Further Reflections on Anarchist Tendencies and Mutualist History

Further Reflections on Anarchist Tendencies and Mutualist History

From Libertarian Labyrinth by Shawn P. Wilbur

This is a collection of another Twitter thread, in the course of which I’ve been sharing some reminiscences on how “neo-proudhonian” mutualism emerged and how those who have adopted the label or encounter it in anarchist circles might understand the particular gambits involved in its construction. These things necessarily get away from us, once loosed upon the world—and that’s fine, perhaps simply as it should be—but I suspect they may serve others better if they retain some of the character of their origins.  

Anyone who wants to rewind the debate about anarchist history to the position it was in before the mutualist renaissance of twenty-five years ago (or so) might look at Martin’s Men Against the State, Perry’s Radical Abolitionism and Schuster’s Native American Anarchism. I suspect that someone approaching those texts now would experience something similar to what we experienced at the time, as it is not always easy to reconcile the relevant portions of the various accounts into the story of a single tendency. And the deeper you go into the footnotes—or, y’know, into the library stacks—the more the richness of the details and the diversity of the individual positions seems likely to shine through.

There was a time when what modern mutualists primarily shared was a fascination with those details and with the new glimpses of the more-or-less mutualist pioneers that were emerging every day from new research. One of the strengths of that phase was, I think, the extent to which the individuality of the individuals involved was respected and celebrated—even when, as was often the case, the specifically individual elements were not so useful in the construction of ideological systems. Subordinating individuals to ideologies is a recipe for bad history and for a kind of theoretical exploration doomed to find little except what was presupposed from the beginning. If we sometimes made hard work of our early explorations, at least we went with eyes open.

The choices that confronted us pretty early on were: 1) some kind of general ideological program, to which none of the historical pioneers could be shown to adhere too consistently; 2) the subordination of some of the pioneers to others, in the name of ideological consistency; and 3) the recognition of a more anarchic association, to which various figures contributed in various ways, arising from disagreement, developing ideas, changing contexts, etc. etc.


Categories: Anarchism/Anti-State

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