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prologue: anarchism and relationships

What is anarchism about? Ask this question, or get asked this question – as I am fairly regularly – and you’ll get varying answers. “Freedom”, “anti-authoritarianism”, “being against the state and/or the government” are fairly common answers. But the answer I have come to over several years, taking those previous answers into account, is that anarchism is about RELATIONSHIPS.

In my previous book, Nothing To Stick To: Anarchism for Free Spirits, I coined the phrase “self-determining relationships” – a phrase I still like a lot. It was my attempt to describe anarchism as a connected framework of inter-relations, a way people live together, whilst holding on to what I regard as the necessary values of autonomy, agency and free association. Its not as dull and static [or insidiously controlling] as “organisation” but neither is it as pointless or self-defeating as a free for all. It is, in this sense, a middle way. But quite early on in my thinking about relationships, whenever I do think about them, I always come to a fairly obvious question: what is a relationship? What’s it about? What’s it for? Can it be avoided [and, if so, should it be]? That one question — what is a relationship? — contains many others within it.

So – if for no other reason than that this complex question is an obvious one to ask — let’s try to think about it, if not entirely answer it, in some preliminary ways suitable for starting out a book about the subject of a specifically anarchist understanding of relationships. The last time I asked myself the question “What is a relationship?” and thought about a suitable answer the answer I came up with was THE MUTUAL INTERPRETATION OF CO-EXISTENCE. I like this answer without exactly being able to find the words which exactly articulate why. I like that its a mutual activity, that its interpretive, that it recognises every existence is a co-existence and that nothing exists alone. But, in wanting to find a linguistic description that gets right to the heart of what “relationship” is about, it doesn’t quite seem to be there yet even as it implies both personal autonomy of existence and the social implications of existing at all. This in turn, in fact, might then suggest that, in existing, relationships — however we come to describe them — ARE INEVITABLE. Can there be a sentient existence that is not a matter of a relating to something distinguished from oneself and is not that life then entirely conditioned by relationships? This then itself, of course, acknowledges that human conceptions of existence and relationship are specific to them for, naturally, there can be non-sentient existences [like the existence, we imagine, of rocks] and the differently sentient existences of non-human forms of life [like trees or dogs] that will have a character of their own. So, here we talk about relationships from a uniquely human perspective as we must immediately acknowledge.

There are certain factors about being human itself, both in its constitution and in that of the communities human beings form, that are also implicated in relationships. Think, for example, of meaning which is constituted in a relation between things when interpreted in a context. The concept of truth, a not inconsiderable one for many human beings, is also a matter of a relation — not least to a context. The fact of culture in human existence would also itself seem to be something that mandates relationship [in a way that a universal thinking where all thought the same thing and in the same ways would not] and might be a matter of the “conversational agreement” that certain kinds of hermeneutical philosophy [such as Gadamer’s] are interested in. Language itself, in fact, if you really want to get into it, is all about relations and juxtapositions of one thing with another — as well as contextual understanding. Language enables us to manipulate ideas and concepts exactly by putting them into useful relations. Of course, a further factor to consider here is the personal and the political, a constant interest of mine in all the previous literature about anarchism that I have produced. The fact that we are singularities yet also inevitably socially involved and formed is a vital relational aspect of human existence. But, of course, there are others. For example, consider our relation to the obligatory, the things we cannot avoid just by existing, and our relation to the desired, the things we want and wish for. Perhaps both of these are themselves sub-divisions of the relations of meaning I referred to above but they are, nevertheless, relations for us to consider. Then there is the fact that our physical forms, our bodies, that which we materially are, are all entirely made up of relations and inter-relations and are, in fact, constituted entirely by these things.

So what are relationships again? Viewing even these brief examples one conclusion seems to be that they are... NECESSARY! Relationship is a fact of our life, its existence and its constitution. But if relationship is necessary this does not thereby necessarily suggest that how relationships are understood, or are to be understood, is in the same boat. It would, in fact, seem hard to ignore that interpretation will always be a factor. Yet it might also suggest that our intellectual awakening as human beings might be a matter of our awakening to an awareness of relationships, their implications and consequences. This could also be thought of as our awakening to individuating or differentiating one thing from another for then, of course, you must also simultaneously ask how these things you have individuated and differentiated relate to each other, this being a necessary part of understanding their differentiation and individuation as things imagined in their own right [which, of course, they never actually are for this is only an interpretive act]. This comes to be exactly a matter of IMAGINATION for, of course, no relationship speaks for itself; it must be spoken for, interpreted, subjected to an understanding or frame of reference, given a context. Relationships are, thus, never given but subject to human description as each has reason and purpose so to do. Relationships are ubiquitous, it seems, but how they are constructed, what importance we give them or what they mean will always be up to us. Or will they? Can we, for instance, imagine unrecognised relations that affect and even condition us which we are unaware of or even want to ignore? Relationships are a consequence of existence but which of us would ever presume to comprehensively be able to map them all out? Is existence even a thing susceptible to being mapped?

In the past, anarchists have thought so and they have done this in several typical ways I want to outline here before we begin exploring further. If we examine a standard textbook on anarchism written by academics — The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism will serve for this purpose — we find several concise chapters in its second, “core traditions,” section on various typical anarchist constructions of relationships. These are: mutualism, individualism, anarchist communism, syndicalism, anarcha-feminism, green anarchism and postanarchism. I want to address what is said about each of these distinctive anarchist traditions now, in turn, from a relational perspective in order to show that, historically, anarchism, as a set of ideas, has never had simply one idea of human relationships in mind and neither has it ever really sought to restrict them to one either. What, in fact, developed as anarchism progressed as it emerged from social unrest and criticism of a hegemonic capitalist and authoritarian ethos was numerous competing views on how human beings should relate to one another [or otherwise be organised] and it was largely always a matter of dispute and differing opinions. Let’s explore more.

mutualism

In strict anarchist terms the many ideas that come together under the banner of “mutualism” began with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, although mutualism itself predates him. As Shawn P. Wilbur describes the situation in his article on mutualism, such a label originally dictated “terms of mutual aid, reciprocity and fair play”. Mutualism itself could go from vague ideas about fairness and mutuality to programs and ideologies based on such values which is to suggest it could be more laissez-faire or more systematic as something to be put into practice. For later anarchists, however, mutualism came to be firmly associated with Proudhon’s appropriation of it and went in and out of fashion thereafter as Proudhon’s own reputation did itself and as alternative approaches to human relationships and social organisation rose to their own prominence. After the split in the First International, for example, and as Bakunin reached the height of his own powers, mutualism was seen as a non-communist form of anarchism. Later, in the United States, it would be championed by the likes of Benjamin Tucker as a kind of free market-ism that was anti-monopoly. This is to note that mutualism became identified with “exchange and market reciprocity” rather than “mutual aid” per se, the latter being something which attached more to Kropotkin and his communist form of anarchism. Mutualism consequently came seen as a more “individualist, philosophical or commercialist” anarchist tendency. Although now we would imagine people like Tucker, those who wanted “equitable commerce”, to be types of libertarians, it is worth noting that he could think of himself as a “socialist” back then nevertheless.

When it comes to the meaning of Proudhon’s “anarchist” philosophy of mutuality, something it is often taken to be, Shawn Wilbur has this to say:

“In much of Proudhon’s work, mutualism and mutuality simply designate reciprocal social relations. ‘Credit’, Proudhon tells us in the Confessions of a Revolutionary, ‘is, from the point of view of social relations, a mutualism, an exchange’. There are, however, more programmatic uses. At the end of The System of Economic Contradictions, having explored the various unresolved contradictions that he believed dominated modern society, he claimed that ‘in order to arrive at the definitive organization that appears to be the destiny of our species on the globe, nothing remains but to make a general equation of all our contradictions’ and that the ‘formula’ of that equation must be ‘a law of exchange, a theory of Mutuality , a system of guarantees’.”

We can see, then, that Proudhon himself was much consumed by a theory of economic relationship as the engine of society and that he thought of it as reciprocity or exchange, terming this “mutuality”. Indeed, Wilbur reports that in Proudhon’s notebooks were copious notes in regard to a “Progressive Association, or Theory of Mutuality” and which Wilbur describes as “a model of anti-capitalist self-organisation for the working classes.” Consequently, Proudhon would go on to be a proponent of things like “free credit” for all and “revolution by credit”. In wanting to set up a “Bank of the People” he wanted to provide secure and inexpensive currency to people generally such that they could make their own economic way for themselves and bring themselves into the commercial world in a way that the capitalist world simply did not allow them to. Proudhon thus imagined “liberty through self-management” and an equity of access to finance and so commercial business. Mutualists of this time can then be seen referring to themselves as “mutualist socialists” and the basic economic principle here was to “demand... that the product of labour belongs, in its entirety, to the producer and that this product only exchanges in society for an equivalent product, one costing the same amount of labour and expense.”

Historically, this kind of idea became somewhat distasteful with the rise of the communist anarchists after 1872 and was seen as a particularly economic form of anarchism [with which Proudhon had been particularly identified prior to this]. Mutualists, in fact, became known primarily for their economic theories of how to give people liberty [banks of exchange and a free currency, the absence of monopolies, essentially a levelling of the economic playing field if not a change in the playing field itself] and they were seen as a separate faction, with separate ideas, to the communist anarchists such as Kropotkin, Malatesta, etc. This in turn would give way to those American individualists who took up an originally Proudhonian mutualism [such as Tucker] but combined it with a specifically American form of free thought, individual liberty and dislike of government or other overarching authority and who were heirs of Josiah Warren and Ezra Heywood, as but two examples. Here the idea of voluntary association [not least in commercial terms] was a key idea but the means to it, thinking along mutualist lines, were by means of facilitating a free economics in which everyone could take part rather than collectivist social organisation more in keeping with the ideas of the communist anarchists.

Tucker, for example, saw the socialist opponent to what he referred to as “anarchism” as “State Socialism” whilst also arguing that those such as Kropotkin and the Haymarket anarchists had taken the wrong path as well. We can see here a hankering for an economically-bolstered individual liberty as opposed to a more collectively delivered one. Tucker the anarchist mutualist sees a communistic anarchism as “dictatorial” but his own form as “libertarian”. Mutualism would, hereafter, become increasingly identified with a kind of individualism and it would not often be challenged if it was. Essentially, this was a “free market anti-capitalism” in the words of contemporary commentator, Kevin Carson, or a “market-centred individualist anarchism” in the words of Wilbur. It is then to be noted — without any blame being cast on mutualism’s origins or past — that one offshoot of this in the modern world has been the nonsense of “anarcho-capitalism” which sees freedom in crypto-currencies and NFTs and hyper-individualistic and libertarian forms of capitalist activity which seem to have all but left any notion of mutualism as mutual aid, or even simple mutualism and reciprocity, entirely behind.

individualism

As the name states, and as Peter Ryley makes plain in his essay in the Palgrave Handbook, individualism is that branch of anarchism which thinks that “freedom can only come through the political, economic, and moral autonomy of each individual.” [I would add “intellectual” to this short list of autonomies too.] Being about individual autonomy, of course, it should immediately be obvious that “there is no single individualism” either. More collectivist anarchist currents often try to deny the authenticity of this construction of anarchism but, as Ryley suggests, “it is an integral part of the movement”. It is easy to see, however, how such a construction exists in tension with more collectivist ideas of relationship. Individualists reject enforced collectivism whether it comes from coercive, hostile or imagined benevolent sources all the same. They stand for a true voluntary association which the autonomous human being decides for themselves. They see benevolent rules, moral understandings and state repression as equally coercive things if they tend towards collectivity and would, in extreme cases such as Renzo Novatore, rather die fighting for personal autonomy than acquiesce in any imposed collectivity. Individualism reminds anarchism in general that there is no freedom that is not personally experienced freedom. Peter Ryley exegetes this historically through an analysis of Max Stirner’s egoism, the economic appropriation of Proudhon by Benjamin Tucker which he mixed with his appreciation of Stirner to produce the “individualist political economy” I referenced above when discussing mutualism, and an individualist notion of the free society in which all coercion, political, economic or moral, is ruled out of bounds and fought against as if for one’s very survival. Historically, this included things like free love, illegalism, the total rejection of the very idea of morals, insurrectionary activities from individuals and small groups and the creation of private societies and voluntary colonies. So its not just a matter of what Ryley turns it into in more contemporary times, which is yet more anarcho-capitalism and “free currencies”. Individualism is, was, and always will be, a lot more than that narrow and blinkered description.

An important aspect here is the “self-ownership” inherent to individualism which could be taken direct from a reading of Stirner or from the later anarchism of people like Voltairine de Cleyre and Emma Goldman. Ryley exegetes Stirner, with his concept of “ownness” as advocating “a process of self-liberation”. I have spoken to this at length in my own books about anarchism, seeing it as integral to the very idea of such a thing. Meanwhile, Ryley speaks to that Voltairine de Cleyre who, in her essay “Those Who Marry Do Ill”, insists that the way to “preserve love in anything like the ecstatic condition which renders it worthy of a distinctive name” is to maintain an independent life of your own rather than engaging in forced collectivity. As Ryley states here, de Cleyre, as one example, sees individual liberty as the necessary seed bed of all other liberties and he states that “her priority for the liberation of women was always independence” which, of course, necessarily includes economic independence. It is such an independence which, for de Cleyre, breaks the back of patriarchy and determines that there is no going back. This is also shown in the life and work of Emma Goldman, again something I have highlighted at length in my own writing. Her anarchism was impossible without attention to individual will and proclivity and a fervent desire for continuous agency and self-expression as the means to societal liberation. It is important to note here then, in strict terms of human relationship, that individualist anarchism is not the desire to be alone or in isolation but actually a social theory itself. Its difference is in its emphasis on self-owned, autonomous relationships each person decides for themselves through their own agency rather than any kind of forced or otherwise imposed collectivity.

anarchist communism

Communism, according to Davide Turcato who writes the essay on anarchist communism in my source document, is as follows:

“Communism is a model of stateless society based on the common ownership of the means of production and informed by the principle ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’. In other words, common ownership is not limited to the means of production, but extends to the products of labour: under communism, ‘everything belongs to everyone’.”

Such a definition has remained fairly stable over time but, as Turcato reports, disparities open up, for example, when one asks how such a future utopian state of affairs might come to pass or in regard to the exact running and organisation of the society thus imagined. As Turcato then states, anarchist communism is then a matter of varying tactics about how to get where you want to go and not just in regard to the destination itself. In fact, I would add that this specific form of anarchism, being a reimagining of society whole and entire, collects problems all of its own in so doing [as, of course, each of the forms of anarchist relationship discussed here do]. Turcato locates the true beginning of an anarchist communist understanding to 1876 and the Italian anarchists Cafiero and Malatesta who criticised a former collectivism held to by those such as Bakunin who thought of communism — no doubt of the kind Marx prescribed — as authoritarian state control. What the Italians saw was that a collectivist strategy would only lead to more competition and inequality since its actually impossible for each to have equal access to the same means of production since, for example, some land is better and more fertile than other land. What’s more, people are simply more and less capable from person to person and work, being a social process, its actually nigh on impossible to measure out what an equal contribution would be. An anti-authoritarian communism, so they thought, would remedy this situation and send things in the right direction.

The idea soon caught on and anarchist communism was the dominant form of anarchism for the next half decade, anarchists such as Malatesta and Kropotkin being the most well known and influential of them all. But these did not themselves necessarily agree on the detail. Malatesta, for example, foresaw a transitional period as society changed from its current state to an anarchist communist ethos. Kropotkin, however, as Turcato reads him:

“maintained that existing societies ‘are inevitably impelled in the direction of Communism’, which he regarded as ‘the synthesis of the two ideals pursued by humanity throughout the ages—Economic and Political Liberty’. Therefore he was convinced that

‘the first obligation, when the revolution shall have broken the power upholding the present system, will be to realize Communism without delay’. Kropotkin envisaged a decentralised society. ‘Political economy’ he wrote ‘has hitherto insisted chiefly upon division. We proclaim integration; and we maintain that the ideal of society—that is, the state towards which society is already marching—is a society … where each individual is a producer of both manual and intellectual work … and where each worker works both in the field and the industrial workshop’. He thus extolled the virtues of petty trades, small industries, and industrial villages, and discerned ‘a pronounced tendency of the factories towards migrating to the villages, which becomes more and more apparent nowadays’. In those villages, factories and workshops would be at the gates of fields and gardens, and would be used by ‘the complete human being, trained to use his brain and his hands’.”

Anarchist communism, as we can see from this description of Kropotkin, is, thus, a societal reorganisation and an entirely different idea of anarchism, and human relationships, than that envisaged either by mutualism or individualism. In a real sense it is an organising of the world [or at least its human affairs] that the first two versions of anarchism discussed here would be horrified at. It is an outlook based on a world commune and commonism [= communism] where, as the Chinese anarchist Shifu, influenced by Kropotkin, stated: “The products of labour— food, clothing, housing, and everything else that is useful—all are the common possession of society. Everyone may use them freely, and everyone will enjoy all wealth in common.” Anarchist communists are thus, necessarily, organisationalists for they wish to organise human affairs equitably. Within this there was a theoretical autonomy of the individual [which is presumably why Emma Goldman could associate herself with the understanding] but it was theoretically imagined and described as a socially applicable phenomenon and a necessarily social arrangement of human relationships. Anarchist communism is, thus, community organisation and later came to be contrasted with anarchism of the individualist sort which eschewed the very idea of what it saw as an imposed collectivity. Communists such as Malatesta, for example, here argued instead that what must be sought was “the most equitable conditions in which associated life could take place.” We can sum up anarchist communism, in fact, in Malatesta’s statement that, “To be anarchist it is not enough to wish one’s own individual emancipation; it is necessary to wish everyone’s emancipation.”

A crucial difference to notice here, however, is that anarchist communists sought, and still seek, world revolution as the initiation of their idealised state of future affairs whereas mutualists and individualists imagined an evolution of human relationships and conduct from all forms of authoritarian control to more decentralised forms of life. Another way to put this is that the communists believe in the future revolution which removes government whereas the individualists believe in their freedom right here, right now, and in acting as if they already have it. [In this respect, they are a permanent insurrection rather than agents of some definitive breaking point labelled “revolution”. They, to paraphrase Stirner, refuse to be organised rather than imagining better forms of organisation.] Perhaps the difference here is to be parsed in the questions that these forms of anarchism put themselves forward as the answers to. Anarchist communism asks after the best form of society in which freedom and liberty can be enshrined whereas individualist anarchism asks after the ultimate locus of freedom as an experience. On this basis, we can perhaps see why Emma Goldman owed public allegiance both to anarchist communist ideas such as those of Kropotkin [for she thought, with him, that anarchist communism propagated that society in which personal liberty could be best guaranteed] but also to past “individualists” such as Stirner and even Nietzsche [who, formally, were no anarchists at all]. Goldman, in fact, is an example of someone who shows that these types of anarchist expression were not always static or separate. Each contained nuances of difference and emphasis both within and between them in regard to tactics, desires and imagined gains and losses.

syndicalism

Lucien van der Walt’s article on syndicalism begins with this simple definition of what syndicalism is: “Syndicalism centres on the claim that labour unions, built through daily struggles, radically democratic practices and popular education, provide an irreplaceable force for defending and extending gains and rights for the working class and crucial levers for social revolution.” This is to say that syndicalism is built four square on unionism and so the bonds manufactured by working people in work situations. It is a form of relationship and activity “in which working people occupy workplaces, take control of the means of production and construct a free, socialist order based upon self-management, participatory planning, interlinked assemblies and councils, and production for need, rather than the profits or power of a ruling minority.” We might then like to think of this as a participatory and democratic unionism but van der Walt also describes it as “a militant class struggle unionism that stresses the importance of autonomous, revolutionary action, based upon solidarity, internationalism and direct action, as inclusive as possible: one big union.” A major aim of syndicalism would then seem to be uniting all workers in [class] solidarity in order to leverage that collective strength. Syndicalists such as van der Walt have the belief that “class struggle and unity are essential to defeating all forms of oppression.”

Syndicalism is, of course, a necessarily collectivist form of societal relationship. This requires not inconsiderable organisation as when van der Walt remarks:

“The structures of the syndicalist union, developed in conflict with capitalism and the state, are to form the core of the new society: local union structures of the union provide the means for workers’ assemblies to govern democratically, and to mandate committees of delegates; the larger structures of the union, which link local workplaces across territories, and within and across industries, provide the means of coordinating workplace operations into a larger, bottom-up economic plan, linked through delegate systems.”

Consequently, van der Walt explains that syndicalism is a “prefigurative” type of anarchism which aims to build the social relationships and organisation of people within itself that it wants to see more widely. In this sense, he can describe syndicalism as “a revolutionary counter-power” which is a “counter-culture” and “opposed to the institutions of the ruling class”. The syndicalist union is then “an organisation of resistance” which, with a change in general political, economic and societal conditions, becomes “the future... organisation of production and distribution”. It is then, in fact, “the basic framework of the new society” whilst also being “a bottom-up, autonomous, revolutionary and internationalist working-class movement.” Van der Walt states that, as a generality, syndicalists reject political parties [including workers’ or socialist ones] and so the capturing of state power. Thus, they “reject... the statism of classical Marxism”.

Lucien van der Walt traces the origins of syndicalism, formally a movement most noticeable with origins in the France of the 1890s, to the beliefs and activities of Mikhail Bakunin in the First International. Bakunin himself was influenced by the “class-based self-organisation” of Proudhon and by Marxist economics. Bakunin, however, stressed “mass struggle and social revolution” and he wanted to do this in a way contrary to Marx that he thought non-authoritarian. Van der Walt quotes him as advocating “mass, revolutionary unions that ‘bear in themselves the living germs of the new social order, which is to replace the bourgeois world’.” He further suggests that “the first syndicalist unions” emerged in the 1870s and 1880s [in Spain, Mexico, the USA and Cuba] rather than in 1890s France. The French movement, however, was particularly strong and even van der Walt has to note its reinvigorating powers — which he credits as a “second wave”. He adds to this that syndicalism arose as a form of “mass anarchism” [and so alongside communist anarchism which shares this ideal] but not as one that was universally popular. He describes it as an “anarchist strategy” rather than a “distinct ideology”.

Consequently, van der Walt does his best to argue that syndicalism is not formally at odds with anarchist communism but rather is just different collective means to the same ends. [As regards insurrectionist or more individualistic modes of anarchism, however, van der Walt elsewhere, in his book Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism with Michael Schmidt, can argue that “Godwin, Stirner, and Tolstoy have no place at all in the broad anarchist tradition”, a remarkably arrogant and intellectually dishonest assertion. Van der Walt seems to want to reserve “anarchism” or “syndicalism” for particular historical working class movements that can be centred in readings of Bakunin and Kropotkin in some partisan way. I have no idea why and, for me, it makes it much more easy to not take anything he says seriously, not least when this turns into an exclusionary activity in that book as delineated in the quote: “‘Class struggle’ anarchism, sometimes called revolutionary or communist anarchism, is not a type of anarchism; in our view, it is the only anarchism”.]

In fact, if you read van der Walt comprehensively on syndicalism you come to the conclusion he thinks it the most popular, useful and effective form of anarchism overall.

anarcha-feminism

Donna Kowal’s article on anarcha-feminism begins from the premise that anarchist women, beginning around the 1870s and 1880s, were critics not only of the societies that they found themselves in — societies in which women were often little more than the property of husbands or, without them, at extreme economic disadvantage — but also critics of the anarchism they found themselves in which was dominated by male theorists and organising blind to the position of women in human society. Such anarcha-feminist women, in Kowal’s analysis, “were especially outspoken about social ills that limited women’s autonomy and personal happiness, such as compulsory marriage and motherhood, lack of access to birth control, and sex trafficking.” Rather than class struggle [as with syndicalism] or general political and economic emancipation [mutualism and anarchist communism], they focused on new intellectual, moral, political and economic conceptions of womanhood, ones which gave them their own independence whilst also highlighting their othered status and conditions in society at large. This amounts, in fact, to a complete reimagining of women’s relations to wider society and their place within it [and so to reimagining societal relationships whole and entire — including institutions such as the family]. Its worth noting, however, that none of the major activists of this form of anarchism at the time referred to themselves either as feminists or anarcha-feminists. This is merely the renaming of earlier ideas by later intellectual movements.

Kowal paints the picture of the historical situation of the time in especially Euro-American contexts as the following:

“Anarcha-feminism emerged as a branch of anarchism during a period when women’s exclusion from public affairs was systemically enforced through legal, political, economic, familial, and religious institutions. In the main, the sphere of women’s influence was rooted in the home, obliging them to dutifully perform the domestic roles of mother and wife even as economic conditions may have necessitated they earn wages to support the livelihood of their families. Indeed, while white, middle-class women were not expected to work outside the home, poor and immigrant women were impelled to work in factories and on farms, in unregulated industries that exploited them as cheap labour. Insofar as working women often lacked the freedom to control their wages and own property (in addition to being politically disenfranchised) and were typically excluded or marginalised by labour unions, they were far more likely to be drawn to socialist, communist, and anarchist solutions to inequality—solutions that squarely addressed class division and labour exploitation—in comparison to women who enjoyed economic security (who were more likely drawn to reform efforts focused on women’s suffrage).”

One consequence of all this, and the unique sexually reproductive situation of child-bearing women, is the recognition that women’s very sexual lives have material consequences different to that of non-child-bearing men. Reproductive realities can have effects on women’s ability to earn a living or dictate the course of their lives almost entirely. Thus, one prominent strand of anarcha-feminist belief and praxis revolves around a woman’s ability to direct and control her sexual life for herself, both in terms of who she has sex with but also in terms of controlling the consequences of having sex at all in the form of birth control. A woman who cannot control her sexuality and its consequences is a woman who is significantly less emancipated than an equivalent man and the anarcha-feminists both recognised this fact and spoke of it as an injustice in an intersectional way which combined such feminist concerns with the more political and economic anarchist ones without distinction. Such women thus set out to attack institutions such as marriage, the family and the Church [the third of these being a major impetus to orthodoxy in the other two] as a matter of course as the articulation of an anarchism that dared to express itself not only as political and economic but moral and intellectual as well. This sets it apart particularly from the collective forms of anarchism [full of mostly men who were often blind to such concerns] I have already mentioned, anarchist communism and syndicalism [which are are probably correctly thought of as the mass movements of classical anarchism], in that they address moral and intellectual matters as part of their anarchist critique as a matter of course.

One might suggest here that in making that which is personal to a woman political anarcha-feminists have more in common with individualist concerns than collective ones since it is those who take anarchism personally, as anarcha-feminists, individualists and insurrectionists do, which they come more closely into contact with intellectually. Interestingly, Kowal goes on to say that “anarcha-feminists perceived the ways in which inequality was deeply rooted in social relationships and structures, especially the patriarchal family unit” and that they shared “a brazen rejection of feminine norms, an awareness that political enfranchisement was incapable of (or insufficient in) creating gender/sexual equality, and a feminist perspective which demanded that anarchism account for the experiences of women.” In this she highlights that although anarcha-feminists were concerned about the common fate of women everywhere often they realised that freedom would look different for each woman individually rather than according to some pre-determined template [one here thinks of the anarcha-feminism of Voltairine de Cleyre or Emma Goldman particularly]. Female independence was then a necessary component of any anarcha-feminism, something which even those more amenable to collectivist rhetorics, like Lucy Parsons or the Spanish anarchist Lucia Sanchez Saornil, could agree with. Autonomous living and sexual agency were at least some part of this for most anarcha-feminists and redefining female relationships with the world along more emancipatory lines was their purpose. By doing so, they pushed anarchism as a whole beyond its male bounds of politics and economics [which men largely controlled] and opened up new intellectual and moral vistas ripe for an anarchist takeover which are still being fought over to this day.

green anarchism

In his essay on green anarchism Andy Price begins by noting that insights about the natural world are no stranger to classical formulations of anarchism. One of the most famous anarchists of them all, in fact, Peter Kropotkin, wrote tomes about mutual aid and ethics which were entirely based on his naturalistic observations. Mutual aid and how to behave he thinks can be informed by animal and human behaviour patterns in a way which links conceptions of anarchy to life at large. But in the nineteenth or early twentieth centuries no one would have called this “green anarchy” or conceived of the necessity of an especially ecological conception of anarchism in itself. As Price explains, it would take the horrors of the first two thirds of the twentieth century for us to get to that and, at that point, realising humanity’s necessary and life-maintaining connection to a natural world it was increasingly poisoning and destroying became a more explicit anarchist focus. This, in fact, became something that slotted in easily with an attitude to the state and centralised government which saw it as politically and economically unnecessary since, in its authoritarian nature, it was also the main muscle in ensuring that anthropogenically fostered ecological destruction could continue to take place. In other words, an emerging ecological anarchist focus not only highlighted human relationship with life in general but also the destructive role that states and government play there too, its damage in this respect being just as heinous as the political and economic damage it enabled in other arenas.

The pioneer in this respect is inevitably Murray Bookchin and he based his fledgling anarchism — which emerged from a more political and organisational communism, would morph into a kind of social anarchism, and end up becoming his own formulation called “Communalism” — around specific human interaction with the environment — even to the point of designing cities whole and entire to be ecologically beneficial places to live. Bookchin, in fact, attempted to exegete human life and its place within the biological life of the natural world in tandem such that social and political theory walked hand in hand with ecological theory. He saw human social life and the natural world as evolutionarily linked and thus spoke of “biotic nature” and “social nature” as evolutionary partners rather than as antagonists. Thus, Bookchin, in distinction to numerous other anarchists with a green concern [people, to be truthful, who Bookchin often argued with], did not take the view that human activity, by its very nature, was inimical to life. [Bookchin despised, for example, primitivists and anti-civilizationalists who argued that technology — a description which could even cover industrial agriculture — was simply and inevitably dangerous to life on earth and so should be abandoned completely.] Thus, Bookchin thought that the cause of ecological destruction — human activity — was actually also the cure for it, a position that many other green anarchists of his time and since his death in 2006 have bitterly disputed [since their cure is the cessation of whole areas of human activity]. Both, however, agreed that human beings have a relationship to the earth and saw that relationship itself as necessarily vital to continued human existence upon this planet.

Bookchin’s analysis, then, was both intellectual and complex [and not without its merits] but it was hardly the only expression of a green anarchism and many green anarchists completely disagreed with what Bookchin was saying. One aspect of Bookchin’s analysis that was helpful, however, were his thoughts on hierarchy and domination, set out in his major work, The Ecology of Freedom. Andy Price exegetes this as follows:

“Bookchin traced the long historical development of the emergence of hierarchy and domination—and their ultimate expression in the centralised power of the modern nation state—in The Ecology of Freedom. There, he described not just the physical, material effects of the emergence of domination and centralisation but also the psychological effects, the emergence of a new mind-set of domination, a new ‘epistemology of rule’, that presented the concept of domination and hierarchy as somehow natural, an accepted facet of social life. Crucially, it was these developments that led directly to the attempt on behalf of human society to dominate the natural world: once domination is set as a characteristic of human-to-human relationships, society begins to view its relationships to the natural world through the prism of domination, a realm to control, master, and exploit.”

Bookchin thus connects human illusions of control [for they are illusions as the natural world is far beyond human ability to control as it would like and cannot be dominated as some humans would wish] with human relationships both to the natural world but also to other humans politically and economically as well. Centralisation and hierarchy are bad things in all these spheres but come from the same illusory thought: that things can be coerced and exploited to selfish advantage in a way which ignores the relationships thus created. As Price then extrapolates: “This becomes a mutually reinforcing phenomenon: the more centralisation and hierarchy there is in society, the bigger the projects of mastery and domination become, and in turn, the more centralisation, hierarchy, and domination there is in social [ecological] and political life.” Bookchin’s analysis here then helps us to see that everything bad about the state politically is equally as bad ecologically. Exploitation of the world is no better for us than exploitation of each other. Relationships of exploitation, in fact, only finally end up in one place: disaster. Bookchin thus saw the solving of ecological problems in the solving of hierarchies and dominating relationships and this led to his explicitly political organisationalism in regard to cities which he called “municipalism”, an attempt to bring anarchistic ideals to bear in political ways but which also had positive green consequences.

But there is another side to this story, for Bookchin it would have been the dark side. It is that side which might be labelled “deep ecology” or “primitivism”. This side of green anarchism agrees with Bookchin that there is a vital relationship to consider between humans and the natural world but it has radically different ideas about what to do about it. Bookchin had always regarded human beings as a good thing and lauded their imagined rationality as something to be praised. Others, however, saw it as a destructive exceptionalism, a selfishness which privileged human value over non-human value, a kind of human narcissism, if you like. For the deep ecologist, most famously for Arne Naess, human value was just one value among many. The human being is not that for which life and the world exists but is just one more creature that is part of a biological system that extends far beyond it. Thus, “nature does not belong to man” and human beings should stop acting as if it does much like they once stopped acting as if other human beings could belong to them as slaves. Naess believed that nature was something worth defending regardless of the fate of humans within it. The difference with Bookchin is that Naess saw nature as a value in itself whereas as Bookchin always saw human society as a parallel value, one to be developed in tandem. For Naess, human beings did not give nature its value for it was its own value. It was, and is, not ours to decide its value about.

Naess, and the deep ecology which emerged from his thinking as others joined in with it, began to find human expansion, based on its own selfish dictates, an antagonist of non-human life. Reducing human population [and so human activity] on this basis became an agenda item for deep ecologists as a consequence. The major difference with Bookchinite green anarchists here following his agenda of “social ecology” was that deep ecologists thought humans should in some sense “pull back” from nature and necessarily reduce human impacts, perhaps adapting “hunter-gatherer” patterns of life instead or forming “bioregions” explicitly against the state and capitalism. More radical deep ecological exponents were those who began spiking trees to stop them being felled and lying down in front of road-building equipment to stop roads being built. A distinct form of anarchist direct action came from this perspective in a way it did not from Bookchin’s more intellectualised social ecology. At its extremist fringes, however, you could find praise for things which were a threat to human population, such as diseases and natural disasters. The accusation could be made that, in some cases, it was misanthropic in its wish to rebalance an imagined human/natural world duality.

A parallel movement of its own was [and is since I still come across them quite often] the “anarcho-primitivism” of those such as John Zerzan, a long time critic of “civilization” generally as inevitably destructive of ecosystems and, ultimately, life itself. As with deep ecology, primitivism sees human expansion as inevitably and necessarily problematic in a way Bookchin’s social ecology does not. Primitivism sees technology and civilization as acts of human self-alienation and “self-enslavement” and regards it as a giant and destructive backward step. The only solution, in fact, is to give it up and to get over this huge and consequential mistake. Again, primitivists are fixed on the relationship between human beings and their wider natural surroundings, the uniting factor in all green anarchist concerns and, again, they take a different view on what to do about it, seemingly regarding the societal consequences of not doing so as too high. Zerzan, for example, again takes the view, as with deep ecologists, that society needs to be broken down into smaller units which may also necessitate violence to destroy technological centralisation in order to allow smaller autonomous units to flourish. Yet, as can be seen here in these three broad strands of green anarchism, a relatively new and still emerging development, no one way has yet been found that green anarchists all agree upon and green anarchism’s activities extend from deep analysis of the human/nature relationship to violent and non-violent direct action to stop capitalist-inspired world development that is destroying and poisoning natural environments at an increasing rate with increasingly obvious effects.

postanarchism

The article on postanarchism in the Palgrave Handbook is authored by Saul Newman who I have interacted with at length before in my Handbook for Anarchist Insurrection. Postanarchism itself is the newest current of anarchist thought and praxis that is represented here and Newman argues it to be a “central” one in contemporary context. Newman maintains this as the case even though his own chosen description of it makes it sound rather academically elite and specific. He says that postanarchism “can generally be seen as a reformulation of anarchism through an encounter with poststructuralist theory. Postanarchism adopts key insights from a range of theorists like Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari and the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan as well as figures in the post-Heideggerian continental tradition like Giorgio Agamben and Reiner Schürmann.” Would many anarchists even know who all of these people are? [For clarity, I know who most, but not all, of them are.] Newman then glosses postanarchism not as that which supersedes anarchism but as a “poststructuralist anarchism”, clearly framing it as an interaction of specific continental European philosophical thought and the concerns of a more classical anarchism proper. It is thought of by its leading theorists such as Newman himself, Todd May and Lewis Call as having “important consequences for contemporary anarchism”. But, we might then ask, what are they?

Newman gives two answers to this question, the first a critique of anarchism’s revolutionary origins [and subsequent love for “the revolution”] and the second an analysis of power [something frequently found in poststructuralist writings]. In the matter of the first of these Newman covers ground I covered before in chapter 0.33 of A Handbook for Anarchist Insurrection. This is basically a critique of the specifically revolutionary aim of classical anarchism, a political point of view born in an era of “revolutionary optimism”. At this time it was thought revolutions could emancipate whole populations, if not the world, and so “transform the entirety of social relations”. This was then the background for, and aim of, anarchist thought and praxis [individualist currents aside since individualists preferred to simply claim their emancipation now]. Newman refers to “the metaphor of social relations as a self-functioning, autonomous mechanism whose steady motion is disturbed by the clumsy hands of government” in this respect which is seen as a motivating factor in the classical anarchist’s need for revolution. Postanarchism, however, questions the logic of “revolution” and the metanarrative [or overarching story] of universal emancipation that gives it life to begin with.

Kropotkin, as the most famous example of a positivistic “science of society” approach to anarchism, argued from nature, as previously discussed, that anarchism was essentially the natural and best state of evolutionary humanity. He thus worked from a universalising rationality that is now, at the very least, rhetorically denied and constantly challenged. Indeed, many would now put totally in question the idea that rational and moral norms are anything but simple fictions. [I am one of these people.] It is in this sense that the social criticisms of people such as Stirner and Nietzsche equate such social and political movements as anarchism with a kind of secularised Christianity, with their own “sacred” elements accordingly, that it is increasingly impossible to credit. Newman essentially argues that postanarchism pushes this criticism home making “revolutionary thinking” all the more difficult to believe in as a consequence. Could there really be a world revolution [which sounds very like Christian salvation] and would it really change everything and make a permanent difference to human relations? It begins to sound as realistic as the Parousia, the second coming of Christ. In the light of postanarchism, revolution becomes something impossible to believe in anymore and so can no longer be the focus of anarchist action or existence. Instead of a “metaphysics of presence” which guided former thinking, postanarchism substitutes the notion of constantly becoming and so substitutes for a one off revolution the idea of permanently evolving insurrection against all authorities, whether physical and political or intellectual and moral. It is, in this sense, a Foucauldian refusal to be classified, an emancipation from external coercion and control in all its aspects.

This plays into Newman’s second postanarchist aspect in regard to its critique of anarchism, “the nature and functioning of power”. In a nutshell, postanarchist theory sees power as a much more complex phenomenon than simply a king or government centrally telling people what to do. In modern discussion power affects others in a physical way but it also has affects: “It produces desires, affects, knowledge, subjectivity itself as well as freedom and resistance to it.” Power creates that which is to be controlled by the relations and the people it instantiates so that, in some senses, the power is not merely an external phenomenon materially and politically described but also working within and among people themselves, coercing them to various thoughts, actions and relationships. Thus:

“poststructuralism [and so postanarchism] puts in doubt the very idea of revolution itself, if by revolution we understand a total transformation of social, political and economic relations and the liberation from power. Where and how a revolution can emerge from a field saturated and power relations, and what it is able to achieve, is a question we must ask ourselves today. Perhaps it is more productive, as Foucault claimed, to think in terms of localised forms of resistance and practices of freedom, rather than the great revolutionary event: ‘Hence there is no single locus of great Refusal, no soul of revolt, source of all rebellions, or pure law of the revolutionary. Instead there is a plurality of resistances, each of them a special case’. Even if it is possible for these localised forms of resistance to converge with one another to affect changes on a broader social level, the idea of a liberated society that would emerge on the other side of power was a utopian fantasy. Power is coextensive with society; there will always be power relations in any post-revolutionary society, which is why it is better to think in terms, not of liberation, but of ongoing practices of freedom that maintained a kind of agonistic relation to power. Indeed, the concept of freedom itself cannot be seen as ontologically different to power, but is only intelligible in relation to power and exists as part of a strategic ‘game’ conducted on the field of power relations.”

In this understanding power is not then an entity, a thing to be tackled and grappled with once and for all, but an evolving context or set of relationships that never goes away because it is simply consequent on multiple, mutually becoming human beings existing in the world. This postanarchist understanding is thus more about evolving networks of relationships than it is about the setting up of the one new and necessary social organisation. It is about actualising permanent insurrection rather than the achieval of “the revolution”. Revolution, for the postanarchist, is not an event but the constant process of personal and societal transformation.

It is as a consequence of these two postanarchist points that anarchism must change how it sees itself, its role and its purpose — or so Saul Newman contends. Specifically, it has to pursue its non-authoritarian, anti-authoritarian vision on better intellectual and ethical grounds. It can no longer claim to be the meaning of the earth or the ultimate scientific and rational conclusion, the necessary salvific event. It must speak to itself more practically and pragmatically in regard to its benefits and articulate values by which it is shown to be the wise course of action from human context to human context. Newman calls this a “reconstructive” move central to postanarchism, “an understanding of postanarchism as a positive political and ethical strategy or series of strategies that can inform contemporary radical struggles and movements.” Newman thus sees postanarchism as a fracturing of agendas into multiple issues, all perhaps ultimately inter-connected but each taking on their own life and course. He writes: “Radical politics, including anarchism, therefore has to be seen in terms of multiple struggles, strategies, localised tactics, temporary setbacks and betrayals—an ongoing antagonism or ‘agonism’ —without the promise of a final victory. As Deleuze says: ‘the world and its States are no more masters of their plane than revolutionaries are condemned to a deformation of theirs. Everything is played in uncertain games’.”

Such an attitude leads to certain postanarchist keynote points. The first of these is a starting out from the position of “the non-acceptability of power”, the position that any power, which will always be evident, is only grounded in its own historical contingency and so is without any universal appeal. Postanarchism, then, as a critique of anarchism, is against the idea that anarchism ever has any fixed goal in terms of relational power structure. It does not, as for example anarchist communism does, want to set up a static “better organisation” of human relations. Or, as Newman puts it, “In other words, perhaps we need to think of anarchism today not so much as a specific project determined by a certain end goal—a fully liberated, non-alienated society without power relations—but rather as an open and contingent enterprise that takes the non-acceptance of power as its starting point.” Yet another way to say this is that, with postanarchism, we start from anarchy rather than aiming to finish up with it. This point dovetails nicely with Newman’s second and third keynote points here, a voluntary inservitude [rather than the acquiescing voluntary servitude capitalist authorities seek to inculcate and multiply generally] and “ownness”, a point of course culled from the work of Max Stirner in which personal agency and autonomy, the idea that we are already free and always have been if only we’d recognise it, is taken as a starting point rather than imagined as something which needs to be begged from some authoritative collectivity. [Here Newman states, most relevantly, that “Postanarchist theory understands freedom as thinking and acting as if power does not exist.] All of these first three keynotes, in fact, come together in the postanarchist realisation that “We overcome power, not by destroying it as such but by simply refusing to recognise and obey it, by turning our backs on it.” This, in turn, acts as a self-actualisation of the authenticity of our own will and a realisation that freedom is an individually experienced thing and that its experience is in no way illegitimate for that fact.

It is this, in turn [and as the fourth of five postanarchist keynotes], which motivates the postanarchist turn from revolution, statically and universally conceived, to insurrection, something which can be as personal and diverse as it needs to be and is all the more authentic for that. This is for Newman based on a quotation of Stirner’s I regularly refer to myself which distinguishes the insurrectionist from the revolutionist in that the former does not imagine “better organisation” but REFUSES to be organised. I hope it is possible to see here how the first three of Newman’s keynotes logically motivate this fourth one for if power is merely contingent, if we refuse to be slaves with masters, if we insist on our ownness and self-mastery, then how could we acquiesce in being organised over and above our heads? Postanarchism, after this Stirnerite understanding of Newman’s is “only a working forth out of me” that “leads us no longer to let ourselves be arranged”. It thus fully engages with the concerns of classical anarchism about illegitimate authority but in an entirely different way, a more relational way, if I may say so, one which, as Newman adds, works “to understand power not as a substance or a thing, but as a relationship which we forge and renew everyday through our actions and our relations with others.” Philosophically speaking, this leads into Newman’s fifth and final keynote, a very philosophical “ontological anarchism” which acts to free all action from a telos or aim or endpoint or goal and disrupts metaphysical thinking entirely, removing legislative or normative power as it does so. In this understanding, people then become responsible for their own actions and their own understandings and their own meaning and purpose [which can no longer be described in universal or static terms] in a world shorn of authoritative meaning and structure [which, frankly, is revealed to have been fiction all along anyway — see my Nothing To Stick To: Anarchism for Free Spirits for more on this ad nauseam!]. This, speaking honestly, is then revealed as a fundamental invitation to human imagination and creativity in manufacturing its social relations since, as Nietzsche had it, God is dead and in his absence we must make the future as best we can for it is only and always going to be up to us to do it.

As we can see, those varying different varieties of anarchism, past and present, approach the issue of relationship in many different ways that are not all just the same, either within the different understandings of anarchism or in cross-reference with the others. There are, for example, relatively more collective approaches and relatively less individualist ones [though, of course, both always exist in these contexts regardless of the approach]. Some promote grand organisation whereas others tend towards ad hoc relations of affinity or purpose. There is, we may summarise, no one anarchist way to relate people to one another or to other, wider things.

I think this is good, obvious and only to be expected but I am certainly no organisationalist and much less an institutionalist. Instead, I see anarchism as an [and so my] invitation to reimagine human relationships entirely taking nothing — not even seemingly fundamental things such as the biological family — for granted. I want to then ask what relationship could be and could mean working from anarchist starting points and anarchist positions such as those I have set out and detailed in numerous previous books as well as those I have just detailed above, each of which has at least something to add to the conversation. This is then what the rest of this book is going to be an exploration of in varying different ways. I aim to start on that exploration from my own developing perspective, birthed in an engagement with both Émile Armand and Emma Goldman, of anarchasexuality. So let us begin.

anarchasexuality

1. an anthology of texts

I want to begin this book proper by paying my dues to those who came before me and adding in a wider anarchist context. Specifically, then, I want to refer to texts written, in some cases decades ago in various parts of the world, that address the topic of what I have come to call “anarchasexuality”, an understanding of human beings as sexual beings which embraces this fact and makes the act of physical love integral to an understanding of anarchist human relationships in what I regard as an anarchist intellectual and moral understanding [i.e. an ethic]. I have, of course, written about this before, both in the short essay “What is Anarchasexuality?” and in an expanded and updated version of this essay in the final section of the chapter “Revolt” in Nothing To Stick To: Anarchism For Free Spirits. If you want further information on this I recommend you to read these sources.

Anarchasexuality engages with, and creates, an understanding of sex, gender and sexuality in human beings in the context of human relationships generally, a non-patriarchal, non-hierarchical, non-exploitative ethic that may rightly be called “anarchist”. It speaks for liberty, emancipation and enlightened education in these areas as well. Consequently, the following texts I reproduce below [which you should not assume I agree with in every word and nuance — they are presented primarily for the reader’s own consideration] should be seen as curated commentary on these things coming from those who came before me in the context of their own, personal struggles in these areas.

I begin with a very short text from Émile Armand, the French individualist anarchist of “amorous camaraderie” who was largely active in the first half of the twentieth century. Titled “Variations on Voluptuousness”, this piece was included with his essay “On Sexual Liberty” which I have discussed in other books before. In this piece Armand wonders aloud at the seeming taboo on “sensual pleasure”:

“I know that sensual pleasure is a subject about which you do not like people to speak or to write. Dealing with it shocks you. Or provokes a joke in bad taste among you. You have books in your libraries which embrace nearly all the branches of human activity. You possess some dictionaries and encyclopedias. You count perhaps a hundred volumes on one specialty of manual production. And I do not speak of political or sociological books. But there is not on your shelves a single work consecrated to sensual pleasure. There are some journals concerned with numismatics, philately, heraldry, angling or lawn bowling. The least poetic or artistic tendency has its organ. The tiniest chapel of an ism has its bulletin. The novels of love abound. And we find brochures and books concerned with free love or sexual hygiene. Not one periodical devoted to sensual pleasure frankly considered, without insinuations. As one of the sources of the effort to live. As a felicity. As a stimulant in the struggle for existence. Long studies unroll on the techniques of painting, and sculpture — on the working of wood, stone, and metals. I search in vain for documented articles which consider sensual pleasure as an art — which exhibit its ancient refinements — which propose novel ones. It is not that pleasure leaves you indifferent. But it is only clandestinely, in the shadows, behind closed doors that you discuss or debate it. As if nature was not truly voluptuous. As if the heat of the sun and the scent of the meadows does not invite sensual pleasure?

I am not unaware, certainly, of the reasons for your attitude. And I know its origin. The Christian poison flows in your veins. The Christian virus infects you cerebrally. The kingdom of your Master is not of this world. And you are his subjects. Yes, you, socialists, revolutionaries, anarchists, who swallow without batting an eye a hundred columns of estimates for demolition or social construction, but that two hundred lines of appeal to voluptuous experience ‘obsess’ — that is to say ‘scandalize.’ Oh, slaves!”

My next text is a letter sent by a 16 year old Argentinian schoolgirl, América Scarfó, to Émile Armand when he was editor of L’En Dehors, the French anarchist periodical. Clearly, Armand’s reputation for sexual emancipation and respect for human agency, whether in adults or non-adults, had reached the South American continent by the time the letter was written in December 1928. Scarfó, whom I repeat for clarity’s sake was a schoolgirl of 16, was of anarchist ethos and engaged in a sexual relationship with a similarly minded 26 year old man — with the full knowledge of the man’s wife. The schoolgirl was writing to Armand seemingly for some acknowledgement or approval of her actions as it seems local radicals had taken to denouncing the relationship [as certain “radicals” often do], in Scarfó’s mind in contravention of a properly anarchist ethics. Scarfó writes:

“Dear Comrade, The purpose of this letter is, first of all, to ask your advice. We have to act, in all moments of our lives, in accord with our own manner of seeing and thinking, in such a way that the reproaches and criticisms of other people find our individuality protected by the healthiest concepts of responsibility and liberty, which form a solid wall weakening their attacks. For this reason we should act consistently with our ideas.

My case, comrade, is of the amorous order. I am a young student who believes in the new life. I believe that, thanks to our free actions, individual or collective, we can arrive at a future of love, fraternity and equality. I desire for all just what I desire for myself: the freedom to act, to love, to think. That is, I desire anarchy for all humanity. I believe that in order to achieve this we should make a social revolution. But I am also of the opinion that in order to arrive at this revolution it is necessary to free ourselves from all kinds of prejudices, conventionalisms, false moralities and absurd codes. And, while we wait for this great revolution to break out, we have to carry out this work in all the actions of our existence. And indeed in order to make this revolution come about, we can’t just content ourselves with waiting but need to take action in our daily lives. Wherever possible, we should act from the point of view of an anarchist, that is, of a human being.

In love, for example, we will not wait for the revolution, we will unite ourselves freely, paying no regard to the prejudices, barriers and innumerable lies that oppose us as obstacles. I have come to know a man, a comrade of ideas. According to the laws of the bourgeoisie he is married. He united himself with a woman as a consequence of a childish circumstance, without love. At that time he didn’t know our ideas. However, he lived with this woman for a number of years, and they had children. He didn’t experience the satisfaction that he should have felt with a loved one. Life became tedious, the only thing that united these two beings were the children. Still an adolescent, this man came to know our ideas, and a new consciousness was born in him. He turned into a brave militant. He devoted himself to propaganda with ardour and intelligence. All the love that he hadn’t directed to a person he offered instead to an ideal. In the home, meanwhile, life continued with its monotony relieved only by the happiness of their small children. It happened that circumstances brought us together, at first as companions of ideas. We talked, we sympathised with each other, and we learned to know each other. Thus our love was born. We believed, in the beginning, that it would be impossible. He, who had loved only in dreams, and I, making my entrance into life. Each one of us continued living between doubt and love. Destiny — or, better, love — did the rest. We opened our hearts and our love and our happiness began to intone its song, even in the middle of the struggle, the ideal, which in fact gave us an even greater impulse. And our eyes, our lips, our hearts expressed themselves in the magic conjuring of a first kiss. We idealised love, but we were carrying it into reality. Free love, that knows no barriers, nor obstacles. The creative force that transports two beings through a flowery field, carpeted with roses — and sometimes thorns — but where we find always happiness.

Is it not the case that the whole universe is converted into an Eden when two beings love each other?

His wife also — despite her relative knowledge — sympathises with our ideas. When it came to it she gave proofs of her contempt for the hired killers of the bourgeois order as the police began to pursue my friend. That was how the wife of my comrade and I have become friends. She is fully aware of what the man who lived at her side represents to me. The feeling of fraternal affection that existed between them permitted him to confide in her. And he gave her freedom to act as she desired, in the manner of any conscientious anarchist. Until this moment, to tell the truth, we have lived really like in a novel. Our love became every day more intense. We cannot live altogether in common, given the political situation of my friend, and the fact that I have still not finished my studies. We meet, when we can, in different places. Isn’t that perhaps the best way to sublimate love, distancing it from the preoccupations of domestic life? Although I am sure that when it is true love, the most beautiful thing is to live together.

This is what I wanted to explain. Some people here have turned into judges. And these are not to be found so much amongst common people but in fact amongst comrades of ideas who see themselves as free of prejudices but who, at bottom, are intolerant. One of these says that our love is a madness; another indicates that the wife of my friend is playing the role of “martyr”, despite the fact that she is aware of everything that concerns us, is the ruler of her own person, and enjoys her freedom. A third raises the ridiculous economic obstacle. I am independent, just as is my friend. In all probability I will create a personal economic situation for myself that will free me from all worries in this sense.

Also, the question of the children. What do the children have to do with the feelings of our hearts? Why can’t a man who has children love? It is as if to say that the father of a family cannot work for the idea, do propaganda, etc., What makes them believe that those little beings will be forgotten because their father loves me? If the father were to forget his children he would deserve my contempt and there would exist no more love between us.

Here, in Buenos Aires, certain comrades have a truly meager idea of free love. They imagine that it consists only in cohabiting without being legally married and, meanwhile, in their own homes they carry on practicing all the stupidities and prejudices of ignorant people. This type of union that ignores the civil registrar and the priest also exists in bourgeois society. Is that free love?

Finally, they criticise our difference in age. Just because I am 16 and my friend is 26. Some accuse me of running a commercial operation; others qualify me as unwitting. Ah these pontiffs of anarchism! Making the question of age interfere with love! As if the fact a brain reasons is not enough for a person to be responsible for their actions! On the other hand, it is my own problem, and if the difference in age means nothing to me, why should it matter to anyone else? That which I cherish and love is youth of the spirit, which is eternal.

There are also those who treat us as degenerates or sick people and other labels of this kind. To all these I say: why? Because we live life in its true sense, because we recognise a free cult of love? Because, just like the birds that bring joy to walkways and gardens, we love without paying any attention to codes or false morals? Because we are faithful to our ideas? I disdain all those who cannot understand what it is to know how to love.

True love is pure. It is the sun whose rays stretch to those who cannot climb to the heights. Life is something we have to live freely. We accord to beauty, to the pleasures of the spirit, to love, the cult that they deserve.

This is all comrade. I would like to have your opinion on my case. I know very well what I am doing and I don’t need to be approved or applauded. Just that, having read many of your articles and agreeing with various points of view, it would make me content to know your opinion.”

This letter was published by Armand in L’En Dehors in mid-January 1929. In response, Armand appended the following:

“Comrade: My opinion matters little in this matter you send me about what you are doing. Are you or are you not intimately in accord with your personal conception of the anarchist life? If you are, then ignore the comments and insults of others and carry on following your own path. No one has the right to judge your way of conducting yourself, even if it were the case that your friend’s wife be hostile to these relations. Every woman united to an anarchist (or vice versa), knows very well that she should not exercise on him, or accept from him, domination of any kind.”

My next text is “The short instructional manifesto for relationship anarchy” by the Swede, Andie Nordgren. This is an English translation of an originally Swedish text “Relationsanarki i 8 punkter” published in 2006 and it addresses the subject of “relationship anarchy” that Nordgren and others were discussing amongst themselves at the time:

Love is abundant, and every relationship is unique

Relationship anarchy questions the idea that love is a limited resource that can only be real if restricted to a couple. You have capacity to love more than one person, and one relationship and the love felt for that person does not diminish love felt for another. Don’t rank and compare people and relationships — cherish the individual and your connection to them. One person in your life does not need to be named primary for the relationship to be real. Each relationship is independent, and a relationship between autonomous individuals.

Love and respect instead of entitlement

Deciding to not base a relationship on a foundation of entitlement is about respecting others’ independence and self-determination. Your feelings for a person or your history together does not make you entitled to command and control a partner to comply with what is considered normal to do in a relationship. Explore how you can engage without stepping over boundaries and personal beliefs. Rather than looking for compromises in every situation, let loved ones choose paths that keep their integrity intact, without letting this mean a crisis for the relationship. Staying away from entitlement and demands is the only way to be sure that you are in a relationship that is truly mutual. Love is not more ‘real’ when people compromise for each other because it’s part of what’s expected.

Find your core set of relationship values

How do you wish to be treated by others? What are your basic boundaries and expectations on all relationships? What kind of people would you like to spend your life with, and how would you like your relationships to work? Find your core set of values and use it for all relationships. Don’t make special rules and exceptions as a way to show people you love them ‘for real’.

Heterosexism is rampant and out there, but don’t let fear lead you

Remember that there is a very powerful normative system in play that dictates what real love is, and how people should live. Many will question you and the validity of your relationships when you don’t follow these norms. Work with the people you love to find escapes and tricks to counter the worst of the problematic norms. Find positive counter spells and don’t let fear drive your relationships.

Build for the lovely unexpected

Being free to be spontaneous — to express oneself without fear of punishments or a sense of burdened ‘shoulds’ — is what gives life to relationships based on relationship anarchy. Organize based on a wish to meet and explore each other — not on duties and demands and disappointment when they are not met.

Fake it ‘til you make it

Sometimes it can feel like you need to be some complete super human to handle all the norm breaking involved in choosing relationships that don’t map to the norm. A great trick is the “fake it ‘til you make it” strategy — when you are feeling strong and inspired, think about how you would like to see yourself act. Transform that into some simple guidelines, and stick to them when things are rough. Talk to and seek support from others who challenge norms, and never reproach yourself when the norm pressure gets you into behaviour you didn’t wish for.

Trust is better

Choosing to assume that your partner does not wish you harm leads you down a much more positive path than a distrustful approach where you need to be constantly validated by the other person to trust that they are there with you in the relationship. Sometimes people have so much going on inside themselves that there’s just no energy left to reach out and care for others. Create the kind of relationship where withdrawing is both supported and quickly forgiven, and give people lots of chances to talk, explain, see you and be responsible in the relationship. Remember your core values and to take care of yourself though!

Change through communication

For most human activities, there is some form of norm in place for how it is supposed to work. If you want to deviate from this pattern, you need to communicate — otherwise things tend to end up just following the norm, as others behave according to it. Communication and joint actions for change is the only way to break away. Radical relationships must have conversation and communication at the heart — not as a state of emergency only brought out to solve ‘problems’. Communicate in a context of trust. We are so used to people never really saying what they think and feel — that we have to read between the lines and extrapolate to find what they really mean. But such interpretations can only build on previous experiences — usually based on the norms you want to escape. Ask each other about stuff, and be explicit!

Customize your commitments

Life would not have much structure or meaning without joining together with other people to achieve things — constructing a life together, raising children, owning a house or growing together through thick and thin. Such endeavours usually need lots of trust and commitment between people to work. Relationship anarchy is not about never committing to anything — it’s about designing your own commitments with the people around you, and freeing them from norms dictating that certain types of commitments are a requirement for love to be real, or that some commitments like raising children or moving in together have to be driven by certain kinds of feelings. Start from scratch and be explicit about what kind of commitments you want to make with other people!”

Next I offer a pair of texts authored by Apio Ludd, one of the pseudonyms of that person also known as Wolfi Landstreicher, an egoist anarchist who has also published his own translation of Max Stirner’s The Unique and Its Own [Landstreicher’s own translation of the originally titled Der Eigene und Sein Eigentum]. In the these texts, “The Coming Together of Willful Self-Creators” and “I Want Friends, Not Community / My Comrades”, Ludd briefly riffs on what he conceives human relationship both to be and to be about from his own egoistic perspective, in the first case by directly commenting on Stirner’s own social conception of relationships, the “Verein von Egoisten”, the “association of egoists”. Whilst these texts do not particularly stray into areas of sex and sexuality, they do provide an intellectual, moral and attitudinal basis for relationships imagined in those contexts:

“The Coming Together of Willful Self-Creators

Verein von Egoisten’ — I’ve chosen to translate this as ‘association of egoists’ in my translation of Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum (The Unique and Its Own). But aware egoists, that is willful self-creators, associate not by forming permanent groups, but through an ongoing interweaving of activities, a ceaseless coming together and separating, each participating as suits her own project of self-creation. So to clarify this idea, I will here call the association of egoists the coming together of willful self-creators.

Many have the misconception that all egoists are loners (and that loners avoid relating). As if only those willing to submit themselves to a group actually relate or interact. I would argue the very opposite. When I submit to the group, I — as myself — relate to no flesh and blood individual. I submerge myself into the group identity and “relate” as such to other abstract identities. Only by separating myself out from all groups do I become capable of relating to others as my actual, ever-changing self. Even if I were a loner (and at times I am), I would be creating my interactions with others as I choose, because I can only exist as myself in relation to my properties, that is, in relation to the world I perceive and conceive, in relation to the others from whom I choose to distinguish and distance myself. These relations, these interactions I make with others would be how I create myself as a loner.

But most of the time I enjoy creating myself, my life, my world, together with others. I want to come together with them, to interweave my life and my world with theirs. I see this as my actual wealth, as my property, as essential to my willful self-creation and self-enjoyment. So I never submit myself to any group. Rather I seek out those who, like me, are out to create, devour and enjoy themselves with intention, and I look for the ways I can enhance my self-creative project by weaving it for awhile into theirs, by coming together with them for a time so as to increase each one’s strength and each one’s wealth.

In the worlds you and I share, the inter-individual worlds where your and my experiences correspond, each of us encounters a lot that stands in the way of our willful self-creation and self-enjoyment, that acts to suppress self-activity and to impose roles, identities, and static relationships on us, to make us parts of some group or another. In particular, you and I confront individuals playing the institutionalized roles that form the standardized relations of the fictions known as the state and the economy, and the industrial and post-industrial technological structures that form human beings into a mass. Even though the activities of individuals form these institutions and create and maintain these technological structures, individuals get lost in these static and standardized systems of relationships so that the systems seem to form entities in themselves more powerful than the individuals who keep them alive. Even I, a willful self-creator, often crash up against these systems, forced in various ways to interact. I do so with hostility, in rebellion, and drawing all I can for myself out of this forced interaction, while doing whatever damage I can, and I escape as quickly as I can, so as not to be drawn in.

Herein lies the power in the coming together of willful self-creators. If you and I weave our worlds together in those instances where our interests, our pleasures, our battles, etc., correspond, then I increase my strength with your strength and you increase yours with mine. Against the seemingly overwhelming worlds of institutional power and technological massification, each of us becomes stronger, more capable of self-creation and self-enjoyment. But only so long as each of us remembers to move apart as soon as your interests, pleasures, battles and so on no longer correspond with mine. If you and I were to forget this, then our coming together, our association, would cease to be your own and my own, and would instead become a society, a community, a collectivity to which you and I belong. Our coming together remains ours, only because you and I can choose to separate at any time.

I Want Friends, Not Community / My Comrades

Communities .. are best defined in terms of food relationships – we are asking who eats whom. – Marston Bates

Damn near everywhere I go, I hear talk about community. It’s apparently something everyone needs, something to which everyone should be willing to give herself. In big cities, it’s easy to ignore these calls to belong, since it’s hard for the unarmed proponents of community to intrude personally into other people’s lives. I now live in a rural area. It has many advantages, but its human population includes far too many liberals, activists, do-gooders, in short, busybodies for whom community is sacred, an impersonal deity to whom these believers want everyone to know. These local communitarians make what they mean by “community” very clear in their complaints about those who don’t conform to community standards and their attempts to enlist others against these anti-social elements. Indeed, it is a question of ‘who eats whom’ – who spends their time gnawing away at the reputation of those who don’t fit into their code.

Community, as an ideal, stands in opposition to individuality, because it requires in the reining in of the unique for a supposed greater whole. I recognize no greater whole to whom I am willing to give such power, so I have no interest in community. Does this mean I want to be isolated? Well, at times, I do. I value my solitude. But at times, I want to play with others. I simply don’t want to give myself over to any “greater whole”. And “community”, as its proponents use the term, is just such an imposed greater whole. These proponents use it to enforce a conformity to roles that make you and I into mere electronic bits coursing through the cybernetic social machine, suppressing the particularities that make you and I interesting to each other. This increases isolation, as it becomes more and more difficult for anyone to meet each other except as these social functions. And your function doesn’t really interest me. Your particularities, those unique properties through which you create yourself, are why I desire to know you, to interact with you, and community standards serve to suppress them.

So I have no desire for community. I desire friends, companions, lovers, comrades and accomplices. In other words, I desire to intentionally and passionately create relationships with specific individuals, because I see a potential for mutual enjoyment and mutual benefit. Friendships, companionships, loves comradeships and complicities are not things to which I belong, but interactions I willfully create with another.

The origins of some of these words make this clear.

• A friend is someone you prefer to spend time with out of a love for them.

• A companion is someone with whom you are willing to share food.

• A comrade is someone with whom you would share your room.

• An accomplice is someone with whom you would join forces for some purpose.

• And a lover is someone with whom you are able to share a mutual enjoyment and such

delight in each other.

In every case, there is no greater whole, no higher power, enforcing obligations, merely two or more individuals choosing to interweave their unique particularities in order to better enjoy their lives or accomplish an endeavor mutually beneficial to them. The individuality, the utter incomparable uniqueness of each one involved, provides the basis

for the mutuality of these types of relationships – relationships that are never “greater than the sum of their parts”, but rather enhance the greatness of each of the individuals taking part in them.

There are two other relationships that I may not desire or treasure as much as those I just described, but that I still prefer to the mutual tolerance and acquiescence necessary to community: enmity and contempt. To merely tolerate others is intolerable to me.

If your projects, aims or desires conflict with mine, we will be enemies. If you are not a worthy enemy, I will scorn you. To do otherwise — in the name of community, of “getting along” – would be an insult to your individuality, to your uniqueness, and would reinforce the lie of community. [Of course, the armed enforces of the community, the cops, are there in force to impose community standards. Of course, there are imposed “comradeships” in this since: the prisoner with a cell-mate or the conscript in the barracks.]

My Comrades. As for me, when I want to break my solitude, I prefer to go and seek my comrades, elsewhere, among the thieves of fire, the revilers of public authority, the walking dreamers, the furious night owls, the seducers of nuns, the libertines depraved by vice, the dabblers in underground cinema, the hunters for wild strawberries, the madcaps who harangue the clouds, the hooligans of the word, the polishers of the stars, the lone wolves who feed on the Golden Fleece, the drunkards of the absolute … and all those vagabonds of the spirit who will never bow their heads before good people. These, and these alone, are my comrades.”

My next text is from La Revue Anarchiste of December 1929 and is authored by someone named Maximilienne. The title is “The Family Does Not Exist” and it speaks to the detriment of this ancient institution:

““The Family,” “The French Family”…

These are so many cliché words, ready-made phrases, that serve the solid citizens when their spirits feel the need of some good, solid prop to lean on… “The Family”; “The Fatherland”; “Morality”; so many beautiful mannequins draped in their formal attire of prejudice, ignorance, stock opinions… Today, I would like to strip a few rags off of the “Family” mannequin…

Although the idea of family has changed profoundly in modern times, the remnants of all the hypocritical conceptions heaped upon it still give it quite a glamorous aura. “The Family,” it is said, “is the foundation of Society.” Perhaps that’s so. And perhaps it’s even because society has a poor foundation that it has become so sick!However, it has so far found nothing better on which to found itself. No doubt these are the considerations of public order that have cast an almost mystical aura around this famous institution. But what remains of this respect when we analyze it? What can remain of it? For some time, curiosity led me to collect news items under the heading of what are commonly called “family stories.” The ugly, the painful list! Let us revisit them…

Yesterday, there was a girl from a good family, who, faking a robbery, stole jewellery from her mother to deliver to her lover. The day before, the Assize Court of Cher sentenced to 5 years in prison a person who, after raping his stepdaughter, a child of fourteen, had forced his wife to take part in their sad antics. At Onecourt, a drunken son seriously wounded his father with a gunshot; at Nancy, a husband stabbed his wife to death, and near Périgueux, a father saw his barn and crops burned down by his own offspring. On October 19, in Montpellier, a divorcée stripped of her maternal rights obtained permission to see her child, a little boy of nine, whom the father had placed in a sanatorium. Taking him for a walk, she threw him to the ground, and trampled him savagely… In Bordeaux, meanwhile an unfortunate deserter was tried, a man who had disappeared so successfully that his name was listed on the monument to the dead. The poor fellow gave as the reason for his disappearance the terror he felt… of his wife, and and he made his case so convincingly that the judges, moved, inflicted a paltry sentence on him. On the same day, the Chamber of Indictments in Limousin made a dismissal in favor of a son who, with the help of his mother, had done his father to death. On the 18th, the criminal court of Bordeaux condemned a couple of farmers who left their children, ages five, seven, two years, and six months, without care or food. Also on the 18th , a day-laborer from Saint-Denis cracked the head of his sleeping wife with an axe. A day or two before the Assize Court of La Charente-Infèrieure sentenced a milkmaid to five years in prison for drowning her child in the river – because her husband had criticized him for having won a trial selling adulterated milk! A woman struck her husband with an axe; an alcoholic wounded his sick wife with a revolver for refusing to get out of bed, then blew his own brains out. A 19-year-old Italian threw himself under a train after having, in the course of a squabble, severely injured his sister and killed his brother-in-law, an excellent worker and father of three infant children.

This was around the time of the trial of Marcel Lobjois, a poor little orphan, who killed the brute who had married the sister who had so tenderly raised him, and whom he adored. We recall that Lobjois was acquitted. The day before, parents who hid in their house the skeletal remains of a six-month-old baby who had been starved to death were arrested in Perpignan. In Paris itself, a young man of twenty-seven killed himself by jumping out of the window in despair over the death of his youngest son. He had never been able to get his young wife to stop going out shopping in order to take care of their two children, and he took into the void with him the heartbreaking certainty that if the little one, who had been ill, had died, it was because her mother had not wanted to bother to care for him. To top it all off, here is the story that one of our colleagues told us: A girl of 18, having been “seduced,” had two children. The “seducer,” moreover, wished only to provide his partner and children with all the guarantees offered by the Civil Code: he was ready to marry her. However, the wedding could not take place, and the girl remained disgraced, the bastards remained bastards… Why? Because the father of the poor girl stubbornly refused his consent. Now this father, an inveterate alcoholic, was serving a prison sentence for raping another of his daughters … The courts had forgotten to rule on his deprivation of paternal rights over her, or deemed it unnecessary.

In just ten days, so much blood, so many tears on the dress of this beautiful symbolic figure, the Family! And I have deliberately overlooked all the “crimes of passion,” all the dramas of jealousy, all the shootings between spouses, fiancés, lovers… What a dark mass of hatred and grief this proliferation of murders suggests in the countless families where things have not quite risen to the level of crime! Households disunited; brothers made enemies; children morally or physically tortured; parents the victims of their sons and ungrateful or unnatural daughters; alas, haven’t these all been common currency ever since the Greek legend of the Atreides established the frightful prototype

of the Family? The Family! But it does not yet exist, it cannot yet exist …

Obviously, not all familial associations are like those that we see in the police blotters, and chance, which presides over marriages as well as births, sometimes creates charming and perfect households… But why must this, to such a large extent, be left up to chance? The Family, the true family, worthy of respect and envy, will only exist when enough men and women are sufficiently advanced to make an honest and thoughtful pact in which friendship and esteem will will share that love, in which considerations of interest and caste will be hunted. None will need laws then: convicts are chained to one another, but we do not chain friends.

When a couple thus formed has – voluntarily – given birth to a child, all the more loved for having been expected, they will form a family, and when these couples become numerous, Society will have a chance to take shape. But until then, for a family, what ugly couplings, what shoddy compromises! Let us try, at least, to destroy the hypocrisy that would have us take them for the beautiful, noble reality. And let us find the strength to look the meanness and wretchedness in the face today, so that tomorrow may be more beautiful …”

My next text for your consideration is “Sexual Freedom: Why it is Feared?” by the former Playboy editor, Discordian and science fiction author, Robert Anton Wilson. Wilson at some points in his life identified himself as an anarchist [he particularly referenced Benjamin Tucker and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in this respect] but more especially he was a man of experimental mind [often with chemical assistance] and one who wanted to explore thought and reality. In the following essay, Wilson addresses what he regards as a generalised sex taboo and a desire to strictly control sex and thereafter goes into its personal and societal consequences. It was written in 1962.

“Those who believe in, and seriously advocate and practice, sexual freedom are, and always have been, a minority. If there is one generalization that truly applies to the majority of men and women in all civilizations, everywhere, it is that they fear sexual freedom more than anything else, more then death itself, even. This is the crucial mystery of human nature and, quite properly, it has been the area of most intense investigation by depth psychologists from Freud and Reich to Marcuse and Brown.

A. S. Neill, the founder of the Summerhill school, was once asked where in the civilized world a man could practice homosexuality without fear of legal persecution. Neill replied that he knew of no such place, adding that he didn’t even know of a place where a man could practice heterosexuality without being persecuted for it. Homosexuals, Dr. Albert Ellis wrote, think that they suffer because they live in an anti-homosexual culture, but the truth is, he added, we all suffer because we live in an anti-sexual culture.

Eschewing depth psychology for the moment and taking a deliberately superficial view, why does the “man in the street” fear sexual freedom? That is, what reason would he himself give for the irrational taboos to which he submits and tries to inflict upon others? The answer is a truism. “Sexual freedom,” the man in the street will tell you, “leads to anarchy and the collapse of Order.”

Instead of automatically denying this (as most advocates of sexual freedom do), let us consider it for a moment. The architect of modern anarchism, Michael Bakunin, wrote in his God and the State that without “God,” the State is impossible. He instances as proof the Republics of France and the United States, both of which were founded by free-thinkers and atheists, but which both embraced the “God” idea very rapidly when the practical details of governing had to be faced. Wilhelm Reich’s Sexual Revolution and Mass Psychology of Fascism document that pro-State attitudes and authoritarianism are usually joined with dogmatic religion and anti-sex fears, whereas anti-State and libertarian attitudes are generally coupled with free thought and pro-sex affirmation. Adorno’s classic Authoritarian Personality gives reams of statistical proof of the Reichian thesis. A governor, we can safely say, has less problems in enforcing obedience if his subjects are mystical, religious and frightened of sex.

The reason for this is easy to understand. Sex denial is very close to being absolutely impossible, and — as the subtle Jesuits knew long before Freud — even when the would-be ascetic thinks he has “triumphed” over the flesh, it sneaks up on him from a new direction and takes him by surprise. Thus, the inevitable consequence of sex denial is guilt: that special guilt which comes of continual failure to accomplish that which you consider “good.” (This continual failure is the “dark night of the soul” lamented by medieval monks). Now, a guilt-ridden man is an easy man to manipulate and force to your own will, because self-respect is the prerequisite of independence and rebellion, and the guilt-ridden person can have no self-respect. Modern advertising revolves around this central fact as a great safe lock pivots on a single jewel: from “B.O.” and “97 pound weakling” to the soap that makes you feel ”clean all over,” advertising has inculcated self-doubts and guilts in order to persuade that the sponsor’s panacea will cure these very doubts which the sponsor himself through his ad agency has created!

What does “government” mean, after all? Control of Mr. A by Mr. B — or, in other words, the subordination of one man’s will to another’s. We have been taught that society cannot exist without government and that this sub-ordination of wills is existentially necessary and unchangeable; hence, we accept it. But anthropology presents a different picture. As the anthropologist Kathleen Gough has written, “The State as a social form has existed for about one-two-hundredth part of man’s history… it may be one of the shortest-lived forms of human society.” What we call anarchy — i.e., voluntary association — has been man’s dominant pattern for 199/200ths of his history. It should be no surprise that, as Rattray Taylor shows in Sex in History, these pre-State societies were not sexually repressed and did not fear sexual freedom to the utmost extent.

Enforced conformity of human beings — the subjugation of society to the will of the State — leads to generalized stress upon the total organism of each. Modern psychosomatic medicine makes abundantly clear that all life (protoplasm) consists of electro-colloidal equilibrium between gel (total dispersion) and sol (total contraction), and every stress produces contraction, as is seen in exaggerated form in the typical withdrawal of the snail and turtle, a human infant visibly cringing with fear, etc. It is this (usually microscopic) contraction of the physical body that we experience psychically as “anxiety.” When it becomes chronic, this contraction effects the large muscles and creates that “hunched, bowed” look which actors employ when portraying a timid and beaten man. The tendency toward this “posture of defeat” is visible in all State-dominated societies, as it was conspicuously absent in the bold carriage of the State-less Polynesians and American Indians when first contacted.

But the chronic anxiety which is the subjective aspect of this physical “shrinking biopathy” leads to a defensive attitude and a philosophy of control. Government per se consists of this compulsion to control in its most highly developed form, and war represents the most coercive and ultimate form of control. No government lasts more than a generation without plunging its subjects into war; even the government founded by the pacifist Gandhi has plunged its subjects into war eight times in the generation since his death. Four wars per century is the average ratio for a long-lasting government.

Geldings, any farmer will tell you, are easier to control than stallions. The first governments, which were frankly slave-states, inculcated sexual repression for precisely this reason. Besides creating loads of guilt and self-doubt in the slaves, thus making them easier to intimidate for the reasons previously explained, sexual repression is itself a contraction of the large muscles. You cannot banish a wish from consciousness, as Groddeck demonstrates in The Book of the It, without contracting your abdominal muscles. Sexual repression in particular means what Neill calls “the stiff stomach disease,” because the only way the genitals can be stopped from lively activity is by deadening them through abdominal armoring. It is Wilhelm Reich who deserves credit for seeing the ultimate implications of this. Reich pointed out that loosening of the chronic muscle contractions which characterize submissive “civilized” man must be a process of physical pain and psychic anxiety. We are now able to understand the two great mysteries of social behavior: why sexual repression is accepted and why government is accepted, when the first diminishes joy and the second is leading obviously to the destruction of the species. Submissiveness is anchored in the body. The anti-sexual training of infants, children and adolescents creates muscular tensions which cause pain whenever rebellion is attempted. This is why homosexuals and sexually free

heterosexuals are so conspicuously “neurotic”: besides the condemnation of society, they suffer also the “condemnation” of their own muscles pushing them toward conformity and submission.

Freud’s famous pessimism is rooted in understanding of the psychic side of this process which I have described physically. “Man is his own prisoner,” was Freud’s final, gloomy conclusion. But recent thinkers have been less sure of this. Reich’s Sexual Revolution, Brown’s Life Against Death and Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization all look forward toward a “civilization without repression,” and all three tend to recognize that this would have to be a State-less civilization.

Before the murder of Mangus Colorado and the betrayal of Cochise, Apache society represented an approximation of such a free culture. Until marriage, all were sexually free to enjoy themselves as they wished (the same freedom returned when a marriage was dissolved) and if the chief’s wishes were not acceptable to anyone he was at liberty to enter another Apache tribe or start one of his own if he had enough followers. (Geronimo did just this when Cochise made his treaty with the U.S. government.) The tribe, thus, was held together by what anarchists call voluntary association and did not contain an authoritarian State apparatus.

In a technologically more advanced society the same principle can be carried out. Proudhon’s famous formula for anarchism, “the dissolution of the State into the economic organism,” means, basically, the substitution of voluntary contractual organizations for the involuntary coercive authority of the State. In such a system, whatever voluntary associations a man joined would be truly an expression of his will (otherwise, he would not join them). Such a State-less civilization could be as sexually free as the State-less bands, tribes and chiefdoms of pre-history; repression would have no social function, as there would be no need of creating guilt and submissiveness in

the population.

Such a picture is not as “utopian” as it may seem — and “utopianism” is not something to despise nowadays, when the very survival of mankind is, as Norman Brown has noted, a “utopian dream.” Cybernation has created, — as Norbert Weiner predicted it would, and as writers like Kathleen Gough and Henry Marcuse are beginning to note with mixed joy and fear — the possibility of a society of abundance in which there will be very little need for work. Traditional humanity is at the end of its tether, due to the two great achievements of modern science, nuclear energy and cybernation. If we as individuals manage to survive the first, our culture certainly cannot survive the second. When it is no longer necessary for the masses of men to toil “by the sweat of their brows” for bread, one of the chief props for social repression will fall. Large-scale unemployment up to the level of massive starvation has, it is true, occurred in the past, and the ruling class has managed to remain in their saddles; but the large-scale unemployment to which we are now heading will make all previous “depressions” seem minor by comparison, and there will be no hope of relief ever coming — there will be no way to create new jobs. Undoubtedly, the ruling classes will allow the starvation to reach epic proportions; and, undoubtedly, the muscularly repressed masses, conditioned to submission and self-denial, will accept it — except for a few rebels, as always; but, eventually, perhaps when cannibalism sets in, the whole edifice of culture based on repression will come tumbling down and, like Humpty Dumpty, nobody will be able to put it together again. Those now alive may live to see this.

The unrepressed man of the future — if there is a future — will look back at our age and wonder how we survived without all landing in the madhouse. That so many of us do land in madhouses will be accepted as the natural consequence of repressed civilization.”

So I come to the final text of this short, curated anthology. In “A Green Anarchist Project on Freedom and Love” Mae Bee writes about relationships as understood by someone with a green anarchist concern from an early 21st century perspective:

Whilst this short piece hopes to inspire thoughts it is not meant to be complete: much is missing from it. And if it causes controversy I hope that is to arouse emotions, discussion and hopefully other writings, rather than cause upset. It is merely my current contribution to something ongoing rather than a final word.

This piece is not advocating another option, another ‘choice’ of relating for couples. It is rather a recognition that our ‘common project’ — the abolition of all power relations — includes the abolition of coercive/closed relationships. These are those relationships with fixed structure, those relationships with rules or permanent contracts. These relationships cannot really be part of a free society and, just as with other coercive relations at odds with our freedom, they must be confronted by all who seek such freedom and communities.

‘We need to pursue our sexual encounters as we do all of our relationships, in total

opposition to this society, not out of any sense of revolutionary duty, but because

it is the only way possible to have full, rich uninhibited sexual relations in which love ceases to be a desperate mutual dependence and instead becomes an expansive

exploration of the unknown.’ ‘On sexual poverty’ — Wilful Disobedience 4

‘At best then, anarcho-primitivism is a convenient label used to characterise diverse

individuals with a common project: the abolition of all power relations. E.g. structures

of control, coercion, domination and exploitation and the creation of a form of

community that excludes such relations.’ John Moore — An introduction to Anarcho-Primitivism

Rules of Engagement. I am going to use the term “rule relationships” or sometimes “coercive or restricted relationships” because i do not know another generic term for monogamous relationships and those which claim to be polyamorous or open but have rules. By the latter I mean those where the pre-eminent coercion is that, whilst a loved one is not restricted to one person only, they are still not at liberty or encouraged to follow their desires. From a political view these two relationship options are the same. If your reasons for non-monogamy are merely about increased sexual gratification with an increased number of people then rule relationships may serve that purpose. If, however, it is through the desire to create communities not couples, for desire not consent, for trust not fear…why then, the ‘banned list’, the ‘not in my company’ — the regulations must all go. When open relationships or free relationships are referred to in this text I mean exactly that...

Choice and Respect. Whilst there is an acceptance of open relationships within our eco-anarchist communities, there is equal acceptance of restricted relationships. This comes in part from sound motives: people can be at liberty to agree their own relationships, there are no set patterns, etc. However, there are a host of reasons why this libertarian outlook is an idle one.

Firstly, in mass societies we consent to all sorts of coercive relationships. Working for a wage, signing on, being a customer and therefore an exploiter of workers… Indeed, it is difficult to find many relations which are not based on some degree of coercion or exploitation. Consenting to coercive relations in no way indicates that we desire them. Since the 1970s (at least!) radical feminism has been exploring the very major differences between consent and desire, particularly in the realm of love and sex. Many women consent to sex to avoid rape, for example. Consent is rooted in the language of law and of property rights. This is why it is useful for mass societies but useless for creating radical ones. It is certainly not a radical place in which to understand a world based on desire. And surely, our sexual relationships are one of the more obvious places to situate desire and not consent.

So, people consent to rule relationships as they do to other coercive relations but do they desire them? Fundamentally, this is an oxymoron. We do not need to make rules about things we do not fear. If two people only desired to have sexual relations with each other then there would not need to be rules made to govern this. This does not make it a coercive relationship, although it makes it literal monogamy. The coercion is in the governing of that desire, not just for oneself but for the one you desire and love.

Monogamy is a contract precisely because we do not expect literal monogamy, because we expect our lover to desire sex with others who are not us. Maybe not now, but certainly in the future. We also expect our lover to make rules to govern our desire because we have no trust in the singleness of our sexual desire either. It is ridiculous, then, for monogamists to claim they have forbidden each other to have sex with others because they only desire sex with each other.

Rule relationships then operate on sexual consent but not desire. Although, of course, there are reasons we do desire to coerce and be coerced. We desire this because we desire to control, own and possess that which is around us. This is a desire fixed in the myth that we can do this with living beings, and worse, that we can do this in the name of love when really it is only control. If we cannot give up our belief in possession of the limitless — and by that I mean things like love, affection, sexual desire — how do we begin to relinquish control of that which is limited — such as the resources of the world? An inability, or rather a lack of desire, to free the ones we love the most, and at no real cost to ourselves, suggests we are so far gone in the madness of mass society that there is no going forward, no coming home to freedom.

It is worth mentioning here, although only as an incidental aside, that outside of using constant surveillance and/or force, nobody can really stop their loved one loving or fucking another. They can only choose to believe they can which to me would suggest a form of mental illness.

Jealousy and Other Feelings. The infant often reacts to a new sibling at it’s mother’s body with extreme jealousy, intense feelings of rivalry and anger, and ultimately ownership. As adults we watch with sympathy but not horror. We do not expect the mother to put the newcomer away or keep her love for the new one out of the older child’s eyeshot. We expect instead that the mother will reassure the first child she still loves and cares for it as well as assuring the child she loves and cares for the new baby also. Except in very rare cases, the child’s jealousy lessens and the child accepts the situation.

In comparison we have the relationship of adults: the adult often reacts to a new person at it’s lover’s body with extreme jealousy, intense feelings of rivalry and anger, and ultimately ownership. As adults, we expect either the newcomer to be put away (monogamy) or for a code of conduct to be obeyed, such as love for the new one to be out of the first one’s eyeshot (restrictive relationships). Of all the complex and different emotions between the three, or more, people, we give the jealousy and rivalry of the first lover priority. How can this possibly happen? This seems to demonstrate a civilised and artificial separation of the potentials of children and of adults. We deem children’s emotions unreasonable and therefore not masters of a situation but adult emotions reasonable and allowed to govern. The confusion of restricted relationships is that we do not think other feelings, e.g. desire for another’s body, unreasonable, but just that those particular feelings are the ones to be controlled. The desire to possess and own takes precedence over other desires. (It is worth noting that this is particular to certain cultures and sexual jealousy is not comprehended in some others. Whilst it is ‘natural’ for those of us raised in monogamous society to feel jealous, this does not mean those raised in polyamorous societies are just repressing their emotions!)

Another key difference is that civilised society believes emotional growth occurs in childhood not adulthood. Learning is not for life. This means the child can be given the opportunity to grow and develop but the adult is now retarded and incapable of learning. And this, brings us onto respect. Coercive relationships are NOT respectful for they are denial not only of desire but of growth. If i am bound by my lover’s jealousy i presuppose them incapable of dealing with their emotions and too retarded to change. There is, of course, some truth in this. It is harder to be flexible at 30 than it is at 3. At 30 i have had 30 years of the megamachine and its myths of personal ownership. I have more shit to wade through, and i am likely to be hampered by well-meaning others trying not to ‘hurt’ me. That hurt is just growing pains.

For someone to feel hurt by another it does not mean anyone has wronged anyone else. This is tricky land to negotiate but it is far from impossible. To openly accept feelings of jealousy and fear without asking or expecting another to restrict their behaviour thereby ‘solving’ those feelings forces us to be the possessors not of another but of our own emotions. My hurt is my hurt. We can ask loved ones to love us through the hurt and, like the infant, we will probably find that hurt lessen and often leave. In particular, the victim culture of women — even amongst anarchists and feminists — is shackled by concepts that someone else is responsible for our feelings of rejection or upset. It is pitiful to blame our lovers for wanting someone else, even desiring someone else more than you, and even desiring someone else and not you.

Break Out or Break Up. Due to our position of existing in mass society, and our need to survive, some compromises are inevitable. Our need to eat and have shelter makes us exploitative consumers, whether of ‘fairtrade’ products or of pepperoni pizza. We are not connected with nature at any meaningful level even if we do grow our own vegetables in the ‘countryside’. We all use technology to a greater or lesser degree. Our relations, meanwhile, are one of the places we are most free to try to be wild to live in the here and now and without owning and oppressing each other. To accept coercive relations as well as free ones is as full of folly as hoping industrial societies, or societies with governments, can exist alongside nature based ones. If my love is free, but yours is not, then scarcity is created. To say i am at liberty to not possess land but you are at liberty to possess land is ludicrous. Fortunately, your possession relies on my compliance with it, and as anarchists we do not accept your ownership and possession. If we believe love should be freely given from desire than we cannot respect the culture of ‘love-as-commodity, lover-as-possession’.

‘The middle person in the triangle often manifests a certain compassion for the suffering of the jealous one, respecting his “humanity” even though she regrets the unpleasant effects of misery’s manipulations and melodramatics. This complicity remains loyal to the couple form, because it respects the traditional rules of love.’ — Isaac Cronin

This means that for me to not act on my desiring in loving who i will, when i will, is to be

complicit in a system of coercion, of control and of ownership that i am opposed to. No, i do not and cannot accept the rules of ‘your’ relationship. In a free society we will not be asking for the consent of one person to sleep with another anymore than we would ask a father for the ‘right’ to marry his daughter. And here and now, we can also live that out. To ‘respect’ restrictive relationships is to uphold them.

Direct Action. Would it be so controversial to call a war on monogamy? To seduce the lovers of the possessive? Could we help those trapped by their timid jealousies to grow into freedom by ‘stealing’ kisses from those forbidden lips in front of their terrified eyes? If this shocks or offends you perhaps you should ask yourself why.

Communities not Couples. Rule relationships, and the acceptance of them, betrays an internalised hierarchy. The relationship of a couple is of greater value and worth than others in the community. Yet it would be equally unrealistic and undesirable to hope for everyone to feel as much love and connection with every single one of their community too for down that path lies formalised and institutionalised groups or other coercive ways of relating which are just as damaging as rule relationships and coupledom. Community is more than one and it is more than two also. To create self-governing, self-sufficient small communities there cannot be the tyranny of individualism or of coupledom. To create wild and anarchistic communities we must also forsake the idea of sacrificing individual desires for the sake of the community. We have been so programmed by the megamachine that it is as hard to imagine a world where cooperation rather than competition does not possess us as it is without. Even harder to imagine is a world where we are free to take our pleasures and our desires openly. But if these are the communities we are in the process of creating then we must be honest and open and challenging. These communities will not prosper by shying from conflict but rather by not fearing it.

An argument often given by those who do not necessarily preach coercive relationships but are restricted by their ideology is this: it is reasonable for A to not kiss B in front of C. It is reasonable because A cares for C as much as she does for B. A does not want to upset C. Nobody wants to upset those we care for. But if we restrict or inhibit our own desires for the false peace of not upsetting others, then we are left in a passionately deficient world. What then if C was upset because A and B were both female and C’s masculinity was threatened by queer sex? Or if C was upset because A was black and B was white and C’s security as a black man was upset by mixed race love? As radicals we would inevitably say the lovers should challenge homophobia and racism, that the onus is on C to deal with his feelings. And rightly so. Homophobia and racism are internalised and damaging dynamics of control and power that must be challenged. But so are rule relationships. Would you kiss B in front of C if C would be upset?

Right Here, Right Now. The defining features of green anarchy include a desire to live in small, self-governing communities, individual and collective self-determination, a reconnection with the wild and an understanding that we live only in the present, in the here and now. Living in the real here and now instead of in the unreal past/future is a discerning feature of many nature based societies and one of the greatest poverties for us in mass society. Dredging up dysfunctional childhoods or storing pensions for our old age deny us the being alive of the present. Sitting in an office dreaming of the weekend or spending free time engaging with mythical soap opera characters instead of real people is clearly not healthy. Equally unhealthy is having feelings incompatible with the here and now. Sitting in the woods with a lover but being miserably occupied with something that happened as a child is the same as not enjoying a feast because once you felt hungry. The past is behind us. The future might never happen.

Happiness is also located in the here and now, in the moment. We have spent our lives unlearning this but we catch glimpses of it through sex, love, pain, reunion, the unexpected etc. For our relations to be happy ones they must also be in the here and now, because, really, they only exist in the here and now. The famous quote ‘there is no such thing as heterosexuality and homosexuality, only heterosexual and homosexual acts’ can be extended to realise that sexual unions are sexual only in that defining moment not the day before or the day after. It is delusional and painful to insist on consistent sexual desire, to demand your lover of today still loves you tomorrow. Gay, straight, my lover, your primary partner, it’s all identity politics of ongoing contracts unbefitting to lives of mutual desires. We don’t need to ‘work’ at our relationships, merely have them. Without contract, demand, competition and coercion.

‘I hate all those who, by ceding through fear and resignation, a part of their potential as human beings to others, not only crush themselves but also me and those I love, with the weight of their fearful complicity or with their idiotic inertia.’ — Albert Libertad, I Hate the Resigned

2. anarchasexual interpretations

This chapter is commentary on observations made in regard to the texts quoted in the previous anthological chapter, articulating these thoughts in line with my previous points setting out an anarchasexual ethos elsewhere. In fact, if I may briefly recap on my previous writing about anarchasexuality for those not up to speed before I begin with those comments and observations, I wrote about this most recently as the final section of the third chapter of Nothing To Stick To which was titled “Revolt”. The revolt this chapter was about was revolt from sex, sexuality and gender norms. Accordingly, in the final section of that chapter, I introduced anarchasexuality as an idea through a set of 13 principles, something that built on an earlier version of these principles in my essay “What is Anarchasexuality?”. This anarchasexuality was then set “in a context of revolt against the mainstream thinking of the West dominated, as it is, by patriarchal, heteronormative dimorphism [PHND]” that I had set out in the meat of that chapter before through the analysis of those such as biologist, Joan Roughgarden, and the cultural critics, Judith Butler and Michel Foucault.

Without simply repeating the principles of anarchasexuality that I set out at that time all over again, they can be summarised as revolt against:

  1. normative classifications of sexuality and gender,

  2. arbitrary determinations of behaviour and practice,

  3. the idea that someone “is” something rather than that they are someone that does things [and so that sexuality and gender are performative not ontological or metaphysical things],

  4. the desire to trammel bodies within fixed categories,

  5. the idea that sex is for procreation and that creative, non-reproductive sex for pleasure, or even exploration of sexual boundaries, is somehow wrong or indulgent,

  6. the idea that sex should be restricted to “approved” categories [by who?],

  7. the taboo against nudity,

  8. the matching of gender performance to body type,

  1. the restriction of diversity in sexuality and gender,

  1. the idea that my sexuality or gender should in any way interfere with yours [and vice versa],

  2. and the idea that people are not free to create and develop themselves as sexual and gendered beings according to their own will and desire.

Anarchasexuality was then abolitionist in regard to societal classifications of sexuality and gender, preferring to substitute an “egoistic” [self-generated] understanding of these things instead in an awareness that these things will always be culturally connected in any case. [“Gay” and “trans”, for example, and as “performances”, are Western terms and we shouldn’t assume they map to every culture around the world in sex and gender terms in the same way.] Anarchasexuality takes a nihilist or agnostic approach to matters of sex and gender classification [it does not believe people “are” things but only that they can perform certain understandings of things or engage in practices of behaviour described in certain ways] — especially where these things become political weapons with which to oppress people [as they always, in fact, do]. “True sex”, so the anarchasexual believes after Foucault, is simply a fiction and should be engaged with and explored as such. The consequence of all this is that you should allow no one to tell you what you “are”. You should, if anything, tell them, as you create yourself to be who you want and feel yourself to be, a conscious and growing fiction of self in interaction with social and cultural space and those who inhabit it.

Rethinking about all this again, I come to ask myself where it all came from, however, because, in trying to understand this “anarchasexuality” I am creating, it assists me to trace lines of past influence and the pathways I followed to come to it. I recognise multiple influences. First of all, Max Stirner’s egoism seems mightily apparent, his description of “the unique”, of “ownness”, and of “the association of I’s” all playing roles in how I have configured anarchasexuality. This leads to the obvious conclusion that Émile Armand’s “amorous camaraderie” and “revolutionary nudism” have clearly played a large part in my thinking too. His “ethical egoism and associationism”, in fact, is a large part of what I am interacting with here in a context some decades after his own life ended. Also important to my anarchasexual conception of things is the anarcha-feminism of Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre, their common, if differently expressed, striving for personal control over sexuality for both men and women [and for other sexualities than heterosexuality in Goldman’s case] are huge contexts for my own thinking. Both of these anarchist women imagined that sexual independence was paramount in an understanding of anarchism and I agree with them entirely.

But it is not just a matter of the influence of particular anarchist and egoist thinkers. Way back in my book Being Human: A Philosophy of Personal and Political Anarchism I spoke to certain “values and virtues” I thought informative for the understanding of the anarchism I was establishing. The sixth of these in chapter 7 of that book was “anarchist economy”, a matter of “open commensality, mutual aid and the gift”. Later, in A Handbook for Anarchist Insurrection, when I updated this list of values and virtues, an interest in “the commons” was added to this anarchist economy. All of these things, it seems to me, are a matter of mutuality, sharing, reciprocal responsibility, in an area, economy, which is only really a matter of the organisation of relationships. Anarchasexuality is fundamentally about relationships and so the necessary crossover here seems to me required. It is, then, about relationship, interaction, living beyond a narrow concentration on self, the individual being extended and enhanced in relationship and association with others — but within a particular understanding of such relationships, one which makes who we are even more personal, individual and consequential exactly because we are in relationship and interact. It is a about a self-confidence that the other does not, and cannot, diminish me nor I diminish them, if this anarchist ethos is embraced by us all. Egoism and mutuality need not fight each other because they can be combined as a very social understanding of both the self and human association, a union of reciprocal egoists, an open table of the unique. The watchwords of anarchasexuality, as also with anarchism, are AGENCY, AUTONOMY, ASSOCIATION.

Anarchasexuality then really comes to be a mini-theory [or perhaps “non-theory” as I wrote previously in Nothing To Stick To] of society. This is a matter of decentralization, of decoupling people from organisations, institutions, hierarchy and overarching control, the proactive valuation of self-actualized diversity as a good in itself, and the realisation of “difference networks”, ad hoc networks of inter-connecting differences, those networks themselves being created by human will and affinity out of the human need and so desire to relate to others.

But if we then ask, as I have had to ask myself, “What is the point of anarchasexuality?” I come up with these answers:

  1. Anarchasexuality addresses the fundamentality of the integrity of all as a non-negotiable aspect of human existence;

  2. Anarchasexuality addresses the value of human association but does it in a non-dominating, non-coercive way from the most inconsequential relationship to the most consequential;

  3. Anarchasexuality exists in order to promote the interpretation that bodily relation is, for the human being, a stronger, more healthy [whole-making], more intimate and meaningful, relation. This, however and of course, is not a matter of forcing people to such things but is a matter of a new understanding which values affinity over custom and/or bureaucracy and/or administration of relationships;

  4. Thus, anarchasexuality is a matter of loosing social and moral chains that have been formed and placed around us as sexed and gendered beings and a refashioning of new connections and inter-connections that we create ourselves for our own purposes;

  5. Anarchasexuality thus constitutes an attack against those who would use sexuality and gender as means of control, refuses such coercion and blatantly shoves self-actualised sexuality and self-creation in such people’s faces;

  6. Anarchasexuality is thus an interpretation in which a new opportunity for self-expression and human inter-relation exists, a field of creativity and play in which human beings may learn to relate to one another anew beyond the boundaries of the society into which they were born;

  7. Finally, anarchasexuality reconstitutes relationships around the idea of love, love being a thing physically expressed and experienced. This need not necessarily be sexually [which is always a matter of desire, choice and consent] but it certainly does not exclude the sexual development of love either.

Taking all this further description on board, we can now go on to ask what, if anything, the texts I have quoted in my anthology chapter prior to this one have to add to this and also consider what further questions these texts raise.

The first of these texts was Émile Armand’s “Variations on Voluptuousness”, a very short piece which complains that “sensual pleasure” is being entirely neglected as a subject of public interest. Instead, it is merely the subject of “insinuations” or jokes “in bad taste”. To the contrary, Armand clearly seems to believe this is a vast oversight, the neglect of an “art” and of the possibility for the discussion of sensual novelty, openly, publicly, rather than in whispers and shadows behind closed doors. Armand himself openly suspects this is due to Christian moralising which controls the intellect and fetters the mind — as Emma Goldman would have also agreed. This is true even of those who imagine themselves radicals or revolutionaries in other, more political spheres. And it is no different today if nudity, sex or sensual enjoyment is openly discussed in public forums everywhere. Those who formerly engaged with you in discussing all kinds of insurrectionary or revolutionary ideas and practice suddenly fade away and have nothing to say if you should bring such subjects up. [Alternatively, as Armand suggested, they insinuate or make bad taste jokes as if bodily pleasures cannot be seriously discussed or honestly engaged.] Discussing, or even showing, bodily pleasures is thought to bring a bad smell into the room or to be that which people do not discuss in public. I can myself testify to this in my own social media presence. If I post something of a sexual nature, usually with an explicit anarchist context or point attached, I may lose a follower or two and the post is not interacted with as, if one had written text, one would be. People also seem more reluctant to discuss sexuality, bodily pleasure and related subjects openly. They may slide into DMs or say nothing at all. In short, Armand rightly identifies that the minds and morals of even the supposed radicals are chained in regard to sex and sexuality — and so much so that they often cannot even discuss it. [Although, I might here add that this does not stop a lot of them from POLICING it, yet another hard to swallow development, and one based on the Christian dogma that Armand diagnoses — for one can say they have refused belief in God yet still have their own gods.]

This becomes more apparent in the second text I quoted, América Scarfó’s letter to Armand about the relationship she was having with a 26 year old man [she herself was 16 and still at school]. The context here is extremely similar to that of Becky Edelsohn and Alexander Berkman which I have discussed, at length, before — except that in this case the lovers did not live together. In her letter Scarfó in fact explicitly points out that fellow radicals are the ones who “have turned into judges” and not “common people”. She clearly distinguishes in her letter, as well, between “the laws of the bourgeoisie” and what she regards as different anarchist mentalities [a reason given elsewhere for the behaviour of Edelsohn and Berkman in the anarchist house they shared with Emma Goldman]. Anarchists, Scarfó imagines [rightly, in my view], do not act as those without anarchist consciousness do. They have become new people; they have thrown off the chains of convention and they embrace, self-responsibly, a new understanding of themselves and their relations to and with others. Scarfó is one who has done this, as has her partner and seemingly his wife, but it is political peers who have not, who cannot and who, worse, have become judges and police of it [just as some did with me previously in regard to Edelsohn and Berkman].

The problem Scarfó ultimately refers to here is one I discussed at length throughout Nothing To Stick To: that people, anarchists even, cannot imagine themselves out of their intellectual and moral chains. Instead, “they carry on practicing all the stupidities and prejudices of ignorant people.” Anarchism is not about being the police. It is not about being a judge. [Scarfó here makes the very salient point that anarchism is about individual human beings using their reason in order to be responsible for THEIR OWN actions — something she regards herself and her partner as doing.] Scarfó in fact talks of love and if older others look down their noses at her for that and talk of how young she is then they scandalize only themselves in properly anarchist, and certainly anarchasexual, eyes.

América Scarfó, in fact, discusses an anarchism I totally recognise, one that I have exegeted at length before as that of Emma Goldman. Goldman was herself told not to discuss free love and sexuality several times — and by some fairly notable anarchist people too. Yet I agree with Goldman’s anarchism, and with that discussed here by an Argentinian teenager, when she says, “I desire for all just what I desire for myself: the freedom to act, to love, to think. That is, I desire anarchy for all humanity.” One wonders, however, if the judges and critics and dogmatists of anarchy have thought through what that means as a connected set of relationships and activities in the real world. América Scarfó had: “I am... of the opinion that in order to arrive at this revolution it is necessary to free ourselves from all kinds of prejudices, conventionalisms, false moralities and absurd codes. And, while we wait for this great revolution to break out, we have to carry out this work in all the actions of our existence.” That’s EXACTLY what it means and that is at the heart of the anarchasexuality I am seeking here to describe. It is getting rid of mental chains and moral strictures; it is promoting and multiplying freedom in human relationships and physical love. So, rightly, as Scarfó adds: “In love... we will not wait for the revolution, we will unite ourselves freely, paying no regard to the prejudices, barriers and innumerable lies that oppose us as obstacles.” América Scarfó praises and lauds physical love, not abuse, in her letter and shame on those who cannot imagine what she claimed to experience in her relationship for themselves in the prisons of the moralistic, puritanical and dogmatic mind that they so enthusiastically maintain.

If anything, however, Armand’s response is even more liberty-seeking than the letter he received. He tells his correspondent that even if the man’s wife was against the relationship she should, being an anarchist like her husband, have no right to interfere! “No one has the right to judge your way of conducting yourself” comes across as very absolute. And we must remember, in contextualising Armand’s response, that he is not referring to a case of “power dynamics” or of a girl pressured into sex. Read again what América Scarfó has said and how she has explained her feelings and her own intellectual and moral situation. This is free love, love that is free, free, that is, of the moral strictures of puritans and busybodies and anarchist cops. No wonder, then, that Armand, sought out as an authority, regards his own opinions as of no consequence. You are your own judge and your own arbiter in his mind. Let others not interfere in the business of educated, articulate, consensual love!

I move on to Andie Nordgren’s “Short instructional manual for relationship anarchy”. Here a set of key principles or pointers are set out for those who find themselves at odds with traditional societal relationships and who want to bring “anarchy” to bear in the field of human relations. One important aspect of this is that it starts from the position that we should not just be led by the nose by “culture”; we can be creators and re-creators of culture ourselves; we can bend and shape it, thoroughly re-make it — even begin our own with like-minded others. In fact, if anarchy is itself a culture [which is itself, in one sense, just a web of relationships and practices over a wider field], then perhaps this is something anarchists SHOULD be doing. So Nordgren’s short manual begins by questioning if love is a limited thing that must be “saved” for some and not others or if love for one somehow denies the possibilities of love for others as there is only so much love to go around. It questions if love for one necessarily lessens the love for another or is even connected to it. Nordgren further suggests that we do not need to put one relationship between two people on a pedestal that hierarchically separates it out from all the other possible relationships we could have. In fact, in an excellent point, she says each relationship is unique; what you have with one could never be repeated with another anyway for each relationship is a unique association “between autonomous individuals”. So there is never a cause for jealousy here for any relationship is unique, with a character of its own, simply because it exists and having multiple, independent relationships should not cause any other partner to feel excluded or ignored. Each is unique and so special.

Nordgren elucidates further principles as a consequence of this that are important for anarchasexuality. One of these is that relationships are not about entitlement but “respecting others’ independence and self-determination”. That you are in a relationship with someone is not a position of control or manipulation but a privilege. It is then about communication, exploration, creativity, rather than moulding people to your exclusive requirements. In a real sense, relationship is understood here as relating to and with each other in such a way as each keeps their own integrity intact — for, otherwise, autonomous, independent people are not really interacting at all but a game of manipulation is taking place to shape the other to one’s will. So we must understand here how individuality and diversity — and maintaining those things — is an important part of this concept, one that constitutes the mutually conceived relation in this imaginary. In order to do this, of course, one must actualise oneself [we should remember that anarchasexuality is conceived of as the free association of autonomous beings with agency] and so it is good that Nordgren highlights here the need for one to think through what sort of values one has and what sorts of people one wants to associate with and have relationships with. As in anarchism as I have described it generally, there is no place here for stumbling through life without thinking. One must take responsibility for oneself and so for the kinds of relationships you build and become involved in.

Here, of course, we should not let others decide for us what love is or what counts as love. Anarchasexuals are creators and creative. They make their own relationships; they are not slavishly confined to the templates of others. And they must have the courage and the ingenuity for that for it will surely attract response and may even involve attack. A confidence and surety of heart and mind will be necessary to pierce constricting fear and one will need the educated warrior spirit which, with responsibility and intelligence, forges new paths of human relationship with the impudence of those who dare to go their own way as truly free spirits. Here Nordgren explicitly talks about the act of self-actualisation in order to bring the relationships you want to see into physical reality and this will require a certain amount of “faking it until you make it” for this to take place for we are not those who can just snap our fingers and it is done; it will take work. Once more, this will require flexibility and conversation with others to put into practice as, of necessity, people will be put in relationships they have not experienced before [we are creating the new here, remember]. Yet it is also about having strong, free-spirited foundations of self as well for certain kinds of people are being imagined in certain kinds of relationships here. We cannot remain the same as individuals if new relationships, and new kinds of relationship, are to be created. This changes EVERYTHING.

As Nordgren explains all this, “Relationship anarchy is not about never committing to anything — it’s about designing your own commitments with the people around you, and freeing them from norms dictating that certain types of commitments are a requirement for love to be real, or that some commitments, like raising children or moving in together, have to be driven by certain kinds of feelings.” I entirely agree with these sentiments — as far as they go. We must always remember, however, as Nordgren herself has said, that the mentality being sought here starts from the position of autonomy and agency and free association. Anarchasexual relations are newly customised relations, relationships made on new terms, your terms. It is, in a very real sense, creating new cultures and that process never stopping so long as there are people who find meaning and value in the relationships thus created. As a consequence, the anarchasexuality envisaged breaks culture by bursting out from it to become something else. It is a fundamentally social phenomenon but never about less than those who create themselves and their relationships with others from themselves. [“We anarchists do not want to emancipate the people; we want the people to emancipate themselves” — Malatesta, in another context.]

And so I come to Apio Ludd or, if you prefer, Wolfi Landstreicher [or Feral Faun]. Utilising Ludd’s commentary here may be controversial to some since the otherwise unknown “Heresy Distro” decided to take to the Internet a few years ago to denounce the egoist anarchist as a “child molestation apologist” who was “justifying child molestation” in a barely noticed and quite ancient [as well as short] piece he once wrote titled “Child Molestation vs Child Love”. For, indeed, a few years ago now, Heresy Distro [who seem moralistically policing rather than heretical to me, the kind of people obsessed with community “accountability”] tried to do a number on Ludd who had made the mistake [and it was a linguistic mistake] of talking about “child-love”. [What he meant by this was never really fully explained which is a big part of the problem in such a controversial area.] For clarification, Ludd, in a short, ancient [1987] and hardly central piece of his vast output, was contrasting “child-love” with the “child molestation” [as he called it] of parents, teachers and other societal authorities who take children from birth and turn them into societal clones by their internal and external formation. Heresy Distro, for reasons their own, decided to take exception to this, let their imaginations run riot, and decided Ludd [whom they had not contacted for clarification even though these views had been expressed decades previously] must be advocating the worst kind of child abuse as some form of sick and misjudged “egoism”.

Now, I do not for a second suggest that Ludd’s brief essay [written as Feral Faun] “Child Molestation vs Child Love” is unproblematic — certainly if modern, bourgeois, often puritanical sexual ethics are your guide. The language sometimes smacks one in the face, as does its ethos, because it is setting out a new understanding of adult/child relationships. But then again, are Heresy Distro right to say, as they do in criticising it, that “Children do not possess a concept of, and thus cannot grant, consent”? Do you remember the first time you ever did something wrong and knew you’d done it? Wasn’t that you asserting individuality, becoming a person who consented to activities from your own, constantly educated will? Couldn’t you, as even a 6 or 7 year old, decide who could, and who couldn’t play with your toys? [As a 9 year old I myself played “doctors and nurses” with my female friend and the two similarly-aged brothers who lived next door. We all got in trouble when the parents inevitably found out and called it “dirty”.] Heresy Distro’s criticism of Ludd’s certainly jarring, if short, piece comes across instead as if all adults are knowing, completely self-aware, consenters but that children [a loose term none of those in that debate ever defined] are all equally and permanently naive, in a state of perhaps blissful innocence/ignorance, set adrift from any agency. But there must be some crossover from “child” to “adult”. So where?

The cases of Becky Edelsohn [15] and the Argentinian anarchist schoolgirl I have referred to above, América Scarfó [16], seem particularly relevant here. In both cases, they had relationships with older men IN AN EXPLICITLY ANARCHIST CONTEXT. They were not guided by bourgeois, puritanical ethics but by a newly imagined [and created] anarchist freedom to love. I wonder if its this Ludd refers to when he talks, again in his own loving, egoist context, of “shar[ing] erotic pleasure as freely as we can” in the short piece Heresy Distro decided to subject to criticism? Yet it seems to me here that he cannot be judged by any ethics but that he claims to create, speak for and explain himself. And its that Heresy Distro seem to have misunderstood in their own criticisms of it. For, whether you agree with it or not, Ludd is explicitly NOT saying in that piece, which you should also read [it will take 3 minutes], “abuse children, its allowed”. If he is saying anything at all it is love them. But Heresy Distro seem to think loving children [which is a description open to interpretation, of course] is something abusive. That, taken in Ludd’s sense, seems perverse.

Now, OF COURSE [do I really need to say this after all I’ve have written in many books before?], no one should abuse children. But I do not understand that Ludd has said they should either, either in that short piece or anywhere else. [I am open to being shown it if he has, however.] What he has done in that piece, on the other hand, is reconfigure adult-child relationships in favour of what he calls love. He has anarchised [in his way] relationships. We should be doing that! That is what anarchasexuality is all about. Emma Goldman wanted to do that. Alexander Berkman wanted to do that. Becky Edelsohn wanted to do that. América Scarfó wanted to do that. Émile Armand wanted to do that. Ludd, as we shall see further shortly, wants to do that. But Heresy Distro apparently didn’t want to do that. Instead they criticise Ludd based on facile, bona fide stupid claims like “Children do not possess a concept of, and thus cannot grant, consent.” But we were all children. Do you at any point remember doing something wrong and knowing you had? That was your ability to reason for yourself [and so consent] emerging right there. In huge comparison with the attitude of anarchist educationalists such as Emma Goldman — who only wanted to educate, enable and give agency to children and teenagers and expounds on this at length as well as engaging in it in practice — Heresy Distro seem, in their criticisms of Ludd, to have taken the view such people were wasting their time; for child consent is “impossible”. What a horrible, inaccurate and disablingly dogmatic mentality that displays.

Reading the comments under Heresy Distro’s brief, alarming and often dogmatic commentary on Ludd’s past text is enlightening. And they reveal the key point here: it is where we come from intellectually and morally that will decide how we read it. It is about mentality, values, consciousness, interpretation, outlook on life, point of view. It is about who you are and where you want to go. And so, naturally, a key issue here is how we understand “pedophilia”. Those such as Heresy Distro clearly think it equates to any child/adult sexuality [which includes defining “child” precisely, something they do not do] and they evaluate it all as equally bad, a dangerously damaging activity. I guess this would make both Berkman and América Scarfó’s lover pedophiles [and Emma Goldman an enabler]. Of course, this is ridiculous based on all historically available evidence. But it seems manifestly obvious that even if Ludd does define it like this too he DOESN’T think this is what he is recommending [as those supporting him in the comments below this whole article on Anarchist News Dot Org agree] for he wishes to entirely reconstitute human relationships along LOVING not abusive lines. Shouldn’t an attempt to try and understand this on its own terms then be made by readers of good faith?

The problem this past incident reveals is then that those using bourgeois definitions of things [whilst calling themselves anarchists] presume to judge those who have actually gone ahead and anarchised human relationships [just as América Scarfó actually complained to Armand in her letter]. One is “beyond good and evil”, the other is simply dogma. And that’s bizarre. I should add here, of course, for those desperate to jump to conclusions about me as well now, that I’m not an unambiguous supporter of what Ludd once wrote in the short piece Heresy Distro jumped to conclusions about. I have my own criticisms of it [and the language used when talking about “children” is especially important]. But that, when Ludd wrote, he wanted to promote a new, loving standard of anarchism as his understanding of such relationships, especially in comparison to the relationships created by all the child’s regular contacts in a capitalist-authoritarian situation, is not one of these criticisms. In fact, I’d praise Ludd to the skies for exactly such an impulse as that is what anarchasexuality is all about: the instigation, engagement and redefinition of love.

So I think I needed to add in this précis before coming to the Ludd articles that I did actually quote in my anthology for all those seeing the name and having their thought tainted by some vaguely remembered and dubious association. The above is my own understanding of it in anarchasexual context. It is one that Ludd expands upon, in his egoist anarchist way, in “the coming together of willful self-creators”, his own description for Stirner’s “association of egoists”, a concept that I am myself fully in accordance with and an understanding of it with which I also fully concur. Ludd creates here, as in many other written places of his own creation, the idea of fully self-realised people who are masters of their own destiny. Yet here this is a fully social conception [as, I think, it was for Stirner too. Neither person here imagines egoists as “loners”]. Yet the social group is never that which overwhelms or consumes the individual. Rather, sociality reinforces individuality and individuality constitutes sociality. They are in a mutual [and likely very necessary] relationship all of their own. It is because I am me, myself, but not the group, that I can help constitute the group. It is that the group is the sum of the relationships of egoistic individuals that it can be what it is in the aggregation of associations of such people. The union or association requires certain kinds of people, self-actualised people, to make it up in this conception; it is an association OF EGOISTS. Thus, this is important when considering my anarchasexual understanding of these things. Ludd, in fact, describes “interweav[ing] my life and my world with [others]” as “my wealth,... my property, as essential to my willful self-creation and self-enjoyment”. This is exactly how I understand the premises of anarchasexuality. It is self--creativity in association with others in order to make communal creations out of our associations, a psycho-socially beneficial thing. This is never about “submission” but always about self-giving, about self-creative projects which are enhanced by “weaving [them] for a while into [those of others]”. It is about “inter-individual worlds” in which we remain fully our own yet, whilst in association with others, a concatenation of self-creators that challenge organisational and institutional norms.

So, as Ludd then suggests:

“If you and I weave our worlds together in those instances where our interests, our pleasures, our battles, etc., correspond, then I increase my strength with your strength and you increase yours with mine. Against the seemingly overwhelming worlds of institutional power and technological massification, each of us becomes stronger, more capable of self-creation and self-enjoyment.”

Here that we may drift apart in our interests even as we drift together is not a problem for it is what animates such association to begin with. It is a new “organisation” [but, better, a new flow] of relationships, one not made rigid, hard and oppressive by both external force and internalised custom. In this conception of relationship, the relationship is owned until such time as it is set aside — and always taking responsibility for such relations. It is in being “our own” relationship, an adjunct to “our own” interests, that it becomes different to the inauthentic, forced relations of patriarchy, hierarchy and exploitation in which we are often mired and educated. Our possibility to end it is that which constitutes the freedom to make it. Thus, as Ludd goes on to talk about in the second piece I quoted above, “community” is not sacred as a thing in itself. It is the quality and type of associations that make it what it is and that make it something worthwhile and valuable in itself rather than just a mass of bodies or “the herd”. This latter phenomenon, as Ludd further exegetes, can easily develop dogmatically into the community that must be the opposite to the individual and the police of the individual. The relationships Ludd conceives, and which I call anarchasexual, do not involve giving ourselves over into the hands of a policing collectivity, subsumed and denuded by its collective consciousness. In other words, the relations being envisaged here are not about enforcing conformity or denying individuality and agency, or fodder for a singularly social machine, but the opposites and annihilators of these things.

Thus, it makes sense, using this understanding, when Ludd proclaims that he has “no desire for community”, contrasting this explicitly with “friends, companions, lovers, comrades and accomplices” in the process. This is a very helpful distinction and a genuine insight. What Ludd seeks, and I with him, is the passionate intensity of creative association formed from a union of self-actualised and self-responsible wills, a conclave of free spirits. Being self-actualised, being a free spirit, does not preclude a desire for mutuality: it energises and creates it. It makes it something worthwhile and of consequence, something more than the dull, oppressive requirement of some illegitimate force. Being able to choose who you associate with and why is, in fact, a basic anarchist freedom, the anarchist mentality being historically understood, one that should be extended to all as a matter of course. Such relationships enhance their participants rather than erasing them. It speaks to an ethos, which Ludd demonstrates, to fully embrace those with whom we are in relationship, or else to leave them to one side as agents of their own destiny or perhaps, if we are at odds, as enemies. What Ludd despises is the idea that anyone might have to “tolerate” another, in some tawdry liberal acquiescence to imposed community relations. I agree with this, let us embrace our associates, leave them to their own business or engage them as our enemies if that they become. But as for “toleration”, that has no place here and is a form of dishonesty.

Next in my anthology of texts was Maximilienne’s attack on “the family” from La Revue Anarchiste. The family is probably a human being’s first and most consequential acquaintance with “relationships”, that which moulds us from the earliest of ages and sets us on course for who we can become. It is, thus, vitally important. I think this comes out in the piece too for Maximilienne’s list of familial horrors shows, most profoundly, that “biological relationship” does, of itself, not educate you how to relate to, and interact with, people. Thus, it is stupid to imagine that biological relationship, automatically, means care, love or a nurturing, educated concern. There are, in fact, any number of dangerous, vulgar, ignorant, harmful and downright abject parents of children, for example, and its no wonder, as a consequence, that so many children, teenagers and young adults become so fucked up. Who was there to educate any of these people into better, loving, caring relationships which valued personal actualisation and self-understanding? No one, just “the family” to whom such children are imagined to “belong” as a possession. The overwhelming majority of people don’t get to choose their family and that is only one obvious, and perhaps fatal, problem with this institution.

Maximilienne asks the question why “family” must be left up to chance and this is a point others from the past have averted to as well. Voltairine de Cleyre, the anarcha-feminist, had a child in her early twenties with one of her lovers. Due to her own general health and attitudinal predisposition, however, she gave it up to the baby’s father after its birth and played no part in its upbringing at all. Emma Goldman, as another example, taught communal care of infants and children rather than having this arbitrary relation of “the family” responsible for child care. In this respect, Maximilienne’s assertion that “convicts are chained to one another, but we do not chain friends” becomes a general principle of healthy relationship and authentic association.

And so I come to the article by Robert Anton Wilson on sexual freedom and why it is feared. For it is feared, it is still mightily feared across societies and communities worldwide. The control of particularly women’s sexuality [and non-heterosexual sexual expression] is at the forefront of culture wars in newspapers and on the TV news every day. Wilson calls this sex aversion “irrational taboos” and conjectures that “the man in the street” fears sexual freedom because it “leads to anarchy and collapse of order”. Isn’t this what the anarchist wants? It is what the anarchasexual wants. Wilson thoughtfully conjectures that these people with their taboos are, in fact, little more than theists who still have their gods in whom they must believe and before which, in order for them to even be gods, they must bow. Riffing on Bakunin in God and The State, he suggests that the State is a god and those with gods are frightened of sex and feel the need to police it, an adjunct to the theist mentality.

It was Nietzsche who argued that, with God dead, we must get rid of morality too if we do not want to still exist in his shadow. As Wilson himself goes on to describe, however, sex denial is virtually impossible and only works its way out in psychological and physical infirmity if proceeded with. Such a one is also much more socially manipulable by dubious others and so it ends up being bad for us all. He goes on to say that “self-respect is the prerequisite of independence and rebellion” and so one must respect oneself in one’s sexuality and sexual relations for this to become a reality. We must do this from ourselves, however, and not in response to the siren calls of capitalist advertising campaigns which induce guilt and propose problems that commerce, it just so happens, has provided a commercial answer for. We should also remember that the State is a very modern invention, in terms of the human species’ existence on earth, and that, for the overwhelming majority of it, voluntary association — which is what Wilson calls anarchy after his own anarchist influences, Proudhon and Tucker — was the only practical understanding of human togetherness. In such conditions, control of sex was practically impossible and so not a factor.

It is fair to say that Wilson presents in this piece of his as one in a long line of American free thinking anti-governmentalists and he is eager to link government’s desire to control with the inevitability of sexual repression for, once you take the view that population must be controlled well, then, of course you take the view that its’ actions and activities are fair game to be monitored, suppressed and criminalised. Wilson consequently sees the “era of civilization” as broadly coterminous with an era of sexual control — and in a way in which the first seems to necessarily lead to the second. Wilson has an interesting argument here for why our ills are frankly somatic as “submissiveness is anchored in the body” and we are responding to our civilizational programming. So screwed up are we by external coercions that our bodies become programmed to cause us physical discomfort should we rebel against it. Here, Freud’s conclusion that “Man is his own prisoner” is not out of bounds. What we must seek, then, is a “civilization without repression” or a “free culture” and this is what anarchasexuality is about creating. Wilson’s own solution is “voluntary contractual organizations” of a Proudhonian sort that would replace the State with this new stateless situation. Wilson imagines that Proudhon’s economically motivated idea [noting here, as an aside, that Proudhon lauded the family and was no friend of women’s emancipation] would be sexually freeing as there would no longer be a state. This is misguided and short-sighted. Wilson argues that “repression would have no social function” after the state but it is more than states that sexually repress. It is ordinary citizens appropriately programmed or educated; it is fathers, bosses, neighbours, strangers and those who imagine to be your friends. The education necessary can only then be at a personal level for it is a matter of mind and intellect and not just external or social force.

The final text of my anthology was Mae Bee’s [I have no idea if this is a made up name or not but it doesn’t matter anyway] “A Green Anarchist Project on Freedom and Love”. She is interested in “the abolition of all power relations” [which is an interesting aim in itself and there would be those who wonder aloud at its possibility], something which, for her, includes “the abolition of coercive/closed relationships” which are described as “those relationships with fixed structure, those relationships with rules or permanent contracts.” Mae Bee imagines that these kinds of relationships “cannot really be part of a free society” so, presumably, they must be abolished. She then quotes Wolfi Landstreicher [yes, him again] from “Wilful Disobedience” to the end that “We need to pursue our sexual encounters as we do all of our relationships, in total opposition to this society, not out of any sense of revolutionary duty, but because it is the only way possible to have full, rich uninhibited sexual relations in which love ceases to be a desperate mutual dependence and instead becomes an expansive exploration of the unknown.” There’s Wolfi again talking about love. The man is clearly dangerous! This is allied to another quote about “anarcho-primitivism” which re-emphasizes that, for Mae Bee, this is about getting rid of power relations [something which Foucault, as reported in my chapter “Revolt” in Nothing To Stick To, thought impossible as such a thing is constitutive of any relationship in a world in which nobody, physically or mentally, is ever equal]. Perhaps the distinction here is found in Mae Bee’s emphasis on “structures” as these are those things “anarcho-primitivists” would most have in their sights.

Mae Bee’s essay unfolds under a number of headings. The first of these is “rules of engagement”. Here she talks about “rule relationships” or “coercive or restrictive relationships” but seems to consider any monogamous relationship such a thing. She also contrasts “desire” with “consent” and “open” or “free” with the rules and coercion she has formerly brought up. The suggestion is that its illegitimate to restrict a person’s desire based on your own desire for exclusivity or because you have a need to control their sexuality. This is probably too simplistic and avoids the reality of extended sex games or play in which control or accepted wandering is part of the sexual dynamic [cucking and “slutwives” who are shared or forced to watch “extracurricular” sexual activity seems here relevant] and so blurs these lines. You can, it seems to me, turn any kind of sexuality or sexual desire into a sort of game if you want to [this doesn’t mean I’m saying you should: I am not your master] and so this possibility will always exist for those who can reweave both their own minds and their relationship into such a position. Sex and creativity go together and making things a game, whilst it requires common understandings [i.e. rules], can be a way of creating space in which sexuality can grow, morph and expand your experience. It is not simply about open or closed, or rules or no rules. There’s a whole space in between these extremes and all that’s required is the freedom to explore, experiment and find your own way of relating with people.

Mae Bee explores the consent/desire distinction she uses more thoroughly in her next section, “choice and respect”, where she raises the point that many women consent to sex they don’t particularly want or enjoy basically for a quiet life. Thus, this is not about what the woman actually wants but a form of both coercion and inauthenticity. Of course, this is horrific, a relationship built on dishonesty with others and to oneself. Mae Bee is right to point out, however, that a lot of our relationships, sexual and not, under capitalist authoritarianism are of such a type; they are coerced relationships and our behaviour is coerced within them. Yet we “consent” for a quiet life rather than desiring such things. But Mae Bee then interestingly points out that you can’t base a radical society on “consent” for consent exactly is something that can be coerced, exploited and contractualised to control you. What cannot, or so she thinks, is desire. Her basic point here is that we only make rules to cover things we want to control [and control Mae Bee mostly thinks is bad]. The husband and wife, for example, perhaps expect monogamy or at least some kind of exclusivity. This means that each [or perhaps one more than the other] can impose limits on desire. This comes to be rooted in the concept of possession [seen more readily with adults in regard to children] and that people think they have “rights” over those with whom they are in relationship. This is actually a desire for control, perhaps because of a basic insecurity in regard to being without control over the sexuality of another, or because you have only ever been educated to regard it as normal.

But, as Mae Bee points out: “It is worth mentioning here, although only as an incidental aside, that outside of using constant surveillance and/or force, nobody can really stop their loved one loving or fucking another.” So how much control does anyone ever really have and doesn’t “desire” always find a way? What is this saying about human sexuality and about those who find theirs is being controlled by another against their own will and desire? Mae Bee doesn’t make the connection here but, in anarchasexual context, what she says seems to lead to the point that you can’t build associations or unions of autonomous people based on consent. It is too coercive and that coercion itself stymies the idea from the start. What you have to do instead, to build strong, mutual relationships and the communities they may, in turn, form, is build associations of desires, desires being regarded here for the sake of this argument as things stimulated and educated by those desiring, a desiring, educated will. Coercion, whether organisational, rule-based or a matter of consent, always acts as a controlling external force upon this and is not conducive to producing educated, autonomous people with their own agency which is what we are seeking to do here. So, in privileging desire over consent, Mae Bee brings a good point to light here.

The point about educating a desiring will here carries forward when we come to talk about jealousy in relationships which is something learned. What can be learned can also be unlearned. Mae Bee has illustrated this point by exampling the mother with multiple children who, we may imagine, does not love the one the less because she has, from time to time, to love the other. Why, we might wonder, can we understand this makes sense but then be completely different in regard to “romantic” love? Why do rules, expectations, jealousies, and even concepts of possession and ownership come into play? Is love something that can be controlled or contained and, even if it is, should it be? Why are we allowing jealousy, guilt, obligation and coercion to rule in the realm of relationships rather than honesty, love, mutuality and sharing? It comes down to oppressive morals and forms of thinking we cannot imagine ourselves out of again because, as in many other things, our sexual and personal relationships are tied in with economic and political ones. Here the guiding ethos is not at all conducive to freedom, personal liberty, agency, self-responsibility. Instead, a culture of suspicion, distrust and surveillance is evident, and administration of relationships by possession and control. A basic inauthenticity to human realities such as desire, the need for bodily interaction, play and creativity is demonstrated that hobbles the human beings caught in this repressive net. A basic question here is “What type of people do we want us to be?” Do we want to be growing, educated, creative, exploratory, free people or do we want to be regimented, controlled, directed, instructed people? We must then ask which relationships and behaviours promote which sorts of character and so what possibilities for relationship can possibly come from the people we create ourselves to be. For myself, I choose the first over the second. I want to grow and develop, sexually, emotionally and relationally, throughout as long a period of my life as it is destined to be. This means self-responsibility, self-education, self-actualisation; it means becoming the sorts of people we want to become. It means disobeying the norm and becoming insurrectional against it.

Mae Bee’s essay is shot through with notions of “the free society” and this is a problem I have diagnosed before as anarchists of various types imagine revolutions which bring liberty on a macro scale. This is, as I have intimated before, hardly realistic. An evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, tack is by far the better one to take here if one even turns one’s attention to “the world” as a whole. So her comments about the undesirability and unacceptability of “closed relations” in such a future world are very premature in my view. It is, of course, more applicable to imaginable self-constituting communities or communes where people coalesce based on affinity and the common desires Bee has mentioned before. Here there is ample scope for having a common, mutual understanding of the relationships in a given space and introducing others as or if necessary. But does this mean the “war on monogamy” that Mae Bee wants to institute? Does it mean an insurrection against exclusive relationships by seducing, corrupting and fucking those involved in them and showing their innate vulnerability and unworkability? It may do. Its up to you. It will almost certainly mean education to new, less restrictive and controlling, forms of relationship introduced through creativity and play. This will show that “sharing” or polyamory or multiple relationships are not things which merely destroy the exclusive and controlled but which create the possibility of new connections, new experiences, new understandings.

What Mae Bee actually speaks towards is “communities not couples” and, if this is thought radical, Apio Ludd would not have thought so. He, if you will recall, needed no communities. So, whilst coupling might be exclusive and hierarchical, substituting “community” for “couple” is not necessarily any better [by itself]. Mae Bee argues that she wants “self-governing, self-sufficient small communities” and “wild and anarchistic communities” [remember, she is speaking from and to a green, eco-anarchist perspective that is not necessarily civilization friendly] and she speaks of communal “cooperation”. Yet she wishes to incorporate this with “a world where we are free to take our pleasures and our desires openly”. She writes that: “The defining features of green anarchy include a desire to live in small, self-governing communities, individual and collective self-determination, a reconnection with the wild and an understanding that we live only in the present, in the here and now.” It is this last point she wants to emphasize, a living in an ever-present that forgets the past and is unconcerned with “storing pensions”. Our current construction of relationships has become so oriented towards possession and ownership, understood in a capitalistic and privatised way, that any idea of commonality or mutuality is ruthlessly destroyed as a result. Yet we cannot be happy in the future or the past, we can only be happy now. A large part of whether we are or not will be to do with the relationships we have and create as beings that are not always the same and that do change, have desires, moods and tastes. Mae Bee’s recipe for this is a social world devoid of “contract, demand, competition and coercion” and she quotes the French individualist, Albert Libertad, accordingly in her closing to make the point that no one is an island; we contribute to our social conditions by how we act and by who we become. Yet the secret here, which is Libertad’s point, is not collectivity, coercion and control but by taking up our own interests together as beings with responsibility for ourselves:

“I hate all those who, by ceding through fear and resignation, a part of their potential as

human beings to others, not only crush themselves but also me and those I love, with the

weight of their fearful complicity or with their idiotic inertia.” — Albert Libertad, I Hate the Resigned


To close this chapter off, I want to round all this up in words of my own, moulding a narrative about anarchasexuality especially as I go [in terms of an overall conception of a new anarchist understanding of human relations]. Anarchasexuality, as a set of ideas, begins in wanting to propose a contemporary version of Armand’s amorous camaraderie. So it is fitting I began by quoting Armand himself and his plea for taking “sensuality” / sexuality seriously. Armand properly conceives of an educated sexual independence and openness which anarchasexuality embraces and takes onboard. It is, to be extremely clear and straightforward, something which begins with the sexual education of pre-pubescent children, the better to equip them for their years of sexual maturity and making adult relationships. It is also not unimportant here that such education should include education about gender, gender roles and gender performance, the better to enable children to grow into self-actualised adults confident in their own gender expression and sexuality. Armand, of course, taught such independence as socially beneficial [and most anarchist individualists who offer an opinion on the consequences of such individualism often do too] and that understanding is taken up into an anarchasexual understanding of human relations as well.

Such a “sexual independence” is exampled perfectly by América Scarfó. This is frankly what I believe people like Armand or Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman wanted to see, young adults exerting their educated independence. This is the kind of people an anarchasexual anarchism envisages — not as a template into which all children and young people are forced but as an aspiration for educated, independently-minded, creative people generally. All you have to do here is read the way Scarfó describes herself in her situation to see that this is not a cloud cuckoo land or the abuse of “power dynamics” that is coercive of teenagers. The same, I would contend, holds true of the situation of Edelsohn and Berkman, which I have commented on before, as well. Teenagers of 15 and 16, who are by this age sexually mature and so have sexual feelings, are more than capable, if educated and regarded as human beings with their own integrity, of making their own informed decisions about such things. They need no anarchist police to protect them but simply the education of their own potential agency and autonomy. Wherever this same education is more widely given we would find even more young people similarly equipped and enabled rather than left to be the victims of actual predators as opposed to loving associates. The education I talk about here is a weapon in human emancipation; I wonder if that is why so many, even some calling themselves “anarchists”, oppose it? Does what actual freedom, self-responsibility and self-actualisation looks like scare them out of their wits because then people might actually be enabled to live their own lives making their own decisions? But I thought that was what anarchists wanted?!

Thus, it can only be, as part of its self-understanding, that anarchasexuality, as an emancipatory set of ideas, comes out against all anarchist cops and an anarchist relationship of policing, one to another. The anarchist is not anyone’s mom or dad, police officer, jailer, judge, accountability officer or agent of the “anarchist collective” that, somehow, rules over all and has any legitimate authority. To those who say “there must be anarchist accountability” I say “Fuck you”. As anarchists, your sanction is the denial of association, nothing more, nothing less. It is not your job to be imposing moral strictures on others. Simply leave them alone. Go away. Mind your own business. Don’t become the cop you previously said you wanted abolished. There will ALWAYS be people doing things you don’t want them to do behaviourally, sexually and otherwise. Unless someone, or some group, is engaging in behaviour some of those involved in are clearly and obviously unwilling to take part in, or are clearly and obviously ignorant of the consequences of, then your proper response is to BUTT OUT. Anarchism has nearly always been understood as self-emancipation, self-responsibility and self-organisation. Generations of anarchists were taught this. These are generally good principles that should be followed in whatever communities are formed. We must, thus, resist any formation of anarchist cop/criminal or good guy/bad guy inter-relations which instantiate an intended permanent structure which is basically just policing in disguise.

Andie Nordgren in fact makes this point when she points out, fundamentally, that human relations are things which need completely remaking and “anarchizing”. Our relationships of family, work, society, hierarchy, have so totally contained us that we need to break out of them and destroy them entirely. This, as Nordgren goes onto say, is about ending structural relationships [ones based on centralising people or hierarchically important figures], the uniqueness and specificity of each relationship with another human being we have [and so a necessary flexibility from one person to another] and the agency and autonomy consequently involved in making ANY human relationship. Things do not have to be a certain way. Certain structures, hierarchies or arrangements do not have to take place or become the norm unless we say so or design them that way. Nordgren, rightly, puts the formation of human relationships with other people in OUR hands and urges us to create the relationships we want to see rather than the ones into which some system of outside others forces us. Perhaps it is a new realisation to some that we can actually do that. But we can.

I am talking here, openly, about a new formulation of love — one I will have much more to talk about in the next chapter. But those who reconfigure love can expect to be attacked for it will seem to their opponents as if hell [or even actual anarchy!] has been unleashed. The kind of reconfiguring of love that anarchasexuality wants to get into dissolves former understandings of human relationships — with their knowledges and understandings put beyond question — entirely. No longer do you “belong” to those most biologically similar to you, no longer are social contracts guaranteed by laws valid, no longer do you have a “boss”. Anarchasexuality, in its comprehension, is a transvaluation of relational values, a work of re-understanding and a new ethics of relationship.

Consequently, all those caught in the net of the old will fight you — even anarchists. I like Apio Ludd’s descriptions for these new visions of relationship — “the coming together of wilful self-creators” and “inter-individual worlds” — as ideas for what we liberated anarchasexuals want to see in a world of free, educated sexuality and a rainbow diversity of accepted gender expressions [and where both are deemed not even worthy of discussion, so uncontroversial have they become] as well as a release from fixed societal relations [about which Graeber and Wengrow also write under the necessary rubric of the freedom to change our societal arrangements in The Dawn of Everything]. This is about intimate human contact shared as love and not as a commodity; it is about a new appreciation for human contact as an end, and a good, in itself — and a mutual one at that. It is about these things done with autonomy and agency and without any policing collectivity, governmental or anarchist. It is also about dropping the “world concern” to impose moral, social or political templates on anybody [or more especially everybody]. It is trusting that if people are encouraged to educate and rely on themselves, and to form such relations as they please with similar people, then any “community” found necessary forms organically for itself in an association of interested parties. In this regard I am totally persuaded by Armand’s argument that physical and sexual bonds strengthen human relationships and that nudity equalises people in the eyes of others where clothing is used to delineate rank and social status. This is all about ending delusions of social control [which even many anarchists can be prey to] and initiating social bonds of affinity, agency, autonomy and [free] association. That is the anarchy towards which anarchasexuality tends.

Ludd’s point here about ending a context of liberal “toleration” is pertinent. What say, in future, we have associates, enemies and the rest of the people whom we most usually would leave to mind their own business [unless there is some reason to become enemies or associates with them]? The point here is not that we adopt, or stick to, these categories but that we bust out of social customs and begin designing OUR OWN human relations, ones that serve our purposes and not someone else’s or, perhaps, purposes we cannot even fathom or understand any more. Family, nationality, humanity, are concepts ripe for destruction here and I wouldn’t even presume to decide what new ideas people could come up with for relationship instead. It would be their business and to serve their interests. It could be the commune, the affinity group, the federation, the organisation for doing a specific task, the association of anarchasexuals and a million other things that have never occurred to me. The point is: you did it. It wasn’t done to you. No more does anything or anyone force us to a deeply inauthentic “toleration” of others. Instead, we accept them as they are and choose to associate with them or ignore them [or possibly fight them] as seems good to us. This also seems the motivation, in fact, behind the words of both Maximilienne and Robert Anton Wilson in their words against the family and in favour of sexual emancipation respectively. Where there are societal institutions exerting control the relationships can all too often become ones intended to shackle individual innovation and purpose because they centralise what should more properly be decentralised.

All this is really then a “wiping the slate clean” in favour of affinity. The following anarchasexual equation then suggests itself:

AGENCY + AUTONOMY + [FREE] ASSOCIATION + AFFINITY = ANARCHY

Why this equation? Because I see these as the distilled ingredients of the anarchism I am proposing, pulled together, as it is, from the thought and practice of various anarchists of the past and present. This equation that such an anarchism is both individual and social, that it is a pooling of will and desire whilst being based in a freedom we do not beg from anyone but assume and take for ourselves in defiance of all external authorities. It is the willed togetherness of self-actualised, self-educated, self-organising people and, if it rises up from an awareness of sexuality and gender, it certainly does not stop there. It manifests a new acceptance of people as free beings and welcomes them to join in with our projects and desires in an honest, authentic, bodily material way.

This is then also envisaged as a matter of a new appreciation of love [to be discussed in later chapters below] which usurps a customary morality of any kind, traditional or invented. This changes us not only in terms of what we positively approve but also removes some of the negatives of modern day relations and their morality. Since, under the new, anarchasexual understanding I no longer have a boss, I no longer have a need to spend 8 hours a day hating him. Since I no longer have parents whose morals I must take account of lest I upset them [perhaps resulting in being thrown out], I am encouraged to build relations with people based on like minds or similar practices in which we both engage. The watchword here is “possibility” once the old is forsaken and actually [i.e. in actuality] broken with. Anarchasexuality is always not only about ideas and understandings of human relationships but is fundamentally about taking action and doing them, manifesting them. We must live how we want others to live. Our example of a new independence should be aspirational for others too.

A realisation to have here is that PERSONAL RELATIONS NEED NO GOVERNMENT — and that any other relations are only building upon that foundation. This is a long-winded, roundabout way of saying that anarchasexuality is decentralising human relationships [uncoupling them — literally — from patriarchy, hierarchy, central organisation], creating affinity relations that form affinity groups and affinity communities, not statically but dynamically, organically, in a rhizomatic network of possibilities. “All we have is each other”, as someone reminds me writing this, and “other people” is our most useful resource, one we can, between ourselves, configure a million ways and for a million reasons. That they are specifically ANARCHASEXUAL relations is a matter of wielding personal affinity and physical expression of love with our naked bodies as weapons of opposition and attack against static and dogmatic morals, authoritarian control and fixed and imposed relations. We are talking here about what Mae Bee described as a union of desire, an association of the desiring and not anything as limp or easily coerced as “consent”. Anarchasexuality is about educating a desiring will into giving expression to its own self, either by itself or in tandem with others. It is naturally sceptical of “organisation” or “institution” as cages to constrain people within. Anarchasexuality is about the possibility for communities of the like-minded rather than the creation of fixed and static relationships that come with a structure that implies [perhaps coercive] obligation. Anarchasexual relations rise up from desiring wills and seek those of common interest; the rest they let go their way, provided they can do the same.

Coming back to amorous camaraderie, where I began this short essay, anarchasexuality imagines a maximal freedom of sexuality and gender expression. It emphasizes sexual freedom — to have sexual relationship with who you like and with as many as you like — and gender expression as whatever suits you, both as a strategy of attack on coercive, regimented, policed sex practices and gender norms but also in order to create new relationships and so new kinds of community. It imagines educated, self-responsible people engaging in such relationships but cannot be blamed for those who are neither educated nor responsible since no one is everyone else’s keeper. In the end we all stand responsible for ourselves and those we are in affinity with and we can only model lifestyles and educate people to the limits of our time and resources. But, in any case, and always acknowledging the existence of the selfish, the malicious and the careless, it is insisted that even a free for all would be better than the currently coerced uniformity and hierarchical oppression. The decentralising nature of anarchasexual relations is a strategy for attack and an attempt to make systematic exploitation of people through their relations with others an increasing impossibility.

loving and queer culture

3. cultural investigations

The anarchism I am writing about here, and have written about in past works, has several sources and flows from several historical strands. I would name anarchist-communist, egoist and individualist, illegalist and insurrectionary strands particularly. Anarchasexuality, however, I see as being very informed by insurrectionary anarchism, something which might strike some readers as strange at first reading. It shouldn’t, however, for haven’t I been saying that anarchasexuality is a strategy of attack and defiance all along? There is more than one way to rob a bank and not everyone should put a stocking over their head and fire the sawn off shotgun into the bank’s ceiling when barging through the doors. The same is true here too and so I just want to say a few words at this point about insurrectionary anarchism once again [informed readers will recall I formerly wrote A Handbook for Anarchist Insurrection] to make the link explicit.

I start, on this occasion, in a book called Movement for No Society which I found on The Anarchist Library [meaning you can too]. It seems to have been written by a person or persons in Philadelphia, USA, and they have historical tales to tell of past struggles by themselves and others relevant to their situation from within a broadly insurrectionary understanding. Towards the end of the book they describe something called “direct struggle” which they call a “methodology” or “a loose framework for resistance to social control and exclusion.” They go onto say that this is:

“Built on autonomous self-organization, an aversion to dialogue with enemies, a willingness to converse with comrades, and of course a practice that centers direct action and attack, direct struggle offers an approach to engaging problems of oppression that differs from the tired repetition of activism, often with a more defined scope than insurrectionary anarchism.”

So what is the relationship between “direct struggle” and “insurrectionary anarchism” more precisely? They write:

“Insurrectionary anarchism refers to a set of proposed methods and an orientation to struggle – permanent conflict with authority, self-organization along lines of affinity, and attack are the backbone of insurrectionary anarchism. Anarchists have taken this approach in a number of interesting directions. By this I mean that insurrectionary anarchism is not its own distinct style of anarchism, but rather that it can be incorporated into many different schools of anarchist thought without creating incoherent visions of struggle. For the primitivist anarchist, informal organization and attack are indistinct from re-wilding and the destruction of civilization; for the

communist anarchist, insurrection is a means of sharing the struggle and its spoils in unmediated ways without a transitional state; for the egoist anarchist, insurrection is the self-directed creation of one’s own without submitting to restrictive formal structures.

Borrowing heavily from insurrectionary anarchism, direct struggle brings in another element as well: a focus on a specific structure, network, or facet of domination. In this respect, direct struggle has some parallels with the way that activists organize campaigns against specific companies or social ills, but eschews many of the activist tendencies that allow centralization and recuperation to flourish.”

“Direct struggle” thus seems to be regarded as a more specifically focused version of insurrectionary anarchism, one that is about agency, autonomy, free association, affinity and relationships based on such things when understood as an aspect of the “permanent conflictuality” the insurrectionary anarchist embodies in their lived existence. My point in mentioning this is, in a way, to try and get my readers “in character” and to explain where I see “loving and queer” anarchist relationships as coming from. As is always the case with me, I am not going to be laying out any dogma here [there are, sadly, far too many anarchists elsewhere who might want to do that] but I do intend to set out an ethos, an attitude, an approach — and then its up to you to interact with it, interpret it, make of it what you will with your anarchist self-responsibility and self-actualisation in operation. It starts with understanding the insurrectionary ethos I have focused on several times before, one which pitches the anarchist, as a matter of life and lived experience itself, into a war with all that would oppress, exploit, control and coerce — in terms of systems, organisations and institutions in the material world but also in terms of our thinking, intellectuality and moral behaviour: a war outside and inside us. If we are going to fight back and/or live authentic anarchist lives then we are going to have to so construct ourselves that our lives and relationships are ones suited to our actual situation and, more specifically, to fundamentally attacking it.

Thus, it is relevant that in Movement for No Society it is said that:

“Autonomy is the foundation of direct struggle. Individuals and groups involved are self-

directed, leaving behind the comfort of falling into pre-existing plans and agendas. This means each person is responsible for deciding how they will contribute to the struggle. There is no prescribed or pre-existing correct way of engaging. This also means everyone is free to act in any way they see fit, given they have the means and willingness to make their desires reality.

Autonomous action necessarily shifts the focus from organizing other people towards self-organization. Anarchist autonomy is incompatible with hierarchical approaches of organizing others because its basis is self-determination and free association. Instead, self-organization means that groups form when people decide to come together, make decisions together, and transform those decisions into action. Autonomous organizing is daunting, and there is no one to turn to for the right answers; the actions one decides to take (and one must decide), are the responsibility of that person or group alone.”

This should sound very familiar if you have been reading me before since I go very heavily on the self-responsibility and personal agency of anarchism. In this context my point would be that this is a relational, social point as well and not merely a preference for individuality over sociality [these two always go together anyway in my view]. It is, in my mind at least, the beginnings of an idea of an anarchist culture, a self-defined set of beliefs, practices, behaviours, contexts, thought processes, ideas, imaginings, creative endeavours, or what have you, and a specifically anarchist way to be and to become, to exist as people in specifically anarchist relationships [thus forming the culture by such existence]. It has always seemed to me that if “anarchists” want to have any impact or make any difference — or even exist as an identifiable option — then they need to create an anarchist culture separate and set apart from the capitalist culture and landscape that they currently inhabit. They can’t exist as, in effect, “anarchist capitalists” [not “anarcho-capitalists” who are another matter entirely] as so many of them currently do now. Anarchists, I charge, must live differently, build new ways of relating and so new culture if they want to stand out and be a difference maker. [Can you make a difference if you aren’t actually, authentically, genuinely, different anyway?]

In my view, this fits well with what anarchism has historically been about as well. All the major theorists have set out plans for living another way, creating non-capitalist relationships between people. Creating this, actually making it real and manifested in the material world of human relationships, would be creating anarchist culture. But the problem is that here we butt heads with a major obstacle: many so-called anarchists have been entirely bought off by capitalism and cannot bring themselves to give up its desires. Yet there can be no anarchist culture whilst anarchists trap themselves in capitalism. You have to choose to not be a capitalist anymore, you have to choose the insurrection and self-actualise as an anarchist insurrection in your own being, your relationships and your life [and, yes, this may well be at your cost too if judged by capitalist standards you should be purging from your consciousness]. Here, even being in the local anarchist club, in an organisational understanding of anarchism, might not be going far enough [for there are several halfway houses or inauthentic means of “being an anarchist” but what I talk about here is the “full fat” version or “going the whole hog”]. As is said in Movement for No Society, in fact: “It is much easier to join a formal organization, to fall into a pre-defined role, to know what to do because the model already exists. Affinity and autonomy require one to take risks, to educate oneself, to be the sole bearer of responsibility for one’s own decisions.” Crucially, that text adds that “Autonomy needs to be practiced to stay strong” and that is what I am saying the anarchist is all about: the practice of autonomy in their daily lives, the creation of people who ARE autonomous and not people who tout autonomy as an anarchist virtue but never practice it. The insurrectionary anarchist makes autonomy a constituent part of their character’s make up as the basis of any and all human relations.

This, of course, might not be easy for both capitalism and authoritarianism absolutely want to rob you of your autonomy and your agency. They want you controlled and tame, one who gives up such things without so much as a whimper. So, yes, if you account for the things I am asking you to do in capitalist terms there is a cost. But there is, of course, also a cost of capitalism and being a capitalist. There is no neutral option. Consequences always follow actions or inactions. Anarchists, however, must move from thought to action. In short, if you genuinely believe anarchism is better for you, those you love, and people generally, for human relations in total, then you have no reason not to actually contribute to creating it as a culture. This will mean [and must mean] leaving your capitalist desires [and its constructions of relationships] behind you. The change is internal AND external. So it is then as well to remember, at this point, that anarchism DOESN’T EXIST, is just a word and an immaterial set of ideas, unless people come together and embody it in lives lived, practices created and maintained, and actions taken. One good example of this is how we should change our relationship with the “powers that be” — whoever they are. So, in Movement for No Society we read:

“Direct struggle is not about talking to those in power. Representation and dialogue (with authority) are impediments to revolt. Dialogue with power takes for granted that it is not within our own capacity to change the world around us, takes for granted that there is something to be gained from negotiating with the powers that be. To be clear, there is nothing to say to power. Anything we say to power will be used against us, any deal power tries to make with us is a trap to fold us into their systems of domination. Additionally, power is not a friend to be convinced of his wrongdoing; it is a network of people, institutions, attitudes, and ways of interacting that restricts life. It is still intact not because people haven’t told it enough how bad it is, but rather because it has not been overthrown.

The powers that be are always attempting to corral uncontrollable elements into conversation, promising to hear them, to let them speak. This is what power wants, something that talks to it, not something that fights it. Meetings, community forums, reconciliation talks, and panels between would-be insurgents and the managers of this world are all more or less subtle methods of declawing a struggle. The meeting is where power takes away the oppressed’s confidence and drive to take matters into their own hands in exchange for the fleeting assurance of top-down change to be implemented in a vague future.”

These are important words we need to hear for the temptation to “talk” or acquiesce or “be reasonable” will be strong. But all such impulses act to erode the very agency and autonomy our anarchist mentality and existence is based upon. As an example of an insurrectionary anarchism [one Stirner portrayed as being “constitutionless” and of those who “refuse to be organised”, i.e. by others] the very basis of our relationships flows from who we are as people, what kind of people we create ourselves to become, ones with a fierce, unquenchable desire for our own agency and self-responsibility. This, it must once again be highlighted, is not merely an individualist preference but a social argument, an argument that stronger and better social relationships ensue when they emerge from such an insurrectionary and frankly egoistic base. Retaining our agency, autonomy, free association, building bonds based on affinity as Movement for No Society here describes, is thus vital to the relationships, movements, associations, thereafter constructed — for whatever purpose they come into being. It is what will make them of an anarchist culture and, should several come to exist, a specifically anarchist cultural movement. But we should remember that:

“None of the dialogue between comrades is meant to centralize or concentrate the struggle into a predetermined or prescriptive form. Individuals and groups certainly can come together to accomplish an action or work toward a common goal, but the dialogue between them should never erode anyone’s autonomy and self-determination. The level of diversity and heterogeneity among the actors involved in a struggle will affect how vibrant and broad a discussion between them will be. ”

Difference and diversity, as I’ve said from the beginning of my anarchist writing, are not problems in this understanding of an anarchist relations and culture, they are a crucial strength. Insurrectionary anarchist existence such as I am describing is all about diversity in unity and unity in, and through, diversity and the communication and openness that enables it. Yet the point is to actually make this material for that is also what insurrectionary anarchism is all about: material effects. As Movement for No Society adds:

“A material component to struggle is what allows it to move from our imaginations into the world that surrounds us in a direct way. Having left negotiation behind, attack, sabotage, and other forms of direct action are how someone engaged in direct struggle

takes matters into their own hands, takes steps to immediately impair and ultimately destroy the systems of control.

Acting with an eye to the material and the immediate does two things for us. It harms our enemies, taking a toll on their finances, interrupting or delaying their routines, lowering their morale, and – taken to its logical conclusion – destroys them and their projects. It also develops a feeling of self-knowledge and empowerment within the participants. This feeling of knowing that one does not need to wait, that anyone is capable of making a practical contribution by taking action against domination.”

If you know anything at all about anarchism historically, all this should simply look like “direct action”, an anarchist staple, raised to a principle of existence.

However, as the basis for the “loving and queer” relationships I want to discuss below, there are some realisations we need to have. One is that power is still intact not because people haven’t told it often enough how bad it is but because we haven’t overthrown it yet. We should never expect it to reform. Its only interest is its continuance, its only strategy the achieval of that. As the kind of anarchist insurrectionary free spirit I have been unfolding as my explanation of anarchism in several books now, you don’t talk to power. You get rid of it. You make it as impossible as you can. You dissipate it. You decentralise human relations. I have framed this in an “equation” and I’m happy to repeat it again:

AGENCY + AUTONOMY + [FREE] ASSOCIATION + AFFINITY = ANARCHY

This is where my understanding of anarchist relationships that can build anarchist culture begins. As anarchists building such relationships and culture we need not merely “allies” [whatever they are and however useful they may, or may not, turn out to be] but ACCOMPLICES. Personally, I would put it even stronger than that: we don’t need allies, we do need accomplices. We need genuine anarchist relations, insurrectionary relations that attack capitalist, authoritarian, hierarchical and patriarchal relations by their very constitution, existence and maintenance. This is why I can say, out loud, in public [as I have] that:

I stand for sex as pleasure, sex as rebellion, sex as solidarity, sex as love, sex as revolt.

I don’t stand for sex as exploitation, sex as manipulation, sex as a commodity, sex as something you trick out of someone, sex as a duty.

I stand for sex that transforms, not reinforces, the world.

And, to adapt a former Situationist slogan: “The more l fuck the more I feel like creating the insurrection; the more l create the insurrection the more l feel like fucking.”

Anarchasexuality, loving and queer anarchist relations, towards which I move now, are thus an insurrection against “business as usual” and the relations of the world as it is.

Anarchist relations are about attacking the way the world is and the prison that it has become. They are an insurrection as, for example, someone like Sasha K [also on The Anarchist Library] describes it. They are about attack and recognising that that which controls us WILL NOT just fade away [although, even if it would, why should we be waiting?]. They are the proactivity of self-responsibility and direct action from ourselves, our agency. They are about us not needing centralising organisation which is merely a more benevolent version of that which we should be seeking to destroy anyway. [The revolt should not be managed, it should be spontaneous and uncontrollable — all the better to be beyond actual control.] They are about permanent conflictuality with those who would institutionalise or organise us or impose rules or conditions upon us. They are not contrarian for their own sake but always about being a means to an end. They are informal and always self-organising, task or purpose-oriented, always things which spring from our desires and needs as people with a will to determine our own lives. [Thus, they are not interested in building permanent social structures or institutions and this is an important point.] They are not factional in an individualist/communist sense for we are about building relationships between people which must both include individuals and be about things in common at all times. They are about struggling together, bearing with one another, and allowing relationship, movement, culture, to flow out of that in an organic way.

Something important to get straight, moving forward here, is to ask why I am focusing particularly on RELATIONSHIPS rather than creating anarchist organisations or institutions. The reason is both philosophical and tactical or strategic and the anonymous writer of Desert highlights it at the beginning of their section “Resist much, obey little”:

“When resistance and desertion significantly threaten those in power, repression/counter-revolution is inevitable. One answer to how to make counter-cultures less of a threat to those within them would be to drain them of antagonism; make them obviously unthreatening to power. This counsel of evasion and non-resistance has long been articulated in the lived experience of anarchies both outside civilisation, and within. Today though, putting aside the ethical issues involved, the fact is that while you can try and ignore the state, if you’re within its controlled territory the chances are that the state won’t ignore you. Those communities with a land base capable of some level of self-sufficiency will still face intervention, whilst those immersed in capitalism will often have little option but to labour, and lacking resistance, for worsening hours and wages. Another answer, and noticeably it’s the one many of us have taken, explicitly or not — is to resist (preferably in winnable campaigns), but barring wider social crisis usually at a somewhat muted level — all the time attempting some level of invisibility.”

The fact is, if you somehow get some land or a building and build “the free anarchist compound” from which you teach anarchist virtues and offer mutual aid, then, sooner or later, militarised cops are going to turn up, take away everyone they find, and turn what’s left into a smoking crater. So, as the anonymous writer of Desert suggests, what you actually need, if you possess any concept of self-preservation, is some solution which has a degree of invisibility to it or, perhaps better, some immateriality to it that no physical force can ever lay hands [or bullets or explosives] on. The answer to that is the relationship. And that is why we build relationships [and cultures from relationships] rather than organisations or institutions [which can be infiltrated and destroyed]. My point here is that it is about how we live our lives, create relationships and build cultures that can withstand physical attacks — that will surely come — from the materiality of our anarchist, anarchasexual existence in the world. Alan Moore once wrote that “Ideas are bulletproof” and we must imagine and build ideas of anarchist relationships and cultures that are too.


It is to ideas of culture and value that I turn now in this regard and in dialogue with the insightful intellect that belonged to David Graeber. Being an anthropologist, he had much to say about both culture and the concept of value [or even values. Perhaps we can say that cultures are the manifestation of value or values and that value/s, when put into practice socially through relationships, create cultures?]. I want to focus especially here on two essays he wrote in 2013, “Culture as Creative Refusal” and “It Is Value That Brings Universes Into Being”. What these essays bring to the foreground is that it is our ability to imagine and create which is the important thing, something which capitalist authoritarian culture actually wants to quash [because its extremely dangerous to those who simply want one, eternal, never-changing, system or overarching culture to carry on taking place]. These imaginative and creative acts are things which Graeber focused on throughout his career, culminating in his assertion with David Wengrow in The Dawn of Everything that the ability to imagine and create new social relations, new formations of culture and essentially new kinds of human relationship are a vital social freedom it is necessary to have.

In “Culture as Creative Refusal” Graeber wants to talk about how cultures are formed through the actions, beliefs and [crucially] relations of peoples, relations which are culturally comparative. He wants to make the point that “cultural comparison [is] an active force in history,” his further point being that “cultures are not just conceptions of what the world is like, not just ways of being and acting in the world, but active political projects which often operate by the explicit rejection of other ones.” The point here seems to be that “history” doesn’t just blithely go on its way, progressing as it does in either an essentialist or evolutionary way, but that conscious and self-conscious determinations are made by people which influence and direct their course as they go. Put more simply: people have been consciously deciding what their culture, and their values expressed as culture, might be all along [and this freedom and ability was a very good thing]. Graeber’s description here of “active political projects” is then important because it points up that Graeber believes people can have agency and autonomy in how their cultures and societies turn out. People are not set down a path by some unknown ancestors [or even simply by an essentialist and necessary history] from which they are either not allowed, or are simply unable, to deviate from. They can observe how other people are doing it and say “We don’t want to do that; we want to do something else” either because it attenuates some value they hold or because they see some pitfall in the behaviour or practice they reject or some benefit in another alternative. This is an important observation in itself in a world we are told [not least in its conceptions of cultural relationships] is the only option [because it absolutely never is], one that can be a motive for exactly such “political projects” of our own.

Thus, in the course of this essay, in reference to Europeans colonising North America, Graeber writes:

“The first European settlers in North America encountered societies that were often both far more egalitarian but, at the same time, far more individualistic than anything they would have imagined possible. Accounts of these societies had enormous impact on reshaping horizons of political possibility for many in Europe and ultimately around the world. Yet to this day, we tend to assume that such attitudes were somehow primordial or, at best, the product of some deep but ultimately arbitrary cultural matrix, but certainly not a self-conscious political project on the part of actors just as mature and sophisticated as the Europeans themselves. In all of this, the existence of a populous and apparently very hierarchical urban civilization that mysteriously vanished some generations immediately before somehow never seems to be considered relevant. We don’t know why the cities collapsed. Probably we never will. But it is hard to imagine that popular resistance, internal or external, played no role at all. While it would no doubt be overstating things to argue that what the settlers encountered was the self-conscious revolutionary ideology originally developed by those who fled or overthrew that civilization, framing it that way is still less deceptive than imagining it took shape without reference to any larger political context whatsoever.”

Graeber hints here that what was going on was schizmogenesis, the creation [“genesis”] of difference [“schizmo” — from a Greek word originally meaning “cleft”] in a conscious way as communities engaged in purposeful creation of their own social and cultural environments by refusal of those of others. But why would they do that? The answer, I believe, lies in Graeber’s other essay under consideration here, “It Is Value That Brings Universes Into Being.” In this essay Graeber argues that anthropologists seem to spend a lot of time discussing the values of various communities and peoples all over the world [naturally, this is often also a comparative activity from a third position — our own] even though they are often not quite sure what “value” actually is in terms of something in common that sets it apart [linguistically, descriptively] from other things. Yet Graeber himself seems convinced that anthropology is actually about “questions of value” at a fundamental level and tells us a story about J.G. Herder’s invention of “culture” in opposition to “state of nature” narratives by those such as Hobbes and Rousseau where it is assumed that all people in all times essentially want the same things. As Graeber notes, however, “what one actually observes [historically] is humans rapidly clustering into different language groups, in which members had a spontaneous sense of familiar solidarity with one another but profound contempt for their neighbors, precisely because (this is the subtext at least) they are not pursuing the same forms of value as they [are].” Graeber goes on to make the culture-value linkage here in that “Cultures, when first conceived, were thus imagined first and foremost as fields for the pursuit of certain forms of value — values that shaped humans into creatures whose very perceptions and sensibilities were attuned largely to that pursuit.”

Pretty soon thereafter, Graeber is once again talking about “human society as an active project” and that “value will necessarily be a key issue if we see social worlds not just as a collection of persons and things but rather as a project of mutual creation, as something collectively made and remade.” But this leads to a question: if we assume that people can make cultures and create worlds reflective of their common values then how come we so often seem to create worlds many of us hate? This leads Graeber to want to enunciate a “theory of value” in multiple points. I shall not go through these points in detail [you can do that for yourself by reading the essay on The Anarchist Library] but there are some points here, in passing, which are useful for my argument.

The first point is that people create and recreate themselves by and through their ways of acting upon the world. This seems pretty obvious really and Graeber takes this point from Marx and Engels and their analysis of capitalism and the relations it produces through capitalistic activity and imagination. Thus, as Graeber explains:

“What this suggests is that the system of exchange value does not just operate to facilitate exploitation within the factory by disguising the fact that value comes from labor, it operates on an even more insidious level by encouraging us to believe that only certain forms of labor (waged labor, or at best, labor that contributes to producing marketable commodities) produce value in the first place. It also suggests something even more radical: that what is described in the Marxist literature as ‘reproductive labor,’ housework, child care, the making, shaping, education, nurturance, and maintenance of those who perform labor, should not be viewed as some secondary phenomenon, the mere reproduction of a workforce capable of producing marketable commodities, but rather, as the most elementary form of real value-producing labor, as the very core and essence of human creative life. The fact that capitalism represents it as the mere reproduction of a workforce is the ultimate indication of its perversity, its systematic violation of the Kantian categorical imperative that human beings should always be treated as ends and not as means.”

The point here is that what we do, and the relationships formed in doing it, create us, articulate, create and reinforce value/s [and eventually go on to create a culture]. This is neither a given nor automatic, essential, inherent: we can and do make it through our daily actions and relationships and the constructions thereof. Valuing labour at a certain minimum wage per hour [for example] is then both a value but also to create a relationship between people such as, for example, an employee and a boss. Housework, on the contrary, is not paid at all but what does that say about those who do it in a world that values money and makes the acquiring and possession of as much of it as possible something of high value? Relationships and values have therefore been created and are being maintained in such a society. A culture with values has been established. Money divides people in such a culture based on how much of it they have got or how much of it they can earn/acquire.

A second point in Graeber’s analysis of value is the symbolism [or fictionality] involved in it. As he says, once more in regard to money, one of our most potent, fictional symbols:

“Money... is a very particular sort of symbol. It both represents the value (importance) of our creative actions (labor) in a form in which it can be socially recognized and it also does so in a form where it can seem to be a source of the very creative power that it represents. As such, it becomes an object of desire, the pursuit of which motivates workers to actually carry out the very creative actions whose value it represents—since, after all, this is the reason one goes to work to begin with: in order to get paid.”

Graeber wants to make the point here that “Value is the way the importance of our own labors—taking labor again in the broadest sense, described above—becomes real to us by being realized (‘realized’ here being taken in its literal sense, as ‘becomes real’) in some socially recognized form, a form that is both material and symbolic.” That it is both material and symbolic seems important here for in forming relationships as it does it requires a visible, material symbol [the coin, bank note, lump of gold or rare gemstone] but also to work on our intellectual imaginations creating value in our thinking. Such values only become more concrete by being social, shared amongst our peers. Thus, as Graeber goes on to say:

“what anthropologists call ‘kinship systems’ can equally well be seen as systems of

human production, almost invariably, marked by just the kind of process of the objectification of creative labor into value tokens that then make it easier for some class of people (in most cases, male elders) to more easily appropriate the honor, prestige, fame, vitality, or dignity collectively created by others.”

A third point Graeber goes on to make is then that value is necessarily social: “Insofar as value is social, it is always a comparison; value can only be realized in other people’s eyes” and:

“For most of those involved in pursuing a particular form of value, that’s what ‘society’ is: that audience. But there is an interesting corollary here. This also means that in the ordinary course of events, ‘society’ exists largely in the imagination of the actors. If society takes concrete, material form, this tends to happen only during important ritual events (funerals, graduation ceremonies, marriages, games, trade summits, etc.). Yet when it is imagined, it is always as some magnificent, all-embracing totality of some sort or another, a kind of universe.”

Thus, we have to grapple with the idea, with which we may not have been confronted before unless we are avid readers, for example, of Alan Moore comic books, that value, culture and even society itself [even when imagined as sets of human relations] are works of imagination. They are fictions, purposeful understandings, meanings created to knit the world together and create an illusion of our place in the whole [that is imagined to have at least the “substance” of this meaning and these values]. Creating value with which to populate and construct a culture and a society are seemingly necessary human acts in which, as Graeber notes, “the ultimate stakes of political life tend to lie precisely in negotiating how these values and arenas will ultimately relate to one another.”

Of course, there is never here simply one arena of value. There are cultures but there are also sub-cultures, collections of relationships, practices and beliefs you share with some subset of people but not others. These, as Graeber explains in his own argument, can be understood, operationally, as:

“a kind of game where the players are vying to accumulate some form of ‘capital,’ but at the same time, there is a kind of higher level game, of dominance, subordination, and autonomy, where the economic or political field will attempt to subsume the others, and

fields like academia or art are forced to adopt complex strategies to maintain their own autonomy (hence, Bourdieu’s celebration of Baudelaire’s ideal of ‘art for art’s sake,’ or his justification of his own notoriously difficult prose style as a tactic for defending the integrity of the intellectual field against incursions from the economic or political ones). [Thus, politics is] not just to accumulate value, but to define what value is, and how different values (forms of ‘honor,’ ‘capital,’ etc.) dominate, encompass, or otherwise relate to one another; and thus at the same time, between those imaginary arenas in which they are realized. In the end, political struggle is and must always be about the meaning of life.”

And so we can go onto say that:

“Viewed from within, any one of these arenas seems like a total universe. They carry within them a philosophy of human existence, of what people are, what they want, about the nature of the world they inhabit. This is why we can speak of homo ecomomicus, homo hierarchicus, homo academicus, and so forth, of different species of human that inhabit each specific value field. One curious result is that in most societies,

any one individual will find themselves constantly moving back and forth between universes. How is this possible? Here, the imaginary, virtual, ‘as-if’ quality of the totalities in question seems crucial. They may propose a total view of the world, but it’s not particularly important if the actors believe that this view is in any ultimate sense true, valid, or correct, as long as they are committed to the achievement of certain forms of value (which, again, can only be realized in others’ eyes). That is, value systems lead to the naturalization of arbitrary ideologies but not because they convince the actors that certain things are inevitable, or written into the fundamental structure of reality, or even that they necessarily ‘go without saying,’ but rather, because all these questions of ultimate reality are simply irrelevant.”

Here, once more, Graeber wants to point up the imaginary or fictional credentials of the various worlds, universes, arenas, cultures or societies we inhabit and, consequently, he makes a very important point about our ability to imagine at this point in his essay. Commenting on the Stanford Prison Experiment, where one group of undergraduate volunteers was asked to pretend to be prisoners and another to be guards in a basement for two weeks [with disastrous effects as each really got into character, the “guards” working out ways to torture their “prisoners” whilst the “prisoners” worked on means of escape from “prison”. The experiment had to be abandoned after 6 days for fear someone might be seriously hurt], he comments that what we learn from this is NOT that people given absolute authority will be assholes to those they can oppress [who doesn’t know that?] but that BOTH OF THESE GROUPS OF PEOPLE APPARENTLY FOUND IT EASY TO IMAGINE THEMSELVES INTO SOCIAL ROLES since the scenario was imaginary whole and entire but they acted as if it were real. People WERE PRETENDING to be guards and prisoners rather than actually being guards and prisoners. But what this then seems to expose is that ALL CONSTRUCTIONS OF SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS ARE SIMILARLY IMAGINARY, social roles we perform and not arbitrary or necessary relations.

We can, in other words, imagine and create new [or simply different, other] ways to exist together. Them apparently being “not true” [true being another word that comes into the orbit of imagination or useful fiction] seems no impediment at all to creatures like us with an inveterate ability to pretend, play games or imagine worlds should it suit our purposes or be presented otherwise convincingly as something we should do. All we have to do is be able to imagine caring about the stakes and suddenly it can become our reality. “Willing suspension of disbelief” can become, with the appropriate political consequences, “ideological naturalization effect” very, very easily indeed. This is all about being “drawn into becoming part of the audience” in a particular arena or accepting “the terms of the attendant universe, whatever its reality”. Its just simple imagination, the ability to place yourself inside a narrative or be inhabited by a role. [Graeber himself argues that the more politically dominant people become, the more “easily narrativizable” their “defining modes of activity” will become too.] Graeber’s point in the essay as a whole is that it is value, specific examples of values related together [in an imaginary or fiction], that brings such universes into being and that helps us articulate and orientate ourselves around and in between them [even to the extent of the fact/value distinction being an arbitrary nonsense since facts really and ultimately come from, and came from, values all along]. [See Nietzsche, “there are no facts, only interpretations.”] Graeber concludes his essay by then asserting that: “I think we have to place ourselves back in that original tradition: one that understands human beings as projects of mutual creation, value as the way such projects become meaningful to the actors, and the worlds we inhabit as emerging from those projects rather than the other way around.” It will not, of course, be lost on the attentive reader that such an attitude to value and to culture as Graeber has here described aligns perfectly with a project such as the one I address in this book, a project of the self-conscious creation of anarchasexual anarchist relations, culture and, indeed, value based on the agency, autonomy, free association and affinity of those who make it up.


We need to get queer. Queer is not an essence; it is a predisposition, an attitude, a slant, an interpretation, a desire, an action. To some extent, this is a utopian idea [in the sense in which Graeber talks about the necessary imagination or fictionality of any movement of social creation or transformation] and is what Judy Greenway refers to as “social dreaming” in her essay “Together We Will Make A New World: Sexual and Political Utopianism”, describing this as “the education of desire for a better world, and therefore a necessary part of any movement for social change.” This “social dreaming”, as Greenway describes it in her essay, which is a brief recitation of anarchist interventions for the purpose of fostering sexual freedom, particularly of women, begins in the “common rejection of the state, its laws and institutions, including marriage.” An earlier term for this was “free love” which originally meant especially a woman’s freedom to, in a paraphrase of Emma Goldman’s words, “love who you want and as many as you want”. It was tied, in some people’s minds, not least Goldman’s, to sexual education and especially birth control so that especially the female bodied, who must bear with that particular consequence of sex known as pregnancy, could control the consequences of an active sexuality. Free love first came about as an idea because marriage in the 19th century was a matter of, as Greenway phrases it, “the legal and social subjection of women.” Consequently, anarchists such as Charlotte Wilson, who co-founded the newspaper Freedom with Peter Kropotkin, could talk about it being:

“an intolerable impertinence that Church or State or society in any official form should venture to interfere with lovers. If we were not accustomed to such a thing it would appear unutterably disgusting … [H]ave you not noticed that men and women of the New Society which is struggling into being within the old, naturally fall into healthy relations of cordial equality without very much theorising?”

Wilson, then, thought of “free love” as a part of “a wider conception of a healthy, natural social world” as Greenway has it. This was part of a broader movement, which certainly included the aforementioned Goldman and her sometime colleague, Voltairine de Cleyre, who “argued that anarchism heralded a New Order in sexual and social relations, and that chaos, disorder and immorality lay in the capitalist system and the patriarchal family.” A founding premise of such arguments here was that of the gay anarchist Edward Carpenter [published in Freedom defending Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality]. Carpenter suggested there that “there can be no truly moral relations between people unless they are free.” Greenway argues that, ideologically, such “utopianism often works by reversals which challenge what is taken for granted” [capitalism is the chaos, not anarchy; marriage constrains nature, free love does not; love that is bound is not love, love that is in freedom is love]. But, veering into queer theory, she also argues that “identity is created through performance” [through acting out the role as those in the Stanford Prison Experiment did rather too well] and talks about speech acts [such as “I do” in a marriage ceremony] to the effect that we can utter our own, identity forming “I don’ts” not just to marriage but to other kinds of relationship as well. This attitude is summed up in the attitude of the youthful anarchist Rose Witcop who wrote in the journal The Freewoman, aged 21, in response to a liberal happily married woman that:

“There is a distinction between the terms lust, licence, prostitution and free love ... freewomen are not led by men, nor wish to lead men ... we who advocate free relationships between the sexes have no designs whatever on your particular husband ... we desire merely to see him a free man and you a free woman.”

Witcop, who at age 16 had begun a relationship with a 20 year old man, handing him pamphlets on free love and birth control as she did, was an activist for free love and increasing sexuality equality, not least in the ability of the sexes to equally control the consequences of their own sexual lives.

Further on in her essay, Greenway moves towards the late 1960s where sex becomes a matter of pleasure, of liberation, of rebellion and of solidarity. We also have the Situationists of that era who, according to Greenway, “linked love, sex and revolution.” For example, a Situationist slogan was “The more l make love the more I feel like making revolution; the more l make revolution the more l feel like making love.” Greenway continues:

“For them, sex is a motivating force, sexual love is subversive, anti- authoritarian. They attacked ‘a rampant sexual nihilism’, where ‘all pleasure is absent — the freedom which modern capitalism affords everyone is the freedom to meet, fuck, and remain as an object…the search for authentic life and communication which … lies at the root of all

sexual experience will only be satisfied through the transformation of all social relations.’ Like Reich and Marcuse, whose works were often referred to, if not always read, Situationists contrasted false with revolutionary sexuality, and argued that a twentieth century revolution required a new kind of person, new kinds of relationships, a new morality. We must find our true selves — or make new selves: ideas which may be logically incompatible, but in practice often coincided.”

Consequently, as Judy Greenway writes towards the conclusion of her essay:

“We need to be thinking about sex and solidarity; the relationship between passion and intimacy, commitment and friendship... Free love is not simply what people do in (or out of) bed, nor is it just one aspect of anarchist or libertarian theory. It is to speak publicly about what the heart desires; to try and work out, in our own lives, how a better world might be possible.”

This is also the view taken in the book Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire, a collection of essays and shorter pieces which largely accept the premises of queer theory and want to work them out in tandem with a concern for anarchism in the physical lives and bodies of varying kinds of people. It is here that we begin to attach some principles and values to our desire for anarchasexual anarchist culture and build it out in relationships into something people can run with and actually live. A good start on what this agenda entails is found here in the opening piece “Queer Meet Anarchism, Anarchism Meet Queer” by the editors of the book where they intend to give a prefatory overview of the book’s contents. Here one may wonder what “queer” and “anarchism” have to do with one another but it soon becomes clear that the answer is quite a lot [I have always regarded them as highly compatible in the consequences of them as intellectual positions, for example]. Perhaps, however, neither those interested to expound upon the consequences of queerness nor those writing about the consequences of anarchism have been overly explicit about such connections in the past. In this book that oversight is corrected by writers concerned to explain why each implicates the other and so can help each other out.

In distinction to much particularly queer writing of an academic sort [“queer theory” being the main offender here as an almost exclusively academic topic only discussed by middle class academics in a highly complex and jargonistic “academese” — Judith Butler is a perfect example of this], this book collects pieces that were NOT written for an academic audience and this comes across more personally and sometimes simplistically yet not without benefit in terms of understanding the points to be made. This begins in this opening piece where we learn that both “anarchism” and “queer” are contested terms not restricted to simply one meaning or matrix of understanding. The editors take the tack on anarchism that it is that which stands opposed to “capitalist property relations” which “are based on a legalized robbery of sorts” where “the things that everyone needs access to in order to live dignified lives of their own choosing are privately owned and sold for profit.” Making things even worse, such anarchism recognises that “While we are typically rented by bosses in our working lives, we are ruled by political bosses elsewhere.” This leads to the recognition that society must be changed but also that it can only be changed by people who are also changed [i.e., in the terms of the previous discussion about values, only those not inhabited by capitalist values can be those who turn society from capitalist values]. Anarchists thus have the destructive urge, “an urge to end domination, to smash power over others, to destroy the means through which working people are robbed and exploited.” On the positive, creative, side, the editors argue that anarchists substitute a use theory of property [that is yours which you are actively occupying or making use of] and that they “propose a human community based on autonomy, solidarity, and mutual aid”.

Their explanation of “queer” begins in referring to its non-sexual origins as something meaning “strange” or “mysterious” or perhaps even seemingly out of place, something blurred and undefinable. They go on to refer it to the “alphabet soup” that is LGBTQ, etc., etc., that no one is currently quite sure what is and isn’t included in the term anymore or if anyone is offending anyone else because they have left them out. “Queer” can then be a catch all term for “sexual and gender minorities of all kinds”. [Its not as simple as this, however, and I have noticed several especially transphobic gays and lesbians who, sometimes with some vitriol, refuse and refute the “queer” label.] There is, as just mentioned, however, a branch of intellectual study called “queer theory” as well as a definable queer culture and queer politics. All of these [at least as theorised by queer theory] tend to be line-blurring activities that view the creation of identities as fictions. This occurs as acts or ways of behaving [or of relating] are turned into identities, things that implicate gender performances and sexual orientations in ways many would call reductionist, as complex, and perhaps shifting, emotions, feelings and behaviours are reduced to a label in a societal process of being “constituted as socially viable beings” in the capitalist-authoritarian societies we have come to develop and inhabit. A strong suggestion queer theory gives here is that fixed sexual and gender identities, if argued as empirically and innately real, are entirely intellectual inventions, intellectual impositions on human experience in an attempt to shape society and particularly its relations through classification and categorisation.

Queerness, then, comes from a place of refusing to be told who you are. It is naturally against the imposed, authoritarian classification of people into static identities [primarily of sexuality and gender but there’s no reason this couldn’t also be racial, ethnic or in terms of nationality either, or in relation to a person’s physical/mental dis/ability] and in favour of the personal expression of what is necessarily individually interpreted and worked out experience. The queer position recognises that classification of such things is not only inherently controlling but is also a fallacy, an imposition of the idea that such things can be classified or categorised to begin with in a totalizing way. For people inevitably fall through the cracks of such coercive bureaucratic administration of populations leaving them in a socially disadvantageous position [which may even be the point of said activity to begin with]. Thus, “queer”, primarily applied to matters of sex and gender, has evolved as a fluid term which acts in resistance to strict classifications of people by authoritarian others, a way to blur who you are sexually and in gender terms whilst retaining the ability to identify with others. Doing so, it reconstitutes relations between people, not least in that they are now personal expression reaching out to others rather than being imposed in a top down, “you have no say”, kind of a way. The editors of Queering Anarchism even go so far as to call “queer” an “anti-identity” in this respect. “Queer”, then, “serve[s] as a space for critiquing identity and playing with theory, bodies, power, and desire that didn’t need to be reducible to easy definitions.” So “queer” is not simply a noun but is often used adjectivally “as positionality”. So:

“queer can be seen as a relationship, as a context-defined antagonism to the normal. Halperin, perhaps, describes this best when he writes, ‘Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. ‘Queer’ then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative—a positionality that is not restricted to lesbians and gay men, but is in fact available to anyone who is or who feels marginalized because of his or her sexual practices.’ The normative expectations that exist in society create binary divisions between behaviors deemed ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal.’ Whatever behaviors (or desires, thoughts, etc.) fall into the category labeled

‘normal’ are dominant, intelligible, visible, and in many cases, powerful. Other behaviors will fall into the ‘abnormal’ category and become subordinate, unintelligible, invisibilized, and suppressed, repressed, and oppressed.”

“Antagonism to the normal” is a good phrase to hold onto there for it is “the normal” which oppresses us in customs, traditions, practices, beliefs, and unthinking conformism every day of our lives. Queer is then a word for this as well as those described by it, a word for all those together who fight against oppression in the realisation that “if liberation, in the final instance, is going to be meaningful, it must include us all.” This is both intellectual and material work for we must build new physical relationships but they must also be built on the foundations of new thinking that has replaced the old. Here, the desire queerness has to refuse is the categorisations and classifications of others as both a defensive tool but also a weapon of attack. It attacks hierarchy, patriarchy, the imposition of a “basic” dimorphism on human bodies, the regulation of static and arbitrary sexualities or gender expressions/performances. It resists the reduction of people to chromosomes or body types or genitals or the possession, or lack of, specific body parts. It is a new, different, other, conception of human beings and so a new possibility for relating to each other based on new ground. It is to ask, as the editors here do, “What might politics look like if we began looking at identities in ways that do not treat them as fixed, monolithic, and eternal?”

After the prefatory words, the book moves along to explicating a queer anarchist set of interests in various further pieces, addressing such topics as gay marriage and queer love, borders, gender as a thing in itself, the economy, heterosexuality [and destabilising it], polyamory, going beyond a liberal politics of sex, abled and disabled bodies and the destruction of “straightness”. I want to pick out a few points from some of these pieces that struck me in particular rather than going through all of them. For the latter, you will have to read the book yourself.

We might, in fact, begin here with Ryan Conrad’s essay about “Gay Marriage and Queer Love”. He starts with a quote from Emma Goldman [a good way to get at least my attention] which eulogises love as “the most powerful moulder of human destiny” whilst simultaneously pouring scour on the idea that the institution of marriage, a relationship controlled by either church or state, is a suitable means for conveying it. Here Conrad’s point immediately seems to be that the so-called “gay marriage debate” of recent decades may have been a misstep perpetrated by elitist gays and lesbians who simply wanted bourgeois liberal parity with their straight peers [although we should note that even Foucault remarked that “rights” are not unimportant things to want or to have]. Instead, Conrad imagines “critically questioning what we, as queer and trans subjects, are seeking to be equal to in the first place.” He continues:

“Do we really want full inclusion in the institution of marriage, a social contract that explicitly limits the ways in which we can organize our erotic and emotional lives? Furthermore, do we really want to reinforce a social institution where our immediate needs and access to collective benefits are contingent on this singular articulation of partnership? Or have many of us allowed ourselves to be convinced by some vague notion of equality, with all its empty promises, that gay marriage is a battle worth fighting for?”

He then goes on to reaffirm Goldman’s lifelong point that “marriage has little to do with love” where love is imagined to be the important factor there and not marriage. He adds that, “The almost exclusive emphasis on property rights highlights that marriage has little to do with love, but with benefits and privileges as doled out by the state to those who adhere to a specific set of moral values determined by the church.” It gets worse when this is seen as part of an overarching “neoliberal culture” which is about shaping its citizens, conforming them to certain structures. Thus, Conrad adds, in criticism of a contemporary gay rights movement animated to secure and maintain gay marriage that:

“Th[e] neoliberal fantasy of the nuclear family as the only provider of emotional and economic safety is being recovered and deployed by the contemporary gay rights movement. In a bizarre twist in history, gays and lesbians are turning their backs on the kinds of radical new configurations of ‘family’ that have liberated straight people. Neoliberalism, which I broadly define here as the concentrated privatization of every facet of our daily lives, depends upon this affective discourse, which asserts that the immediate family constitutes an unproblematized site of safety and security while the rest of the world is rendered a dangerous outside.”

In short, we may say here that Conrad regards all this as a lack of ambition as well as a staggering lack of imagination which results in gays conforming to the dominating patriarchal form of society. Not concerned to articulate and explore difference, such gays and lesbians simply want to fit in, a move which changes that society and its culture not one jot as it is a deeply conservative move. Thus, Conrad, criticising this kind of “equality rhetoric”, concludes that:

“Equality rhetoric is short-sighted at best and positions our most fantastic queer futures as not only unattainable but also unreasonable. It demands that we put our time and

energy into the desperate fight to be equal participants in oppressive and archaic institutions instead of attempting to actualize our dreams of queer utopia. Furthermore, equality rhetoric has created a vacuum of gay pragmatism in which our queer political imagination has withered away, allowing no time or space to even imagine more just, more equitable ways of meeting our material and affective needs as a larger community. The question remains then: How do we, as radical queer and trans folks, push back against the emerging hegemony of rainbow-flavored neoliberalism and the funnelling of our energy into narrow campaigns that only reinforce the hierarchical systems and institutions we fundamentally oppose?”

Such questions continue when we move to J. Rogue’s “De-essentializing Anarchist Feminism: Lessons from the Transfeminist Movement”, an essay which, as Conrad’s did, casts supposedly radical liberation movements as in fact the more conservative desire for more meaningful inclusion by some marginalised group in the hierarchy. Such inclusions, as we saw with Conrad’s essay, don’t change the social relations in any real way; they just pad them out further and, in fact, buttress them all the more as more people now have an interest in them continuing. This is exactly the criticism that Emma Goldman and others had of the Suffragettes and the movement for votes for women, a campaign that Goldman decried and stated, correctly, would not change society one jot for the better. We now have women at many levels of government in several countries but those governments are worse than ever, their consequences as bad as ever for women as for men. Here, then, its notable that J. Rogue observes:

“Transfeminism developed out of a critique of the mainstream and radical feminist movements. The feminist movement has a history of internal hierarchies. There are many examples of women of color, working-class women, lesbians, and others speaking out against the tendency of the white, affluent-dominated women’s movement to silence them and overlook their needs. But generally, instead of acknowledging the issues these marginalized voices raised, the mainstream feminist movement has prioritized struggling for rights primarily in the interests of white affluent women.”

One thinks here immediately of a Guardian Hadley Freeman or Kath Viner [a major contributor and the editor of The Guardian newspaper in London, England respectively] type of “feminism” which is about [white passing] middle class, Oxford-educated women being able to police people as well as men. No genuine liberation ever takes place here of course because its about creating a marginally more inclusive societal police force [one that includes {white passing} middle class, Oxford-educated women] than anything else. [Here I note that at least Freeman has made public anti-trans statements whilst Viner’s editorship seems to play fast and loose with its commentary on trans themes to the exclusion of actual trans voices.] So J. Rogue’s commentary seems justified in regard to this one international cultural marker at any rate.

One must ask the question, however, of if is it even, or ever, possible to define “a neatly defined sisterhood”? Do all women have the same interests simply by virtue of their being women? Do not class, wealth, power, race, ethnicity, abled-ness [or lack of it], transness or lack of it, or simply “who you know” play a part here too in a conception of society we may term “intersectional”? All may have interests to fight the patriarchy or hierarchy in general but surely not from the same positions and to the same advantage in the same ways and for the same reasons. This is something about “feminism” as an idea that has always bothered me for not only was it never true that feminists were fighting for all women equally [they were usually just fighting for themselves and those like them] but one wonders if “female” is itself a homogenous group. Is there even a specifically “female” interest to begin with? Of this, J. Rogue comments that:

“In reality, [this] means pruning the definition of ‘woman’ and trying to fit all women into a mold reflecting the dominant demographic of the women’s movement: white, affluent, heterosexual, and non-disabled. This ‘policing’ of identity, whether conscious or not, reinforces systems of oppression and exploitation. When women who do not fit this mold have challenged it, they have frequently been accused of being divisive and disloyal to the sisterhood. The hierarchy of womanhood created by the women’s movement reflects, in many ways, the dominant culture of racism, capitalism, and heteronormativity.”

Thus:

“one cannot address the position of women without also addressing their class, race, sexuality, ability, and all other aspects of their identity and experiences. Forces of oppression and exploitation do not exist separately. They are intimately related and reinforce each other, and so trying to address them singly (i.e., ‘sexism’ divorced from racism, capitalism, etc.) does not lead to a clear understanding of the patriarchal system. This is in accordance with the anarchist view that we must fight all forms of hierarchy, oppression, and exploitation simultaneously; abolishing capitalism and the state does not ensure that white supremacy and patriarchy will somehow magically disappear.”

A queer anarchist move here is then the one J. Rogue takes when they say, “Transfeminism believes that we construct our own gender identities based on what feels genuine, comfortable and sincere to us as we live and relate to others within given social and cultural constraint.” Such feminism, rightly, has no belief in “universal female experience” and holds entirely to the view that it is the personal that is political [an original feminist insight]. The logical conclusion of this is self-responsibility for one’s gender and sexuality and so people speaking for themselves rather than being spoken for or spoken over. This further extends beyond intellectual ideas of gender, sexuality or identity to physical bodies and how they are made up. When it comes to trans people what this means is we should not assume a particular manifestation of the human body to fit in with either a sexed description of it or a gender performance of it. In particular, this applies to what is known as “passing”, which not all trans people choose to do [and other cultural trans-like phenomena in other, non-Western parts of the world have differing approaches to as well — from no attempt to pass at all to actual surgery]. J. Rogue here makes the point that this should be a matter of individual choice and is “generally irrelevant to theoretical conceptions of gender”. More widely, we may say that people of all types [should they have the money] change their bodies in multiple ways [whether trans or not] and, generally speaking, it should be regarded as their business alone. [One may note, for example, how many women in American pornography, who are not trans at all, seem to have had breast enlargement surgery.]

Here a queering of anarchism, or an anarchizing of queer, notes that “Capitalism, racism, the state, patriarchy, and the medical field mediate the way everyone experiences gender. There is a significant amount of coercion employed by these institutions to police human experiences, which applies to everyone, trans and non-trans (some prefer the term ‘cis’) alike.” This can lead, in turn, to “a hierarchy of importance” not just in wider society but even in imagined liberatory movements where relationships have not been reconstituted on new, non-hierarchical lines. So, J. Rogue asks correctly: “How can a person be expected to engage in a fight against gender oppression if it ignores or contributes to their racial oppression?” This question suggests that a conscious acknowledgement and re-acknowledgement of intersectional diversity within and between human relationships needs to be an ever-present and ongoing process. This is not about operating on one plane of existence alone [economic, class, race, gender, sexuality, dis/ability] but recognising that there are always multiple intersecting and interacting planes. Human relationships are not static and there is not one model that all people must be made to fit into. They should be unique, diverse, flexible, changeable, to the satisfaction of those who take part in them.

All this requires a lot of work and, particularly, it requires a lot of intellectual work reweaving our beliefs, values, truths and interpretations of the world so that we can be those who see differently, see other and so become other, creating new relationships and new culture as we go. If it is true, as I have already said, that to change society you have to have changed yourself [or, in Graeberian terms, refuse culture in preference for something else, attenuated, as you are, by your different values], then the onus will always be on such people to be those who both can and have changed. The next two essays in Queering Anarchy, “Police at the Borders” by Abbey Volcano and “Gender Sabotage” by Sallydarity, take this challenge head on by attacking the identity, classification, policing and categorization of people by which, so it seems, they can only be better controlled.

I begin with Abbey Volcano’s “Police at the Borders” which starts with a definition of anarchism as “to smash all institutionalized hierarchies” and to “reject all forms of coerced domination”. This evolves into asking “What would remain?” and the conclusion that it wouldn’t be a lot [correctly so, in my view, at least for those where capitalist development has been manifestly evident]. As a consequence, Abbey Volcano takes the view that “Anarchists... might also be creative. We might try to create new ways of relating to each other, new ways of relating to the non-human world, new ways of loving, knowing, playing, etc. If we don’t create these new social relations, then we will likely fall back on the current ones, at worst, and will not realize our creative potential, at best.” [We might also simply not exist at all anymore, a rapidly increasing possibility.] So, as I have said, there is work to do here. Therefore:

“An anarchist queer theory might also begin by attempting to tear down the borders between ‘identities’ (as well as unpack their very existence/use) by showing that people are complex (as is the world) and are not easily categorized—at least not honestly. This means tearing down the normative assumptions that are used to uphold a status quo that puts some of us above others in the social order as a result of our sexual and/or gender practices. This is neatly described by the term ‘heteronormativity’ which refers to the culture of understanding, and the institutionalization of heterosexual, cissexual, dyadic, monogamous, and permanent relationships as the only possible and coherent sexuality.”

Obviously [I hope] it is not the case that these are the only “coherent” relationships possible between human beings but we should note there that being “coherent” has been articulated as a value [i.e. it is itself an interpretation of what relationships should be rather than a natural fact]. One possible response to the hierarchical arrangement of relationships in a normativity is to invert the hierarchy — as if this achieved anything except simple inversion. This misses out on the point, however, that the problem is not simply that A oppresses or dominates B but that anyone can dominate, coerce or oppress anybody else at all. Simply inverting the hierarchy or, as an alternative, constructing a table of ranked oppressions that pits the oppressed against each other, gets us nowhere. What we actually need to do is make oppression much more difficult if not impossible at a systemic level. As Abbey Volcano puts this, “we seek to dissolve hierarchical relations, not create new ones formed from the margins.” This develops into the interpretation that “the ways we fuck, love, and gender ourselves are not inherently revolutionary. But creating a politics that refuses the hierarchical arrangement of people because of their sexual and/or gender practices—and, importantly, one that does not pressure people into certain practices under the auspices of being more authentically ‘queer’—does, indeed, have radical implications.” We must always be examining relationships and how they are formed, what they instantiate, rather than sticking with old relations but swapping the roles. One makes change, the other conserves structural oppression.

This society we in the West live in is famously capitalistic and authoritarian. It employs police forces and armies to control people, those it thinks of as its own or, occasionally, those of others. It has created courts and propagates laws at an alarming rate on an ongoing basis. [The UK, for example, outlawed standing in the road for any reason in 2022 as a response to climate protestors blocking roads.] Part of this apparatus of control has been dedicated to outlawing our desires, at least those it has arbitrarily decided it should outlaw [such as fucking in a public park or masturbating in your own front garden in view of your neighbours, neither of which seem like activities likely to cause any kind of harm to anyone if explained and contextualised in an educated way]. The point Abbey Volcano makes about all this is that “We are struggling against sexualities and sexual acts being categorized and ordered into hierarchical systems that privilege certain practices/desires over others.” Inasmuch as we go along with these things and acquiesce to government force, we are allowing our behaviour, our culture, the kinds of relationships we can have [I often meet people in the woods where I currently live and we engage in mutual masturbation of each other, sometimes even sexual intercourse] to be gerrymandered and controlled by power and authority. This is not something we should be doing for it concedes the ground that is rightfully ours.

But, to take the other side, as Abbey Volcano also does, this is not to suggest that sex practices between consenting adults should necessarily be mandated, compulsory or pushed onto people either. I and my local associates engage in the things we do because they emerged organically from our local contact. It does not mean everyone should be led to do that. Thus, there should be no creation, or expectation, of new “queer” and “anarchist” norms either. The ideal is to create an environment in which people can feel free to be, and to develop, who they are at their own pace, in their own way, and according to their own desires. Here the “queer anarchist” position is that relations of coercion or normativity are replaced with those of openness, understanding, opportunity, exploration and loving acceptance — regardless of decisions made and choices taken. Not everyone will want to masturbate and fuck strangers in the woods. But the opportunity for those who do should be there even as the acceptance of those who don’t is still assured. So what we actually carry on here, not least as the anarchasexuals I have spoken about myself, is “the struggle against the creation and maintenance of ‘the normal’” as a thing in itself. This may well involve not regarding “queer” or even “anarchist” as identities [identities being recognisable as fictions in any case] but, as formerly mentioned, as [performative] positionalities. This is to recognise that anyone can be queer or anarchist [or both] and that, as in my earlier discussion, the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, location, culture, etc., hit each person differently. “Queer”, as Abbey Volcano has it, might then been seen as a position that stands opposed to “the normal” regardless of where you are rather than as an identity term. This also lends queer the veneer of “a shifting terrain that cannot be pinned down” and this itself is annoying to a controlling normativity that just wants to nail everything in place. “Queer”, in fact, then becomes an inessential term, something with no essence. A mere relation. [And isn’t so different from Stirner’s “creative nothing”.]

A crucial factor here is that, as anarchists, we want to get rid of cops rather than be[come] them. Abbey Volcano’s piece is about finding ways to do that by reconfiguring our thinking and so reimagining ourselves. Sexuality, in this understanding, is something we do [if we want to] and not something we are. It is deconstructing borders and therefore eliminating anything to even be policed — creating new relationships [and so new cultures] as we go. This, as Abbey Volcano intimates in her ending, doesn’t ever stop for the possibilities for new relationships and new cultures are as limitless as the human imagination. Such a process can never have an end because an end would be a new controlling normativity — and that is what being queer and being anarchist exists to frustrate and to dissipate.

Sallydarity’s essay “Gender Sabotage” continues on from this thinking. She begins her piece with a quote from Voltairine de Cleyre [who gave up her own child to her male lover, the child’s father, after its birth, having no input into its upbringing at all] which criticises bringing up male-bodied children in one way, but female-bodied children in another — and chastising them if they go against their childhood programming. Here is a very simple way in which we can see how human relationships are deliberately formed and moulded from our very earliest years, given roles to play which are entirely naturalised so that we cannot, and do not, even think of them as roles. Her second quote is the following from Leslie Feinberg from Trans Liberation which is something we should all see the sense of and support:

“What makes me transgendered is that my birth sex—which is female—appears to be in social contradiction to my gender expression—which is read as masculine. I defend my right to that social contradiction. In fact, I want to live long enough to hear people ask, ‘What made me think that was a contradiction in the first place?’”

As might be guessed, Sallydarity’s essay is about abandoning a binary gender system mapped to a dimorphic view of human bodies [i.e. that they come in just two types, penised male and non-penised female versions, all others being regarded as aberrations]. They locate this desire to control body and gender expression to a forced imposition of believing “that human subordination under the law is natural — that we need to be governed”. Sallydarity emphasises the necessity of definitions and borders [and so police for the borders] to this political project. Those engaged in this have to say what is what and what is not and to be proactive about observing it “to pound a sense of hierarchy into us”. To change this situation Sallydarity concludes “we must reject the binary gender system” and “we must transcend or destroy the gender-based power relations, as part of a sort of decolonizing.” What this means is that we must not reinforce stereotypes, play along with the norm or seek equal rights from the present state of political affairs. We must eschew such things and, indeed, that whole construction of things completely. We must create anew and we must create from ourselves.

We now know, not least when we compare attitudes to sex and gender in the capitalist West with those from non-Western cultures, that the views of these things we have inherited were culturally constructed — not “natural” or “given” or “necessary” — views. Sallydarity says, for example, that “The transition to capitalism was indeed a main driving force of the conquest over different forms of gender expression and sexuality, enforcing a strict gender/sex binary” and with this we agree. It is this, as we have already seen, which naturalised and neutralised housework [as woman’s work] and enforced heterosexual marriage as the partnership of a working man [who could get paid] and a home working woman [a baby maker and domestic slave who depended on the man] who could not. At the same time as this arrangement was becoming a cultural norm sexual unions and acts that broke this mold became increasingly criminalised, something which was not a coincidence. All this activity was based on enforcing economic, sexual and social relations to create a particular culture and so type of society. People had to be made to think of society as a particular collection of relations in regard to which ALL OTHERS WERE ABERRANT. We are still living with the fallout from this to this day and our struggle to create new relationships between people is in resistance to exactly this deliberative, purposeful mentality. It is the very idea, the value, that there are dominant and submissive elements in a society, that “the strong” should come to control “the weak” — and that this is natural and normal — that we also fight against. Such thinking obviously bleeds over into other fights as well such as matters of race, class and bodily and mental ability.

Where does this come back to? Sallydarity says: “A truly liberatory position on gender/sex requires self-determination of gender identity/inclination (including bodily alterations) and freedom from coercive gender assignment” which is to say it comes back, once more, to individual agency and autonomy and this leads me into Jamie Heckert’s contribution to this collection, “Anarchy without Opposition”, an essay which takes the tack that we do not waste our lives opposing that we do not agree with, we simply abandon that entire paradigm and start imagining our own. We, as I have said elsewhere, “grow wild”, spread our wings, practice our own independence; we refuse to be slotted into hierarchies, institutions and organisational schemes imposed by others; we create our own relations, ones decided on our [perhaps mutually achieved] terms. As Heckert explains: “This, for me, is the point of queer: to learn to see the world through new eyes, to see not only what might be possible but also what already exists (despite the illusions of hierarchy)” before continuing “Queering might allow recognition that life is never contained by the boxes and borders the mind invents. Taxonomies of species or sexualities, categories of race or citizenship, borders between nations or classes or types of politics—these are fictions. They are never necessary.” And if they are never necessary then perhaps, on our own terms, they can become merely useful?

This, in fact, is to articulate an ideal of Emma Goldman’s, which Heckert quotes thusly:

“How to be one’s self and yet in oneness with others, to feel deeply with all human beings and still retain one’s own characteristic qualities. This seems to me to be the basis upon which the mass and the individual, the true democrat and the true individuality, man and woman, can meet without antagonism and opposition.” [From “The Tragedy of Women’s Emancipation”, a tract written against women’s suffrage because she was against suffrage in itself.]

What Heckert gets at here is that it is creating borders, defining fiefdoms, differentiating this from that, which is at the heart of our problem. What this activity does is remove our ability to let people be who they are ON THEIR OWN TERMS. Must human society be tagged, labelled, classified and distinguished in order to operate? Must we have borders and police to publicly function as sets of social relationships? We know that we must if we function the way we are made to function now — but must we function exactly this way? There are plenty of people who imagine not. There are plenty of people who imagine that life should not be about policing borders, arguing over what the borders are and so saying, with Heckert, that “neither queer nor anarchy is about finding the right answers or working out the right way to live.” He goes on:

“Like the Zapatistas, I want to live in ‘a world where many worlds fit.’ One of the principles of permaculture, an ethical design system or perhaps a revolution disguised as gardening, is that edges are the most productive areas in a system. Where the river meets the bank, the forest the meadow, or the sea the shore, there will be an abundance of life. The more that anarchism, a many branched river in our social ecosystem, mixes and mingles with swamp and stone, soil and soul, the more diverse forms of life will benefit.”

Quoting Foucault [of whom more below], he adds “Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic.” Ultimately, Heckert comes to the conclusion [which he terms “a queer proposal”] that “the state is always a state of mind”, continuing:

“It’s putting life in boxes and then judging it in terms of those boxes, those borders, as if they were what really mattered. It’s trying to get other people to do what you want them to do without so much regard for their needs, their desires. It’s self-consciousness, self-policing, self-promotion, self-obsession. It’s anxiety and depression. It’s hyperactivity stemming from the fantasy that being seen to be doing something is better than doing nothing, even if what you’re doing might cause more harm than good. It’s resentment at self and others for not doing it right, for not being good enough. It’s the belief that security comes from control. And it’s a source of tremendous suffering in the world.”

Its that state of mind which queered anarchy and anarchasexual relations seeks to imagine itself away from.

One box human relationships can be put into is the heteronormative box and, in her article “Polyamory and Queer Anarchism: Infinite Possibilities for Resistance”, Susan Song, who argues that “The term ‘queer’ implies resistance to the ‘normal’” [i.e. ANY construction of normal], wants to set out a queer [and anarchist] position opposed to such normativity [or even switched or inverted normativities such as homonormativity]. In an article which rehearses the deceptions and lies by which hierarchical society disguises its coercion and control with fictions such as “the social contract” [as I wrote in chapter 5 of my previous book, Nothing To Stick To, there is no social contract and that one you’ve heard about was never actually proposed to anyone to either accept or reject; it was simply stated by those in government and friends of government as the lying basis of societal existence], Song argues that we need to be “challenging the state and capitalism” exactly by “disrupting the normal”. In fact, she argues that:

“Queer theory seeks to disrupt the ‘normal’ with the same impulse that anarchists do with relations of hierarchy, exploitation, and oppression. We can use queer theory to conceptualize new relationship forms and social relations that resist patriarchy and other oppressions by creating a distinctly ‘queer-anarchist’ form of social relation. By allowing for multiple and fluid forms of identifying and relating sexually that go beyond a gay/straight binary, a queer anarchist practice allows for challenging the state and capitalism, as well as challenging sexual oppressions and norms that are often embedded in the state and other hierarchical social relations.”

So, for example, “A queer rejection of the institution of marriage can be based on an anarchist opposition to hierarchical relationship forms and state assimilation. An anarchist who takes care of someone’s children as an alternative way of creating family can be understood as enacting a queer relation.” Song here quotes Gustav Landauer [on whom more later] who proposed that “The state is a social relationship; a certain way of people relating to one another. It can be destroyed by creating new social relationships; i.e., by people relating to one another differently.” This quotation is actually both anarchism and the social consequences of queer theory perfectly put in a single definition. It is entirely the purpose of that which I have called “anarchasexual” to communicate this idea as fact as well. The point in this book is exactly that we can change society entirely and forever by changing how we conceive of, and engage in, relationships with other people and things, an activity which fundamentally includes re-imagining both ourselves and everything else. So, as Susan Song continues:

“As anarchists interested and working in areas of sexual politics and in fighting all oppressions, we can create a new ‘queer-anarchist’ form of relating that combines anarchist concepts of mutual aid, solidarity, and voluntary association with a queer analysis of normativity and power. We must strive to create and accept new forms of relating in our anarchist movements that smash the state and that fight oppressions in and outside of our bedrooms.”

This is pretty much exactly what anarchasexuality is for and what it aims to do in its desire to create a loving and queer culture. So, as Song goes onto say:

“One way that we can relate socially with a queer anarchist analysis is by practicing alternatives to existing state and heteronormative conceptualizations of sexuality. We can embrace a multiplicity of sexual practices, including BDSM, polyamory, and queer heterosexual practices—not setting them as new norms, but as practices among many varieties that are often marginalized under our normative understandings of sexuality. In polyamorous relationships, the practice of having more than one partner challenges compulsory monogamy and state conceptions of what is an appropriate or normal social relation. Polyamory is just one of the practices that arise when we think of relationship forms that can (but do not automatically) embody distinctly queer and anarchist aspects. BDSM allows for the destabilizing of power relations, by performing and deconstructing real-life power relations in a consensual, negotiated setting. Queer heterosexual practices allow for fluidity of gender and sexual practices within heterosexual relationships. Although practicing these relationship forms alone does not make one a revolutionary, we can learn from these practices how to create new conceptualizations of social relations and, importantly, challenge normative indoctrination into our society’s constrictive, limited, and hierarchical sexual culture.”

The point here is that such an attitude and approach challenges that there is ANY normal and desires that responsibility for relationships is put back firmly in the hands of those who might engage in them rather than being intellectually determined by coercive practices intended to control societies in one way or another. Such a queer and anarchist approach as Song suggests exactly promotes the faculties of agency and autonomy, of free association and affinity, that I have been saying anarchasexual anarchy is all about. This acts as a free entwining of sexual relations and of physical acts of love with a new approach to both people and society.

Further on in her essay, for example, Song depicts polyamory, the practice of loving multiple people at once or simultaneously, as “point[ing] to anarchist conceptions of voluntary association and mutual aid”. It can also be seen as a natural and obvious extension of the “free love” some anarchists were already promoting in the 19th century. Song also proposes that polyamory “as a form challenges conceptualizing one’s partner as a possession or property” and, we might also add, as someone who is exclusively yours sexually, a pet peeve of my own who, when in younger years engaged in more traditional “romantic” activities, was horrified to find out that particularly boyfriends assumed I was now their exclusive sexual domain when I wanted to be seeing what was in lots of other people’s pants instead [and trying it out]. Polyamory, we may then say, is about sharing love more widely and not conceptualising it as some special force or quality we must reserve for one, and only one, person to whom it is given exclusively. As a practice, it directly refutes any notion of a compulsory monogamy or even the idea that monogamy is a preferable relation in some morally or intellectually superior way. It also, when taken up as an active attitude, makes sexuality much more difficult to control from above. But, of course, as Song also cautions, this is not to present it as a new normativity; it is simply to present it in a queerly anarchistic and favourable light and as compatible with both queer and anarchist values. Even though I myself recommend it as anarchasexual anarchist praxis and engage in it myself, the choice over whether you do or not, of course, should always be yours. As Song herself says, “Sexual liberation looks different for each individual”.

In conclusion, we might say that all this comes from a place, as Song writes, where:

“We want more than class liberation alone. We want to be liberated from the bourgeois expectations that we should be married, that there is only a binary of men and women in rigid normative roles who can date monogamously and express their gender in normative, restrictive ways. We should fight for gender liberation for our gender-transgressive friends and comrades and fight for freedom of consensual sexual expressions and love.”


That “love” should be mentioned here I think is entirely on point: FOR IT IS MY POINT. I think that we need to return to love for, as I look out upon this bruised and battered, poisoned and destroyed, hell world, I see its official absence, if not its abject dismissal. Love seems to be very little to do with any of the habitual relations we are forced into as we are incarcerated as inmates in a vast social prison and shackled to it by various coercions, relational as much as anything else, to keep us subservient, desperate and under control. But, in all I am saying here, all I am really saying is that we need to return to love, physical love, actual love, material love, love that, as Nietzsche wrote in his notebooks, is “the greatest stimulus of life” and that which “transposes values” and alters our perception of reality. Love, in this Nietzschean sense, is an intoxicated ability to change the world, a love which makes one rich and the ultimate creative, imaginative force. [See The Will to Power, section 808.] Such is the love I propose we have for one another.

I do not know if any other anarchist has ever lauded the necessity of Nietzschean love before but I have found several writers on The Anarchist Library who laud “anarchist love” or “revolutionary love” and I would interact with three of them to finish this chapter to fill out my own points about love and its queer and anarchist, anarchasexual, necessity. The first of these is Hêlîn Asî with her essay “Finding Revolutionary Love in a World of Profound Alienation”. She begins by reflecting on the storied [literally] nature of love, the myths and narratives that have been cooked up about it over centuries and even millennia. She holds out the possibility that both this, and the peculiarities [not to mention insanities] of our times, may estrange us from love. Love then can become a bubble we create to escape from the world or it can be imagined as other things which want to trade on love’s supposedly good reputation whilst actually being damaging, violent or abusive. Ideas like “romance” try to lock up love but might actually only end in locking up those who take part in them but without love at all. Asî also wants to focus on how love is portrayed in static and stereotypical ways which, apart from anything else, foreclose the imagination from imagining different or other kinds of love. [An example here is what Mike Stoklasa of Red Letter Media, a You Tube film review channel, calls “a case of the not gays” which is where usually Hollywood films go out of their way to make sure you know the male lead character is not gay by having him kiss or hit on a random girl.] Structural formations of relationships such as any hierarchy or patriarchy also influence our possibilities in regard to relationships based on love.

As part of this narrative, Asî remarks that “To love in a meaningful way, the desire to control and to be in power has to be abandoned forever.” She adds that “love can never be institutionalized”. These are two reasons why what I am anarchasexually proposing is an anarchism of love, an anarchism of agency, autonomy, free association and affinity. What is “the anonymous life in big cities”, to which Asî refers in her essay, more in need of than love, physical contact, tactile concern? Asî goes onto say that “Love, understood as a free and courageous energy of warmth and solidarity, gives meaning.” Nietzsche would say it actually CREATES and/or TRANSFIGURES meaning and perhaps it is the most powerful, most transformative meaning that actually can be created. This creative love is transformative because only it can turn one thing into another, can turn loneliness or artificial separation into togetherness, community or a sense of being a co-traveller with others. Thus, such love “is not consumption” and we must resist infecting love with a capitalist logic which always wants to calculate. Asî remarks that “Capitalism trains us for calculating everything, that’s why we have also started charging and calculating when it comes to friendships and love” but that is also what we have to refuse. We have to become people who REFUSE to calculate in order better to love, in order to activate, enjoy and wallow in our love. Consequently:

“love does not mean finding a possession to own, make up and dress as we like and throw away as soon as it does not please us anymore. Love means fighting, which is not only fighting against but fighting for something in the first place. Love has to fight to fulfil itself. And that does not only apply to romantic relationships but for all kinds of relations.”

Asî continues that:

“To realize love between two people, it is not only essential that every one of them undergoes a change. A collective rebellion has to emerge as well. Sometimes this can also mean fighting against each other. Fighting against each other does not imply hating each other but fighting against internalized sexism through (self-)criticism... Someone who truly loves must fight against all those mechanisms standing in the way of love. Unlocking these mechanisms and rebelling against them is one of our responsibilities as revolutionary young people. The ideals of a free society have to be sought and realized collectively. Everything else cannot be accepted if we want to give love a meaning...”

Or, as I re-write this: Someone who truly values love must fight against all those mechanisms, systems and organisations of power standing in the way of love. They must fight AND they must love. They must fight with their love. They must love. [I should add here that in talking about “love” I shy away from this understood in a hokily “romantic” sense since, for me at least, such love has been twisted completely out of shape, exclusivized and put on a pedestal by centuries of storied nonsense which makes it the supreme achievement of human beings. I reject this entire narrative, and its socially controlling uses, and substitute this one of my own.]

In this context, Asî goes on to point out that, like revolution, love must never end: it is a process not an event. The ending of love, like the ending of revolution, is simply the instantiation of a new normal, a new cage, a new “things must not be other than this”. This is why I have said in the past that I prefer insurrection to revolution for the latter can all too easily be perceived simply as a one time event which changes everything. Rather, our mentality must be the queer one, as explained above, that we are those who are positionally against “the normal”. Thus, we are a constant insurrection and that insurrection is our love. Yet, furthermore, as Asî explains in the context of the ongoing Rojava insurrection in the politics of the Middle East, we are talking about “a permanent process which includes all parts of life and society, so that the ideals which have been fought for continue to be vivid and meaningful”. This love of which I speak, this intoxication, this creativity, must become part of our DNA, our lived existence, our experience of others. So, as Asî continues, “love is flowing energy. Love means being able to meet new situations and challenges, for love gives the strength needed. Truly loving means mutual support and respect, it means being courageous and honest, it means carrying out the love into the world and also nurturing and loving the community at the same time.” It is love for oneself and loving predisposition towards others, a desire for a shared context for human life rather than turning it into a competition. Such love, as Asî then notes, “requires awareness, morale and the will to change oneself and society” in order to “love in freedom”.

A second essay I consider here on the subject of love is Takamure Itsue’s “A Vision of Anarchist Love”. Itsue sticks more to the subject of coupling in love and its anarchist alternative, free love. But she still says things about love which lead off in interesting directions. A first notable point here is when Itsue argues that bureaucratised, administered societies such as we now live in, particularly in the West / global north, dull us to the need for looking after our own interests and taking the lead, in direct action, in our pursuance of them [which would here include the agenda of love]. This encourages only dependency or, as Itsue says it in her own words:

“In the course of time, we gradually become indifferent to political administration. With the assumption that those above will manage skilfully, we consider everything to be tiresome and allow them to handle it. In the process, we degenerate into the totally spiritless, uncritical ‘ignorant masses.’ The ‘system of control’ is thus one that ‘nourishes the ignorant masses.’ Having thoroughly been degraded into the ignorant masses, we become even unable to ruminate on such matters as ‘autonomy’ and ‘self-government.’”

It is Itsue’s view that “only when mutual aid and love are fully realized will our society be peaceful, and we will be able to accomplish great endeavours.” Here we should, of course, note that neither of these things will happen by themselves. They are deliberative, self-educated and self-organising activities. Someone has to get it into their head to do them and then carry them out. Itsue takes a holistic view on this when she adds that “All phenomena in the world are interconnected and organic. Even in the matter of love, we need to strive strenuously for free love by abolishing traditional views of love as a ‘shackle.’ Free love signifies none other than anarchist love…” Itsue perceives, though, that, for a capitalist elite, sex is a problem. She writes:

“They are insatiably intent on turning all of the exploited into a single efficient industrial machine. This being the case, the problem of sexuality is rather vexatious, and those in

power conceive of such ‘human’ demands, daily life and all as mere extravagance for everyone except themselves. (They certainly favour the birth of babies as eggs for their industrial machines, but invariably, this birth has to occur under restricted conditions. In other words, babies are allowed to be born only to be chained up within the confinement of the marriage system.) Under these circumstances, it is only natural that romance between humans should be wholly despised, rejected, and denounced …”

This, at least, argues that love, and the attachments it can lead to, can be an encumbrance for capitalism for it does not recognise the priority of love over capitalist values but sees love as a fly in its ointment, something which can, in controlled circumstances, provide a steady supply of “human resources” but which, if allowed its head, can reduce capitalist productivity [and simply capitalist authority over societal relations in general]. Itsue argues that for women especially this is an issue since they are the ones for whom sex may have consequences beyond the production of an ecstatic emission. In Itsue’s Japanese society she presents sex as something done entirely within the stable heterosexual couple and that is frowned upon in any other circumstance. This is presented as a desire for control over societal relations to which “free love” or “anarchist love” is to be contrasted. It must then be considered that this is a more uncontrollable love in capitalist terms, one possibly destructive of capitalist relations. She continues that “sexual activities... have been ruthlessly institutionalized for the convenience and maintenance of oppressive power” but also suggests that “It should now be obvious that healthy sexual conduct is natural sexual intercourse between a man and a woman via the spontaneity of their mutual love” — which does not make her sound like the most libertine of persons in her own right [although that is, of course, her business]. Here especially women controlling their own sexual relations, and their consequences, is presented as part of “the drama of rebellion”, however, and she is not against either spontaneous love [“We may experience ardent love for a short while without knowing when and where, and there is no reason to deny the freedom of realizing that love”] or love that is “an outgrowth of respect and love for all people.” In fact, it is in this last formulation, that individual acts of love, occasions of love or spontaneous acts of love are part of a greater love we would potentially share with all that I find the sense in what this perhaps conservative Japanese anarchist woman is saying.

The last piece I want to refer to is Ryan Calhoun’s “The Anarchist as Lover”. Calhoun starts with a great question: “What would it be like if everyone loved everyone else? 10 out of 10 people agree, it’d be pretty fucking great.” The problem, however, is that “society”, as a coerced system of relationships in capitalist-authoritarian guise, “ensures we will hate The Other whoever it decrees qualifies”. Calhoun, however, has a bold solution:

“The most potent force to tear down these walls which entrap us is not counter economics, propaganda by the deed, networks of solidarity, or any organizational structure. The sledgehammer to wield, to swing maddeningly, to obliterate the prisons our minds persist in, is love. Radical circles must be full of lovers, wild lovers, those who love without shame or fear or consideration to rules and norms. It takes lovers, whose only permanent object of hate is the walls that separate them, limit their love, chain their ecstasy, deny them their absolute right to be in love with any and all aspects of the world around them.”

Yes, this is exactly what we want. This is the antidote to loneliness, oppression, hatred, division, conquest, racism, xenophobia and exploitation. It is love, especially as Nietzsche has described it, which transforms how lovers see others in/and the world. But what does Calhoun say about this necessary love? He says:

“Love is not solidarity. Solidarity is nothing more than loyalty to the cause of a group. It isn’t love. I am told often why I should have solidarity with this group or that despite any personal connection with those involved, despite my judgment on the rightness of their actions. It is not love because love isn’t loyal. Love is infatuated, it is dedicated, it will not merely speak a word of agreement and obedience with The Cause. Lovers do not require obedience. What would you not do for those you love? Do you have to be put in line and told what to love? No, we do not need that kind of dedication to our fellows. We need angered, impassioned, unstoppable individuals guided by their connection with those around them, with those who have shown us they are worth us fighting for and alongside.”

Yet Calhoun pushes even further than this. Of love he says:

“You cannot have love without recognizing the dignity of those you may never know or have a reason to embrace in passionate, mutual exchange of the best in one another.

Some people may not be deserving of your love, but they are deserving of freedom. They too are lovers, whoever they are. We all know what it is to be infatuated and there will always be others to share our infatuation with. But love is also random. One does not truly know when we will be gifted with another to embrace, or why we should embrace them so. Until all are free, our love is necessarily limited, and so our ability to truly control and live our lives to the fullest and most ferociously joyous is cut down before us.

Love isn’t all we need, in fact it can’t be. To love is to love for something. We must fill our lives up with reasons to love and build new institutions which allow us to discover ourselves and one another. This is no small task and it will unfortunately not come as easy as our passions arise. All the more necessity for lovers, for those that will fight for a world they can embrace with total freedom of action and conscience.”

I love Calhoun’s decision to differentiate and define love here, create its own space, set it apart from other things. It helps to point up that it is love specifically that is needed and what makes the difference.

But, to come to my own final thoughts on this now, I want to suggest that what we need is a loving and queer anarchist culture, both generally as a spreading phenomenon but most immediately and particularly as something originating and spreading from our own lives. We can all be seeds of this, you and I. It is up to us. This is love that is not about what’s deserving; it is about what is loved. This love is not intellectual or calculating; it is about an inability to see the world any other way because you are intoxicated by this love. This is a love that is an interpretation of the world — and of your place in it in relationship to it and the things in it. Here are thirteen more things I have to say about this love:

1. This is a self-generated love, an overflowing of personal value, a reaching out beyond oneself, an expression of a kind of life. One has to be vital enough to express this love so that one literally overflows.

2. This is a love that is an associational desire, an activity that both finds and takes strength in interaction. And it is not limited to couples or pairs nor is it bound by the fictions of “romance”.

3. This is a love that is relation-building and about strengthening affinity bonds with those it touches in a general way.

4. This is a love which is an expression of care and concern, an aspect of one’s values which sees the self-preservational sense in caring about more than yourself. So it is not “altruistic” but more holistic in the sense that all lives are ultimately entwined in the fate of all others.

5. This is a love concerned with personalistic relationships and communicating with each other on the personal level and cannot be the basis of institutions or organisations. It is ad hoc, unique and specific, in each case, to those between whom the relationship is taking place.

6. This love is a mutualism, a reciprocity, a reflexive care and concern, and is hierarchy-destroying even whilst it is relationship-cementing.

7. This love, as all anarchist anarchasexual love must, takes place beyond good and evil; it exists in its own newly crafted and imagined space and takes place in its own context. Yet it is still ethical and might best be described as a new ethical openness towards others.

8. This love is direct action, and insurrection, against “normal relationships”, an attack. It is the embodiment of the anarchy I have described in multiple books before this one, a materialisation of emancipatory ideas in everyday behaviour and deliberate, purposeful practices. It is both personal agency and the practice of free association writ large.

9. This love is interactional, communicative, a giving away of oneself and the receiving of another, an understanding oneself in and because of others, an affirmation of a social reality beyond oneself, a participation.

10. This love is the physical embodiment of an understanding of life and a philosophy of human existence and seeks to create its own, expanding ecosystem of relationships.

11. This love is a necessary relationalizing and a reconstitution of face to face intimacy that destroys our coerced imprisonment in relationships defined by bureaucracy and administration that controls us at arm’s length. It re-personalises us with one another and attacks our forced isolation and separation. It reassociates us with one another in and through personally negotiated relationships.

12. This love is tactile, material, physical, bodily, a matter of intimate nurturing and a renewed confidence to open ourselves up to one another, mentally and physically, an invitation to the intimacy of laying yourself bare without fear of rejection.

13. This love is groundbreaking, uncontrollable, and wild. It is a new beginning. It will not be shackled and exists in no two places in the same way. It cannot be grasped so that it may be chained or kept static but it must continue to be created and keep creating itself. For it is creation, it is beauty and it is art. It is an action of emancipated human beings engaging in their emancipation.

It is my intuition that if this love were ever to catch light in society it would change everything but I am not naive enough to imagine that this is certain or even likely. Yet it is not about this anyway but rather the expression of our own will to certain relationships that springs from our own values and consciousness and that attacks the status quo in order to engage in creating a new, anarchist and anarchasexual culture. This culture is one that chooses love and asks you to choose love too. Whether you do, or not, however, is up to you — but the invitation to join in with this loving and queer culture will always be open. Come on in you fuckers!

4. inventing cultural creations

“To imagine a sexual act that doesn’t conform to law or nature is not what

disturbs people. But that individuals are beginning to love one another — there’s the problem.” — Michel Foucault

This is to be a chapter interacting with short pieces, and especially interviews, of and with the French philosopher of historical systems of thought, Michel Foucault, as contained in Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth which is formally volume one of The Essential Works of Michel Foucault. My focus in interacting with the many pieces included in this book, not all of which I have interacted with by any means, is to focus on an ethical approach to common life, life together, life “in relationship” that is creative of culture [particularly as that relates to, and involves, sexuality], as this is, of course, my subject in this book. About this Foucault has much that is relevant to say and I have focused largely on interviews in this respect as they catch Foucault in a mode in which he is responding to questions unknown to him before they are asked and so, in answering them, he has to give expression to his ideas without being able to sit back, consider, organise his thoughts, etc. So the Foucault I interact with here is not the one who is presenting a project in literary form, a thesis, but the agile thinker who interacts with others in an act of explanation and understanding.

My approach in this chapter will be to go through several of these relatively short pieces in this book, drawing out ideas from what Foucault says and perhaps also adding in some ideas of my own Foucault then inspires, before rounding up at the end what I think we have learned from this Foucauldian interaction.

The first piece I want to address is not an interview, however, but one of the pieces in the first part of the book which relates to the courses that Foucault taught at the Collège de France in Paris, where he worked, where he was required, on a yearly basis, to teach a lecture course for public consumption as part of his contract of employment. These courses often naturally track his publication history and so we find courses on the social formation of knowledge, punitive and psychiatric systems of thought, biopolitics, power, subjects and subjectivity, etc. The particular piece I want to begin by addressing is entitled “Society Must Be Defended” and, appropriately enough for the topic of this book of my own, it wants to discuss the formation and maintenance of societal relations and particularly in their relation to war.

Foucault begins this piece wanting to ask how we might go about analysing power relations, a subject with which he was habitually interested throughout his career. He writes:

“In order to conduct a concrete analysis of power relations, one would have to abandon the juridical notion of sovereignty. That model presupposes the individual as a subject of natural rights or original powers; it aims to account for the ideal genesis of the state; and it makes law the fundamental manifestation of power. One would have to study power not on the basis of the primitive terms of the relation but starting from the relation itself, inasmuch as the relation is what determines the elements on which it bears: instead of asking ideal subjects what part of themselves or what powers of theirs they have surrendered, allowing themselves to be subjectified [se laisser assujettir], one would need to inquire how relations of subjectivation can manufacture subjects. Similarly, rather than looking for the single form, the central point from which all the forms of power would be derived by way of consequence or development, one must first let them stand forth in their multiplicity, their differences, their specificity, their reversibility: study them therefore as relations of force that intersect, interrelate,

converge, or, on the contrary, oppose one another or tend to cancel each other out. Finally, instead of privileging law as a manifestation of power, it would be better to try and identify the different techniques of constraint that it brings into play.”

The interesting aspect of this for me is “how relations of subjectivation can manufacture subjects” and so the fact that relations create their participants in their being related. In fact, how we think about relations [which is never fixed] does this too as calling the “juridical notion of sovereignty” a “model” suggests. All of these things suggest interpretation and so values that can articulate and manufacture such a thing. For Foucault, however, “force relations” suggest “war” as a model for understanding relations generally and so suggest the first order question: “How, since when and how, did people begin to imagine that it is war that functions in power relations, that an uninterrupted combat undermines peace, and that the civil order is basically an order of battle?” [This is actually the question that Foucault’s public lecture course for that particular year set out to discuss.] This, of course, leads to the explanatory gloss of this question as “Who first thought that politics was war pursued by other means?” What follows is a very shortened form of one of Foucault’s explanatory histories of the development of thought.

Foucault argues that, once upon a time, only certain people had the power to make war and that, gradually, these people withdrew “from the person-to-person, group-to-group relationship” in a social movement which gradually led to “state privilege” and the creation of an official military apparatus so that “a society pervaded by warlike relations was slowly replaced by a state equipped with military institutions.” Foucault also argues that, funnily enough, at about this period in history a certain discourse began to appear which “makes war the permanent basis of all the institutions of power.” This was around about the seventeenth century. In this particular kind of discourse:

“it was war that presided over the birth of states: not the ideal war imagined by the philosophers of the state of nature but real wars and actual battles; laws are born in the middle of expeditions, conquests, and burning cities; but war also continues to rage within the mechanisms of power — or, at least, to constitute the secret driving force

of institutions, laws, and order. Beneath the omissions, illusions, and lies that make us believe in the necessities of nature or the functional requirements of order, we are bound to re-ecounter war: it is the cipher of peace. It continuously divides the entire social body; it places each of us in one camp or the other. And it is not enough to find this war again as an explanatory principle; we must reactivate it, make it leave the mute, larval forms in which it goes about its business almost without our being aware of it, and lead it to a decisive battle that we must prepare for if we intend to be victorious.”

What Foucault means here is that this mentality, this metaphor as a measure of understanding, creates certain relations between people. Of course, it is not a necessary metaphor [for what metaphor ever is?]. But it has consequences. For example, as Foucault goes onto say, “The subject who speaks in this discourse cannot occupy the position of the universal subject.” They are themselves, not every “I”. They take a side and it is always their side. The “truth” they speak of, even if they imagine to feel they are trying to be fair in defining it, is always nevertheless “functioning as a privilege to be maintained or re-established... a truth that functions as a weapon.” “Universal truth and general right” are here “illusions and traps”. A further example is that using war as a means of understanding is that “fury must account for harmonies” and “What is meant to serve as a principle of decipherment is the confusion of violence, passions, enmities, revenges; it is also the web of petty circumstances that decide defeats and victories.” Everything is a matter of the battle and winning the fight. And so:

“at the beginning of history and law one will posit a series of brute facts (physical vigor, force, character traits), a series of chance happenings (defeats, victories, successes or failures of conspiracy, rebellions or alliances). And only above this tangle will a growing rationality take shape, that of calculations and strategies — a rationality that, as one rises and it develops, becomes increasingly fragile, more and more spiteful, more closely tied to illusion, to fancy, to mystification. So we have the complete opposite of those traditional analyses which attempt to rediscover, beneath the visible brutality of bodies and passions, a fundamental, abiding rationality, linked by nature to the just

and the good.”

What this results in, Foucault concludes, is “a historico-political discourse, a discourse in which truth functions as a weapon for a partisan victory, a discourse at once darkly critical and intensely mythical.” Discourses, of course, are modes of thinking that act as borders on thinking, replete with their own values, rhetorical moves and sets of possible agreements and disagreements.

Perhaps this is why Foucault himself refused to be a polemicist, a topic he addresses in the next piece I want to focus on, the interview titled “Polemics, Politics, and Problematizations”. Here the interview begins when Foucault is asked why he does not take part in polemics [polemic comes from a Greek word meaning “war”]. Foucault finds it a moral issue:

“That’s not my way of doing things; I don’t belong to the world of people who do things that way. I insist on this difference as something essential: a whole morality is at stake, the morality that concerns the search for the truth and the relation to the other.

In the serious play of questions and answers, in the work of reciprocal elucidation, the rights of each person are in some sense immanent in the discussion. They depend only on the dialogue situation. The person asking the questions is merely exercising the right that has been given him: to remain unconvinced, to perceive a contradiction, to require more information, to emphasize different postulates, to point out faulty reasoning, and so on. As for the person answering the questions, he too exercises a right that does not go beyond the discussion itself; by the logic of his own discourse, he is tied to what he has said earlier, and by the acceptance of dialogue he is tied to the questioning of the other. Questions and answers depend on a game — a game that is at once pleasant and difficult — in which each of the two partners takes pains to use only the rights given him by the other and by the accepted form of the dialogue.

The polemicist, on the other hand, proceeds encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question. On principle, he possesses rights authorizing him to wage war and making that struggle a just undertaking; the person he confronts is not a partner in the search for the truth but an adversary, an enemy who is wrong, who is harmful, and whose very existence constitutes a threat. For him, then, the game consists not of recognizing this person as a subject having the right to speak but of abolishing him, as interlocutor, from any possible dialogue; and his final objective will be not to come as close as possible to a difficult truth but to bring about the triumph of the just

cause he has been manifestly upholding from the beginning. The polemicist relies on a legitimacy that his adversary is by definition denied.”

Thus, how we address each other in our communications is not without its own consequences and prior commitments. The mode we use is no blank slate but a positionality, a relation. A mode of discourse, a kind of discourse, sets up a relation. Foucault goes onto talk about three models for polemics [religious, judicial and political] but for polemics the point always seems to be to determine “the intangible point of dogma” and so finding fault with someone already imagined to have been judged by it. Tellingly, Foucault says of polemics that “it isn’t dealing with an interlocutor, it is processing a suspect.” And so, “Polemics defines alliances, recruits partisans, unites interests or opinions, represents a party; it establishes the other as an enemy, an upholder of opposed interests against which one must fight until the moment this enemy is defeated and either surrenders or disappears.” This is a long way away from “the serious play of questions and answers” with which Foucault has contrasted it. Polemics, Foucault charges, never produce new ideas [something in which he was interested] and, thinking about it, how could they? — for they exist only to conserve intellectual ground already established and now defended by the polemicist. In contrast, Foucault claims to want to draw out problems, ask the right [i.e. seemingly necessary and relevant] questions or to concern himself with “the development of a domain of acts, practices, and thoughts that seem to me to pose problems for politics.”

This is a question, in the discursive positions Foucault contrasts, of if we set ourselves, as a distinctive “we”, prior to debate, as the polemicist or the dogmatist, or if we want to elaborate the necessary questions about the topic at hand in order to make the formation of a future “we” possible as a result of the debate. It will become clear why this matters in Foucault’s mind as I discuss other interviews shortly. Here Foucault says that “it seems to me that the ‘we’ must not be previous to the question; [this] can only be the result — and the necessarily temporary result — of the question as it is posed in the new terms in which one formulates it.” Thus, he can assert:

“I have never tried to analyze anything whatsoever from the point of view of politics, but always to ask politics what it had to say about the problems with which it was confronted. I question it about the positions it takes and the reasons it gives for this; I don’t ask it to determine the theory of what I do. ”

Foucault was essentially a scholar who wanted to investigate how discourses on numerous topics came to be, what was active in their formation, how they worked and what for. This could be applied to scientific domains, political structures or moral practices. Thus, he was interested in what constituted a knowledge about a subject, structure or practice, how this was articulated and the role of it as an authority. Of course, all of this also applies in regard to asking what kinds of relationships such things could or would create as well. Foucault describes himself in his work as articulating “the establishment of a certain objectivity, the development of a politics and a government of the self, and the elaboration of an ethics and a practice in regard to oneself. But each time I also tried to point out the place occupied here by the other two components necessary for constituting a field of experience. It is basically a matter of different examples in which the three fundamental elements of any experience are implicated: a game of truth, relations of power, and forms of relation to oneself and to others.” As part of explaining to his interviewers what it is he sees himself as doing in his intellectual work he says, “Thought is freedom in relation to what one does, the motion by which one detaches oneself from it, establishes it as an object, and reflects on it as a problem.” Foucault, then, does not so much want to address the history of human thought from the position of a partisan as from the position of someone who wants to identify problems so that it may be possible to change things in order to remove them. In elucidating this difference, he has inadvertently shown up that how we relate ourselves to ideas creates relationships with them and, in our materiality, with others as well.

Next I consider Foucault’s interview in 1982, in Canada, by Stephen Riggins for the publication Ethos. Riggins begins by asking Foucault about silence and particularly how relations between people that contain a lot of silence are different to ones that don’t. This develops into a discussion of various cultures [of relationships] and their various cultural differences [there being more and less “silent” cultures, for example] and here Foucault, who lived in different countries at the start of his career, remarks that: “we very often have the experience of much more freedom in foreign countries than in our own. As foreigners we can ignore all those implicit obligations which are not in the law but in the general way of behaving. Secondly, merely changing your obligations is felt or experienced as a kind of freedom.” As someone who has lived in multiple different countries in their life so far, I feel the correctness of this statement in my bones. Relationships between people in, say, Germany and the UK, for example, do not feel at all similar but quite different, not only in terms of relative freedom but also in terms of social connection. It is interesting, in this connection, to consider Foucault’s comment, in relation to being asked why he chose to become a philosopher [he says that he did not], that “Knowledge is for me that which must function as a protection of individual existence and as a comprehension of the exterior world. I think that’s it. Knowledge as a means of surviving by understanding.” I always personally find it a very revealing question to ask “What is it you know?” because it exposes what you think knowing is, what you think you know about, how you think you know, etc., all these ancillary questions which reveal the working of a human mind and what is imagined to stand fast for it. This is actually what Foucault does in his work for he uncovers people’s thinking and reveals what it is they think they know and that they have set it up as “knowledge”, an authority, something by which they articulate and organise life and relationships, and perhaps quite differently from one another — as the world beyond keeps moving.

This brings us to “the economics of sexual behaviour in our society”, a subject Foucault studied in the final years of his life which gave us his now 4 volume History of Sexuality, a revelatory work on how at least some societies have thought about sex over millennia. One notable facet of this work is that Foucault denies that sexual expression had simply been repressed for he diagnoses a counter-movement which is the increase of discourse about sex all the better to control it. Thus, “repression is always a part of a much more complex political strategy regarding sexuality.” In this connection he can speak about “the economics of sexual behaviour in our society” and detail newly found “problems” such as child masturbation or “hysterical women” [of which there was a glut in the nineteenth century and which often apparently required male doctors to masturbate said women as a “cure”]. All of this highlights complex kinds of relationships, between parents and children, between officials and populations, between people and their neighbours, and their interactions based on ever newly-formed knowledges which act as coercions to certain relationships between them. Your young son touching his penis regularly can, for example, be regarded as quite innocent and non-problematic but if someone tells you it is morally or medically defective then suddenly you may come to view it as something you need to correct or discipline. That “knowledge” has had the effect of changing your relationship to your son whereas, in former times, it may not even have been identified as a problem [which results in a quite different relationship]. Here Foucault comments:

“Everyone knows very well that it’s impossible to prevent a child from masturbating. There is no scientific evidence that it harms anybody. [Laughs] One can be sure that it is at least the only pleasure that really harms nobody. Why has it been forbidden for such a long time then?”

Thinking about sexuality more generally [this interview was conducted in the middle of Foucault’s sexual research which ran from 1976 to his death in 1984], Foucault responds to a question about “sex and reproduction” being subjects of the time with the suggestion that, in current times [the early 1980s], sexuality had been decoupled from reproduction and that, instead, “It is your sexuality as your personal behaviour which is the problem.” Foucault’s usual go to example in these types of discussion was homosexuality [not least because he was himself gay] and he uses it here as an example of what he means too. Here he argues, for instance, that:

“It is very interesting to see that, before the nineteenth century, forbidden behavior -even if it was very severely judged — was always considered to be an excess, a ‘libertinage,’ as something too much. Homosexual behavior was only considered to be a kind of excess of natural behavior, an instinct that is difficult to keep within certain limits. From the nineteenth century on, you see that behavior like homosexuality came to be considered an abnormality. When I say that it was libertinage, I don’t say that it

was tolerated. I think that the idea of characterizing individuals through their sexual behavior or desire is not to be found, or very rarely, before the nineteenth century. ‘Tell me your desires, I’ll tell you who you are.’ This question is typical of the nineteenth century.”

Homosexual sex, then, in this interpretation, was not an “abnormality”, it was simply something which went too far, a surfeit of sexual desire. Yet, from this, it morphed into something which could suddenly become an abnormality of character, something which defined you, an identity, something that was indicative of what you were. That, as I’m sure you will agree, is a huge epistemological change, something which changes not only how we regard each other but, consequently, the relationships between us. Yet, it seems to me, that Foucault himself does not shy away from the former definition for, in being asked about his relationship to pleasure, he describes it as something that must be “incredibly intense”. He even speaks about pleasure being something so intense that you could die from it. Yet here we come into the territory that really appeals to me in regard to Foucault for, being asked about the point of his work and its relationship to the arts, he replies that his work is about “transforming yourself”.

Here Foucault voices his secret fear “that political power may destroy us” and in his interest in his own work as not to cultivate academic status but to facilitate his own transformation. This is to say that Foucault was carrying out his great and multiple works of intellectual genealogy in order to become changed. He calls it a “transformation of oneself by one’s knowledge” somewhat by analogy to a musician being changed by their music or an artist by their art. There are lots of people in the world who think OTHERS should be changed but rather less who see the task of life as to be CHANGING THEMSELVES. I take this as a sign, then, of Foucault’s personal integrity. He studies and writes because he imagines that his life and relationships to everything else depends on it. [In this, I am much the same.] Foucault, in fact, calls this “ethics” — “if by ethics you mean the relationship you have to yourself when you act”. He links this back round to pleasure again when he adds that “The relationship that I think we need to have with ourselves when we have sex is an ethics of pleasure, of intensification of pleasure.” Further on, in answer to another question, he will add that “People have to build their own ethics, taking as a point of departure the historical analysis, sociological analysis, and so on that one can provide for them” and this is our first intimation that we should be consciously creative people, those active in the action of our own transformation.

It is this theme which is taken up in the interview titled “Friendship As A Way of Life” in Le Gai Pied, a French gay periodical whose name [which is a French play on the sound of words — “Gai Pied” {gay foot} sounds like “guêpier” which means “hornet’s nest” and “trap” or “pitfall” figuratively speaking] was suggested by Foucault himself. Here the questions are more openly about sex and sexuality and Foucault can discuss questions about sexual relationships and culture more specifically. Here then, in questions which begin on the subject of the age range of the readership of the periodical itself, Foucault immediately diverts to the need to “distrust... the tendency to relate the question of homosexuality to the problem of “Who am I?” and “What is the secret of my desire?” Foucault imagines that the issue here is “not to discover in oneself the truth of one’s sex” but, instead, “to use one’s sexuality henceforth to arrive at a multiplicity of relationships”. Foucault follows this up by suggesting that “homosexuality is not a form of desire but something desirable”. Thus, he suggests one can “work at becoming homosexuals”, something he thinks tends developmentally towards “friendship”. Thus, he constructs homosexuality as a material phenomenon “as a matter of existence” or, perhaps, co-existence — for he discusses this then as “how is it possible for men to be together? To live together, to share their time, their meals, their room, their leisure, their grief, their knowledge, their confidences? What is it to be ‘naked’ among men, outside of institutional relations, family, profession, and obligatory camaraderie?”

This comes to be about creative relationships and, thereafter, cultural practices for, in once more being asked about ages and age differences, he replies:

“two men of noticeably different ages — what code would allow them to communicate? They face each other without terms or convenient words, with nothing to assure them about the meaning of the movement that carries them toward each other. They have to invent, from A to Z, a relationship that is still formless, which is friendship: that is to say, the sum of everything through which they can give each other pleasure.”

As Foucault intimates, this expression of sexuality requires the complete invention of a relationship and way of acting toward one another. It is relationship OUTSIDE of the norm. It becomes an “immediate pleasure” and “it cancels everything that can be troubling in affection, tenderness, friendship, fidelity, camaraderie, and companionship, things that our rather sanitized society can’t allow a place for without fearing the formation of new alliances and the tying together of unforeseen lines of force.” It pays no heed to the law or convention or normality or what the neighbours might think: it is transgressive, a new relationship based on the sharing of pleasure. Foucault comments on this memorably: “To imagine a sexual act that doesn’t conform to the law or nature is not what disturbs people. But that individuals are beginning to love one another — there’s the problem.”

Here Foucault once more adverts to his self-transformatory agenda. He regards it as useful work to transform oneself into a certain type of person or to appear to have done so. He regards this [still speaking in homosexual context, of course] as “a homosexual askesis that would make us work on ourselves and invent — I do not say discover — a manner of being that is still improbable.” He continues:

“What we must work on, it seems to me, is not so much to liberate our desires but to make ourselves infinitely more susceptible to pleasure [plaisirs]. We must escape and help others to escape the two ready made formulas of the pure sexual encounter and the lovers’ fusion of identities.”

Foucault is talking about CREATING NEW RELATIONSHIPS of course, this interview’s “friendship as a way of life”. This is what I imagine “anarchasexuality” to be as well. Foucault then wants to ask “How can a relational system be reached through sexual practices? Is it possible to create a homosexual [or, in my case, anarchasexual] mode of life? Of this, Foucault says:

“This notion of mode of life seems important to me. Will it require the introduction of a diversification different from the ones due to social class, differences in profession and culture, a diversification that would also be a form of relationship and would be a ‘way of life’? A way of life can be shared among individuals of different age, status, and social

activity. It can yield intense relations not resembling those that are institutionalized. It seems to me that a way of life can yield a culture and an ethics. To be ‘gay,’ I think, is not to identify with the psychological traits and the visible masks of the homosexual but to try to define and develop a way of life.”

In other words, “gayness” Foucault thinks can be defined by developing ways of living, types of friendship, certain ways of relating to each other [and are therefore never just arbitrary or static labels or innate essences]. It can be about certain ways of loving one another too for there is no reason to think that love must be practiced in a single way and much less a dictated way, one that is not invented between lovers for themselves and the furtherance of their own pleasures. Foucault here notes, for example, that when women are together they often actively brush each others’ hair, do each others’ make up or help to dress each other. They are not shy about touching or interpersonal contact. Foucault contrasts this with men who seem to see other men’s bodies as off limits, causes of offence. Men touching men is a kind of taboo. It is in this respect that when men are forced together for long periods, such as in war or in prisons, new relationships [scandalously] sometimes break out as moral and intellectual barriers are breached by human necessity.

But what does Foucault want to see here in this case? He describes, in his closing, the possibility of “a homosexual culture, that is to say, the instruments for polymorphic, varied, and individually modulated relationships.” But this is not to be any dogmatic program. Programs quickly become dogmas and laws and what Foucault wants most of all is INVENTION. He says, “There ought to be an inventiveness special to a situation like ours and to these feelings.” So “the program must be wide open”. We must be able to imagine all the possible spaces that could be filled with the invention of new forms of relationship. We must ask “What can be played?” What is notable here is not only the invention necessary to this scenario but that it is a polymorphic invention. There is no sense here that, in any way, one type of relationship is, or should be, adequate to all situations. Foucault is doing nothing less than advise that as many relationships, and types of relationship, should be invented as people can invent for the furtherance of their own pleasure and enjoyment and so to create the necessary cultural context for them in doing so.

In “Sexual Choice, Sexual Act”, a further interview conducted with Foucault, he engages in a continuance of his interest in talking about the creation of a homosexual culture and consciousness through the invention of social relations. Here an important early point is that:

“Sexual behavior is not, as is too often assumed, a superimposition of, on the one hand, desires that derive from natural instincts, and, on the other hand, of permissive or restrictive laws that tell us what we should or shouldn’t do. Sexual behavior is more than that. It is also the consciousness one has of what one is doing, what one makes of the experience, and the value one attaches to it. It is in this sense that I think the concept ‘gay’ contributes to a positive (rather than a purely negative) appreciation of the type of consciousness in which affection, love, desire, sexual rapport with people have a positive significance.”

Yet a charge that was often laid against Foucault, most especially, of course, by those who had never read or listened to him, was that he was a libertine. He wanted a sexual free for all. The secret fear was that nothing was off limits. [This was a time when gays were routinely accused, as trans people are today in exactly the same way, of wanting to sexually subvert your children.] In this interview, however, Foucault talks about “freedom of sexual choice” [which he differentiates from “freedom of sexual acts”] as that about which we must be intransigent. What he thinks we need liberty in regard to is our sexual choices and whether we choose to manifest them or not. He does not say anyone should be free to act sexually in any way they decide [e.g. by deciding to become a rapist]. So Foucault does NOT want a free for all and his ideas take place within an ethical framework.

What Foucault does find important here though, in a way reflected later in the very different anthropological and archaeological comments of Davids Graeber and Wengrow in their book The Dawn of Everything, is that:

“the important question here, it seems to me, is not whether a culture without restraints is possible or even desirable but whether the system of constraints in which a society functions leaves individuals the liberty to transform the system. Obviously, constraints of any kind are going to be intolerable to certain segments of society. The necrophiliac finds it intolerable that graves are not accessible to him. But a system of constraint becomes truly intolerable when the individuals who are affected by it don’t have the means of modifying it. This can happen when such a system becomes intangible as a result of its being considered a moral or religious imperative, or a necessary consequence of medical science.”

Foucault, then, as Graeber and Wengrow would do almost 40 years later, speaks to the necessity of being able to change your relationships, particularly in their social and political consequences. Foucault does not conceive that a society without any restrictions would ever be possible but he thinks it is conceivably possible that, regardless of restrictions, people as a set of relations should have the ability and possibility to alter them to something more amenable to their own satisfaction.

It turns out, in fact, in Foucault’s own explanation of the history of sexual thought and practice under questioning, that he believes new cultures and practices are emerging, and developing, as a way to keep such evolving consciousness alive in any case. He advances the following hypothesis:

“In a civilization that for centuries considered the essence of the relation between two people to reside in the knowledge of whether one of the two parties was going to surrender to the other, all the interest and curiosity, the cunning and manipulation of people was aimed at getting the other to give in, to go to bed with them. Now, when sexual encounters become extremely easy and numerous, as is the case with homosexuality nowadays, complications are introduced only after the fact. In this type of casual encounter, it is only after making love that one becomes curious about the

other person. Once the sexual act has been consummated, you find yourself asking your partner, ‘By the way, what was your name?’

What you have, then, is a situation where all the energy and imagination, which in the heterosexual relationship were channelled into courtship, now become devoted to intensifying the act of sex itself. A whole new art of sexual practice develops which tries to explore all the internal possibilities of sexual conduct. You find emerging in places like San Francisco and New York what might be called laboratories of sexual experimentation. You might look upon this as the counterpart of the medieval courts where strict rules of proprietary courtship were defined. It is because the sexual act has become so easy and available to homosexuals that it runs the risk of quickly becoming boring, so that every effort has to be made to innovate and create variations that will enhance the pleasure of the act.

[Yes, but why have these innovations taken the specific form they have?]

Sexual relations are elaborated and developed by and through mythical relations. S&M [for example] is not a relationship between he (or she) who suffers and he (or she) who inflicts suffering, but between the master and the one on whom he exercises his mastery. What interests the practitioners of S&M is that the relationship is at the same time regulated and open. It resembles a chess game in the sense that one can win and the other lose. The master can lose in the S&M game if he finds he is unable to respond to the needs and trials of his victim. Conversely, the servant can lose if he fails to meet or can’t stand meeting the challenge thrown at him by the master. This mixture of rules and openness has the effect of intensifying sexual relations by introducing a perpetual novelty, a perpetual tension and a perpetual uncertainty, which the simple consummation of the act lacks. The idea is also to make use of every part of the body as a sexual instrument.”

In Foucault’s mind what matters to, what is the problem to, outsiders here, in the development of this particular sexual practice as the development of a sexual culture, is NOT what sex acts people are getting up to with each other but precisely “the gay lifestyle” itself or, in other words, that there even is “a gay lifestyle” that can be defined and distinguished over and against other forms of culture. Foucault, in response to a further question, clarifies this as, “talking about the common fear that gays will develop relationships that are intense and satisfying even though they do not at all conform to the ideas of relationship held by others. It is the prospect that gays will create as yet unforeseen kinds of relationships that many people cannot tolerate.” Is it then that people must not be allowed to be different, to presume to create their own cultures through relationships that they have invented, perhaps without any reference to societal or cultural power [relations] at all? Foucault examples, in further conversation, the case of the military where “love between men can develop and assert itself in circumstances where only dead habits and rules were supposed to prevail.”

In the interview “The Social Triumph of the Sexual Will” Foucault is at first addressed about “gay rights” and other kinds of sexual liberation. Here it is interesting that he does not believe achieving “rights” can be the end of the story — and not only because “There can be discrimination against homosexuals even if such discriminations are prohibited by law.” It is also because we must go further and take matters into our own hands [the freedom to alter or invent relations he has previously discussed]. Therefore, he adds:

“It is therefore necessary to struggle to establish homosexual lifestyles, existential choices [des choix d’existence] in which sexual relations with people of the same sex will be important. It’s not enough as part of a more general way of life, or in addition to it, to be permitted to make love with someone of the same sex. The fact of making love with someone of the same sex can very naturally involve a whole series of choices, a whole series of other values and choices for which there are not yet real possibilities. It’s not only a matter of integrating this strange little practice of making love with someone of the same sex into pre-existing cultures; it’s a matter of constructing cultural forms.”

I freely admit that this “its a matter of constructing cultural forms” is one of the underpinnings of my own talk about “anarchasexuality” and I see this, as I do with Armand’s amorous camaraderie, as one of the inspirations for it. Here, in answer to a follow up question where Foucault is told that things will always obstruct the creation of new ways of living, Foucault responds that this is precisely where, and why, there is something new to be done. He says:

“That in the name of respect for individual rights someone is allowed to do as he wants, great! But if what we want to do is to create a new way of life [mode de vie], then the question of individual rights is not pertinent. In effect, we live in a legal, social, and institutional world where the only relations possible are extremely few, extremely simplified, and extremely poor. There is, of course, the relation of marriage, and the relations of family, but how many other relations should exist, should be able to find their codes not in institutions but in possible supports, which is not at all the case!”

Foucault’s interlocutor here follows up by referring to executive control of people’s relationships understood by means of institutions. But Foucault responds by speaking in favour of ever burgeoning kinds of new relations and to the detriment of institutions [and, by extension, their executive control]:

“We live in a relational world that institutions have considerably impoverished. Society and the institutions which frame it have limited the possibility of relationships because a rich relational world would be very complex to manage. We should fight against the impoverishment of the relational fabric. We should secure recognition for relations of provisional coexistence, adoption ....

[Of children?]

Or — why not? — of one adult by another. Why shouldn’t I adopt a friend who’s ten years younger than I am? And even if he’s ten years older? Rather than arguing that rights are fundamental and natural to the individual, we should try to imagine and create a new relational right that permits all possible types of relations to exist and not be prevented, blocked, or annulled by impoverished relational institutions.”

In this spirit of invention Foucault’s interviewer seems to see that the possibility for inventing new relationships and so new culture might spread beyond gay people themselves because “people want to direct their own lives and relationships” — and Foucault agrees with him here and talks about “a culture that invents ways of relating, types of existence, types of values, types of exchanges between individuals which are really new and are neither the same as, nor superimposed on, existing cultural forms. If that’s possible, then gay culture will be not only a choice of homosexuals for homosexuals — it would create relations that are, at certain points, transferable to heterosexuals.” Thus, his view is not that diverse cultures [or sub-cultures] should be absorbed “into the general norm of social relations” — one imagines in a controlling and coercive way — but to say:

“‘Let’s escape as much as possible from the type of relations that society proposes for us and try to create in the empty space where we are new relational possibilities.’ By proposing a new relational right, we will see that non-homosexual people can

enrich their lives by changing their own schema of relations.”

In other words, once more Foucault wants people to be able to have the right to mould and invent their own socio-sexual relations. Foucault in fact seems to believe, based on his study of the history of sexual relations, that “the very recognition by the individuals themselves of [a self-conscious] type of relation, in the sense that they give them necessary and sufficient importance — that they acknowledge them and make them real -in order to invent other ways of life” IS SOMETHING NEW.

The last interview I want to consider in this chapter is “Sex, Power, and the Politics of Identity”, an interview in which Foucault highlights once more his view of the need to create new [sexual] cultures with an appreciation of relationships, their consequences and dynamics. It is, in my view, perhaps the most powerful interview he ever gave in this respect and contains several noteworthy statements. The interview begins with Foucault being asked about his distinction between “secret truths about one’s desire” and “constructing desire” itself. Foucault responds:

“I think what the gay movement needs now is much more the art of life than a science or scientific knowledge (or pseudoscientific knowledge) of what sexuality is. Sexuality is a part of our behavior. It’s a part of our world freedom. Sexuality is something that we ourselves create — it is our own creation, and much more than the discovery of a secret side of our desire. We have to understand that with our desires, through our desires, go new forms of relationships, new forms of love, new forms of creation. Sex is not a fatality: it’s a possibility for creative life.”

Wow. So it is not a matter of asserting a sexuality but of, as Foucault himself asserts as a clarification of this statement, creating that sexuality, becoming it. Foucault then regards sexuality not as a “secret of the creative cultural life” but as “a process of our having to create a new cultural life underneath the ground of our sexual choices.” Foucault then reiterates that “rights”, although important in terms of establishing a right to exist as what you claim to be in a societal context, are not enough and require pushing further to “stabilise” them. Foucault suggests that:

“I think that one of the factors of this stabilization will be the creation of new forms

of life, relationships, friendships in society, art, culture, and so on through our sexual, ethical, and political choices. Not only do we have to defend ourselves, not only affirm ourselves, as an identity but as a creative force.”

The sense here is that “an identity” [particularly one statically understood] is not enough, it is not the vital aspect of the matter. Thus, “We have to create culture. We have to realize cultural creations.” It is here seen that only creation, invention, is the proof of the life, the being alive, of a culture, and its relationships, beliefs and practices, itself. This is revealed further into the interview when Foucault is asked about the innovation of gay sex practices that have multiplied to invent a gay culture. Foucault replies [focusing again particularly on S&M]:

“I don’t think that this movement of sexual practices has anything to do with the disclosure or the uncovering of S&M tendencies deep within our unconscious, and so on. I think that S&M is much more than that; it’s the real creation of new possibilities of pleasure, which people had no idea about previously. The idea that S&M is related to a deep violence, that S&M practice is a way of liberating this violence, this aggression, is stupid. We know very well what all those people are doing is not aggressive; they are inventing new possibilities of pleasure with strange parts of their body — through the eroticization of the body. I think it’s a kind of creation, a creative enterprise, which has as one of its main features what I call the desexualization of pleasure. The idea that bodily pleasure should always come from sexual pleasure as the root of all our possible pleasure — I think that’s something quite wrong. These practices are insisting that we can produce pleasure with very odd things, very strange parts of our bodies, in very unusual situations, and so on.

[So the conflation of pleasure and sex is being broken down.]

That’s it precisely. The possibility of using our bodies as a possible source of very numerous pleasures is something that is very important. For instance, if you look at the traditional construction of pleasure, you see that bodily pleasure, or pleasures of the flesh, are always drinking, eating, and fucking. And that seems to be the limit of the understanding of our body, our pleasures. What frustrates me, for instance, is the fact that the problem of drugs is always envisaged only as a problem of freedom and prohibition. I think that drugs must become a part of our culture....

[The point is to experiment with pleasure and its possibilities?]

Yes. Pleasure also must be a part of our culture. It is very interesting to note, for instance, that for centuries people generally, as well as doctors, psychiatrists, and even liberation movements, have always spoken about desire, and never about pleasure. ‘We have to liberate our desire,’ they say. No! We have to create new pleasure. And then maybe desire will follow.”

This all sounds very self-educating, self-organizing and self-actualising; not to be led by desire but to invent new forms of pleasure which lead and hone our desire, that change and [note what’s already been said by Foucault] transform us. But what about “identity” in all of this? Where, if at all, does it fit in? Foucault responds:

“Well, if identity is only a game, if it is only a procedure to have relations, social and sexual pleasure relationships that create new friendships, it is useful. But if identity becomes the problem of sexual existence, and if people think that they have to ‘uncover’ their ‘own identity,’ and that their own identity has to become the law, the principle, the code of their existence; if the perennial question they ask is ‘Does this thing conform to my identity?’ then, I think, they will turn back to a kind of ethics very close to the old heterosexual virility. If we are asked to relate to the question of identity, it must be an identity to our unique selves. But the relationships we have to have with ourselves are not ones of identity, rather, they must be relationships of differentiation, of creation, of innovation. To be the same is really boring. We must not exclude identity if people find their pleasure through this identity, but we must not think of this identity as an ethical universal rule.”

Identity here is basically a tool, a possibility for exploration, a hermeneutic device to explore pleasure creation. It is not an essentialist description of anyone. It is not something “I am”. Rather, it is a form of understanding whose only purpose is to make use of it for something innovative thought worthwhile. As something static and imagined to be innate it is empty, sterile and useless. Identity for Foucault should be an activity, something that people can join in with and cooperate on, not a label.

The interviewer now moves along to the question of power relations. He puts the following question to Foucault:

“You write that power is not just a negative force but a productive one; that power is always there; that where there is power, there is resistance; and that resistance is never in a position of externality vis-a-vis power. If this is so, then how do we come to any other conclusion than that we are always trapped inside that relationship — that we

can’t somehow break out of it?”

To which Foucault responds:

“Well, I don’t think the word trapped is a correct one. It is a struggle, but what I mean by power relations is the fact that we are in a strategic situation toward each other. For instance, being homosexuals, we are in a struggle with the government, and the government is in a struggle with us. When we deal with the government, the struggle, of course, is not symmetrical, the power situation is not the same; but we are in this struggle, and the continuation of this situation can influence the behavior or non-behaviour of the other. So we are not trapped. We are always in this kind of situation. It means that we always have possibilities, there are always possibilities of changing the situation. We cannot jump outside the situation, and there is no point where you are free from all power relations. But you can always change it. So what I’ve said does not mean that we are always trapped, but that we are always free — well, anyway, that there is always the possibility of changing.

[So resistance comes from within that dynamic?]

Yes. You see, if there was no resistance, there would be no power relations. Because it would simply be a matter of obedience. You have to use power relations to refer to the situation where you’re not doing what you want. So resistance comes first, and resistance remains superior to the forces of the process; power relations are obliged to change with the resistance. So I think that resistance is the main word, the key word, in this dynamic.”

Further pursuing the topic of power, the interviewer later moves on from here to discuss S&M once again, something he understands as “the eroticization of power”. Foucault, however, doesn’t simply accept this and wants to distinguish it from social power:

“One can say that S&M is the eroticization of power, the eroticization of strategic relations. What strikes me with regard to S&M is how it differs from social power. What characterizes power is the fact that it is a strategic relation which has been stabilized through institutions. So the mobility in power relations is limited, and there are strongholds that are very, very difficult to suppress because they have been institutionalized and are now very pervasive in courts, codes, and so on. All this means that the strategic relations of people are made rigid.”

This seems to play, once more, on Foucault’s assertion that what is necessary socially is the social ability to alter or otherwise invent relations, something an institutionally organised social sphere retards our ability to do. Here, Foucault regards S&M as preferable as a type of relation for at least here, he suggests, “the S&M game is very interesting because it is a strategic relation, but it is always fluid. Of course, there are roles, but everybody knows very well that those roles can be reversed.” Thus, he concludes: “I wouldn’t say that [S&M] is a reproduction, inside the erotic relationship, of the structures of power. It is an acting-out of power structures by a strategic game that is able to give sexual pleasure or bodily pleasure.” Foucault then goes on to call S&M “a sub-culture” that includes an identity in its creation [note here that it is an activity, a practice] and that is “a process of invention”. He further describes it, tellingly, as “the use of a strategic relationship as a source of pleasure.” As such, Foucault states this is not unique in a sexual context. In some cases, such things come before sex whereas, in S&M, they are incorporated [literally: made bodily] within it.

Foucault is now asked about his interview in Le Gai Pied which I discussed above where Foucault had said that it was engaging in relations of love outside of the established norms which bothers people. This interviewer here now asks him if he thinks such relations are seen as posing a threat to established social institutions. Foucault responds:

“One thing that interests me now is the problem of friendship. For centuries after antiquity, friendship was a very important kind of social relation: a social relation within which people had a certain freedom, certain kind of choice (limited of course), as well as very intense emotional relations. There were also economic and social implications to these relationships — they were obliged to help their friends, and so on. I think that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, we see these kinds of friendships disappearing, at least in the male society. And friendship begins to become something other than that. You can find, from the sixteenth century on, texts that explicitly criticize friendship as something dangerous. The army, bureaucracy, administration, universities, schools, and so on — in the modern senses of these words — cannot function with such intense friendships. I think there can be seen a very strong attempt in all these institutions to diminish or minimize the affectional relations...

... one of my hypotheses, which I am sure would be borne out if we did this, is that homosexuality became a problem — that is, sex between men became a problem — in the eighteenth century. We see the rise of it as a problem with the police, within the justice system, and so on. I think the reason it appears as a problem, as a social issue, at this time is that friendship had disappeared. As long as friendship was something important, was socially accepted, nobody realized men had sex together. You couldn’t say that men didn’t have sex together — it just didn’t matter. It had no social implication, it was culturally accepted. Whether they fucked together or kissed had no importance. Absolutely no importance. Once friendship disappeared as a culturally accepted relation, the issue arose: ‘What is going on between men?’ And that’s when the problem appears. And if men fuck together, or have sex together, that now appears as a problem. Well, I’m sure I’m right, that the disappearance of friendship as a social relation and the declaration of homosexuality as a social/political/medical problem are the same process.”

This is certainly an interesting thesis and highlights, once again, that how things are seen or conceptualised has great bearing on our relations and what is then viewed as acceptable or unacceptable [whilst posing the inadvertent question in the background of if any relations are particularly more “necessary” than any other rather than simply socially contingent]. The interviewer here takes this and turns it into a question about setting up “new social relations, new value structures, familial structures, and so on”. He further points out that gay people don’t have easy access to the standing structures and institutions of family and monogamy. He therefore asks Foucault about possible gay institutions. Foucault responds that “We have come to realize that things never happen as we expect from a political program, and that a political program has always, or nearly always, led to abuse or political domination from a bloc — be it from technicians or bureaucrats or other people.” He thus concludes that “in my opinion, being without a program can be very useful and very original and creative, if it does not mean without proper reflection about what is going on, or without very careful attention to what’s possible.” He then closes this interview by adding:

“Since the nineteenth century, great political institutions and great political parties have confiscated the process of political creation; that is, they have tried to give to political creation the form of a political program in order to take over power. I think what happened in the sixties and early seventies is something to be preserved. One of the things that I think should be preserved, however, is the fact that there has been political innovation, political creation, and political experimentation outside the great political parties, and outside the normal or ordinary program. It’s a fact that people’s everyday lives have changed from the early sixties to now, and certainly within my own life. And surely that is not due to political parties but is the result of many movements.”


What are we to make of all this and how can we sum it up? What insights is Foucault bringing to bear on the subjects of “anarchist relations” or “anarchasexuality” and what does it add to what I have already said before in the chapters above? Here are some thoughts:

1. My first point is quite a complex one focused more on the early points made by Foucault at the beginning of this chapter. These concern how relations are created, seen and understood contextually, and so the place of “knowledge” and interpretation in these matters. No relation, as should be obvious, ever speaks for itself. Those relating, or observing the relation, are socially, morally and politically positioned people who consequently have only an understanding or interpretation of what is going on. It follows that how we intellectually and morally configure our relations affects those relations themselves [i.e. in their conception and their subsequent practice]. Notable here is that, however we conceive things, the social world beyond us is always moving relative to us. Certain relations can therefore go “in and out of fashion” even if we do nothing. It also follows, as Foucault’s own scholarship was apt to show, that new knowledges create new relationships. The innocent and unnoticed masturbator can become the morally deficient or the person with a medical problem in the blink of an eye if certain “knowledge” [which is actually “discourse”] comes to prominence. In this respect, Foucault’s remark that “the creation of sexuality as personal behaviour as a problem” became a problem is an example of sexuality being formulated in a certain way which sets a context in which sexuality, and so sexual phenomena and their relationships, comes to be understood. All this is to say that how we understand relationships is not fixed, is contingent [morally, socially, politically and intellectually] and is a matter of interpretation, discourse and rhetoric.

2. In the context of my first point, my second suggests that this has consequences for us in terms of how we approach relationships where we want to communicate with people. Foucault earlier contrasted the polemicist with the person concerned with dialogue, that which he termed “the serious play of questions and answers”. Foucault imagined, rightly, that each scenario, in its being entered into, commits the participants to certain roles. It is a question for Foucault of asking after these commitments and where each mode of communication leads to. Can our interactions with people create new ideas or understandings? Can they open up a path to a new, cooperative, as yet undiscovered future? Or are they about securing a dogma already established and put beyond debate? In relational terms, we may ask if our interactions seek cooperative new futures as yet uninvented or to maintain constructions of the past. The point is that HOW we interact will have some bearing on this for not all modes of interaction come with the same possibilities or intentions.

3. Foucault makes some interesting linkages between inquiry, knowledge, ethics and pleasure in the course of giving his various interviews. Most notable is that he seeks to gain insight into processes of knowledge creation and their social deployment in order to use this in the pursuance of his own survival. This is to ask after how we survive in social situations to which the Foucauldian answer is that we seek to gain genuine insight into what is going on and how it operates and comes to pass in order to fund our survival thereafter. Foucault himself does this as a person of ethical concern which, in his case, doesn’t simply mean the behaviour of others but, more importantly, of himself. Ethics is, in some sense, or at least potentially, always about being able to explain oneself, to give a rationale or justification for beliefs and actions [even if only to oneself], and Foucault seems to believe that this is not only a social but also a personal obligation. The innovation here is that Foucault thinks pleasure can function as that justification and be a rationale and so he seeks to provide interpretations of the history of thought about sex which can substantiate that idea. This thus presents the reader with the question: why should pleasure not justify our relationships and our lives and provide the meaning that enables them?

4. Consequently, Foucault wants to explore the possibility of sexual understandings of friendship, the invention of new kinds of relations. Indeed, he sees it as the possibility of a multiplicity of kinds of relationship based on his historical belief that friendship itself has been a variable phenomenon that those with power in various situations and institutions have viewed in varying ways over time. Not all kinds of relation or friendship are always welcome in varying contexts but this only emphasises that varying kinds, and kinds as yet unimagined, are always possible to us.

5. An interesting point Foucault makes about sexuality is that it is not a “form of desire” but something that, instead, can itself be desirable. This seems to be to say that types of relationship, types of practices that create types of relationship, can be desired yet without themselves being a matter of something innate about us. Foucault always [quite rightly in my view] shies away from trying to anchor human beings to their “one true secret desire” or “the innate truth of our sexuality”. I think this is both wise and makes us more open to the possibilities of free relationships for it does not tie us to a static description of ourselves or our possibilities but enables us to explore, experiment and play. Consequently, we should not arbitrarily restrict ourselves but embrace the openness of possibility and play.

6. Foucault, in and between the various answers to his questioners, raises the prospect of “transgressive love”. This need not necessarily be “illegal love” for one can transgress moral codes without transgressing legal ones. [My example, as it has been before, would be German sex laws around the age of consent where a 14 year old can have sex with anyone legally above that age regardless of people’s moral scruples about it who are not the participants in the sexual liaison. It is assumed to be their business alone. We can also think of the example of homosexual sex — where it is legal — which, of course, is still not everywhere.] What I note, thinking about such a thing, is that where such love is “transgressive” people in a society often tend to focus almost entirely on the “transgressive” part of that construction as opposed to the “love” part. I have noticed this in my own thinking about the issue in relation to age gap sexual relations, more especially where the younger participant is of middle teen age and the automatic dogmatic or puritanical response [which is usually totally unexplained or justified with any rationale — its just assumed as self-evident] is one of complete condemnation. Such people, it seems, have never considered that such a thing could be love [despite people sometimes speaking for themselves to the effect that it is experienced as such], so consumed are they by its [in their imaginations, at least] transgressive reality. What this leads us to have to grapple with, though, is the possibility that forms of love may either exist, or come to exist, which are transgressive by current moral or legal standards but are, nevertheless, actually forms of love. We need to ask if love can then be put in a box, either by individuals or societies, or if outsiders can be arbiters of what shall count, or be experienced, as love by others. We must also ask ourselves why “transgression” in such cases is viewed as so much more important than “love”. [All this then also seems to validate Foucault’s own assertion that what bothers people is new or different forms of love.]

7. All this seems very important when we read Foucault talking about new forms of relationship and sexualities being “ways of life”. The fact that something is new, has been invented, is, in some sense, original, is, as Nietzsche knew very well in a book like Daybreak which is about “the prejudices of morality”, bound to be experienced as transgression at large. That which is original, Nietzsche says in Daybreak, has always been that received as a bad odour. Yet Foucault insists that types and kinds of loving will create certain relationships and so that newly invented ones will create new lifestyles and ways of relating to each other. Indeed, he encourages this in his wish for a sexual culture that is populated by “polymorphic, varied, and individually-modulated relationships”. Foucault does not here want a defined set of prescribed relationships; he wants the invention of as many kinds and types of relationships as a sexual culture is capable of — and the more the better and the richer that sexual culture will then be. A corollary of this sort of thinking is that we should then use sexuality in ways that can create new cultures out of new sexual relationships and this is precisely what anarchasexuality is imagined to instantiate in an anarchist context.

8. A vital part of this, not least because Foucault imagines its necessity even in his own contemporary situation, is “the liberty to transform the system”. He discusses this in one of his interviews as a “relational right”, a right to form legally recognised relations between people simply based on their desire to do so. This, however, is only the idea presented in the context of a liberal, legal framework; the wider wish is that people would have the ability to change and create their own relations and so essentially amounts to the creation of a societal framework in which such spontaneous morphing of relationships to suit individual contexts and circumstances can be accommodated. In their own political context, in a book about the history of human societal relations across millennia, this is exactly the same freedom that David Graeber and David Wengrow prescribed for any healthy society that valued freedom and egalitarianism over oppressive and coercive relations in The Dawn of Everything.

9. An interesting case study here is the S&M practices Foucault discusses and even uses as an example in his interviews. S&M, we may note, is actually a way to engage power in relationships of pleasure yet whilst that power itself remains ultimately benign. S&M is the ability to play or pretend with power in the context of a sexual game which is certainly relationship forming and enhancing — yet without the commonly detrimental effects evident of social power. S&M is then, in effect, a kind of relational exploration or experimentation which involves a lot of inventiveness which shows that engaging with power need not mean the roles taken up becoming stuck, therefore creating a problem of power imbalance and a permanent state of domination. It is also about creating new forms of love [see point 6] and affirming the participants as creative forces in their own right, those who can innovate relationships through sex and their sexual relationships. As such, it becomes a proof of the life of these relationships and an impetus to a particular sexual culture which is itself a way of life. S&M is then a demonstration that innovative sexual ways of life can be created which act to provide pleasure through new and exploratory kinds of relationship.

10. A further point here, which Foucault makes more than once, is that, in a liberal, rights-based context, rights themselves are never enough. What is necessary is to push past rights to create lifestyles, relationships and cultures. This is where the life of such things is found and not in some institution or body granting you a right [which, of course, it can later take away again]. When considering this point against the background of any sort of egoistic, insurrectionary or directly acting anarchism, this imperative should seem manifestly obvious.

11. In one of his interviews Foucault talked about what he called the “desexualisation of pleasure” by which he seems to have meant physical, bodily pleasures, and intimacies, which were not directly sexual [i.e. involving stimulation of sexual organs]. This could also be described as the creation of bodily intimacies beyond the sexual or of physical love relations, new cultures and practices of bodily pleasure, between those inventing new kinds of relationship — perhaps, for example, those which pay no heed to designations of gender or sexuality but that regard all human beings as those with physical bodies that can experience pleasure alike. This sounds very much like that which I imagine as practices of anarchasexuality as I have previously described them.

12. Foucault is not enamoured with the idea of identity as either a meaningless label or as a static entity. Instead, he sees identity as something we innovate, personally yet cooperatively, in and between ourselves. Thus, the possibility exists for a multitude of identities rather than a fixed or prescribed range. What matters for him is that this identity emerges from our practices of creating relationships and so creating culture.

13. Finally, Foucault gives a description of power as a strategic relation constituted in and by our resistance to it [otherwise, as Foucault says, it would just be a relationship of obedience]. What matters here, in political terms, is our ability to articulate that resistance in relationships and practices and, ultimately, our ability to imagine benign yet useful uses of power [like S&M] which is really power that does not get stuck due to its organisational form or institutional oversight. The problem with power is not that it exists per se [anthropological studies have shown how various societies have used power for community good from time to time in various ways] but that power gets stuck, creating an unchanging dominance that those affected by it have no ability to change [see points 8+9]. Therefore, we must not be afraid to imagine and incorporate cultures of benign power which is power that cannot get stuck in a fixed, dominating and ultimately exploitative and coercive relation.

visions of anarchy

5. Gustav Landauer on anarchist relationships

“The state is a social relationship; a certain way of people relating to one another. It can be destroyed by creating new social relationships; i.e., by people relating to one another differently.” — Gustav Landauer, “Weak Statesmen, Weaker People!”

Gustav Landauer was a German Jewish anarchist born in 1870. He was a well educated person and became one of the leading German theorists of anarchism towards the end of the nineteenth century, having become an anarchist in university. Landauer, however, came to have a particular outlook on anarchism which he preferred to refer to [confusingly for his readers today] as “socialism” instead. This appears to be because Landauer was a pacifist and anarchism was associated, very strongly in the public mind helped along by capitalist propaganda, with violence which he decried and wrote against [he was also against World War 1 due to his pacifist views as well]. Landauer therefore often referred to “socialism” instead [and initiated “socialist” propaganda organs and organisations] whilst his ideas were actually firmly anarchist — as we shall see.

Landauer’s anarchism had numerous sources and betrayed attachments to Nietzsche and Stirner’s intellectual ideas but also social or communist anarchist ideas of communal togetherness such as those of Kropotkin. He put forward several novel theories, which I shall come to below, and created a distinctive anarchist ethos based on the idea, as the quotation at the head of this chapter indicates, that “society” or “the state” is really nothing other than the relationships it creates and maintains. As a propagandist for his ideas, Landauer was prosecuted several times and imprisoned on occasion. He wrote pieces both meant to educate and cajole his readers but also more serious works of history, criticism and theoretical construction. Landauer was a social conservative who believed in the family and had a distaste for a free or over-emphasised sexuality, believing it instigated “pornocracy”. He was ultimately murdered for his socially libertarian beliefs in May 1919 by soldiers of the right wing Freikorps who had been ordered to Bavaria to put down socialists and others, including Landauer, who were attempting to form a socialist government of some kind after the abdication of the king of Bavaria at the end of World War 1. Rudolf Rocker subsequently described Landauer as “one of Germany’s greatest spirits and finest men” and as “without doubt the greatest mind among all of Germany’s libertarian socialists.”

So let us look at Landauer’s ideas in a bit more detail to attempt to gain some understanding of his anarchism of relationships. [In quotations I shall keep his many references to “socialism” intact so long as it is understood that when he talks about “socialism” he means a socially understood conception of anarchism.] The now standard collection of Landauer’s works in English is Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader edited, compiled and translated by Gabriel Kuhn which gives a chronological and annotated presentation of Landauer’s ideas with a significant introduction. I shall concentrate here on several pieces from this book aiming to present key ideas from Landauer’s anarchist theoretical philosophy that add substance to my own ideas of anarchist relationships as I have been presenting them. In doing so, however, this is not to suggest that Landauer would have supported my ideas [my emphasis on sexuality, for example, would have been a cause of strong disagreement] but to argue that an anarchism of relationships that has something to say to us today was what Landauer was all about.

The first Landauer-authored piece I want to look at is from 1895 and is called “Anarchism-Socialism” and was originally published in the German Journal for Anarchism and Socialism. Here we establish Landauer’s anarchist starting point from the early period of his anarchist writing career. It is clear from the beginning that Landauer’s vision is a hybridized one which brings diverse strands of thought together in a single, compound idea:

“Anarchism is the goal that we pursue: the absence of domination and of the state; the freedom of the individual. Socialism is the means by which we want to reach and secure this freedom: solidarity, sharing, and cooperative labour.”

Subsequently, he adds, at a time when the German political party, the SPD, was on the rise as the orthodox voice of German political democratic socialism, that:

“Anyone who is not blinded by the dogmas of the political parties will recognize that anarchism and socialism are not opposed but co-dependent. True cooperative labour and true community can only exist where individuals are free, and free individuals can only exist where our needs are met by brotherly solidarity.”

Landauer here wants to argue that “anarchism” and “socialism” are not opposed but complementary in a situation where the latter is taken to be forced collectivization whilst the former is imagined as an individualism which “spells atomization and egoism”. Thus, the everyday person is imagined to believe that these are incompatible opposites. Landauer does not think so. Describing himself in passing as an “anarchist socialist”, Landauer, giving an analogy about protecting a territory from rain, describes his view of this in the following way:

“When it is useful, we can share a common roof — as long as it can be removed when it is not useful. At the same time, all individuals can have their own umbrellas, as long as they know how to handle them. And with regard to those who want to get wet — well, we will not force them to stay dry... what we need is the following: associations of humankind in affairs that concern the interests of humankind; associations of a particular people in affairs that concern the interests of a particular people; associations of particular social groups in affairs that concern particular social groups; associations of two people in affairs that concern the interests of two people; individualization in affairs that concern the interests of the individual.”

He then goes on to add that “we anarchists want a free order of multiple, intertwined, colourful associations and companies... there is no need for a global parliament or any other global institution.” Essentially, then, Landauer at this stage believes that things should be dealt with by those whom they concern, global issues by the global community, local issues by the local, and so on, and that fixed institutions play no part here in an anarchist conception of things. In essence, his belief is that “This order will be based upon the principle that all individuals are closest to their own interests” and that people should stick to these interests as those best positioned to deal with them without interference from arbitrary others. In this piece Landauer also speaks to a “well educated” populace where peoples’ talents are “well nourished” as the basis for a healthy society. He says that “The principle of mutual aid will be central” and that “It will be impossible for individuals to accumulate riches leading to exploitation, as everyone in

an anarchist society will understand that common usage of the land and the means of production is in their individual interest.” He wants a society where “no group would gain anything by becoming exclusive” as they would forfeit the good will of their fellows and neighbours by doing so. He does not want a social system based on the necessity to work as he believes this will create a new moral system of those worthy of their existence and those thought unworthy [those who can’t or don’t work]. Thus, he places “the constraint of self-interest” above “the constraint of morality”. Fundamentally, Landauer is convinced that “Anarchy is no lifeless system of ready-made thoughts. Anarchy is life; the life that awaits us after we have freed ourselves from the yoke.”

In 1897 Landauer was asked to author a piece about anarchism for a liberal Berlin newspaper that was running a series of articles titled “The Parties in Their Own Words”. Titled “A Few Words on Anarchism”, Landauer began by refuting his task as anarchism is not, and cannot, be conceived of as a “party”. [As I have noted before, Renzo Novatore would later be one who lambasted social forms of anarchism exactly because, in his mind, they had become parties.] But then he used this opportunity to speak to a general audience as an occasion to refute violence and anarchism’s popular association with assassins and bomb throwers. He writes:

“It is impossible to deny that anarchists have been involved in a number of the last decades’ assassinations. However, in principle, anarchism and violence have nothing in common. The anarchist idea is a peaceful idea, opposed to aggressiveness and violence. This does not mean that we are all sheep. But it means that we want to live fully and brightly and as whole and mature personalities...

However, back to the assassins: they are not motivated by the ideals of anarchism and they do not pursue anarchist intentions; in fact, intentions have nothing to do with their actions. Neither are they wild Stürmer; they are cold, closed haters. The waves caused by their desires break on the dams of a depressing shore: the present. Neither their longing for happiness and freedom nor their most elemental needs can be satisfied. All their

emotions are concentrated and compressed. They envision the blessed life of anarchy and the realization of their true inner being, while they cannot even feed themselves and their children. Gradually, many elements of their personality die: reflection, consideration, empathy, even their sense of self-preservation. Their life begins to be consumed by one sentiment only: the lust for revenge. Finally, the moment comes when all that has been hidden rushes to the surface, when all that has been frozen begins to boil and sizzle, when all that has been hardened melts, and when all that has been suppressed explodes. Then, the world reacts with outrage and implements emergency laws to protect itself against the blessed life of anarchy and its secret adherents. This is the same world that never considers measures against itself, that never considers oppressing oppression. But, of course, it would not do this. If it did, it would not be the world: tout le monde – not only on Mondays, but on all weekdays...

It is easy to condemn the assassins. However, I try to understand them psychologically, and if I were a lawyer, I would defend them against the limitations of bourgeois ‘justice.’ My closing words would be: abdicate the authoritarian violence and the protection of privilege and robbery, and there will be no more outlaws and no more rebellious violence!”

Landauer thus takes a public stance against violence, and the violent, but he also realises these are people reacting to a cause and not just random monsters. Landauer had in fact read several defence speeches by anarchist assassins [including Ravachol, Auguste Vaillant and Émile Henry that I have discussed myself before] and so was familiar with their deeds and stated motivations. But he was not himself a “propaganda of the deed” person. Here his reflections on violence lead to the following conclusions:

“From what I have said so far, two things follow: first, that anarchism cannot be a mass movement in our times, but only one of individuals, of pioneers... Secondly, that we are unwavering optimists despite our principal skepticism. We are not old school individualists. We believe in the good of humanity and in humanity’s capabilities. We want an anarchist society; not a society of individual heroes and autocrats, but a society where individuals can live together on the basis of free association and respect; in other (economic) words: socialism.”

Landauer, thus, lays down two early markers in regard to his understanding of anarchism: this is not a mass movement or populist collectivity but rather a movement of individual pioneers enabled by their free associations and common respect. In other words, its an ethical movement of certain kinds of [relatively few] people.

Landauer is drawn to write on violence again, but in a rather different way than Emma Goldman did on the same occasion, by the murder of US President McKinley by Leon Czolgosz. Here he rhetorically sets himself apart from “the anarchists” [seemingly accepting the association of anarchists with violence — even if only for rhetorical effect] and is now beginning to distinguish his own thoughts about anarchism from those of others on the way to being able to describe a specific construction of anarchism which amounts to his own understanding of it. In the case of this essay, “Anarchic Thoughts on Anarchism”, Landauer begins by finding the idea of “anarchism through violence” rather bizarre. He writes:

“It seems to me that Mowbray’s statement is a fitting expression of what has almost become an anarchist dogma, namely to perceive the assassination of people in power as an anarchist act. And, indeed, almost all the people involved in such assassinations in the last decades were motivated by anarchist beliefs. Any unbiased observer would doubtlessly call this odd. For what has the killing of people to do with anarchism, a theory striving for a society without government and authoritarian coercion, a movement against the state and legalized violence? The answer is: nothing at all. However, some anarchists seem to have come to the conclusion that merely educating and talking has not got them very far. The social reconstruction is not to be had because the rulers’ force stands in the way. Thus, so they conclude, destruction must be put alongside construction and mere propaganda by the word. They are too weak to tear down all borders, so they turn to propagating the deed – and to make propaganda by the deed. The political parties pursue positive political action – so the anarchists think that they, as individuals, have to engage in a positive anti-politics, a negative politics. These rationales explain their ‘political action’: propaganda by the deed and individual terrorism.”

Landauer charges all such people with self-aggrandizing motives and acting like the states they want to get rid of. He thinks of “anarchism by violence” as the anarchism of those who have not anarchised their thought but just become an anarchist mirror image of what they hate and despise. So, he says plainly: “These anarchists are not anarchic enough for me” and accuses them of acting “like a political party” and of being “simple-minded”. “What does violence actually achieve?” is his thought process. He calls many anarchists simple dogmatists in their beliefs and attachments to violent courses of action. Reading beneath the lines, however, one sees that Landauer is critiquing the psychology of violence and asking after its ultimate ends. As a man who will be revealed to be very attached to the idea that the means must be indistinguishable from the ends, violence can never be the answer for him. Violence just leads to endless hatred, war, and death, a never-ending cycle of violence. Is that what an anarchist wants? Thus:

“This is the basic fallacy of the revolutionary anarchists (a fallacy which I long enough shared with them): the notion that one can reach the ideal of non-violence by violent means. At the same time, they object strongly to the ‘revolutionary dictatorship’ that Marx and Engels called for in their Communist Manifesto as a short transitional stage after the revolution. But these are self-deceptions. Any kind of violence is dictatorial, unless it is borne voluntarily, accepted by the subjugated masses. But this is not the case in the anarchist assassinations, which are a matter of authoritarian violence. All violence is either despotism or authority.”

It is important to highlight Landauer’s stand against violence here because it actually opens the door to the question “If not violence, then what?” But Landauer has an answer to that question and he begins to bring it out in this piece:

“What the anarchists must realize is that a goal can only be reached if it is already reflected in its means. Non-violence cannot be attained by violence. Anarchy exists wherever one finds true anarchists: people who do not engage in violence. What I am saying is nothing new. It is what Tolstoy has been telling us for a long time...

The revolutionary anarchists will object: if we are non-violent, we allow ourselves to be exploited and suppressed and will hence not be free but slaves. When we speak of non-violence, they claim, this does not concern the behavior of individuals but social organization. We want anarchy, the argument continues, but first we must take back that of which we have been robbed and which we are being denied.

However, this is yet another crucial fallacy: that one can – or must – bring anarchism to the world; that anarchy is an affair of all of humanity; that there will indeed be a day of judgment followed by a millennial era. Those who want ‘to bring freedom to the world’ – which will always be their idea of freedom – are tyrants, not anarchists. Anarchy will never be a matter of the masses, it will never be established by means of military attack or armed revolt, just as the ideal of federalist socialism will never be reached by waiting until the already accumulated capital and the title of the land will fall into the people’s hands. Anarchy is not a matter of the future; it is a matter of the present. It is not a matter of making demands; it is a matter of how one lives. Anarchy is not about the nationalization of the achievements of the past but about a new people arising from humble beginnings in small communities that form in the midst of the old: an inward colonization. Anarchy is not about a struggle between classes – the dispossessed against the possessors – but about free, strong, and sovereign individuals breaking free from mass culture and uniting in new forms. The old opposition between destruction and construction begins to lose its meaning: what is at stake are new forms that have never been.

If the anarchists realized that the core of anarchy lies in the depths of human nature, and if they were able to follow this as a guiding principle, then this would lead them far from the masses, and they would recognize with a shudder what a distance yawns between their convictions and their current actions; then they would recognize that it is all too common and trite for an anarchist to kill a McKinley or to make similarly pointless tragic gestures. Whoever kills, dies. Those who want to create life must also embrace it and be reborn from within.”

This seems to me to come via the cogitations of Stirner, of which Landauer was aware, and his distinction between “revolution” and “insurrection”. The insurrectionist, as my readers may remember, “does not allow themselves to be organised” — to paraphrase Stirner. The revolutionist, on the other hand, just wants to impose their kind of order and Landauer essentially accuses far too many anarchists of being the latter, rather than the former — IN ERROR. For Landauer, as we shall see, anarchism is essentially something about you, who your are, your ethical, intellectual and political self, that radiates out in and through relationships, in and through new social forms. It is not, is never, a dogmatic and enforced “anarchism” to be imposed on others, even if regarded as an imagined benevolent way “for the good of all”. Anarchism, for Landauer, is definitely not something imagined by analogy to a Christian “end of days” or the war to end all wars. It is not about killing all the bad guys so that only good guys are left. How Landauer ends this piece is then instructive of what he sees as wrong in anarchist conceptions of things and of an anarchist mindset he imagines needs to be ended and updated:

“The anarchists have always been far too fond of systems and attached to rigid, narrow concepts. This, in fact, is the final answer to the question as to how anarchists can find value in the killing of fellow human beings. They have become used to dealing with concepts instead of real people. They have separated humanity into two static and hostile classes. When they kill, they do not kill human beings but concepts – that of the exploiter, the oppressor, the representative of the state. This is why those who are often the kindest and most humane in their private lives commit the most inhumane acts in the public sphere. There, they do not feel; they have switched off their senses. They act as exclusively rational beings who – like Robespierre – are the servants of reason; a reason that divides and judges. This cold, spiritually empty, and destructive logic is the rationale for the death sentences handed down by the anarchists. But anarchy is neither as easily achievable, nor as morally harsh, nor as clearly defined as these anarchists would have it. Only when anarchy becomes, for us, a dark, deep dream, not a vision attainable through concepts, can our ethics and our actions become one.”

Gabriel Kuhn suggests that this piece criticising and contradicting an anarchism with a logic of violence be paired with the next one I want to consider, the essay “Through Separation To Community”. In this essay Landauer is not responding to events or ideas but presenting his own case for a vision of anarchism and the chosen title is representative of the idea. Here Landauer is to more fully explain his distinction between people based on their consciousness or spirit [some have called Landauer’s a “mystical” anarchism based on such ideas as I am about to share of his here; I think of him as a purveyor of a “spiritual anarchism” if we understand this in Nietzschean, “free-spirited” senses and not Christian senses], an intelligent and active ethical spatial awareness of themselves and others in society. For example, Landauer begins this essay by diagnosing a gap between a “vanguard” and “the rest of humankind”. What distinguishes people is how they react to their being socially contextualised. He says:

“It is not a matter of knowledge or ability, but of perspective and orientation. The social position of the mass individual derives from a heritage that determines his being from the outside as well as from within: he belongs to a certain family and a certain class, he acquires certain knowledge and follows a certain faith, he turns to a certain profession, he is Protestant or Catholic, a German or an English patriot, a shop keeper or a newspaper editor. Authority, custom, morality, time, and class define his existence.”

But since it is few indeed who react to their circumstances by seeing through them and gaining new consciousness of themselves and others in the world [mass media, political propaganda and now social media sees to that], what is required is a response to this and action in such a situation. What is the anarchist [a person of particular consciousness or spirit that is not the general consciousness or spirit] to do? Landauer is quite clear:

“Our souls cannot tolerate this confusion any longer. The conclusion is that we must cease descending to the masses. Instead, we must precede them. At first, it might seem as if we were walking away from them. But we can only find the community that we need and long for if we – the new generation – separate ourselves from the old communities. If we make this separation a radical one and if we – as separated individuals – allow ourselves to sink to the depths of our being and to reach the inner core of our most hidden nature, then we will find the most ancient and complete community: a community encompassing not only all of humanity but the entire universe. Whoever discovers this community in himself will be eternally blessed and joyful, and a return to the common and arbitrary communities of today will be impossible.”

Here Landauer distinguishes three types of community: an individual community [i.e. a community of individuals], bourgeois states and societies and an anarchist community which he glosses as “the free momentary associations of individuals based on common interests”. Landauer says: “I try to build myself a new world, knowing that I do not really have any ground to build it on; all I have is a need.” He sees the community to be built as “opening ourselves to what lies beyond our I by using our I. We use our senses to reach out towards what lies beyond them; we attempt to understand the world with the whole richness of our lives, with our passions, and with our deepest contemplation.” He suggests that, “We must realize that we do not just perceive the world, but that we are the world.” He asks that we “return completely to ourselves [that] we may truly find the universe” in a conception that imagines the whole world is in every living thing. He operates within a philosophical notion of the infinite that makes us all part of an “eternal stream”:

“Let us make it clear to ourselves – and we now know what it means to make something clear, namely to create a necessary disposition – that past, present and future – as well as the notions of ‘here’ and ‘there’ – are only a unique/unified eternal stream that flows from the infinite to the infinite. There is neither a cause for nor an effect of this world.”

This appears to be in order to counteract a purely materialistic [and often simply economic] understanding of the world prevalent among Marxists, communists and anarchists at that time [I have mentioned the pitfalls of a simply political and economic anarchism myself before]. Landauer imagines that we think with “psychological metaphoric language” anyway. In the end he finds that “Matter is rigid and stiff; no wonder that materialists are too.” But this is not in the cause of religious speculations for Landauer accepts the arguments of Stirner and what he describes as his agenda of permanently dethroning all gods and anything thought “sacred”. He writes:

“The last great nominalist was Max Stirner, who, with the most radical thoroughness, freed our minds of the spook that abstract notions are. The essence of his teachings can be summarized in the following paraphrased words: ‘The concept of God has to be destroyed. But it is not God who is the enemy – it is the concept.’ Stirner discovered that all actual oppression comes, in the end, from concepts and ideas that are accepted as sacred. With a fearless, strong, and determined hand he took notions such as God, sacredness, morality, state, society, and love apart and demonstrated laughingly their hollowness.”

Landauer thus locates the source of our oppression to our ideas and beliefs, that which we intellectually accept and morally justify. But Landauer doesn’t stop there for he accuses Stirner of making a new kind of sacred of his own: “the concrete and isolated individual”. Landauer wishes to abolish this too and suggests “there are no individuals, only affinities and communities”; there is only “immanent life” and “present forces”. A human being is never alone but only a being with more or less active connections to and with others who are no less alive and existing than they; everything exists at once and you are part of that everything:

“What we are part of is an unbreakable chain that comes from the infinite and proceeds to the infinite, even if little segments might tear off and experience complications. Everything we make while we are alive connects us with the universe. And even our dead body is a bridge that is used to continue our journey through the universe.”

The world is, thus, a “complex soul stream” and “Our world can only be understood if we understand the several parallel, supplementing perspectives by which we have created it”, a kind of anarcho-spiritual intersectionality. You might now be wondering what all this spiritual, philosophical mumbo-jumbo has to do with anarchism but here comes the point: “effectiveness is reality... what is real are the connections and the communities.” Thus:

“The individual bodies which have lived on this earth from its beginnings are not just a sum of isolated individual beings; they form a big and real community, an organism; an organism that changes permanently, that always manifests itself in new individual shapes. As little as our consciousness usually knows about the powerful and real life of our allegedly unconscious desires, reflexes, and physical automatisms, as little do we know about the life of the ancestors in ourselves. And yet their existence is undeniable. If we do not acknowledge this, the meaning of life and the world will remain mysterious to us; they will be all matter, all perception, all spook...

Humanity is no abstract, dead term to us; humanity is real and alive, and the individuals are – together with their consciousness – the individually emerging, changing, and disappearing (another form of changing) shadows that make humanity visible.”

Landauer thus sees a connection with others in each one of us just by virtue of the fact that we exist. We are not unique beings; we do not live in, nor have we come from, a vacuum. We are a snapshot of an organism or a community in our own selves. That is a connection, a clue to our networked natures set within us. Landauer thus advocates for community for he imagines each of us to be one in miniature, our social connections constitutive of what makes us what we are. But here we are not talking about “arbitrary commonalities enforced by authority”. These, says Landauer, are the “superficiality of herd mentality” [the latter phrase betraying Landauer’s Nietzschean reading]. What Landauer means is that “the true individuality that we find in the deepest depths of our selves is community” and so:

“Once individuals have transformed themselves into communities, then they are ready to form wider communities with like-minded individuals. These will be new kinds of communities, established by individuals with the courage and the need to separate from the dullness of superficiality.”

Yet there is another mystical, spiritual thing that this has to do with, a way we feel and materialise this community nature. Its called “love”:

“There is yet another way to feel the infinite, the most splendid of them all. We are all familiar with it as long as we are not entirely corrupted by the decadence and egotistical superficiality of our distorted and arbitrary communities. I speak of love. Love is such a wonderful and universal feeling, a feeling that spins us round and elevates us to the stars, because it is a cord that connects our childhood with the universe. There lies a deeper meaning in the fact that the name for the experience of community, the feeling that connects us with humanity: love, human love, is the same name that we use for the love between the sexes that connects us with the following generations. Damn the soulless who do not shiver when they hear of love! Damn those for whom sexual satisfaction is nothing but a physical sensation! Love sets the world alight and sends sparks through our being. It is the deepest and most powerful way to understand the most precious that we have.”

“A love for humanity”, suggests Landauer, “is part of our most genuine being.” But hold on a moment. Didn’t Landauer start off here by saying there was a vast gulf in consciousness between the anarchists and the rest? He is not unaware of this:

“I have talked about the gap between us, the new human beings, and the masses, and about the necessity to separate ourselves from those united by the state. This might seem to contradict my belief that a love for humanity is part of our most genuine being. Let me explain: on the one hand, it seems clear that all contemporary human beings – the civilized as well as the others – are so closely related to us that it is difficult not to love them as we love anyone who is close to us. On the other hand, the relationship is as difficult as it often is with our closest relatives: they are very close to us in their being and their characteristics, and we do feel the bond of blood and we do love them – but we cannot live with them. Most of our contemporaries have deformed their humanity because of their statist and social lowliness and stupidity; they have also deformed their animalness with their hypocrisy, false morality, cowardice, and unnaturalness. Even during occasional hours of clarity or despair they cannot shed their masks. They have blocked their way to the universe; they have forgotten that they can turn themselves into Gods. We want to be everything though: humans, animals, and Gods! We want to

be heroes!”

Thus, Landauer’s proposal is that those of anarchist consciousness, those of free spirit, those who are “the new human beings”, separate themselves from society and create their own, new communities. He justifies this not just out of necessity but “for the love of humanity”. These new people must live new lives for everybody’s sake and create “centres of a new kind of being” and he issues this as a call to all who will listen, who want to live new anarchist lives by different values and principles, by a new ethic and ideals:

“for the love of humanity that has lost its way, for the love of those who will come after us, for the love, finally, of the best in ourselves, we want to leave these people, we want our own company and our own lives! Away from the state, as far as we can get! Away from goods and commerce! Away from the philistines! Let us – us few who feel like heirs to the millennia, who feel simple and eternal, who are Gods – form a small community in joy and activity. Let us create ourselves as exemplary human beings. Let us express all our desires: the desire for quietism as well as activism; the desire for reflection as well as celebration; the desire for labour as well as relaxation. There is no other way for us! This intimate belief is born from grief: we want to feel the highest joy of creation because we are desperate. Those who have already experienced it know that the only way to awaken people is by religious genius, i.e., by the exemplary life of those who do everything to rise from the abyss. These individuals know that all these questions are serious existential questions.”

This is what Landauer means by “through separation to community”.

The next piece I shall consider is Landauer’s extended historical essay from 1907 “Revolution”. This essay is about revolution in various historical eras in order to propose an understanding of revolution, its aims, purposes and uses, itself. It should not be surprising that the conclusion here cannot be a catastrophic material event which changes world circumstances for the better forever like a kind of anarchist apocalypse, materially understood. By now, we should know very well things cannot play out this way for Landauer. Thus, it gives nothing away to start at the end here where Landauer concludes that “no revolution will ever achieve its goals. Revolution is a means in itself: it serves the revitalization of force and spirit.” Here Landauer does not mean to suggest that physical revolution is pointless; it is just that if this is all it is then it really misses his point. But what then is “revolution” for Landauer? -:

“Revolution concerns communality in all its dimensions. This means not only the state, the estates of the realm, the religious institutions, economic life, intellectual life, schools, arts, or education, but the combination of all of those; a combination that, for a certain period of time, rests in a relative state of authoritative stability.”

Here Landauer reveals his socially conservative side, however, for he will go on to say “people of spirit – spirit being love and creating communality – need the family, the herd, the nation (language, customs, arts). These social forms are the bridges of light that connect our different worlds. They also create new forms of community that overcome the rigid forms of community created by hatred, lack of spirit, and meanness.” With this I do not agree for reasons that should be obvious from the previous text in this book and that which will be further expounded in what remains of it. Landauer, however, wants to build his revolution on just such foundations and whether they are good for “spirit” or not is the point. Thus, much later on in the essay, he says:

“During revolution, people are filled by spirit and differ completely from those without spirit. During revolution, everyone is filled with the spirit that is otherwise reserved for exemplary individuals; everyone is courageous, wild and fanatic, and caring and loving at the same time. Once the spirit is gone, however, they all want panem et circenses, ‘bread and circuses,’ again.”

Here I hope you can see why I talk about “consciousness” in reference to Landauer for this seems to be analogous to what “spirit” seems to refer to. In revolutionary times people become possessed of [or is it by?] a revolutionary consciousness, the revolutionary spirit is abroad. But in non-revolutionary times Landauer seems to conceive of said spirit or consciousness in a more restrictive, perhaps elitist, way — for it is only “exemplary” individuals who are possessed of [by?] it. Landauer’s understanding of “revolution”, in fact, is one compatible with the ideas of someone I discussed in A Handbook for Anarchist Insurrection, that person being Etienne de La Boétie with his Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, a book he is said to have written aged only 16. [There are so many feisty teenagers it seems. Strange when some “anarchists” are keen to rob so many teenagers of any agency at all.] Landauer is eager to incorporate La Boétie’s book into his own essay on revolution since La Boétie is one who thinks that it is up to us who are possessed of [by?] spirit to act directly in our own emancipation. Thus, his question is “how can an entire people, consisting of countless individuals, allow a single person to torture them, abuse them, and rule over them against their interests and against their will?” The answer that La Boétie gives is quoted by Landauer directly:

“How can he [the tyrant] have so many eyes with which to control you if you do not lend him your own? How can he have so many hands to hit you if you do not provide them? How can he ever have power over you if not through you? How can he persecute you if you do not allow him to? What can he do to you if you are not the dealer of the thief who robs you, and the helper of the murderer who kills you? What can he do to you if you are not your own traitor?”

From this Landauer comes to his own explanation that, whatever freedoms we may once have had, they were somehow taken away and servitude was nurtured in their place. This is important for Landauer for he conceives that whatever is nurtured is that which ultimately wins out: “The natural may be as good as it is, but it disappears if it is not nurtured. Nurture will always determine us, whatever form it may take, and regardless of our nature” [quoting La Boétie]. The fact is that many humans “do not know any better than to be subservient” for “they have always been that way”. Thus, quoting La Boétie again: “They turn themselves into the property of those who oppress them, because time has made this appear inevitable. In reality, though, time never rights a wrong but multiplies it endless times.” The point Landauer makes here in his interpretation of La Boétie is that “love and friendship only exist among good people. ‘Where there is cruelty, dishonesty, injustice, there cannot be friendship’”; instead there is only looking after number one, looking out for yourself, always looking over your shoulder and worrying about when the next coercion or the next taking advantage of will come. Its all about relationships. But, from the individual point of view: “we need nothing... but the desire and the will to be free. We suffer a servitude that is voluntary.” We need a revolutionary consciousness, a free spirit of insurrection, and therefore:

“The fire of tyranny cannot be fought from the outside with water. It is the source that has to be eliminated. The people who feed it must stop doing so. What they sacrifice for it, they must keep for themselves.”

He quotes La Boétie once again to hammer this point home further:

“It is not necessary to fight the tyrant. Neither is it necessary to defend oneself against him. The tyrant will eventually defeat himself. People only need to stop accepting servitude. They do not need to take anything away from the tyrant, they must only stop giving to him. Nor need they change themselves, they need only stop hindering their own development. … When the tyrant does not receive and is no longer obeyed, he ends up naked, without force and without power. He ends up being nothing. He shares the fate of a root that is left without water and nourishment : it turns into a dry, dead piece of wood.”

This articulates a fundamental point for Landauer, something which is the basis of his thought and essential to his construction of an anarchism: that point is that anarchism comes from WITHIN YOU [as Jesus thought of the kingdom of God in Luke 17]. He writes:

“If individual revolutions are recurring microcosms that summarize and precede revolution’s general ideals, then La Boétie’s essay is the most perfect of all of revolution’s microcosms. It represents a spirit that first appears to be solely negative, but soon draws enough power from this negativity to proclaim the positive that has to come even if it cannot be described yet. La Boétie’s essay already said what others would later say in various languages: Godwin, Stirner, Proudhon, Bakunin, Tolstoy... The

message is: It is in you! It is not on the outside. It is you. Humans shall not be united by domination, but as brothers without domination: an-archy....

The negation of rebellious souls is filled with love; a love that is force, in the sense formulated so well by Bakunin: ‘The joy of destruction is a creative joy.’ Rebellious souls know that humans are brothers and that they ought to live as such. But they believe that it suffices to overcome external obstacles and external powers. This, however, will make men brothers only while they fight – and maybe overcome – these obstacles and powers. A common spirit can be felt during the revolution – but it does not come to life. Once the revolution is over, it is gone. We can hear people say: yes, but the spirit will remain once the revolution has truly been victorious, when the old can never rise again! According to the same logic one might say: if I could hold on to my dreams and mold them by memory and consciousness, then I would be the greatest poet. Both the reality and the idea of

revolution define it as a period of health between periods of sickness. If there were no sickness before and after it, it would not be what it is.

A true change of humanity needs a supplement to revolution, something of an entirely different nature. We can add a variation to the motto above: without domination – with spirit! It will not suffice, however, to just call upon the spirit. The spirit has to come over us. It needs a cover and a form. It does not listen to the mere name ‘spirit’ either. Nobody knows its real name and what it really is. This creates an anxiety that helps us to be committed to transition and progress. Not knowing what to expect means to keep ideas alive. What would ideas mean to us if they were already real?”

So Landauer’s formula here is “without domination — with spirit”. But it is about more than us and so Landauer conceives not just of people of spirit but communities of people — outside the state — of spirit as well. These are “not as a sum of isolated individual atoms, but as an organic unity, a web of many groups”. Landauer thinks of this not as something new but as “something that has existed for a long time”. He conceives that “a common spirit can only arrive when there is something it can fill and form; something that it can live and spread out from” which in turn suggests that groups of spirited individuals need to give community form to their common existence and “common spirit”. This brings us to the point of revolution, once again, in Landauer’s eyes:

“This is the destiny of revolution in our times: to provide a spiritual pool for humanity. It is in revolution’s fire, in its enthusiasm, its brotherhood, its aggressiveness that the image and the feeling of positive unification awakens; a unification that comes through a connecting quality: love as force. Without temporary regeneration we cannot carry on and are condemned to drown.”

Landauer sees in revolution then a love, joy and hope kindled in the hearts and minds of many as regenerative energies. He is under no illusions that revolutions work [although he concedes they may bring some incremental benefits that may or may not be lost again over time] but that does not matter for it is the generation of this spirit that is the point. In revolutionary times people act and have belief. They act for themselves and their loved ones and even simply others like them who join with them. Solidarity of cause is created with other human beings. It is this spirit, and all it can then generate and create, that we need. This is where the real revolution lies. Thus:

“Some try to convince us in these flaccid and weak times, bereft of sentiment and ashamed of love and affection, that brotherhood has become nothing more than a word. Nothing could be further from the truth; we must declare it loudly and without hesitation: humans are brothers. This is what all past revolutions have taught us and what we will teach all future revolutions. There are words whose origins are strong enough to withstand all frivolous and narrow-minded adaptations, as well as all forms of ridicule. We owe the word brotherhood to the French Revolution. It summarizes its joy: humans felt like brothers – and, let us not forget, like sisters too!”

These words are uttered in the course of saying that the problem with the state is that it replaces spirit and this brotherhood “with domination, external control, and death”. Landauer thinks of spirit as “inner sovereignty” in a very Stirnerite/Nietzschean kind of way that is compatible with La Boétie’s desired voluntary inservitude. His communities are communities of such people which is why they are also conceived of as communities of spirit too. Thus, “in the end, social revolution means nothing but peaceful construction and organisation based on a new spirit and creating a new spirit” and Landauer foresees “a Bund of economic communities” [“Bund” is a German word which can mean federation, alliance, union or association] taking the place of the state. But it is not a matter, as in the biblical Acts of the Apostles, of waiting for the spirit to settle upon us. “It is not the spirit that sends us on our way, it is our way that allows the spirit to rise.” We who are conscious of this spirit within us must rise up and act and nurture that spirit within us.

We have now reached the time in Landauer’s life when he got involved in creating such a Bund which was called “The Socialist Bund”. Consequently, around this time period [1909–1910], he wrote several articles and pamphlets which were published to publicise it. The first of these I consider is “What Does The Socialist Bund Want?” and that question is fairly answered in the first line: “The Socialist Bund wants to unite all humans who are serious about realizing socialism” [i.e. anarchism]. Contrary to other ideas that anarchism is only a distant dream after society has been appropriately prepared and educated, Landauer adds that “socialism will never come if you do not create it”. To those who say revolution must come first, Landauer replies “But how? And from where?” Landauer’s Bund, then, and his idea, is not to wait, not to fixate on metanarratives of absolute apocalypse and world change, but to get on locally with what those of spirit and like mind can do here and now. He is clear that “We say that everything must be turned upside down! We refuse to wait for the revolution in order to begin the realization of socialism; we begin the realization of socialism to bring about the revolution!” A concern here is that people, even revolutionaries, create lives WITHIN CAPITALISM when what is needed is to create lives OUTSIDE CAPITALISM. This seems a vital distinction for capitalism is itself a set of coercive relationships and how can anarchism come if you stay within it? A definitive break must be made. New relationships must begin.

In this respect, Landauer sees the state as playing the role of capitalism’s guardian, doing just enough, or what is necessary, to keep people within capitalism:

“What does the state do? It alleviates some of the greatest suffering; it saves capitalism from killing itself using insurance, welfare, and legal interventions; it maintains the system of injustice, of senseless production, and of senseless distribution of goods. Capitalism proceeds. This is the result of the state’s efforts; and this includes the efforts of the working class and its representatives.”

The only interest of capitalists, whether CEOs or politicians, is THAT CAPITALISM PROCEEDS. Often this is with the acquiescent help of people who, nominally, are pledged to destroy it [as La Boétie described as voluntary servitude]. But capitalism doesn’t care whether you like it or not provided that, willingly or not, you go along with it. Yet capitalism is only a system of relationships that we all of us support by our participation in it. Yes, corporations and governments may harass and cajole us to carry on capitalisting but, as La Boétie suggested, we could just say no; we have the power of refusal. Of course, there are consequences to this [good ones from an egoist and anarchist perspective — like taking responsibility for ourselves] but there are also consequences from carrying on capitalisting, consequences like global environmental destruction and the increasing misery of life on earth. Capitalism only takes, exploits and chucks its waste away. It does little else and has no concern for life. Yet even workers and consumers play their part in this for, as I said, this is little other than a system of relationships in reality. Whatever “reforms” are ever offered in such a scenario by politicians are always only in order to keep capitalism going. The one thing all those most benefiting from it in the short term don’t want is that it should cease as a way to organise human relations completely.

How do we stop capitalism though? By acting, and so relating, in other ways. One idea Landauer has here is “the active general strike” which is ceasing working for capitalist employers and beginning to work for yourself. Landauer introduces it here like this:

“We demand the active general strike! This does not mean that we instantly turn to ‘fighting the state and capital.’ We do not begin at the end, but at the beginning! If nothing has been done for socialism so far, if there are no signs of it yet, then what are we going to fight and die for? For the domination of some leaders, who will tell us what to do, and what to produce, and how to distribute it? Would it not be better if we knew and did all this ourselves? Hence, we say: the action of the working people is ... work! In the active general strike, the workers will starve the capitalists, because they will work for themselves and their own needs! You capitalists will still have money, documents, and machines of course. Eat them! Exchange them! Sell them! Do whatever you want. If it does not help you, however ... then work! Work like us. You will no longer get our labour. We need it ourselves. And we have freed it from your restraints. We now use it for the creation of socialism. The day when this happens will mark the only true beginning of socialism.”

A second article Landauer produced in respect of The Socialist Bund, and in The Socialist publication he edited, was “The Socialist Way” where he sets out plainly that an anarchism of his understanding is one that leaves the capitalist ground it stands on for other ground. He puts this simply as “We desire different forms of human relations.” Consequently:

“The first step in the struggle of the oppressed and suffering classes, as well as in the awakening of the rebellious individual’s spirit, is always insurgency, outrage, a wild and raging sensation. If this is strong enough, realizations and actions are directly connected to it: both actions of destruction and actions of creation...

In times like these, we must no longer reflect upon the reality that surrounds us and the ideas that fill our minds. We must find the people who are willing to leave this ugly, oppressive, and corrupting reality behind and proceed to a new one. We have to ask who the creators are. We have to ask not about people’s theories and ideals, but about their strength to no longer partake.”

This leads Landauer once more to refer to “through separation to community” as his ideal for Landauer again concedes that the genuine revolutionaries who are actually prepared to risk a life without and against capitalism, and instead pursue a life of love, brotherhood and freedom, are precious few indeed. Such people [of whom Landauer was not one for he actually never carried out these ideas himself unlike, say, Émile Armand who did carry out his associated ideas of amorous camaraderie] are perceived as “role models and shining examples for the whole world” and as those who, by their own movement, provide the impetus that pulls others along. In this Landauer spies a crumb of egoism but it is not a crumb about which to be detrimental:

“The individualists, the individualist anarchists, have always called upon the pride, the self-respect, and the sovereignty of the individual. Their usual advice for the oppressed has been: if you had as much egoism as your masters, you would not have any masters. As a simple calculation this is not entirely wrong: egoism keeps egoism at bay. The individualists have always taught that the proper egoist will respect the rights of others because he respects himself; furthermore, he will be smart enough not to attack others in order to avoid being attacked, etc. There has, from its beginnings with Mister (and Master) Stirner, always been a certain coldness of reason in these teachings.”

It might not then strike readers as so strange when Landauer goes on to say that “no one is better suited to maintain a communist economy than true individualists. In fact, a communist economy can only be maintained by true individualists.” Landauer’s notion is that such people create a new people by which he means a people who are defined by new relationships between themselves. And so he says:

“We demand that they act, that they secede, and that they unite. No theory will tell them what kind of relationships or what economic systems will be possible. They will learn from the historical moment, from their numbers, their values, their determination. If possible, they will found cooperatives and popular banks, as well as their own markets. They will form an economic alliance, because they are few, but also because they will want to experiment with mutual aid and respect, knowing that economy is a collective matter, just as spirituality is an individual matter.”

What all this builds to, in a further article from The Socialist entitled “The Settlement”, is a description of autonomous rural communities that Landauer envisages as the context for groups of appropriately spirited anarchists who have determined to live outside capitalism. Landauer bases the idea partly on his observances of other self-created communities, whether strictly communist or ones that survive by producing goods for sale in capitalist markets. What Landauer perceives as the difference in his idea, however, is that “We want to care about others; and we want them to care about us. In the midst of our country, in the midst of our people, we want to plant a pole and tell everyone who can hear us: Look, here is a signpost – follow it!” Landauer’s imagined communities, then, are not merely refuges for those who wish to depart from capitalist society but social outreach centres, community action hubs and signposts to a new future where people relate to each other in a completely different way articulated by new and different values. About this, Landauer has much to say:

“Our people are the new people; they are the people and the culture that our spirit envisions. This also means that while, in a certain sense, we secede and precede for our own sake, we mainly do so for the sake of the way, for the sake of an ineradicable and deeply rooted desire, for the sake of what we have made the center of our being. We do not primarily separate for our comfort – we do it for us; in other words, for the revolution.

This word – ‘revolution’ – truly helps to mark the line between us and the loners – those who do not aim at the whole and who do not understand that our movement must have a historical impact, that it must create a new spirit and new conditions; otherwise, it cannot be our movement. However, when we speak of revolution, we must also draw a line between ourselves and those who call themselves ‘revolutionaries,’ even if they are dormant or only half-awake and never do more than imagine and talk.

It can be of no great concern to us whether ten or fifty or one hundred and fifty men found a settlement, or how many new settlements will emerge in a given period of time. Our movement has centuries behind it, and now heads forward into future centuries. Some years here or there matter little. We are proud and secure enough to demand a new age; an age where people live in a beautiful and joyful world.

We want to directly link the production of consumer goods to the needs of the people. We want to create the basic form of a new, real, socialist, free, and stateless society, in other words, a community. However, we could use the help of everyone who desires socialism, even if they are not able to separate from the current social conditions as thoroughly as we are. They can find ways to support us even if they – at least for now – stay in their parties, unions, and cooperatives. They can help us create the example that we want to create. This will be a challenge and it will demand sacrifices.”

As Landauer continues on explaining this it sounds rather like the ideas of Peter Kropotkin in Fields, Factories and Workshops or The Conquest of Bread [although Kropotkin frowned on the idea of small, self-contained communities himself for he imagined EVERYONE rising up and resetting the entire society]. Landauer talks about “the socialist village” with “workshops and village factories, with meadows and fields and gardens, with cattle and flocks and chickens – you big city proletarians, get used to the idea, as alien and strange as it may at first seem! This is the only remaining way to begin the realization of socialism. Socialism is the return to natural labour; it is a natural, multi-faceted connection of all activities; it is the union of intellectual and manual labour, of artisanry and agriculture, of education and work, of play and work.” Landauer comes to this conclusion because he is most convinced of all that anarchism can only come if there are actually anarchists who live different lives, who have separated themselves from capitalism and offer a lived, visible example that one can interact with that models the alternative arrangement of relationships. Anarchism for Landauer, at least in print, is a lived activity. And so:

“There are many people today who see no alternative to the lives they live. This must change! Once the change has come, it will no longer be necessary to make your leisure hours as long as possible and haggle over every single one of them. Labour – and leisure – will become part of life’s natural flow. Everyday life will be transformed. Your personalities will grow; like boulders, like mountains – high and strong! A new life will come. You will have hours to yourself, and you will share the hours that belong to everyone with the community. This community has to be created – for yourselves and for others. It does not mean that anyone will deprive you of your solitude, but that solitude will regain its rightful role: religion, ceasing to be what it has become today: a commodity.”

As Landauer had said before in previous essays, then, what he wanted was pioneers prepared to be the first to engage in newly imagined and created “anarchist lifestyles” which were definitive breaks from capitalist ones and which modelled new human relationships. They were to “lay the ground of a new communal life — a ground from which beautiful and rich new individuals shall arise.” And he was blunt about this for he conceded that such people “have to start from nothing”. Yet it was also necessary for “No one has even attempted to begin yet; to realize socialism.” He then finishes this essay with imperatives: “Seize, push, act! Make life a pleasure to live!”

The next article in this series propagandising for a new, anarchist way of life is titled “Socialist Beginning”. It focuses really on means and ends and the Socialist Bund that Landauer was trying to fan into a flame. On the first topic Landauer says here that:

“Means and ends are not to be distinguished if one pursues a real life, i.e., the realization of thought. It is an old mistake to impose an invented ideal, a blinding fantasy. It is an old mistake to name a goal, and then ask with resignation, ‘What can we do to achieve it?’ No worthwhile goals can ever lie ahead of us in some distant future. Our goals must lie

behind us and push us forward. They have to drive and motivate us. We have to free ourselves from the apparitional and schematic notion that there can ever be complete socialism and that all that needs to be done is to remove the fine line between the social conditions of today and the social conditions we wish for. ‘America is here – or nowhere!’ Socialism is not an end that requires means. Socialism is action that carries its ends within itself.”

This reasoning goes well with Landauer’s ideas for “socialist villages” for he is saying that we must live now how we imagine everybody should live. It is, in this sense, a matter of prefigurative performance [using social anarchist thinking] or a more egoist “we are free by acting free”. As with the violence he formerly discussed, Landauer never believes that you can get to what you want by acting or relating in ways that are not already demonstrations of it in the here and now. Thus, in this short essay, Landauer talks about going beyond calling for support and sympathy for the aims and ideals of The Socialist Bund to actually becoming a living, breathing, active Socialist Bund. He says: “What is required is that those of us who are committed, determined, and cheerful move to the centre of all those who want to leave the emptiness, confusion, and misery of random capitalist commodity production in order to reach reason and unity.” The point here is that those so motivated and with the necessary spirit CREATE REALITIES rather than endlessly, and pointlessly, canvassing support or looking for those in sympathy with a reality made in material relationships which nobody ever actually creates. Only the living, breathing organism is real; everything else is just talk. Are we creating real, actual networks of communal living and mutual aid, of insurrectional attack against systematic coercion and exploitation — or are we just talking about it and “trying to drum up support”? What Landauer wants in his writing is that these ideas have life and such life is only incorporated [literally: made bodily] into these ideas when they are manifested in real, lived, human relationships.

This vision is further reflected in the very short piece “Weak Statesmen, Weaker People” from June 1910 in which Landauer memorably, and most notably [for its probably his most quoted text], defines the state as “a social relationship, a certain way of people relating to another” that is destroyed and defeated simply by relating another way. This thought itself is fairly easy to see as modelled after La Boétie’s reflections on servitude where he imagined that the way to defeat a servitude that was acquiesced in was simply to stop acquiescing! Thus here Landauer exhorts “the masses” to come to the understanding that “they must flee the state and replace it” and that “they must build an alternative”. This is based exactly on thinking like La Boétie’s in which “The entire system would vanish without a trace if the people began to constitute themselves as a people apart from the state.” This is reasoning I obviously accept and, therefore, we must accept our responsibility:

“The absolute monarch said: I am the state. We, who we have imprisoned ourselves in the absolute state, must realize the truth: we are the state! And we will be the state as long as we are nothing different; as long as we have not yet created the institutions necessary for a true community and a true society of human beings.”

Now I have relayed all of this without reference so far to Landauer’s major work on anarchism, his 1911 text Call to Socialism. But, in truth, this text does not add much to these basic ideas, in my opinion. In the preface to the second edition, for example, written only months before his ghastly murder by military thugs, Landauer is once more talking about “the transformation of social institutions, of property relations, of the type of economy” and that “socialism must be built, erected, organised out of a new spirit”. What he wishes to achieve is “permanent results” which seems to equate to a permanent state of newly created human relations lived out and practiced. Thus, “the only salvation is work, real work done, performed and organized by an unselfish, fraternal spirit. New forms of work must be developed, freed from a tribute payable to capital, ceaselessly creating new values and new realities, harvesting and transforming the products of nature for human needs. The age of the productivity of labour is beginning; otherwise we have reached the end of the line.” Landauer is clear here that these new relations he wishes to see constructed are both the beginning of something new but also the destruction of capitalism for he wishes nothing less than that people come to find it inconceivable that they would ever hire out either themselves or their labour ever again on capitalist terms. Therefore:

“ Because socialism must commence and because the realization of spirit and virtue is never mass-like and normal but rather results only from the self-sacrifice of the few and the new venture of pioneers, socialism must free itself from ruin out of poverty and joy in work. For its sake we must return to rural living and to a unification of industry, craftsmanship and agriculture, to save ourselves and learn justice and community.”

It is as a consequence of this that Landauer concludes: “Nothing lives but what we make of ourselves, what we do with ourselves. Creation lives; not the creature, only the creator. Nothing lives but the action of honest hands and the governance of a pure, genuine spirit.” This Landauer conceives of as the association of people, men and women, of “communal spirit” that is union and freedom, an association of human beings that:

“will be a people; it will be culture, joy. Who knows today what joy is? The lover when he contemplates his beloved with the feeling, indistinct or clear, that she is the quintessence of all that is life and creates life; the creative artist in a rare hour alone with a friend of like mind, or when in his mind and in his work he anticipates the beauty and fullness which will one day become alive in the people; the prophetic spirit; who hastens ahead of centuries and is sure of eternity. Who else knows joy today, who knows what complete, great, rapturous joy is?”

Who indeed. Landauer thus speaks, overall, of a call to both love and joy in building a new society out of newly and freely constructed human relations that suit the purposes of those engaging in them free from arbitrary, overbearing or coercive restraint. Towards the end of Call To Socialism he consequently makes the following appeal:

“I call on all those who want to do what they can to build this socialism. Only the present is real, and what men do not do now, do not begin to do immediately, they will not do in all eternity. The objective is people, society, community, freedom, beauty, and joy of life. We need men to give the battle-cry; we need all who are filled with this creative desire; we need men of action. This call to socialism is addressed to men of action who want to make the first beginning.”

I close this discussion of Landauer’s relational anarchism now by quoting the twelve articles [in their 1912 second edition form] he penned for his Socialist Bund which functioned as its programme and which give the most compact summary of Landauer’s anarchism. Thereafter, I shall offer some concise reflections on what I have shared of Landauer’s ideas.

1. Socialism is the creation of a new society.

2. Socialist society is a Bund of economically independent communities that exchange their goods fairly. The individuals of these communities are free in their personal matters, and voluntarily united in all that concerns the common good.

3. The Socialist Bund is destined to eventually replace the state and capitalism. It can only become a reality when active socialists organize their daily lives communally and exit the capitalist economy as far as their circumstances allow.

4. Socialist settlements will be prepared by communal consumption and by replacing the monetary economy with mutual credit. This will allow working people in independent communities to produce and exchange the products of their labour without the mediation of parasitic profiteers.

5. In the Socialist Bund, today’s capital will be replaced by two social factors: a) institutions based on a connecting spirit and guaranteeing the satisfaction of the working people’s needs (both with respect to production and consumption); these institutions and the spirit of mutuality will replace the usury and the emptiness of the monetary economy; b) land: land is a necessary requirement for any economy, capitalist or socialist; it belongs to nature in much the same way that the institutions belong to spirit.

6. The requirements for the true and all-encompassing creation of socialism among the peoples are expropriation and redistribution of land among independent communities; this must be based on principles of justice, on the true needs of the people, and on the understanding that there cannot be permanent land ownership.

7. To make the necessary transformation of land rights possible, the working people have to realize as great a degree of socialism as their numbers and their energy allow. They have to provide examples of socialist reality. This has to happen on the basis of a common spirit (the capital of us socialists) and its institutions.

8. As long as examples of socialism cannot be realized and lived, the hope for a transformation of social relations and property rights remains futile.

9. Socialism has nothing to do with state politics, demagogy, or the working class fighting for power. Neither is it reduced to the transformation of material conditions. It is first and foremost a movement of spirit.

10. Anarchy is just another – due to its negativity and frequent misinterpretation, less useful – name for socialism. True socialism is the opposite of both the state and the capitalist economy. Socialism can only emerge from the spirit of freedom and of voluntary union; it can only arise within the individuals and their communities.

11. The further socialism extends and the more it expresses the true nature of human beings, the faster men will turn away from the spiritless institutions that have led to oppression, stupidity, and pauperization. An all-encompassing social contract will replace

authoritarian violence, and the Bund of free communities and associations – what we call society – will replace the state.

12. The creation of the Socialist Bund demands the proletarians’ departure from the industrial towns and their resettlement in the country, where agriculture, industry, and artisanry will form a union, and the distinction between intellectual and physical labour will be abandoned. Labour will be joyful and there will be a sense of belonging; this will allow us as individuals to form both communities and a people.


It falls to me now to write some commentary on what has been going on here with Gustav Landauer. First of all, I should point out that I was almost completely ignorant of him before researching this chapter. I had read the text I used as the quote at the head of this chapter but nothing further. Now, having read him much more extensively, I am struck by how like my own, previously written, ideas, his own ideas really are. He also seems comparable to someone like Émile Armand and his ideas — although I’m sure that both might be somewhat non-plussed by that comparison. Landauer’s anarchism, it seems to me, is a “Kropotkinism of Egoists” or a “social anarchism for Nietzscheans”. His ideas combine the individual and the social as a necessary duality, each nourishing the other in a relational whole, and his organisational ideas are essentially an associationism that is appropriate to the problem to be addressed [world problems need world solutions, local problems need local ones, etc.]. Landauer seeks to initiate a pioneer movement for new social relations and it seems both a conclusion and an assertion for him that this will necessarily not be a mass movement or a metanarratival idea for only very few could [or would] ever attempt to go against the direction of flow of their entire social, political, economic and moral context. [In this, I compare the application of Landauer’s thought to that of Jesus’ early followers in the gospels expected to wander around preaching the kingdom of God but without any money, possessions, etc. Jesus essentially initiated a new set of relations too — just as Landauer suggests here.]

In this, that Landauer is a pacifist and strongly anti-violence is important for Landauer is not a thinker who focuses simply on the immediate. He asks what the trajectory is imagined to be and where we want to go [as he says, motivated by his past beliefs and the necessities they instil in him]. For Landauer the equation is then simple: you cannot bomb and shoot your way to anarchy [as that propagandist of the deed, Alexander Berkman, will also come to agree in his later life when he writes his tract on anarchist communism] and so bombing and shooting is, ultimately, little more than frustration expressed through destruction. It is not a systematic way to actually achieve anything you want in relationship terms. I agree with Landauer on this and have always been hesitant to rush for the gun [which many on social media, and from the USA, seemingly are not with their much more materially weaponised culture]. But I do not agree, if it is Landauer’s point, that there is never any point to any violence. Are people who are attacked simply to sacrifice themselves? That sounds like a willing suicide. So I see every motivation for defensive violence, the only question being to then decide, in the nitty gritty of real life, what is defence and what goes over the line of defence into something else. I take seriously the idea that violence breeds only more violence and so by no means do I take this subject as something trivial. Yet I find the concept of anarchist armies or security forces — as some talk about — both ridiculous and ethically dubious from an anarchist perspective. On the matter of defence, however, I have no qualms whilst also taking on board Landauer’s view, born out of his concern to form new relationships with others, that violence always risks becoming either an authority in its own right [violence is, as he says, the weapon of the state] or a simple despotism of its own.

Landauer’s pacifism is, of course, to be set in the context of the rest of his views and of the culture and politics of the time when people were firing pistols and throwing home made bombs. This makes Landauer reflect, as it should, on who anarchism is actually for. Is anarchy for everyone [imagined as an ethos, practice or way to live a life]? Must an anarchist take their task as to evangelise the whole world for anarchy? Do we want a “world revolution” and is this a realistic ambition or just foolishness? Is the task of anarchism [the very idea of that is to pose the question that “anarchism” has a task] to proceed until everyone is an anarchist? Landauer seems not to think so and to have come to the conclusion that, as an ethos, as an idea, as a set of practices and beliefs, anarchism will only ever be for a select group, if not “the few”. For him it is a matter of “spirit”, a consciousness, awareness or ethos which, by very definition, some people will not, will never, have. So Landauer seems to want to find and energise those people for whom this is a current actuality or a future possibility more than anything else. For Landauer anarchism is not a “benevolent imposition” upon the whole world and never could be [since this is a dictatorial, authoritarian idea]. It is how people freely relate to one another, how they live and associate for themselves, something [we must conclude] that not everybody will ever be capable of. It is “inward colonization” and people “uniting in new forms of culture” but, as logic must dictate, this means that its different to what others are doing — or maybe will ever even want to do. After all, can the anarchist force relationships and ways of life onto people? That’s a serious question.

So Landauer distinguishes people by their “spirit” [his preferred term] which is their consciousness, their ethos [and so ethics], their virtue. His idea is that such people form their own communities [size here doesn’t really matter to him — its just a matter of whoever we can agree to unite with] which make material the connections of spirit and ethos that they share. These communities are then beacons shining in the dark that are meant to attract others to the light by their active, embodied energy and living connections based in anarchist living. He bases this, in turn, on the idea that people display something analogous to familial connections simply by existing in common as examples of the same species. It is also based in love for others, something which can be nurtured or discouraged by, and in, the actual lives we live. These are to be communities of new life and mutual enjoyment that naturally attract the interest of others because they are not isolationist in conception but still part of the wider world.

Yet we must remember that, for Landauer, all this finds itself on an intellectual foundation very much in egoist territory. Landauer conceives of certain kinds of self-organising people who are able to achieve such things. His usage of La Boétie’s text, for example, tends in this direction too. Anarchism, for Landauer, is a matter of the relationships we do and don’t consent to from ourselves. The anarchism, for him, as the kingdom of God for Jesus in Luke’s gospel, chapter 17, is “within you” [as it was then too in Tolstoy’s amalgamation of Christianity and anarchism] — as spirit, virtue, ethic, consciousness. It almost seems, in Landauer’s spiritual anarchism, as if our lives are a matter of the understanding and utilising of the conditions of [our] existence when he talks of humans as “brothers” [and sisters], a relationship constituted of and by itself by the fact of our common existence alone. Landauer doesn’t want anyone to ignore that fact and, instead, to concentrate on, and imagine, what it means and entails.

It is because of this, in fact, that Landauer’s anarchism becomes not an activity of waiting for a future utopia, revolution, or heaven come down to earth, but an activity of NOW, a changing of relationships NOW, an imagination and creation of a new NOW. His conception that this now must be built OUTSIDE CAPITALISM is, of course, entirely on point. Anarchism must be built outside capitalism or it is just an identitarian adjunct to capitalism carried out by cowards for social media clout and societal caché by those who want to appear ‘edgy’ or ‘cool’. Anarchism, in other words, must be real and consequential or it is just words. It must incorporate [literally: embody] anarchism into real relationships in real life. Ideas like Landauer’s “active general strike” — if carried out — would begin to do this. So it is then entirely correct when Landauer says that what really matters is our willingness to change, live differently and engage in other relations with people than those to which we have become accustomed. Anarchism is CREATING NEW RELATIONS, CREATING NEW MATERIAL REALITIES. And it is SELF-CREATED, SELF-ORGANISED, it is an action of SELF-EMANCIPATION. No wonder, then, that Landauer seems to imagine that egoists would make the best anarcho-communists!

But there is an issue in the midst of all this and it is one he fell out with his German colleague in The Socialist Bund, Erich Mühsam, about. As has already been mentioned, Landauer was himself quite socially conservative. He believed in the family as something his own ideas could and should be built on. Consequently, in the matters of “free love” and “The Woman Question” that circulated at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth that figures like Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre were much involved with elsewhere, he was on the side of those who found them distasteful if not actually corruptive of social conditions. Landauer seems to have found an emphasis on sex in the matter of human emancipation as a corruption of proper [or at least his] morals and the necessary social fabric. Thus, it was not unknown for Landauer to write articles in The Socialist, which he edited, that criticised free love as socially destructive and which praised the solidity given to society by the family unit, traditionally understood.

But not everyone, even of his own friends and colleagues, agreed with him. One who strongly disagreed was Erich Mühsam, an anarchist writer and playwright who would be arrested in 1919 when Landauer was murdered and serve 5 years in a Bavarian jail cell before being released in the amnesty that would also free Adolf Hitler after his Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. Thereafter, Mühsam would spend the last ten years of his life agitating for anarchist socialism of a kind very like Landauer’s before falling foul of the rise of the Nazis who would first torture then murder him in a concentration camp north of Berlin [Mühsam, like Landauer, was also Jewish] in 1934. Mühsam’s anarchist socialism before this time, and especially around the time of The Socialist Bund that Landauer spoke about, seems to have been very much similar to that of Landauer. Mühsam himself went to Munich to try and rouse interest amongst the down and outs of the city for Landauer’s Bund but he found that their interest was more in the free beer provided at meetings to drum up support for it than their intellectual and political content. One big difference between the views of Mühsam and Landauer, however, was on the issues of sexuality and the place of women.

One occasion for discord between the two was Landauer’s writing of an article in The Socialist in 1910 which criticised free love on the back of a story about an aristocratic Russian woman, Maria Tarnowska, who was accused of inciting one of her lovers to murder a love rival. One imagines that the combination here of violence and sexual intrigue worked to exercise Landauer’s gears mightily! In any case, he used the story to criticise free love as detrimental to society. Mühsam, however, a man who engaged in free love himself and believed in the rights of women over their own love lives [as opposed to their control by husbands or patriarchal attitudes], demurred from Landauer’s views publicly in another article in The Socialist entitled “Women’s Rights”.

In this short piece Mühsam argues that he would find it “problematic” if Landauer’s viewed expressed in his article “Tarnowska” about the case of the Russian aristocrat were considered socialist. He continues:

“it can never be the task of socialism to approach sexuality on the basis of Puritan morality. Sexual matters are of a very intimate nature, dependent on the personality and the feeling of the individual, and they can never be defined as depraved and ugly, nor as sick and decadent. Sexual intercourse is connected to sensations of lust. The ambition to reduce all human sexual activity to the purpose of reproduction can never be justified. Those who take such arguments seriously would have to demand that all infertile women be sexually abstinent. Furthermore, when dealing with this very difficult and delicate question, we must never forget that the exchange of physical sensations, the sharing of physical lust between humans is the strongest and most private expression of love. And love exists and expresses itself even when a weak constitution or other compelling reasons do not recommend procreation.”

He then goes on to argue that it would be dubious in the extreme to argue for monogamy in sexual matters on the basis, which Landauer appears to have used, that human beings “have a monogamous disposition” [which suggests Landauer thought polygamy or multiple partners of any kind was corrupting of some material constitution he imagined human beings to have]. Mühsam thus argues that “It is a completely arbitrary demand that people who are in close relationships should remain ‘faithful’ to one another” and points out that “There has hardly ever been a time during which marriage was a truly voluntary institution” — suggesting that marriage as an institution in itself may be something that contradicts a philosophy of emancipation. Mühsam goes on:

“It is certainly true that love is free. However, it is also true that the freedom in the context of love must still be won–especially in the case of women. This makes ‘free love’ very much a woman’s right; a right that seems more important than all of the political rights that do not help in any case–look at the men who already have them!

Independence in the most intimate matters. Control over your own body, uninhibited by society’s moral codes. Liberation from the public control of virginity. Uncompromising respect of women’s humanity. These are women’s rights for which we socialists must fight! Whether the increased freedom of women will have any impact on their sexual lives is of no concern to us.”

A hint of what Mühsam was arguing against here is his quotation of Landauer as accusing the promoters of free love as being “controlled by degenerate, uprooted, and wild women” — something I should very much like to be considered as myself. One will, of course, immediately understand whose side I take here if one has been conscientiously reading this book up to this point. More to the point, however, is we have seen that Landauer had absolutely no problem talking about “love” as a motivating and even transforming factor in human existence, an intimate matter of the “spirit” he lauded. But it is now clear that this had not penetrated to voluntary human relations, including sexual relations, in the wider body of his thinking. I regard this as an unambiguous mistake on Landauer’s part, something he lacks which Émile Armand’s social construction of relationships labelled “amorous camaraderie” did not. So I agree with Mühsam in “Women’s Rights” that “The issue here is that women lack basic rights and that men must become active if they believe that the opposite sex also deserves freedom.” I also agree with Mühsam in this article when he says:

“May [women] give birth to as many children as their motherly hearts desire! May they live lives that allow them to bless the people with strong, healthy, astute, and happy children! And may they choose as a father, as fathers, for their children whoever they want! …Once this is the case, then we can truly speak of women’s freedom and of women’s rights!”

In other words, I reject Landauer’s conservatism here entirely and annul the traditional idea of family he stuck to, insisting this is no vital part of his wider ideas at all but merely a vestige of old thought he had not been able to imagine himself out of in the cause of a freedom of human relationships. The “creation of a new society” cannot possibly be based on old constructions of relationships but it must be a re-imagining and the new creation of a culture of what relationship and community even is. Freedom and emancipation from the old must go all the way down and all the way up. This, in fact, is its only hope of not too easily falling back into old hierarchies and old coercions. As Mühsam would himself say in a further article, “Anarchy”, from his own publication Kain [named after one of the sons of the biblical Adam]:

“Anarchy is freedom from coercion, violence, servitude, law, centralization, and the state. An anarchic society rests on voluntariness, communication, contract, agreement, alliance, and people...

[yet] the political life of the civilized peoples remains limited to conceiving ever more perfect reins, saddles, shafts, curbs, and whips. The working human being only distinguishes himself from the working horse by helping the master to develop ever better tools of bondage and by adjusting to them voluntarily...

[therefore] The means to change conditions that you know are dreadful is action.”

This action, however, cannot leave areas of human relationship unexamined or unchanged. Human relationships must be remade whole and entire. That includes the family and in the matter of sexuality and sexual relationships too. In fact, I would suggest that we take Landauer’s own figure of fraternal solidarity because we exist together as examples of the same species [which Mühsam repeats in “Anarchy”] as our marker here but, unlike Landauer has done, actually take it seriously in a thoroughgoing way — as when Mühsam says in “Anarchy” that:

“Anarchy is the society of humans as brothers. Its economic alliance is called socialism. Humans who are brothers exist. Anarchy is alive whenever they come together. They need no domination. However, they still have to create socialism. This demands labour. Those who refuse to help create and to engage in socialist labour in brotherly communion, those who want to wait until things change without themselves lifting a finger, they may go on repairing and washing their dishes, they may go on complaining and voting–but they must not call themselves socialists! In particular, they must not speak of anarchy! Anarchy is a matter of the heart, and they know nothing of that.”

Therefore, taking Landauer and Mühsam seriously as promoters of a genuine, all-encompassing, human, fraternal, loving solidarity, our conclusion on the matters of sexual and family relations must be as Mühsam concludes [if in liberal language] in a further short piece from Kain entitled “The Suffragette Amazons” which reads as follows:

“As long as the personal lives of women are under the control of men; as long as chastity is expected from girls and seen as a virtue; as long as women’s sexual activity outside of state-sanctioned marriage is considered debauched and immoral–as long as these realities remain in place, women will be subordinate to men and should not bother to make equality on a formal level their primary objective. A woman who is ashamed to be the mother of an illegitimate child can hardly claim entitlement to public office, for which spiritedness, independence, and responsibility are demanded. Women must first free themselves from the prejudices of a prudish morality and follow their own will in personal affairs, rather than the expectations of others.”

Amen!

Yet a question remains here and not just for Landauer: given this construction of a relational anarchism of those who set up their own communities of relations, why has it not worked? The answer is actually as Landauer diagnosed when he wrote about it [whilst not carrying out his own ideas himself!]: no one actually practices it. No one lives this life. Virtually no one is an actual, living anarchist [or part of an actual, living anarchist community of relationships or anarchist culture]. Everyone [of course, there will always be exceptions] lives in some deliberate relation to capitalism — perhaps whilst telling others that they shouldn’t be. So Landauer was exceptionally right here: few indeed are those who ever do anything about it. That was his challenge, is my challenge and is the challenge of everybody who ever reads this sentence. Don’t just read about it. Don’t just think about it. DO IT! Incorporate it! Make it real, an actuality!

But, since this is the obvious corollary of those imperatives, what about the means? How? Landauer offered a couple of ways in the “active general strike” and the “autonomous rural community”. [My own current circumstances are somewhat like the latter of these, if following an ethos more compatible with Armand’s version of these ideas than Landauer’s. I am doing this in a place called “The Nude House”.] I, however, offer you no means for it seems to me that a plan soon becomes a dogma. I always stick, first and foremost, to the idea that anarchy is SELF-EMANCIPATION. It is your own self-responsibility, autonomy and agency. So you should go right ahead and engage these faculties that you have in your own interests. Those who want to find a way will find a way. So I offer no plan and no templates and much less do I give you a dogma of what must be done. Anarchism, in my understanding, is the philosophy of “You figure it out”. This is not said in a careless or unconcerned way [for it is genuinely said in and from love for those who want to be free] but in order to emphasise that anarchism is activating your own action in your own interest. It certainly does not deny you the opportunity to pool your talents, and join your minds, with those of others. As Landauer has argued, anarchism is itself a necessarily social phenomenon. But this also means its not about being told what to do for this does not encourage all of those virtues anarchists have come to value. The only real criterion here is that you engage in the creation of new relationships and new cultures in your own interests, ones destructive of our socially, economically, politically and morally coercive past in the pursuit of present and future ever-evolving emancipations. That is what we must do and I’m convinced that those who have the spirit to do that already have all they need to put it into effect in their lives.

6. natural anarchy

“Life as a whole expresses itself as a force that is not to be contained within any one part.. The things we call the parts in every living being are so inseparable from the whole that they may be understood only in and with the whole.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The scholarly grandfather of anarchism is the Russian, Peter Kropotkin, and one of the efforts of his scholarship in the service of an educated anarchist communist anarchism was his book Mutual Aid — A Factor in Evolution. The book intervenes in the rabid interest in Darwinianism that was tearing through late Victorian society and, in many cases, being twisted and manipulated into eugenic creeds that were injurious to human society. The book sets out to demonstrate, first from animal observations which he and others undertook and then from observations of past human societies, that it is mutual aid, human cooperation, and not conflict or competition, which is the pre-eminent factor in a species’ survival. That being the concluding observation, of course, Kropotkin thinks there is political hay to be made from its sunshine. So, in his introduction, Kropotkin notes that, in his own observations of animals, whilst posted in the wilderness of Eastern Russia, “I failed to find — although I was eagerly looking for it — that bitter struggle for the means of existence, AMONG ANIMALS BELONGING TO THE SAME SPECIES.” He adds that:

“wherever I saw animal life in abundance, as, for instance, on the lakes where scores of species and millions of individuals came together to rear their progeny; in the colonies of rodents; in the migrations of birds which took place at that time on a truly American scale along the Usuri; and especially in a migration of fallow-deer which I witnessed on the Amur, and during which scores of thousands of these intelligent animals came together from an immense territory, flying before the coming deep snow, in order to cross the Amur where it is narrowest — in all these scenes of animal life which passed before my eyes, I saw Mutual Aid and Mutual Support carried on to an extent which made me suspect in it a feature of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life, the preservation of each species, and its further evolution.”

Such observations induced Kropotkin to conclude that the “progressive evolution” of no species could be based on the pre-eminence of conflict or “periods of keen competition”. Yes, to be sure, conflict and cooperation, perhaps as poles of our lived experience, are permanent aspects of the struggle for life and the activities of all livings things on earth. This much Kropotkin observed and also affirmed. Yet, says Kropotkin, “I was persuaded that to admit a pitiless inner war for life within each species, and to see in that war a condition of progress, was to admit something which not only had not yet been proved, but also lacked confirmation from direct observation.” Kropotkin seemed to come to the conclusion that, yes indeed, things do struggle, fight and come into conflict in and amongst themselves all the time. They are largely after the same resources, after all, so this is hardly to be a surprise. But what actually prospers a species, WITHIN ITSELF, is its ability to cooperate with its fellows, form mutual relationships and do things that, left to themselves, individual examples of that species could never do — prospering the survival and health of that species as a whole. Kropotkin concluded, then, that mutual aid helped a species more than the necessary conflicts it must also, from time to time, engage in as well.

In discussing “mutual aid”, however, Kropotkin wanted to make sure that his readers distinguished that aspect of social animal existence from “love”. He did not want people to confuse mutual aid with “love to my neighbour”, for example. Writing at some length, he says:

“It is not love to my neighbour — whom I often do not know at all — which induces me to seize a pail of water and to rush towards his house when I see it on fire; it is a far wider, even though more vague feeling or instinct of human solidarity and sociability which moves me. So it is also with animals. It is not love, and not even sympathy (understood in its proper sense) which induces a herd of ruminants or of horses to form a ring in order to resist an attack of wolves; not love which induces wolves to form a pack for hunting; not love which induces kittens or lambs to play, or a dozen of species of young birds to spend their days together in the autumn; and it is neither love nor personal sympathy which induces many thousand fallow-deer scattered over a territory as large as France to form into a score of separate herds, all marching towards a given spot, in order to cross there a river. It is a feeling infinitely wider than love or personal sympathy — an instinct that has been slowly developed among animals and humans in the course of an extremely long evolution, and which has taught animals and humans alike the force they can borrow from the practice of mutual aid and support, and the joys they can find in social life.

The importance of this distinction will be easily appreciated by the student of animal psychology, and the more so by the student of human ethics. Love, sympathy and self-sacrifice certainly play an immense part in the progressive development of our moral feelings. But it is not love and not even sympathy upon which Society is based in mankind. It is the conscience — be it only at the stage of an instinct — of human solidarity. It is the unconscious recognition of the force that is borrowed by each person from the practice of mutual aid; of the close dependency of every one’s happiness upon the happiness of all; and of the sense of justice, or equity, which brings the individual to consider the rights of every other individual as equal to his own. Upon this broad and necessary foundation the still higher moral feelings are developed.”

Kropotkin then perceives “mutual aid” [which is an instinct for cooperation by another name rather than the deliberate, pre-meditated actions of a knowing intelligence or the exigencies of love] as a natural endowment of living things and, given his later comments on those Darwinists who, in his mind, had twisted Darwin’s own assertions in the direction of Hobbes’ “war of all against all” or a perpetual struggle for survival dubbed “survival of the fittest” [a description of Herbert Spencer’s and not Darwin’s], sees the promotion of mutual aid as a necessary factor in the correct scientific understanding of the behaviour of animal societies, the pre-eminent factor, in fact, in terms of their prosperous evolution. Kropotkin’s point, then, is not that “sociability” replaces or destroys “mutual struggle” in the business of life but that it is as much a factor as its more conflictual fellow phenomenon and ultimately more important in terms of the evolution of a group. Thus, for example, “the need of leaving progeny necessarily brings animals together and the more the individuals keep together, the more they mutually support each other, and the more are the chances of the species for surviving, as well as for making further progress in its intellectual development.” Consequently, in the opening two chapters of Mutual Aid, Kropotkin details numerous animal observations, by himself and others, which example mutual aid in the wild, establishing beyond doubt its actuality and necessity — from crabs who guard other crabs as they moult their shells to pelicans that fish in a half circle that narrows towards the shore in order to corral their catch.

Such “life in societies”, Kropotkin says, is not merely about the need to protect the reproductive faculties and cycle of animals. Its not just about protecting the nest or den whilst the young ones grow up unmolested. Kropotkin argues that mutual aid exists not merely for security but “chiefly for the pleasures derived from it.” Yet we must be aware that in Kropotkin’s time, with the revolution in thinking that Darwin’s evolutionary researches had brought, and with the plethora of malignant intellectual forces that were ready to turn them into justification for social, political and economic oppression, Kropotkin wrote his book in order to show that throughout nature [at least the animal part of it] sociability, cooperation, mutual aid, was the rule of evolutionary prosperance and NOT perpetual conflict [as obvious and necessary as conflict was in its own right]. Thus, he says:

“Sociability — that is, the need of the animal of associating with its like — the love of society for society’s sake, combined with the ‘joy of life,’ only now begins to receive due attention from the zoologists. We know at the present time that all animals, beginning with the ants, going on to the birds, and ending with the highest mammals, are fond of plays, wrestling, running after each other, trying to capture each other, teasing each other, and so on. And while many plays are, so to speak, a school for the proper behaviour of the young in mature life, there are others, which, apart from their utilitarian purposes, are, together with dancing and singing, mere manifestations of an excess of forces — ‘the joy of life,’ and a desire to communicate in some way or another with other individuals of the same or of other species — in short, a manifestation of SOCIABILITY PROPER, which is a distinctive feature of all the animal world.”

Consequently, Kropotkin adds that, “Life in societies enables the feeblest insects, the feeblest birds, and the feeblest mammals to resist, or to protect themselves from, the most terrible birds and beasts of prey; it permits longevity; it enables the species to rear its progeny with the least waste of energy and to maintain its numbers albeit a very slow birthrate; it enables the gregarious animals to migrate in search of new abodes.” It also further makes sense when he says that “life in societies would be utterly impossible without a corresponding development of social feelings, and, especially, of a certain collective sense of justice growing to become a habit. If every individual were constantly abusing its personal advantages without the others interfering in favour of the wronged, no society would be possible.” “Life is struggle,” Kropotkin says [agreeing here with Nietzsche], but, nevertheless, or perhaps because of that fact, animals work together, enjoy each others’ company and help each other out. In this regard he shares examples of animals who have clearly gone out of their way to assist or help out associates [such as animals who feed their blind fellows or others that carry away their injured fellows] when they could easily have been abandoned or left behind. Kropotkin describes these as “certified acts of compassion between wild animals at liberty”. We can certainly say they were acts that required expenditure of energy and time in a struggle for survival called life and so why were these animals doing these things? Because of a sociability thought useful for life, a cooperative instinct, the necessity of mutual aid, Kropotkin concludes. Kropotkin ends his chapters on animal examples of this phenomenon with the following two paragraphs as conclusion:

“Happily enough, competition is not the rule either in the animal world or in mankind. It is limited among animals to exceptional periods, and natural selection finds better fields for its activity. Better conditions are created by the ELIMINATION OF COMPETITION by means of mutual aid and mutual support. In the great struggle for life — for the greatest possible fullness and intensity of life with the least waste of energy — natural selection continually seeks out the ways precisely for avoiding competition as much as possible. The ants combine in nests and nations; they pile up their stores, they rear their cattle — and thus avoid competition; and natural selection picks out of the ants’ family the species which know best how to avoid competition, with its unavoidably

deleterious consequences. Most of our birds slowly move southwards as the winter comes, or gather in numberless societies and undertake long journeys — and thus avoid

competition. Many rodents fall asleep when the time comes that competition should set in; while other rodents store food for the winter, and gather in large villages for obtaining the necessary protection when at work. The reindeer, when the lichens are dry in the interior of the continent, migrate towards the sea. Buffaloes cross an immense continent in order to find plenty of food. And the beavers, when they grow numerous on a river, divide into two parties, and go, the old ones down the river, and the young ones up the river and avoid competition. And when animals can neither fall asleep, nor migrate, nor lay in stores, nor themselves grow their food like the ants, they do what the titmouse does, and what Wallace (DARWINISM, ch. v) has so charmingly described: they resort to new kinds of food — and thus, again, avoid competition.

‘Don’t compete! — competition is always injurious to the species, and you have plenty of resources to avoid it!’ That is the TENDENCY of nature, not always realized in full, but always present. That is the watchword which comes to us from the bush, the forest, the river, the ocean. ‘Therefore combine — practise mutual aid! That is the surest means for giving to each and to all the greatest safety, the best guarantee of existence and progress, bodily, intellectual, and moral.’ That is what Nature teaches us; and that is what all those animals which have attained the highest position in their respective classes have done. That is also what man — the most primitive man — has been doing; and that is why man has reached the position upon which we stand now, as we shall see in the subsequent chapters devoted to mutual aid in human societies.”


The examples I want to give from nature in this chapter, however, are not animal ones but plant ones. Plants, after all, far outnumber animal life on this planet. One estimate I read in my research for this chapter described the biomass of the planet as something like 99.5% plants, an astounding majority. Most of the life on this planet, consequently, is not fluffy and cute but green, somewhat alien and absolutely necessary for the survival of the tiny bit of life on this planet that is animal for, without animals, the plants carry on as before; but without plants everything else is history.

Let us begin, then, with a fairly lengthy quotation. This quotation comes from Peter Wohlleben’s book The Hidden Life of Trees and it constitutes the first chapter thereof, titled “Friendships”:

“Years ago, I stumbled across a patch of strange-looking mossy stones in one of the preserves of old beech trees that grows in the forest I manage. Casting my mind back, I realized I had passed by them many times before without paying them any heed. But that day, I stopped and bent down to take a good look. The stones were an unusual shape: they were gently curved with hollowed-out areas. Carefully, I lifted the moss on one of the stones. What I found underneath was tree bark. So, these were not stones, after all, but old wood. I was surprised at how hard the ‘stone’ was, because it usually takes only a few years for beechwood lying on damp ground to decompose. But what surprised me most was that I couldn’t lift the wood. It was obviously attached to

the ground in some way.

I took out my pocketknife and carefully scraped away some of the bark until I got down to a greenish layer. Green? This color is found only in chlorophyll, which makes new leaves green; reserves of chlorophyll are also stored in the trunks of living trees. That could mean only one thing: this piece of wood was still alive! I suddenly noticed that the

remaining “stones” formed a distinct pattern: they were arranged in a circle with a diameter of about 5 feet. What I had stumbled upon were the gnarled remains of an enormous ancient tree stump. All that was left were vestiges of the outermost edge. The interior had completely rotted into humus long ago—a clear indication that the tree must have been felled at least four or five hundred years earlier. But how could the remains have clung onto life for so long?

Living cells must have food in the form of sugar, they must breathe, and they must grow, at least a little. But without leaves—and therefore without photosynthesis—that’s impossible. No being on our planet can maintain a centuries-long fast, not even the remains of a tree, and certainly not a stump that has had to survive on its own. It was clear that something else was happening with this stump. It must be getting

assistance from neighboring trees, specifically from their roots. Scientists investigating similar situations have discovered that assistance may either be delivered remotely by

fungal networks around the root tips—which facilitate nutrient exchange between trees—or the roots themselves may be interconnected. In the case of the stump I had stumbled upon, I couldn’t find out what was going on, because I didn’t want to injure the old stump by digging around it, but one thing was clear: the surrounding beeches were pumping sugar to the stump to keep it alive.

If you look at roadside embankments, you might be able to see how trees connect with each other through their root systems. On these slopes, rain often washes away the soil,

leaving the underground networks exposed. Scientists in the Harz mountains in Germany have discovered that this really is a case of interdependence, and most individual trees of the same species growing in the same stand are connected to each other through their root systems. It appears that nutrient exchange and helping neighbors in times of need is the rule, and this leads to the conclusion that forests are superorganisms with interconnections much like ant colonies.

Of course, it makes sense to ask whether tree roots are simply wandering around aimlessly underground and connecting up when they happen to bump into roots of their own kind. Once connected, they have no choice but to exchange nutrients. They create what looks like a social network, but what they are experiencing is nothing more than a purely accidental give and take. In this scenario, chance encounters replace the more emotionally charged image of active support, though even chance encounters offer benefits for the forest ecosystem. But Nature is more complicated than that. According to Massimo Maffei from the University of Turin, plants—and that includes trees—are perfectly capable of distinguishing their own roots from the roots of other species and even from the roots of related individuals.

But why are trees such social beings? Why do they share food with their own species and sometimes even go so far as to nourish their competitors? The reasons are the same as for human communities: there are advantages to working together. A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. To get to this

point, the community must remain intact no matter what. If every tree were looking out only for itself, then quite a few of them would never reach old age. Regular fatalities would result in many large gaps in the tree canopy, which would make it easier for storms to get inside the forest and uproot more trees. The heat of summer would reach the forest floor and dry it out. Every tree would suffer.

Every tree, therefore, is valuable to the community and worth keeping around for as long as possible. And that is why even sick individuals are supported and nourished until they recover. Next time, perhaps it will be the other way round, and the supporting tree might be the one in need of assistance. When thick silver-gray beeches behave like this, they remind me of a herd of elephants. Like the herd, they, too, look after their own, and they help their sick and weak back up onto their feet. They are even reluctant to abandon their dead.

Every tree is a member of this community, but there are different levels of membership. For example, most stumps rot away into humus and disappear within a couple of hundred years (which is not very long for a tree). Only a few individuals are kept alive over the centuries, like the mossy ‘stones’ I’ve just described. What’s the difference? Do tree societies have second-class citizens just like human societies? It seems they do, though the idea of ‘class’ doesn’t quite fit. It is rather the degree of connection—or maybe even affection—that decides how helpful a tree’s colleagues will be.

You can check this out for yourself simply by looking up into the forest canopy. The average tree grows its branches out until it encounters the branch tips of a neighboring tree of the same height. It doesn’t grow any wider because the air and better light in this space are already taken. However, it heavily reinforces the branches it has extended, so you get the impression that there’s quite a shoving match going on up there. But a pair of true friends is careful right from the outset not to grow overly thick branches in each other’s direction. The trees don’t want to take anything away from each other, and so they develop sturdy branches only at the outer edges of their crowns, that is to say, only in the direction of ‘non- friends.’ Such partners are often so tightly connected at the roots that sometimes they even die together.

As a rule, friendships that extend to looking after stumps can only be established in undisturbed forests. It could well be that all trees do this and not just beeches. I myself have observed oak, fir, spruce, and Douglas fir stumps that were still alive long after the trees had been cut down. Planted forests, which is what most of the coniferous forests in Central Europe are, behave more like the street kids I describe in chapter 27. Because their roots are irreparably damaged when they are planted, they seem almost incapable of networking with one another. As a rule, trees in planted forests like these behave like loners and suffer from their isolation. Most of them never have the opportunity to grow old anyway. Depending on the species, these trees are considered ready to harvest when they are only about a hundred years old.”

What Wohlleben describes here is an arboreal version of the story that Kropotkin told about animals in the first two chapters of Mutual Aid. Trees of similar species bonded together, physically or through mycelial intermediaries [we’ll come onto those later], in order to support each other, this common life or “superorganism” being the means for the survival of ALL the trees [like ants in an ant colony or bees in a hive or nest] in a world in which “every tree for themselves” spells the death of the forest every bit as much as every last ant or bee or would be doomed on its own. Since trees, as far as we know, do not have the power of conscious, reflective thought, we must assume that this pattern of behaviour is a natural endowment, a feature of life, and of being alive, itself.

This certainly seems to be the case when we read the book Brilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence. Plant intelligence? Yes, plant intelligence. Plants [and, in fact, EVERYTHING] are intelligent. It is not just some human quality the things at the top of a wholly narcissistic and imaginary “hierarchy of life” have been endowed with [we’ll come onto this later too]. So let’s look at plants in a new light, putting crusty old thinking which wants to hierarchicalise and classify life out of our mind. Let’s start by getting the obvious out of the way. Plants are not built like animals. They are sessile [they can’t move from one place to another and so can’t run away from danger, for example], they don’t have individual organs like animals do and they are not built in the same way that animals are. They are modular and divisible where animals are neither. All these facts are linked due to the different situation of plants as opposed to animals. Plants are made to suit a plant form of life and animals are made to suit their form of life. This should make sense because it is a good idea to be suited to what you are and its conditions of existence. After all, your life depends on it [and perhaps others too]!

So we need to forget about “hierarchies of life” or charts made by humans which rate plants as barely anything above “stuff” — and with humans as the pinnacle [and the point] of life itself. This is nonsense and, frankly, bullshit too. Plants, it turns out when you actually study them, are both amazing and highly complex [and cooperative] organisms. [They are so complex, in fact, that we don’t even understand a lot of how they are doing what they are doing.] Far from being the basically passive green stuff that is apt to be ploughed up, ripped out or cut down when in the way of arrogant human development, plants are a vast network of life itself every bit as precious as our own [and, as I have already said, a form of life which is absolutely vital for our own existence]. It turns out, in fact, that plants have the abilities demonstrated in all 5 human senses [that is, they have their own versions of sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell] as well as at least 15 other sensing capabilities to boot [for things like gravity, electromagnetic fields and the chemical composition of the ground they find themselves in]. Plants can sense and adapt themselves to forces we, in our puny human skin, cannot even sense with our physical bodies. It is as well then to note, as the authors of Brilliant Green do, that “there are not more-and less-evolved organisms; from the Darwinian point of view, all living beings now populating the earth are at the end of their evolutionary branch—otherwise, they would be extinct.” [Meanwhile, Darwin himself, who was a botanist of note in his own right, said of plants that “It has always pleased me to exalt plants in the scale of organised beings.”]

Tempting as it is to regard plants as just “dumb green stuff”, then, we must instead ask intelligent questions about them [which, as is all part of my wicked plan, is going to educate us more about life itself]. Such a question is asked by the authors of Brilliant Green: “How is it possible that living beings that are unintelligent, without social aptitudes, and incapable of relating to their environment, have survived and evolved on the planet?” If plants were just passive green stuff that was just “there” then, having no intelligence, friends or allies in the world, just inert bits of stem, twig and vegetable matter, they would surely have been destroyed by changing environments millions of years ago? Yet here we are with them at around 99.5% of the biomass of the planet. Simple logic suggests plants must have some skills and strategies by which they survive. Here we need to recall that, like us and every fluffy animal we think of as “real life”, plants are ALIVE, growing and evolving too. They are active agents in their own progress through time. The first cells that ever came to life on this planet were plant cells and [as is only logical] animal cells developed out of plant cells too. Plants must know a thing or two about survival, evolution and what it takes to stay alive. Their photosynthesis, which converts the sun into energy they can consume and, in turn, communicates that energy to us in our food, also creates the oxygen that we breathe [and, less benignly, has provided the fuel we’ve been burning at crazy rates for 300 years, threatening a mass extinction event]. Plants are what make life possible on earth. It might be instructive to learn more about them.

The first thing to learn is that each plant is really “a colony” as Brilliant Green puts it. Their bodies are modular and not based on having definitive organs which perform functions [which is why you can cut them down to ground level but they still come back]. Plants breathe without lungs, see without eyes, nourish themselves without a mouth or a stomach. They even make decisions without having a brain. Plants, far from being individualistic passively existing entities, are “social organisms, sophisticated and highly evolved like us”. And WE have an “absolute, primordial dependence” on THEM. It is ironic, then, [or simply arrogant] that, for example, we talk about “vegetating” in disparaging terms — as if we were doing all the work and vegetation was doing nothing. Plants may be rooted to the spot but they sure aren’t doing nothing! In fact:

“imagine being ‘reduced’ to immobility, or better yet, having chosen it as a useful evolutionary strategy, which already—as we have seen—is the case with plants. Wouldn’t it be even more important, then, for you to see, smell, hear, and generally explore the environment sensorially, since you couldn’t do so by moving around? The senses are indispensable instruments for life, reproduction, growth, and defense, which is why the plant world never dreamed of doing without them!”

But if plants have senses then this MUST mean that they are able to utilise [i.e. make use of] the data that they collect. This, after all, is what senses are, means to collect data about an environment that the organism uses to manipulate its existence. But if plants can act based on data collection, modulating, even changing, their behaviour according to the data they collect, then this is demonstrative of “typical intelligent behaviour” as we would define it if we found it in any animal being. We MUST conclude that plants have a plant form of intelligence but a form which is definitely intelligence properly so understood. Plants, in the regular processes of their operation, are “calculating risk and estimating benefits” of forms of action based on the sensing of their surroundings in at least 20 [not just 5] different ways. They “plan and use resources to bring about future results.” They particularly, for example, seem to use smell as a means of communication that can warn neighbours of danger and so can be said to experience stress and to respond to that stress by warning others about it [which might both result in aid for them and the ability of other organisms to better defend themselves]. In this we see a plant recreation of Kropotkin’s argument that life is about conflict and cooperation in equal measure. Or, as Brilliant Green puts it:

“In nature, life is the result of an equilibrium continuously being recreated by the competition between predators and their prey. For every defensive manoeuvre plants mount against predators, there will always be a new animal strategy to which plants will respond in ever more sophisticated ways over time. This mechanism of continuous improvement is the mainspring for evolution and for all possibility of survival of life on Earth.”

In such a world why would it be strange that plants learned to communicate? After all, we have no problem believing animals can using noises ranging from clicks and scratches through to hollering, screaming and human speech. So can you “Imagine a planet where plants have learned to communicate[?] In this imaginary world they can exchange information and even make themselves understood by animals, including the most complex animals, humans. On this planet, plants have learned to ‘speak’ with animals in their language and can argue persuasively to get the help they need.” Yes? No? Well, of course, no need to imagine such a planet for you are living on it. Plants, in fact:

“use an information network of other plants and certain animals to extend the reach of their explorations beyond their own organism. They know how to obtain small services and, when necessary, intervention from other species, especially when, unable to change their location, they must defend themselves from herbivorous predators. They also get help with reproducing and propagating themselves in the environment.”

This is not just inter-species cooperation but cross-species cooperation, even cooperation of plants and animals [such as insects like ants] in a symbiotic form of life. As already mentioned in terms of the senses plants have, they can communicate outside themselves “by means of a real language, composed of thousands of chemical molecules which are released into the air or the water and contain various types of information”. Plants can also communicate to neighbours below ground by touching roots or, above ground, by the way they position themselves in regard to their neighbours, something which suggests intelligently-realised coordinated activity [because why communicate unless you either want to warn something or engage it in some other relational understanding and how could you communicate at all without the intelligence communication requires?]. Plant scientists have also noticed that “Plants interact at many levels and in their interactions exhibit different personalities” but also that they can recognise, and behave differently towards, familial relations [with whom, in an evolutionary sense, they are not in competition or conflict]. We can show this latter fact by reference to an experiment that was carried out, related to us in Brilliant Green:

“In 2007, a simple but important study shed light on this type of familial behavior. The experiment consisted of growing thirty seeds from the same plant in one pot, and in a second pot, identical to the first, growing thirty seeds from different plants. Observing the behavior of the young specimens growing in the two pots led to the discovery of several evolutionary mechanisms formerly thought to be present only in animals. The thirty plants from different mothers behaved as expected, developing a greater number of roots in an attempt to dominate the territory and assure themselves sufficient food and water, to the disadvantage of the other plants. But the thirty plants from the same mother, though they too found themselves coexisting in a restricted space, produced

many fewer roots, advantaging the plants’ aerial growth. In their case, what was observed was noncompetitive activity linked to their genetic proximity. This was a fundamental discovery: it replaced the traditional view that plants would adopt a stereotypical and repetitive mechanism (neighboring plant = necessity for defense and competition for territory) with a much more complex estimation that takes into account different factors, including genetic kinship. The plant, it turns out, checks out a potential rival before attacking or defending, and if it discovers a genetic affinity, instead of competing it chooses to cooperate.”

Competition and cooperation, conflict and mutual aid, we see our two poles from Kropotkin’s analysis and addition to Darwin again here, but based on the intelligent recognition of familial friends as opposed to stranger foes.

But when we talk about plant communication we need to get right down into the dirt that they grow in and ask what is going on down there, normally unseen by human eye or really any other kind of eye. Its worth quoting Brilliant Green at length on this:

“It’s a fairly common misconception that the soil is an inert substrate; on the contrary, the soil is a living and densely populated environment. Microorganisms, bacteria, fungi, and insects form a special ecological niche that stays in equilibrium because of communication and collaboration with plants.

One very common instance is that of the mycorrhizae (from the Greek mykes, “fungus,” and rhiza, “root”)—special forms of symbiosis occurring in the subsoil between the vegetative part of fungi that we commonly eat or see in the woods, and the roots of many species of plants. In certain cases, the fungus forms a sort of sleeve around the plant, penetrating inside its cells. This kind of symbiotic association is called ‘mutualistic’ because it’s useful to both living organisms: the fungus provides the roots with mineral elements, including phosphorus (always hard to find in adequate amounts in the soil), and in exchange receives some of the sugars produced by the plant through photosynthesis, which it uses as a source of energy.

But in this relationship, which seems so convenient, there can be some rude surprises. The problem is that not all fungi have collaborative and peaceful intentions: some are pathogens and will attach to the root to get nourishment, destroying it in the process. So the plant needs to be able to distinguish what type of fungus is attempting to come into contact with it, and act accordingly. But how can it tell a friendly fungus from an enemy? Recognition results from a real chemical dialogue between the fungus and the root, which exchange signals to clarify their respective intentions. If the plant perceives that fungi have hostile designs, it will initiate hostilities. On the other hand, if after proper introductions it recognizes that this is a well-intentioned mycorrhizal fungus, then it will allow this symbiotic relationship which is so useful to them both to be established.”

Conflict and mutual aid once more! But consider the consequences of this further example:

“Another example of mutually beneficial symbiosis based on plant communication is the relationship between legumes and nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Along with a few others, these microorganisms have a capacity that’s extraordinarily useful to living things: they fix atmospheric nitrogen, transforming it into ammonia (NH3) by breaking the tight bond between the two atoms making up a molecule of gaseous nitrogen (N2).

Nitrogen is the principal element of a soil’s fertility (which is why many fertilizers are based on nitrogen compounds), and although the air we breathe is 80 percent gaseous nitrogen, this gas is inert and cannot be utilized by plants or any other living beings, except a few microorganisms such as these same nitrogen-fixing bacteria. These bacteria, as we were saying, transform gaseous nitrogen into forms of nitrogen, such as ammonia, that are easily absorbed by plants. In effect, they’re natural fertilizers! In return, the bacteria find inside the roots an ideal growing environment and sugars in abundance—another tale of mutual benefit, again based on communication and recognition. Not all bacteria, in fact, are welcomed by plants; many are frightful pathogens against which plants construct unassailable barriers. Nitrogen-fixing bacteria, before being welcomed, initiate a long and complex chemical dialogue with the roots. This ‘conversation’ unfailingly begins with the release of a signal from the bacteria that’s like a password, called NOD factor (nodulation, or nod factor), whose recognition by the plant is the first step in the plant’s granting the bacteria free entry to the root.

Examples of symbiosis like the one just described are all based on close communication between the symbionts (as the two partners in symbiosis are called—in our example, the bacteria and the legume) and couldn’t occur if collaboration between living organisms were not a long-established practice. In fact, these phenomena aren’t confined exclusively to the plant world or lower organisms. On the contrary, some of these symbiotic relationships have become so established and important that they’re the basis of our own life.

Let’s look at an example: Mitochondria are the energy centers of our cells (or rather, of all animal and plant cells). Without these organelles situated within each cell, the existence of higher forms of life would be inconceivable. Well, recent studies suggest that mitochondria, too, are the result of symbiosis; in this case, symbiosis between the cells and primitive bacteria endowed with a powerful oxidative metabolism (in other words, capable of producing energy). The bacteria and the cells enter into a symbiosis which benefits them both (the bacteria produce energy for the cell, and in return obtain everything they need to survive), and at a certain point the bacteria are incorporated into the cells. There’s a great deal of evidence to support this theory of the symbiotic origin of mitochondria. First of all, the mitochondrion exhibits many of the characteristics typical of bacteria, including a membrane very similar to theirs; then—again like bacteria—it has a closed, circular, double-helical DNA; and finally—and this is

the most important evidence—like bacteria, mitochondria replicate independently of the organism that contains them. Several studies have clarified the fundamental importance that these formerly symbiotic cells have had in the evolution of complex forms of life.

Symbiotic relationships thus are fundamental for all forms of life on the

planet, and for our own existence”

This takes us considerably beyond what Kropotkin was talking about, extending the idea of mutual aid into the necessary symbiosis of life itself and the regular cooperation of separate elements or kinds of life as a matter of every day existence. Brilliant Green, in fact, details several examples of how ecosystems form, adapt and work together across multiples species of life to support themselves IN COMMON by processes of symbiosis and mutual aid as Kropotkin would have described it. This even extends to cases where various kinds of plant could work together to defeat threats which human intervention has taken away from them, for example, as in kinds of corn that could defend themselves against a type of insect which laid its larvae in the roots, killing the young plants, by secreting a substance which attracted small worms called nematodes [who destroyed the larvae]. Various kinds of corn lost this natural ability to defend themselves, no doubt evolved over millennia, because human genetic engineers came along and altered the corn to increase its yield [human intervention usually revolves around some particular economic interest’s profit margin]. Unfortunately, they combined types that couldn’t defend against the effects of the particular insect affecting them, leading to lost crops worth hundreds of millions. In addition, the human response to the threat was tons of insecticides spread into the atmosphere, all to solve a problem nature had solved itself but which ignorant, meddling, acquisitive human beings had recreated all over again.

If only humans would have left the corn alone to develop in its ecosystem naturally. Everything would then have found its natural relationships, worked out the unique consequences of its own situation, and balance would have been maintained. The fact, in fact, that nature is itself a system, a whole, of which the things in it are only parts, is itself instructive in terms of mutual aid for can we not say that, around these poles of conflict and mutual aid, life prospers itself in general? Is this not how all life has come to be as it is? It seems to me that, actually, when we start thinking about big subjects like this we need to reassess how we have understood life itself in general, across all examples of it, to re-evaluate what makes it what it is. A beginning should be made here be realising that “intelligence” is not a feature of one species — the humans — but a PROPERTY OF LIFE ITSELF IN ALL ITS FORMS. So, as is said in Brilliant Green:

“Intelligence is a property of life, something that even the humblest single-celled organism must possess. Every living being is continuously called upon to solve problems that essentially aren’t so different from the problems we face. Think about it: food, water, shelter, companionship, defense, reproduction—aren’t they the underlying factors in our knottiest problems? Without intelligence there can be no life. Accepting this plain truth shouldn’t trouble us: the intelligence of human beings is obviously much greater than that of a bacterium or a unicellular alga. But the fundamental point is that this difference is only quantitative, not qualitative.”

This leads to the conclusion that, in plants, “cognition and bodily functions are not separate but are present in every cell: a real, living example of what artificial intelligence scientists call an ‘embodied agent,’ that is, an intelligent agent that interacts with the world with its own physical body.” Plants, in fact, are more like “living Internet networks” than they are like us, both within their own structures and in the relationships that reach out [literally] to others as in the case of roots or involvement in mycorrhizal networks. In plants, in fact, “millions of root tips [are] working in a network so that the destruction or predation even of an important part doesn’t compromise the network’s survival. By itself, one root tip doesn’t have great calculating capacity, but together with the other root tips it is capable of extraordinary feats, just like an ant, which cannot map out strategies on its own, but by working with other ants creates a society that’s among the most complex and structured in nature.” Where in ant societies separate ants [although its not as simple as this as ant experts would tell you] work together to achieve vast ant cities, in plants the root tips, cells and pathways within the plant are sets of relationships which, through cooperation, achieve great feats of survival and the overcoming of daily crises the plant must detect and respond to in order to thrive and grow. How could it do this if it was stupid or alone or unable to organise both itself and relationships with others?

The fact is that, in the matter of life generally:

1. It is intelligent

2. It is self-organising

3. It engages significantly in mutual aid or cooperation in order to achieve its survival

These statements apply ACROSS THE BOARD, from plants to animals and from colonies down to cells. These are the rules of the game of life. But don’t just take my word for it. Consider, for example, Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm. Here the fourth chapter, “Everything is Intelligent”, begins by bemoaning the fact that human beings, led by Westerners, of course, who took the culturally dominant place in creating scientific discourse, taught “some sort of descending pyramidal hierarchy with people at the apex and so on down”. Buhner describes this, from a science perspective as much as anything else, as “pretty stupid”. He contradicts this outdated, social class-based thinking of the late Victorians by saying that “The foundational problem with that view is that all living organisms, it turns out, are self-organized and all of them show emergent behaviors.” “Emergent behaviors” are behaviours that cannot be discovered by examining the parts of systems of relationships for they only emerge [hence “emergent”] when things act together in concert in and amongst the relationships. [A common example here is the vast flocks of birds which can rise and swoop together without all crashing into each other.] That is to say they are properties of working together in cooperation. A reductionist mentality [which has been much of what science has been about and continues to be about to the present day] cannot help here in describing what is going on for that method is simply unable to understand it appropriately.

So, as Buhner says, “Unfortunately for reductionists, one of the ‘interesting’ behaviors that arise in complex systems, once biological self-organization occurs is — always— intelligence in the system.” But another way we can say this, as Buhner does, is that “the older, more mechanical view of the world” is itself outdated and obsolete. The mechanical model does not explain the necessity for self-organisation and intelligence that living things MUST have, simply by virtue of having life and being alive, in order to survive. We can even talk this way about anonymous “molecules” and so:

“when a container is packed with increasing numbers of molecules, at a certain point, which can never be predicted, the random motions of the billions and billions of molecules will suddenly show a sudden alteration in behavior, all of them will spontaneously synchronize. The molecules begin to move and vibrate together. They begin acting in concert, actively cooperating, and become tightly coupled together into one, interacting whole exhibiting a collective, macroscopically ordered state of being. They become a unique living system of which the smaller subunits (the molecules) are now only a part. At such a moment, the molecules have combined into a system that is self-organized. A phase change occurs. Something more than the sum of the parts has come into being. And ... it just happens.”

This is not saying that things can act together, it is saying that, at a certain always indefinable point, things just do act together — like water that suddenly becomes ice or steam. Relationships between even molecules, let alone anything alive, have connections between them which affect everything so entangled in them and change their behaviour and even their form. It is in this context that Buhner quotes Goethe in the quote I used to head this chapter:

“Life as a whole expresses itself as a force that is not to be contained within any one part.... The things we call the parts in every living being are so inseparable from the whole that they may be understood only in and with the whole.”

Buhner then understands living things as inevitably, necessarily, self-organising things. And this self-organisation itself mandates intelligence — for such organisation requires the ability to do this in ways which both avoid danger [from changing moment to changing moment] and promote growth [growth is still really the only definition of being alive that humans have come up with]. Let’s listen in on Buhner himself discussing this for a moment:

“In order to maintain the self-organized state, the living entity that comes into being in that moment—the thing that is more than the sum of the parts, of necessity—must immediately develop mechanisms for analyzing two things: inflows from the exterior world toward the me that now exists (exteroceptive inputs) and the functional state of the parts that have self-organized to make up the whole (interoceptive inputs). Failure to analyze the inflows can result in death, i.e., the loss of self-organization. As well, dysfunction of any of the parts can also lead to loss of self-organization.

This is why every part matters to the whole. Remove the lungs, liver, and pancreas and whether or not you have a brain becomes irrelevant. Remove the plants, the forests, the waters and whether or not you have scientists or opposable thumbs becomes irrelevant.

Inflows from the exterior world, from not me toward me, have of necessity to be understood. Their nature—but more importantly their intent—has to be determined, and once that occurs a response to the inflow has to be crafted. By all useful definitions of the term this is intelligent behavior; it is also the way dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster’s define it ...

‘The ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations [or] the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment.’

Interestingly, the word, intelligence, comes from the Latin phrase inter legere —it means, simply, ‘to choose.’ And, in fact, a crucial additional, and almost- always-overlooked, aspect of intelligence in living systems is that they possess the capacity to innovate behavior, that is, to generate unique solutions to the environmental challenges that face them. They have the ability, as the Latin root of the word indicates, to choose. The comparative zoologist Richard Lewontin describes it like this ...

‘Much of the uncertainty of evolution arises from the existence of multiple possible pathways even when external conditions are fixed. It is a prejudice of evolutionists who give adaptive explanations of the features of organisms that every difference between species must be a consequence of different selective forces that operated on them.... Populations subject to identical selective conditions may arrive at quite different evolutionary endpoints, so that the observation that two species differ is not prima facie evidence that they were adaptively differentiated.’

Thus, if you take two plants, same genus and species, and plant them in identical environments... they will end up at slightly, or sometimes very, different places. Their leaf patterns, chemical structure, and dynamic interactive interface with their surrounding environment will not be the same. Faced with the same environmental pressures, each will choose slightly, or very, different responses—from a large number of possible choices—to those environmental pressures. And what they choose, and in consequence what happens afterward, can’t be predicted. As Lewontin goes on to say, ‘The characteristic of a living object is that it reacts to external stimuli rather than being passively propelled by them. An organism’s life consists of constant mid-course corrections.’

‘Mid-course corrections.’ That is the capacity of a living organism—and that includes everything from viruses to human beings—to choose among multiple effective options in response to incoming environmental pressures. It is in fact indicative not only of the capacity to choose but also, most distressingly for reductionists, of free will. In other words, every living organism on this planet (including such self-organized systems as the white blood cells in our bodies) has the capacity to analyze the nature of outside forces that touch them, determine their intent, and then to exercise judgment in determining from among a number of potential responses which one to implement. That this is true, and has been known to be true for a very long time, does nothing to stop the extreme

discomfort engendered by saying it out loud. Most people, including the majority of scientists, have been taught that human beings are somehow innately different from the other organisms on this planet.

nevertheless we are not

We are different only in the specific ecological functions we serve—just as every living organism is—but we are not different in our underlying capacities from the other life-forms on this planet. And that most definitely includes intelligence. Our intelligence is only a special instance of a general condition.

When researchers in the late nineteenth and much of the twentieth century began examining the world for intelligent life-forms, they, regrettably but understandably, used themselves as a template for finding it.

Perhaps that is why they have had such trouble finding it Just sayin’

They began judging all life-forms by human norms. In other words, they looked for language that seemed like our own, tool making that seemed like our own, social organization that seemed like our own. They rather insistently projected a human-centric orientation onto the exterior world. Any organism that had some of the human attributes they deemed indicative of (human) intelligence was accorded more value than those organisms that appeared to have less. Or, from another frame of reference, they were using as a measuring stick the concept of the evolutionary pyramid or escalator. Specifically: ‘We emerged from the primordial ooze and slowly we turned, step by step, and in a world red in tooth and claw, we crawled up out of the clinging slime. By dint of our superior intelligence, we rose to the top of the evolutionary pyramid, the supreme life-form on this planet. Finally, from a heaving sea of blind, striving life-forms, each struggling for continued existence, awareness emerged. (The Earth, nay, even the Universe itself, did thus become conscious of itself.) And we stood on the pinnacle of our

greatness, alone, looking out at the great void of the universe wondering, ‘Is there anybody else out there?’’ Or as Robert Heinlein once put it ...

Man is a rationalizing animal not a rational one.

And, as it happened, scientists, looking out at the void, did notice some sophisticated (human-like) attributes in some other life-forms. Dolphins seem pretty smart and chimpanzees, too. Then dogs maybe, or parrots...

Still, those early researchers, standing on the pinnacle of their greatness, were, in their own fashion, finding that intelligence in one form or another was an attribute of the living organisms they were studying. Whether it was the discovery that prairie dogs have a complex language; that in fact they describe the movement of other animals through their territory in great detail, including, if those animals are humans, distinctions in the color of their clothes; or the finding that chimpanzees can sign up to 350 words (and even invent their own words for objects they haven’t been taught words for) and then teach the ability to use sign language to their offspring; or that their memory is better; or

Pop quiz: How many words of chimpanzee can the most intelligent primatologist speak? (Hint: a lot less than 350 ... Hmmm, let’s see what number starts with a “z”?)

the discovery that dogs can add and subtract, or that ravens make tools, or that dung beetles navigate by the stars, or that amoeba farm bacteria for food, or that crocodiles and alligators design and use tools to more easily capture water birds, or that elephants can learn to speak human language, or that dolphins use nonlinear mathematics in seeking and finding their food, examination of the living organisms around us continually reaffirms that intelligence is an attribute of living systems—even when using humans as the yardstick for measurement. Nevertheless, despite this, there remains, among most researchers and nearly all nonresearchers, the belief that humans are the only organisms with real intelligence; dolphins may be as smart as us from that frame of reference (probably not) but chimpanzees are more properly thought of as much lower on the scale of evolution—in another million years they might think as well as us... maybe. But the other animals? They are much further back, much lower on the scale.

Just because prairie dogs have made up specific prairie dog words for “fat guy with red shirt” doesn’t mean they are intelligent.

And besides, animals, even birds, are like us; they are very close behind us on the evolutionary escalator—compared with things like bacteria—and so have developed some rudimentary capacity to think—just not very well. If they were as advanced as us on the escalator they would think just like we do, but they are behind us, back there, on a lower step, a reminder of where we came from not so very long ago.

Or as Lynn Margulis (and Dorion Sagan) once put it, ‘Our intolerant slogans continually denigrate the nonhuman life with which we share this planet.’ But while the evolutionary escalator is an incredibly common expression of a belief in human exceptionalism, it doesn’t have any real basis in ecological reality. The view is one Darwin specifically rejected, which makes it all the more ironic that it is the neo-Darwinians that have spread it about so much. Darwin’s own perspective, as the English philosopher Mary Midgley comments, is much different, he did...

‘not see evolution as an escalator, but as a sinuous, branching radiating pattern—not a staircase, but perhaps a bush or seaweed. Life-forms diverge from each other to meet particular needs in their various environments. Our own species figures then only as one among the many, with no special status or guarantee of supremacy. This notion has, however, always been found far less exciting than the escalator model, which has been enormously popular ever since it was promoted by Herbert Spencer, in spite of Darwin’s own rejection of it and its evident complete irrelevance to this theory.’

The cerebral hypertrophy that so many reductionists celebrate as evidence of human superiority, that they insist puts us on the top of the evolutionary ladder, is in fact only a projection coming from their particular psychological orientation. In fact, as Midgley comments, the old picture of man’s rise to dominance’...

‘showed brain evolution dramatically as a series of successive conquests, in which at each level of life a new brain area and its faculties came in to rule the rest, culminating in man and final victory of the cerebral cortex, or some specially splendid part of it.... Detailed neurological work has, however, worn away almost every aspect of this seductive picture. As Stephen Walker, a neurological psychologist says, “One still has a sense of regret that this charming and convincing tale must be discarded. The weight of evidence is now if anything more in favour of the unhelpful suggestion ... that all the fundamental parts of the vertebrate brain were present very early on, and can be observed in lampreys.”’

Our brain is not especially unique, nor does it confer on us any special faculty not already present in the system from which it emerged. Nevertheless, brain chauvinism has continually led to ridiculous ‘utopian’ projections like this one by molecular biologist William Day...

‘[Man] will splinter into types of humans with differing mental faculties that will lead to diversification and separate species. From among these types a new species, Omega Man, will emerge either alone, in union with others, or with mechanical amplifications to transcend to new dimensions of time and space beyond our comprehension.’

Or as the science-fiction writer Greg Bear once put it, ‘we are now in charge of

our own evolution.’ As Midgley comments...

‘world pictures like this are not primarily science. The science that is supposed to justify them is really a small part of their content. They are actually metaphysical sketches, ambitious maps of how all reality is supposed to work, guiding visions, systems of direction for the rest of our ideas.’

Everything in that frame is judged in terms of the human, as if we are outside the ecological matrix in which we are embedded, as if evolution ended once and for all with our emergence, with the development of our brains. And this kind of thinking has invaded nearly every aspect of human life. As Rupert Sheldrake puts it, ‘The evangelists of science and technology have succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of the missionaries of Christianity.’

The trouble is that this worldview is not accurate to the world itself or to the findings of researchers in scores of fields. Unfortunately nearly everyone in the West believes significant aspects of it to be true. Our thinking has been corrupted by bad software, an inaccurate description of reality. In consequence, our experiences of ourselves, of the world, and many of our behaviors have been corrupted as well.

The widely disseminated picture of our human exceptionalism is grounded in the assertion that we possess a unique form of intelligence due to our unique, hypertrophic brain. But this belief is not true; it has become a kind of intellectual imperialism. It has been, and still is, used to denigrate the orientation that many people still experience, that the world, and the other organisms with which we share this Earth, are alive, intelligent, and aware. It has been used to stifle the response of the heart to what has been presented to the senses. This has resulted in the creation of a conceptual monoculture that can’t see outside its limitations. Such imperialists have set out to conquer the superstitious natives inhabiting the dark continent, the place where the general populace lives. Midgley makes the point that arguments such as Day’s rest in a belief in human beings as ‘an isolated will, guided by an intelligence, arbitrarily connected to a rather unsatisfactory array of feelings, and lodged, by chance, in an equally unsatisfactory human body.’ Or as Susan Sontag once described it: ‘consciousness harnessed to flesh,’ as if there could be consciousness without the emergence of the self-organized system we call the body. This type of dissociation is a common side effect of the materialist and very reductionist view of the world most of us are trained in. But as Midgely notes, this system of thought is not reason, not science, but behavioral examples of, as she puts it, an unexamined, ‘exuberant power fantasy.’ It is bad software, generated out of unexamined psychological frameworks.

The evolutionary escalator metaphor and the assumptions of what constitutes intelligence (and value) that are embedded within it create, automatically, behavior that is very dangerous to every other life-form on this planet—in fact to the health of every ecosystem this planet possesses.

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

The belief in our unique intelligence is, and always has been, a lie. And while this ‘power fantasy’ is slowly eroding in the light of unavoidable animal intelligence—as Giorgio Samorini notes...

‘Studies on animal behavior are providing ever more data in direct contradiction to behaviorism’s rejection of animal mentality, and more and more scholars and researchers are distancing themselves from the behavioristic paradigm and beginning to admit the possibility of perceptive consciousness in animals.’

—it is certainly not eroding when it comes to simple, non-brain- possessing life-forms such as viruses.

Nevertheless, intelligence emerges as an aspect of self-organization in living systems. Always. What is actually true is that once self-organization occurs the capacity for analysis, innovation, and response all occur contemporaneously. And the degree of intelligence in living organisms, irrespective of whether they have a ‘brain’ or not (or are an animal or not), is exceptional. This finding is beginning to pervade nearly every field of science, laying waste to the older paradigm. But most scientists are still very reluctant to accept what is becoming obvious. As Paul Davies comments...

‘To date biology is rooted in the old physics, the physics of the nineteenth century. Newtonian mechanics and thermodynamics play the central role. More recent developments, such as field theory and quantum mechanics, are largely ignored. In spite of the fact that the molecular basis for life is so crucial, and that molecular processes are quantum mechanical, atoms are treated like classical building blocks to be fitted together. Distinctively quantum effects, such as nonlocal correlations, coherence, and phase information, let alone possible exotic departures from quantum mechanics as suggested above, are not considered relevant.’

Again: the degree of intelligence in living organisms, irrespective of whether they have a ‘brain’ or not (or are an animal or not), is exceptional, and examples abound. For instance, the capacity to engage in mathematical computation and differentiation is common. As Richard Lewontin observes...

‘In Cladocera, small fresh-water arthropods, reproduction remains asexual as long as conditions of temperature, oxygen dissolved in the water, food availability, and degree of crowding remain constant. Then, if a sudden change in these conditions occurs ... the Cladocera switch to sexual reproduction.... The organisms are detecting a rate of change of an input, not its absolute value. They are performing mathematical differentiation.’

The capacity for mathematical analysis and differentiation is supposed to be limited to human beings. But it is not. You can also find it, sadly for reductionists, in slime mold. Jeremy Narby, in his book Intelligence in Nature, reveals that the ‘slime mold, Physarum polycephalum, can consistently solve a maze... [W]hen food is placed at the start and end points of the maze, the slime mold withdraws from the dead-end corridors and shrinks

its body to a tube spanning the shortest path between food sources. The single-celled slime solves the maze in this way each time it is tested.’ Toshiyuki Nakagaki, the researcher conducting the study, commented that:

‘Even for humans it is not easy to solve a maze. But the plasmodium of true slime mold, an amoeba-like organism, has shown an amazing ability to do so. This implies that an algorithm and a high computing capacity are included in the unicellular organism.’

This capacity for mathematical differentiation and computation is wide spread. All self-organized biological systems possess it.”

Phew! That was a large quotation but I hope you can see why it was necessary to make it? It establishes that intelligence and self-organisation, as precursors of phenomena such as the conflict and mutual aid which Kropotkin wanted to emphasise [especially the latter], are features of all life itself; they are functions life comes equipped with in order to even be life. Why is this? Because it would not make much sense to come to life but then not be equipped with any of the faculties, skills or abilities which ensured it didn’t just blink out again in a second instant just as immediate as the first which created it. Life, in other words, is not some magic force which living things have but dead things have lost [a very mystical, psychical view] but a set of abilities which not only create life but also give it some ability to maintain itself and manipulate itself and an environment. It is these abilities which lead on to the necessary ability of being able to join, work together with, and share with, others that form ecosystems of organisms that thrive and survive together both within species and even across them. This is to say that, ultimately, mutual aid is something about life itself, something about how it self-organises in an intelligent way through the natural building of intelligently articulated relationships — in plants as well as animals; in all life.

Thus, we need to stop taking the world apart and looking at it as isolated bits and imagining that if we know how they fit together we have understood everything there is to understand and start appreciating that, actually, its intelligent relationships and self-organisation which is really what all life is; the ability to work one’s life out for oneself, more often than not with others like us within the context of a greater whole. As Buhner says in another book, The Secret Teachings of Plants: “The entire system and all its parts are cooperative, not competitive. They make up one system. They are whole.” Therefore, we can say that “Self-organized systems are living identities that engage in continual communication, both internal and external. They are not isolated, static units that can be understood in isolation. To examine them in isolation kills the living entity itself, and paying attention to the thing and not its communications—its balance-initiated information exchange—reveals very little about the true nature of what is being studied.” Here the slightly hokey assertion “all things are one” is actually correct and life itself can meaningfully be understood as A SYSTEM OF INTELLIGENTLY-ARTICULATED, SELF-ORGANISING RELATIONSHIPS. Such a system, as our earth is, is about maintaining a balance of relationships, something only necessary if things, on the whole, cooperate in acts Kropotkin would have called “mutual aid”. The meaning of this world, and the life as a whole that makes it up, is then in its relationships which constitute, in my view, a NATURAL ANARCHY, a model we may use metaphorically to our anarchist political purposes [just as Kropotkin did]. To quote Goethe again: “Life as a whole expresses itself as a force that is not to be contained within any one part.” We must look to its relationships, how things interact and cooperate together, how things are systems and not merely isolated things, things which in life are much more likely to suffer and/or die very quickly rather than to survive.

The thesis of this chapter is then that NATURE IN ITS MANNER OF OPERATION IS ANARCHY. This is the nature that is intelligent, self-organising, cooperative regardless of necessary conflict, communicative and interactive in and with its environment. This is a nature that is necessarily about SOCIABILITY — whether between organisms or within them. I am saying that the anarchy we might imagine as “where we want to be” is this and so is where we actually already are even if, under the scourge of hierarchical, anthropocentric, thinking we have imagined ourselves to be somewhere else. The place we have imagined ourselves into or, under a dominating intellectual schema and its accompanying politics, have been imagined into, is the place Graeber and Wengrow described in The Dawn of Everything as a matter of our GETTING STUCK. Getting stuck, speaking politically, morally or intellectually, is where we do not want to be. That’s when domination and exploitation rule the roost. Life, however, and nature in this analogy, are being imagined as sets of free-flowing, self-organising relationships which build together in order to maintain an equilibrium rather than a situation of domination and exploitation; they are relationships which are self-organising [and so which MUST BE LEFT TO SELF-ORGANISE]. Nature is here being imagined, in a Stirnerite way, as a “union of egoists” that pursues mutually beneficial relationships yet without imagining that they must be permanent or that any structure is arbitrary. And we must remember always in this that NOTHING DESIGNED OR CONTROLS THIS SET OF RELATIONSHIPS. THEY ARE SELF-ORGANISING. THEIR SELF-ORGANISATION IS THE MEANING AND FUNCTION OF THEIR REALITY. They are autonomy, agency, association, affinity; they are decentralised and without a centre.

We must come to consider, then, that the fact that no power directs nature and its relationships in an arbitrary, centralising way IS WHY IT WORKS. Nature is DECENTRALISED, can solve millions of problems all at once every day that are consequential to life and death, and it can do so by being left to itself and the relationships it has itself created or denied. This does not say much for the notion that complex systems need an authoritarian leader to work — for the biggest systems we know of, natural ones, need no such thing. It is not control which gets things done; it is the decentralised, intelligent, self-organising cooperation of things which gets things done. Anarchy is written into nature and therefore shows itself as that which prospers life without centralising control. It turns out that anarchists, whether they knew it or not, were actually, for the most part, talking about the world that was always already all around them but in a context in which human beings had strayed from a natural course into one in which they wanted to be the top of a pyramid, the pinnacle of a hierarchy, the dominating force of nature. This is to misunderstand nature entirely for it is a non-dominating system, a cooperative system which works together, all at once, or not at all. This is why humans actually threaten devastation of the planet — because if you attempt to control it then you attempt to destroy that which maintains it: the absence of such control. It is only as a self-correcting equilibrium that life on earth either thrives or survives. This should be the model of our anarchy and, consequently, we should see organisation and chaos not as opposed concepts but as the same thing described in different ways. On the one hand, nature is set upon set of self-organising relationships doing what they do to prosper the life of a forest, an ant colony, a pride of lions or a single cell but, on the other, it is the chaos of a total lack of overarching control making sure that everything is “as it should be”. But, and here’s the insight we need to have, things do not need this overarching control. These self-organising relationships sort themselves, and the much bigger whole that they are a part of, out. Taught from birth that somebody must be in charge, we need to learn that things work out fine if nobody is in charge and things are left to organise themselves. Cooperation gets the job done all by itself. Or, to quote the Daodejing: “Doing nothing, nothing is left undone.”

epilogue: anarchic-love

“To look upon people who can love more than one person as perverse or abnormal is to be very ignorant indeed.” — Emma Goldman, “Jealousy: Causes and A Possible Cure”

We have reached the climax of this particular book and it is time to leave with a parting shot. I am one of those people who has come to the view that life for human beings is a matter of what they can imagine, their imagination. All our conceptions of self, of the social and political world, of existence, and of everything really are a matter of what, and how, we imagine. Consequently, I want to offer an imaginary here to close this book, an imaginary of anarchic-love.

To do this I am going to begin in an unexpected place — the gospels of the New Testament. This will not have anything to do with Christianity, however, for those who get nervous at even the suggestion of anything religious. Instead, I want to concentrate on the characterisation of Jesus of Nazareth there and two of the explicit fictions he is reported to have shared with people which are known as his parables. The gospels themselves can be seen as parables whole and entire and if it suits you to regard them as entirely fictional [and Jesus too] then that’s fine with me and will change nothing about what I am about to say since none of it will rely on any of it having been historical. The point to remember here is that I want to offer you, my reader, an imaginary... and so I want you to imagine.

I begin with Jesus on page 261 of the historical Jesus specialist John Dominic Crossan’s book The Historical Jesus: The Life of A Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. This page heads a short section of the book titled “Open Commensality” and it addresses Jesus’ imagined practice of this in his purported activities and, just as importantly, its imagined meaning and consequences. “Open commensality” is the practice of having an open table and sharing food together with... whoever. Mention of this in Crossan’s analysis of the gospels in relation to Jesus stems from the fact that he self-reports as “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners”, for example, in Luke 7:34. Elsewhere, for example in Mark 2:16–17, his disciples are questioned as to why Jesus apparently mixes with all the wrong sorts in society. The answer, which Jesus gives in a parable found in the New Testament in Matthew 22 and Luke 14 [and outside it in Gospel of Thomas 64] is that he imagines society as a society of open commensality around an open table.

It is the parable of the feast, just referred to in those references in Matthew, Luke and Thomas, which puts this imaginary before us. To give a brief description of the parable: a man wants to throw a feast and invites his friends. But his friends all make excuses for why they can’t come [these are legitimate family/business excuses but still excuses nonetheless] whereupon the man throwing the feast tells his servant to get out into the streets and bring back ANYBODY who wants to come. The social and political cutting edge of this parable, as Crossan correctly points out in his analysis of it, is exactly that ANYBODY — for this means the table would be populated by people of potentially any class or race, creed or gender, sexuality or social standing, friend or enemy — all just mixed up together, a truly open commensality that would offend the procedures of any established society anywhere, past or present. Crossan comments of this in his book that Jesus, in proposing such a social situation, such relationship of people one to another around a table where people eat together, “makes no appropriate distinctions and discriminations”. Thus, “he has no honour, he has no shame”. [This latter comment refers to a Mediterranean culture of honour and shame Crossan, using anthropological and historical sources, has set out as part of a historical matrix of understanding in regard to the stories about Jesus.] In this parable Jesus has imagined society in a way no society before or since would imagine itself because it destroys the structures of relationships by which they exist and reimagines others in their place.

Crossan, in fact, identifies several complexes of textual material in the gospels which pertain to such an “open commensality” and that apply to Jesus’ apparent ignoring of societal food regulations, his thoughts on open table as just detailed, and in relation to society as a whole. Crossan asserts that, putting these cases together, Jesus’ open commensality “negates distinctions and hierarchies between male and female, poor and rich, Gentile and Jew.” He adds that, in his judgment, Jesus simply ignored the relationships of society, together with their social understandings, which he didn’t agree with, and set about building his own. But that then begs the question of what Jesus’ own ethic was which was informing this picture of society as a meal to which just anybody who would come was invited, resulting in a complete hotch potch of people sitting next to each other all feasting together merrily. We find the answer, I contend, in another parable of Jesus from Luke 10, the one known popularly as “The Good Samaritan”.

This parable is set in a context in which Jesus is discussing the idea “love your neighbour as yourself” which is a common ethical standard of Judaism as found in the Jewish Torah, Judaism’s most sacred text. That Jesus would teach “love your neighbour as yourself” is not at all unique to Jesus as it is also not remotely unique to Christianity — nor even Christian in origin. It marks Jesus out as simply another Jew who knew something of Judaism’s ethical traditions. But what does mark Jesus out in Luke 10, and what informs our understanding of his society of open commensality, is how he answers someone who asks “who is your neighbour?” in that formulation. This is the question that Jesus is asked that he responds to with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The parable itself is quite simple: a man takes a journey and is attacked by robbers and left for dead. This, of course, is imagined to be taking place in Palestine in the first century in an agrarian/wilderness context. We should not imagine regular services and heavy traffic nor the possibility of police or emergency services. Presently, someone comes along. It is a priest. Surely he will help the man? No, he walks by on the other side of the road. Presently, a Levite comes along [a functionary in the Jerusalem Temple]. He will help, no? But he doesn’t help either and walks by on the other side too. To a Jew hearing the story, the first two types of person anticipate the third, an ordinary Jew. But this is where the parable bites: the third person who comes upon the man left for dead is a Samaritan, a race despised as the enemy of the Jew for historical reasons due to their racial ancestry as mixed race former Jews [and so despised in fact that in the text the one asking Jesus the question to which he responds with the parable cannot even say the word “Samaritan” but refers to “the one” instead]. The Samaritan, however, does not walk on by. He immediately tends to the man’s wounds, gets him up and carries him into town where he is attended to and left in lodgings which the Samaritan pays for with the promise to pay more if he ends up having to stay even longer. “Who is my neighbour”, then, in this situation? It can even be a despised enemy!

This parable, as can be seen, goes even further than the parable of the feast I related before. “Love your neighbour as yourself” is not a hollow moral precept within Judaism but is expected to be seen in physical actions [and this is the intimation from Jesus too]. The story here, although it is only a story, is shocking because of its implications [just as the story of the feast was]. In the society Jesus talks about are we really supposed to help enemies in trouble? That, at least, is presented as Jesus’ understanding. For him there is a relationship which overrides the relationship of enemies with something else and there is something more important about the relationship between any two people in that society than what race they are or whether they are supposed to be enemies or not.

There is a further well known story about Jesus which illustrates Jesus’ attitudes towards people further which I would like to share here as well. It is known as the feeding of the 5,000. This is one of the few stories told about Jesus in the gospels that occurs in all four of them. The basic outline is as follows: Jesus and his disciples are teaching a great crowd of people who have followed him into the hills around the Sea of Galilee. But where will all these people get something to eat in such a place? It would cost 6 months’ wages to feed them all! All the disciples of Jesus have to offer is five small loaves and two small fish, a boy’s lunch. Yet, somehow, Jesus distributes this and it feeds them all with plenty of leftovers. My suggestion is that this is a story about sharing. Certainly, Jesus neither chooses to send the people away, saying their feeding is their problem, nor even to take up a collection to go and buy food. What he actually does is share the food he has — and to whoever has turned up to hear him, the most open of all open commensalities.

If you are reading this and you are much like the online anarchists I regularly come across on social media then you probably don’t think much to all this. Help your enemies? Take responsibility for feeding random people who happen to be with you? Imagine society as an open table where you might share food in that context with just anybody? This, you might want to contend, is not anarchism. Anarchism is arming trans women to shoot white supremacists or keffals taking down a website full of assholes. But is it really? What has any of that changed systematically about human relationships where anarchism is imagined exactly as a systematic changing of human relationships? Do such actions imagine a new way of relating for human beings or are they firmly set in the world of the relationships we already have and are, in fact, them simply playing out, endlessly, over and over again? Say what you like about Jesus of Nazareth, but I contend his ideas were intended to wipe the slate clean of old relationships in order to make new ones.

Jesus, in fact, is an example of someone who wants to entirely reimagine social relationships and to do so from himself. If we consider what is said about him in the gospels then we find this is neither a matter of family nor status, nor money, nor politics, nor morality [at least as previously understood in his culture]. Jesus, as I have written about before in a thesis about him as a kind of Jewish anarchist, offers a society of the destitute [since he embraces, and seems to require, deliberate destitution] and a radical reliance on each other [mutual aid] conceived of as a new kind of self-chosen and self-organised family. That, we may even suggest, is why, should he actually have been a real person, he ended up dead. Any society is constructed based on numerous relationships, often with disparities of status and power involved which are structural in terms of how that society is run. This can be true from families to workplaces to governments. But how would you feel — in any society — if a Jesus turned up and said all relationships were null and void, your dinner table was not where you ate with your trusted friends and family — as is normal for most people — but that potentially anyone could be in that relationship to you and that there were no privileged seats and ordinary seats around the table? Jesus, no “respecter of persons” as Gerrard Winstanley would have said, annuls all relationships in one fell swoop and, if you are the rich or the powerful or the government or the boss you find that your legs have been taken from under you and your privileges have been taken away. Wouldn’t you want to do something about a person like that in your society? Wouldn’t you want to shut them up? It seems that, in Jesus’ case, perhaps they did.

Enough about the man from Nazareth for now. Let us move to anarchy and anarchism in the light of all we have said in this book. I have been taking it that anarchism, as an imaginary in regard to how society might be and action to achieve it, is imagining human relations much as Jesus did in my reading of him: from the ground up. It is, thus, a matter of how we construct society through the relationships we imagine making it up. I have done this previously in this book in the following way:

AUTONOMY + AGENCY + AFFINITY + ASSOCIATION + ACENTRALISM = ANARCHY

This has been based on the idea that anarchism is a principle of organisation which is interested in relationships over institutions. So, in that equation, the association is FREE and acentralism means a decentralised structure of society in relation to people self-organised and self-actualised to practice autonomy and agency in their relationships and to act based on affinity. Such a conception takes cues from a Stirnerite and Nietzschean egoism, a post-anarchist conception of the anarchist as an insurrection, a person who volunteers no servitude to any imagined authority, and is anarcha-feminist in its desire for an intersectional conception of the social sphere free from any classification-based oppressions or hierarchies. It focuses on mutuality in human relationships and is about sociability not social isolation. Émile Armand’s ideas of amorous camaraderie are also pre-eminent here as this anarchism is conceived of as a matter of physical intimacy and the physical sharing of love [love being something imagined to be necessarily physical in its activity and effects]. It is further a matter of a working and active anarchist economy, previously discussed by me in other books as a matter of the recently mentioned open commensality and mutual aid as well as gifts and gifting to others and a renewed interest in the commons and holding things in common. Indeed, one thing people may choose to call all this is “commonism” yet hopefully not at the risk of making an inappropriate dogma out of it — for there is no plan except the agreements you come to with those with whom you associate for your common good. But such a conception of anarchism, I must insist, sets no hope on “anarchist society”, broadly conceived, or on some revolutionary metanarrative. Instead, it is thought of as a perpetual insurrection in the cause of permanent autonomy and this is conceived of as being practiced by self-organising affinity groups of whatever size naturally occurs and can maintain themselves. All this is then imagined primarily as a strategy of struggle and attack against a capitalist system that will not willingly die or lie down and give up but that must be definitively killed in order to snuff it out. This conception of anarchism is, consequently, neither intended to become a dogma nor to be an imposition. This anarchism is, and must remain, an anarchism of the willing in order to retain its character as an anarchism.

That is a summary of anarchism largely as I have understood it and described it before. What do I add here from my text in this book? I add that this, then, is an anarchism which is an invitation to love. Yet it is an invitation to a forbidden love, a love which loves neither stingily nor exclusively nor according to its being shackled by rules or institutions or the shibboleths of other people. Because it is an invitation to love, it is never an imposition of love. One cannot impose love in any case. All one can do is offer it freely and allow others to decide if they will accept it or not. That is love, a mutual engagement with, and entrance into, a certain kind of relationship characterised by love. ANARCHISTS ARE LOVERS and they want to offer their love, in mutuality, to whoever will receive it. They want to create relationships based on love. If we may somewhat appropriate the ideas of Landauer, we may see these anarchists as love pioneers creating new forms of community in and amongst themselves. These forms of community will be about love — pleasure — sexuality — bodies — physicality — just as nature itself is, a very earthy, physical conception of anarchic reality. They will be about satisfying the physical needs of physical people in a physical society — and in physical ways. The anarchasexual anarchist of anarchic-love sees their task as to provide for physical needs in physical ways that create physical bonds between people. These bonds always begin as invitations — like root tips in plants reaching out towards one another — but they can, if desired, grow to become symbiotic mutual relations in which physical needs and physical pleasures are satisfied. The anarchist should not be squeamish about this for we are physical beings with physical bodies. What else should we want but to have our physical needs met and to find satisfaction in lives and relationships of physical pleasure?

Such anarchy is then about creating the relationships and conditions for such lives and for relationships of pleasure between all who will choose to engage in them. This, however, does not necessarily mean sexuality, and sexual behaviour, is being forced onto people. Within this imaginary of anarchy [which is advertised front and centre as an anarchy of love] the autonomy and agency of people is always respected [as Landauer suggested it would be amongst egoists he imagined would actually be the best at carrying out real communism]. This anarchism of anarchic-love is, of course, a love ethic and so love — actual physical love in whatever creative forms those participating in it can imagine — is educated for and encouraged. But no one within this understanding will ever force anyone else to participate in it. Besides, there are other forms of physical intimacy and engagement which will demonstrate this love just as well, if less sexually. Fundamentally, this love is a love of care and attention to others, a physical concern for others as for yourself in all a person’s physical needs. So it could be sharing food with people or it could be tending to their wounds after an accident or it could be sharing a bath or shower with them and engaging in mutual grooming — or even just walking with them regularly and building a bond of care and concern with them in that way. It will always here be a matter for everyone’s autonomy and agency, however, and no one will ever be forced into things to which they do not consent or with which they feel uncomfortable. The model of this love is the invitation which you must choose to accept and therefore enter into.

This anarchism then conceives, within the way it imagines our common existence, that the point of it is to love one another anarchically, to share in our full possibility for anarchic-love that is present in our all being here together at the same time. This fact, and the fact that we are not alone, is not merely an opportunity for relationship with others but is an active encouragement to it, a social aspect to our being. So anarchic-love as an idea is an imaginary of relationships set free and the imagination for thinking of ways in which we can relate to create communities and cultures that share pleasure and abundance with one another. This is the opposite of creating societies that “get stuck” — such as those dominated by capitalism and authoritarianism with their relations of exploitation, coercion, control and arbitrary institution by those designated police — and is the creation of polyamorous lives of open relations in which “getting stuck” becomes more and more impossible the more people explore and expand the networks of relations they are involved in in whatever ways seem good to them for the pursuance of their physical needs and desire for pleasurable lives. This, all by itself, would both decenter society as a whole and create symbiotic relationships based on new understandings of people, one to another. Institutions such as “the family” and traditional relationships such as “boss-employee” would be wiped away by this activity as people start relating to others on their own terms and for their own purposes to create communities based on love and pleasure wherever, and however, they can.

So this anarchism that has an anarchasexual sensibility and which is carried out in anarchic-love is an imaginary of relationships set free, autonomous relationships of those with agency who refuse to allow themselves to get stuck in relationships imposed on them either by society as a whole, by institutions or political bodies or, in fact, by any others outside of themselves. They are free flowing relationships and may change as those within them choose to change them. They can be broken and taken up as people choose to do so for the furtherance of their own lives as well. This is an anarchism of association and associations for whatever functions or purposes those making them decide. Yet this anarchism is also a DISPOSITION TOWARDS others and that disposition is perfectly exampled in the figure of the open table that Jesus used in the parable of the feast and in the gospel story of feeding the 5000. Since this anarchism is an invitation to participate in a love ethic, those who hold to this anarchism must be those who constantly hold out the hand of loving association with others as an invitation to whoever will join them in this. If we recall Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, and imagine a spectrum of possible relationships with others that goes from enemies through strangers, colleagues, friends, allies and accomplices to intimates, then we recall that, at least for Jesus, anyone from “enemies” up could potentially be the person in receipt of our love. We must face this as a challenge and as something about ourselves that says who we are and what we offer to others in the world and in community with us. How else do we ever expect our anarchism to grow, to everyone’s benefit, unless we extend the hand of loving freedom? We must offer people more, and better, than they know in order to do so.

Thus, a further ethic illustrated by Jesus also becomes relevant: love your neighbour as yourself. If you want this disassociated from Jesus to make it more palatable to you this is easy — for its MUTUAL AID. It is creating relationships of communal solidarity with others and not just with those in an “in-group”. It is outreach, social concern, community care, active responsibility for others. It is Jesus’ determination to feed people himself with whatever was at hand rather than send them away [which, it seems to me, no one would have complained about anyway. No one would have realistically expected him to feed them all]. If we anarchists are serious about mutual aid then the only proof of it is getting off your ass, getting your hands dirty, and doing it. Few are those who do. But this, in itself, plays into another aspect of the anarchic-love imagined here, its self-generation, its naturalistic self-organisational nature, its coming from within [as Landauer suggested]. Because it has this self-generating nature it is also self-emancipatory and brings a confidence to those who practice it that cannot be found in any other way. You have to do this anarchism thing and only doing it can embolden you to do it more and find a new confidence you never knew existed before you did it. This anarchism of anarchic-love truly is A WAY TO LIVE AND RELATE TO OTHER PEOPLE and is no neat theory of existence or merely another facile and ideological “politics”.

This anarchism of anarchic-love is further a REFUSAL TO DOMINATE in our relationships with others. This is why it is not an imposition, either on individuals or on society. If it is to be the “refusal to get stuck” in dominating and coercive relationships that both Michel Foucault and David Graeber have talked about earlier in this book then it must be a self-organising of the willing in communities of anarchic-love [like trees or bees or ants]. These communities will never be closed to outsiders for this ethic is open and wanting others to join but neither is it proselytising in an overbearing way. The invitation is there and will be made known but you must actively choose to accept it. If people choose to live other ways, as any realistic imaginary would surely always assume they would, then that is for those people to decide. Anarchists of anarchic-love will not attempt to force you to change or aggressively decide to wipe you out for choosing to be different. This anarchism is all about diversity AND RESPECTING IT even if, or perhaps especially because, they choose to be different. Anarchism is not dogma and neither is it benevolent coercion, much less forced imposition. We refuse to dominate or coerce, we want to build relationships from our agency and autonomy by affinity that decentralise human community and create and multiply diverse cultures. We want to destroy arbitrary relationships but we replace them only with free associations and with a love that is real, physical, material, and offered with an open hand.

This anarchic-love is then really about Nietzsche’s interpretation of love as that thing which “transposes values” and gives us a different point of view on the object of our love. What does the anarchist love? Life, relationships with others that are based on agency and autonomy, social fluidity and ability to create without coercion or exploitation, sharing, holding things in common for the good of all, mutuality, liberty in the matter of all our associations. Anarchic-love is then the love that is also the fight for values to be transposed into these values for everyone; it is the fight against those who choose to control, to dominate, to rule, to oppress. It is a love which loves everyone who opposes these things and the creation of physical relationships, in multiple ways, that create and nurture cultures of these things and of physical love as their embodiment. This love is then both also a fight and an insurrection in the recognition that the world is full of people ready to be outraged if capitalist exploitation and authoritarian control of others be threatened by, or replaced with, such cultures of love.

I say again that ANARCHISTS ARE LOVERS and so I recommend to you this anarchism of amorous camaraderie, anarchasexuality and anarchic-love! I offer you relationships without hierarchies, without husbands and wives as possessions or those under obligation. I offer you an end to the nuclear family, an end to bosses and an end to presidents and prime ministers. I offer you a world in which all elders can be mothers and fathers and all the younger can be those in their care. I offer you a world in which each is [self-]educated into their own agency and independence, a solid base from which to create their own lives of affinity in free association with others. I offer you this affinity instead of obligation, coercion or exploitation. I offer you a community of potential associates as each engages and interacts with the other. I offer you a rainbow world held together by connections of love and mutual aid as each so chooses.

In short, I offer you anarchy, loving friendship as a way of life, in the hope that you can become so emancipated that, to the limits of your very existence, you cannot help creating more and more of it.

ANARQXISTA GOLDMAN X