”As anarchist and convicted terrorist Emile Henry put it (quite ironically, in light of the argument of this paper) on the way to the guillotine, Beware of believing anarchy to be a dogma, a doctrine above question or debate, to be venerated by its adepts as the Koran by devout Moslems. No! the absolute freedom which we demand constantly develops our thinking and raises it toward new horizons (according to the turn of mind of various individuals), takes it out of the narrow framework of regulation and codification. We are not ‘believers!
Since no commonly-accepted definition of anarchism currently exists, perhaps the following, culled from the literature of history and political science, might suffice: Anarchism is an episodic discourse—a mode of conceptualizing the world which provides its adherents with a prescription for action and which has been consistently available to, but only sometimes adopted by, political actors in the modern world.” ( Gelvin )
Professor James L. Gelvin has recently argued most forcefully for the existence of close similarities between nineteenth century anarchist terrorism and contemporary terrorism.The arguments are less than stellar, riddled with flaws,that mirrors the kind of mass feeding ”all you can eat” approach of erstwhile conservatives like Niall Ferguson and John Gray with ”intregrity lite; less filling but same bad odour” editorializing that is almost an inverted version of the verbal constipation of the Naomi Klein’s who like Macdonald’s, are there at every disaster to hand out food for thought, that is disposable and a laxative. But, on a good day, she can do a passable imitiation of what Daniel Gueron calls the ”visceral revolt”. Yet some aspects of Gelvin’s thinking are highly compelling in the light of Jihadic violence being part of a divine mission. It recalls Freud’s phrase of the ”narcissism of the small difference”. As he wrote, ”…it is precisely the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of hostility between them”. The connection between theocratic form of totalitarianism and the almost religious ”purity” of anarchist belief is what hold Gelvin’s ideas together, more or less.
In light of the Toronto G20 Summit,the risk of fatality seems to have been supplanted in the public mind by the horror that may result from technical glitches with the new i-phone and its ”death grip”; temporarily diverting attention from the Black Bloc. The issue can be raised whether the aesthetic of anarchism influences the ideology or the reverse is true. For most of the Black Bloc, both of the active and tourist variety, Eduard Bernstein’s oft-cited adage, “the goal is nothing, the movement is all,” seems to encapsulate the popular image of anarchism.However, for a movement to be more than a passage in life, a lifestyle choice or an excuse to party; the very structure of the world as constituted by anarchists requires a delineation of the contours of some sort of ideal “counter-community,” either explicitly or implicitly. Of course, those contours, and the tactics for bringing the counter-community into being if, indeed, it does not already exist in some inchoate, unselfconscious form, have hardly been consistent over time. It it is difficult to reconcile the William Godwin, Bakunin, Howard Zinn and Luigi Galleani; the men of action as opposed with the Ghandi groupies, into a coherent line of thought.
After the G20, its even more confusing as to who cares more for people, governments or rioters. It seems a tie which is worse than kissing your sister, so it may eventually go to a shoot-out. People who care about people usually come in two varieties; the philanthropic and the political with the first giving away their own money and the second giving away other people’s money, after the obligatory skimming. This latter type attempt to run everything they have forced others to fund, which includes international conferences and the organized protests against them.
Its important to remember that well-groomed delegates who walk across landscaped grounds to barricaded meeting halls belong to the same school of caring as disheveled protestors who throw a variety of projectiles at riot police. Both types are identical and today’s so called ”radicals” are often tomorrow’s delegates. As Hannah Arendt observed, ” the most radical revolutionary will become the conservative the day after the revolution”.
Its an open question as to whether the rioters and their cheer-leaders on the sidelines, are really job applicants. In lieu of filling out application forms, do-gooder and social wannabes march against incumbent do-gooders and social engineers, chanting slogans, and vandalizing. It may be their way of intimidating that, if the state hired them, they would screw the wealthy even more, and skim off less, or so they say. At heart, rioters may simply be scab labor, offering to work for lower wages. Which makes sense since they are a little less polished than a nanny state commissar who can’t divorce themselves from facts as completely and with the same impunity as the Robin Hood’s on the street can. But the relation between the benign versions of a Trotsky or a Leo Strauss, is not that far apart; The government is not likely to torch their cop cars,which puts them an intellectual step ahead of the anti-capitalist Black Bloc ( s) , though not as big a step as they think.
…One of the key figures in anarchism, Mikhail Bakunin, in the course of his intellectual evolution, came to interpret the philosophy of Hegel as a revolutionary theory. As Ludwig Feuerbach, in his The Essence of Christianity, arrived at atheism by means of Hegelian doctrine, so Michael Bakunin applied Hegel to bis own political and social ideas and arrived at social revolution.
”Let us put our trust in the eternal spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unfathomable and eternally creative source of all life. The desire for destruction is also a creative desire.”… And Proudhon’s own views in which war is seen as a cleansing agent, though he did not advocate it, seems implied from his views.
”Proudhon, already an undesirable for that “property is theft” stuff, gets the “insufficient degree of separation from Sorel” treatment, and his anti-semitic notebook entries are mentioned, and who would dare argue that his War and Peace was not an irrationalist glorification of war, even if its final line is “HUMANITY WANTS NO MORE WAR.” Hey, he was “a man of paradox.” Right?….
Proudhon does, in fact, talk about war as having an important moral function. He talks about the extent to which it has been war which has driven human beings to acts of bravery, self-sacrifice and ingenuity. If he doesn’t quite get to Marinetti’s “war is the world’s only hygiene,” he does point out that we have relied pretty heavily on war to maintain what balance of forces we have achieved. It may not be nice to say so, but it doesn’t appear to be incorrect. And the critics of war don’t seem to deny the basic right of force, when push comes to shove, or to class war, or General Strike, etc. What Proudhon attempts to do, in a work which is not always a comfortable read (as if we required comfort from political philosophy or history), is to demonstrate the ways in which the right of force (not a right to force, about which more a little later) has functioned in the service of Justice, has contributed to the subsequent approximations of Justice, and continues to play a narrowly delimited role in the defense of Justice.”
”The preference of the leaders and adherents of al-Qaeda for action over ideology, their single-minded focus on resistance, their lack of programmatic goals, their pursuit of violence for its own sake, their use of a highly decentralized structure built upon semi-autonomous cells—all these factors align al-Qaeda with a type of movement that historically has had nothing to do with Islam at all: anarchism. Like other anarchist movements, al-Qaeda is reactive. It focuses solely on resisting what it considers to be an intrusive alien order and preserving a culture and lifestyle and the homeland of that culture and lifestyle its members believe to be under attack. And unlike other movements whose discourse al-Qaeda shares, al-Qaeda does not operate as a cog within the international state and economic systems. Rather, it wars on those systems.” ( Gelvin )
Gelvin goes further than noting similarities, since he actually contends that al-Qaeda–style jihadism is a kind of anarchism, an Islamic anarchism, and indicative of the reemergence of anarchism as a force in world history after an approximately sixty year absence. Understandably, Gelvin concentrates on al-Qaeda, a subject that forms part of his general area of expertise, and spends little time explaining how the anarchist terrorists fit into his paradigm, though the degree of fanaticism and rigid ideology is inferred.
…However, a new online magazine called ”Inspire” purportedly produced by supporters of al-Quaeda instructs people on how to build a bomb using common ingredients from their mother’s kitchen, perhaps just like mommy used to make. It seems pretty similar to radical Abbie Hoffman, who likely went into far greater detail in his ”peoples chemistry” section from his handbook ”Steal This Book” from 1970:
”Perhaps the most widely used homemade concussion bombs are those made out of pipe. Perfected by George Metesky, the renown New York Mad Bomber, they are deadly, safe, easy to assemble, and small enough to transport in your pocket. You want a standard steel pipe (two inches in diameter is a good size) that is threaded on both ends so you can cap it. The length you use depends on how big an explosion is desired. Sizes between 3-10 inches in length have been successfully employed. Make sure both caps screw on tightly before you insert the powder. The basic idea to remember is that a bomb is simply a hot fire burning very rapidly in a tightly confined space….You can purchase smokeless gunpowder at most stores where guns and ammunition are sold. It is used for reloading bullets. The back of shotgun shells can be opened and the powder removed. Black powder is more highly explosive but more difficult to come by. A graduate chemist can make or get all you’ll need. If you know one that can be trusted, go over a lot of shit with him. Try turning him on to learning how to make “plastics” which are absolutely the grooviest explosive available. The ideal urban guerrilla weapons are these explosive plastic compounds….Molotov cocktails are a classic street fighting weapon served up around the world. If you’ve never made one, you should try it the next time you are in some out-of-the-way barren place just to wipe the fear out of your mind and know that it works. Fill a thin-walled bottle half full with gasoline. Break up a section of styrofoam (cups made of this substance work fine) and let it sit in the gasoline for a few days. The mixture should be slushy and almost fill the bottle. The styrofoam spreads the flames around and regulates the burning. The mixture has nearly the same properties as napalm. Soap flakes (not detergents) can be substituted for styrofoam. Rubber cement and sterno also work. In a pinch, plain gasoline will do nicely, but it burns very fast. A gasoline-kerosene mixture is preferred by some folks.”
But back to Gelvin. It is important to note that Gelvin makes no distinction between anarchists and anarchist terrorists. Few anarchists became bomb-throwers or carried out violent acts. One of the founding theorists of modern anarchism, the Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, was either equivocal about or rejected violence. He proclaimed in 1848 that: ‘‘Killing people is the worst method for combating principles. It’s only through ideas that we triumph over ideas.’’ Although most anarchists assumed the necessity of a violent revolution to overthrow the established order, pacifist anarchists such as William Godwin, Leo Tolstoy at the end of his life, and the Dutch anarchist, Domela Nieuwenhuis, were also influential. Therefore when Gelvin speaks of Islamic anarchism, he really means Islamic anarchist terrorism.
”And so the final point: Unlike scientific socialism, which has created for itself an enclosed, “disarticulated” domain, complete with a language and worldview that is as at home in nineteenth-century Germany as it is in twentieth-century Cuba, anarchism rarely strays far from the cultural milieu in which anarchists are embedded. Thus, nineteenth-century European and New World anarchist movements drew their rationale, vocabulary, and visions for the ideal society from a variety of sources that today’s anarchists might view as “quaint,” including Christian communitarianism, Romanticism, socialism, and Liberalism.” ( Gelvin )
Its clear that many who march under the black flag of anarchy against capitalism and other ills, labour under few intellectual and moral constraints. There are too many who are charlatans, panhandlers and felons and those with an intellectual basis of articulating the cause seem hopelessly fixated on classic Marxian theory or its reformulated version in the form of Herbert Marcuse. As such, vandalism becomes muddled with a form of right based on ownership as abstract as it may appear, while those holding legitimate power are doing their own form of vandalism and wealth destruction, so both are on converging paths.
As Noam Chomsky has put it:
There have been many styles of anarchist thought and action. It would be hopeless to try to encompass all of these conflicting tendencies in some general theory or ideology. And even if we proceed to extract from the history of libertarian thought a living, evolving tradition…it remains difficult to formulate its doctrines as specific and determinate theory of society and social change….One might, however, argue rather differently: that at every stage of history our concern must be to dismantle those forms
of authority and oppression that survive from an era when they might have been justified in terms of the need for security or survival or economic development, but that now contribute to—rather than alleviate—material and cultural deficit. If so, there will be no doctrine of social change fixed for the present and future, nor even, necessarily, a specific and unchanging concept of the goals toward which social change should tend.