So after that rant last week, I few friends asked me to unpack that and also cover some more topics in essays and perhaps a book. Fine. I started going back over the post-left anarchist movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s. What happened to it? Most of the publications seem to have dried up and disappears just before Occupy or just after Occupy. Even Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed seems to be MIA. Interestingly, Murray Bookchin seems to be having a resurgence beyond the grave–and originally Bookchin had been a sort of transitional figure to me, but now reading some of the post-left attacks on him, a lot of them DO seem relevant.
That said, aside from the few primitivists still in circulation? What happened to post-left anarchism and why is its fading seemingly tied to occupy, and then Occupy’s dissolution? I wanted to talk about this in the larger discussion of what’s left, and I find their arguments, but I can’t find much of them now. Another wave that crested on the beach of activist history?
12 thoughts on “What Happened to Post-Left Anarchism”
I don’t really have any hard sociological evidence to back it up, but I always saw post-left anarchism (as it developed in the 1990s) to have been sort of subsumed within the alter-globalization movement. This isn’t to say that the majority of alter-globalizationists were reading Bob Black and Feral Faun (but then again, I’m sure a lot were), but there are significant overlaps between the litany of “anti’s” that post-left anarchism defined itself with and the sort of post-capitalist, post-state, flexible social sphere that the alter-globalizationists inherited from the Autonomist tradition. Now that I think about it, Hakim Bey would certainly be a figure to spawn both worlds. There is also the subtle primitivist influences moving through a lot of the ecologically-focused actors back, primarily the Reclaim the Streeters.
Looking at the failures of the alter-globalization movement might shed led light on your question. There was the War on Terror and the return of strong sovereigns that really clashed with the idea of a transnational anarcho-socialist order; there was also the sort of confusion between tactics and strategies on behalf of the alter-globalizationists in the developed world, where the tactics became the ends in themselves. Occupy was sort of an autocorrect to this tendency, but one that couldn’t pull off what it moving towards – an act that really closed the door on a lot of this.
Or I might be wrong. Just a few thoughts!
I suspect that you are right. In came of age in that mileau but from the more Marxistic wing even then, although I hadn’t gone down the dark paths of Marxology controversy that I have in the last six years.
It seems that like Bordigism, which seems to have briefly come back into vogue, post-left anarchy schismed amongst its key thinkers after a lot of the mileau was subsumed, and primitivism have broken away.
Maybe post-anarchism ate some of it up, but that seemed most more a result of post-structuralism.
It’s just interesting that in my diagnosis and interrogation of left-wing ideas, I do often ask, “hey, what happened to them?” And often its hard to find answers.
I will look into that because I think there is a direct relationship to what has has become to happen since Occupy.
But its hard to prove and thus to write about.
–But its hard to prove and thus to write about.
I totally get that. For the past several years I’ve been constructing a sort of ‘deep history’ of capitalism since WW2, and have tried, alongside that, to look at the different ways leftism and related sorts of countercultures and modes of thought have mobilized themselves against it. It becomes a difficult task, with so many overlapping and divergent tendencies that seem (at first glance) to come out of nowhere and then dissipate, or become subsumed in other tendencies and movements. But it’s a very constructive task, I think, because it really allows us to eek out the disjunctions and weak points in movement building.
For what it’s worth, I was in NYC during the waning days of Occupy and experienced first hand the rapid decline of the movement. Thinking back on it now, there was a very strong post-left element circulating there: Hakim Bey and CrimethInc really come to mind. Poststructuralism also was in vogue; this was mainly radiating out of those involved in the New School occupation, which sat uneasily with the Zuccotti Park occupation – the New School occupation was pursuing a template more influenced by Communization theory and the 2009 student occupation in California more properly. Zuccotti Park was determined to be more reform-minded and liberal; the irony was that Zuccotti itself was pretty split itself between two tendencies, one that was indeed left-liberal and one that was grounded in immediatism. The latter was based a lot of so-called ‘crust punks’ and the ‘drop-out’ forms of anarchism (which to me was always the milieu of post-left anarchism). These tensions would really emerge to the foreground during the general assemblies and spoke council meetings, articulated in these moments as a class tension where the reformists were seen as part of the young professional class and the others as part of the lower classes. This in turn led to a breakdown of the participatory processes that they were trying to organize, and was exacerbated by the loss of the park itself. By the time I left NYC in late November of 2011 it was pretty much dissolving entirely. I kept some pretty detailed journals in that time; I’ll have to dig them out.
I would wager that overall the things advocated by post-left anarchism have, as the 2000s turned into the 2010s, became increasingly incoherent faced with the realities of our time. It’s always been bigger in the developed world, and really came into vogue during times of relative stability and material abundance. Faced, however, with a reinvigorated military state coupled with financial crisis, the idea of dropping out of society, refusing labor, and rejecting the state and ideology seems less like something realizable and more as utopian excess. What I think is interesting is how in the years after Occupy certain segments of the left have returned to a handful of these ideas – questioning labor, for example – in a way that is more pragmatic and reflective of the realities of the present.
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I am wondering if the move of so many of them to pure primitivism is related to the overwhelming geo-political scene right now.
Are you referring to the centrality of geological forces in international relations (i.e., oil, mineral rights, water, etc.?) or the greater issue of climate change and the so-called Anthropocene?
Both, but more the latter. I discovered that Bob Black started writing books again recently, but in the main the post-anarchists that are still around are all hardcore primitivists, and they schism among themselves increasingly overtime.
Ah, I didn’t know he’s been writing again! I have seen that Zerzan has been popping up a few times here and there the past couple of years, even appearing on “Occupy TV” to discuss primitivism, the relationship between anarchism and Occupy, and the importance of black bloc tactics.
Interesting how there is a split when we reach the question of climate change, with post-anarchists going straight into primitivism, and other elements of the Left going forward into technology, with calls for increased automation, basic incomes, and things like “Fully Automated Luxury Communism”.
I find both tendencies problematic, and I am not necessarily even post-left Marxist. Fully Automated Luxury Communism seems to lack an ability to explain how organize to use those automation development since those development under capital make the labor force MORE subject to discipline and more fragmented.
Primitivism as a normative politics requires being okay with a whole of lot of “reset” costs, that i see very few people actually surviving (including primitivists), if anyone. Although I do see how people could believe it descriptively.
I could pull the lame Marxist thing and say there is a dialectic there that neither side of recognizing, but it is lame a thing to do 😉
–I could pull the lame Marxist thing and say there is a dialectic there that neither side of recognizing, but it is lame a thing to do
Or is it…
But honestly, I agree with you. Primitivism essentially proposes a cataclysmic strategy – but then again, the deep ecologists that feed a lot into the movement do essentially call for a massive reduction of the population, and lean towards a vertically integrated model of authority to maintain this system. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is Bookchin’s critique, no?
As for the technopolitical dimension, it is clear that there is a utopian schema at work there. There is a post-Marxist argument concerning the ways that automated modes of production work to be made: since the 1970s on we’ve seen how the developments emerging in automation, just-in-time production, and containerization have liquidated working class power and pretty much any means of mobilizing against neoliberalism. But once we get past the projected horizon, and start debating *how* militant political power can proceed despite so many cards stacked against it, that things can become interesting and fruitful. Saying the words “fully luxury automated communism” and passing out flyers at a student occupation is one thing. Grappling with the physical and digital machinery is something else entirely.
“Primitivism essentially proposes a cataclysmic strategy – but then again, the deep ecologists that feed a lot into the movement do essentially call for a massive reduction of the population, and lean towards a vertically integrated model of authority to maintain this system. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is Bookchin’s critique, no?”
It was, but a lot of the Zerzanite crowd seem to move back and forth between claiming to be normative or claiming to be descriptive. The Derrick Jensen school definitely does seem to fit the bill even if a lot Bookchin seems profoundly unfair. There is also a explicit fascistic brand of primitivism, but to be fair, there seem to be a fascistic version of everything.
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