With this post, we begin the publication of an english language translation of Tomás Ibáñez essay, “Anarchism is movement: Anarchism, neoanarchism and postanarchism” (2014). Among our motives for undertaking the exercise, there is first the desire to share with english speakers the work of anarchist writers and militants from the spanish speaking world and, secondly, in this instance (and by no means the first time), to share the work of Tomás Ibáñez, with whom we have great affinity.
The life of Tomás Ibáñez is marked by anarchism from his childhood: son of the Spanish libertarian exile in France, he participated, in the 1960s, in the also exiled Federación Ibérica de Juventudes Libertarias (FIJL), in the same country. In 1968, he joined the March 22 Movement, participating actively in the May events of that year, until his arrest in June, and subsequent forced “internal exile” outside Paris. In 1973 he returned to Spain and participated in the attempts to rebuild the CNT. Activist, journalist, essayist, academic, Ibáñez’s voice within anarchism remains among the most creative.
Yes! Anarchism is in movement and it is so twice over.
On the one hand, it has thrown itself towards a dynamic of renewal that has it move at a speed that it has not known for a long time and which translates, among other things, into a significant expansion of its forms and themes of intervention, in the strong diversification of the shapes that it takes on and in the considerable increase of its publications.
On the other hand, the social, cultural, political and technological changes that have occurred over these last decades vigorously spur it on and drive it towards a rapid expansion in distinct zones of the world. Anarchist symbols appear in the most recondite regions of the globe; anarchist actions show up in the news, where they are least expected, and anarchist movements, whose magnitude is at times surprising, stir up multiple geographical areas.
Should we be happy? Of course! Because, parochial patriotism aside, what is good for anarchism is good for all people who, having heard of anarchism or not, knowing or not what it means and sharing or not its principles, suffer in the flesh domination and exploitation and, in some cases, cherish dreams of revolt and rebelliousness. To taint social and political reality with a little more anarchism cannot but contradict the smooth running of oppression and injustice.
Does this robust expansion of anarchism augur the proximate advent of a more libertarian and egalitarian society, or at least, a few social transformations of great magnitude? To these questions, the answer can only be: not by a long shot! We are no longer at the age of believing in fairy tales and we know perfectly well that, even assuming that the number of persons touched by the influence of anarchism has undergone an extraordinary growth, it would continue to represent a population of Lilliputian dimensions; for too insignificant in the face of the more then seven billion human beings, of every condition and belief, that inhabit the planet and of whom, it must be believed, that a great many would prefer, however difficult it is to accept, other systems of values and other ways of life than those that appear so desirable to us.
However, once the siren songs that announced radiant mornings were silenced and the eschatological hopes were locked away in the trunk of old illusory dreams, what still remains is that the current revival of anarchism is the bearer of excellent prospects for all of the practices of resistance, subversion and rebelliousness that confront the impositions of the reigning social system. The expansion of anarchism opens up, in effect, the possibility of multiplying and intensifying the struggles against the apparatuses of domination, of putting in check more often the attacks on the dignity and the conditions of life of people, of subverting the social relations moulded by mercantalist logic, of tearing away spaces to live differently, of transforming our subjectivities, of reducing social inequalities and expanding the space open to the exercise of practices of freedom.
And all of this, not for tomorrow or the day after tomorrow; not for after the great explosion that will change everything, but for today itself, in the day to day, in the quotidian. For it is in the here and now where the only revolution that exists and that is truly lived is carried out, in our practices, in our struggles and in our way of living. Here and now, as Gustav Landauer had already indicated, when he said that “anarchism is not a thing of the future but of the present”.
To make a notch in the reality where we live, even if not in the whole of it, even if only in a fragmentary way, to have a bearing on it, finally, after so much time of seeing it pass through our fingers like sand and to thus transform it in the present, no doubt in a piecemeal way, but radically, this is what today’s anarchism in movement offers us. And this, let us not doubt for a moment, is far from being a little thing, above all when we verify that the principles, the practices and the realisations that characterise anarchism are reinvented, claimed and deployed by collectives and by people who do not necessarily come from milieus that define themselves as explicitly anarchist.
I invite you on this occasion to take a brief walk through the resurgence and renewal of anarchism, hoping – as does anyone who writes – to be capable of awakening your interest and of keeping your company until the end, even if the path that I have taken, or my way of following it, is not necessarily the most appropriate.
I have considerably lightened the principal body of the text, placing the development of certain themes in a few final addenda. They deal with questions that in my view are undoubtedly important, but whose detailed analysis are unnecessary to follow the principal argument of the book. They can nevertheless be consulted by those desirous of deepening their understand of the matters focused on. The three addenda that I have included address the questions of modernity and postmodernity, poststructuralism and relativism.
Finally, I have to make two clarifications regarding the bibliography. Bibliographic references are usually organised according to the alphabetical order of the authors names and this is effectively how the general bibliography is presented at the end of the book. However, for the specific theme of postanarchism, it appeared to me to be more useful to organise it chronologically and to have it appear at the end of the chapter dedicated to this theme.
The second clarification is that for the writing of this book, I turned to, sometimes literally, many of my own texts, published in other places and at other times. It is for this reason that I thought it convenient to have a separate bibliography of my own libertarian writings that I have used in this book or that maintain a very direct relationship with it.
1. The impetuous resurgence of anarchism in the beginning of the 21st century
Beneath the incredulous gaze of those who had shut it up in the dungeons of history and before the surprise of many, if not to say of everyone, anarchism has been experiencing since the beginning of the 20th century an impressive momentum that manifests itself in various regions of the globe. Independently of whether this preoccupies or makes us content, it has to be stated that anarchism occupies again a significant place on the political scene and that it is in the process of reinventing itself on the triple plane of its practices, its theory and of its social diffusion.
When an unexpected event occurs, it is easy to declare, a posteriori, that its mere occurrence is the proof that it had to happen and anyone could have anticipated it if they had disposed of enough information. This is of course not generally the case and, with respect to anarchism, it is clear that its return onto the political scene could very well not have happened. No historical necessity presides over its resurgence, nor that of any other social phenomenon. Nothing is written since the beginning and for ever and this is a great good fortune, for this is the price for the very possibility of freedom. Against the idealised images, we have to recognise that if anarchy formed part of the deepest aspirations of the human being, if it were inscribed in some way in human nature, or, also, if humanity moved necessarily towards a horizon of anarchy, despite the ups and downs of history, little space would remain for the idea of freedom, something that would be oddly paradoxical. Castoriadis saw it clearly: either the social-historical is open and permits radical creativity, or we are condemned to repeat indefinitely what already exists. Hence a choice has to be made between, on the one hand, a conception of historical reality that privileges the possibility of freedom, even though this places the perennity of anarchism at risk and, on the other hand, a conception of this reality that can assure, eventually, the permanence of anarchism that would be inscribed in the heart of history, but which reduces considerably the field of freedom.
The fact of not subscribing to theological conceptions of history and of rejecting any strict historical determinism does not impede us from investigating and analysing the reasons for which anarchism rides again. It is precisely these reasons that this book aims to contribute to clarify.
In any case, to be more precise, the concern to elucidate and explain is not the only one at the origin of this essay. Indeed, it is not only a matter of giving an account of anarchism, outlining it in its current resurgence, but to contribute to its renewal at the level of its practices and and its thought. The book does not have then a purely descriptive goal, but is politically committed in favour of the new ways of conceiving and practicing anarchism. These new ways appear to have a more direct connection with current reality and are in a better position to expand the influence of libertarian ideas. Not because this expansion is good in itself, or should be pursued for its own sake, but because it can only have beneficial consequences for the victims of domination and exploitation.
I warred for some time against the guardians of the temple; that is, against those who want to preserve anarchism in the exact form that it was inherited, as the risk of asphyxiating it and impeding it from evolving. My appeals then go back some time for “an anarchism disposed to constantly putting its very foundations at risk, directing towards itself the most irreverent of critical reviews”. These exhortations, that rise up not so much against classical anarchism but against its fossilisation at the hands of the vigilantes of orthodoxy, seem to me to be necessary at certain times, though they have ceased to be so today. The exuberant vitality of anarchism has effectively barred those, brimming with love for it, who tried to retain it, so as to preserve it better. The guardians of the temple continue to exist, of course, but they can only carry out rearguard actions and it seems useless and of little interest to develop a critical discourse against their narrow and vetust conception. The concern now is to contribute to stimulate the new anarchism that is developing verdantly, beneath our very gaze. What is important is to help to reform it in the frame of the current epoch, without stopping to criticise this or that aspect of expired conceptions.
To say that anarchism is resurging in the present is to affirm, simultaneously, that it has found itself more or less missing for some time. Likewise, when it is stated that it is reinventing itself, it is suggested, analogously, that this is not a mere reproduction of previously existing anarchism, but the incorporation of some innovative aspects. Even though the concern here is not to present its past, the reference to the eventual eclipse of anarchism and its supposed withdrawal from the political scene obliges us to cast a glance over its history to see whether this has effectively been so. However, previous to that, I believe that it is useful to reflect on the theoretical scenarios where the question of an eventual eclipse of anarchism is not even posed and from which therefore it would be completely incongruent to speak of its current resurgence.
1.1. Anarchy versus anarchism: a dubious dichotomy
The first scenario presents itself when anarchy is taken as the reference, more than anarchism, and it is defined as a certain state of things that would exist in the heart of this or that ambit of reality. A state of things whose defining characteristic would consist of excluding domination and where diversity and singularity could manifest themselves freely. Anarchy, taken as an ontologically distinct entity, can be considered in fact as one of the possible multiple modalities of reality. And it can be argued, for example, in a Bakuninist tone, that biological life itself can only develop because it summons conditions for the free manifestation of diversity, of plurality, including the combination of contradictory elements; and because it is capable of smashing the constrictions that strive to repress its free expression and the manifestation of its diversity. Thus, certain aspects of the living would call for a state of anarchy to be able to exist. In this sense, anarchy would be directly inscribed in life, as in other spheres of reality, which means that it would never totally disappear; above all, if far from making of it a state of things that can only express itself in terms of an all or nothing, it may still be considered, in a gradualistic manner, that certain segments of reality carry with them greater or lesser degrees of anarchy.
There may well be no inconvenience in speaking of anarchy as a certain state of things, as a certain modality of reality that is accordingly intensely desirable for anarchists and towards which they would like to advance as quickly as possible. However, what is not admissible is that we cling to this reality on the basis of essentialist presuppositions, even though, certainly, they would serve to exclude any possibility of an eventual disappearance of anarchy, guaranteeing that the latter could continue to exist, even when it manifests itself at a most basic level.
To think anarchy as an ontological entity, as a really existing state of things, does not exclude that this state of things be contingent rather than necessary, that it depend on variable circumstances that condition its existence and that it can therefore suffer eclipses and, even, a definitive disappearance. Anarchy, considered as a distinct ontological entity does not enjoy an existence in itself, but only that it accedes to existence on the basis of an activity, necessarily human, which constructs a specific conception of anarchy.
In effect, against the essentialist dogma, it has to be admitted that to the degree that being does not exceed the conjunction of its ways of existence, there cannot be at its side or in addition to its forms of existence something that would be its essence. In this sense, anarchy cannot be this or that in itself, but is the circumstantial product of a conjunction of relations; and it only acquires meaning in the context of a culture, of a society and of a particular epoch. More precisely, the context in which anarchy has meaning, by opposition, is in a context of domination, experienced as such by the people who live in the said context.
This means that, genealogically, for anarchy to accede to existence, for it to be constructed as a differentiated and specific entity, not only must there exist apparatuses of domination and resistances to these apparatuses, but that also, furthermore, domination and resistance must enter into the field of possible experience of subjects. Often domination is not understood as such, often it does not enter the field of the thinkable and often the resistances that it arouses are not experienced as such, in which case the conditions for the possibility of anarchy are not gathered together and anarchy, plainly, does not exist. For it to exist it is necessary that, in addition to bringing together these conditions, certain ideas – such as, for example, those of singularity, freedom, autonomy and the struggle between domination and what resists it – be effectively thought, something that does not happen until a certain period of historical development. Anarchy as a certain state of things, anarchy as an ontological entity, is not a pre-existent thing, it is a construction and, even, a relatively recent construction.
Anarchy and anarchism are, of course, two different phenomena, but the kind of relation that they maintain reveals that they are intrinsically connected phenomena. Indeed, anarchy is meaningless except within the framework of anarchist thought responsible for its theoretical conceptualisation. In other words, anarchy – understood in the specific way that anarchists give to the term – is a construction that reveals itself to be inseparable from anarchist thought, simply because it emerged from it. Furthermore, this thought is, for its part, but one of the constitutive elements of the anarchist movement, understanding by this a collection of practices, of discursive productions, of social and cultural events, of symbolic elements, etc., that form a specific historical fabric.
Therefore, to the extent that anarchy is a theoretical-practical production that emanates from the anarchist movement, it is not defined once and for all, but can vary with the eventual fluctuations of the anarchist movement and it can, even, disappear if this last should do the same, because in the absence of the concept of anarchy, the movement would be totally undetectable in the heart of reality and its eventual existence would fall fully under the category of the unthinkable, or under that of simple historical vestige of what has only a past reality.
If I have dedicated so much space to the discussion of the concept of anarchy, it is, in part, because certain sectors of the anarchist movement, influenced, perhaps, by the thought of Hakim Bey – to whom we will return further on – currently give a decisive importance to this concept, which they oppose to that of anarchism. Anarchism would be the obscure side of anarchy, what would pervert it and negate it in practice. In the face of this way of presenting things, it is necessary to see clearly that anarchy and anarchism are two completely inseparable elements, given that neither can exist without the other.
1.2 Anarchist movement and anarchist theory
The second scenario where an eventual collapse of anarchism would be meaningless presents itself when, after having separated anarchism as a movement, on the one hand, and anarchism as theory, on the other, certain anarchist thinkers and propagandists, such as Kropotkin, for example, attribute to anarchism a millennial existence under the pretext that certain conceptual or axiomatic elements that characterise it can already be found outlined or formulated since the most remote antiquity. It is clear that if such a perspective is adopted, it becomes difficult to speak of an eventual collapse of anarchism that would precede its current reappearance, given that it is always possible to discover conceptual traces of anarchism in a good many cultures, as far back as one goes in time.
If anarchism has truly accompanied us practically throughout the length of human history because it is inscribed, so to speak, in the human condition, the eventuality of its disappearance constitutes an aberration. Conversely, if we merge together in an inseparable whole anarchism as a theoretical corpus and anarchism as a social movement, this possibility becomes evident because anarchism requires, precisely, this theoretical corpus to exist.
What will constitute little by little anarchist thought and what will establish it as a distinct political thought that is recognisable, from a certain moment on and not before, under the denomination of “anarchism” is not separable from a social thought that is forged in the midst of very specific political, economic, cultural and social conditions, and of very definite social struggles. There is no anarchism without the development of capitalism; there is no anarchism without the analyses elaborated, for example, by Proudhon regarding the social conditions created by the establishment of capitalism; and there is no anarchism without the struggles against exploitation carried out by workers, whether they be factory workers, artisans or peasants.
It is evident, therefore, that anarchism did not constitute itself, in Europe, as a definite political thought and, simultaneously, as a significant social movement, until the second half of the 19th century, giving origin to, at the same time, to the anarchist concept of anarchy. There is neither anarchism nor anarchy before then, however much certain precursors anticipated some of its conceptual elements, however much social history harbours demands and manifestations that it could claim as its own, and however much, in the light of anarchism once constituted as such, can be observed in certain cultures some forms of organisation and of life similar to those promoted by anarchism, as the current rise of anarchist anthropology makes clearly manifest.
Once this prior reflection on some theoretical scenarios which, in being accepted, would invalidate the possibility of a disappearance, even momentary, of the binomial anarchy/anarchism is closed, we are going to detain ourselves briefly with the history of anarchism. In fact, we are not even going to try to get an overview of such a rich and agitated history, which has already filled thousands of pages and which will continue to fill many thousands more. To dedicate to it, as I will here, only a few paragraphs, would be something of an affront to this history if I did not immediately indicate that my purpose is not to make known the history of anarchism – excellent books abound in this regard -, but only to illustrate the reasons for which anarchism eclipsed itself for a few decades.
1.3. Brief historical considerations
Among the principal references, we find, in the heat of the French Revolution of 1848, the writings of Joseph Déjacque, of Anselme Bellegarrigue and, above all, of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who marked the beginnings of a political thought that identified itself as anarchist thought. After, with the drive of industrialisation and the workers’ movement (the creation of the International Workingmen’s Association – IWA – in 1864), anarchist thought and the anarchist movement developed simultaneously through a series of struggles and events among which stand out, undeniably, the Paris Commune of 1871 and the Saint Imier Congress of 1872. The names of Bakunin, of Guillaume, of Kropotkin, of Reclus, of Malatesta, of Anselmo Lorenzo and of Ricardo Mella, among others, have remained closely associated with the growing relevance of a thought and of an activity that will place itself on the political and social scene as a truly significant phenomenon and entity in the last decades of the 19th century and the first of the 20th century, culminating finally in the Spanish Revolution of 1936.
Anarchism was throughout those years a living thought; that is, a thought in continuous formation, in evolution, in osmosis with the social and cultural reality of the time, capable of enriching itself and modifying itself in contact with the world into which it places itself, through the experiences that it develops, thanks to the struggles in which it participates and the absorption of a part of the knowledge that is elaborated and that circulates in its surroundings. The anarchist movement that feeds this thought, while nourishing itself in turn from it, is also capable of having a bearing on reality, of producing certain effects within it and of exercising an influence that will come to be notable in various European countries such as Spain, Italy, France, Germany, England, Russia or Ukraine, as well as in various Latin American countries – Argentina, Mexico and Brazil, among them – and, even, in the United States of America.
After having demonstrated an appreciable vitality for about a century – grosso modo between 1860 and 1940, that is, some 80 years -, anarchism fell back, inflected back upon itself and practically disappeared from the world political stage and from social struggles for various decades, undertaking a long journey in the wilderness that some took advantage of to extend their certificate of dysfunctionality and to speak of it as of an obsolescent ideology which only belongs to the past.
The fact is that, after the tragic defeat of the Spanish Revolution in 1939, if an exception is made for the libertarian presence in the anti-franquista struggle, of the participation of anarchists in the anti-fascist resistance in certain regions of Italy during WWII or the active participation of British anarchists in the anti-nuclear campaigns of the end of the 1950s and the early 1960s or, also, a certain presence in Sweden and Argentina, for example, anarchism remained strikingly absent from the social struggles that marked the next thirty years in the many countries of the world, limiting itself in the best of cases to a residual and testimonial role. Marginalised from struggles, unable to renew ties with social reality and relocate itself in political conflict, anarchism lost all possibility of re-actualising itself and of evolving.
In these unfavourable conditions, anarchism tended to fold in upon itself, becoming dogmatic, mummified, ruminating on its glorious past and developing powerful reflexes of self-preservation. The predominance of the cult of memory over the will to renew led it, little by little, to make itself conservative, to defend jealously its patrimony and to close itself in a sterilising circle of mere repetition.
It is a little as if anarchism, in the absence of being practiced in the struggles against domination, had transformed itself slowly into the political equivalent of a dead language. That is, a language that, for lack of use by people, severs itself from the complex and changing reality in which it moved, becoming thereby sterile, incapable of evolving, of enriching itself, of being useful to apprehend a moving reality and affect it. A language which is not used is just a relic instead of being an instrument; it is a fossil instead of being a living body, and it is a fixed image instead of being a moving picture. As if it had been transformed into a dead language, anarchism fossilised itself from the beginnings of the 1940s until almost the end of the 1960s. This suspension of its vital functions occurred for a reason that I will not cease to insist upon and this is none other than the following: anarchism is constantly forged in the practices of struggle against domination; outside of them, it withers away and decays.
Stuck in the trance of not being able to evolve, anarchism ceased to be properly anarchist and went on to became something else. There is no hidden mystery here, it is not a matter of alchemy, nor of the transmutation of bodies, but simply that if, as I maintain, what is proper to anarchism is rooted in being constitutively changeable, then the absence of change means simply that one is no longer dealing with anarchism.
1.4. The resurgence of anarchism
One has to wait until the end of the 1960s, with the large movements of opposition to the war in Vietnam, with the incessant agitation on various campuses of the United States, of Germany, of Italy or of France, with the development, among a part of the youth, of nonconformist attitudes, sentiments of rebellion against authority and the challenge to social conventions and, finally, with the fabulous explosion of May 68 in France, until a new stage in the flourishing of anarchism could begin to sprout.
Of course, even though strong libertarian tonalities resonated within it, May 68 was not anarchist. Yet it nevertheless inaugurated a new political radicality that harmonised with the stubborn obsession of anarchism to not reduce to the sole sphere of the economy and the relations of production the struggle against the apparatuses of domination, against the practices of exclusion or against the effects of stigmatisation and discrimination.
What May 68 also inaugurated – even though it did not reach its full development until after the struggles in Seattle of 1999 – was a form of anarchism that I call “anarchism outside its own walls” [anarquismo extramuros], because it develops unquestionably anarchist practices and values from outside specifically anarchist movements and at the margin of any explicit reference to anarchism.
May 68 announced, finally, in the very heart of militant anarchism novel conceptions that, as Todd May says – one of the fathers of postanarchism, whom we will speak of below -, privileged, among other things, tactical perspectives before strategic orientations, outlining thereby a new libertarian ethos. In effect, actions undertaken with the aim of developing political organisations and projects that had as an objective and as a horizon the global transformation of society gave way to actions destined at subverting, in the immediate, concrete and limited aspects of instituted society.
Some thirty years after May 68, the large demonstrations for a different kind of globalisation [altermundista] of the early 2000s allowed anarchism to experience a new growth and acquire, thanks to a strong presence in struggles and in the streets, a spectacular projection. It is true that the use of the Internet allows for the rapid communication of anarchist protests of all kinds that take place in the most diverse parts of the world; and it is obvious that it permits assuring an immediate and almost exhaustive coverage of these events; but it is also no less certain that no single day goes by without different anarchist portals announcing one or, even, various libertarian events. Without letting ourselves be dazzled by the multiplying effect that the Internet produces, it has to be acknowledged that the proliferation of libertarian activities in the beginning of this century was hard to imagine just a few years ago.
This upsurge of anarchism not only showed itself in struggles and in the streets, but extended also to the sphere of culture and, even, to the domain of the university as is testified to by, for example, the creation in October of 2005, in the English university of Loughborough, of a dense academic network of reflection and exchange called the Anarchist Studies Network, followed by the creation in 2009 of the North American Anarchist Studies; or as is made evident by the constitution of an ample international network that brings together an impressive number of university researchers who define themselves as anarchists or who are interested in anarchism. The colloquia dedicated to different aspects of anarchism – historical, political, philosophical – do not cease to multiply (Paris, Lyon, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico and a vaste etcetera).
This abundant presence of anarchism in the world of the university cannot but astound us, those who had the experience of its absolute non-existence within academic institutions, during the long winter that Marxist hegemony represented, that followed conservative hegemony, or that coexisted with it, above all in countries like France and Italy. In truth, the panorama outlined would have been unimaginable even a few years ago, even at a time as close as the end of the 1990s.
Let us point out, finally, that between May 68 and the protests of the years 2000, anarchism demonstrated an upsurge of vitality on various occasions, above all in Spain. In the years 1976-1978, the extraordinary libertarian effervescence that followed the death of Franco left us completely stupefied, all the more stupefied the more closely we were tied to the fragile reality of Spanish anarchism in the last years of franquismo. An effervescence that was capable of gathering in 1977 some one hundred thousand participants during a meeting of the CNT in Barcelona and that allowed during that same year to bring together thousands of anarchists that came from all countries to participate in the Jornadas Libertarias in this same city. A vitality that showed itself also in Venice, in September of 1984, where thousands of anarchists gathered, coming from everywhere, without forgetting the large international encounter celebrated in Barcelona in September-October of 1993.
Many were the events around which anarchists gathered in numbers unimaginable before the explosion of the events of May 68. In fact, the resurgence of anarchism has not ceased to make us jump, so to speak, from surprise to surprise. May 68 was a surprise for everyone, including of course for the few anarchists who we were, wandering the streets of Paris, a little before. Spain immediately after Franco was another surprise, above all for the few anarchists who nevertheless continued to struggle during the last years of the distatorship. The anarchist effervescence of the years 2000 is, finally, a third surprise that has nothing to envy in those that preceded it.
How will, then, the fourth surprise be that the immediate future undoubtedly holds out for us?