21st Century Anarchism…Part 2

[Note: Something happened to me when I wrote part one of this little series. So many ideas, many of them long suppressed, rushed back to me, demanding to be elaborated here. I’ve become overwhelmed by all of the things I want to say, and my original outline kind of stopped making sense. What this means is that I might take an even more episodic approach, with little self-contained sections rather than an essay style that has one section that transitions into the next. We’ll see. One great thing about blogging is that I don’t need to fret too much about my writing style…I just have to share my ideas however works best for me!]

Overcoming Our Reluctance

In my now almost 13 (!) years as an anarchist, I have noticed a pattern in anarchist circles that is both completely understandable and really unfortunate. I’ve noticed that anarchists broadly fall into two categories: the loud & proud anarchists, and the reluctant anarchists. Loud & proud anarchists are clear in their self-identification as anarchists, they tend to embrace the historic anarchist tradition, they often use historic anarchist symbols like the black flag and circle-A, and they are usually not afraid to talk about fighting a revolution, smashing the state, fucking capitalism, etc. They are also often open to bold and militant action, often without thinking too deeply about the consequences. Reluctant anarchists, on the other hand, tend to be ex-loud & proud anarchists who have since lost their desire to claim their “anarchisticity.” They have often been humbled by the amazing work of non-anarchist traditions, and/or have been embarrassed by the overall whiteness, straightness, punkness and unflinching militance of loud & proud anarchists, all to the point where self-identifying as an anarchist ceases to make sense or even brings up shame. Reluctant anarchists thus tend to spend more time among non-anarchists than other anarchists, they often eschew militant Anarchist action to engage in “progressive” work that loud & prouds might call reformist, many of them embrace anti-oppression and identity politics in ways that have strained their relationships with the mostly white, straight anarchist subculture, and they tend to only share their anarchism with the soft whisper of a closely guarded secret, or through code-words like anti-authoritarianism, or libertarian socialist.

If the highly biased descriptions above didn’t make it clear, I fit squarely in the reluctant anarchist camp. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I tend to not like loud & proud anarchists, and I would generally choose to hang out with radicals of many other tendencies (revolutionary nationalists, women of color and white feminists, queer & trans liberationists, some types of marxists, green party folks, old new lefties) rather than hang out at the loud & proud anarchist infoshop. I think my reasons are pretty clear: I don’t feel comfortable in the loud & proud subculture; I don’t agree with the dusty, turgid politics of class war anarchists and I think primitivist green anarchism is just silly; I think that loud & prouds’ sense of intersections and anti-oppression analysis are really lacking; I don’t like the sectarian and alienating ways that many loud & prouds talk about non-anarchists; I think the militance-for-militance sake attitude is often not only strategically bankrupt but dangerous to our movement; when I am around them I feel judged for the way I dress and the way I approach process; and, more deeply, I feel embarrassed, on almost a bodily level, to be associated with them because they remind me of who I used to be and of so many of the mistakes I have made.

But I don’t want to get hung up talking about loud & proud anarchists. I know I am over-generalizing, yet I also know that my sentiments are usually confirmed at every explicitly anarchist function I attend in the United States (maybe other countries are different?). Regardless, I am much more interested in talking about my folk, the reluctant anarchists. Because while there are definite reasons why well-meaning, critically thinking folks might choose to back away from the anarchist label, I think it can be costly to our politics. I think many of us reluctant anarchists lose some important things in the transition, which I think we might want to reclaim.

In many cases (I think the Bay Area might be different, bless their cutting-edge radical souls), when we step back from anarchist politics, we reluctant anarchists enter into new political spaces that take away our edge. We enter into the non-profit sector and learn important skills that we might not have even thought about before; we enter into coalition-based campaign work and realize that demanding a vague revolution is way, way different than fighting for specific, winnable demands (although groups like the Northeast Federation of Anarchist Communists seem to have learned that lesson while maintaining their anarchism, good for them!); we go to school and conferences and study groups and learn about analyses of the system that traditional anarchist sources don’t even touch. Sooner or later we have learned so much more from other places and traditions that it feels silly to still call ourselves anarchists…

…yet for many of us that loyalty still remains. We still feel something there bonding us to “the idea” (as the Spanish anarchists used to call it), but we often chalk it up to nostalgia, nothing more. Yet I think our instincts are right. There is something in anarchism that most of our new non-anarchist spaces aren’t quite matching, and the blurrier that something gets, the more we stand to lose. I think that in far too many cases, we slowly begin lose the revolutionary, utopian, deeply democratic values and ideals that originally drew us to anarchism, that make anarchism so special, and we end up settling into the goals and values of the new spaces we occupy, at the price of our revolutionary edge.

For me, there are three sort of basic things about anarchism that make it important to me:

1) Its deep faith in individual human beings, and its utopian belief in the kind of society that human beings can construct by working together. This is what gives anarchism its profound and beautiful interplay between the social and the individual, between individual human desire and expression and collective solidarity. This is what makes Crimethinc stuff so appealing to so many, I think, and it is also what makes anarchists generally the life of the party. Unlike so many others, we actually have a sense of entitlement to a much better world, and we aren’t afraid to say that. Many people have never even been asked what kind of better world they could have, yet anarchism takes pride in its utopianism. It urges us to dream in ways that even revolutionary socialists can’t often match. That dreaminess is contagious. And it shouldn’t be dismissed lightly.

2) Its profound rejection of all forms of illegitimate authority and oppression. Anarchism has, within the very roots of the word itself, a strong foundation for a holistic, anti-oppression analysis. While anarchism has historically been the tradition of certain, sometimes privileged groups, and while it has historically focused on capitalism and the state at the expense of other systems of oppression, there is no lack of powerful stories of anarchists in queer and trans liberation struggles, animal rights struggles, anti-racist and anti-imperialist struggles, abolitionist struggles, disability right struggles, and more. Some of the founders of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence are anarchists…and I don’t think that’s just a coincidence for how radically grassroots and revolutionary some of their ideas are. Same for Critical Resistance. Anarchism has always had an anti-oppression streak to it, and potentially now in 21st century more than ever.

3) Its commitment to actually practicing the values we share as we fight for the society that we want.
Anarchism doesn’t hold pragmatism above all else, unlike so many other political tendencies and spaces. Instead anarchism holds its values above all, and it urges us to practice our ethics in the here and now rather than waiting for a revolution or a winning of state power. We are called to build the new world in the shell of the old, to experiment here and now with grassroots democracy, with socialist resource sharing, with gender-norm fucking, with new communal arrangements. This is where anarchism gets its militance from, because we are the ones we’ve been waiting for…if not us, who? If not now, when? Anarchism pushes us to avoid rock-stars, demagogues, and experts. It demands that we listen for the quietest and we look to the smallest. It is also why anarchists can feed the homeless for free from dumpsters, why anarchists knew how to fix bikes better than anyone when everyone else was still driving, why they have lovely gardens…the DIY ethic is a deeply anarchist ethic, and it is shame when reluctant anarchists get re-tied to consumerist, wasteful, ultra-pragmatic spaces when we leave anarchism behind.

These three things are what make me continue on as an anarchist. It doesn’t matter whether we use the anarchist label or not, but I think building a 21st century anarchism is all about reclaiming these three basic values and principles, and then building off of them using all of the vast resources we’ve acquired in non-anarchist spaces. Through innovation and exploration and synthesis, I believe we are capable of new levels of revolutionary work in the U.S., and that is what I want to get into next time. Leaving behind our reluctance, there is some work to do.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi


“Mindfulness must be engaged. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise what is the use of seeing.? ” and “The most noble task is to build community”
by Thich Nhat Han


hmmm. this feels really similar to some of the conversations we’ve had about how many folks who know have moved away from direct action or more militant action as tactics and how we need our entire tool chests to make change.

and i think while this is certainly true in seattle, i would argue that its a regional analysis, in large part due to the isolation and primary focus on life-style politiks of those anarchists in the PNW.

ok, here’s some geekness for you…. I propose you call this “Reluctant Anarchism vs. Loud and Proud Anarchism: A Bridgeable Chasm.”

Wow. I was really shocked to see you put yourself in the reluctant anarchism position Jeremy. Let me say for myself that I consider myself a loud and proud anarchist. I embrace the historical tradition, the symbols, the word, the label, but i also feel like my intersectional analysis is very solid while always improving. I would say the same thing about my immediate group of friends who openly identify as anarchist but do not judge me or others for the way they dress, have crusty class-war politics that they got from white dudes writing in the 1880s, or talk down about others because they don’t identify as anarchist.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the critique of loud and prouds and i don’t like those characteristics either. Living with a certain “Manarchist” drove me off the cliff of my tolerance. But as i build my loud and proud anarchist community, i incorporate the most radical elements of all the communities i know and this becomes proof to me that anarchism does not have to look a certain way. Just in the same way that i won’t let the media tell me that an anarchist is a bomb-thrower, i won’t let supposed anarchists (who i do not know or have any reason to trust) tell me that i am not an anarchist for any reason.

I think i also disagree when you say that it doesn’t matter whether we use the term anarchism. Anarchism is the word for my ideology. One thing i’ve noticed among all the radical people who don’t identify as anarchist is that they have no name for their ideology. Perhaps they refer to themselves as radical but that means getting down to the “root.” In that case, what is the root of the problem? Anarchism says that the root is all forms of oppression and hierarchy in general in our means and our ends. I am not saying that other radicals are not getting down to the root of the problem or even doing a better or worse job of it, but we need to have a name for it. I don’t see other radicals naming the problem or naming themselves.

I am not trying to disparage those who are not anarchist but simply explaining why it works for me. I actually should be having this conversation with some non-anarchist radicals, but maybe also with “reluctant anarchists” as well – the .0000001% of the population who was anarchist but has since inched away. I would love for all of you to come back: we don’t have to be afraid of calling ourselves what we are. Infact naming ourselves is the first step towards revolution.

Definitely, what a magnificent blog and illuminating posts, I definitely will bookmark your website.Best Regards!