George and Louise Crowley: ‘Chaos” – or Else

Vietnam War Protest

Vietnam War Protest

Below, I set forth excerpts from an article by George and Louise Crowley, “‘Chaos’ – or Else,” originally published in the Seattle Group Bulletin, a mimeographed broadsheet published in Seattle from 1965 to 1971. The Seattle Group Bulletin was broadly anarchist in orientation, and contained articles on anarchism, women’s liberation, the Vietnam War and many other topics. The Bulletins are now available online here. They are a great example of the renaissance of anarchist ideas and practice in the 1960s, a portion of which I tried to document in Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. George and Louise Crowley had been active in the U.S. Communist Party in the 1930s, but left the party because, according to Louise, they had “too much of a sense of humor.” Louise was a committed feminist who helped start some of the “second wave” feminist groups in Seattle in the 1960s, publishing the feminist Lilith magazine. This article, published in 1966, is reminiscent of George Woodcock’s earlier broadside, Anarchy or Chaos, with both Woodcock and the Crowleys arguing that the only real alternative to the insanity of modern warfare, capitalism, sexism, racism and the state is a positive form of anarchy.

Seattle group


Recently a desperate and exasperated citizen asked through the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s “Personals” column: “In the name of God what can be done to end the senseless sacrifice of human lives in Vietnam”. That paper refused to accept our ad toward a constructive answer.

Two days later, a Sunday, a young man jumped to his death from the Freeway bridge. The note he left behind stated that he no longer wanted to be a part of the life into which he had been born.

Monday the United States resumed indiscriminate bombardment of the cities and people of North Vietnam.

There is a common denominator that bonds these events. It is frustration – a deep, demoralizing sense of futility which springs from our power-mad executive’s forward divergence from that steam of tolerance and humanism now in explosive upsurge around the world.

Quickly let us review the facts. The Kennedy administration built an enormous body of good will by backing away from the mess it inherited in Cuba. That administration’s apparent efforts to disengage the Cold War and withdraw from brinkmanship created a great resource of hope and popular favor which it bequeathed to LBJ and his government.

The Johnson campaign was based on what to millions of Americans sounded like a firm promise to make war on poverty instead of on people. In his maiden address to the UN, Johnson, with true insight, equated imperial adventurism with the rampant domestic exploitation that preceded the disaster of 1929. His promise to promote a world New Deal was taken at face value by millions both at home and abroad.

The current government (both the administration and its loyal opposition) have wantonly betrayed that mandate. No action great or small, real or imagined, can alter or justify that fact.

Thus have we arrived at this momentous hour of personal decision. We cast our ballots in overwhelming mandate and were repudiated. We protested to proper channels by millions and were ignored. We demonstrated in the streets by thousands and have been scornfully denounced although counter demonstrations couldn’t raise a corporal’s guard.

Hundreds of young men, faced with the insufferable demand that they join in the monstrous genocide of a weak and inoffensive people far, even, from the traditional spheres of Yankee dominance, have laid their futures on the line and said NO! and have been persecuted therefore.

Several persons, despairing completely of impressing a callous government by any means within the American tradition of petition and protest, have by demonstration in deeds given up their lives in horrible immolation like the Buddhists of Vietnam. The administration has mocked and ridiculed their sacrifice. Where can you go beyond this point!

Historically the area beyond, the transition to tyranny, was left to the revolutionary solution. Time was when this sufficed, but revolution (or the threat of revolution) in the classic sense is no longer a functional deterrent to tyrannical contempt for public will. The evolution of scientific police technology renders next to impossible the success of a revolution of other than coup d’etat nature in any advanced country…

Historically the stricken citizen could draw solace from a certainty that his tyrant would in time raise a community of opposition as his ambitions clashed with other sovereign states, and that an alliance would be raised to abate the horror. The coalition against the Third German Reich was the last such example we have. Reasoned hindsight suggests serious reservations as to whether the awful price of that war had any valid compensation to humanity.

But all such considerations became moot in the holocaust that was Nagasaki and Hiroshima. With the advent of the nuclear age the question of war and peace ceased to be a matter of game probabilities; “victory” and “defeat” now have the same meaning: the end of the world. Indeed, the last US and USSR “tests” came closer to this gruesome finality than any disciple of authority and force is prepared to concede.

The matter does not end here. Advanced weapons systems are so failproof, so intricately interlocked, so linked to the response of the opposite or “enemy” equivalent, that the slightest mishap could unleash a fatal chain reaction irreversible by any human act. Life on earth remains an accident away from extinction until the overkill mechanism that is the insane glory of our power structure has been dismantled.

Just as the reign of the despotic state was traditionally transitory, so was the capacity of any state limited in its control over its subjects. The state could kill the individual against his will; but any other action, even imprisonment, entailed a degree of acquiescence on the part of the victim. Such acquiescence is always conditional and to a large degree temporary. Therefore, to the extent that the tyrant eliminated the will of the populace, to relax his vigilance was to risk destruction.

Further, to the degree that the state used death to quiet opposition or to cow its populace, it cheapened life value and thereby raised the readiness to rebel…

Because such oppressions were transitory and because they effected no permanent modification of his nature, man was able to adopt several rationalizations to make them tolerable. The nihilist could completely surrender his control over an environment to which he ascribed no reality, and could still rationalize a freedom of thoughts. This becomes untenable now in the face of the burgeoning array of pharmaceutic modifiers of the central nervous system. The stoic, accepting all events including death as governed by divine law, could do as he would with calm assurance that thus did he fulfill his destiny. This rationalization now comes to naught with the development of clinical modification of will. The theist and revolutionary alike could bear up with grim fortitude, each confident of his own forthcoming day of reckoning. Today this line of thinking offers no comfort in the face of imminent prescribed genetic modification, and the threat of a premature Armageddon.

Thus the crisis is joined not in the 21st century, not tomorrow, but here and now. Each must ask, and answer, in all seriousness.

Could any conceivable chaos be more awesome or deadly that that first, and last, globe-encircling flash of nuclear incineration? Could any “setback” to human progress be comparable to the finality of extinction?

Could any degree of “security” be an equitable or reasonable exchange for surrender of man’s free will?

We must end this war. We must dry up its sources of compliant manpower. We must cut its channels of supply. We must halt production of the goods that sustain it. And whatever bald and imaginative new means must be taken to achieve this, those means we must take. Johnson, MacNamara, Rusk and Company must be left alone to fight, without a shred of civilized support, this war that they alone want and that their decisions alone are perpetuating.

Since our government has ceased to be responsive to lawful and traditional expressions of the public will, it is futile and self-deluding to continue to limit our resistance to forms appropriate to a democracy but which the willful obstinacy of the Johnson administration has rendered ineffective.

Each of us must live, and die, with himself. Ultimately, it is to our own consciences alone that we must answer, to ourselves that we must be true. If today in the United States to live in accord with one’s principles has become treason for all thoughtful and informed people of good will, then with full consciousness we must make the most of it, for there is no other honorable course. The present administration came to power by murder, and holds power by lies. We owe it no allegiance. We do owe, to ourselves and our otherwise doomed posterity, whatever endeavor may be needed to restore our country to humane and responsible citizenship among the nations of the world. Only deceit and despotism enjoin the young men of America to become hateful predators in an Asian jungle, to be killed from ambush like other beasts, in a dishonorable cause. Only ignorance, servility, or malice could accede to such debasement. The extent to which we resist is the measure of our humanity, not to be compassed by conformism nor limited by law.

Each of us must do these things, and more, now. No longer can we delude ourselves with faith in the gradual processes of education and organization, slow at best and now invalidated by the impact of controlled mass media and the abrogation of constitutional safeguards. No longer can we depend on the organizations of labor, corrupted now by a share of the profits of war; nor do we have time to build new ones, even if the workers were at all inclined to accept them. And they are not; for war, after all, sustains the present high rate of employment. It is in the collapse of such hopes, traditional, familiar, and warmed by human comradeship, that the present frustration has its roots. Yet to succumb to despair is equally fruitless; and moreover, beyond this crisis, if we but survive it, an infinitely better life awaits us. Let us then assert the resiliency of the human spirit. If an era has passed, let us not futilely seek to recall it nor nostalgically mourn its passing, nor burden ourselves with its now useless baggage.

To protest this war, to refrain from all direct or supportive participation in it, to obstruct its continuance by all possible means – these are necessary but no longer enough.

Conventional forms of resistance to despotism, up to and including revolution, have been wrestled with the manifestations of force. Against force, they have posed counterforces, without seriously attacking the premises of authority as such. Where the basic premises have been shaken, they have been shaken only incidentally and new power has promptly entered the breach. Thus successful revolutions have but brought to power new governments, lacking only time to themselves become despotic. In the interval the populace could enjoy a welcome respite from oppression, and be gratified that much of benefit had been accomplished by overturn of the old regime.

For many millennia, acceptance of authority provided a functional method of harnessing human activity on behalf of an evolutionary direction counter to nature’s line of least resistance. Societies that took other paths developed no adequate defenses against the incursions of authority-organized expansionist peoples, and had little or no opportunity to contribute their values to the line of societal evolution that has now culminated in overkill force. Authority is so prevalent as to seem eternal and universal; shaped as we are by our authority-oriented culture, most of us imagine the dominance of man over man to be rooted in immutable natural law, or at least to be the only viable instrument for civilization. The organs of authority have of course found it advantageous to perpetuate this view, and suppress, denigrate, and smother any questioning of its validity and any exploration of alternatives. Even revolution has been kept within its bounds.

In this new era, resistance so limited is bound to fail. The administration’s intransigence over Vietnam is but the focal point of a multifarious campaign by which all organs of authority seek now to solidify their power against the imminent obsolescence of the props that have hitherto sustained it. The last vestiges of supernaturalism are condemned by the current scientific revolution, and in the normal course of events other forms of unreason could not long survive their loss. Economic scarcity, the whiphand of power, becomes untenable with development of cybernated productive complexes virtually unlimited in their capacity. At this juncture the war in Vietnam provides the domestic “affluence” needed to maintain stability while unshakable new props for a totally ordered society are being shifted into place.

Between the Scylla that would destroy the planet and the Charybdis that would negate our humanity there is no safe passage. The current crisis is thus a dilemma irresolvable within the framework of an authority-motivated and force-implemented society. Our efforts must now be directed toward shattering the basic premises upon which authority rests. We must expose the myth of its indispensability; we must discredit its claim to social worth; we must strip off its false cloak of natural law and proclaim its nakedness for all to see. We must dispel fear of the void by making manifest the outlines of the new anarchic society…

George and Louise Crowley

[Seattle Group Bulletin #14 from Seattle 1966 Spring; Bulletins 9 thru 17 of the Seattle Group, published Seattle, Washington. Transcription by Dotty DeCoster, October 31, 2011.]

Seattle feminists' Lilith magazine

Seattle feminists’ Lilith magazine

Neither East Nor West

Neither east nor west

In the next installment from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss how in the aftermath of the Second World War, confronted by the “cold war” between the United States and the Soviet Union, anarchists attempted to maintain an independent position that refused any compromise with either power block. Marie Louise Berneri’s slogan, “Neither East Nor West,” was clearly meant to echo the 19th century anarchist battle cry, “Neither God Nor Master.” One of the more interesting attempts to mark out an independent path for anarchist movements was made by the Bulgarian Anarchist Communist Federation, which developed a conception of an interlocking network of organizations that anticipated the notion of “horizontal federations” articulated by Colin Ward and other anarchists in the 1960s. Unfortunately, the Bulgarian anarchist movement was crushed by the Stalinists when they turned Bulgaria into a Soviet client state.

anarchist communism

Neither East Nor West

After the Second World War, despite the “Cold War” between the Soviet Union and the United States, anarchists sought to keep alive their libertarian vision of a free and equal society in which every individual is able to flourish. Marie Louise Berneri coined the phrase, “Neither East nor West,” signifying anarchist opposition to all power blocs (Volume Two, Selection 10). Anarchists continued to oppose colonialism and the imperialist expansion of the Soviet and American empires (Volume Two, Selections 8, 9, 28, 29 & 31).

Due to their opposition to both dominant power blocs, during the Cold War organized anarchist movements faced almost insurmountable obstacles, similar to the situation faced by the Spanish anarchists during the Revolution and Civil War. In Bulgaria, there was a significant pre-war anarchist communist movement which reemerged briefly after the defeat of Nazi Germany, but which was quickly suppressed by their Soviet “liberators.” The Bulgarian anarchists repudiated fascism as an “attempt to restore absolutism [and] autocracy… with the aim of defending the economic and spiritual dominance of the privileged classes.” They rejected “political democracy” (representative government) because “its social foundations [are] based on the centralized State and capitalism,” resulting in “chaos, contradictions and crime.” As for State socialism, “it leads to State capitalism—the most monstrous form of economic exploitation and oppression, and of total domination of social and individual freedom” (Volume Two, Selection 7).

The program of the Bulgarian Anarchist Communist Federation is noteworthy today for its emphasis on anarchist federalism as “a dense and complex network” of village communities, regional communes, productive enterprises, trade unions, distribution networks and consumer organizations that would be “grouped in a general confederation of exchange and consumption for satisfying the needs of all inhabitants” (Volume Two, Selection 7). Such network forms of organization mark an advance over the “inverse pyramid” structure that had long been advocated by anarcho-syndicalists, which was much more prone to being transformed into a more conventional, hierarchical form of organization during times of crisis, as in Spain. By the early 1950s, many anarcho-syndicalists were advocating similar horizontal networks based on factory councils and community assemblies, resembling a “honeycomb,” as Philip Sansom put it, in which “all the cells are of equal importance and fit into each other,” instead of control being “maintained from the centre” (Volume Two, Selection 58).

Within their own organizations, the Bulgarian anarchist communists advocated a form of consensus decision-making. However, while “the decision of the majority is not binding on the minority,” in practice “the minority generally rallies to the decision of the majority,” after the majority has had an opportunity to demonstrate the wisdom of its position. Thus, while the minority was not bound to follow the decisions of the majority, the majority was not prevented from acting in accordance with its own views, such that the minority could not assume de facto authority over the majority by refusing to agree with the majority decision, as sometimes happens under other forms of consensus decision-making. The Bulgarian anarchist communists recognized that in broader based mass organizations that were not specifically anarchist in orientation, majority rule would generally prevail, but even then “the minority may be freed from the obligation to apply a general decision, on condition that it does not prevent the execution of such a decision” (Volume Two, Selection 7). In this regard, their position is remarkably similar to that of contemporary advocates of participatory democracy, such as Carole Pateman (1985: 159-162; see also Graham, 1996), and anarchist advocates of various forms of direct democracy (Volume Three, Chapter 2).

Robert Graham

anarchist communism 2

Communities of Freedom

anarchist communities wingnut

Continuing my installments from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterward to Volume Three of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, below I deal with the resurgence of communitarian anarchism after the Second World War. One of the pioneers of communitarian anarchism was Gustav Landauer, who advocated the creation of networks of anarcho-socialist communities, eventually resulting in a “community of communities,” as his friend Martin Buber later phrased it. The revival of these sorts of ideas by people like Dwight Macdonald, David Dellinger, Paul Goodman and Murray Bookchin helped pave the way for the North American “back to the land” and communal movements of the 1960s.

anarchist communities brooklyn

Community and Freedom

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, Dwight Macdonald (1905-1982) wrote that the “brutality and irrationality of Western social institutions has reached a pitch which would have seemed incredible a short generation ago; our lives have come to be dominated by warfare of a ferocity and on a scale unprecedented in history,” leading him to conclude that the “Anarchists’ uncompromising rejection of the State, the subject of Marxian sneers for its ‘absolutist’ and ‘Utopian’ character, makes much better sense in the present era than the Marxian relativist and historical approach” (Volume Two, Selection 13).

Macdonald argued that in the face of these harsh realities, “we must reduce political action to a modest, unpretentious, personal level—one that is real in the sense that it satisfies, here and now, the psychological needs, and the ethical values of the particular persons taking part in it.” He suggested forming “small groups of individuals” into “families” who “live and make their living in the everyday world but who come together… to form a psychological (as against a geographical) community.” Through these groups their “members could come to know each other as fully as possible as human beings (the difficulty of such knowledge of others in modern society is a chief source of evil), to exchange ideas and discuss as fully as possible what is ‘on their minds’ (not only the atomic bomb but also the perils of child-rearing), and in general to learn the difficult art of living with other people.” The members of these groups would “preach” their “ideals—or, if you prefer, make propaganda—by word and by deed, in the varied everyday contacts of the group members with their fellow men,” working “against Jim Crow [racist laws]” in the United States, “or to further pacifism,” and supporting individuals “who stand up for the common ideals” (Volume Two, Selection 13).

The pacifist David Dellinger (1915-2004), writing a few years later in the anarchist journal, Resistance, went a step further, arguing for the creation of small communes “composed of persons who have the same type of disgust at the economic selfishness of society that the conscientious objector has concerning war and violence.” In these “experimental” communities, “economic resources” would be shared, “so that the total product provides greater strength and freedom for the members than they would be able to achieve, ethically, as isolated individuals,” while providing “daily pleasures and satisfactions” by “finding time to do things together that are fun” (Volume Two, Selection 40).

The “families” of like minded individuals proposed by Macdonald would today be described as affinity groups, a form of organization that had been utilized for decades by anarchists, particularly anarchist communists wary of the more formal organizational structures of the anarcho-syndicalists (Grave, Volume One, Selection 46). As Murray Bookchin pointed out, the FAI in Spain had been based on an affinity group structure. In the 1960s, Bookchin helped to popularize this intimate form of non-hierarchical organization, which combines “revolutionary theory with revolutionary lifestyle in its everyday behaviour.” Much like the “families” advocated by Macdonald, each affinity group would seek “a rounded body of knowledge and experience in order to overcome the social and psychological limitations imposed by bourgeois society on individual development,” acting “as catalysts within the popular movement.” For Bookchin, the aim of anarchist affinity groups is not to subordinate “the social forms created by the revolutionary people… to an impersonal bureaucracy” or party organization, but “to advance the spontaneous revolutionary movement of the people to a point where the group can finally disappear into the organic social forms created by the revolution” itself (Volume Two, Selection 62).

Similarly, the small-scale communes advocated by Dellinger had long been a part of many anarchist movements, in Europe, the Americas, and in China, arising from the need and desire of anarchists to create daily living arrangements consistent with their ideals, and as an alternative to hierarchical and authoritarian social institutions, such as the patriarchal nuclear family. What distinguished these types of communes from affinity groups were the factors highlighted by Dellinger himself, primarily living together and sharing financial resources. In the 1960s and early 1970s, there was a flourishing of communal groups, particularly in North America, created by disaffected youth seeking to create alternate lifestyles. In Europe, the various squatting movements often adopted communal living arrangements, for example in the Christiania “freetown” in Copenhagen.

While many anarchist communes were short-lived, some have been remarkably resilient. In Uruguay, for example, the Communidad del Sur group, which originated in the social struggles of the 1950s, sought to create libertarian communities based on self-management, including productive enterprises (Volume Three, Selection 56). Assets were shared, compensation was based on need, education, work and art were integrated, and people lived communally. Despite a long period of exile in Sweden that began in the 1970s due to growing state repression, the Communidad group eventually returned to Uruguay where it continues to promote the creation of a self-managed ecological society through its own ongoing experiments in community living. For the Communidad group, the “revolution consists of changing social relationships,” much as Gustav Landauer had argued previously (Volume One, Selection 49). Fleshing out their “ideals of equality and sociability in a free space,” the Communidad group has sought to inspire the creation of that “community of communities” long envisioned by anarchists like Landauer, Martin Buber, Paul Goodman and many others (Volume Two, Selection 60).

Robert Graham

Community garden

Community garden

Anarchism at the Beginning of the Second World War

English anarchist anti-war cartoon (1945)

English anarchist anti-war cartoon (1945)

In this installment from “the Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss anarchist responses to the death and destruction wrought by the Second World War.

Anti-Militarist Poster

Anti-Militarist Poster

Facing the War

At the beginning of the Second World War, a group of anarchists in Geneva wrote that it is “an indispensable right, without which all other rights are mere illusions”, that “no one should be required to kill others or to expose themselves to being killed.” For them, the “worst form of disorder is not anarchy,” as critics of anarchism claim, “but war, which is the highest expression of authority” (Volume Two, Selection 3). That expression of authority was to result in the loss of tens of millions of lives in Europe and Asia during the next six years, culminating in the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. As Marie Louise Berneri remarked, anarchist acts of violence pale in comparison. A single bombing raid “kills more men, women and children than have been killed in the whole history, true or invented, of anarchist bombs.” When Italian anarchists tried to assassinate Mussolini, they were denounced as terrorists, but when “whole cities” are rubbed “off the map” as part of the war effort, reducing “whole populations to starvation, with its resulting scourge of epidemics and disease all over the world,” the workers “are asked to rejoice in this wholesale destruction from which there is no escaping” (Volume Two, Selection 4).

When anarchists resort to violence, they are held criminally responsible, and their beliefs denounced as the cause. When government forces engage in the wholesale destruction of war, no one (at least among the victors) is held responsible, belief in authority is not seen as the cause, and the very nation states which brought about the conflict are supposed to bring, as Marie Louise Berneri remarked, “peace and order… with their bombs” (Volume Two, Selection 4).

In response to the comments of a U.S. Army sergeant surveying a bombed out area in Germany that in “modern war there are crimes not criminals… Murder has been mechanized and rendered impersonal,” Paul Goodman wrote that “it is ridiculous to say that the crime cannot be imputed or that any one commits it without intent or in ignorance… The steps [the individual] takes to habituation and unconsciousness are crimes which entail every subsequent evil of enslavement and mass-murder” (Volume Two, Selection 11).

Alex Comfort noted that modern bureaucratic societies “have removed at least one of the most important bars to delinquent action by legislators and their executive, in the creation of a legislature which can enact its fantasies without witnessing their effects, and an executive which abdicates all responsibility for what it does in response to superior orders.” The “individual citizen contributes to [this] chiefly by obedience and lack of conscious or effective protest” (Volume Two, Selection 26). Comfort argued that the individual, by making “himself sufficiently numerous and combative,” can render the modern state impotent “by his withdrawal from delinquent attitudes,” undermining “the social support they receive” and the power of the authorities “whose policies are imposed upon society only through [individual] acquiescence or co-operation” (Volume Two, Selection 26).

At the beginning of the war, Emma Goldman had written that the “State and the political and economic institutions it supports can exist only by fashioning the individual to their particular purpose; training him to respect ‘law and order’; teaching him obedience, submission and unquestioning faith in the wisdom and justice of government; above all, loyal service and complete self-sacrifice when the State commands it, as in war.” For her, “true liberation, individual and collective, lies in [the individual’s] emancipation from authority and from belief in it” (Volume Two, Selection 2).

Herbert Read held a similar position, but focused on the role of modern education in creating a submissive populace, much had Francisco Ferrer before him (Volume One, Selection 65). Through the education system, “everything personal, everything which is the expression of individual perceptions and feelings, is either neglected, or subordinated to some conception of normality, of social convention, of correctness.” Read therefore advocated libertarian education, emphasizing the creative process and “education through art” (1943), arguing that it “is only in so far as we liberate” children, “shoots not yet stunted or distorted by an environment of hatred and injustice, that we can expect to make any enduring change in society” (Volume Two, Selection 36).

Paul Goodman described the school system as “compulsory mis-education” (1964), which perpetuated a society in which youth are “growing up absurd” (1960). His friend Ivan Illich was later to advocate “deschooling society” as a way of combating the commodification of social life, where everything, and everybody, becomes a commodity to be consumed (Volume Two, Selection 73). By the 1960s and 1970s, people were again experimenting in libertarian education (Volume Two, Selection 46), something which anarchists had been advocating since the time of William Godwin.

Robert Graham

Paul Goodman quote-humankind-is-innocent-loving-and-creative-you-dig-it-s-the-bureaucracies-that-create-paul-goodman-37-35-71

Drawing the Line

Read Anarchy & Order

During the Second World War, those anarchists who were still able to do so began to rethink anarchist approaches to social revolution. Revolution, conceived as a mass, armed uprising, was appearing more and more remote, as the warring states created more and more lethal weaponry in their struggles for world domination. Some anarchists in England and the United States, such as Herbert Read, Alex Comfort and Paul Goodman, began to not only advocate non-violent direct action and mass civil disobedience, but to advocate a kind of “revolution of everyday life,” a phrase later made popular by the Situationists. They no longer  thought it was possible to take on state power on its own terms, the terrain of mass military mobilization and destructive fire power, culminating with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the War. Instead, they argued that rather than trying to substitute a new order for the old one, anarchists should seek to expand the “spheres of freedom” until they encompassed all of social life. In more modern parlance, they advocated creating ever widening autonomous zones (see Hakim Bey, “TAZ,” in Anarchism, Volume 3, Selection 11). The following brief summary of their views is taken from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to my anthology of anarchist writings from ancient China to the present day, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

Drawing the Line

Drawing the Line

Bearing in mind the difficulties recently faced by the Spanish anarchists in the Spanish Revolution and Civil War, at the beginning of the Second World War Herbert Read warned against the revolutionary seizure of power, instead looking forward to “a spontaneous and universal insurrection” (Volume Two, Selection 1), but one which would employ nonviolent methods, for people “cannot struggle against” the modern state, armed with atomic bombs, “on the plane of force… Our action must be piecemeal, non-violent, insidious and universally pervasive” (Volume Two, Selection 36). Alex Comfort took a similar position, arguing that the “very states which are able to make and use atomic weapons are singularly vulnerable, by their very complexity, to the attacks of individual disobedience” (Volume Two, Selection 12).

Paul Goodman described this process as “Drawing the Line, beyond which [we] cannot cooperate.” But although we “draw the line in their conditions; we proceed on our conditions,” replacing “the habit of coercion [with] a habit of freedom… Our action must be aimed, not at a future establishment; but… at fraternal arrangements today, progressively incorporating more and more of the social functions into our free society,” for the creation of a “free society cannot be the substitution of a ‘new order’ for the old order; it is the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of the social life” (Volume Two, Selection 11).

Read, Comfort and Goodman all advocated various forms of non-violent direct action, including war resistance and opposition to conscription through such means as draft evasion. Such attitudes were dangerous and unpopular, particularly during the Second World War. Anarchists who practiced draft resistance were imprisoned in France, England and the United States. It was only in the early 1960s in France, and a few years later in the United States, that mass draft resistance movements emerged in opposition to the French war in Algeria and the U.S. war in Vietnam (Volume Two, Selection 31).

Robert Graham

alex comfort on anarchism

Poetry and Anarchism: Herbert Read

Herbert Read

Herbert Read

Continuing with my installments from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in this section I discuss the contributions of Herbert Read to the development of anarchist ideas in response to the Spanish Revolution and Civil War. I included several selections from Read in Volumes One and Two of the Anarchism anthology. Read influenced people like Alex Comfort, Howard Zinn and Murray Bookchin, laying the groundwork for the new directions in anarchist theory that were to emerge from out of the aftermath of the Second World War.


Poetry and Anarchism

One of the anarchists involved in rethinking anarchism around the time of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War was the English poet, art critic and essayist, Herbert Read (1893-1968). In Poetry and Anarchism (1938), Read acknowledged that “to declare for a doctrine so remote as anarchism at this stage of history will be regarded by some critics as a sign of intellectual bankruptcy; by others as a sort of treason, a desertion of the democratic front at the most acute moment of its crisis; by still others as mere poetic nonsense.” Read sought to “balance anarchism with surrealism, reason with romanticism, the understanding with the imagination, function with freedom” (Volume One, Selection 130). He developed an ecological conception of anarchism emphasizing spontaneity and differentiation. He saw society as “an organic being” in which communities “can live naturally and freely” and individuals can “develop in consciousness of strength, vitality and joy,” with progress being “measured by the degree of differentiation within a society” (Volume Two, Selection 1). It was partly through Read’s writings that Murray Bookchin was later inspired to draw the connections between ecology and anarchism (Volume Two, Selection 48).

Read noted that even “if you abolish all other classes and distinctions and retain a bureaucracy you are still far from the classless society, for the bureaucracy is itself the nucleus of a class whose interests are totally opposed to the people it supposedly serves.” Taking advantage of the bureaucratic structure of the modern state, the professional politician rises to power, “his motive throughout [being] personal ambition and megalomania” (Volume One, Selection 130), a notion further developed by Alex Comfort in his post-war book, Authority and Delinquency in the Modern State, in which he argued that the bureaucratic state, through its power structures, provides a ready outlet for those with psychopathic tendencies (Volume Two, Selection 26).

ReadHerbert-1938Read sought to reverse the rise to power of professional politicians and bureaucrats by advocating a “return to a functional basis of representation,” by which he meant the development of decentralized but federated organs of self-management, as had long been advocated by anarchists from Proudhon and Bakunin to the anarcho-syndicalists. The professional politician would be replaced by the “ad hoc delegate,” who would continue to work within his or her area, such that there would be “no whole-time officials, no bureaucrats, no politicians, no dictators” (Volume One, Selection 130).

Arguing that “real politics are local politics,” Read proposed that local councils or “governments” composed of delegates from the community and the functional groups that comprise it “control all the immediate interests of the citizen,” with “remoter interests—questions of cooperation, intercommunication, and foreign affairs—[being] settled by councils of delegates elected by the local councils and the [workers’] syndicates.” Read admitted that this was a system of government, but distinguished this conception of local and functional organization from the “autonomous State,” which “is divorced from its immediate functions and becomes an entity claiming to control the lives and destinies of its subjects,” such that “liberty ceases to exist” (Volume One, Selection 130).

Robert Graham


Authority and Sexuality


Getting back to the installments from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in this section I discuss anarchist ideas connecting sexual repression with authoritarianism.

Authority and Sexuality

Anarchists who sought to understand the popular appeal of fascism turned to the work of the dissident Marxist psychoanalyst, Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957). Reich was unpopular in Marxist circles, having described Soviet Communism as “red fascism,” which resulted in his expulsion from the Communist Party. In his book, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Reich discussed the role of the patriarchal nuclear family, legal marriage, enforced monogamy, religion and sexual repression in creating an authoritarian character structure (Volume One, Selection 119).

Reich’s work was similar to the earlier psychoanalytic anarchist critique of Otto Gross (1877-1920), who argued on the eve of the First World War, echoing Max Stirner, that previous revolutions “collapsed because the revolutionary of yesterday carried authority within himself.” Gross believed that “the root of all authority lies in the family,” and that “the combination of sexuality and authority, as it shows itself in the patriarchal family still prevailing today, claps every individuality in chains” (Volume One, Selection 78). Although he put greater emphasis than Reich on the “inner conflict” between “that which belongs to oneself” and the “authority that has penetrated into our own innermost self,” Gross also called for the sexual liberation of women and for a struggle “against the father and patriarchy” (Volume One, Selection 78).

The Japanese anarchist feminist, Takamure Itsue (1894-1964), argued that the ruling class viewed sexual fulfillment “as a mere extravagance for everyone except themselves” and “babies as eggs for their industrial machines… to be chained up within the confinement of the marriage system,” with the burdens of pregnancy, child birth and child rearing being imposed on women. She acknowledged the changes in sexual relations arising from the development of birth control, which potentially gave women more control over their lives, but as with Carmen Lareva and He Zhen before her, warned against mere “promiscuity.” For her, “genuine anarchist love” was based on mutual respect, such that those who seek it can “never be satisfied with recreational sex” (Volume One, Selection 109). The liberalization of marriage laws and the legalization of birth control were not enough, for men would continue to view women as sex objects and deny responsibility for child care.

In Spain, Félix Martí Ibáñez argued that sexual revolution, because it involves the transformation of individual attitudes and relationships, can neither be imposed from above nor completely suppressed by the ruling authorities. The sexual revolution must begin now, “by means of the book, the word, the conference and personal example.” Only then will people be able to “create and forge that sexual culture which is the key to liberation” (Volume One, Selection 121). That this would be no easy task was highlighted by Lucía Sánchez Saornil, one of the founders of the Mujeres Libres anarchist women’s group in Spain. She criticized those anarchist men who used notions of sexual liberation as a pretext for looking “upon every woman who passes their way as a target for their appetites” (Volume One, Selection 123). Such conduct either results in the reduction of women to “a plaything of masculine whims,” or alienates them from participation in the anarchist movement.

Some anarchists felt that Reich’s analysis overemphasized the role of sexual repression in the rise of fascism. A Spanish article suggested that a “completely healthy and well-balanced individual in terms of his sexual life may be a long way off from being a perfect socialist and a convinced revolutionary fighter,” for “an individual free of bourgeois sexual prejudice may lack all sense of human solidarity” (Volume One, Selection 119).

Others were more enthusiastic. Marie Louise Berneri (1918-1949) endorsed Reich’s argument that the “fear of pleasurable excitation” caused by conventional morality and the legally mandated patriarchal family “is the soil on which the individual re-creates the life-negating ideologies which are the basis of dictatorship.” She also drew on the work of the anthropologist, Bronislaw Malinowski, whose studies indicated that in those societies where people’s sex lives are “allowed to develop naturally, freely and unhampered through every stage of life, with full satisfaction” there are “no sexual perversions, no functional psychoses, no psychoneuroses, no sex murder,” in marked contrast to societies based on the “patriarchal authoritarian family organization.” Berneri accepted Reich’s claim that when his patients “were restored to a healthy sex-life, their whole character altered, their submissiveness disappeared, they revolted against an absurd moral code, against the teachings of the Church, against the monotony and uselessness of their work” (Volume Two, Selection 75). In other words, they became social revolutionaries.

Paul Goodman drew the connection between the repression of homosexual impulses among adolescent males and the war machine. These “boys” are made to feel “ashamed of their acts; their pleasures are suppressed and in their stead appear fistfights and violence.” In the army, “this violent homosexuality, so near the surface but always repressed and thereby gathering tension, turns into a violent sadism against the enemy: it is all knives and guns and bayonets, and raining bombs on towns, and driving one’s lust in the guise of anger to fuck the Japs” (Volume Two, Selection 11).

The libertarian communist, Daniel Guérin (1904-1988), wrote that “patriarchal society, resting on the dual authority of the man over the woman and of the father over the children, accords primacy to the attributes and modes of behaviour associated with virility. Homosexuality is persecuted to the extent that it undermines this construction. The disdain of which woman is the object in patriarchal societies is not without correlation with the shame attached to the homosexual act.” While Guérin urged people “to pursue simultaneously both the social revolution and the sexual revolution, until human beings are liberated completely from the two crushing burdens of capitalism and puritanism,” he agreed with Emma Goldman, Martí Ibáñez, and Paul Goodman that the process of sexual liberation must begin now, not after the revolution. Yet, as with Goodman, he also recognized that the gay liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s “created a whole generation of ‘gay’ young men, profoundly apolitical… a million miles from any conception of class struggle,” casting doubt on the Reichian view that sexual liberation leads to social revolution (Volume Two, Selection 76).

Alex Comfort (1920-2000), who was also a pioneer of sexual liberation, suggested that part of the appeal of fascism lay in people’s consciousness of their own mortality and fear of death. Since “to admit that I am an individual I must also admit that I shall cease to exist,” people take refuge in the belief in “an immortal, invisible and only wise society, which can exact responsibilities and demand allegiances… Each sincere citizen feels responsibility to society in the abstract, and none to the people he kills… Fascism is a refuge from Death in death.” (Volume Two, Selection 20).

Robert Graham


Ursula Le Guin on Murray Bookchin and the Ecological Imperative

bookchin next revolution

Below, I reproduce some comments by Ursula Le Guin on Murray Bookchin, taken from her preface to a new collection of some of Bookchin’s writings on libertarian municipalism, communalism and direct democracy, The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy, edited by Debbie Bookchin (his daughter) and Blair Taylor. In Volumes Two and Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included several excerpts from Bookchin’s anarchist writings on ecology, popular assemblies, direct democracy and direct action. Murray Bookchin has been in the news recently as one of the ideological inspirations for the experiment in direct democracy now being undertaken in Rojava in northern Syria, under attack by the Islamic State and threatened by Turkish intervention. Ursula Le Guin is a well known science fiction writer who has often dealt with ecological and anarchist themes in her books, particularly in The Dispossessed, which is about an anarchist society in exile on a moon orbiting an Earth like planet, the strains within that society and the need for a social revolution on the planet below.

Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin

Direct Democracy and the Ecological Imperative

What all political and social thinking has finally been forced to face is, of course, the irreversible degradation of the environment by unrestrained industrial capitalism: the enormous fact of which science has been trying for fifty years to convince us, while technology provided us ever greater distractions from it. Every benefit industrialism and capitalism have brought us, every wonderful advance in knowledge and health and communication and comfort, casts the same fatal shadow. All we have, we have taken from the earth; and, taking with ever-increasing speed and greed, we now return little but what is sterile or poisoned.

Yet we can’t stop the process. A capitalist economy, by definition, lives by growth; as Bookchin observes: “For capitalism to desist from its mindless expansion would be for it to commit social suicide.” We have, essentially, chosen cancer as the model of our social system.

Capitalism’s grow-or-die imperative stands radically at odds with ecology’s imperative of interdependence and limit. The two imperatives can no longer coexist with each other; nor can any society founded on the myth that they can be reconciled hope to survive. Either we will establish an ecological society or society will go under for everyone, irrespective of his or her status.

Murray Bookchin spent a lifetime opposing the rapacious ethos of grow-or-die capitalism. The nine essays in “The Next Revolution” represent the culmination of that labor: the theoretical underpinning for an egalitarian and directly democratic ecological society, with a practical approach for how to build it. He critiques the failures of past movements for social change, resurrects the promise of direct democracy and, in the last essay in the book, sketches his hope of how we might turn the environmental crisis into a moment of true choice—a chance to transcend the paralyzing hierarchies of gender, race, class, nation, a chance to find a radical cure for the radical evil of our social system.

Reading it, I was moved and grateful, as I have so often been in reading Murray Bookchin. He was a true son of the Enlightenment in his respect for clear thought and moral responsibility and in his honest, uncompromising search for a realistic hope.

Ursula Le Guin


David Wieck: Anarchism, Anarchy, Anarchists (1951)


The Free Society Group of Chicago was an anarchist group founded in 1923 in the immediate aftermath of the Russian Revolution, when most radicals went over to the Soviet camp. Two of its best known members were Gregory Maksimov and Sam Dolgoff. They helped to keep anarchist ideas alive at a time when anarchist ideas and movements were being repressed virtually everywhere. In 1951, the Group published a pamphlet, The World Scene From the Libertarian Point of View, an anarchist assessment of the human prospect in light of the mass murder of the Second World War, the atomic bomb, the Cold War and the Korean War. For some, the human prospect was bleak. Others held out hope for the reemergence of a social libertarian, anarchist approach regarding the many crises and problems then facing humanity. One of those holding out hope for the present and the future was David Thoreau Wieck (1921-1997), an American anarchist, war resister and editor of one of the best post-war anarchist journals, Resistance. In Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included a piece by David Wieck on the realization of freedom, from the August 1953 issue of Resistance. Here I reproduce his still timely contribution to The World Scene From the Libertarian Point of View. Isn’t it time someone published a collection of Wieck’s anarchist writings?



Let us identify and locate ourselves, the Anarchists.

I shall speak, necessarily, of Anarchists as I understand Anarchists, Anarchism as I understand it.

We are people who have values, aims, and methods radically different from the dominant. Our comradeship is neither in doctrine nor daily program; on these we easily disagree, rather this: we face our nature, affirm life, stubbornly insist on the real and basic needs; and we understand that these are possible only as we are free from external oppression (authority as violence) and internal oppression (authority within us). We are people who insist upon, and affirm, liberty from authority, and freedom within the individual; we are those who assert (and follow our logic) that these ends of freedom and liberty can be achieved only by directness: freedom through freedom, liberty through liberty.

This last century, our oppressors, problems, goals, are specific in this way: the centralized political State, the dominant capitalist-military- political ruling class, an increasingly complex array of institutions binding these together, and the social organization (and ourselves) to them; holding society in tension and violence of world war following world war, concentration camps and extermination camps of indifferent flags and ideologies; most significantly in the systematic, ruthless, even purposeless, destruction of the principle of life. (The ideally adapted human today is composed, as it were, of a small small core of living substance, surrounded by a many times larger mass of deadness, confusion, violence; covered completely by a hard thin shell of customs, habits, and compulsions that constitute the daily economic rituals, the culture, civilization: this is the basic disaster; the great bombs are consistent, but ironically superfluous.)

Living so: burdened, threatened, oppressed, exploited, enslaved, regimented, killed, and left (living) for dead: for a century we have risen in rebellion, adamant in disobedience, joined as friends and neighbours in solidarity and community; this handful of Anarchists; believing firmly that this need not be, we need not live so, will be free.

Our definition in space and time becomes more exact now: the day after a century of unmitigated disasters to movement, comrades, friends, strangers; a handful still, seemingly forced to choose between illusion and despair; on the day before other atomic facts, amid the potent demonstrations of giant nation-states planning our (incidental) extermination. And, seemingly without reluctance, our neighbours perform the necessary labour: mass homicide, slavery, regimentation, and the rest.

These facts, the lack of even individual refuge for survival alive, the unimpassioned murderings by our neighbours—are these all there is? Are we to withdraw to museums and study histories of the decay of civilizations—or make peace, pact or armistice, so as to die a little later, in greater safety? (but not the safety of our selves). Or is it so, that there is work to do, joyful and rewarding work, and we may think and hope without illusion or despair?

There is this work, this illusionless, affirming thought, but it is easier not to see and do it.

Assume a worst: that it were so (if it were so), for example, that our neighbours, even our friends (our enemies cannot disappoint us as our friends can), are, forever will be, as they are (which we know too well) ; or, the same thing, the prevailing social orders are immutable in their central principle of slavery: were this really so (some argue) our Anarchism has no meaning, we ought to become one with the ideals and acts of the society and its population. No! Not so that a thing is better for being inevitable; not so that our happiness and health would no longer depend on rejection of this social machine, its inhuman demands, its suffocating terms: so, on the other hand, that a man must be as free as he can, make a revolution of indefinite (most possible) extension.

Were it really so—some argue this, too—that the mass is by nature docile, unrebellious, must be led and herded, it then does not follow that we should lead, herd and slaughter them into our (former!) utopia. Even so, when we observe the State’s seeming omnipotence, we cannot become its slaves, masters, or loyal opposition; again we protect ourselves, shelter our friends, undermine it in its locus of power (minds of subjects).

Or assume that no alternative to destruction can be: Could we then be “realists,” as we are bidden to be, argue the relative merits of a bomb now or two years from now; support (that is, help create) a war, be its soldiers, fabricate its weapons? No! If our belief is in life, community, and freedom, No! Not by participating in a lesser evil (killing strangers, to the gain of our oppressors), but by rejecting all the evils will we mitigate them all. (And I deny that we will not one day abolish them!)

But let us not give these people the best of the argument a moment more! We are learning; there is work to be done; we know (our friends disappoint us; but not always) from day to day that there is ability for another life in us, our neighbours, strangers.

Experience and our science tell us that the nature of man is not such as slavery causes to appear.

If, less than of old, we have faith in the virtue of propaganda, dramatic insurrections, quick revolution; less than of old, in the inevitability of mass anarchic rebellion to economic misery; if so, we have learned much of the power of direct action, immediate action, personal action, group action, learning that what is revolutionary in time of revolution is not so much street barricades but the immediate revolutionary act: as the Spanish anarchists taught us, a village or a factory is enough. We have learned that as groups living the ethics and meaning of Anarchism we create an Anarchist community in and as our movement, and demonstrate by this new society our ideas, and their practicality. We have learned that as individuals we do most by this same living of ethics and meaning of Anarchism, creating a new environment for our non-Anarchist friends, creating the new society, a new life.

By daily acts of life we are more deeply angered, gifted with hatred at a kind of life (as it is) ; more deeply knowing, in our hearts, that we must live differently; more earnestly searching in each direction our strength allows us, ways and instruments and friends and comrades in a struggle which must have this form: the creation of new life, or continuing death.

More urgent work, a finer goal, labour more consonant with our persons and ideas, surely we cannot imagine. To those who wish immediate, simple, political answers to atomic problems, we would seem to give no answer: but it is by plotting the utilitarian murder of a million strangers in a far-off city that one can intervene in this politics, guide the hands of States. We select, for our goals, other weapons: the strong desires and dreams of man, the strength and joy and magic of life. We can do this.

David Wieck, 1951

hierachy v anarchy

Anarchism On Sale Now

Volume 3

AK Press is having a back to school sale through to September 8, 2013, with each volume of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas on sale for a mere $21.74 each. That’s Volume One: From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE-1939), Volume Two: The Emergence of the New Anarchism (1939-1977), and Volume Three: The New Anarchism (1974-2012). Get them while they last!

Anarchism Volume two white borders._SS500_


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