Without Borders or Limits: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Anarchist Studies

I have noticed over the past decade or so that many anarchists have made opposition to national borders into their flagship issue. The reason for this is obvious. National borders demarcate the territory of national states, which are historically rooted in conquest and plunder. Plus, many anarchists associate immigration controls with racism (which has often been the case), another flagship issue for many anarchists. However, this leads to a theoretical problem. The abolition of states would result in more rather than less “borders” (for example, the Central American countries are small and have their own borders, but the USA is a massive territory where the central government imposed “open borders” internally between the 50 states). Of course, it’s possible for relatively small political units to have open borders between them (see the Schengen area), but the opposition to “borders” has actually led many anarchists to embrace political centralization (see here) even if they retain “anarchism” as a remote, abstract ideal. The logical outcome of such a theoretical position is to embrace a global state that imposes “open borders” everywhere (which would really amount to global house arrest). We see plenty of anarchists using such logic in other areas, with examples being Noam “I’d like to see the power of the federal government increased” Chomsky or Goofy “I’m thankful we have a world empire” Gillis.

Of course, the rejoinder is typically along the lines of “anarchism is not just mere anti-statism, anti-centralism, voluntaryism…” but that anarchists must also oppose market exchange, hierarchy, technology, industrialization, civilization, the laundry list of Isms/Archies/Phobia, exclusion, hegemonic interpersonal relations, religion, violence, microaggressions, adultism, and any number of other things, which range from the serious to the plausible to the absurd. However, anti-statism, decentralism, voluntaryism, free association, etc are certainly necessary prerequisites for anarchism, just as it is necessary to master algebra before moving on to infinitesimal calculus.

By Jorell Melendez Badillo and Reynaldo Padilla-Teruel
Driving to the Canadian border in January 2011, headed for Toronto and NAASN-II with my friends Daniel and Susan, I was asked the purpose of our visit. “To attend an academic conference,” I said, perhaps a little too briskly, because the guard in the booth pressed us: “On what subject?”“On anarchism,” I said, affecting a casual tone. We were asked to pull over, and while the car was searched, a customs agent started grilling us:

how did we know each other? Where were we staying? What were we going to be doing? Finally, I pulled out the conference program and showed him: “Look, I want to go to this guy’s presentation—he’s going to be talking about his dissertation…” It was like a magic spell, that word: dissertation. The agent relaxed visibly. “Oh, I see— you’re just studying anarchism! You’re not talking about being  anarchists.” “No,” I lied, smiling, as if at a small, private joke. We were let through.
There are many, of course, for whom the very idea of an “anarchist conference” or “anarchist studies” is a joke (fig. 1), or an oxymoron at best. Probably most of these have never heard of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo or Peoples’ Global Action. Some who have never picked up a copy of David Graeber’s Debt or Peter Kropotkin’s Mutual  Aid: A Factor of Evolution may think of anarchism as anti-intellectual, as pure action (but not as cognitive or social activity). Some of us, for whom anarchism is, among other things, a way of thinking otherwise, are nonetheless skeptical about the notion of an “anarchist conference” or “anarchist studies” for quite other reasons. “Anarchist studies” can indeed sound like just another item in a long list of topics for dissertations—urban studies, women’s studies, cultural studies, disability studies, science and technology studies, etc.—which begs the question: are we, in fact, studying it or doing it?

Categories: Anarchism/Anti-State

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