Blowing Up Walls

Graeber, David 2004. Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

Pp. 38-64.
The dice are loaded. You can't win. Because when the skeptic says "society," what he really means is "state," even "nation-state." Since no one is going to produce an example of an anarchist state - that would be a contradiction in terms - what we're really being asked for is an example of a modern nation-state with the government somehow plucked away: a situation in which the government of Canada, to take a random example, has been overthrown, or for some reason abolished itself, and no new one has taken its place but instead all former Canadian citizens begin to organize themselves into libertarian collectives. Obviously this could never be allowed to happen. In the past, whenever it even looked like it might - here, the Paris commune and Spanish civil war are excellent examples - the politicians running pretty much every state in the vicinity have been willing to put their differences on hold until those trying to bring such a situation about had been rounded up and shot. (Graeber 2004: 39)
This is pretty much the "dangerous" side of anarchism: even when a whole country embellishes non-governmental self-organization, the neighboring countries work together to bring this to a full stop. To view this as a grand scheme of things: the anarchist "revolution" can be successful only when many or all countries come to a consensus that governments are stupid inefficient things to have around. As a utopian thinker I like to imagine that this will come about in the 21st century thanks to information technology which can educate and bring people together.
The way out, which is to accept that anarchist forms of organization would not look anything like a state. That they would involve an endless variety of communities, associations, networks, projects, on every conceivable scale, overlapping and intersecting in any way we could imagine, and possibly many that we can't. (Graeber 2004: 40)
I concur, the future forms of organization belong to the future. Case in point: a "flash mob" would have been close to impossible just a decade or max two ago.
So one is reduced to scouring the historical and ethnographic record for entities that look like a nation-state (one people, speaking a common language, living within a bounded territory, acknowledging a common set of legal principles...), but which lack a state apparatus (which, following Weber, one dan define roughly as: a group of people who claim that, at least when they are around and in their official capacity, they are the only ones with the right to act violently). These, too, one can find, if one is willing to look at relatively small communities far away in time and space. But then one is told they don't count for just this reason. (Graeber 2004: 40-41)
An underlying problematic presents itself in this definition: that anarchism may only be possible when violence is either eradicated or possibly when there are grassroots organizations for encountering violence and nullifying it.
There are a million different ways to define "modernity." According to some it mainly has to do with science and technology, for others it's a matter of individualism; others, capitalism, or bureaucratic rationality, or alientation, or an ideal of freedom of one sort or another. However they define it, almost everyone agrees that at somewhere in the sixteenth, or seventeenth, or eighteenth centuries, a Great Transformation occurred, that it occurred in Western Europe and its settler colonies, and that because of it, we became "modern." And that once we did, we became a fundamentally different sort of creature than anything that had come before. (Graeber 2004: 46)
Nice cross-section of the modernist discourse.
By "blowing up walls," I mean most of all, blowing up the arrogant, unreflecting assumptions which tell us we have nothing in common with 98% of people who ever lived, so we don't really have to think about them. Since, after all, if you assume the fundamental break, the only theoretical question you can ask is some variation on "what makes us so special?" Once we get rid of those assumptions, decide to at least entertain the notion we aren't quite so special as we might like to think, we can also begin to think about what really has changed and what hasn't. (Graeber 2004: 47)
Epic. This is actually an argument I can use whenever I'm confronted with nationalism. That is - if you assume that we are so special then you better have a fucking example of how, in what way, in what sense.
At least in the United States, the anarchists who do take anthropology the most seriously are the Primitivists, a small but very vocal faction who argue that the only way to get humanity back on track is to shuck off modernity entirely. Inspired by Marshall Sahlins' essay "The Original Affluent Society," they propose that there was a time when alienation and inequality did not exist, when everyone was a hunter-gathering anarchist, and that therefore real liberation can only come if we abandon "civilization" and return to the Upper Paleolithic, or at least the early Iron Age. (Graeber 2004: 53)
The origins of anarchist primitivism.
Autonomist thinkers in Italy have, over the last couple decades, developed a theory of what they call revolutionary "exodus." It is inspired in part by particularly Italian conditions - the broad refusal of factory work among young people, the flourishing of squats and occupied "social centers" in so many Italian cities... But in all this Italy seems to have acted as a kind of laboratory for future social movements, anticipating trends that are now beginning to happen on a global scale. (Graeber 2004: 60)
We should look into this.
The theory of exodus proposes that the most effective way of opposing capitalism and the liberal state is not through direct confrontation but by means of what Paolo Virno has called "engaged withdrawal," mass defection by those wishing to create new forms of community. One need only glance at the historical record to confirm that most successful forms of popular resistance have taken precisely this form. (Graeber 2004: 60-61)
"The only way to win is to deny it battle."
The Merina rice farmers described in the last section understand what many would-be revolutionaries do not: that there are times when the stupides thing once could possibly do is raise a red or black flag and issue defiant declarations. Sometimes the sensible thing is just to pretend nothing has changed, allow official state representatives to keep their dignity, even show up at their offices and fill out a form now and then, but otherwise, ignore them. (Graeber 2004: 63-64)


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