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Is there a "social" and "anti-social" anarchism? What are the distinctions?

+3 votes
If so what are the main ideas, texts, groups, etc. that embody these anarchism(s)? Is there a middle ground between the two?
asked Feb 5, 2012 by bruno-larrea (510 points)

4 Answers

+3 votes
 
Best answer
Joseph Dejacque, one of the first individuals to create in theory and in practice the split that would form between the anarchists and the state socialists/communists, wrote "let's make war on society" in the early 1800's. While he attacked statists and even the anarchist Proudhon on the basis of questions of personal liberty, he saw the ideal environment for individual freedom being a communist society.

Max Stirner, who decried the (humanist) communist cause because it puts the greater good of society in the place of God's cause as the dominant ideology, an ideology opposed to individual freedom and insurrection, was involved in forming a milk cooperative. Interestingly enough, this was the only project he is known for aside from his writing.

Renzo Novatore, possibly the most extremely anti-social anarchist I can think of who wrote much, at one point declared to his anarcho-communist comrades that he would fight alongside them in the destruction of the existing society, and that when they established their new communist society he would fight to destroy that one as well.

The current social vs. anti-social debate in anarchism is in many ways reminiscent of and refers to this history, while at the same time it is unique. The consciously anti-social tendency is probably strongest among insurgents in Chile, where one can see that phrase as well as related terms openly embraced in text after text. Or one could point to various individuals influenced by Ted Kaczynski's theory and practice, which is highly anti-social and is centrally about a critique of modern society and particularly leftism (and is significantly different from individualist anarchism, operating on a different plane). But perhaps the most intense episode in this debate happened recently in the wake of the Marfin Bank firebombing in Athens, Greece on May 5, 2010 in which three workers died from a fire started by anarchists during massive demonstrations. While I'm not familiar with all of the debate since it occurred in Greek and little has been translated to English, it seems that many anarchists blamed the deaths on what they described as anti-social elements in the milieu. These elements were defined in terms that will probably sound familiar to many of us: abandoning much of the anarchist tradition, they rejected the idea of the revolutionary potential of the masses and rather than placing sole blame upon the bourgeois class, chose instead to direct their critique at both the leaders as well as the masses whose submission gives them their power. They also rejected the ideology of the oppressed's liberation from their oppression through their position as the oppressed and its social movements (reminiscent here of Nietzsche among others). This contempt for the workers, some argued, led a few anarchists to not be concerned about whether their actions would cause the death of bank workers.

Risking the possibility of being dead wrong, I will go out on a limb and say that I don't buy this attempt to establish a firm connection between anti-social ideas and the actions of the arsonists, especially when the anarchists making this argument clearly have a double agenda: to distance themselves from the arsonists to clear their own feelings of guilt while promoting their own ideology of social revolution in hopes of doing away with a plague that they were by all accounts already very interested in stomping out or at least controlling. (During the December 2008 insurrection, insurrectionary anarchists who had set plenty a fire in their day were trying to direct the younger, more wild insurgents to not burn certain buildings such as local businesses.) For the most part, it doesn't seem that any of the anarchists in the "anti-social tendency" in Greece (it's unclear to me, by the way, whether the anti-socials chose this term to explain their differences with the social revolutionaries or whether some chose to embrace the term that the social revolutionaries threw at them) acted very differently in practice from insurrectionary anarchists, at least not to the point of attacking anyone who is not a cop, politician, boss, etc. But I've heard it claimed that a couple of actions distinguish themselves, so I will examine them. The first was an action by a little-known group (the name escapes me) who hijacked a commuter train, forced everyone off it, and set it on fire. Their communique pointed out that the workers' daily activity is what reproduces the system they are against, and that this action was to deny the workers their daily commute. No one was hurt, and it seems by all accounts an exemplary action, with even the social anarchists only objecting to their rhetoric and not the action itself. The other was an action of the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire who placed a bomb in an area where the ruling party leader was giving a speech during the campaign season. The communique declares that their hatred and contempt was not only for the politician but also for the masses who went to hear him speak. However, their intention was not to hurt anyone, and they called in a bomb threat to force the evacuation of the area and prevent the speech from taking place. The area was evacuated and no one was hurt. Compare these with Mario Buda's bombing of Wall Street...  

...to be continued. i actually exceeded the maximum length. holy fuck...
answered Apr 15, 2012 by anok (19,530 points)
cont'd:

I think it was easier in the 1800s into the early 1900s to have faith in the movements of the oppressed to liberate themselves from their oppression. 1968 was another glimpse of possibility. One might argue that the recent wave of social movements should put the debate to rest again (it reached its peak before the Arab Spring, in a time of unprecedented social peace), since social revolution seems like a real possibility. But a different way of looking at it is that all the social revolutions of the past have ended in everyone going back to work for the continuation of the capitalist society in which we find ourselves today; that we should have no faith in this wave, which is steadily showing itself to accomplish not anarchy but only new democratic regimes and other forms of recuperation; and that the very form of social revolution is a form we should reject in favor of anti-social insurrection. Drawing on Stirner or Novatore here we might reach the conclusion that the seed always planted in the heart of the social revolution which caused new arrangements to be formed, which led to the communist dictatorships in Russia and China and elsewhere, the reason why the workers went back to work at the end of May 1968, was the insurgents' adherence to a higher cause and their need to act as a mass rather than embarking on the more dangerous path of an egoist, iconoclastic insurrection.

For the most part, anarchism has taken a middle ground on one interpretation of this question. That is: anarchists are of course against the existing society, so we are anti-social, but most anarchists believe in creating a new anarchist society, so they are also social. This is the 1st layer of the middle ground, and it doesn't interest me. The 2nd layer arises from the debate between the individualist anarchists (especially as inspired by Stirner) who are not interested in a new society, and the anarcho-communists, who are. In this, there is another middle ground which includes the Galleanists, the whole insurrectionary anarchist approach, and some outliers such as Voltarine de Cleyre. I've discussed this in the past. This middle ground is interesting to me. But I think the way in which it understands itself as a middle ground is a problem. Why? Because although it is illuminated by the understanding of the intimate link between individual freedom and social liberation, and this link cannot be understood as mutual, nevertheless it has always been the case historically and presently that the cause of social liberation has been wielded as a tool to push the individual back into line, on a daily level and during insurrection. It is for this reason that I will say that I am on the side of the anti-social when I see these come into conflict. Because individual insurrection and social insurrection can mutually feed each other, but without individual insurrection, social insurrection could not be, since it is the insurrection of many individuals together, not as a mass, but as individuals on a common trajectory. And when the "common cause" of these individuals rears its head -- the liberation of the people, of the masses, of the proletariat, of the class, of the nation, etc -- it does so to squash insurrection and turn it into the new (or old) social order.

I am against social anarchism, not because I do not agree with the premise that the individual's freedom is most possible in a world where all are free, but rather because social anarchism is a force that uses the argument "one cannot be free while another is in chains" to turn around and say to the rebels "how dare you try to be free while another is in chains?!" As if one needed the approval of the masses in order to embark on a process of liberation, as if what we need is more guilt! It is a pathetic way to try to smooth out one's own insecurities about being wedded to one's social position. Rather than seeing another's rebellion as a fuel to one's own, the social anarchist protests, "But I am oppressed and so many others are oppressed, so you must be oppressed with us! You must be part of our fighting of our oppression together!"

There is not enough insurrection in the world. Each encounter I have with an insurgent blows a little or a lot of air into my own fire. Platitudes and pandering, attempts to help me, the insistence that only by serving others can I make the world a better place: these are some of the wet blankets tossed on top of the heaving mass that this world throws on my flame. Focus on insurrection. This does not mean swimming along with the masses. But it does not mean you will be alone.
I'm interested if you have an example of a social anarchist movement oppressing other insurrectionists in a manner as you mention in your 2nd to last paragraph. I'm well aware of socialists, communists, and others doing so, but it would help me understand your position a bit better if I had a particular example of an anarchist revolutionary movement doing so. Thanks.
Apologies for the long delay, hamjam.

I wouldn't say "oppressing other insurrectionists," more like getting upset about insurgents going "too far" in fear that this will alienate the alienated masses.

I actually gave at least one example in passing. In the December 2008 uprising in Greece it is said that anarchists were going into the street and trying to redirect arsonists to not set fire to local businesses, to only burn down the banks and institutions and big shopping centers.

I'll give a couple more.
- In Bolivia the Anarchist Organization for Social Revolution now has a banner at the top of their website that says something like "Social revolution will not be made by burning ATMs, it will only be made by the masses together creating popular power."
- In Europe more than one anarchist federation has publicly and formally denounced informal anarchist attacks.
I would just like to pipe in with an echo of a critique of the critique of the bank bombings which was basically:

"no one said anything about the workers being locked in the bank that was burned"

all the more slavish mass and cruel masters, or proof of anti-social irresponsibility?
+1 vote
i look forward to other people's responses to this question.

my take on it is that social and anti-social are tendencies that span some/many of the more defined groups of anarchists. so there are social and anti-social insurrectionaries, individualist anarchists, green anarchists, queer anarchists (to the extent that the latter is a defined group), maybe even sindicalists (although that last group is known for being more explicitly positive and less destructive, just as nihilist anarchists are known for being more anti-social, but also include a range).

anti-social in an anarchist context means that either society is looked upon as an evil (the structures and assumptions that we operate within that we have to destroy, and keep from being rebuilt after we have destroyed it), or that society is not our concern, that we are concerned with the people in our lives, and that to the extent we interact with mass abstractions like "society", it has been a way to control us (ie it has been to our detriment).

the vast majority of writing is social. i don't think i've read anything that considers itself in explicit dialog with the anti-society contingent. usually it's tacit, ie authors assume the inevitability (not to mention desirability) of society.
for anti-social you can read enemies of society, the communiques from cells of fire in greece, and some of the queer theorists - i would put lee edelman in this camp, but that might be wrong.

there is middle ground between the two, of course. how one defines society is the easiest way to fudge the lines.

i expect anok will weigh in on this one soon. :)
answered Feb 6, 2012 by dot (50,520 points)
+2 votes
I think social anarchism has to be seen as a position which puts forward a social organization alternative to the current societal forms. And so it gives a collective answer and it is associated with anarcho-syndicalism, bakuninist collectivism and anarcho-communism. As far as "anti-social" anarchism, that has not been an important term within anarchist discourse although I have read it in insurrectionist and individualist texts but is wasn´t a central term where i read it.

A false dichotomy in a sense. Even egoist anarchist adresses towards society and other people so it is not a "Robinson Crusoe" dream and so there has been many individualists who have participated in anarchist trade unions and large Anarchist Federations such as francophone Federation Anarchiste and spanish and italian FAIs.

On the other hand Murray Bookchin wrote a book called "Social anarchism and lifestyle anarchism: an unbridgeable chasm" which accused everything that didn´t go along with his particular view of "social anarchism" as being "bourgoise". The word "social anarchism" was proposed by the more marxist like anarchists who wanted to establish an important difference between their "class struggle", platformist and economicistic approach and the more "lifestyle" and/or humanistic approach of individualist anarchists such as Emile Armand or the outlaw "violent" frame of mind of the illegalists and propaganda by the deed insurrectionists. Because of this Sebastien Faure and Voline proposed pluralistic and anarchism without adjectives "synthesis anarchism" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthesis_anarchism as an organizational alternative in which anarcho-communists, anarcho-syndicalists and individualist anarchists could collaborate and fit in. It seems to me synthesis anarchism in a way wanted to go beyond the bad effects of the dichotomy "social" and "individualist" and so large pluralistic synthesis federations exist until today in mediterranean countries but also anti-organizationalist insurrectionalists and individualists and on the other hand cuasi-marxist platformist organizations.   

I think philosophically best "middle ground" that I have read is the position of Emma Goldman. She was an admirer of both Nietzsche and Stirner and also an anarcho-communist.  I think that can be called "egoist communism" and these anarchists from San Francisco wrote a whole lenghty book about that:

The Right To Be Greedy: Theses On The Practical Necessity Of Demanding Everything by For Ourselves
http://www.theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/For_Ourselves__The_Right_To_Be_Greedy__Theses_On_The_Practical_Necessity_Of_Demanding_Everything.html . French individualist anarchist wrote on a concpet central to hims which was one of "social individualism" but I don¨t think anything by him has yet been translated. Bontemps was a humanistic individualist and so social individualism most likely has to do with the individualist side of humanism but also with the "altruistic" side of humanism which advocates, friendship and empathy towards others while retaining individual autonomy and freedom of association which those more like oneself.

In the end the problem here is the vagueness of the words "social" and "anti-social". A word like "anti-social" sounds interesting in a romantic sense and a poetic but it seems to me for conceptual clarity it is too wide and unclear. The word "social" can make one think both of "society" and of "socializing". "society" can be a local society, a society of a country of state and globalization propagandists even talk of "global society". On the other hand "socializing" can mean talking with just one person and so misantropic or egoists by just talking with another similar type of person are already socializing.
answered Feb 6, 2012 by iconoclast (3,380 points)
edited Feb 6, 2012 by iconoclast
–1 vote
Yes, there is pro-social and anti-social anarchism.  You can see the pro-social in the whiny liberal-anarchist "build a movement," support 'the community,' make friends with your neighbors tendencies.  These tendencies often see the role of anarchism as supporting 'the social' and keeping it functioning in a way very similarly to how it is functioning now.

Pro-social tendencies exist in other political movements in more paradoxical ways, but most 'posi-anarchists' just have bad ideas about how revolution happens and often criticize or shit talk riots, revolts, and rebellions for not having an explicit pro-social characteristic or articulation.  They also downplay or distance themselves from forms of revolutionary violence such as kidnapping bosses or murdering racist union bosses and coworkers.

Most posi-anarchists are not explicit about whether their position is chosen strategically for the rev., morally, or in an effort to protect their own comfort.

Anti-social anarchists do not concern themselves with the continued functioning of the social.  We see all interruptions of society as immediately connected to interruptions of capitalism.  Anti-social anarchists are not concerned with preserving the reigning moral order that permeates and gives cohesion to the social order.  Revolutionary acts will be feared and hated by all reasonable members of society, and that is no discouragement.  We see society as a thing with an inside and an outside, a center and a periphery, and we want the periphery to come crashing down on the center to make its order and function impossible.  We want society as such to be destroyed and we want the world after to be completely unrecognizable from this one.

Fire to the Prisons and Vengeance are both anti-social texts, Vengeance is anarchist, and FTTP is pro-anarchist.  Everything Bash Back ever wrote was anti-social as are most insurrectionary texts, including the contemporary insurrectionary trans feminism current that is basically the only inspiring contemporary anarchist writting.

I'll let the pro-social people define themselves some where away from my petty, bitter, shit talking.
answered Apr 17, 2012 by Taigarun (1,890 points)
I think labeling FttP, BB!, and Vengeance as anti-social horribly confuses things. BB! and FttP have had quite a few people with different ideas write under their umbrellas. Vengeance's conception of anarchism is 110% class-based, and is ENTIRELY about "build a movement, support the community, make friends with your neighbors"; it is one of the most social anarchist publications I've ever encountered.

The only way in which these could all be called anti-social is that they're opposed to the existing class society, but this is true of all anarchists, making it completely useless as a distinction. This is why the social vs. anti-social debate has to be about what one thinks of society not only as it exists but as it might ideally exist (communist/anarchist society), and whether one's (revolutionary) means and ends are social in nature.

Also the recent insurrectionary transfeminist writings, mainly seemingly based on the argument constructing a revolutionary class of people on the basis of their bodies being unable to produce children, are some of the least inspiring I've encountered in my entire life.
great fucking reply!
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