”Are we who live in the present doomed never to experience autonomy, never to stand for one moment on a bit of land ruled only by freedom? Are we reduced either to nostalgia for the past or nostalgia for the future? Must we wait until the entire world is freed of political control before even one of us can claim to know freedom? Logic and emotion unite to condemn such a supposition. Reason demands that one cannot struggle for what one does not know; and the heart revolts at a universe so cruel as to visit such injustices on our generation alone of humankind. To say that “I will not be free till all humans (or all sentient creatures) are free” is simply to cave in to a kind of nirvana-stupor, to abdicate our humanity, to define ourselves as losers.”
The aesthetics of anarchism.Anarchists for anarchism’ s sake. Allan Antliff argues that anarchist history presents us with a ”contested discursive field” rather than a simple political identity; within this field, we can observe a constant stream of argumentative theorizing in the anarchist press in which modernist defenders of ”art for arts sake” clash with advocates of social art.Thus, the anarchist engagement with modernism is quite complex, particularly with the notion of decadence; whether decadence, nihilism, chaos and dissolution form an aesthetic or is it simply an unharnessed manifestation of an aesthetic individual: a style….
It was the Anarchist International Congress of 1881 that approved ”the propaganda of the deed” . the notion of the deed of violence for propaganda purposes is essentially a theatrical one, and much of what follows has an air of black farce. French anarchist journals of the 1880’s published articles on ”scientific studies” , a metaphor for bomb manufacture, and encouraged chemistry in the home. Tombolas were held with guns, revolvers and daggers as prizes. Crop burning was advocated, so that peasantry, exasperated by hunger, might rise in revolt, and cooks were advised to poison their masters. Rats and mice were to be soaked in gasoline, set alight and sent into selected buildings. One inflammatory anarchist journal was financed by the Paris police , who found the subscription list interesting, while the first ”anarchist” outrage in France, an attempt to blow up a statue of the statesman Thiers at the Saint-Germain, may well have been planned by the prefect himself.
The history of anarchism, and the confrontations at the G8 and G20 summits, the financial meltdown of 2008, lends credence to the aphorism that public opinion is fickle and capricious, and Proudhon’s assertion that revolution will most likely arise as a middle class phenomenon is; one hundred and fifty years after his death, is still not to be taken lightly.He was the first to really see power and revolutionary potential of the middle class mixed in with his vitriolic repudiation of capitalism and socialism. However, his antidotes and those we search for today may do more damage than the poison we seek to contain and then drain.
Anarchist guru Murray Bookchin asserts the present moment in culture is a time of ”cultural decadence” whose sign include disillusionment, fragmentation, anomie and loss of belief in progress culminating in a ”post-modern nihilism” . Bookchin inveighs against ”the self indulgent aesthetic vagaries” of countercultural lifestyle anarchism. which seeks emancipation outside of history, in the realm of the subjective. Perhaps, Naomi Klein, of ”No Logo” fame posits this position as a marketing of soft anarchism within a lightweight highly commercial and lucrative business model; in which she herself faces the contradiction and incompatibility of being her own brand and, by consequence trademarking the mainstream extreme left with her own form of patent protection. Imagine Rosa Luxembourg on the cover of Rolling Stone. Perhaps a Klein-Elvis Costello duet and so on. Freedom is now an ”ecology” and a uniquely ”green” product.
The limitations of the liberal democratic model, the welfare-state, may be exceeding its expiry date. In the absence of anything new and revelatory, there is a spirit of anarchy and authority in juxtaposition to each other, each unaware of the others presence.The search for intellectual paternity of some of these emergent, alternative movements can sometimes lead to some strange and disconcerting discoveries. German fascism was the first to implement what was categorized as Proudhon anarchism, into a revolutionary movement of the middle class directed against banks and big business as well as the demands of the working class and poor. The destruction of shop windows and property at these summits does bear a faint, though audible echo to ”Kristallnacht”
Almost eerily, Regina Cochrane, has also perceived modern anarchism to be focused on emotion, aesthetics, non-ordinary consciousness, and even aristocratic sensibilities. It rejects the struggle for democracy, picket line demonstrations and revolutions. Instead it favors self-liberation, the right to party and temporary but frequent ”festive uprisings” . Life is TAZ, temporary autonomous zones; microcosms of the anarchist dream of a free culture, a culture that exists not only beyond control, but also beyond definition. TAZ is a continual rising up that carries individuals from one protest to the next in search of peak experiences.
”Recently Bruce Sterling, one of the leading exponents of Cyberpunk science fiction, published a near-future romance based on the assumption that the decay of political systems will lead to a decentralized proliferation of experiments in living: giant worker-owned corporations, independent enclaves devoted to “data piracy,” Green-Social-Democrat enclaves, Zerowork enclaves, anarchist liberated zones, etc. The information economy which supports this diversity is called the Net; the enclaves (and the book’s title) are Islands in the Net.
The medieval Assassins founded a “State” which consisted of a network of remote mountain valleys and castles, separated by thousands of miles, strategically invulnerable to invasion, connected by the information flow of secret agents, at war with all governments, and devoted only to knowledge. Modern technology, culminating in the spy satellite, makes this kind of autonomy a romantic dream. No more pirate islands! In the future the same technology– freed from all political control–could make possible an entire world of autonomous zones. But for now the concept remains precisely science fiction–pure speculation.”
Cochrane has implied a highly aestheticized individualism of current anti-capitalist protests. Which may be an acceptable response since the definition of capitalism and its traditional connotation may no longer be valid. To a certain degree, anarchism is middle class movement drawn together in a transitory search for pleasure, to the exclusion of a more concentrated and sustained attempt at organizing around the needs and interests of less privileged people. The post-modern variant or mutant, creates a decadent, elitist and ultimately de-politicized aesthetics.
Proudhon condemned socialism as a fantastic illusion, the value of which amounted to less than zero and democracy itself was viewed as a disguised aristocracy. He wished the ”leprosy of interest” to be abolished and an end to the ”reign of gold”. He was, by even the most generous definition, a racist: ”The negroes according to Proudhon were an inferior race, an example of the existence of inequality among the races of mankind. Not those who desired to emancipate them were the true friends of the negroes, but those who wished to keep them in servitude, and to exploit them, but nevertheless to assure them of livelihood, to raise their standard gradually through labor, and to increase their numbers through marriage.” ( Schapiro )
… The outrages that followed, however, were grimly in earnest. Respectable society rested upon a volcano. In the capitals of the greatest nations of the world, with their imposing facade of public buildings and private affluence, there existed a squalor and misery scarcely surpassed in the poorest villages of Ireland and Sicily. Slums and sweatshops, insanitary courts and alleys, whose inhabitants appeared to the comfortable and prosperous as dwellers in an infernal region. In the miserable, overcrowded tenements of Europe’s teeming cities and the boom towns of America there was inflammable material; pallid young men working endless hours to earn a pittance with which to support mothers, wives and children, or, worse, unemployed and living on the verge of starvation, yet with time to brood in bitterness, to read anarchist journals like ”La Revolte” , and to go to anarhist meetings like the one in Chicago attended by Czolgosz shortly before he shot President McKinley.
Nechaev, who knew this life wrote: ”If we think of our surroundings, we must inevitably conclude that we are living in the kingdom of the insane- so terrible and unnatural are people’s relations to each other, so strange and unbelievable their attitude toward the mass of injustices, vileness and baseness that constitutes our social regime.”
Such men found in the notion of ”the propaganda of the deed” the chance for one final action that would give meaning to their lives. Bourgeois society deserved no consideration; it was simply a vampire, sucking the blood of the poor and flaunting its fine carriages and sleek horses, its fashionably dressed women and enormous banquets, in the faces of those who had scarcely enough to fill their stomachs. There was a kind of terrible puritanism about the anarchist outrage. Even the modest, hard working petty bourgeois was guilty; he connived at the system, helped to make it work , even profited from it in a small way.
One of the most fanatical assassins , Emile Henry, wrote in prison, ”I wanted to show the bourgeoisie that henceforward their pleasures would not be untouched, that their insolent triumphs would be disturbed, that their golden calf would rock violently on its pedestal until the final shock that would cast it down among filth and blood….I brought with me into the struggle a profound hatred which every day was renewed by the spectacle of this society where everything is base, everything is equivocal, everything is ugly, where everything is an impediment to the outflow of human passions, to the generous impulses of the heart, to the free flight of thought.”
Emerging from the slums to intimidate respectable society, the anarchist terrorists seemed to resemble the cholera bacilli that earlier in that century had spread from the poor quarters to the houses of the rich , to establish in death a kinship that life had denied. The casually placed bomb, too, was no respecter of persons, and it was not only royalty and political leaders who suffered. In 1893, a young man threw a bomb from the public gallery of the Chamber of Deputies in Paris. It was a saucepan filled with nails and killed no one, though a number of deputies were injured. The assailant, Auguste Vaillant, declared that he had not intended to kill.
Vaillant’s history was typical. He had been abandoned by his father at an early age. He was quiet and mild in manner, gentle and thoughtful in appearance. He had moved from one poorly paid job to another, struggling to support his mistress and his child, but the burden of life was too great. He had resolved, he said, to make his death ”the cry of a whole class demanding its rights”. He borrowed some money, rented a hotel room, and their patiently fabricated his bomb. The death sentence passed on Vaillant aroused considerable sympathy, and sixty deputies, including some of the injured, signed a petition for reprieve. All to no avail. At dawn on February 5, 1894, Vaillant went to the guillotine asserting that he would be avenged and crying ” Death to bourgeois society and long live anarchy!”
Vaillant’s confidence that he would be avenged was well founded. A number of other anarchist assassinations and outrages were specifically carried out in revenge for the execution of anarchists or for the penal laws hurriedly enacted by frightened governments. Violence spiraled. In 1887 a bomb was thrown at police in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, killing seven. Public hysteria was not finally calmed until four anarchists had been executed and others had been given prison sentences for nothing but guilt by association.
Anarchists and governments alike adopted the principles of the vendetta. Vaillant, who had killed no one, became a martyr, and President Carnot, who had refused to reprieve him, did not long survive him. Francois Ravachol, who had helped to begin the whole bloody cycle in the early 1890’s, planted his bombs in revenge for the ill treatment and imprisonment of some anarchist leaders after a demonstration. The cafe where Ravachol had been arrested was blown up and the proprietor killed. Such was the terror in Paris that members of the police were universally shunned; no one would give them lodgings.
Ravachol, who was of Dutch extraction, was the most celebrated of the anarchist terrorists whose crimes sent a wave of fear through French society in the early 189o’s. When he was eighteen, he exchanged his religious faith for anarchism, becoming at the same time a petty thief and counterfeiter, as well as earning a few francs by playing the accordion on weekends. His first major crimes appear to have been purely mercenary. In the course of one robbery, which recalls the crime of Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, he murdered a ninety-two year old miser and his housekeeper. Other murders and a tomb robbery were also attributed to him. He was arrested but escaped.
In March, 1892, he blew up the houses of a judge and prosecutor with homemade bombs, doing damage but hurting no one. It was his single distinctively political crime. Ravachol seems unpromising material for any kind of cult; he was in fact at one time suspected by fellow anarchists of being a police spy. His behavior at his trial and execution however, made him an anarchist hero. Before his judges, Ravachol declared ” I have made a sacrifice of my person. If i still struggle it is for the anarchist idea. I do not care if I am condemned. I know that I shall be avenged. ” He received the death sentence with the cry ”Long live anarchy!” and walked to the guillotine singing an obscene and blasphemous song.