Anyone know a lifestyle anarchist?
Keep a look-out for people who are chock-full of undirected, ill-informed revolutionary gusto, but empty of any desire to organise their views into a coherent critique of the world.
Are they easily bored by drab Marxian theory, with its ‘materialist conception of history’ and its ‘labour theory of value’? Do they feel guilty because their parents managed to scrape a bit more out of capitalism than the average wage-slave? Do they feel the need to rebel against daddy’s ‘inbuilt patriarchal mentality’ and mother’s lack of ability to cut the apron strings? Perhaps they like to wear bands around their wrist bearing slogans like ‘make poverty history’ or even better ‘make poverty herstory’. They might feel a sudden urge to grow dreadlocks, wear low crotched shorts, and backpack around the world. They may feel the need to say every damn thing as if it was a question, constantly inserting the word ‘like’ while offering self-righteous homilies about how they ‘just really want to like help the world?’ and how ‘we’ve like got to find like a new way of living?’
They may, in short, be on the verge of becoming a ‘lifestyle anarchist’.
Lifestyle anarchism can best be described as the malformed grandchild of that senile old bat, the sixties hippy movement. It sits in an uncomfortable position somewhere between Che Guevara and Ghandi, Bakunin and the Dalai Lama. Lifestyle anarchists like to engage in what they pretentiously call things like ‘grass roots happenings’ and ‘autonomous eco-resistance.’ To be a lifestyle anarchist you have do things like ‘dumpster diving’ or ‘skipping’ basically taking egotistical pleasure in a society that reduces you to eating out of a bin.
Don’t let a lifestyle anarchist hear you complain about the rent, it’s much cooler to ‘squat’ or even better ‘couch surf’. When university tuition fees get raised again or the trees in the park are chopped down in order to build yet another supermarket, it wouldn’t do to put it down to the shitty social system we live under and then actively encourage fellow workers to help get rid of it, oh no. For the lifestyle anarchist it’s much better to ‘occupy’ a lecture hall or chain themselves to an oak. That is of course until they get dragged away by a policeman, at which point they can really impress all their lifestyle anarchist mates by telling the copper what a ‘brutal like fascist like pig’ he is ‘working for like the man like that’.
Ah yes ‘the man’, is this the start of an understanding of what us socialists mean when we say the capitalist class? Not really, the enemy to the lifestyle anarchist is some sort of white European male, intent on keeping us all in a little box by flying planes into world trade centres then blaming it on really nice guys like the Taliban who only ever wanted to fight oppression. These are just some of the reasons among many why the lifestyle anarchists score very high on the rest of the working class’s bullshit radar.
Many lifestyle anarchists don’t ever seem to work at all, raising the question: when the squats get evicted and the ‘skipping’ is getting harder, where does all the money come from? One lifestyle anarchist I met was very vague about how she actually kept herself financially afloat, for the year or so she had spent hitch-hiking around Europe, preferring to answer the question with a patronising ‘you don’t actually need lots of money you know’. ‘Yes.’ I felt like saying, ‘but then you didn’t find your two iPods and your laptop in a skip now did you?’ I never found out what her parents did for a living, (or didn’t do in the case of the capitalist class). I was forced to leave it, we were ‘couch surfing’ in her house at the time and I suspected that if I really chose to assert my kindly granted ‘right to free speech’ it wouldn’t be long before she asserted her ‘right to private property’. It is for this reason that I am tempted to make my first experience of ‘couch surfing’ also my last.
What other anarchists think
Trotsky once described anarchists as ‘liberals with bombs’, whereas the lifestyle anarchists would be better described as ‘liberals with bins’. Trotsky of course had good reason to dislike anarchists, like Bakunin for example who for all his faults provided some very useful warnings about the dangers of authoritarianism in the working class movement, warnings a lot less applicable to Marx than to the likes of Lenin and Trotsky. While the lifestyle anarchists are keen to point out how ‘free from dogma’ they are, their complete lack of theory means they are prepared to uncritically help in the campaigns of any pseudo-socialist, Leninist party going.
It is of course unfair to equate lifestyle anarchism directly with the anarchist movement as a whole. For all its faults at least most strands of anarchism attempt a class analysis. At least some anarchists see the problems inherent in society as stemming from the fundamental features of that society, i.e., wage labour, production for profit, class rule, and the solution lying in the abolition of these same things. Indeed it is interesting to see the old dog anarchists’ reaction to this silly and incessantly annoying puppy chasing its own tail. On the one hand they like to encourage it for its ‘direct action’ and ‘grass roots defiance’ but even they are compelled to comment on the futility of it all.
Of course we socialists have nothing against people who want to raid through supermarket skips in order to help cut down on food bills. Having done it myself I can honestly say it’s incredible what supermarkets chuck away. I once found a bin bag full of popcorn that was only a week out of date in a Marks and Spencer skip.
Nor do we have anything against those that choose to squat. It’s another example of the ridiculous nature of capitalism that perfectly good homes should stay unoccupied while people sleep on the streets, just so a landlord can wait till the property prices rise. Where we have a problem is that for all the talk that lifestyle anarchists and others like them make about their actions being a means to an end, it invariably becomes an end in itself – people preferring to pose with their heads in skips or faces wrapped in kaftans without ever trying to actually understand why the world is the way it is.