Tomás Ibáñez: Anarchism is Movement

The excellent Autonomies website has begun posting a translation of Tomás Ibáñez’s 2014 essay, “Anarchism is movement: Anarchism, neoanarchism and postanarchism.” Here I present excerpts from the conclusion to Ibáñez’s introduction. Ibáñez grew up in France, where his parents found refuge following the crushing of the Spanish anarchist movement at the end of the Spanish Civil War. As a youth, he become active in the Spanish anarchist exile group, Federación Ibérica de Juventudes Libertarias (FIJL). Autonomies notes that in “1968, he joined the March 22 Movement, participating actively in the May events of that year, until his arrest in June, and subsequent forced ‘internal exile’ outside Paris. In 1973 he returned to Spain and participated in the attempts to rebuild the CNT.” While I don’t agree with Ibáñez on some points, he is a thoughtful and provocative contemporary anarchist writer well worth reading (one area of disagreement is that I see anarchy as something that preceded the creation of explicitly anarchist doctrines, and believe that anarchist ideas can not only continue to exist without a movement, and in fact preceded the creation of any anarchist movements, but in those historical interregnums between the efflorescence of anarchist movements when the burden of anarchism’s historical past is less pressing, as are pressures for ideological uniformity precisely because of the seeming political irrelevance of anarchists (but not anarchism), anarchists can and have revitalized anarchist thinking about contemporary events, and future prospects, helping lay the groundwork for yet another resurgence of anarchist activity. This was particularly true in Europe and North and Latin America in the 1940s and 50s, as I have argued in my essay, “The Anarchist Current”).

Tomás Ibáñez

From May 1968 to the 21st Century

After having demonstrated an appreciable vitality for about a century – grosso modo between 1860 and 1940, that is, some 80 years -, anarchism fell back, inflected back upon itself and practically disappeared from the world political stage and from social struggles for various decades, undertaking a long journey in the wilderness that some took advantage of to extend their certificate of dysfunctionality and to speak of it as of an obsolescent ideology which only belongs to the past.

The fact is that, after the tragic defeat of the Spanish Revolution in 1939, if an exception is made for the libertarian presence in the anti-franquista struggle, of the participation of anarchists in the anti-fascist resistance in certain regions of Italy during WWII or the active participation of British anarchists in the anti-nuclear campaigns of the end of the 1950s and the early 1960s or, also, a certain presence in Sweden and Argentina, for example, anarchism remained strikingly absent from the social struggles that marked the next thirty years in the many countries of the world, limiting itself in the best of cases to a residual and testimonial role.  Marginalised from struggles, unable to renew ties with social reality and relocate itself in political conflict, anarchism lost all possibility of re-actualising itself and of evolving.

In these unfavourable conditions, anarchism tended to fold in upon itself, becoming dogmatic, mummified, ruminating on its glorious past and developing powerful reflexes of self-preservation.  The predominance of the cult of memory over the will to renew led it, little by little, to make itself conservative, to defend jealously its patrimony and to close itself in a sterilising circle of mere repetition.

It is a little as if anarchism, in the absence of being practiced in the struggles against domination, had transformed itself slowly into the political equivalent of a dead language.  That is, a language that, for lack of use by people, severs itself from the complex and changing reality in which it moved, becoming thereby sterile, incapable of evolving, of enriching itself, of being useful to apprehend a moving reality and affect it.  A language which is not used is just a relic instead of being an instrument; it is a fossil instead of being a living body, and it is a fixed image instead of being a moving picture.  As if it had been transformed into a dead language, anarchism fossilised itself from the beginnings of the 1940s until almost the end of the 1960s.  This suspension of its vital functions occurred for a reason that I will not cease to insist upon and this is none other than the following: anarchism is constantly forged in the practices of struggle against domination; outside of them, it withers away and decays.

Stuck in the trance of not being able to evolve, anarchism ceased to be properly anarchist and went on to became something else.  There is no hidden mystery here, it is not a matter of alchemy, nor of the transmutation of bodies, but simply that if, as I maintain, what is proper to anarchism is rooted in being constitutively changeable, then the absence of change means simply that one is no longer dealing with anarchism…

One has to wait until the end of the 1960s, with the large movements of opposition to the war in Vietnam, with the incessant agitation on various campuses of the United States, of Germany, of Italy or of France, with the development, among a part of the youth, of nonconformist attitudes, sentiments of rebellion against authority and the challenge to social conventions and, finally, with the fabulous explosion of May 68 in France, until a new stage in the flourishing of anarchism could begin to sprout.

Of course, even though strong libertarian tonalities resonated within it, May 68 was not anarchist.  Yet it nevertheless inaugurated a new political radicality that harmonised with the stubborn obsession of anarchism to not reduce to the sole sphere of the economy and the relations of production the struggle against the apparatuses of domination, against the practices of exclusion or against the effects of stigmatisation and discrimination.

What May 68 also inaugurated – even though it did not reach its full development until after the struggles in Seattle of 1999 – was a form of anarchism that I call “anarchism outside its own walls” [anarquismo extramuros], because it develops unquestionably anarchist practices and values from outside specifically anarchist movements and at the margin of any explicit reference to anarchism.

May 68 announced, finally, in the very heart of militant anarchism novel conceptions that, as Todd May says – one of the fathers of postanarchism, whom we will speak of below -, privileged, among other things, tactical perspectives before strategic orientations, outlining thereby a new libertarian ethos.  In effect, actions undertaken with the aim of developing political organisations and projects that had as an objective and as a horizon the global transformation of society gave way to actions destined at subverting, in the immediate, concrete and limited aspects of instituted society.

Some thirty years after May 68, the large demonstrations for a different kind of globalisation [altermundista] of the early 2000s allowed anarchism to experience a new growth and acquire, thanks to a strong presence in struggles and in the streets, a spectacular projection.  It is true that the use of the Internet allows for the rapid communication of anarchist protests of all kinds that take place in the most diverse parts of the world; and it is obvious that it permits assuring an immediate and almost exhaustive coverage of these events; but it is also no less certain that no single day goes by without different anarchist portals announcing one or, even, various libertarian events.  Without letting ourselves be dazzled by the multiplying effect that the Internet produces, it has to be acknowledged that the proliferation of libertarian activities in the beginning of this century was hard to imagine just a few years ago.

This upsurge of anarchism not only showed itself in struggles and in the streets, but extended also to the sphere of culture and, even, to the domain of the university as is testified to by, for example, the creation in October of 2005, in the English university of Loughborough, of a dense academic network of reflection and exchange called the Anarchist Studies Network, followed by the creation in 2009 of the North American Anarchist Studies; or as is made evident by the constitution of an ample international network that brings together an impressive number of university researchers who define themselves as anarchists or who are interested in anarchism.  The colloquia dedicated to different aspects of anarchism – historical, political, philosophical – do not cease to multiply (Paris, Lyon, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico and a vast etcetera).

This abundant presence of anarchism in the world of the university cannot but astound us, those who had the experience of its absolute non-existence within academic institutions, during the long winter that Marxist hegemony represented, that followed conservative hegemony, or that coexisted with it, above all in countries like France and Italy.  In truth, the panorama outlined would have been unimaginable even a few years ago, even at a time as close as the end of the 1990s.

Let us point out, finally, that between May 68 and the protests of the years 2000, anarchism demonstrated an upsurge of vitality on various occasions, above all in Spain.  In the years 1976-1978, the extraordinary libertarian effervescence that followed the death of Franco left us completely stupefied, all the more stupefied the more closely we were tied to the fragile reality of Spanish anarchism in the last years of franquismo.  An effervescence that was capable of gathering in 1977 some one hundred thousand participants during a meeting of the CNT in Barcelona and that allowed during that same year to bring together thousands of anarchists that came from all countries to participate in the Jornadas Libertarias in this same city.  A vitality that showed itself also in Venice, in September of 1984, where thousands of anarchists gathered, coming from everywhere, without forgetting the large international encounter celebrated in Barcelona in September-October of 1993.

Many were the events around which anarchists gathered in numbers unimaginable before the explosion of the events of May 68.  In fact, the resurgence of anarchism has not ceased to make us jump, so to speak, from surprise to surprise.  May 68 was a surprise for everyone, including of course for the few anarchists who we were, wandering the streets of Paris, a little before.  Spain immediately after Franco was another surprise, above all for the few anarchists who nevertheless continued to struggle during the last years of the dictatorship.  The anarchist effervescence of the years 2000 is, finally, a third surprise that has nothing to envy in those that preceded it.

Tomás Ibáñez

Paris, May 1968

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Tomás Ibáñez: The Coming Anarchism

The Autonomies website has recently posted a translation of an essay by the Spanish anarchist, Tomás Ibáñez, “The Anarchism to Come,” which could also be translated as “The Coming Anarchism,” an allusion to Kropotkin’s 1887 article, “The Coming Anarchy.” I thought it fitting to reprint excerpts from Tomás Ibáñez’s essay some 130 years later. While highlighting the necessary differences between contemporary anarchism, historical anarchism, and the “coming anarchism,” Tomás Ibáñez nevertheless argues that there are certain “invariant” elements of classical anarchism that must be preserved in order for something to be considered any kind of anarchism. Originally published in Libre Pensamiento, No. 88.

Current forms of anarchism

I believe that it becomes quite clear that the context in which the coming anarchism will find itself will be eminently different from the context in which it has operated until recently, which can only but substantially modify it.

Some of these changes are already beginning to gain form, such that, to glimpse, even if confusedly, the characteristics of the coming anarchism, it is very useful to observe the current anarchist movement, and especially its most youthful component.  This component represents a part of contemporary anarchism that already manifests some differences with classical anarchism, and with that which I have sometimes called “neo-anarchism”.

What we can observe at the present is that, after a very long period of very scarce international presence by anarchism, what is emerging and is already proliferating in very appealing ways in all of the regions of the world, are various collectives concerned with a great diversity of themes; multiple, fragmented, fluctuating and at times ephemeral, but which participate in all of the movements against the system, and sometimes even initiate them.  Undoubtedly, this fragmentation corresponds to some of the characteristics of the new context which we are entering and which is making possible a new organisation of the spaces of dissidence.  The current reality which is becoming literally “shifting” and “liquid” demands, certainly, much more flexible, more fluid organisational models, oriented according to simple proposals of coordination to realise concrete and specific tasks.

Like the networks that rise up autonomously, that self-organise themselves, that make and unmake themselves according to the exigencies of the moment, and where temporary alliances are established between collectives, these probably constitute the organisational form, reticular and viral, that will prevail in the future, and whose fluidity is already proving its effectiveness in the present.

What seems to predominate in these youthful anarchist collectives is the desire to create spaces where relations are exempt from the coercion and the values that emanate from the reigning system.  Without waiting for a hypothetical revolutionary change, it is for them a matter of living from now on as closely as possible to the values that this change should promote.  This leads, among the very many other kinds of behaviour, to developing scrupulously non-sexist relations stripped of any patriarchal character, including in the language, or to establishing relations of solidarity that completely escape hierarchical logic and a commodity spirit.

It also contributes, and this is very important, to the weight that is given to those practices that exceed the order of mere discursivity.  The importance of doing and, more precisely, of “doing together“, is emphasised, putting the accent on the concrete effects of this doing and on the transformations that it promotes.

In these spaces, the concerts, the fiestas, the collective meals (vegan, of course), form part of the political activity, equal to the putting up of posters, neighbourhood actions, talks and debates, or demonstrations, at times quite forceful.  In reality, it is a matter of making the form of life be in itself an instrument of struggle that defies the system, that contradicts its principles, that dissolves its arguments, and that permits the development of transforming community experiences.  It is for this reason that, from the new libertarian space that is being woven in different parts of the world, experiences of self-management, of economies of solidarity, of networks of mutual aid, of alternative networks of food production and distribution, of exchange and distribution are developing.  The success on this point is complete, for if capitalism is converting itself into a form of life, it is obvious that it is precisely on this terrain, that of forms of life, where part of the struggle to dismantle it must situate itself.

A broad subversive fabric is gaining shape that provides people with antagonistic alternatives to the system, and which, at the same time, helps to change the subjectivity of those who participate in them.  This last aspect is terribly important for there exists a very clear awareness, in having been formatted by and for this society, that we have no other remedy than to transform ourselves if we want to escape its control.  Which means that desubjectification is perceived as an essential task for subversive action itself.

Lastly, it is by no means infrequent that the alternative anarchist space converges with broader movements, such as those that mobilise against wars, or against summit meetings, and those that from time to time occupy squares rediscovering anarchist principles like horizontalism, direct action, or the suspicion before any exercise of power.  In fact, one could consider that these broader movements, which do not define themselves, far from it, as anarchist, represent what at one moment I qualified as outside the walls anarchism, and they prefigure the coming anarchism.

Together with these youthful anarchist collectives, another subversive phenomenon that responds to the technological characteristics of the current moment and which enriches as much the revolutionary practices, as the corresponding imaginary, consists of the appearance of hackers, with the practices and form of political intervention that characterise them.

In a recent book, it is correctly pointed out that if what fascinates and what attracts our attention are macro-concentrations (the occupation of squares, the anti-summit protests, etc.), it is nevertheless in other places where the new subversive politics is being invented: this is the work of dispersed individuals who nevertheless form virtual collectives: the hackers.

In analysing their practices, the author specifies that the value of their struggle resides in the fact that it attacks a fundamental principle of the current exercise of power: the secrecy of State operations, a strictly reserved hunting area and totally opaque to non-authorised eyes, which the State keeps exclusively to itself.  The activists draw on a practice of anonymity and of the elimination of traces that does not respond to the demands of secrecy, but to a new conception of political action: the opposite of creating an “us” heroically and sacrificially confronting power in an unmasked and physical struggle.  It is about, in effect, not exposing oneself, of reducing the cost of the struggle, but above all of not establishing a relationship, not even of conflict, with the enemy.

The anarchist invariant

Next to its inevitable differences with classical anarchism, a second consideration that we can advance, also in full confidence, is that to continue to be anarchism instead of becoming something else, the new anarchism should preserve some of the constitutive elements of the instituted anarchism.  It is these elements that I like to call “the anarchist invariant“, an invariant that unites the current and future anarchism, and that will continue to define, therefore, the anarchism to come.

In fact, this invariant is composed of a small handful of values among which figures prominently that of equaliberty, that is, freedom and equality in common movement, forming a unique and inextricable concept that unites, indissolubly, collective freedom and individual freedom, while at the same time completely excluding the possibility that, from an anarchist perspective, it is possible to think freedom without equality, or equality without freedom.  Neither freedom, nor equality, severed from their other half, fall within an approach that continues to be anarchist.

It is this compromise with equaliberty that places within the heart of the anarchist invariant its radical incompatibility with domination in all of its forms, as well as the affirmation that it is possible and, further, intensely desirable, to live without domination. And it is with this that the motto “Neither to rule, nor to obey” forms part of what cannot change in anarchism without it ceasing to be anarchism.

Likewise, anarchism is also denatured if it is deprived of the set formed by the union between utopia and the desire for revolution, that is, by the union between the imagination of a world always distinct from the existing one, and the desire to put to an end this last.

Another of the elements that is inscribed permanently in anarchism is an ethical commitment, especially to the ethical exigency of a consonance between theory and practice, as well as to the demand for an ethical alignment between means and ends.  This signifies that it is not possible to attain objectives in accordance with anarchist values along paths which contradict them.  Whereby, the actions developed and the forms of organisation adopted should reflect, already, in their very characteristics, the goals sought; they should prefigure them, and this prefiguring constitutes an authentic touchstone for verifying the validity of means.  In other words, anarchism is only compatible with prefigurative politics, and it would cease to be anarchism if it abandoned this imperative.

Lastly, neither can one continue to speak properly of anarchism if this renounces the fusion between life and politics.  We should not forget that anarchism is simultaneously, and in an indissociable way, a political formulation, but also a way of life, but also an ethics, but also a set of practices, but also a way of being and of behaving, but also a utopia.  This implies an interweaving between the political and the existential, between the theoretical and the practical, between the ethical and the political, that is, ultimately, a fusion between the sphere of life and the sphere of the political.

To continue to be “anarchism”, the “coming anarchism” cannot do without any of these elements.

Tomás Ibáñez