Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Social and Society in Anarchism

In light of the recent G20 summit in Pittsburgh, on the 24th and 25th, Benjamin Lee and Edward LiPuma's contentions that "the existence of the social does not necessitate society. There is no necessity to reify the social as society except -- crucially -- under capitalism" (201) seem particularly apt, especially when considering the anarchist reaction's surprising manifestation. With largely ineffectual, small gatherings at the DNC and RNC being the largest anarchist demonstrations in the United States in decades, now, the relatively large, uncontrolled crowd at the G20 summit is a surprise.

In characterizing the chaos of the protests and riots, a CrimethInc article argued that the inability of the mass of protesters to control itself effectively as a whole was "simply a fast-paced microcosm of the way individuals struggle to make their own history as infinitesimal components of a much larger society," shifting the idea of the mob to one rooted not in a lack of leadership, but one rooted in the inheritance of a world of leadership, and the inability of one to control oneself in the type of capitalist society Lee and LiPuma define, necessitating a regimentation of social interactions and preventing one from following its own course. In this way, one could criticize the march, a mass action, for a lack of authentic anarchist expression despite its lack of oversight, in that physical processes of yelling and momentum dictated rulers whose physical axioms must be obeyed, rather than a consensus reached and acted upon by a consenting body, operating fully under their own volition rather than the sway of a crowd.
This operation, as a part of society rather than a member of social group, as above or below another, rather than with another, alters the behavior of the group in a pathological way. When considering Lee and LiPuma and their statements on the fundamental sense of society a capitalist system will form from any social interactions, and the social contract, and therefor sovereign state, it makes necessary.

Luigi Fabbri's recently translated World War I era essay "Bourgeois Influences on Anarchism" discusses the relationship between the popular literatures arising with widespread print capitalism in the late nineteenth century and political violence carried out by anarchists. Fabbri argues that literary intellectuals, particularly those who are not authentically dedicated to anarchism, are more likely to respond positively to, even laud, anarchist violence, considering its aesthetic appeal, primarily, less than its practical morality or impact. The romantic, poetic gesture of being willing to kill and die for a belief impacts the writer, who is caught up in the symbolic beauty, and has according to Fabbri, "glimpsed nothing [of anarchist thought] beyond individual emancipation," and, in doing so, "neglected the social problem, that is, the humanitarian side of anarchism." He notes that many of these authors later become militantly nationalist, or otherwise abandon anarchist principals, on the whole. The CrimethInc article finds itself in an awkward position, under this judgment, at once decrying individualist lifestylism in favour of social anarchism, while excusing to glorifying admitedly minour instances of violent behavior.

Specifically, the author of the CrimethInc piece uses a dumpster, a symbol of oft-derided freegan "lifestyle" anarchy, showing how it is used by the more idealized social anarchism of the protesters when it is pushed down a hill towards a pair of police officers. Property destruction, as is common among many anarchists who do not consider attacks on inanimate objects legitimate "violence," was treated generally ambivalently, except in one instance, where stones were thrown at windows which had people by them, termed "unfortunate" in the article. The dumpster hurled at the police being given a positive image, the exact sort of cheap literary concession Fabbri lambastes within the petulant politics of temporary anarchists, where an action which would normally not be condoned is lionized for its use as a symbol of something better.

In explaining violence, Fabbri states "anarchists aren't Tolstoyans - they recognize that violence (which is always an ugly thing, be it individual or collective) is frequently necessary," which seems to imply that violence is a statist construct, or at least a construct necessitated by a statist system, which is fundamentally a capitalist system, according to the analysis of LiPuma and Lee. One could argue from this, that real violence is created by a capitalist system, and attacks on the inanimate trappings and symbols of that system, become construed as violent within the system and undermine the reputation of anarchy through the bourgeois propaganda Fabbri mentions, creating an idea of the anarchist as a crazed, petty criminal. Destructive action is, in general, a symptom (the word having been chosen for its implicit pathology) of a capitalist, statist society, eating away at the anarchist movement from the inside as it loses sight of goals in favour of continued, divided acts of rebellion. The mainstream cultural conception of anarchism is its greatest enemy, and one ensuing almost directly from print capitalism, and imbedding itself rapidly within new media, to a degree. (However, one should note that CrimethInc was a print media source prior to any existence on the internet.) The existence of an outside, almost supernatural state that LiPuma and Lee argue for in “Cultures of Circulation: The Imaginations of Modernity,”is typified as the Hobbesian "war of every man against every man," which further ties capitalism and statism to violence. It is only in the social, before it is transformed into the organized, regimented society, that anarchism can triumph or achieve any of its goals.

-Andrew Doty

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