Rethinking Anarchism: Carlos Taibo (Conclusion)

The Conclusion of Carlos Taibo’s Rethinking Anarchy: Direct Action, Self-Management, Autonomy (La Catarata, Madrid, 2013) brings to an end, after trials and tribulations, the translation of this work, through which we have sought to share with English readers the work of one of the most significant anarchist voices today in spain.  This exercise was motivated by the importance of Taibo’s work in spain, and whatever differences we may have with his views, we believe that the work more than merited our efforts.

The translations of the earlier chapters have already been published on Autonomies.

Prologue and Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight


I want to highlight a few characteristics of the libertarian worldview.  The first is the profoundly rooted awareness that we are part of the same system that we wish to bring down.  This awareness outlines – I believe – a fundamental difference with regards to the habits of the traditional left, comfortably installed in the idea that everything, or almost everything, is reducible to a confrontation between those who are lucid and good, on the one hand, and those who are bad and perverse, on the other.  In a language that is no longer current, for decades Cornelius Castoriadis referred to the constant rebirth of capitalist reality in the heart of the proletariat.  Steve Biko, with the same insistence, signaled that “the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”(1)

Another characteristic that has already called my attention on more than one occasion in this text: in my understanding, the libertarian world should persist obstinately with the firm goal of avoiding calls for purity and self-centred group realities, in benefit of working with common people.  It would be terribly problematic if the discourse of contemporary anarchism were reduced to that of a closed identitarian group: it should instead always open itself onto popular struggles, immersed in the great flows of contestation and emancipation, in a free dialogue with other currents.  Holloway has emphasised that it is not a matter of everyone being a radical anti-capitalist: what happens is that the experience of capitalist oppression generates in many people the beginning of a rejection and rebellion that should be stimulated.(2)  There is not then the artificial creation of consciousness, nor a guiding from outside, but rather an operation of recovery of something that is already there.  No revolution can be carried out – as Lenin pretends – in the name of others.  For Lenin, the workers are by themselves incapable of transcending the superficial world of labour union consciousness, for which reason it is necessary to push their consciousness from outside, by those who possess a social science that provides certainties, that is, in fact, by those who belong to the educated higher classes.  “Scientific socialism is the theory of the emancipation of the proletariat, but certainly not the self-emancipation of the proletariat.” (Holloway)(3)  Within this horizon, a separation arises between a them – the proletariat – and an us – the people who, fully conscious, should take power in the name of others.

I would add that this desire to be next to the common people should clearly express itself with modesty.  Reflexes of superiority and self-conscious certainties have always provided bad counsel.  It would be unfortunate that if instead of attracting others, we took on a stubborn determination to demonize the other, something which sadly occurs with some frequency.  “Avoid believing that Anarchy is a dogma, venerated by its disciples like the Koran is by Muslims.  No: the absolute freedom that we demand develops our ideas without end, raises them towards new horizons – adapting itself to the minds of diverse individuals – and expels them far from the narrow limits of any regimentation and all codification.  We are not ‘believers’”, stated Émile Henry, just before he was guillotined.(4)

The above does not mean that we should close our eyes and mouths before unedifying realities.  We must of course be suspicious of a light and easy anarchism, ignorant of self-management and direct action.  An anarchism of appearances and external signs does exist, very radical in expression, but often detached from any transformative practice.  If this anarchism deserves to be roundly criticised, it would not thereby be appropriate that we should therefore consider the older hardened and organic militancy to be without blemish.  For this last – to state matters fully, and if one has to choose – to demand the maximum is more useful than the possible, the latter seemingly overtaking almost everything.

Even with it, one should keep one’s distance with respect to those dogmatic and pure anarchists who never dirty their hands.  “Sitting, waiting for the revolution, the chair, my boss loaned it to me”, goes a song by Sérgio Godinho.  It is very easy to write radical indictments against the State and no less radical defences of libertarian communism without feeling the obligation to think through what we should and what we can do now.  And this is so because the perception of complex situations is inevitably different for those who struggle within them, from those who limit themselves to reflection.  If to what I have just summarised is added a very delicate phenomenon – the haughty disdain of those assumed ignorant or inept –, the circle closes dangerously.  This is singularly the case when the protagonists of such conduct display a special, and pathological, interest in seeking out enemies in the very libertarian world, as if they sought to give shape to a space from which all competitors should completely disappear.  It is painfully surprising that many who take on this behaviour reproduce all of the habits of the foolish and irrelevant (zorrocotroco) world that gestated such a long time ago in the traditional left.  The drivel about revealed truths and exultant working classes is therefore equal to that announced with great assurance by Leninist, Trotskyist and Stalinist sects, from the hand of organisations and personalities with a facade of activism and with no reality behind it.  When the exercise does not convert itself into a theatre of appearances, paradoxically useful to power, radicalism always deserves credit.  And we are familiar enough with those who have dogmatically defended anarchist purity, who then, finally, walked off towards other horizons; because, in the end, it is very difficult to be pure for any length of time.

I return, in closing, to something that I pointed to in the prologue of this book: there are more than enough reasons to conclude that the libertarian project has today more weight and meaning that ever before.  In the eyes of ever more people, it becomes seemingly obvious that we have to contest all powers, with those exercised by the State and capitalism in the foreground.  We should do this, furthermore, from the perspective of organisations in which, without leaders, self-management and direct action are given pre-eminence, while at the same time, ascribing equal importance to the rights of women, of future generations and of the inhabitants of the countries of the south.  Against the logic of private profit and accumulation, we should oppose that of solidarity, mutual aid and self-contention, in a scenario marked by a double consciousness: that of the limitations that we carry with us, on the one hand, and that of the fact that we are a part of the system that we wish to overthrow, on the other.  I end with a quotation from Emma Goldman, a quotation with which I concluded the anthology of libertarian thinkers that I published in 2010.  It reads as follows: “I consider Anarchism the most beautiful and practical philosophy that has yet been thought of in its application to individual expression and the relation it establishes between the individual and society. Moreover, I am certain that Anarchism is too vital and too close to human nature ever to die. It is my conviction that dictatorship, whether to the right or to the left, can never work–that it never has worked, and that time will prove this again, as it has been proved before. When the failure of modern dictatorship and authoritarian philosophies becomes more apparent and the realization of failure more general, Anarchism will be vindicated. Considered from this point, a recrudescence of Anarchist ideas in the near future is very probable. When this occurs and takes effect, I believe that humanity will at last leave the maze in which it is now lost and will start on the path to sane living and regeneration through freedom.”(5)

  2. Holloway, op. cit., p. 226.
  3. Ibidem, p. 130.
  4. Quoted in Guérin, op. cit., p. 12.
  5. Emma Goldman, “A Life Worth Living”, in Robert Graham ed. Anarchism. A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Volume 1. From Anarchy to Anarchism (300 CE to 1939). Black Rose, Montreal/New York/London, 2005, p. 496.
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