Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Welcome to New Readers Interested in the Racism and Sexism of Transhumanist Movements (UPDATED: Now With More Anarchy!)

Welcome to those drawn here by a link to my old post Is Transhumanism Racist? To the extent that many techno-utopians are also neoliberals/market fundamentalists you may also find the post American Libertarianism Is Racist Through and Through to be of interest. Given their vulnerability to racism it probably is no great surprise to find a vulnerability to sexism in transhumanism as well, as I highlight (among other places) in "Post Gender" Or Gender Poets and Don't Be Too Quick to Identify Transhumanist Politics With Transsexual Politics. For the beginnings of a connection of these different criticisms (transhumanist racism, classism, sexism, cissexism) you might try Uploading As Reactionary Anti-Body Politics. If you are simply interested in my general critique of techbro VC capitalist and techno-utopian and futurological thinking, I write about those topics endlessly, but the most comprehensive and yet concise formulation remains the essay published in Existenz and available online, Futurological Discourses and Posthuman Terrains. Serious questions, comments, and criticisms are, as always, enormously welcome.

UPDATE: The Moot has unexpectedly but interestingly centered its comments on some claims I made about left anarchism in one of the links posted above. In honor of this surprising and delightful outcome I append, for context, a twitter left-anarchy mini-treatise I posted when I realized what was afoot:

And folks accuse I can't be concise. Mm-hm.


Elias Altvall said...

As person influenced by "left" anarchism (there is no right anarchism, that is a different beast entirely using rhetoric that sounds similar but is different like most right wing populism). I just want to point out that I feel in your article about libertarianism and racism, which I agree with mostly, you very much just tack on "left" anarchism because of similar wording with really no in depth talk about the massive difference and the many articles and books about anarchist discourse that talk about many of the things you critique in this article and others. Now I do not believe "left" anarchism is perfect or not problematic. In fact I feel like most anarchist today fetishes the concept of revolution without actually thinking about it critically and not actual trying to change things for the better and doing it all in the name of the "revolution", which is a concept more akin to transcendentalism. I mean Emma Goldman argued frequently about increased woman rights, labour rights and many other subjects in her day to see them emancipated now, not a mythologised future. Believing it all to be a step closer to revolution. In his book Anarcho-Syndicalism Rudolf Rocker talks about how every change to democratise and increasing rights for the oppressed is a step in the right direction. My point is "left" anarchism is more complex and talks about these discourses more than what you in your article makes it out to be.
Still great work on the origina article. And this Interview is surreal and fucked up. I mean how can you ensure that you are not sexist or racist if you do not have discourses on the subject. This dude and his fellows at the that website does not seem to be that intelligent yet I am told by other people that they are apparently.

Dale Carrico said...

You're right that I only treated left anarchism in an incidental way in that piece. Under the "Against Anarchy" topic heading at the sidebar you will find many more pieces elaborating my position on anarchisms left and right and crazytown, and the preface to the pieces includes a discussion of the many left anarchists with whom I have worked and from whom I have learned.

Far from denying that right-wing anarchisms are not really anarchist, I think to the contrary that all anarchisms tend to conduce to the right, both in their practical consequences and because theoretically they all have a spontaneist tendency that lends itself to uncritical acquiescence to incumbency in unexpected places -- all of which is to say I have a different take on the history and theory than you do (which is fine, of course).

I have more respect for many who think themselves left anarchists than right anarchists, certainly, and I do not mean to be insulting where I disagree with their ideas. I actually think most anarchists when they are doing good would better be understood as doing the work of democratization with which I am always their ally in any case.

Elias Altvall said...

I agree with you to some small extent that certain parts of the anarchist tradition and movement have been leaning in a reactionary way, I mean anarcho primitivist, do I need to say more. Yet I feel more often than not that you very much dismiss anarchistic thinkers and strategies in favor of a rhetorical game where you establishes that look! they use the same words yet again has very different meanings and how you ignore the fact that really anarchism (has always been about democratization, even if they did not use the word democracy, which the 19th century anarchist avoided due to its liberal democratic association). Yet I realize that most likely it is because you and I have different experiances. My involvement with anarchism is largely based around reading the works of famous anarchist alongside marxist, pragmatists, existentialist, post strucalists, other socialist and so forth. While you ,I assume, is more aquinted with the "movement" as a whole which is very different in Europe from America. The complaint from European anarchists are largely based around the influence that reactionary ideolgies like primitivism and "post-left" anarchism has in america which is not as predominant here.

While I can see you complaint about spontaneity I can agree with you assement of it. Because while right wing uses the term as an escapegoat and meaningless nonsense to explain plutocratic machinations much like invisible hand. The left anarchist when using the term tend to differ more on a continous developement that arises into uprising or as a market machination to which groups of cooperatives or/and community assemblies come together due to mutual aid and various other needs.

Again I do not see my self as an anarchist yet I see a great many useful things in its theory and methodology. And I feel you are very unfair against the theory, not neccesairly the movement which has many issues and massive problems. I dumpt the term largey because of the fact that people uses it as a term of superiority rather than just a signifier and the fact that I realised that if you really want change you should be as universalist and try to stand united.

Dale Carrico said...

I have read deeply in the anarchist tradition, I just don't agree with you about it. If I had a dime for every time a person told me I use rhetoric to "play games" when I pointed out logical, topical, tropological connections that an interlocutor found inconvenient I could pay off my student loans. Look up "propaganda of the deed" and be honest about its actual role in historical anarchism and its place in theoretical anarchism and tell me again I'm being unfair to left anarchists when I declare them, despite my many concerns, allies in the work of democratization. By the way, since tone doesn't come off well online, this is me trying to be clear -- I'm not the least bit annoyed or dismissive in saying this, do believe me. It's an interesting topic, hope all is well in your world, d

Elias Altvall said...

I hope the comment I wrote before I read your latest one comes up before this. I felt you were being unfair on anarchisms philosophical theories, not its alignment to democratization. I have checked propaganda by the deed and there exists more in historical anarchism which condemned it as much does who supported it. However my real question to you is what about the various assassins and bombers that were democrats, socalists, republicans (not american politics but no monarchy), nationalists and of course communists. I mean I agree roughly with Bertrand Russell in his Roads to Freedom that anarchism has had tendencies of martyrship. But so has science and democracy. It is not the only politcal ideology that has had sections which used and applied horrible and useless strategies for change. I mean I do not excuse propaganda by the deed I am just pointing out that saying that it had an important role in historical anarchism means that you have to be honest and more less admit about the crimes of French Revolution was made completely by the elected politicians and if you want (i wouldn't because of the complex relationships of the time period) you could blame at least some of those murders on demoocracy. Same thing with the war crimes committed by american soliders to the loyalist during your revolutionary war. There is no political ideology that does not have bloodshed in its history. I feel like you are very much over stating propaganda by the deed when there are other things you could pick on. Like the ridiculous extreme individualists who some of them were seriously against abortion because of the fact that you never chose to be born.

On this topic, I think we just have different opinions which is great is it not.:P At least I feel like we most likely agree on things like change, democratization and socialism even if we got there by somewhat different means.

Dale Carrico said...

I don't mention propaganda of the deed to indulge in some facile smear -- this is far from an incidental notion to historical anarchism, it was the historical substance of anarchism in its most influential moment.

That moment has been superceded, of course, but in my view the new age anarchists of today who spent a generation talking about Hakim Bey and then thronged some precincts of Occupy denigrating elections and labor organizing for drum circles are indulging a spontaneist impulse that yielded the superficial analysis that made propaganda of the deed seem plausible in anarchism's golden age when it certainly never was the least bit plausible -- any more than right-wing marketeers handwaving about spontaneous order are plausible from Ayn Rand to today.

By the way, lest you think I am tarring Occupy with a broad brush, please note my support and celebration of Occupy in post after post from its earliest planning through to its anniversaries.

As I said, I've read deeply in the archive of anarchist theory and history. I think a spontaneism that naturalizes and hence de-politicizes certain parochialisms (love can conquer all, markets will end coercion, consensus trumps representation, etc.) is the common denominator of anarchist orientations. That violence precedes and exceeds governance emerging from human plurality is the point of departure of the political properly so-called, and the failure of any anarchism to grapple with that renders them more moralisms or aestheticisms than political doctrines in my view.

More recent anarchist luminaries seem to me to evade these problems only at the cost of rendering their views easier to square with broader liberal and democracy movements than the anarchism in whose name they advocate them. Chomsky's anarchism amounts essentially to classical liberalism with some council democracy experimentalism appended to it (every exercise of authority must defend itself and is answerable to the people in whose name it is exercised he writes -- pretty much skeptical liberal boilerplate), Graeber's anarchism is even less substantial, broadly New Left direct action and critique of bureaucracy with an "anarchist" label slapped on it.

Of course I agree that you and I are very sympathetic in our politics. I don't think that is even in question. We are having a conversation about the history and theory of anarchism, an intellectual discourse with which neither of us personally identify while both of us sympathize with certain of its exemplars under certain circumstances. I think the questions under debate are mostly scholarly. I am not trying to be unfair to anybody, or to rationalize the inconsistencies of allies, I am just trying to understand the discourse and its effects.

Elias Altvall said...

I agree completely with your assesment about the anarchists of today. in fact I am always reminded of the words by Sam Dolgoff (an anarcho-syndicalists) who complained that the anarchist movement was being filled with people who just wanted to escape capitalism into spontaneist fantasies while ignoring the complex social relationship and work required to change these relationships. The people over at the anarchist faq has a pretty worthwhile article about the occupy movement where they also complain abou the lack of labour organising and continued activism that some parts of Occupy lack.

I agree here to except that I feel that plenty of the more intelligent and aware anarchists in history has pointed out these things and made argumentations that goes beyond these parochialisms. In fact I recognize that parts of my pluralism comes from anarchism since for me it is the only logical response to freedom and the complexieties of human beings. I feel like in the end you are generally right about the very generalised assement of anarchism but I feel there has been many figures and people in the movement who avoided these pitfalls and truly goes above the moralisms and aestheticisms.

It could be beause I alway felt anarchism to be in the broad democracy movement and soclalist movements, not seperation from them but simply a theory amongst theories. Chomsky's anarchism for me is more Deweyan liberalism than classical one considering his insistence on supporting elections, popular movements shaping governments and emphasis on workplace democracy. Graeber you very much nailed.

I said the thing about you and I being similar and sympathetic in our politics more because I wanted to emphasis, much like you said that tone is hard online, so you understood that I am not really trying attack you but more just feeling I had to defend certain parts of anarchism more from it self than from you. Like you said we sympathises with certain of its exemplars under certain circumstances. But I have bothered you enough with this subject. :D Now for a simple last question, what is your opinion about Robert anton Wilson?

Dale Carrico said...

I read and enjoyed RAW very much twenty years ago. I do enjoy speculative fiction in its more rollicking mode. I still use the phrase "hardening of the orthodoxies," but I can't say how deep an influence he managed to be.

As someone trained in rhetoric, who teaches rhetoric, who is actually -- weird as this may sound -- devoted to rhetoric as a critical practice, it is very commonplace for me to see arguments as pitched in occasions that resonate in them after they have passed, as citing frames and conceits that render them apparently plausible and truly forceful, as dependent on figures that feel transparent or evidenciary when they strictly speaking are not, that indulge formal fallacies that bedevil them even while making them persuasive, and so on.

As you say, some anarchists are aware of the shortcomings of other anarchists -- a conspicuous example I would cite is Bookchin -- while nonetheless dependent on the same archive of formulations and figures and on some of the same underlying associations. When one exposes a logical entailment, a topical citation, a pesky metaphorization one is rarely accusing its author of hypocrisy or laziness or stupidity or anything like that. One is trying to understand how an argument generates its persuasive force the better to understand the hopes and history out of which it emerged and to which it responds. No argument escapes such stratifications, they are far better understood as the way into an argument than as an excuse to dismiss it. They are my chief point of connection with the author as a fellow sufferer in struggling to make sense of the world and overcome its terrible demands. In arriving at my critique of anarchism both left and right I have actually found the resources with which to understand democratization in a more mature way, and also to recognize the work of democratization in the best anarchists in their best moments.

Elias Altvall said...

I just wanted to ask about RAW since he occupies that little weird situation of being anti capitalist yet always being cited by "libertarians". If you have not I suggest checking out an article he wrote about capitalism being a revealed religions, nothing new per se but contains very funny exemples and analogies. I like his books and especially his very sceptical mindset which while I disagree with him about some things still feel like reading his works made me a little bit more sceptical of certain things.

Bookchin for me was always a good thinker though I somewhat agree with Joel Kovel that he could be somewhat dogmatic at somepoints. For me one of the best examples would be Daniel Guerin. He always managed to push anarchistic theory abit further by using the some marxist methodologies and sociological evidence.
In my readng anarchism I first became very much aware of the rich history in oppositions to oppression in a way I never was before and the realisation that things needed to be changed. This study led to many different thinkers,activists and movements has made me more knowledgeble and clear in what my opinions are. In the end it made me realise that freedom must mean more democracy not less. Therefore democratisation for the win. :p

Thanks for mentioning me by the way.

Dale Carrico said...

I learned my intersectionality from queer feminists of color, but wherever you get it from what matters most is that you get it. I've enjoyed the conversation, too, thanks for it. Anyway, as I always say, I don't want to smash the state, I want to democratize it. I'm content to end with that.

Anonymous said...

Dale, just a few points of contention I'd like to raise.

You assert that "propaganda of the deed", attentat, is the "historical substance" of anarchism. This is of course an assertion with little established scholarly basis (perhaps we've not been reading the same books?). Most historians who have looked at the period in question, and at anarchist and revolutionary socialist movements in general (those both sympathetic and hostile to anarchism) would agree that, while attentat had become, by the 1880s, a central principle within the anarchist movement, it wasn't the central principle, rather one of many competing philosophical positions that at the time were being debated, both in principle and in actuality. One need only point out a few examples, that of the relationship between Johann Most and the heavily anarchist inspired (Marxist too) "Revolutionary Socialist" movement in the US during the 1880s and 90s, for instance, or heated debates in France during the proto-syndicalist union organizing in the 1890s.

Actually, one should clarify what exactly attentat entailed in its totality, rather than rely on a limited narrative frame that casts the question into one of terrorism versus more "legitimate" means. (Of all people, one such as yourself should be conscientious of the manner in which this "discourse" has been promoted, not only by enemies on the right, but equally and sometimes most vociferously by supposed friends on the left, like the Stalinists.) Attentat wasn't merely bombing and murder of heads of state and capitalists (in which it most certainly was a significant, and of course well publicized, element). As Bakunin's reformulation of the concept went, the key idea was that action thoroughly emanating from the self-activity of the oppressed masses was the greatest, most "pure" way in which the masses could understand their own agency (to use a modern intellectualism) and be drawn into the revolution, as well as get what it wanted, in a practical sense. One can certainly critique such proposals, but to suggest that the central conception of this self-activity was the murder of heads of states, or destruction of Wall Street traders (ala Buda), is to stoop to the lowest point in historical revisionism, to quote an avid theoretician on the subject (er, Lenin, that would be).

In any case, even if one claims that attentat was the central feature of anarchism between 1890 and say, 1905, such a timespan no more points to a definition any more than the extreme orthodoxy and dogmatism of the Marxist movement of the 1960s and 70s can stand for a definition of Marxism. Those who take history seriously understand very well that an ideological current can no more be defined by its outliers than can it be refuted by the same. Wouldn't you agree?

While you may not be claiming this as "some facile smear", perhaps you understand how others have and continue to do so?

Anonymous said...

On the topic of Occupy, I'd assert that it succeeded exactly insofar as it underscored anarchist principles, and not, as you may assert, despite of it. You seem to tarnish those that advocated "drum circles over labor action"-- but of those very anarchists who had, ten years previous, organized successful actions during the heavy days of the "anti-globalization" movement, and during Occupy had formed no small part of the backbone of the effort, in addition to those IWW members, anarcho-communists, anarcho-syndicalists and fellow travelers who added a spirited and positive debate about means and ends, generalizing the struggle, broadening the appeal, and combating rightist tendencies of the anti-Fed Libertarians ---you remain silent.

On your assertion that "spontaneism" is at the heart of anarchism (how many hearts does it have?), one can only cringe at having to answer, yet again, that "spontaneism" is hardly an exclusive problem of the anarchist movement, and indeed remind one of the heated debates that took place during the formation of the German Communist Party and regarding the "spontaneous" workers uprising (i.e. Luxemburg's murder supporting an uprising that the party had initially advocated against). And need I mention the Weather Underground? Or the entirety of the Italian Autonomous struggles in the 1970s? Perhaps I've misread your meaning since the particular sentence within the comment on the topic is rather characteristic of that sort of "critical theory" talk that makes my head spin, the kind of academic verbosity that shrouds (like an ancient Cabalist text) more than it explains.

Nonetheless, anarchists have certainly been conscious of the problematic of relying on the spontaneous activities of the oppressed classes in light of a fear of the bureaucratization of institutions. Elias above has mentioned only a few of the many anarchists and fellow travelers who have elucidated this problem. I might add that a significant current of today's anarchists, for instance the latter day Platformists, consciously address and struggle with just such a problematic.

On the assertion that "all anarchism tends to conduce to the right" [emphasis mine]-- this too is an age old "bad jacketing" that seems to be the tried and true method by which those ideological enemies of anarchism can equate anarchism with fascism, notwithstanding the mountain of historical evidence that overwhelmingly proves anarchists to be the theoretical and practical absolute enemies of fascism in nearly every case since the term fascism was first coined in 1919. (Surprised you didn't mention Sorel). It's an odd yet familiar assertion that makes "sense" only if one does a bit of intellectual gymnastics, a past time suited to those in academia who prosper in the environment of convoluted signifiers and a methodology that obfuscates ideas within an esoteric language that takes 10 years in grad school to fully understand.

How appropriate for one who has a PhD from a Department of Rhetoric. (Apologies to Judith Butler, et al).

Finally, what any of this has to do with the "Transhumanist movement" of the title (rife with the worse kind of right wing Libertarians and propertarians) is anyone's guess. Perhaps you could elucidate that for your readers.

Dale Carrico said...

The post focused on links elaborating the racism and sexism of transhumanism in my view, but the conversation zeroed in on questions of anarchism that were part, if a bit incidental, in one of the links provided above. Conversations take their own course. I didn't expect this development, but it doesn't bother me. It's also a topic I think and write about, after all -- although I would recommend pieces collected under the "Against Anarchy" heading devoted to that topic if you wanted clear versions of my positions.

Dale Carrico said...

You raise many other objections: I'll try to get to as many of them as I can by tomorrow (I'm doing some school stuff right now that I've put off too long). Your objections are principled and knowledgeable and are very welcome even if we will probably disagree quite a bit at a theoretical level if less so when it comes to action on the ground.

Elias Altvall said...

tfg casper: Not to mention the fact that Johann Most was becoming by the 1890s isolated from the anarchist movement at large precisly due to his support of propganda by the deed since Kropotkin, Reclus, Goldman and several others were starting to write against the idea when they started focusing on labour organizing more. Of couse then there is Bakunins quote to the nihilists that you blow up can't blow up social relationshiip.

Yet let's not kid ourselves here while I would say the majority of anarchists both historically and present have denounced the concept of propaganda by the deed there are and has been those convinced by it and actually tried to carry it out. I mean there is an article by Bob Black how while you can't blow up a scoial relationship you can have fun while doing it.(If it is a joke, then he failed).

Dale Carrico said...

Okay, I'm back, and I'm happy to continue our conversation. As I mentioned last night I appreciate your criticisms, and more than that I agree that your history gets the record right by my lights too even if I don't always attach the same significance to its details that you do. Be that as it may, your comments are a service, I'm glad visitors have the chance to read them.

There are several topics you raise that I will take up in greater depth: 1 Propaganda of the Deed, 2 "spontaneism," 3 Occupy, 4 anarchisms conducing to the right and, shall we say, the issue of 5 *rhetorical shenanigans.* I'll try to tackle each of these in a separate block.

Dale Carrico said...

1 Propaganda of the Deed

I want to stress at the outset that whatever our disagreements one of the things that strikes me about your formulations is that we are not so far apart, really, even by your own account.

You concede early on that "while attentat had become, by the 1880s, a central principle within the anarchist movement, it wasn't the central principle." Much the same point returns later in your quip asking how "many hearts does [anarchism] have?" in response to my observation that spontaneism is at its heart. As you imply, more than one thing, even competing things can be at the historical/theoretical heart of anything so complex as a mass movement and critical archive. I can't say I feel particularly inclined to push for more than that.

Another welcome, and to my purposes adequate, concession happen (I think) when you say, "even if one claims that attentat was the central feature of anarchism between 1890 and say, 1905, such a timespan no more points to a definition any more than the extreme orthodoxy and dogmatism of the Marxist movement of the 1960s and 70s can stand for a definition of Marxism." Fair enough, but I am taking you to be conceding here that Propaganda of the Deed was indeed a central feature during a period of the movement's history, and by dating it 1890-1905 (constraining it more than I would do, but set that aside for now) you are admitting it to be a central feature during the early and in fact *formative* and in many ways most significant period in anarchism's history.

I agree that such centrality is not determinative and I agree that the thrust of anarchism has moved on from this specific formulation but I think it is wrong to trivialize its role even on the terms you concede. And so, again, I don't feel the need to push the point any more than you have already conceded it, although given your concession I don't know that I would go so far as to describe Propaganda of the Deed as "an outlier" as you do. Still, I think we are closer on our sense of the facts than not.

I would remind you that between 1894 and 1912 President Carnot of France, Premier Canovas of Spain, Empress Elizabeth of Austria, King Humbert of Italy, President McKinley of the United States, and Premier of Spain Canalejas were alll assassinated by anarchist-identified figures who declared their acts were devotions to Anarchy the Idea.

While many anarchists are quick to point out that Kropotkin explicitly distanced his understanding of anarchism from the Propaganda of the Deed, they seem less eager to point out that part of the reason he did was because he had championed it: "A single deedis better propaganda than a thousand pamphlets" and in the 80s he was still urging the propaganda by "speech and written word, by dagger, gun, and dynamite." The significance of these formulations in their historical context was quite as clear to him as it is to us now. I am urging the furthest thing from the dismissal of Kropotkin in saying this: I still re-read Kropotkin for insight and pleausre. The point is that it is as much a revisionism of anarchism to treat this moment as incidental to anarchism as you rightly insist it would be revisionist of me to reduce anarchism to this moment.

Dale Carrico said...

1b Propaganda of the Deed (continued)

You are definitely right that glib identifications of anarchism with violence have been indispensable to the toolkit of plutocrats to marginalize and domesticate the threat of righteous and radical movements, including anarchists. At this very moment ISIS/ISIL criminality is being whomped up into a fantastically insane panic stricken casus belli and constitutionally protected protest is being recast as criminal violence to rationalize obscene systematic police brutality on the streets of Ferguson and everywhere else. I have lived through and publicly resisted AIDS panics and Drug War panics, and have learned and teach about the anti-immigration racism and anti-labor plutocracy that deployed idiotic caricatures of violent radicals (many of them anarchists) to consolidate organized police violence from the Pinkertons to the FBI to the Patriot Act. Believe me, I know and agree with you.

It is also true, as you say, that every political movement for social justice has its reckonings with the attractions and befuddlements of violence. But none of that justifies a dismissal of the significance of Propaganda of the Deed in the history of anarchism.

When I said propaganda of the deed was the "historical substance" of anarchism: First, I was reacting against a formulation which I took to be treating it as *incidental* to anarchism, which I assume you will agree is untrue;

Second, in so saying I did not mean to reduce anarchism to incitements to violence. I can see how a defender of anarchism would be weary of such charges and see them insinuated (even unconsciously cited) in many forms. My declaration that I did not intend to indulge in a facile smear was an attempt to register my awareness of these very things, though I fear it may have simply made you more suspicious that I was being tricky.

Third, perhaps another way to get at what I meant by declaring Propaganda of the Deed the *substance* of historical anarchism is for me to change that word to *symptomatic.* What interests me, and what seems important to me, are what I take to be the assumptions and aspirations that made propaganda of the deed seem compelling in the anarchic period of their prevalence (or, if you like, conspicuousness).

Dale Carrico said...

2 "Spontaneism"

It is not so much some pornographic spectacle of violence I mean to evoke in directing attention to this superceded anarchist slogan.

What matters to me is that the reason assassination seemed intuitively plausible as a transformative strategy to so many anarchist-identified activists and theorists for a time seems to me to be the widely shared belief that aristocrats and plutocrats were artificial barriers to the spontaneous flowering of more decent, just, loving, commonsensical, freedom-loving ways of arranging human affairs that were naturally shared otherwise.

Barbara Tuchman once wrote: "Anarchism rejects the political party, which Proudhon had called a mere "variety of absolutism"; yet to bring about a revolution it was necessary to submit to authority, organization, and discipline. Whenever Anarchists met to prepare a program,this terrible necessity rose up to face them. Loyal to their Idea, they rejected it. Revolution would burst from the masses spontaneously."

This passage appears in a popular history not a rigorous critique, but seeing your objection to my use of the term "spontaneism" I found myself wondering why I used it, and casting my mind back I think

[one] that Tuchman passage (which I first read many years ago, long before I engaged the topic in any kind of serious way) probably percolated up for me and connected

[two] with my readings much later of Lenin on the necessity of party discipline and against what he too called "spontaneism" (which is not at all to say I am a Leninist -- cards on the table I think of myself as a democratic socialist committed to nonviolent revolutionary action indebted probably more than anything else to my reading of King and Fanon) as well as

Dale Carrico said...

2b "Spontaneism"

[three] endless disputes with self-described anarcho-capitalists who liked to describe what the tissue of norms, treaties, regulations, affordances that presently passes for "the market" as if it were a force of nature in which we discern the possibility of a market-based "spontaneous order" based on universal laws of supply and demand vouchsafed by a universal essential human character defined as a competitive-acquisitive possessive individualist homo economicus eager to enter into contractual relations that are defined as non-coercive by fiat whatever the terms of misinformation and precarity that duress them.

In my view, all of these states of affairs are in fact parochialisms and not universalities, they are contingencies and not logical necessities, they are rituals and artifice and not nature. There is a ferocious politics of de-politicization that casts these parochial contingencies and universal nature and hence would sweep them from the table as open to the collective contestation and stabilization of which politics most deeply consists. Such politics are not merely anti-political but more specifically tend to reactionary and to benefit incumbents who identify with the status quo over its contestation.

It is to these de-politicizing naturalizations I refer when I speak of spontaneisms. I agree with you that, like the allure and problem of violence, most organized political movements probably grapple in some measure with the problem of organization versus spontaneism -- but again to say so does not mean we should dismiss it as it plays out in anarchism in particular, and this does not mean that this quandary might assume a greater and more indicative salience in some movements than others. You may disagree, but I think what I might call a faith in spontaneity takes us deep into anarchist assumptions and aspirations, and that the different forms this faith takes goes a long way in helping us distinguish varieties of anarchism ideologically.

Dale Carrico said...

2c. "Spontaneism" (continued)

I agree with Hannah Arendt that the point of departure for the political as such (prior to the specification of left or right politics, say) is the recognition of a human plurality the interminably changing situations and stakes for which shape the political rationality which would corral collectivities into resistance and defense of these historical contingencies.

I think that right-wing anarcho-capitalists naturalize and would thus render pre-political market assumptions that are in fact under contest and amount to the political outcome they desire.

I think many left-wing anarchists fetishize various construals of "direct democracy" and rituals arriving at consensus, abhoring compromises, periodic majoritarian elections, representation, even accountable community policing (rendering other experiments in democratic accountability/ responsiveness "indirect" and hence inauthentic), in ways that overlook naturalized hierarchies playing out in the working out of some forms of apparent consensus-making, in ways that seem to deny the problem of ineradicable dissensus arising from diversity, in ways that assume that parochial understanding of what constitutes common sense, dignity, fairness, having a say and so on are natural and provide a ground for universalization.

Possibly you will deny that these assumptions play out in sophisticated theorizations of anarchy with which you identify or deny that these aspirations play out in everyday practices of activism, education, consensus-building on the ground. As I have said, I converse with and work with anarchist-idenitified folks sometimes, and agree that these theoretical and practical difficulties can sometimes be overcome. I still think spontaneism in my sense (and I welcome your recommendation of a different term that would not yield the confusions of my usage if you have one handy) is a constitutive quandary for anarchist formuations throughout its history and across its ideological variations. I think it puts a pre-political parochialism and anti-political aversion in place prior to its eventual political elaboration in ways that bedevil these formulations, and ultimately, as I will take up later, conduce to right-wing politics even among well-meaning advocates and exemplars to the contrary.

Dale Carrico said...

3 Occupy

The first thing I want to say is that I'm a champion of Occupy. I have written about it quite a bit over the years, including promoting it before any actual Occupy events had taken place yet. I took part in Occupy both in San Francisco and Oakland, although I am a lame fat old homebody who isn't what he used to be in my old ACT UP/Queer Nation days. I think that those who dismiss Occupy as a failure or a dead duck fail to grasp

[one] its indispensability to the return -- after the long nightmarish Carter-Volcker through Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush neoliberal/ neoconservative epoch -- to class politics/anti-plutocracy politics in the US. That the 1% is a landmark in the popular US political imaginary is an accomplishment like few other movements can boast of.

[two] its relationship (I think continuity would propose too strong a link) with the Million Hoodies/ Moral Mondays/ #BlackLivesMatter movements, which I think are the most stunning transformative political formations in years.

I also think that those who declare Occupy never made "its demand" clear is frankly an absurdity -- nothing could be clearer than the injustices
Occupy directed out attention to, and the sorts of solutions to those injustices inspiring Occupiers (which are many, and that is a strength revealed by a diversity of voices not a weakness).

Nobody could deny that activists and intellectuals influenced by anarchism were prominent in Occupy -- just as intellectuals influenced by Situationism, labor organizing, nonviolent direct action were also prominent. None of these are the same thing, many of them play out together partially or differently in the thinking of some of the same people.

Dale Carrico said...

3b Occupy (continued)

Certainly the overabundant majority of folks who actually Occupied were not anarchist-identified, and certainly much that was stunning and beautiful and effective in Occupy cannot be properly attributed to anarchist theory. Activists and everyday people often reveal collective creative genius in their responses on the fly to dynamic efforts of policing on behalf of authorities -- the People's Mic and the disruptive Mic Check are examples.

I personally think it is appropriative to subsume all this creative and critical expressivity under the heading of anarchism in particular. And although I am as ferocious a critic of neoliberal global corpoate-military developmentalism, financialization, precarization as almost anybody, I cannot say I am particularly thrilled by the Seattle moment and too direct an assimilation of Occupy to a trajectory arising out of Seattle (or, say, Zapatista or the movements oversimplified in the term "Arab Spring") either. I tend to see the proximate connection as the Wisconsin labor protests. Anyway, there was quite a lot of righteousness and beauty in Seattle, no question, but I cannot say that it did the work available to that moment.

You called attention to my infelicitous phrase "drum circles over labor organizing" and I want to be clear that I do not think an appreciation of drum circles *entails* a denigration of labor organizing or party organizing or police reform or political work for progressive taxation and subsidizing public investments (in income, healthcare, education, rights) to maintain the scene of informed nonduressed consent. I love drum circles, I love crowded dance floors, I love mass marches -- when I was younger I was a perfect glutton for them all, these days they give me an ache -- I am the last to deny the wonder and solidarity and recuperation provided by these collective exercises.

But I teach at an art school and confront students all the time who fancy themselves radicals and who declare themselves anarchists and then lack even basic knowledge of history or current events and refuse to vote or participate in campaigns for reform and confine their resistance to guerilla art shows and warehouse temporary autonomous zone dance parties. I am NOT saying that this obviously anecdotal exposure is representative of or equal to the best practices of anarchism. But I am not going to deny that there have been periods of my life during which this sort of anarchism -- indistinguishable in practice from the most uncritical acquiescence to consumerism imaginable -- has been the most conspicuous everyday exposure I have had to anarchism outside of books and online discussions. This had its impact and I wonder if you would honestly deny the reality and relevance of what I am talking about.

Dale Carrico said...

3 Occupy (continued)

When anarchists speak of their sense of the importance of Occupy they sometimes declare that it is less its foregrounding of class politics or its exposure of corruption and police violence or its publicizing of ideas of debt forgiveness, social security expansion, community banks and post-offices providing non-predatory check-cashing, savings, and loans, and so on that seems to them important... but the fact that Occupy models consensus-based associations and gifting that could be the kernel from which a post-state commonsense sweeping the world might emerge.

This seems to me, frankly, as flabbergasting an absurdity as vapid techbros telling us Burning Man could scale planetarily, no doubt with the aid of open (empty) accessible (stratified) partipatory (isolated and ignored) online sharing (exploitation). I cannot deny that, like it or not, I hear the echo of dance-party art-student anarcho-radicals in such proposals.

More seriously, I worry there is a denial of the extent to which consensus-formations in Occupy are often enabled by the playing out of stealthy hierarchies and prevailing racist/sexist norms. This is what I referred to in the last section as "spontaneism."

I will conclude this section by mentioning that the emphasis in the Moral Mondays/ #BlackLivesMatter movements on firing bad cops and closing down corrupt police departments and hiring better and more diverse police and demanding sensitivity and de-escalation training and community policing standards and accountability, and also insisting on voter enfranchisement, shifting budgetary priorities to expand healthcare and education and so on -- all of which seems to me the most vital, heartbreaking, promising politics in America today (I am also excited by environmentalist direct-action education work and divestment campaigns happening right now) -- illustrates what I mean when I say I don't want to smash the state, I want to democratize it.

Dale Carrico said...

4 Anarchism As Conducive to the Right

Your point is well-taken when you remind us of a long history in which such assimilations of anarchism to the right have been "an age old 'bad jacketing' that seems to be the tried and true method by which those ideological enemies of anarchism can equate anarchism with fascism." It is worth noting that there is more to the right than fascism, that I did not (and very much would not) identify anarchism with fascism, and that even if cynical and dishonest associations of anarchism with the right have done their damage that actually does not mean that every proposal of such a link is therefore cynical or dishonest.

Whatever you think of the case I have made, I think it simply isn't plausible to pretend it is a smear or cynical ploy. I wrote, in full: "Far from denying that right-wing anarchisms are not really anarchist, I think to the contrary that all anarchisms tend to conduce to the right, both in their practical consequences and because theoretically they all have a spontaneist tendency that lends itself to uncritical acquiescence to incumbency in unexpected places." [emphasis added] I am offering structural reasons that anarchist formulations as I understand conduce to the right in ways that their exemplars might indeed honestly and actively disapprove.

Later I expanded the point: "I think a spontaneism that naturalizes and hence de-politicizes certain parochialisms (love can conquer all, markets will end coercion, consensus trumps representation, etc.) is the common denominator of anarchist orientations. That violence precedes and exceeds governance emerging from human plurality is the point of departure of the political properly so-called, and the failure of any anarchism to grapple with that renders them more moralisms or aestheticisms than political doctrines in my view."

This returns us to my account of "spontaneism" and we may simply disagree about that or there may be a better more historically nuanced accounting demanded to make that critique as useful as I would need it to be. But I do not intend (and I think you have good reason to believe me when I say so) my version of this contention that anarchism conduces to the right to be a glib smear nor do I agree that it involves mental gymnastics in the least. Which takes me -- mercifully, gosh I'm tired! -- to the next point.

Dale Carrico said...

5 Shenanigans!

I am trained in literary and culture criticism, in philosophy and critical theory, and in rhetorical analysis. That training has had an impact on the way I express myself -- but in the other direction, I have a temperamental attraction to qualified, situated, figurative understandings of the ways arguments play out in the world that made me suited for the very training I took up.

I do not claim that mine is the only way of thinking about things, I do not expect that my style will be everybody's cup of tea, I do not deny that I struggle and sometimes succeed in improving the clarity and concision of my writing.

All that said, I think there is an ugly gloating anti-intellectualism in the spectacles some critics make of eye-rolling at long sentences trying to get at actually complicated realities. I am amused by those who seem to think posting "tl;dr" after ignoring an engaged piece of criticism is something to crow about rather than an exposure of their lazy incuriosity about topics they often want simultaneously to pretend to care about enormously.

About my proposition that even left anarchisms may conduce to incumbent politics of the right in their naturalization of pet parochialisms, you wrote: "It's an odd yet familiar assertion that makes 'sense' only if one does a bit of intellectual gymnastics, a past time suited to those in academia who prosper in the environment of convoluted signifiers and a methodology that obfuscates ideas within an esoteric language that takes 10 years in grad school to fully understand. How appropriate for one who has a PhD from a Department of Rhetoric. (Apologies to Judith Butler, et al)."

That's pretty snide I must say. You don't have to appreciate Judith Butler, a hero of mine as a queer person devoted to direct action for social justice long before I was honored to have her as my teacher and mentor, you don't have pursue academic training to acquire a relevant political vantage or critical perspective (my partner of fourteen years is a righteous brilliant high-school dropout). You don't have to use my vocabulary to say things worth saying -- but anybody who knows me will attest to the fact that I speak just the way I write: this is actually who I am.

You can say it takes verbal gymnastics to take seriously that there are both capitalists and socialists (among many others) who say and mean it that they are anarchists. Let's return to a sentence from that last paragraph. I described "my proposition that even left anarchisms may conduce to incumbent politics of the right in their naturalization of pet parochialisms." You can tell me that only a person indulging some frivolous navel-gazing past-time could come up with such an apparently astonishing and counter-intuitive sentence.

But I don't think so. I don't believe you when you say that is hard to understand -- even if you disagree with it, which is fine. I can see how you wouldn't particularly like this argument, but when you insinuate that it is cynical smearing, esoteric obfuscation, convoluted nonsense -- you must forgive me if I call bs. I can agree to disagree with you. I can continue to converse with you, I appreciate your knowledge and perspective. But I utterly reject any suggestions that I am engaged in anything frivolous or nefarious or disrespectful or uninformed in this. I welcome the occasion to learn more. My very best to you.

Dale Carrico said...

Oh, another thing!

I wrote: "More recent anarchist luminaries seem to me to evade these problems only at the cost of rendering their views easier to square with broader liberal and democracy movements than the anarchism in whose name they advocate them. Chomsky's anarchism amounts essentially to classical liberalism with some council democracy experimentalism appended to it (every exercise of authority must defend itself and is answerable to the people in whose name it is exercised he writes -- pretty much skeptical liberal boilerplate), Graeber's anarchism is even less substantial, broadly New Left direct action and critique of bureaucracy with an "anarchist" label slapped on it."

I can easily imagine neither Chomsky or Graeber appreciating this take but I hope it is clear that the force of my point is to say that both are focusing on issues that do not seem to me specific to anarchism, but part of more general left critique. Personally I *approve* the strategies of direct action, the critique of bureaucracy, the recommendation of council democracy (I don't think it is apt in every setting but I would like to see it far more than less and certainly more than we do), the classical liberal skepticism toward exercises of authority that must be answerable to those they impact which I am attributing to these figures. I didn't actually feel that these comments amounted to dissing Chomsky or Graaeber, both of whom I have read so much of for so long and learned so much from. I just don't think anarchism qua anti-statism has so much to do with any of that.

Elias Altvall said...

The Barbara Tuchman quote is for me massively wrong on all levels on what Proudhon wrote. Since Proudhon (was not perfect) was the same dude who argued in favor of associations (democractic ones) and in fact tried to use the government of France to finance his "bank of the people". I mean Proudhon wrote many times about how associating together was the only way of bringing any change to the system of abuse and oppressions. Bakunin and many others in the international made explicit arguments against the idea of the masses just spontaneously revolting but how through organizing together, protesting and organizing strikes would follow from the working classes and other oppressed people rather than from an political party taking control of the political machinations of a country.

One of the things I personally have always taken from anarchism even if some anarchist do not follow it is free experimention and trying out different forms of organizig and associating together as equals. And that this experimentation most emanate from people themselves, not hiearichal institutions, which most political parties sadly are.

I myself has never been convinced by anything Lenin has said expect him coining imperialism.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the considerate remarks Dale. I'll make some notes as soon as I've had time to digest all that you have said.

Dale Carrico said...

Hi, Elias: Like you, as I said, I still read and enjoy Proudhon and like you, as I said, I am far from a Leninist. As I said, if anything I'm a democratic socialist committed to nonviolent revolution in the spirit of the later King and others. Proudhon moved away from the views Tuchman quotes, and she says so herself, but that doesn't mean he didn't hold them when he did, nor does it mean those earlier views tell us nothing about a formative moment in anarchism and something to which anarchism is susceptible in principle that may tell us something useful about anarchism as such, and none of that need diminish the significance of the later views that inspire you. Or so it seems to me.

Dale Carrico said...

My pleasure, "tfgcasper." I fear I got sloppier (and maybe pissier too) toward the end, it took rather longer to reply than I expected. I do welcome the exposure of historical and conceptual flaws as well as the proposal of different approaches that demand I change my views for the better. Best to you, d

Elias Altvall said...

I am sorry if my comment sounded like an accusation, I apologize, it was not my intention. But I hav always felt like it was strange how more often than not the accusation on anarchist of not being in favor of organization never really goes beyond a massive misinterpretation and/or selective quoting rather than taking from the minority that actually has been against organization. I mean there is a reason why almost every single major anarchist theorist or movement or activist has written articles on why organization is not against anarchism.

I am again sorry if it sounded like I accused you of being leninist or anything, that was not my intention or point. I merely wanted to express in a very short way my own feeling about the man. Which was not done in a good way. so let me elaborate, for me Lenin has never been a consistent nor a good theorist. As most of his theoretical work is for the most part a conservative read of Marx. Which magnifies his teleology, determinism and economism. For me Rosa Luxemburg was right when she signified him as a blanquist rather than a marxist though I feel she ignored some of Marxist own theoretical shortcomings and authoritarian tendencies.

I actually feels that Proudhon never held those views at all. His writing prior to making it explicitly about federalism, association, shortcomings of the market and so forth, i feel are less about the fact that these things will come sponataneously but more how his own experiance of the various working class experiments by the mutualists of Lyon seemed to indicate that he felt that experimentation was the key to getting alternative forms of organizing rather than it just sponataneously coming together but I will admit that I could just be overetimating him.

Sorry if the tone came off as aggressive and even more apologies for my massive spelling, grammatical and many other errors that has plagued these texts. I wish yet again to complain about the fact that english is my second language but I have babelfish so I could have ensured I spelled everything correctly, which means I have no excuse.

Dale Carrico said...

Fear not, we're cool.