Anarchism is movement: Tomás Ibáñez (5)

(Bordeaux, May 68, Archives Sud ouest)

The fifth chapter of Tomás Ibáñez’s Anarchism is movement brings the principal argument of the essay to a close.  Ibáñez is here concerned to demonstrate the bases upon which the contemporary anarchist resurgence and renewal occurred, bases that also set out the paths for its future development.

Our translation thus includes this chapter along with translations of the essay’s earlier chapters:

Preamble and Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four

What remains are Ibáñez’s substantial theoretical Addenda, which will come more slowly.  Our hope is that the translation of Ibáñez’s essay will help to make available to anglophones a work that we believe is significant for thinking through anarchism today.

5. Libertarian prospective

In the preceding pages, I have tried to describe some of the forms in which contemporary anarchism presents itself and I have suggested a few hypotheses with the aim of endeavouring to understand what has given it a new vitality at the beginning of this century.  These hypotheses are of course completely debatable and the conception of anarchism upon which they rest may provoke the agreement of some or the reservations of others.  However, in light of the successive episodes of rebellion in the world, it seems to me quite clear that anarchism in these last years surges anew with force, that it does so in a significantly renewed form and that this resurgence and this renewal are intimately bound up with each other.  In other words, one does not go without the other, and this for reasons that are neither due to mere circumstances nor to accidents, but refer instead, as I have tried to show, to essential issues.

With everything, it must still be asked if the form that contemporary anarchism is acquiring, made up of a mixture of neoanarchism, of anarchism beyond its own limits and postanarchism constitutes in the end a subculture of anarchism that will come to add itself to the already existing subcultures – individualism, libertarian communism, anarchosyndicalism, insurrectionalism, etc. – or if, on the contrary, we can consider it as the prefiguration of a new modality of radical politics that will take up anew the fundamental intuitions of anarchism, but recomposing them in an original way.  My conviction is that this new radical politics will gain shape, slowly, and will come to substitute, in a more or less long term, that which began in the 19th century.  However, I have no certain criterion as to whether this new political radicality is prefigured in contemporary anarchism.

Like the famous Russian dolls that fit one into the other, various elements today come together to explain the double movement of anarchism’s resurgence and renewal, and at the same time to offer some clues about grounds on the basis of which it can continue to develop and achieve a real influence on our societies or, at least, on some significant parts of it.

A first aspect that seems quite clear, though it goes beyond the concrete case of anarchism and, even, the more general case of political ideologies and religious affiliations, resides in the extraordinary importance of the imaginary in the mobilisation of affects, to create a feeling of community, to stoke the desire to struggle and to activate, eventually, movements of rebellion.  In effect, one has to intensely believe that another order of things, much more attractive than that which exists, is possible and fervently desire that this possibility becomes reality, to commit oneself without reservation to the struggle to change existing reality.  The recognition of the importance of the imaginary is nothing new; its role however seems to increase significantly in present day subversive movements.

The privation of certain material and/or symbolic goods becomes sometimes in fact so unbearable that people lose all fear and openly commit themselves to the struggle to change things.  It may also occur, nevertheless, that the collective imaginary is the principal cause and motor of rebellions.  Struggle and commitment however are not self-sufficient values; to fight in the name of convictions and an ideal are not necessarily laudable, as the struggles driven by fascist or jihadist imaginaries remind us.  Obviously, everything depends on, ultimately, why one struggles and what we are committed to.  The kind of imaginary capable of promoting struggles with a libertarian character takes the form of utopia.  Utopia can be understood as a principle which activates and revitalises the radical rejection of the world that is imposed upon us, even as, with greater or lesser precision, the outlines of what we desire, or at least the values upon which what is desired should be based, are outlined.

The current resurgence of anarchism is accompanied by a revalorisation of utopian thought and by the conviction of the necessity of utopia.  Perhaps because in part the present world lacks any utopia, anarchism finds a propitious breeding ground for its development.  These circumstances point to the sustenance and intensification of the exigency of utopia as one of the possible grounds for the development of anarchism.  However, just as it is said, jokingly, that nostalgia is not what it used to be, it turns out that utopia is also not exactly what it was in the past.  If we observe with care the renewal of anarchism, we can see that the current revitalisation of utopia is the revitalisation of a utopia fully conscious of being so, absolutely convinced that it is nothing more than a utopia; that is, aware that it is only an incitement to struggle and not a future project in search of realisation.  This is a demand for utopia as the receptacle of our desires and of our dreams, as the place for the expression of a more encouraging vision of the world and as a navigation map, blurred and imprecise, where the routes have sill to be invented more than to be followed.

It is consequently a kind of utopia liberated from all of the old eschatological contents that accompanied it far too frequently in the old revolutionary imaginary, a utopia that has bid a final farewell to the siren songs that promised a better future, if the present were sacrificed, and which only points to the future as a mere orientation to actively construct present reality.  Because it is in our daily life where people have to live the revolution.  In fact, either we experience it and live it from now on, or, what is more probable, we will never come to know it.  A phrase comes to me in this instant, without knowing its source.  It more or less said: “life is what passes while we prepare ourselves to live, it is what flows while we plan life projects”; in like manner, the revolution will pass out to sea and it will remain beyond our reach if we do not anchor it firmly in the present.

It may seem incongruent or, even, contradictory to connect so directly something which opens onto the future, as utopia does, with the prosaic preoccupation with the present; and someone could suspect that I let myself be carried away with oxymorons.  Nonetheless, the extraordinary dilation of the present, which is for new generations the only truly significant part of a time where the past and present are confined to ever narrower margins, undoubtedly represents one of the most significant phenomena of an epoch when the piercing cry “No Future” resonates.  Whether we celebrate the preeminence conceded to the present because it raises itself up against the ingenuous and submissive acceptance of its sacrifice on the alter of the future, or we regret this so called preeminence because it renders difficult the activation of political projects that aim for the long term, it is clear that emergent anarchism and, more generally, radical politics, express themselves today in the present.  In effect, the current social sensitivity of oppositional movements demands that political proposals be judged in terms of their suitability in really existing situations and that it be in the immediate that they demonstrate their validity.  It is for this reason that, to my understanding, the preeminence attributed to the present constitutes a second possible ground for the development of anarchism.

In this case however it is also necessary to avoid a possible misunderstanding.  The presentism which characterises a good part of contemporary anarchism must not be interpreted as if the objective of struggles consisted of creating spaces where one can live in a relatively satisfactory manner and in consonance with anarchist values, while the rest of humanity lives in unbearable conditions.  This would imply that there is little which differentiates the values of anarchism from the principles which animate the capitalist system.  In the same way that no one is really free while there are those who are not, neither can one live in consonance with libertarian principles while others remain exploited and oppressed.  Emphasis is not placed on the present so as to attain a certain, more satisfactory, way of being – even though the fact of living according to our principles, of being consistent with ourselves and of seeking to resolve the contradictions that the surrounding world imposes on us, also makes us feel better -, but to articulate a mode of struggle.  This emphasis simply means that the trap that consists in postponing the actual transformation of reality with the aim of dedicating all of one’s energies to pure confrontation is rejected.  This trap occludes the fact that the transformation of the present is, before anything else, a weapon and, perhaps, one of the most dangerous for the system because it eats away at it from within and permits its relentless harassment.

Likewise, the emphasis on the present would ingenuously err and would make itself extremely vulnerable, if it pretended to ignore the past and break all of the ties with the memory of earlier struggles and with the accumulated experiences of the long confrontation with domination.  To centre on the present does not mean constantly starting from zero and having to newly learn and experiment with everything.  The historical legacy of social movements against oppression and exploitation is too rich to not seek to learn from it and to use it to effectively shake up the present.  It is precisely because they know that collective memory is the bearer of tremendously dangerous weapons for its survival that the dominant powers of society take such great efforts to bury and distort it.

The new modality of utopia and radical presentism, paradoxically united in contemporary anarchism, are accompanied by a third element that gains daily ever more importance as an instrument of resistance to and subversion of the instituted social system, at the same time as it increases the attractiveness exercised by anarchism.  This has to do with its constructive capacity, something which completes the diverse practices of confrontation that it encourages and the will to resist that it inspires.

So anarchism must not only offer reasons and means for struggle, it also has to offer reasons to live in a different way and the means to experience, in practice, a different life.  It is precisely because it is able to offer all of this today that it is able to seduce minority elements, but with each day, larger youth elements.  Its constructive capacity makes it possible to tear away spaces from the system, and to construct modes of life capable of offering more satisfactions than those offered by the mirages of commodity consumerism and to oppose the later’s power of seduction.  It is in this constructive capacity where anarchism finds, I believe, a third ground for its development.

A fourth condition consists of the necessity to definitively abandon all totalising pretensions, rediscovering the suspicion already manifested in this regard by the rich and fertile current of classical anarchist individualism, even though this based its caution on the demand that all singularities be respected and not on the present arguments.

Against totalising temptations, anarchists must in fact be fully convinced that their values, their ideas, their practices, their utopias, their beliefs, the ways of life they long for, in sum, all that distinguishes and characterises them will never be able, far from it, to reach unanimity in an extraordinarily diverse humanity.

They must accept, without any reticence or the least bitterness, that choices different from their own are perfectly legitimate and that the only rationally conceivable social reality is a plural and heterogeneous reality, in which it will represent only a more or less limited part of humanity and in which it will find itself in a context of necessary coexistence with other options.

It is a matter then of acting and working “with others”, in struggles and in everyday life, and to open oneself up to ideas and experiences coming from outside our own tradition.  To do things with others who do not exactly share all of our modes of being and thinking, not because of the mere tactical preoccupation of increasing our forces to better struggle against the enemy, but, as I said before, for reasons of principle, because anarchism is also the respect of and search for diversity in freedom.  And it should be concretely, in a situation and in practice, that the limits of this common activity and this shared everyday life should be evaluated, because if, effectively, it is certain that other options are perfectly legitimate, it is no less certain that ours are also, at least to the same extent, and that we have the full right to defend them.  To defend them without imposing them, of course, because “to be an anarchist obliges” – as our comrade André Bernard says -, yet without accepting, as well, that others impose theirs upon us, and without hesitating to resort to force, if necessary, to impede it (see the addenda dedicated to relativism).

As it is not advisable to live in a ghetto, to raise frontiers or walls of separation, we will have no other remedy but to find ways to conciliate, on the one hand, the possibility of living in a milieu as libertarian as is possible with, on the other hand, the necessity of coexisting with other milieus.  This is one of the challenges that anarchism has to resolve and that is posed not only at the global level of a society, but, even, in the micro-spaces that we are able today to wrench away from the system.  Along this same line, it should be stressed that anarchism should show itself more sensitive to its own cultural and civilisational determinants, acquiring full consciousness of its undeniable Eurocentrism and that its roots plunge into a field historically impregnated with Christian influences.  It is indispensable that anarchism establish a dialogue, an exchange and a confrontation with related perspectives, but which are embedded in other cultural contexts, so as to be able to critically rethink some of the presuppositions that shape it and to make them less dependent on its socio-cultural determinants.

The problematic of power or, better, of domination, which has become much more sensitive than in the past and which provokes evermore numerous and vehement reactions of resistance from some youth, constitutes a fifth element that explains the recovery of vitality of the ideology which historically concerned itself, in the most determined way, with this issue.

In parallel, the increase of the presence of power in the social fabric has considerably enriched the analysis of this phenomenon, giving way to a new understanding of its mechanisms.  This is certainly a new understanding that obliges anarchism to qualify and, sometimes, to reconsider in depth its own conceptions of power.  This has contributed to its renewal, even though the weight of its old conceptions continues to be excessive.

Finally, a sixth element that appears in the double process of the resurgence and the renewal of anarchism – if only enunciated in an explicit manner by the postanarchist current – is the mistrust shown towards a good number of the presuppositions of the legitimising ideology of modernity, and the critical work of clarifying its supposedly emancipatory effects.  To mention but one example of the subjugating character of certain supposedly emancipatory presuppositions, it is sufficient to consider the way in which differences, diversity and singularity are crushed as a result of the beliefs which underlie the acceptance of an essentialist conception of human nature, and the universal and, consequently, ahistorical and uniform character, that is conferred upon it.

It will be to the extent that anarchism moves away from – as it has already begun to do so – the legitimising belief of modernity, that it will find itself in a better position to work towards the weakening of the apparatuses of power, apparatuses set up by it, and, consequently, be better received by those actively opposed to them.

In summary, to enclose utopia in amorous care such that it shine in all of its splendor; to free it from its eschatological weight and hold it in the here and now; to concentrate our energies on the transformation of the present; to materially construct seductive alternatives in the face of what existing society offers us; to lock away in the trunk of youthful errors totalising illusions, accepting to be nothing more than an option, a choice, among others; to rethink, in depth, our conceptions of power and to free ourselves from the vestiges of the legitimising ideology of modernity that may still nest in our conceptions: these are some of the paths that seem to point to the current resurgence/renewal of anarchism and they are, I believe, the paths which anarchism will have to pursue, with a firmer step than that which it is taking today, to continue its expansion and deepen its renewal.

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