Archive for the 'Theory' Category

Eric Hobsbawn on anarchism, theory and intellectuals

As an ideology, anarchism did not decline so dramatically because it had never had anything like as much success, at least among intellectuals who are the social stratum most interested in ideas. There have probably always been eminent figures in the world of culture who called themselves anarchists (except, curiously enough, in Spain), but most of them seem to have been artists in the wider — or like Pissarro and Signac, the narrower — sense of the word. In any case, anarchism never had an attraction comparable to, say marxism, for intellectuals even before the October revolution. With the exception of Kropotkin, it is not easy to think of an anarchist theorist who could be read with real interest by non-anarchists. There seemed, indeed, no real intellectual room for anarchist theory. The belief in the libertarian communism of self-governing cooperatives as the final aim of revolutionaries, it shared with marxism. The old Utopian socialists had thought more deeply and concretely about the nature of such communities than most anarchists. Even the strongest point in the anarchists’ intellectual armoury, their awareness of the dangers of dictatorship and bureaucracy implicit in marxism, was not peculiar to them. This type of critique was made with equal effect and greater intellectual sophistication both by ‘unofficial’ marxists and by opponents of all kinds of socialism.

In brief, the main appeal of anarchism was emotional and not intellectual.

Anarchism is therefore today [1969] once again a political force. Probably it has no mass basis outside the movement of students and intellectuals and even within the movement it is influential rather as a persistent current of ‘spontaneity’ and activism rather than through the relatively few people who claim to be anarchists. The question is therefore once again worth asking what is the value of the anarchist tradition today?

In terms of ideology, theory and programmes, that value remains marginal. Anarchism is a critique of the dangers of authoritarianism and bureaucracy in states, parties and movements, but this is primarily a symptom that these dangers are widely recognized. If all anarchists had disappeared from the face of the earth the discussion about these problems would go on much as it does. Anarchism also suggests a solution in terms of direct democracy and small self-governing groups, but I do not think its own proposals for the future have so far been either very valuable or very fully thought out. To mention only two considerations. First, small self-governing direct democracies are unfortunately not necessarily libertarian. They may indeed function only because they establish a consensus so powerful that those who do not share it voluntarily refrain from expressing their dissent; alternatively, because those who do not share the prevailing view leave the community, or are expelled. There is a good deal of information about the operation of such small communities, which I have not seen realistically discussed in anarchist literature. Second, both the nature of the modern social economy and of modern scientific technology raise problems of considerable complexity for those who see the future as a world of self-governing small groups. These may not be insoluble, but unfortunately they are certainly not solved by the simple call for the abolition of the state and bureaucracy, nor by the suspicion of technology and the natural sciences which so often goes with modern anarchism. It is possible to construct a theoretical model of libertarian anarchism which will be compatible with modern scientific technology, but unfortunately it will not be socialist. It will be much closer to the views of Mr Goldwater and his economic adviser Professor Milton Friedman of Chicago than to the views of Kropotkin. For (as Bernard Shaw pointed out long ago in his pamphlet on the Impossibilities of Anarchism), the extreme versions of individualist liberalism are logically as anarchist as Bakunin.

It will be clear that in my view anarchism has no significant contribution to socialist theory to make, though it is a useful critical element. If socialists want theories about the present and the future, they will still have to look elsewhere, to Marx and his followers, and probably also to the earlier Utopian socialists, such as Fourier. To be more precise: if anarchists want to make a significant contribution they will have to do much more serious thinking than most of them have recently done.

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from E. J. Hobsbawn, “Reflections on Anarchism” in Revolutionaries (New York: Meridian, 1975), pp 82-83, 87-89. The essay originally appeared 1969. Full text of this is available here.

Revolutionary Anarchist #3 (1973)

Seattle’s Revolutionary Anarchist #3 was a tight, action-packed issue that I found in the archives. This July 1973 issue was a “joint publishing project of the Seattle section of the Social Revolutionary Anarchist Federation and the Revolutionary Anarchist Print Fund, and is edited by David Brown”.

The articles are:

Dan Raphael, “Taking the Left to Task”

Dan Raphael, “Another Letter to the Left”

Black Rose Anarcho-Feminists, “Blood of the Flower: An Anarchist-Feminist Statement”

“Who We Are: An Anarcho-Feminist Manifesto” (from Siren)

“Free Martin Sostre”

Shawn Crowley, “Red and Black Books: An Alternative to That Warehouse Feeling”

Andy Crusciel, “Report On Toronto Anarchist Conference”


click on the image below to see the PDF of the entire issue

Alvin Gouldner – Marxism, independent intellectuals, and the academy (1973)

The most profound indication of this development is to be found in the societal re-mapping sought by Maoism which is laying the groundwork for the elimination of the academic intelligentsia. As Robert Guillain remarks in Le Monde, ‘It is no over-simplification of the massive series of reforms [of the ‘Cultural Revolution’]…to say that their key objective—defined by Chairman Mao himself—is the elimination of the ‘academic intellectual.’ As the intensity of the Red Guard movement subsided, it became increasingly evident that the elimination of the academic intelligentsia was one of the most important items on the agenda of the Cultural Revolution. This effort is resonated in the West by the anti-intellectualism of the bureaucratized lumpen intelligentsia and in the self-hatred of certain gauchiste intellectuals.

Marxism, however, was in the beginning the creation of a library-haunting, bookstore-browsing, museum-loving—and hence leisure-possessing—academic intelligentsia of the very sort that Maoism now seeks to excise. It does not matter, of course, that Engels himself had no university training; and it does not matter that Marx never achieved the professorship that, when young, he had coveted; for both were mandarins at heart. They had both assimilated and embodied the culture of the Western university. Marx was the product and possessor of a high European culture who knew his Goethe by heart; who read Aeschylus in the original; who had a boundless respect for Shakespeare, whom he had his daughters memorize; who took pleasure in reading two or three novels at one time, ranking Balzac and Cervantes before other novelists; who, when disturbed, might take refuge in algebra; and who actually wrote an infinitesimal calculus. In a letter to his daughter Laura in 1868 he describes himself as a ‘…machine condemned to devour books…’. When Marx died, on 14 March 1883, he was where one might expect him—at his desk.

Whatever its ultimate destiny and destination, Marxism was originally a creation of the West. Born of European culture, Marxism is simply unthinkable without the complex of institutions that centre on the university, which trains and provides livings for secular intelligentsia. Marx and Engels, and all the epigones of every nationality that follow after them, are unthinkable without the countless books, journals, newspapers, libraries, bookstores, publishing houses, and even Party schools, whose cadres and culture constitute a dense infrastructure at who centre there is the Western university. No university, no intelligentsia, no Marxism.

The gulf between Maoism and Soviet Marxism derives largely from the fact that Soviet Marxism understands and respects this, while Maoism understands but rejects it. Soviet Marxism and Stalinism sought to control the university and to guarantee the loyalty of intellectuals and scientists to Party precepts and leadership; it never sought to stop the university and to eliminate the self-reproduction of the academic intelligentsia, as Maoism has.

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from Alvin W. Gouldner, For Sociology: Renewal and Critique in Sociology Today (NY: Basic Books, 1973), pp 450-52.

Oswald Spengler on anarchists (1918)

“Truly our future lies on one hand in Prussian conservatism after it has been cleansed of all feudal-agrarian narrowness and on the other in the working people after they have freed themselves from the anarchist-radical masses.”


cited in Jeffrey Herf, Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimer and the Third Reich (Cambridge, UK, et. al.: Cambridge University Press, 1984), page 49. He cites Walter Struve, “Oswald Spengler: Caesar and Croesus,” in Elites Against Democracy (Princeton, NJ, 1973), pages 236-37, whose source in turn is apparently a “Letter of December 27, 1918 to Hans Klores” in Briefe 1913–1936, ed. Anton M. Koktanek and Manfred Schroter (Munich 1963), page 115.

This is of particular interest as Spengler has been cited favorably by John Zerzan, Green Anarchy, and Dwight Macdonald, and the neo-Spenglerian historian Arnold Toynbee was a strong influence on Fredy Perlman.

Buck-Morss on Adorno and the Spanish Civil War (1977)

“Although Sidney Webb lent his name in support of the Frankfurt Institute when it was forced to emigrate, Adorno seems to have had no contact with him or others in the Fabian Society. He never joined the pacifist movements then so strong in English universities, and one searches his writings in vain for even a mention of the Spanish Civil War.”

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from Susan Buck-Morss, The Origin of Negative Dialectics: Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and the Frankfurt Institute (New York: Free Press, 1977), page 139.

Pernicone on Italian “individualist” anarchists (1993)

[Luigi] Galleani, [Pietro] Gori, and the others restored a measure of activism among a militant minority of the rank and file, reestablished a following among workers in several regions, and generally fostered a resurgence of the movement discernible by the end of decade. Unquestionably, they represented the best of the new generation. But the 1880s also produced another element that represented anarchism at its worst, a group of fanatics whose intolerance and fractious behavior operated to the complete detriment of the movement­—the so-called individualists.

The individualists were not disciples of Max Stirner, Benjamin Tucker, John Henry Mackay, or other theorists of individualist anarchism, none of whom were known in Italy until the twentieth century. The Italian individualists of this period were an evolutionary offshoot of the antiorganizationalist current, a spontaneous mutation amounting to a new breed. Although they frequently called themselves anarchist communists, the individualists defied description in standard ideological terms. Basically, they were amoralists who embodied the worst attitudes and propensities of the antiorganizationalist current: egoistic preoccupation with individual autonomy and free initiative; unwavering rejection of organization of any form; isolation from and contempt for the masses; and, in some cases, a strong tendency toward individual acts of violence.

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from Nunzio Pernicone, Italian Anarchism, 1864–1892 (Oakland & Edinburgh: AK Press, 1993/2009), page 239.

RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE: The similarities between the late 19th / early 20th Italian anti-organizationalist anarchists and today’s insurrectionist current has not received the attention it deserves.

Adorno on reactionary arguments against Western culture (1951)

“Not the least among the tasks now confronting thought is that of placing all the reactionary arguments against Western culture in the service of progressive enlightenment.”

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Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (New York: Verso, 1951/2005), section 122 (“Monograms”), page 192.

Also of interest in this line of thought is Adorno’s essay “Spengler After the Decline,” which is available in Prisms, an anthology of Adorno’s essays.


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