Anarchist Theory and History Independent Study

Meanwhile we all cry with one voice for the freedom to try

Academic Suicide: Complexities of Anarchist Pedagogy in the Academy

“What would it actually mean to act like an anarchist in an environment full of deans and provosts and people wearing funny robes, conference hopping in luxurious hotels, doing intellectual battle in language so arcane that no one who hasn’t spent at least two or three years in grad school would ever hope to be able to understand it? At the very least it would mean challenging the university structure in some way. So we are back to the problem with which I began: to act like an anarchist would be academic suicide. So it is not at all clear what an anarchist academic could actually do.” -David Graeber, “Anarchism, Academia, and the Avant-Garde”


The quote above makes me really think of only one phrase: “Well, shit.” I knew from a time before I even started kindergarten that I wanted to be a teacher. I’ve always really liked helping people; it was also pretty cool that I could tell people what to do and they would listen. Add that with a knack for figuring out how to navigate the coded structures of the classroom to achieve success (i.e. being a suck up, a teachers’ pet, etc.), and it was clear that my life would involve teaching in some way.

Now I’m a graduate student, and I teach freshman composition (writing) while working on my MA degree in English Language and Literature (which really has nothing to do with composition, except that I have to write a fuckton of papers). I am a teacher. Well, I’m a shit-on teacher. I’m at the bottom of a really nasty pile of poop in an academic system David Graeber sees simply as a contemporary form of feudalism–but I’m a teacher, and I have students, and I’m in control of their grades…! Wait. Control?

Control. Power. Coercion.  Most teachers, unless they’re really honest and looking for a fight, would never admit that teaching others involves these things. But it does. Some of the best teachers are the ones who are able to wean students (and themselves) off of these things, but, let’s face it: this is really the foundation on which contemporary pedagogical methods are based. Want proof? Look at grades. Look at the way decisions are made in the classroom (from making students ask to use the restroom to the way the class is structured). Look at the assignments given, or the way material is presented. God knows that lecturing is one of the worst ways to transfer information (if, indeed, that is the purpose of “education”). Especially in a digital age, most people under the age of 25 (myself included) do not have attention spans longer than 10 or 15 minutes for any given activity. This could change, yes, but a 50 minute lecture three times a week isn’t going to help–it’s going to put students to sleep. Anyway, all of these things are okay–well, socially acceptable–because learning how to navigate hierarchical systems of control, power, and coercion are good for us. Success in school translates to success in life, didn’tcha know?

My point is that the way we go about educating others is broke. Not the school systems and not the curriculum, or the bad, bad teachers who are lazy and protected by unions, but the entire thought process that goes into the ways in which we, both as a society and individuals, approach learning. Thus, it follows that it needs to be fixed. By the way, what is the difference between education and learning? Certainly, they are not the same thing.

How could anarchists go about this project of fixing (or destroying or inverting or subverting or overcoming or smashing)? This by no means is a complete list, but perhaps a way to begin thinking about these questions:


1. Change the disciplinary culture

Jeff Ferrell, in “Against Method, Against Authority… for Anarchy” writes about criminology that the cultural and symbolic codes used within disciplines is a large part of the problem. He states:

This sad pseudoscientific trajectory has fostered a set of symbolic codes, a disciplinary culture that embodies and perpetuates the problem: passive third-person writing, interruptive in-text referencing, big tables, long equations, and a general tyranny of the calculated number and the turgidly written word over the idea and the image. And of course these cultural codes are distinctly arid, ugly, and inhuman, devoid of any cultural markers that would distinguish a scholarly article from an actuarial report. In this sense, “objective” or “scientific” social science has long operated more as anxious metaphor than accomplished reality. These cultural codes function as symbolic performances of scientific objectivity, as façades fronting the public presentation of disciplines. The passive voice in writing accomplishes a neat stylistic sleight of hand whereby the author’s influence seems to disappear from the author’s own text. Twenty-line tables and convoluted equations provide an assuring sense of precision and order, even for those uninterested in actually reading them. Pervasive in-text referencing offers the illusion of comprehensive disciplinary knowledge, and the image of progression toward scientific truth as each scholar builds on the work of those before. Together, these coded communications assure scholars and their audiences that methodological rigor continues to discipline the discipline; taken as a whole, they construct a persuasive aesthetic of authority (Ferrell 1996).

This is similar to my teaching of composition. The rules, regulations, and conventions that govern the discipline of composition are strict and unforgiving. But am I putting my students at a disadvantage if I don’t teach them these rules? How should I help them to succeed–in a hierarchical system of authority (should I train them to become “good employees”), or should I help them to succeed as people by teaching them to see these structures and figure out innovative ways to navigate them? Do they even care?

2. Question the purpose of the structure of acadamia

There’s some really, really good and cool stuff about school. There’s some really, really horrible stuff about school, too. This is where I see a connection with the burgeoning discipline of critical university studies. I think anarchism has a lot to add to a discussion of the issues within contemporary academia. David Graeber, in “Anarchism, Academia, and the Avant-Garde” details why it’s not as easy as one might think:

Initially, I was to write a critical auto-ethnography of my life in the academy. But I quickly realized that writing critically about the academy is almost impossible. During the 1980s, we all became used to the idea of reflexive anthropology, the effort to probe behind the apparent authority of ethnographic texts to reveal the complex relations of power and domination that went into making them. The result was an outpouring of ethnographic meditations on the politics of fieldwork. But even as a graduate student, it always seemed to me there was something oddly missing here. Ethnographic texts, after all, are not actually written in the field. They are written at universities. Reflexive anthropology, however, almost never had anything to say about the power relations under which these texts were actually composed.

In retrospect, the reason seems simple enough: when one is in the field, all the power is on one side – or at least, could easily be imagined as being so. To meditate on one’s own power is not going to offend anyone (in fact, it’s something of a classic upper-middle-class preoccupation), and even if it does, there’s likely nothing those who are offended can do about it. The moment one returns from the field and begins writing, however, the power relations are reversed. While one is writing his or her dissertation, one is, typically, a penniless graduate student, whose entire career could very possibly be destroyed by one impolitic interaction with a committee member. While one is transforming the dissertation into a book, one is typically an adjunct or untenured Assistant Professor, desperately trying not to step on any powerful toes and land a real permanent job. Any anthropologist in such a situation will, in fact, mostly likely spend many hours developing complex, nuanced, and extremely detailed ethnographic analyses of the power relations this entails, but that critique can never, by definition, be published, because anyone who did so would be committing academic suicide. (103)

3. Give up Control

Oh, just give up control? Okay, I can do that. Wait. Give up control? How could I do that? Out of the three points I’ve presented here, this one is certainly the trickiest. This is because control permeates almost every aspect of pedagogical practice–from assignments to grading to the physical/bodily positions of student/teacher in the classroom to communications–well, you get the point. It’s gonna be really, really hard. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be done.

Perhaps one of the best ways to go about “giving” up control (see how problematic this is already?) would be to think about a consensus-based decision making process in the classroom. Graeber sees possibilities in consensus-based decision making:

One of the fundamental principles of political debate, for instance, is that one is obliged to give other participants the benefit of the doubt for honesty and good intentions, whatever else one might think of their arguments. In part, this too emerges from the style of debate that consensus decision-making encourages: where voting encourages one to reduce their opponents’ positions to a hostile caricature, or whatever it takes to defeat them, a consensus process is built on a principle of compromise and creativity where one is constantly changing proposals around until one can come up with something everyone can at least live with; therefore, the incentive is always to put the best possible construction on others’ arguments. (104-105)

A consensus-based decision making process takes much of the control out of the teacher’s hands and puts it with the entire group. Granted, it is easier to get things done with a dictator, but dictators have a way of making things go horribly, horribly wrong for at least some of the people involved (usually the people who do not know how to navigate the socio-political hierarchy).
With that being said, there are a few approaches that may help with an anarchist pedagogy within academia. For example, Luis A. Fernandez in “Being There” argues that academics (and I would add students) need to be in the conflict to truly understand its impact. He states, “We, as scholars, anarchists, and thinkers need to seek out and cherish these kinds of experiences. They teach us many things, including our own subjectivity and mortality, and the limits of our understanding. And these experiences only come from being there, by placing ourselves within and among the lives of those who suffer, by running risks and, if only momentarily, by placing our privilege into sharp focus” (94). For example, this might mean including more service learning in a classroom, going on educational excursions, or communicating with those who are involved. Instead of having a student write a research paper on the death penalty, perhaps they should meet or interview (over the phone) a death row inmate. If a student is writing a paper on social mobility, perhaps they should have to volunteer at a soup kitchen and meet the people serviced by such a venture.


Another approach, extremely similar to Fernandez, could be field research–surprise–actually done in the field. Jeff Ferrell argues:

Ethnographic field work – long-term, committed engagement with those we study – leaves researchers appropriately vulnerable to the emotions and experiences of others. It humbles researchers before those they study, subsuming intellectual arrogance to a search for verstehen – for appreciative and nuanced understanding (Weber 1978; Ferrell 1996). It also stands orthodox disciplinary methods on their heads. Rather than “objectivity” guaranteeing accurate research results, it is emotional subjectivity that makes for good research; without it, researchers may observe an event or elicit information, but will have little sense of its meaning or consequences. Fieldwork functions in this way as a sort of humanist subversion, a decision to affirm and explore the human agency of those we study. These subversions are temporal and existential as well. Good field research flows with the dynamics of situations, embracing the inefficiency of dawdle and delay, suffusing life with uncertainty and surprise (Kane 2004), and carrying researchers beyond their own existential complacency. Along the way, this do-it-yourself method generates disciplinarily dangerous knowledge, spawning deep human engagement, oddball insight, and illicit meaning unimaginable…(80)

He continues to state that “At its extreme, ethnographic field research can become an anarchic process through which researchers lose themselves – and by losing themselves, find new meanings and emotions” (81).

This certainly challenges the notion of a “detached” researcher, and it has many implications, especially for writing, in terms of the ways in which students are taught to hand their “research.” Often, students are punished for not distancing themselves from the topic or controversy at hand because they are not seen as “experts” on the topic–and the “experts” should be the ones in the forefront of a paper or a presentation. While I agree that it is useful to look to others for information when they have experience in the field, students often possess expertise in academic subjects, and generally more expertise in non-academic subjects (music, movies, social media, video games, etc.) than most of their academic teachers. By disallowing students’ voices of experience in the classroom, a hierarchy of information, intelligence, and “expertise” is created and maintained–a hierarchy students and future teachers perpetuate unwittingly to generations of other students because it is the “right way” to do things.

Although these are just a few questions and points of interest to the issues surrounding anarchism in the academy, they cover many of the areas that need to be examined first.



All essays can be found in:

Contemporary Anarchist Studies: An Introductory Anthology of Anarchism in the Academy. Ed. Randall Amster, 2009.

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Rocker’s Anarcho-Syndicalism and Contemporary Unionization

Anarcho-syndicalists, also known as Wobblies (after the IWW), were one of the modern industrial forces against the injustices perpetuated by an industrial capitalistic economic system in Europe and in the United States. Unlike other branches of anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism is a tactic or strategy to perpetuate anarchist ideals and to reign in capitalism and governmental inference. This is unlike other classical anarchist theories that provided both means and a cogent end (or at least strivings toward an end). For Rudolf Rocker and other anarcho-syndicalists, labor movements and unionization created a real method to act on anarchist principals, specifically direct action, through general strikes and boycotts. Although Rocker situated his articulation of anarcho-syndicalism in long history and theory of the labor movement, and he straddled the fence between classical and Post-anarchism, he was unable to anticipate that some contemporary labor organizations have become what he was fighting against.

"The IWW is a member-run union for all workers, a union dedicated to organizing on the job, in our industries and in our communities."

Rocker’s anarcho-syndicalism straddled the line between classical and post-anarchism, which enables his theory to be applicable through the twentieth century. He writes, “Anarchism is no patent solution for all human problems, no Utopia of a perfect social order, as it has so often been called, since on principle it rejects all absolute schemes and concepts” (30). This is unlike the classical anarchists, such as Godwin or Proudhon, who articulate anarchism as a utopian society, the result of a linear progression via the perfectibility of the social relations and consciousness of man. Furthermore, Rocker hints at a post-anarchist idealism, when he states that anarchism “does not believe in any absolute truth, or in definite final goals for human development, but in an unlimited perfectibility of social arrangements and human living conditions, which are always straining after higher forms of expression, and to which for this reason one can assign no definite terminus nor set any fixed goal” (30).


Rocker’s articulation of anarchism allows for the postmodern projects of multiplicity and truth; for Rocker, there is no perfect society, there are only multiplicities of perfect social arrangements that are dependent on situational and temporal requirements. In short, anarchism provides strategies and tactics for humans to live in conditions that are perfect for them, although there is no one perfect condition for all. Additionally, Rocker’s anarchism rejects the “end” game that classical anarchists often assume, because, according to Rocker, pre-figurative politics are antithetical to the philosophy’s projects of liberty. Although Rocker anticipated the move to post-anarchism, his anarcho-syndicalism did not anticipate the turn the labor movement would take in late capitalism.


Described as a method to achieve anarchist ideals, organization in Rocker’s writings is not meant to be an institution. He states, “Organization is, after all, only a means to an end. When it becomes an end in itself, it kills the spirit and the vital initiative of its members and sets up that domination by mediocrity which is the characteristic of all bureaucracies” (Rocker 92-93). What Rocker did not anticipate, however, was the fact that unions would turn from being a method of bettering living conditions, to the bureaucracy that he hated. Rocker claims that the drive toward anarcho-syndicalism is ignited by “A feeling of mutual helpfulness, whose strength is constantly being renew in the daily struggle for the necessities of life, which is constantly making the most extreme demands on the co-operation of men subjected to the same conditions,” and this grows into “the vital consciousness of a community of fate, and this gradually develops into a new sense of right, and becomes the preliminary ethical assumption of every effort at the liberation of an oppressed class” (118). With the development of globalization in the last fifty years, the western world has lost that “vital consciousness of a community of fate” because the true industrial injustices are being committed countries and continents away—in third world sweat shops and by field hands making slave-wages.


The third world can be seen in the first world (such as migrant workers in the bread basket of the United States), but these peoples and their injustices are easily hidden in a blur of xenophobia and (brown faced) anti-immigrant sentiments. The oppressed classes are no longer the middle class worker of the western world who may belong to a union organization, and, because of this, some unions have transformed into the bureaucracies they were formed to fight against. Union bosses are now making backroom deals and being paid six figure salaries off the backs of workers making a minimum wage that rich by third-world standards, but poverty level wages in countries where standards of living are high and social safety nets are flimsy and strewn with gapping holes.



Although Rocker’s anarcho-syndicalism was ahead of its time in terms of the anticipation of postmodern thought, it did not anticipate the monster in the closet: globalization. Whereas oppressed classes used to be relegated to the “other side of the tracks,” globalization has done its best to keep the oppressed classes to the other side of the world, out of the hearts and minds of those who benefit from their labor. Additionally, this has caused the unions in the first world to become greedy organizational bureaucracies, akin to the corporation the unions were formed to fight against. This has caused the labor movement to come under attack from the neoliberal conservatives who argue that unions have injected mediocrity into a previously vibrant capitalistic economy. While unregulated capitalism is certainly not an option toward the betterment of conditions, it seems that globalization has made unionization a problematic, and even untenable, solution to contemporary economic injustices.

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The SCUM Manifesto: Tell Us Something that We Haven’t Heard Before

Sometimes referred to as “filth” and a philosophy that will doom the human race, Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto is a short work explicating the nature of men, and then advocating for their annihilation. Taken seriously, the SCUM Manifesto can be read as a horrifyingly recapitulation of fascist eugenic practices; however, taken as a witty, rhetorically expert piece of writing, Solanas’ writing can be seen as a precise analysis that upsets the underlying structures and assumptions of a male-dominated society. To be clear, to this an important piece of radicalist writing, but it would be difficult to consider it to be feminist. Feminism, a large social movement, advocates for equality based on gender, sex, sexual orientation, and sexuality. The SCUM Manifesto does none of these things.

What is so frightening about the SCUM Manifesto? I argue that Solanas is not advocating for anything new. She is revealing the horrifying nature of the “battle of the sexes” by turning the tables. She is advocating for the same philosophies and “reforms” of eugenics, sexism, exclusionary politics, and xenophobic tendencies that have existed for hundreds of years. The only difference is that it is the women—specifically lesbians—who are the top of the hierarchy this time. Surely, for many people who have never know a world with that kind of hierarchy, the mere suggestion of it (created by leveling the same age-old assertions in a new form) is certainly unsettling. Solanas not only deconstructs patriarchy and reconstructs it as a lesbianarchy, but she does it by taking the theories of eugenics, sexism, to their logical ends.

Solanas’ ustopian society (utopia for lesbians, dystopia for non-drag queen men) is depicted quite clearly. After the annihilation (or possibly just the taming) of men, society will be automated. Because there will be no need for men to feel important and construct an identity, there will be no need to government, capitalism, or other institutions of power. There will be no disease because “the problems of aging and death could be solved within a few years, if an all-out, massive scientific assault were made upon the problem,” and she launches as to why the male establishment is incapable of doing this because, for example, because of the exclusionary nature of the male-established education system, lack of automation, and the fact that death excites a male sexually and “already dead inside, he wants to die (65-66).  Reproduction will be done in a laboratory (for only female babies, of course), or, “when aging and death are eliminated,” Solanas asks, “why continue to reproduce?” (69). She continues, “Why should be care what happens when we’re dead? Why should we care that there is no younger generation to succeed us?” (69). This, too, echoes, the winner-at-all costs annihilation of society through the two World Wars and the developing Cold War (in 1968) advocated for by male controlled militaries and governments. Although Solanas advocates for a ustopian society that is certainly apocalyptic for men, she does through by taking already-existing philosophies to their logical ends.

Eugenics is a strong, reoccurring theme throughout the Manifesto. Solanas’ annihilation of men is predicated on the eugenics theories of the twentieth century. She states, “The male is a biological accident: The Y (male) gene is an incomplete X (female) gene, that is, it has an incomplete set of chromosomes. In other words, the male is an incomplete female, a walking abortion, aborted in the gene stage” (Solanas 35). Not only is the male genetically inferior, this makes him “deficient, emotionally limited; maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples” (Solanas 35-36). These assertions are reminiscent of the eugenics practices in the United States on the poor, orphans, individuals with substance addiction, mentally ill, and non-white. More specifically, her assertions echo the elimination policies of the Nazis against the Jews. Most eugenics policies were perpetrated by (white) men against others—now the men are on the receiving end of their own philosophical practices in Solanas’ world. Not only does Solanas advocate for reversed eugenics practices, she also is a strong proponent of sexism.

The SCUM Manifesto is predicated on the assumption that women—specifically lesbians—are superior to men. Solanas writes, “Even without leaving men, women who are aware of the extent of their superiority to and power over men, could acquire complete control over everything within a few weeks, could effect a total submission of males to females” (70). She continues by explaining, “In a sane society the male would trot along obediently after the female. The male is docile and easily led, easily subjected to the domination of any female who cares to dominate him” (Solanas 70). Here, Solanas is taking years of sexist philosophies advocating for the superiority of men over women (and for women to be the obedient daughter, wife, and mother) and turning the tables. Again, what is unsettling here is that men are now the dominated, not the dominator.

Solanas’ ustopian society paired with a haunting analysis of the ontology of men is daunting and horrific if taken at face value. If, in fact, readers can get past the shocking rhetoric and outlandish assumptions, it is easy to conceive of the SCUM Manifesto as a witty, precise turn of the tables. Although Solanas’ assumptions, assertions, and proclamations seem outrageous, they are not really anything new. Her manifesto is really only a repositioning of ingrained cultural theories, upended hierarchies in which lesbians are human and heterosexual men are the Other—the Other who, like many others, must be annihilated at all costs.

Work Cited

Solanas, Valerie. SCUM Manifesto. London: Verso, 2004. Print.

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American Woman: Turner’s Frontier Thesis and Voltairine de Cleyre’s American Anarchist Tradition

Voltairine de Cleyre was born in the small town of Leslie, Michigan in 1866, and, grew up in the neighboring small town of St. Johns, Michigan until her father sent her to Sarnia, Ontario to attend a convent school at the age of fourteen. Much of what de Cleyre is remembered for, however, are her lectures and political life, which mostly occurred on the East coast of the United States, and sometimes Chicago, between approximately 1890 until her death in 1912. De Cleyre, a contemporary of Emma Goldman and Louise Michel, is often a forgotten anarchist. Although she toured and gave talks frequently, she was plagued by chronic illness, lived and worked with the poor, and died relatively young. Although she advocated similar ideas to Goldman and Michel, thus articulating a classical theory of anarcha-feminism to supplement a male-centric classical anarchism, de Cleyre is a homegrown Midwestern American; Goldman was a Russian immigrant, and Michel served her cause in her native France.

De Cleyre was, and still is, special among anarcha-feminists. Her philosophy of anarcha-feminism is situated, in part, in a classic liberal understanding of the individual, while, at the same time, exposing the personal as political. Although de Cleyre advocated for sovereignty of the individual, especially of women, she also clearly saw the need for personal responsibility. For example, her position on motherhood illustrates this careful balance: a woman should be able to have children outside of marriage and with whomever she chooses, but, according to de Cleyre, she must be able to provide for the child(ren) herself without reliance on a man (“The Woman Question”). This radical idea of motherhood does not reflect the philosophy of the first wave feminists, nor of many people of de Cleyre’s time. The question then becomes: From where did de Cleyre’s radicalism arise? I argue that de Cleyre’s anarcha-feminist radicalism was influenced by the ideals left in the path of westward expansion of the American Frontier as articulated in Turner’s Frontier Thesis.

A major current in Turner’s The Frontier in American History, an extended articulation of Turner’s Frontier Thesis, is that of the role of westward expansion in the development of American individualism. Turner explains, “These free lands promoted individualism, economic equality, freedom to rise, democracy. Men would not accept inferior wages and a permanent position of social subordination when this promised land of freedom and equality was theirs for the taking” (paragraph 260).

Not only did the belief in economic mobility and personal liberty become an American ideal, but so too did the idea of limited government. Turner writes, “Thus many of the pioneers, following the ideal of the right of the individual to rise, subordinated the rights of the nation and posterity to the desire that the country should be “developed” and that the individual should advance with as little interference as possible. Squatter doctrines and individualism have left deep traces upon American conceptions” (paragraph 274). Furthermore, the staunch individualism developed on the American Frontier promulgated a hatred for authority when it interfered with personal liberty: “He [the pioneer] had a passionate hatred for aristocracy, monopoly and special privilege; he believed in simplicity, economy and in the rule of the people. It is true that he honored the successful man, and that he strove in all ways to advance himself” (paragraph 274). Although Turner’s American pioneer possesses a strong sense of individualism and personal liberty, he explains this fierce “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” ideology would soon begin to crumble as the frontier boundary moved on and capitalism and “civilization” appeared in the nineteenth century.

Turner describes the turn of the pioneer spirit as acquiescence to the inevitable evils of government as a necessary tool to retain what was originally gained:

…the western settler began to face the problem of magnitude in the areas he was occupying; as he began to adjust his life to the modern forces of capital and to complex productive processes; as he began to see that, go where he would, the question of credit and currency, of transportation and distribution in general conditioned his success, he sought relief by legislation. He began to lose his primitive attitude of individualism, government began to look less like a necessary evil and more like an instrument for the perpetuation of his democratic ideals. In brief, the defenses of the pioneer democrat began to shift, from free land to legislation, from the ideal of individualism to the ideal of social control through regulation by law. (paragraph 277)

Furthermore, Turner explains that the pioneer saw democratic government, a government for the people by the people, not as the erosion of western radicalist ideology (which it was), but as a positive way in managing affairs. Thus, the conceptualization of government transformed from a system of limitations by outside forces to a system of regulations for the retention of what was previously earn staffed by the people themselves. This was the transitory conceptualization of American idealism and government in which de Cleyre and her anarcha-feminist radicalism were forged.

De Cleyre’s philosophy of anarcha-feminism clings fiercely to the pioneer conceptualization of staunch individualism as articulated in Turner’s writings. Interestingly, she takes individualism a step further and applies it not only to men, but to women; not only to the public sphere, but to the private sphere as well. In “Those Who Marry Do Ill,” de Cleyre analyzes the institution of traditional marriage and reveals its limiting factors on the individual liberties of women. She writes, “It is the permanent dependent relationship which, I affirm, is detrimental to the growth of individual character, and to which I am unequivocally opposed” (“Those Who Marry Do Ill”). De Cleyre rejects the idea that marriage enhances individualism by allowing men and women to express themselves fully in a sexual and rational partnership; rather, she sees marriage as extremely limiting on the development of the individual (mainly women, but also men), and restricts women in their freedom to rise and participate in a type of private sphere democracy.

De Cleyre argues, similar to the pioneer’s rejection of government and authority on the basis of interference as well as special privilege, marriage restricts and interferes with the personal liberty of women. De Cleyre writes:

The necessity for food, shelter, and raiment, it should at all times lie within the individual’s power to furnish for himself. But the method of home-keeping is such that after the relation has been maintained for a few years, the interdependence of one on the other has become so great that each is somewhat helpless when circumstance destroys the combination, the man less so, the woman wretchedly so. She has done one thing in a secluded sphere, and while she may have learned to do that thing well (which is not certain, the method of training is not at all satisfactory), it is not a thing which has equipped her with the confidence necessary to go about making an independent living. (“Those Who Marry Do Ill”)

Marriage for de Cleyre, like government for Turner’s pioneer, both represent forces of interference, which restrict personal liberty and limit opportunities for personal responsibility. However, when Turner’s pioneers begin to acquiesce to the idea of government to protect the successful harvests of rugged individualism, the two paths of radicalism diverge. And it is because simply this: women did not have a successful harvest as a result of individualism and the conquering of the frontier, and classical anarcha-feminists such as de Cleyre wanted to continue to take individualism to its logical ends. The frontier may have been settled by the pioneers by the turn of the century, but anarcha-feminism continued to cling to individualism, personal responsibility, and a rejection of institutions of authority because, for de Cleyre, the “object of life should be the development of individuality,” an object achieved by American pioneer men, but not by the vast majority of American women in any place or time (“Those Who Marry Do Ill”).

Works Cited

De Cleyre, Voltairine. “Those Who Marry Do Ill.” 1908. Web. Feb. 27 2012.

De Cleyre, Voltairine. “The Woman Question.” 1913. Web. Feb. 27 2012.

Turner, Fredrick J. The Frontier in American History. New York: Henry Holt, 1921. E-Text via Project Gutenberg.

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Emma Goldman and Postmodern Love

Emma Goldman was once the most noted anarchafeminist, and, by popular accounts, the most dangerous woman in the world in the early twentieth century. Goldman, a Russian immigrant and radical, was known for her outspoken ideas about the state, the church, and social relations. Goldman is often associated as being one of the first modern women to advocate a lifestyle predicated, not on marriage, but on free love. Although she lived and commented on societal relations at the beginning of the twentieth century, some of her ideas and analyses, specifically those mirroring or complementing Nietzschean sentiments (she was a Nietzschean scholar, and she often lectured on his philosophical writings), are claimed by postanarchists. I argue that Emma Goldman’s conceptualization of love can be justified as postmodernist, and thus postanarchist.

One of Goldman’s well known essays (it was also a public lecture) is “Marriage and Love,” in which she argues for free love as a replacement for the confines of marriage. Goldman astutely analyzes the institution of marriage, examining it in economic, power, and sexual relations. At the end of the piece, her recommendation is that people should abandon marriage and embrace “Love, the strongest and deepest element in all life, the harbinger of hope, of joy, of ecstasy; love, the defier of all laws, of all conventions; love, the freest, the most powerful moulder of human destiny…”

At first glance, Goldman’s description of love is idealistic—it is magical, transcendent; it is the cure-all for the Modern soul’s search for Truth and Purpose. But, it is the comparison of Goldman’s love to Modern marriage that illuminates the possibility of a postmodern conceptualization of love. Zygmut Bauman explains that the “postmodern experience of intimacy derives its identity from eliminating all reference to moral duties and obligations” (105). Goldman does just than when she actively separates love and marriage and exclaims the two are “antagonistic to each other.” In fact, Goldman explains that love is free—which most certainly can be interpreted as free from moral duties and obligations—when she writes, “Yes, love is free; it can dwell in no other atmosphere. In freedom it gives itself unreservedly, abundantly, completely.” Goldman’s conceptualization of love not only specifics no moral duties or obligations, it precludes them by acknowledging the freedom of love, and the atmosphere of freedom in which love can only exist.

Additionally, a comparison of Goldman’s idea of love to Hassan’s table of modern and postmodern concepts reveals that her love can, indeed, be viewed as postmodern. Goldman explains, “High on a throne, with all the splendor and pomp his gold can command, man is yet poor and desolate, if love passes him by. And if it stays, the poorest hovel is radiant with warmth, with life and color. Thus love has the magic power to make of a beggar a king.” Goldman shows that love encourages play; it is a force that deconstructs hierarchies.

Furthermore, Goldman’s love has a transformative power that exists only in a free space, and it has a vitality, her love “is like the last desperate struggle of fleeting life against death.” Love, in comparison with the moral-modern institution of marriage, is rhizomatic—it has no form; it has the ability to exist and create multiple and equally valid realities and layers of truth in social relations; it is ruled by indeterminacy, a mutant desire, antiform, and, above all, anarchy. Goldman’s love is a process, a happening, and, overall, a postmodern conceptualization that defies modern constraints.

It is the love Goldman thinks and writes about that needs some serious attention from postanarchist scholars and activists. Too often, love is thought of something sentimental, non-scholarly, or non-important. Love, often is a romantic idealization we are more than happy to leave to harlequin novels. It is the stuff of which adolescent dreams are made. But, perhaps, it is the stuff of which postanarchist dreams are made, too.

Works Cited

Bauman, Zygmunt. Postmodern Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell, 1993. Electronic.

Goldman, Emma. Anarchism and Other Essays. “Marriage and Love.” New York: Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1911. Electronic.

Hassan, Ihab. The Postmodern Turn. “Toward a Concept of Postmodernism.” Colombus: Ohio State University Press, 1987. Electronic.

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Bakunin and Authority

Bakunin and Marx were strange bedfellows of history. Representing the two major political philosophies each thought was the path to perfecting society, and thus humanity, it is no surprise that each is defined in comparison to the other. Both participated in the First International, although Marx did end up crashing Bakunin’s First International Par-tay. What definitely separated each man, however, were their views on exactly how the human race was to be perfected. In simplistic terms, Marx believed that an eventual People’s State, or a communal authoritarian government, would guide society to ultimate equality, with the government eventually melting away into a nice, neat utopia. On the other hand, Bakunin felt the need for revolution was immediate, and he advocated for a decentralized communal society based on mutual aid and individual liberty. Often, Bakunin is thought to disdain authority because of his adherence to an anarchist philosophy that rejects the authority of Church and State by decrying it as illegitimate. In contrast, I argue that Bakunin, like many classical anarchists, possessed a paradoxically strong hope for the perfectibility of humanity while clinging to the safety net of authority, and this is problematic for how we conceptualize the revolutionary mission of the classical anarchists.

Bakunin admits his deference to authority in God and State. Science, or the general idea of the evolutionary perfectibility of man as a moral and social character, has legitimate authority over humanity. Bakunin states:

To sum up. We recognized, then, the absolute authority of science, because the sole object of science is the mental reproduction, as well considered and systematic as possible, of the natural law as inherent in the material, intellectual, and moral life of both the physical and social worlds, those two worlds constituting in fact, but one and the same natural world. Outside of this only legitimate authority, legitimate because rational and in harmony with human liberty, we declare all other authorities false, arbitrary, and fatal.

Characteristically of Enlightenment thinkers, Bakunin cannot see the flaws in his feel-good argument that science will save us all. Science, as later shown by cultural theorists like Donna Haraway, is, at best, flavored by contemporary attitudes and morals, and, more likely, a social construction in of itself. Science, as the twenty first century later determines, can be just as “false, arbitrary, and fatal” as the authority of the State and Church. It is Bakunin’s rejection of the authority of the latter and unyielding acceptance of the former that is so paradoxical. It seems that “legitimate” to Bakunin means what works for his ideology, and “illegitimate” is whatever works against his cause. Not only did Bakunin cling to authority in theory, so too did he cling to authority as a pragmatic attempt to further his ideology.

Paul Avrich, renowned anarchist historian and scholar, reveals that Bakunin deferred to the existence of authority as a practicality. Avrich writes:

 And yet, for all his assaults on revolutionary dictatorship, Bakunin was determined to create his own secret society of conspirators, whose members would be ‘subjected to a strict hierarchy and to unconditional obedience.’ This clandestine organization, moreover, would remain intact even after the revolution had been accomplished in order to forestall the establishment of any ‘official dictatorship.’ Thus Bakunin committed the very sin he so bitterly denounced. He himself was one of the principal originators of the idea of a secret and closely knit revolutionary party bound together by implicit obedience to a revolutionary dictator, a party that he likened at one point to the Jesuit Order. (138)

Avrich succinctly explains Bakunin’s dilemma when he offers: “Bakunin, in short, was trapped in a classic dilemma: He understood that the lack of an efficient revolutionary organization would spell inevitable failure, but the means he chose inevitably corrupted the ends towards which he aspired” (138).

Bakunin chose to compromise his vision of anarchist revolution by predicating his revolution on a corruption of the values of the very same revolution. Although Bakunin’s anarchism was staunchly against authority, it seems he had a strong track record of inability to resist it.

The issue of legitimate authority rocks classical anarchism to its core. What is legitimate? What is socially constructed? How does an antiauthoritarian ideology fight authority without an equal matching authority? Bakunin’s deference to authority at the hour of the fight also questions if the classical anarchists honestly thought that their anarchist ideology or philosophy was truly a natural progression toward the perfectibility of man.

Did it ever cross Proudhon, Kropotkin, or Bakunin’s mind that they may simply be strong handing mankind into an unnatural societal organization? Did they ever think that liberty was not the inherent right of all men? Certainly, it can be shown they all but neglected the issues of liberty when it comes to women, children, and people of non-European lineage. Bakunin, at least, was seemingly trapped in an ideological day dream in which the use of authority was a legitimate means to a seemingly natural and inevitable ends.

Works Cited

Avrich, Paul. “The Legacy of Bakunin.” Russian Review 29.2 (1970): 129-142. PDF.

Bakunin, Mikhail. God and State. New York: Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1916. Web.

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Whose Utopia is this Anyway?: Women and Children in Proudhon’s Federative Anarchist Utopia

Although Pierre-Joseph Proudhon is widely considered the first self-identified anarchist and forefather of anarchism, his articulation of a federative anarchist state (yes, an anarchist state) leaves much to be desired. Although situated in a country of much political turmoil in a time when monarchs were attempting to retain or regain political control, Proudhon’s radical politics, once examined in anarchist terms of domination, authority, and exploitation, prove to be less radical than at first glance. Furthermore, Proudhon’s theories, the same that attempt to create a vision of eradicating state, church, and capitalistic domination, authority, and exploitation, merely transfer those power relations from the laborer to those who could never hope to have a fair shake in Proudhon’s federative anarchist utopia: women and children. At the same time Proudhon frees the worker from an undesirable power gradient, he is institutionalizing the right of the worker to dominate his family and exploit his children.

Richard J.F. Day, author of Gramsci Is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements, argues that, for all of his faults, Proudhon’s conceptualization of power structures when applied to non-male workers is not as problematic as one might assume. Day explains that Proudhon “also perpetuated other problematic aspects of Utopian socialism” such as the perfectibility of humans, the “one correct system” of federation, absolutism, and the evolutionary conception of history that placed scientific reasoning as the way to the perfection of the human race (108). Additionally, Proudhon’s conceptualization of power might be a good lesson for anarchists. Day articulates that, “While remaining a rationalist perfectionist with a teleological conception of history, [Proudhon] at least begins to see the impossibility of a world without relations of power and is aware of the fecundity of the event” (112). Furthermore, “Proudhon was thus one of the first thinkers of the anarchist tradition to achieve, however fleetingly, the insight that it might not be possible to entirely eliminate domination from human relationships” (Day 109). Although it may be impossible to eradicate domination from human relationships, Proudhon does little in the way to try. This could be because, as Day points out, “Proudhon seems to have been driven by a desire [to] make the best of existing institutions, rather than to replace them with alternative modes of organization” (112). This observation certainly applies when looking at how Proudhon treats women and children in his theoretical conceptualization of his federative anarchist utopia.

Proudhon acknowledges that men are the familial heads, allying the familial structure with that of patriarchy, thus asserting the domination of man over woman. When discussing governmental structures, Proudhon asserts that the family is a hierarchical and patriarchal structure, and continues to state, “But we do not mistake the family for the model of society,” which, in his eyes, is a model of federative fraternalism (379). Later, he when discussing education, he explains that “A community needs a teacher. It chooses one at its pleasure…the only thing essential is that said teacher should suit the fathers of families…” (593). Not only does Proudhon come out and claim that the family is the just site of patriarchy, he illustrates his loyalty to the concept when he prudently asserts that men are the sole decision makers in the community when it comes to such things as educators. Not only are Proudhon’s familial structures based on domination, hierarchy, and authority, but so too is his vision of education.

At first read, Proudhon’s vision of apprenticeship education seems extremely reasonable. He concludes that, in order to make a federative anarchist utopia economically viable, everyone should learn and practice a demonstrable craft or skill. He argues for a separation of Church and school as well as public education along scientific and vocational lines (702, 758). Despite this forward sounding and pragmatic theory of education, further investigation reveals that Proudhon’s apprenticeship education is actually based on the exploitation of labor, and, in some cases, child labor. Proudhon advocates for children to be apprenticed to learn a skill, and he concludes that the children’s family should be compensated for the labor the child gives to his master (594). In short, Proudhon advocates for the indentured servitude of children at the benefit of her or his family. Furthermore, this system of slavery underpins most of Proudhon’s economic vision, especially considering his fealty to the petty bourgeoisie, the class most likely to benefit from an apprenticeship system. Day sheds some light on Proudhon’s economic theory:

As with his relation to the state form, we can see that Proudhon only sought to ameliorate some of the excesses of capitalist individualism and profit-seeking, not to do away with them entirely. Indeed, in the third case, that of small shopkeepers and manufactures, he saw no need for association at all, even where individual proprietors took on journey men and became employers. (111)

In short, Proudhon is removing the baggage of cheap labor from the adult proletariat men and placing it squarely on the shoulders of children.

Although Proudhon’s theories and calls for a federative anarchist society seem radical at first glance, the implications of his theories retain the domination, authority, and exploitation he sought to ameliorate. On the surface, it appears that Proudhon was attempting to better society, and for some, like the petty bourgeoisie, he truly was; however, it came at a cost to the “lesser” members of society. Proudhon convincingly acted as if he was cleaning house, while only sweeping the dirty relics of hierarchical politics under a well-appointed rug of fraternité.

Works Cited

Day, Richard J.F. Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements. London: Pluto Press, 2005. Print.

Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph. Property is Theft!: A Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Anthology. Ed. Iain McKay. Edinburgh: AK Press, 2011. Electronic.

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Anarchist Joke of the Day

Q: Why do anarchists drink coffee?

A: Because all proper tea is theft.

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Get It, Girrrl: The Intersection of Gender, Nostalgia, and Technology in Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread

In Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread, published in 1905, he details his argument for a European revolution in favor of anarchist communism. Portraying himself as a man of the people, Kropotkin uses a plentiful array of “real life” examples and data to showcase the validity of his claims. He also elevates the working man and activist while downplaying the authenticity of the bourgeois and the theorist. Kropotkin’s theory of anarchist communism rests on a tension between nostalgia for the past and the technology of the future that will save mankind; however, the issue of gender equality complicates and problematizes this back-to-the-future approach that Kropotkin argues will be the force to propel the “chariot of humanity…towards new horizons” thus enacting “the awakening of a people’s genius” (“Agriculture”).

One problem is Kropotkin’s conceptualization of what exactly it means for a woman to be “emancipated.” He exclaims:

Servant or wife, man always reckons on woman to do the house-work. But woman, too, at last claims her share- in the emancipation of humanity. She no longer wants to be the beast of burden of the house. She considers it sufficient work to give many years of her life to the rearing of her children. She no longer wants to be the cook, the mender, the sweeper of the house! (“Agreeable Work”).

Although Kropotkin sees the drudgery of the housewife, or woman servant, in terms of the hours and energy she must expend at monotonous household tasks, he still does not liberate her from the home. She is freed from the house labor, but not from the household labor. In fact, he is depicting the exact environment that led to the problems of the depressed, drunk, and neurotic housewife depicted in The Feminine Mystique. Kropotkin has no intention of the revolution emancipating women from their “biological duties.” He explains:

The race would soon become extinct if mothers did not sacrifice their lives to take care of their children, if men did not give continually, without demanding an equivalent reward, if men did not give most precisely when they expect no reward (“Consumption and Production”)

Kropotkin envisions the best of both worlds for the revolution: happily emancipated women who are chained to the cradle. This line thought eerily echoes that of Joseph Goebbel’s in his address to a German Women’s Exhibition in 1933 titled “German Women” whereby he raises women on a fascist pedestal of biological duty and femininity, which is merely a highly visible and inescapable straight jacket. Furthermore, Kropotkin’s vision rests squarely on the shoulders of technology.

While certainly revolutionary and extremely advanced for his time (he even anticipated solar energy and grow-lights), Kropotkin does not fully unpack the implications of the influence of technology, especially when it comes to the technology that will emancipate women. He writes:

Machinery undertakes three-quarters of the household cares….To emancipate woman is not only to open the gates of the university, the law courts, or the parliaments, for her, for the “emancipated” woman will always throw domestic toil on to another woman. To emancipate woman is to free her from the brutalizing toil of kitchen and washhouse; it is to organize your household in such a way as to enable her to rear her children, if she be so minded, while still retaining sufficient leisure to take her share of social life. (“Agreeable Work”)

Kropotkin does not take into account that, although machinery will undertake a majority of the household cares, the time “saved” will then be funneled into higher expectations (the “keeping up with the Jones’ syndrome) in the home, or in social or academic life, thus leading to the issue of the double burden. Still, it is the woman’s duty to her race to rear “her” children (notes: not her plus his equal “their” children), in addition to replacing household drudgery with increased social expectations—exactly the prescription for a back-to-the-future patriarchal nostalgia (with more or less cowbell).

Although Kropotkin may have sexist views and some issues concerning the way he pieces together gender, nostalgia, and technology in his theory of anarchist communism, it is important to read these against his time. Interestingly enough, his views of the emancipation of women closely align with the middle to upper class white first wave feminists’ call for emancipation. Conversely, his contemporaries, Voltairine de Cleyre and Emma Goldman, were calling for a much more radical anarcha-feminist emancipation of women. Although it is likely he was aware of de Cleyre and Goldman’s positions, and may have even met them or heard them speak, he was a skilled enough theoretician to consider his audience. The Conquest of Bread was meant for an audience that was looking for a common man’s revolution—a man’s revolution that left little situated space for a room of one’s one.

Food Not Bombs by Anarchosync

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Discussion Questions for Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread

Below you will find some discussion questions that Ted and I traversed and hop-skipped around today during our “class.” Feel free to respond to any of the questions, or pose your own. If nothing else, they’re here for posterity.

1. What are the underlying implications of Kropotkin’s anarchist communism. For example, what does he assume about the Nature of Man, agriculture, industry, etc.?

2. Why does his theory of anarchist communism work and why does it not? Would it work today?

3. How can we see this theory working if the impoverished workers he discusses are in other countries. For example, today, most of the impoverished workers live in third world countries. How would this work with or against any kind of xenophobia or inherent love of brotherhood/country(men) Kropotkin may have?

4. How has the internet helped and hurt Kropotkin’s view of independent literature? How is that related to Wikileaks, or the Anonymous and Cyber Punk movements?

5. What’s going on with the salves he mentions on page 112? (quotation: “Slaves can submit to unhealthy working conditions,” but “free men will create new conditions.”)

6. How can we traverse Kropotkin’s nostalgia for the agricultural past with his reliance on the technology of the future to save man?

7. How does Kropotkin think the emancipation of woman will benefit the new society? How will women become “emancipated” in his view?

8. How does Kropotkin’s anarchist communism compare to anarchist fiction, specifically texts such as The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin or Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy?


I mean, just LOOK at that beard!

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