Anarchism vs primitivism - Brian Oliver Sheppard

Anarchism vs primitivism - Brian Oliver Sheppard

This important pamphlet looks closely at the fundamental conflicts between anarchism and primitivism.

It traces primitivism's basic precepts back to their authoritarian roots, reveals primitivist misconceptions about anarchism, capitalism and technology, shows how the corporate media have used primitivism to discredit anarchism, and also shows how ideology-driven primitivists, much like fundamentalist Christians opposed to evolution, have picked through anthropological evidence to support their predetermined conclusions, while ignoring data that contradict those conclusions.

Sheppard also considers the many primitivist straw-man attacks upon anarchism, and asks: What kind of an anarchist movement do we want - one that looks often ugly, authoritarian social reality in the eye, with the aim of transforming it into something something that will lead to freer, happier lives for all of us on planet Earth, or one that wastes its time fantasizing about a non-existent Golden Age, and that would result in the deaths of billions if its precepts were followed?

This pamphlet was originally published by See Sharp Press, Tucson, Arizona, USA, 2003. It has been digitised by libcom.org with full permission of the publisher. Any errors in formatting or spelling are solely our own.

Comments

Khawaga
Aug 4 2016 16:16

Then you should just say that? Civilization is such a loaded word here; typically only primmo use it. Fwiw, what you wrote makes perfect sense, however.

The Pigeon
Aug 4 2016 16:31

Well I also think the gains of the industrial revolution should largely be deconstructed and only some of its fundamentals retained; I think much of the recent explosion of technology is pretty deeply intertwined with capitalist social relations and therefore harmful

Khawaga
Aug 4 2016 17:11

What do you mean by deconstructed here? I think I get what you mean, but again you use a word that I think I have a very particular meaning. Is it simply that we need to make "communist" technology, I.e. tech that is based on different values than making money?

The Pigeon
Aug 4 2016 18:37

Well I am just speaking casually, I don't have a sophisticated conception of what I believe would be an ideal technological arrangement... but yes, like you're saying the communalization of capitalist forms of technology (meaning an ecological restructuring, developed with also the needs of free labor), but also the complete discarding of certain machines, and systems altogether, which might possibly function in a communist society, but one which may depend on certain sublimation, in the sense Freud spoke about in Civilization and its Discontents, to give one example. That is, overly complex networks of technology that are difficult to sustain without requiring a lot of effort and/or some sort of division of labor or hierarchy. The needs of complex technology seem to tend to encourage a division in the social structure, which of course is conducive to generating a state which manages it.

ELF
Aug 4 2016 19:01

Chill:
Surely to be against something doesn't mean an automatic boycott though? I don't see the difference with other hierarchies as mentioned in my other comment.
As it so happens, i've tried to remove myself before. Me and a crew squatted some beautiful woodlands. It was great. However, we got evicted and my shelter got burnt down by bailiffs after a fight. :/

The exploitative nature of civilization is first: the importation (theft) that's required to prop up civ. This results in deforestation of the amazon so we can have beef all year round, indigenous people evicted from their land to turn it into plantations so people in developed cities can have vegetable and palm oil in all our food. These examples are beyond capitalism. Sure post capitalism you could have these examples carried out without a boss but it would still result in deforestation and land evictions if we are going to maintain the lifestyle of say the average American (we'd also need 5 additional planets for enough resources).

Fluer:
It's pretty inconclusive that life expectancy was low in the Palaeolithic, in fact many anthropologists think it was in the late 70's, mainly because of the palethlitic diet which has been proven to prevent so many diseases, alzheimer's disease, arthritis, atherosclerosis, asthma, some cancers , chronic liver disease or cirrhosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, chronic renal failure, osteoporosis, stroke, depression, and obesity to name some! It's when people sample the average life expectancy that number dramatically drops because of high infant mortality rate. Which is the main major drawback from primitivism. However, if medcine is based on an unsustainable culture, of civilization, than we're going to need to come up with something sharpish.

Tampons can be made out of natural materials off plants similar to cotton. Hunter gatherers do this, also interestingly some hunter gatherer women claim to only have 20-30 periods periods and lighter ones due to breastfeeding and diet. Music, reading, beer, playing complicated games etc can all happen with sustainable non industrial methods.

As for overcrowded Earth, it depends on your perspective i guess. i'll reply to that part of your comment tomorrow or the day after. Also there may be wild places in the US, by fragmentation has destroyed eco systems and entire species of plants and animals are missing. Anyway replying in more detail tomorrow.

Steven.
Aug 4 2016 23:19

Wow I can't believe primmos are still a thing. TBH I thought most of them gave up after this.

ELF wrote:
The exploitative nature of civilization is first: the importation (theft) that's required to prop up civ. This results in deforestation of the amazon so we can have beef all year round, indigenous people evicted from their land to turn it into plantations so people in developed cities can have vegetable and palm oil in all our food. These examples are beyond capitalism.

This is ridiculous. On what basis are these "beyond capitalism"?

Quote:
Fluer:
It's pretty inconclusive that life expectancy was low in the Palaeolithic, in fact many anthropologists think it was in the late 70's, mainly because of the palethlitic diet which has been proven to prevent so many diseases, alzheimer's disease, arthritis, atherosclerosis, asthma, some cancers , chronic liver disease or cirrhosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, chronic renal failure, osteoporosis, stroke, depression, and obesity to name some!

ha ha hah sounds legit.

Especially with regard to Alzheimer's disease and arthritis, it's easy not to get those when you die as a baby.

Quote:
It's when people sample the average life expectancy that number dramatically drops because of high infant mortality rate.

That's a great argument, because everyone knows children dying don't count. You can just bash out another one.

Quote:
As for overcrowded Earth, it depends on your perspective i guess.

yeah, are you a rational person, or a racist misanthropist. If you are a racist misanthropist, then yes the Earth can appear overcrowded.

I also note that you mention tampons made of cotton, funnily enough you don't mention the glasses which Fleur brought up. I need glasses as well. Should I just starve and die with other inferiors? Like people who need daily medication to stay alive, people who need dialysis, people with severely restricted mobility, or other disabled people?

That's also a great solution that women won't have to worry about periods because they will be having babies and breastfeeding all the time. I guess not having control over reproduction is not an issue for you, like not having to worry about illness or disability, or dead children.

One more question for you, using your hunter gatherer tools how are you going to keep all the world's nuclear waste safe for the next 20,000 years?

Chilli Sauce
Aug 4 2016 23:21

Just a quick one for now, want to reply more later. First, what do you mean "theft"? Theft from whom?

Second, that idea of "5 earths" is based on models of capitalist production. It wouldn't work like that under communism. Which brings me to my third point...

It's some reductionist nonsense to claim communism is just capitalism "without a boss". Communism means we can choose what we produce and don't produce and how we do it. I mean, whole industries, production methods, and economic relationships will be abolished under communism. You don't think sustainability and ecological balance won't inform how we choose to reconstruct production?

jesuithitsquad
Aug 5 2016 08:12

God, i just love it when the diet thing comes up. It turns out, when you're starving to death and suffering from malnutrition, you don't die from diseases associated with old age!

Besides, who wants to live past 30 anyway?!

Joseph Kay
Aug 5 2016 09:58

Thing with anti-civ: define your terms. If you mean 'this civilisation' it's just an edgy way to talk about capitalism. If you mean 'hierarchical/class society' it's just an edgy way to talk about capitalism and other shit modes of production. If you mean 'any complex division of labour' then you've got another problem, i.e. a complex division of labour is needed to support 7-10bn people.

If you actively wish to reduce the population by like 95%, you're going to need either genocide to dwarf all the atrocities of 'civilisation' put together, or an implausible level of reproductive abstinence (or coercive sterilisation). If you don't actively wish this situation, you're just a doomsday cult saying the end is nigh, though even this passive position tends to result in misanthropic racist musings, e.g. when Earth First!'s Dave Foreman was cheering on the Ethiopian famine as doing nature's work.*

* EF! got better politics later fwiw

ELF
Aug 5 2016 10:53

Right, want to make one thing clear before responding.
1) I think anarcho-primitivism has lots to offer (just like communism). Especially the critique of civilization not being sustainable (no civilization that's based on a fintite resource ever has been, ours is no different) and how emergence of the first hierarchies came with agriculture/civilization(even Marx, Engels, Bookchin acknowledged this). Advocating a sustainable future and dwindling down on industrialism is needed for the survival of the planet. Entire parts of the world are flooding now (fiji recently) because of industrialism and man made climate change.
2) I think we can learn from non industrialised hunter gatherers. Especially ones like the egalitarian mbuti pygmies or the fantastic example of the Batek who are a non competitive, gender equal, egalitarian and completely sustainable community. It really bothers me how acoms i know don't give one shit about them, or just think they should industrialise. It's borderline racist. The industrial revolution happened 250 years ago, yet it's responsible for the destruction of the environment. We may very well be past the tipping point already (in regards to run away climate chage).
3) I'm not not advocating people give up things that improve their lives. I've been dependent on western industrialised medicine, which has saved my life. I don't feel guilty for using that. However i'm aware that it comes at an ecological cost and won't be around forever. With this in mind i thnik it's fair to look for non industrialised or non ecological taxing methods.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/may/14/early-men-women-equal-scientists

jesuithitsqud:
I love the diet thing too. Fortunately there is tonnes of peer reviewed studies such as

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8627773&fileId=S0954422412000017
http://sophia.stkate.edu/scholar_week/science/2012/20/
http://www.healthylife.net.au/healthy-you/wellbeing-lifestyle/eat-like-a-hunter-gatherer-to-avoid-the-diseases-of-civilisation/

Steven:
you've posted a story? Admittedly i don't have the time to read that (yet) and respond to all these posts. If you could just say what the awful thing is that would be more helpful for me. Otherwise i'll read it sometime in the future.

My examples, (especially this one http://earthfirstjournal.org/newswire/2014/06/07/peru-approves-genocide-for-uncontacted-tribes/) aren't just the ruling class chasing profit. They're examples of the ruling class securing resources so people can keep living in the cities/civilization. The ruling class uses it businesses or armies to steal resources from around the world (food, oil, etc) from stolen land, often land grabs off indigenous peoples. This is different from capitalist exploitation of workers. Civilization has the mass infrastructure to keep extracting resources, even if the wage slavery was abolished this doesn't necessarily mean saving or rewiliding the ecosystem would happen (so many biomes, if not all biomes terrestrial and aquatic require this).

"'when people sample the average life expectancy that number dramatically drops because of high infant mortality rate."

It's an awful argument i know. But civilization is irredeemable. I live in England, there aren't any wild places, let alone fragmented eco systems, yet we're all dependent on it (full eco systems) for a habitable planet. If a crash happens soon, so many people would be completely fucked. We're not sustainable at all. The majority of our food is from all over the world that requires fossil fuels and other earth taxing resources. Also, so many children and people are dying now because of civilization( beacuse of land grabs, deforestation etc). So many africans (i.e. Nigerans dying beacuse of the niger delta oil grab), indigenous peoples world over, large parts of Asia would be far better off if we stopped using their land, resoucres and labour to prop industrilied nations up.

Don't get me wrong, i'm not misanthropic and i'm an anti fascist. It's just we live in a resource based planet, like i said we would need 5 planets over if we consumed like the average American.
Consumption and growth is my main concern. Already anywhere between 100-200 animal species are driven to extinction every day, already huge areas of the earth are uninhabitable, already children are dying, workers exploited and killed. Not just because of capitalism but civilization. There are examples of people having reproduction contorl based on sustainable methods such as first nations herbalism.

To not worry about what civilization is doing, or worse continue with it is the actual genocide call.

Additionally there's a growing number of climate change refugees. That's set to get worse, even if we stop using fossil fuels the effects will not stop for decades. In short, abolishing the ruling class is just the first step if we are going to address the ecological crisis that's here.

Out of time for now.

ELF
Aug 5 2016 10:54

blah comments are far too long. Right 1 point at a time?

ELF
Aug 5 2016 11:00

Chilli:

I acknowledg that communism is different to capitalism, especially and inherently in human and social conditions (which is what i'm all for), but it doesn't address the ecological crisis outlined in my last comment. Yea hopefully workers wouldn't wabnt deforestation but we can't afford that gamble anymore. Do we need any more production?

radicalgraffiti
Aug 5 2016 11:18

yes lots more, the problem with our technology is its to primitive.

also capitalism

i like how you reveal you anti democratic tendencies thought

Quote:
Yea hopefully workers wouldn't wabnt deforestation but we can't afford that gamble anymore.

"what if the workers dont agree with me" ( about something incredibly obvious) "we must make sure they dont have the choice"

"Primitivism - because you cant trust the workers to make the right choices"

ELF
Aug 5 2016 11:29

graffiti:

\Nope, in your hypothetical situation i wouldn't be (or anyone) in a position or somehow above the workers. So if they chose to, lets say, explore the amazon for oil to start fracking which would displace and kill the indigenous community i wouldn't side with the workers. Sure, i'd advocate they don't do it, strike etc but ultimately do everything i could to stop them.....

ELF
Aug 5 2016 11:31

Steven:

Yep, nuclear power is a fucker. Be against all new developments and transition away (even it's 20,000 years) from using it.

Chilli Sauce
Aug 5 2016 13:28
Quote:
It really bothers me how acoms i know don't give one shit about them, or just think they should industrialise. It's borderline racist.

Evidence?

Khawaga
Aug 5 2016 14:34
Quote:
My examples, (especially this one http://earthfirstjournal.org/newswire/2014/06/07/peru-approves-genocide-for-uncontacted-tribes/) aren't just the ruling class chasing profit. They're examples of the ruling class securing resources so people can keep living in the cities/civilization. The ruling class uses it businesses or armies to steal resources from around the world (food, oil, etc) from stolen land, often land grabs off indigenous peoples. This is different from capitalist exploitation of workers. Civilization has the mass infrastructure to keep extracting resources, even if the wage slavery was abolished this doesn't necessarily mean saving or rewiliding the ecosystem would happen (so many biomes, if not all biomes terrestrial and aquatic require this).

Scouring the world for resources is hand-in-hand with exploitation of workers.

Steven.
Aug 5 2016 18:57
Khawaga wrote:
Quote:
My examples, (especially this one http://earthfirstjournal.org/newswire/2014/06/07/peru-approves-genocide-for-uncontacted-tribes/) aren't just the ruling class chasing profit. They're examples of the ruling class securing resources so people can keep living in the cities/civilization. The ruling class uses it businesses or armies to steal resources from around the world (food, oil, etc) from stolen land, often land grabs off indigenous peoples. This is different from capitalist exploitation of workers. Civilization has the mass infrastructure to keep extracting resources, even if the wage slavery was abolished this doesn't necessarily mean saving or rewiliding the ecosystem would happen (so many biomes, if not all biomes terrestrial and aquatic require this).

Scouring the world for resources is hand-in-hand with exploitation of workers.

Exactly. Do you not realise that the reason this happens to these resources, is to make profit? They don't seize all these resources then just give them away…

The Pigeon
Aug 5 2016 23:21
Joseph Kay wrote:
If you mean 'any complex division of labour' then you've got another problem, i.e. a complex division of labour is needed to support 7-10bn people.

Of course anything besides an easy transition to a utopian robot communism will involve devastations playing out over the next century, but it's not like the dismantling of technological civilization can't be done through decentralized organization. All complex technological systems need a bureaucracy to operate it, but maybe syndicalism can still manage this without bolshevism.

Chilli Sauce
Aug 6 2016 02:09
Quote:
All complex technological systems need a bureaucracy to operate it

I think this statement needs to backing up.

Made me think of that ridiculous statement by Harvey about how he "wouldn't want his anarchist friends in charge of a nuclear power plant"

Anyway, I didn't buy it when he said and I don't buy it now. This article is pretty good on the particulars:

https://libcom.org/library/i-wouldnt-want-my-anarchist-friends-be-charge-nuclear-power-station-david-harvey-anarchi

The Pigeon
Aug 6 2016 03:02

Perhaps you're right. I am just thinking that, all the elaborate coordination of specialization, production and distribution, would be hard to do in freedom, when there's simply so much one has to deal with. I mean, a carpenter has to mostly worry about some basic tools and the wood. But what does a computer technician have to worry about except a large supply chain and investment of knowledge, etc? It seems liable to becoming overloaded by various constraints.

Chilli Sauce
Aug 6 2016 04:29

But it wouldn't be down to a single computer technician, would it?

We could have, and will need, quite advanced decision-making and administrative structures in place, alongside specialized divisions of labor. We'll probably even need people whose role is to help co-ordinate all this. That's not the same thing as bureaucracy though.

Noah Fence
Aug 6 2016 05:36
Chilli Sauce wrote:
But it wouldn't be down to a single computer technician, would it?

We could have, and will need, quite advanced decision-making and administrative structures in place, alongside specialized divisions of labor. We'll probably even need people whose role is to help co-ordinate all this. That's not the same thing as bureaucracy though.

As a general principle I'm completely down with this. I think it applies to everything. I see communism as being maybe even more highly organised than capitalism. Or at least as organised but with the inefficiencies removed. On a smaller scale but still significant, in the Living Utopia film, it tells of factories increasing output by up to 50% and that the capitalists, when reclaiming them, found them in a far better state of repair than before the workers took control. Obviously the workers losing control was a disaster but the demonstration of the ability of workers to organise industry better than capitalists is very inspiring.

The Pigeon
Aug 6 2016 06:12

'The Federation of Anarchist Ping Pong and Other Irregularly Shaped Ball Manufacturers, as well as Frisbees'

Noah Fence
Aug 6 2016 09:13
The Pigeon wrote:
'The Federation of Anarchist Ping Pong and Other Irregularly Shaped Ball Manufacturers, as well as Frisbees'

I'm not even going to ask.

Joseph Kay
Aug 6 2016 09:18
ELF wrote:
abolishing the ruling class is just the first step if we are going to address the ecological crisis that's here.

This is definitely true; if we threw off the ruling class but then just self-managed the same infrastructure, we'd still be facing catastrophic climate change, ecosystem collapse etc. But then, the point of taking over the means of production isn't to carry on exactly as before, but to have the power to determine what we produce and how, to shut down harmful industries altogether while retooling/repurposing/redesigning others, to transform the quality and quantity of work, experience wealth more as free time than planned obsolescent stuff etc.

ELF wrote:
I think we can learn from non industrialised hunter gatherers.

I also agree with this, though I don't think it's the most important model. Reading about radically different modes of production/material cultures can denaturalise capitalism, and expand our sense of what human societies can be beyond our own experiences. But, the (sometime) egalitarianism of hunter gatherer bands doesn't directly inform any revolutionary perspective since it's such a radically different mode of production.

Sharing the fruits of the hunt and preventing a ruling clique emerging in small bands is a very different kind of egalitarian communism to one in a society of billions with a complex division of labour. Someone like Clastres can be useful here, identifying e.g. mechanisms to ward off the centralisation of power. But while the need for such mechanisms can be learned from hunter gatherers, the actual mechanisms needed would likely be very different.

ELF wrote:
But civilization is irredeemable. I live in England, there aren't any wild places, let alone fragmented eco systems, yet we're all dependent on it (full eco systems) for a habitable planet.

Wildnerness is something of a romantic colonial myth, fwiw. When the US state kicked the indigenous population out to create national parks, they quickly degenerated from their 'natural beauty' to aesthetically unpleasing scrub. It turned out the native Americans had been practising active land management using controlled burns etc, which produced what settlers took to be a beautiful natural Eden. William Cronon's The Trouble with Wilderness is a good read on this.

No argument that land is currently managed poorly under capitalism, with soil depletion, damage to ecosystems, loss of pollinators*, pollutant run off, fossil fuel dependency etc. But many techniques exist to address these, but they remain largely fringe phenomenon since agriculture is mostly market-oriented commodity production dominated by big capitalist supply chains who set the terms, making it hard for farmers to adopt more sustainable practices at the expense of short term revenues even if they wanted to. In other words it's not about artificial land management vs pristine wilderness, but how we manage land, whether we do so by creating ecosystems which are also productive for us, or by trying to impose radically simplifying production techniques on the land.**

* though bee populations appear to be recovering now
** incidentally, the disastrous Soviet collectivisations were planned in a US hotel room, reflecting a widespread Fordist consensus at the time towards large-scale, simplified/standardised techniques.

Joseph Kay
Aug 6 2016 09:26

More generally, if anarchist communists fetishise industrialisation, or have a gung-ho tech fix attitude to ecology, or a racist dismissal of indigenous practices/thought, or whatever, it doesn't have any bearing on whether the problem is civilisation in general or capitalist civilisation in particular. It just means some/many anarchists are idiots.

Auld-bod
Aug 6 2016 11:08

That's good news about the recovering bees.
Radio 4 had more bad news about the decline in seabirds.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/search?q=sea%20bird%27s%20decline

jesuithitsquad
Aug 6 2016 13:02
Joseph Kay wrote:

Wildnerness is something of a romantic colonial myth, fwiw. When the US state kicked the indigenous population out to create national parks, they quickly degenerated from their 'natural beauty' to aesthetically unpleasing scrub. It turned out the native Americans had been practising active land management using controlled burns etc, which produced what settlers took to be a beautiful natural Eden. William Cronon's The Trouble with Wilderness is a good read on this.

Thanks for recommending The Trouble with Wilderness. I'm halfway through It and it's good so far.

ELF
Aug 6 2016 15:23

Chilli Sauce:
How many talks, articles have you read or heard about Spain or Ukraine (which are really cool) compared to the number about hunter gatherers or non industrialised people who are actively resisting industrialism and "progress"? Also if you bring it up people call you a "primmy" and all types of ridiculous false shit. It's dogmatic and needs to stop. Criticism is helpful and constructive but pamphlets by these anarhco judges such as "Primitivsm VS Anarchism" would be laughable if it wasn't so stupid. (also this particular pamphlet is full of inaccuracies and constantly uses examples of small scale agriculturists or villages). Barely any anarcho groups actually talk/write about non industrialised or non civilized people who actually provide examples (possible the only ones?) of sustainable egalitarianism. It's just sooooooooooo Eurocentric and gets a bit boring......
Also i remember anarchist memes posting how "non civilized were transphobic because they don't have the medicine that trans people need". Conveniently forgetting that the patriarchy stems from civilization and so many hunter gatherers have gender equality, some not even having genders. Admittedly i've got no idea if anarchist facebook memes has any real weight in anarchism or real life.

Joseph:
"if anarchist communists fetishise industrialisation, or have a gung-ho tech fix attitude to ecology, or a racist dismissal of indigenous practices/thought, or whatever, it doesn't have any bearing on whether the problem is civilisation in general or capitalist civilisation in particular."

I agree. I guess my comments on here are just exploring the hostility towards primitivism. i just think it's dogmatic and your approach is fairly rare amongst the anarchists i know but that's only based on personal experience. I mean this whole "anarchism vs primitivism" is just dogmatic and peoples previous comments about "they need to get out of the anarchist scene" highlights this.

Steven:
"Exactly. Do you not realise that the reason this happens to these resources, is to make profit? They don't seize all these resources then just give them away" your qote.

Yep i agree, but the materials that make all these technological advancements are put out for consumers in industrialised nations at the expense of the global poor (especially the southern hemispheres). Sure, we're wage slaves and face oppression through class society but we're not experiencing colonialism. As i'm sure you know, our oppression is different to say, Congolese workers who are forced to mine rare earth materials at gunpoint so people in industrialised nations can have mobile phones. Even after removing the gun, even if the workers sized the means of production the problem would be in the fact that the work itself is destroying the environment. Also i'm pretty sure they wouldn't want to continue work and get black lung and other illnesses if they had a choice.