemporary theory is synonymous with
How do I know? I've read it all. My own
manner is to
sythesize where various works can complement each other.
- Saul Newman's From
Bakunin to Lacan
- Todd May's The Political Philosophy of
- Lewis Call's Postmodern Anarchism
Pseudo-anarchism exists, or does that go without saying?
Varieties of this can be found in the authors Nozick to Zizek
many between who are uninformed about the actual tradition of anarchist
communities. So if you have to draw a line somewhere . . .
. . . Still, it is impossible for anyone to be
of the time (except apparently G.W. Bush) and even these
have a few very worthwhile things to say.
So what shall we do after closing this window and standing up?
you want to read more in the future, I can recommend a single volume of
brick size (= over 750 pages) that summarizes anarchist thinkers,
ancient and modern, anarchist history both European and Asian, and a
veritable encyclopedic coverage:
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