Hi. Welcome to the site. Please check out the About Us, and if you have a question about crime and/or punishment, perhaps look at some previous questions along those lines first.
Welcome to Anarchy101 Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers about anarchism, from anarchists.

Shouldn't anarchists be against the social war?

+2 votes
It seems to me that the social war is the foundation of the modern state.

In The Federalist Papers Madison writes: "Either the existence of the same passion or interest in a majority, at the same time, must be prevented; or the majority, having such coexistent passion or interest, must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression."

Carl Schmitt writes in The Concept of the Political that the friend/enemy distinction is the foundation of politics and that communism is an attempt to destroy the political, to dissolve the distinction and make everyone friends. He is of course against this as he is a Nazi and thinks that the distinction is necessary for greatness.

So it seems to me that anarchists should oppose the social war and attempt to dissolve the political question. But instead everyone seems to want to participate in it, to make anarchy one gang or faction among many vying for control and resources. What the fuck kind of strategy is that? Nihilism, I guess. It seems wrongheaded to me.
asked Nov 8, 2013 by p (240 points)
so our strategy should be do as the commies do? i have more to say about this, but it is Friday night, and i have more fun things to do first.
i do wish people would explain their downvotes on questions like this, where the questioner is engaging in good faith and taking a position. this seems like a totally appropriate question for this site.
Agreed. I am actually removing my downvote as this is clearly a much more well thought out question than I initially read it as being.
p, check out this thread, it has a very closely related question and I think some of the answers there might interest you:
http://anarchy101.org/2028/what-is-social-war

edit: oh, I see now that this has already been posted. I'm going to write a fresh answer later.

3 Answers

+1 vote
First, I am not totally sure you understand what anarchists are talking about when we use the phrase social war. Here are a couple links, both for you, and so that all these “wtf? social war?” questions are easily found:

http://www.anarchy101.org/2028/what-is-social-war
http://www.anarchy101.org/3559/what-s-the-difference-between-class-struggle-and-social-war

I am personally hesitant to use the term social war, at least in contexts where the people I was addressing didn't know me well enough to share an understanding of what I mean when I do use it. As is hinted at in the answers to the first question above, the social war is sometimes hard to define, or the definition varies from person to person. I do think that, as Sabotage says in the answer to the second link, that social war is a way of broadening the plane of contestation beyond the rhetoric of class war.

As an anarchist living in a world defined by the state, capitalism, patriarchy and domination a part of who I am (as someone who opposes all these things) is antagonistic to the social order, and to the extent that I live in line with my beliefs, conflict will happen. Left as an isolated individual, I am an outcast, rebel, crazy, anti-social, outlaw, sociopath, or just plain bad. Luckily, I don’t exist in isolation, and there are many others who feel similarly (or quite differently) disenchanted with the current state of affairs. To the extent that we find common goals in moments of rebellion, and then try to expand these moments into a broader state of conflict with all these things we hate, there are the beginnings of social war.

Part of why I question your understanding of what we mean by social war is that you seem to view anarchists as competing for power. We are, in fact, about destroying the sort of power that you speak of, and the anarchists I respect use the term “politics” only in a negative sense. That is actually an important distinction between anarchists and communists: communists seek power so as to (supposedly) “dissolve the political question” through collectivized labor, management and distribution of wealth, and an eventual withering of the state. Anarchists see this promised dissolution as a canard, seeking instead to be active agents in its demise. Related, but on the opposite side of things, if we just chose to join unions and vote to affect change, hoping to slowly garner greater consensus, we wouldn't  be anarchists any longer, we’d be democrats.

Lastly, on the question of strategy and nihilism: Social war isn't a strategy, so much as a way of understanding and contextualizing various conflicts on a broader scale. Sometimes these things will be clearly related; sometimes they might even seem to be in conflict with each other. Each of these particular situations and conflicts will require its own strategic assessment based on all sorts of variables that concepts like the social war can’t begin to account for. This goal of confrontation and destruction doesn't end after the revolution (the idea of a revolution being another problem that can be explored). I personally would never assume that my goals as an anarchist will match up with those of most of society, and I expect there will be continued conflict because of this, and there will always be a need to destroy the existing social order. So sure, maybe it is nihilism, I feel fine with that, though there are other social warriors who would reject that.

Final note: I didn't really address your quotes from James Madison and Carl Schmidt because really? The father of the constitution and a nazi cited as refutation of the social war? That is either the best trolling ever, or a total lack of understanding of what anarchists are about.
answered Nov 9, 2013 by ingrate (20,470 points)
The first link you posted was interesting because many of the answers seem to support my question. madlib says it is a contrived "us vs them" whereas I placed its origin with a friend/enemy distinction in Schmitt, which amounts to the same thing. Even rejecting madlib's answer, asker's response also seems to support a rejection of the social war. asker quotes Foucault as saying "Its [war's] role is no longer to constitute history but to protect and preserve society; war is no longer a condition of existence for society and political relations, but the precondition for its survival in its political relations."

You say: "To the extent that we find common goals in moments of rebellion, and then try to expand these moments into a broader state of conflict with all these things we hate, there are the beginnings of social war" but this comment makes it seem like we, or those who find each other in rebellion, create the social war. That quote of Foucault, and the one I used from Madison, state that social war is a strategy of the state to protect itself. It seems to me that we are put in social war, we find ourselves in it, and can engage or, maybe?, not engage in it.

Certainly anarchists are competing with others for social power. Let's not pretend otherwise. Maybe it is not power over other but power to do things, but it is still competition with other factions, even if the ends are different.

You write: "Social war isn't a strategy, so much as a way of understanding and contextualizing various conflicts on a broader scale." Is it an actual phenomenon? Do we find ourselves in social war? Or is it a way of conceiving the world, a tool? I conceive of social war as like the land and air and water and streets we find ourselves within. It is real. Strategy comes into play when we decide how to engage that reality.

Final note: It should be clear from the above why I quoted Madison, to show that social war was a strategy of the state. To different factions against one another so that none would gain power.

As for Schmitt: Much of anarchist understanding of social war comes out of The Concept of the Political, at least anarchist through Tiqqun. See for example: http://www.politicsisnotabanana.com/2011/01/oh-yeah-that-review-of-introduction-to.html  where you will find lines like "Drawing on Hobbes and Schmitt, Tiqqun argues that the modern state is a theater of operations in which the intensity of ethical difference is neutralized and every image of difference is pulled to the center for a endless photo-op." Or see Tiqqun texts where they actually quote Schmitt.

EDIT: I do want to say I appreciate your answer and am asking in earnest. My response to you is intended to clarify my question, to sharpen it so that its point might be seen.
One tricky part here that I just thought of, and I don't know if this is important to the question but I am recording it here so that I do not forget, is that if social war is something we find ourselves within, for some of us it is likely easier to "opt out" of than others. Depending on our circumstances, our "privilege" as other discourses put it, it may be easier for us to pretend we don't participate in the social war. The position of a trans-person, or person of color, is more precarious than that of someone else.

Acting against the social war, to actively not participate in it, would be something that one did. Not a passive thing. At least in how I am formulating it.

Of course, what anarchist position against the social war might look like is not really necessary to sketch out right now. First we need to determine what an anarchist position within the reality of social war should be.

EDIT: Shit is complicated and even if as anarchists we are against the social war it might be necessary to participate in it for our current survival, is all I am trying to say (just like going to work is often necessary).
Thanks for this detailed reply, it does in fact clarify a lot of what you meant. I am working on responding, but am feeling like I need to dig into some things before I can give you the reply that this deserves.
So we are coming at the concept of Social War from opposite perspectives, basically. I tend to define it more like paulzsimons below, or dot's answer to the other question.

To the extent that social war is the violence inherent to society, it is something that exists to maintain order, but I think it is just as much the war being waged against the maintenance of order, as well as acts of rebellion, transgression and anger at the state of things for its own sake.

I'd started to write a longer reply, but the thing is, whatever the roots of the concept of social war, it is not used in that manner by the folks that I communicate with regularly (who would instead use it as a way of moving past the economic reductionism of class war), and as I already said, I don't often use the term, because I think it is a loaded term.
+1 vote
Actually, you earned the negative votes for failing to define Social War, before asking opinions about it. The quotes from Madison and Schmitt are worthless as the term, as defined by many post-leftists including myself, entails an understanding of Capital and State in its contemporary permutation, not in their incarnations in post-revolutionary America, and decidedly not by a fascist. Tiqqun is interesting but neither the final word on Social War, nor anything else for that matter. Biopolitics is found in a laboratory, anarchist politics are found on a bedsheet, covered with vaginal lubrication, sweat, sperm--a book and gun.

Social War is the praxis of insurrection in Late Capitalism, and is defined by artifacts of theory, action, culture and crime that seek to break off or destroy the fragile economic and political structures of domination present in all manifestations of civilization. To be specific, Social War has superseded the class struggle insofar as the revolutionary subject, originally defined as proletariat or working class has been made universal by the triumph of the wage relation globally. Note that any manifestation of Capital may be substituted in this instance as vacations or the day off has superseded play, here again--valorization vitiating less dominative, or anti-dominative forms. So when the entire world shares the same ball and chain contestation becomes the entire species against an idea, the social concept and its manifestation, or even more universally--civilization. In a word, the Social War--humanity against society and for community.

So the short answer is that Social War may be one of the few forms of refusal that all anarchists can agree upon and pursue. And that pursuit, of the concrete activities of the Social War, will ideally be done in an aggressive and principled manner.
answered Nov 12, 2013 by paulzsimons (560 points)
edited Nov 12, 2013 by paulzsimons
Some initial thoughts:

"So when the entire world shares the same ball and chain contestation becomes the entire species against an idea, the social concept and its manifestation, or even more universally--civilization. In a word, the Social War--humanity against society and for community."

This definition works for me in the abstract, but "humanity," "society," and "community" are concepts (which, just as I did not define "social war", you have not defined). No matter the definition, humanity doesn't go to war, particular humans go to war as (representatives of? embodiments of?) humanity. So in the end, your social war still looks like human beings struggling against human beings (only the human beings we struggle against are monstrous because they are not "humanity").

I guess the difficulty comes in defining the We/Us and the Them. I still think Madison, and that Foucault quote (I have ordered the book so that I may read it in context) are interesting because they say that multiplying the Us and Them is necessary for the maintenance of State Power.

Thank you, though, for your response. I will have to consider more your view of the Social War. Obviously no one would be against what you say it is. I just wonder if, in practice, it ever is that.

EDIT: I was looking at my bed sheet stained with lubricant, blood, and shit but it was just like a Rorschach, everything I saw was actually just in me. And the me that I was was a product of capitalism.
In terms of definition please note that the remainder of the sentence following," The Social War is.." is my definition. I provide no examples as I assume that you can fill in that blank for yourself, if not I'll provide a one word hint...Bonnot.

As regard any binary, in the equation humanity versus society or civilization, there is no dialectical relationship, as one is composed of a concrete thing (all human beings now alive) versus a concept of society (a bunch of words and ideas bandied about by folks like us).

Finally the self-flagellation regarding how conceptual the whole thing is comes with the territory--welcome to the dull world of theory. As regards how many people engaged in an action really come at it with my, or indeed any concept of the Social War--who cares? When I engage in an action I know exactly who the Social Enemy is and what it is I'm fighting. That's enough for me, what others fight for is their issue. As regards the bedsheet, the blood, shit and lubricant, the blood and shit are the product of millions of years of evolution, only the lubricant and the bedsheet are the result of Capital. Stay clear on that and all else is easy.
Okay. I guess my point was that your concept of Social War seems to look like, in practice, different factions struggling against each other, which is what those other guys I quoted said was necessary for the State not to be overthrown.

In other words, you might "know exactly who the Social Enemy is and what it is [you're] fighting" but the consequences of your fight might not be what you intended.

Which is not, of course, to say that I know the consequences at all (or even what you fighting really looks like). I'm just a person who read some books and was wondering aloud on the internet.

Thanks again for taking the time to respond.
And thank you for asking an important, timely question--
+2 votes
First of all, great question.

You write that "it seems to me that social war is the foundation of the modern state." This is exactly in line with what Foucault says in the "Society Must Be Defended" lectures.  I think that you will really like that book -- also definitely check out the "Security, Territory, Population" lectures.

Basically he says that the state has now assigned itself the role of protecting the health of a population, yet, perversely, that implies that it has the ability/prerogative to threaten its existence as well. The most obvious illustration of this is Nazi Germany -- which is kind of the biopolitical regime par excellence. But it is characteristic of every modern state. In one of his most strident passages, Foucault writes that “The principle underlying the tactics of battle -- that one has to be capable of killing in order to go on living -- has become the principle that defines the strategy of states. But the existence in question is no longer the juridical existence of sovereignty. At stake is the biological existence of a population.”

This is the sense in which Foucault refers to a "social war." It is specifically the war that the state carries out against its own people, in the name of protecting its health and safety.  In order to justify this, Foucault says, the modern state inevitably resorts to "state racism," which is related to but distinct from our ordinary sense of racism. State racism functions to ideologically "fragment" the population that the state is overseeing, so that when it disposes of particular people or subpopulations, this is understood as a way of protecting the more desirable elements. (Agamben's notion of biopolitical inclusion-exclusion in HOMO SACER expands on this)

So, in its original context, there is no way that social war can be helpful to us. I mentioned in one of the other threads on this topic that Tiqqun (who seem to be partially responsible for popularizing this very minor concept of Foucault's) understood his intention well. They said in one of their talks that "...we can't talk about social war. Because the social war is the war that is led against us, it cannot, symmetrically, describe the war that we wage from our side. We have to think again the words themselves in order to forge new concepts, as weapons..."

The increasingly common use of this term (eg here: http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/liam-sionnach-earth-first-means-social-war-becoming-an-anti-capitalist-ecological-social-force) to refer to the inchoate forms of struggle that may oppose the state/capitalism/whatever else, is clearly alien to Foucault's understanding of the term. And it strikes me as being quite misleading, since the defining quality of these forms of resistance is that they are NOT militarily ordered. In fact, they are not even necessarily related to one another. As far as I can tell, the only benefit to contextualizing conflicts on a broader scale in terms of a narrative of "social war" is that it allows us to express a vague and insipid kind of solidarity with basically anything that we would recognize as being politically resistant. A while ago I recall there being a tumblr that was entirely dedicated to compiling minor acts of sabotage and whatever, from any part of the world and any political context, under the banner of this type of social war.  To me, it  seems completely unhelpful to imagine an "expanded notion of class struggle" in a historical moment when we are not actually witnessing much linking up of various other forms of 'struggle' (though I can easily understand being enthusiastic about a certain type of of militant action).

So, basically, my answer is YES, you are right, we should DEFINITELY not be touting social war as a strategy.

As for "dissolving the political question" that is a WHOLE nother can of worms. :)
answered Nov 25, 2013 by asker (9,280 points)
edited Nov 25, 2013 by asker
This might be totally unfounded speculation, but:

Maybe the confusion/re-interpretation of "social war" might be the result of insurrectionist theory drawing from The Coming Insurrection (and associated ideas/theorists) at the same time that it draws from Tiqqun and Foucault-influenced theorists. On one hand you have the very deliberate sort of strategy laid out in TCI which might be (or, maybe was in the book itself?) referred to as "war on society", which sounds (in its terminology) very similar to social war. On the other hand, you have Tiqqun and Foucalt's concept of social war which, as I understand, is specifically a war waged by the state, as you describe. On a third hand you have the muddy, celebratory, idealized concept of social war as a catch-all term for any subversive or criminal act, period. So, maybe the sometimes-intentional opacity of insurrectionist and post-left texts has led to some difficult semantics?
"So, maybe the sometimes-intentional opacity of insurrectionist and post-left texts has led to some difficult semantics?"

...YES.

"On one hand you have the very deliberate sort of strategy laid out in TCI which might be (or, maybe was in the book itself?) referred to as "war on society", which sounds (in its terminology) very similar to social war. On the other hand, you have Tiqqun and Foucalt's concept of social war which, as I understand, is specifically a war waged by the state, as you describe."

The Coming Insurrection was actually written by some of the same people as Tiqqun. I haven't read it in a while, but I think the terminology is consistent w/ that in Tiqqun, albeit simplified a lot. I don't think they use the term social war in the way that eg PINAB or certain people on this website do.

BUT I definitely think that text is responsible for disseminating foucault-tinged "insurrectionary" ideas among people who don't necessarily know all of the context. Which is  a very good thing, but it can be confusing, since the language is pretty confusing to begin with. Maybe someone should do a genealogy of American insurrectionary anarchism...
I knew there was some overlap (or complete overlap) between TCI and Tiqqun, but I wasn't sure of the precise extent, I guess. And with a quick Ctrl+F of the online version. . . there's not a single mention of "social war" or "war on society" or anything similar at all, actually. Huh.

This confusion of terms and language (and decontextualization) might partly explain why I never understood what the fuck insurrectionism is until a year or two ago.
...