Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Anarchism & Decadence (1)

Anarchism is Decadence
- Marcoco, Paris

While the glorious history of anarchist struggles nourishes our daily lives and gives us inspiration for our future battles, one question that seems to go unasked is why have anarchist ideas remained so unpopular, despite their obvious attractiveness as both individual and collective liberation? Most anarchists I know would say that capital and the state have collaborated and dedicated incredible time and effort to keeping the anarchists at bay, because they know that these revolutionary ideas spell their end if they were ever to get out of hand.

This idea is pure self-agrandizing fantasy. Except for FDR’s new deal (where there is an argument to be made about an official state policy of ostracizing radicals for fear of their revolutionary potential) there is not a secret homeland security roundtable holding top-level meetings to infiltrate anarchist co-ops. I’m sorry, to believe this is the worst of blind egoism. Anarchists have almost always been unimportant – that is to say uninfluential outside their immediate circles – and they remain so today.

So, I ask again why? Why isn’t anarchism spreading like a virus through the homes of disillusioned suburban youth? I’d humbly like to propose that anarchism as it is widely practiced has developed into the opposite of its central tenants. Instead of encouraging each and every individual to express themselves, to think freely, to develop their own opinions and act upon them as they see fit, anarchism today encourages conformity, ideological orthodoxy and ostracizes anyone who doesn’t tow – and yes, I’ll say it – the party line.

When we look at historical anarchist figures like Oscar Wilde who were supposedly able to combine their radical thoughts with a bourgeois lifestyle, we say that anarchism is not overly rigid, and that within the school of thought there are a variety of positions to be had, more or less extreme, more or less ‘pure’.

But this doesn’t reflect the reality of how anarchism is and has been practiced. Anarchists have shown themselves to be ideological purists, refusing compromise on principle as a form of personal oppression, and refusing discussion as a form of pollution in the movement. This rapidly creates an arms race to the bottom of who can be more radical, and who can ‘out’ other ‘anarchists’ as not really living up to their principles.

Well, wake up people, we live in the triumphantly (and some would say late) capitalistic world of the 21st century, and, I’m sorry, but a couple of anarchist co-ops and squats, food not bombs projects and urban vegetable farms spread thinly around the world are not going to rot away the leviathan from within – regardless of what the cyberpunks say about the networking capacities of the internet. A more apt metaphor would be sprinkling water on a bonfire – if you think that the small centers of resistence we have are going cool this raging capitalist exploitation, you’re underestimating the heat of the fire.

Anarchism is a luxury. It’s already a decadence to have the education and personal liberty to make decisions such as ‘I don’t believe in the system’ and ‘I refuse to participate in the capitalist exploitation of others’. But then to go further – as many anarchists do – and reject anyone’s position not as radical as one’s own, is not only counter-productive, but orthodox in the worst sense of the word. It keeps anarchism a fringe radical movement. It prevents those drops of water from becoming torrents.

If anarchists are to be at all influential in our world. If the ideas of autonomy, egalitarianism and liberty are going to spread, then we’ve got to stop requiring ideological purity of everyone we associate with. If not, we are doomed to remain an uninfluential fringe underclass, dismissed out of hand before we ever open our mouths.

Compromise is a dirty word amongst us hardliners, but those who practice ideological purity are decadent in the worst sense of the word. Decadent like the late Roman empire was: self indulgent and blind to the word around it. Time to take revolution seriously and realize that people who take to the streets are our allies, even if they wear nike shoes, eat meat, and drive SUVs.

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