The grotesque wrongness of Marxism

There is something about the mainstream Marxist “Left” that turns the stomach of many an anarchist.

It’s not simply the blinkered obsession with “organising in the workplace”, the permanent party recruitment drives, the endless time-wasting loop of electoral hope and disappointment, or the depressing and disempowering officially-authorised and heavily-stewarded marches that culminate in the inevitable tedium of the same old faces delivering the same old pointless speeches.

There is something else, something even greater than the sum of all these, which pollutes the very atmosphere of this pseudo-radical sub-culture. And this “something” is essentially a “nothing”, an absence or void which sucks into it all the superficially good intent of the politicking around it.

One anarchist who brilliantly described this phenomenon was Gustav Landauer. And the fact that he did so 100 years ago goes to show that there is nothing new or passing about the failings of the Left.

In his brilliant booklet For Socialism, (which he updated just before he was murdered by proto-fascists in 1919) he contrasted his own anarchist-socialism with the Marxist version.

This ideological broadside was born specifically out of his frustration with the Social Democratic Party in Germany, but his criticism of Marxist ideology itself went much deeper and is every bit as relevant today.

Landauer said that by insisting that socialism can only result from the rise and fall of capitalism, Marxism had declared itself dependent on capitalism, rather than a completely opposing tendency.

It even shared the capitalist mindset of regarding human life and relationships in purely mechanical terms.

He rejected the “the grotesque wrongness of their materialist conception of history” in which Marxists reduced everything to “what they call economic and social reality”.

For Landauer, greater and much more powerful factors were at work in society, on which he rested his hopes of revolution. He wrote constantly about the existence of Geist, or spirit, as the force capable of inspiring a revolt with the necessary vitality and resonance to overthrow the capitalist order.

But this element of human culture had no place in Marxism, which Landauer condemned as “a negating, destructive and crippling appeal to impotence, lack of will, surrender and indifference”.

He noted: “The Marxists have, in their declarations and views, excluded the spirit for a very natural, indeed almost excellent material reason: namely, because they have no spirit”.


Landauer was, of course, far from the only anarchist to have criticised the Left on these grounds.

Bakunin, for instance, described a number of “natural traits” ignored by Marxist theory, including “the intensity of the instinct of revolt, and by the same token, of liberty, with which it is endowed or which it has conserved. This instinct is a fact which is completely primordial and animal; one finds it in different degrees in every living being, and the energy, the vital power of each is to be measured by its intensity”.

Emma Goldman, too, described her first impressions of Marxism as “colourless and mechanistic”, in stark contrast to the “beautiful ideal” of anarchism to which she dedicated her life.

But, unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped anarchists from making the same mistakes and, by mimicking Marxist approaches, undermining the vital spirit which historically inspires anarchism.

It seems this process was already happening in Landauer’s day – he refers disparagingly to “the syndicalists and the anarcho-socialists, recently so-called by a pitiful misuse of two noble names” as the Marxists’ “brothers” and specifically extends his condemnation to all Marxists “whether they call themselves Social Democrats or anarchists”.

Since then, with the rise of the Bolsheviks in Russia and the 20th century predominance of Marxist ideas in anti-capitalist thought, the problem has probably got worse.

We have all encountered quasi-anarchists who shy away from labelling themselves as such, who are keen to disassociate themselves from “illegal” revolutionary activity, who insist on constraining and confining the scope of anarchist thought within the narrow boxes they have drawn for it.

At the same time there have been, and always will be, anarchists who feel in their blood that their beliefs are infinitely wider and deeper than such limited outlooks can ever concede.

The Russian anarchist Voline and other comrades, for instance, had this to say in response to the Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists, written by the Dielo Truda group of Russian exiles in 1926: “To maintain that anarchism is only a theory of classes is to limit it to a single viewpoint. Anarchism is more complex and pluralistic, like life itself.

“Its class element is above all its means of fighting for liberation; its humanitarian character is its ethical aspect, the foundation of society; its individualism is the goal of mankind”.

A quarter of a century after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there are signs that Marxism’s grip on global anti-capitalist thinking is finally loosening.

Now is the perfect time for anarchists to shake ourselves free of its deadening influence, distance ourselves from the tired reformist rhetoric of the political Left and rekindle the revolutionary fire of the timeless anarchist spirit once embraced by the likes of Bakunin, Goldman and Landauer.

Adapted from The Stifled Soul of Humankind

Anarchy is Life!

We are living today in a corrupt and debased civilization. Shallow and amoral, its vision is built not on any sense of value but merely on a grasping love of money and power. Worse than that, this civilization tells us time and time again that there is no other possible way of living than its own, that we can never even dream of an alternative, let alone bring one about.

In the face of all this, something quite extraordinary is called for. What we need is a collective cry of courageous refusal; a ruthless and relentless rebuttal that slices through the centuries-old layers of lies; an ebullient and explosive ethos that blasts apart the ill-founded illusion of democracy and consensus; a fearless and flaming surge of authenticity that dares to expose the wretched relic of a humanity reduced to a state of near-fatal despair and disease by the forces of tyranny, violence, exploitation and greed.

Luckily, we already have such a set of ideas, such a movement, in the shape of anarchism. In the blood of each and every anarchist flows the need to question everything, to accept no limits to the freedom of the individual and – therefore, as a logical consequence – the community.

The anarchist does not merely stray outside the framework of acceptable thinking as carefully assembled by the current system – she smashes it to pieces and dances on the wreckage.

No assumption is left unchallenged, no state of affairs regarded as inevitable, no righteous struggle not considered worth waging, no future seen as unreachable. It is not for nothing that street posters in Paris during the uprisings of 1968 declared: “Be realistic – demand the impossible!”. This is the whole energy unleashed by the call-to-arms of anarchy: the perpetual power of possibilities denied but never dead.

The philosophical pillars of our prison-society have been rocked time and time again by the eloquence of these critics. Leo Tolstoy warned us that we are being ruled “by means of organized violence” and Alexander Berkman told us that whatever kind of authority we are up against, “it is always the same executioner wielding power over you through your fear of punishment in one form or another”.

There is no more powerful life experience for an anarchist than the realisation that all they have been brought up to believe is false, and Emile Henry – a brilliant young student in Paris in the final decade of the 19th century – was no exception.

He recalled: “I had been told that our social institutions were founded on justice and equality; I observed all around me nothing but lies and impostures… I brought with me into the struggle a profound hatred which every day was renewed by the spectacle of this society where everything is base, everything is equivocal, everything is ugly, where everything is an impediment to the outflow of human passions, to the generous impulses of the heart, to the free flight of thought”.

From its earliest beginnings, anarchism has rejected the idea that certain privileged people can “own” parts of the surface of the planet to the detriment of others, and has looked forward to a tomorrow where property and its associated evils have been abolished.

Following in the footsteps of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who famously defined property as theft, Gustav Landauer wrote at the start of the 20th century: “All ownership of things, all land-ownership is in reality ownership of men. Whoever withholds the earth from others, from the masses, forces these others to work for him. Private ownership is theft and slave-holding”.

There is no room here to detail all the areas of contemporary life in which anarchy contests the capitalist con-sensus. It rejects the idea that in order to be able to survive on this planet we must submit to “working” for someone else’s profit.

It stands resolutely opposed to the cynical conversion of natural solidarity into a fake sense of collective identity termed “patriotism” and the warmongering this is used to justify.

Glorying in the variety of human manifestation, it fiercely refuses to allow people to be pigeon-holed, classified, condemned, allocated or stigmatised on account of their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical abilities or other individual difference, whether innate or chosen.

Most fundamentally, of course, anarchism is opposed to the existence of a state – the main heresy for which it is attacked by the Establishment. Once the fantasy has been dispelled that people need the state, rather than the other way round, the house of cards of authority and obedience will quickly tumble.

It will not be easy to rid the people of this notion, though, as Errico Malatesta explained when he imagined a man whose legs had been tied up from birth, but managed to hobble around anyway. He might believe, like the citizen does of a state, that it was necessary to be tied up: “Suppose a doctor brought forward a complete theory, with a thousand ably invented illustrations, to persuade the man with bound limbs that, if his limbs were freed, he could not walk, or even live. The man would defend his bands furiously and consider anyone his enemy who tried to tear them off”.

Always we see the anarchist mind leaping over the walls with which society would confine it, seeing afresh what others have always taken for granted, looking around itself in puzzlement at the holes humanity has dug for itself and fashioning, from its insights, rope ladders of thought with which we might save ourselves.

Take, for instance an article by George Woodcock on the way in which modern Western life is run according to the mechanical and mathematical symbols of clock time. He wrote: “In a sane and free society such an arbitrary domination of man by man-made machines is even more ridiculous than the domination of man by man. Complete liberty implies freedom from the tyranny of abstractions as well as from the rule of men”.

Freedom from the tyranny of abstractions – nowhere is the overarching ambition of anarchist thought more vividly expressed than here! Here is a political ideology that is ready to soar into the realm of philosophy without pausing for breath, calling for humanity to escape from the unimaginative, functional, narrowness of the capitalist mindset.

Gustav Landauer

“Anarchy is life; the life that awaits us after we have freed ourselves from the yoke”

Bakunin condemned those who hide behind the mask of science to flatten out our lives and our dreams, calling for a “revolt of life” against this dogmatic tyranny. Landauer echoed his call by declaring that “anarchy is life; the life that awaits us after we have freed ourselves from the yoke,” and here we see the motivation and meaning behind all the rejection of contemporary society and its stifling norms.

For an anarchist, this is not how things are meant to be; this is not how we are all meant to live. Like Malatesta’s bound man, others hobble on towards their deaths believing that this is life as it has to be, accepting the slave-masters’ reassurances that there is no alternative on offer; that we should all be grateful to them for keeping us alive; that the whips, chains and CCTV cameras are all provided for our own safety; that there is no other road than this one, no finer task than breaking rocks, no possible place out there to which we could escape – that there is simply no such thing as freedom.

For an anarchist, the tender green shoot of each new-born child, the precious potential of each wonderfully unique and beautiful human being, is blocked, crushed, destroyed by the steel toe-capped boots of capitalism. Emma Goldman said that the health of society could be measured by a person’s “individuality and the extent to which it is free to have its being, to grow and expand unhindered by invasive and coercive authority”, and Landauer wrote that “anarchism’s lone objective is to end the fight of men against men and to unite humanity so that each individual can unfold his natural potential without obstruction”.

This, ultimately, is what anarchists mean by freedom. The freedom to be what we are meant to be, to become what we were born and destined by nature to become, if we had not been thwarted and distorted by this capitalist civilization. Left to our own devices, freed from the control of rulers and exploiters, we individuals would co-operate and combine in the way that we were intended to, in the same way as our fellow creatures, plants, insects, fungi and microbes. This is the basis of the classic anarchist argument for a stateless society founded on mutual aid and solidarity. As Bakunin said: “Nature, notwithstanding the inexhaustible wealth and variety of beings of which it is constituted, does not by any means present chaos, but instead a magnificently organized world wherein every part is logically correlated to all the other parts”.

Natural laws – these are the basis of the anarchist vision of a proper society and the reason why we reject the man-made variety as imposters and destroyers of all that is good and true and real. They are the interwoven and infinitely complex limbs of a living community, a vital entity that is the only form of “authority” that anarchists can respect, with the difference between a governmental society and an anarchic society being, as Woodcock said, “the difference between a structure and an organism”.

Rejecting the pitiful idea that we come into this world devoid of purpose and principle, helplessly amoral blank sheets of living paper on which the state, in its wisdom, must write down the rules by which it demands we should live, anarchists know that inherent laws have already laid down a sense of justice in our souls.

It is precisely because we already know true justice – in our blood, in our bones, in our guts, in our dreams – that anarchists are so revolted by the sick parody that is served up to us by the state.

Our innate sense of right and wrong is mortally offended and the pressure of a true justice repressed, of a natural inner authority denied, of inherent laws smothered, builds up in our spirits – individually and en masse, consciously and unconsciously – and becomes the force behind the need for revolution. This force becomes a living entity itself – not the passive, patient entity that would animate human societies in times when all was going as it should, but an active, dynamic entity that has formed itself with the one purpose of breaking through the obstruction to life that it finds blocking nature’s path.

For Landauer, this revolutionary entity becomes a source of cohesion, purpose and love – “a spiritual pool” – for a humanity stranded in a desolate and despotic age: “It is in revolution’s fire, in its enthusiasm, its brotherhood, its aggressiveness that the image and the feeling of positive unification awakens; a unification that comes through a connecting quality: love as force”.

This raw, spiritual, power of revolutionary enthusiasm can enable anarchy to turn its theoretical rejection of the chains of our fake society into a real one. That enthusiasm, that fire, that aggressiveness, can be shared by real people, in real towns and cities who take to real streets with real intent. What other hope for change is there than this joyous release of the mighty dammed-up waters of justice, of nature, of life?

Emile Henry, the young Parisian student dismayed by the sick society that he saw around him, was impelled by that same force of revolution to hurl himself at corrupt society and try to spark uprising through propaganda by deed. After killing several policemen with a bomb in the offices of a mining company renowned for strike-breaking, and then targeting the swanky upper class Café Terminus with another attentat, he was guillotined at the age of 22 in 1894.

At his trial he was unrepentant for the deaths he had caused, comparing them with the countless lives taken and destroyed by the callous state-capitalist system (which at the time had been brutally targeting anarchists) and was defiantly confident that the cause for which he was to die would one day triumph over its powerful foes.

Henry told his prosecutors: “You have hanged in Chicago, decapitated in Germany, garotted in Jerez, shot in Barcelona, guillotined in Montbrison and Paris, but what you will never destroy is anarchy. Its roots are too deep. It is born in the heart of a society that is rotting and falling apart… It is everywhere, which makes it impossible to contain. It will end by killing you”.

This text has been adapted and abbreviated from Chapter V of The Anarchist Revelation by Paul Cudenec, published by Winter Oak. See book for full references.

L’anarchie, c’est la vie!

Nous vivons aujourd’hui au sein d’une civilisation corrompue et avilie. Superficielle et amorale, sa vision est construite non sur quelque sens des valeurs mais seulement sur un amour avide de l’argent et du pouvoir. Pire que cela, cette civilisation ne cesse de nous répéter qu’il n’y a aucune manière de vivre que la sienne, qu’il nous est à jamais impossible de rêver d’une alternative, sans même parler d’en créer une.

Face à tout cela, quelque chose d’absolument extraordinaire est nécessaire. Ce dont nous avons besoin, c’est d’un cri collectif de refus courageux; d’une réfutation impitoyable et implacable qui tranche à travers les couches de mensonges accumulées au fil des siècles; d’une éthique bouillonnante et explosive qui fasse sauter l’illusion mal fondée de la démocratie et du consensus; d’un déferlement audacieux et flamboyant d’authenticité qui ose mettre au jour les pitoyables restes d’une humanité réduite à un état presque fatal de désespoir et de mal-être par les forces de la tyrannie, de la violence, de l’exploitation et de la cupidité.

Heureusement, nous possédons déjà un tel arsenal d’idées, un tel mouvement sous la forme de l’anarchisme. Dans le sang de chaque et tout anarchiste coule la nécessité d’interroger toute chose, de n’accepter aucune limite à la liberté de l’individu et donc, comme une conséquence logique, de la communauté. L’anarchiste ne s’échappe pas seulement du cadre de la pensée acceptable prudemment construite par le système actuel, elle/il le réduit en pièces et danse sur les débris. Aucun postulat qui ne soit mis en question, aucun état des choses qui soit regardé comme inévitable, aucun juste combat qui ne soit considéré comme valant la peine d’être mené, aucun futur qui soit perçu comme hors d’atteinte. Ce n’est pas pour rien que les affiches dans les rues de Paris lors des soulèvements de 1968 déclaraient: « Soyez réalistes – demandez l’impossible! ». C’est toute l’énergie lâchée par l’appel aux armes de l’anarchie: le pouvoir perpétuel des possibilités refusées mais jamais mortes.

Les piliers philo-sophiques de notre société-prison ont été ébranlés de multiples fois par l’éloquence de ces critiques. Léon Tolstoï nous a avertis que nous sommes dirigés « au moyen de la violence organisée » et Alexandre Berkman nous a dit que quel que soit le genre d’autorité auquel nous ayons affaire « c’est toujours le même bourreau qui exerce le pouvoir sur vous par l’intermédiaire de votre peur de la punition d’une façon ou d’une autre ».

Il n’y a pas d’épreuve plus saisissante pour un anarchiste que la prise de conscience que tout ce qu’ils ont été dressés à croire est faux, et Emile Henry – un jeune étudiant brillant à Paris dans la dernière décennie du XIXe siècle – ne fait pas exception. Il rappelait: « On m’avait dit que les institutions sociales étaient basées sur la justice et l’égalité, et je ne constatai autour de moi que mensonges et fourberies… J’ai apporté dans la lutte une haine profonde, chaque jour avivée par le spectacle révoltant de cette société, où tout est bas, tout est louche, tout est laid, où tout est une entrave à l’épanchement des passions humaines, aux tendances généreuses du cœur, au libre essor de la pensée. »

Depuis ses tout débuts, l’anarchisme a rejeté l’idée que certaines personnes privilégiées pouvaient « posséder » des parties de la surface de la planète au détriment d’autres personnes, et a envisagé un lendemain où la propriété et les maux qui lui sont associés seraient abolis. Suivant les pas de Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, qui a défini de façon fameuse la propriété comme un vol, Gustav Landauer a écrit au début du XXe siècle: « Tout propriétaire de biens, tout propriétaire de terres est en réalité propriétaire d’êtres humains. Quiconque détient la terre au détriment des autres, au détriment des masses, contraint ces autres à travailler pour lui. La propriété privée est du vol et de l’esclavagisme. »

La place manque ici pour détailler tous les domaines de la vie contemporaine dans lesquels l’anarchie conteste le consensus capitaliste. Il rejette l’idée que, dans le but d’être capables de survivre sur cette planète, nous devions accepter de « travailler » pour le profit de quelqu’un d’autre. Il s’oppose résolument à la conversion cynique de la solidarité naturelle en un sentiment falsifié d’identité collective nommé « patriotisme » et la propagande guerrière qu’il sert à justifier. Se glorifiant de la variété des manifestations humaines, il refuse avec acharnement de laisser les gens être mis dans des cases, classés, condamnés, assignés à une place ou stigmatisés en raison de leur genre, de leur origine, de leur orientation sexuelle, de leurs capacités physiques ou d’une autre différence individuelle, qu’elle soit naturelle ou choisie.

Plus fondamentalement, bien sûr, l’anarchisme s’oppose à l’existence d’un Etat – l’hérésie fondamentale pour laquelle il est attaqué par l’Establishment. Une fois que sera dissipée l’illusion que les gens ont besoin de l’Etat, plutôt que le contraire, le château de cartes de l’autorité et de l’obéissance s’effondrera rapidement. Cependant, il ne sera pas facile de débarrasser les gens de cette idée, comme l’a expliqué Errico Malatesta en imaginant un homme dont les jambes avaient été liées dès l’enfance, mais qui essayait par tous les moyens d’avancer en boitillant. Il pourrait croire, comme le citoyen par rapport à l’Etat, qu’il est nécessaire qu’il soit attaché: « Imaginez qu’un médecin construise une théorie complète, avec un millier d’illustrations habilement inventées, pour persuader l’homme aux membres liés que, si ses membres étaient libérés, il ne pourrait pas marcher, ou même vivre. L’homme défendrait ses liens avec fureur et considérerait comme son ennemi quiconque essaierait de les arracher. »

Constamment nous voyons l’esprit anarchiste sauter par-dessus les murs dans lesquels la société veut l’emprisonner, portant un nouveau regard sur ce que d’autres ont toujours considéré comme acquis, observant autour de lui avec perplexité les trous que l’humanité a creusés pour elle-même et confectionnant, à l’aide de sa réflexion, des échelles de corde de la pensée avec lesquelles nous puissions nous sauver. Prenez par exemple un article de George Woodcock sur la façon dont la vie de l’homme occidental moderne se déroule suivant les symboles mécaniques et mathématiques du temps de l’horloge. Il écrit: « Dans une société saine et libre une domination aussi arbitraire de l’homme par des machines faites par l’homme est encore plus ridicule que la domination de l’homme par l’homme. Être totalement libre implique d’être affranchi de la tyrannie des abstractions aussi bien que de l’autorité de l’homme. »

Être affranchi de la tyrannie des abstractions – nulle part l’ambition sans limites de la pensée anarchiste n’est exprimée plus clairement qu’ici ! Voilà une idéologie politique qui est prête à s’élever jusqu’au royaume de la philosophie sans s’arrêter pour reprendre son souffle, appelant l’humanité à s’échapper de l’étroitesse d’esprit capitaliste, dépourvue d’imagination et purement fonctionnelle.

Gustav Landauer

 « L’anarchie, c’est la vie; la vie qui nous attend une fois que nous nous serons débarrassés du joug.  Le seul objectif de l’anarchisme est de mettre fin à la lutte des hommes contre les hommes et d’unir l’humanité afin que chaque individu puisse déployer son potentiel naturel sans obstruction »


Bakounine condamnait ceux qui se cachent derrière le masque de la science pour laminer nos vies et nos rêves, appelant à une « révolte de la vie » contre cette tyrannie dogmatique. Landauer faisait écho à son appel en déclarant que « l’anarchie, c’est la vie; la vie qui nous attend une fois que nous nous serons débarrassés du joug », et nous voyons là la motivation et la signification qui sont derrière tout le rejet de la société contemporaine et de ses normes étouffantes. Pour un anarchiste, ce n’est pas ainsi que les choses sont censées être; ce n’est pas ainsi que nous sommes tous censés vivre. Comme l’homme lié de Malatesta, nous boitillons vers notre mort en croyant que c’est la vie comme elle doit être, acceptant les propos rassurants des maîtres d’esclaves selon lesquels il n’y a pas d’alternative; que nous devrions leur être reconnaissants de nous garder en vie; que les fouets, chaînes et caméras de surveillance sont tous fournis pour notre propre sécurité; qu’il n’y a pas d’autre route que celle-là, pas de plus belle tâche que de casser des cailloux, aucun lieu éventuel vers lequel nous pourrions nous échapper – qu’une telle chose, la liberté, n’existe tout simplement pas.

Pour les anarchistes, la tendre pousse verte de chaque nouveau-né, le précieux potentiel de chaque être humain merveilleusement unique et beau, est entravé, écrasé, détruit par les bottes au bout ferré du capitalisme. Emma Goldman a dit que la santé d’une société pouvait être mesurée par « la personnalité individuelle et le point jusqu’où elle est libre d’exister, de se développer et de s’épanouir sans être arrêtée par une autorité envahissante et coercitive », et Landauer a écrit que « le seul objectif de l’anarchisme est de mettre fin à la lutte des hommes contre les hommes et d’unir l’humanité afin que chaque individu puisse déployer son potentiel naturel sans obstruction ».

Voilà, au bout du compte, ce que les anarchistes entendent par liberté. La liberté d’être ce que nous sommes censés être, de devenir ce pour quoi nous sommes nés et ce que nous étions destinés par nature à devenir, si nous n’avions pas été contrecarrés et déformés par cette civilisation capitaliste. Livrés à nos propres moyens, libérés du contrôle des dirigeants et des exploiteurs, nous pourrions en tant qu’individus coopérer et nous unir comme nous y étions destinés, de la même manière que nos semblables, les plantes, les insectes, les champignons et les microbes. Voilà la base de l’argumentation classique des anarchistes en faveur d’une société sans Etat fondée sur l’aide mutuelle et la solidarité. Comme l’a dit Bakounine: « La nature, en dépit de l’inépuisable richesse et variété des êtres dont elle est constituée, ne fait voir en aucune manière le chaos mais au contraire un monde magnifiquement organisé dans lequel chaque partie est logiquement reliée à toutes les autres parties. »

Les lois naturelles – voilà la base de la vision anarchiste d’une société valable et la raison pour laquelle nous rejetons les lois fabriquées comme des impostures destructrices de tout ce qui est bon, vrai et réel. Ce sont les branches mêlées et infiniment complexes d’une communauté vivante, une entité vitale qui est l’unique forme d’ « autorité » que les anarchistes peuvent respecter, la différence entre une société avec un gouvernement et une société anarchiste étant, comme l’a dit Woodcock, « la différence entre une structure et un organisme ».

Rejetant la pitoyable idée selon laquelle nous venons au monde dépourvus de but et de principe, feuilles blanches irrémédiablement amorales de papier vivant sur lesquelles l’Etat, dans sa sagesse, doit consigner les règles d’après lesquelles il exige que nous vivions, les anarchistes savent que des lois internes ont déjà déposé un sentiment de justice dans nos âmes.

C’est précisément parce que nous connaissons déjà la vraie justice – dans notre sang, dans nos os, dans nos entrailles, dans nos rêves – que les anarchistes sont si révoltés par la parodie écœurante qui nous est servie par l’Etat. Notre sens inné du bien et du mal est mortellement blessé et la pression que créent une vraie justice réprimée, une autorité naturelle intérieure niée, des lois internes étouffées s’amplifie dans nos esprits – individuellement et en masse, consciemment et inconsciemment – et devient la force qui sous-tend le besoin de révolution.

Cette force devient elle-même une entité vivante – non l’entité passive, patiente qui animait les sociétés humaines aux temps où tout allait comme il fallait, mais une entité active, dynamique qui s’est formée dans le seul but de faire une brèche dans l’obstruction à la vie qu’elle trouve barrant le chemin de la nature. Pour Landauer, cette entité révolutionnaire devient une source de cohésion, de résolution et d’amour – « un foyer spirituel » – pour une humanité échouée dans un âge désolé et despotique: « C’est dans le feu de la révolution, dans son enthousiasme, sa fraternité, son agressivité que l’image et le sentiment d’une unification positive s’éveille; une unification qui passe par une puissance de liaison: l’amour comme force. »

Ce pouvoir brut, spirituel, d’enthousiasme révolutionnaire peut permettre à l’anarchie de transformer son rejet théorique des chaînes de notre société truquée en un rejet réel. Cet enthousiasme, ce feu, cette agressivité, peuvent être partagés par de vraies personnes, habitant dans de vraies villes et agglomérations, qui descendent dans de vraies rues avec un vrai dessein. Quel autre espoir de changement y a-t-il que cette joyeuse libération de la puissance des eaux de la justice, de la nature, de la vie, si longtemps contenue ?

Emile Henry, le jeune étudiant parisien consterné par la société malade qu’il voyait autour de lui, fut poussé par la même force de révolution à s’élancer contre la société corrompue et essayer de mettre le feu aux poudres à travers la propagande par l’action. Après avoir tué plusieurs policiers en plaçant une bombe dans les bureaux d’une compagnie minière connue pour briser les grèves et ensuite s’en être pris au huppé Café Terminus, réservé aux classes supérieures, avec un autre attentat, il fut guillotiné à l’âge de 22 ans en 1894.

A son procès, il ne se repentit pas des morts qu’il avait causées, les comparant avec les innombrables vies prises et détruites par l’impitoyable système d’Etat capitaliste (qui à l’époque s’en était pris brutalement aux anarchistes) et affirmait avec défi sa conviction que la cause pour laquelle il allait mourir triompherait un jour de ses puissants adversaires. Henry déclara à ses accusateurs: « Vous avez pendu à Chicago, décapité en Allemagne, garrotté à Jerez, fusillé à Barcelone, guillotiné à Montbrison et à Paris, mais ce que vous ne pourrez jamais détruire, c’est l’anarchie. Ses racines sont trop profondes; elle est née au sein d’une société porrie qui se disloque… Elle est partout, ce qui la rend insaisissable. Elle finira par vous tuer. »

Texte tiré de mon livre The Anarchist Revelation

The living force of insurrection

In 2007 a group of radicals in France, calling themselves le comité invisible (The Invisible Committee) brought out a book called L’Insurrection qui vient or, in English, The Coming Insurrection.

A lot has happened since then. For a start, the waves created by their writing led to a group of people, who became known as the Tarnac Nine, being arrested on dubious charges of sabotaging high-speed rail lines, with the French state claiming they were also the authors of the pamphlet.

The wider picture of what has become of the struggle against neoliberalism, and where it might go from here, is what is addressed in their follow-up book A nos amis, recently published by La fabrique éditions.*

“Insurrections finally came,” they tell us with a nod back to the title of the previous book, although they obviously have to admit: “Insurrections came, but not the revolution”.

They refer throughout to the whole gamut of uprisings we have witnessed over the last seven years – from Cairo to Rio, Athens to London, Istanbul to Madrid and beyond. The problem, from an anti-capitalist point of view is that despite all of that resistance the system is still standing – everywhere. Revolutions never seem to develop any further than rioting, as they concede.

Rioting in England, 2011
But, on the positive side, there is an increasing feeling of something happening, the commonly-shared intuition that “an insurrection can break out at any moment, for whatever reason, in any country and lead anywhere”.
This, insist The Invisible Committee, is not just wishful thinking on the part of the world’s dissidents – there really is a pattern emerging: “What has been happening in the world since 2008 isn’t an incoherent  series of random eruptions in sealed national spaces, but one big historical sequence”.
They suggest they it is wrong to lament the demise of the specific anti-globalisation movement that seemed such an unstoppable force at Genoa, Seattle, or the City of London in the years leading up to 9/11.
Instead, they suggest, it has become absorbed into the Zeitgeist. “It has disappeared, precisely because it has been fulfilled. Everything that made up its basic vocabulary has entered into the public domain: is there anyone today who questions the existence of ‘the dictatorship of finance’, of the political aims behind IMF-imposed reforms, of the ‘destruction of the environment’ by capitalist greed, of the insane arrogance of the nuclear lobby, of the barefaced lies of power, of the open corruption of the ruling class? You have to remind yourself that over the course of ten years, views once held only by radicals have now become the very stuff of common sense”. 
More people have absorbed the fact that neoliberal capitalism is not just a theoretical entity but something that exists on a real everyday level. Stripping away the mystique of power, we see the criminality behind the facade: “The state is the mafia which has beaten off all the other mafia”.
We also see that capitalism is, basically, the infrastructure of life in modern industrial society: “Power is now immanent in life as it is organised…” “Power has now become the very order of things, with the police in charge of defending it”. 
While outright brutality is of course constantly deployed to defend capitalism, the Committee suggest that a more significant aspect of repression is “a war of influence – subtle, psychological and indirect”. 
The so-called “crisis” is a prime example of this, they say, distorting the way that opponents are able to even think about capitalism. “We are not experiencing a crisis of  capitalism, but the triumph of crisis capitalism”. “There isn’t a ‘crisis’ we have to get out of, there is a war we have to win.”
If the key to understanding capitalism is to appreciate the diffuse nature of its existence in the very infrastructure of its world, it is also important to understand our own role, insist the Committee.
The counter-insurgency strategies of the status quo always assume the existence of an “enemy” which is competing with it for the loyalties of the “population” – and thus it will always try to create divisions between the two, whether by propaganda or subterfuge of various kinds (such as false flag “terrorism”).

But we should know that we are ourselves part of the population: “We are the ‘hearts and minds’ that they want to win over. We are the crowds that they want to ‘control’. We are the underworld in which government agents operate and which they hope to subdue, and not a rival entity in the pursuit of power. We don’t fight from within the population ‘like a fish in the water’ for we are the water in which our enemies are wading – soluble fish. We are that matter which grows from the inside, organises itself and develops. There lies the real asymmetry and our real position of strength”.

Anti-capitalists therefore need sometimes to “disappear” back inside the population of which they are part so they can never be isolated from it.

Already in The Coming Insurrection, The Invisible Committee displayed similarities to the thinking of the oft-neglected  German-Jewish anarchist Gustav Landauer when they wrote that “revolutionary movements do not spread by contamination but by resonance”.
In his most important text, For Socialism, Landauer wrote: “There is no need to fear a lack of revolutionaries: they actually arise by a sort of spontaneous generation – namely when the revolution comes…” 
In A nos amis, the Committee quote Landauer at one stage and are making the very same point as he did above, when they declare: “It’s not ‘the people’ which creates the uprising, but the uprising which creates its people”.

A protest in Athens
In order to start this process moving, they stress that we need to organise ourselves. Without that, our numbers count for nothing – the 99% per cent will remain disempowered by the 1%. “There is a world of difference,” they point out, “between a mass of poor people and a mass of poor people determined to act together”.
But worry not – this does not mean they want us all to rally under their flag and set up local franchises of The Invisible Committee in our own home towns: “Getting organised doesn’t mean  joining the same organisation. Getting organised is about acting according to a common perception, whatever level that might be on.” 
With a view to building that shared perception, they propose an emphasis on the idea of the revolutionary Commune – what might also be termed the building-up of a culture of resistance.
From struggling together we can discover “a quality of connection  and a way of being in the world”.
Our personal experiences of being involved in occupied spaces of various kinds, the Communes they have in mind, show us “that we can organise ourselves and that this power is fundamentally joyful”. The power that comes from resisting is therefore in itself a kind of victory.
Importantly, they understand that a revolutionary urge is not something that can be artificially constructed or easily controlled or quantified, but is instead a “living force”.
We have to be able to “see a world populated not by things, but by forces, not by subjects but by powers, not by bodies but by connections”.
The big question facing us, they say, is “How can we build a force which isn’t an organisation?” It is here that the depth of their conception of the Commune comes in. They refer back to the “medieval” sense of the idea, which they say had been long lost before being rediscovered by the federalist faction of the Paris Commune in 1871, and which has kept on resurfacing every since.
This is the same “force without name” that was understood by the proto-anarchist heretics of the Brothers of the Free Spirit.
The activation of this nameless force will be crucial in turning insurrection into revolution, in turning opposition to the industrial capitalism world into a positive longing for something different.
At the moment, this positive longing is only expressing itself in negative terms, as a deep rejection of all that it is not, all that is preventing its vision from being fulfilled.
“Incurable disgust, pure negativity and total rejection are the only political forces in evidence at the moment,” note the Committee.

Insurrection in Egypt
The real driving force behind the Occupy movement was not the specific grievances that it voiced but a much broader “disgust for the world we are made to live in”. 
This disgust, however, is itself proof of a contrasting conception of how things should be, how we should be living. The disgust arises from an ethical awareness, something that has been largely abandoned by anti-capitalists and has thus been able to be appropriated, in a distorted form, by Islamicists and fascists.
“The importance of the theme of prevailing corruption in nearly all today’s revolts shows the extent to which they are primarily ethical rather than political,” say the Committee.
For them, there are such things as “ethical truths”, but they are aware that this is not so for everyone: “These are two words which, when placed together, sound to the modern spirit like an oxymoron”.
They go on to define these ethical foundations for our resistance: “These are truths which connect us, to ourselves, to that which surrounds us, and each to the other. They take us to a world which is suddenly held in common,  to a non-separated existence free of the illusory walls of our egos”.
It is not entirely clear to me to what extent the authors see these ethical truths as being embedded in human nature, as I would argue they are. On the one hand they reject the notion that political order is needed in order to constrain a basically selfish human nature, that we are all separate and competing individuals who have to be held together by some kind of artifice. They comment: “As Marshall Sahlins showed, this idea of a human nature which it is up to ‘culture’ to hold down is a Western illusion”. 
On the other hand, they go on to dismiss mutual aid and a belief in the innate goodness of humanity as “fundamentally Christian” ideas, apparently unaware of the notion of original sin and the necessity, for Christians, of finding salvation from this innate state of sin through redemption in Christ. A belief in the innate goodness of humanity – of an innate tendency to co-operation and solidarity – is as alien to orthodox Christian thinking as it is essential to the alternative panenhenist (“all-in-one-ist”) view of our connection to the universe to which the Committee’s views elsewhere come so close.
It is the loss of our understanding that we, as individuals form a living part of a much bigger organic entity (or series of entities – humankind, the planet, the cosmos…) that has left us stranded with little understanding of the forces around us.
When one is simply part of a bigger being (in the way that our various organs and limbs are part of our body), ideas of mutual aid and working for the common good are not even matters of choice, but of necessity. The “goodness” involved is therefore not altruistic in some abstract or religious way, but a natural result of our organic belonging to the wider Whole.
The Committee seem aware of this when they write that “the real catastrophe is existential and metaphysical” and when they add: “To be free and to be connected (lié) is one and the same thing. I am free because I am connected, because I am part of a reality much bigger than me”.
They comment on the existence of “a universal thirst for rediscovering ourselves that can only be explained by universal separation” and stress the importance of a spiritual aspect to our struggle “whether that takes the form of theory, literature, art or metaphysics”.
The idea of the individual as part of an organic humanity and of humanity as, in turn, part of an organic planet leads inevitably to an environmental basis for our culture of resistance and this is indeed embraced by the Committee. 
They explicitly reject the leftist slogan of putting humanity at the centre of our thinking: “We other revolutionaries, with our atavistic humanism, would do well to take a look at the constant uprisings of indigenous peoples in central and south America over the last 20 years. Their slogan could be: ‘Put the Earth at the centre’”.
The authors are clearly inspired by the Zapatista movement and indigenous Indian thinkers are quoted in support of the importance of interconnections between people and land, which the Committee also pinpoints as a crucial motivation behind uprisings elsewhere in the world.
 Threats to our environment – whether it be the felling of hundreds of trees in an Istanbul park, the construction of high-speed rail line through the Italian Alps or the building of a new airport at Nantes – are prompting many of the most significant outbreaks of resistance against capitalism.
Moreover, this resistance is targeting the very infrastructure which in fact now constitutes the essential reality of capitalism. Blocking infrastructure is becoming the most effective way of fighting power.
“More and more revolutionaries are coming to throw themselves as greedily into what they call ‘local struggles’ as they yesterday did into ‘social struggles’”, note the authors. “What connects them are the gestures of resistance that flow from them – blocking, occupying, rioting and sabotaging as direct attacks on the production of value by the circulation of information and goods…”
As I noted recently, this phenomenon has been particularly apparent in France, where the controversy surrounding the police murder of environmental protester Rémi Fraisse has revealed to the public the extent of the resistance to grands projets designed to expand capitalist domination at the expense of the natural world and human communities.
Rémi Fraisse
The way in which these struggles often combine different types and levels of resistance – from traditional “local” campaigning to direct action approaches – fits well with the Committee’s vision of the way forward for anti-capitalists.
They emphasise that a fully-functioning resistance must retain all its aspects, which they break down into three main elements – spiritual, combative (whether orientated towards attack or self-defence) and possessing material means and spaces.
“Each time that one of these dimensions loses contact with the others and becomes independent of them, the movement degenerates – into armed avant-gardes, cults of theorists or alternative businesses”.
The principal activities in which we should be involved can therefore be summed up as thinking, attacking and building. 
Writing theoretical texts such as these is evidently only one aspect of the revolutionary work being carried out by the authors and they conclude the book on a positive message to the amis across the world who increasingly understand that they are fighting the same struggle, not just against the capitalist system but for another way of being.
“We will do what has to be done,” they promise. “This text is the start of a plan”.
* I have been working from the French edition, so all quotes are my own translations rather than excerpts from the English-language version.

Gabriel Kuhn reviews The Anarchist Revelation

I’m indebted to Gabriel Kuhn for the very positive review of The Anarchist Revelation he has posted on the Alpine Anarchist Productions website.

Gabriel is well known to English-speaking anarchists for the likes of Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age Piracy (2010), Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics (2011), and for editing and translating Gustav Landauer’s Revolution and Other Writings (2010) and Liberating Society from the State and Other Writings (2011) by Erich Mühsam.

His German-language works include Tier-Werden, Schwarz-Werden, Frau-Werden. Eine Einführung in die politische Philosophie des Poststrukturalismus (2005) and Neuer Anarchismus in den USA. Seattle und die Folgen (2008).

Here is what he writes:

Review of  Paul Cudenec, The Anarchist Revelation (Sussex: Winter Oak Press, 2013) 

Publications on anarchism have been thriving since the early 2000s. Yet, there is still a place for surprisingly unique releases. Paul Cudenec’s The Anarchist Revelation, recently published by Winter Oak Press in England is one such example. The book attempts no less than equipping contemporary anarchism with a footing that is often neglected: the transformation not only of society’s structures but also of people’s souls.

In order to achieve his goal, Cudenec embarks on a daring journey through the history of ideas. The list of references is long: Taoism, Sufism, the Bhagavad Gita, Nietzsche, Hesse, Huxley, C.G. Jung, Marcuse, Baudrillard, Zerzan, to name but a few. This alone will be reason enough for some folks to be skeptical: the list includes many non-anarchists, the danger of romanticizing non-Western traditions is evident, and when the likes of Oswald Spengler pop up, a fear for reactionary ideas corrupting a presumably progressive treatise is never far.

Make no mistake, though: this is no hodgepodge of random notations, and no new age hocus-pocus disguised in anarchist colors. Cudenec’s text is well-structured, consistent in its arguments, and manages to address poetry, mysticism, and spirituality without regressing into lofty gibberish. It is never in doubt that the book is a serious attempt at helping us answer the ever relevant question of whether life can change with a rearrangement of social institutions alone, if we don’t change as human beings.

This is not an either-or question of course, as social institutions determine personal development – but the opposite is true as well. As Cudenec puts it, it is not that “the message is an individualist one … The reason why individuals must follow this path is so that they can better channel and carry out the needs of the larger whole.” (vii)

In a kind of Landauerian twist of Nietzsche (readers who couldn’t care less about either can simply ignore this observation), Cudenec puts a strong emphasis on the figure of the “outsider”: “Being an ‘outsider’ is thus a stage in a personal transformation which we must all experience if we are ever to emerge from the perpetual self-obsessed adolescence encouraged by contemporary society.” (viii)

Once again, the purpose of this stage is not to remain isolated, but to reunite with others as an individual better equipped for communal existence: “As instinctive outsiders, we free ourselves from the chains of society’s expectations only to find ourselves bearing an enormous burden of care for the well-being of the community. An extreme sense of personal freedom combined with an extreme sense of collective responsibility – this is the powerful creative tension at the heart of the anarchist psyche.” (85)

The anarchist “revelation” that the book’s title alludes to is a consequence of these convictions: “It is not so much a revolution that is needed, but a revelation – a lifting of all the veils of falsity and a joyful rediscovery of the authentic core of our existence.” (121)

To speak of an “authentic core of our existence” or, as Cudenec does on other occasions, of a “human archetype” (19) or the possibility of failing to become “all that nature intended us to be” (25) easily evokes accusations of essentialism. Yet, if we look beyond the terminological difficulties, an important question is raised here: What is it that we, as anarchists, actually want and need? In the end, only an answer to this question can lay the foundation for the communities we are seeking.

Paul Cudenec’s work will mostly appeal to those who – in increasing numbers – explore the relations between anarchism and philosophy, psychology, and religion. People looking for in-depth analyses of governmental bodies, labor conditions, or gender and race relations might have to turn somewhere else. No single book has it all.  

The Anarchist Revelation has a clear purpose, however, that is, reflecting on the transformation of the self for the benefit of the community. Everyone interested in this mighty challenge will find the text to be an inspiring read.
(August 2013)

The natural laws of freedom

Below is an excerpt from The Anarchist Revelation. It’s taken from the chapter called Anarchy is Life. Pictured here, from left, are anarchist thinkers Peter Kropotkin, Michael Bakunin, Emma Goldman, Gustav Landauer and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

For an anarchist, the tender green shoot of each new-born child, the precious potential of each wonderfully unique and beautiful human being, is blocked, crushed, destroyed by the steel toe-capped boots of capitalism.

Emma Goldman says that the health of society could be measured by a person’s “individuality and the extent to which it is free to have its being, to grow and expand unhindered by invasive and coercive authority”, and Gustav Landauer writes that “anarchism’s lone objective is to end the fight of men against men and to unite humanity so that each individual can unfold his natural potential without obstruction”.

This, ultimately, is what anarchists mean by freedom. The freedom to be what we are meant to be, to become what we were born and destined by nature to become, if our ontogeny had not been thwarted and distorted.

Left to our own devices, freed from the control of the slave-masters, we individuals would co-operate and combine in the way that we were intended to, in the same way as our fellow creatures, plants, insects, fungi and microbes.

This is the basis of Peter Kropotkin’s classic argument for a society free of state, the harmonious natural order of which humans – and their relations with each other – form part: “The mutual-aid tendency in man has so remote an origin, and is so deeply interwoven with all the past evolution of the human race, that it has been maintained by mankind up to the present time, notwithstanding all vicissitudes of history”.

As Michael Bakunin says: “Nature, notwithstanding the inexhaustible wealth and variety of beings of which it is constituted, does not by any means present chaos, but instead a magnificently organized world wherein every part is logically correlated to all the other parts”.

Natural laws – these are the basis of the anarchist vision of a proper society and the reason why we reject the man-made variety as imposters and destroyers of all that is good and true and real.

Bakunin, that fiery messiah of disobedience, explains how these natural laws are of a kind he has no hesitation in bowing to: “Yes, we are unconditionally the slaves of these laws. But in such slavery there is no humiliation, or rather it is not slavery at all. For slavery presupposes the existence of an external master, a legislator standing above those whom he commands, while those laws are not extrinsic in relation to us: they are inherent in us, they constitute our nature, our whole being, physically, intellectually and morally. And it is only through those laws that we live, breathe, act, think and will. Without them we would be nothing, we simply would not exist”.

Natural laws are the interwoven and infinitely complex limbs of a living community, a vital entity that is the only form of “authority” that anarchists can respect, with the difference between a governmental society and an anarchic society being, as George Woodcock says, “the difference between a structure and an organism”.

Rejecting the pitiful idea that we come into this world devoid of purpose and principle, helplessly amoral blank sheets of living paper on which the state, in its wisdom, must write down the rules by which it demands we should live, anarchists know that inherent laws have already laid down a sense of justice in our souls.

“An integral part of the collective existence, man feels his dignity at the same time in himself and in others, and thus carries in his heart the principle of a morality superior to himself,” writes Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

“This principle does not come to him from outside; it is secreted within him, it is immanent. It constitutes his essence, the essence of society itself. It is the true form of the human spirit, a form which takes shape and grows towards perfection only by the relationship that every day gives birth to social life. Justice, in other words, exists in us like love, like notions of beauty, of utility, of truth, like all our powers and faculties”.

It is precisely because we already know true justice – in our blood, in our bones, in our guts, in our dreams – that anarchists are so revolted by the sick parody that is served up to us by the bigwigs of the state. Our innate sense of right and wrong is mortally offended and the pressure of a true justice re-pressed, of a natural authority denied, of inherent laws smothered, builds up in our spirits – individually and en masse, consciously and unconsciously – and becomes the force behind the need for revolution.

This force becomes a living entity itself – not the passive, patient entity that would animate human societies in times when all was going as it should, but an active, dynamic entity that has formed itself with the one purpose of breaking through the obstruction to life that it finds blocking nature’s path.

For Landauer, this revolutionary entity becomes a source of cohesion, purpose and love – “a spiritual pool” – for a humanity stranded in a desolate and despotic age: “It is in revolution’s fire, in its enthusiasm, its brotherhood, its aggressiveness that the image and the feeling of positive unification awakens; a unification that comes through a connecting quality: love as force”.

(References can be found in the book itself and are also available on request)

Rediscovering anarcho-perennialism

An email I received after posting the quotations from Jung the other day has given me some cause for thought.

In that short blog update I referred to the ‘perennialist’ tradition and this, I now realise, needs some clarification.

I had fondly imagined that the Anarchangels booklet explained more or less what it was and how it fitted in with anarchism, but on re-reading it, I am not so sure.

I did attempt a more explicit explanation in my talk at the London Anarchist Bookfair in October, so I have gone back to those notes to try and provide the ideological context that is perhaps rather elusive in the pamphlet itself.

One reason why Anarchangels is a little impressionistic is that I am horribly aware of the provisional nature of everything that I write.

Having been immobilised for many years by what now looks like a very blinkered sense of certainty as to what I believed, or didn’t believe, my thoughts have recently been pouring out in all sorts of intellectual directions like floodwaters released by a breached dam.

I know that anything I write today may not be what I would want to write tomorrow and thus do not want to set in stone any specific arrangement of ideas that happens to appeal to me at the moment.

Thanks to some interesting correspondence in recent weeks, I have also become aware of others working in very much the same areas of contemplation, from whom I realise I have potentially much to learn.

While I make no apologies for the personal nature of the road to philosophical exploration that I set out here and in the booklets (one can only really ever know something that one has discovered oneself), I should point out again that I claim no expertise (in anything!), no particular credentials and certainly no merit in presenting ideas and connections between ideas that, inevitably, have already been examined, and in much greater depth, by so many others over the years.

The starting point of my own foray into this particular forest of thought was a sense of negativity – or rather, the refusal of a sense of negativity.

Others were keen to point out to me that I always seemed to be against everything. Political discussions invariably ended with me concluding that there was no way of fixing the situation, that the whole lot would have to go. The screensaver on my computer declared: “The system is fucked. Fuck the system!”

For a brief moment, I began to wonder if these people weren’t right. Were my conclusions about the state of the modern world really no more than manifestations of some kind of malevolent inner essence? Was I nothing more than a human black hole, sucking away other people’s vital energies by my overwhelming negativity?
Richard Jefferies
Fortunately, it did not take me long to realise that the answer was ‘no’. I knew that at the root of everything I possessed a love for life. Not necessarily my particular life, as it was then, but the life force itself. Was Richard Jefferies (1848-1887), that spiritual worshipper of eternal nature, not my long-time favourite writer?

Did I not yearn for truth, authenticity, connection with the cosmos? That didn’t sound negative to me.

Moving up from that foundation into the political realm, it struck me that the reason why I seemed to always be ‘anti’ everything was that I was following a powerful personal moral compass.

If I think something is bad, it’s because it doesn’t match up to how I think things should be; it doesn’t correspond to my values.

There’s nothing negative about feeling animosity towards bankers or arms dealers if you strongly feel it’s wrong to rip people off or make money out of killing them.

It’s not negative to hate advertising and shopping if you can see that consumerist craving is an addiction that eats away at people’s souls.

It’s not negative to hate the whole capitalist system and to want it to fall apart as soon as possible if you know that it’s destroying the planet and you happen to value the planet you live on.

One of the main characteristics of any anarchist, I would say, is having this strong sense of right and wrong, of being firmly committed to a set of values – even if those values are the opposite of those laid down by the prevailing culture.

And, I realised, the alternative values we espouse didn’t emerge out of thin air, or a workshop at the 1888 London Anarchist Bookfair.

Instead, they have arisen from thousands of years of human culture. A love of nature, an aversion to egotism, to selfishness, to materialism, to greed, to murder – these are all traditional values, which surface in cultures and religions all over the world.

Of course, there is an apparent contradiction here, as conventional thinking tends to have it that ‘traditional values’ are something conservative or right-wing .

But this is just a façade, designed to deceive. If you strip down the generally held notion of ‘tradition’, particularly in this country, all you will find is a lot of pompous flag-waving, adherence to self-serving authoritarian religious organisations and nostalgia for some period of the recent past – You’ve Never Had It So Good, the Dunkirk Spirit, Victorian Family Values and so on.

And behind all this window dressing, you will find that these modern ‘traditionalists’ in fact believe in an amoral world, of every man or woman for themself, of pragmatism and short-term material advantage.

The quest for real values takes us much deeper, into the pursuit of the ancient wisdom that can be found at the heart of the world’s religions, no matter how corrupted their current forms have become.

Perennialism is a search for these hidden values in every corner of human culture – such as in Hindusim, Sufi Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Jewish Kabala, alchemy, indigenous spirituality or the gnostic scriptures of early Christianity.

It sees there a universal human philosophy which reaches back to time immemorial but from which we in the modern West have now been completely cut off.

At the heart of it all is the sense of oneness, of connection to the organic Whole, which I described in Antibodies. Sometimes this Whole is described using the word ‘God’ and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes people who worship ‘God’ mean this all-inclusive Whole and sometimes they don’t.
René Guénon
I personally stumbled across perennialism when a helpful friend pointed out to me a copy of René Guénon’s The Crisis of the Modern World in a secondhand bookshop here in Worthing.

I didn’t buy it on the spot, as I seemed a bit expensive for its size, but awoke the next morning filled with the necessity of returning to the shop and bringing it home to read.

Some internet surfing on Guénon’s ideas and connections subsequently led me to a book by Mark Sedgwick called Against the Modern World – Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century.

As the second part of title perhaps suggests, this can be a little sensationalist and over-egged at times and occasionally constructs some rather desperate ‘connections’ between completely disparate thinkers.

But, for all its faults, it does provide some useful information about the development of the perennialist ‘movement’ which I can use to further my explanation.

According to Sedgwick, perennialism was originated by 15thcentury Italian Renaissance thinker Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), who suggested this single perennial, or primordial, origin behind all religions which had since diversified into apparently separate forms.

The philosophy became popular for a couple of hundred years, then drifted out of favour in the early 17th century to be revived in a slightly different form in the 19th and early 20thcentury.

It was popularised by Guénon (1886-1951), who sought universal truth first in Hinduism and then, when he found it difficult to become a Hindu, in Sufi Islam. He moved from France to Egypt, where he married an Egyptian women, had children and lived out the rest of his life.

Guénon himself rejected the political level of action and was certainly no anarchist, but Sedgwick’s book reveals that anarchists did play a key role in the early development of perennialism.

There was Ananda Coomaraswamy (1887-1947), for instance, who was a keen student of the work of both William Blake and William Morris.
Ananda Coomaraswamy
Alan Antliff writes: “The anarchism of Coomaraswamy represents a compelling instance of cross-cultural intermingling in which a European critique of industrial capitalism founded on the arts-and-crafts was turned to anti-colonial ends in a campaign against Eurocentric cultural imperialism and its material corollary, industrial capitalism.” (From the essay Revolutionary Seer for Post-Industrial Age, included in I Am Not A Man, I Am Dynamite – Friedrich Nietzsche and The Anarchist Tradition, ed John Moore).

Another key figure was Swedish artist Ivan Aguéli (1869-1917) who, with his lover and anarchist comrade Marie Huot, was involved in the perennialist and animal rights movements.

His particular claim to fame is that in 1900 he shot a matador in a protest against the proposed introduction of Spanish-style fatal bullfighting to France.

Aguéli also lived in Cairo for a while and worked with another anarchist by the name of Enrico Insabato.

Not only were the two movements – perennialism and anarchism – intertwined at that stage, but there is a broader overlap of ideas as well.

Kropotkin’s admiration for the values of the Middle Ages is echoed by Guénon and even Bakunin’s idea of Natural Law is not so far away from the perennialists’ concept of fundamental values (despite his fervent atheism).

Perennialism particularly chimes with the thinking of the anarchist Gustav Landauer (1870-1919), who explored the idea of a universal psyche and wrote: “We have been satisfied until now to transform the universe into the human spirit, or better, into the human intellect; let us now transform ourselves into the universal spirit”.
Gustav Landauer
There is also a strong connection between perennialism and the growth of the modern environmentalist movement (which, of course, in turn, feeds back into contemporary anarchism).

Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998), another of Guénon’s disciples, left Europe to live in the USA where he was adopted into the Sioux tribe, was heavily involved in the promotion of Native American studies in the USA and influenced American ‘New Age’ thinking.

Perennialism also has the merit of being a profoundly internationalist philosophy. By appreciating the uniting truth behind different faiths, it overcomes religious divides by rising to a higher level.

Like anarchism, it is thus totally irreconcilable with nationalism. As Guénon himself said: “All nationalism is essentially opposed to the traditional outlook”.
Frithjof Schuon
I cannot avoid the fact, however, that perennialist philosophy is sometimes given a bad name by association with the fascist writer Julius Evola (1898-1974), whose elitist and militarist ‘Traditionalism’ was a bastardised offshoot from the movement.

He really does not sit easily with the perennialist tradition. The anti-industrialist ethic is at the root of Guénon’s, Coomaraswamy’s and Schuon’s philosphy, and yet Evola was happy to hob-nob with right-wing German industrialists and glorifying the conveyor-belt mass slaughter of 20th century warfare.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), in his book The Perennial Philosophy, explains that fascist and other totalitarian ideas are in fact the complete opposite of perennialism and the values and state of mind it promotes. 
Aldous Huxley
He writes: “Excessive privilege and power are standing temptations to pride, greed, vanity and cruelty; oppression results in fear and envy; war breeds misery and despair. All such negative emotions are fatal to the spiritual life.”

This same contradiction does not exist between the perennial philosophy and anarchy, as we have seen.

So a combination of the two, an anarcho-perennialism (a specifically anti-fascist anarcho-perennialism, to finally lay to rest the malevolent ghost of Evola) is not so much a case of welding two traditions together as of rejoining two halves of broken ideological bone.

This theoretical healing can, I believe, restore depth and strength to a contemporary anarchism that sometimes seems a little sterile and superficial in comparison with its philosophical heyday 100 years or more ago.

The self-discipline of spiritual focus is also of enormous benefit to all human beings, among whom anarchists can, of course, be numbered.

The traditional alchemical inner process of self-purification, dissolution into the Whole and then condensation into the material plane is an ideal way for any activist to rid themselves of the constraints of their ego and return to the ‘real world’ refreshed and ready to act out their part in our collective history, unafraid even of death.

This is the very process I described in Antibodies without fully realising its antiquity.

As paradoxical as it may seem to some, we only achieve self-fulfilment through self-sacrifice. Says the Sufi mystic Rumi (1207-1273): “When you give up everything, everything is yours.”

Gustav Landauer’s Revolution

An indispensable volume of writings from my favourite anarchist writer, Gustav Landauer, has been published by PM Press.

Gabriel Kuhn’s fluid translations from the original German are eminently readable and the whole book is a reminder of what a powerful intellectual presence Landauer must have been in the anarchist movement at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century.

There is also a sadly topical feel to the manner of his death – brutally murdered by pro-government proto-fascists in 1919 – as once again we see right-wing fanatics wound up and pointed at dissidents by regimes frightened of the heady scent of revolt in the wind…

You can order Revolution and Other Writings direct from PM Press.