Anarchy Against The Law and The State
A Reminder for Do-Gooders, Anarchist Cops and Secularized Christians Everywhere
“Authoritarian society is odious to us, and we are preparing the experiment of a libertarian society.” — Zo d’Axa
“The individual is forever at war with the State.” — Sofia Johnson aka Comrade Candle
ONE: ANARCHISTS WEREN’T PUSSY CATS
This is a book that is really about a single subject. This subject is that anarchy, a state of affairs desired by those who call themselves anarchists, is opposed to, and so against, all laws and states as the means to authoritarian and controlled human societies. It follows from this that anarchy, and anarchists, are not in the business of standing up for, or supporting, laws and states — or any human bodies or organisations [such as cops, courts and prisons] which do and which gain their authority from them. The suggestion is, in fact, that anarchists are almost certainly committed to destroying or otherwise ignoring any such entities AND REGARDING ANY WHO UPHOLD OR FALL IN LINE WITH THEM AS ENEMIES INJURIOUS TO THEIR DESIRES AND AIMS. This, I go on to suggest, should not be controversial in anarchist spaces but apparently there are those where it is. So allow me to present my case for why, historically and contemporaneously, anarchists want a state of affairs without laws or states, without governments or cops, without centralised coercions in any form whatsoever [which includes inside anarchist communities] AND WHY THEY SHOULD ACT HABITUALLY AND CONSISTENTLY TO DEFY THEM.
Let me start here not by referring to historical expressions of anarchy in order to demonstrate where anarchism comes from [we will get to that soon enough] but with a message I was sent from someone who had read my previous book Mini-Manual of Anarchist Relations. This is a person I do not know but with whom I have spoken several times online about my written work on anarchism and what it means as they have demonstrated a very strong interest in this for themselves. One morning, soon after I had published this previous book, I received the following message:
“It hit tonight. A lot of cascading realizations sown by your book clicked into place. I had been feeling strange all day and couldn’t put my finger on it. Not depressed just distant. I went out in the city and was struck by all these thoughts of ‘why can’t I go there?’, ‘why can’t I do this?’, ‘why can’t I do that?’ in the context of all these things the law forbids. That’s when it hit me: I was feeling alienated, disconnected from my life. My values align with everything you said and we discussed but my actions don’t reflect that. My mind and heart want to live those new relationships, that new community, that new society in the relationships I, as far as I can, determine how I participate in. But my actions were still those of somebody in an amiable relationship with law, with oppression, with the life imposed on me and not the one I feel or recognize. It was a bit dissociative but then one takes those first steps into the spaces the signs say don’t, those first interactions that break from the dull and cruel ‘normal’, those first wholehearted looks at people polite society shames you for and all the chains start to crack and slide away. A new life of such vibrant and horrifying freedom touched me today like the first rays of the morning sun. It would be wrong to not thank you and your book for tearing away the blinds.”
Aside from the beautiful way my digital associate has phrased this realisation of theirs, I include this here simply to highlight the stakes that anarchism, as a philosophy of life, present us with. They can be presented somewhat in spiritual terms as they are here but the consequences are, of course, necessarily material. Anarchists are about changing the human experience of living in the world by the creation of new relationships that are not the same [and so not the same experience] as the old, coercive, controlling, exploitative relationships of a capitalist and authoritarian world [or, at least, that was the thesis of Mini-Manual of Anarchist Relations to which my associate was responding]. But let’s make it even simpler: anarchists want one thing and the world gives them another thing.
Now we can get historical. My argument is that anarchists have always been “against the law” and that when particular anarchists have broken the law this was neither wrong, something to be ashamed of, nor even out of character for an anarchist. Its time for a roll call of law-breaking, state-defying anarchists:
We might start here with the first person to call themselves an anarchist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. In 1842 he was arrested and brought before a French court in Besançon for his writing on property [not, in this case, for his most famous writing on the subject, What is Property?, but for a further writing “Warning to Proprietors”]. It is said of this case that Proudhon would certainly have been found guilty by the court but “he was acquitted when the jury found that they could not condemn him for a philosophy that they themselves could not understand”! It seems that novelty can sometimes be of benefit in matters of political dispute!
Proudhon’s fellow Frenchman was the individualist, Anselme Bellegarrigue. He had been travelling in the New World between 1846–1848 and came back to France the day before the revolt which would remove King Louis-Philippe I from the French throne. He, of course, immediately took part in that revolt and then spent the rest of the year complaining that democracy had not been set in place of the deposed king. Bellegarrigue’s conception of anarchism was one of civil disobedience [it is conjectured he met with David Henry Thoreau in America who, of course, was all about civil disobedience himself] and in his writing such as Anarchie, Journal de l’Ordre he posited a minimalist administration which only existed to facilitate trade between people, all other government being scrapped as people became masters of their own affairs.
Joseph Déjacque was an anarchist-communist contemporaneous with Proudhon and Bellegarrigue. He later referred to himself and his fellow travellers as “libertarian” and had experienced authoritarianism whilst part of the French Navy in his early life. Déjacque first came to public prominence, however, when arrested as part of the several revolutionary upheavals in France in 1848. Imprisoned for a time for his politically motivated agitations, he was released but later rearrested again in 1851, being sentenced to two years in prison for his collection of poems Les Lazaréennes, Fables et Poésies Sociales, with an additional penalty of 2000 francs. He escaped to London around the time of the December 2, 1851 French coup d’état however and would, thereafter, also flee to New York before coming back to France in the 1860s and dying there in abject poverty.
Mikhail Bakunin should need no introduction to anyone of any anarchist education as he is one of the major originators of revolutionary, social and collectivist anarchism. He had aimed to become an academic, being influenced by both the ideas of Proudhon and Karl Marx, but he was expelled from France, where he had met them earlier, for opposing the Russian Empire’s occupation of Poland. Later, in 1849, he was arrested in Dresden for his participation in the Czech rebellion of 1848 and deported back to the Russian Empire, his homeland, where he was imprisoned, first in Saint Petersburg and then, later, in the Shlisselburg Fortress from 1854 until he was finally exiled to Siberia in 1857. He escaped from there, however, a vast undertaking all by itself, and, via Japan, he got to the United States and then to London. In 1863, Bakunin left to join the insurrection in Poland, but he failed to reach it and instead spent time in Switzerland and Italy. Later still, in 1870 in Lyon, France, he was involved in a further insurrection and, after that, towards the end of his life, he wanted to take part in an anarchist insurrection in Bologna, Italy as well. A major theoretical impetus to the formation of anarchist ideas, Bakunin also led the way in terms of material actions as well.
Carlo Cafiero was the son of a rich Italian family and a champion of Bakunin’s anarchism in his dying years, even using his inherited wealth to purchase a place in Switzerland where Bakunin could live out his final years with his family. Cafiero was always considered the black sheep of his family but his social status allowed him to progress through his youth to a potential career in the diplomatic service. However, whilst in London in 1870 he would renounce his privileged past and his career having learned of the terrible conditions of the working class and the lives they were expected to lead. He made contact with Marx and Engels thereafter and joined the International Workingmens Association [of which Bakunin was then still also a member] before meeting Bakunin himself in 1872 and coming round to his way of seeing things. In 1877, along with Errico Malatesta [about whom more shortly] and other Italians, he began an insurrection in the Italian province of Benevento where two villages were seized and won for anarchy before the Italian military surrounded and arrested them all. [In this action arms and expropriated goods were distributed amongst the people, tax money was returned and official documents were destroyed.] They were all held in prison for over a year before a trial finally acquitted them. Cafiero was exiled from Italy, however, and was living in France before both he and Malatesta as well were deported from France for their beliefs and activities. Cafiero would later go to Switzerland before also being arrested there in 1881 and for the rest of his life it seems he suffered from some mental health problems which required intermittent hospitalisation until the end of his life.
Errico Malatesta was an accomplice of Cafiero and about thirty others in the action to seize villages for anarchy in 1877 but he would go on to become one of the most well known names in anarchist history. Malatesta in fact spent a good deal of his adult life either exiled from and/or imprisoned by various countries such as his own Italy but also England, France and Switzerland as well. He participated personally in numerous revolts, strikes and insurrections and travelled across Europe and even to Argentina where he spent several years. His career in anti-authoritarianism began as early as age 14 when he penned an “insolent and threatening” letter to King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia and he was used, throughout his life, to being refused entry by various countries he attempted to travel to. At various points in his life Malatesta attempted to fight against British colonialism in Egypt, founded workers’ organisations and initiated several anarchist publications. Settling in various locales across Europe especially, he was often forced to flee elsewhere once recognised before the authorities could physically capture him. Often imprisoned, he was also no stranger to escaping his imprisoned conditions with the help of colleagues such as on an occasion where he escaped from the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa. In 1910, whilst living in London, he sold oxyacetylene cutting equipment to the jewel thief George Gardstein [one of a gang of Latvian revolutionaries in London at that time] which would lead directly to “the siege of Sidney Street”, a famous shoot out between the British army and police and two of the holed up revolutionaries. Malatesta would spend his final years back in Italy, however, publishing propaganda when he could, but shackled by Mussolini’s fascist government into relative obscurity.
Another famous anarchist name is that of former Russian prince, Peter Kropotkin. Like Cafiero, only more so, Kropotkin began his life in privilege and embarked on a military career. He later moved into the academic world in Saint Petersburg but became more politically active after a trip to Switzerland in 1872 where he joined the International Workingmens Association and then the more anarchist [and less state socialist] Jura Federation. It was here he adopted anarchism. Returning to Russia, he was introduced to the intellectual revolutionary socialists of the Circle of Tchaikovsky [not the musical one] and began to dig into their work of spreading revolutionary propaganda among peasants and workers. He continued his academic work as cover. As a result of this seditious activity, however [remember, Russia still had a Tsar at this time], he was arrested and imprisoned in the famous Peter and Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg, being given preferential treatment there as a former aristocrat [his father had disowned him when he resigned from the military]. He was kept there for two years before being moved to a low security prison prior to his trial. But the trial never happened for Kropotkin escaped from this facility before it could take place. He absconded from there to London then Switzerland then Paris then Switzerland again. He would be expelled from Switzerland shortly after the nihilists murdered the Tsar in 1881 and he would be tried in Lyon, France, in 1883 for having been a member of the International Workingmens Association, being sentenced to five years in jail and serving three. He lived in exile from Russia entirely until after the Russian revolutions of 1917, isolating himself from almost the entire mainstream of anarchism during the First World War since he supported an Allied victory whereas the vast majority had opposed the war tout court as a squabble amongst capitalist empires.
Élisée Reclus is most famous for being a French geographer who some would tout as a forerunner of what is now called “social ecology” yet he was also an anarchist [along with one of his brothers, Elie] who was banished from his French homeland because of his political activism. During the Siege of Paris [1870–1871], Reclus shared in operations conducted with airships and balloons and also served in the National Guard. As a member of the Association Nationale des Travailleurs he further published a hostile manifesto against the government of Versailles and in support of the Paris Commune of 1871. Continuing to serve on in the National Guard after this, which was then in open revolt, Reclus was later taken prisoner. On 16 November 1871 he was sentenced to deportation for life from France but because of intervention by supporters from England [and due to his academic credentials since he was by this time a valued geographical voice in the academic community] the sentence was commuted in January 1872 to perpetual banishment from France. In the 1880s he initiated an anti-marriage movement, allowing his daughters to marry their partners without civil or church ceremony, and praised the benefits of nudity and naturism, both things which upset former supporters of his. He was indicted, along with Kropotkin and Louise Michel [about whom more soon], by the Lyon court in 1883 as an anarchist leader but, as he remained in Switzerland, the court did not sentence or imprison him.
Louise Michel, the Red Virgin [she wasn’t a virgin in the literal sense as she had lovers] who was originally trained as a schoolteacher, is most famously remembered as a Paris Communard, a woman who not only organised ambulance stations behind the lines, but picked up rifles and shot at combatants in the cause of liberty as the head of the Montmartre Women’s Vigilance Committee. Before this, Michel had been the member of a feminist group seeking civil rights for women and the better education of French girls. During the Commune, she was persuaded not carry out her plan to assassinate Adolphe Thiers, then the chief executive of the French national government. In her memoirs she would write, “Oh, I’m a savage alright, I like the smell of gunpowder, grapeshot flying through the air, but above all, I’m devoted to the Revolution” which perhaps betrays something of her character in regard to fighting and its necessity. Fighting all the way through the Bloody Week in which thousands were killed, in fact, and which ended the Commune, Michel would later be tried and sentenced to deportation to New Caledonia, the French Pacific colony. It was only during her later transportation to the Pacific island that she became an anarchist when she met anarchists who had received the same punishment as her. Michel was in receipt of amnesty in 1880 and returned to France. However, her exile had only fanned the flames of her revolutionary zeal. She began giving speeches and attended the anarchist conference in London in 1881. Meanwhile, In March 1883, Michel and her French colleague, Émile Pouget, led a demonstration of unemployed workers. In the riot which followed on from this, 500 demonstrators, who were led by Michel, [a veteran, lest we forget, of leading actual armed insurrection] pillaged three bakeries and are reported to have shouted “Bread, work, or lead”. It is suggested that Michel led this demonstration with a black flag, something which has since become a symbol of anarchism worldwide and which was the first such recorded use of this symbol. Michel was arrested and tried for this riot and was sentenced to six years of solitary confinement but was eventually released in 1886 at the same time as Kropotkin. In 1890 the French arrested Michel again and attempted to have her committed to a mental asylum but she escaped to London where she opened a school “for the children of political refugees” and from which she moved among European anarchist circles. The school was forcibly closed a couple of years later, however, when explosives were found in the basement. She moved back to France for the last ten years of her life and continued to lecture and tour.
Clément Duval was a French anarchist whose ideas would later be influential among that branch of anarchism dubbed “illegalism”. His story, shorn of its political connotations, would later be turned into the fictional novel and motion picture “Papillon” according to some knowledgeable sources. Duval is most famous for breaking into the mansion of a rich Parisian socialite in late 1886 whereupon he preceded to steal 15,000 francs before accidentally setting the house on fire. He was subsequently caught two weeks later after trying to fence some of the other items he had stolen during the burglary. He stabbed a policeman named Rossignol several times during this arrest, although the policeman survived. Duval’s trial drew crowds of supporters and ended in chaos when he was dragged from the court, crying, “Long live anarchy!” He was condemned to death but his sentence was later commuted to hard labour on the French penal colony of Devil’s Island, French Guiana. Duval also famously published literature in which he justified the anarchist theft of private property belonging to the rich on the basis that it was individual restitution for monopolised wealth which had itself been accumulated by legalised theft from the workers who had originally produced it collectively. Duval was also reportedly a member of the French anarchist group, The Panther of Batignolles.
Alexander Berkman was a Lithuanian Jew who emigrated to New York in the late 1880s and became famous due to his lifelong partnership [at first sexual, then later not as both he and his partner believed in free love and each took multiple different sexual partners throughout their lives] with Emma Goldman [see below]. The occasion that would mark Berkman for life was his decision, with Goldman, to attempt to kill the union buster and corporate magnate, Henry Clay Frick in 1892. The plan was for Berkman to do the deed whilst Goldman would stay behind to publicise its reasoning. [This was an example of propaganda by the deed and was intended to rouse oppressed workers to action.] Unfortunately, despite being armed with a gun and a knife, and getting off shots with both, Berkman was clubbed unconscious by those who rushed to help Frick in his making his attempt on Frick’s life before he could accomplish the deed. Berkman would be arrested and serve 14 years in jail for the attempt, only being released in 1906. After this he recommenced his former anarchist life as a propagandist and agitator, first living with Goldman then not and working on her magazine Mother Earth before starting his own called The Blast. Berkman was consistently seen in public during this time and suffered several arrests, not least as he was tarnished forever in the authorities’ eyes as the man who had tried to kill Frick. In 1917, when the USA entered the First World War, he and Goldman began an anti-conscription league for which they were arrested and jailed for two years. Thereafter, both were deported to Russia. Berkman lived out the rest of his life more quietly, writing and contributing from a distance, eventually settling in the south of France. He died as a result of a gunshot wound he administered to himself in 1936 when he discovered he had a terminal illness and did not want to be a burden to his then companion, Emmy Eckstein, and his by then near neighbour, Goldman.
Emma Goldman, the “high priestess of anarchy”, was also a Lithuanian Jew like Berkman. As already mentioned, she plotted with Berkman in the matter of the assassination attempt on Frick. When Berkman went to jail she became personally active in her own right and, within a year, was facing her own jail term for incitement to riot in New York when she gave a speech urging starving workers to accost the rich in their homes and steal bread if no one would give them work. Goldman quickly became a well known anarchist speaker as ready to address the poverty of the poor as the subjugation of women in marriage and the necessity of freedom in love. Her activity centred primarily on New York in her early years of activity but by 1901 she was known across the country when President McKinley was murdered by Leon Czolgosz. The police soon discovered that Czolgosz had had some brief interaction with Goldman at one of her meetings and she was summarily arrested by the police and held for 2 weeks as they attempted to blame her for the presidential assassination. Eventually, they had to let her go, however, although she would latter complain of her rough treatment at their hands. Once Berkman was released from jail in 1906 Goldman would enter her most popular period and would engage in tours across America several months in length at which it was absolutely routine for police to either line the hall where she was to speak or to simply ban the meeting entirely. Goldman was arrested literally dozens and dozens of times during these years and recounts one story where a policeman, on arresting her, threw her into the back of the cart and knocked out one of her teeth when she complained. In San Diego in 1912 and 1913 hordes of opponents of her philosophy attempted to stop her speaking and police escorted her to the railway station. In one of these incidents her then manager and lover, Ben Reitman, was kidnapped, tarred and feathered, made to run a gauntlet, and then set free. Later in her American career, a time when she would reportedly translate a book on how to make bombs for Luigi Galleani [see below] and when she also helped raise bail funds for the Mexican revolutionary, Ricardo Flores Magón [see below], Goldman was charged with teaching birth control to women [then completely illegal] and served a further prison sentence when she refused to pay her $100 fine on principle. She was arrested with Berkman, as already mentioned, for forming the anti-conscription league in 1917 and was deported to Russia with him at the end of 1919. Goldman lived the last twenty years of her life as something of a wanderer in Europe as she was unwanted in various territories by the governments of those places and she finally died in Canada in 1940, having engaged in a marriage of convenience with a Briton in 1925 in order to procure a British passport to make travelling easier.
Although I have mentioned the propagandists of the deed known as Ravachol, Auguste Vaillant, Émile Henry and Sante Caserio before in previous books of mine, I feel I should mention them again — both for sake of some attempt at completeness and also because their stories strike a chord with me. Three of the four [Henry, the son of a former Communard, was the exception] lived lives of poverty but all were enraged by the society they lived in, the craven authoritarianism of capital and government, and the things people simply allowed to happen in society. These men were all men who carried out violent acts, of course. The first three were French born bombers, whereas Caserio was Italian born but murdered the French President in 1894. All four were put to death by the French state for their violent strikes into the heart of an authoritarian world.
To these men, of course, we could add the aforementioned Leon Czolgosz, a man of previously unknown anarchist commitment or belief, who murdered President McKinley in Buffalo in 1901. We could also add Gaetano Bresci, the assassin who killed Italian King Umberto I in 1900. When he was found dead in prison a year later, the official story being suicide, many believed he had instead been murdered himself. Bresci, who had emigrated to the USA years earlier and returned to Italy specifically to kill the king for his support of the authorities who had shot starving people two years earlier in Milan, would go on to inspire a New York circle of anarchists known as the Bresci Circle who, amongst other things, bombed St Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan and attempted to kill the USA magnate John D. Rockefeller who was responsible for many outrages against his workers and their rights. Also of note here is the assassin of the Empress of Austria with an improvised weapon in 1898, Luigi Lucheni.
This brings us to a further Italian of note when it comes to propaganda by the deed, Luigi Galleani. Galleani was notable not merely for his own actions and achievements but for the fact that, as an apparently inspiring propagandist, in print and in person, he caused numerous fellow Italians to rally to the cause and to engage in actions of their own. Galleani became an anarchist as a law student in Turin and already by the age of 19 had to flee to France as he was wanted by police. He remained located mostly in France for the next 20 years with trips to Switzerland in between where he helped fellow anarchist Élisée Reclus [see above] with his geographical work. He and Reclus also organised an event in honour of the Haymarket anarchists in 1887 and for this Galleani was arrested and deported from Switzerland back to France — from which he was also deported back to Italy a few years later. In Italy he was arrested within a few years and sentenced to five years in prison. However, he escaped in 1900 and fled to Egypt where there was a large expatriate Italian community. The Egyptian authorities, however, notified him that they intended to send him back to his homeland so he fled to London and from there to the USA.
Settling in New Jersey in the town Bresci had left in order to kill Umberto I, Galleani became a powerful organiser of anarchist endeavours, particularly among the Italian community of anarchists. He did not hide his subversive credentials or intentions and openly encouraged propaganda by the deed. He edited two notable journals, La Questione Sociale and, later, Cronaca Sovversiva and in the later journal even published details on how to make bombs and nitroglycerine. In 1902 Galleani was wounded by police gunfire when he spoke on behalf of factory workers who had gone on strike. He was later indicted for inciting a riot but fled to Canada where he was captured and escorted back across the border. So good a speaker was Galleani in person that one of the Galleanisti who formed as a result of his propaganda said of him that “When you heard Galleani speak you were ready to shoot the first policeman you saw.” Perhaps it was for this reason that the Galleanisti ever arose in the first place for several notable bombings and other assassination attempts [including poisonings] of public and government officials, businessmen, judges, prominent cops and capitalists took place around this time, especially in the second decade of the century. Most could be linked to those who worked with or who had heard Galleani. Galleani himself was inevitably deported by the USA in 1919 along with some others. Back in fascist Italy after the rise of Mussolini, he was arrested and imprisoned several times but even when free was under constant police surveillance until his death in 1931.
Zo d’Axa was the descendant of a famous French naval officer and explorer and a cavalryman himself until he deserted to Belgium in 1889. He would end up being exiled to Italy where, then a religious man, he began to publish a conservative Catholic periodical whilst apparently also seducing the local women. He got himself into some trouble, however, when it was decided he had insulted the Empress of Germany [he maintained unjustly] and was prosecuted, the proceedings against him turning him into an anarchist. He then spent a few years being chased across European borders by police. Returning to France, he would become responsible for two of the most famous of French anarchist periodicals, L’EnDehors [The Outside] and La Feuille [The Leaf]. The first of these publications featured several of the most noted anarchists of the time such as Jean Grave, Louise Michel and Sébastien Faure and strongly spoke in favour of propaganda by the deed. Its support for Ravachol’s deeds in fact made it a target of the authorities and Zo d’Axa was arrested and put in prison as the French authorities tried to construct a grand conspiracy of anarchists out of what was actually a collection of individually inspired and pursued acts. D’Axa himself publicly justified violence and, as an individualist himself, saw its destruction as a means of anarchist joy [many decades before Bonanno would take the same tack with his Armed Joy for which he himself would be imprisoned]. He thus strongly praised the anti-capitalist lifestyle of itinerant anarchist bandits who would become the precursors of the later French illegalists.
Albert Libertad [born Joseph Albert but who came to be known as Albert Libertad or just Libertad after the Spanish word for “liberty”] was born in Bordeaux but abandoned by his parents as a baby. He was then raised by French public assistance but due to childhood illness completely lost the use of his legs, needing crutches to get around. By age 21 Libertad had moved to Paris and became an enthusiastic member of anarchist circles. Libertad was an enthusiastic propagandist and organiser who would use his crutches to attack police at public demonstrations. He was both an anti-militarist and an advocate of free love and also founded perhaps the most influential anarchist paper in France, L’Anarchie, in 1905 where he is reported to have called on people to burn their ID papers and become human beings again rather than some state’s bureaucratic statistic.
Marius Jacob, who also went by several other names including “Attila” and “Barabbas”, was a French anarchist illegalist and burglar. He began his career in anarchist thieving as a 20 year old when he stole from a pawn shop but within a year his career was arrested [literally] when he was captured but he faked insanity to avoid a lengthy imprisonment. Being placed in an asylum as a result, he promptly made good his escape from there with the assistance of a male nurse at the facility who would become a good friend and a member of his gang. Thereafter, Jacob organised a band of burglars dubbed “The Workers of the Night” who are believed responsible for up to 150 burglaries around France. However, this was no ordinary gang for they had rules. These rules were simple: one does not kill except to protect his life and his freedom from the police and a percentage of the stolen money was to be invested into the anarchist cause [i.e. to help others]. Although noted as a clever thief with a large slice of wit [the gang often left amusing or sarcastic notes behind at the scene of their crimes], they did often get into scrapes such as being chased or almost caught — when their creed allowed them to fire upon police. Inevitably, cops were shot and gang members arrested. After one incident, when a cop was shot in an attempted escape, Jacob and two accomplices were captured. Jacob was consequently sentenced to forced labour for life after already having been kept in prison for two years before trial and was sent to the French colony of The Salvation Islands off the coast of French Guiana where he was subsequently often brought before authorities for consistent escape attempts. About twenty years after his initial sentence [and almost nine of these years kept in chains] the sentence was commuted to five years in prison in France itself and Jacob was finally released on the last day of 1927. He did not resume his former activities thereafter and later reflected that illegalism was more a matter of temperament than anarchist doctrine.
This brings us to those most famous of French illegalists, The Bonnot Gang. The Bonnot Gang [named after one of their members, Jules Bonnot] were bank robbers [or just robbers generally if you prefer] who achieved some measure of success by using repeating rifles and getaway cars [a tactic they invented and the means to which they would steal off the street by attacking the driver directly] which gave them the advantage over the French police. As examples, one robbery by the gang took place on December 21, 1911 at the AB Branch of Société Générale Bank, located at 148 rue Ordener in the 18th Arrondissement of Paris. They shot a bank clerk in the neck and lung [he survived] and snatched his cash bags. Later, on March 25, 1912 in a further example, the gang stole a de Dion-Bouton automobile in the Forest of Sénart, south of Paris, by shooting the driver through the heart. They then drove into Chantilly, north of Paris, where they robbed the local branch of Société Générale Bank – fatally shooting two bank cashiers and severely wounding a bookkeeper. Overall, the gang were held responsible for up to 18 robberies around 1911–1912 and, when finally caught, the charges against the defendants included murder, attempted murder, wounding, assault, armed robbery, robbery with violence, burglary, unlawful possession of firearms, theft and receiving stolen goods. A general charge of ‘criminal conspiracy’ was laid against them all. Their activities also inspired some “copy cat” activities. Jules Bonnot himself would eventually die in a shoot out with police.
Ricardo Flores Magón was a noted Mexican anarchist who, together with his brothers Enrique and Jesús, was active in Mexican politics at the start of the twentieth century. Followers of Magón famously became known as Magonistas and his activities are held partly responsible for the Mexican Revolution that can be dated to 1910–1920. Magón was born in the province of Oaxaca [where the Zapatistas are currently active] to an indigenous father and a mother of mixed European/indigenous ancestry. As one of the major thinkers of the Mexican Revolution and the Mexican revolutionary movement, he was active as a leading light of the Partido Liberal Mexicano, the Mexican Liberal Party. Flores Magón both organised with the Industrial Workers of the World and edited the Mexican anarchist newspaper Regeneración, which aroused the workers against the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. He engaged in creating short-lived revolutionary communes in Baja California in 1911 based on Kropotkin’s ideas in The Conquest of Bread which he is said to have regarded as something of a ‘bible’. Even as a student, Magón had been imprisoned for five months for his opposition to Porfirio Díaz and he would later also go into hiding for three months when the whole student body was sought for arrest. In 1904, Magón fled Mexico when the courts banned the printing of his seditiously regarded writings and he remained in the United States for the remainder of his life. Half of this period was spent in prison. There he resumed publication of Regeneración and led the Partido Liberal Mexicano from abroad. The Liberal Party, meanwhile, engaged in constant uprisings and skirmishes which the Mexican authorities would put down whilst the American government took the side of the ruling Mexicans — putting Mexican sympathizers in the US at risk of capture and being returned to Mexico. Magón himself was by this time in Los Angeles but very secretive about his location and who he shared it with in order to avoid capture. Eventually, he was captured, of course, and he would subsequently spend the rest of his life intermittently in and out of US prisons interspersed with propagandist activities against both the Mexican government and US involvement in Mexican affairs. On one occasion, on being arrested in 1916 accused of sending “indecent materials” through the U.S. Mail, he made bail with the help of Emma Goldman who acted on his behalf to help raise funds. He died in prison in Kansas in 1922.
What can be said about the legend that is Renzo Novatore? Raised to the east of La Spezia in Italy, Novatore [born Abele Rizieri Ferrari] was a boy of poor, peasant stock who stopped going to school after a year as it didn’t sit well with him. He would thereafter spend his youth and adolescence working on the family farm or by educating himself with books he bought by stealing produce to sell for money in order to buy them. This activity introduced him to many literary influences, amongst them Stirner and Nietzsche whom he would later often quote in his writing, as well as the plays of Henrik Ibsen and the anarchism of Malatesta, his countryman, and Kropotkin. He had already become an individualist anarchist before his twentieth year when he was accused of burning down a local church, spending three months in prison for the crime although his participation was never proved. A year later he disappeared for several months because the police wanted him for theft and robbery. On September 30, 1911, the police arrested him for vandalism. Novatore was a man who justified refusal to work and who thought that he had the right to expropriate from rich people what he needed for his daily survival. He had no problem using necessary force to achieve this end. He began writing for anarchist papers in 1914 but was drafted into the Army during The Great War. He would desert his regiment in 1918, risking arrest, and was sentenced to death but he fled to avoid the sentence being carried out, only returning to see his young son who was to die in his infancy, risking further arrest. In his last three years of life Novatore would write many often poetic and anti-society articles that lauded his anarchist right to his own personal autonomy of life and action which would appear in numerous Italian anarchist publications besides debating with more social anarchists [such as Camillo Bernieri who thought him mad in his illegality and lawlessness] besides carrying on his illegalist lifestyle [which often required him to abscond from his family and hide from the police] as well as anti-fascist activities [in the time prior to Mussolini’s rise to power]. In one story from this time it is claimed that Novatore escaped from fascists who had surrounded his house in order to seize him by force by throwing home made hand grenades at the fascists and escaping into the woods. Novatore would himself eventually be killed in a police shoot out on November 29, 1922. On Novatore’s body the detectives were said to have found some false documents, a Browning gun with two full magazines, one hand grenade and a ring with a secret container filled with a lethal dose of cyanide.
Before Nestor Makhno became a famous Ukrainian peasant leader who would fight both the White and Red Armies in defence of his homeland, he was schooled in both poverty and class differences. His father died before he was a year old and he was the youngest of five children, making a bad family situation worse. Consequently, his official schooling was both brief and intermittent as he took farm jobs on the estates of richer people in order to make some money for his family and where he also observed workers being badly treated. By age 13 Makhno had found a job in a foundry but with the Russian Revolution of 1905 he became politically active, distributing literature for the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party and joining the local Ukrainian anarcho-communist group, the Union of Poor Peasants. Makhno was initially distrusted by the latter group as he seemingly had a penchant for getting drunk and fighting but after about six months he was allowed to become a formal member. Reforms that took place at that time disempowered traditional peasant communes through the creation of a wealthier land-owning class and resulted in the growth of private estates. As a consequence, the Union of Poor Peasants began a series of expropriations, using money from them to print propaganda against the reforms themselves. Makhno was accused of involvement in these and arrested, being eventually released as there was no direct evidence. The Union of Poor Peasants continued to exist and members would occasionally be arrested, including Makhno, until eventually a police crackdown was ordered on the entire group. Makhno was arrested again and sentenced to death, his sentence finally being commuted to hard labour for life as he was still only 22 years old at the time. Makhno had refused to appeal his sentence and would remain in jail until the February 1917 Russian Revolution and whilst inside he learnt more of anarchism, Kropotkin’s book Mutual Aid making a particular impact, and there also meeting a man who would become his comrade, Peter Arshinov.
Once released he would eventually go back to his home town in Ukraine where he would lead movements to instigate workers’ control and expropriation of lands and property. Makhno consequently disarmed and minimized the powers of local law enforcement prior to seizing property from local landlords and equally redistributing the lands to the peasantry, in open defiance of the Russian Provisional Government and its officials in Oleksandrivsk. Among the people he gained the image of a social bandit that recalled the Cossacks of old. Makhno led the establishment of a “Committee for the Defence of the Revolution” in Huliaipole, his home town, which organised armed peasant detachments against the local landlords, bourgeoisie, and kulaks. He also called for the local bourgeoisie to be disarmed and their property expropriated, with all private enterprise to be brought under workers’ control. Peasants withheld rent and took control of the lands they worked. Large estates collectivized and transformed into agrarian communes. Makhno personally organized communes on former Mennonite estates and lived together with his then wife, Nastia, on a commune at which Makhno himself worked two days per week, helping with the farming and occasionally fixing machines.
When representatives of the Ukrainian People’s Republic signed a peace treaty with the Axis powers in early 1918, inviting them to invade and occupy Ukraine, Makhno resisted and formed armed detachments in order to resist militarily. Makhno stood for the self-organisation of the people and so he would fight the Axis powers, the nationalist White Army and eventually the Bolshevik Red Army before he was forced to flee Ukraine in 1921, having suffered many wounds in the fighting, including a bullet in the neck. Fleeing to Romania, he was initially captured and held before trying to flee to Poland where he was also captured. The same happened again in The Free City of Danzig before he managed to escape to Berlin and from there, eventually, to Paris. By this time Makhno was not a well man, he had suffered from debilitating bouts of tuberculosis for years and his body was also living proof of the many battles he had fought. At this time in his life he became more a propagandist [a thing he had always berated anarchists for being alone without actually doing anything to create self-governing organisations] and he was influential, through the anarchist journal Dyelo Truda [The Labour Cause] and its community, in the creation of the Platformist approach to organisational anarchism. He was arrested by Paris police at this time at a meeting organised to discuss the Platform and threatened with deportation but was eventually allowed to stay in France. Makhno would spend the rest of his days in France where he became increasingly sick and, consequently, poor. He would write occasional articles, often defensive of his past actions. He is buried in Paris.
Some who were highly appreciative of Makhno were the Spanish anarchists, especially Francisco Ascaso and Buenaventura Durruti who met with Makhno in 1927. Durruti was brought up by a union family, his father being in the socialist Unión General de Trabajadores. During a strike in 1917 when the government interfered in union/employer agreements and sent in the army, Durruti had to flee to France to escape capture. Durruti had also noted the brutality of the Spanish government towards anarchists particularly and met some exiled ones in France where he remained for three years, working in Paris. He then returned to Spain, going to the Basque Country, where he got involved with a group that attempted to assassinate the then Spanish king [unsuccessfully] before being persuaded to go to Barcelona to organise anarchist and syndicalist workers who were being particularly suppressed. He formed the organisation “The Solidarity”, along with Ascaso and others, one of the best known Spanish affinity groups. This group would go on to be implicated in further assassination attempts as well as attacks on military barracks and border stations. Both Durruti and this group consequently became important active militants in the context of both the Spanish anarchist federation [FAI] and the workers’ union, the CNT. In the latter case, however, Durruti’s group were not universally popular and this caused a split in 1931 with some leaving to form a further syndicalist party. Durruti is most well known, however, for his fighting in the Spanish Civil War in 1936, where he liberated a barracks in Barcelona with his “Durruti Column” of militant fighters. He was killed defending Madrid later that same year.
Severino Di Giovanni was an Italian anarchist who emigrated to Argentina, a haven for Italian immigrants. He was raised in poverty in Italy but studied to become a teacher, reading the anarchists Proudhon, Bakunin, Malatesta and Reclus in his spare time. Once in Argentina, Di Giovanni settled in a suburb of the capital, Buenos Aires, and, being very much a direct actionist who believed in propaganda by the deed, he became active in political agitation. His first action was at an event to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Victor Emmanuel III’s accession to the Italian throne when local Italians met at a theatre. Di Giovanni and others threw leaflets into the air denouncing then fascist Italy but were quickly apprehended and handed over to local police. After being quickly released, Di Giovanni took part in international protests against the arrest and trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, members of the Galleanist anarchist group in the USA, who were accused of a robbery and murder of two payroll guards. At the time, Di Giovanni was one of the most active anarchists in Argentina defending the two Italian immigrants, writing in various newspapers, including his own, founded in August 1925 and titled Culmine [Climax, Culmination, Summit, Peak], and in the New York publication, L’Adunata dei refrattari [The Gathering of Resistors]. Culmine advocated direct action and propaganda of the deed. Di Giovanni worked at it at during the night, supporting his activism and family by working in factories and as a typesetter. Di Giovanni’s general interest was in fostering anarchist consciousness and activity amongst his fellow Italians in Buenos Aires [including expropriation and propaganda by the deed]. Consequently, when Sacco and Vanzetti were sentenced to death in 1926, Di Giovanni bombed the US Embassy in Buenos Aires, destroying the front of the building. Consulting Italian authorities for likely suspects, Di Giovanni was singled out and arrested by local police but he would later be released for lack of evidence. Di Giovanni and two of his associates would later blow up a statue of George Washington in Buenos Aires after the US Embassy published an article in a local newspaper denouncing Sacco and Vanzetti as common criminals. They followed this up hours later by bombing the local outpost of the Ford Motor Company. The next day the local police chief in charge of apprehending the perpetrators narrowly escaped death when he himself was bombed at home. Di Giovanni and his associates would continue bombing US targets as a result of the final executions of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927.
In 1928, Di Giovanni and some associates, including the two Scarfó brothers who were related to his teenage anarchist lover, América Josefina Scarfó [known to her friends as “Fina”; I wrote about this relationship at more length in my last book, Mini-Manual of Anarchist Relations], blew up the Italian Embassy where an Italian consul had been revealed as a police informer. The explosion killed nine and injured thirty four and was, at the time, the deadliest explosion in Argentinian history. The very same day Di Giovanni would also try to blow up the leader of a local fascist group but the leader’s son disarmed the bomb before it could explode. It should be noted here that Di Giovanni’s penchant for bombs was not universally popular among anarchist groupings in Argentina. Debates raged between various anarchist journals and their constituencies. Eventually, someone assassinated one of the editors of a journal criticising Di Giovanni’s tactics and he and his associates were the prime suspects in the killing although no evidence was found. Di Giovanni himself would continue to lead his bombing campaign, even targeting US President-elect, Herbert Hoover, on a visit to Argentina. This never happened, however, as the associate he had despatched to carry out the act, one of Fina Scarfó’s brothers, was captured before he could plant the bomb on the train tracks.
In 1930 there was a military coup in Argentina and Di Giovanni passed long periods of his time in seclusion, working on Elisée Reclus’s complete works. The police attempted to arrest him at a printing shop, but Di Giovanni managed to escape during a gun battle in which one policeman was killed and another injured. Later, in January 1931, Di Giovanni was arrested after being seriously injured in yet another gun battle, along with both Fina and Paulino Scarfó. Two other anarchists were killed in the firefight. Di Giovanni announced that the 300 chickens found in their house were to be given to the poor of a local neighbourhood. The military junta now in power in Argentina publicised the arrests as a victory of the new regime and immediately organized a military tribunal. Di Giovanni was ably defended by his appointed defence counsel, Lieutenant Juan Carlos Franco, who spoke out in favour of the independence of the judicial system and alleged that Di Giovanni had been tortured by the police. Franco’s spirited defence of his client caused his own arrest after the trial; he was later dismissed from the ranks of the armed forces and briefly imprisoned before his deportation from Argentina. Yet it was to no avail as the evidence against Di Giovanni was overwhelming. Both he and Paulino Scarfó were sentenced to death; Fina, being underage, was freed. Severino Di Giovanni was executed by firing squad on 1 February 1931; he was 29 years old. He shouted “Evviva l’Anarchia!” [Long live Anarchy!] before being hit by at least eight 7.65 mm Mauser rifle bullets.
All this, I’m sure you will now agree, is quite a catalogue of criminality and villainy — all of it perpetrated by self-proclaimed anarchists who defied both states and laws — and the official agents of both — in the carrying out of their variously illegal and differently motivated acts. [It is, by the by, also far from a totally comprehensive list and months of research on the theme I am certain would reveal hundreds and even thousands more examples of anarchist action in defiance of both states and laws that could fill multiple books of their own.] Yet I hold no brief to either defend or criticise any of these acts. I let them speak for themselves. But, further, it seems to me that we should also ask, in this more historical chapter of the present book, what it was that anarchists believed that caused them to act in such ways. Consequently, I would like to append here, in order to finish this chapter off, the considered thoughts of various anarchists in a matrix of historical texts which should be considered simultaneously as an expression of various, always individually modulated, anarchist beliefs from the classical period of anarchism [1870–1940].
Let’s begin by quoting in full the “Declaration to the Tribunal of Lyons by the Accused Anarchists”, these anarchists including Peter Kropotkin, Élisée Reclus, Émile Pouget and Louise Michel. Trial or court statements are often good material for getting anarchist motives and intentions out into the open as anarchists saw them as a prime opportunity for propaganda for their cause. This declaration thus reads as follows:
“We are going to say what anarchy is, what anarchists are. The anarchists, messieurs, are citizens who, in a century where freedom of opinion is preached everywhere, believe it to be their obligation to call for unlimited freedom. Yes messieurs, throughout the world we are a few thousand, a few million workers who demand absolute freedom, nothing but freedom, all of freedom!
We want freedom, which is to say that we demand the right and the means for all human beings to do whatever pleases them, to fully satisfy all their needs, without any limit but that imposed by their natural possibilities and the needs of their neighbours, which are equally worthy of respect. We want freedom, and we believe its existence is incompatible with the existence of any kind of power, whatever its origin or form, be it elected or imposed, monarchical or republican, be it inspired by divine right or popular right, by Saint-Whoever or universal suffrage.
History teaches us that all governments resemble each other and are worth the same. The best are the worst. There’s a greater part of cynicism among some, and more hypocrisy among others! But deep down it’s always the same procedures, always the same intolerance. Even those liberal in appearance have in reserve, under the dust of legislative arsenals, some nice little law on the International to be used against bothersome opponents.
In other words, the evil doesn’t reside in one form of government more than another. It’s in the governmental idea itself, it’s in the principle of authority. In a word, our ideal is the substitution in human relations of a free contract, perpetually revisable and terminable, for administrative and legal guardianship, for imposed discipline. The anarchists thus propose to teach the people to do without government the same way they are beginning to learn to do without God. It will also learn to do without owners. The worst of tyrants, in fact, is not he who imprisons you, it’s he who starves you. It’s not he who grabs you by the collar, it’s he who grabs you by the belly.
There can be no freedom without equality! There can be no freedom in a society where capital is monopolized in the hands of an ever-shrinking minority and where nothing is equally shared, not even public education, which is nevertheless paid for out of public funds.
As for us, we believe that capital, the common patrimony of humanity, since it is the fruit of the collaboration of past generations with the current one, should be at the disposal of all, in such a way that none can be excluded, but also that none can take a part to the detriment of the rest. In a word, we want equality: equality in fact, as a corollary of or, rather, as the primordial condition of freedom. From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs. This is what we sincerely, energetically want. This is what will be, for there is nothing that can prevail against demands that are both legitimate and necessary. This is why we are subjected to all kinds of punishments.
What scoundrels we are! We demand bread for all, work for all, and for all as well we want independence and justice.”
Next I would like to quote a 1926 Errico Malatesta’s piece, “Neither Democrats, nor Dictators: Anarchists” in which the Italian stalwart of anarcho-communism discusses government and why anarchists are for something else other than government:
“Theoretically ‘democracy’ means popular government; government by all for everybody by the efforts of all. In a democracy the people must be able to say what they want, to nominate the executors of their wishes, to monitor their performance and remove them when they see fit.
Naturally this presumes that all the individuals that make up a people are able to form an opinion and express it on all the subjects that interest them. It implies that everyone is politically and economically independent and therefore no-one, to live, would be obliged to submit to the will of others.
If classes and individuals exist that are deprived of the means of production and therefore dependent on others with a monopoly over those means, the so-called democratic system can only be a lie, and one which serves to deceive the mass of the people and keep them docile with an outward show of sovereignty, while the rule of the privileged and dominant class is in fact salvaged and consolidated. Such is democracy and such it always has been in a capitalist structure, whatever form it takes, from constitutional monarchy to so-called direct rule.
There could be no such thing as a democracy, a government of the people, other than in a socialistic regime, when the means of production and of living are socialised and the right of all to intervene in the running of public affairs is based on and guaranteed by the economic independence of every person. In this case it would seem that the democratic system was the one best able to guarantee justice and to harmonise individual independence with the necessities of life in society. And so it seemed, more or less clearly, to those who, in the era of the absolute monarchs, fought, suffered and died for freedom. But for the fact that, looking at things as they really are, the government of all the people turns out to be an impossibility, owing to the fact that the individuals who make up the people have differing opinions and desires and it never, or almost never happens, that on any one question or problem all can be in agreement. Therefore the ‘government of all the people’, if we have to have government, can at best be only the government of the majority. And the democrats, whether socialists or not, are willing to agree. They add, it is true, that one must respect minority rights; but since it is the majority that decides what these rights are, as a result minorities only have the right to do what the majority wants and allows. The only limit to the will of the majority would be the resistance which the minorities know and can put up. This means that there would always be a social struggle, in which a part of the members, albeit the majority, has the right to impose its own will on the others, yoking the efforts of all to their own ends.
And here I would make an aside to show how, based on reasoning backed by the evidence of past and present events, it is not even true that where there is government, namely authority, that authority resides in the majority and how in reality every ‘democracy’ has been, is and must be nothing short of an ‘oligarchy’ — a government of the few, a dictatorship. But, for the purposes of this article, I prefer to err on the side of the democrats and assume that there can really be a true and sincere majority government. Government means the right to make the law and to impose it on everyone by force: without a police force there is no government. Now, can a society live and progress peacefully for the greater good of all, can it gradually adapt to ever-changing circumstances, if the majority has the right and the means to impose its will by force on the recalcitrant minorities?
The majority is, by definition, backward, conservative, enemy of the new, sluggish in thought and deed and at the same time impulsive, immoderate, suggestible, facile in its enthusiasms and irrational fears. Every new idea stems from one or a few individuals, is accepted, if viable, by a more or less sizeable minority and wins over the majority, if ever, only after it has been superseded by new ideas and new needs and has already become outdated and rather an obstacle, rather than a spur, to progress.
But do we, then, want a minority government?
Certainly not. If it is unjust and harmful for a majority to oppress minorities and obstruct progress, it is even more unjust and harmful for a minority to oppress the whole population or impose its own ideas by force which even if they are good ones would excite repugnance and opposition because of the very fact of being imposed.
And then one must not forget that there are all kinds of different minorities. There are minorities of egoists and villains as there are of fanatics who believe themselves to be possessed of absolute truth and, in perfectly good faith, seek to impose on others what they hold to be the only way to salvation, even if it is simple silliness. There are minorities of reactionaries who seek to turn back the clock and are divided as to the paths and limits of reaction. And there are revolutionary minorities, also divided on the means and ends of revolution and on the direction that social progress should take.
Which minority should take over?
This is a matter of brute force and capacity for intrigue,and the odds that success would fall to the most sincere and most devoted to the general good are not favourable. To conquer power one needs qualities that are not exactly those that are needed to ensure that justice and well-being will triumph in the world.
But I shall here continue to give others the benefit of the doubt and assume that a minority came to power which, among those who aspire to government, I considered the best for its ideas and proposals. I want to assume that the socialists came to power and would add, also the anarchists, if I am not prevented by a contradiction in terms.
This would be the worst of all?
Yes, to win power, whether legally or illegally, one needs to have left by the roadside a large part of one’s ideological baggage and to have got rid of all one’s moral scruples. And then, once in power, the big problem is how to stay there. One needs to create a joint interest in the new state of affairs and attach to those in government a new privileged class, and suppressing any kind of opposition by all possible means. Perhaps in the national interest, but always with freedom-destructive results.
An established government, founded on the passive consensus of the majority and strong in numbers, in tradition and in the sentiment — sometimes sincere — of being in the right, can leave some space to liberty, at least so long as the privileged classes do not feel threatened. A new government, which relies for support only on an often slender minority, is obliged through necessity to be tyrannical. One need only think what the socialists and communists did when they came to power, either betraying their principles and comrades or by flying colours in the name of socialism and communism.
This is why we are neither for a majority nor for a minority government; neither for democracy not for dictatorship. We are for the abolition of the gendarme. We are for the freedom of all and for free agreement, which will be there for all when no one has the means to force others, and all are involved in the good running of society. We are for anarchy.”
Further to the two texts above I would now like to add the following fragments from Emma Goldman’s seminal essay “Anarchism: What it really stands for” to fill out my description of general anarchist beliefs:
“ANARCHISM: The philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law; the theory that all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful, as well as unnecessary...
Anarchism is the only philosophy which brings to man the consciousness of himself; which maintains that God, the State, and society are non-existent, that their promises are null and void, since they can be fulfilled only through man’s subordination. Anarchism is therefore the teacher of the unity of life; not merely in nature, but in man. There is no conflict between the individual and the social instincts any more than there is between the heart and the lungs: the one the receptacle of a precious life essence, the other the repository of the element that keeps the essence pure and strong. The individual is the heart of society, conserving the essence of social life; society is the lungs which are distributing the element to keep the life essence — that is, the individual — pure and strong...
A perfect personality, then, is only possible in a state of society where man is free to choose the mode of work, the conditions of work, and the freedom to work. One to whom the making of a table, the building of a house, or the tilling of the soil, is what the painting is to the artist and the discovery to the scientist, — the result of inspiration, of intense longing, and deep interest in work as a creative force. That being the ideal of Anarchism, its economic arrangements must consist of voluntary productive and distributive associations, gradually developing into free communism, as the best means of producing with the least waste of human energy. Anarchism, however, also recognizes the right of the individual, or numbers of individuals, to arrange at all times for other forms of work, in harmony with their tastes and desires...
Just as religion has fettered the human mind, and as property, or the monopoly of things, has subdued and stifled man’s needs, so has the State enslaved his spirit, dictating every phase of conduct. ‘All government in essence,’ says Emerson, ‘is tyranny.’ It matters not whether it is government by divine right or majority rule. In every instance its aim is the absolute subordination of the individual...
the demand for nutrition, for sex gratification, for light, air, and exercise, is a natural law. But its expression needs not the machinery of government, needs not the club, the gun, the handcuff, or the prison. To obey such laws, if we may call it obedience, requires only spontaneity and free opportunity...
Crime is naught but misdirected energy. So long as every institution of today, economic, political, social, and moral, conspires to misdirect human energy into wrong channels; so long as most people are out of place doing the things they hate to do, living a life they loathe to live, crime will be inevitable, and all the laws on the statutes can only increase, but never do away with, crime...
Anarchism, then, really stands for the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion; the liberation of the human body from the dominion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government. Anarchism stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals for the purpose of producing real social wealth; an order that will guarantee to every human being free access to the earth and full enjoyment of the necessities of life, according to individual desires, tastes, and inclinations.
This is not a wild fancy or an aberration of the mind. It is the conclusion arrived at by hosts of intellectual men and women the world over; a conclusion resulting from the close and studious observation of the tendencies of modern society: individual liberty and economic equality, the twin forces for the birth of what is fine and true in man.
As to methods. Anarchism is not, as some may suppose, a theory of the future to be realized through divine inspiration. It is a living force in the affairs of our life, constantly creating new conditions. The methods of Anarchism therefore do not comprise an iron-clad program to be carried out under all circumstances. Methods must grow out of the economic needs of each place and clime, and of the intellectual and temperamental requirements of the individual. The serene, calm character of a Tolstoy will wish different methods for social reconstruction than the intense, overflowing personality of a Michael Bakunin or a Peter Kropotkin. Equally so it must be apparent that the economic and political needs of Russia will dictate more drastic measures than would England or America. Anarchism does not stand for military drill and uniformity; it does, however, stand for the spirit of revolt, in whatever form, against everything that hinders human growth. All Anarchists agree in that, as they also agree in their opposition to the political machinery as a means of bringing about the great social change...
The political superstition is still holding sway over the hearts and minds of the masses, but the true lovers of liberty will have no more to do with it. Instead, they believe with Stirner that man has as much liberty as he is willing to take. Anarchism therefore stands for direct action, the open defiance of, and resistance to, all laws and restrictions, economic, social, and moral. But defiance and resistance are illegal. Therein lies the salvation of man. Everything illegal necessitates integrity, self-reliance, and courage. In short, it calls for free, independent spirits, for men who are men, and who have a bone in their backs which you cannot pass your hand through.”
The next piece I would like to submit to you is an article by Albert Libertad, then the editor of French anarchist paper, L’Anarchie, from 1906:
“‘The anarchists find M. de La Rochefoucauld and all those who protest without worrying about legality to be logically consistent with themselves,’ Anna Mah‚ tells us. This is obviously not exact, as I am going to show.
All that is needed is one word to travesty the meaning of a phrase, and so the two words in italics suffice to entirely change the meaning of the one I quote. If Anna Mah was the leader of a great newspaper she would hasten to accuse the typographers or the proofreader of the blunder and everything would be for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Or else she would think it wise to stand by an idea that isn’t a manifestation of her reasoning, but rather the act of her pen running away with itself. But, on the contrary, she thinks that it is necessary, especially in these lead articles that are viewed as anarchist, to make the fewest errors possible and for us to point them out ourselves when we take note of them. It is to me that this falls today.
The Catholics, the socialists, all those who accept at a given moment the voting system, are not logically consistent with themselves when they rebel against the consequences of a law, when they demonstrate against its agents, its representatives. Only the anarchists are authorized, are logically consistent with themselves, when they act against the law. When a man deposits his ballot in the box he is not using a means of persuasion that comes from free examination or experience. He is executing the mechanical operation of counting those who are ready to choose the same delegates as he, to consequently make the same laws, to establish the same regulations that all men must submit to. In casting his vote he says: ‘I trust in chance. The name that will come from this box will be that of my legislator. I could be on the side of the majority, but I have the chance of being on the side of the minority. Whatever happens, happens.’
After having come to agreement with other men, having decided that they will all defer to the mechanical judgment of number, there is, on the part of those who are the minority, when they don’t accept the laws and regulations of the majority, a feeling of being fooled similar to that of a bad gambler who wants very much to win but who doesn’t want to lose. Those Catholics who decided for the laws of exception of 1893–4 through the means of a majority are in no position to rebel when, by means of the same majority, the laws for the separation of church and state are decided.
Those socialists who want to decide by means of the majority in favour of the laws on workers’ retirements are in no position to rebel against the same majority when it decides on some law that goes against their interests. All parties who accept suffrage, however universal it might be, as the basis for their means of action cannot revolt as long as they are left the means of asserting themselves by the ballot.
Catholics, in general, are in this situation. The gentlemen in question in the late battles were ‘great electors,’ able to vote in Senatorial elections, some were even parliamentarians. Not only had some voted and sought to be the majority in the Chambers that prepare the laws, but the others had elaborated that law, had discussed its terms and articles. Thus being parliamentarians, believers in the vote, the Catholics weren’t logically consistent with themselves during their revolt.
The socialists are no more so. They speak constantly of social revolution, and they spend all their time in puerile voting gestures in the perpetual search for a legal majority. To accept the tutelage of the law yesterday, to reject it today, and take it up again tomorrow, this is the way Catholics, socialists, parliamentarians in general act. It is illogical. None of their acts has a logical relation with that of the day before any more than that of tomorrow will have one with that of today.
Either we accept the law of majorities or we don’t accept it. Those who inscribe it in their program and seek to obtain the majority are illogical when they rebel against it. This is how it is. But when Catholics or socialists revolt we don’t seek the acts of yesterday; we don’t worry about those that will be carried out tomorrow, we peacefully look on as the law is broken by its manufacturers. It will be up to us to see to it that these days have no tomorrows. So the anarchists alone are logical in revolt.
The anarchists don’t vote. They don’t want to be the majority that commands; they don’t accept being the minority that obeys. When they rebel they have no need to break any contract: they never accept tying their individuality to any government of any kind. They alone, then, are rebels held back by no ties, and each of their violent gestures is in relation to their ideas, is logically consistent with their reasoning. By demonstration, by observation, by experience or, lacking these, by force, by violence, these are the means by which the anarchists want to impose themselves. By majority, by the law, never!”
The next piece I wish to admit here to add to my matrix of anarchist texts is “The Revolt of the Unique” and comes from Renzo Novatore. I append here two fragments from this 1921 piece addressed to Carlo Molaschi [a former individualist anarchist who became an anarcho-communist comrade of Bernieri and Malatesta] in which Novatore explains why he is an individualist anarchist and not a communist one:
“I don’t want to dictate moral maxims to my ‘neighbour,’ or teach anyone anything… I leave this task to the missionaries of all faiths, the priests of all churches, the demagogues of all parties, the apostles of all ideas. I only want to howl my extreme rebellion against everything that oppresses me; I only want to push far away from me everything that the religious, socialist, or libertarian priesthood wants to impose on my individuality without me having freely accepted and wanted it. Digging into the underground of my depths, I have been able to penetrate the mystery of my ‘I’ (emotional—spiritual—physical—instinctive); I have been able to discover my will and my power; I have been able to take possession of my ‘uniqueness.’ The dogmatic frogs of societarianism and the geese of the ideal croaked, but their croaking only served to fill my heart with intoxication and distill poisons in my words. The theoretical and philosophical chattering of the ruling plebeian ‘wisdom’ no longer moves me, just like the choreographic demonstrations of starving mobs or those of the people cheering new redeeming Jesuses no longer move me…
I have a personal truth of my own that isn’t and can’t be universal ‘truth.’ I am guided by an instinct, by a feeling, by a dream, that are only the trilogy composing the unique ideal that is my individuality. Individuality that nobody except me and my power can make strong, free, and happy!…
I don’t deny to anyone the beauty of their ideas, the strength of their dream, and the truth of their thought. I know that everyone may lock within himself precious mines filled with unknown treasures; I know that where a human being lives there is—or can be—a world with all its lands and seas, its joys and sorrows, its sun and stars, its loves and hates. Let each human being therefore work—if he thinks this way—at the discovery of his own I, at the realization of his own dream, at the complete integration and full development of his own individuality. Every human being who has discovered and won himself walks on his own path and follows his free course...
‘The anti-society perspective that tried several years ago to make inroads in the movement of anarchist ideas,’ Molaschi says, ‘has faded.’ But all this that comrade Carlo Molaschi affirms is not entirely true… It’s true that with the daily paper Umanità Nova, the conferences, the unions, the workerism, the organizations, anarchism has ended up making itself official and becoming a party. It’s true that comrade Carlo Molaschi feels a great ‘joy’ in finding himself in agreement with comrade Damiani; that he is ‘satisfied’ to be in agreement with Luigi Fabbri and that he ‘shares’ Malatesta’s ideas. It’s true that Carlo Molaschi wants to make a mark, ‘orienting’ individualism in his way!
But it’s still not true that the ‘anti-society’ current of individualism has completely faded into the heaven of anarchy. There is still some ‘wild’ reprobate, in the midst of so much paternal democratic domesticity, who holds the ‘barbaric’ banner of anti-society individualism! Yes: there is still someone…
First of all, we need to come to a bit of an agreement about what ‘anti-society’ means. I am not a misanthrope and so much the less a misogynist… I need friends and lovers, clothes and bread. I am not an anchorite or a saint in the desert. But there’s no need to be such a thing in order to be anti-society. Being anti-society means—for me—not collaborating in the preservation of the present society nor lending one’s efforts to any new social construction. I said it once before: Every society you build will have its fringes, and on the fringes of every society, heroic and restless vagabonds will wander, with their wild and virgin thoughts, only able to live by preparing ever new and terrible outbreaks of rebellion! I shall be among them!
And if materialistic ‘needs’ force me to go toward society, the ‘necessity’ to be free sets me against it and gives birth in me to a third ‘need’: that of doing violence to it. Without scruples! This is my ‘anti-society’ perspective. And if we happened to speak of so-called ‘progress’ I could even affirm—without fear of going wrong—that the triumph and the glory of the human path are due only to the spirit that informs this anti-society principle of individualism.”
Finally, I add a section from Lucy Parsons’ 1905 text “The Principles of Anarchism” to bring my collection of sample texts to a close:
“It was during the great railroad strike of 1877 that I first became interested in what is known as the ‘Labour Question.’ I then thought, as many thousands of earnest, sincere people think, that the aggregate power, operating in human society, known as government, could be made an instrument in the hands of the oppressed to alleviate their sufferings. But a closer study of the origin, history and tendency of governments, convinced me that this was a mistake; I came to understand how organised governments used their concentrated power to retard progress by their ever-ready means of silencing the voice of discontent if raised in vigorous protest against the machinations of the scheming few, who always did, always will and always must rule in the councils of nations where majority rule is recognised as the only means of adjusting the affairs of the people. I came to understand that such concentrated power can be always wielded in the interest of the few and at the expense of the many. Government, in its last analysis, is this power reduced to a science. Governments never lead; they follow progress. When the prison, stake or scaffold can no longer silence the voice of the protesting minority, progress moves on a step, but not until then.
I will state this contention in another way: I learned by close study that it made no difference what fair promises a political party, out of power, might make to the people in order to secure their confidence, when once securely established in control of the affairs of society that they were after all but human with all the human attributes of the politician. Among these are: First, to remain in power at all hazards; if not individually, then those holding essentially the same views as the administration must be kept in control. Second, in order to keep in power, it is necessary to build up a powerful machine; one strong enough to crush all opposition and silence all vigorous murmurs of discontent, or the party machine might be smashed and the party thereby lose control.
When I came to realise the faults, failings, shortcomings, aspirations and ambitions of fallible man, I concluded that it would not be the safest nor best policy for society, as a whole, to entrust the management of all its affairs, with all their manifold deviations and ramifications in the hands of finite man, to be managed by the party which happened to come into power, and therefore was the majority party, nor did it then, nor does it now make one particle of difference to me what a party, out of power, may promise; it does not tend to allay my fears of a party, when entrenched and securely seated in power might do to crush opposition, and silence the voice of the minority, and thus retard the onward step of progress.
My mind is appalled at the thought of a political party having control of all the details that go to make up the sum total of our lives. Think of it for an instant, that the party in power shall have all authority to dictate the kind of books that shall be used in our schools and universities, government officials editing, printing, and circulating our literature, histories, magazines and press, to say nothing of the thousand and one activities of life that a people engage in, in a civilized society.
To my mind, the struggle for liberty is too great and the few steps we have gained have been won at too great a sacrifice, for the great mass of the people of this 20th century to consent to turn over to any political party the management of our social and industrial affairs. For all who are at all familiar with history know that men will abuse power when they possess it, for these and other reasons, I, after careful study, and not through sentiment, turned from a sincere, earnest, political Socialist to the non-political phase of Socialism, Anarchism, because in its philosophy I believe I can find the proper conditions for the fullest development of the individual units in society, which can never be the case under government restrictions.
The philosophy of anarchism is included in the word ‘Liberty’; yet it is comprehensive enough to include all things else that are conducive to progress. No barriers whatever to human progression, to thought, or investigation are placed by anarchism; nothing is considered so true or so certain, that future discoveries may not prove it false; therefore, it has but one infallible, unchangeable motto, ‘Freedom.’ Freedom to discover any truth, freedom to develop, to live naturally and fully. Other schools of thought are composed of crystallised ideas — principles that are caught and impaled between the planks of long platforms, and considered too sacred to be disturbed by a close investigation. In all other ‘issues’ there is always a limit; some imaginary boundary line beyond which the searching mind dare not penetrate, lest some pet idea melt into a myth. But anarchism is the usher of science — the master of ceremonies to all forms of truth. It would remove all barriers between the human being and natural development. From the natural resources of the earth, all artificial restrictions, that the body might be nurtures, and from universal truth, all bars of prejudice and superstition, that the mind may develop symmetrically.
Anarchists know that a long period of education must precede any great fundamental change in society, hence they do not believe in vote begging, nor political campaigns, but rather in the development of self-thinking individuals.
We look away from government for relief, because we know that force (legalized) invades the personal liberty of man, seizes upon the natural elements and intervenes between man and natural laws; from this exercise of force through governments flows nearly all the misery, poverty, crime and confusion existing in society...
To the governing class the anarchists say: ‘Gentlemen, we ask no privilege, we propose no restriction; nor, on the other hand, will we permit it. We have no new shackles to propose, we seek emancipation from shackles. We ask no legislative sanction, for cooperation asks only for a free field and no favours; neither will we permit their interference.’ It asserts that in freedom of the social unit lies the freedom of the social state. It asserts that in freedom to possess and utilise soil lie social happiness and progress and the death of rent. It asserts that order can only exist where liberty prevails, and that progress leads and never follows order. It asserts, finally, that this emancipation will inaugurate liberty, equality, fraternity. That the existing industrial system has outgrown its usefulness, if it ever had any, is, I believe, admitted by all who have given serious thought to this phase of social conditions.”
We come, after my sharing of these several texts, now to the natural question: what am I attempting to show in this matrix of texts? It is that, all inter-anarchist arguments about organisation [or lack of it] and economic theories aside, what unites any anarchist with any other is their opposition to the existence of the state as an authoritarian entity in itself and so, consequentially, their opposition to those things which flow from states, namely governments, laws and all the human apparatus of their maintenance such as police, courts and prisons without which these former things could not stand. Being an anarchist, I am putting it to you, commits you to being opposed to these things as both a matter of principle and also, as I have shown in some detail above, in their practice of an authority they claim, the anarchist thinks entirely illegitimately, for themselves. THESE THINGS, IF YOU ARE AN ANARCHIST, ARE YOUR ENEMIES.
If this is understood, I shall now move forward to my second chapter.
TWO: ANARCHISM MEANS BEING AT WAR
“Anarchism is the absence of authority, by consequence a lack of hierarchy. You will not lead me, nor I you. None shall subjugate another, for the autonomy of the individual is of utmost importance. There is no person of more value than any other, we are all uniquely worthy of commanding ourselves. To rule over another is a cruel robbery of their whole world. Anarchism is the realization of the self, of the innumerable powers acting unto it. With no need to obey, you may finally foster free thought and possess total control of your will.” — Comrade Candle, “Why Anarchy?”
This chapter is about the contemporary American anarchist, currently serving a 90 month [seven and a half year] jail term in a correctional facility in the US state of Oregon, Sofia Johnson — who is also known by the alias “Comrade Candle”. I first became aware of this trans woman anarchist when I saw her photo tweeted across my timeline by someone. Being apparently someone who was an American [I’m a European who has never been to America and would probably be arrested if I ever tried to go there], I paid it no more attention. But then, perhaps a couple of weeks later, I had conversations with people who knew more about her and what she had done [as a homeless person and motivated by her survival] and this began to arouse an interest in me. [The original information I had seen about Sofia Johnson online was criticising her for having held up a 7/11 store by pointing a gun at the store clerk. Set against even my cursory background of historical anarchists in chapter one of this book that now seems like totally small beer. Sofia Johnson, to my knowledge, which I have verified, has never actually shot anyone, unlike many of those above who would draw a measure of praise from many anarchists for the radicality and commitment their historically violent actions demonstrate.]
It so happens that, during 2022, friends and supporters of Johnson began publishing some of her ideas, these having been written down by hand in long form by Johnson in prison and later being transcribed by others. Being somewhat of a literary person myself, I decided, from my own initiative and as a person with no particular interest in Johnson herself due to any personal connection between us [I have never directly spoken to, communicated with or met Sofia Johnson although she was made aware I was writing this book which would highlight her case and her ideas. She has, however, had zero influence over what I am saying in this book, either about her or about anything else], to read some of her texts [which are often very short and written in the vernacular rather than as the polished productions of people with academic demeanour and access to libraries for research purposes]. What I found, and so want to share and comment on in the context of this book, is a person of deep authenticity and commitment to ideals she would certainly call “anarchist” and which certainly — unarguably — find a place in the pantheon of anarchist acts and activities such as I have reported in the first chapter here.
At the very least one must say about Sofia Johnson, in the light of the writings I will share with you now, that the actions for which she has been imprisoned [her official “list of offenses”, which I have read, includes burglary, robbery, unlawful use of a weapon, riot and criminal mischief] are backed up and justified by the anarchist beliefs she shares in the things that she writes. So these are no random acts of senseless, orphaned criminality that she has committed. They find reasons in her beliefs and those beliefs find their roots in EXACTLY the anarchism I was at some pains to describe in chapter one. Put in plain and simple terms, if Sofia Johnson had lived in 1910 then she would today be a name in a list of celebrated [or at least remembered, however vaguely] historical anarchists. Yet, because she lives now and people might think they know her or can typify her actions, she is someone who can be criticised for pointing a gun at a store clerk or smashing an ATM or stealing to support her squatter’s lifestyle. Renzo Novatore, Marius Jacob and Jules Bonnot never had to face the wrath and displeasure of mobs of Twitter police — and for that we may give thanks.
But let’s move past gossip and people’s impressions to actual substance — for it is substance I am absolutely interested in in this book which exists to argue, as, to all intents and purposes, I imagine Sofia Johnson does too, that anarchism exists as a force opposed materially to both states and their laws — and to all those who would support or uphold them. I have had access to nine texts penned by Johnson and from them I have attempted to cull some guiding ethos behind them all. Perhaps due to the conditions in which Sofia Johnson has produced these texts and perhaps not, they are often short, raw and to the point rather than being studied arguments. What this denies them in rhetorical sophistication and complexity is made up for by their direct authenticity. [In this respect, I compare them to texts by Renzo Novatore, should you be aware of many of his writings.] Johnson betrays the fact in her writing that she has read and is aware of anarchist texts from the past herself and her leanings are individualist anarchist [or, as I would call it, egoist] but are none the worse for that. It is to be my contention that the beliefs and critiques Johnson shares in her writings are both solidly on an anarchist spectrum and also backed up by actions in support of them. Many online anarchists are already put to shame by these facts as they cower in their bedrooms in their fluffed up onesies being supported by mom and dad as they use anarchism as a mere aesthetic to appear cool to their online friends. Sofia Johnson has pointed a gun in someone’s face, in need of money to survive, and said “Gimme all your money!” and there are plenty of anarchists past and present who would call her a comrade and welcome her friendship as authentic simply because of that entirely anarchist fact.
But its her ideas I am interested in here — and her actions in support of them only demonstrate her commitment to them rather than their soundness. I take the view, as my past readers will already know very well, that it is not for anarchists, or anyone else, to tell an anarchist how to actualise their anarchist beliefs and values. My anarchist values, as I already discussed at some length in Mini-Manual of Anarchist Relations, revolve around autonomy, agency, association, affinity and a decentralised organisation of society in human relationships of love and war. I am the last person who is going to tell you what to do because I would not want you to tell me what to do [and so am consistent enough to grant you the freedom I wish for myself]. Consequently, I do not here act as a judge of Sofia Johnson’s beliefs [or her actions for that matter]; I merely report upon them, contrast and compare them with those of other anarchists and leave you, the reader, to make your own mind up. Anarchism, in my mind, is, besides several other things, a radical self-responsibility, and so what you make of these things and do about them is your business and not mine.
I want to start, then, with the Comrade Candle text “50 Immoral Anarchist Aphorisms” which is dated to June 2022, is available on The Anarchist Library, and reveals the writer as a deep thinker. The aphorism, it may be noted, is particularly the form of the deep thinker [Friedrich Nietzsche and Ludwig Wittgenstein are two perfect examples of this] because one has to cram worlds of thought into a tiny space to create them. That takes thought and cannot be stumbled upon by accident. But what kind of “anarchist” [her term] mentality do they reveal here? The first few aphorisms suggest its an egoist one concerned with the construction of a ‘self’:
“1. One knows what one wants to.
2. Knowing oneself is a journey – presently.
3. Purposelessness grants many creative liberties; values and morals are nothing.
4. Prescribing oneself a pill to swallow – whose truth?
5. What can we accept as true, when even our language?
6. To speak and write fill the same void in our present; our existence always constructs a past; what do we record?”
Many themes, both Nietzschean and Stirnerite, are seen here by one who is familiar with their work but it is, of course, more than mere repetition of others’ thoughts for it is personally understood and expressed. The first aphorism here suggests that one does not just think everything but, rather, our ideas are always guided by us, beings with wills that are variously educated this way and that by someone or something — and this in turn then directs our attention and activities. This, as the second aphorism suggests, is then always a journey in the present — our present — the present as it seems to us. These thoughts lead naturally to the questions posed in aphorisms four, five and six which are about the implications of being social beings [and the effect on that for what and how we believe anything] whilst the third aphorism is really just a personal regurgitation of Stirner’s philosophy of the “creative nothing”. This, as body of aphorisms taken together, indicates that the foundation of Sofia Johnson’s anarchy is the creation of a self set over against the society with which she, as all of us, must inevitably spar and engage with.
The major example of that in anyone’s life is the reality of the State and Sofia Johnson clearly has an interpretation of this in the ethos which guides her. We learn, for example, from her aphorisms that “The State controls, demanding subservience for the meager table scraps.”  Further, we are informed that “Freedom & the State are opposites; Who is free when one must do as they are commanded?; A land of the Free would, truly, have far fewer borders.”  What’s more, “The State removes individuals of their liberty every moment.”  And, presumably of the State’s power, Johnson aphorises that “Control elicits submission; subjugation.”  But “What is there that is voluntary of capitalism, when all alternatives provoke the State’s icy wrath? Is it a choice, when the options presented amount to submit or survive violence? I am happy, I was able to lead my life. You, too.” 
This last aphorism begins to explain Johnson’s own attitude towards the State, in her case, the American state. For Sofia Johnson, as for so many anarchists before her, CRIME is an attack against the very legitimacy of the State and its laws [and its right to make laws]. In Johnson’s case this comes from her opposition to authorities outside herself given her egoist anarchist ethos but that need not be the case as we saw with several non-egoists [such as Galleani or Malatesta] in chapter one. So, for Sofia Johnson, “Crime is not often enough recognized as the individual’s defiance to the State’s will”  and “The individual is forever at war with the State.”  Thus, “Freedom & the State are opposites; Who is free when one must do as they are commanded?; A land of the Free would, truly, have far fewer borders”  as already stated but, more than this, she notes that “A large propensity of the State’s power lies in its admiration & respect, as undue as they may be. The insurrection could start with you merely defying the State by recognizing yourself. When the coldest of all monsters erases your Ego, and would command, you follow, what could be more radical than this refusal? You are an individual.”  This last aphorism recalls Étienne de La Boétie’s Discourse on Voluntary Servitude and his argument that your freedom or control is in your own hands.
Here, then, Johnson sets up every human being as the natural opponent of the State if they are of anarchist ethos with crime as a natural strategy for defying its arrogant and illegitimate claims. Not only does Johnson in these aphorisms want people to rid themselves of the God delusion — “God is a delusion of man to expound upon the unexplainable, to lead those who hold true the belief, and to judge others that defy the authority. As a concept, it has far outlived any use” —  but we should rid ourselves of the consequences of gods that are states and morals too — “You rid yourself of God – and his morals?” ; “The criminal performs tirelessly what the State demands not be” . All this is based for her on the autonomy and agency of the individual, things which naturally and completely oppose the very ideas of authoritative states or their laws which arbitrarily control our actions and free associations. Johnson can state simply “I am my own” , repeating Max Stirner, or, in more philosophical language, ask “In what way other than our own experience is the basis for our thought born?” . Her own rhetorical basis for such thought is that “None is equal to another, for nature sorely lacks equals, yet none are free until no one is above another – hierarchy is not natural”  and that “Individual liberty comes at the cost of an exertion of one’s power.”  It is for individuals expressing their freedom to take responsibility for themselves, throw off the coerced servitude that states encourage, and live courageously as an outlaw of the state! Thus, we may agree with Sofia Johnson that “I would rather affirm what I would like to be than grant control of my own existence to traditions & customs”  in the recognition that “Morals limit the creativity of one’s actions and thoughts – ‘How else to not become some monster?’ – And I suppose morals demand you respect your fellow individual? Respect of their autonomy? The arbiters of good and just may conclude your control as so. My thoughts are more readily concerned with my own experience than your morals. A more affirmative and creative existence – to thee who destroy, I also say yay!” 
This thought continues in the similarly dated piece “On Government and Borders” in which Comrade Candle fairly sets the State in the crosshairs of the anarchist and the anarchist, as that one who sees through the lying fiction of the State’s legitimacy, in the crosshairs of the State [something Johnson had already acknowledged in one of her aphorisms in the previous piece]. The simple fact is, as Johnson correctly highlights, that “All statehood is tyranny”. There is no genuinely benevolent or selfless version of statehood. It is the arrogant and wholly invented claim to rule and it must be pressed home to the full by states all the better to make sure people never doubt it [for it is always only a shared fiction easily dispelled by its disbelief]. In this particular piece Johnson focuses on the necessity of borders to states and regards them as a visible symbol of that arrogant and violently aggressive claim to rule. Borders, so Johnson intimates, require violence for they are in themselves violent impositions upon otherwise anonymous land that no one can genuinely possess [violence aside] anyway. And so:
“Lines on a map. Cold arbitration. Indifferent to one’s individual desires, government and their borders are the tired tradition that limit one’s liberty. Your control is aided by the exaltation of the government and the border. You may not cross these, and must obey my authority within them; how do government and borders intersect in the creation of hierarchy, of the subjugation of the individual? Government is predicated on violence as a means to submission. I may not, not because I will it, but because the government lie in wait should I. As cruel and detached as it is, government seeks to impose its will unto mine with this coercive threat of violence. Akin to Law, the border is another tool of the State’s government in this grand scheme of controlling the individual. Wherein the border lie, the State’s power exists within.”
Now, of course, the State is only a fictive entity but that which proceeds in the cause of its fictive interests is the government. What does Comrade Candle think of the government?:
“The government is of no benefit to the individual. Government is not needed for order to exist. Government does naught but for itself and would gleefully convince you of its necessity. Individualism can hardly exist where one must do as they are told. How can something that isn’t me claim to represent me? Because I was born within its clutches to justify my control? There is no justification, merely lies. Individuals could certainly respect one another, whereas the government never does. Government cares only for its own reasons, its own cause. It is infinitely more a hindrance before it could ever be considered a boon. To what purpose must there exist an authority, an entity to regulate human conduct? Borders become an abstraction of the powerful’s desires, as malleable as they are arbitrary. What is to stop one nation, one government, from arguing their border lay past another to garner more land? Is this tale not as old as the border itself? The border is an extension of the will of authority. You Shall Not Pass! You will exist in these confines, and as such will exist. The border is the dominion of human movement. Government, thus, the control of human actions. Could one exist without the other? One appears essential to the other, else where would a government’s tyranny extend to?”
Governments, then, don’t really ask for your entirely voluntary support, they demand and coerce your fealty — and punish your defiance within a territory they imagine, at gunpoint, to possess, each country then becoming a sort of open prison. “Government would rather demand an acceptance of its doctrines as Fact and demand respect of them than invite individuals to have their own thought or will. The will of government is just. The individuals must submit.” But, as a consequence, the destruction of both borders and governments are necessary to the abolition of the State. There is no way to do this without violence, thinks Comrade Candle, for the State is itself a violent imposition as a matter of its very constitution and maintenance and not a good faith partner in a dialogue concerned to find the best way forward for all. How, therefore, do you do away with any entity that insists on its right to exist, violently, as a matter of an a priori argument? Comrade Candle, at least, sees physical and material action to defy government’s pursuance of the arrogant claims of the State as needful and necessary, including violently:
“Violence has no innate value or purpose to it. We are made the targets of government mandated violence by manner of merely opposing its will. I will not work for a pittance to merely subsist off table scraps. I will steal. I refuse to respect your property rights and will squat the shelter demanded of my humanity. I will not be made into a neo-serf by any sort of State. I choose to fight. I will rob, I will burn, I shan’t be possessed. Why must I be controlled through my own unwillingness to have violence do unto violence? A good person that is controlled is just that – controlled. Know not only thyself, but what is done unto thee. I am my own, so long as I allow it to be. No more governments and an end to borders.”
This reads as the anarchist script of any given illegalist or individualist of the 1890s and early 1900s and in my few years of anarchist research I have read many similar things. The State is the enemy, it violently asserts its authority by acting as an authority and it reserves all violence to itself — which it will use against you if you deny its authority in any way. The anarchist response to this is simply to defy that authority practically and actually. Anarchy is against the law and the state as no genuine anarchist of any kind has ever really denied — as Wolfi Landstreicher, for example, points out helpfully in his brief piece titled “The Anarchist as Outlaw”. All anarchists have disputed or discussed in the past is whether individual appropriation is legitimate or not, not breaking the law.
Thus it is that Comrade Candle produces a text called “Propaganda by the Deed”, which goes some way towards explaining the motivation behind the actions for which she is currently imprisoned, indicates her opposition to the State once more, and indicates that that opposition is to be something materially pursued as a matter of principle. Indeed here she can write simply that “My life began, my self-designed insurrection, with my defiance of Law” having started off with the simple premise “I refuse to be ruled by anyone or anything... We must dispose of our rulers” as both a description of anarchism simply put and the necessary response of the anarchist. Comrade Candle can even back this up with fairly straightforward and obvious reasoning: “One must desire to lead their own life, lest they merely allow themselves to be re-enslaved.” No one who has written the books I have about anarchy and anarchism is going to disagree with any of that.
The intellectual heart of “Propaganda by the Deed”, however, is Comrade Candle’s charge that people in general have become entirely normalised to a liberal/capitalist and authoritarian understanding of property such that, even in “leftist”, “radical” or “anarchist” iterations, they agree and go along with the understanding of property as simply possession or acquisition or ability to engage in either. Anarchist critiques of theories of property might tend to focus on use and say that “what you are using, or potentially even can use, is yours and we are not interested in that. It is what you simply possess and refuse to share that is the issue.” Thus, for example, the idea of “owning” vast tracts of land or a resource such as water is simply ridiculous and would be regarded by many anarchists as simply nobody’s to possess to begin with. But, argues Comrade Candle in this piece, things all get turned on their head if someone steals something relatively petty from a 7/11 store or smashes an ATM. Then you hear complaints that you have “taken what isn’t yours” in a way that seems completely non-anarchist and basically a repetition of capitalist values. To be clear: Comrade Candle is not interested in your capitalist values and explanations or your authoritarian ideas about property. Anarchism, if you think it began with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, actually began with a critique titled What is Property? and it was famously described there as “theft”. Anarchists cannot now forget all this as if it had never happened. Anarchists do not parrot or mimic back capitalist verities to anarchists when they commit “crimes against property”. It is the “property” itself — as Comrade Candle points out — that is the offence here, not the damaging or taking of it. It is a system of property which helps in the incarceration of all of us which is to be attacked and not defended.
So, as Comrade Candle says, when it comes to this “Anarchy is not moral policing” — and it is certainly not moral policing that uses the reasoning and values of the capitalist and the authoritarian. What we need to see, and what Comrade Candle intends to show, is that our entire society has been captured by values, and a system of values, which are actively deployed to incarcerate you and control your life. Two lynchpins of this system are property and law. What Comrade Candle tells us in her propaganda by the deed is that we must attack both materially by defying laws and by smashing or taking property. We must make material our defiance and instantiate our own agency and autonomy. Here it is not a matter, as some opponents of Comrade Candle herself have complained, of doing a disservice to “the anarchist cause” or even “The Cause” [as if it were some holy and righteous metanarratival creed] for THERE IS NO SUCH CAUSE and viewing anarchism as “The Cause” is only to make it a spook like so many other things Stirner diagnosed in such a way. You have your cause and I have mine; you have your purpose and I have mine; you have your own and I have mine. There is no metanarrative called “The Cause” which joins all causes together — and if you think there is then I charge [as Comrade Candle would also charge] that it was YOU who made it up. But, speaking for myself now, I do not recognise it. Anarchism, as I have written about now at length for over 3,000 pages in multiple books, is not an organisation with a leader and a dogma; it is the free actions and associations of free people in whatever combinations they can create. There is no “movement” here except that be a label for free people acting according to their freedom. So go fuck yourself with your “Cause” which can be offended or impugned! It does not exist!
Thus, it is entirely understandable how Comrade Candle describes her propaganda by the deed as her own means of defying the law — as any anarchist should — and her action to invalidate, in her own actions, a particularly oppressive and ugly theory of property. She writes: “The terror sown by property, endlessly, seems far too normalized to be called so – the earth was mine before ‘property’ defined this ownership as ‘theft’. Property – it is ugly.” She points out, somewhat absurdly but, nevertheless, entirely truthfully, that property does not care who “owns” it or what is done to it. What she does not say — but what we may go on to say about her talk on this matter — is that property is, in the end, only a matter of human relationships concerning our attitude towards it. Comrade Candle’s activities, and her justification of them, are simply the signification of her unwillingness to accept a capitalist/authoritarian system of property relations and an anarchist attack upon that directly. It is also the belief [again anarchist] that property, understood in a capitalist/authoritarian way, IS ITSELF VIOLENCE in its imposition and so an anarchist must respond to this:
“I have always known of my own subjugation. The life I merely see, not live. Choice. Coercion. Violence. Order. What is Order? Is it to always demand I be lesser, another to be greater? Is ‘Order’ to always mean ‘the many individuals are controlled’? Our ‘order’ we know of is no more than threats of violence. It is not in my interest to be threatened, to be placed beneath another; controlled. I want control over my own life. Instead, my life has been one ruled by the State. Instead, I am governed. I have always known Law and its threatening grip on my being, or Property and what its definition prevents of me. There has always been someone ruling over me. My life has never truly been my own.
I demand my own freedom, not merely ask. You will not ever find freedom from begging – I will take my desire into my own hands. I will be free.
My deed will always be. It shall always exist. My deed will only ever be mine, and it stands to become far more than myself. It is propaganda.”
Another, and in many ways very similar, if shorter, piece simply titled “Theft” makes very similar points here. The capitalist/authoritarian system of property is, in fact, part of the machinery of societal control that can order, and certainly carry out, the organised, purposeful death of people by denying them things they might have access to if “property” — as a particular construction of that idea as possession or control over something — were not in place. It is what creates homeless people, denies them health care and will see them starve outside a supermarket stocked full of food and water whilst wearing tatty, filthy rags despite there being a dozen clothing stores down the road. This is what Comrade Candle means when she says in “Theft” that “You don’t get to order that I starve, you won’t get to deny me life.” She continues by breathing out her egoistic anger against her capitalist, property-wielding oppressors:
“You sit upon your piles of accumulated wealth. Of course its fucking joyous, you damn near all to suffer. I’m here to take what’s mine, through deception or force. You commit acts of violence everyday by deceiving folks on what you own. Even acquiring what you claim has amounted to mere chance or sheer sociopathic greed. Oh, but you’re smart? You’ll still bleed. It must be terrible to order others labor to your benefit. So terrible that I take what I need. I’ll still do it. I don’t give a shit about you. You reap what you sow; I have no empathy for tyrants. Give it to me babe, I’m not here for you to say no. The capitalistic hellscape you cater to, reproduce, doesn’t really ask politely. I’m here to take ‘your’ shit. It’s mine.”
Here we might ask: what is worse, an anarchist [or anyone else] who takes what they need to live and survive [as Comrade Candle has done] — or a system of property which lets people freeze to death outside heated buildings and starve outside food stores? But its about more than this in Comrade Candle’s description too for what of those [calling themselves “anarchists”] who would criticize and condemn her for seeing to her needs and striking against such a system but who would lamely and defeatedly do NOTHING about the very system her actions and motivations impugn? It seems quite reasonable to me to suggest that anyone who criticizes someone who is ACTING LIKE AN ANARCHIST might reasonably be asked “Well, OK, then what the fuck are you doing instead?” Often, it will be little or nothing or vacuous. And that speaks for itself. The system of property which Comrade Candle attacks, both on the written page and in the material world, is a system which kills. It is not anarchist to leave it alone, acquiesce in one’s own incarceration and control by it, make excuses for it or be defeated by it: IT IS ANARCHIST TO FUCKING ATTACK IT! So there can be no half measures, no “going along with it”, no Stockholm Syndrome of the anarchist fully integrated into capitalist society. ANARCHISTS ARE NOT CAPITALISTS! As Comrade Candle suggests in another piece on the matter of defunding the police, we should want freedom not “defunded tyrants”. We want the end of tyrants and tyranny. We act against such things. The police you try to get along with as best you can ARE STILL POLICE. Anarchism is an attack against all things which control, coerce and exploit us. This includes states, governments, property, laws and police. They are our enemies. And we attack. So, as Comrade Candle says in her piece “Cut From a Different Cloth”:
“we must grasp the power we each individually possess to form an anarchistic existence in our immediate present. To try and will things as they once were will only end in grief... Don’t let capitalist comforts rock you to sleep with the lullaby of a revolution to come. Anarchy is not an apple to be taken from a tree when ripe. It is not an aesthetic to be donned for spectacular photography. Then again, maybe to you it is.”
Comrade Candle thus argues, completely convincingly when set against a background of anarchist luminaries stretching back now almost 200 years as I have purposely suggested by writing the specific chapter one I have written before chapter two of this book, that ANARCHISM IS ACTING MATERIALLY AGAINST THE STATE AND THE LAW IN THE PURSUANCE OF YOUR OWN LIBERTY, FREEDOM AND EMANCIPATION. Put simply, it has always been this way and it will also always be this way: because it should be this way! A philosophy of “no rulers” must quite simply refuse to be ruled [by states, laws, governments, police, morals or other anarchists] in order to be consistent with itself! So Comrade Candle robs. Comrade Candle squats [as explained in her essay “Squatting as an Illegalist Anarchist”]. Comrade Candle riots. Comrade Candle damages property. Comrade Candle steals. Are these not anarchist actions with ample precedent [and anarchist justification] even in the few cases of previous anarchist activity I wrote about in chapter one? Comrade Candle finishes her essay about her squatting with the simple sentence “Law is how the State justified its Violence; Morals” and “law”, “State”, “violence” [the systematic and specific kinds] and “Morals” is exactly what the anarchist must attack and defy as a matter of their existence as anarchists and in pursuance of their and others’ survival. We are not those who “fit in” or “do our best” to get by, cooperating with the thing that oppresses us. We are not those who make excuses or ignore the fact that powerful, wealthy people hold the rest of us in chains and have deployed police forces, armies and a hurricane of technologically administered propaganda to shape our minds and values all to make sure that things stay a certain way: their way. We are in a war and we must fight. It does not matter that we did not start the war. It does not matter whether we want the war or not. THE WAR CAME TO OUR DOOR ANYWAY. We must fight or simply let go of any agency we imagined to have and die in a way of another’s choosing after living our lives as impotent slaves. I should not need to tell anyone interested enough in anarchism to have read this book that there is ample human precedent for refusal of that, let alone anarchist refusal.
But the world the capitalists have created, the world with which we are at war [and some would suggest the war is permanent, a state of war capitalists deliberately pursue as a permanent war as this is the best means to their exploitation of the world], is a world that gets worse the more people try to control it. It is a world, as Sofia Johnson shows from her own American perspective [which, to a non-American like me, is a specific and not a general picture of the world, if one that hankers after cultural hegemony], in which being a mass shooter is a symbol of global capitalism. [See Comrade Candle’s piece “The Golden Age of Mass Shootings”.] Perhaps, we may suggest, it is capitalism which increasingly fosters a production line of mass shooters in that “Land of the Free” [I regard this slogan as a satire on America and Americans, so cutting in its obvious bullshittery that its nature as a satire has almost totally passed them by] where the only thing you are actually free to do [for free] is die like a dog in the street as a disenfranchised, white man-boy pumps you full of lead as he wishes he could pump any human being with a vagina with his too often masturbated penis that has been decimated by several years of over-enthusiastic gooning in his parents’ basement, the only activity he now habitually carries out but which he has long since stopped enjoying. Comrade Candle writes:
“Mass shootings are a cornerstone of American culture, American life, American capitalism.
All is in place for one to be nurtured into a new serial killer, a mass shooter, by online sociopaths. Every mass shooting has evolved the mass shooting culture: more carnage, more planning, self-referential. Disregarding human life?”
This is the state of perpetual war the capitalists and culture warriors who create news outlets and websites and online organisations want. They want an entire population glued to propaganda content which is fucking them to death and turning them into soulless, uncaring automatons as they watch it. Every mass shooter produced is a victory for these motherfuckers. What? You think they care if some children die? They have helped manufacture a system in which it can be controlled who lives or dies. They have helped manufacture a system in which poverty, that could be aided and remedied, will more than likely mean premature death. The mass shooter is the visible symbol of this capitalist ethos, says Comrade Candle, as childrens’ blood is spattered against walls and gurning Alex Jones goes on TV to deny it ever even happened. Capitalism is bending reality to your will and experiencing the ecstasy of victory in the crushing of others’ lives. And so is machine gunning a classroom full of toddlers or a movie theatre full of its patrons. Fuck ‘em. We are capitalists. We exist to win by making sure you lose. Your death funds our wealth and victory. We now live in a world where being a rich sociopath or the killer of a few random nightclub goers is a means to your lasting fame. And fame, of all capitalistic things, is both the most vacuous and the most sought after. It is no wonder either, is it, that America is also the land where everyone is induced to the mental illness of wanting to be famous and becoming a “star”. As with the capitalist and mass killer, however, we do not focus on the system which creates these things, we focus on the individuals. And that’s how you destroy everything and everyone — one fame seeker at a time.
Capitalism and authoritarianism are motors of the centralised creation of these cults of personality, individualised approaches to capitalistic wealth acquisition and the production of mass death. Entire fortunes are spent creating — and manipulating, exploiting — the cultures we live in — and fighting against those who fight back against the cultures the rich people spending the fortunes want to create. An assault on truth is carried out by billionaire publishers to “both sides” every issue that comes to public prominence, to insist on “family values” or “child protection” or “freedom of speech” but these are issues in which language itself has become so twisted that organisations that can appear benign by their name are actually little more than fronts for the pursuance of societal control funded by “dark money”. Against all this, Comrade Candle posits an active, material anarchism as a response. She details it in the final text of hers I want to consider here: “Why Anarchy?”
To begin, I let Sofia Johnson, in her guise as Comrade Candle, speak for herself in answering the question: “What is anarchism anyways?” -:
“Anarchism is the absence of authority, by consequence a lack of hierarchy. You will not lead me, nor I you. None shall subjugate another, for the autonomy of the individual is of utmost importance. There is no person of more value than any other, we are all uniquely worthy of commanding ourselves. To rule over another is a cruel robbery of their whole world. Anarchism is the realization of the self, of the innumerable powers acting unto it. With no need to obey, you may finally foster free thought and possess total control of your will. Anarchists tend to reject most schools of traditional thought. As we are entrenched in a hierarchical existence, a majority of norms and customs are reflective. Law, government, family, religion, and gender might encompass some of the ideas an anarchist chooses to negate. You will seldom find agreement from anarchist-to-anarchist. We all wield our own lens with which to analyze the world. Government is largely seen as unnecessary and a farce; Law as a cold and indifferent detachment; Money an arbitrary valuing of our time and reality; Religion a deception to control. Many anarchists hold that these concepts form hierarchy by virtue, that these are merely the present tools of authority we are told to be needed...
Law is the State’s justification for violence, ergo illegal acts are an important component of my defiance....
An anarchist will not be ruled, nor shall they rule! A new order is born; an order without rulers...
With no one to be above you or I, a new order is birthed where none shall rule; No more authority, we may all autonomously act and not merely obey...
Why must you trade your time and resources for a State-sanctioned paper? Rather, why should I need currency for my basic needs to be satisfied, for my acquisition of those needs to not be theft? Money, like authority, has the value and worth a society decides to give it. Do we ever expect our rulers to admit the falsehood they have erected when they stand to gain so much power otherwise? You will sell your being for the dollar, kill another for the right feather in your hat, and I am to listen of your insistence there would be no order, no peace, without rulers? There is no order so long as one may command another! No peace is to be had when any may be locked in a box, denied the right to self-determine. As long as the powerful shall rule, we will be told this state of subjugation is a peace contrary to our supposed savagery. All individuals are uniquely worthy of their own life, of leading it. You are no more savage than your fellow individual, lest you be led to that belief. To be freed from rule is to finally know of freedom; we are not free with the powerful demanding subservience. I demand to finally control my own life, that I not merely make choices in some cruel game designed to oppress me at every moment of my wake. I refuse to be distracted from our time’s greatest injustice! No matter how deified the tradition opposing, let it be known – Anarchy is order; rulerless peace.”
What I take Comrade Candle to be saying here, in a fairly standard egoist conception of anarchism, is that anarchism is actual freedom practised by people possessed of it. Anarchy [the state of affairs] is then nothing more or less [and certainly nothing else other than] people each living free as the “rulers” and living emancipators of their own lives through their own willed and desired actions and any associations they may, between themselves, consider necessary in order to pursue that. ANARCHY IS NOT THEN A DELIBERATE STATE OF AFFAIRS PURSUED AS A GOAL. It cannot be — for this would be a however benevolent state of affairs people were forced into by others who had decided what was best for them. Anarchism, so Candle says, is people living free by means of their own self-organisation. Its as simple as that. And I agree with her. Anarchy is then what results if people, in their very decentralised ways, simply do that. All coercion, all authority, all that against which the forces of anarchism are ranged such as the law and the state, is then seen to be the centralised control of others, whether moral or material. Anarchy, as I tried to say in chapter six of Mini-Manual of Anarchist Relations, is here seen as akin to nature in that IT ORDERS ITSELF AND SO COMES TO BE. No one created nature; no one creates anarchy. What they do create is their own lives. And if everyone does that then anarchy will be created as a consequence of that through decentralised lives of free association and the agency and autonomy of free beings.
What are the keys to this according to Comrade Candle? They are “the death of God” which Nietzsche dramatized — and which includes the death of ALL SUBSTITUTE GODS as well. [Law, the state, morality, humanity, are prime candidates here.] They are living outside the law [“Lawlessness will be our liberator”] for how can you be free if you simply do as you are commanded and become a feeble worm who simply obeys? The anarchist is a Judge Dredd who declares “I am the law” — not in an authoritarian way, as this fictional character does, but in a way that never for a single second concedes anyone else’s right to laws over and above them. The anarchist annihilates “the law” by decentralising the law into the law of all those who exist and may make their own lives for themselves. That is anarchist law. Finally, they are “voluntary association” or “unions of egoists” — as Candle puts this after Max Stirner. She, like he before her, imagines the problems of human living resolved in the creation of voluntary, rather than coerced and manipulated, associations. “Altruism,” she maintains, “becomes far more appealing with no opportunity cost to it.” In summary, she adds:
“If all aspects of our existence become voluntary, I need not be around individuals who show disdain for others. I am not suddenly tied down by rent, borders, travel costs or contracts. I may surround myself with a community able to benefit me, as I to them. Or, I may live in solitude. Regardless, I suddenly have real control over my life rather than a mere facade of choice. I can associate with whom I choose, my life becomes mine to lead.”
This, then, is the anarchism against the law and the state of the squatter, rioter, ATM smasher and armed robber, Sofia Johnson, an anarchism of people fighting back against authority and capitalism, the State and the Law, by means of their own autonomy and agency in the cause of free association and a decentralised, no longer controlled, world. Isn’t that what all anarchism should be? Isn’t that, personal actualisations aside, what anarchism is? Isn’t that the anarchist historical background against which all anarchists in the modern world should contextualise their actions in order to give them an anarchist character? That is my submission in this book and, that being the case, I submit that Sofia Johnson takes her place with the anarchists as just one example of this ethos in action.
THREE: JUST EAT MY ASSHOLE AND TELL ME ABOUT YOUR DESIRE TO LIVE OUTSIDE THE LAW
I have presented a snapshot of historical anarchism in chapter one and a snapshot of Sofia Johnson’s modern anarchism in chapter two. Now, in my third and final chapter, its my turn. What do I have to say, precisely and concisely, about anarchism for myself? I present to you AN ANARCHY OF LOVE AND WAR.
I begin with a conversation, a real conversation had between two anarchists, from the recent past. It concerns the store clerk who found themselves at the end of Sofia Johnson’s gun. It goes as follows:
A: It seems to me that the store clerk is a supporter of the bourgeois status quo, either willingly or unwillingly.
B: It was the only one the informant knew about. [Sofia Johnson was arrested after a mole informed on her.] I mean the clerk just said ‘don’t hurt me’ and opened the register. He didn’t really put up any fight.
A: As they shouldn’t.
B: But I don’t think its needed to call him that. He hardly put up a fight or complained. A serious supporter of the status quo would have tried to stall or delay her.
A: In my mind, if you take part in it, you’re supporting it. There are levels, I’ll agree. But its all the same gravy.
B: Hey, come on now! Working a job to pay rent is hardly supporting the status quo; Its just survival. Being a worker is something people should avoid if they can but I don’t look down on workers.
A: Its a choice to survive in a certain way. Don’t I also need to survive? Don’t my housemates? None of us have jobs and none of us want them or the coerced slavery they represent.
B: Yeah — but not everyone has that situation available to them. Not sure how y’all make money haha
A: Don’t they? I don’t consider myself special. I consider myself committed. And I’m not going to tell you how. But you now know how I don’t.
B: Of course. I am kinda joking about not being sure lol. I’m sure I could guess but I’m not playing that game.
A: You see, if you really want to push the argument to its logical conclusion, ‘I’m just working to survive’ is the same argument as the Nazi guard who says ‘I was just doing my job’. Its true. But its also a choice.
B: Woah! I think that’s a false equivalency as the 7/11 cashier is hardly hurting anyone or performing oppressive actions for work. I don’t mean I care about her robbing them, of course. Its simply that it doesn’t make sense to denounce random workers for not somehow becoming ex-workers without any know how.
A: Wrong. The tiniest nut in a tank that fires shells at innocents is playing its part in the machine that kills. It doesn’t have to be the gun turret or the shell that gets fired. I see this as the consequences of anarchism. I see this as the question every member of society faces. I’m not denouncing individuals per se. I’m denouncing a system they partake in without much thought beyond survival. All those individuals ‘just surviving’ are what make the system anyway. That’s my point.
B: Plenty of people who work are well aware of this though and do try to resist how they can. Many anarchists work. Work is hardly voluntary for most people. Its that or you starve. The point is to abolish work at the end of the day I think.
A: The capitalist oppressive system is millions of people acquiescing. That’s all it is.
A: But if you agree you must also conclude the only real solution is that people stop acquiescing. That’s what me and my housemates have done — without any special dispensation.
B: Yes, that’s what people should go for and aspire towards but you are not grasping how its not a trivial task and certainly not one someone can do alone. It would take a bunch of people to get a house like that and I think its quite hard to find that many people who would want it. That’s why its a goal we should all aim towards and take steps towards, but its not a trivial undertaking or even plausible for many. Someone who is socially isolated who wants something like that can’t just suddenly do so. Its a journey. The point should be to encourage people on that journey not wag your finger that they aren’t already there. I use the house as an example btw.
A: How, of all people, could I not be grasping it when I’m the one living every day with the consequences of doing it? I agree its not a snap decision — and it surely involves learning and associates. But it is because I am talking about things I and others have done that I can say I see from the other side. I have jumped off the cliff into the wide open. Of course the people still on the cliff don’t want to jump. Do you think I did? I could be making a nice living as yet another Only Fans/pornstar person now if I were so inclined. I had the opportunity when I was younger. But here I am earning nothing living in a commune taking responsibility for myself with others in another way instead.
B: Yeah, I suppose you have already gotten to the other side of the cliff. It will give a different perspective.
A: My point: if you have no courage you’ll never do anything. Anarchism is constantly breaking boundaries for what you think you can, or should, do.
B: What was that point for you where there was no turning back? I think for me it was being at the 2016 prison strike. The people at the protest, we all blocked off the street for a bit delaying the bus full of new prisoners from being dropped off at the jail.
A: It started when I was at a porn shoot when I was 18. This porn guy was exploiting me [and several other young girls my age] so I poured acid in his computer and destroyed all the content he’d manipulated out of me. After that, I became more and more radical and it changed how I viewed the world entirely.
B: Oh, I remember that, yeah. You’ve mentioned it before. But going from destroying it to being a fugitive and burning your passport and having no phone, living in a house in the woods having orgies... There is a lot in between is my point. People need to take that first step and get their journey started. And keep on going and never stop.
A: 8 years, yes. Yes, that’s my point. The first step is realizing “wtf am I doing living like this?”
B: For sure, yeah. I guess I agree then. I just found how you worded it earlier confusing I guess.
A: But that is all I’m out to achieve. Making people disgusted to take part in this hell world. To see beyond ‘survival’ — survival that is only as a parasite on a monster.
B: I think that one can work a job and still be taking this journey though but its certainly not ideal. Fuck being a worker lol. I’m a proud lumpen. As much as its a dead end, I have a lot of respect for militant labor struggles and wildcat strikes. That moment when workers break legality and act for themselves is the moment when they can begin to not be workers.
A: Let me put it this way: you need money to survive [although even that’s not 100% true in certain circumstances]. But that doesn’t mean you have to work for it. Its just that that is the most personally consequence-free way of getting it.
B: Sometimes its the best option available to someone. That’s my only point. Not that I’m taking pity on the poor worker or some shit lol
A: It seems the same point to me.
B: I guess so. Haha.
A: My point would then be that when what I would call “the anarchist switch” flips on it then becomes something seen in a different way.
B: Yes. When the anarchist switch clicks on someone stops seeing it as some normal okay thing and rather as a dreaded exploitation they have no other choice than to do for the time being while they search for flights of freedom.
A: For me, its like all these people who became anarchists historically and they started stealing and robbing. Some of them shared the proceeds. Others just kept it for themselves. Some robbed rich houses. Others robbed banks. There were so many of them, the old fuddy duddies of the movement had to condemn them!
B: Yeah. Its a shame. The idea that anarchism must be civil, and the consequences of that, have been a disaster for anarchy.
A: Fuckin’ A.
I wonder whose side — if any — you take in that conversation? Or if you even think there were sides rather than just individual anarchists discussing an issue from their own relative positions? Do you agree with A that workers are basically collaborators — or do you have the sympathy that B had for them, seeing them more as people “just trying to survive”? There is no wrong and right answer here but you do have to make a choice. For ANARCHY means “no leaders” and so no authority, no oppression, no exploitation by capitalist others. And that includes their minions, willing or otherwise.
All this reminds me of an episode from towards the end of the final season of the best of the Star Trek shows: Deep Space Nine. Towards the end of the show the Cardassian Empire, which had joined the forces of the Dominion from the Gamma Quadrant, found itself a simple vassal state, ignored and occupied by its Dominion overlords and their new Breen allies. The nominal Cardassian leader, Damar, decided to rebel and, together with his closest friends and allies, urged Cardassians everywhere to resist before immediately going into hiding to direct an insurrection against Dominion forces now occupying Cardassian worlds. Meanwhile, for their part, The Federation despatched Colonel Kira [a former resistance fighter on her own home world of Bajor — ironically against Cardassian invaders], Security Chief Odo [a member of a race that were actually the leaders of the Dominion] and Garak, a Cardassian former spy, to give the now renegade Cardassians tactical assistance.
Now why do I tell you all this, especially, as is entirely possible, if you have no interest in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine? Its because of a scene which plays out between Damar and his Cardassians and the three Federation personnel. A plan is hatched by these three to attack a Cardassian base which is necessary to the Dominion’s war effort. But Damar’s men refuse to attack it because it is a base primarily staffed by Cardassian soldiers. Kira points out to Damar and his men that if they will not attack their own people then they have already lost because as soon as the Dominion realise that the insurrectionists have moral scruples that limit their activities then they will simply put Cardassians, willing or unwilling, at every base and military installation that they still control — and the Cardassian rebellion will be over by their own refusal to attack their own people. Kira’s point is then that everyone who is not with you IS AGAINST YOU whether they make a formal declaration of that, are “just doing their jobs”, or not. There are, we may concede, and as Deep Space Nine itself discusses in its dramatizations, several levels of “collaboration” — from mostly passive to totally active and deliberate — but those fighting against the oppressive and exploitative power of empires or systems of control cannot afford to be choosy about who the enemy is for, if they are, then there is no rebellion, they are not resisting, and the insurrection is only in their heads. People make choices every day and its the anarchists’ job not only to make those choices for themselves but to also reflect the choices others have made back at them in the mirror. Are you a collaborator? Are you enabling the system of control to function and maintaining its power? Are you responsible and, if so, what for?
So perhaps A was right to think the store clerk with the gun being pointed at him by Sofia Johnson was a collaborator. But perhaps B was also right to be in sympathy with them who, after all, was probably just some schmuck making minimum wage in order to live a nondescript life without particularly wanting to exploit or oppress anybody. I think the point I would make here is that you can be both at once. You can be both personally responsible for your actions — or inactions — and the tool of a system that controls you. After all, I myself speak of us all being in a vast open prison. We are in that whether we want to be or not. Yet we can all still decide for ourselves, to greater or lesser degrees, if we wish to remain imprisoned or start causing trouble — and maybe even try to destroy the prison and escape. In other words, we didn’t create our situation BUT WE CAN ALL AFFECT IT. AND SHOULD TRY TO.
Now I speak of an anarchy of love and war. It is an anarchy that does not seek enemies but neither does it avoid those who stand in the way of freedom or forget those who have acted, or have chosen to act, against it. There are plenty of willing cops, after all, and they don’t all wear uniforms and drive police cruisers. Some of them even describe themselves as “anarchists” and have become the “secularised Christians” that Nietzsche complained of when he addressed the “socialists and anarchists” of his day. It is, as enlightened people may realise, even necessary that most police don’t wear uniforms for the most insidious and effective police of all are the mass of those who just obey — and who will call out and constrain any who don’t, acting to sustain the system which controls us because they don’t have the imagination to do anything else. A propagandised and controlled consensus of willing slaves or an indoctrinated mass that cannot rid itself of its societal programming is the best police force of all, the one that authorises and allows the actions of all those uniformed police who have deliberately allied themselves with the forces of the State and with authority in the first place.
My rhetorical anarchist in this chapter is in a strange position regarding such people, however. They do not necessarily want to hurt or even kill them [and I have it on good authority, although no one but her can ever actually know for sure, that Sofia Johnson had no intention of shooting the store clerk] but, if they act as a brake on their freely going about their business, as anarchy suggests, then they present a material obstacle to that intent — just as the store clerk did to Sofia Johnson. My rhetorical anarchist here would like to hope to find, and make, as many allies, accomplices and lovers as they can but if, instead, they find an enemy, an automaton, a robot of the controlling system, they cannot then allow their predisposition to finding associates and lovers to convince them not to see that person as, instead and unfortunately, someone with whom they are at war. If I need that money to survive and you would stop me having it then, whether I wish we could love each other or not, we are, at least for now, at war. This, as in the example I gave from Deep Space Nine, must be — for if you cease fighting because you see an “innocent” in front of you then “innocents” will be put everywhere to disarm your fight. I question, anyway, how “innocent” anybody ever really is. Anyone who is awake and has managed to survive into adulthood knows how the world works. They must be made responsible for it in their own choices, however free or coerced they imagine them to be. As I have said elsewhere many times before, repeating others, anyone has the option to just say “No” even if that means bad things for them. How many have made such choices before? How many have refused at cost to themselves? Why do you think you should not be put in that ethical spotlight too? Systems of control do not maintain themselves. They are maintained by people who can, and should, be held responsible. For we are all responsible for our own actions and that should be made clear.
You may then be surprised to find that I talk about an anarchy of LOVE and war. The war part, perhaps, you understand in anarchist context. But love? Yes, love. The love that Emma Goldman indicated when, in her first interview in a newspaper with Nellie Bly in 1893 whilst she was awaiting trial for unlawful assembly and accused by some of incitement to riot, in answer to a question about why she was an anarchist, said, in so many words, that it was because she cared about the plight of people and so could not do nothing in their defence. She described this as an aspect of her egoism, that because she felt a certain way she felt it necessary to act in accordance with it. She was addressing her own feelings and inclinations and acting consistently with them, an act which also had consequences for others too.
I feel the same way but I also feel that love is better than hate [as a basis for human relationships] and that love, if it was the basis for people relating to each other more widely, would change the world we live in for the better. I feel this so much my last book — Mini-Manual of Anarchist Relations — was all about it. Go read it if you want much more about that. I contrast this approach to anarchism of mine with what we have today: states, laws, governments, police, courts, prisons, corporations. Is any of this about love? No, of course it isn’t. Its about dumb, dull, anonymised administration and bureaucracy. Its about people who are numbers or obstacles or units or offenders or customers. None of these things love you. They almost certainly don’t even care about you. You are just things to be processed or exploited by them, potential for some profit, real or imagined.
The anarchist, I suggest, is not in this position. The anarchist loves people. The anarchist loves relationships with people. The anarchist loves true allies but, better still, the anarchist loves accomplices and lovers. The anarchist wants to love and to make love. The anarchist sees human beings for what they are — fellow beings who want to give and receive love as the basis for relationships of mutual enjoyment and survival without conflict or enmity. The anarchist is a lover but they love as they fight: to the end! The anarchist will not force this love on you, however, for it is not anything to be imposed. You can refuse to love. Love means nothing, and is not love, unless it is freely given anyway. Yet the anarchist wants to make love, and relationships of love, with people and in and between people. That is their predisposition. That is also how they make war on the State, on laws, on police, on capitalists, on fascists. They make war by making love, by making relationships of love and by fostering love. In a world that doesn’t care, caring makes a difference and is an act of war that states, with their laws, will seek to outlaw you for.
We are anarchists. We make love and we make war. But how? IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW! If you are of anarchist motives and are anti-authoritarian, if you wish to dethrone all leaders and build a decentralised society of free associations, then IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW! There are plenty of those out there who say that anarchism is a particular thing, a certain form of organisation. They are all wrong — and all right! Anarchism is WHATEVER GETS THE JOB DONE FOR YOU AND THOSE YOU ASSOCIATE WITH. Some want formal organisations, others insist on individual freedom. Some insist on illegal acts whilst others focus on helping the homeless with mutual aid or building unions. ITS ALL GOOD! Anarchy, I contend, is the multiple and always varied actions of the whole SIMPLY GOING ABOUT THEIR BUSINESS. Anarchy is not something anyone, or any group, makes from themselves by their own deliberative action and determination in order to slowly impose it on everyone else by their deeds or persuasion. It is, instead, EVERYONE LIVING FREELY AS THEY CHOOSE, COOPERATIVELY AND AUTONOMOUSLY. Anarchy is an emergent state and not a deliberative state. You can’t make anarchy; it happens because of how a whole operates, emerging from that operation. This will be hard for adherents of “revolution” to accept but I urge such people to ask what happens AFTER the revolution. It can never be just about what anyone, or any group, wants, it must be something about how the whole interacts and operates, what the character of that whole is. If we could make and impose anarchy then it wouldn’t be anarchy any longer anyway; it would be just another coercion. Anarchy is people living, and loving, free and always with the ability to change their ways and their relationships to and with others. Anarchy is the effect of the union of methods and desires: it is made by living free, loving free, and warring free.
So we need to see not just our war against authority as an insurrection but our LOVE as an insurrection too. As already said, if our enemies do not love and are estranged from love, then for us to love is an attack. Love is an insurrection and war is an insurrection. We bring both barrels to our fight! We make love with those who will love and we make war against those who will be at war with us. We remember that WE ARE ANARCHISTS and so the Law and the State are those things we have already pledged to be against — and all those who will respect or observe them [for they are responsible for these things too]. We are anti-authority; we are anti-authoritarian; we are anti all those who do authority’s job for it or stand in for it. We destroy all authorities and we create no new ones. We stand for agency, autonomy, [free] association, affinity and acentralism [a decentralised society]. We build relationships of real, physical love with whoever will join in with them with us. We build and organise our own lives with both love and with war that is fierce. This is anarchy.
We are, in whatever methods we choose, an insurrection. As Gustavo Rodriguez informs us in a talk he gave in 2011 titled “Illegal Anarchism: The False Dichotomy”:
“Anarchism is illegal or it isn’t Anarchism. That is its essence and meaning — its nature. For this reason, sometimes it seems so obvious that we forget to meticulously emphasize the anti-authoritarian character of Anarchism and therefore, that it is consequently anti-systemic; Anti-systemic and full of rage! We are against all authority; that’s our motto. For the same reason, Anarchists, from the moment we begin to assume ourselves as such, right in that initial moment, we are locating ourselves outside of the law. When we affirm ourselves as Anarchists, we are against the system of domination. We fight against and object to the whole social order and all the laws that aid it. All laws have been and will be made to give juridical support to oppression and domination. If we are against the state we have to be strongly against the laws which entitle and justify its existence. Therefore, as Anarchists we are illegal because we are Anarchists, that is to say, by nature.”
“Illegal by nature” — that is the anarchist! The notion of “legal anarchists”, as Rodriguez discusses at length throughout the body of his talk, is then a nonsense, a liberal bastardization of what an anarchist is in and of themselves. Anarchists have, by their taking of the name, by their acceptance of the ethos, MADE THEMSELVES ILLEGAL. The anarchist desire for freedom, whether personal and egoistic or organised in some collective way, is something which is against the law of any state and no state, simply by wishing to maintain its own existence, would ever allow it — for to allow it is to collaborate in its own dissolution and in the dissolution of the idea of states at all. Simply by becoming an anarchist, then, one sets oneself against the State and against the laws states create. If you are for freedom you cannot be for anything that wishes to control it arbitrarily based on authority alone.
We see this, too, in the anarchist ethos and self-understanding, for anarchism is not a dogma with articles of faith and a council of elders. The anarchist may quite legitimately ignore or disavow anything Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Goldman or anyone else ever said and go their own way if they so choose. Anarchism is an ethos or an attitude to life not a dogma or a doctrine. It is the will to live wild and free and not a discipline, the adherence to which will be assessed by accredited imperators. This is something that anarchists themselves need to learn, not least when they squabble amongst themselves and then become petty and pathetic informers on one another in order to get their rhetorical opponents into trouble. What a total sack of shit it is when that happens, that those who claim to believe in freedom of conscience, of lifestyle, of belief, become idiotic partisans for doing things a certain way to which others must either be forced or for which they must be punished if they will not submit. That’s no anarchism, its horseshit. Anarchists must learn to become so partisan in their desire for freedom that they learn the lesson of people being free from their own desires too. It is only freedom for all in equal measure that creates anarchy. It is only in rebelling against a freedom denied — even yours which you think is a good thing — that anarchism takes place. So true anarchists, ones that fully respect its total commitment to agency and autonomy, to free association, are against all dogmatists of anarchism, all do-gooders, all secularized Christians in the ranks. They must be, for that is no anarchism. Gustavo Rodriguez himself agrees with this when, riffing on words of Alfredo Bonanno, he says: “Anarchism isn‘t a definition that, once reached, can be guarded jealously in a safe and conserved as a heritage from which we take our arguments each time that we need them.” Anarchism isn’t, as Rodriguez also describes it, “bourgeois moralizing”.
Anarchism is, instead, illegal activity, insurrectionary action. It is Clément Duval calling the law “a prostitute who is managed to the convenience of the advantage or detriment of... this or that class” — and stealing accordingly — and it is Marius Jacob saying he preferred to rob rather than be robbed [systematically by the controllers of the society he was a part of]. Rodriguez, incidentally, records Jacob’s thoughts when, in his life after release from prison, he was drawn to Spain in 1936 to make common cause with the anarchists. But what did he find? “Where are the anarchists?” he asked. “In mass graves. Betrayed in the rear [i.e. by their less committed comrades], they sacrificed themselves in the front.” We might here then naturally recall the Nestor Makhno I briefly described in a pencil sketch in chapter one. Makhno had no love for those anarchists whose only interest was “propaganda” or “education”. It was not that he considered these things bad: he simply did not consider them nearly enough. Where, he thought, was the activity, the organisation, the mobilisation of people in resistance to antagonistic forces? Makhno, who in many points of theory and ideas I completely disagree with, has my full support in his argument that anarchism is an action determined to create physical opposition to one’s opponents — to actually, physically resist them. It is for this reason, as well, that I say that anarchism, the making of oneself illegal, is an illegal ACTIVITY and an insurrectionary ACTION. It is for such reasons that insurrectionary expropriations and propaganda by the deed were born. I resist. We resist. We break the law. We deny your state. We defy its authority. This, we should assume, is why the largely unknown Julio Lopez Chavez, a Mexican anarchist from the time of Bakunin and the First International, expropriated and confronted authorities in the late 1860s, saying: “I’m an anarchist because I am an enemy of all governments, and a communist, because my brothers want to work common land.” [The land Lopez expropriated he shared amongst the farmers of the region.]
Expropriations, then, are not for the sake of it. They are not done just because someone can [although there’s nothing wrong with that]. They are propaganda by the deed, means of survival contrary to the means you have been instructed to follow and are enforced to obey. To this day expropriations are carried out to fund anarchist lives and anarchist propaganda materials. They are tactics consistent with the principles that motivate them. They are means of surviving outside of the capitalist prison which others will consistently attempt to force us to live within. They are ways of supporting the lives of real people. They are means consistent with the words of those like Gustavo Rodriguez, who say:
“we will not stay waiting for the maturation of the revolutionary process, we won‘t wait for the revolution nor are we very worried whether it ever happens or not, because known revolutions — from the French revolution to nowadays — have degenerated, all of them, into reformist, authoritarian and dictatorial processes that have only helped to strengthen the state. Our fight is and always will be for Total liberation, for Anarchy. We won‘t accept anything less. Thank you.”
Another such person is that person known as “Flower Bomb”. I don’t know anything about who this person is except the things that they publish. And I love what they publish for, even in the name, it speaks of an anarchism of love and war. Take, for example, their essay from the end of 2018, “Anarchy: The Life and Joy of Insubordination” in which the word “worker” is substituted with the term “wage-slave”. In many respects this essay is Flower Bomb’s own version of what I am doing here but, of course, they put it in their own words:
“All I have is an anarchist project of my own: the reclaiming of my life from wage-slavery and social control. It is a project of self-preservation armed with hostility to all that attempts to categorize, confine, and control me.
Things we come to familiarize ourselves with like presidential elections, the police, banks, and wage-slavery are all social systems constructed to maintain order – an order maintained through coercion, disempowerment, and fear. Together these things make up the governmental establishment which occupies and applies ownership to geographical locations. The maintaining of this occupation relies heavily on an apparatus that monopolizes violent force, as well as the subjugation of any persons residing in these locations. The subjugation of a population of people wouldn’t succeed without the normalized logic of submission and psychological warfare. In order to gain access to the monopolized resources needed to survive, the conquered population of people are forced to reproduce and maintain the establishment through wage-slavery: enslavement in exchange for a monetary wage. At the root of this social control is the domination of the individual – a domination which reinforces the logic of individual submission to the group. For the sake of the leftist wet-dream, imagine every individual wage-slave deciding to quit their job, all at once, and all those who didn’t have a job deciding against getting one. Those few who monopolize resources would quickly lose everything and everyone they needed to protect them. With the expropriation of violent force, these individuals could unite and destroy those maintaining hierarchical power. But as years have shown, the continuity of capitalism and the slave-master relationship is complex and reinforced in a variety of ways.”
Flower Bomb thus goes on to point out that “many people enjoy wage-slavery, and will even sabotage efforts to organize against it” but why I mention this essay in particular is because it shows us what is needful as part of our anarchist formation and self-education: that we RE-IMAGINE OURSELVES. Reflecting on why the workers have never actually thrown off their chains [as someone once suggested they do], Flower Bomb asks:
“Where in the prison of society do we find the encouragement to not only be our unique wild selves, but to also weaponize our hostility towards the societal apparatus of control? Individuality, often promoted within the confinement of a pre-constructed identity – one assigned at birth and necessary for the functioning of capitalist society – is defined by society rather than the chaos of indefinite, ungoverned self-discovery. Due to the anthropocentric lens through which we view the world, wildness is moralized as an evil savagery in need of domesticating and management. Wildness is the enemy of the technological colonization of the natural world. So what does anarchist wildness look like? Anarchy as wildness refuses the control and domination of socially constructed systems which subjugate individuality.”
Put more simply, Flower Bomb is making the point that even what it is to be a person or an individual is taken out of our hands and indoctrinated into us if we will let it be. The idea of a self is of a controlled and disciplined being who follows rules they never decided on or agreed to but which they are expected to accept without question just because they were born. Any “wildness” introduced into this equation is regarded negatively as a defect — and, depending on how insistent the wildness is, as perhaps something to be tamed or imprisoned or even eradicated. This is not something unique to liberal society when it looks disapprovingly at its anarchist neighbours. Its no different to how Bernieri apparently saw the individualism of Novatore, for example.
Sticking to a societal picture, however, Flower Bomb directs her analysis in the direction of how individuals are discouraged, by their societal formation and the formation of this particular, capitalist and authoritarian society, from being able to provide for themselves outside of the capitalist/authoritarian matrix of interests. [The thing about a prison, of course, is that its not performing its function if it doesn’t act as a prison.] Flower Bomb significantly mentions ways in which capitalism, and the authoritarianism that help maintain it as the only viable means of survival for billions, are ALIENATING. Human beings under capitalism, for example, no longer build their own homes or grow their own food. They are set at a distance from the things and processes which enable them. We are made into consumers who have more intimate relationships with shopping shelves than the stuff of our lives. Resources are monopolized by a few, industrialised and technocratically administered until all we actually interact with is “product”. It is, of course, here thought, by the by, that the world’s resources have largely been stolen and hoarded by vast economic interests and that, under capitalism, “the expropriation of resources from those who monopolize them is considered illegal.” But as Flower Bomb then goes on to say: “This is where anarchism breaks away from the civilized notions of social reform and finds affinity with illegality.”
This, however, is where the REIMAGINING comes in. Flower Bomb writes:
“illegalist anarchy is the refusal to confine my anarchist activity to an above-ground, liberalized, mass-appeal activity. It is the daily practice of experimenting with methods of survival that refuse the limiting moral code of law and order. It is the weaponizing of chaos from which I find courage and strength in joyfully discovering new ways of surviving – all of which circumnavigate wage-slavery... everything one needs to survive already exists all around. In addition to poly-crop guerrilla gardening and foraging, food is stockpiled high in grocery stores. Tools for creativity and sabotage are hoarded by hardware stores. Dumpsters are filled to the brim with a variety of resources.”
The problem is, as Flower Bomb says, that we have been indoctrinated into becoming consumers. If we need something, we automatically think that buying it is the major legitimate way to obtain it. If it is only something that can be bought then we imagine that doing without [since we cannot afford to buy it] is the only other legitimate option. BUT THIS IS ALL NONSENSE! The resources for what we need are all around us and we can surely just take them if we want to and have the ingenuity to. We can make what we need as well if we have or learn the skills necessary or, and here’s a thought, what about SHARING? We need to think ourselves out of being “consumers” who are drones who must buy everything [often only to throw it away again] and rethink ourselves into becoming those who provide for ourselves by WHATEVER MEANS NECESSARY.
I am often asked, for example, how it is possible to live and survive in The Nude House, the anarchist dwelling I share with six other anarchists. I’m not going to tell you in so many words. But its not by simply being a robot consumer! Having once been alienated from our own wildness and self-expression and desire to survive on our own terms, we nudists and anarchists at The Nude House continue to practice reimagining ourselves out of that! Rather than being alienated intimates of only supermarket shelves, we have engaged in our own agriculture as well as reclamation of goods everyone else seems to think are worthy of being thrown away. Not having jobs and being slaves five day a week, we also have time to scope out and spy where people throw away the things that are still perfectly good to make use of and enjoy [even fixing them in the process if necessary]. Rather than being slaves of a system which tells us to consume in certain ways, we decide our own lives, and their requirements, for ourselves. Flower Bomb in fact makes this point themselves when they say: “Eight hours of committed work at a factory (or grocery store, office place, etc.) could be eight hours of strategic planning, assessing, and experimenting with illegalist activity.” Flower Bomb seems to take it that no law can make human survival outside the dictates of authoritarian capitalism illegal and with this all anarchists should agree.
This, as Flower Bomb goes on to say, is very much a matter of “comprehending one’s environment and their relationship to it.” It is a throwing away of the capitalist and authoritarian glasses that were glued in place over your eyes as a filter to see through and seeing things again for the first time — only this time you decide in a different way what it is that you see. It is not, as is the case now in capitalist economies dictated by insurances and pensions, by gambling and speculating, about saving for a future that might never come [an increasing possibility every heat record brings ever nearer]. It is not about being the end consumer of a capitalist conveyor belt turning “resources” into “products” into landfill. It is about creating yourself as a new, free, illegal person. It is taking each day at a time in its own right. It is simple pleasure, fun and enjoyment without a “system that requires massified subjugation for its sustainability”. It is about making time for love over the violence of a necessary profit. It is about becoming Anarqxista Goldman [or whoever you are] rather than being made a societal member of the proletariat, a “worker” or “wage-slave”. Flower Bomb can put this in ways very compatible with the rhetoric of Sofia Johnson in its recognition of our servitude as coerced and given away when, instead, it should be refused. She adds that “The logic of submission is only negated through a fearless self-confidence and the desire to become socially ungovernable.” Thus, we must conclude with Flower Bomb that:
“Anarchy can not be experienced through history books, the reformation of work places nor the confines of a new societal system. Anarchy breathes with the rhythm of the wild in constant flux, ungoverned by anthropocentric laws and order. I rejoice in my anarchy in the transformative abandonment of the role and identity of ‘the proletariat’. There is no great future revolution on the horizon to organize or wait for. There is only today, with no guarantee of tomorrow. There are no charismatic leaders to open the door to freedom. There is only the power of anarchist individuality defined by the liberating ammunition of desire.”
Therefore, we must resist giving up the “play, individuality and freedom” that are antithetical to social systems of subjugation. We must refuse the deal of surrendering our wildness for easier access to resources. We must cherish our individual selves, our singular egos and creative nothings, as “powerful, unique and wild”. We must embrace our illegality as something which “confronts law and order with insurgency, preserving wild chaos as individuality against the homogenizing effect of society. To reclaim and reinvent one’s life as a daily exploration of personal adventure is anarchy against the socialized guilt and pressure to abandon rebellious youth.” This is what Flower bomb calls in another of their essays — “A Dagger of Feral Anarchy” — “a sense of feral becoming”. I appreciate the wild, natural imagery contained in that figure of speech for, of course, it is language I have used independently myself. Anarchists grow wild whereas capitalist authoritarian society wants to grow everything, every human being, in serried rows. NO. WE REFUSE! We are illegal! We grow where, and how, we please!
So it will be as well to remind ourselves again, as Flower Bomb reminds us in this second essay, which is formally about her understanding of “post-left anarchy”, that:
“Every form of oppression that exists is perpetuated, enforced, and ultimately sustained by wilfully participating individuals. I recognize the importance of the role I, as an individual, play in either proliferating all forms of oppression or sabotaging their social functioning. From this perspective, post-left anarchy could be accurately understood as war against society. For me it is not enough to attack the institutional manifestations of these ideologies. I also take aim at the origin of their proliferation – those individuals who willingly enable and perpetuate these forms of oppression...
[Therefore, we engage in] an individualist rebellion against both the theoretical and material formations of control and domination. From a nihilist perspective, concepts such as race, gender, species, and so on are all socially constructed. At their root, they are merely products of imagination. But with the subordinated minds of a population of people, these figments of imagination have become materialized into a physical world. While these are indeed constructs of imagination, the number of individuals reproducing them through social relationships gives them power. Therefore, it is not enough to merely declare anti-racism without materially attacking the social and institutional enforcement of white supremacy. It is not enough to merely declare anti-sexism without becoming destructive toward gendered roles, identity-assignments, and the society that enforces them. It is not enough to merely declare anti-speciesism without actively disrupting the human supremacist view and treatment of other animals as flesh and secretions for consumption.”
None of this comes from “a general consensus”. None of this requires “permission to act”. As Flower Bomb ends “A Dagger of Feral Anarchy”, we agree that “The words expressed in this text are merely the philosophical end of a pipe bomb — a wick lit by the flame of egoist desire toward an explosion of life – rebellion, play, and the ageless beauty of individualist sabotage and destruction.” We arm ourselves with love and we arm ourselves for war. And we will fight! We are saboteurs of this fucking oppressive societal prison! And we enjoy our work of sabotage!
I am about done here, for now. Be lovers! Be warriors! Be saboteurs! Be the masters of your own destinies without regard for states or laws for, if you are an anarchist, you have already declared yourself illegal — against the dictates of laws and states drawn up to ensure a way of life to which you are opposed on principle and which imprison everyone — in any case. All that remains is for you to act coherently and consistently in line with this interpretation of your life and its meaning in the context of relationships with others. For this, you need no warrant but your own desires and perhaps the assistance of lovers with like minds. So build alliances, create relationships, enjoy loves, find accomplices, attack and defeat enemies, create spaces where free association reigns and coercive control is the outsider. I leave you, in this task, with the full text of Albert Libertad’s piece, “To The Resigned”, his eternal imprecation to act, to live, to love, and to revolt:
“I hate the resigned! I hate the resigned like I hate the filthy, like I hate layabouts! I hate resignation! I hate filthiness, I hate inaction. I feel for the sick man bent under some malignant fever; I hate the imaginary sick man that a little bit of will would set on his feet. I feel for the man in chains, surrounded by guards, crushed under the weight of irons and the many. I hate soldiers who are bent by the weight of braids and three stars; the workers who are bent under the weight of capital. I love the man who says what he feels wherever he is; I hate the believer in voting, perpetually seeking conquest by the majority. I love the savant crushed under the weight of scientific research; I hate the individual who bends his body under the weight of an unknown power, of some ‘X’, of a god.
I hate, I say, all those who, surrendering to others through fear or resignation a part of their power as men, not only keep their heads down, but make me, and those I love, keep our heads down too through the weight of their frightful collaboration or their idiotic inertia. I hate them; yes I hate them, because for my part, I feel it. I don’t bow before the officer’s braid, the mayor’s sash, the gold of the capitalist, morality or religion. For a long time I have known that all of these things are just baubles that we can break like glass… I bend beneath the weight of the resignation of others. O how I hate resignation! I love life.
I want to live, not in a petty way like those who only satisfy some of their muscles, their nerves, but in a big way, satisfying facial muscles as well as calves, my back as well as my brain. I don’t want to trade a portion of now for a fictive portion of tomorrow. I don’t want to surrender anything of the present for the wind of the future. I don’t want to bend anything of myself under the words ‘fatherland’, ‘God,’ ‘honour.’ I too well know the emptiness of these words, these religious and secular ghosts. I laugh at pensions, at paradises the hope for which hope allows religion and capital to maintain a hold on the resigned. I laugh at those who, saving for their old age, deprive themselves in their youth; those who, in order to eat at sixty, fast at twenty.
I want to eat while I have strong teeth to tear and grind healthy meats and succulent fruits, while my stomach juices digest without a problem. I want to drink my fill of refreshing and tonic drinks. I want to love women, or a woman, depending on our common desire, and I don’t want to resign myself to the family, to law, to the Code; no one has any rights over our bodies. You want, I want. Let us laugh at the family, the law, the ancient form of resignation. But this isn’t all. I want, since I have eyes, ears, and other senses, more than just to drink, to eat, to enjoy sexual love: I want to experience joy in other forms. I want to see beautiful sculptures and painting, to admire Rodin and Manet. I want to hear the best opera companies play Beethoven or Wagner. I want to know the classics at the Comedie Francaise, page through the literary and artistic baggage left by men of the past to men of the present, or even better, page through the now and forever unfinished oeuvre of humanity.
I want joy for myself, for my chosen companion, for my friends. I want a home where my eyes can pleasantly rest when my work is done. For I want the joy of labour, too, that healthy joy, that strong joy. I want my arms to handle the plane, the hammer, the spade and the scythe; that my muscles develop, the thoracic cage become larger with powerful, useful and reasoned movements. I want to be useful; I want us to be useful. I want to be useful to my neighbour and for my neighbour to be useful to me. I desire that we labour much, for I am insatiable for joy. And it is because I want to enjoy myself that I am not resigned. Yes, yes I want to produce, but I want to enjoy myself. I want to knead the dough, but eat better bread; to work at the grape harvest, but drink better wine; build a house, but live in better rooms; make furniture, but possess the useful, see the beautiful; I want to make theatres, but big enough to house me and mine. I want to cooperate in producing, but I also want to cooperate in consuming. Some dream of producing for others to whom they will leave, oh the irony of it, the best of their efforts. As for me, I want, freely united with others, to produce but also to consume.
You who are resigned, look: I spit on your idols. I spit on God, the Fatherland, I spit on Christ, I spit on the flag, I spit on capital and the golden calf; I spit on laws and Codes, on the symbols of religion; they are baubles, I could care less about them, I laugh at them … Only through you do they mean anything; leave them behind and they’ll break into pieces. You are thus a force, you who are resigned, one of those forces that don’t know they are one, but who are nevertheless a force, and I can’t spit on you, I can only hate you…or love you. Above all my desire is that of seeing you shaking off your resignation in a terrible awakening of life. There is no future paradise, there is no future; there is only the present. Let us live! Live! Resignation is death.
REVOLT IS LIFE.”
ANARQXISTA GOLDMAN X