Anarchism’s Possibilities

  • Posted on: 5 November 2019
  • By: thecollective

From Institute For Anarchist Studies

The Perspectives collective is committed to making anarchist ideas accessible and widely understood. As part of this we aspire to include a brief “What is Anarchism?” type essay in future print issues. We approached Kim Stanley Robinson about writing one for us, and he referred us to a piece he wrote for a book called Myths and Lawbreakers: Anarchist Writers on Fiction for AK Press. He told us that if he “were to write anything more about anarchism (doubtful) it would only be to reiterate the points in this intro.” He gave us permission to share it with you and we think it beautifully illustrates not only the terms of anarchism, but also its current challenges and possibilities. It also nicely fits with our current theme of “Imaginations,” which the forthcoming print issue of Perspectives is all about. Enjoy.

This book collects fifteen interviews with writers who have either described themselves as anarchists, written about anarchists in historical or contemporary settings, or invented fictional cultures that they or others have called anarchist. Each person’s story is different, naturally, and the definitions they have given for anarchism are not the same either. An-archy: absence of rulers, or absence of law? The original Greek suggests the former, common English usage since the seventeenth century, the latter; and it makes quite a difference which definition you use. So we find those interviewed here circling repeatedly around questions of definition, both of what the concept means, and how it can be applied to writing and to life, not only the lives of those included here, but the lives of everyone. These are knotty problems, and it’s no surprise that the questions and answers here keep pulling and prodding at them, hoping for some clarity.

Another problem the interviews return to again and again is how to reconcile anarchist beliefs with actual life in the globalized capitalist system. Some of the writers here live by anarchist beliefs to a certain extent, publishing or distributing their writing outside the conventional publishing world, or living in alternative arrangements of one kind or another. Others live more outwardly conventional lives, while writing about anarchism and supporting it in their political action, of which writing is one part. No one can escape a certain amount of contradiction here; the world economy is almost entirely capitalist in structure, and state rule is an overarching reality in human affairs. So the interest in anarchism expressed by these writers, and the effect this complex of ideas has on their lives, has necessarily to involve various compromises and what might be called symbolic actions—as long as one remembers that symbolic actions are also real actions, not at all to be dismissed. Voting is a symbolic action, going to church is a symbolic action, speaking and writing and talking are symbolic actions; all are also real actions, and have real effects in the real world—partly by themselves, and partly by what they suggest symbolically we should do in all the rest of our actions.

Here therefore we are talking about ideology. I mean this in the way defined by Louis Althusser, which is roughly that an ideology is an imaginary relationship to a real situation. Both parts of the definition exist: there is a real situation, and by necessity our relationship to it is partly an imaginary one. So we all have an ideology, and in fact would be disabled or overwhelmed without one. The question then becomes, can we improve our ideology, in terms of both individual and collective function, and if so, how?

Here is where anarchist ideas come strongly into play. We live in a destructive and unjust system, which is nevertheless so massively entrenched, so protected by money, law, and armed force, as to seem unchangeable, even nature itself; it strives to seem natural, so much so that it would be very difficult to imagine a way out or a way forward from the current state. Given this reality of our moment in history, what should we do? What can we do, right now, that would change the situation?

One of the first and most obvious answers is: resist the current system in every way that is likely to do some good. That answer might rule out certain responses: people have been resisting capitalism for well over a century now, and many of the first methods to occur to people have been tried and have failed. Spontaneous mass revolt has been tried and has usually failed. Organized insurrection has sometimes done better, but over the long haul has often rebounded in ways that worsened the situation. Labor action and legal reform often seem possible and sometimes have achieved tangible success, but again, ultimately, despite what they have achieved, we find ourselves in the situation we are in now, so obviously labor action and legal reform are not as effective as one would hope. Mass political education has for a long time been a goal of those interested in promoting change, and again successes can be pointed to, but the overall impact has not yet been effective enough to avoid the danger we find ourselves in. What then should we do?

One thing that would help is to have some idea of what we might be trying to change toward; and this is where anarchism plays its part. As such it is a utopian political vision, and this is why several of the writers interviewed in this book are science fiction writers who have written stories describing anarchist situations as utopian spaces, as better systems that we should be struggling to achieve. This is my own situation; as a leftist, interested to oppose capitalism and to change it to something more just and sustainable, I have once or twice tried to depict societies with anarchist aspects or roots. These, like the work of other science fiction writers, are thought experiments, designed to explore ideas by way of fictional scenarios. Problems can be discussed by way of dramatizations, and the appeal of the alternative society achieved can be evoked for people to contemplate, to wish for, to work for. Until we have a vision of what we are working for, it is very hard to choose what to do in the present to get there.

Here is where anarchism has its greatest appeal, as well as its greatest danger. It is a rather pure and simple political system. It says that left to ourselves (or educated properly), people can be trusted to be good; that if we were not twisted by the demands of money and the state, we would take care of each other better than we do now. In a way this is a view that merely extends democratic thinking to its end point: if we are all equal, if everyone together rules equally, then no one rules; and thus you expand democracy until it ends up at anarchy. It is a profoundly hopeful view, and hope for a different state is a crucial component of action. Here in particular, symbolic action is also at the same time real action.

One way of putting this, used more than once by the writers in this book, is that society is now organized vertically, in a hierarchy of power, privilege, prosperity and health, which is structured in almost the same demographic pyramid as feudalism, or even the ancient warrior-priest command states. Anarchism suggests that the great majority of us would be far better off in a horizontal arrangement, an association of equals. Such a horizontality in the realm of power used to be derided as hopelessly naïve and unrealistic, but the more we learn about our human past and our primate ancestors, the more it becomes clear that this was the norm during the entirety of our evolution; only since the invention of agriculture, patriarchy, and the warrior-priest power structure has verticality ruled our lives. Getting back to a horizontal structure would be a return to the species norm and collective sanity, and to a sense of justice that long predates humanity itself, as can be seen clearly in the actions of our primate cousins.

From vertical to horizontal, then; but this is the work of democracy too, and even the work of history itself, if progress in human welfare is what we judge history by. So the more we succeed in this long work, the closer we come to the goals of anarchism, and the goals of other utopian endeavors: democracy, science, justice.

In the meantime, we have to constantly work; resist capitalism; interrogate our own actions; and speak out against the current order, for something better. That’s what these writers have been doing in their lives and their work, and so this book too becomes part of that project. It’s been going on for a very long time, and will presumably continue past our moment; but our destruction of the biosphere has moved the whole process into crisis mode, and we won’t be leaving that mode until the crisis is resolved. So to a certain extent we can no longer take the long view. We have to avert a biophysical catastrophe if we want to give our children a healthy planet and civilization. In this moment of the storm, all our political ideas need to be reconsidered, even the most radical ones, or especially the most radical ones. And all those based on a hopeful view of humanity, and helping to construct a utopian project for us to fulfill as soon as possible, deserve to be brought into the discussion. So: read on, and imagine a horizontal world, a free association of six billion equals. And as Brecht said: If you think this is utopian, please also consider why it is such.

Kim Stanley Robinson is a writer of science fiction. He has published nineteen novels and numerous short stories and is best known for his Mars trilogy. Robinson has won many awards, including the Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Comments

The petty bourgeois anarchist upper caste of our milieus can afford many nice things including the comforts of letting their minds wander into potential better futures. But will they ever realize that their "collective vision" is but a *coldly* classist half-consciousness?

Expect the very predictable positive answer in a few years.

Class reductionism is for Marxist bores, comrade

Denial of classism or privilege is so edgy, right.

IAS is probably the best example of what anarchy in the USA needs to run far away from.

Is that the Cindy Milstein one?

It really has to remember it's 19th century roots and go from there. As I see it one model that makes sense would be a secularization of the Amish/Mennonite model of human affairs. They represent a Christian/Jewish structure that does not leave much if any of civilized footprint. It's more of a cultural model that lives in and around state based civilization. Anarchism as a baseline strategy really needs to adopt a secular take on that and eventually indigenize itself further from that base build.

There is not significant organization or exchange strategy that is needed for this move as organization and exchange should be,at most, agnostically valued. It would also mean that anarchism would give up on trying to be a major facilitator of history and simply serve it's own discursive interests much like those JudaeoXian examples. No more historical world building, just build around what exists right now to put a spin on the old saying new world in the shadow of the old.

It would also mean that anarchism would give up on trying to be a major facilitator of history and simply serve it's own discursive interests much like those JudaeoXian examples. No more historical world building, just build around what exists right now to put a spin on the old saying new world in the shadow of the old.

Translation: make it easier for a loser like you to get a date -- maybe just once, before you die.

"make it easier for a loser like you to get a date -- maybe just once, before you die."

Okay. So how is your new brand of ahistorical anarchism supposed to be helping me doing that? Hanging out at public swimming pools to grab some butt? Ice cream parlors?

Looking forward to anarchy as a new pick-up line factory!

"Another problem the interviews return to again and again is how to reconcile anarchist beliefs with actual life in the globalized capitalist system. Some of the writers here live by anarchist beliefs to a certain extent, publishing or distributing their writing outside the conventional publishing world, or living in alternative arrangements of one kind or another. Others live more outwardly conventional lives, while writing about anarchism and supporting it in their political action, of which writing is one part. No one can escape a certain amount of contradiction here; the world economy is almost entirely capitalist in structure, and state rule is an overarching reality in human affairs. So the interest in anarchism expressed by these writers, and the effect this complex of ideas has on their lives, has necessarily to involve various compromises and what might be called symbolic actions—as long as one remembers that symbolic actions are also real actions, not at all to be dismissed. Voting is a symbolic action, going to church is a symbolic action, speaking and writing and talking are symbolic actions; all are also real actions, and have real effects in the real world—partly by themselves, and partly by what they suggest symbolically we should do in all the rest of our actions."

This is why anarchy is in such a mess and is constantly eating itself by coming up with more and more nuances: identity adjectives Anarcho-whatever because anarchists do very little of anything meaningful regarding furthering anarchy in actual life so they write and write and write and bicker and bicker and bicker and this passes for anarchism-in-waiting!!! Well, you're gonna be waiting a long long time. Why are the fuck are you waiting anyway?

Introduced into anarchism through reading and music and then reading more deeply and then... nothing much as there is nothing much out there for would-be anarchists. So, it's either write and write and write and bicker, bicker bicker...oh, I forgot, podcast, podcast, podcast. I could end up like John Zerzan (kill me now) where I got stoked over a new anti-civ coming out (for fucksake!). Or by reading aloud, over the airwaves, yet another piece of self-written material drenched in quote after quote which appeals to hardly anyone: which is as dry and as dull as being at school listening to some ol' git teacher waffling on at the front of class. Very sad. Zerzan may never had to resort to such little crumbs of 'anarchism' (if I can even call it that?) if something had actually materialised in actual life or if JZ had actually put away his pen and book fetish and got his shit together. Aragorn! do you want up like JZ? Well, it;s something you need to think about.

Aragorn! at least you do raise the state of anarchy today through, for example, The Brilliant. However, I feel you are flogging a dead horse. Yes, there is LBC which is niche publishing, at best. LBC is no hotbed of radical energy, neither is AK press for that matter. Because there is no one out there to take the content of such books and make it happen, so all you have is book readers and fantasists.

Face it, people are OK with surveillance. People are OK with shitty poorly paid jobs. People are OK with renting and increased rents etc etc. And the few who are not happy, read the content of LBC and AK press, listen to JZ, listen to podcasts and deal with it that way... that's "anarchy" today!!!

As for me.. that would be telling!

Yes, if JZ had put his pen away and done something practical, he would have earned my respect. Even just taking some kids out into the woods to learn about roasting acorns, or having a vegetable garden at home AND GROWING SOME FREAKIN' PUMPKINS AND TELLING EVERYONE HIS FAVORITE PUMPKIN SOUP RECIPE!!

And became some stupid community activist with a radio.

Your boring voice is not fucking destroying civilization!

dude, everyone needs a hobby. what's most effective is not necessarily what's most enjoyable. you can consider in his retirement.
what? you want old people to do the heavy lifting for you? he already wrote enough. do it yourself instead.

Is you assuming that because I'm young I want some old guy to "work for me". I doubt jz even gives a shit about what I think. Yeah the issue is lazy fuckbag millenials like me, and the problem is compounded because I have a name that signals I'm some sort of white person.

Wtf is up with this celebrity bias? So you think because JZ is old hes immune to criticism? Remember, the helpless old man broadcasts his enlightened ideas across the internet every week!

textbook derailment incendiary malicious trolling.

note it, learn from it.

There's something of your rant that rings true but
"...so all you have is book readers and fantasists."
i don't think there's nearly that many book readers, and even less "fantasists".
Everyone thinks they're very serious realists, imagination is really being hindered, many disagreements along the same lines, but not really that much variety. it'd be better if @ were know for being avid readers/deep thinkers, or by their wild imaginations applied to interventions and explorations.

Anon 08:44 "As for me, that would be telling" Oooh yes, telling us that you are BOB BLACK, former leader of NA anarchist theory lecturing tours.

anarchism is like a bad soap opera that can barely sustain itself. people moaning about the state of anarchism, how to fix it, john zerzan not going outside, ak press and aragorn/lbc sycophants, endless critiques (of critiques), pseudo-philosophers, political mumbo jumbo, infinite drama... it doesn't have much comedy. i guess some, but seems unintentional. ugh i don't have energy for anarchist stuff.

True, all of these average characters would be more bearable if more conflictual shit would be done and anarchists would call the shots. I still assert that the conflict spice has been missing in NA for a long long long long while. And even if there's been years of terror thrown against some aspects of anarcho action, that doesn't mean it couldn't have evolved or adapted its tactics towards harder-to-repress practices. Like do we have to accept that the Green Scare has won? Or just rethink our approach constructively...

The comment above (17:14) is just another iteration of 14:30.
1 user, a few pseudonyms, fewer creativity, fewer things of value and significance to do with their life, spamming.

On the other hand, allow me to recognize all the marvelous people that are featured in the articles posted, the comment section, and thecollective. People that merit use of proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling. People that merit lengthy responses and back-and-forth conversation. Your sad trolling only had the effect of "reverse-psychology". Now I will cherish and acknowledge all the good people here and I'm filled with good feelings towards all, cheerfulness and positivity.

This site is great, anarchy is great, anarchism is great, anarchists are great, they're the best thing ever. They shine bright and their glimmer does not tarnish. Not with your rusty opaque stain that is washed away by the gracefulness of their dance through time.

people *who*

carry on.

positive-thinking censorship is for people who get very easily overwhelmed by disagreement. Sure, "I have no creativity", "I have few things to do with my life", those two insults are not far from the truth. You can insult me all you want, because it will just be some more noises on top of a garbage heap that has been accumulating for decades.

And I regret insulting JZ above. After all, not too long ago I was recommending to @news that they just ignored him since there was so much bad blood between them. My sincere apologies for tossing the man in the wheelchair over the riverbank.

If you don't have something nice to say, then don't say it at all. That also applies to you 17:58.

Yes yes yes, we shouldn't say nasty things about JZ, but if he was a true primitivist, he wouldn't have a mesiah complex, and instead he would be þeaching kids how to survive in the woods, or growing a vegie garden, andteach us to GROW GIANT FREAKIN' PUMPKINS AND FORMULATE THE BEST PUMPKIN SOUP RECIPE IN THE UNIVERSE!!!

Fuck I could go for a nice pumpkin soup right now.

An autonomous pumpkin soup, just curious?

the paranoia is strong with this one. the sucking up tho is too much and it's on suck up overload. like holy moly batman.

And I can't blame you on that. It's a clownshow.

"So we all have an ideology, and in fact would be disabled or overwhelmed without one."

They accepted this presumption from althusser which i think is a huge mistake. The above sentence is what we would call a half-truth. How do I say this? People do not need ideology! Ideology is a belief system that often has limiting conditions for anyone who chooses one to attach themselves to. Anarchism can either be a set of beliefs, an action, a lifestyle, or whatever someone wants it to be. It can also be an ideology, the fact that the Institute for Anarchist Studies has said "we have to constantly work" is a clear indicator that they are ideological anarchists.

My dog does not need an ideology, she has proven to be without much disability. She's not overwhelmed, in fact my concern at times has been that she's underwhelmed. Human's are not as different from dogs as they tend to think.

Also, i would like to recommend "don't sleep there are snakes" to any of my fellow primitivist sympathizers, anarchists, and nihilists. It was written by a missionary who wanted to translate the bible into a hunter-gatherer-forager culture's language, since he was so nice and accommodating to them they took him in like a tribe member, but when they found out why he was there they just laughed at him. They told him they did not need a god and that they didn't give a shit about this "jesus" character.

What the poster meant was that most people need, if not ideology, then an identity, so that they can relate socially. It must be exposed, that identity is a syndrome, like neurosis, it is a voluntary reflex which stimulates certaìn brain chemistries. Atheists or Pantheists have taken the first step to seperate themselves from the association. The atheists as a result become voracious disassociated materialists, the pantheists may be more connected like indigenous peoples.. Nihilists take the seperation a step further, and spend much of their time debating their place in the world, their loneliness, their angst, their freedoms. Throughout time, people have always had the choice to be nihilists, or are born that way, and have an overpowering desire to escape society, and wander alone in the wilderness, the historical hermit, fanatic, like Jesus, who was a nihilist in a sense, not an Abrahamic adherent as history portrays him.
I also have spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness, it is refreshing experience.

Yeah, when you think about the dissociation factor of any social change, people don't just suddenly flip into being anarchic, thoooooough, drunken football riots display the possibility of shortlived reprisal and revolt amongst the hoi polloi, these are merely frustrated tantrums and not intelligent refusals to obey the law. Meaningful evolutionary society must develop mechanisms which ignite internal psychological quests away from the libidinal physiological highway. I recommend silent meditation!

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