Anarchism, Foucault and the “Postmoderns”

sourceIn contrast with the impotent ideological sectarianism of some, or the integration within a bureaucratized union of the others, the practices and stances of the anarcho-autonomists are appropriate and not only from a libertarian viewpoint. If they are unsuccessful in reaching the brain of the most formalistic anarchism they ought at least move its heart. I am not sure that such is the case. Anarchism, Foucault and the “Postmoderns”by Daniel Colson

This article is published in the French anarchist journal R(c)fractions, May
2008 with several other texts about postmodernity, including one by Tomas
Ibanez, to which this article refers.

I will start with the points of agreement with Tomas’ text – they are
quite numerous– while including in this commentary the reasons for my
final disagreement on what one might expect from anarchism, its scope and
therefore its importance in the future.

Anarchism today

The first point of agreement is the most immediate. It deals with Tomas’
section entitled “anarchism today”. That section expresses very well,
better than I would do it here, what I have sensed for quite a long time:
namely an increasingly deeper divorce (which does not date from today)
between an official anarchism on the one hand, – anarchist organizations,
anarchist ideology, anarchist identity,– and, on the other, those
movements without any precise label, that more radical fringe whom the
public powers (who occasionally happen not to be mistaken) sometimes
designate by the fair term of “anarcho-autonomist” .

The libertarian renewal that occurred during last century’s end has
enabled the crystallization – but also the sedimentation,– of a noticeable
number of activists who reclaim an anarchist identity. This often ageing
category of activists has enlivened the traditional organizations (mainly
through the CNT, Alternative libertaire, Organisation Communiste
Libertaire, the Anarchist Federation and its various dissidents), but not
necessarily the libertarian logic and dynamic. And thus while there exist
efficient anti-authoritarian movements, often with quite rich and complex
components, practices and world visions, there is side by side an
anarchism which is partly ossified, established (as Tomas emphasizes)
which, at best, duplicates the surviving leftist organizations, and whose
sole consistent practice (apart from running the organization) is often
limited to a very traditional participation in a bureaucratized
trade-union movement, without any authentic emancipating inspiration,
confined in an approach that tends to reduce the libertarian project to a
simple rhetoric, built on stock answers with no other reality than the
words and symbols of a past which has been translated into more or less
sentimental and hollow references [1].

The severity of my judgment does not stem from a far-off viewpoint. It is
based on my participation in the different movements of recent years;
movements in which the anarcho-autonomists and the “non[-]specifically
organized” as they used to say at La Gryffe bookstore, have played an
important part. La Gryffe happens to maintain relations with the
“anarcho-autonomists” of the city of Lyons, a city where this current is
very active, particularly through the squatter movement [2]. It also
happens that I am a member of the local CNT-Education (Saint-Etienne),
which may be (unfortunately) atypical since, in the setting of the
university, it has always worked closely with the so-called “autonomist”
currents; but, to make it clear, it also rejects the bureaucratized union
practices which the anarcho-autonomists (in Saint-Etienne and I hope
elsewhere) are absolutely right to denounce. To illustrate the problem
brought up by Tomas, – the choice between a hardly anarchistic anarchism
which relates to the past like a Canada-Dry to alcohol; and a de facto
anarchism of the libertarian project, in which the positions and practices
appear – I will tell two stories. One is anecdotal and personal; the other
much more crucial in its real consequences.

A personal anecdote

I participated in a meeting of university activists, some time ago, in
connection with a CNT-Education convention. One of the points discussed,
which I consider as paltry, but quite characteristic of how conventions
waste their time (and also lose all libertarian inspiration) was to know
whether student branches were entitled or not to call themselves FAU
(F(c)d(c)ration anarchiste universitaire) and to sign pamphlets with that
logo. As for us, in Saint-Etienne, our pamphlets (whether CNT or not) are
flexible and accommodate many identifications, provided they mention what
precise collective is the author (most often a group of a particular
place, but that could also be an ad hoc group of a particular student
body, or even of a particular academic year and field, for instance “the
second year female students for a bachelor’s degree in English”). Half of
those in attendance (some twenty activists) shared our viewpoint, and the
discussion became quite heated quite rapidly, the defenders of an
organizational discipline hanging on to their position of authority
(decisions taken in conventions often appear as emanating from some sort
of religious council) [3]. I suddenly realized how the Spanish CNT could
so quickly become bureaucratic in the Fall of 1936 and remodel itself in a
few days as a state apparatus, this very state which the Spanish anarchist
movement denounced a few days before but which it already bore potentially
(as well as many other things).

Seventy years later such a tiny organization as the French CNT produced in
turn a comparable bureaucratic behavior. Its dwarfish meetings naively
applied that state logic which they pretended to oppose. In contrast with
the impotent ideological sectarianism of some, or the integration within a
bureaucratized union of the others, the practices and stances of the
anarcho-autonomists are appropriate and not only from a libertarian
viewpoint. If they are unsuccessful in reaching the brain of the most
formalistic anarchism they ought at least move its heart. I am not sure
that such is the case.

A collective event

My second story relates to a collective event which is certainly of
greater consequence than the decision-making of CNT-Education conventions
(I imagine that activists who claim to belong to the CNT have continued to
name themselves as they still wish [such is our case in Saint-Etienne];
that contemporary scene has evidently nothing in common with Catalonia in
1937, when the simple fact of reading an anarchist journal which was not
authorized with the imprimatur of the Republican state could send you to
labor camp [see François Godicheau, La guerre d’Espagne, R(c)publique et
r(c)volution en Catalogne, Odile Jacob, 2004]. This second history concerns
the 2003 demonstrations against the G8 organized in Switzerland, in which
the libertarians had come in great number as in the preceding occurrences
. It is probably then that the chasm between a vibrant anarchism and a
petrified anarchism manifested itself most clearly. To use tough words and
therefore oversimplify the situation, one may give the following

On the one hand there were thousands of participants, not a crowd or a
mass of atomized individuals, but a multitude of small groups and
networks, familiarized by their practice and previous experience with this
type of meeting, who functioned through affinity , confronting their
experiences and self-organizing; they let the general assemblies and each
current or tendency address and decide by themselves what was suitable to
do, how to articulate themselves with other choices (violence or non
violence for instance) and how to think of forms of action without any
representation or intermediaries. In brief, on the one hand there were
activists who called themselves anarchists or non anarchists, who were
preparing to act, in practice, by carrying out a libertarian logic, that
is to say a federalist logic of action and direct democracy.

On the other hand, there was a cartel of organizations convinced that they
incarnated anarchism. It was very determined to master several months
ahead the staging of international anarchism, to avoid (in the eyes of
certain people) the ill-timed “outbursts” of former years. Killing two
birds with one stone, it wanted to take advantage of the presence of a
large number of expendable individuals to organize (in the style of May
Day demonstrations) a mass parade clearly identified by its banners and
the megaphones of its organizers. And it would finally be sufficient to
flank it on both sides to reach the a-temporal goal, so to say “in the
air” : having one’s photo in the news, if possible in color (so as to
distinguish well the black from the red flags) with the banner headline
“5000 anarchists march at the G8”.

On the one hand there was the logic of an anarchism in action, in effect
(in the sense of direct action and of propaganda by the deed), based on
self-organization, federalism and direct democracy. On the other one could
see very precisely, from the lessons of the Spanish experience, a
governmental anarchism, a statist logic grounded on representation,
obedience to watchwords, destruction of any concrete and proximate
affinity link in favor of the naked individual, totally available for what
organizations expected of him or her, a disciplined individual in a
position to repeat the expected slogans planned ahead of time, to go where
he would be told to go and behave decently as the representative of a
cartel of organizations had decided for him or for her. The cartel
therefore placed a security crew (this embryo of a police force) to
oversee the execution of the (sometimes misunderstood) decisions and
instructions of the indirect democracy of conventions and preliminary
programs [4].

I will not expand on this, because the second item of Tomas’ text enables
me to look further at the divorce between these efficient libertarian
practices and a purely ideological anarchism, grounded on appearance and
representation, acting in reverse of what it pretends to draw its
authority from.

The Enlightenment, the question of the subject and universalism

I will not repeat what Tomas Ibanez says, except to stress my total
agreement. As a political current, anarchism is born in a given place at a
given time, – as all things, one should add –, but anarchism is precisely
the only political current which considers the absolute singularity of
situations, events and therefore of beings (a demonstration against the
G8, for instance, in Switzerland, on a sunny Spring day in 2003). The
tragedy, as Tomas demonstrates, is that the singularity of the situation
and the context in which anarchism is born, – in Europe, in the 19th
century– generated the extraordinary idea that it did not believe itself
to be “exceptional” (as everybody does and with good reason), but on the
contrary, and in an apparently more modest way, it experienced itself
(subjectively) as “universal,” thus pretending (humble servants of this
heavy duty) to erase or subsume all the other singularities, before,
afterwards and elsewhere, submitting them to its general law and its
supposed “enlightenment”, before expanding and perceiving these famous
lights (the advance of knowledge! Science!) under the particularly obscure
and savage shape of colonialism, imperialism, industrial war, mass
massacres and totalitarian regimes (red and brown). And this is where one
finds again the divorce between a dead anarchism and efficient libertarian
practices, but also my first disagreement with Tomas.

What holds an interest in a careful reading of anarchist texts is that one
observes how, from Proudhon to Bakunin but particularly among the very
numerous activists engaged thereafter in struggles and effective
emancipation movements, libertarian thinking has never stopped denouncing
the foundations of bourgeois and capitalist modernity: the illusions and
lies of law, of representative democracy and “social contract”; the
pitfalls of communication; the self-serving lies of proprietary limits
(pars extra partes) with the restrictive freedom that goes with them (My
freedom ends where someone else’s begins); the illusions and lies of the
fragmented individual, “free, reasonable, calculating and utilitarian,
responsible of his actions and choices”; in brief the damaging results of
the fiction of the modern Cartesian man, “master and owner of nature”. I
refer here to the texts of trade-unionists like Pelloutier, Pouget or
Griffuelhes (for France), to Bakunin and his ceaseless attacks against
free will, to the wealth and originality of Proudhon’s analyses (“the
individual is a group”, “any group is an individual”), to Elis(c)e Reclus’s
work and thought, to Kropotkin’s ethology, to the notion (sometimes so
Nietzschean) of Malatesta’s “will”, and of course to the radical
subjectivity of the Stirnerians and other Nietzscheans, those fierce
scorners of modern individualism [5].

Historically, the originality of anarchism rested in its critique and
denunciation of the pitfalls and lies of modernity, but also, of course,
in its capacity to think and adopt social and political practices which
broke off severely with such a modernity; it broke up the schemes and
procedures of the social and economic order that appeared in the last
three centuries; and all this stemmed from new forces, new practices and
new subjectivities, with the uncompromising rejection of all
representation, the adoption of direct action, federalism, association and
autonomy of beings struggling for their emancipation [6]. By way of these
astonishing theoretical assets, anarchism had therefore all the reasons to
recognize and think out the spontaneous movements which, justifying it in
return, have produced its reality and strength in the past (in Spain, in
Ukraine, but also in a large number of other less known experiences). And
thus anarchism had and has also every reason to recognize and express the
coming emancipation movements, however new and surprising these might be,
including, of course, to stick to the current events, the various
practices called “anarcho-autonomous”, for instance.

But as we have seen and as Tomas Ibanez has pointed out, this is far from
being the case. The originality, the force and novelty of anarchism have
largely been covered up by its adversaries. Established anarchism has
abandoned the breath of emancipation that appeared in the singularity and
originality of its birth for the protective and oppressive shade of the
order which it pretended to abolish. Such is a renunciation which is
doubly detrimental to anarchism: 1) by submitting it to the ways of
thought and world visions which serve as foundations to of modern
domination; 2) by enclosing it more particularly in a most impoverished
version of this mendacious and selfish thought, that of the school (of
Jules Ferry in the French case), the school for the people and battalions
of disciplined workers that were requested for the second industrial
revolution, a school in which as Monatte very rightly said, the people
“while learning how to read had unlearnt how to discern”.


Again, I’m globally in agreement with what Tomas says. The big question
that Foucault asks the anarchists might be formulated in this way: why
does an author so close to libertarian thought, thanks to whom the
question of power has finally become a central issue, why is such an
author the target of a visceral rejection or at least a complete
indifference for most of the anarchists? [7] To answer this question one
should take into account a great number of reasons [8]. I will examine two
of them.

Foucault’s pessimism

The first seems to me to belong to the source or the inspiration of
Foucault’s thought. Contrarily to Deleuze, for instance, Foucault is
characterized by a deep pessimism as to the possibility of getting out of
power relations or more precisely of organizing them in an emancipative
manner [9]. I refer to one of his sayings, in the aftermath of his book on
the history of sexuality (La volont(c) de savoir [10]) as he was then
getting into a long theoretical crisis: “always the same incapacity to
cross the line, pass on the other side, listen and try to let be heard the
language that comes from elsewhere or from down below; always the same
choice, on the side of power, of what it says or sends word of” (“La vie
des hommes infâmes”, Les Cahiers du Chemin, 1977, p. 16.) This deep and
primal pessimism is also taken into account by Deleuze when he explains
how, for Foucault: “if one must seek life as a power from outside, how do
we know if that outside is not a terrifying emptiness and that this life
which seems to resist is not a simple distribution in the emptiness of
‘partial, progressive and slow’ deaths?” (Foucault, p. 102).

And it is probably here (and in what is its best part) that anarchism is
effectively tempted to part from Foucault, in the name of an assertion
(that one would be wrong to qualify as naïve) according to which it is
possible to draw away from the domination, lies and illusions of power, to
see power relations combine in other ways and transform themselves into
emancipating relations. But even on this issue, assuredly determinant for
what it implies as will (in the Nietzschean or Malatesta’s sense of the
word) does not anarchism, at its best part or quite simply as genuinely
libertarian, does not anarchism also share this anguish about the beyond
of revolution, of another world that would only be “a terrifying
hollowness”, an unbearable fault and chaos, quickly and inevitably covered
up by even the most unjust and oppressive social order [11]? Even better,
as is shown by the red and black libertarian flags, is not this anguish of
the beyond a necessary condition of a true desire for a radical
transformation? It would at least circumvent the soap opera proclamations,
the hollow and empty words built in such a high sounding way on the model
they denounce, which are so sectarian, radical and detached from what they
mechanically communicate that we must conclude that those who proclaim
them never had the slightest desire or will to change anything whatever,
as too many historical examples lead one to notice.

The closeness of anarchism and Foucault

The second reason for the anarchists’ refusal or indifference to
Foucault’s analyses stems from a paradox: the great proximity between both
and more particularly, as Tomas Ibanez points out, the importance Foucault
grants to the reality of power, its ubiquitous, brutal and insidious
character, crossing through the most harmless interactions, organizing in
series (in the sense that Proudhon gives to this word) and producing
structures of domination (Churches, States, Political parties and the very
Individuals) with a capacity of illusion and oppression that does not rely
firstly on their blinding visibility but on the tight and often
imperceptible network of immediate and tiny dominations of which these
structures are but the resultant (Proudhon again). Without a doubt, with
Proudhon (and now Bakunin), anarchists are supposed to know in what manner
these resultants, in the same manner as God or the State, meet our eyes
deceitfully as the illusory cause of what produces and feeds them [12].
But this illusion, which constitutes a modernity grounded on the belief of
in rational actors, originators and masters of their actions, is precisely
a widely shared illusion (thence therefore its real efficacy), both by
those who assert its evidence and necessity (the greatest number and the
most cynical [13]) but also, alas, by far too many anarchists who, in an
opposite and symmetrical way, satisfy themselves in by adopting the world
views they fight against, and never wondering why they always end up by
obtaining the opposite of what they intend, overdoing it on the contrary,
in the way of the partisans of the so-called Arshinov platform for example
[14]. As evidenced by the secularist ethic –this duplicate of the
religious moral code – one may be for or against the State, for or against
Capital, for or against divine transcendence, and function in exactly the
same way, sharing the same conceptions and representations, believing that
State, Capital and divine transcendence are really the authors and the
(ultimate) causes of our happiness or our misery.

It seems to me that Foucault, Deleuze and some others constitute a sort of
litmus test for contemporary libertarian thought. The reactions they stir
up show how creeds and patterns of action stemming from the order they
denounce cover every first and spontaneous libertarian movements’
inspiration, will and thoughts, while Foucault and Deleuze, like the child
of Anderson’s tale, reveal the nakedness of a contradictory anarchist
tradition. In other words, and this time in the manner of Poe’s and
Lacan’s “Purloined letter”, the denial of the proximity between Foucault
and anarchism is all the more significant to the degree that this
proximity is more clearly evident. As it happens, there is a triple

1 – Firstly, an immediate proximity common to everyone. In effect, one
needs neither to have long experience nor to have read Foucault, of
course, to find out that power is everywhere, from the world order to the
slightest detail of life, under multiple forms and relations, including
(and one could say particularly) in the collectives or organizations of an
anarchist character, precisely where one is the most prone to believe that
power is inevitably elsewhere, outside, on the part of others. Like
shoemakers and doctors who lack medical care, anarchists think they are
justified in walking barefooted in the cold of winter and that they elude
the diseases connected with power since their raison d’(tm)tre consists
unquestionably in denouncing and challenging such power. In the anarchist
environment (as everywhere else), and particularly within permanent or
long-lasting organizations, everything is power, struggle and
confrontation, but is all the more hypocritical and wild or destructive
(even though it is on a small scale) to the degree that one denies the
existence of such power relations. Foucault is evidently correct.
Everybody knows that, and even the most dogmatic anarchist will never fail
to recognize it, face to face, in an intimate way, when the conversation
is sincere, when the shield of the activist and ideological superego is
laid down, when one is no longer on duty (and relaxed, for a change). In
this way, and it is dispiriting to notice it, the anarchists’ superego and
denial, so deprived of a libertarian inspiration, so contrary to the
anarchist idea, is not different, on a small scale, from the religious and
political denials and superegos, from the Inquisition to the Soviet Secret
Police and all the other paradises of lies, repression and hypocrisy. With
two differences, however:

one very negative, pitiful and somewhat ridiculous is the fact that the
anarchism which denies that these power relations are operating in the
slightest of our actions and looks, is precisely expected, by its very
nature, to be the most apt to perceive them and drive them out from cover.

The other, paradoxically more positive, relates to the fact that the vast
majority of libertarians share a (logical and welcome) incapacity to
succeed in what the defenders of order and power achieve; they are
incapable of following the rules of action they claim to enact; in spite
of themselves, they cannot but mirror/mimic anarchism (even under its
negative aspect), a movement that they have so many reasons to take
inspiration from and which (luckily) they would have the greatest
difficulty dismissing.

2 – There is a second reason besides this proximity between anarchism and
Foucault’s analyses. It relates to what is historically known (on the
topic of power) about libertarian movements and experiments, and first of
all, as a case in point, to how in practical and political matters they
refer to the pair authoritarian/antiauthoritarian. These notions have been
both very precise and very broad in their usage, from the time when the
practices and mode of organization of the Marxist international were
denounced until the current and polyvalent use of the word in a great
number of areas, situations and relations (education, work, family, war,
etc. [15]). What Foucault brings to light through his analyses, the
omnipresence of power relations, the libertarian movements perceive
immediately in their moments of effectiveness and consistency. It is even
basically from this very sharp and hard-line perception that they form
their distinctive movements [16]. And this occurs in two ways:

– Through a spontaneous and exacerbated sensitivity to immediate and
apparently minuscule and mild forms of authority and power, which their
allies and rivals (mainly the Marxists) consider as peripheral
(considering the tasks to be performed, the historical mission one is the
servant of, etc.) [17]

– Through an equally epidermal touchiness which it would be mistaken to
stamp out too quickly and thoughtlessly as a supposedly emotionally
disturbed anarchist temperament. It rather ought to be compared with the
pride and susceptibility of the warrior discussed by Deleuze and Guattari
in Mille Plateaux, a hypersensitivity both feminine and masculine in
which, without choosing the easy way out, one might recognize the
well-chosen encounter between the libertarian idea and a trait usually
attributed to the Spaniards, but also to contemporary anarcha-feminists,
with their references to Judith Butler’s analyses, for instance, where
even the order of sexes and genders gets confused and may thus reconstruct
itself in some other way, one might say anarchically [18].

Hypersensitivity to all relations of authority, touchiness and extreme
pride are not, however, the sole characteristics of the anti-authoritarian
dimension of anarchism. Without really modifying their nature or
immediacy, they broaden to cover all the libertarian movements’ practices
and modes of action and association.

This occurs in two opposite directions: on the one side it links up with a
very specific individualism through which anarchist radical subjectivism
asserts itself, but also, on the other, towards all the social and
revolutionary ways of living and unfolding, which (generally) have the
capacity to maintain the tension between absolute autonomy and
association, immediate interactions and broad power relations. I would not
like to lengthen this text beyond measure and detail an analysis which I
have attempted to develop elsewhere. I will only call to mind two patterns
of those libertarian experiments:

– A first characteristic is the originality and radical horizontality of
these forms of association and grouping. They ceaselessly watch out for
what is mentioned by the 19th century revolutionary songs, the conditions
for that mysterious “independence from the world” or that “universal
independence”, which they endeavor to ensure to all their elements (from
the larger ones to the narrower, overlapping one another) [19]. Anarchist
thought has tried to think about a “free association of free forces”
(Bakunin) through the concept of federalism: federalism of communes,
federalism of groups, squatters and all other possible collectives,
whether long lasting or fugitive, federalism of unions, about which Pouget
writes that “federations and association of trade-unions are autonomous in
the Confederation; trade-unions are autonomous in the federations and
associations of unions; members of trade-unions are autonomous in the
unions.” (La Conf(c)d(c)ration G(c)n(c)rale du Travail, 1910).

– Another distinction of libertarian experiments is even more determining:
it is equilibrium, in the Proudhonian sense of the word, that is to say a
permanent tension between a multiplicity of forces, positions and diverse
courses of life, often contradictory but perceived, in their relation, as
equally necessary for emancipation; and this may occur between collectives
and those other groups that are individualities, between statutes,
statements, formalized agreements, and the determining influence of
informal or hidden networks, from the Spanish militancia or the secret
societies and other intimate Bakuninist circles to the functioning of the
contemporary black-blocs and including all possible forms of affinity
groups (trade, friendship, childhood, ideas) which have been the strong
point and originality of the Spanish CNT at the time of its eminence. One
might also add to these first examples a great number of other necessary
tensions and equilibriums, between “revolutionary-syndicalists”, “men of
action”, “reformists”, “pure unionists”, “revolutionaries”,
“anti-organizational individualities”, “autonomous groups”, “advocates of
organization”, “anarcho-syndicalists”, “councilists”, “ultra-leftists”,
etc. to which one should also add the numerous embodiments of anarchism
and self-defined anarchist circles from “insurrectionists” to
“educationalist and achiever” (a typology dear to Gaetano Manfredonia),
passing through pacifists, naturists, vegetarians, vegetalians [20],
feminists, as well as attentats [21], pilfering, community life,
esperantism (and its idoist variation [22]), antimilitarism, free
communes, illegalism, alternative schools, anarcho-communism, hoboism,
anti alcoholism and straight-edge, free thought and anticlericalism,
libertarian communism, free love, cooperation, abortion and vasectomy,
collectivism, reappropriation, primitivism, individualism,
neo-malthusianism, etc. not to mention the even more fragmented and
paradoxical character of a collective culture placed under the sign of
eclecticism and self-education.

3 – I will be more concise on the third closeness between Foucault and
libertarian thought, and it will serve as a conclusion, particularly on
the differences I may have about with Tomas Ibanez’ text. This third
proximity follows from all that has preceded and deals with the eminently
theoretical and philosophical dimension of anarchism, the wealth and power
of libertarian thought.

It is evident that I do not want to give the impression of underestimating
Foucault’s originality and important contribution. It only seems to me
that anarchism disposes of considerable theoretical resources, most often
unemployed, which do not just echo Foucault’s analyses that I have tried
to present, but which also enable one to catch and develop all their
implications which, in return, will develop a greater capacity to express
all their potentialities [23]. And it is here that our attitude vis-à-vis
Foucault, Deleuze and others too easily qualified as postmodern, implies,
within the heart of the libertarian project, a much broader way of
thinking and acting: that it [is] to say a capacity for anarchism to
co-opt, to ceaselessly repeat the totality of past, present and future
human experiences in the double areas of emancipation and struggle against
all forms of domination.

In my opinion, progress, that illusion of modernity, does not exist for
anarchism [24]. Instead of a linear vision of history, everything is
reenacted again, throughout an uninterrupted sequence of emancipating
events of variable intensity. This is true for all of us, and as Simondon
or Bakunin remind us (about Stankevitch for the latter), the most obscure
life is again reenacted after one’s death. The past is never over. [25].
This discontinuous (but uninterrupted) sequence of emancipating
experiences thus has the possibility (not always accomplished) of
repeating and therefore giving a meaning to what has been acted elsewhere
and previously (and which is never ended). It allows us to understand and
recapture, in the light of the nineteenth century, Western anarchism and
the beginning of the twentieth, the totality of past and exotic human
experiences, which Elis(c)e Reclus endeavored to describe without any
exclusion, in an encyclopedic way, from the Greek democracy very dear to
Eduardo Colombo, to John Clark’s Chinese Daoism, passing through Clastres’
Indian tribes or the Medieval “communes”, so special to Landauer this
time, and many more things still. Nineteenth century European anarchism
can unceasingly take on new meaning and express some of the infinite
possibilities which it bears (for good as well as bad) in the light of
Foucault, Deleuze, May 68 or the squatters and anarcho-autonomists or
anarcha-feminist movements; and Foucault, Deleuze, May 68 or the squatters
and anarcho-autonomist or anarcha-feminist movements can likewise find
their full expression and express the emancipating potentialities which
they bear in the light of this past anarchism which they enlighten and
which also enlightens them. They are its re-enactment, “neither quite the
same, nor quite someone other” as Baudelaire says about his relation to

I will end with the matter of my difference with Tomas Ibanez’ text. Tomas
explains to us how, in his view, “post-anarchism” must “substitute itself
for classical anarchism while taking over elements of the latter’s
fundamental impetus ”. It seems to me that by this formula Tomas shows
well where we differ. Speaking of “classical anarchism,” which he would
distinguish from a mysterious “fundamental impetus”, he confuses the
shadow with the prey, the shadow of a very narrow anarchism,
backward-looking and identitarian, indeed submissive to the “undesirable
influence of the Enlightenment”. That age, which was present since the
beginning and homologous to the modern order and dominations, has very
logically survived the defeats of the libertarian movements, up to the
point of causing forgetfulness of the theoretical and practical power and
wealth of a project and a worldview which one must rightly repeat and
update, avoiding if possible following another trap, appearing in the
shape of various “post-anarchisms” , of which Viven Garcia has shown the
poverty [26].


(Transl. Ronald Creagh, and edited by John P. Clark)


[1] The calamitous experience of the Spanish CNT in exile ought however to
have vaccinated us against the permanent possibility of seeing anarchism
transform itself into its opposite, an opposite well described in Tomas’
text. This anarchist counterexample of the CNT in exile, as well as the
extraordinary celerity of the bureaucratization and cooptation by the
state of this very CNT in 1936, have not yet been the object of a
satisfying analysis.

[2] This is a very long history which traces its origin in to the
renaissance of the Lyons libertarian movement in the 1970s, before the
moment when traditional organizations flowered again on the rubble and
depletion of the social movements of the preceding years. This history was
to be continued in the beginning of the 1990s with a powerful squatter
movement (in the Croix-Rousse) with which La Gryffe was linked.

[3] The typically “modern” argument (“ignorance of the law is no excuse”)
consists in saying that (grassroots) activists only have to get involved
in the preparation and decisions of congresses, read the hundreds of
amendments and proposals, understand and discuss the issues, carefully
read and understand the minutes and decisions of the congress (so as to
conform themselves to these); otherwise the grassroots activist, that is
to say the overwhelming majority of “members” (indeed!) can only lay off,
blame themselves, and therefore follow, without any discussion, the
handful of “activists” who have the time and taste for investing
themselves in this intense bureaucratic life (let us say red tape and
confrontations) while the “members” will eventually satisfy themselves by
trying occasionally to go on strike and fight in their workplace, but
being quite careful to conform to the decisions of the convention (through
the texts and decisions of which professional activists, more
knowledgeable in this kind of exercise, will take care to remind them),
for instance not to sign their pamphlets carelessly at the risk of being

[4] To see how the Spanish CNT, transformed into a state apparatus,
destroyed the solidarities and practices which were its force of
emancipation, one may refer to Godicheau’s work on the republican archive
about the Prisoners Committees (more than 4000 members of the CNT were in
the republican prisons in Catalonia!).

[5] I take the liberty of referring to my text « Subjectivit(c)s anarchistes
et subjectivit(c) moderne » in Collectif, La Culture Libertaire, Lyon:
Atelier de Cr(c)ation Libertaire, 1997.

[6] To the reading of anarchist texts one may add, even more
appropriately, a (much more difficult) analysis of the very diversified
collection of libertarian experiments and struggles. On this aspect, and
in a very historically and geographically limited way, may I refer to the
book drawn from my thesis, Anarcho-syndicalisme et communisme,
Saint-Etienne (1920-1925), Lyon: Atelier de Cr(c)ation Libertaire, 1986.

[7] There is not much sense in pointing out the highbrowism of Foucault’s
analyses and, more generally, of opposing intellectuals and non
intellectuals. The massively working-class activists in the libertarian
experiments did not hesitate to read books as difficult as those of
Nietzsche, Spencer, Guyau or Buchner, or historical testimonies quite as
difficult as James Guillaume’s L’Internationale. My copies of the four
original volumes of this last work, which was published from 1905 to 1910,
were all bought and read by Boudoux, a metal shipwright, better known for
his activism and, later, for his physical confrontations with the
communists. On the opposite side of what is written here, see the
excellent (but already old) synthesis by Salvo Vaccaro, “Foucault et
l’anarchie”, in La culture libertaire, op. cit.

[8] I am not answering here to the arguments developed by Eduardo Colombo
in « Les formes politiques du pouvoir » ( R(c)fractions, n° 17) nor do I
examine a decisive issue raised long ago by him on “power” nor therefore
on the “positivities” that Foucault sees in it.

[9] On Foucault’s pessimism, particularly expressed in the concept of
“dispositif” [device], see Agamben, Qu’est-ce qu’un dispositif ? (Payot
Rivages, 2007).

[10] Michel Foucault, Histoire de la sexualit(c), vol. 1 : La volont(c) de
savoir, (Gallimard, Paris, 1976). Foucault’s French subtitle scared
American publishers who entitled it instead “An Introduction”. Michel
Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. I: An Introduction, translated by
Robert Hurley (Pantheon, New York, 1978).

[11] On the intensity of this anguish and its link with the desire for
revolution one might give numerous examples, from Coeurderoy’s book Hourra
!!! ou la R(c)volution par les Cosaques, to what Garcia Oliver says in his
dialogue with Freddy Gomez (A Contretemps, n° 17, juillet 2004).

[12] “Universal causality is nothing else than the eternally reproduced
Resultant of an infinity of actions and reactions naturally performed by
the infinite quantity of things that are born, exist and then disappear
within it”, Bakounine, Œuvres, tome III, Stock, 1908, pp. 353-354. To
seize the force and originality of Bakunin’s (and Proudhon’s) position,
see the contemporary rediscovery of Pierce, James and Dewey’s “pragmatism”
(whose inspiration is so distinctly and explicitly libertarian); for whom
“nature is not a homogenous and spatial system [… but] the result or
effect of a multiplicity of geneses. New existences continually spring up
and add to the older ones which compose with them […] a common nature”.
(D. Debaise , in Vie et exp(c)rimentation, Peirce, James, Dewey, Vrin,
2007). It is not indifferent to notice that a certain number of
“anarcho-autonomous” invoke and explicitly use this American pragmatism,
the return of which is also one of the numerous indications of the
actuality of libertarian project and thought.

[13] As Voltaire says, “If God did not exist one would have to invent him”.

[14] Before his contribution to the elaboration of the “platform” and his
support for Bolshevist despotism at his death, Arshinov, in the conclusion
of his beautiful book Le Mouvement makhnoviste, relating a movement in
which he had so intensively participated, offers doubtlessly one of the
major contributions to libertarian thought and projects: “Proletarians of
all the world, go down in your own depths, seek truth and create it: you
will not find it elsewhere”. B(c)libaste, 1969, p. 388.

[15] See for instance the witting refusal of the Barcelona working-class
militia militia-members to march in step, even by chance [,] between two

[16] It is quite striking to notice how current movements (for instance
the “anarcho-autonomous”) repeat (in the Deleuzian meaning of the word)
the way the antiauthoritarian International created itself, less from a
program or goals (which authoritarians and antiauthoritarians for a long
time considered as common) than from their immediate practices, from their
ways and means to reach their aims, and all this through an approach in
which those immediate (antiauthoritarian) means and practices end by
absorbing the goals. One may say that “the end ends” by being entirely
incorporated in the means, when ends and means are merged, without
anything remaining up above or later on (those two fraudulent places where
the paradise of transcendence is located, whether it is religious or not).
One may thus understand what the libertarian movement understands by
revolution. For anarchists, it is not firstly a final end (inevitably
transcendent because far away, later on, till the end of time) which
allows every procrastination and, most of all, every dogmatism and all
authoritarian measures grounded on that (ideal) goal. For anarchism, the
ideal of revolution is totally linked to the radicalism of present
actions, a radicalism of which the more or less violent and untimely
character is only one aspect.

[17] Among the numerous possible examples, see the way activists as
different as Paul Robin and Anselmo Lorenzo describe, in almost identical
terms, the behavior and relations between Marx and his disciples at the
London conference in September 1871.

[18] See Judith Butler, Gender Trouble :Feminism and the Subversion of
Identity (New York ; London : Routledge, 1990).

[19] Le chant des ouvriers (Pierre Dupont, 1846), Les canons (unknown
author and date). On the originality and striking character of this type
of existence and the functioning of effective libertarian movements see
the surprise of an unprejudiced historian such as Godicheau (op.cit.)
discovering, through the archives, the mode of being of Catalan

[20] Vegatalians are vegetarians who also reject all animal products such
as eggs or honey (Translator’s note)

[21] French authorities and media call “attentat” any criminalendeavour
undertaken in a political context against an object, a property, a person
or a community .

[22] Ido is a simplified form of Esperanto.

[23] It seems to me that all relations between thoughts and authors
precisely follow this logic of association (and disassociation) of the
most immediate and most concrete practices of the libertarian movements.
It is in this sense that though theoretical practices have no predominance
over the other ones, they open up a whole picture of anarchism which, for
my part, I qualify as “ontological”, in the sense of a practical and
theoretical vision and relation to the world that links everything, the
totality of what is, that is to say the multiple, the unceasing change
(about which Bakunin talks ), the different and the generalized singular
(if one may say).

[24] In a comment about this sentence, Colson insists that he is
presenting his point of view and does not pretend to speak in the name of
anarchism. (Translator’s note)

[25] Gilbert Simondon, L’individuation psychique et collective, Aubier
1989 p. 105.

[26] Vivien Garcia, L’anarchisme aujourd’hui, l’Harmattan, 2007. It seems
to me that the next discussion could be about this “fundamental impetus”
which Tomas mentions and its mysterious “elements” that one should select
and recapture. The analysis of this issue seems to me very accurate.
Returning to the fundamental impulse is always returning to the origin of
the multiple emancipating actions and movements, returning to the origins
of the International Workingmen’s Association, the Federation jurassienne,
the Argentinian FORA, for instance. An (eternal?) return and a resurgence
(in another way) that enables a recovery of everything, including and
specially the immense and extraordinary range of anarchism, in this case,
this practical and theoretical force which is exactly capable of
recomposing everything.

Leave a Reply