‘Post-Anarchism: A Reader’ reviewed by Seferin James

and (eds)
Post-Anarchism: A Reader

Pluto Press, London, 2011. 288pp., £19.99 pb
ISBN 9780745330860

Reviewed by Seferin James

About the reviewer

Seferin James was awarded a PhD from University College Dublin for his thesis The Closure of the …



Post-Anarchism: A Reader, edited by Duane Rousselle and Süreyyya Evren, is a collection of sixteen papers intending to further establish post-anarchism as a politically relevant field of academic inquiry. Post-anarchism is where anarchism meets with some combination of post-structural, postmodern and post-Marxist theoretical concerns. The collection is divided into four parts.

Part One, “When Anarchism met Post-Structuralism,” contains three papers by key figures in the emergence of post-anarchism – Andrew Koch, Todd May and Saul Newman – and a manifesto from Hakim Bey. The articles in this section are the most ideologically committed to post-structuralism in the collection and offer varying qualifications and critiques of classical anarchism on that basis.

Andrew Koch’s 1993 article “The Epistemological Basis of Anarchism” attempts to reformulate the ontological question of the relation between the individual and the collective as an epistemological question of validity and justification (a failure to grasp Marx’s eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach). Koch argues that the appearance of consensual politics is a representational facade of unity imposed through violence over the epistemological fragmentation beneath. Koch is keen to exclude the possibility of a Habermasian account of discursive rationality by arguing that agreement is possible only through violence. In doing so he is not only willing to sacrifice consensual politics in the sense of consent to be governed by the state but all possible politics of co-operation of any kind. He therefore appears more ideologically committed to post-structuralism than anarchism in a political sense. Even on Koch’s own account it would be impossible to agree with him.

The abridged reprint of Todd May’s 1989 article “Is Post-Structuralist Political Theory Anarchist?” investigates a varied micro-politics of oppressions while shying away from general accounts of politics, of who is being oppressed or “a set of values that would be better realized in another social arrangement.”(43) May understands post-structuralism as a better theoretical context for anarchism than humanism (also Newman 62) but he seems to conflate symbolic representation (humanity as communal identity) with political representation (speaking on behalf of an identity or electorate) without demonstrating how this equivocation is supposed to work.

Saul Newman’s “Post-Anarchism and Radical Politics Today” concurs with May that post-structuralism is a good thing for anarchism (62) but does not follow May in conflating symbolic and political representation (55). May is more ready to withdraw from the implied centralisation or general communalisation of the political as such, while Newman wishes to decentre the political from the state while preserving its sense as the political.

Hakim Bey’s “Post-Anarchism Anarchy” is a refreshingly disordered stylistic interval where he implores us to replace the litany of dull distinctions with a more eclectic aggregation of cultural and political interests.

Part Two, “Post-Anarchism Hits the Streets,” contains four papers from Tadzio Mueller, Richard J. F. Day, Jason Adams and Antón Fernández de Rota. These take radical and anarchist activity as their point of departure to show that post-structuralism usefully models or reflects something of the contemporary political situation.

Mueller’s “Empowering Anarchy: Power, Hegemony and Anarchist Strategy” argues from illustrative cases that anarchists are already coping with the fact that anarchist spaces are not free from questionable power relations. Mueller segues from these practical to more abstract theoretical concerns without leaving himself in a position where he would have to convince non-academic anarchists why they ought to accept tenets of post-structuralist theory. Mueller argues that Anarchists can no longer see themselves as revolutionary subjects capable of resisting all power as something that is external to themselves. He convincingly argues that there is no singular demographic of revolutionary subjectivity nor a singular revolutionary event for such a collective identity to achieve. What makes Mueller’s thesis really fascinating is that he does not deny that this counter-hegemony will involve power and he refers to Foucault’s late recognition that power is not only a negative but also a positive phenomenon (84).

Day’s “Hegemony, Affinity and the Newest Social Movements: At the End of the 00s” more or less directly contradicts Mueller’s thesis by arguing that the newest social movements are non-hegemonic. Day is interested in “a shift from a counter-hegemonic politics of demand to a non-hegemonic politics of the act.”(96) When Day advocates a non-hegemonic politics of the act he proposes something that Mueller argues is impossible. Day contrasts the new social movements with what he terms the newest social movements from the 90s-00s: the Zapatistas, Reclaim the Streets, Independent Media Centres, Food Not Bombs. He turns to the work of Gustav Landauer in order to argue that “Contrary to Gramsci … Ladauer did not rely upon the existing institutions of civil society as a source of raw material, nor did he rely upon state coercion to achieve hegemony. For him, new institutions had to be created `almost out of nothing, amid chaos’; that is alongside, rather than inside, the system of states and corporations”(111). Day argues that the newest social movements should be understood in this way and that the political logic of their activity combines all three categories of struggle put forward by Hardt and Negri: insurrection, resistance and constituent power. Are the newest social movements concerned with becoming sustainable communities of resistance that must still be considered somewhat hegemonic as Mueller argues, even if this is not exactly, as Day argues, hegemony as it has shifted between Marxist and post-Marxist accounts?

Adams’ article “The Constellation of Opposition” is concerned with the constellation of opposition to the G8 gathered in Seattle on November 30th in 1999. Like Day contra Mueller, Adams argues that the “current `movement of movements’ is post-hegemonic rather than counter-hegemonic.”(131) Adams argues that organisation has a corrupting influence on anarchists and that it is fundamentally incompatible with anarchism on some level (132). It is a little alarming to see Adams repeating Bob Black’s already controversial claims concerning the widespread defection of organised anarchists to fascism in Italy being unproblematically repeated in a new publication without any independent evaluation of the materials or even just indication of the controversy surrounding this assertion.

Fernández de Rota’s “Acracy_Reloaded@post1968/1989: Reflections on Postermodern Revolutions” is concerned to situate acracy (anarchy) in the aftermath of the events of 1968 and 1989. His discussion of “excess” and “lines of flight” is more or less deliberately vague but perhaps this has something to do with what he terms “the joy of being an `anarchist’.”(148)

Part Three, “Classical Anarchism Reloaded,” contains papers by Sandra Jeppesen, Allan Antliff and Benjamin Franks. Each of these papers offers an important critique of post-anarchism. Jeppesen’s “Things to do with Post-Structuralism in a Life of Anarchy: Relocating the Outpost of Post-Anarchism” departs from the concern that post-anarchism is “limited to the Eurocentric masculine sphere”(151) and proceeds to offer a partial critique of both post-anarchism and classical anarchist theory from a pragmatic intersectional perspective rooted in practice. She draws attention to relevant post-structuralist thinkers where the opportunity to do so arises but the relevance of theory seems to follow from the relevance of practice and never imposes itself decisively. The result is one of the better introductions to the proximity of contemporary anarchist practice to post-structuralism in the collection.

Antliff’s “Anarchy, Power and Post-Structuralism” offers a scholarly defence of classical anarchism against an over simplified reading by post-anarchist figures. He seeks to refute Todd May’s characterisation of classical anarchism as a theory without a positive notion of power that is based on the fallacy of a good human essence that power relations suppress or deny. His is the first article in the collection to really argue against post-anarchism as such.

Franks’ “Post-Anarchism: A Partial Account” is generally critical of post-anarchism but without being opposed to it as such. Franks criticises post-anarchism to the extent that it attempts to break from classical anarchism rather than be a complement to it. Franks’ article gives a broad and generally fair overview of the literature concerned with post-anarchism, its key claims and controversies. This sort of overview is most necessary for the ongoing development of the field. Franks writes of “postmodern anarchism” in contradistinction to “Lyotardian Post-anarchism”(170) which is a little confusing when Lyotard has been one of the most forthright proponents of postmodernism as such. What Franks dismisses as postmodernism – queer theory, cultural diversity and the questioning of anarchism’s relation to hegemony – has been championed by those advocating post-anarchism elsewhere in the collection and shown, fairly convincingly, to be concerns comparable to those of contemporary anarchist practice (See Mueller and Jeppesen). Even though Mueller and Jeppesen share Franks’ tendency to emphasise post-structuralism rather than postmodernism, some of what Franks understands as the latter is associated for them under the heading of the former term.

Franks, demonstrating that his patience for post-anarchism is conditional on its adoption of a complementary relation to classical anarchism, emphasises the unacceptable risk that “by rejecting class as the sole determinant, they erroneously ignore its influence altogether.”(174) He is not fair to Jeppesen when he quotes her statement that “anarchy is not about the worker” (175) in this context. Jeppesen’s statement can be defended as an empirical observation that anarchist practice is no longer as situated in and around the workplace as the conventional left emphasis on the working class might wish it to be. Franks is on slightly firmer ground when he criticises Jeppesen, alongside Bey and Call, for an emphasis on the nomadic subject as a subject privileged enough to escape physical, social and economic entanglements that stubbornly restrain so many. Franks quotes Rosi Braidotti’s criticism of the Deleuzian nomad that “fleeting, fleeing `radical identity’ [which] assumes an equivalence between classes, genders and (dis) abilities that is little different to the gender-, race-, class- and (dis) ability-blind abstract agent of liberalism.”(176) A powerful observation but, even so, Jeppesen’s article seems to pre-empt such criticism. It seems likely that post-anarchism will continue to abandon or refine less tenable positions as the field matures.

The clear and well informed criticism of post-anarchism by Antliff and Franks imposes a requirement for post-anarchists to patiently and respectfully come to terms with the oeuvre of classical anarchism. This expectation undoubtedly coincides with academic best practice but misses something of the excitement of a generation of writers keen to make anarchism their own without being excessively pious about their relation to the classical tradition. The question of whether post-anarchism is faithful or precocious in its relation to classical anarchism is arguably less important than the question of its political relevance. The latter question cannot be fully decided by the former and yet, as Antliff and Franks demonstrate, the former question is probably the best place to begin.

Part Four, “Lines of Flight,” has contributions from Lewis Call, Jamie Heckert, Hilton Bertalan, Nathan Jun and Michael Truscello. These five chapters are the most thematically diverse in the collection.

Call’s “Buffy the Post-Anarchist Vampire Slayer” takes season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a text presenting “accessible yet sophisticated post-anarchist politics.”(183) With Franks’ 2007 criticism in mind, Call proposes to escape “a dangerous elitism” (184) said to lurk within post-anarchism. His proposal is well intentioned but the attempt is buried behind 182 pages of fairly dense academic writing where copyright is doing its best to restrain it from more liberal circulation among the Buffy watching masses. Working with Lacan, Call argues that “if the Symbolic is the place where Law happens […] we must find a way out of the symbolic. Otherwise, we’re just fighting laws, a losing proposition.”(183-4) This sounds good because a break from the symbolic would also be a break from the sovereignty that pronounces the law, which sounds highly relevant to anarchism. However, if the sphere of the law is the symbolic then this understanding of the law far exceeds the law of the state to which anarchists have traditionally opposed themselves. Call does a good job of drawing out anti-authoritarian and post-structural tropes in the fourth season of Buffy but this is an exercise restrained within the symbolic sphere, which greatly exceeds the symbolic silencing of language in the “Hush” episode in which he takes such an interest.

Heckert’s “Sexuality as State Form” connects with the collection-wide concern with representationlism in order to explore the “overcoding” of gender and sexuality as a “decentralized practice of governmentality”(201). He argues that sexual orientation “is a system of categorizing and judging bodies, identities, desires and practices according to certain criteria. Intertwined with the state as apparatus, sexual orientation as state form involves borders and policing, representation and control.”(202) The most interesting aspect of Heckert’s paper is that he uses quotations from interviews where people articulate their reservations, discomfort and resistance to people categorising their sexual orientation. This is a refreshing departure from the theoretical armchair and personal reflection into a more socio-empirical methodology. Adams argues on the basis of his interviews that “sexual orientation is not the truth of the self but something people do to themselves and to each other.”(203)

Bertalan’s “When Theories Meet: Emma Goldman and `Post-Anarchism’” is similar to the contributions by Antliff and Franks in that it criticises those that have been overly dismissive of Emma Goldman. What makes Bertalan’s argument different from that of Antliff and Franks is that he is not only criticising post-anarchist writers for underestimating Goldman but all commentators. Bertalan’s argues that Goldman is remembered as a committed, eloquent organiser and agitator who is credited with “introducing feminism to anarchism” but without being recognised as a “political thinker with an original voice” (209) who had a passion for the work of Friedrich Nietzsche that interestingly destabilises the difference between classical and post-anarchism at this site.

Jun’s “Reconsidering Post-Structuralism and Anarchism”, like Fernández de Rota’s article, is keen to contextualise post-anarchism in relation to the Paris Spring of 1968 and classical anarchism. Jun’s unique contribution to the collection is that he is the only one to question the rather under challenged operation of normativity in post-anarchist discourse and pursue the question of post-anarchist ethics in a broad sense. It is important that a contributor has finally raised this important matter so late in the collection because others, particularly Koch, have attempted to suggest that a cryptically ontological commitment to indeterminacy can function as a normative basis for post-anarchism as such. Such claims that indeterminacy can function as the basis for a norm with content is quite suspect.

Truscello’s “Imperfect Necessity and the Mechanical Continuation of Everyday Life: A Post-Anarchist Politics of Technology” contrasts the use of information technology in anarchist organising with the anarcho-primitivist rejection of technology and the “megamachine” in order to argue that the concept of “imperfect necessity” (250) goes some way towards mediating this dichotomy. He argues that the “collective wisdom of Watson, Black, Winner and Gordon suggests a post-anarchist politics of technology based on imperfect necessity” (255) before concluding that “The anarcho-primitivist orientation is a flawed but important component of contemporary anarchist discourses on technology; but is suppositions suffer from a preponderance of Western white privilege, an idealization of hunter-gatherer societies and a deficit of pragmatic thought.”(258)

3 June 2013

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