A Schematic Anarchism: Anarchism-in-General

From Libertarian Labyrinth by Shawn P. Wilbur

For me, the last few years have involved a rather public renegotiation of my relationship with anarchism—and more specifically with the possibility of an anarchism-in-general that is not just a jumble of incommensurable theories with some superficial resemblances. I have most often presented that work as a matter of synthesis, with a very specific reference to Voline’s 1924 essay, “On Synthesis,” where he gives that notion—so often limited in anarchist discourse to debates about the organization of federations—a considerably more general significance.

On the way to considering “anarchism and its aspirations,” Voline notes various philosophical obstacles and practical errors likely to stand between us and the truth of the matter. Speaking of knowledge generally, he observes that:

We know neither the true life, nor its synthesis; we know neither its reality, nor its meaning, nor its movements. For us, life in its entirety is the great enigma, the great mystery. We only manage, from time to time, to pluck some fragments of its synthesis from the air…

Those hard-won fragments are then all too easily taken for more substantial truths, particularly in the heat of various struggles, and we may find ourselves generalizing from them.

Save for very rare exceptions, we are generally inclined to exaggerate the significance, sometimes very minuscule, of the bit of truth found by us, to generalize it, to make of it the whole truth, to extend it, if not to life in its entirety, at least to phenomena of a much larger and more complicated order, and at the same time to reject other elements of the truth we seek.


if there exists a general, complete truth, its defining quality would be an incessant movement of transformation, a continual displacement of all the elements of which it is composed.

That means that synthesis is not, in practical terms, a matter of creating some unity from disparate elements or tendencies. We will undoubtedly have no choice but to make our experimental mixtures—and in those instances we might do well to consider the anarchist analysis of collective force and how it emerges from balanced conflict. Synthesis, however, seems to more directly call for the expansion of our horizons, the opening of particular anarchist tendencies to the insights of other anarchist tendencies. Ultimately, it asks us to compare our fragments of truth, enriching all of our tendencies, none of which can be expected to know or represent a “general, complete truth” regarding anarchism.


Categories: Anarchism/Anti-State

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