What Is Anarchism

What is Anarchism?
John Zerzan

For decades an unwritten but universally-observed rule required that media avoid using the terms anarchism or anarchist. Such reference would tend to give legitimacy to a doctrine that was anathema to the powers that be. Under this ban only very odious references to these terms could be made. Namely, any breakdown of authority had to be portrayed as resulting in a completely awful situation; for example, the "anarchy" that allegedly reigns, from time to time, in places like Bosnia, Somalia, Beirut, etc.

But lately this has changed somewhat, at least in Eugene. The dreaded A-word has been used several times in the past couple of years and, even though generally applied in a pejorative sense, its political meaning is at least somewhat acknowledged. This usage has mainly occurred by reference to the late great lckv's Tea House in the Whiteaker district, and its coterie of anarchists. It was these anarchists who established a sort of haven for some of society's undesired, who held a benefit for Ted Kaczynski in May '96, who were harassed by police for their activist ways, etc.

For many an unanswered question remains: just what is anarchism?

Most simply, anarchy means "without rule." This implies not only a rejection of government but of all other forms of domination and power as well. This antiauthoritarian principle is generally thought to be grounded in autonomy for the individual. But how is such an outlook fleshed out? Disagreement begins here among anarchists.

Some eschew virtually all organization, as invariably tending toward bureaucracy and manipulation. This tendency emphasizes critique and/or direct action over organization; and it sometimes includes a rejection of the increasingly massified industrial society we find ourselves in.

Others see in mass organization the only realistic hope to achieve a potent anarchist presence. This tendency generally has no basic dispute with modern technological society, and confines its opposition to the strictly capitalistic aspects of society. The most well-known anarchists, Noam Chomsky and Murray Bookchin, fall into this category.

Both points of view, I think, recognize the huge social fact of class division. But as a marxist-dominated leftism has been declining in the world, so has its influence within the growing anti-authoritarian milieu. Two developments have become rather clear over the past ten years or so: (1) opposition to the status quo has become increasingly "anarchist," and (2) anarchists are becoming increasingly critical of technological civilization itself and its hollow refrain of Progress.

It is unsurprising, given its fundamental orientation, that a philosophy of anarchy would find the current, approved political spectrum unattractive. Conservatives call for removing restraints on a system or social machine that is producing more social and environmental disasters every day. Liberals equal this masochism by tinkering slightly with that system, thereby attempting to re-form and legitimize it. More and more people are losing faith in a business-as-usual, paycheck and price-tag arrangement of life that amounts to a gathering assault on humanness and the destruction of nature.

Until very recently it was completely denied that there is a war going on, with the very survival of the individual and the natural world at stake. The blackout on this fact seems to be lifting a bit; public use of the word "anarchist" is a start, a small recognition of what can hardly be covered up any longer.

For myself and, I think, manv other anti-authoritarians, a new message, a new paradigm is overdue. There is more to be challenged than we once thought. The roots of the current crisis go very deep. This season's disaster in Southeast Asia, where the flames of domestication join the poisons of industrialism, is an all-too-vivid case in point. The planet is fast becoming a place of horrors, on the personal, Prozac-for-everyone level as on the ecological plane.

Nearness is being lost, and is a very big part of the solution: nearness to each other, nearness to nature. It may be that our only real hope is the recovery of a face-to-face social existence, a radical decentralization, a dismantling of the devouring, estranging productionist, high-tech trajectory that is so impoverishing.

This has been a thumbnail version of the anarchist challenge as I see it. Thanks for listening.

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