Sign Open Letter Protesting Midwestern’s Treatment of Nathan Jun

If you have not done so already, please consider signing the following in protest of Nathan Jun’s treatment by Midwestern State University: 

FOR FACULTY MEMBERS AND GRADUATE STUDENTS:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScH_dUFWUkUmk8kPL9MCMbtZtrPH9oAp1DpZ99QJmi7ik_FCA/viewform?fbclid=IwAR2PNDvkTI059yZ4OFlbTSv7TcatsFtbVQDlwRzVRw7FiUsgtU3Nxtn3mE4

FOR NON-ACADEMICS:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScLKQY2AvWaiI-6wOdWMJ1ug5M0UmH13XGHhymXnne4fE0W2Q/viewform

You can also donate to Nathan’s GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/f/please-help-me-defray-my-legal-costs/donate?fbclid=IwAR2lximrbX4JxspdThY1z6xQ8u3vZajLSKiU3l5uGWTKsABQDy9rxxh5tus

Published in: on September 25, 2021 at 8:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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Gerrard Winstanley on Power – Real and Imagined

Gerrard Winstanley (1609-1676) first began publishing radical religious pamphlets in 1648, during the latter half of the English Revolution and Civil Wars. In January 1649, around the time of the execution of Charles I by the English Parliament, he published his first explicitly political pamphlet, The New Law of Righteousness (excerpted in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas). A few months later, he put his ideas into action. He and a group of like-minded people, who came to be called the Diggers, sought to reclaim “waste” (unoccupied) lands at St. George’s Hill in Surrey, England, and to create an agrarian, libertarian communist settlement. They were eventually run out of the area by hostile land owners, moving to Cobham Heath, where they were able to maintain a new settlement until they were again run off the land in April 1650. About a month beforehand,, Winstanley published one of his most anarchistic pamphlets, Fire in the Bush. Here, I provide an analysis of Winstanley’s pamphlet, which contains noteworthy parallels to the writings of Cornelius Castoriadis in the late 20th century.

From The Anarchist Current: A History of Anarchist Ideas – Gerrard Winstanley, Digger and Anarchist

Fire in the Bush, published in March 1650, was one of Winstanley’s last political writings before the Digger experiment was forcibly ended. In it, Winstanley develops an analysis of the psychopathology of hierarchical societies. He argues that in addition to the kingly powers that hold the people in bondage – coercive government, the legal system, private property and the ideological apparatus (the Church and universities) – there is another that dwells within us all: the “imaginary self ruling in man’s heart.” [Hill, page 235]

Just as the “Kingdom of Heaven,” or “universal love, or pure knowledge,” lies within everyone, so does the “selfish imaginary power […] of darkness,” which seeks fulfilment in things outside of the self, like wealth and power. [Hill, pp. 218, 221] Through the power of imagination, people deceive themselves into thinking that they could achieve happiness if only they had more wealth, more power, more pleasure. But this just leads to conflict, as each person seeks their own satisfaction at the expense of others, jealous of their power and possessions, and envious of other’s. They mistake good for evil, and evil for good, judging things in terms of whether they are for their own benefit or to their disadvantage. [Hill, pp. 220 – 221] The selfish imagination fills people with “fears, doubts, troubles, evil surmisings and grudges,” stirring up “wars and divisions,” as each person seeks more power, more riches and more pleasures. [Hill, page 221]

This way of thinking lies at the root of all “power, authority and government.” [Hill, pp. 223 -224] It “makes men envy, censure and destroy one another; and to take pleasure in none but what pleases self.” People seek power over others to stop them from having power over them. Man “will oppress others, lest others oppress him; and fears he shall be in want hereafter: therefore he takes by violence that which others have laboured for.” [Hill, page 226]

While earlier Christians, such as Pelagius, had pointed to the futility of seeking spiritual fulfilment through the satisfaction of earthly ambitions and desires, Winstanley expressly ties this avaricious psychology to the emergence of hierarchical societies and authoritarian institutions, like the church and the state.

Rather than seeing government as the only means of escaping the war of all against all (the so-called “state of nature”), as Thomas Hobbes did, Winstanley sees coercive government as the institutionalization of the state of nature, leading to the perpetuation of violence, domination, exploitation and conflict, instead of their supersession. The kingly powers create, rather than prevent, “divisions and war.” Winstanley makes the point that it is inaccurate therefore to describe the condition of social conflict that results in the creation of dominating institutions as a state of nature, for it is “nature or the living soul” that is held “in bondage” by the selfish imaginary power that is incarnated in these institutions. [Hill, page 268]   

The power of authoritarian institutions is ultimately based on an internalized ideological conceptualization of the self and society. People create their own imaginary chains that bind them to a society of domination. Winstanley’s social psychology of domination provides an explanation for the voluntary obedience to authority that de la Boétie found so perplexing.

Winstanley’s notion of the “selfish imaginary power” foreshadows, in a strikingly modern way, Cornelius Castoriadus’ concept of the “social imaginary.” For Winstanley, the various manifestations of the “kingly powers” are concrete expressions of a shared imaginary conception of social life as a competitive struggle for status. Similarly, Castoriadis argues that there is an “originary psychical core” that “we carry within us and which always dreams, whatever our age, of being all-powerful and at the center of the world.” [Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), page 135.]

Unlike Castoriadis, however, Winstanley conceives of the “selfish imaginary power” as something entirely negative. He contrasts it with the “righteous spirit” of truth that each must find within themselves, the basis of “true community,” which makes “every one to seek the preservation and peace of others as of themselves,” no longer seeking fulfilment through the “outward objects” of prestige, status, power and property with which Satan tempts us. [Hill, page 222] Winstanley retains the radical Christian notion of the “kingdom of heaven within,” the spirit of Christ that “will have all saved.” [Hill, page 222] He straddles a more traditional religious conception of reality and a more modern conception of social transformation, through a process of self and social (re)creation, that nevertheless remains steeped in Christian imagery.

For Castoriadis, the social imaginary is not just constitutive of existing heteronomous social forms. The social imaginary has a radical aspect to it that provides a basis for creating collective autonomy. The “radical imaginary” allows for “the emergence of something new” that transcends the “underlying imaginary significations” of existing institutions. [Castoriadis, Vol. 1, pp. 30 – 31] The object of politics is not to achieve any particular end state, but “the instauration of a state of affairs in which man as a social being is able and willing to regard the institutions that rule his life as his own collective creations” that are in state of “perpetual” transformation and “renewal.” [Castoriadis, Vol. 1, page 31] This is a variation of the concept of “permanent revolution” first articulated by 19th century anarchists, whereas Winstanley’s view of social change retains an element of Christian eschatology, as he foresees the attainment of a “new Jerusalem” where all will “live in peace and rest.” [Hill, pp. 222 – 223]

But Winstanley and Castoriadis share the view that social and personal transformation must go hand in hand. For Winstanley, a libertarian communist society requires not only the abolition of the kingly powers, but a new way of relating to the world and to each other. People must attain a state of inner contentment and enlightenment in order to deliver themselves “from that bondage within,” so that they no longer seek fulfillment through greater riches and status. [Hill, page 271] Castoriadis argues in a like vein that “the conditions that make it possible for” a self-instituting society “to function have to be incorporated in a certain fashion into our social organization as well as into the organization of individuals’ psyches.” [Vol. 1, page 34]

Both Winstanley and Castoriadis extoll the virtues of an inner freedom. For Castoriadis, this is the ability to put a society’s “own imaginary into question.” Not only is “the mere absence of censure or repression” not enough to achieve this, it is sometimes easier to do “under tyrannical regimes” than “under apparently liberal regimes,” because the repressive imaginaries of tyrannical regimes are more readily apparent. [Vol. 1, pp. 34 – 35] Winstanley expresses similar views, writing that even “if I were in prison without,” I can still achieve “freedom within.” [Hill, page 229] The main difference between Castoriadis and Winstanley on this point is that, for Castoriadis, the process of putting social imaginaries into question is a never-ending one, whereas Winstanley looks forward to a time when people are able to achieve both inner and outer peace and freedom.

However, unlike many other radical Christians and “antinomians,” Winstanley does not substitute for the kingly powers a power within that will ensure obedience to God’s will under threat of supernatural sanctions. Winstanley’s vision of an anarchist arcadia does not require that everyone carry a gendarme in their breast. While Winstanley would have agreed with Max Stirner that people’s actions are governed, to a certain extent, by “spooks” in their heads, for Winstanley the biggest spook is the selfish imaginary power, the very egoism that Stirner put at the centre of his philosophy.

It is in Fire in the Bush that Winstanley comes closest to proclaiming himself an anarchist. He poses the question that if what he says is true, then this “will destroy all government and all our ministry and religion,” answering yes, that when people find the kingdom of God within them, “all rule and all authority and all power” will have been put down. [Hill, page 243] The kingly powers “must be shaken to pieces.” [Hill, page 233 – 234] True “magistracy” is not the magistracy of the sword, but reason, truth, and ethics. It is not the power of the sword, but the power of love, that will bind people together, instead of making them enemies of one another. [Hill, pp. 244 – 245]

Winstanley’s anarchist writings of 1649 – 1650 remain a remarkable achievement. His critique of existing English institutions, the market economy, private property, wage labour, and other elements of the “agrarian capitalism” that was being consolidated in England, was unparalleled for its time. [Meikson Woods, Liberty and Property, page 280] So was his analysis of the inter-relationships between economic and political power, hierarchy and domination, and the social psychology that sustained and promoted the hierarchical social, economic and political structures and relations under which the English people then laboured.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti – Anarchist Poet

Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919 – 2021)

Here’s to Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021), anarchist, poet, publisher of the Beat poets, and host of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, who died on February 22, 2021 at the grand old age of 101, a month shy of his 102nd birthday.

I Am Waiting

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder
I am waiting for the Second Coming
and I am waiting
for a religious revival
to sweep thru the state of Arizona
and I am waiting
for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored
and I am waiting
for them to prove
that God is really American
and I am waiting
to see God on television
piped onto church altars
if only they can find
the right channel
to tune in on
and I am waiting
for the Last Supper to be served again
with a strange new appetizer
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder
I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth
without taxes
and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
and I am waiting
for a way to be devised
to destroy all nationalisms
without killing anybody
and I am waiting
for linnets and planets to fall like rain
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers
to lie down together again
in a new rebirth of wonder
I am waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed
and I am anxiously waiting
for the secret of eternal life to be discovered
by an obscure general practitioner
and I am waiting
for the storms of life
to be over
and I am waiting
to set sail for happiness
and I am waiting
for a reconstructed Mayflower
to reach America
with its picture story and tv rights
sold in advance to the natives
and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder
I am waiting for the day
that maketh all things clear
and I am awaiting retribution
for what America did
to Tom Sawyer
and I am waiting
for Alice in Wonderland
to retransmit to me
her total dream of innocence
and I am waiting
for Childe Roland to come
to the final darkest tower
and I am waiting
for Aphrodite
to grow live arms
at a final disarmament conference
in a new rebirth of wonder
I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
youth’s dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “I Am Waiting” from A Coney Island of the Mind. Copyright © 1958 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Kropotkin Conference February 5 – 8, 2021

An ambitious online conference to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Kropotkin’s death begins this Friday, continuing through the weekend to some special commemorative events on Monday, February 8, 2021. Here is the link to the conference webpage: https://kropotkinnow2021.wordpress.com/

Early Christianity and Anarchism

An anarchist Jesus?

Ever since anarchism emerged as a distinct doctrine in the 19th century (largely through the debates within the First International regarding the proper direction of working class and socialist movements), there have been Christians who have claimed that Jesus was a kind of pacifist anarchist. I examine these claims in my forthcoming book, The Anarchist Current, by reviewing the history of early Christianity. In this section, I compare the early Christians to the Jewish rebels against Roman rule, who appear to have been much closer to modern anarchists than Jesus and his followers.

Early Christianity and the Jewish Revolts in Palestine

When considering the alleged anarchism of Jesus and his followers, it is useful to compare them to the Jewish groups in Palestine who refused to pay taxes to the Roman Empire and denied the legitimacy of Roman authority. The refusal to pay Roman taxes pre-dated the so-called Jesus movement by about 30 years. Then between 66 and 70 CE, about 30 years after Jesus’ purported death, there was a protracted Jewish rebellion against Roman rule and the Jewish high priests and aristocrats who collaborated with the Romans. Some of the Jewish opponents of Roman authority, the “Fourth Philosophy” group, refused “to call any man master,” taking “God as their only leader.” [Horsley and Hanson, pp. 191 and 215; Horsley, p. 41] As we shall see, refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of any earthly authority is the basis of much of what is now described as “religious” anarchism.

During the rebellion, a group called the “Zealots” fought not only “against the alien Roman oppressors,” but also “a class war against their own Jewish nobility.” [H & H, p. 226] The Zealots opposed “hierarchical power and privilege,” and chose their priests by lot, which was meant to ensure that the priests were chosen by God, “the true ruler of society.” [H & H, pp. 233] Unlike other Jewish rebel groups, and the nascent Christian communities, the Zealots did not have individual leaders, but reached “decisions collectively.” [H & H, pp. 235] While 19th and 20th century anarchists did not believe in any master, including a divine one, they believed, as did the Zealots, that no person had the right to rule over others; they rejected hierarchy and privilege; many of them advocated class war against the aristocracy and the capitalists; and they also practiced forms of non-coercive collective decision-making.

The Zealots share more similarities with 19th and 20th century anarchists than Jesus and his followers, who do not appear to have participated in or to have supported the 66 – 70 CE Jewish rebellion against Roman rule, which was consistent with Jesus’ advice to suffer earthly authorities gladly. [Ekkehard and Wolfgang Stegemann, The Jesus Movement: A Social History of Its First Century (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), trans. O.C. Dean, Jr., p. 212] According to the early historian of Christianity, Eusebius (c.260–c.340 CE), the Christians left Jerusalem at the beginning of the rebellion to sit it out in areas that remained under Roman control. [Stegemann & Stegemann, p. 220]

The four gospels in the New Testament that purport to set forth Jesus’ life and teachings all post-date the 66 – 70 CE rebellion. Despite the fact that the Christians had not supported the rebellion, the Christian communities in Palestine suffered along with the Jewish ones as the Romans put down the rebellion and reasserted Imperial authority. [Horsley & Hanson, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs, p. 259] According to Horsley and Hanson, the “violent reimposition of the pax Romana […] meant that little survived of the concrete movement started by Jesus in Palestinian Jewish society.” [p. 259]

It is possible then that the authors of the gospels gave Jesus’ views a more spiritual slant in order to avoid further persecution by the Roman authorities. But even before the suppression of the 66 – 70 CE rebellion, Paul, perhaps Jesus’ most important disciple, was telling his fellow Christians that:

Every person must submit to the supreme authorities. There is no authority but by act of God, and the existing authorities are instituted by him; consequently anyone who rebels against authority is resisting a divine institution, and those who so resist have themselves to thank for the punishment they will receive (Romans 13:1–3).

This is anything but a religious anarchism denying the legitimacy of earthly authorities. Christian teachings like this provided support for the later transformation of Christianity into the official religion of the Roman Empire.

However, the transition of Christianity from an outlawed religious movement to state religion was to take over two hundred years. Regardless of whether the authors of the New Testament gospels tried to downplay the political significance of Jesus’ teachings, and despite Paul’s admonitions to the faithful to obey those in authority, as Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, Roman officials remembered that they had executed the founder of this sect as a dangerous rebel who claimed to be the Messiah. By around 117 CE, being a Christian had become a crime under Roman law. [Stegemann, pp. 323 – 324]

Robert Graham

Anarcho-Cynicalism

Diogenes telling Alexander to get out of his light

Here is an excerpt from a book I am currently writing, The Anarchist Current: A History of Anarchist Ideas, based on the Afterword to my anthology of anarchist writings from ancient China to the 21st century, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. In this chapter, I discuss the similarities between modern anarchism and the Cynic philosophers of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire.

Anarchism and the Cynic Philosophers of Greece and Rome

Diogenes of Sinope

Anarchistic elements can be found in the teachings of Diogenes the Cynic (412/404–323 BCE), and Zeno of Citium (333–262 BCE), the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy who was influenced by Diogenes. Only stories about Diogenes’ sometimes outrageous conduct and fragments of Zeno’s writings have survived, making it difficult to determine what they really advocated.

When assessing the possibility of “anarchist” ideas emerging among the ancient Greeks, it is useful to consider the attitudes that Diogenes, Zeno, and other possible precursors of anarchism, held regarding slavery, one of the most extreme examples of hierarchy and domination to which any anarchist worthy of the name must be inalterably opposed.

Diogenes is the most interesting example, because at one point he had his own slave, and at other points in his life he was a slave himself. There is a story that when Diogenes’ personal slave escaped, Diogenes did not try to bring him back, reasoning that if his slave could live without him, then he could live without a slave. [Doyne Dawson, Cities of the Gods: Communist Utopias in Greek Thought, Oxford U Press, 1992, p. 136] But this tells us more about Diogenes’ views regarding living a self-reliant life with few, if any, possessions, than it demonstrates any kind of political opposition to slavery, or to hierarchy and domination more generally. Doyne Dawson suggests that the “story that Diogenes himself was sold as a slave […] was so popular” not only “because it furnished the most dramatic demonstration possible of Cynic indifference to fortune; but also perhaps because it implicitly assured everyone that there was nothing socially subversive about Cynicism.” [p. 136]

But despite his indifference toward slavery (and much else), Diogenes acted in ways that were very subversive of ancient Greek morality and conventions. The other stories about him could not have assured anyone that his ideas were harmless. Diogenes was called a “Cynic,” meaning “dog-like,” because he lived much like a dog would, on the streets, with no possessions, and without shame. He purportedly masturbated and had sex in public.

Diogenes’ rejection of conventional morality could make him seem like a kind of philosophical anarchist, but he also expressed opinions of a more directly political kind, famously declaring himself a citizen of the “cosmos” or world, rejecting affiliation with any particular Greek city and related notions regarding loyalty to one’s homeland. Diogenes and other Cynics did not believe in sacrificing oneself for the sake of one’s city or state, and they opposed war and the use of weapons, a very contrarian view in ancient Greece where military service was expected of all able-bodied men and war was ubiquitous. [Malcolm Schofield, The Stoic Idea of the City, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 51-52]

Nevertheless, Diogenes’ political views remain unclear, as none of his writings, if there were any, have survived. Later writers claimed he wrote a Republic; if so it sounds more like a parody of Plato’s hierarchical and authoritarian Republic than a conventional political treatise. Among other things, Diogenes advocated replacing coinage with dice. However, through parody and satire, Cynics like Diogenes would attempt to convey more serious ideas, such as abolishing currency because people should be able to satisfy their needs directly without having to use an artificial medium of exchange. Opponents claimed that this “communism” included women as common property, but that was a misrepresentation (one that was repeated in the 19th century by the much later opponents of socialist and communist doctrines).

The Cynics rejected conventional notions regarding property, and therefore would never have advocated that women should be held in common. Rather, they advocated that women were just as capable as men of living a natural life, without being bound by conventional norms, traditions or customs. Both women and men were therefore free to choose when, where and with whom to have sex, or any kind of relationship. Given the decidedly patriarchal structure of ancient Greek societies, such views could only have been regarded as “scandalous.” [Dawson, p. 137] Diogenes’ pupil, Crates, and his partner, Hipparchia, would allegedly have sex whenever it struck their fancy, including in public.

Not only was sex supposed to be entirely consensual, the Cynics rejected ideas regarding social modesty and decorum. Women therefore were not required to hide their bodies, but could wear the same simple garb as Cynic men, or exercise with them with little or no clothing at all.

The rejection of social conventions included disrespect for the law and authority, because laws are artificial human constructs. The Cynics were beholden to no one, including people who claimed to be superior to them, whether their owners (if they were slaves) or their rulers. One of the stories about Diogenes is that he told the man who bought him at the slave market that it was his new owner who would have to obey Diogenes. [Luis E. Navia, Classical Cynicism: A Critical Study (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1996, p. 105] Another story is that Diogenes liked to sun himself, and that when Alexander the Great went to meet him, he told Alexander to get out of his light. [Classical Cynicism, p. 81]

Cynic doctrines focused on the individual, with no aspirations to become a social movement. While the Cynics had nothing but contempt for property rights and traditional mores, they did not suggest that the lower classes and slaves rise up and overthrow their masters. Cynicism was a means to individual liberation from conventional morality, viewing political institutions as having no claim to legitimacy or obedience.

In this sense, Cynicism was similar to 20th century conceptions of “philosophical anarchism.” As with the “philosophical anarchists,” the Cynics had no expectation or confidence that enough people would come to share their views to pose a threat to the status quo, nor was it their mission to incite them to do so. On the other hand, living a self-reliant life simply and independently, like an animal, with few possessions and no allegiance to any god or master, finds some distant echoes in the ideas of the anarcho-primitivists of the late 20th century, with the major point of difference being that the Cynics were urban outliers. They may have lived like dogs, but as dogs in the streets, not as hunter-gatherers in a world without cities.

Diogenes looking for an honest man

The Cynics’ jaundiced view of people, still reflected today in the modern meaning of the word “cynical,” can also be compared to the views of those 19th century philosophers who rejected conventional morality, like Friedrich Nietzsche, but who had nothing but contempt for “the masses.” After all, it was Diogenes who was famous for walking city streets with a lantern in broad daylight looking for an “honest man.” One aphorism attributed to him is “reason or the rope,” which meant that if you cannot think for yourself, you might as well commit suicide.

Yet despite the sometimes misanthropic tone, Cynicism became popular among the lower classes during the first two centuries of the Roman empire, in contrast to its successor, Stoicism, which became allied with that empire, denuded of its radical content. Respectable philosophers denounced the Cynic “street philosophers” for inciting disrespect for authority and undermining social hierarchy, with their rejection of conventional notions of property and propriety. [Dawson, pp. 244-245]

The Cynics did not expect, but they argued, that anyone, including women and slaves, could, if they had enough independence of mind, embrace the Cynic lifestyle. Unlike the earlier Cynics in Greece, the Cynic street philosophers of the Roman empire “intended,” through their actions, “to set a model for people to imitate.” [Dawson, p. 246] In a way they practiced a kind of “propaganda by the deed”: through their actions and lifestyle they showed people how to live honestly, naturally and freely. But even these Cynics did not aspire to create a mass movement. As we shall see in the next chapter, it was only with the rise of Christianity that heretical movements arose that rejected the hierarchies of the Roman empire and the early Christian Church that later became allied with it.

Cynicism, by its very nature, could never serve as an ideological support for the Roman empire, which helps explain why so few Cynic writings have survived. Dawson has compared Cynicism to philosophical Daoism, in that it acted as a “counterpoint” to the philosophical and religious doctrines that provided justifications for the social hierarchies of ancient Rome, much like Daoism acted as a counterpoint to Confucianism in China. [Dawson, p. 250] Diogenes’ pupil, Crates, imagined a polis, Pera, “where no one owns anything, and war and conflict do not exist, because no one cares for money, glory, or lust.” [Dawson, p. 149]

The connections between private property, status, ambition, greed and war were also emphasized by the philosophical Daoists, and by 19th century anarchists. The Roman emperor, Julian (331–363 CE), was sufficiently concerned about the subversive nature of Cynic teachings to denounce them for promoting communism, and the scorn “of all laws human and divine.” He compared Cynics to bandits, because they “went about everywhere confounding the common laws.” [Dawson, p. 249]

Robert Graham

New Book about Kropotkin

It’s that time of year again – yes – Kropotkin’s birthday (December 21, 1842 on the modern calendar). To mark the occasion, I thought I would mention that Richard Morgan has recently published an interesting book about Kropotkin’s anarchism, The Making of Kropotkin’s Anarchist Thought: Disease, Degeneration, Health and the Bio-political Dimension. The book has been issued as part of the BASEES/Routledge Series on Russian and East European Studies. With Richard Morgan’s permission, here is a brief synopsis and introduction to the book. For more on Kropotkin’s revolutionary anarchism, visit my Kropotkin webpage and check out Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume One: From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE-1939).

Happy Birthday Peter!

The Making of Kropotkin’s Anarchist Thought

This book argues that the Russian thinker Petr Kropotkin’s anarchism was a bio-political revolutionary project. It shows how Kropotkin drew on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century European and Russian bio-social-medical scientific thought to the extent that ideas about health, sickness, insanity, degeneration, and hygiene were for him not metaphors but rather key political concerns. It goes on to discuss how for Kropotkin’s bio-political anarchism, the state, capitalism, and revolution were medical concerns whose effects on the individual and society were measurable by social statistics and explainable by bio-social-medical knowledge. Overall, the book provides a refreshing, innovative approach to understanding Kropotkin’s anarchism.

As a site of intersection between revolutionary politics and science, Kropotkin’s thought represents a new development in the tradition of anarchist political philosophy. Although his diagnoses of humanity’s problems were distinctly anarchist – emphasising the threat of the modern state and capitalism – the ways in which he thought about these threats and the means by which he tried to expose their dangers were transformed by scientific ideas. His remedies to these problems were also transformed by science. He offered typical anarchist visions of revolution and far-reaching social change as political solutions, yet they were intended to bring about effects and consequences that made sense to and were measurable in relation to forms of scientific knowledge. With its transformed forms of diagnosis and remedy, Kropotkin’s scientised brand of anarchism provided the tradition with new and different approaches to the individual and society, to ideas about power, moral corruption, order, and the dissemination of knowledge.

Two events that occurred around the time of Kropotkin’s birth in 1842 introduce the central themes of this book – anarchist politics and science – and illustrate how they came together in his thought. First, in his book What Is Property? [1840], Proudhon declared himself to be an anarchist. This is the first known instance of a political thinker willingly adopting the title. Before, particularly during the French Revolution, it had been used as a term of negative criticism and abuse levelled at ‘unruly’ political adversaries. Second, in the year of Kropotkin’s birth, English social reformer Edwin Chadwick published his study An Inquiry into the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain [1842]. As the title indicates, Chadwick’s work was an investigation into the state of public health, a biological assessment of a political territory’s population that stretched ‘from one end of the island to the other’.

These episodes mark two important developments within nineteenth-century political and scientific thought that became interwoven strands of Kropotkin’s life as a writer and thinker. The possibilities for thought represented by these seemingly unconnected events – both understanding that the term ‘anarchist’ could positively identify the creative ambitions of a political thinker and perceiving threats to political populations biologically – became intimately connected currents of Kropotkin’s ideas. Each typified new ways of looking at the world that together, interdependently, developed into crucial features of his worldview.

Proudhon’s self-definition as an anarchist brought into being the idea of anarchism as a non-maligned form of political philosophy, establishing a new, positive political identity to which Kropotkin would later subscribe. In relating anarchism with order, Proudhon engendered the possibility for it to be associated with creative as well as destructive political ambitions. Kropotkin grew up in a world where it was possible to conceive of the word ‘anarchist’ as a vocation, a calling that implied a desire not only to condemn socio-economic and political regimes but also to pursue society’s transformation.

This book will argue that what Kropotkin hoped to achieve politically as an anarchist – diagnosing and solving social problems – was representative of the trend in nineteenth-century social and scientific thought depicted by Chadwick’s inquiry. His anarchist exposé of the dangers facing humanity had a key bio-political dimension – that is, an intersectional concern with the biological impact of political and social environments on individuals and society and with the political and social implications of their biological states and conditions. Like Chadwick, he was concerned with identifying the threat of disease to human populations, connecting bodily experiences to wider processes of industrialisation and urbanisation. With the support of expert knowledge, evidence, facts, and data, Kropotkin believed his political diagnoses to be accurate and exact. He was confident that his anarchist politics could scientifically measure the biological threats facing individuals and society. And in accordance with his biological diagnoses of social problems, Kropotkin’s political solutions had a medical focus. His remedies sought to literally heal society with the application of bio-political knowledge and technologies.

Richard Morgan

Merry Winter Solstice!

Trial of the Chicago 7/8

Aaron Sorkin’s liberal revisionist take on the trial of the Chicago 7/8 has sent me in search of more accurate portrayals of the trial, for example, Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8, which relies entirely on the actual court transcripts and includes later interviews with the defendants. Another more accurate depiction is Chicago 10:

The proceedings against the defendants was a show trial orchestrated by the Nixon administration in order to break the back of radical protest and revolutionary movements in the United States in the late 1960s. The original 8 defendants, including Black Panther leader, Bobby Seale, were accused of conspiracy to incite riots at the Democratic Party National Convention in Chicago in 1968.

What really happened is more accurately described as a “police riot,” with the Chicago police assaulting and arresting hundreds of anti-Vietnam war protestors outside of the Convention. The defendants, with the exception of Bobby Seale, had helped organize the protests, but were then put on trial for allegedly instigating the so-called riots by the protestors who were being beaten by the police. The trial was a farce, with Bobby Seale being bound, gagged and chained in the courtroom, until his case was severed from the other defendants, leaving the 7 defendants of the title to Sorkin’s Hollywood version of the trial.

The most radical of the defendants were the two Yippies (Youth International Party), Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Hoffman had been involved in the civil rights movement in the early 1960s and then became more radical, advocating a youth-based cultural revolution, departing from the boring rituals of leftwing protest by doing things like showering the New York Stock Exchange trading floor with dollar bills to disrupt the heart of world capitalism. Jerry Rubin had been involved in the free speech movement in Berkeley, California, and then became active in the Yippies, an anarchistic, anti-capitalist as well as anti-war group. While Sorkin at least portrays Hoffman as a smart and funny guy (well played by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen), Rubin is portrayed as an irresponsible stoner nitwit with a penchant for molotov cocktails and female FBI infiltrators of the protest movement (all untrue according to Rubin’s then companion, Nancy Kurshan (https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/10/22/i-was-in-the-room-where-it-happened-one-womans-perspective-on-the-trial-of-the-chicago-7/).

The veteran anti-war activist David Dellinger (I included a piece by him in Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas), is portrayed in Sorkin’s film as a middle-class pacifist do-gooder provoked into punching a sheriff at the trial (which never happened either).

One of the prosecutors is portrayed, again inaccurately, as having doubts about putting people on trial for their radical ideas.

One of the few good parts in Sorkin’s version of the trial is that it includes (briefly) one of the leaders of the Black Panthers in Chicago, Fred Hampton, and the fact that he was murdered by the FBI during the trial.

Fred Hampton

Diane di Prima (1934-2020)

Diane di Prima, famous beat poet, radical, anarchist, activist, died at age 86 on October 25, 2020. One of the better tributes to her was an interview with her daughter, Dominique di Prima, on CBC radio in Canada:

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-tuesday-edition-1.5778707/beat-poet-diane-di-prima-taught-her-kids-to-question-authority-and-believe-in-their-own-creativity-1.5778900

To get the full flavour of the interview you need to listen to it, as the transcript omits any reference to di Prima’s anarchist politics. Here is one of di Prima’s poems, Revolutionary Letter No. 4:

REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #4

Left to themselves people

grow their hair.

Left to themselves they

take off their shoe’s.

Left to themselves they make love

sleep easily

share blankets, dope & children

they are not lazy or afraid

Stuart Christie – In Memoriam (1946-2020)

Stuart Christie (1946-2020)

Very sad to hear of the death of Stuart Christie on August 15, 2020. He maintained an excellent website providing access to anarchist films and literature. Here is an excerpt from his autobiography, My Granny Made Me an Anarchist: The Christie File: Part 1, 1946-1964, in which he summarizes his view of anarchism. He and his comrade, Albert Meltzer, wrote a book on revolutionary anarchism, The Floodgates of Anarchy, which sets forth his ideas in more detail. I met Stuart many years ago and had a very interesting conversation with him in which we agreed that by the 1980s neo-liberalism was a much more significant ideological foe than Marxism. Little did we know that the Soviet Union would collapse a mere three years later. The Kate Sharpley Library has posted an obituary by John Patten.

Anarchism – A Definition

At this juncture it would probably be helpful to give a summary of the idea which won me over so completely at such a young age.

Anarchism encompasses such a broad view of the world that it cannot easily be distilled into a formal definition. Mikhail Bakunin, a man of action whose writings and example over a century ago did most to transform anarchism from an abstract critique of political power into a theory of practical social action, defined its fundamental tenet thus:

In a word, we reject all privileged, licensed, official, and legal legislation and authority, even though it arise from universal suffrage, convinced that it could only turn to the benefit of a dominant and exploiting minority, and against the interests of the vast enslaved majority.[1]

Anarchism is a movement for human freedom. It is concrete, democratic and egalitarian. It is rooted in normality as opposed to eccentricity. It has existed and developed since the seventeenth century, with a philosophy and a defined outlook that have evolved and grown with time and circumstance. Anarchism began – and remains – a direct challenge by the underprivileged to their oppression and exploitation. It opposes both the insidious growth of state power and the pernicious ethos of possessive individualism, which, together or separately, ultimately serve only the interests of the few at the expense of the rest.

Anarchism is both a theory and practice of life. Philosophically, it aims for the maximum accord between the individual, society and nature. Practically, it aims for us to organise and live our lives in such a way as to make politicians, governments, states and their officials superfluous. In an anarchist society, mutually respectful sovereign individuals would be organised in non-coercive relationships within naturally defined communities in which the means of production and distribution are held in common.

Anarchists are not dreamers obsessed with abstract principles and theoretical constructs, Events are ruled by chance and people’s actions depend on long-held habits and on psychological and emotional factors that are often antisocial and usually unpredictable. Anarchists are well aware that a perfect society cannot be won tomorrow. Indeed, the struggle lasts forever! However, it is the vision that provides the spur to struggle against things as they are, and for things that might be.

Whatever the immediate prospects of achieving a free society, and however remote the ideal, if we value our common humanity then we must never cease to strive to realise our vision. To settle for anything less means we are little more than beasts of burden at the service of the privileged few, without much to gain from life other than a lighter load, better feed and a cosier berth.

Ultimately, only struggle determines outcome, and progress towards a more meaningful community must begin with the will to resist every form of injustice. In general terms, this means challenging all exploitation and defying the legitimacy of all coercive authority. If anarchists have one article of unshakable faith, it is that, once the habit of deferring to politicians or ideologues is lost, and that of resistance to domination and exploitation acquired, then ordinary people have a capacity to organise every aspect of their lives in their own interests, anywhere and at any time, both freely and fairly.

Anarchists do not stand aside from popular struggle, nor do they attempt to dominate it. They seek to contribute to it practically whatever they can, and also to assist within it the highest possible levels both of individual self-development and of group solidarity. It is possible to recognise anarchist ideas concerning voluntary relationships, egalitarian participation in decision-making processes, mutual aid and a related critique of all forms of domination in philosophical, social and revolutionary movements in all times and places.

Elsewhere, the less formal practices and struggles of the more indomitable among the propertyless and disadvantaged victims of the authority system have found articulation in the writings of those who on brief acquaintance would appear to be mere millenarian dreamers. Far from being abstract speculations conjured out of thin air, such works have, like all social theories, been derived from sensitive observation. They reflect the fundamental and uncontainable conviction nourished by a conscious minority throughout history that social power held over people is a usurpation of natural rights: power originates in the people, and they alone have, together, the right to wield it.

Stuart Christie