Anarchism: Giving form to autonomy

Anarchist News

If revolution is permanent in the sense that its “final” form is already anticipated in its initial outlines, it also must be permanent in the sense that it is never completed, always relative, and that in it victory and failure are one.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Adventures of the Dialectic

The Marxist and Marxist inspired criticism of anarchism is stubbornly resistant – no less so, of course, than the anarchist criticisms of Marxism and other forms of “state-centred socialism”. And even as explicit political-ideological identification has waned, the opposition persists, only to be re-rehearsed in new – often less transparent – attire: organisation versus affinity, verticalism versus horizontalism, institutionalisation versus de-institutionalisation, constitutent versus destituent power, totalisation versus fragmentation, and the like. The series of antinomies may not reproduce perfectly or fully capture the original opposition between Marxists and anarchists, but the conceptual resonances persist, as well as the equally numerous efforts at finding some kind of conceptual middle ground between the polarities. One can of course simply ignore the whole thing and dismiss it as a merely ideological tempest, when the real political work – whatever that is – needs to be done. But then it is this “real political work” that becomes confused without the ideology.

If the tension or contradiction between the two positions seems clear theoretically – which it is not entirely, as the variety to be found in each position blurs conceptual boundaries –, historical practice suggests otherwise, with state socialists and communists frequently rebelling against institutional command and anarchists assuming roles of organisational authority.

This endless waltz suggests uncertainty, equivocation, or worse, duplicity. Without choosing simply to walk away from the matter – something that is not possible except at the cost of the end of “politics” –, and without returning to the history of “political” events – because history by itself (and it never stands by itself) is unable to serve as a final judge in theoretical controversies –, some sort of clarity is called for, if not to overcome the difference, at least to see and understand it.  And with the latter, perhaps other possibilities become imaginable.

The Marxists’ refrain against anarchism is well known, with the following quotations being only a small part of the repertoire.


Categories: Anarchism/Anti-State

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