Black Flag 231 (Mid 2010)

This issue is both a celebration of big anniversaries and big voices who are sadly no longer with us, while also keeping an eye on the future for information.

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For other issues of Black Flag, go to:

Black Flag 230 (Late 2009)
Black Flag 229 (Mid 2009)
Black Flag 228 (Late 2008)
Black Flag 227 (Mid 2008)
Black Flag 226 (Late 2007)

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Prefuturist anarchism - Raz Chaoten

An article arguing the division between lifestyle and class struggle anarchism is a false one, published in Black Flag magazine, with which we do not agree but reproduce here for reference and discussion.

Errico Malatesta, an Italian Anarchist revolutionary and propagandist in the 1920s wrote two articles entitled “Let’s Demolish…and then?” and “Postscript to ´Lets demolish…and then?” In these he wrote of the need for revolutionaries to have firm and practical ideas about what we could replace the institutions we wish to abolish with. A good and clear example would be food: in a hypothetical situation in which somehow the working class (not limited to actual employed urban workers, but as a general term to describe those that do not constitute, and are exploited by the ruling class) managed to destroy the institutions of the state and capital, how would we feed ourselves the very next day? If we do not have solid answers to questions such as these, all talk of revolution is foolish and perhaps even dangerous, as a successful insurrectionary period against the established order would most likely simply result in chaos, out of which a new oppressive order would arise, rather than a society based on the principles of anarchism. If people’s experience of post-revolutionary life seems to be significantly worse than what preceded it, it is only to be expected that they will put trust in authoritarian figures promising a return to stability - and such figures, history shows, are always to be expected to reveal themselves in like circumstances.

If we accept this line of reasoning, it seems imperative for those interested in working to achieve such a revolution to experiment in the here-and-now with “anarchic” alternatives to the hierarchical structures which today, whether we like it or not, meet so many of our basic needs. If such alternatives are discovered, it then becomes imperative to raise awareness as much as possible of their existence and the practicalities of how they function. For instance, if an ingenious and highly feasible alternative to policing and incarceration is devised by a small collective of revolutionary experimenters, they must spread the knowledge of it as much as possible amongst the general population. Therefore, if a successful insurrection ever takes place there will hopefully be enough people with knowledge of this new system to be able to implement it immediately, or without significant delay. Thus, if the mass of people perceive that their quality of life has significantly improved as a result of the revolution, it is likely that they will keep faith in it and work to advance its ends, which after all, should be their own, or else what’s the point?

This revolutionary experimentation, which I shall henceforth refer to as “prefuturist anarchism”, cannot be limited merely to material questions. It must also be about experimentation in different modes of relating both to one another, and our environment, for a genuine revolution is a fundamental change in social relations, with consequences for all aspects of our lives. Prefuturist anarchists would ask the question “how would I behave after the revolution, in a given situation?” This is in line with prefuturism in general, which is a philosophical school that conceptualises the present in terms of it’s relation to an as-yet-undefined future, asking the question “what would I do now, with the benefit of hindsight?”.

The great appeal of prefuturist anarchism is that it is not necessary for its participants to actually believe in the likelihood, or even possibility of an anarchist revolution coming about. They may simply like the idea of anarchism, or even just prefer the “anarchic” alternatives to material, social and environmental relations to the mainstream. There are many people in such a condition, which I will refer to as “anarcho-cynicism”. Anarcho-cynics may never join a revolutionary organisation or even discuss the idea of revolution as a serious possibility. But this would not stop them from participating in, say, workshops on consensus decision making, or a co-operative enterprise of some kind. Thus what many revolutionary anarchists dismiss as “lifestylism” is actually integral to the class struggle, as long as it meets the above criteria of being combined with attempts to spread the “anarchic” alternatives beyond the limited circles in which they are currently practiced. Anarchist revolutionary strategy is, by necessity “a strategy of having many strategies”, as an American comrade once put it. Workplace agitation (which most revolutionaries put so much emphasis on) is one such strategy, “lifestylism” is another, and it is meaningless to debate which is the more significant as to be ultimately successful they must complement each other.

The practice of mutual aid and cooperation in the here and now almost always helps the cause of revolution, the exception of course being cooperation with the bosses, the State, or any other source of authority when they try to prevent revolutionary activity. To me this is what George Fontenis meant when he wrote in the “Manifesto of Libertarian Communism” that anarchism is not a humanism, and that there is not one humanity but two (which he called the ruling class and the working class, others may prefer different terminology) - we do not apply the same ethical standards to our class enemies as we do to each other (i.e. mutual aid and cooperation). This is contrary to “anarcho-pacifists” who take lifestylism to such an extreme that it does indeed cease to be revolutionary.

“Revolutionary” activity itself can be said to be prefuturistic, when it is undertaken in non-revolutionary circumstances. We imagine ourselves in a post-revolutionary mode of existence, in which class society and the institutions, ideologies and relations that sustain it have been abolished. We then imagine ourselves looking back, with hindsight, to the present, and we ask, “what did I do back then which helped to achieve this?” We then base our action in the present on such a thought process, and do what we think must be done in order to one day make possible an anarchist revolution.

This is not to say that we believe such a revolution to be inevitable - one of the fundamental errors of certain branches of Marxism. All that we can ever know about the future is that is has not happened yet. This truism is the existential basis for pre-futurist thought: the condition of being “before the future” or “prefuturist”, is fundamental to human existence. However, recognition of the agency of our conscious desires allows us to know at least one more basic fact about the future: that our actions, conscious or not, will affect it, possibly in ways that our desirous to us. We have all experienced desires that came to fruition on the basis of action we took as a result of the very same desire. So if the future is up for grabs, at least in the sense that it is not predetermined, why shouldn’t we be the ones to try and grab it?

If a hypothetical post-revolutionary future is desirous to us, why should we not work to achieve revolution? Not to do so would be to deny ourselves, at least so it seems to me. This line of argument may not be enough to convince the proponents of anarcho-cynicism, but the beauty of prefuturist anarchism is that it does not need to. As long as they participate in activities that may have a knock on effect on making possible a revolution in the future, whether or not they do it for that reason, then they are revolutionaries, and so is anyone else who participates in such activity.
So enough of “class struggle anarchists” moaning about “hippies” and “lifestylists”. To commit yourself to living differently from the norm in this society is truly a struggle in itself, and one which goes hand in hand with the struggle to liberate the working class. And enough of lifestylists and Anarcho-cynics dismissing revolutionary ideology and its adherents as close-minded idealists stuck in the past. Class society still exists, as is evident by a moment’s contemplation of social reality, so opposition to such a society should not be considered a relic of a by-gone age but an urgent necessity for the present.
Our struggles are one.

Toward a revolutionary future, by whichever means seem necessary to us in the present.
Towards Anarchy!