TOTW: Intellectual Colonization

Actions speak louder than words. When the BP Corporation speaks of their commitment to oceans and wildlife we know how empty these inferences are because we know their actions speak a different truth.

Although a set definition of anarchist principles offer a guiding light to some, anarchism is typically viewed as an explicit rejection of homogeneity of definition and of the use of coercive force to organize action. Yet many experience a different truth, one in which anarchist principles are enforced by a select few. Is it possible for anarchist culture to exist without these colonialist tendencies?

For Bakunin, a sort of covert leadership was the answer. “If we are anarchists, by what right do we wish to and by what method can we influence the people? Rejecting any power, by what power or rather by what force shall we direct the people’s revolution? An invisible force–recognized by no one, imposed by no one–through which the collective dictatorship of our organization will be all the mightier, the more it remains invisible and unacknowledged, the more it remains without any official legality and significance.” Bakunin’s June 2, 1870 letter to Nechayev

How, though, is this any different or better than explicit leadership? In fact, might this covert unspoken ‘force’ be even more insidious, resulting in ‘in-groups’ who are ‘in’ on these implicit norms and their enforcement, and those who are excluded (either by choice or through the will of the in-group) with no spoken rules or agreements to negotiate? If we are to oppose populism, vanguardism, and the unquestionable influence that Big Men have on our culture, then why is their persuasive clout given so much agency?

Our legends of large inclusive assemblies, structured by the ‘invisible hand’ of autonomous organization, rarely materialize, and when they do they have hardly stood the test of time. So frequently there are one or more Anarcho-Geppettos pulling the strings on what principles and narratives are appropriate and which are not.

As Bookchin put it in ‘Nationalism and the National Question’, “there is a need to achieve universality in order to abolish class society.” Who then, if not those with the most social capital, are to colonize our thoughts with their most moral conception of anarchy and society?

In Green Anarchy, Marcos Zapatista remarks that, “Colonialism is one of the many enemies we are fighting in this world and so long as North Americans reinforce colonial thought patterns in their ‘revolutionary’ struggles, they will never be on the side of any anti-colonial struggle anywhere. We in the Zapatista struggle have never asked anyone for unflinching, uncritical support.”

If we desire a homogenous definition of what it means to be anarchist and banish those whose influence opposes our own, are we not colonizing culture and thought? Is this not the gilded cage of mental slavery, wherein we insist that as long as we can live by a certain set of rules then we shall be welcome, but if we dream of something different then we must find somewhere else to call home?