18 Sep Anarchism without Utopia?
Source: The New Municipalist Agenda
Utopia is a process of developing good social relations, good politics, and good economics. There are philosophical utopias, literary utopias, and people’s utopias. Philosophical utopias try to philosophically develop a good society, literary utopias try to show utopia through fiction, and people’s utopias are utopias in action developed by communities. The history of utopia contains the development of freedom, and the striving towards that which should be on social/economic/political levels. Utopia searches for “the good place”, and “as we approach the shores of utopia the island fades away”, for it is a process without a final frontier.
Social ecology puts forward a gestalt of principles, including non hierarchy, direct democracy, ecology, technology, and complementarity, through which particular communities and policies can be filtered through. A particular utopia must shape principles to particular conditions, whereas a universal utopian vision puts forward a vision for particular communities to filter their particularities through. Blueprint models of utopia often take very particular models that are then applied universally. Utopias can be rather strict blueprints for society. A modern example of this is The Venus Project, which lays out what an efficient society would look like. However, another example of utopian thinking can be seen in social ecology. Universal utopian models attempt to approximate and develop the minimal program of a maximal program, and are open to differentiation within such principles.
Anarchism historically has been a revolutionary leftist utopian vision. It is revolutionary in its call for the fundamental transformation of society, it is leftist in its call for equality and democracy, and it is utopian in its call for imagining a good society. However, recently anarchism has lost its utopian edge. Anarchism without utopia has emerged, and an anarchism that does not put forward a conception of that which should be has taken its place. This anarchism is purely negative; it is oppositional but not reconstructive, and certainly not political.
Oppositional dimensions of social change are necessary but insufficient. Even if one opposes all that which should not be in society, it does not mean that one even thinks society ought to exist at all. One can oppose society as a whole, and by extension have the ultimate negative program of “no hierarchical institutions”, for that is a program that is contained in being against every institutional arrangement one can find. By being against all institutions, many anti organizationalist anarchists wind up having a lack of vision of society at best, and one that is worse than the status quo in many important ways at worst. By wanting to abolish civilization and institutions, or being agnostic in regards to the abolition of all civilizations and institutions, many anti organizational anarchists are either for actions that would lead to the killing of billions of people or are agnostic about whether or not that should happen.
What vision of society, rooted in potentialities, are modern leftists showing people? Anarchists are often at the forefront of utopian thinking while simultaneously at the forefront of rejecting any vision of a new society as an imposition. Those who reject any vision of a new society as an imposition prefer a lack of boundaries, and ultimately absolute arbitrariness, to any attempt to find minimal principles of a maximal program for a good society. Any attempts at planning, regardless of the form and and content of such planning, are seen as authoritarian by the anti utopian worldview. Now to be very clear, spontaneity is an important dimension of revolution and in development. However, planning allows us to extend actions over time and space. Decentralized planning and spontaneity ought to be in harmony with eachother.
On a pragmatic level, an explicitly anti utopian anarchism does not reach out to people. Most people want to know what should not exist and what should exist. They want to fight for something and not just fight against something. And if they are going to fight against something, they want some alternative form of relations to replace the old ones and not just a void to be filled with arbitrary standards (which ultimately open up social change to ANYTHING, and potentially something even worse than that which people are fighting against). Being against capitalism could mean being for Maoism or being against all institutional relations. Purely Negative programs can unite people periodically, but at the expense of long term movement building. Purely negative programs can allow people to win the sprint while losing sight of the marathon, and potentially win the sprint at the expense of the marathon. The emphasis on negative liberty, including the freedom from positive liberty, is a hangover from ancient liberalism. Positive liberty not only allows us to secure the negative liberty that should exist, it gives us a public realm in which we have the freedom to participate.
Things can get worse, not just better. At times of mass social and ecological crises, it is easy to think that it is impossible for things to get worse or better as people accept that “there is no alternative”. However authoritarian the world capitalist system and nation states are, it is possible for power to be even more centralized, for people to be even more deprived of the means of existence and production, for there to be even less social freedom than there is now, for the biosphere to be further destroyed. It is possible that by razing all to the ground that something even worse can happen (such as fascism, other kinds of totalitarianism, or the normative anti civilization prescriptions which will kill billions of people in the process). Such prescriptions are not at odds with the arbitrary standard that nihilist anarchists put forward, but rather legalized and in harmony with such an arbitrary standard.
Negative programs are insufficient yet necessary at best. However, nihilistic anarchism puts forward a negative program that includes non hierarchy but is not limited to non hierarchy. Such a minimum program includes no rules/boundaries. The full minimum program of nihilistic anarchism is neither necessary nor sufficient, although it includes a negative program that is necessary (a negative program of no hierarchical institutions). Yet such a worldview only happens to contain a necessary negative program by being against almost everything. Nihilist anarchism is against the very utopian process needed to actuate the best parts of their negative program.