Episode 41: Social vs Anti-Social Anarchism

Great conversation this week. Large gathering of conversants. Much Anarchy was discussed. Here was the editorial. -A!

My understanding of antisocial anarchism came through my involvement with “platformist” anarchists in the early 2010s who were seeking to define themselves against a wave of insurrectionary fervor in the US. What they defined as the social was largely a question of scale and audience – they wanted mass, class-based movements, they sought engagement with large numbers of normal people primarily through organizing, and they wanted large-scale anarchist organizations in the form of federations. What they saw as their opposite was what Bookchin derisively perceived across an unbridgeable chasm as “lifestyle or individual anarchism” – an anarchism critical of formal organization, championing small, affinity-based groups and networks or individual attack defined by immediate action rather than organizing and skeptical of grand stories of mass revolution.

Time and experience has shown me that this was and is a false dichotomy – “antisocial” anarchists in the red-and-black sense were just as social as their peers in the sense of seeking engagement with regular people and other anarchists though on different terms. Instead of the workplace or tenant association, anarchists were supposed to find their friends in the riot, with new, free relationships forming out of the ashes of the social space existing within capitalism. “What we term the commune is not a model for another evasive utopia, but rather the process which intertwines these diffuse moments of pleasure, pain, and joyous attack.” – baedan, The Anti-Social Turn. To call this antisocial was only a mean-spirited attempt to bludgeon these people back into meetings – their love of the people was perhaps even greater, assuming they didn’t need tutelage or propaganda but a brick in their hands to throw through a storefront window – and I think many felt something like heartbreak when the people didn’t materialize in the streets or left once the riot was over.

If we’re going to define antisocial anarchism, you could root it in some of this pain, frustration and skepticism, whether it be with other anarchists or people in general. The restless felt in endless meetings, the weirdness of relationships formed with “the people” through organizing and the disappointing results of those campaigns. My own interest in the antisocial came through a desire to see myself as an actor in history rather than acting on behalf of or with the approval of others.

Yet we can also ask if the antisocial doesn’t enjoy a dreary resonance with the brutal alienation of existence within capitalism. Alienation can make finding even normal friends and engaging in regular relationships a chore, if we’re lucky to have access to those things to begin with. How easy is it to confuse loneliness with individual liberation, or being a dick on the internet with asserting one’s iconoclastic individuality or righteousness? The strangeness of cyberspace is that, much as platformists and insurrectionary anarchists both represented social tendencies in their seeking the people and new communities, “woke” hammer-and-sickle anarchists touting identity politics and those sharing Stirner memes often fall within a similar anti-social tendency of pessimism towards the people and existing within small, often highly policed social spaces.

Where is the line between skepticism and fatalism? Ultimately to me, the value of the antisocial turn is the questions it makes me ask. How to be alone without being lonely. How to compromise with others without compromising ourselves. How to use skepticism about human relationships to better them – at least the ones we wish to keep – without running away from them or resigning ourselves to them. How do we act knowing we may only be acting alone or with a few others, without a concept of a people or a community waiting in the wings to greet us, and what does liberation look like without a concept of the big revolution?

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