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Saturday, July 26 2014 @ 12:12 PM CDT

Toward a Post-Anarchist Critique of Anarchist Businesses

News ArchiveAnarchist businesses are by their very nature dishonest and paradoxical; of course it should also go without saying that anarchism—with its corresponding belief in, if not quest for, an unmediated, and hence non-alienated, existence—is, by its very nature, dishonest and paradoxical. For all that anarchist thought is worth, it would seem that we can only go so far with it, that we can tolerate it only for so long. We are inevitably forced to seek out alternative lines of flight that proceed outside the narrow and limiting axioms of traditional thought. This can take a few different forms, the first of which is by way of an immanent transgression (best captured in the dictum “become who you already are” or, as in the christian bible verse, “you already have what you want! You’ve already become rich! You’ve [already] become kings without us! I wish you really [knew that you] were kings so that we could be kings with you.”).

Toward a Post-Anarchist Critique of Anarchist Businesses

A Reply to Lawrence Jarach

Anarchist businesses are by their very nature dishonest and paradoxical; of course it should also go without saying that anarchism—with its corresponding belief in, if not quest for, an unmediated, and hence non-alienated, existence—is, by its very nature, dishonest and paradoxical. For all that anarchist thought is worth, it would seem that we can only go so far with it, that we can tolerate it only for so long. We are inevitably forced to seek out alternative lines of flight that proceed outside the narrow and limiting axioms of traditional thought. This can take a few different forms, the first of which is by way of an immanent transgression (best captured in the dictum “become who you already are” or, as in the christian bible verse, “you already have what you want! You’ve already become rich! You’ve [already] become kings without us! I wish you really [knew that you] were kings so that we could be kings with you.”). Another approach is to abandon anarchist thought altogether (the approach of a run-revolter) and take up a truly empowering hobby. Of course, one might also proceed by working traditional anarchist theory toward the threshold – but one must at least appear to be operating with this objective in mind. In any case, the flight will need to occur if only to save the indefinable spirit that once animated anarchist thought. It should finally be said that to abandon anarchism, or to “transgress” it, is not necessarily to abandon anarchy, but to become ever more of a serious anarchist. In lacking any of these approaches, by adopting a strategic approach, anarchists can only promise to fail in the as yet most perfect way.

As a particular case in point, Lawrence’s recent article on anarchist businesses (#64) was decidedly strategic and entirely faithful to the core tenants of traditional anarchist thought and, as a consequence, it approached the problem of anarchist businesses from a limited perspective. More pointedly, his dismissal of commodity exchange as divorced from any real analysis of Power—as being, for example, understood in its own right and on its own terms—has left him only with some vague “safe” space which he offered as an alternative to the cold logic of anarchist businesses. This is not only an example of the problem inherent in any alternative proposal of structure but also the problem of anarchist thought itself. To make my point: there is no reason to answer Zizek or Engels when they tell us that anarchism is great, `if only you could explain how you are organized`. Lyotard’s differend comes to mind here. The differend occurs when a situation arises in which one is forced to say that which simply can not be said – this is precisely what we are up against: we appear to have only to choose between this or that place of power. What authoritarians simply can not understand is a critique that does not embody elements of an alternative.

Although Lawrence was clearly operating with the most proper of intentions, he nonetheless fell into the disastrous trap of envisioning “commodity-free spaces,” and he proceeded by stringing together a carefully crafted and widely known narrative against the strategy of anarchist businesses. As much as I respect Lawrence’s work, I claim that a strategic standpoint such as the one he adopted in this particular article, combined with a narrow economic perspective, only makes anti-capitalist spaces ever more susceptible to the violence of Power through the illusion of safety. “[I]f only on a limited scale,” he says, there have been

. . important commodity-free spaces, where the economic considerations of making a buck are completely ignored. The discovery, embrace, and celebration of egalitarianism, real affinity, friendships, solidarity, support networks, and empathic intimacy occur more easily where commodity exchange is absent, where relationships are not mediated by money or the creation and use of economic value, where commerce is absent and/or deliberately shunned.

I believe that I am being faithful to Lawrence here, because I do not doubt for a moment that he has attempted to create an honest critique of anarchist businesses but lacked the necessary standpoint from which to mount his attack. If only I could remove some of the dead trees blocking his vision of the beautiful night sky, he might take a chance and see what is beyond anarchism—I was certain, after all, that Lawrence defended post-left anarchy!, not some strategic anti-capitalist agenda. Is this the same person who once declared that “we can . . free ourselves from the historical baggage and the ideological and strategic constraints of all varieties of leftism.“ Where Lawrence is fooled is with his belief that a closer, more immediate, existence exists beneath the veil of capitalism, outside the confines of money. Contrarily, this is precisely where alienation and oppression pokes its ugly nose ever more: it is precisely when we believe that we are closer to an existence free from alienation and mediation that we become ever more alienated by the great return of Power. There is nothing to “discover”: egalitarianism, real affinity, friendships, solidarity and support networks all have within them a hidden rotten core as a side effect from the contamination of Power and the prospects of self-sacrifice. The pain is always there whether capitalism exists or not—but at least, within capitalism, we can expect the pain, in friendship and affinity we have only to discover it and to suffer all the more for having thought we found a place to escape! I can only ask you to consider a more personal example of this, one that I can share with you with the permission of my dearest frienemy Emma. In her words:

I was a member of an anarchist collective in Fredericton. Gradually, at meetings I would notice that people would not take anything that I had to say seriously. Instead they would give me funny looks, mock me, or ignore me outright. Eventually their actions became more explicit. Each day after our meetings I would come home in tears wondering what was wrong with me—why would they not take me seriously, why did they treat me so different from everybody else? Was it because I was the one of only two girls who were in the collective? Eventually I noticed that they treated the both of us the same way. It hurt so much and I couldn’t say anything because these were the people who were supposed to know better and who have supposedly created a space free from that sort of thing.

The point that Emma is making, I think, is that, as anarchists, we come to expect the state to mock us, taunt us, and hurt us and for that reason it hurts exactly as much as we come to expect. But, in all honesty, it probably hurts much less than it would if the same action was carried out by our comrades. And so, while we might agree with Lawrence’s premise that “General anarchist acquiescence to the predominance of these businesses as the defining projects of 21st century American anarchism cannot continue,” we will nonetheless have to do so with reliance on principles that lay somewhere outside of typical anarchist thought.

Despite all of this I agree with Lawrence when he says that “[t]here is an uncomfortable correlation between the desire to make anarchism (or anarchist ideas/projects/methods) more [popular], and the pursuits of anarchist businesses.”  Here I think that Lawrence is truly on to something: AK Press, for example, will no doubt want to justify their reportedly 1.4 million gross with the claim that their earnings demonstrate the sustained proliferation of anarchistic ideas and the subsequent rise to victory of anarchism over the general population of thought.  Such a position is, of course, inherently ideological in the sense that it is `meaning in the service of power`. AK Press, and businesses of the like, must construct some sort of fantasy in order to justify their approach—for instance, the claim might be made by AK that their increased earnings allow for more anarchist material to reach the public (and, of course, they only get a humble portion of the earnings – oh how they sacrifice for the cause!), especially books from diverse anarchist perspectives (from Bookchin to Zerzan and back to Chomsky). However, the books that operate under their chain of command can only be reduced, in the final analysis, to the dominate strategy espoused by the capitalist money-maker—this is the risk that anarchist writers take when they publish their work with any publisher, they risk having their ideas found guilty by association. Of course this is why we all, as writers, try to find a publisher that best matches our set of beliefs and principles. In any case, anarchism and power—which is exactly what 1.4 million dollars gives AK Press—are well acquainted friends. It is only when AK Press reports that they are against capitalism and that they sell books that are against capitalism that they can, paradoxically, become exactly what they purport to despise the most (interestingly, this is precisely what happens when people are stuck in the discourse of `alternatives`: arguments that go something like this: `yes, we are not perfect but..`). Moreover, it is precisely with their self-confessed clingage to “anarchist morality” that they have exorcised their rights to cease the distribution, and call for a boycott, of AJODA (if only to make room for more moralist bullshit).

I want to briefly reiterate my main points. Though I have no problem with Lawrence’s object of critique, the particular strategic and traditional anarchist ideas in his piece along with his flimsy championing of anarchist safe(r) spaces only produces ever more problems for people, for Emma in my example, who are drawn to anarchist thought and practice. One does not have to rely on flimsy authoritarian notions such as “friendship,” “real affinity,” and ‘unmediated existence’ in order to interrogate capitalist money makers such as AK Press; if only to stop helping the capitalist business, we must find a passage for escape. Despite meager attempts to force the discourse of structure atop the discourse of chaos, in the guise of anarchist safe spaces, chaos prevails.

Never Fully Yours,


Saint Schmidt

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Toward a Post-Anarchist Critique of Anarchist Businesses | 5 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Toward a Post-Anarchist Critique of Anarchist Businesses
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, August 14 2008 @ 01:36 PM CDT
First of all, I think that Saint Schmidt has badly misunderstood the premises of post-left anarchist theory if she believes that it necessarily involves a rejection of critiques of commodification and capitalism, as part of the post-left anarchist rejection of leftist organizational fetishism. Therefore, I see nothing contradictory or paradoxical in Lawrence Jarach's critique of anarchist businesses from a post-left anarchist perspective, and being familiar with Jarach's other writings, I can say that he certainly does not lack a "real analysis of Power".

Secondly, while SS makes a valid point that even in a supposedly commodity-free space, as her example shows, there can be hierarchy and possible sexist attitudes, this by no means proves that such spaces are not desirable, or that there is no reason to distinguish between a life lived outside of capitalism and one lived inside of it.
Toward a Post-Anarchist Critique of Anarchist Businesses
Authored by: Duanarchy on Saturday, August 16 2008 @ 12:55 AM CDT
I think that anarchist spaces can sometimes offer more cruel alternatives to money-mediated, especially ones that fail to be honest about their practices. There is often a cruel and misleading logic, as with emma's example, that makes them ever the more cruel for pretending to be better. In your article, for example, you suggest that "radical practice begins with a refusal of hierarchy and the embrace of individual and group responsibility." I know you didn't mean this to be taken as literally as it probably was and will be - this is nowhere more evident than in your previous writings - but this is precisely the misleading pronouncements that the Saint is trying to point out. To erase hierarchy, as I'm sure that you are well aware, is to resurrect it, even higher. Now to interrogate it, that's something altogether different. To adopt this more honest attitude requires serious anarchist thinkers to be more conscious of their discourse, of how they string words together (usually unintentionally/unconsciously, as in your case) to communicate a message they may have not otherwise intended (aha!, not masters in our own discourse!).

Sometimes people are not as well read in your work as others--and so they read purity, hegemony, into such statements as this: "The discovery, embrace, and celebration of egalitarianism, real affinity, friendships, solidarity, support networks, and empathic intimacy occur more easily where commodity exchange is absent, where relationships are not mediated by money or the creation and use of economic value, where commerce is absent and/or deliberately shunned. The basis of meaningful anarchist activity begins in these spaces. The maintenance and expansion of some kind of authentic revolutionary community and culture cannot be far behind." Ridding the dollar bill from these spaces, we all know, doesn't make life any better--sometimes it makes it worse.

All the best Lawrence,

Toward a Post-Anarchist Critique of Anarchist Businesses
Authored by: lawrence on Saturday, August 16 2008 @ 03:12 AM CDT
Emma's example has nothing to do with what I wrote about. You have superimposed your particular perspective onto my essay, and then found it wanting--big surprise. In addition, you seem to be more interested in playing philosophico-semantic games by offering "interrogation" as the opposite (or more proper postanarchist alternative) to refusal. "Interrogation" sounds like a fancy way of saying questioning; or, not having read Zizek and other postmodern analysts, have I missed something? How is it, other than in philosophical discourse of course, that "To erase hierarchy...is to resurrect it, even higher"? I am not aware of such a mechanism as erasure=resurrection (only higher). In other words, what the fuck are you blathering on about? Is this some new kind of dialectics? Your implicit condemnation of my thesis as dishonest and misleading (because I don't recognize your more realistic appraisal?) has not been shown, other than by you making that bizarre equation. The point I tried to make in my essay and that I tried to reiterate in my previous post is that removing commerce from voluntary social interactions is the beginning of relations unmediated by commodity forms, something I have experienced as positive. Imperfect? To be sure. Prone to manipulation by those interested in using people for their own ends? Of course. Does that mean they shouldn't be tried, just because some people's feelings might be hurt? Cruelty existed before commodities, as did hierarchy and dishonesty; in the larger scheme of human affairs, they'll most likely outlast commodity fetishism, the economy, and the state. I'm really unclear about the point(s) you're trying to make.

Toward a Post-Anarchist Critique of Anarchist Businesses
Authored by: Duanarchy on Saturday, August 16 2008 @ 06:38 AM CDT
Lawrence, coming from somebody who agrees more with you than disagrees (in fact, I wouldn't waste my time if it were the other way around) and, also, from somebody who is often told that he doesn't know how to kindly handle critiques aimed at him: you don't know how to handle critiques! Just because I raised a few points (think of them as alternative ways of following your line of thought through) -- none of which are directed at you-as-a-person, if anything I used your article as a launching point for some other interesting and related discussions which are all too hot right now -- does not mean that I am trying to essentialize your thought, nor that I am trying to put words into your mouth. Although I stand by the article, it's telling that you are more interesting in defending what you said then in the actual ideas presented. Also, you should know -- I did not post this article here, somebody else did without my knowledge, so don't think I was trying to get on your nerves.

However, your dismissal of emma's example followed by this: "you seem to be more interested in playing philosophico-semantic games by offering "interrogation" as the opposite (or more proper postanarchist alternative) to refusal. "Interrogation" sounds like a fancy way of saying questioning; or, not having read Zizek and other postmodern analysts, have I missed something? How is it, other than in philosophical discourse of course, that "To erase hierarchy...is to resurrect it, even higher"? I am not aware of such a mechanism as erasure=resurrection (only higher). In other words, what the fuck are you blathering on about?" seems, to me, to demonstrate that you either don't want to draw the connections or, the option that I'm not up to believing considering your past work, that you just can't.

Nonetheless there are several key questions presented in this article that you won't engage with because you continue to pretend that you just don't see the connections. That's all I'm fucking blathering about. Hope your next article is done just as half-heartedly.

geez
Toward a Post-Anarchist Critique of Anarchist Businesses
Authored by: lawrence on Friday, August 15 2008 @ 11:58 PM CDT
Anarchist safe spaces? Sorry, but that's not what I wrote about. The locations of non-commodified interactions that I mentioned as alternatives to those mediated by money were not necessarily offered as models of anti-hierarchy either. There are plenty of problems with self-organized spaces, not the least of which are the personalities that congregate in them--all products of a disastrously alienated culture based on private property, scarcity, and fear. That's not what I was writing about either. However, removing one of the characteristics of modern capitalism--the commodity and the fetishism that permeates it--from interactions can have a palliative effect on those who choose to maintain that rejection. I wasn't trying to make a huge point with the alternatives, just to offer them as alternatives to commodity-based relationships.