We the shadowy cabal behind this blog have decided to write posts introducing ourselves, and though I haven’t done anything for the blog as yet, I’ve greedily taken the initiative.
My name is Gene Mayes, and I’m a scary anarchist.
Well, not really—the scary part at least. I believe, following these wise quotes,
The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another.
– Gustav Landauer
A free society cannot be the substitution of a “new order” for the old order; it is the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of social life.
– Paul Goodman
that you can’t just bomb your way into a voluntary, peaceful society. While I am not a voluntaryist, I have been deeply influenced by their nonviolent approach, and I do not endorse political violence. So, we’ve got that out of the way.
I come from a working class radical background. My father was a former Marxist, having been in the Socialist Workers Party and the Workers World Party, but his Trotskyism developed a heretical Jeffersonian twist over time. Perhaps that came of being a Virginian. My mother is a working class (though of Mayflower extraction) feminist from Maine, and is deeply skeptical of the official story. I wasn’t reared to believe in the two party system nor the essential goodness of the American government, but neither was I indoctrinated—I was encouraged to question everything and to employ logic, and my father was always proud when I’d win a debate with him. For my part, before I was an anarchist I was basically a Monthly Review School Marxist. While I vehemently disavow Marxism, I still have a sentimental fondness for Paul Sweezy like a jazz fan might have for the Judas Priest albums of his youth.
I could talk about the usual influences, Kropotkin and Goldman and the rest, but I’d rather highlight three lesser known figures and, by way of talking about them, give you an idea of my politics: Kenneth Rexroth, Colin Ward, and Bill Kauffman.
I could write an essay on Rexroth alone; in fact, I started working on one yesterday. I think he’s one of the greatest anarchist thinkers though he did not write voluminously about anarchism. Rather, he integrated his anarchism into the great cultural inheritances of East and West. He was a classicist, but (justly) broadened the canon to include China, India, and Japan. He also championed lesser known works such as the Icelandic Njal’s Saga (best read in the Magnusson/Palsson translation) as great literature. In his poems he mourned the defeat of the Spanish anarchists and constructed a mysticism of sacramental marriage. He removed the absolute from Buber’s dialogical humanism and made the dialogic principle the basis of his anarchist personalism—for Rexroth, the basic unit of society is not the atomistic individual nor the community, but the union of lover and beloved, because, in the words of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, “Each becomes a real person only through entering into relation with other persons, through living for them and in them.” From this basic unit, the I encountering Thou, springs the community, and it’s his recognition of that basic unit which forms of the foundations of his ethical mysticism and anarchism.
He was also funny as hell and a mature combination of pessimist and utopian. He wrote a book (required reading for anarchists) detailing the history of the communal mode of living and attempts at building utopian societies, and closed it with a complaint that
Most rural hippie communes are approached by a dirt road lined with dead and abandoned automobiles, which make great playground equipment for the scrambling, naked children, but which are nonetheless an eyesore, and ultimately an expensive disposal problem.
He had no time for antinomian bohemians and naive radicals, yet the core of his anarchism was love. He was an atheist, but could debate the finer points of Catholic doctrine and detail the history of communion in both kinds. I recommend you visit the Kenneth Rexroth Archive and spend a few afternoons getting acquainted with him. Much of the foundations not only of my anarchism but of my worldview I owe to Rexroth.
Colin Ward has a narrower influence, but a deep one. It’s from him that I first recognized that
. . . [A]n anarchist society, a society which organises itself without authority, is always in existence, like a seed beneath the snow, buried under the weight of the state and its bureaucracy, capitalism and its waste, privilege and its injustices, nationalism and its suicidal loyalties, religious differences and their superstitious separatism.
. . . [F]ar from being a speculative vision of a future society, it is a description of a mode of human organisation, rooted in the experience of everyday life, which operates side by side with, and in spite of, the dominant authoritarian trends of our society. This is not a new version of anarchism. Gustav Landauer saw it, not as the founding of something new, ‘but as the actualisation and reconstitution of something that has always been present, which exists alongside the state, albeit buried and laid waste’.
I owe to Colin Ward an emphasis on doing anarchism, on finding practical, anarchistic solutions to problems in the here and now. We don’t achieve anarchism by means of vanguard parties and violent revolutions so much as by building anarchism today. His book Anarchy in Action is the single best introduction to anarchism and is full of examples of ordinary people organizing anarchistically, sometimes without even doing so consciously. A contemporary blogger who, while doing her own thing, shares some of this emphasis is BroadSnark, who has a great post called Food, Water, Air, and Care you should read. If you have any interest in anarchism, you ought pick up Anarchy in Action ASAP.
Bill Kauffman is a recent interest of mine, and might seem strange sitting next to Rexroth and Ward—he’s a paleoconservative Catholic from rural New York. Yet it’s through his work that I’ve become reacquainted with and attached to the American anti-authoritarian, decentralist tradition. He reminds us that anarchists are, in Voltairine de Cleyre’s phrase, unterrified Jeffersonian democrats. Kauffman loves the underdogs and the noble losers of history—his book Ain’t My America is a history of antiwar conservatism, while Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet is a biography of the Anti-Federalist Luther Martin, now known, if at all, as a drunken windbag. Kauffman has also reignited my love of place and of the unique character of every little town. He’s a localist and a decentralist, making common cause with both right and left (he’s a friend of Kirkpatrick Sale, for example). The best introduction to Bill Kauffman is this somewhat long debate with Gary L. Gregg II about the Constitution. Characteristically Kauffman, he argues against the Constitution and for the Articles of Confederation. You can find online articles by Kauffman at the American Conservative, CounterPunch, Front Porch Republic, and several other places, and he’s written many fine books.
So, I hope this has given you some idea of the broad spectrum I draw upon in my anarchism and some clue as to how I’ll approach current events and contemporary issues on this blog. I hope you check into at least one of these thinkers. If not, hey, it’s a free country—