Anarchism as a Reality

From Dissident Voice - by Kim Petersen

Peter Gelderloos is an anarchist and author from Virginia. His books include How Nonviolence Protects the State, Consensus, Anarchy Works, The Failure of Nonviolence, the travel narrative To Get to the Other Side, and the collection of short stories Sousa in the Echo Chamber. He currently lives in Barcelona, where he takes part in ongoing social struggles.

In his book Anarchy Works (Ardent Press, 2010) Gelderloss argues that “free societies are not possible so long as governments try to crush any pocket of independence, corporations fund genocide in order to manufacture cell phones, and supposedly sympathetic people are more interested in writing ethnographies than fighting back.” (19)

Anarchy Works is a book I highly recommend for anyone (important because how we organize ourselves affects everyone) who wants to understand anarchism and how the objections to it being pie-in-the-sky, besides being a non-argument, do not hold much water.

The following is a recent interview I did with Peter Gelderloss by email.


Kim Petersen: In Anarchy Works, you wrote, “It is no mistake that the institutions of power in our civilization — media, academia, government, religions — have exaggerated the prevalence of war and understated the possibility for peace. These institutions are invested in ongoing wars and occupations; they profit from them, and attempts to create a more peaceful society threaten their existence.” (26-27)

anarchyworks_DVTo paraphrase what you are saying here: there is profit in war and no profit in peace? Yet the profits go to the ones fomenting war and not to the people actually fighting the wars. How does such a system of violence perpetuate itself? Does patriotism blunt rationality? If so, how can patriotism best be overcome? Do you identify any other major non-historical factors that predispose people to fight wars?

Peter Gelderloos: On the contrary, in the society we live in today, there is plenty of profit in war and in peace. But when they talk about war, they mean common people in one country slaughtering common people in another country while generals, journalists, and business leaders cheer them on. And when they talk about peace, they mean stability, social order, and obedience. Peace, in the capitalist sense, is very dangerous for people like us. It means hundreds of thousands of people dying every year due to workplace accidents, pollution, bad food, driving to and from work, police violence, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia. As long as sales are good in the holiday season, this is what they call peace.

What really threatens them is when we start fighting back. Not murdering our neighbors but turning on our bosses and leaders. So when I talk about a more peaceful society, I mean one without this fundamental antagonism that arises from exploitation and domination. It is an antagonism that splits the human community and one that also turns us against the planet that gives us life. If we get rid of that fundamental exploitation, there will still be conflict, but war as we know it will become both impossible and senseless.

So properly speaking, it’s not a system of violence but a system of exploitation that uses a great many tools to maintain order, from police torture and carpet bombing to dialogue and public education. It perpetuates itself by accumulating ever more wealth and power among those who rule, letting privileges and benefits trickle down to those who help them out, and convincing everyone else to go along with it, controlling the terms of the debate so they never even have to acknowledge that another world is possible. Patriotism definitely plays a role in this. It turns exploited people in one country against exploited people in another country, while those who do the exploiting laugh all the way to the bank. And it replaces a healthy love for one’s land with a love for the government or a more abstract national concept. You can kick a patriot off their land, poison their water, bulldoze the place where their relatives are buried, and give them a crappy job, and as long as they can keep waving their flag and blame it all on immigrants, they’ll do as they’re told.

Other factors that predispose people to fight wars? War isn’t inevitable, but it’s clearly a human possibility and always has been. Before the State, wars more often took the form of raiding, and sometimes the form of highly ritualized sports with very little actual death. Some societies chose never to engage in war. It’s a human choice. But today, a lot of people are so bored, and so eager to look for someone to blame, that signing up to go to war makes sense. For some people, it’s better than a video game. For others, it’s a way to avoid the violence of the city, the violence of prison, the violence of a really demeaning, low-paying job.

KP: You wrote, “Those who attempted to put themselves permanently in the role of chief or spokesperson were ostracized — or even treated to a pie in the face, as high profile organizer Medea Benjamin was at the US Social Forum in 2007.” (33)

It seems that much of the independent media inclines to the words of certain anarchist/leftist gurus — wannabe or not. What, for you, is the connection or disconnection between anarchists and other leftists when it comes to predilection toward experts or celebrity?

PG: Anarchists can sell out their principles just as easily as anyone else. The difference is, anarchists who aspire to the authority and power of professional expertise or fame isolate themselves. Anarchists who try to be media spokespersons, who go to the negotiating table and strike a deal with power, are generally treated with utter suspicion and contempt, both in our histories and in day-to-day communication. They are held up as examples of what to avoid. In many other political currents, those who “make it”, those who become famous or powerful, are held up as positive examples.

KP: In a somewhat related vein, much of the Left continues to put credence in elections dominated by well financed parties with corporate media backing and playing by the rules established by elitists. What role do you see that anarchists should play in elections? Should they participate? Is holding one’s nose and choosing a lesser evilist candidate, as one prominent anarchist has suggested, practical or worth considering?

PG: Anarchists have generally remained true to their anti-electoral and anti-political positions, neither taking part in elections nor assuming positions in government. I think this is the right position to take. There is no such thing as a good government policy. Even if the results of a government policy bear some similarity to outcomes we would like to see, these are outcomes handed down from on high in a completely alienated and authoritarian process. The crux of the problem is that we are prisoners of this society with no chance to meaningfully take part in the organization of our own lives. We are constantly turned into spectators and consumers of our own lives. Within such a framework, talk of better or worse candidates or policies is meaningless. Alienated means can never solve the fundamental problem of alienation. A ruler by definition cannot make you free. Dialogue of any kind with political powers increases their power over us. This is not a step in the direction of the self-organization of our own communities and our own lives.

There’s also the fact that governments that portray themselves as progressive have often done the most to institutionalize popular struggles and increase the power of the State to regulate and organize our lives. Look at Obama. His campaign, tapping into the grassroots, succeeded in simply shutting off a great deal of popular anger and initiatives that surfaced during the Bush years. For what? More torture, more drones, more spying, more surveillance, more police killings, higher border walls, the same wars by other means, and the most minimal of healthcare systems. Look at Evo Morales in Bolivia. His government has been able to institutionalize what were once powerful social movements and mobilize them to support some of the worst neoliberal development projects underway in South America.

Delegating power over our lives can never be a step towards winning back the power to organize our own lives.

KP: You wrote, “Technology is not blinking lights and whirring gadgets. Technology is adaptation. By adapting a complex set of techniques that have allowed them to meet all their needs without destroying their environment over 7,000 years, the New Guinea farmers have accomplished something Western civilization has never even approached.” (80)

You challenge the notion that invention of devices constitutes technology, and yet the Eurocentric viewpoint often fails to take into account disregarding the Precautionary Principle and the negative effects of technology; whereas Indigenous peoples often created or molded the environment to sustain them in ingenious ways. In his book 1491, Charles Mann argues that the Original Peoples of the western hemisphere were as technologically advanced as any European civilization. Mann described Indigenous agriscience as pre-eminent and considered the development of maize as “arguably man’s first, and perhaps his greatest, feat of genetic engineering.”

My father came to me to share an article he was reading in his newspaper. The title was “Is Technology Dangerous?” (Paul Mohapel, Times Colonist, 6 March 2014: A11) My immediate response was, “What about GMOs and nuclear technology?” To which I added, “Technology is not dangerous; it is the uses people put that technology to that renders it dangerous or not.” The writer warns, “Information technology usage may be making us dumber by impairing and possibly damaging our brains.”

How do you see anarchism vis-à-vis technology?

PG: I disagree with the view that technology is not dangerous, it is how we use it that is dangerous or not. Some people make a distinction between “technics” as devices or practices that serve as tools, and “technology” as a society-wide complex that uses new devices to transform how society is organized and how people relate to one another and to their environment.

In this latter sense, technology is not only dangerous, it is coercive. You might think, for example, that using a cellphone is a choice. But nowadays, it is almost impossible to get a job without a cellphone, and not having a cellphone has been used as evidence of political extremism in criminal trials. How about driving a car? Cars have caused a huge deal of damage to this planet, and there are many places where you can’t get to work or get to the store without a car. It’s not voluntary.

What about nuclear technology? This has directly caused cancer rates to go up, to the tune of millions of deaths. We’re all forced to accept nuclear radiation, which has become a planetary reality, because some governments have decided they want nuclear power. And with that power comes an excuse for new forms of emergency and disaster management, more dictatorial powers justified on the basis of public safety. It’s no coincidence that governments like technologies that give them such power.

The technologies I was talking about in the passage you cited are forms of adaptation that can help us feed ourselves or communicate and share information without damaging the planet or submitting ourselves to some authoritarian structure. Such technologies demonstrate people’s creative and adaptive capabilities, showing that we don’t need governments or private researchers to live well or come up with solutions to the problems that will arise. Examples of hyper-complex, intelligent adaptation from New Guinea and other places also shows that the idea of more or less advanced societies, the idea of progress as a line from less to more evolved, is a Eurocentric and often racist fiction.

KP: “… the institution of police emerged as a means to give the ruling class greater control over the population and expand the state’s monopoly on the resolution of social conflict.” (114)

Since the police are of the working class, why is it that you see that they are so often willing to do the bidding of the elitists?

PG: In any society, there are always going to be some people that have a mercenary sentiment. There will always be bullies. In a society where bullies are celebrated, given jobs, and called heroes, there’s going to be a lot more bullies, they will be encouraged to develop even more sadistic and arrogant methods, and the rest of us will be largely defenseless against them. In a society that discourages this kind of behavior, bullies and mercenary types won’t have free rein to do as they please, they’ll isolate themselves if they act the way police act in our society, and they’ll get the kind of encouragement they might need to solve some of their issues and work on being better human beings.

In many revolutions, even the military has deserted and joined the rebels. The police, on the other hand, stay true to power as long as power continues to exist. For those who are inclined to talk about good cops, they only need to realize that there would not be a police left in service, that all of them would get fired, if they refused to do what any healthy human being would refuse, like arresting someone for being homeless or kicking someone out of their house because the bank said so. If someone is an active duty cop, it’s because they’re okay with doing those things.

KP: “Borders don’t protect people; they are a means by which governments protect their assets, which include us. When the borders shift in a war, the victorious state has advanced, staking its claim to new territory, new resources, and new subjects. We are plunder — potential cannon fodder, taxpayers, and laborers — and borders are the walls of our prison.” (189)

This speaks again to patriotism, the belief that residing in the borders of a state demands fidelity to the state. Why do people accept borders that hinder their freedom of movement – or they accept this?

PG: Borders have been around for so long, they’re seen as natural. Being able to control a territory is essential to the existence of the State. People usually don’t respect borders when borders get in the way. Every year, millions of people cross borders without permission, or they overstay their permission, they work in countries where the government says they can’t, they don’t believe that they have any less right to go to a part of the world where certain governments want to prohibit or limit their access. Yet many people, especially those people who are considered civilized or sedentary, accept the existence of borders. They can’t imagine a world without borders and they’re told it would be impossible, though once upon a time there were no borders and even today, those horrid little imaginary lines governments base their sovereignty on are not fully a part of consensus reality, given how many people refuse to obey them.

KP: Your latest book is The Failure of Nonviolence, which I haven’t read yet (except for the review), but it seems in line with what I written a few times previously: that violent resistance against the violence of occupiers/oppressors is legitimate.1

For me, there is nothing that a oppressor would prefer better than to face a resistance that limits itself to non-violence. Your view?

PG: Of course I agree. Many proponents of nonviolence assert a conspiracy theory that governments secretly want us to use violence, but visible indications to the contrary abound. The media demonize us if we fight back, the police target us, the courts criminalize us, even punishing us as terrorists for simple property destruction. Time and again, people have peacefully taken the streets to learn that by confining themselves to nonviolence, they cannot transform society. They cannot even take over and defend spaces where no social relations can be put into practice. Nonviolence can’t exist without amnesia, without forgetting the lessons of past struggles.

KP: In line with gift-giving economies, your “book is priced at cost and our goal in distributing it is not to make money, but to share it with you.” I am interested further in your views on publication. You wrote, “Publishing is an enterprise we were supposed to leave to the professionals, and books were something we were supposed to buy and consume, not to make ourselves. But we forged ourselves the permission slip to pursue this project, and we hope to show that you can too.”

PG: I would like it if the book were even cheaper. That’s why we put the full text online. The printing of the book is not an attempt by anyone to make money. It’s priced so that an anarchist printing project can pay for its costs, pay for other books that it puts out, and go on publishing. The motivation is a desire to share ideas, to take part in a conversation that is unfolding among people who take to the streets, challenge authority, and commit themselves to the unending learning process that rebels, noncomformists, and revolutionaries always encounter when they decide to live freely and fully or to live for their own principles.

Unfortunately, many people who start off struggling against oppression eventually turn their projects into another business, another way to make a living. This has been especially true in the world of publishing. Many writers try to pay their bills by publishing, in other words by selling radical ideas, and many presses that spring up to make new ideas available take on an increasingly mercantile logic. But it’s not enough to get new ideas out there if we’re not putting our ideas into practice. After all, none of these are really new ideas. All of these complaints, all of these dreams, have been articulated a thousand times before. Democracy allows us to voice all the opinions we want as long as we never try to actually do anything. It’s the same logic as solitary confinement in a prison cell: total freedom of expression, zero freedom of action.

It’s not the ideas, but the practices that have been forcibly suppressed. Publishing is nothing but another opportunity to put the ideas of solidarity and mutual aid into practice. Writing about freedom without trying to live it is nothing but self-betrayal.

  1. See, for example, Kim Petersen, “The Duty of Progressives is to Speak Out Against Oppressors and Not Excoriate Their Resisting Victims,” Dissident Voice, 18 July 2006 and “Ending Violent Resistance: Target the Oppressor, Not the Resistance,” Dissident Voice, 23 October 2010. []

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at:



`Violence' is linguistic bullshite.

This is a point that no-one may contest—

I see this point everywhere on this site, I'm inclined to agree but I also think hair-splitting semantics is a waste of time and mostly ends up confusing people. Lets assume you're not a troll, what do you mean by that?

Something like, matter colliding with matter is only "violence" in certain social context? A lot of people have tried to float these semantic or philosophical arguments, attacking some of the preconceptions and fallacies of the liberals and pacifists but is that the most useful direction?

Isn't it simpler and more effective to say what Gelderloos is saying?

This word `violence', and not just the word but also the linguistic rapport and the `sensation' that there must be a principle of violence, is bamboozling, works in favor of politicians, is just some fucking crazy bullshit... And it's linguistic. It's rooted in linguistic patterns of some languages and is closely related to some other `abstract ideas' like `force'.

I'm not particularly worried if someone doesn't find this a `convincing argument' or something, though. It's not supposed to be an argument.

I don't disagree but obviously there's a fork in the road here.
Are you just navel-gazing about linguistics cause I can do that too?

Started way back when I was trying drugs as a kid. Duuude, have you ever like, really THOUGHT about words maaan?

But then there's the discourse where an "active" anarchist is trying to engage with people, trying to avoid being backstabbed by liberal pacifists wielding the typical non-violence rhetoric. I've been doing this for years and I don't find these overly abstract linguistic studies to be very helpful at all. Usually the opposite.

So yeah, if you're just having fun with words for your own sake, great.

no no no linguisitcs are highly serious affair

To who?! Other linguists? Go argue with emile.

Gelderloos is about theory thats rooted firmly in reality, which is why I appreciate their work.

No, Genderloos `theory' is rooted firmly in common linguistic direction, which is how you appreciate it.

No, only to cunning linguists.

cunning stunts? what?

well you're busy trying to outsmart the entire english-speaking world and sit smugly under your rock, some of us are actually trying to influence it. Esperanto never caught on either.

Marine currents? What `influence' denotes

Esperanto is gay as fuck

Case in point, smug little victory points you award to yourself on a news?
Definitely not interesting or useful to anyone but you. Please, have your fun, by all means :)

Backstabbing is all the pro-violence people (like you) ever do. Trying to destroy the credibility and purge anyone who believe in anti-violence as a tactic, while not even really engaging in violence themselves, they always expect others to do it.

Obviously. Back to school.

Psychic intelligence trumps window smashing and cop bashing all the time. Get in the groove and freak-out with the opposition!

Dissident Voice is still online? I admit i quit reading about they started publishing antisemitic articles like Atzmon's "Credit Crunch or rather Zio-punch."

No self-respecting anarchist should submit content to their site.

Since anything or anyone denounced or banished to the cornfield on anarchistnews . org is usually actually something that is actually representative of struggle, insurrection, anarchy, and resistance by the poor and working class, I checked out dissidentvoice . org .. it would seem it is still quite active, and probably hated mostly because of daring to use the dreaded term "peace" in any prominence. It would seem that there is no tolerance here for any criticism of Israel (what you call "antisemetic"), one of the few countries that can get us all killed in a nuclear war (take your pick of urban nuclear detonation death: physically smashed against a building, incinerated and turned to carbon, vaporized, or if further away irradiated or ultimately starving or frozen to death by cold) if anyone interrupts their right to fund multitudes of people doing nothing but reading old holy books, an activity in good part funded by American tax money. Brilliant.

At an even more basic level than that, anyone who regards what the state does (ie wars and so on) as illegal and misunderstands the etymology of 'criminal' shouldn't be published at all.
What's interesting about Gilad Atzmon, is that he is clearly Isreali and rightfully rejects the fundamentalist mantra which comes out of Isreali propaganda, which underpins the genocidal cultural supremacy of the state.

He has the way the system works entirely backwards though. The model of Isreali genocide is based on catholic/christian British/French/portugese/Spanish invasions and massacres of the Americas and that this is that which underpins the logic which leads to the US/Canada/Britain being global imperialist super-powers which are in control of the functioning of Isreal, not the other way around. This tribal nationalism he speaks of is the same type of shit he doles out in defense of the US and Britain, painting these much stronger states as victims of Isreali lobbying.

What differentiates Isreal from the other imperialist states is the cultural/religious fundamentalism which takes priority over capitalist investment. For example, whereas the US and Canada happily exploit migrant labour on visas to pick and slaughter what we call 'food', for shit wages for economic gain, Isreal largely rejects in the case of Palestinians as it is religious-nationalism which gives legitimacy. Isreali power treats Palestinians as US and Canadian power treat Indigenous people here: wiped off the map or incarcerated in the hopes that the very notion of their existence ceases to exist.

Dude's a conspiracy theorist that missed the kool aid party I guess.

… little off topic aren't we? Not that it's unusual around here. Eh, whatever.

it is curious that the words ‘moral judgement’ or ‘morality’ are not mentioned in this article by an ‘anarchist’.

gelderloos speaks of the historical occurrence of war and muses on ‘factors that predispose people to fight wars’, but there is no mention of the fact that ‘moral judgement’ has, in modern times, been a major influence in rallying support for war.

“The phrase evil empire was first applied to the Soviet Union in 1983 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan, ... Reagan depicted nuclear warfare as an extension of the "age old struggle between good and evil,"

moral judgement as the basis for ‘going to war’ [rather than restoring balance] is an artefact of Western religious tradition and also Western scientific tradition which promotes belief in ‘man’, ‘organism’ and ‘organization’ as ‘independent reason-driven systems’.

the physical reality as affirmed by our sensory experience and by modern physics is that the world is a continually transforming relational spatial plenum. in this ‘reality’, there are no ‘independent reason-driven systems’, only an interdependent network of relations. the ‘disturbances’ [aka ‘wars’] that arise with a relational network are NOT the result of an ‘evil empire’ but are the result of dysfunction in the relational ‘family’ network. the APPARENT trouble-maker is the so-called ‘identified patient’ in the relational ‘family’ network. moral judgement of the ‘disturbed’ nation is misplaced. the source of the disturbance derives from dysfunction in the relational ‘family’ network.

indigenous anarchists understand this and thus their justice tradition is ‘restorative’; i.e. they accept that the interdependent relational family network is the relational source of disturbance manifests through the behaviour of an individual or individual nation. it takes an entire [dysfunctional] community to raise a troubled member. there is no place for moral judgement of the disturbing individual or individual nation since this notionally absolves the relational network of community members from their contributory role. of course one can label the results of the disturbance as ‘evil’ but the sourcing of the ‘evil result’ does not derive from the individual through whom the dysfunction in the relational network manifests.

Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin are advocates of moral judgement and retributive justice as most ‘sovereigntists’ are. this is because they see individual nations as independently-existing reason-driven systems that operate in an absolute space and absolute time reference frame-seen as operating-theatre, as mainstream science would have it. in the relational space of modern physics, ‘organizations’ such as sovereign states are relational forms in the continually transforming relational spatial plenum.

‘Science’ and ‘moral judgement’ together with the absolutist moral judgements of Western religions support war on the basis of moral idealism, while indigenous anarchism with its relational understanding of dynamics [in common with modern physics], sees rebels within the relational ‘family’ network [where dysfunction is the norm] as ‘identified patients’; i.e. moral judgement and ‘retributive justice’ [institutionalized vengeance] is not appropriate where the sourcing of disturbance derives from a [dysfunctional] relational social network, rather than from the idealized mainstream science concept of ‘independent reason-driven systems’ that operate in an absolute space and absolute time reference frame seen as ‘operating theatre’.

bottom line: the increasing ‘scientism’ in the modern world translates into increasing use of moral judgement to justify retributive justice based warfare; i.e. science promotes a general denial of ‘identified patient syndrome’ and thus a general rejection of ‘restorative justice’ that orients NOT to 'purification' by way of moral judgement and 'elimination of evil', but to the continual restoring, re-cultivating and sustaining of balance and harmony in the interdependent relational social network.

Yes I agree that Moral Judgement is a motivating factor
of phallocentric Power centers to get us via superego guilt
to accept our "agency" and to ensure our participation in their "War Machine"; and , also thereby to get us to
agree to punish definable individual and group violations with Retributive Justice.
Therefore restorative justice is a better alternative for "outlier" behavior.
A better way is to promote the development of adequate attributes and useful practices( Spinoza).
The concepts of lines of flight, rhizomatic behavior , and nomadic wa(o)nderings, and the attempt to see ourselves as a plethora of becomings(Deleuze) are adequate and useful to deal with all kinds of obstacles as we pursue our desires ,
particularly political, but also as a way of life. we can make interesting and innovative connections with others and our habitat.
No Moral imperatives here are needed or solicited. This can lead to a different political practice that does not imply moral Standards. Just the never ending method to evade,undo, ossified and congealed Theories and Structures that are in our way.
And to free us up to a more balanced interaction with each other and our habitat. Always utilizing outward- inward
relations as well as inward- outward reciprocities.
we are doing this on this site. we do it to a limited extent out there.
we need more and more of this in our lives . we pass no moral pronouncements(which never meet our expectations t
anyway). There are no moral pronouncements and therefor no moral transgressions. we are merely clearing the way of obstacles along our journey. This also solves the Dichotomy of everyday life vs. movement life : they are a matter of intensities,
not qualitative in type..
Yes! to more flow in our lives. yes to more desire and yes to our strivings (Spinzoza -conatos) wherever and whenever.
Now that"s an upsurge I can believe in! singularity plus singularity plus … morphs into the multitude(Hardt/Negri)
and that is occupy. Not WHAT but, where and when.let's get it on! here and everywhere now and into the future.
Hope. Care. Resolution.

Is there a name for the type of Asperger Syndrome that affects computers? Is the EMILE 9000 suffering from Asperger Syndrome? Is there a cure, for computers suffering from Asgerger Syndrome? Is there any goddamn BLIP BLIP hope?


So where's the full text online? I searched for half an hour and all I could find was the 'full text' of a five page preview of the book...

If Peter Gelderloos supports violence, why isn't he in jail? He should have committed acts of violence by now, and been arrested at least once. But he has not. He sits comfortable writing, and supports violence, and attacks people who argue for nonviolence, especially in countries and situations where violence really is a bad tactic and choice, but he always expects other people to do it for hi, and to take the fall for him. He is a fraud, just like Zerzan, Bob Black, MccQuinn, Faun, Jarach, Aragorn, and all the rest of the violence-first people. If they really are for violence, they should be willing to face jail charges, because they would be doing acts of violence int he name of their idea of rebellion, insurrection, and anarchy, but they do not. They are liars and frauds who live comfortably, have jobs but some claim to be anti-work, make money off of writing but attack other writers ads "just writers not real anarchists, and so on.

Also, If Peter Gelderloos believes in violence by anarchists, can I punch him in the face if I disagree with him?

So by your logic, I can't say anything about mars until I've been there? Mars doesn't require validation.

Violence has been around forever, it doesn't require advocates or apologists or anything like that. The bizarre, disingenuous and calculatedly pacifying logic of authoritarian non-violence however, is a relatively recent thought experiment by mere mortals like us and simple reason alone demands that it be criticized, debunked and recognized as a technique for defanging resistance movements (mostly in north america)

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