Survey: Response by Thys

1. — How would you most succinctly define anarchism? Is there a shared “anarchist project” — and, if so, how would you characterize it?

Anarchism is the rejection of dominance hierarchies, especially as related to the state and capitalism. I would argue, however, that it is not a rejection of what Boehm refers to as reverse dominance hierarchies. The shared “anarchist project” is a broad process of questioning authority and whether it is self-reinforcing. If it is self-reinforcing, then it must be destroyed. I think that the anarchist project continues even in a stateless society. For instance, the Haida people, although only a chiefdom (i.e., not a state), practiced slavery. This shows that authoritarian tendencies can exist even in a stateless society. This tells me that the “anarchist project” is a process of renewal, and I think that the small anarchies of many egalitarian “tribes” recognized this in that they would kill someone if they got too power hungry. I don’t advocate this, but there is a recognition that freedom is a process rather than a steady state. I believe that this is the anarchist project.

2. — What is the relationship between anarchism and the concept of anarchy?

I personally don’t use the term anarchy because of the associations that the term has with teenage angst. I do, however, think that the concept has its usefulness. Anarchy is a state in society that can exist, but not in the absolute sense. Functional anarchies have and will always continue to exist, but I think the idea of no dominance hierarchies whatsoever is virtually impossible. Thus anarchism is an idea that holds that anarchy should exist, and that we should have a process towards it. But anarchism reflects a process which is never quite complete, and it thus a constant renewal.

3. — What is the value of tradition within the anarchist milieus and what might be its uses?

I’m not sure what exactly this means. I think in any case we should look at tradition with deep skepticism. I think that valuing tradition is in one sense important in that it can give us a sense of where we’re at and how we got here, but it is also dangerous because it can lead us into the same ways we have done things, which have rarely worked.

4. — What, specifically, is the role to be played in the present by the anarchist literature — whether theoretical or artistic — of the past?

I think the role of theoretical anarchist literature of the past can show us the ways in which our movements have failed, which most of them have, from the goals set out almost 200 years ago. They can also help us with rejuvenation of the anarchist theoretical tradition, but I’m not sure in what ways exactly. I think that we should use them sparingly because we are in so different a situation from even 50 years ago.

5. — What are the most significant challenges facing anarchists — and anarchism, as you understand it — in the present?

In the theoretical realm I think the most significant challenge is bridging the divide between anti-civilization and ostensibly pro-civilization tendencies. One issue is within this is the issue of the state as it relates to civilization and cities. There is some evidence to suggest that Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro along with the rest of the Indus River Civilization were stateless. This is crucial because it demonstrates that cities and civilization don’t require the state, as is often presumed. More research into this and more research into similar examples I think is crucially important for bridging divides in the community and convincing more people of anarchism. I think that another huge challenge for anarchists theoretically is addressing what we mean by delegation. Delegation often sounds extremely similar to representative democracy. Anarchists often pride themselves on the ideas of the IWW, but the IWW has the GEB, the General Executive Board. This sounds a lot like the way businesses and states are structured. Just because we say that someone is recallable doesn’t mean that they don’t have power over you. Nor do short terms mean that power can’t be accumulated quickly. If we are to delegate, every single decision a delegate makes should come directly from the people they “represent”. This comes with a question: how many layers of delegation are acceptable? With too many layers, it starts looking a lot like a state. Temporary vs permanent organizations should also be addressed with this idea. Another challenge is consensus vs majority-rule direct democracy. Consensus is often straw-maned, but it is the most common form of decision-making in egalitarian societies. Majority rule, as David Graeber talks about in Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, requires coercion, probably in the form of the state to enforce the “rule”. Consensus wasn’t seen as democracy for a long time because in consensus you don’t actually vote. I think that this dichotomy should be addressed in all it’s facets, especially majority rule in ancient “egalitarian” societies. Athens certainly wasn’t egalitarian, and shouldn’t be our model. It the practical realm I think the most significant challenge, at least in the US, is creating mutual aid efforts while being able to fend off state repression. For example, squat communities would be smashed quickly in the United States, yet they are crucially important to establish in many communities. The best example I have in mind, which I don’t know the current status of, is people a few miles outside of Moscow, Idaho, in the Syringa Mobile Home park being evicted by the state or county government because the whole park was condemned. The situation was the the landlord, Magar E. Magar was a slumlord who wasn’t fixing the pipes for the park and letting various other things go. Most of these people don’t have anywhere else to go. If some comrades tried to go in and fix the situation and defend the people from police eviction, we’d likely face repression. The basic question is, how do we address this state repression of mutual aid activities, perhaps even within the legal system? I think that mutual aid is the best way to spread our ideas with everyone, so how do we perform this sort of aid while avoiding state repression altogether or at least getting our comrades good lawyers and good defenses in court? What sort of organizations could we ally with in this?

6. — How would you characterize the present state of anarchist activity (outside the realm of theory and propaganda)?

I think that it’s growing both in scope and in popularity, both when we consider that MACC (the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council) was getting press in outlets like The Hill, to the Occupy ICE movement, which is certainly lead by anarchist activity, to the prison strike coming starting August 21st that will hopefully be big and significant. However, I think that there are issues. For one, many anarchists are flocking to the DSA. I think this is a good and a bad thing in that it is increasing exposure to “our” ideas, but the DSA is ostensibly a political party. Currently they only endorse people, but I could definitely see them eventually trying to run candidates and getting political party status. I think that because of this anarchists are selling themselves short. Their energies are going into supporting actions that don’t have a lot of material benefit. I think that there is also a huge problem with networking various affinity groups together. There is a lot of good small actions, but not a lot of communication happening as far a I can tell. The networking that does happen is often vague and filled with platitudes, but not a lot of action.

7. — How would you characterize the present state of anarchist theory and propaganda?

The present state of anarchist theory seems to be at it’s highest with the synthesis of post-structualists like Foucault. This however, isn’t a big tendency it seems. I think there is a lot more that could be done in the realm of anthropology. I think that more critical analysis needs to be done on the Spanish Civil War, Mahknovchina, Rojava, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the Bavarian Soviet Republic, Zapatistas, etc., especially with respect to power and class relations, crime/prisons, patriarchy, productivity, state vs statelessness, etc. As Kevin Van Meter discusses in Guerrillas of Desire a lot more theory should be dedicated to the present structures where you are, as he says, in situ, especially as it relates to working-class self-activity. The state currently seems to be rather quiet but perhaps exciting too. On the propaganda end of things it is rather hard to define so I think I’ll just say that it could be better.

8. — What are the most urgent changes to be made in anarchist practice moving forward?

I’ll keep this short and simple: we need more mutual aid/communization. We need to build infrastructure in all its forms, both in the forms of action networks and in transportation, food, healthcare, etc.

9. — What is the role of some kind of “anarchist unity” moving forward? What form could or should that unity take?

The role I think is hugely important. Anarchists of all stripes (obviously not including “anarcho”-capitalists and “national anarchists”) can unite on almost every issue except for what type of economy they want which is a false dichotomy. As if you can’t have gift economies paired with markets between towns and areas. An anarchist unity presents us with a multi-tiered strategy towards liberation. It’s one in which we don’t believe that organizational hegemony is valid, both in the sense that it goes against the aims of free association and it poses inherent dangers to people it symbolizes/represents. A network (not a federation) is my preferred model because it prevents bureaucracy/Bolshevization, helps with faster mobilization, and fosters more mutual support because ties are less formal and more based on affinities. Federations, as far as I can tell, shouldn’t be totally excluded, but they often formalize things into the ideas the state can understand, track, and perhaps take over. The formalities can also create hierarchies separate of the state. Thus a network is best in my view.

10. — What are the greatest needs with regard to new anarchist theory, propaganda, literature and art?

I’ve already addressed the needs in anarchist theory but I’ll try to briefly summarize them: the history and anthropology of states, cities, and civilizations; delegation and federation as different from representation and federalism and whether our models should even be based on delegation and federation instead of more fluid models like networking; temporary and “permanent” organizations; and consensus vs majority rule direct democracy with a focus on sociology, anthropology, and history of the dichotomy. I think that the best propaganda is mutual aid. It’s generally non-violent and thus looks good to almost everyone. We need more anarchist fiction, ranging from sci-fi/fantasy to historical fiction and beyond.

11. — Do you currently identify with any particular anarchist current or tendency — and, if so, how do you characterize your position?

I generally see myself as a anarcho-communist, though I sympathize with insurrectionary/post-left anarchism, mutualism, and post-structuralist anarchism.

12. — What additional questions would it be useful to pose to a broad anarchist audience?

What are the immediate strategies that could be used where you live at this moment? Who is struggling and how can you build communities of solidarity and mutual aid right now?

13. — Would you be interested in participating in future surveys, perhaps addressing more specific elements of anarchist theory, practice and culture?