The irrational in anarchism
A recent pamphlet traces a link between back-to-nature anarchists and far-right ideas. How true is this?
Flawed, fascinating and suggestive, Luther Blisset’s Anarchist Integralism: Aesthetics, Politics and the Apres-Garde is not quite “anarchism exposed”, as the back-cover blurb suggests, though it does attempt to trace some extreme right-wing and fascist tendencies in anarchism. The basic, somewhat more measured, position of the text is set out right from the start, on page three:
“While the majority of modernists and anarchists have never adhered to full blown mystical fascism, certain strands of anarchism embrace far-Right individualism, while yet others promote ideologies of integral nationalism.”
Blisset’s target is not anarchism as such (though he is quite sceptical about anarchism in general) so much as the Green Anarchist Network and, almost by the way, the journal Anarchist Studies; though there are salient points about anarchist anti-state fetishism along the way. It is pointed out, for example, that the state is not “the source of all social power”:
” . . . capitalist social relations are anchored in economic institutions which can and do function independently of the state. Capital reproduces itself not only within nation states but across nation states”.
The strains of fascism, nationalism and racism that are apparently (and, to this reader at least, shockingly) found running through anarchism are represented in the first instance by anarchist gurus such as Bakunin (according to Blisset, a rabid anti-semite), Proudhon (an anti-semite and nationalist) and Kropotkin (an anti-semite, nationalist and anarcho-aristocrat). In terms of the anarchist grass-roots, Blisset points to those such as the “French and Italian syndicalists who became fascists”. The trouble is that the text, which includes plentiful, and fully referenced, quotations to support its contentions concerning Bakunin and the others, is not so adept at tracing such tendencies through to contemporary anarchism. There is a rather snide swipe at Noam Chomsky (who is on the editorial board of Anarchist Studies) for supporting free speech for fascists (his position being much the same on this issue as ours); there is reference to the support of anarcho-primitivists for fascist terrorism (more on this below); there is a connection made between anarchism and fascism via a joint link to modernist aesthetics.
In this last instance, far too much is taken as read and requires unpacking; the link between anarchism and aesthetics is not sufficiently explained or even established beyond stating that under capitalism power is aestheticised and that anarchism is structurally tied to capitalism. This is a sheer banality and the same could certainly be said about the movement for socialism, pre-revolution. Also, the notion of the aesthetic is too all-subsuming. Wide varieties and differences of aesthetic experience are collapsed under fairly crass generalisations, even within the more specific but still fairly wide rubric “modernism”.
It’s true that fascism, despite the hatred of the Nazis for modernist painting and sculpture, made extensive use of certain types of modernist design and architecture, and the Italian Futurists were early recruits to fascism, as were the poet Ezra Pound and the writer and artist Wyndham Lewis; but some modernist writers and artists such as James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso were anti-fascist, while some such as Lewis Grassic Gibbon proclaimed that they were socialists. And, as the poet and critic Drew Milne has pointed out in the modernist journal Parataxis, “the most important modernist manifesto is Marx’s Communist Manifesto“. Even then, a simple list of modernist for-and-against fascism over-simplifies matters. It can be argued that the very forms of modernist aesthetics necessarily subvert fascist ideologies, whatever the intentions and beliefs of the artist.
Regarding anarcho-primitivists, an article entitled “The Irrationalists”, which appeared in the Anarchist Lancaster Bomber # 7, is cited by Blisset. In this article, the author declares himself in favour of the “95 percent solution” in which a “Circle of Guilt (CoG) for what is happening” is proposed which includes virtually everybody:
“Activists adopting the 95 percent solution would have no difficulty over a subway sarin attack, city wide water supply contamination or a biological warfare attack on a fast food restaurant. Such activities see subway commuters or fast food customers as of no value and no loss to the moral universe.”
The article goes on to express support for (among other terrorists) the extreme right-wing and racist Oklahoma bombers. Such rhetoric reveals an astounding level of arrogance and pseudo-mystical moronism in claiming the authority for wholesale slaughter from some so-called “moral universe”. Morality is a human concept, and one heavily bound up with bourgeois ideology; the notion that it can be used first of all to set levels of so-called “guilt” (which is not the same as responsibility) for “what is happening” (whatever that may be—everything, presumably) and then as the reason for killing the greater part of humanity, is pathetic.
As for commuters and fast food customers being of no value—no value to what? To whom? To anarcho-primitivists or to the universe, possibly. If the latter, then in what sense can the universe be said to give a toss either way? And for that matter, what use are the anarcho-primitivists to an indifferent universe? If the former, then it needs to be asked whether or not the anarcho-primitivists are of any use to anybody else and, should the reply be negative, whether we might not just get rid of them, by the force of their own logic.
But does any of this make them fascist? Idiotics, certainly, and psychopathic quite possibly, but not necessarily fascist as such, despite their support for the Oklahoma bombers and the right-wing American militias. Such support can be seen as being a simple (in every sense) liking for extreme violence and general mayhem. There is, however, an ideological connection between anarcho-primitivism and fascism that Blisset apparently fails to recognise. This lies in what may best be described a nostalgia for a way of life (rural, close to the soil, “in tune” with nature, “innocent”) that never really existed. There is a hatred of the contemporary world (which we obviously recognise as being in a hell of a mess, but infinitely preferable to spending your life grubbing around in mud and shit for a few edible roots in the middle of a rainstorm) and a fear of the future—the only future these ideologies, whether anarcho-primitivists or fascist, can countenance is one which involves a childish attempt to flee into a mythical golden age that is located in the past.
For fascists or course, this nostalgia extends to the notion of the volk and the “purity” of the volk, an ideology which inevitably becomes tied up with racism and nationalism. This volkishness can also be found amongst the more extreme margins of the Green movement, including Green Anarchy and the anarcho-primitivists. Blisset is perhaps not overstating the matter too far when he refers to such groups as “eco-fascist”, even if he doesn’t entirely explain the reasons for doing so.
There are also a couple of mentions in this pamphlet for the Anarchist Communist Federation, one a perfectly correct but irrelevant (in this context) attack on one ACF writer for failing to understand Trotskyism, the other concerning the ACF’s links to Green Anarchist: “Anarcho-communists such as the ACF do themselves no favours by collaborating with far-Right reactionaries like Green Anarchist or looking to Bakunin for inspiration.”