The following quote from Bakunin is taken from Chomsky’s introduction in Daniel Guerin’s book Anarchism.
If one were to seek a single dominant idea within the anarchist tradition, that might be defined as “libertarian socialist,” it should, I believe, be that expressed by Bakunin when in writing on the Paris Commune, he identified himself as follows:
I am a fanatic lover if liberty, considering it as the unique conditions under which intelligence, dignity, and human happiness can develop and grow; not the purely formal liberty conceded, measured out, and regulated by the State, an eternal lie which in reality represents nothing more than the privilege of some founded on the slavery of the rest; not the individualistic, egoistic, shabby, and fictitious liberty extolled by the school of J-J. Rousseau and the other schools of bourgeois liberalism, which considers the would-be rights of all men, represented by the State which limits the rights of each—an idea that leads inevitably to the reduction of the rights of each to zero. No, I mean the only kind of liberty that is worth the name, liberty that consists in the full development of all the material, intellectual, and moral powers that are latent in each person; liberty that recognizes no restrictions other than those determined by the laws of our own individual nature, which cannot properly be regarded as restrictions since there laws are not imposed by any outside legislator beside or above us, but are immanent and inherent, forming the very basis of our material, intellectual, and moral being—they do not limit us but are the real and immediate conditions of our freedom.
After a brief visit to one of the occupy location here in London I was left with the desire to clarify some fuzzy points I’ve had about Anarchism, to pick up some reading material I stopped by our local Hackney Library and grabbed Anarchism by Daniel Guerin along with London Stories by Hilda Kean (which I’ll post about later). I’ve always found Anarchism’s positioning between libertarian and socialist ideals to be simultaneously inspiring and problematic.
Yesterday I came across this nice article – The new anarchists by David Graeber. In the article Graeber argues for the practice of direct action and non-violent civil disobedience, he articulates the Anarchist perpective on the occupy movement, and its unifying antagonism of neo-liberalism or “market fundamentalism” that holds that “there is only one possible direction for human historical development.” Graeber highlights a whole network of international coalitions and the creative strategies they’ve developed over many years. He goes on to note what he sees as the occupy’s critical distinction from previous movements.
There is one striking contrast between this and earlier internationalisms, however. The former usually ended up exporting Western organizational models to the rest of the world; in this, the flow has if anything been the other way around. Many, perhaps most, of the movement’s signature techniques—including mass nonviolent civil disobedience itself—were first developed in the global South. In the long run, this may well prove the single most radical thing about it.
Graeber concluded by making an interesting point about creativity, alienation, and nonviolent direction action.
Finally, I’d like to tease out some of the questions the direct-action networks raise about alienation, and its broader implications for political practice. For example: why is it that, even when there is next to no other constituency for revolutionary politics in a capitalist society, the one group most likely to be sympathetic to its project consists of artists, musicians, writers, and others involved in some form of non-alienated production? Surely there must be a link between the actual experience of first imagining things and then bringing them into being, individually or collectively, and the ability to envision social alternatives—particularly, the possibility of a society itself premised on less alienated forms of creativity? One might even suggest that revolutionary coalitions always tend to rely on a kind of alliance between a society’s least alienated and its most oppressed; actual revolutions, one could then say, have tended to happen when these two categories most broadly overlap.
During a visit to one of the London occupy camps yesterday, I met a gentleman that was building a small wood house. He was friendly enough, he showed me around and when he realized I was just there for a short visit he referred to me a tourist, which I unquestionably was. We discussed the cultural differences between the various occupy camps in London. He described each camp as having its own unique personality and sense of class, for instance the occupied bank building down the road was for middle class revolutionaries, and St Pauls was for the outspoken characters, at any rate there was a sense mutual respect and co-operation in the way he described the differences and similarities between the various tribes.
After listening to him describe his design goals for the wood house I left the camp to return to my flat. Our flat, where my wife and I live, is part of a larger social housing estate. The flat itself is privately owned making our rent 3 or 4 times as much as it would be if it was still owned by the local council. Many of the social housing flats went into private ownership following Margaret Thatcher’s campaign to privatize social housing as way of encouraging tenants to become home owners. From a personal perspective I am left with the growing sense that concepts such as a neoliberalism, an idea that I once understood as an abstract economic concept, are increasingly becoming understood as a tangible lived experience. Maybe the man building his wood house in the middle of London knowns the idea of
struggle resistance as a lived experience.