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Post-left anarchy is a current in anarchist thought that promotes a critique of anarchism's relationship to traditional leftism. Some post-leftists seek to escape the confines of ideology in general while also presenting a critique of organizations and morality. Influenced by the work of Max Stirner and by the Situationist International, post-left anarchy is marked by a focus on social insurrection and a diminution of leftist social organisation.
Post-leftists argue that the left, even the revolutionary left, is anachronistic and incapable of creating change. They claim post-left anarchy offers critiques of radical strategies and tactics which it considers antiquated: the demonstration, class-oriented struggle, focus on tradition, and the inability to escape the confines of history. The book Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs, for example, criticizes traditional leftist ideas and classical anarchism while calling for a rejuvenated anarchist movement. The CrimethInc. essay "Your Politics Are Boring as Fuck" is another critique of "leftist" movements:
Why has the oppressed proletariat not come to its senses and joined you in your fight for world liberation? [...] [Because] they know that your antiquated styles of protest – your marches, hand held signs, and gatherings – are now powerless to effect real change because they have become such a predictable part of the status quo. They know that your post-Marxist jargon is off-putting because it really is a language of mere academic dispute, not a weapon capable of undermining systems of control...— Nadia C., "Your Politics Are Boring as Fuck"
It emerged in the late 1990s; the first known use of the term being in Bob Black's Anarchy after Leftism.
Jason McQuinn describes the left-wing organizational tendency of "'transmission-belt' structures with an explicit division between leaders and led, along with provisions to discipline rank and file members while shielding leaders from responsibility to those being led". In such organizations, he says, "more than a few people wise up to the con game and reject it". For him there are four results of such structures:
To counter these tendencies post-left anarchy advocates individual and group autonomy with free initiative, free association, refusal of political authority, and thus of ideology, small, simple, informal, transparent and temporary organization, and decentralized, confederal organization with direct decision-making and respect for minorities.
Post-left anarchy adheres to a critique of ideology that "dates from the work of Max Stirner". For Jason McQuinn, "[a]ll ideology in essence involves the substitution of alien (or incomplete) concepts or images for human subjectivity. Ideologies are systems of false consciousness in which people no longer see themselves directly as subjects in their relation to their world. Instead they conceive of themselves in some manner as subordinate to one type or another of abstract entity or entities which are mistaken as the real subjects or actors in their world" and "[w]hether the abstraction is God, the State, the Party, the Organization, Technology, the Family, Humanity, Peace, Ecology, Nature, Work, Love, or even Freedom; if it is conceived and presented as if it is an active subject with a being of its own which makes demands of us, then it is the center of an ideology".
Morality is also a target of post-left anarchy, just as it was in the work of Stirner and Friedrich Nietzsche. For McQuinn, "[m]orality is a system of reified values—abstract values which are taken out of any context, set in stone, and converted into unquestionable beliefs to be applied regardless of a person's actual desires, thoughts or goals, and regardless of the situation in which a person finds themself. Moralism is the practice of not only reducing living values to reified morals, but of considering oneself better than others because one has subjected oneself to morality (self-righteousness), and of proselytizing for the adoption of morality as a tool of social change". Living up to morality means sacrificing certain desires and temptations (regardless of the actual situation you might find yourself in) in favor of the rewards of virtue.
Therefore, "[r]ejecting Morality involves constructing a critical theory of one's self and society (always self-critical, provisional and never totalistic) in which a clear goal of ending one's social alienation is never confused with reified partial goals. It involves emphasizing what people have to gain from radical critique and solidarity rather than what people must sacrifice or give up in order to live virtuous lives of politically correct morality".
Post-left anarchy tends to criticize what it sees as the partial victimizing views of identity politics. Feral Faun thus writes in "The Ideology of Victimization" that there's a "feminist version of the ideology of victimization—an ideology which promotes fear, individual weakness (and subsequently dependence on ideologically based support groups and paternalistic protection from the authorities)". However, in the end "[l]ike all ideologies, the varieties of the ideology of victimization are forms of fake consciousness. Accepting the social role of victim—in whatever one of its many forms—is choosing to not even create one's life for oneself or to explore one's real relationships to the social structures. All of the partial liberation movements—feminism, gay liberation, racial liberation, workers' movements and so on—define individuals in terms of their social roles. Because of this, these movements not only do not include a reversal of perspectives which breaks down social roles and allows individuals to create a praxis built on their own passions and desires; they actually work against such a reversal of perspective. The 'liberation' of a social role to which the individual remains subject".
The issues of work, the division of labor and the refusal of work has been an important issue in post-left anarchy. Bob Black in "The Abolition of Work" calls for the abolition of the producer- and consumer-based society, where, Black contends, all of life is devoted to the production and consumption of commodities. Attacking Marxist state socialism as much as market capitalism, Black argues that the only way for humans to be free is to reclaim their time from jobs and employment, instead turning necessary subsistence tasks into free play done voluntarily—an approach referred to as "ludic". The essay argues that "no-one should ever work", because work—defined as compulsory productive activity enforced by economic or political means—is the source of most of the misery in the world. Most workers, he states, are dissatisfied with work (as evidenced by petty deviance on the job), so that what he says should be uncontroversial, but it is controversial only because people are too close to the work-system to see its flaws.
In contrast, play is not necessarily rule-governed and is performed voluntarily in complete freedom as a gift economy. He points out that hunter-gatherer societies are typified by play, a view he backs up with the work of Marshall Sahlins—he recounts the rise of hierarchal societies, through which work is cumulatively imposed, so that the compulsive work of today would seem incomprehensibly oppressive even to ancients and medieval peasants. He responds to the view that "work", if not simply effort or energy, is necessary to get important but unpleasant tasks done, by claiming that first of all, most important tasks can be rendered ludic, or "salvaged" by being turned into game-like and craft-like activities and secondly that the vast majority of work does not need doing at all. The latter tasks are unnecessary because they only serve functions of commerce and social control that exist only to maintain the work-system as a whole. As for what is left, he advocates Charles Fourier's approach of arranging activities so that people will want to do them. He is also skeptical yet open-minded about the possibility of eliminating work through labour-saving technologies. He feels the left cannot go far enough in its critiques because of its attachment to building its power on the category of workers, which requires a valorization of work.
Post-left anarchists reject all ideologies in favor of the individual and communal construction of self-theory. Individual self-theory is theory in which the integral individual-in-context (in all their relationships, with all their history, desires and projects) is always the subjective center of perception, understanding and action. Communal self-theory is similarly based on the group as subject, but always with an underlying awareness of the individuals (and their own self-theories) which make up the group or organization. For McQuinn, "[n]on-ideological, anarchist organizations (or informal groups) are always explicitly based upon the autonomy of the individuals who construct them, quite unlike leftist organizations which require the surrender of personal autonomy as a prerequisite for membership".
For Wolfi Landstreicher, "[t]he reappropriation of life on the social level, as well as its full reappropriation on the individual level, can only occur when we stop identifying ourselves essentially in terms of our social identities" and "[t]he recognition that this trajectory must be brought to an end and new ways of living and relating developed if we are to achieve full autonomy and freedom". The goal of relationships with others is no longer "to seek followers who accept one's position", but instead to seek "comrades and accomplices with which to carry on one's explorations".
Hakim Bey advocates not having to "wait for the revolution" and immediately start "looking for 'spaces' (geographic, social, cultural and imaginal) with potential to flower as autonomous zones—and we are looking for times in which these spaces are relatively open, either through neglect on the part of the State or because they have somehow escaped notice by the mapmakers, or for whatever reason". Ultimately "face-to-face, a group of humans synergize their efforts to realize mutual desires, whether for good food and cheer, dance, conversation, the arts of life; perhaps even for erotic pleasure, or to create a communal artwork, or to attain the very transport of bliss-- in short, a "union of egoists" (as Stirner put it) in its simplest form—or else, in Kropotkin's terms, a basic biological drive to "mutual aid".
Post-left anarchism has been critical of more classical schools of anarchism such as platformism and anarcho-syndicalism. A certain close relationship exists between post-left anarchy and anarcho-primitivism, individualist anarchism and insurrectionary anarchism. Nevertheless, post-left anarchists Wolfi Landstreicher and Jason McQuinn have distanced themselves from and criticized anarcho-primitivism as "ideological".
On platformism, Bob Black has said: "It attests to the ideological bankruptcy of the organizational anarchists today that they should exhume (not resurrect) a manifesto which was already obsolete when promulgated in 1926. The Organizational Platform enjoys an imperishable permanence: untimely then, untimely now, untimely forever. Intended to persuade, it elicited attacks from almost every prominent anarchist of its time. Intended to organize, it provoked splits. Intended to restate the anarchist alternative to Marxism, it restated the Leninist alternative to anarchism. Intended to make history, it barely made it into the history books". For Black "The result is yet another sect."
Feral Faun has stated: "The anarcho-syndicalists may talk of abolishing the state, but they will have to reproduce every one of its functions to guarantee the smooth running of their society". So "[a]narcho-syndicalism does not make a radical break with the present society. It merely seeks to extend this society's values so they dominate us more fully in our daily lives". Thus "the bourgeois liberal is content to get rid of priests and kings, and the anarcho-syndicalist throws in presidents and bosses. But the factories remain intact, the stores remain intact (though the syndicalists may call them distribution centers), the family remains intact — the entire social system remains intact. If our daily activity has not significantly changed — and the anarcho-syndicalists give no indication of wanting to change it beyond adding the burden of managing the factories to that of working in them — then what difference does it make if there are no bosses? — We're still slaves!"
Beginning in 1997, Bob Black became involved in a debate sparked by the work of anarchist and founder of the Institute for Social Ecology, Murray Bookchin, an outspoken critic of the post-left anarchist tendency. Bookchin wrote and published Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm, labeling post-left anarchists and others as "lifestyle anarchists"—thus following up a theme developed in his Philosophy of Social Ecology. Though he does not refer directly to Black's work (an omission which Black interprets as symptomatic), Bookchin clearly has Black's rejection of work as an implicit target when he criticises authors such as John Zerzan and Dave Watson, whom he controversially labels part of the same tendency.
For Bookchin, "lifestyle anarchism" is individualistic and childish. "Lifestyle anarchists" demand "anarchy now", imagining they can create a new society through individual lifestyle changes. In his view this is a kind of fake-dissident consumerism which ultimately has no impact on the functioning of capitalism because it fails to recognise the realities of the present. He grounds this polemic in a social-realist critique of relativism, which he associates with lifestyle anarchism as well as postmodernism (to which he claims it is related). Ludic approaches, he claims, lead to social indifference and egotism similar to that of capitalism. Against this approach, he advocates a variety of anarchism in which social struggles take precedence over individual actions, with the evolution of the struggle emerging dialectically as in classical Marxist theory. The unbridgeable chasm of the book's title is between individual "autonomy"—which for Bookchin is a bourgeois illusion—and social "freedom", which implies direct democracy, municipalism, and leftist concerns with social opportunities. In practice, his agenda takes the form of a combination of elements of anarcho-communism with a support for local-government and non-governmental organization initiatives which he refers to as libertarian municipalism. He claims that "lifestyle anarchism" goes against the fundamental tenets of anarchism, accusing it of being "decadent" and "petit-bourgeois" and an outgrowth of American decadence and a period of declining struggle and speaks in nostalgic terms of "the Left that was" as, for all its flaws, vastly superior to what has come since.
In response, Black published Anarchy After Leftism which later became a seminal post-left work. The text is a combination of point-by-point, almost legalistic dissection of Bookchin's argument, with bitter theoretical polemic and even personal insult against Bookchin (whom he refers to as "the Dean" throughout). Black accuses Bookchin of moralism, which in post-left anarchism, refers to the imposition of abstract categories on reality in ways which twist and repress desires (as distinct from "ethics", which is an ethos of living similar to Friedrich Nietzsche's call for an ethic "beyond good and evil") and of "puritanism", a variant of this. He attacks Bookchin for his Stalinist origins and his failure to renounce his own past affiliations with what he himself had denounced as "lifestylist" themes (such as the slogans of May 1968). He claims that the categories of "lifestyle anarchism" and "individualist anarchism" are straw-men. He alleges that Bookchin adopts a "work ethic" and that his favored themes, such as the denunciation of Yuppies, actually repeat themes in mass consumer culture and that he fails to analyze the social basis of capitalist "selfishness"; instead, Black calls for an enlightened "selfishness" which is simultaneously social, as in Max Stirner's work.
Bookchin, Black claims, has misunderstood the critique of work as asocial, when in fact it proposes non-compulsive social relations. He argues that Bookchin believes labour to be essential to humans and thus is opposed to the abolition of work. He takes him to case for ignoring Black's own writings on work, for idealizing technology and for misunderstanding the history of work.
He denounces Bookchin's alleged failure to form links with the leftist groups he now praises and for denouncing others for failings (such as not having a mass audience and receiving favourable reviews from "yuppie" magazines) of which he is himself guilty. He accuses Bookchin of self-contradiction, such as calling the same people "bourgeois" and "lumpen", or "individualist" and "fascist". He alleges that Bookchin's "social freedom" is "metaphorical" and has no real content of freedom. He criticizes Bookchin's appropriation of the anarchist tradition, arguing against his dismissal of authors such as Stirner and Paul Goodman, rebuking Bookchin for implicitly identifying such authors with anarcho-capitalism and defending what he calls an "epistemic break" made by the likes of Stirner and Nietzsche. He alleges that the post-left "disdain for theory" is simply Bookchin's way of saying they ignore his own theories. He offers a detailed response to Bookchin's accusation of an association of eco-anarchism with fascism via a supposed common root in German romanticism, criticising both the derivation of the link (which he terms "McCarthyist") and the portrayal of romanticism itself, suggesting that Bookchin's sources such as Mikhail Bakunin are no more politically correct than those he denounces and accusing him of echoing fascist rhetoric and propaganda. He provides evidence to dispute Bookchin's association of "terrorism" with individualist rather than social anarchism. He points to carnivalesque aspects of the Spanish Revolution to undermine Bookchin's dualism.
Black then rehearses the post-left critique of organization, drawing on his knowledge of anarchist history in an attempt to rebut Bookchin's accusation that anti-organizationalism is based in ignorance. He claims among other things that direct democracy is impossible in urban settings, that it degenerates into bureaucracy and that organizationalist anarchists such as the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo sold out to state power. He argues that Bookchin is not an anarchist at all, but rather a "municipal statist" or "city-statist" committed to local government by a local state—smattering his discussion with further point-by-point objections (for instance, over whether New York City is an "organic community" given the alleged high crime-rate and whether confederated municipalities are compatible with direct democracy). He also takes up Bookchin's opposition to relativism, arguing that this is confirmed by science, especially anthropology—proceeding to produce evidence that Bookchin's work has received hostile reviews in social-science journals, thus attacking his scientific credentials and to denounce dialectics as unscientific. He then argues point-by-point with Bookchin's criticisms of primitivism, debating issues such as life-expectancy statistics and alleged ecological destruction by hunter-gatherers. He concludes with a clarion-call for an anarchist paradigm-shift based on post-left themes, celebrating this as the "anarchy after leftism" of the title.
Bookchin's reply to critics in Whither Anarchism? as it pertains to Black, dismisses him on the grounds that he was "transparently motivated by a white-hot animosity toward me" and that "so numerous are the falsehoods in Black's book that to correct even a small number of them would be a waste of the reader's time". In Withered Anarchism, Black identified instances where Bookchin's own books identified him as a dean at Goddard College and Ramapo College and Black called the issue a pretext for ignoring his substantive arguments. Black incorporated language from Withered Anarchism in a broader critique of Bookchin, democracy and leftism, Nightmares of Reason, posted as an e-book at The Anarchy Library in 2012.
As noted by Black in Nightmares of Reason, Bookchin eventually came to reject anarchism as having "always been" essentially individualistic and ineffective, despite his self-professed attempts to rescue it. In its stead, he founded a new libertarian socialist ideology of his own, which he called Communalism.
A certain close relationship exists between post-left anarchy and anarcho-primitivism since anarcho-primitivists such as John Zerzan and the magazine Green Anarchy have adhered and contributed to the post-left anarchy perspective. Nevertheless, post-left anarchists such as Jason McQuinn and Wolfi Landstreicher (Feral Faun) have distanced themselves from and have criticized anarcho-primitivism.
Wolfi Landstreicher has criticized the "ascetic morality of sacrifice or of a mystical disintegration into a supposedly unalienated oneness with Nature", which appears in anarcho-primitivism and deep ecology. Jason McQuinn has criticized what he sees as an ideological tendency in anarcho-primitivism when he says that "for most primitivists an idealized, hypostatized vision of primal societies tends to irresistibly displace the essential centrality of critical self-theory, whatever their occasional protestations to the contrary. The locus of critique quickly moves from the critical self-understanding of the social and natural world to the adoption of a preconceived ideal against which that world (and one's own life) is measured, an archetypally ideological stance. This nearly irresistible susceptibility to idealization is primitivism's greatest weakness".
A strong relationship does exist with post-left anarchism and the work of individualist anarchist Max Stirner. Jason McQuinn says that "when I (and other anti-ideological anarchists) criticize ideology, it is always from a specifically critical, anarchist perspective rooted in both the skeptical, individualist-anarchist philosophy of Max Stirner". Also Bob Black and Feral Faun/Wolfi Landstreicher strongly adhere to stirnerist egoist anarchism.
Bob Black has suggested the idea of Marxist Stirnerism, his term for the attempted union of Stirner's conscious egoism with the principles of anarcho-communism as suggested by the short-lived Bay Area anarchist group For Ourselves in their pamphlet The Right to Be Greedy: The Practical Necessity of Demanding Everything. In fact, the group claimed that true communism was only possible on the basis of an enlightened self-interest that extended itself to a respect of the interests of others and the entitlement of all to the means of life.
Hakim Bey has said "From Stirner's Union of Self-Owning Ones we proceed to Nietzsche's circle of Free Spirits and thence to Charles Fourier's Passional Series, doubling and redoubling ourselves even as the Other multiplies itself in the eros of the group". In another essay, Hakim Bey said that "[d]eeply as we've been influenced by Stirner / Nietzsche (Benjamin) Tucker/ (John Henry) Mackay, we have never held to any rigid ideological or psychological form of Individualism / Egoism. Individualist anarchism is lovely dynamite, but not the only ingredient in our cocktail". Bey also wrote: "The Mackay Society, of which Mark & I are active members, is devoted to the anarchism of Max Stirner, Benj. Tucker & John Henry Mackay...The Mackay Society, incidentally, represents a little-known current of individualist thought which never cut its ties with revolutionary labor. Dyer Lum, Ezra & Angela Haywood represent this school of thought; Jo Labadie, who wrote for Tucker's Liberty, made himself a link between the american “plumb-line” anarchists, the "philosophical" individualists, & the syndicalist or communist branch of the movement; his influence reached the Mackay Society through his son, Laurance. Like the Italian Stirnerites (who influenced us through our late friend Enrico Arrigoni) we support all anti-authoritarian currents, despite their apparent contradictions".
Among contemporary individualist anarchists, Jason McQuinn for some time used the pseudonym Lev Chernyi in honor of the Russian individualist anarchist of the same name and Feral Faun has translated individualist anarchist writers and militants Renzo Novatore and Bruno Filippi, as well as the German proto-individualist thinker Max Stirner.
The anarcho-primitivist and anarcha-feminist Lilith has published writings from a post-left anarchist perspective. In Gender Disobedience: Antifeminism and Insurrectionist Non-dialogue (2009), she has criticized Wolfi Landstreicher's position on feminism, saying: "I feel that an anarchist critique of feminism may be valuable and illuminating. What I do not wish for is more of the same anti-intellectualism and non-thought that seems to be the lot of post-Leftist critiques of feminist theory". Lilith, along with other authors, published BLOODLUST: a feminist journal against civilization.
Feral Faun (later writing as Wolfi Landstreicher) gained notoriety as he wrote articles that appeared in the post-left anarchy magazine Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed. Post-left anarchy has held similar critiques of organization as insurrectionary anarchism as can be seen in the work of Wolfi Landstreicher and Alfredo Maria Bonanno. John Zerzan, said of Italian insurrectionary anarchist Alfredo Maria Bonanno that "[m]aybe insurrectionalism is less an ideology than an undefined tendency, part left and part anti-left but generally anarchist".
McQuinn has said: "Those seeking to promote the synthesis have been primarily influenced by both the classical anarchist movement up to the Spanish Revolution on the one hand, and several of the most promising critiques and modes of intervention developed since the 1960s. The most important critiques involved include those of everyday life and the spectacle, of ideology and morality, of industrial technology, of work and of civilization. Modes of intervention focus on the concrete deployment of direct action in all facets of life". Thus the thought of the Situationist International is very important within post-left anarchist thought. Other thinkers outside anarchism that have taken relevance in post-left anarchy writings include Charles Fourier, the Frankfurt School, Friedrich Nietzsche, Michel Foucault and anthropologists such as Marshall Sahlins.