The heuristic capacity of Anarchy By Gustavo Rodriguez

Jack Halberstam, a renown queer theorist, committed to the “anti-social project” and active contrasexual militant, begins his book The Queer Art of Failure[1], with an irreverent and fun excerpt, taken from the 20th episode of the 1st season of SpongeBob, which invites us to reflect:

Mr. Krabs: And just when you think you found the island of milk and honey they grab you by the britches…and haul you way up high. Then higher, and higher, and higher until you’re hauled up to the surface flopping and gasping for air. And then they cook ya, and then they eat ya, or worse…

SpongeBob (terrified): What could be worse than that?
Mr. Krabs (in a low voice): Gift shops.[2] Halberstam, keeping certain “airs of familiarity” with the queer anarcho/nihilist perspective, draws an analogy between the fears that horrify SpongeBob and our daily threats in this living death imposed by domination: “SpongeBob wants to know what is the alternative to working all day for Mr. Krabs, or to being caught in the net of the objects of capitalism when he tries to escape”[3]. His book, as he warns us from the first paragraph of the Introduction, “is a kind of “SpongeBob Guide” to life” where he abandons the “idealism of hope.” Relying on the “low theory” that he borrows and adapts from the cultural studies of Stuart Hall, he bets on the vindication of failure that «preserves some of the wonderful anarchy of childhood and disturbs the supposed clear boundary between adults and children, between winners and losers. And although it is true that failure is accompanied by a set of negative affects, such as disappointment, disillusionment and despair, it also gives us the opportunity to use those negative affects to create holes in the toxic positivity of contemporary life”[4] (the added emphasis is mine).

In these days of pandemic, we’ve seen anarchism at display on the gift shop. It’s been selling under the red clearance label alongside other ideological wares as a politically correct “alternative”; oriented to positivity, construction, cooperation, care, integration and reform, in search of social acceptance and “strategic alliances”. Distanced from that somber Anarchy, always disposed to negation, illegality, conflict and rupture; that is to say, carefully distant from those honorable exceptions of the runaway herd that today, consistent with the praxis, spread the fire in the prairie. That anarchism that’s critical of public health; of gentrification and real estate speculation; of the costliness of life; of the privatization of resources; of industrial pollution; of gender disparity; of precariousness and unemployment; the poor quality of public education; the rise in public transport rates; of political corruption; of constitutional violations; loss of rights; of the inhumane conditions in the prisons; of police brutality; of the death penalty; militaristic interventionism; neocolonialist policies; of the degeneration of political parties; of electoral frauds; of the fascistic presidencies and; of all the deformations of democracy and the perversions of the State-capital; is not the contestation, the rejection and the negation of domination, but an “improved” extension of it that employs identical tactics in search of approval and legitimation, unveiling itself as a neat and efficient salesperson of the gift shop.

In these times, franchises have multiplied. Today The Little Shop of Horrors has subsidiaries around the world, cultivating in the back room a substitute for anarchism that they feed with the unwary, with the same care and devotion as Seymour Krelboyne. In particular, in North American territory, its branches have increased a hundredfold –from the Rio Bravo to Attu Island– promoting “neighborhood mutual aid”. A quick visit to the website of anti-Trump libertarian leftism is enough to verify it. [5] Under the label of “neighborhood mutual aid” they have developed a mega-offer with their package of services that varies from franchise to franchise but can include dog walks, child and elderly care, online tutoring, fresh organic vegetables (from the community garden), pick-up and drop-off service, free food, shelter, used clothing, food insecurity and homelessness counseling, breakfasts for children (because of school closings), and money transfers up to $ 150 for those in need (after completing the required application), as announced by the Jeffco Mutual Aid Fund branch.[6] Of course –to avoid suspicions– the motto of all the subsidiaries of “neighborhood mutual aid” shows their intentions beforehand: “Solidarity, not charity!”. So any resemblance to the Salvation Army ventures or, the charity of the barefoot Carmelites and, the patronage of the political parties and the State, is pure coincidence or product of the twisted maleficence of those dark beasts that only think of destroying everything that exists, sowing chaos and giving life to Anarchy.

This substitute for anarchism that currently imposes its brand on the market is not new; it’s been present at different moments in history, expressing the desire for assimilation in search of an alternative space that allows its representation. Recent examples in the United States are the state branches of Food, not Bombs! and other welfare projects with a clear sweetening stamp: Common Ground Collective, Emergence Broadcasting System and even the Anarchist Black Cross Federation (ABCF), which in the recent past has added to its extensive charitable curriculum support to five Cuban soldiers accused of espionage imprisoned in the dungeons of the “Empire.”

This pseudo-anarchism that is for sale today in the gift shop –along with the taxidermied crab, the encapsulated seahorse and the varnished snails–, like all substitutes, tries to supply “needs” and offers itself as “viable”, that is , “possible”, “digestible”, “doable”, that is, ”positive”, “healthy”, “affordable” (as pharmaceutical companies advertising similar medicines: “the same but cheaper”). For this, it doesn’t hold back laying its hands on history, trying to transplant and reproduce past experiences that, in the context of their historicity, may seem –to some– radical and anarchizing, but today they are not only sterile but readily recuperated, useful and servile to the system of domination. To this end, it even inverts the meaning of words, accommodates them, adjusts them, misrepresents them; imposing that same fate on principles and ethics. This is how it undertakes collectives of garbage collectors, messenger cooperatives, homeless syndicates, neighborhood assemblies, artistic guerrillas, federations of stamp collectors, and granny militias (Gray panthers); determined to compensate democracy by adding a suffix (direct!); to transform Power by adding another (popular!) and; minimizing the continuity of the State with amazing semantic juggling (self-government, good government, autonomy).

This substitute for anarchic theory and practice, like any artificial sweetener, sweetens but provides no energy. It’s a parody, an illusion engendered by the distorted vision of ideology; a gross simulation that cynically opts for the “lesser evil” and camouflages oppression. A bad imitation of anarchism, which today invites us to stay home or to wear ourselves down mitigating the pain of oppression with merciful solidarity, abandoning everyday insurrection. Even so, it dares to compare the refractory actions of affinity groups and the fierce lone wolves in permanent conflict with domination, with the Trumpist far-right that manifests itself in public squares denying the existence of the virus and demanding “freedom of movement”, “freedom of expression” and the “right to work”. This sort of spurious anarchism confuses the unrestricted and irreducible exercise of our individual freedom with the liberal preaching and the defense of the “free market”. Clinging to a forced reconciliation between the rhetorical traditions of the archaic class formulation and contemporary realities, taking the path of the most grotesque theoretical-practical bungling, subsuming within the concept of the “proletariat” the most unusual identity configurations. Not understanding –or not finding it convenient to recognize and/or admit– that Anarchy and its minons have definitively abandoned the futuristic projects and the positive dialectic of utopian architecture, widening those holes in the toxic positivity of contemporary life.

Indeed, as Halberstam proposes, we have to face this excess of toxic positivity latent in society, multiplying the (black) holes. Unfortunately, he falls short when it comes to inciting queer negativity and launching a frontal attack against the society he intends to confront. Instead of aiming destructive negativity against this optimistic, ductile, odorless, colorless and insipid (positive!) society, founded on telematic information and the stimulation of needs, it stops halfway between criticism and reflection. However, its contribution from (low) theory, academic insubordination, and “anti-disciplinary forms of knowledge” to the conscious development of queer negativity is undeniable. As it happens with the work of Lee Edelman[7] –perhaps the most categorical theorist of queer negativity– and other so-called queer theorists, the abysmal separation between their theory and their practice invites to “put them to the test”, as suggested by the editors of Baeden magazine [8]; which does not prevent us from expropriating their theses from “the ivory tower of theory and using them as a tool for our projects”.[9] Both Halberstam and Edelman open the door to a queer anti-social enjoyment that deserves our full attention from an informal and insurrectional anarchic perspective but, sadly, they stay by the door [10]. Despite the fact that they stop at the entrance –in a way–, they incite to cross the threshold and set the house on fire, throwing overboard all the identitarian baggage of positive queerdom and the status quo that the LGBTTTIQA establishment has imposed, with its political correctness, its “alternative” projects and its approach with a perspective of “rights” (to marriage, to adoption, to being police, military and political), reproducing the system of domination infinitely.
That’s precisely Baeden’s anarcho-queer/nihilist proposition, incinerating the new social contracts and channeling queer negativity towards the destruction of civilization as part of the conspiracy for total liberation that encompasses all the enemies of society through the appropriation of anti-authoritarian negativity. That is also the perspective of contemporary anarchic struggle; aware that we have to go even further, spreading the fire of permanent insurrection to demolish everything that exists. However, to materialize the struggle, it’s required that we appropriate our time. (Re)thinking Anarchy from our present historicity. Creating and developing our conceptions by analyzing the historical dimension. This requires us to consider the need to return to our history: examine it, decipher it and take advantage of it to understand and act on the present; developing an interpretive model of the reality that they impose on us and take it on, explicitly or implicitly, at the heart of a community in affinity that takes it as a tangible reference and as framework of its ulterior theoretico-practical elaborations.

This huge task requires us to redo the questions before giving answers. To articulate the new questions, we need to reflect on the context of our era. In other words, it is urgent to assault the contemporary conceptual toolbox and expropriate all the instruments that are useful to us, to supply our backpack. Some tools will have to be sharpened, altering their harmless role; others, we will have to adapt them to our nocturnal tasks and; a few may be used as designed. Nineteenth-century anarchism in this sense did the same, fed on much of the tradition of the West, taking its main nutrients from the Enlightenment (Rousseau / Godwin) and the French Revolution (Maréchal / Babeuf); whereas the twentieth-century anarchist movement, was developed out of a critique of Marxian elaborations –sometimes from not so critical positions and borrowing too much from Saint Charlie– and to this end, it drew on nineteenth-century cardinal thinkers (Stirner, Darwin, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Baudelaire, Freud, and even Malthus) and dusted off other forgotten people (Godwin), reinterpreting their productions and reworking them with their own nuances; thus, it continued to steal the contributions of countless intellectuals of the 20th century who contributed new conceptions according to the era, from different political-philosophical perspectives that helped the understanding of the world of those years (Camus, Goodman, Adorno, Castoriadis, Marcuse, Hannah Arendt, Lyotard , Derrida, Debord, Foucault, Deleauze, and a long etcetera). Today, it’s due for contemporary anarchism to scan new contra-hegemonic developments that beckons us to stray off the path, to get lost, and above all, to stay lost.

Perhaps, a first step in this direction –against the current and the simulation of positive pseudoanarchism– is the appropriation (expropriation) of the “theory of failure”; taking on anarchism as that negativity associated with informality, immaturity, childishness, irrationality, unproductiveness, ineffectiveness, disorganization, the absence of a future and all “insufficiency” that failure invokes and that our enemies have always blamed us of. Taking on and practicing failure will lead us to abandon faith in triumph, to renounce straight paths, to repudiate pre-canned ideas, to abandon sacrifice, to avoid efficiency, to forget about recognition, to denude ourselves of success, to dispense with hope, to stop the inertia; experiencing failure as an absolute rejection of dominion, “a critique of those intuitive connections between success and benefit that occur within capitalism, and as a contra-hegemonic discourse about losing.”[11]

Failure, defeat and loss are the only inheritances that anarchism has left us from one generation to another, generating a potency that has unchained itself by negation, reaffirming the essence of Anarchy. From this reflection, perhaps we could begin to sketch the first lines of prose of an antisocial anarchism, parricidal and anti-humanist, that theorizes and acts in terms of negation of the subject rather than of its formation and, is projected by the interruption of its lineage more that for its continuation; being aware that any prolongation only entails the repetition and reproduction of everything we yearn to destroy, keeping alive an anarchism complicit in the persistence of the system of domination, securing for itself the representation of the excluded and subjugated to sell itself as their only salvation.

Which leads us ipso facto to reject terrorist propaganda and violence as it is manifested in our days, being trapped in positive violence motivated by institutive ends that depart from the anarchic purposes of no return. Anarchic violence implies a much more radical and fiercely destructive negative violence that breaks with all the stereotypes of struggle by refusing to rebuild, redo, reproduce or repeat and; it consolidates as a potential capable of sweeping away the excess of positivity and exterminating everything that exists; oblivious to utilitarian (political-idiological) motivations, contrary to economic improvements, reforms, political changes and social transformations.
The possibility of setting up the foundation of anarchic negativity will only be strengthened in a multidimensional, informal and chaotic warp, which makes it possible to converge and intersect all those black threads that today encourage new theoretical-practical developments corresponding to our present historicity. From the spirit of permanent insurrection here and now, with a parricidal vocation and loaded with radical negativity, a new anarchic paradigm that attacks the present reality makes its way and makes its effects felt today, having as its end the collapse of civilization. Instigated by a vast galaxy of subversive affinities, this negative potency takes shape intervening in an unprecedented time, aware that the past is only the seed that gave us life, the accumulation of experiences and lessons to be extracted but, never a straitjacket that immobilizes our actions and prevents us from walking on our own steps. The anarchic pluperfect present –Derrida dixit– lacks precedents. It will have to be carried out in acts that surpass the innocuous attack on symbols. Interrupting, rupturing, dismantling, toppling, cutting off, demolishing, setting fire, razing, is the core of an aesthetic and an ethic proper to the project of anarchic destruction in our days and, at the same time, a conscious reaffirmation of our negative essence. Whether negativity prevails in thought and action will depend on the heuristic capacity of the accomplices of Anarchy and on the vast rejection of inertia and the opportune “responses”, built on militant certainties and instituting positivity.

The belief that this multifactorial crisis can be “solved” with a gigantic outburst of “neighborhood solidarity” and “mutual aid” amounts to giving way to magical thinking in its purest form; it means admitting the most grotesque misrepresentation of concepts, it denotes lowering our black rag and relegating it to the gasoline canister of our present practices. For us solidarity and mutual aid imply affinity and theoretical-practical complicity and, they demand a certain density of exchanges that makes evident that common substrate that animates us. That is why they are only exercised between co-conspirators who recognize and assume themselves as such. Obviously, in the face of a hypothetical generalized insurrection, solidarity and mutual aid will tend to generalize among the subversives but, outside of this exceptional circumstance, all aid degenerates into charity and philanthropy. This prompts us to ask ourselves new questions –before arrogating answers– about the validity of the immutability of fire.

During the plague epidemic of 1666 in London, between September 2 and 7, the angry crowd burned 89 churches, 13 thousand houses and, an undetermined number of public buildings, warehouses and manufacturing centers, incinerating four fifths of the City, a fact that would go down in history as The Great Fire. [12] The residences of the powerful were also looted while the fire lit up the nights. The captives of Fleet Prison would be released and their facilities would be burned to ashes.

Just four years after the Spanish influenza pandemic, also known in Japan as “Sumo flu” or the “Taisho era pandemic” –which left countless deaths and great hardships due to prolonged confinement–, the “Great Kantõ earthquake” happened, taking the lives of more than 150 thousand people on September 1, 1923. An earthquake of almost 8 degrees on the Richter scale devastated the cities of Tokyo and Yokohama and, the Chiba, Kanagawa and Shizuoka prefectures. The strong telluric movement would also cause a tsunami with 12-meter-high swells that flooded the entire coastal area of ​​Sagami Bay and the overflowing of the Sumida River, drowning hundreds of people. The tsunami would also affect the Izu Peninsula, the Boso Peninsula and the island of Oshima, increasing the number of fatalities. The impact of the first quake, as well as its nearly sixty aftershocks, destroyed factories and hospitals, crushing workers and patients. The brutal shaking knocked down electricity poles, electrocuting dozens of bystanders. The gas pipes were ripped apart, sparking wildfires across the city of Yokohama and more than half of Tokyo; the fire spread intensely with the strong north winds intensified by a typhoon that struck the Noto peninsula. As it always happens in these natural catastrophes, those most punished were the inhabitants of the belts of misery: entire hamlets that were settled on the hills were swept away by landslides and dragged towards the sea. Taking advantage of absolute chaos and discontent in the waged sectors, Japanese anarchists that were part of the Rodo Sna publication, in coordination with fellow anarchists of Korean origin residing in Japanese territory, implemented a fierce insurrectional project. The opportunity was perfect to extend the attack on domination and provoke a general insurrection in the spirit of “The Great Revolt” of 1905. To this end they carried out incendiary attacks against government buildings, banks, warehouses and other commercial sector offices, and they blew up –with the help of Korean separatists– the military arsenal of the Japanese Imperial Navy at the Yokosuka naval base, located in the neighboring prefecture of Kanagawa. As it was to be expected, the anarchic insurrectionary action was met with fierce repression by the Japanese authorities in collaboration with other reactionary sectors from the Japanese society and the nationalist paramilitary groups that would not only murder dozens of comrades and their families with luxury of violence, but they would wage a xenophobic hunting season that exterminated thousands of Koreans and Chinese residents in Japan.[13]

In the context of the current pandemic and against the backdrop of the “new normal” imposed by the necropolitics of hypertechnological capitalism –with its consequent ongoing process hysteresis– it is very likely that the slightest spark will set the prairie on fire and produce a chain of furious revolts around the world. These violent demonstrations could first take place in the mega-metropolises of the so-called “twenty strongest economies” and go viral, by contagion effect, reaching the most remote places on the planet. Obviously, this brief lapse of civil disobedience will be an unprecedented experience of rupture that will generate a radicalization of the protest, with destructive practices and initiatives without utopian longings, which could well gravitate towards the next anti-civilization drives in the immediate future. However, we don’t have the slightest of doubts that a lot of this rage will also be motivated by hopelessness and nostalgia for the ancien regime and the old normality of wage slaves; which will surely attract the redeeming vultures of all religions, the pacifiers in defense of civility, the pestilent electoral parties and, the ideological-catechizing entelechies (left and right), trying to capture this nihilistic tension and add the fallen to the martyrology. However, if this scenario materializes, once again we will not be afraid of the ruins and we will grasp the anarchic torch with the wind in our favor, making sure that there is nothing left standing, aware that there is nothing to rebuild.

Gustavo Rodriguez, Planera Tierra, May 22, 2020 (with Mauri in the heart!)
Excerpt from the brochure “Covid-19: Anarchy in Times of a Pandemic”, Rodríguez, Gustavo, May 2020.

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