Only very few things unite us:
That we make the pains of the earth our own: violence against women; persecution and contempt of those who are different in their affective, emotional, and sexual identity; annihilation of childhood; genocide against the native peoples; racism; militarism; exploitation; dispossession; the destruction of nature.
The understanding that a system is responsible for these pains. The executioner is an exploitative, patriarchal, pyramidal, racist, thievish and criminal system: capitalism.»Enlace Zapatista. Part One: A DECLARATION… FOR LIFE. January 1st, 2021.
Capitalism as a “system” or social totality is inherently bad and destructive of both nature and human social and individual flourishing, joy and wellness. Any political project that doesn’t include the abolition of this mode of organization of human life is as utterly worthless as programs or political horizons that omit or deny the more-than-urgent necessity of tackling climate change and other global environmental problems.
Socialism – or whatever we might call the ‘next system’ – must be a system/society of freedom, not of coerced labour, social hierarchy, or authoritarianism, in any form. Marx’s words are as eloquent today as they were in his time:
My work would be a free manifestation of life, hence an enjoyment of life. Presupposing private property, my work is an alienation of life, for I work in order to live, in order to obtain for myself the means of life. My work is not my life. Secondly, the specific nature of my individuality, therefore, would be affirmed in my labour, since the latter would be an affirmation of my individual life. Labour therefore would be true, active property. Presupposing private property, my individuality is alienated to such a degree that this activity is instead hateful to me, a torment, and rather the semblance of an activity. Hence, too, it is only a forced activity and one imposed on me only through an external fortuitous need, not through an inner, essential one. My labour can appear in my object only as what it is. It cannot appear as something which by its nature it is not. Hence it appears only as the expression of my loss of self and of my powerlessness that is objective, sensuously perceptible, obvious and therefore put beyond all doubt“Comments on James Mill, Éléments d’économie politique”, in Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 3, 1975, p. 228.
The realm of freedom does not commence until the point is passed where labor under the compulsion of necessity and of external utility is required.Capital, Volume 3.
I have two general principles when it comes to the question of abolishing capitalism:
- The question of what a post-capitalist system would look like – and whether it should be called “communism” or something else – is important, but remains secondary to the global priority of abolishing capitalism. Defining what capitalism is is therefore necessary, and it is an ongoing debate… A simple definition can be found here; I personnally really like Søren Mau‘s own reconstruction of Marx and Marxian contemporary theoretical advances over the last decades. See also Alana Lentin’s Introduction to Racial Capitalism, and Glenn Coulthard’s notion of “dispossession“. (There is more, of course…)
- I come from a communist and anarchist-marxist critical theory standpoint, but I do acknowledge that the discussion on post-capitalism is far from fixed or just settled within the old slogan of a “classless, moneyless, stateless” society. The closest I have come to a position on this topic is that I genuinely like the approach/standpoint of Kevin Carson (who initially comes from the “free-market anarchist” tradition – which I generally don’t really like, but Carson’s works are amazing):
I will state up-front that I am an agnostic on the question of whether non-market forms of coordination could be as or more effective than market pricing. I am also an agnostic on the question of whether economic coordination or rational decision-making could exist at all without market pricing, although I am somewhat inclined to say yes.Kevin Carson (2020, June 15) Decentralized Economic Coordination: Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom. Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS) [Blog]
Although I refuse to prescribe any particular organizational template or economic model for a post-state, post-capitalist society, I’m strongly inclined to believe that the great majority of consumer goods (small appliances, food, clothing, furniture, etc.) will be produced on a largely communistic basis — i.e. for direct use, within micro-villages or other multi-family co-living units, and allocated based on something like Bookchin’s “irreducible minimum” of guaranteed subsistence to which individuals are entitled by virtue of membership in such co-living units.
I suspect, likewise, that most of the larger-scale infrastructures (…) — transportation, telecommunications, etc. — will be run as federated platforms with standing governance bodies representing the communities served by them and the peer producers or guilds that actually deliver their services. And industries that require larger scales of production — heavy producer goods, airships, trains, etc. — will likewise be projects serving federations of local communities.
The most likely role for markets will be, not to allocate production to the most efficient producer among a number of competing producers, but to allocate finite production inputs (e.g. the raw materials generated from commons-based natural resource governance bodies, and intermediate or producer goods produced by larger-scale industry) to their most efficient use among competing alternatives. A secondary use for markets might be to exchange surpluses between communities or co-living arrangements, in order to promote a more efficient division of labor between communities, based on specialization in particular crops, or skills disproportionately possessed by their members.Kevin Carson (2020, September 14) Response to Aurora Apolito. Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS) [Blog]
As I said, I generally tend to side on the more “anti-market” side of this discussion (communist marxists and anarchists), but Carson’s perspective does offer a different view of this, which I think must be considered, even if the “free market” position is generally marginal and unconvincing to many radicals, myself included. The communist approach is in my opinion best defined in the way the so-called Communisation current rephrased it. The following texts are classics but really good/useful:
- Les Amis du Potlach (1979) À bas le prolétariat. Vive le communisme!
- Léon de Mattis (2011) Qu’est-ce que la communisation?. Sic, 1 (July 2011).
- English: What is communisation?
- Léon de Mattis (2014) Les mesures communistes: penser un horizon communiste. Sic, 2 (January 2014)
Another way to approach this is using a very general and inclusive definition of socialism. It is not necessarily mutually exclusive/or incompatible with the things above; I don’t mind having a variety of ways to think or discuss these issues, as long as some basic ethical and political principles are retained. For me, the overall goal/horizon/project of socialism (as a broad term for radical anticapitalist politics – and what it aims for) is fundamentally humanist, a project of radical freedom and unrestrained individual and collective flourishing and joy. I have zero sympathy for authoritarian forms of socialism (such as orthodox bolshevik and stalinist (and maoist) marxism), my intellectual, political and ideological preferences are far closer to anarchism and the libertarian socialist currents that included the likes of Marx, Luxemburg, Mattick, Korsch, C.L.R. James, Martin Glaberman, the Frankfurt School, and so on…. But remaining stuck in the dichotomy of marxism vs anarchism isn’t very useful (if we don’t reduce marxism to state socialism or Bolshevism, in which case it would be more relevant), because non-marxists and non-anarchists like Oscar Wilde or Albert Einstein, and more recently the beautiful Zapatista rebellion, in some ways express the general aim of socialism better than the more dogmatic ideological preachers of both classical traditions.
It is a sad reality that “socialism” and “communism” were comprehensively distorted – during the 20th Century – into a cult of statism, authoritarian high modernism, and chauvinism/imperialism “with a red flag”. The horrors of dictatorships that claimed to embody socialism/communism aren’t lessened by the reactionary and opportunistic hypocrisy of anti-communists (both governments and groups/individuals). Despite this very grim historical background, which today’s radical socialists have been forced to answer for, it is crucial to emphasize how atrocious an inversion of socialism this constituted. As anarchist historan Zoe Baker (Anarchopac) pointed out, this indeed turned (most) classical/nineteenth-century socialists’ conception on its head:
Socialists in the 19th century generally advocated the abolition of capitalism because they wanted a society which provided everyone with the real opportunity to develop themselves. Their goal was human development as an end in itself and socialism was the means to realise it.
This is why the Italian anarchist Andrea Costa wrote in 1876 that members of the international wanted, “the full and complete development of all the instincts, all the faculties, all the human passions; we want the humanization of man!”
In 1885 Kropotkin defined a revolutionary epoch as one which raises not only the question of bread but also the question of “human development against brutalization”. Or Goldman advocated a free society which enabled “the development of the best potentialities of the individual”.
Marx defined a communist society as one in which “the full and free development of every individual forms the ruling principle”. He held that the “true realm of freedom” consists in the “development of human powers as an end in itself”.Zoe Baker (2021, November 23)
As Sumaya Awad and Brian Bean write in Palestine: A Socialist Introduction:
What we mean when we say socialism is, simply put, a society where workers collectively own and democratically control their labor and the value they produce. In other words, a classless society, free of exploitation and oppression. Its essence is evoked in two common phrases of Marx, who described socialism as a world “from each according to their ability and to each according to their need,” which comes into realization through the “self-emancipation” of the working class.3 This is different from conceptions of socialism like the social democracy of the Scandinavian mixed economies, and different from the former USSR and North Korea—often referred to as Stalinist countries—or the current Chinese state, which can be generally described as a capitalist dictatorship with certain sectors of the economy owned by the state, whose role is to integrate the private sector into the world economy. All of these forms can be described as “socialism from above”: state control of some part of industry through a top-down, bureaucratic, and more often than not authoritarian stratum of society.
Even though the USSR is now a thing of the past, the political tendency of Stalinism still exists and is referred to in chapters of this book. Although definitions vary, we will briefly describe it as a political tendency based on the false notion that socialism can be established in a single country rather than through the international rejection of capitalism. Stalinism often takes a rigid approach to socialist revolution, regarding it as marked by distinct “stages”—first, socialists fight for national or anticolonial liberation, then at some later date they start the struggle for socialism. This mechanistic model relegates the project of fighting for socialism to something that will take place at a future—often undefined—point in time. (…)
The socialism we mean stresses the need for struggle from below and that of self-emancipation. Similarly, this struggle must be an explicitly international one in its outlook, its actors, and its goal of global destruction of the regime of capital. Some in this book describe this approach as internationalist. This vision of socialism has been succinctly described by American socialist Hal Draper as “socialism from below”:
The heart of Socialism-from-Below is its view that socialism can be realized only through the self-emancipation of activated masses in motion, reaching out for freedom with their own hands, mobilized “from below” in a struggle to take charge of their own destiny, as actors (not merely subjects) on the stage of history.8Sumaya Awad & Brian Bean (Eds.) (2020) Palestine: A Socialist Introduction. Haymarket Books.
To sum up, I think abolishing capitalism is as objectively and undeniably necessary as tackling the climate and environmental crisis, that socialism can be described in general and non-dogmatic terms as a process or project of self-emancipation by the oppressed proletarian (and other) masses with a general horizon of human freedom, autonomy and individual+collective flourishing and joy. I don’t think I can say specifically what must come after capitalism, but I know that both the way to get there and the destination can only come from the broad libertarian socialist or libertarian communist tradition, which various authors from Daniel Guérin and Maurice Brinton (Chris Pallis) to Saku Pinta and others, as well as the online collective libcom.org, have emphasised. In a sense, this is about saving the genuinely radical and emancipatory ideas and projects “from the 20th century” wherein Stalin and Mao came to be perceived as the leaders defining what communism is. Last century anarchists were largely (but not completely) alone in doing this, and for that they must be seen as heroes, wherever they were. The post-Cold-War era manifestations of radical politics – from the wave of anti-globalization protests to the post-2008 (and basically ongoing since the 2010s) movements – have undeniably included a certain resurgence of anarchism. I think the brilliant(*) anarchist collective CrimethInc. is a kind of representative of this latest moment in this old revolutionary tradition [*despite being pretty aggressively anti-marxist, but I “allow” it^^ because of shared opposition to bolshevik and stalinist marxism].
We must abandon the old or trad left and only aim to continue where the radical tradition embodied among others by the legacy (or legacies) of the Paris Commune (and many others, like the Morelos Commune), (most of) the anarchist tradition and “libertarian” marxists from Marx to Pannekoek to C.L.R. James and Communisation, left off… As Maurice Brinton wrote in 1972:
When we refer to the “traditional parties of the left” we don’t only have in mind the social-democratic and “communist” parties. Parties of this type have administered, administer and will continue to administer exploitative class societies. Under the title of “traditional parties of the left” we also include the trad revs [traditional revolutionaries], i.e. the various Leninist, Trotskyist and Maoist sects who are the carriers of state capitalist ideology and the embryonic nuclei of repressive, state-capitalist power.
These groups are prefigurations of alternative types of exploitation. Their critiques of the social-democratic and “Stalinist” or “revisionist” left appear virulent enough, but they never deal with fundamentals (such as the structure of decision-making, the locus of power, the primacy of the Party, the existence of hierarchy, the maximization of surplus value, the perpetuation of wage labour, and inequality). This is no accident and flows from the fact that they themselves accept these fundamentals. Bourgeois ideology is far more widespread than many revolutionaries believe and has in fact deeply permeated their thinking. In this sense Marx’s statement about “the dominant ideas of each epoch being the ideas of its ruling class” is far more true than Marx could ever have anticipated.
As far as authoritarian class society (and the libertarian-socialist alternative) is concerned the trad revs are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Those who subscribe to social-democratic or Bolshevik ideology are themselves either victims of the prevailing mystification (and attempts should be made to demystify them), or they are the conscious exponents and future beneficiaries of a new form of class rule (and should be ruthlessly exposed). In either case it follows that there is nothing “sectarian” in systematically proclaiming opposition to what they stand for. Not to do so would be tantamount to suppressing our critique of half of the prevailing social order. It would mean to participate in the general mystification of traditional politics (where one thinks one thing and says another) and to deny the very basis of our independent political existence. (…)
The social revolution is no Party matter. It will be the action of the immense majority, acting in the interests of the immense majority. The failures of social-democracy and of Bolshevism are the failure of a whole concept of politics, a concept according to which the oppressed could entrust their liberation to others than themselves. This lesson is gradually entering mass consciousness and preparing the ground for a genuinely libertarian revolution.Maurice Brinton (1972) As We Don’t See It. Note: I am aware that some currents within Bolshevism, Leninism, Trotskyism and so on, see themselves as anti-Stalinist and maybe as part of what Hal Draper called “socialism from below”. I am far more likely to be friendly or closer to those people than tankies and the like, but I do reject Bolshevism as a whole, including Lenin, Trotksy and their legacies.
And any modern radical socialist politics must also be rooted in a deconstruction of the coloniality and/or eurocentrism of old (and current) movements or approaches [see further below: “Decolonisation”], as well as both consistent support for Indigenous self-determination – e.g. “Land Back” – and a reciprocal dialogue/mutual learning interaction with the various radical elements and ideas/practices that these diverse groups have defended for centuries in their resistance to capitalist-colonialist modernity.
Both in terms of A) political and/or armed revolution; & B) social revolution and/or revolution of everyday life. Summed up in my personal interpretation of Marx’s famous “real movement” quote
I don’t know whether this was Marx’s intent/meaning, but the ‘real movement which abolishes the present state of things’ phrase (as a way of describing the communist project) is really meaningful for me, in many ways.
It is fundamentally about asserting the necessarily undefined character of any and all revolutionary moment, stating clearly that there’s no blueprint because the “real movement” is not a party line, or pamphlets by radicals, or a specific policy or tactic. It has this abolitionist (and quasi-anarchist) urgency and vagueness that isn’t actually an error, but a feature, of any truly radical politics. That is, the whole point of revolutionary politics isn’t seizing the state to implement 5-year plans, or even making a project of state-supported workers’ cooperative network(s), but an unambiguous commitment to striking directly at the roots of the system’s ills (social hierarchy, law of value, commodity fetishism, the state form, etc…), whatever it takes.
Then of course the second point about this is that there’s no determining what revolution or a post-capitalist society ‘must’ look like in advance, thus no blueprint (although ideas are fine and very important, if pluralism is favoured, importantly). It’s a fundamentally democratic commitment to social and political change: the point of abolishing the current state of society is about enabling the collective community to start determining what society should do and look like without this decision-making being subordinated to overlords and tyrants, be they personal (local warlords), institutional (state apparatuses, prison-industrial complex, ..), or impersonal/abstract (the dreaded law of value at the core of capitalism). Hence self-determination of the majority, with other principles of demokratia.
Also, there’s a broader meaning to all this. Sectarian and doctrinaire leftists seem to only care about liberation when it’s “their side or way” (their peculiar ideology, their beloved organizations, their symbolic actions, etc…) that leads the movement, or at least that occupies the spotlight. This leads to delusions of grandeur, ‘spectacular’ (Debord) politics (e.g., twitter), and other performative forms of radicalism. Against that, I believe the only way to be consistent as a revolutionary socialist is to unambiguously support all forms of liberation and righteous struggles, both ‘moderate-democratic’ (that is, not moving outside of the existing order but reforming it and making it better) and authentically radical ones. It means that you support not just ‘anarchist movements’ or ‘marxist parties’, or specific movements when it suits you to do so, but all struggles for human emancipation, because they’re actually the ‘real movement’, not you. So the countless struggles around the world against authoritarian state/repressive systems (among others) aren’t to be ignored (or dismissed) because it doesn’t suit your own ‘radical’ ideology, your aesthetics and discourse, etc.. The same is true of feminist struggles, the old commies treated women’s battle against patriarchy at best as a secondary and distracting issue for decades. Basically the class-reductionism of the Left in general (and the ‘Old Left’ especially) is an example of failing (theory+practice) to truly empower this ‘real movement’ by neglecting fundamental aspects of the global struggle. But if we understand capitalist modernity as a totality (as Marx tried, but didn’t finish, to theorize it), then all these movements that aren’t explicitly “anti-capitalist” or anarchist or communist are on the contrary extremely relevant to the abolition of capitalism.AR (2020, July 19) Quick note: The ‘Real movement which abolishes the present state of things’. Ravenwood [Blog]
Not everything is about violent and/or radical revolution, and thinking that it is isn’t just wrong it can be dangerous. While we should beware all parliamentary/electoral/legal(istic)/etc “cretinism” [see link for more on this], it’s necessary to add that emancipatory content is crucial to both revolutionary and non-revolutionary politics. Emancipation means freeing oneself/ourselves from any kind of oppression or any condition/situation of suffering, and everything that actually contributes to it is positive – and sould be at least be considered…
Another dimension is that it is not enough to define radical/socialist politics only in the negative, i.e. as being “anti-XYZ”. In other words, everything from anti-capitalism or anti-imperialism to anti-statism, anti-liberalism, anti-fascism, anti-racism, anti-Zionism, etc…, is NOT sufficient to identify someone or some group as a force for good. Emancipatory content is necessary, because otherwise you’d support reactionary political, military or other actors who on the surface (if you conflate form and content, as both ‘horseshoe theory’ advocates and far too many actual leftists or even socialists do) and more or less (or not at all) genuinely (vs opportunistically), may indeed oppose (what they see, in their own terms, as) capitalist modernity, Western or American global hegemony and imperialism (and/or ‘interventionism’), Israel (here “Zionism” obviously takes a far more systematically antisemitic connotation), “neoliberalism” and “globalisation” (framed as destroying economic sovereignty, i.e. economic nationalism), and so on…
This also applies to the critique of and fight against conspiracism, populism, denialism, nationalism, fascism, etc… Liberal, right-wing and centrist approaches, as well as “counter-extremist” or “counter-terrorist” think thanks and so on, are fundamentally problematic because they’re largely uncritical with respect to the existing social order and capitalist modernity in general. They’re often directly collaborating with or securing the interests of both the state and capital. Both when it comes to resisting racist or terrorist or fascist actors that want to commit harm, and fighting against the spread and proliferation of conspiracist viewpoints, genocide/atrocity denial, disinfo/propaganda and demagoguery/authoritarianism, these approaches and interventions must be criticized and are ultimately part of the problem.
It’s important not to settle for the false promises and necessarily incomplete solutions/alternatives and critiques provided by authorities/the state, penal and repressive apparatus/institutions, and bourgeois/hegemonic ideology.
See also: Asad Haider (2019) Martin Luther King Jr. and the Meaning of Emancipation. n+1 (magazine).
Abolition is another way to understand the meaning of “social revolution” in the way I understand/mean it. Apart from abolishing capitalism in toto, here are various dimensions that are relevant:
- prison/police abolition and more generally, penal abolition(ism)
- penal abolitionism can be defined as “a call to end the ‘criminal behavior’ discourse which hides the ubiquity of transgression. The implications for penal thinking are severe, as the penal system is based on the felt necessity to respond to deviant, ‘criminalized’ behavior and deviant ‘criminals’. When it is revealed that transgression is not deviant but is in fact the norm, one must conclude (1) that the penal system is not (and never will be) able to effectively address the transgression of social norms, (2) that it should therefore be abolished, and (3) that we reconceptualize and re-design our social response to the transgression of norms as the management of difference (and not deviance).”
- For a quick look, see here. For a quick read to get into it, check out this conversation between Angela Davis and Dylan Rodriguez (2004).
- Michael J. Doyle: Penal Abolition as the End of Criminal Behavior (2016).
- Clément Petitjean & Ruth Wilson Gilmore: Prisons and Class Warfare: An Interview with Ruth Wilson Gilmore (2018).
- Champ pénal/Penal field: Abolitionnisme – Abolitionism [Dossier] (Volume XII, 2015).
- Ruggiero Vincenzo: An abolitionist view of restorative justice (2011).
- Check out the lists of writings at the Anarchist Library.
- The Routledge International Handbook of Penal Abolition
- Contesting Carceral Logic; Towards Abolitionist Futures
- work abolition (or more precisely, abolition of alienated labour), see for example: Uri Zilbersheid (2011) The Abolition of Labour in Marx’s Teachings.
- family abolition, see:
- Jules J. Gleeson & Kate D. Griffiths’ Kinderkommunismus: A Feminist Analysis of the 21st Century Family and Communist Proposal for its Abolition (2015)
- Jules J. Gleeson (2017) Eight Questions on the Slogan ‘Abolish the Family’.
- Kathi Weeks (2021) Abolition of the family: the most infamous feminist proposal.
- and this brief clarification by ‘Butch Anarchy‘
Because the family is seen as so sanctified, so natural, so beyond reproach, so the pinnacle of love and care (even as it is actually the site of a vast majority of abuse and violence in our society), it becomes very difficult for us to even imagine critiquing it.
Which, of course, is exactly what makes the family so important to critique! So vital to make clear, to challenge, to abolish! What, then, do we intend to do when we say we want to abolish the family?
Abolishing the family is not about destroying kinship relationships outright, but, rather, is about abolishing the institution of the family, the property relations that sustain it, and about EXPANDING the social relationships of care.
When we call for the abolition of the family, we call for youth liberation (the destruction of adult supremacy & the construction of children as private property). We call for communities of care & accountability. We call for the destruction of the atomization of relationships.
(…) We demand the ability to determine our own relationships. Many of us will still decide to keep and maintain relationships born from kinship ties, but it must be always our DECISION, not a fact of life, not a cross we must bear, not an infliction we must suffer.
We demand, above all, robust communities of accountability and connection. We demand that relationships of care be proliferated throughout our communities, rather than automized into segments based on blood relations who do not always have our interests at heart.“Towards the Abolition of the Family”, by @butchanarchy on September 29, 2021. Please read the full thread!
- gender abolition: see Jules J. Gleeson’s 2017 essay: Abolitionism in the 21st Century: From Communization as the End of Sex, to Revolutionary Transfeminism; and her Viewpoint piece Transition & Abolition: Notes on Marxism & Trans Politics
- border regime abolition, see:
- Héctor Rivera’s (2021) The Path to Socialism Requires Border Abolition
- The Abolition of Borders Requires Abolishing the State (2021)
- Amanda Priebe (2020) Towards a borderless world where we can all “just stay home”
- the abolition of the state
As I have already written:
For Marx, communism was LITERALLY about realizing human nature, because capitalism (e.g., labor/activity in capitalism) represents its denial: communism is about the full development, fulfillment and pursuit of human potentials (and not against nature/by dominating nature but by reuniting the link between the individual – his apirations and potentials – and the external world (‘nature’) as the matter through which those human drives and powers are realized/actualized)
Another useful way to look at communism, ‘the real movement which abolishes the present state of things’, is as a state of “unalienation” (or, the absence of alienation)
What does that mean? That our daily lives, especially what we spend most our lives doing (in large part ‘productive activity’), should not consist of fulfilling needs that are ‘external’ to our human nature (that is, in a nutshell, realizing our human potentials) as it is currently (following orders from above, being subordinated to the profit imperative of the firm/capitalist, producing for exchange (including in coops!) as opposed to use/genuine utility, etc…). It (unalienation) also means that in general our activities, life and contributions to society, should be ‘directly social’, in the sense of healing the break between our isolated individual activities and the ‘social whole’, the break that is largely maintained through the law of value/commodity fetishism/the ‘market’ institutionAR (@alraven3) (2020, July 3)
This is obviously tied to some of the things I said or quoted in the ‘Socialism’ part.
Prefiguration; Or Why Means and Ends Must Be Congruent
One of the core principles of the anarchist tradition is that revolutionary means and ends must come together, as opposed to Bolshevik or other approaches that believe that “the ends justify the means”. Prefigurative politics is ‘the deliberate experimental implementation of desired future social relations and practices in the here-and-now’ (Raekstad & Gradin, 2019, p. 10). Here are some essential readings:
- Carl Boggs (1977) Marxism, Prefigurative Communism, and the Problem of Workers’ Control.
- Paul Raekstad & Eivind Dahl (2020) What is Prefigurative Politics? How large scale social change happens.
- Can also be watched as Youtube video.
- This is based on Paul Raekstad and Sofa Saio Gradin (2019) Prefigurative Politics: Building Tomorrow Today. Polity Press.
- Zoe Baker (Anarchopac) (2019) Means and Ends: The Anarchist Critique of Seizing State Power.
- Zoe Baker (Anarchopac) (2021) Anarchism as a Way of Life: Malatesta’s anarchism, prefiguration and the class struggle.
- Ruth Kinna (2016) Utopianism and Prefiguration (in Chrostowska & Ingram (eds) Political Uses of Utopia: New Marxist, Anarchist and Radical Democratic Perspectives, Columbia University Press, p. 198-218).
This is probably one of the most fruitful concepts or political principles in the multifaceted history of radical/revolutionary theory and practice (‘praxis’). Autonomy, from the Ancient Greek “autos” (oneself) and “nomos” (law), is a state of being or ability, for an agent (individual, group, etc.) or society, wherein one gives oneself one’s own law/convention/custom – phrased differently, having authority over one’s actions/customs/etc. Autonomy is sometimes contrasted with its antonym, heteronomy (“heteros” meaning “another/of a different kind”) – i.e. a condition of being imposed or obeying to an external law/convention/custom. This dichotomy is a recurring conceptual thread in continental European philosophy, including famously in Kant. Manuel Cervera-Marzal et Éric Fabri explain it like this:
What is at stake here is therefore the question of the origin imputed to the law: is it given from an heteros [note: something external/of a different kind] from which it derives authority and legitimacy, or is it the creation of the political community which thus gives itself its own law?Manuel Cervera-Marzal et Éric Fabri (Eds.) (2015) Autonomie ou barbarie. La démocratie radicale de Cornelius Castoriadis et ses défis contemporains, p. 19. Translated by myself.
I have come across various forms or meanings of autonomy, which contain many interesting elements or possibly useful concepts. They partly overlap, but broadly speaking, as
All of these elements are intertwining with each other into project of autonomy, which suggests that society can create its own institutions without external authorities and the individuals, constituting it, are fully aware that they, and not some external force, are doing it. We see the signs of this autonomy in the actions of the countless movements and communities, resisting the imposition of ways of life, that they didn’t chose themselves and striving at creating new ones that reflect their desires and needs. It is not by chance that the word autonomy is being used by some of the most emblematic examples of direct-democratic societies: from the caracoles of the Zapatistas to the democratic cantons of Rojava.Yavor Tarinski (2016, May 5) Towards Autonomy. Towards Autonomy [Blog].
- Autonomy as Radical Democracy and Anarchic Revolution
- One of the most widespread conceptions of autonomy is as a form of radical stateless (‘anarchic’) democracy.
- Though he is ignoring over a century of anarchist and libcom history, Peter Stanchev described in 2015 the contemporary global wave of movements that call for radical (or direct) democracy and autonomy: “The masked spokesperson of the rebel army, Subcomandante Marcos, challenged the notion of the historical vanguard and opposed to it the idea of “revolution from below,” a form of social struggle that does not aim to take over state power but rather seeks to abolish it. This conceptualization of autonomy and direct democracy then became central to many of the mass anti-capitalist movements we have seen since — from the protests at Seattle and Genoa to the occupations of Syntagma, Puerta del Sol and Zuccotti Park.” (Source)
- Despite the trend – among authors like Yavor Tarinski, for example (e.g. wrt Nuit Debout)- to idealise or overestimate the actual radicalism of some movements since the 2000s (and especially since the 2008 crisis), there’s no denying the post-Cold-War and post-socialist (meaning after/beyond the old workers’/socialist movement) renewal of what it means to be radical both in theory/ideology and practice/movements.
- Postwar leftist authors like Murray Bookchin, C.L.R. James and Cornelius Castoriadis, attempted to re-define or re-conceptualize the meaning of democracy as part of the radical socialist tradition (anarchism and communism). This is closely related to the idea of autonomy.
- Particularly regarding Bookchin and Castoriadis, I don’t think they were as innovative as is sometimes claimed – many of their arguments are longstanding ideas within the socialist movement, especially anarchism – but they are still valuable…
- Yavor Tarinski: Reflections on Castoriadis and Bookchin.
- According to Tarinski, “Castoriadis offers an inclusive and holistic understanding of autonomy (…) [and] challenges narrower understandings of autonomy”. Castoriadis’ conception of autonomy is as “a revolutionary political project that aims to radically transform society by restructuring the power architecture of society”. Castoriadis defined autonomy in The project of Autonomy is not a Utopia, as “the project of a society in which all citizens have an equal, effectively actual possibility of participating in legislation, in government, in jurisdiction, and, finally, in the institution of society.”
- A much-cited form of radical political experiments is what has been known as Rojava/AANES; I have some serious reservations/issues (see here, here, here, here, here, here and here), but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the advances and genuinely inspiring aspects of what’s going on there:
- Michael Knapp: Democratic Autonomy in Rojava.
- Yavor Tarinski and Michalis Koulouthros: Towards Autonomy: The Social Experiment in Rojava.
- Autonomy as Empowering Oppressed People/Groups
- One of the basic tenets of the early socialist movement (roughly < WWI) was to build an autonomous proletarian-socialist movement, that is, building independent political organisations for proletarians’ self-emancipation. Importantly, a large segment – maybe even the hegemonic one, unfortunately – of twentieth century marxism completely turned this on its head: the orthodoxy created first through Karl Kautsky and then through Lenin was rooted in a heteronomous conception of class consciousness, i.e. that socialist consciousness was to be brought to the from without/above.
- This was notably discussed in some of Karl Korsch’s works and more specifically this article [FR] by Joseph Gabel (both themselves marxists – it must be noted, as Gabel does, that marxism always oscillated between autonomy and heteronomy in terms of class consciousness; I’d argue anarchism has generally been less ambiguous…).
- Criticising the Bolsheviks, Korsch said that “socialist consciousness [was] an element imported into the proletariat’s class struggle from without, and not something that arose spontaneously therein”.
- In part because of the failings of the old workers’/socialist movement to be more inclusive, diverse and to step away from a fetishisation and prioritization of a male-dominated ‘white’ working class, some radical militants/movements within the struggles of specifically-oppressed groups like women or gender-nonconforming people and racialized non-white people, have called for and practiced a form of autonomy in terms of organizing themselves ontheir own/within their own communities, independently of dominant social groups like men but also political/activist organisations that they say have failed to put their struggles and empowerment as a top priority.
- Originating in the 60s civil rights/antiracist movement (Black Panthers, SNCC, CORE) and French radical feminists (seemingly all the way back to the French Revolution, but at least in 70s, e.g. the MLF, as well as notorious figures like Christine Delphy), this has often been defined in terms of what is called “la non-mixité” (“choisie”) in French, which is simply creating spaces that are exclusively (meaning excluding others, e.g. men or white people) for these specific groups and geared towards autonomous organizing or support.
- In his book Anarchism and the Black Revolution, Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin outlined a black anarchist perspective on this issue, which is important/useful because it really defines what it is/should be (and addressing the issues with white radicals) and isn’t/shouldn’t be (for example, rejecting any separatism or black political projects that want to build a new exclusive state). It’s accessible in two short excerpts here, so there’s no reason not to read it:
- Black Autonomy Is Not Separatist
- Class Unity and POC Autonomy Is The Only Real Solidarity
- JoNina Abron-Ervin and Lorenzo also took part in an interview in May 2000, in which they talk about black autonomy, the civil rights movement and especially the Black Panthers: Black Autonomy: Civil Rights, the Black Panthers and today.
- One of the basic tenets of the early socialist movement (roughly < WWI) was to build an autonomous proletarian-socialist movement, that is, building independent political organisations for proletarians’ self-emancipation. Importantly, a large segment – maybe even the hegemonic one, unfortunately – of twentieth century marxism completely turned this on its head: the orthodoxy created first through Karl Kautsky and then through Lenin was rooted in a heteronomous conception of class consciousness, i.e. that socialist consciousness was to be brought to the from without/above.
- Autonomy as Decolonial/Indigenous Resistance and Rebellion
- Obviously related to the above [1) radical non-statist democracy and 2) autonomous self-organizing], the (project of/call for) autonomy of colonized and Indigenous peoples emphasise in particular the restoration and respect of their “traditions and customs, with power being exercised on a community level, as the community sees fit”. It is about re-establishing and asserting “the culture of self-determination that has been taken away from [them] as indigenous peoples over the last 500 years. That is, in terms of territory, that as people who live in a region, [they] get to administer [their] own economy, [their] own politics, [their] own culture and [their] own resources.” (source)
- The examples of the Zapatista rebellion (in Chiapas; since 1994) and the Cherán commune (since 2011) in Mexico are brilliant and important examples of Indigenous-led autonomous movements/projects.
- On Zapatista autonomy:
- Zapatista autonomy is implemented in the areas of education, health, justice, and politics. It cuts across many facets of daily life, in a process of struggle for lekil kuxlejal, a dignified collective life associated with a specific territory. It represents a daily aspiration to live with dignity and is therefore expressed through everyday practices. The relationship to the land is essential in that it allows for the creation of a territorialized collective identity around autonomy, without the need for legal structures for its implementation.
- Schools for Chiapas: What is Zapatista Autonomy.
- Zapatista Governance, Leadership, Community, and Decision Making Principles.
- Dylan Eldredge Fitzwater: The Zapatista Institutions of Autonomy and their Social Implications. Aftoleksi.
- Cian Warfield: Understanding Zapatista Autonomy. An Analysis of Healthcare and Education.
- Jérôme Baschet: Auto-gouvernement populaire et auto-détermination des manières de vivre. À propos de l’autonomie zapatiste. Terrains/Théories.
- On Cherán:
- (Interview with Yunuen Torres). Rebellion, Autonomy and Communal Self-Government in the Indigenous Municipality of Cherán, Michoacán. It’s Going Down.
- Alejandra González Hernández. Cherán. 5 years of self-government in an indigenous community in Mexico. Open Democracy.
- Samuel Clarke. Anarchism Without the Name: Lessons from the Town of Cherán. The Commoner.
- Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation (1997 speech) Indigenous Autonomy and Revolutionary Resistance.
- On Zapatista autonomy:
- The Zapatista project of autonomy is strikingly similar to Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin’s anarchist conception of black autonomy, I’ve only separated the separate meanings to highlight different aspects of this overall multifaceted issue/principle.
- Adam Gary Lewis (2017) Imagining autonomy on stolen land: settler colonialism, anarchism and the possibilities of decolonization?, Settler Colonial Studies, 7:4, 474-495.
- Ana Cecilia Dinerstein (2015) The Politics of Autonomy in Latin America. The Art of Organising Hope. Palgrave Macmillan.
- Yavor Tarinski (2016, June 3) The Project of Autonomy in the 21st Century. Towards Autonomy [Blog].
- Yavor Tarinski (2020, June 29) Political Organizing in the 21st Century. Towards Autonomy [Blog].
- Manuel Cervera-Marzal & Éric Fabri (dir.) (2015) Autonomie ou barbarie. La démocratie radicale de Cornelius Castoriadis et ses défis contemporains. Éditions le passager clandestin.
- ‘Autonomy’ on Tarinski’s blog: https://towardsautonomyblog.wordpress.com/tag/autonomy/
- A highly recommended book on Zapatista autonomy is Kuxlejal Politics by Mariana Moria (2017), and in French Jérôme Baschet’s La rébellion zapatiste (2019).
As Christopher Lee describes it “a politics of recognition and solidarity with communities beyond one’s own immediate experience”
As viewed through the lens of Fanon’s biography, radical empathy can be provisionally defined as a politics of recognition and solidarity with communities beyond one’s own immediate experience. It is a usable ethic drawn from his life. Disrupting more conventional politics of difference—whether on the basis of race, class, nation, gender, or culture, among other identities—it can be understood as an embodiment of the new humanism to which he aspired. It is also a strategy for achieving individual fruition through intersubjective engagement, to reference critic Hortense Spillers. It is the result of a mutually constitutive process—a dialectic between self-knowledge and world experience—with geographic, cultural, and political mobility facilitating not only greater self-realization but the attainment of such awareness through commitment to causes beyond one’s own background. Fanon’s political, intellectual, and personal consummation did not occur in Martinique, but by living in France, Algeria, and Tunisia. Algeria in particular, as a place and situation, provided a means to think through predicaments, ideas, and solutions that had preoccupied him for much of his life. In this sense, it exemplifies what Édouard Glissant has called a “diversion” (détour)—an alternative means for finding answers, when local circumstances may not permit such discovery. Algeria presented a different mirror. Committing a form of class suicide, to use Cabral’s expression, Fanon placed his convictions in a struggle and a country that was not his own by birth. Yet his deep empathy for the Algerian people derived from firsthand experience through his role as a medical doctor, as well as his own sociopolitical (if not legal) status as a French colonial subject. Indeed, his critique of nationalism and his advocacy for secularism and pluralism are unsurprising, since they would enable him to claim a place in a postcolonial Algeria.
Radical empathy as a practice consequently approximates Edward Said’s notion of traveling theory and the politics that can emerge from itinerant epistemologies. In Said’s view, Fanon’s application of European thought to colonial situations highlights the uses and creativity that can occur under conditions of political duress. “To speak here only of borrowing and adaptation is not adequate,” Said argues. “There is in particular an intellectual, and perhaps moral, community of a remarkable kind, affiliation in the deepest and most interesting sense of the word.” Radical empathy similarly resembles Nigel Gibson’s understanding of Fanon’s “radical mutation in consciousness”—the outcome of rejecting colonial Manichaeism and embracing the possibilities of political liberation as manifested through lived experience. But perhaps above all, radical empathy as a political concept returns to a less-addressed theme in Fanon’s work: the issue of love. As the scholar Nelson Maldonado-Torres has examined, the practice of love can actively subvert the politics of colonial difference, to create new spaces of autonomy and identification from below. “True love, real love” is not being subject to others, Fanon argues, thus countering Sartre’s influential definition. It is instead “wishing for others what one postulates for oneself.” As he writes at the end of Black Skin, White Masks, “Superiority? Inferiority? Why not simply try to touch the other, feel the other, discover each other?”
Radical empathy as an ethic is therefore the precise opposite of those contrarian qualities often attributed to Fanon—namely, an unqualified support of violence and an entrenched Manichean worldview that affirmed difference. It is positioned against these lasting myths, with its commitment to alternative forms of identification and solidarity in order to transcend difference. Indeed, it elevates a complementary strategy against the dehumanization imposed by racism and colonialism. It breaks a colonial dialectic that has constructed enduring patterns of racial discrimination. As a personal action undertaken, it is the antithesis of the pejorative name-calling Fanon describes in Black Skin, White Masks, seeking to explode distinctions rather than reinforce them. Moreover, it does not displace or minimize his belief in the cathartic potential of violence—the brutal force of colonialism determining and shaping the brutal response of anticolonialism. Rather, it occupies the unspoken underside of this more vocal stance. Though this ethic clearly emerges in his second and third books, its most meaningful expression appears in actional, rather than written, ways through direct engagement with anticolonial struggle. Adolfo Gilly has written that Fanon was not interested in reporting the Algerian conflict in conventional fashion, but in determining its essence, especially the total capacity of Algerians “to make all the sacrifices and all the efforts, among which the greatest was not giving one’s life in combat . . . but changing one’s daily life, one’s routines, prejudices, and immemorial customs insofar as these were a hindrance to the revolutionary struggle.” Fanon underwent this transformation himself. The element of complete participation is an essential aspect of this empathetic practice.
But this type of politics should not be applied to revolutionary conditions alone. Total liberation can occur only through the emancipation of all oppressed communities. The fight for human dignity was not and is not restricted to specific locales or social strata. Indeed, Fanon himself invoked this broader empathetic impulse through political comparison. Measuring Algeria against South Africa, he wrote that it was “a colonialism which is matched, on the continent, by its homologue in South Africa.” This comment echoes a similar comparison made by Nelson Mandela (1918–2013) in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom (1994). Reflecting on his 1962 visit to the FLN/ALN base in Oujda, Morocco, just across the border from Algeria, Mandela remarked, “The situation in Algeria was the closest model to our own in that the rebels faced a large white settler community that ruled the indigenous majority.” Radical empathy was not limited to Fanon, but an essential gesture in the international politics of global decolonization.Christopher J. Lee (2015) Frantz Fanon: Toward a Revolutionary Humanism. Ohio University Press. (Emphasis added)
The oppressed of the world have no nation, the only acceptable way is international solidarity and global revolution. It’s basic stuff I know, but nationalism remains hegemonic globally across the whole political spectrum, and it’s one of the things I hate most.
Anti-imperialism is the cornerstone that upholds the principle of internationalism. This means gaining a deep-rooted understanding of the fact that our bonds with others are not based on borders or nationalities but on the shared interest of workers and oppressed peoples in resisting oppression and exploitation by ruling classes worldwide.Sumaya Awad & Brian Bean (Eds.) (2020) Palestine: A Socialist Introduction. Haymarket Books.
I have already written here in more detail about my general view of internationalism, but I want to include here Bakunin’s list of principles for what Daniel Guérin described as a “federalist internationalism”. Obviously, he was taking about the contemporary political context in Europe, but this can be generalized for the whole world, as far as I’m concerned (I prefer not editing it, use your imagination! But I did highlight some of the most important parts).
- That if liberty, justice and peace are to prevail in relations between nations in Europe, if civil war between the different peoples who make up the European family is to be rendered impossible, there is but one thing for it: to establish the United States of Europe.
- That the States of Europe will never be able to be formed with the States as presently constituted, given the monstrous disparity that obtains benveen their respective strengths.
- That the example of the now defunct German Confederation has demonstrated beyond controversy that a confederation of monarchies is a joke: that it is powerless to guarantee the populace either peace or freedom.
- That no centralized, bureaucratic and therefore even military State, even should it call itself a republic, will be able seriously and sincerely to enter an international confederation. By virtue of its make-up, which will always represent a blatant or disguised negation of freedom at home, it would necessarily represent a standing declaration of war, a menace to the existence of its neighbor countries. Founded, in essence, upon an ultimate act of violence – conquest – or as it is described in private life, robbery with violence, an act blessed by the Church of some religion, consecrated by the passage of time and thereby transformed into historic right, and relying upon that divine consecration of triumphant violence as if it were some exclusive, supreme title, every centralist State thereby stands as an utter negation of the rights of all other States, its recognition of them, in treaties that it concludes with them, only ever being prompted by political interest or by powerlessness.
- That all members of the League ought in consequence to bend their every effort to reconstituting their respective homelands, so as to substitute for the old organization there, founded, from the top down, upon violence and the authority principle, a new organization with no other basis than the interests, needs and natural affinities of populations, and no principle beyond the free federation of individuals into communes, of communes into provinces, of provinces into nations and, finally, of the latter into, first, the United States of Europe and, later, of the whole wide world.
- Consequently, absolute repudiation of everything going by the name of the historic right of States: all matters bearing upon natural, political, strategic or commercial borders will have to be regarded henceforth as belonging to ancient history and rejected vigorously by all adherents of the League.
- Recognition of the absolute entitlement of every nation, large or small, of every people, weak or strong, of every province, every commune, to complete autonomy, provided that its domestic constitution is not a threat and a danger to the autonomy and liberty of neighboring countries.
- The mere fact that a country makes up part of a State, even should it have freely decided to join it, in no way implies that it is under any obligation to remain attached to it forever. No perpetual obligation could be countenanced by human justice, which is the only one that can claim any authority among us, and we will never recognize any rights or duties other than those founded upon freedom. The right to free assembly and equal freedom to secede is the prime and most important of all political rights: without which confederation would be nothing more than centralization in disguise.
- From all of the foregoing it follows that the League must openly shun any alliance of such and such a national faction of the European democracy with monarchist States, even should that alliance be designed to win back the independence or freedom of an oppressed country: such an alliance, which could not but lead to disappointments, would at one and the same time be a betrayal of the revolution,
- Instead, the League, precisely because it is the League of Peace and because it is persuaded that peace can only be achieved and founded upon the closest and completest fellowship of peoples in a context of justice and freedom, must loudly proclaim its sympathies for any national uprising against any oppression, be it foreign or native, provided that that uprising be mounted in the name of our principles and in the political and economic interests alike of the popular masses, though not with any intent to found a mighty State.
- The League will wage war without quarter against anything going by the names of States’ glory, greatness and power. In place of all these false and malignant idols to which millions of human victims are sacrificed, we will offer the glories of the human intellect as manifested in science and of a universal prosperity founded upon labor, justice and liberty.
- The League is to acknowledge nationality as a natural phenomenon, with an incontestable right to exist and freely develop, though not as a principle, every principle being required to display the characteristic of universality, and nationality being, instead, an exclusive and distinct phenomenon. The so-called nationality principle, as posited in our day by the governments of France, Russia and Prussia, and also by many German, Polish, Italian and Hungarian patriots, is merely a by-product which the reaction uses as a counter to the spirit of revolution: at bottom eminently aristocratic, even to the extent of scorning the dialects of illiterate populations, implicitly refuting the freedom of provinces and the effective autonomy of communes, and backed in every country, not by the masses of the people, whose real interests it systematically sacrifices to a supposed public good, which is never anything other than the benefit ofthe privileged classes, this principle articulates nothing except the alleged historic rights and the ambition of States. The right of nationality can therefore only ever be regarded by the League as a natural consequence of the supreme principle of liberty, ceasing to be a right the moment that it makes a stand against liberty, or even outside of liberty.
- Unity is the goal towards which mankind strives irresistibly. But it turns lethal and destructive of the intelligence, dignity and prosperity of individuals and peoples, every time that it takes shape outside of a context of liberty, be it through violence, or under the authority of some theological, metaphysical, political or even economic notion. The patriotism that strives for unity outside of freedom is an evil patriotism, always noxious to the people’s interests and the real interests of the country which it purports to exalt and serve, a friend, albeit often against its will, to the reaction-enemy of the revolution, which is to say of the emancipation of nations and of men. The League can recognize but one unity: the unity freely constituted through federation of autonomous parts into the whole, in such a way that the latter, no longer the graveyard where all local prosperities are forcibly interred, becomes instead the confirmation and well-spring of all these autonomies and all these prosperities. The League will thus vigorously attack any religious, political, economic and social organization that is not utterly imbued with this great principle of freedom: in the absence of which there is no intellect, no justice, no prosperity and no humanity.
[Quoted in Daniel Guérin, No Gods, No Masters: An Anthology of Anarchism, p. 166-169]
He also said that:
Today no revolution can succeed in any country if it is not at the same time both a political and a social revolution. Every exclusively political revolution – be it in defense of national independence or for internal change, or even for the establishment of a republic – that does not aim at the immediate and real political and economic emancipation of people will be a false revolution. Its objectives will be unattainable and its consequences reactionary.Mikhail Bakunin, “National Catechism,” 1866. In Bakunin on Anarchism, edited by Sam Dolgoff (Montreal: Black Rose, 1972/2002), page 99. The entire essay is online here. (Emphasis added)
Since the 2010s (or since the 2008 global financial crisis), there’s been many forms of genuine and radical transnational solidarity, e.g. the “Milk Tea Alliance“, and it’s important to foster them and fight against the horrendous forms of pseudo-anti-imperialism that Rohini Hensman talked about in her book Indefensible.
The notion/principle of autonomy – already mentioned above – is of course a central part of anticolonial and Indigenous political self-determination and resistance. Decolonisation is undeniably a necessary part of modern revolutionary politics, including radical socialism.
In my opinion, two general principles can be set when it comes to the relationship between decolonisation and socialist or revolutionary politics. By no means is this definitive or something I am saying authoritatively – I am not the one to do this and moreover, I have a lot of learning and listening to do still. I can only talk about what I have been able to come up with in the present state of my education and reflexion.
On the one hand, it should go without saying that a commitment to global liberation means supporting Indigenous struggles, resistance, and so on, in and of themselves. Blind support is never very useful but this isn’t what I’m getting at here: in the same sense struggles against women’s oppression cannot be subsumed under and dissolved into “the class struggle”, “class solidarity” or whatever, Indigenous survival and resistance and liberation must be backed as a whole and as an urgent necessity in itself (which doesn’t mean it can’t be part of a broader project, say, of abolishing capitalism – which it of course already been in many ways, and often began far before the workers’ and socialist movements in Europe). I only mean to say that commies and anarchists in Europe and NorthAm can’t keep sidestepping it as a “bonus” or secondary biproduct of “the Revolution”, but hopefully it has slowly started to change…
On the other hand, I do believe that what libertarian communists and anarchists in Europe and North America have aimed for since the 19th century, is not only not inherently incompatible with, but in some aspects necessarily part of the same continuum of social imagination, as Indigenous cultural revendications and decolonial politics. Indeed, Marx himself was probably influenced by some cultural traditions of Indigenous peoples in North America. Some go as far as saying that some Indigenous ideas or critiques of modernity were “stolen” by democrats and socialist radicals and imported into Europe – whatever I may make of this myself, there’s undoubtedly an important element to acknowledge here, i.e. radical ideas and practices were part of Indigenous societies since long before socialist movements per se arose (in the 19th).
But more importantly, some of these ideas and practices coming from Indigenous populations [I have selected a few resources below!] are strikingly radical – which is why you can find similar or parallel/adjacent conceptions of democratic egalitarian self-determination as in Marx or European anarchists. I am not interested in knowing “who thought about it first”, I wish to consider both (Indigenous communities AND 19th-21st European socialists) in their own right as well as some possibly shared ideas, and communal self-determination and self-government seems to me to be one. The Western Left since the 19th century has nonetheless largely ignored (at best!) Indigenous resistance (and alternatives) to modernity, even though it is this capitalist modernity Leftists claim to oppose and want to abolish.
Here are a few resources, lists or specific readings:
- M. Gouldhawke’s archives on anarchism and marxism.
- Briarpatch‘s Land Back Issue (September/October 2020)
- Marie Smallface-Marule (1984) Traditional Indian Government: Of the People, by the People, for the People.
- The Great Law Of Peace/Kaianere’kó:wa. This is the oral constitution of the Iroquois or Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
- “Haudenosaunee” means the “Six Nations”, comprising the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora peoples.
- There’s so much amazing stuff to learn from the Zapatistas.
- For a short article, see: Zapatista Governance, Leadership, Community, and Decision Making Principles.
- A highly recommended book is Kuxlejal Politics by Mariana Moria (2017), and in French Jérôme Baschet’s La rébellion zapatiste (2019).
- Eve Tuck & K. Wayne Yang (2012) Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society. Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 1-40.
- Mohamed Abdou (2020, November 2) Let Empire collapse: why we need a decolonial revolution. Roar Magazine.
- Adam Gary Lewis (2017) Imagining autonomy on stolen land: settler colonialism, anarchism and the possibilities of decolonization?, Settler Colonial Studies, 7:4, 474-495,
- 2012-2018 Archives of the journal Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society.
- Indigenous Action (2016, November 9) Anti-colonial & Anti-fascist Action: ‘Make it Impossible for This System to Govern on Stolen Land’.
- NYC Stands with Standing Rock Collective. 2016. “#StandingRockSyllabus.”
- Mike Gouldhawke’s blog/website
Resistance/Survival pending Revolution
= Anti-Authoritarianism and Anti-Fascism/Survival & Autonomous Self-Defense
The Black Panthers developed a number of social (or mutual aid) projects such as their famous breakfast program, which they saw as survival programs, as explained here by Huey Newton:
All these programs satisfy the deep needs of the community but they are not solutions to our problems. That is why we call them survival programs, meaning survival pending revolution. We say that the survival program of the Black Panther Party is like the survival kit of a sailor stranded on a raft. It helps him to sustain himself until he can get completely out of that situation. So the survival programs are not answers or solutions, but they will help us to organize the community around a true analysis and understanding of their situation.Source.
Survival or Resistance projects – in particular, mutual aid in the anarchist sense (which does contain a prefigurative aspect, so it’s not only about survival) and direct action – are necessary, especially for the most oppressed and disadvantaged groups, such as victims of racist and sexual abuse, disabled and neuro-atypical/divergent people, and mode.
A certain pragmatism about what can be obtained through various means (direct action being the one anarchists tend to prioritise) or alternatively, about autonomously developing temporary forms of relief/economic security/etc… in the way the Black Panthers and other hyper-repressed groups (such as some trans or sex-work collectives) have done for decades, is also necessary. Not taking part in or (allegedly) legitimizing the “system” shouldn’t prevent from doing the limited things that can be done to alleviate some of the very worst forms of suffering, poverty or injustice. The role of radicals is to never stop at reforms, never stop at these temporary programs – for which the state and capital have extensively shown themselves to be both incompetent and unwilling – and demand the impossible, because that’s the only horizon worth fighting for.
But survival and resistance isn’t limited to “let’s take/do what we can”, it is also a major form of radical agitation and intervention, such as in the current and immediate struggles against fascism/redbrownism, racism, police or border violence, oppression of women and LGBTQ+ and disabled folks, and so on…
Education and information/counter-propaganda work is often also about things like fighting fascists, settler colonialism, etc., which are not – or not always/fully – about revolution, but rather actually just surviving and resisting the rise or actions of the most violent or deadly forms of oppression, up to and including genocide. Antifascists have long done tremendous work monitoring neo-nazis and the like, which isn’t exactly a way to abolish the state or capitalism. But it’s still crucial, obviously.
From opportunistic but worthwhile reforms (obtained by whatever means and tactics necessary, but largely direct action and agitation – oppressors rarely give anything for free or out of ethical consideration) to autonomous projects to street resistance and self-defense (including antifa, anti-racism, etc.), as I said before not everything is (directly/solely) about revolution.
The following list of readings is important: it’s the best writings I have come across on the question of revolutionary politics/strategy and especially the process of building a post-capitalist/socialist society. This can be seen as a complement to the many things already cited/linked in this post.