Anarchism in Today's United States

  • Posted on: 15 April 2018
  • By: Anonymous (not verified)

Society gets the dissidents it deserves. This can be seen in an acute form with what gets called anarchism in today’s United States. When I write about anarchism or anti-authoritarianism here I am not referring to what might simplistically be called “real” anarchism in the increasingly distance past or elsewhere in the world today. I’m examining what I’ve repeatedly encountered, up close and personal, over a thirty-one year period in the U.S., beginning with the first anarchist group I joined on the East Coast in the spring of 1981 and continuing in the San Francisco Bay Area for three decades after that. Regarding “real” anarchism, in Spain in 1936 anarcho-syndicalism spearheaded the most advanced liberatory social movement of all time. From a high point of overwhelming strength this revolutionary movement of millions of people ceded power to a tiny number of its initially powerless enemies who were openly committed to defeating the revolution, and the revolutionaries gave up in a series of steps without offering credible resistance at any point. An analysis of the strengths and failing of anarchism in the Spanish Civil War in the 20th century is important for the struggle to transform society in the 21st century but this is not what I’m doing here. In point of fact, there are many insights that are still useful in the works of Kropotkin, Rudolf Rocker and Emma Goldman. And the real world actions of individuals like Ricardo Flores Magón, Makhno and Durruti are a powerful inspiration to real world anti-capitalist actors -- but the real world actions of Flores Magón, Makhno and Durruti have absolutely nothing in common with what gets called anarchism in today’s United States.

In theory, at its best, anarchism aspires to the revolutionary overthrow of this nightmare social order, and to replace class society and capitalism with a society worthy of the human beings who live in it; a free, stateless, post-market, egalitarian way of life. In the more than thirty years that I was around the U.S. anarchist scene I did not encounter efforts that could be taken seriously by functional adults contributing to this goal. Most scenesters don’t even think in these terms. It is clear that contemporary U.S. anarchism is not a form of anti-capitalist/anti-statist politics. The various forms of anarchism found in the U.S. are aspects of a subcultural identity phenomenon closely akin to other subcultures spawned by U.S. consumer society in the post-1960’s period.

A subculture is an attempt to escape from a threatening and unappealing reality on a shared fantasy basis. A subculture’s reference points are exclusively internal ones. A subculture does not engage with the world outside of itself; it hides from it. Subcultures tend to appeal to the very young who sometimes indulge in role-playing as part of a personality development process and who try on various forms of identity to see what might fit best. To all appearances an overwhelming majority of people at any given time in the U.S. anarchist subculture are extremely young people whose adult personalities haven’t come into sharp focus yet, who spend a few years passively objecting to the ills of the world and seeking entertainment in this exclusively entertainment-oriented scene, and who eventually drift back to their parent’s social class having done nothing to cause anyone to notice their absence.

This calls attention to the more dedicated long-term anarchist scenesters. Venerable subculture scenesters spend decades spouting ferocious opinions without venturing out of their small and cosy echo chambers to assert their sentiments in the complex and scary larger world around us. These scenesters project their incapacity onto the world at large by in effect claiming that since they aren’t actually capable of asserting their convictions in any credible social context, no one else is either, and so real world subversive action is presumably not possible. In the world of fully adult women and men, people who spend decades spouting implacable sentiments that they lack the nerve to act on are rightly dismissed as fools and frauds. In the anarchist subculture this is uniformly what long-term scenesters are about and no one calls them out on this. There is no real world reality check operating here. Their fellow passive opinion-holders never notice the lack of credibility that their scene as a whole demonstrates with this.

A credible opposition to the existing state of things is an unmistakable and extremely visible public phenomenon. Like the real IWW of one hundred years ago, it gets taken seriously by friend and foe alike. It takes place in the larger society around us, not in the safe spaces of an insular social set. It is not a fantasy role playing game. It is not fan boy activity. It is not just an excuse for scenesters to cavort with each other and sell each other T-shirts and zines. A real world opposition to this society means energetic direct action, in real world social conflicts, based on transparently clear perspectives that are not already being asserted in an adequate form by others, and that are extremely distinct from the perspectives of activists on the left-fringe of capitalist politics: volunteer social workers, compulsive protesters, the voter registration and identity politics crowds and various brands of fringe leftists, including anyone using the word “decolonize.” It is not just the same stuff that is already out there rendered more palatable or exciting with streety verbiage or posturing. The real world revolutionary extremism that we need today is both uncompromising and of immediate relevance to society as it exists now. These two points are often antagonistic to one another. Resolving this contradiction is an ongoing struggle and it is no simple feat, but the times we live in are rich in existential threat and promise and these times demand a distinct and new kind of response.

By all meaningful indicators the United States is a society in accelerating irreversible decline. The once large, stable and aspirational middle class, and the attendant social myth of the middle class that helped dissolve working class consciousness and guarantee rock solid social stability, are in tatters. The U.S. has become the most socially stratified society in the industrialized world. We endure mass impoverishment and attendant social ills on a scale not seen in other advanced democracies. There are no political or economic mechanisms that can reverse this. The U.S. maintains a permanent and extremely expensive military occupation of much of the world in a context of fighting long-running wars that it cannot win or walk away from. This takes place as Uncle Sam’s long-term position as the world’s leading and most unrestrained imperialist malefactor is rapidly being eclipsed by China. The United States is ruled by an awe-inspiringly incompetent, venal and short-sighted elite. In abolishing historical consciousness among the people they exploit and rule, the rich and their political and media servants have also largely abolished it among themselves. This will soon pay considerable negative dividends. It is becoming apparent that a relentless decades long upward redistribution of wealth has not been an intelligent long-term survival strategy for the owners and rulers of the United States, and some of the sharpest among them know this. In a lengthy Jan. 2017 piece in the haute bourgeois New Yorker, the co-founder and C.E.O. of Reddit, valued at six hundred million dollars, is quoted as being "concerned about basic American political stability and the risk of large-scale unrest."

"...awkward conversations have been unfolding in some financial circles. Robert H. Dugger worked as a lobbyist for the financial industry before he became a partner at the global hedge fund Tudor Investment Corporation, in 1993. After seventeen years, he retired to focus on philanthropy and his investments.
“Anyone who’s in this community knows people who are worried that America is heading toward something like the Russian Revolution…”
(‘Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich,' Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, Jan. 30, 2017)

With all this, the long term monolithic incapacity of the anarchist subculture in every conceivable real world context has never been more glaring.

The U.S. anarchist subculture must be understood as the specifically and extremely United States of America cultural and psychological phenomena that it is. The various currents of what gets called anarchism in the U.S. are loyal expressions of consumer society values that celebrate personal rebellion and the primacy of the a-historical individual in all things, filtered through the drop-out culture ethos of the late 1960’s and salted with fringe leftist shibboleths. Efforts that attempt to depart from this animated by people who still want to call themselves anarchists never last long and never manage to go anywhere; they cannot escape the all-entertainment, all-of-the-time ethos of what it is to be an anarchist in the United States. In other parts of the world anarchist currents have some organic continuity with older tendencies surviving from the era of the classical workers movement. The survival of old-school anarchism in other parts of the world unintentionally highlights anarchism’s historically superannuated qualities, but for good and bad this anarchism grew out of combative working people’s actual lived experiences, and this down to earth quality may anchor anarchism elsewhere in the ongoing fight against capitalist exploitation, as opposed to the Harry Potter fan vibe that prevails with the U.S. scene.

A widely held assumption among news media people is that an anarchist is a ferocious and determined revolutionist who is eager to ‘get stuck in’ as they say in the U.K. and cause major trouble for the authorities. After more than thirty years of consistent experiences with many hundreds of people who have cycled through the anarchist scene calling themselves anarchists my impression is the polar opposite. Anarchists are not bold enemies of capital and the state. Anarchists are uniformly complacent, sluggish, terminally disengaged subculture scenesters. Anarchists are easily intimidated complainers and victim-types with a penchant for gaseous philosophizing. For anarchists, public action takes the form of being sheepish followers at easily ignored left-liberal protest ghetto events, where the most ferocious anarchists may try to accrue subcultural capital by breaking a few windows. To the degree that they can be bothered to do anything more than attend protest ghetto events, their energies are focused on playdates with fellow scenesters and staging events that perpetuate the existence of their subculture as a trivial fringe phenomenon. Among anarchists there is no credible engagement with the larger world outside of the anarchist subculture; Food Not Bombs is one admirable exception. In general among anarchists there is no ethos of struggle. There is no capacity for perseverance and sacrifice in the anarchist scene; these consumers sneer at anything that demands more from them than a repetitive and monotonous drive to keep themselves entertained, get their egos massaged and satisfy other immediate emotional and personal needs. That some of their chosen forms of entertainment have a surface veneer of rebelliousness or passive objection to the social order expresses the anarchist scene’s internalization of a consumer culture ethos where individual personal rebellion and non-conformity are widely accepted expressions of consumer identity. The scene is simultaneously rich in trite melodramas and is deeply conflict averse. Adolescent peer pressure and malicious gossip are key forms of connective tissue here. In its internal dynamics and in its relation to the world outside of itself the United States anarchist subculture does not resemble any real world liberatory extremist tendency since the birth of the modern revolutionary movement at the end of the French Revolution; the U.S. anarchist subculture resembles subcultures that form among ardent fans of Star Trek and the Grateful Dead, collectors of Star Wars toys and fan boys playing Dungeons and Dragons. Anarchism in the U.S. is not a real world social conflict phenomenon and many scenesters arrogantly proclaim that anarchism is not supposed to be this. The long-term nationwide social conditions that gave rise to this torpid scene are changing rapidly, but the torpid anarchist scene is not changing with it.

The adolescent tenor of the anarchist subculture is a loyal mirror of the adolescent tenor of mainstream United States culture. The anarchist subculture, its pretensions and compulsive incapacities must be understood as a loyal and logical product of the United States consumer society that has given rise to and which wholly owns the U.S. anarchist subculture. United States anarchism is a youth consumer culture thing. It remains a youth consumer culture thing even when the people involved are no longer youths. The anarchist scene does not attract people animated by profound convictions, who have staying power, inventiveness, wit and style. Their occasional street actions and sporadic acts of vandalism are not hallmarks of vital insurrectionary impulses; empty ritual activity plus broken glass equals empty ritual activity with broken glass, and sporadic acts of vandalism not connected to an expanding social struggle or to the possibilities for this have the unmistakable air of adolescents venting at surrogates for parental authority. The fully adult individuals in this scene tend to be hapless cranks or outright liberal voters who aren’t honest with themselves about their liberalism and who find an accommodating space to fantasize that they are something other than liberal voters. With no fears of losing a real world credibility that scenesters don’t aspire to, and no transparently clear, freely agreed upon formal structures for mediating internal disputes, the anarchist scene is rich in toxic melodramas that would put the most cult-like Stalinist sect to shame. It is deservedly famous for tolerating burdensome mental cases who use this scene as a free-fire zone for their pathologies and who can’t be kept in check by the hippie-dippy anything goes ethos of a juvenile and asinine subculture.

This scene does not have the makings of something that can help create a new mass revolutionary movement in a fast-declining United States. People in the U.S. anarchist subculture uniformly do not believe that the revolutionary overthrow of capitalist society is possible. This is one excuse among many for doing nothing -- and many of them explicitly do not believe that a mass revolutionary movement to topple capitalism is desirable. They accept this social order on its own deluded a-historical terms. Strange as seems, the anarchist scene is uniformly devoid of the profound optimism about human beings and the possibilities for profound radical social change that drive more grounded, energetic and serious individuals to become dedicated members of the Maoist RCP or the Trotskyist ISO. A widespread perspective among anarchist scenesters is to passively hope that the reigning global order will simply collapse; passive is as passive does. For anarchist subculture duds, there is nothing left to do, and they are not the ones to do it. The anarchist scene attracts people who can be counted on to not be counted on.

Comments? e-mail: Vincent St. John



keating like a motherfucker

If the anti-anarchist author is focused exclusively on the United Snakes, wouldn’t it make sense for him to examine the peculiarities of American political culture that might make a revolution in the mold of Russia or China (or Hungary?) unlikely? Of course not! Revolution, for this ranting buffoon, must look like the models in other places with long histories of explicit class conflict, rather than the US, where class conflict — although no less murderous than in other places — has been deliberately suppressed through the mainstream promotion of the mythology of American meritocracy and egalitarianism. The cultural hegemony of this mythology coupled with a nearly unquestioned celebration of Law is far more to blame for a lack of revolutionary yearning than the idiocies of a west coast anarchist subculture. But you can never go wrong blaming anarchists for any problem...

is that eventually these problems are solved by new world post ww1 political economies. Canada The US are basically the template going forward and the class war clowns like Keating are going to have to put on the shades and deal with it.

Conflict that is more profound is individual on society conflict and as we develop towards a psychographic based digitally managed world where class does not matter the individual against society will be all that matters.

Class was only ever a branch problem not a root one. As I’ve said time and time again status oriented belief and behaviour precede class and, once again, it is the 1st person will to power individual against 3rd person society that matters.



I meant that in conjunction with hindsight analysis not with any kind of presumed classless reality obviously. The point remains that class is the epiphenomenal branch of status.

Yep the pursuit of status initially originated out of innate physiological dependencies which grew into socially stratified 'classes ' controlling social power management. I don't see how anyone can deny this sequence of events and how class consciousness has been replaced by identity credit potentiality.,.

Americans would actually be way more prone to a successful anticap revolution than the Russians or Chinese where. They didn't inherit the strong messianic authoritarianism that's been plaguing Russians for centuries while their sense of individual autonomy (no matter how trashy it can get) still is superior than that of the Chinese?

But Hungary wut? Beyond a few months long popular revolt that achieved nothing, what else did happen? It's a sharply capitalist AND fascistic place these days.

around for a long time and knows what is going on. I think we should listen to this voice and glean what wisdom we can from it.

What I think is essential to the life of a robust revolutionary is come up with a good pseudonym/street name and build an identity around it, don't get sidetracked by anti heroism and self defeating behavior. Even though the dropout junkie has subtracted from the GDP and contributed to the demise of the capitalist system the positive changes we hope to see will be hastened by heroic stances, postures and actions.

The creation of identities within scenarios is not problematic if the actors aspire to an ethos that produces forms of life that emphasize quality and joyful experience over negativity and miserable conditions.

I don't blame people who are doing the best they can based on circumstance and material conditions for being ineffectual or defunct but opting in to these states seems mediocre or less than desirable.

inside and out by practicing the art of the self a constant reinforcement of identity through intellectual, aesthetic and ethical cultural references. I know it's not an original idea and I'm speaking to some members of the choir here.

While I realize the value of mass organizations and even political parties change fundamentally starts with the individual and spreads like a virus through the social assemblage. By planting the seeds you can grow your own rhyzome in the soil of human endeavors and eventually entangle with other similar structures building a stronger more resilient form of life.

No one ever fully matures, one would have to relate to the total human experiences and the emotions these encounters precipitated. Some get close, but fall short, because at the point of complete maturity life is over, there is nothing left to live for. There may be a crisis in the static conscience and its frustration at being trapped within an ideologically designed reality. Otherwise adolescence if left to develop unhindered by cultural restraints should avoid the imposed rites of passage that authoritarian systems impose.

The leftists are mostly ageist and patriarchal and exploit the youth to be the puppets for their revolution, with violent rites of passage for their children. This brainwashing radicalisation is no different to the recruitment methods of the binary warfare advocates.,.

Oberon could you please summarize what you were trying to convey with this audaciously boring video. thanks.

Boring is in the mind of the beholder don't you think? I mean I could have dismissed your comment or I could build a world around it right? So I think I'm going to give you some attention today Zek. Here's another video about maturity that you might find boring:

The politicians are the semesters, not the dissidents!


go ahead and join the rcp then. no one will miss you.

My, but isn't that an intellectually engaged response! And it doesn't in any way confirm what's being alleged in the article, either.

And what is it that’s being alleged in the article? That kev is a partisan of Revolution (tm), that west coast anarchists are not, and therefore are useless. The premise is faulty, the evidence prejudiced, the conclusion foregone. As usual, kev begins at the end, which is a dialectical fail. As usual, kev is only capable of lashing out at those who’ve refused to be cowed by his keenly sharp analytical skill [sarcasm]. There is no compelling reason offered in this screed for him *not* to throw in his lot with the earnest [?] revolutionism of the RCP or ISO, although his peculiar brand of revolutionary puritanism should rather pull him toward the PLP.

this is OP. he clearly *wants* to join the rcp, so why not? let him be a pain in the ass for them. i'm not partisan. i'll work with any kind of anarcho expect the self-important humorless faux-militant.

This last one? Signed, a politically worthless Bay Area cabbage.

In most of these response there is no credible effort to come to grips with the salient points of this piece -- and especially in the rapidly changing circumstances of today's U.S. All we see is the usual petulant defensive sniveling.

Like trying to bring back a pre ww1 consciousness into the radical world(something I'm actually sympathetic towards btw but am realistic about what the actual world is). 1919 and 1921 happened Kev, get used to it. There are actually somethings that can be done that are congruent to the 21st century, I have some ideas of what could be done in regards to 21st century anarchy, but they have nothing to do with mass and proletarian posturing.

The clan of individualists scorn the subcultures of the Western world, the most prominent being the party of institutionalized democratic methodology in government decision making, which centres itself around the majority choice of materialists chasing a libidinal utopia. This fantasy, of engaging a broad populist audience of the economic malcontents, is what drives unsustainable progress. Those who do not engage the broader community are in fact creating miniscule paradigm shifts which may combine and coalesce into significant changes in awareness.

who walk among the settlers to and fro.

"Strange as seems, the anarchist scene is uniformly devoid of the profound optimism about human beings and the possibilities for profound radical social change that drive more grounded, energetic and serious individuals to become dedicated members of the Maoist RCP or the Trotskyist ISO."

The Maoists are just Red capitalists and the Trots, since as far back as the '70s, are some of the fiercest, cold-hearted State collaborators. Nice try, but this "PROFOUND optimism" is the very reason why so many people go off the revolutionary bandwagon.

Take off that mask of "the mass" so we can see what person you really are, leftie.

Yeah, you missed the point. What a surprise...

jesus, you're so bad at replying. all your posts are just scattered willy nilly. i expect more from an organizationalist.

yeah, the us is overtaken by consumerism, identity garbage, and whining and emotional problems. The scene is total trash and this website is pretty much the only way I get involved with it. But obviously the person who wrote this article isn't any different, they would be less of a hypocrite if they actually tried to start some syndicalist group, instead they reference "old school anarchist tendencies", which could be an interesting topic but within the context of the essay it's another golden days pie-in-the-sky reference. Obviously workerist shit isn't the only thing out there for people who want this world to be any different.

Is just how pronounced the contradictions are in his analysis. For one thing there was no anti-consumerism in the pre-ww1 world as there was no frame of reference for what happened between ww1&2. If anything they were proto to todays proles seeing as many enveloped within that red ideology wanted to preserve abundance. The anti-consumerism of today is based on a different type of radicalism which actually at worst has puritanical undertones. Thaddeus Russell's analysis comes to mind. I disagree with his pro-technology pro-consuming conclusions but unlike self-beating Keating there's at least a consistency to his alternative leftism(which I actually don't entirely hate). Keating is one of those puritanical solutionists to the problem of consumption, there is no egoist transcendence which seeks to turn consumption inwardly specific beyond social sublimation.

There's also his and other red ideologues failings regarding the problem of organization. Ultra left idiots like him wish to abolish the value form but not the organization form. That right there lays the ingredients for bottom up Stalinism. At least the market approach fast forwards and solves much of the calculation problems that come about with complex organization and multi input interactions. The gold and orange ideologues at least don't make things worse in that regard.

i just think that less of a materialistic and capitalistic way of looking at the world is a necessary component of some sort of widespread spiritual revolution that the human race desperately needs, but more than likely I think sometime far off in the distant future the human race will desperately destroy itself...or atleast much of it...

Initially there has to be a very minimal organization of a discipline for the introduction of the nurturing/training process of juvenile reclamation, just from my own experiences with children and starting them of on a path which doesn't require an ego transcendence or the clearing of cultural clutter and other psychological problems.,.

These transitional stages always glossed over, as if a collective psychology is assumed to instantly adapt to a new paradigm and reverse its ingrained value system, How naive were the Marxists to trust a dictatorship of uninformed proles to herald in a new society?
The clan of individualists allow for the infantile consciousness to evolve along its instinctual and intuitive path mentored by their impeccable peers.

It really does have to be an adolescent child process as the adults are mostly diseased authoritarians. Grandparents have a place though as they are more removed from active power.

If you entertain the neotony theory of human development then you know that the grandmother process may have played an important role.

it seems from the pop culture science and my experience is that all people tend to get a little more stuck in their habits as they age, but become wiser with experience. The solution to getting stuck in states of mind is easy though, you just have to give yourself dramatically different experiences, easier said than done because as you get older you have an easier time coming up with lists not to try something

As Graves metaphorically described, with his character Benjamin Button, youth's naivety concerning emotional intelligence, how vitality, optimism and innocence all combine to negate experience's wisdom, thus, the great generational paradox. The task ahead is to maintain the vitality and optimism with diet and community safety nets which ultimately means the dissolution of the authoritarian values. The nurturing has to allow the innate curiosity and imagination of the infant to progress without fixed adult orientated agendas or structures, most importantly in a fun environment. The adults which emerge out of this method will be critical thinking fun loving nomadic multiskilled compassionate tough independent individual troubadour types.,.

Right there gold and Orange Rob Ford color county is MY ideology RULES Ok guy nose howto

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Enter the code without spaces.