Our timeless thirst for freedom

The thing we call “anarchism” is really just a current form taken by something deep within human nature.

When we look back into history, we see the same root idea emerging in different circumstances and, therefore, in different guises.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, for instance, a loose movement spread across Europe known as the Brethren of the Free Spirit.

The starting point of their thinking may seem obscure and strangely religious from a contemporary anarchist point of view. But when leading figure Amaury de Bène declared at the University of Paris that “God is the intelligence that organises and the essence of that which is organised” he was proclaiming a revolutionary opposition to every kind of hierarchy.

Although he and his fellow thinkers were burnt at the stake in 1210, over the next couple of centuries their ideas spread all across the north of France, Belgium and Netherlands, Alsace, the Rhinelands, the south of Germany, Silesia and northern and central Italy.

Writing at the time, the religious reactionary Jan van Ruysbroeck complained: “Thirsting for freedom, they want to obey nobody, not the Pope nor the bishop, nor the priest, and, however they might appear externally, they know no internal submission to anything, neither in their will nor in their works, for they are fully cut loose from all that belongs to the domain of the Holy Church”.

The Apostolici who appeared in northern Italy at the end of the 13th century believed in communal life and the abolition of both private property and marriage. They recognised neither leaders, hierarchies, churches nor religious ceremonies and urged people to reject all kinds of authority.

Panic set in at the Vatican at the spread of their anarchic ideas and in 1312 the Pope condemned all Free Spirit followers to the clutches of the Inquisition.

Rather than let themselves be forced further underground, subsequent representatives of the libertarian spirit were increasingly defiant, transforming their theoretical rejection of authority into a revolutionary assault on power, property and privilege.

Their ideas inspired both an uprising in Florence in 1378 and the Peasants’ Revolt in the south of England in 1381, where a number of those involved had been linked with a previous outbreak of “heresy”, including John Ball, who had been arrested for illegal preaching 20 years earlier.

In 1418 a group of 50 people from Picardy in northern France, linked to the Free Spirit, turned up in Bohemia and joined forces with local rebels, known as Hussites after Jan Hus who had been burnt as a heretic in 1415.

At the same time as urban rebellion fomented in Prague, peasants around nearby Tabor came together to abolish private property and tax. They held all in common and called each other “brother”.

On 14 July 1420 a coalition of urban Hussites and rural Taborites routed the German troops who had been despatched to re-establish the control of the Emperor over Bohemia. Revolts continued to break out periodically and in 1437 there were peasant uprisings in both Hungary and Romania, with another in Zbaszyn, Silesia, in 1440.

Before the end of the century a much more sophisticated secret revolutionary league called the Bundschuh had been set up in the towns of Alsace, uniting peasants with the urban poor plus a handful of bourgeoisie and minor nobles.

Having gathered on a mountain in the Vosges and tried to start an uprising by taking Selestat, the survivors fled to Switzerland and southern Germany and re-established the organisation there.

At the start of the 16th century there were further insurrections in what was then the Kingdom of Hungary, in which rebels demanded their “ancient rights” and “castles and monasteries were destroyed everywhere and noble prisoners judged and executed by peasant juries”.

We can go on from there to trace connections to later manifestations of the same root idea, in century after century. The Hussites were succeeded by the Anabaptists, for instance, who definitely influenced the Diggers and Ranters of the 17th century English Revolution. In turn, and together, they influenced the likes of William Blake and Percy Shelley and continue to inspire us today.

But although we can trace various links, it would be a mistake to see them as being purely causal.

These expressions of the anarchist idea are ultimately connected by the idea itself, rather by any knowledge of their predecessors and their exploits.

We are interested in reading about the Brethren of the Free Spirit because they share attitudes we already possess. For many of us, the realisation that we are anarchist comes in the form of a recognition – a recognition that here is the worldview that we have inwardly felt burning inside us all along, but which we have been unable to find in the superficialities of conventional “politics”.

That raw anarchic feeling will subsequently be refined and enhanced by discussion with others, by reading or by personal experience. But the original motivating spirit was already there under the surface.

The burning need for freedom, for justice, for joyful solidarity, is something innate to the human spirit and it is for this reason that it has emerged time and time throughout history, in slightly different forms.

And it will continue to emerge in the future, whatever the levels of repression deployed against us. It is born again with each new generation and will assume the forms most appropriate to the era as the means through which to resume its timeless struggle.

* There’s more about the Brethren of the Free Spirit and the European peasant uprisings in my latest book, The Stifled Soul of Humankind.

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.
Zapatistas
 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.

Spirales d’espoir


Voici une version française de Spirals of Hope. Je ferai une présentation le dimanche 28 septembre 2014, 19h, à l’infokiosque, 151 Grand rue, St Jean du Gard, France. 

Une anxiété profonde est la réaction personnelle banale au monde dépourvu de sens et d’authenticité dans lequel nous nous trouvons aujourd’hui. Une des solutions proposées pour remédier à cette crise de l’esprit est de «vivre dans le Maintenant» et de placer ainsi dans une sorte de perspective lointaine les agaçantes confusions de notre société contemporaine, de s’enraciner dans la réalité physique de chaque moment, pour trouver un fondement solide dans les simples sensations: regarder, écouter, respirer, marcher, manger.

Mais, si une nostalgie obsessionnelle du passé est clairement malsaine pour tout individu, c’est également le cas de l’addiction au moment présent qu’entraîne le fait de vivre excessivement dans le Maintenant. Cela développe l’habitude de se laisser porter passivement par le courant. Malgré l’intention de se défaire de l’ego ambitieux et anxieux, l’homme du Maintenant peut devenir égoïste et se glorifier de la spontanéité irréfléchie de son propre temps éternellement présent. Par ce moyen, on peut éviter l’anxiété, mais seulement si l’on ignore le fait que l’anxiété est un symptôme. Les causes profondes du problème sont tout simplement ignorées et tout traitement curatif indéfiniment ajourné.

Ce qui s’applique à l’individu s’applique aussi au macrocosme de la société. Collectivement, nous sommes également tentés de nous replier sur nous-mêmes en vivant purement dans le Maintenant, face à la perte d’orientation provoquée par l’ouragan d’angoisses tourbillonnant autour de nous. En vivant perpétuellement dans le temps présent des Actualités, nous nous contentons de répondre manière intuitive aux stimuli qu’il propose, entraînés d’une question à une autre. Les tentatives pour atteindre une compréhension plus profonde et sur le long terme de notre triste situation collective sont rendues virtuellement impossibles par le constant bruit de friture produit par des comptes rendus de l’histoire servant les intérêts du statu quo. Parfois, c’est simplement la pure quantité de détails hors de propos qui rend difficile de donner aucune forme réelle à ce qui est arrivé à l’humanité, mais souvent ces comptes rendus sont délibérément trompeurs.

Los Amigos de Ludd écrivent que le capitalisme impose sa propre réalité en «réduisant l’Histoire à une succession d’étapes dans la réalisation de leurs propres dogmes, et le passé à un squelette de concepts et d’abstractions». Michael Löwy développe l’idée que la réalité a été obscurcie par un état d’esprit moderne qui «perçoit le mouvement de l’histoire comme un continuum d’améliorations constantes, d’évolution irréversible, d’accumulation croissante, de modernisation bienfaisante dont le progrès scientifique, technique et industriel constitue le moteur».

En opposition avec cette histoire officielle du Progrès, on trouve des visions comme celle de Walter Benjamin qui imagine l’Ange de l’Histoire, en s’inspirant du tableau de Paul Klee,

Angelus Novus. «Son visage est tourné vers le passé», explique Benjamin. «Là où à notre regard à nous semble s’échelonner une suite d’événements, il n’y a qu’un seul qui s’offre à ses regards à lui: une catastrophe sans modulation ni trêve, amoncelant les décombres et les projetant éternellement devant ses pieds. L’Ange voudrait bien se pencher sur ce désastre, panser les bures et ressusciter les morts. Mais une tempête s’est levée, venant du Paradis; elle a gonflé les ailes déployeés de l’Ange; et il n’arrive plus à les replier. Cette tempête l’emporte vers l’avenir auquel l’Ange ne cesse de tourner le dos tandis que les décombres, en face de lui. montent au ciel. Nous donnons nom de Progrès à cette tempête.»

Comme Benjamin, il nous faut être capables de prendre de la distance par rapport au détail frénétique et toujours changeant du Maintenant et de voir que cela fait partie d’un scénario beaucoup plus large et de plus grande portée. Ce que nous allons voir est une humanité dépossédée, une société dans laquelle la liberté, l’autonomie, la créativité, la culture et l’esprit de solidarité collective ont été délibérément étouffés par une élite qui, brutalisant et exploitant sans pitié, se cache sous le masque de l’Autorité, de la Propriété, de la Loi, du Progrès et de Dieu.

Un tel asservissement de l’humanité devrait suffire à provoquer le désir du changement, mais il y a, ajouté à cela, un autre facteur: cette civilisation capitaliste et industrielle est aussi en train de tuer la planète. La situation ne saurait être plus urgente et pourtant notre culture répond à peine, ne montre aucun signe de changement. Le cœur du problème est sans doute que notre société n’est plus en vie et l’on ne peut attendre grand-chose comme réponse de la part d’un cadavre! Notre prétendue démocratie est une imposture, les gens sont dépossédés de tout pouvoir et réduits à la soumission par l’Autorité et il n’y a donc pas moyen que la majorité puisse influer sur la direction que prend la société, même sur des points de détail, ne parlons pas des questions d’importance fondamentale.

Cependant, il est important de se rappeler que ce sentiment d’impuissance fait partie intégrante de la supercherie psychologique utilisée par les autorités pour s’assurer de notre soumission à un statu quo ininterrompu. Vivant collectivement dans le Maintenant, nous sommes non seulement aveugles au passé mais aussi au futur. Plus précisément, nous sommes devenus convaincus que, de la même manière que le Progrès nous a inéluctablement conduits à l’endroit où nous sommes aujourd’hui, ainsi il doit continuer à nous conduire où il doit mener. On nous enseigne que le futur est fondamentalement prédéterminé, d’après les lois historiques qui, nous dit-on, ont façonné notre monde, et nous ne pouvons rien y faire. Ce mensonge a même fini par être accepté par des opposants radicaux au capitalisme industriel, qui soutiennent que la meilleure chose à faire est de s’adapter au sinistre futur qui nous sera inévitablement livré par le système.

En vérité, il n’y avait rien d’inévitable dans la façon dont notre société a tourné. Il a fallu des siècles de répression pour imposer la volonté d’une élite sociopathe à la population. Cette répression se poursuit aujourd’hui, en même temps que la possibilité de son échec à nous mater. Si l’on se place du point de vue de nos ennemis, il n’y a absolument rien d’inévitable dans la perpétuation de leur système. Ils vivent dans la peur continuelle de perdre le contrôle, d’être submergés par le pur et simple nombre de la populace déréglée. C’est pourquoi ils consacrent tant de temps et d’énergie à nous gaver de mensonges, à nous enfermer, jouant le théâtre de l’autorité, lançant contre les émeutes des flics et des armées pour supprimer tout signe de résistance à leur système global d’esclavage.


“Pour nous est venue l’heure de faire éclater le mensonge fondamental avec lequel on nous a lavé le cerveau – celui selon lequel nous serions impuissants”

Nous vivons à une époque où bien des leurres de l’Autorité sont en train de s’effondrer et où des millions de gens partout dans le monde voient la vérité derrière les étaiements artificiels qui la soutiennent. Le cynisme est omniprésent mais nous semblons nous être arrêtés là, placés au point d’équilibre où nous ne croyons plus dans le système mais où nous ne voulons pas aller plus loin, faire le pas décisif vers une résistance ouverte. Pour nous est venue l’heure de faire éclater le mensonge fondamental avec lequel on nous a lavé le cerveau – celui selon lequel nous serions impuissants.

Le premier pas est de comprendre comment il se fait que nous ayons été dupés, comment nous avons été réduits à une situation de soumission psychologique. Ensuite, il nous faut retrouver en nous l’esprit vital qui nous rend forts, le sentiment d’appartenance et de pouvoir collectifs qui effraie tant ceux qui voudraient nous conserver, nous et nos descendants, comme leurs esclaves. Peu importe comment nous appelons ce pouvoir intérieur, tant que nous ne le laissons pas être éclipsé par le mythe d’un pouvoir en dehors ou au-dessus de nous – il ne peut y avoir aucune autorité, aucun dieu, que nous-mêmes.

Dans cette perspective, la situation de la race humaine apparaît tout à fait différente. Il semble impossible qu’elle puisse continuer à courber servilement la tête ou à rester là sans rien faire alors que sa mère, la Terre, est détruite au nom du profit à court terme. Il semble impensable que les gens aient oublié que le désir de liberté repose au cœur de leur être intime. Reconnecté avec la connaissance longtemps interdite de son propre pouvoir, un peuple sera naturellement poussé vers ses besoins innés et éternels. Comme les pousses vertes d’une plante cherchant la lumière du soleil, l’humanité aura toujours une tendance naturelle à réaliser son potentiel organique intérieur.

Pierre Kropotkine semble décrire notre propre époque quand il affirme qu’«il y a des périodes dans la vie de la société humaine où la révolution devient une nécessité impérative, où elle se déclare inévitable».

C’est là que nous devons à nouveau nous confronter à l’habitude confortable de vivre perpétuellement dans le Maintenant et avec elle à toute la conception du temps comme quelque chose qui nous entraîne comme de petites brindilles dans une rivière en crue. C’est le Temps perçu comme Autorité, comme un obstacle à notre pouvoir de façonner notre propre réalité, de devenir la personne que nous voulons être. Nous ne sommes tenus de voyager vers aucun futur particulier, il n’y a rien d’inévitable concernant un quelconque dénouement, peu importe à quel point il paraît vraisemblable depuis notre position actuelle. Même si nous reconnaissons l’existence de circonstances qui obstruent le chemin du futur que nous voudrions voir, aucune raison ne nous oblige, à partir de là, à accepter que leur influence soit décisive. Il est, comme le dit Ernst Bloch, toujours possible de remplacer le fatalisme d’un «parce que» par la résolution d’un «malgré tout». 

Nous devons nous réintroduire dans l’histoire, non comme des observateurs mais comme des participants. Le pouvoir que nous avons la capacité de redécouvrir en nous est, entre autres choses, le pouvoir de créer le futur
 

Nous devons nous réintroduire dans l’histoire, non comme des observateurs mais comme des participants. Le pouvoir que nous avons la capacité de redécouvrir en nous est, entre autres choses, le pouvoir de créer le futur. Nous devons créer notre propre récit, le récit de la révolution. Comme les prophéties des rebelles du passé, notre récit peut produire son propre accomplissement. Il y a un mouvement circulaire qui s’auto-alimente que nous devons amorcer. Comprendre la nécessité de la révolution, rêver de la révolution, espérer la révolution, croire en la possibilité de la révolution – tout cela doit être développé tout à tour avant que la révolution puisse avoir lieu.

Pour accomplir cette tâche, il nous faut une puissante vision et détermination collective qui peut inspirer, qui peut transformer, qui peut régénérer, qui peut balayer des obstacles apparemment immuables et transformer de vagues possibilités en réalités pratiques. Le genre humain a besoin de nouvelles générations de jeunes révolutionnaires idéalistes, d’hérétiques, d’inspirés avec un sens aigu de l’objectif et de la destination, avec l’énergie indéfectible d’amener à l’existence le monde nouveau dont ils rêvent. Nous avons besoin, comme Kropotkine le souligne, «d’âmes intrépides qui savent qu’il est nécessaire d’oser pour réussir».

Nous ne les trouverons pas en nous attachant à une analyse aride et sans passion de l’histoire, en nous enlisant dans le détail, en nous laissant entraîner dans les culs-de-sac d’une abstraction ou d’une pédanterie sans objet. Nous ne les trouverons pas en nous tenant à distance de la vérité, en nous compromettant avec le système, en considérant les débats passionnés comme quelque chose d’embarrassant. Nous ne les trouverons pas en essayant de réguler et de réprimer l’esprit de notre propre révolte, en versant de l’eau froide sur les tentatives pour provoquer le changement, en dénigrant l’espoir lui-même.

Il y a ceux qui rejettent l’espoir comme irréaliste et ceux qui le rejettent parce qu’il est passif, qu’il dépend de facteurs échappant à notre propre contrôle. Mais les deux points de vue oublient de voir que l’espoir est en réalité un facteur vital dans notre capacité à transformer la réalité et que, loin de jouer un rôle passif, il  peut déclencher l’aspiration à une participation active. «Rappelons-nous que si l’exaspération conduit souvent les hommes à la révolte, c’est toujours l’espoir, l’espoir de la victoire, qui fait les révolutions», dit Kropotkine et il développe l’idée que l’action qu’il inspire va aussi alimenter en retour les énergies positives de l’esprit révolutionnaire: «Le courage, le dévouement, l’esprit de sacrifice sont aussi contagieux que la lâcheté, la soumission et le sentiment de panique.» La prophétie conduit à l’espoir, l’espoir conduit au courage, le courage conduit à l’action, l’action conduit à l’inspiration, l’inspiration conduit à plus de détermination, à un espoir renouvelé, à un courage renforcé. Une fois que cette spirale magique de la révolte s’est enclenchée, elle acquiert une vie propre et devient, selon l’expression de Kropotkine, «un tourbillon révolutionnaire».

L’authentique aspiration à la Révolution peut être destructrice, mais jamais négative, et derrière elle il doit toujours y avoir une vision née du cœur de l’humanité. Il y a en conséquence quelque chose de beaucoup plus profond derrière la volonté d’une vraie révolution, de l’anarchie, qu’une simple opinion. Elle s’élève des profondeurs de notre âme collective et ainsi, par extension, du monde naturel dont nous faisons partie. Elle est le véhicule d’un besoin organique intangible de redresser les choses, pour l’humanité et la planète qu’elle domine, d’exister à nouveau en harmonie avec le Tao. Le rétablissement de l’état de nature, de l’Âge d’or, est exigé par les lois naturelles en comparaison desquelles nos artificielles lois humaines paraissent faibles et éphémères. Une fois lâchée, la force puissante d’un soulèvement global née de l’énergie vitale elle-même n’aura pas de difficulté à balayer à jamais les  violents mécanismes d’une tyrannie qui a étouffé l’humanité depuis bien trop longtemps.

La prophétie conduit à l’espoir, l’espoir conduit au courage, le courage conduit à l’action, l’action conduit à l’inspiration, l’inspiration conduit à plus de détermination, à un espoir renouvelé, à un courage renforcé. Une fois que cette spirale magique de la révolte s’est enclenchée, elle acquiert une vie propre

Spirals of Hope


Winter Oak Press have just brought out a series of free mini-booklets called Winter Oak Branches of Knowledge. The fourth of these is adapted from the final chapter of my new book The Stifled Soul of Humankind and is called Spirals of Hope. Here is the text, reposted from the Winter Oak site:

Deep anxiety is a common personal reaction to the world stripped of meaning and authenticity in which we find ourselves today. One solution proposed for this crisis of the spirit is to “live in the Now” and thus put into some kind of distant perspective the nagging confusions of our contemporary society, to root oneself in the physical reality of each moment, finding a firm foundation in the sensations of looking, listening, breathing, walking, eating.

But, while an obsessive nostalgia for the past is clearly unhealthy for any individual, so is the addiction to the present moment that results from living excessively in the Now. It encourages a drifting and passive kind of experience. Despite the intention of shedding the ambitious and anxious ego, the Now personality can become selfish, glorying in the irresponsible spontaneity of its own eternally present tense. It may manage to avoid anxiety in this way, but only by ignoring the fact that anxiety is a symptom. The root causes of the problem are simply ignored and any real remedial action indefinitely postponed.

What applies to the individual also applies to the macrocosm of society. Collectively we are also tempted to retreat into living purely in the Now, in the face of the disorientating storm of anxieties swirling around us. Living perpetually in the present tense of the News, we simply respond intuitively to the stimuli it offers, find ourselves carried along from one issue to the next. Attempts to reach a deeper long-term understanding of our collective predicament are made virtually impossible by the constant white noise generated by accounts of history serving the interests of the status quo. Sometimes it’s merely the sheer amount of irrelevant detail that makes it difficult to make out any real shape to what’s been happening to humankind, but often these accounts are deliberately misleading. 

Los Amigos de Ludd write that capitalism imposes its own reality by “reducing History to a succession of stages in the fulfilment of its own dogma, and the past to a skeleton of concepts and abstractions”. Michael Löwy argues that reality has been obscured by a modern mindset which “sees the movement of history as a continuum of constant improvements, of irreversible evolution, of growing accumulation, of beneficial modernisation for which scientific and technological progress provides the motor”.

In contrast to this official story of Progress are visions such as Walter Benjamin’s famous imagining of the angel of history, as inspired by Paul Klee’s painting Angelus Novus. “His face is turned towards the past,” explains Benjamin. “Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress”.

Like Benjamin, we need to be able to step back from the frantic ever-changing detail of the Now and see that it is part of a much broader and more significant scenario. What we will see is a humanity dispossessed, a society in which freedom, autonomy, creativity, culture, and the spirit of collective solidarity have been deliberately suffocated by a ruthlessly violent and exploitative elite hiding behind the masks of Authority, Property, Law, Progress and God.

Such enslavement of humankind should be enough to incite the desire for change, but there is, in addition to all this, another factor: this capitalist industrial civilization is also killing the planet. The situation could hardly be more urgent and yet our culture barely responds, shows no sign of changing. The core problem is perhaps that our society is no longer alive and you can’t expect much in the way of response from a corpse! Our so-called democracy is a sham, the people disempowered and cowed into submission by Authority and there is therefore no obvious way that the majority can influence the direction society takes, even on detailed points, let alone issues of fundamental importance.

However, it is important to remember that this sensation of powerlessness is all part of the psychological trickery used by the authorities to ensure our compliance with the continuing status quo. Living collectively in the Now, we are blinded not only to the past, but to the future. More specifically, we have become convinced that just as Progress has inevitably brought us to where we are today, so it must continue to take us to wherever it must lead. We are taught that the future is essentially pre-determined, according to the historical laws which we are told have shaped our world, and there is nothing we can do about it. This lie has even come to be accepted by radical opponents of industrial capitalism, who insist that the best we can do is to adapt to the grim future that will inevitably be delivered to us by the system.

In truth, there was nothing inevitable about the way our society has turned out. It has taken centuries of repression to impose the will of a sociopathic elite on the population. That repression continues today, along with the possibility that it will fail to hold us down. Seen from our enemies’ point of view, there is nothing inevitable about the continuation of their system at all. They live in constant fear of losing control, of being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the lawless mob. That is why they devote so much time and energy to feeding us lies, locking us up, acting out the theatre of Authority, sending in riot cops and armies to put down any signs of resistance to their global slave-labour system.

“Now is the moment for us to explode the ultimate lie with which we have been brainwashed – that we are powerless”

We are living in an age when many of the illusions of Authority are falling away and many millions of people across the world are seeing the truth behind the false constructs which prop it up. Cynicism is rife but we seem to have stopped there, balanced on the point of no longer believing in the system but unwilling to go any further, to take the final step into outright resistance. Now is the moment for us to explode the ultimate lie with which we have been brainwashed – that we are powerless.

The first step is to understand how it is that we have been duped, how we have been reduced to a state of psychological submission. Then we have to rediscover within ourselves the vital spirit that makes us strong, the sense of collective belonging and empowerment that so frightens those who would keep us and our descendants as their slaves. It barely matters what we term this power within, so long as we do not allow it to be overshadowed by the myth of a power outside or above us – there can be no authority, no god, but ourselves.

From this perspective, the situation of the human race looks quite different. It seems impossible that it could ever bow its head in slavery or stand idly by while its mother, the Earth, is destroyed in the name of short-term greed. It seems unthinkable that people could ever have forgotten that the desire for freedom lies at the heart of their very being. Reconnected with the long-forbidden knowledge of its own power, a people will naturally be propelled towards its innate and eternal needs. Like the green shoots of a plant seeking out the sunlight, humanity will always have a natural tendency to fulfil its inner organic potential.

Peter Kropotkin could be describing our own times when he argues that “there are periods in the life of human society when revolution becomes an imperative necessity, when it proclaims itself as inevitable”. But, of course, revolution is only inevitable, or indeed possible, if we take whatever action is necessary to bring it about.

It is here that we must again confront the comfortable habit of perpetually living in the Now and with it the whole concept of time as something that sweeps us along like small twigs in a surging river. This is Time regarded as Authority, as an obstacle to our power to shape our own reality, to become the people we want to be. 

We are not bound to travel to any particular future, there is nothing inevitable about any outcome, no matter how likely it may look from our present vantage point. While we recognise the existence of circumstances that stand in the way of the future we would like to see, there is no reason why we must therefore accept that their influence will be decisive. It is, as Ernst Bloch says, always possible to replace the fatalism of a “because” with the determination of a “despite everything”.

“We have to reintroduce ourselves to history, not as observers but as participants. The power that we can rediscover in ourselves is, among other things, the power to create the future”
 

We have to reintroduce ourselves to history, not as observers but as participants. The power that we can rediscover in ourselves is, among other things, the power to create the future. We have to create our own narrative – the narrative of revolution. Like the prophesies of rebels past, our narrative can become self-fulfilling. There is a self-feeding circular momentum that we need to get started. The understanding of the need for revolution, the dream of revolution, the hope of revolution, the belief in the possibility of revolution – all of these must be fostered in turn before revolution can ever take place.

For this task we need a powerful collective vision and determination that can inspire, that can transform, that can regenerate, that can sweep aside seemingly immovable obstacles and turn remote possibilities into hard realities. Humankind needs new generations of idealistic young revolutionaries, heretics, inspirés with a burning sense of purpose and destiny, with the unquenchable energy to will into existence the new world of which they dream. We need, as Kropotkin insists, “intrepid souls who know that is necessary to dare in order to succeed”.

We won’t get them by sticking to dry dispassionate analysis of history, by being bogged down in detail, by being waylaid into dead ends of pointless abstraction or pedantry. We won’t get them by shying away from the truth, by compromising with the system, by regarding passionate polemic as an embarrassment. We won’t get them by trying to regulate and repress the spirit of our own revolt, by pouring cold water on others’ attempts to bring about change, by sneering at hope itself.

There are those who reject hope as unrealistic and those who reject it as being passive, as being reliant on factors outside our own control. But both positions fail to see that hope is in fact a vital factor in our ability to change reality and that, far from playing a passive role, it is the key to inspiring active participation. “Let us remember that if exasperation often drives men to revolt, it is always hope, the hope of victory, which makes revolutions”, says Kropotkin and he argues that the action it inspires will itself feed back into the positive energies of the revolutionary spirit: “Courage, devotion, the spirit of sacrifice, are as contagious as cowardice, submission, and panic”. 

Prophecy brings hope, hope brings courage, courage brings action, action brings inspiration, inspiration brings more determination, renewed hope, deepened courage. Once this magical spiral of revolt has started spinning, it takes on a life of its own and becomes, in Kropotkin’s phrase, “a revolutionary whirlwind”.

The authentic urge to revolution can be destructive, but never negative, and behind it there be must always be a vision born from the heart of humanity. There is something therefore much deeper behind the will to genuine revolution, to anarchy, than mere opinion. It rises from the depths of our collective soul and thus, by extension, from the natural world of which we are part. It is the vehicle of an intangible organic need for things to be made right, for humankind and the planet it dominates to once again exist in harmony with the Tao. 

This restoration of the state of nature, of the Golden Age, is demanded by natural laws next to which our artificial human laws look feeble and ephemeral. Once unleashed, the mighty strength of a global uprising summoned by the life-force itself will have no difficulty in sweeping away for ever the violent machineries of a tyranny which has stifled humankind for far too long.

 

“Prophecy brings hope, hope brings courage, courage brings action, action brings inspiration, inspiration brings more determination, renewed hope, deepened courage. Once this magical spiral of revolt has started spinning, it takes on a life of its own”

Violating the rules of the game

“Underneath the conservative popular base is the substratum of the outcasts and outsiders, the exploited and persecuted of other races and other colors, the unemployed and the unemployable.

“They exist outside the democratic process; their life is the most immediate and the most real need for ending intolerable conditions and institutions. Thus their opposition is revolutionary even if their consciousness is not.

“Their opposition hits the system from without and is therefore not deflected by the system; it is an elementary force which violates the rules of the game and, in doing so, reveals it as a rigged game.

“When they get together and go out into the streets, without arms, without protection, in order to ask for the most primitive civil rights, they know that they face dogs, stones and bombs, jail, concentration camps, even death. Their force is behind every political demonstration for the victims of law and order. The fact that they start refusing to play the game may be the fact that marks the beginning of the end of a period.”

Herbert Marcuse in One Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society

A global drumbeat of revolt

A fine example of how revolutionary Wahn resonates internationally came in a report in The Guardian on Friday February 25.

A young protester in Winsconsin, USA, opposing insidious anti-union legislation, was asked where his inspiration had come from.

He replied that it was “from student demonstrations in Britain in Britain and protests in Tunisia and Egypt”.

And in turn, the sight of major demonstrations in favour of workers’ rights in the USA will no doubt inspire others in who knows what corner of the world, amplifying still further the thrilling drumbeat of global revolt.

The resonance of revolution

The Egyptian Revolution, though not quite over yet, is remarkable and inspiring in more ways than one.

Much has been made of the fact that it was largely peaceful – the violence was all on the part of the state’s thugs – and sheer mass people power won the day.

But this commendable fact hides an even more interesting aspect.

In media interviews with protesters, the same phrase kept cropping up time and time again: “If we want freedom we have to be ready to sacrifice our lives.”

The revolutionaries made it clear that they had passed through the fear barrier that keeps us in thrall to the lower instinct of individual self-preservation – and into a higher state of being where the individual finds real meaning through connection to the whole.

We need to see, or rather to understand deep inside, that the narrow road to personal happiness and self-indulgence is, literally, a dead end, as Tolstoy often pointed out.

And we have to be aware not only that we are parts of a greater whole, but that this greater whole will not be healthy without those parts fulfilling the biological roles for which they have evolved.

A human collective cannot be free unless it contains fearless individuals who are not afraid to risk their lives to ensure that freedom.

Note that this is not the same as deliberately dying for a cause in the manner of a suicide-bombing death cult.

The Egyptian protesters were “ready to sacrifice” their lives – but obviously would have preferred not to be called upon to do so.

The courage of the Egyptian revolutionaries must surely be beyond the understanding of most people in countries like Britain.

Many of us are deterred from standing up for justice and freedom by the fear of losing our jobs, getting arrested or being whacked by a police baton.

Under the Mubarak regime, it was a question of torture and death, not just for the individual but also for their family.

How did they find the strength to shake off their fear and thus inspire their fellow citizens to do the same?

It could be argued that, while the revolution was not islamist in nature, the religious faith of many of the insurgents (Muslim or Coptic Christian) eased the natural fear of death.

A sense of self-sacrifice on behalf of the whole Egyptian people could also be highlighted.

This is uneasy territory, of course. In this country, as in France, Germany or the USA, identification with the nation is taken as meaning identification with the state and thus with the very system which oppresses us.

But in countries that are victims of imperialism the concept of national identity takes on a more liberatory aspect, despite all its inherent dangers.

There is also the factor that the extreme poverty of many in Egypt, and the sheer nastiness of the regime, gave people a sense of having nothing to lose that we, in our pampered consumer existences, can barely imagine.

I do feel, however, that something more powerful has manifested itself on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and across Egypt, as well in the cities and towns of Tunisia during their revolution.

We are seeing the crackling of a revolutionary energy, an electric field of courageous defiance rising up from a new generation of human beings whose spirit has not yet been dulled and crushed by decades of miserable subservience.

This was the ‘Wahn’ described by the great German anarchist Gustav Landauer, who explained: “Wahn is not only every goal, every ideal, every belief in a sense of purpose of life and the world: Wahn is every banner followed by mankind; every drumbeat leading mankind into danger; every alliance that unites mankind and creates from a sum of individuals a new structure, an organism.”

There is no reason to think that the effects of this Wahn will be confined to the Arab world, even though the more immediate ramifications are likely to be felt in that region.

While the positive energy created by the Tunisian uprising was enough to inspire thre rest of North Africa, the resonance from the February 11 revolution is so powerful it will be felt all across the world.

We already have signs – in the vibrant student protests in Britain, Italy, Greece and elsewhere – that something very powerful is emerging from today’s youth.

All like-minded people I have spoken to (of all ages) have been enormously inspired by the events in Egypt, even though it is geographically and culturally remote from us here.

Every subsequent uprising will simply charge up the atmosphere still further and encourage us all to believe that anything really is possible.

I am filled with hope that the human race is at last producing the antibodies needed to destroy the disease of global industrial capitalism which risks choking the planet to death.

These human antibodies are always there, in every generation, but again and again are blocked from performing their role by the cancer, or system, in all the various ways I mention in the booklet.

Perhaps now the human race is throwing up tougher, more resistant forms of antibodies that cannot so easily be defeated by the disease.

The way that any living organism regenerates itself is through the replacement of its physical parts with fresh growth. In the case of humanity, this means the emergence of new generations (it’s even the same root word).

The most important thing now is that this generation is allowed to fulfill its regenerative potential and is not blocked from doing its job.

We can all help with the process, by amplifying the resonance from the revolutions, by casting aside cautious self-interest and opening ourselves up to the collective surge of transformative energy that humanity is releasing to rid us of the malignant growth of capitalism.

And most of all we must, like the heroes and heroines of the Nile, cast aside our fear of what lies ahead.