Paul Cudenec is the author of The Anarchist Revelation; Antibodies, Anarchangels & Other Essays; The Stifled Soul of Humankind; Forms of Freedom; The Fakir of Florence; Nature, Essence & Anarchy; The Green One and No Such Place as Asha. All of these have been published by Winter Oak Press - www.winteroak.org.uk. He has also contributed to publications such as Red Pepper, Green Anarchist and The Morning Star. His work has been described as "mind-expanding and well-written" by Permaculture magazine.
One of the most annoying terms in the political dictionary is “anarcho-capitalism”.
It’s annoying because it describes something that does not exist, cannot exist. I know there are people out there who claim to be “anarcho-capitalists” but this no more means that anarcho-capitalism exists than my claiming to be a unicorn would prove that unicorns actually do exist.
Their use of the word “anarchism” in conjunction with “capitalism” betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of what anarchism is. Anarchism is intrinsically opposed to all the “values” that lie behind capitalism, not least private property and a money-based society.
People who call themselves “anarcho-capitalists” are simply libertarian capitalists. Why don’t they just call themselves that and leave anarchism alone?
I have a similar reaction to the related issue of anarchism and industrialism. To me it is obvious that the two are irreconcilable. Anarchism is intrinsically opposed to all the “values” that lie behind industrialism, not least the exploitation of mass labour for profit and the levels of social coercion required to make such a society function.
But the moment you start to challenge industrial society in anarchist circles, you are likely to find yourself under ideological attack.
Technology is not the problem, it’s all about who controls it, you are told. So fracking would suddenly be fine if Cuadrilla was a workers’ co-operative? Chemical plants would miraculously stop polluting the planet if they were managed by collectives of anarcho-syndicalists?
It’s not just about who industry is controlled by, but about what it does, what it is!
I find it hard to believe that anyone’s idea of a future anarchist society could include factories of any kind. Who would be working in them if we didn’t live in a capitalist society where people desperately need to earn money to survive? Why would anyone work in a factory if they didn’t have to? In an anarchist society, what kind of social, economic or physical compulsion could be applied to make people work in factories if, as seems likely, they didn’t particularly want to?
Why do anarcho-industrialists think that factories came into existence in the first place? To help the workers? To make life better for all of us? Because we collectively needed the mass production of the things that factories make?
Or was it so that a small group of entrepreneurs could make profit out of them? Isn’t industrial society entirely a product of capitalism? Why would anyone who opposed capitalism support the physical infrastructure that makes it possible?
In the UK, it’s common for anyone who declares themselves an opponent of industrial society to be labelled a “primitivist”. It is considered a particular sin to express anti-industrial sentiments without branding yourself a “primitivist” by way of self-exclusion from the anarchist fold – this means you are committing the heresy of “conflating anarchism with primitivism”.
Let’s be clear – the actual conflation here is between anti-industrialism and primitivism. They are not identical. While all primitivists must necessarily be anti-industrial, every anti-industrialist does not necessarily have to be a primitivist.
It is no coincidence, I suspect, that anarcho-primitivism as a term originated in the USA, where the transition from “primitive” pre-colonial society to modern industrial society was relatively fast and traumatic.
In Europe and Asia, that change has taken a lot longer, and there are many kinds of historical forms of social organisation that are neither primitive nor industrial.
I can see the strength in the primitivist argument that all these intermediary stages are part of the process that led to contemporary industrial society. From this perspective, seeking permanence and stability in one of these pre-industrial stages would be something like arguing that a man falling off a cliff will be fine as long as he stops half way down.
But, despite that, the possible future anarchist society that I hold in my heart tends to look more like the Middle Ages than the Stone Age. We wouldn’t be lumbered with all that feudalism, misogyny and religious intolerance, of course, because this wouldn’t be the actual Middle Ages we were living in, but a free post-industrial society with a similarly low level of industrialisation.
Inspiration from the Middle Ages is not at all unknown among anarchists. Peter Kropotkin, Gustav Landauer and, more recently, Herbert Read are all good examples. William Morris, who today looks more like an anarchist than a socialist, was another idealist who despised the industrial society imposed on humanity by the capitalist system.
In France there is currently a powerful anti-industrial current in the wider anarchist movement which is not dismissed as “primitivist”.
So what about the UK today? We seem to have an anarchist movement that pays lip service to environmental issues, takes part in environmental struggles, and yet does not dare to challenge the actual existence of the industrial system.
This is probably just a reflection of our society as a whole. We in Britain have been industrialised for so many generations now that we are no longer even aware of what has happened to us.
But aren’t anarchists supposed to be different? Aren’t we supposed to cut through the crap which is spoon-fed to us by capitalist society and challenge the deepest, most ingrained assumptions by which this exploitative system maintains its control?
Can’t we stand up and say that in an anarchist society there would be no more factories, motorways or airports, just as we are happy to say there would be no armies, police or prisons?
If we can’t, then what exactly is this anarchist vision which sustains and motivates us? What a strange world it would be, in which newly-freed slaves voluntarily kept going the machinery that had exploited and tormented them, poisoned their air, their water and their soil?
Anarcho-industrialism, it seems to me, is just as much an oxymoron as the self-contradictory nonsense of so-called “anarcho-capitalism”. Neither of them makes any sense at all.
Wanneer zijn gedachten van anderen waarmee je kennis hebt gemaakt, in gesprek, van het net, van radio, televisie of film, uit blad of boek, nog van die anderen als je ze inmiddels eigen hebt gemaakt – uit herkenning of erkenning? In wetenschappelijke publicaties kun je maar beter wel met voetnoten werken om serieus genomen te worden door degenen die jou serieus zullen moeten nemen – in een eigen publicatie hoeft dat niet, op den duur, of meteen.
Paul Cudenec ontvouwt in zijn nieuwste boek, Forms of freedom (hij wilde het eerst Philosophy of freedom noemen, maar die titel was al gebruikt, door Jacques Ellul bijvoorbeeld) een benadering van definitie van vrijheid. (Vrijheid definiëren beschouw ik als een intrinsiek tegenstrijdig streven, ingaande tegen wat het definiendum is). Vrijheid is niet de afwezigheid van dwang en evenmin maar doen waar je zin in hebt. Paul kiest voor een diepergaande en radicalere analyse die individuele (ik zou liever: persoonlijke zeggen), collectieve, planetaire en metafysische niveaus van vrijheid beschrijft. Als hij er over had kunnen bloggen zou hij geen boek hebben geschreven, stelt hij zelf, dus ik zal het u bovenal aanraden te lezen.
Ik had de eer het boek nog in typoscript te mogen lezen en mijn mening of kanttekeningen te geven. De aantekeningen die ik bij die gelegenheid heb gemaakt, bewerkt weergegeven:
– Je kunt niet tegelijkertijd een groep mensen zien en een individu – je ziet het een of het nader, niet beide tegelijk. De groep bestaat bij de gratie van de individuen en omgekeerd. Persoonlijke vrijheid kan ook alleen collectieve vrijheid zijn en omgekeerd.
– Fons Elders omschrijft God in zijn Analyseer deconditioneer als de collectieve menselijke identiteit. Hoewel ik het een mooie benadering vind sluit deze wel de rest van de levende wezens, zoniet het universum uit. Is God niet meer dan de mensheid? Paul Cudenec wijst een god die buiten de schepping staat af, maar eveneens het pantheïsme, de voorkeur gevend aan panenhenisme – “al-in-het-ene-isme”. Als mensen maken wij deel uit van de uiteindelijke Eenheid, een benadering die overeenkomt met Ortts God in zijn pneumat-energetisch monisme. Dit panenhenisme kan ik niet anders dan mystiek noemen. Enkele uitwerkingen:
– Kunnen wij het gemakkelijk aanvaarden dat we tenslotte niet de stralen van individuele levens-essentie die op de wereld schijnen, zijn waarvoor we ons altijd gehouden hebben, maar eerder onderdelen van een en hetzelfde stralende licht, dat tijdelijk verdeeld is in verschillende stromen door de gaten in het dak van het universele bestaan die onze individuele vormen uitmaken? (Neen, Plato komt niet voor in de literatuurlijst).
– Er zijn mystieke momenten waarop we naar het schijnt ophouden te bestaan als individu en opgenomen worden in alles wat ons omgeeft – bomen, bergen, rivieren, wilde planten en dieren. Wij ervaren dan niet een illusie maar juist het wegvallen van een illusie.
– Mensen die begrijpen dat zij de uiteindelijke realiteit van het universum zijn zullen zich niet voorstellen dat hun eigen individuele sterfelijkheid hun bestaan betekenisloos of absurd maakt. Ze zullen evenmin door nepgoden bij de neus genomen worden die blinde gehoorzaamheid eisen als dat zij bezeten zijn door de vrees voor de inidividuele dood en zo de volle collectieve verantwoordelijkheden van het individuele leven te ontlopen.
Mystiek anarchisme dat tot constructief verzet aanspoort, zeker niet tot resignatie (u verwacht ook geen instemming van mij, hoop ik, als het anders was).
Vrijheid en natuur
Voordat we van het land werden afgesloten genoten we vrijheid om als deel van de fauna van de planeet te leven. We genoten een verbondenheid met het land die beantwoordde aan onze noden als mensen, die het ons mogelijk maakte vrijelijk volgens onze eigen natuur te leven.
Dit betekent niet dat het leven volmaakt was, of dat het leven ooit volmaakt zou kunnen zijn. Mensen hebben gebreken zoals de hele natuur gebreken heeft. Maar tegelijkertijd houdt de schoonheid van de natuur ook deze gebreken in, zij hangt er zelfs van af. De gebreken maken deel uit van de werkelijkheid, de natuurlijke werkelijkheid, en treffen ons niet als lelijk.
Een verwelkte tak, een warrige wijnrank, een afbrokkelende oever, ze leiden niet af van de schoonheid van de natuur, zij versterken deze. Hetzelfde geldt voor de vruchten van menselijke arbeid. Een middeleeuwse stenen boerderij met doorzakkende muren, doorbuigend dak en vervallende ramen is niet lelijk. Zijn onvolmaaktheid is een vorm van volmaaktheid, zonder dat er een zekere regelmaat en gladheid aan is waarmee we het woord “volmaakt” zijn gaan associëren.
Zo is het ook met de mensheid zelf. Wij zijn niet volmaakt zoals een computer of een robot volmaakt zou kunnen zijn. Wij maken allen fouten, beoordelen situaties verkeerd, gedragen ons zo dat wij later spijt hebben. Daar gaat het om bij het mens zijn. Dit maakt de mensheid mooi, wat het leven mooi maakt. Het is onze vrijheid onszelf te zijn, met al onze gebreken, die onze menselijkheid vormt.
Dus de gedachte van een menselijk bestaan in de natuur hoort niet verward te worden met een onwerkelijke opvatting van hoe deze manier van leven zou kunnen zijn. De werkelijkheid van een leven verbonden met het land vormt de schoonheid ervan. Bovendien belichaamt het opgaan in die veelvuldige, verfijnde werkelijkheid de vrijheid.
De eigentijdse cultuur plaatst de idee van de natuur los van de mensheid. De natuur wordt behandeld als iets wat misschien gekoesterd moet worden (en tegelijkertijd overheerst moet worden…), iets wat beschermd moet worden, bekeken en bezocht (en tegelijkertijd geëxploiteerd…), maar altijd als een ding of een verzameling dingen waarin de mensheid niet inbegrepen is.
We kunnen niet ophouden deel van de natuur te zijn, want dat is onze werkelijkheid, maar we kunnen ophouden te beseffen dat wij deel van de natuur zijn. Dit leidt tot een kloof, een onderscheid, tussen de werkelijkheid en ons begrip van de werkelijkheid. Een dergelijke kloof is gevaarlijk, omdat onze besluiten – individueel en collectief – niet gegrond zijn op een werkelijk begrip van de werkelijkheid.
Dit kan men gemakkelijk zien als het gaat om de richting waarin de menselijke beschaving zich beweegt. Niet-menselijke wezens worden als voorwerpen behandeld. Het levende bouwwerk van de natuur – de werkelijkheid waarin wij bestaan – wordt als een hindernis op de weg van menselijke belangen gezien en wordt opengereten, verscheurd en verwoest.
Als een man die hoog boven in een boom zit die de tak waarop hij steunt afzaagt, zo hebben wij het zicht op onze werkelijkheid verloren, met rampzalige gevolgen. We vernielen onze eigen vrijheid ook, omdat deze vrijheid voortkomt uit en afhangt van de natuur waarvan we deel uitmaken.
Wat voor vrijheid zou er kunnen zijn voor de mensheid als de oppervlakte van onze planeet onbewoonbaar wordt? “Vrij van de natuur” zijn – wat de aandrijvende wens achter het waanidee van industriële “vooruitgang” is – betekent vrij zijn van de werkelijkheid, en tenslotte en logischerwijze, vrij van het bestaan zijn. Voor een soort die biologisch deel uitmaakt van de natuur staat vrij van de natuur zijn eenvoudigweg gelijk aan de dood.
Book review: Sivens sans retenue: Feuilles d’automne 2014
Of all the many projects opposed by protesters in France in recent years, the small dam planned for the rural southern valley at Sivens was hardly the most important.
But it quickly became a milestone battle in the growing struggle against industrial capitalism, thanks to the determination of the participants and the violence of the state’s repression.
On October 26 2014, student Rémi Fraisse was killed by a sound grenade fired straight at him, at point blank range, by military-style gendarmes.
The fact that the authorities lied through their teeth about the incident – suggesting for a while that he had been killed by something thrown by his fellow campaigners – only fuelled the anger unleashed by his death.
There were protests across France about his murder – “killed for economic growth” as one widely-circulated text had it.
But the significance of the protests lay perhaps more in an absence than in a presence – the absence of the massed ranks of the “left” who would normally be expected to turn out in reaction to the police murder of a youngster.
If the incident had taken place under a “right-wing” government, the reaction would have been different. But with a “left-wing” government and a “left-wing” local administration backing the barrage, opposition from those who consider themselves “left-wing” was muted.
By leaving the response on the ground to anarchists and radicals, this “left”, including the French Greens, revealed itself for what it was – a force for reaction. From now on, it was clear that the fight against industrial capitalism was going to have to come from below, from the streets, squats and rural hideaways of a new generation pushing for a radical, confrontational version of the significant French décroissance (degrowth) movement – a rejection of the whole neoliberal concept of “progress” and the assumptions that help bolster it.
However, it was not by chance that the Sivens struggle became the catalyst for a further radicalisation of an anti-industrial movement which had already spawned the full-on autonomous protest settlement, or Zad, at Notre-Dame-des-Landes in opposition to proposed new Nantes airport.
A book published in the wake of the high-profile conflict – Sivens sans retenue: Feuilles d’automne 2014 [Sivens without reservoir/restraint – papers from Autumn 2014] – reveals a deep radicalism embedded within the movement there, and expressed through various texts written on site, notably a daily bulletin from which the book gets its title.
An important part of this radicalism is a rejection of the limits enshrined within mainstream environmentalism – the book’s authors say that the anti-dam movement was “often weakened by a widespread and persistent trust in the state and by a desire for credibility in the eyes of the media”.
They characterise this environmentalist argument as being over-dominated by figures and statistics, mirroring the “scientific” vocabulary of the system it is supposedly fighting.
It also liked to frame the fight against the dam as being entirely peaceful, under any circumstances, a restrictive attitude which others could not accept.
“Our opposition therefore goes both beyond environmentalism and against it if necessary – against all its language borrowed from technocrats, administrators and politicians. Our opposition carries within it, admittedly in a rather unformed way, the dream of another way of living, free from commodities, free from the state and free from industrial work. A life which can only develop from below and which can, necessarily, only be realised through conflict”.
There is also a clear rejection of the idea of the threatened land as being a “zone”, labelled and protected by human beings who stand outside and above it.
Instead, the book uses as chapter heading a slogan that has appeared at Notre-Dame-des-Landes and elsewhere: “Nous ne défendons pas la nature, nous sommes la nature qui se défend” – “We are not defending nature, we are nature defending itself”.
As far as the Sivens project is concerned, the book makes it clear that it is a scam for the benefit of the local agri-industrialist farming establishment, designed to use public money to artificially stimulate economic activity and the private profit that goes with it.
Or, as one anonymous online article put it: “The real reasons for the project are simple: there is a local mafia who are, simultaneously, promoters, decision-makers and beneficiaries, and who have got together to grab 10 million euros from the public purse and divvy it up between themselves later. No need to look any further”.
Behind this immediate reality, the book suggests, lies a deeper gulf between the system that wants to plough ahead with such schemes and the people who want to stop them: “In the end, the story of the dam, which only involves a little reservoir covering some 40 hectares, tells us that this is not just an issue around grands projets inutiles [big useless projects] but about something much deeper; we haven’t got the same perception of life. The fortresses which they impose on our valleys, in our villages and in our towns are not invincible – the real dams are those in people’s heads”.
Here, thus, is a conflict of civilizations. On the one hand there is the neoliberal system, enshrined in the local and national political elite, which is always happy to sacrifice the land for the benefit of growth, development, profit. On the other hand there is another way of thinking, a peasant way of thinking, a much older way of thinking which is paradoxically now often represented by the youngest generation.
I use the word “peasant” because it is important to realise that, in France, being anti-industrial does not automatically make you a “primitivist” as it seems to in the English-speaking world. In a country with a much stronger and more recently-threatened rural tradition than the UK, the collective memory of other ways of living is still relatively fresh.
France is also twice the size of the UK, with much the same population, so the idea of vast open spaces lightly inhabited by people living close to the land does not have to be borrowed from visions of pre-colonial America – it is much more of a realistic possibility than it is in crowded, urbanised, degraded England, where the countryside is often the luxurious private preserve of those who have become rich by working for the global capitalist system.
This spirit is brought across throughout the book, for instance in the texts written by a collective of shepherds and shepherdesses whose opposition to industrialism is built around resistance to the compulsory microchipping of their flocks.
Here is a nice example, worth quoting in full:
“Capitalism’s domination of our lives has to be fought on at least two fronts. One of these is today clearly seen and understood by more and more people – it’s opposing all those infrastructure projects which manage areas so that commodities can circulate and various industries can function. This means the construction (or the extension) of high-speed rail lines, airports, power stations (whether nuclear, solar, wind or biomass…), commercial centres, the mass production of toxic foodstuffs, the sinking of fracking wells. In a very obvious way, all this destroys the countryside and covers farmland and forests with concrete.
“But there’s also another front which hasn’t been clearly identified and activated by enough people yet: opposing the colonisation of our lives by hi-tech devices. PCs, tablets, iPods, iPads, iPhones and the networks that support them cause colossal amounts of pollution and energy consumption, which put the effects of industrial agriculture in the shade. Pollution through microwaves, pollution through manufacturing and disposal, power consumption by the devices, by search engines, by data centres…
“We would need Zads [anti-industrial protest camps] in China, Africa and Bolivia to stop the extraction of rare earth metals needed to manufacture all the wonders of technology. We would need Zads in Ghana to stop the burial of all our junk made of plastic and toxic metals – last year’s novelties discarded with the arrival of the latest new product. We would need Zads in Mali and Niger to fight against the mining of uranium to feed the nuclear industry (which in turn feeds the internet in France). We feel a sense of solidarity with all every one of those Zads… even if, unfortunately, they don’t exist!”
(Collectif Faut pas pucer, October 2014)
The anti-industrial analysis presented by numerous contributors to the book understands that the role of machines in our society is not to “make life easier” for people, as the old lie suggests, but to enslave us. Our world becomes a machine. Our normality, our reality, becomes a machine. And it becomes unthinkable that this machinery should be impeded in any way.
Bertrand Louart, a local carpenter and cabinetmaker involved in the Sivens struggle, writes: “The general organisation of this enormously complex and intricate society has tied us in to a regulated sort of existence, to a tightly-policed way of life, to a level of activity that never stops, and which picks up speed the more it is regulated, policed and interconnected. Any interruption of this machinery, any intrusion of something unexpected or the unforeseen, something out of the box, out of the norm, is now regarded as ‘violence’.”
The real violence in our society of course comes from this machinery itself, in the form of a “legal” system which awards itself the unilateral right to use force against any opposition to its total domination.
The murder of Rémi Fraisse by this system necessarily focused minds on this aspect of the state/capitalist infrastructure, and the need to confront it.
An anonymous leaflet published three days after his death declared: “So that Rémi’s death resonates everywhere and sparks a real movement, we suggest that we organise locally and nationally against the infrastructure of the forces of order. It is this infrastructure which is behind the state terrorism with which are confronted in working class neighbourhoods and in our social struggles. It is this infrastructure which co-ordinates the police occupation of our land and of our existences. And it is this infrastructure which springs into action if ever a protest or opposition movement strays beyond the authorised paths of powerlessness”.
The leaflet sets out the whole mechanism behind “the armed gang known as the national police” and which could be paralysed by determined opponents. “The factories which make police’s grenades, uniforms and equipment, their vehicles and their TV propaganda, the logistical platforms that organise their supplies – for us, these are all targets”.
Not long after the murder of Rémi Fraisse, and the national publicity which surrounded it, the Zad was evicted by a combination of local fascists linked to landowners and a police force happy to turn a blind eye to their violence.
But the struggle is not over here – neither at Sivens nor, of course, further afield, and the book makes it clear that is the neoliberal system which ultimately has most reason to be afraid.
“It is fear that is spreading throughout the French oligarchy at the moment: fear that it will no longer be possible to launch infrastructure projects anywhere in the country without the emergence of a well-informed, determined and freely organised opposition. Fear that it will no longer be possible to keep the money machine rolling without humble members of the public loudly asking annoying questions: ‘What is the point of this project? Who stands to gain from it? What will be the impact on the place we live?’
“This is why it is so important, for the state, that a youth movement does not emerge that questions both the means (police) and the ends (capitalism) of its behaviour. Where would we be if schoolkids and students started calling for the disarming of the police, condemning with one voice the racist crimes frequently committed in our cities and the brutal repression of anti-capitalist protests? Where would we be if the various Zads against insidious industrial and commercial developments continued making links with each other, co-ordinating, coming together in words and action?”
And, from a UK perspective, where would we be if the powerful anti-industrial philosophy behind the Sivens struggle managed to spread across the Channel and recombine with the social wing of the anti-capitalist movement with which it shares its ideological roots?
Where would we be if the anti-fracking movement, the anti-climate change movement, the anti-roads movement, the anti-austerity movement, the anti-fascist movement, the movements against police violence and all those who hate this corrupt system looked up from the detail of their particular struggles and understood that their enemy is one and the same and that capitalism must be fought on every available front, in every single part of its ubiquitous infrastructure, if ever it is to be vanquished?
Before we started to be excluded from the land, we enjoyed a freedom to live as part of the fauna of the planet. We enjoyed a relationship with the land that answered our needs as human beings, enabling us to live freely according to our own natures.
This does not mean that life was perfect, or that life could ever be perfect. Human beings are flawed in the same way that all nature is flawed. But at the same time the beauty of nature includes these flaws, even depends on them. The flaws form part of reality, natural reality, and so do not strike us as being ugly.
A withered branch, a tangled vine, a crumbling bank – these do not detract from the beauty of nature, but enhance it. The same applies to products of human labour. A medieval stone farmhouse with bulging walls, sagging roof and decaying window frames is not ugly. In fact, its imperfection is beautiful. Its imperfection is itself a kind of perfection, without any need for a certain regularity and smoothness with which we have come to associate that term.
Such is also the case for humanity itself. We are not perfect in the sense that a computer or a robot might be perfect. We all make mistakes, misjudge situations, behave in ways that we later regret. That is what being human is all about. That is what makes humanity beautiful, what makes life beautiful. It is our freedom to be ourselves, with all our flaws, that constitutes our humanity.
So the idea of a human existence within nature should not be confused with any unreal conception of what this way of life might be like. It is the reality of a life connected to the land which constitutes its beauty. Moreover, immersion in that complex, subtle reality constitutes freedom.
Contemporary culture sets the idea of nature apart from humanity. It is treated as something to be treasured maybe (at the same time as being mastered…), something to be protected, looked-at and visited (at the same time as being exploited…), but always as a thing, or a collection of things, which does not include humanity.
We cannot stop being part of nature, because that is our reality, but we can cease to realise that we are part of nature. This results in a gap, a discrepancy, between reality and our understanding of reality. Any such gap is dangerous, because our decision-making – individually and collectively – is not based on a true understanding of reality.
This is plain to see with regards to the direction human civilization has taken. Non-human beings are treated as objects. The living structure of nature – the reality in which we exist – is regarded as an impediment to human interests and is ripped up, torn apart and destroyed.
Like a man perched high up in a tree, sawing off the very branch on which he is sitting, we have lost sight of our own reality, with disastrous consequences. When we destroy nature, we destroy ourselves. We destroy our own freedom, too, because that freedom emerges from and depends on that nature of which we are part.
What sort of freedom could there be for humanity if the surface of our planet became uninhabitable? To be “free from nature” – which is the motivating desire behind the delusion of industrial “progress” – is to be free from reality and, ultimately and logically, to be free from existence, from life. For a species which is biologically part of nature, to be free from nature simply equals death.
The whole event runs from 10am to 6pm at Showroom Workstation, 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S1 2BX. Details of workshop times will be posted on the bookfair website this week.
Entry is free and the day is organised by local activists and volunteers. Each year, the book fair brings together over 50 radical booksellers, distributors, independent presses, and political groups from around the country, and features books, pamphlets, zines, art, crafts and films.
It includes speakers, panels and workshops, and is followed by an evening social. Check the Facebook page for ongoing events leading up to the weekend.
My own workshop goes under the title “What is freedom?” and is very much linked to the contents of my new book Forms of Freedom.
I will be asking if freedom is simply not being behind bars, or if is there more to it than that. Can individual freedom exist without collective freedom? Or vice-versa? Where does our need for freedom come from?
My latest book, Forms of Freedom, is now published and available – full details are available on the Winter Oak website.
As I say in the introduction, there is an obvious difference between this book and the others I have written. While The Anarchist Revelation, The Stifled Soul of Humankind and Antibodies are all packed full of quotations from other writers, here there are none at all.
The reason for this lies in the nature of what I am attempting to describe. Elsewhere, it has been the history and interrelatedness of ideas that has been of primary interest to me. Describing where and how they had been expressed in various contexts was therefore a key aspect of my task.
Here, on the other hand, it is not so much the history of the ideas that concerns me as the ideas themselves. I wanted to look clearly at these ideas without the clutter of the context in which they have previously been expressed.
While the blurb on the Winter Oak page does give you some idea of what the book is about, it is of course just a very abbreviated version. It has to be! That’s the nature of blurb!
For more of an insight into what lies within, I would suggest reading the list of chapter headings further down the page.
But that will not tell you the whole story, of course, merely hint at what it might involve. The argument I am making in the book is multi-layered, though hopefully the step-by-step way in which I have presented it will make it easy enough to grasp.
I did not set out to write a book, but rather an essay. The argument as presented in the book is as succinct as I could make it without jettisoning anything important.
I would like to be able to explain what I am saying in Forms of Freedom in half a dozen paragraphs here on my blog, but I would just the replicating the inherent problem with the blurb, in a slightly extended fashion.
In other words, if I could sum up the contents of Forms of Freedom as a blog post, I would have written a blog post and not a book!
Ideas are important. They need to be aired, shared, explored.
I hope people will take the time to read Forms of Freedom and consider what I am saying. I also hope people will react to what I am saying and, if they don’t agree with me, tell me why. (Having actually read the book, preferably! )
There’s an imminent opportunity for discussion at my workshop on the meaning of freedom at Bristol Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday April 25, at 2pm. Hope to see you there.
It is an account both of the fracking industry and of the movement that has sprung up, almost overnight it seems, to resist the threat.
Endorsed with a foreword by actors James Bolam and Sue Jameson, it is written, I think, in just the right way to be able to make new converts to the frack free rebellion. There are plenty of hard detailed facts to convince sceptics, but not at the expense of an overview of the broader context.
The book contains some particularly useful rebuttals of the myths rolled out by the industry, via an obliging corporate media, to justify its ecocidal activities. For instance, we are often told that there is in fact nothing new about fracking and it has been around for decades.
Dale responds: “Artificially stimulating wells is an old technology, but high-pressure high-volume slack water hydraulic fracturing has only been in use for around ten years. The Department of Energy and Climate Change, and the former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, confirm that only one well has been ‘fracked’ in the UK – Preese Hall near Blackpool in 2011”.
He also easily deflates the industry’s insistence that “the amount of water used in fracking is considerably less than used in agriculture and even by golf courses annually” by pointing out: “The water used in agriculture and golf courses is able to return to the natural water cycle and so is not wasted or removed. Fracking, however, pollutes the water used to such an extent that it cannot be cleaned or returned to the water cycle”.
Continuing to explore the key subject of water, he adds: “In the USA four states have proven that their water sources have been polluted by fracking. The geology of the UK is much older and more heavily faulted than in the USA, meaning that there are many times more opportunities and likelihood of migrating contaminants and seismic events”.
And he asks, crucially: “If drinking water is safe, why are drilling companies in the USA going to the huge expense of shipping and supplying bottled water free of charge to residences near fracking sites?”
The enormous impact of fracking on the countryside is something deliberately obscured by the industry, which likes to present a picture of one or two inconspicuous nodding donkeys in a largely unchanged landscape.
However, as Dale points out: “Aside from all the other environmental issues, if the UK is to see the same kind of ‘fracking boom’ as in the USA then large tracts of the countryside would have to be given over to well pads and pipelines – approximately one pad every kilometre, each with up to 10 or 12 lateral wells”.
Observers of the fracking industry will have noticed a pattern of denial in the way it tries to push its projects through with the minimum of local opposition. It is prepared to swear until it is blue in the face that is not going to frack, and then suddenly, at the last minute, announce that, actually, it is going to do so after all. Is this what is going to happen, for instance, at Broadford Bridge in West Sussex?
Dale charts this oft-repeated scenario as it unfolded a couple of years ago in Lancashire: “On 11th January 2013, less than two months after ruling out hydraulic fracturing, Cuadrilla submitted a Scoping Opinion to Lancashire County Council to accompany an application for ‘the testing and hydraulic fracturing of exploratory lateral borehole’ at the Annas Road site. Confusingly, the aforementioned application, validated just five days later, expressly ruled out any fracturing at the site, instead wishing to take a core sample of the shale rock along a lateral borehole”.
The UK authorities have also often tried to reassure the public that fracking will be perfectly safe here, because of all the lovely regulations we have in place.
But the book reveals that behind the scenes the government has in fact been trying to prevent regulations from getting in the way of the fracking industry’s profits!
Dale writes: “Leaked documents from the European Commission in January 2014 identified Prime Minister David Cameron and the UK Government as the chief opposition to new environmental legislation on fracking operations, stating in a letter to the EC President: ‘It is essential the EU minimise the regulatory burdens and costs on industry… by not creating uncertainty or introducing new legislation. The industry in the UK had told us that new EU legislation would delay imminent investment”.
Dale reveals that the only “regulation” the UK has in mind is one conducted by the industry itself! “UK pro-shale advocates cite that there are ‘Gold Standard Regulations’ that make the process of fracking safe for the UK. However, it has been found through Freedom of Information requests that neither the Environment Agency nor the Health and Safety Executive conduct independent inspections of any oil or gas well sites, but instead rely on self-regulation by the well operators”.
The author points out early in the book that “the Coalition Government are overtly pro-shale” and as the details of his research confirm time and time that this is indeed the case, so it leads us on to a broader, and more disconcerting, appreciation of the close collaboration between state and business.
On every level, the state exposes itself as a tool in the hands of the fracking industry. Even the road repairs and widening around drill sites are in effect a subsidy for private industry from the public purse.
The UK state has also actively prevented the public from hearing the truth about the disastrous impact of fracking if it is allowed to go ahead, even notoriously censoring one of its own reports on the issue! Dale recalls that in August 2014, government department DEFRA released a report “on the potential impacts of shale gas exploration on rural communities. The report was only 13 pages in length but contained 63 redactions, obscuring almost all of its content. Eight sections had been deleted from the executive summary, four sections on economic impacts, four sections on social impacts, 17 sections on local service impacts and three sections specifically looking at the impact on house prices near drilling sites”.
The state’s reaction to public opposition to fracking – in particular the right to drill under people’s homes without their permission – has also exposed as a complete sham the phoney “consultation” with which it likes to dress up its edicts.
The book tells us: “On the 26th September, the Department for Energy and Climate Change announced the results of the consultation on underground access – some 40,647 responses were made with an astonishing 99% rate of objection to the plans to allow drilling without landowner permission. However, in a press release DECC stated that: ‘We acknowledge the large number of responses against the proposal and the fact that the proposal has provided an opportunity for the public to voice their concerns and raise issues. However the role of the consultation was to see arguments and evidence to consider in developing the proposed policy. Whilst a wide range of arguments were raised and points covered, we did not identify any issues that persuaded us to change the basic form of the proposals”.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, a couple of weeks later a last-minute amendment to what was to become the Infrastructure Act allowed fracking firms to put any substance at all into the ground and leave it there for ever!
A whiff of suspicion has surrounded the fracking industry’s links to government ever since it emerged that Balcombe’s MP Francis Maude had appointed Lord Browne, then chairman of fracking firm Cuadrilla, as lead non-executive in the Cabinet Office, advising on energy policy.
A few eyebrows were also raised when it was revealed that the new chairman of the Environment Agency, Sir Philip Dilley, was from 2009 to 2014 chairman of consultancy company Arup Group, the agent for Cuadrilla’s new drilling application for Balcombe in January 2014.
Vested interests have also popped up in less expected quarters, Dale explains, detailing the case of David Montagu-Smith, chairman of fracking firm Rathlin Energy: “Mr Montagu-Smith is also the Chairman of the West Northamptonshire District Committee of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and it has been revealed in the minutes of a meeting of Desborough Town Council held on the 20th February 2014 (at which he gave a presentation on fracking) that he worked on the development of CPRE’s National Fracking Policy Guidance.
The opening line of these guidance notes (published in November 2013) states: ‘Based on the information we have at present, the CPRE does not oppose the exploration of shale gas in principle, provided it meets certain conditions’.”
Of course, the role of the police in loyally defending the interests of big business against those of the communities they supposedly serve has been a major part of the fracking story. Dale quotes a lawyer who represented some of the Balcombe campaigners as saying of the police: “What they did criminalised protest. They used the Section 14 orders and bail conditions, which were imposed on everyone, and which stopped them from going within miles of the site, to stop them from protesting. It was like an injunction by the back door. If you turn up – new to protest – and then see people being arrested and handcuffed, it is quite shocking and frightening and puts you off being there”.
The police’s interference has at times been so blatant that, reveals Dale, even a Deputy District Judge at Manchester Magistrates Court was moved to say that they had exceeded their powers on several occasions by intervening of behalf of frackers Igas and to accuse the Greater Manchester Police of “acting as civil enforcement officers for the company”.
This is not an issue that is confined to fracking of course – and the permanent role of the state as the enforcer of private interests is something that it is vitally important for us all to understand (as I point out in my new book, Forms of Freedom).
Dale finds room in his book for a mention of TTIP, the transatlantic trade treaty which takes the power of corporate interests to a whole new level of visibility – it is almost as if the ruling elite are bored with even pretending that their version of “democracy” has any meaning and are moving on to a new phase of blatantly totalitarian capitalism – “plutofascism”.
He writes: “Of major concern to the anti-fracking movement (and many other non-governmental organisations) is that the TTIP includes a clause that in effect would allow American companies and/or their investors to sue European governments and have policies overturned if they are deemed to have a reducing effect on profitability… The fear regarding fracking is that American companies would be entitled to legally challenge and overturn any European bans on the technology, such as are in place in France, Germany and Spain, or even remove and amend industry regulations and laws if they are seen as hindering the profitability for investors”.
The extent to which the neoliberal agenda involves a complete privatisation of every aspect of our lives, a complete ownership of our communities by the business elite, is nicely illustrated by the way the state has even sold out the education system to the fracking industry.
Dale explains: “Blackpool and The Fylde College is to become a new ‘National College for Onshore Oil and Gas’, with offshoots in Chester, Portsmouth, Redcar and Strathclyde. Responding to this, Blackpool campaigner, Tina Rothery, said: ‘As a mother and local resident, I am fuming. Our bloody children now! Bad enough they buy councillors, lie to and pay off landowners, mislead residents and railroad campaigners, but this is obscene”.
Dale’s book concludes with a very useful resource – a catalogue of fracking-related incidents in North America between January 2013 and December 2014, including everything from toxic fluids polluting streams and rivers, to explosions, fires and deaths caused by fracking tankers.
One interesting entry for April 2014 records: “A Jury in Dallas, Texas, awards a family nearly $3 million in compensation from Aruba Petroleum Inc after the company’s fracking operations were found to have been responsible for causing years of illness, deaths of pets and livestock and making the property uninhabitable for months at a time”.
A year later, the UK media were feverishly speculating that Sussex and Surrey could become “Britain’s Dallas” because of the scale of claimed oil finds around Horse Hill. Dale’s excellent book should help people to grasp what exactly that would mean!
* There are regular updates on the fracking struggle and the wider degrowth movement in The Acorn, the new info bulletin from Winter Oak Press.
There’s no mistaking the message articulated by Helen Moore in her new collection of eco-poetry.
Already in 2012’s Hedge Fund she was warning of the existential threat to our natural world at the same time as marvelling at its delights.
But three years later, with Ecozoa, there is the impression of a still sharper edge to her vision, perhaps in response to yet more sharply-cut wounds inflicted by the murderous mutilating monster known as industrial civilization.
What has changed over that period? For a start, Moore’s English homelands have been threatened by fracking, a process which is so blatantly unacceptable that it reveals itself and the mindset behind it as an assault not just on our soil, air and water but on all good sense, on any vision of a future place worth living in.
earth is not our wider, life-sustaining body
but a cache of raw matter to be stripped, mined, fracked
(‘apples are not the only gadgets’)
There are poems here reflecting her own participation in (‘This is not a dirty protest!’) and support for the anti-fracking struggle. “And may the frackers’ drills go soft, their stocks & shares evaporate!” she prays in ‘I call on the spirit of Owen’.
Moore is scathing about those who bear responsibility for the destruction of our planetary life-support system, “the kind of chaff that congregates out of sight of the general public – like arms dealers, corporate lobbyists & government ministers”. (‘The Pocket’s Circumference).
In ‘Kali Exorcism’, a Ginsberg-inspired piece, she unleashes her moral scorn for those leaders of our society who dare to proclaim their moral high ground from the darkest depths of a stinking corpse-filled pit of hypocrisy.
then show us the hands of our prime minister and his henchmen
in the pockets of BAE Systems, touting for business
with morbid regimes and crackpot dictators,
and their arms fairs, where they never ask what’s fair
in selling arms, just rake in the bloodied money,
as our own banks account to cluster-bomb makers.
Come, dark goddess, tear off veils of rhetoric that conceal
war-mongering deeds in cloaks of respectability: help us
hear deeper than the pre-emptive strikes, the collateral damage
ventriloquised by our complicit media,
and demand plain language to describe victims of torture,
rape and murder in the wars they report.
At the same time, she sings sublime songs of praise to all that she loves, such as in the beautifully simple poem ‘glory be to Gaia’:
glory be to Gaia,
for birdsong, mountains and clear lakes;
we honour & praise you, Gaia,
giant pulsating orb of life
from which we’ve grown –
please help us feel our interdependence
with all animal and human kin
I may be doing Moore a disservice by drawing attention to the poems that most directly express a ‘political’ message – there are plenty in the collection that concern other aspects of her life.
But for me, that is where the power in her work resides – not just in her expression of a message, but in her awareness of how important it is that this message be expressed, and in her acceptance of the responsibility that she bears to help express it.
This is perhaps something that has started to grow much more strongly within her, like an idea-child, in recent years, as she hints in ‘Sweet Pain’:
So I’ve chosen to embrace
different responsibilities – to journey through
my wounds to serve The Great Turning.
Now let revolutionary love suckle
at my breast – the desire’s been growing
As she explains in her ‘Notes’ at the end of the collection, the term “The Great Turning”, popularised by Joanna Macy and David Korten, describes “the movement from an industrial-growth society to a life-sustaining one”.
The book’s title comes from Thomas Berry’s proposal of an “Ecozoic Era”, denoting a new age where we live in harmony and “with the Earth as our community”.
But an even more important presence in this book is that of William Blake (1757-1827). He also partly inspired its title, with his work The Four Zoas, and figures from his own personal poetic mythology – Tharmas, Urizen, Urthona and Luvah – here feature as headings for the sections of the collection.
Blake in many ways provides a bridge from the ancient world to the new. Historian Christopher Hill has written that he detects an inspiration for Blake’s Romantic vision in “an underground heretical tradition which influenced his thought in a communitarian and chiliastic direction”, which had been passed down by the “mystical anarchists” of the millenarian sects of the Middle Ages, especially the Brethren of the Free Spirit, via the English Revolution (for more on this see The Stifled Soul of Humankind).
Blake’s spirit – “a kind of pantheistic idealism” to use a label deployed by anarchist writer Peter Marshall – resurfaced to dramatic effect at the end of the 19th century but has been somewhat crushed by the machineries and microchips of the 20th and early 21st centuries.
By placing herself in a direct line of ideological descent from Blake, Moore is doing more than expressing admiration for him. She is proclaiming herself as a contemporary manifestation of that same “underground heretical tradition”.
Of course, like all watery things, this stream of thought is not easy to pin down or define and in Moore it takes on a new shape, appropriate to our age and influenced by contemporary environmentalism and feminism – as well as by the very experience of living in these disastrously dislocated and disintegrating times.
However, it is clear to me that Moore is very consciously invoking, summoning up, the spirit that animated Blake, his predecessors and his successors – bringing it into existence in our midst, in England, in 2015, so that it can inspire once more.
She cites Thomas Berry as saying that that the Ecozoic Era is something that “we must will into being”, and in doing so she reveals that her chosen task is to help to do just that.
For we are too deeply buried now in layers of deepest delusion, deception and despotism for our salvation to come through straightforward means. It is becoming increasingly impossible for people to even imagine a world that is not choked by the capitalist cancer, let alone begin to create one.
Something more than narrow rationality is needed to snap us out of our sleepwalk towards the cliff edge. Something powerful and magical – something poetical! – needs to surge out of our dreams, out of our collective soul, something that can break the hypnotic spell and bring humankind to its waking senses.
Yes, “this is an emergency” – and an emergency to which Helen Moore for one is clearly prepared to respond.
(Information on readings and other launch events can be found here)
Michael Paraskos, Herbert Read: Art and Idealism (Mitcham: The Orage Press, 2014)
Much of the overall decline of our collective intellectual culture involves the breaking-down of things into constituent parts.
Detail is studied at the expense of any overview and discussion often centres around which label or classification can be applied to an idea or a thinker, rather than on their actual content or significance.
Anarchism can present problems for those who operate within that mindset, as it reaches deeper than the superficial level of other “political” ideas – it provokes with paradox, combines apparently contradictory concepts at higher levels of abstraction and refuses to be contained by the assumptions of one-dimensional theorising.
The great 20th century English anarchist Herbert Read was an excellent example of the multi-dimensional complexity of the anarchist mind, which is perhaps why he today does not always receive the recognition he deserves, despite his unusual record of having been a towering figure of the modern art world and also a vocal advocate of anarchism.
Happily, this neglect is now showing signs of being remedied. Following the release of Huw Wahl’s fascinating documentary film To Hell With Culture, The Orage Press has published a study of Read by Dr Michael Paraskos.
Herbert Read: Art and Idealism makes no futile attempt to flatten out Read’s work and life in order to make it fit into some pre-determined category.
Instead, Paraskos skilfully shows the interweaving threads of Read’s artistic and anarchist positions, demonstrating how his approach to thought was itself a part of his philosophy.
He writes: “Read’s tendency was always to synthesise ideas from diverse sources, hybridising them into new forms, some of which the authors of his original material would undoubtedly have rejected… Read began to develop a theory of culture that was re-integrationist or synthesist”.
In the field of art criticism, Read worked to transcend the false polarity between classicism and romanticism, which manifested itself at the time as the divide between, respectively, Constructivism and Surrealism.
By championing both movements, he inevitably also partly alienated each of them, but this did not deter him from his creative approach.
Read’s non-aligned position was not the result of indecision, or of some desire for middle-of-the-road compromise, but for a synthesis that transcended a superficial division.
It was this same seeking-out of higher levels of understanding that enabled him to embrace modern art while despising modern industrial civilisation, or to draw inspiration from both John Ruskin and Friedrich Nietzsche.
This attitude also informed his own version of existentialist thought, as Paraskos explains: “Read suggested that like all humanity the existentialists stood on the edge of an abyss facing the truth of their own insignificance. Whereas most of humanity was oblivious of the abyss, the existentialists recognised their situation and were overwhelmed by Angst.
“But for Read there was not a simple choice between ignorance of the abyss and Angst-ridden knowledge of it. As with his attempt to unify classicism and romanticism, Read synthesised a third response. He suggested that standing at the edge of the abyss was another group of people who saw their true situation as well as any existentialist. But instead of being overwhelmed by Angst, this group possessed a fascination with both the interior mental world and the exterior material world of apparent existence. According to Read, such people were like Aristotle, and were filled with interest, excitement and wonder.”
This Readian existentialism amounted to the message that “the transformation of society depended on an absolute individuality based on absolute responsibility for one’s own actions” – the core of the anarchist philosophy of resistance.
Paraskos stresses that Read’s thinking about art and philosophy cannot be separated from his anarchism and that he was involved in “an attempt to reconcile the material, or we might say physical, philosophy of anarchism with the seemingly immaterial, or metaphysical, philosophy of idealism”.
The importance of this task remains acute today, when too many anarchists fail to understand the ways in which their philosophy reaches out beyond mere political theory towards an holistic metaphysics.
The idea of inherent form, which fascinated Read and which links in with his interest in Jungian theory of archetypes, is a bedrock of coherent anarchist philosophy and yet seems to be little appreciated.
It was in the nature of Read’s philosophical journey that it would never – could never – be completed. But if 21st century anarchists care to take the time to study his journey, and contemplate his approach, they may well discover the urge to step off the well-trod road of narrow thinking and forge their own path of empowering intellectual discovery. This book is a very welcome and pertinent encouragement of that process.