Letter To The Anarchists
Every morning I wake up in the anarchist house where I live somewhere in Western Europe and I switch on my laptop. I survey, for about 30 minutes before I go for a naked walk in the woods near my home, what the world is saying about itself. [The following examples are all real.] Some cops in New Orleans ignored a rape but some other American cops shot a boy with a toy gun dead. In England, a pensioner with nothing in their fridge can’t afford to buy food and is afraid to turn on the heating. In the Philippines, Monkeypox has been reported and is being described as a sex disease it is not. Elsewhere, environmental campaigners have sabotaged machinery that is voraciously cutting through a forest and destroying a natural habitat. In Poland some people accused a woman of having an abortion and they want her in prison for it. Politicians in various countries are trying to make laws that make it impossible for trans people to exist. British Prime Ministerial contenders are seeking to outdo each other in cruelty towards refugees. Hannover in Germany is cutting energy use in response to the “Russian gas crisis”. Elsewhere utility companies are announcing billion dollar profits but their workers can buy less and less in the shops for the same amount of money. Much of the world, in another case, simply gave up trying to mitigate Covid outbreaks and just said “fuck it”. I could go on, and you know I could go on, and never stop writing examples of terrible things happening to real people in real time. The question is, what, if anything, are we going to do about it?
I write as an anarchist to anarchists. I write as an active anarchist [which means it makes an active difference to how I live, and have chosen to organise, my life] to anarchists I hope are also active anarchists. But I am not your judge and I am not here to tell you what to do. I have done thorough research in regard to historical anarchism and you will see this in the numerous books about it I have written and all of that research teaches me that anarchism teaches personal responsibility, agency and autonomy. You must act for yourselves and you must find your own reasons for acting. BUT, I insist, IF YOU ARE AN ANARCHIST THEN YOU HAVE COMMITTED YOURSELF TO ACTION. An inactive anarchist is the same as no anarchist at all and is as useless as a chocolate fireguard.
The place is here and the time is now for anarchist action which thrives and grows in an atmosphere of human solidarity and freedom-seeking liberty. Can we expect that, as capitalism collapses and authoritarian government becomes increasingly desperate and brazen in its dogmatic use of illegitimate authority, these entities will realise their faults and come to their senses? Of course not! Capitalists and political authoritarians will hold onto their power to exploit and coerce to the bitter end — OUR bitter end. They must be stopped because they will not stop of their own free will. They, and the millions blinded by their constant propaganda and terrified into submission by their seemingly overwhelming arsenals of violent weaponry and those prepared to wield it, are going to carry on down the same dead-end path until they slam, head on, into catastrophic civilizational collapse. We can ride that train passively to our doom with our Netflix and our iPhones or we can spend our lives trying to derail the train. That’s not going to be pretty either but at least there might be something left to save afterwards in that case.
As anarchists, of whatever stripe, we have certain values and desires. I want to quote three key quotations from the history of anarchism that particularly stand out to me in this regard:
“Revolution and insurrection must not be looked upon as synonymous. The former consists in an overturning of conditions, of the established condition or status, the state or society, and is accordingly a political or social act; the latter has indeed for its unavoidable consequence a transformation of circumstances, yet does not start from it but from men’s discontent with themselves, is not an armed rising, but a rising of individuals, a getting up, without regard to the arrangements that spring from it. The revolution aimed at new arrangements; insurrection leads us no longer to let ourselves be arranged, but to arrange ourselves, and sets no glittering hopes on ‘institutions’. It is not a fight against the established, since, if it prospers, the established collapses of itself; it is only a working forth of me out of the established. If I leave the established, it is dead and passes into decay. Now, as my object is not the overthrow of an established order but my elevation above it, my purpose and deed are not a political or social but (as directed toward myself and my ownness alone) an egoistic purpose and deed.
The revolution commands one to make arrangements, the insurrection demands that he rise or exalt himself. What constitution was to be chosen, this question busied the revolutionary heads, and the whole political period foams with constitutional fights and constitutional questions... The insurrectionist [however] strives to become constitutionless.” [Max Stirner, Der Eigene und Sein Eigentum]
“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.’” [Emma Goldman, “Anarchism: What It Really Stands For”]
“we anarchists do not want to emancipate the people; we want the people to emancipate themselves.” [Errico Malatesta, l’Agitazione, June 18, 1897]
I write this letter not to coddle anybody. Plenty of anarchists, past and present, know in their own bodies, and can testify to, the pain and struggle that real anarchist action needs and requires. So I offer you nothing but struggle for a cause, an insurrection in the name of freedom and of life for all. This does not mean I commit all anarchists to violence and fighting. I commit no one to anything and you must find your own place and your own path in a new network of anarchist relationships that has repudiated both capitalist and authoritarian ones. You must do something. In my own mind setting up genuine mutual aid networks [not the begging or charity that social media encourages but the genuine building of support networks and human relationships of mutual commitment] are as authentically anarchist as attacking banks, corporations and governments. To be sure, both are needed but what you do will, and should, be always up to you. Yet it is way past time [as record temperatures are set around the globe] that we started genuinely supporting each other and supporting people genuinely for there is genuine need everywhere around us. We have to supply that need and we have to be prepared to break the law, and possibly pay the price for doing that, ourselves. Feeding people and giving supplies to the homeless is increasingly criminalised in our world. We must dare to be criminals to help others. There is no other way. So talk to your neighbours, talk to your friends, talk to people you see hanging around, breed concern for others and their problems not in an interfering way but in a way that breeds trust, togetherness, relationship, concern for more than yourself. But know who to trust and, more importantly, who not to trust. Plan nothing destructive with people you would not vouch for with your own life and even then do so on a “need to know” basis. Together we can do great things but there will always be forces ranged against those who want to change our world in favour of general liberty and we must expect that they will not stay inert or stand idly by. Even so-called friends and allies can go rogue if you differ in your means.
Thus, when it comes to organisation, I believe whole-heartedly in a decentralised model. One group of 10,000 people all doing the same thing is much more easily coerced and controlled [by violent outside forces or inside siren voices] than 1,000 groups of ten people doing 1,000 different things. You do not need to create vast organisations and big groups. You need only a few people totally committed to doing something and providing some kind of aid or service. Lots of little groups is and will always be better than one big one and, if a reality, can hardly be stopped even by a million cops. So have no hang ups about size. Simply be committed to what you do and inspire others to do something too. We can all help each other in our own ways and get on fine. We need no leaders or “coordination” but simply the active social concern of increasing numbers of people activated to act in communal solidarity in their own freely associating ways. When we do this we create organic networks which maintain autonomy and agency whilst being about more than just ourselves. Such networks can be conduits for genuine mutual aid, the spread of socially necessary information and defence from attack by dangerous others. Anarchists seek a new society and its up to them to actively and consistently create it. You are not expected to do it all but simply to play your part.
I constantly see people calling themselves “anarchists” on social media. I constantly wonder what it is they think makes them an anarchist and I constantly wonder what they are DOING that justifies such a self-description. I wish they were all anarchists as I understand the term for we need all the help we can get. I take seriously what David Graeber had on his Twitter bio, that “anarchist” is NOT an identity but an action. I agree whole-heartedly with this analysis. If you’re doing nothing anarchist, if its not changed how you live and how you relate with and to other people, then you’re not an anarchist; you’re trading on a label and a history with which you have nothing to do for it is actualised in no meaningful way in how you live. You’re diluting “anarchist” and bringing it into disrepute. Anarchism, of all ideologies, is the one that is least ideological, least about “belief”, least about adherence to a dogma. Anarchism is practice or it is nothing; it is what you do and how you live; it is, in Malatesta’s words, “emancipating yourself”; it is, in Stirner’s, “making yourself constitutionless” and being an insurrection; it is, in Goldman’s, “having integrity and a backbone”.
Anarchism, as I have written about it most recently, is a matter of political, economic, moral and intellectual emancipation, an invitation to relationships made by those with autonomy and agency and in fully free association. It is for human beings to create such relationships, and communities of such relationships, if they are of a mind and will to do so. But I teach no certainty of success for these agents of future freedom for those who want no such communities are real, are armed, and are organised to carry on with their societies of coercion and exploitation. There is no place here [for those who value the freedoms that I and anarchists seek] for reclining in any kind of normalised comfort. Anarchists are committed to destroying the capitalist-authoritarian system which is a system of forced incarceration. So they cannot become corrupted, weak and without motivation due to over-consumption of capitalist media which aim to lull you to sleep, stop you from caring and stop you from acting. There is no place for accepting your imprisonment and getting used to life inside the prison walls. We must wean ourselves and others from such fatal addictions and take responsibility for creating new human relationships which eschew capitalism [at certain cost to ourselves] and seek open commensality, mutual aid, and an embrace of commonism and the commons. Our world and its resources have been stolen from most of us to be sold back to us for vast private profits. We must allow this no more. We must say no and stand up, as Gerrard Winstanley once did, for “a common treasury”.
My fellow anarchists, this was just a few brief words to encourage you, wherever you are, to act — by yourself and with others. DIRECT ACTION is the beating heart of any and all anarchisms and we must not fail in it now when it is most needed. We must keep acting — directly — for our own lives and for the lives of all others without distinction of race, culture, sexuality, gender or creed. The capitalist-authoritarians of every stripe will only squeeze harder the more the world slips through their grasp and people will pay the price of their violence as they always do. We must be those with ideas and energy who enable freedom, human solidarity, cooperation and an organic harmony of autonomous human beings. Or we must die trying because life depends on it.
Anarqxista Goldman X