“Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.
The universe is sacred.
You cannot improve it.
If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it.
-Laozi, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 29
The recent kerfuffle over the Bernie Sanders campaign field organizer defending gulags, coerced ideological reeducation, and mass executions in the name of revolution caught my attention last week. I do not find the way it will be used as a scandal in the political horse race either very interesting myself nor particularly important for radicals in general, but I do think the event is highly relevant for anarchists in terms of conceptualizing just what victory precisely looks like to us and just what means are both conceivable and righteous for getting there.
The field organizer, Kyle Jurek, identified himself and at least several others with whom he has been organizing in Iowa as anarcho-communist in their views. In the case of at least Jurek, we have the common case of being, shall we say, rather light on the “anarcho-” and comparatively generous with the “communism.”
I can only speculate about the toxic mixture of ressentiment, Manichaeism, and alienation that would lead someone to fantasize about gunning down ostensibly evil people on the beach en masse as part of the realization of their political agenda, and I certainly do not believe most self-identified anarcho-communists (or left-anarchists more broadly) consciously hold secret totalitarian desires. I do, however, believe that a great many radicals are so accustomed to being the perpetual underdogs with very limited political influence that they have not thought through what they would do if they really started winning. What would we do if the current Leviathan states receded, collapsed, or were forcibly broken apart? Opportunities for freedom would emerge, but there would still be millions of people in this region, and billions worldwide, who disagreed with us about a great many things (even more than we already disagree with one another). This piece, of which I was made aware recently by a correspondent, aptly summarizes the quandary: Because Killing Them All Is Not An Option
Although I have my usual gripes about this or that phrasing in the piece, I think it cuts to the heart of the issues well enough, and I appreciate very much its frank, challenging tone. Going a bit further, I would emphasize that it is not only a question of means but of ends: an anarchic world will not be mono-cultural, but instead massively polycultural, with differential cultures developing out of organic, voluntary association in symbiotic relations with their differential landbases and/or differential nomadic patterns.
Conversely, I have started using the cheeky term ‘World Domination Anarchism’ (WDA) to describe self-identified anarchists who either explicitly or, more typically, implicitly conceive of victory as looking like an entirely globalized society that is, somehow, still anarchist. Often, the argument that a WDAist makes against the above conception of radical decentralization and the creation of thousands or even millions of micro-cultures is that, inevitably, some of these will develop authoritarian or otherwise undesirable cultural tendencies and thus become many tiny tyrannies. Often some kind of stirring but shallow rhetoric is involved here, to the effect of ‘If all are not free, then none are.’
While I think WDA is usually motivated by mostly good intentions, there are so many troubles with the idea that one struggles where to start. How such a unified global culture could be sustained without a vast bureaucracy and enforcement mechanism to monitor, punish, and/or contain deviants is unthinkable. And if you have that, you already have a state.
But there is even more obviously a question for the WDAist of what cultural norms could be deemed most liberatory. I am not at all an ethical relativist, but there are preferences for relational, social, sexual, economic, religious/spiritual, dietary, and other norms that can be pursued separately, voluntarily, and with mutual non-interference agreements. If we wanted to homogenize all of these mores, how could we decide which among them ought to be the best and only, and, further and more nerdishly, what ethical framework (deontology, consequentialism, natural law, virtue ethics, muh feelz) would we even use to decide among them, when people cannot even agree on the latter?
I do not consider any of the above to be a stunning and brilliant new take on things – many people have articulated these views before I even came to them, such as in the very notable book bolo’bolo. But I say them again because, sadly, this sort of view is considered highly controversial. In fact, I was told only last week in an unfriendly e-mail occasioned by my previous post that it’s “uncontroversial that you [Bellamy] are controversial,” no doubt in part because of the above, for which I have already been accused of ‘defending ethnonationalism’ by the more splenetic in the North American anarchist subculture. What is instead uncontroversial in North American anarchism is being willing to stop at nothing to achieve World-Wide Wokeness forevermore, even if it means foreseeable but unacknowledged rivers of blood: we will have anarchism when everyone submits to our will.
I will stop here and give a good firsthand example of this thinking in a future post, because this is already getting long and my blog is supposed to be an exercise in shorter-form writing – and also because I am supposed to be packing to go out of town but instead chose to drink a beer and write this post.