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Is primitivism realistic? An anarchist reply to John Zerzan and others

category international | anarchist movement | feature author Thursday December 01, 2005 21:15author by Andrew Flood - WSM (personal capacity) Report this post to the editors

A reply to primitivist critiques of 'Civilisation, Primitivism and Anarchism'

One of the major confusions in the anarchist movement in the USA and parts of Europe arises out of primitivism and its claim to be part of the anarchist movement. But primitivism is not a realistic strategy for social revolution and it opposes the basic purpose of anarchism - the creation of a free mass society. Primitivists have attempted to reply to these criticisms but these replies are easily exposed as more to do with faith then reality.

Sections of the actual anarchist movement have also constructed a set of ideological positions that almost seem designed to make successful mass work impossible. Large sections of the anarchist movement seem to have forgotten that the goal of anarchism is to change the world, not simply to provide a critique of the left or be a minor thorn in the side of the state.

I’ll summarise my argument from the previous essay. Primitivism generally argues that the development of agriculture was where it all went wrong. It therefore implies we should return to pre-agricultural methods of getting food, that is hunter-gathering.  But agriculture allows us to get vastly greater quantities of food from a given area.  Estimates can be made of how many people could live on the planet as hunter-gathers based on the amount of food that would be available to them.  These estimates suggest a maximum population of around 100 million.

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Is primitivism realistic:
an anarchist reply to John Zerzan and others


Last year I published the article 'Civilisation, Primitivism and Anarchism'* to sketch out what I saw as the glaring contradictions in primitivism and where it clashed with anarchism. Primitivism, I argued, was an absurdity that could never happen without the 'removal' of the vast majority of the world's population. And far from being related to anarchism it was in contradiction with the basic tenet of anarchism; the possibility of having a free mass society without a state.

The article has circulated on and off-line over the year and sparked numerous discussions. A number of primitivists, including John Zerzan (1), have replied directly to it, and others have published what appear to be indirect replies. Here I want to answer the direct replies and, in doing so, expand the critique of primitivism.

The original essay was also using 'primitivism' as a stalking horse to address what I see as one of the major problems in anarchism as it appears in the 'English speaking' world. That is a large-scale failure to take itself seriously. So-called ‘anarcho’-primitivism is the most obvious example. But sections of the actual anarchist movement have also constructed a set of ideological positions that almost seem designed to make successful mass work impossible. Large sections of the anarchist movement seem to have forgotten that the goal of anarchism is to change the world, not simply to provide a critique of the left or be a minor thorn in the side of the state.

Is primitivism realistic?

This reply continues in the same vein, on the surface it is about primitivism but you don't have to dig that deep to see that some of the criticisms can be applied in a more general sense. A good place to start in that context is with a poster calling himself Aragon who posted on more than one of the sites that carried the original article. In a comment on AnarchistNews.org Aragon states that Flood "seems to focus his critique on what he calls the question of whether primitivism provides ‘any sort of realistic alternative’ which always seems like a bizarre metric for an anarchist to use as measurement” (2). This is the statement that inspired the title of this essay.  Here we have someone who openly proclaims it to be “bizarre” to even ask if primitivism provides a realistic alternative to capitalism.

Far from being a refutation to the original essay this re-enforces the central point of it. That there is no way the advocates of primitivism could take the idea seriously if they thought its consequences through. A lot of primitivism theory strikes me as the work of those who like playing with ideas but really have no idea of how these ideas could be implemented. As with Aragon who even finds the idea of implementation of his own ideas “bizarre”. But this is also a problem in the anarchist movement. All too often plans are drawn up or slogans trotted out without asking if they are realistic. Can they actually achieve what they claim to be about? The only test that appears to be used is whether the plan is 'pure' enough. What sort of test is this for anything except perhaps for a religious sect?

The core issue

Generally responses to the essay from primitivists were often a lot more constructive then what I expected. I expected to get mostly abuse, and I did but a few did attempt to address the arguments. However there was no real attempt to address the core point of my original article. Which was that the 'population question' made a joke out of any claim by primitivism to be anything beyond a critique of the world. This is unsurprising - as far as I can tell there is no answer to the very obvious problem that emerges when you compare the number of people living on the planet (6 billion plus) and the optimistic maximum of 100 million (2% of this) that the planet might be able to support if civilisation was abandoned for a return to a hunter-gather existence (3).

I’ll summarise my argument from the previous essay. Primitivism generally argues that the development of agriculture was where it all went wrong. It therefore implies we should return to pre-agricultural methods of getting food, that is hunter-gathering.  But agriculture allows us to get vastly greater quantities of food from a given area.  Estimates can be made of how many people could live on the planet as hunter-gathers based on the amount of food that would be available to them.  These estimates suggest a maximum population of around 100 million.

This is what is called an ‘Elephant in the living room’ argument.  The question of what would happen to the other 5,900 million people is so dominant that it makes discussion of the various other claims made by primitivism seem a waste of time until the population question is answered.  Yet the only attempts at a response showed a rather touching faith in technology and civilisation, quite a surprise (4). This response can by summarised as that such population reductions can happen slowly over time because people can be convinced to have fewer or even no children.

There was no attempted explanation for how convincing the 6 billion people of the earth to have no children might go ahead. Programs that advocate lower numbers of children are hardly a new idea. They have already been implemented both nationally and globally without much success. China's infamous 'One Child' program includes a high degree of compulsion but has not even resulted in a population decrease. China's population is forecast to grow by 100 to 250 million by 2025. An explanation of how primitivists hope to achieve by persuasion what others have already failed to do by compulsion is needed yet no such attempt to even sketch this out exists.

As if this was not difficult enough for primitivists the implications of other arguments they make turn an impossible task into an even more impossible task.  For primitivist arguments normally include the idea that civilisation is about to create a major crisis that will either end, or come close to ending life on the planet.  Whether caused by peak oil, global warming or another side effect of technology we are told this crisis is at best a few decades away.

Even if primitivists could magically convince the entire population of the planet to have few or no children this process could only reduce the population over generations.  But if a crisis is only decades away there is no time for this strategy. For even if 90% of the population was to be magically convinced tomorrow it would still take decades for the population to reduce to the 100 million or less that could be supported by hunter-gathering.  And in the real world there is no mechanism for magically convincing people of any argument – not least one that requires them to ignore what many people find to be a fundamental biological drive to have children.  Some of the older primitivists I know even have children themselves. If they can’t convince themselves then why do they think they can convince everyone else?

The contradiction between these two positions is so obvious that I can only conclude that those primitivists who have put forward this 'convince everyone to have fewer babies' position have only done so in order to shore up their faith. It is an argument invented to try and hide the elephant in the living room but really it only hides it from themselves.  It is impossible to see how they could expect anyone else to find it a convincing answer to the population question.

Zerzan's reply

John Zerzan's reply to my essay included a variation of this defence of primitivism.

"It could also be noted that population is hardly a given. It seems to be more an effect than a cause, for instance: an effect of domestication ab origino (Latin for 'from the beginning/from the source'  (5)), if we are talking about civilization. And so it seems to me likely that the numbers might come down fairly quickly were we to move away from domestication. I do not know anyone who says this could happen overnight, Flood to the contrary.(1)"

Well first off population is a given. I am not imagining that there are 6 billion people on the earth - there are six billion plus on the planet. We cannot simply wish that there were 100 million. There are 6 billion and this is a figure that is forecast to rise. Whatever about the forces that drove the development of agriculture 12,000 years ago (where there is a debate about cause and effect) the reality today is that stopping the cultivation of all domestic plants and animals would result in the death by starvation of 5.9 billion people. So yes a move away from domestication would indeed mean that "numbers might come down fairly quickly": starvation only takes a few months.

Zerzan is also misquoting me.  I never claimed that some primitivists said civilisation had to go "overnight". One can see why Zerzan needed to invent this particular red herring, like other primitivists he believes that time is running out. In an interview with fellow primitivist academic Derrick Jensen, Zerzan himself said "in a few decades there won't be much left to fight for. Especially when you consider the acceleration of environmental degradation and personal dehumanization." Again I’ll point out if we only have “a few decades” this is hardly the time span in which a 'voluntary' reduction of the earth's population by some 98% could occur. In particular as the Earth’s population is actually forecast to rise to perhaps to as much as 10 billion in that time.

The evasive language Zerzan uses in his response to me is typical of the primitivist approach to the population question. And although he might throw out the red herring that "I do not know anyone who says this could happen overnight " in the original essay I actually quoted some primitivists who either saw the collapse of civilisation as a short term inevitability or who worse - like Derrick Jensen - wanted to bring it on. As I pointed out in the original article, Jensen is on record as writing "I want civilization brought down and I want it brought down now” (6). In fact since my article was published he has taken this further with a call for concrete action "We need people to take out dams, and we need people to knock out electrical infrastructures" (7). So while Zerzan may be smart enough to be evasive on this not all of his followers are (8). And while Zerzan may have forgotten Jensen he does know him - at least he was interviewed by him in 2000 (9) and the 10,000 word interview that was published which would suggest they have at least spent some hours in each others company.

Zerzan, like other primitivists, continues to evade the logic of his own position. It's all very well to talk of a gradual population reduction but just how does he think primitivists are going to achieve a population reduction from 6 billion to 0.1 billion "in a few decades"?  What would be gradual about this?  This would require a ban on all but 2% of the earth's population having any children at all!

The ball is really in Zerzan's court; he needs to demonstrate a mechanism for a non-compulsory and rapid reduction in population that would require the vast majority of the earth's population to be happy to have no children at all. He needs to explain how he can even explain this message to all of the people in the world - never mind convince them of it. And Zerzan needs a 'voluntary' mechanism of ensuring that those he fails to convince do not undermine this reduction, for instance religious or other minorities who disagree with the primitivists and choose to have many children . And all this has to happen within his own deadline of "a few decades". With this sort of burden of proof it is easy to see why primitivists are not so keen on demonstrating that they have a realistic alternative.

The nasty side

Those not blinded by ideology looking at this burden of proof will conclude either that primitivism is of no practical use or that those primitivists who are rational and still hold to primitivism have some program they are not revealing. Quite clearly some of those who see themselves as primitivists do favour die offs or advocate policies that would make them inevitable. Jensen's call for people "to take out dams ... to knock out electrical infrastructures" would result in large numbers of deaths if any number of people were to take him seriously. It's just a toned down version of Steve Booth's lauding of the Tokyo Sarin attacks and Booth's fantasy in Green Anarchist that "One day the groups will be totally secretive and their methods of fumigation will be completely effective." These sorts of murderous anti-human sentiments are not only tolerated within primitivism but their authors are promoted - you'll find their essays uncritically reproduced all over the web and in various print publications.

My previous essay produced howls of outrage because I pointed out the existence of such writings.  But the problem here is not that I point out their existence, it is that the primitivists ignore them until it is pointed out. Yet they work with these people, they publish these people and then they shuffle around with embarrassment and cry unfair when what they say is pointed out. And it is not just the primitivists even sections of the anarchist movement in the name of maintaining a broad church uncritically publish Jensen and invite him to address meetings. This is quite astounding given the consequences of what he is advocating. I can only presume he is tolerated in some anarchist circles because of the general confusion that equates militant tactics with militant politics, forgetting that elements of the far right can also use militant tactics.

There is no critique of the die off point of view from those who call themselves 'anarcho'-primitivists. Zerzan is happy to do a lengthy interview with someone who says he wants "civilization brought down and I want it brought down now" without even bringing the consequences of such a position up with them. If he wanted to distance himself from Jensen he has already had the opportunity to do so.

The centrality of the agricultural revolution

Elsewhere Zerzan has written of the development of agriculture that;

"The debasing of life in all spheres, now proceeding at a quickening pace, stems from the dynamics of civilization itself. Domestication of animals and plants, a process only 10,000 years old, has penetrated every square inch of the planet. The result is the elimination of individual and community autonomy and health, as well as the rampant, accelerating destruction of the natural world” (10)

This is relevant because a number of people who replied objected to me choosing the development of agriculture as the point at which civilisation can be said to have developed (11). But as the original essay explained, "Of course civilization is a rather general term .. For the purposes of this article I'm taking as a starting point that the form of future society that primitivists argue for would be broadly similar in technological terms to that which existed around 12,000 years ago on earth, at the dawn of the agricultural revolution". I could have picked an older date - the first cave paintings for instance but this would not only have been more arbitrary but would have presented an even greater population problem for the primitivists.

I could have picked a more recent date but this would hardly have helped the primitivists   as they then would have had to include many of the features of civilisation - including the state - in their primitive utopia. And, as our ability to support a large population has escalated sharply in recent years, even a 'primitive' society that only aimed to return to  say, 1800 would still have to get rid of the majority of the earth's population. Evasion aside, it is quite clear that from the primitivist point of view it was the agricultural revolution and the changes that happened alongside this where things went bad.

For understandable reasons (not wanting to deal with the population question) primitivists and their fellow travellers tend to avoid any date even as general as the agricultural revolution. But it's the one I choose to work with and this appears to be fair enough with those primitivists more willingly to openly argue their position. Agriculture also seems a very logical starting point because agriculture is what makes a mass society possible. Hunter-gathers can't gather in large groups for a long period because they exhaust local food sources. Nor do small groups of hunter-gathers generally have the surplus food required to develop a high degree of specialisation of labour, and any specialisation is a bad thing according to most primitivists.

I also think its hard to construct a coherent primitivism that does not exclude agriculture since the dawn of agriculture and class society seem to occur together. This fact has been understood on the left at least as far back as Engels ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’ and I’ll discuss its implications next.  But in terms of the overall argument about food production this is a side argument - the earths current population requires the agricultural technology of the last 100 odd years - going back to primitive agriculture is not much more of an option then going back to Hunter-gathering. It would still leave billions of facing death by starvation.

Is primitivism a branch of anarchism?

It is true that agriculture is required before the surplus is generated on which a state structure can be built. This is about the only argument the primitivists have - the state has always been a feature of civilisation. The challenge for those who want to abolish the state  - and this has always been understood as a central challenge of anarchism from the 1860's - is to create a civilisation that does not have the mechanisms of state repression that all civilisations to date have had.

This brings me onto another issue that upset some of those who wrote replies to my essay. Teapolitik's "Primitivism isn't, in itself, a critique of anarchism at all. It is a supplement to anarchism" is the best-developed expression of this sort of reply. Teapolitik goes on to assert that "…civilization (and for some, technology, agriculture, language, and other products of human society) is not compatible with ecological sustainability--and that the persistence of civilization, whether feudal, capitalist, socialist or anarchist, would lead to the eventual destruction of the life-sustaining qualities of this planet." (11

I think the case for primitivism being a break with rather than a development of anarchism is very clear - I outlined this at some length in my original article. The primitivist argument is essentially identical to the liberal argument for why the state is necessary. The state they claim is what allows mass society to exist - without the state we would have 'the war of all against all'. The primitivists agree but as they are anti-state they are therefore required to also be anti-mass society. Yet the origins of anarchism lie in a movement that sought to go beyond this seeming contradiction - a movement built on the idea that you could have a free society without the state. This was the ideological corner stone on which anarchism is founded.

Bakunin, for instance writing on Rousseau's Theory of the State, wrote in words that are as applicable to the core argument of primitivism as they were at the time to liberalism that;

"According to the theory .. primitive men enjoying absolute liberty only in isolation are antisocial by nature. When forced to associate they destroy each other's freedom. If this struggle is unchecked it can lead to mutual extermination.” But for anarchists "it is now proven that no state could exist without committing crimes, or at least without contemplating and planning them, even when its impotence should prevent it from perpetrating crimes, we today conclude in favour of the absolute need of destroying the states. Or, if it is so decided, their radical and complete transformation so that, ceasing to be powers centralised and organised from the top down, by violence or by authority of some principle, they may recognise -- with absolute liberty for all the parties to unite or not to unite, and with liberty for each of these always to leave a union even when freely entered into -- from the bottom up, according to the real needs and the natural tendencies of the parties, through the free federation of individuals, associations, communes, districts, provinces, and nations within humanity." (12)

Bakunin’s argument is that liberals insist that large numbers of people cannot live together without a state to supervise them as they would come into conflict with each other.  But anarchists insist that large numbers of people can come together and preserve their freedom though a range of bottom up organising methods.  Mass society and freedom are possible. This is something primitivists deny.

In a similar vein Kropotkin wrote;

"recent evolution…has prepared the way for showing the necessity and possibility of a higher form of social organisation that may guarantee economic freedom without reducing the individual to the role of a slave to the State. The origins of government have been carefully studied, and all metaphysical conceptions as to its divine or "social contract" derivation having been laid aside, it appears that it is among us of a relatively modern origin, and that its powers have grown precisely in proportion as the division of society into the privileged and unprivileged classes was growing in the course of ages” (13).

Here Kroptkin is arguing that humanity can create forms of mass organisation that do not require the state and which can create economic freedom.  And while the liberals may argue that the state is required for the existence of mass society this seems to be a recent argument invented to justify the division of society into classes.

As can be seen - from the beginning - anarchism has included a rejection of the core idea of primitivism - that there is an irreconcilable contradiction between mass society and liberty. It has sought alternative ways to organize mass society that eliminate the role of the state. For these "free federation of individuals, associations, communes, districts, provinces, and nations within humanity" are all features of mass society. In the 1860's the argument that there was such an irreconcilable contradiction was an anti-anarchist argument - one that the anarchists took the time to refute. To try and incorporate the same argument into anarchism today is to make nonsense of the term anarchism.

For some reason there is a very strong tendency in the USA for the emergence of ideologies which use the label anarchist but which are in reality at odds with anarchism. There have been at least three such streams in the last two decades, 'anarcho'-capitalism, post-leftism and ‘anarcho’-primitivism. All three have used a similar methodology of trying to re-label anarchism as 'left anarchism' (or sometimes 'red anarchism'). All three have shared the same ideological anti-communist 'rugged individualism' by which all forms of collective mass organisation can only be authoritarian.

It is hard not to write this off as simply a radical reflections of the state ideology of the USA. In the case of primitivism it also accepts George Bush's claims that USA society has to have the car culture.  For Bush this means the USA has to sacrifice the environment in order to maintain its current standard of living. Primitivism accepts the first claim but unlike Bush rejects the price as too great to carry. So primitivism seeks the end of civilization itself. Like Bush it also seems unwilling to admit that elsewhere on the planet people already organise their lives in ways that have a much lower energy demand. Even Western Europe which has a similar standard of living to the USA has per person a use of energy half that of the USA.

Technology

The technology question causes a huge amount of confusion with primitivists mixing up a particular form or consequence of technology with the technology itself. I had tried to deal with this in the original essay using the example of motorised transport. Yet some replies were from people in the USA who couldn't get their heads around the idea of the technology of motorised transport being used in any other way than the way it is used in the USA. There it is perhaps more reasonable for someone to believe that “car culture could not be likely eliminated without destroying civilisation” (14). US culture and urban geography means that right now there are huge areas of the country where owning a car is pretty essential to survival.

But this isn't typical of the rest of the world, not even of parts of the US. If you lived in Manhattan for instance, for day-to-day life a car is more of a problem then a requirement. People across huge areas of the planet have a very low percentage of car ownership - in the most part because people are too poor to afford individual cars. Yet those with money still have access to mass transportation. If you go anywhere in North Africa you can travel long distances rapidly and at ease, reaching even quite small towns because the lack of individual car ownership has created a market for an incredibly sophisticated network of collective taxis. They leave from fixed points in each town whenever a vehicle is full. Really busy routes also have trains and buses. The point is that even under capitalism alternative ways of dealing with the need for transportation already exist - there is nothing inevitable about the 'car culture' that is a feature of how the technology of the internal combustion engine has been used in the USA.

Some of the replies focused on my treatment of technology and in particular the contention that the only way out of the population crisis is both more technology and more access to technology. Unsurprisingly, as I used the peak oil theory in the original essay this resulted in discussion on some of the sites dedicated to discussing Peak Oil. Omar for instance thought this means I "argue technology as the saviour" (15) - others even thought this meant I was in favour of atomic weapons!

These misunderstandings are probably my fault for stating the case too crudely in the original. It is worth deepening the discussion. My position it that the combination of modern capitalism and the way it uses technology has given us an unstable and unsustainable economic system that only even attempts to address the interests of a small minority of the planets population. And although I may not believe 'the end is nigh' I do accept that things cannot go on as they are without major problems.

Of course being an anarchist I already want to overthrow capitalism and see the economy restructured from top to bottom. So saying things cannot continue as they are presents me with no difficulties. However unlike some Peak Oil enthusiasts and all primitivists I am not willing to argue that we need to 'go back' to some simpler time when less energy inputs were required because that would involve accepting the removal of billions of people from the planet.

A social revolution that not only introduces new technology but re-models what already exists is the only logical way forward. In that context technology is what we do with it. In the general sense it is neither liberatory nor repressive. Particular applications of technology may be either - a rifle in the hands of a US marine is different in that sense from a rifle in the hands of a Zapatista. The birth control pill certainly plays a part in giving women choices about reproduction that were previously hard to come by safely.  It also allows here to control her fertility without the co-operation of her partner. On the other hand it is impossible to think of a positive use of the electric chair or a nuclear bomb.

It is also true that the development of technology made it possible to have a society where there was a division into workers and bosses. Once you can store surplus food for instance you can have accumulation of meaningful wealth and so the ability to pay the soldier, the policeman and the executioner. So the question comes down to whether it’s possible to have a free technological society - and anarchism insists it is - or whether the choice is between a primitive 'freedom' and an oppressive technological society.

The vast majority of political theories, perhaps all except anarchism, do indeed claim you cannot have a free technological society. I think it is worth hoping they are wrong even if we have never as yet had such a society.  That a free technological society is possible is - as I  have argued - the central point of anarchism.

Some of the odder stuff

The replies also included areas that in my view are of much lesser importance (16).  Amongst those are responses from some who attempt to blend primitivism into vegetarianism or even veganism (17). This really only serves to underline how some primitivists have not really given any serious thought to what they advocate at all - very few ecosystems could support vegan humans attempting to live off the land without agriculture. As far as I'm aware all 'primitive' societies that exist today on the planet carry out hunting as well as gathering.

In this context I am indeed a "damn speciesist" who doesn't have a problem with humans "exploiting the land for you own good (taking away vital habitat and feeding ground)". Ecological diversity should be preserved because it is in our ability to do so and doing so will be good for us rather than because we prefer trees to people or because otherwise the earth will be upset. All actually existing 'primitive' peoples are "speciesist" - they hunt animals. The luxury of some people choosing not to eat meat at all is a feature of civilization.

Abstract or symbolic - who cares?

I’ll also deal with the remainder of  Zerzan's reply to my original essay here as he is the the leading light of 'anarcho' primitivism and I’d hate people to think I was avoiding part of his argument.. The remainder of his reply reads;

"Flood probably knows that nowhere have I rejected "abstract thought" but it better serves his weak assault on "primitivism" to say otherwise. Some of our ancestors were cooking with fire 2 million years ago, travelling on the open seas 800,000 years ago. And yet the evidence for symbolic culture hardly goes back 40,000 years. Thus, it would seem, there was intelligence that preceded what we think of as symbolic. Possibly a more direct kind in keeping with a more direct connection with the natural world. Well, this is a long topic that I won't try to rehash here. One that doesn't quite fit Flood's sound byte characterization..."(1)

This section appears to be a reply to where I was explaining my methodology in choosing 'agriculture' as representing the start of civilization. I'd actually mentioned Zerzan only twice in the original article. Why might I have thought Zerzan rejected 'abstract thought'? Well partly because I had presumed "symbolic thought" and "abstract thought" pretty much amounted to the same thing. But in any case Zerzan has also appeared to specifically attack "abstract thought". In his essay on "Number: Its Origin and Evolution" (18) he writes, "Math is the paradigm of abstract thought" and then "Mathematics is reified, ritualized thought, the virtual abandonment of thinking". To me this - and similar sentiments along the same lines elsewhere in his essay - sound a lot like a rejection of abstract thought.

In his reply he also seems keen to tell me you can have intelligence without "symbolic culture". I can only agree - geese for instance manage to migrate large distances but don't as far as I'm aware produce any art. But he may be wrong that evidence for symbolic culture in humans only goes back 40,000 years. Ian Watts of University College London claims red ochre and other red pigments were being used at least 100,000 and 120,000 years ago and that "new findings in Zambia and the re-dating of the important Border Cave site in South Africa push the date of the earliest use back further still-perhaps to 170,000 years ago in Zambia.” (19) Given that the "oldest fossil evidence for anatomically modern humans is about 130,000 years old"(20) this would suggest symbolic culture (or symbolic thought) is as old as homo sapiens.

Anyway, to be honest, I'm all for abstract thought. I like the ability to read a text, to think about its contents and perhaps then to argue against it.  This ability is what is needed to create freedom, it has been at the centre of all modern revolutionary processes. Even if we could, why would we want to give up the ability to think abstractly?

Class conflict?

Teapolitik and other commentators take issue with me pointing out that even if a major environmental crisis resulted in large-scale death and destruction this would not necessarily mean the end of capitalism. Teapolitik asserts that "A ‘tiny wealthy elite’ could not possibly continue to control vast natural resources in the event of collapse--when one elite can no longer hold a carrot in front of thousands of poor, those poor will revolt." [11] This assertion is wishful thinking for two reasons - not least that the ruling class has seldom maintained power through dangling the carrot alone.

Firstly it presumes that the crisis will somehow creep up on the ruling class - that they will be unable to react or prepare for it. Capitalism is very much more adaptable than this. For example there has been a huge amount of research on alternative energy sources over the last few years as some capitalists anticipate making a substantial profit out of peak oil.  On flicking through a recent issue of the 'Economist' magazine - which is close to being a bible for many CEO's - I noticed that 6 out of the dozen or so glossy full page ads were to do with alternatives to oil or energy saving technologies like hybrid cars.  The transnational corporation BP (British Petroleum) Amoco rebranded itself Beyond Petroleum back in the year 2000.  Although this was rightly seen as at attempt to Greenwash it was also to manovure itself for the new energy markets that would open up as oil declined.

On a more local scale the large scale destruction from Hurricane Katrina is actually being used by capitalism to restructure parts of the New Orleans economy in their interests. Anarcho has written that Bush's plans for New Orleans amount to a;

"blank sheet upon which the far-right will unleash their plans for social engineering. Children will go to school with vouchers. Wages will be lowered and regulations waived to accommodate the bosses. The entire area will become a free-enterprise zone. A flat tax will be imposed. All under the guise of economic revival premised on the belief that corporations freed from trades unions, workers rights, environmental restrictions and taxes will reap huge profits and those profits will grow the pie for everybody"(24).

This is the way capitalism works - crisis are opportunities for new investment for those companies in favour (e.g. Halliburton in Iraq) and excuses to impose cuts on the working class (e.g. the introduction of the bin tax in Dublin). Mass death and destruction have often been a central part of the development of capitalism - not a threat to it. For capitalism they can be opportunities to remove 'unproductive people' from the land. (e.g. Irish famine of the 1840's). Much of the original wealth on which capitalism was founded was part and parcel of the process that almost entirely wiped out the indigenous people of the America's. Today tens of millions of people die every year from diseases that are easily preventable.

There is also nothing automatic about poverty or a decline in living standards being met with mass revolt.  Capitalism, and the market in particular, is also an inbuilt mechanism though which the population are encouraged to accept the hoarding of scarce resources as natural. In the west today this means the rich have access to fast cars, luxury homes and private yachts - not that much of a hardship for the rest of us. But elsewhere in the world the rich have access to these things while the poor literally starve in the streets. If there was to be a real crisis in world food production then this is what would visit the working class in the USA and beyond. To a minor extent this is what happened in depression era America and in post war Europe. In neither case did it lead to significant revolts never mind the collapse of civilisation.

The second reason why a major crisis would not automatically lead to the fall of capitalism is more brutal.  The need to spell it out simply reflects the rather naive thinking of a lot of primitivists when it comes to the ruthless nature of capitalism. Jay Gould the US financier & railroad businessman summed up this nature when he said, "I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half." Outside of a recent brief period in Western Europe and the USA capitalism has routinely deployed enormous repressive forces to defeat rebellion. In the 1970's it created military dictatorships, which killed tens of thousands of people across South America. In Central America in the 1980's it killed hundreds of thousands.

There have been moments in history when the ruling class was at least briefly defeated - the Russian and Spanish revolutions being the most common examples. But this was not a simple product of desperation - if desperation led to revolution than revolution would have swept the African ruling class away years ago. It was also a product of revolutionary organisation stretching over decades and a set of revolutionary ideas that could unite people in the struggle for a better world. Large-scale crisis can indeed bring about large-scale upheavals but without a positive revolutionary program that unites people such upheavals always end up with a new faction of the ruling class in the driving seat. In fact capitalism and the ruling class are so flexible that they can undergo apparent defeat only to end up back in control in a new form within years - as happened in Russia after 1917.

So yes, unless we are organised on a mass scale a "tiny wealthy elite" will indeed "continue to control vast natural resources in the event of collapse". They have hundreds of years of experience of doing just that.  And they won't just use the much-depleted carrot to do so, they also have the stick and for much of world history it is the stick rather than the carrot that has had the lead role in keeping people in line. Technological developments mean one man in a helicopter can provide the same level of 'stick' that previously an army of hundreds was required for. They can still hire one half of the working class to kill the other half but in repression as with other areas these days they are able to downsize.

Hope for the future

Primitivism offers no hope and no program for a revolutionary change of society. It includes some of the most reactionary and anti-human writings this side of fascism – I’ve even read primitivists writing off the death of the mass of the worlds population on the grounds that “quite a few of those 5.9 billion are just empty shells”(22). But even the best of the writings offer no more than some interesting ideas to ponder over - ideas that have been around for the last 200 years.

There are real problems associated with the growth of the human population and the wasteful nature of capitalism. We are already seeing the emergence of long-term environmental problems even if the end is not yet nigh. But bad as the effects on the environment are, the real shame is that we live on a planet where millions starve in order that a tiny ruling class can live in absolute luxury.

Anarchism offers an alternative to the capitalist system - an alternative that can provide a decent life for everyone on the planet both in terms of material good and control over their own lives. But achieving this alternative is not a question of waiting for people to rise up - it is a question of organising the vast majority of the planet against the tiny elite who rule us.

Anarchist communism provides the best hope for freedom and the best model for fighting for freedom. It distils the lessons of hundreds of years of struggle - and of all the successes and failing of these struggles. It does not have 'the answer'; that is something that can only be created by the self-managed struggle of the mass of the population of this planet. Our role is to help the emergence of this struggle.

Andrew Flood
December 2005
Written for Anarkismo.net

[PDF file]


Footnotes

* - my original article can be found at http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=1451

1 The first comment in reply to the posting of the article on Anarchist News appears to be from Zerzan (it's posted anonymously but refers to 'I' in disputing what Zerzan has said and is signed JZ). Mind you it could be another primitivist impersonating him - they do a fair bit of that. http://anarchistnews.org/?q=node/200

2 At http://anarchistnews.org/?q=node/200#comment-679 - in fact 'Aragon' may simply not understand what was said in the original as the realistic alternative referred to was in relation to current society and not social revolution i.e. "Facing this challenge anarchists need to first look to see if primitivism offers any sort of realistic alternative to the world as it is."

3 Note that this is an optimistic maximum - quite often I multiplied the real probable maximum by a figure of ten to avoid pointless arguments as to whether Ireland for instance could support 20,000 hunter gathers rather than the 7,000 my figures would calculate out. I mention this because the folks over at Lib.Com.org didn't get what I was doing and 'corrected' my error in the edited version they published at http://www.libcom.org/thought/approaches/primitivism/

4 By this I mean the persuasion mechanism proposed assumes some form of global communication in order to reach everyone on the planet - something that does not yet exist and some form of near 100% reliable contraception that everyone on the planet could have access to - something else that does not yet exist!

5 What is it with academics and the use of obscure Latin? See my remarks on this in my review of 'Empire' at http://www.struggle.ws/andrew/empirereview.html

6 Issue #6 of The 'A' Word Magazine, this interview online at http://crow.riseup.net/theaword/issue_6/derrick_interview_1.html

7 Derrick Jensen, Ripping up Asphalt and Planting Gardens, Oct 2005, online at http://www.raisethehammer.org/index.asp?id=180

8 It seems fair enough to describe Jensen as a follower of Zerzan as Jensen has described Zerzan as "The best anarchist thinker of our time", "the most important anarchist thinker of our time" or more frankly "I love all of Zerzan's books, but I think I love this one the best." In his review of Zerzan’s 'Against Civilization: Readings and Reflections" for Amazon.com

9 Derrick Jensen interviews John Zerzan , Alternative Press Review, at http://www.altpr.org/apr12/zerzan.html Given that the Wikipedia entry on 'anarcho' primitivism includes "in the United States primitivism has been notably advocated by writer John Zerzan and to a lesser extent author Derrick Jensen" I find Zerzan's implied claim in his reply to me to have forgotten Jensen and what he has to say incredible - but maybe they have fallen out?

10 Globalisation and its apologists.  An abolitionist perspective, by John Zerzan, online at http://www.insurgentdesire.org.uk/globalization.htm

11 Teapolitik in the third comment on the AnarchistNews posting and in some of the other places my original essay was posted e.g. http://www.livejournal.com/community/anarchists/1254083.html Teapolitik also says "I am not a primitivist" in some versions of this reply. Joe Licentia who also says "I'm not a primitivist" also questions my equating of agriculture with civilisation in his 'Critique of "Civilisation, Primitivism and anarchism" online at http://question-everything.mahost.org/2005/01/

12 Bakunin in Rousseau's Theory of the State online at http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/bakunin/rousseau.html

13 Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles by Peter Kropotkin online at http://www.zabalaza.net/texts/txt_anok_comm_pk.htm

14 E.g. Heretic posting on the infoshop.org posting of the original essay - online at http://www.infoshop.org/inews/article.php?story=200501271526

15 online at http://peakoil.com/fortopic4417.html

16 For instance I'm not terribly interested in critiques like that of Heineken (at http://peakoil.com/article2267.html) who worry about my "educational background and therefore of the authoritativeness of your commentary". He asserts that "many writers like Flood do not seem to have much training in biology or ecology" as if this should exclude anyone from commenting on such issues. They are just another version of the sort of anonymous comment left on Anarchist News that asserted "who by now, doesn't know that andrew flood is an idiot? .. try not to innundate this board with such obviously superceded nonsense as just about everything written by flood and his cretinous supporters."

17 Vegan Hobo - http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=1451&;comment_id=1432

18 Number: Its Origin and Evolution at http://www.primitivism.com/number.htm

19 Painted Ladies, New Scientist Oct 2001, online at http://homepages.uel.ac.uk/C.Knight/painted_ladies_text.htm

20 http://www.mnh.si.edu/anthro/humanorigins/ha/sap.htm

21 The real looting of New Orleans begins online at http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=1432

22 Anon in the debate about Jensen at http://anarchistnews.org/?q=node/237

author by Andrew Floodpublication date Thu Dec 01, 2005 19:09Report this post to the editors

I hope to be able to make available in the next month or so a PDF pamphlet that combines the original essay, this essay and a 'Weird things primitivists claim' FAQ.

author by Andrewpublication date Thu Dec 01, 2005 20:37Report this post to the editors

I'm going through the links in the footnotes and a couple have changed. Here are the new URLS

No 11 - the 2nd URL is now at http://question-everything.mahost.org/2005/01/critique-of-civilisation-primitivism.html

No 14 - (infoshop) has moved to http://www.infoshop.org/inews/article.php?story=2005012715260752

author by Adam Weaver, - San Jose, CApublication date Fri Dec 02, 2005 11:57Report this post to the editors

Dealing with the practicality of primitivism and the question of 'Does it offer a real alternative to capitalism and the state?', this article is great and hits many of the arguements right on the nail.

But I'd like to put out there an arguement that I don't think is included strongly enough in the article that I'd like to think hammers the nail in the coffin for primitivism (and its more intellectual based counter part, "post-leftism").

Despite the fact that primitivists and post-leftist claim to not put forward a program and bend over backwards to avoid or obfuscate a concerte definition of their political stances (case in point around Zerzan and math and his response to the population question), I think these politics, their intellectual roots and their practical implication deserve a more thorough rendering.

First, clearly primitivists and post-leftist are not revolutionaries or social revolutionaries of any sort. They have hardly advanced any sort of idea on how to overthrow capitalism and the state, nor seem to believe it would be possible or even desirable. Second, these politics are clearly have little to do with anarchism and have everything in common with extreme individualism and a degree of overlap with classical liberalism (as discussed in the article about Hobbes 'state of war' and the need for the state).

But most importantly, we need to examine the practical implications of what primitivists explicitly (and what post-leftists seemingly) advocate- that the vast majority of humanity perish from the planet. Say if rapid industrial collapse were to happen and agriculture and the like ceased to exist or even if it was somehow brought about by small groups of people smashing SUVs. Also assume that capitalism is not smart enough to prepare and avert the situation- what would happen?

Overwhelmingly the people to die, and to die first, would be the world's most impoverished, the poor, the working class, women and most of the "third world" and people of color world-wide. Basically, anybody without the resources, power and social privileges to control the dwinding food and resources supply. Just like New Orleans and Katrina, the few rich and wealthy (and mostly white) would find the means to escape and be comfortable and those left behind to suffer and die would be the poor (and mostly black and brown). To me it is literally shocking and offensive to think anybody would publicly advocate politics with these implications.

I mean this half seriously- but it seems to me that if the primivists really wanted to advance the politics they actually put forward they should be holding rallies in support of Structural Adjustment Plans or the war in Iraq or maybe should be getting jobs in FEMA under the Bush administration. These current, very real and manmade crises are moving us closer to the above scenario- and that's why I oppose them absolutely.

But in all seriousness, primitivism and to some degree its more mushy, more anti-revolutionary, further ill-defined sister, post-leftism, deserves to be called to task on the nature of their politics.

The dust bin of history would be far too kind for these ideas. What these politics need is a bio-disel fueled incinerator. OK, now that I've gotten out alot of frusteration, back to important things. ; >

author by Nilpublication date Sat Dec 03, 2005 01:14Report this post to the editors

"Even if primitivists could magically convince the entire population of the planet to have few or no children this process could only reduce the population over generations. But if a crisis is only decades away there is no time for this strategy...."

I would suggest that primitivism is essentially a catastrophistic, fatalistic, and historically deterministic philosophy---they think that all thosepeople are going to die off whether we like it or not, becuase of the predicted crisis. At which point the primitivists who survive will be able to start rebuilding an anarchist society, or whatever. No revolutionary intervention is neccesary---the crisis will destroy existing society for us, and then we can rebuild it how we like.

All the primitivist arguments critiqued here as ridiculous start to make more 'sense' when you realize the overall frame. The frame itself is still plenty critisizable. It's an excuse for inaction and muddled thinking.

author by prole cat - Capital Terminus Collective, Atlanta, GA, USA (personal capacity)publication date Sat Dec 03, 2005 21:04Report this post to the editors

1- "Generally responses to the essay from primitivists were often a lot more constructive then what I expected…"

My experience with primitivism has also been that some of the adherents are more sincere and intelligent than my understanding of the ideology would have led me to expect. When my only exposure to primitivism was via Time magazine and the internet, I was contemptuous. When I made a tactical alliance with some primitivists to oppose the building of yet another Wal-mart (for one example), I learned to respect some of them as individuals, even as I continued to take issue with many of their ideas.

I suspect that if we (class struggle anarchists) had a clearly defined program for alternative technology, there would be somewhere else for the more reasonable primitivists to go. But failing that, a radical who is seriously alarmed about, say, global warming- a quite reasonable concern!- is left to choose between liberal reformism, primitivism, or class struggle anarchism (which is widely perceived as not taking ecological concerns very seriously. More about that below.)

2- "…any specialization is a bad thing according to most primitivists."

Although not directly related to this article and its anarchism vs. primitivism thesis, I'm pretty sure that some left Marxists have a critique of the specialization of labor as well. So primitivists oppose any specialization, I take it. Well, I'm one anarchist who hopes there will be no place for assembly lines in the future free society. If class struggle anarchism has a clearly defined critique or position regarding the specialization of labor, it is not at all clear to me.

3- A question, out of curiosity: Does religion predate civilization and the state? I'm thinking it does.

Finally, Andrew has written an excellent article. I have read many good critiques of primitivism from a class-struggle perspective. Now, however, I think it would be beneficial to see more (some? any?) articles about the ideas of class struggle anarchism regarding alternative technologies. Not a detailed blueprint, necessarily, but a general outline that is not framed as a response to primitivism. That is to say, we could stop reacting to primitivism, and start enunciating a positive vision. No wonder people think we don't take ecology seriously, if the only time we talk about is in response to primitivism! I'd attempt it myself, but I know that there are others far more knowledgeable and better qualified. (And if these articles already exist, I apologise in advance. No offense intended, just trying to help move us forward.)

in solidarity,
pc

author by PrimalWarpublication date Sun Dec 04, 2005 16:41Report this post to the editors

you seem to heavily rely your critique on "the population question". well, you're right there right now there are 6 billion people on the planet. primitivists and our writings have never claimed otherwise. the claim that "..and it(population) continues to rise" it not substanciated in you essay, and in fact the opposite seems to be happening.(i recogize that i have not cited a sorse but its cus i cant seem to locate it right now). so we have 6 billion people, 6 billion is way beyond the carrying copacity of fuctioning ecosystems, and even beyond the amount that organic agriculture can support as its been artificially expanded by petrocemicals. this is not sustainable, a rebalancing of population levels is inevitable reguardless of the actions of primitivists. that is not a creation of primitivist theory but an established scientific fact, and not one that sits well he stomach to say the least, but it is real nonetheless. so how did humanity come to this?

this happened as a direct consiquence of agriculture. so how then can humanity live so it doesn't come to this? move away from an intensive agricultural existence. civilizations collapse (read J.tainter, J. Dimond, www.anthropik.com) by thier very nature because the are unstable social arangements. you want to be reallistic? anarcho-primitivism is realistic in that our project(the destruction of civilization and the creation of primitive anarchy) is working in this very real context. any project that is dependent on the continuation of civilization is unrealistic. although civilizations may rise again in some places they will inevitably fall too. another part of your critique is that we agree with liberals on that without mass society it would be all against all. or this could be rephrased to say that humans are inherently violent, thus hierarchical, towards eachother and therefor without some coercive force classlessness cannot be achived(as violence creates classes).

i contend that that is not the case as humans are social animals who by nature cooperate(e.g. mutual aid). it seems that the anarcho-communist perspective that you avow is closer to the position of the liberals in that you contend that non-hierarchical association must be systemized inorder to be "realistic". the inplyed reason the nessesity of this being that becuase people do not inately associate in this way, than they must artifially systemized en mass(freely of course!!). i'm sorry man but your arguement just doesn't hold up.

author by malpublication date Sun Dec 04, 2005 23:44Report this post to the editors

Though i'm an anarcho-communist, i'm also aware of the problems the industrial world has brought to the earth. We live in a time when the resources are getting more and more difficult to get. Please, don't forget that the inminence of "peak oil" is provoking wars for oil. Peak oil will change our mind.

author by mepublication date Mon Dec 05, 2005 00:53Report this post to the editors

you would need industrialism to feed the whole world... and industrialism requires expansion. depleted soil takes a long while to replenish itself. ..exspeically since alot of it is already depleted, and we just spray it all with pesticides like a sponge.

carrying capacity isnt based on capitialism. alot of areas have collapsed because they went over their capcity, hence...easter island.

oil took over and made it so we could have as many people as we wanted...it's an ariticial capacity.

author by Ivan - earthpublication date Mon Dec 05, 2005 02:49author phone 416 763 1228Report this post to the editors

If you think anarcho-primitivism is a contradictory term, then you can call me a primitivist. Since I can't see 'primitivists' labelling themselves the term must come from the outside. Personally, I am striving for anarchy as opposed to anarchism. Whereas anarchism is the theory of human mass society lacking oppression, anarchy is living with spontaneity, creativity, and nature itself. So on the same token, I can argue that anarchism is the skewing of the word anarchy, and that you have no right to call yourself an anarcho---.

With where society is today, primitivists are being cast as idealists, which means we have a long way to go. But primitivism also presents an alternative to capitalism that has worked for the overwhelming majority of human life. My argument against a free technological society without oppression is its inability to operate in the best interests of the earth. (Human) Oppression aside, there will still be issues of human-centrism and dehumanisation. Do we save the forests or do we practice permaculture? Do we make crafts in the interests of happiness or do we churn out a production line/control society in the interests of productivity? And can any of these be undone if the course of action fails or will we just implement quick fixes that only minimises its symptoms? What is the ideal final result of anarcho-communism? What it lacks are examples that a mass society or even a decentralised community can exist sustainably and self-sufficiently over the long-run. So while there’s no post-capitalist mass societies/decentralised communities being constructed, I don’t know of too many examples of anyone or of any community previously living in capitalism opting out and living in the wild in support of primitivist ideals.

I'm thinking that in order to attain the sustainable lifestyle, we need:
1) Destruction of the capitalist way of life: 'take out dams and dismantle electrical infrastructure', dig up the asphalt superhighways and plant trees in its place, and as unusual as its sounds, consuming oil products like there’s no tomorrow, and eating more free-range organic meat (human population control).
2) Construction of a new earth: relearn how to cooperate and live with the earth

Also, you mentioned how “being an anarchist [you] already want to overthrow capitalism and see the economy restructured from top to bottom.” First of all I take this as a slip-up, and that what you really mean is not top-down, and not even bottom-up, but the removal of hierarchy and perception of hierarchy.

I would also argue that the monetarily poor will be better able to survive the so-called collapse or crash as they can feed themselves without relying on money, while the city-dwellers, yuppies, and capitalists will be the ones unable to cope without the power system they depend on. Of course it can be argued that the crash can happen in many ways and gradually, so I’m just arguing that the legimisation of power through money may not be possible in some scenarios.

--Ivan

Related Link: http://liferadiateslife.blogspot.com/
author by Red and Blackpublication date Mon Dec 05, 2005 04:06Report this post to the editors

"anarchy is living with spontaneity, creativity, and nature itself."

OK, so you want to go live as a primitive in the forest. In order for you to be able to do that, the other people who live in your part of the word need to be OK with that. So then the question is: What sort of society will allow people to do that? Your proposal is that everyone still alive will live in a primitivist way. I think that proposal has two major problems: (1) most people aren't going to voluntarily join such a movement, and (2) even if such an arrangement were to come about (for example, because of nuclear war) it would not be stable.

Elaborating on each of these points:

(1) I don't think most people will get excited about life without modern medicine, communications infrastructure, shelter, etc.. I can just see the pitch now: "Hey ladies, come die in childbirth!"

(2) I don't think that's a stable system. Some people will preserve, or develop anew, technology with which they can dominate others. The only way I see to avoid this problem is to get such technology into the hands of *everyone*, as opposed to *no-one*.

I imagine that most advocates of an anarchist communist civilization would be OK with letting bands of primitivists live in wilderness areas. In fact, it's the only kind of civilization that I can imagine that would.

author by khaospublication date Mon Dec 05, 2005 07:55Report this post to the editors

ivan said:
"Destruction of the capitalist way of life: 'take out dams and dismantle electrical infrastructure"...

I would argue that there is nothing inherently capitalist about electrical infrastructure, highways, etc. In fact, industralization of this nature characterized the USSR and continues in China and North Korea.

The New Deal and the first big build-out of electrical infrastructure and highways in the US is often cited (and critiqued) as one of the most socialist programs ever taken on by the US government.

Is your critique with industrialization, government, capitalism, or all of them? I think i know the answer but i urge you to keep your concepts straight.

thanks,
khaos

author by Ivanpublication date Mon Dec 05, 2005 09:00Report this post to the editors

To respond to red and black and khaos:

While a primitivist lifestyle is proven to be sustainable, not even the believers know how to get there. And while anarcho-communists know what to do, who knows if it will work in the long-term. I know, getting a civilised person to rely on nature is like getting a hunter-gatherer to live in the city... people are accustomed to protecting the systems that sustain them. Of course, there are numerous examples of people voluntarily changing sides, the glorified ones are those who go from the civilised to the primitive (Grey Owl, Cabeza de Vaca, 'lost' anthropologists). I think travel and direct experience opens up people's minds, so I can only offer that as a start to understanding different ways of life. We have to be role models and live according to our beliefs before we go anywhere.

Also I don't know where I stand on many technological issues. I do think that almost all of the current technological machinery is oppressive and controlling, but I'm not yet writing off the contributions of industrial 'progress'. So whether it is capitalism, communism (state capitalism), feudalism (king-domination), or even anarcho-communism and communalism which are not oppressive but still controlling, I'm still seeking a lifestyle that is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy and meaningful as that of the hunter-gatherers, so that is why I have such heart-felt desire for primitivism.

Thanks.

author by Nilpublication date Mon Dec 05, 2005 14:42Report this post to the editors

"getting a civilised person to rely on nature is like getting a hunter-gatherer to live in the city."

Who are these 'hunter-gatherers' who refuse to live in a city? Are they contemporary? Historical? Mythological? Do they actually exist? Do they consider themselves 'uncivilized'? Are all hunter-gatherers past and present the same? Even when their economic activities include other than just foraging? Even when they'd rather be farming or raising livestock, but they can't afford it?

I think that every primitivist who relies on anthropological evidence of this category of 'hunter gatherers' has an obligation to be aware of the controversy within anthropology over the nature of this category. (A debate which has indeed been taken up in the past by various anarchists on various sides as well. Ah, remember the days of "lifestyle anarchism" vs "social anarchism"? You can find Bob Black's response on the web, to a single (important) book by one anthropologist/historian and how that book was used by Bookchin. But the controversy goes beyond the one book. I have never seen Zerzan even acknowledge the existence of this controversy, instead just citing the anthropologists on the side he finds convenient.).

One starting point is here (much else is not on the free web, of course)
http://www.sil.org/~headlandt/huntgath.htm

"I'm still seeking a lifestyle that is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy and meaningful as that of the hunter-gatherers."

Such _noble_ primitives, aren't they though?

author by Andrewpublication date Tue Dec 06, 2005 22:55Report this post to the editors

re: Adam Weaver

Adam there are a whole lot more issues this article and the one that preceeded it could have gone into. The earlier article did briefly touch on the issue you raise that in the event of a crisis "Overwhelmingly the people to die, and to die first, would be the world's most impoverished, the poor, the working class, women and most of the "third world" and people of color world-wide", specifically what I wrote was that Instead the first to die in huge number would be the population of the poorer mega cities on the planet. Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt have a population of around 20 million between them. Egypt is dependent both on food imports and on the very intensive agriculture of the Nile valley and the oasis. Except for the tiny wealthy elite those 20 million urban dwellers would have nowhere to go and there is no more land to be worked. Current high yields are in part dependent on high inputs of cheap energy.

The mass deaths of millions of people is not something that destroys capitalism. Indeed at periods of history it has been seen as quite natural and even desirable for the modernization of capital. The potato famine of the 1840's that reduced the population of Ireland by 30% was seen as desirable by many advocates of free trade. So was the 1943/4 famine in British ruled Bengal in which four million died. For the capitalist class such mass deaths, particularly in colonies afford opportunities to restructure the economy in ways that would otherwise be resisted.

I am however somewhat wary of such arguments as they tend to be over used - a softer version of calling your opponent a fascist. The argument might be correct but it may also cause the person you are trying to convince to switch off. It still is certainly one of a whole range of issues that others might find it useful to expand on.


re: prole cat - Capital Terminus Collective

If you reckon there is a need for more articles looking at the environment from a class struggle presepective I'd advise you to go ahead and start researching them. You already have access to the net and this alongside a good local library and a willingness to put the hours in will enable you to research and then write up just about anything in my experience. I can say that the next Red and Black Revolution will carry an article on the whole Peak Oil panic, otherwise the collection of WSM articles on the environment may be useful.


re: PrimalWar

You have a point on global population. Forecasts in the longer term (100 years time) expect that it will be falling from the peak of 9 billion it is expected to hit around 2070. But the 100 year figure is still expected to be 8.4 billion which is 2.4 billion greater than today's figure. So there is no comfort for primitivists in these figures although they are encouraging for those of us who seek to avoid rather than embrace the crisis capitalism threatens to bring on. The figures also make clear that among the factors that will cause the population to fall are a rise in living standards and access to technology. We already know this as in the wealthier parts of western Europe population growth has been negative for some time - there is quite a debate to be had around this on another day.

I'm familar with some of the books you recommend but while these do show 'civilizations collapse' they don't show that civilisation collapses (outside of some rather special circumstances eg Easter island). By this I mean the earth has played host to wide range of civilisations and thankfully these have collapsed. I don't want to be living under a Pharoah for instance. But civilisation has continued as the collapse of individual civilisations just resulted in space being made in which new (and frequently better) ones could develop. A simple example - Rome is gone for some time but the alphabet we are communicating in was used by them. It's origin is very much older (1900bce) and it has passed through a number of civilisations to reach us. This continuity of civilisation is all around us, the numbers we use, the food we eat, the clothes we wear are often things that have come to us through civilisations that have not existed for hundreds of years. Those civilisations have gone but the civilisation they contributed to remains with us today. Also I'm an anarchist, I'd be rather upset if in 100 years time the current western civilisation we have which is dominated by the likes of George Bush and Bill Gates had not collapsed to be replaced with something a lot better.

The anarchist communist perspective is that association is not only natural but it is inevitable. Kroptkin was one of the early theoriests of anarchist communism and he coined the phrase 'mutual aid' to describe the basis of this. It is the promitivists (and classic liberalism) that cannot see (large scale) association without coercian.


re: mal

Yes 'peak oil' is quite close, anytime from this year to a few decades away. But remember 'peak oil' does not represent the point at which oil runs out (most of it will still be in the ground) but the point at which production starts to decline. The effect will be an increase in oil prices that will have the greatest impact on the poor but for the rich will probably just mean a switch to more efficent cars and a new opportunity to make profits. It might prove to be a tipping point for US civilisation which is very energy dependant but civilisation will survive as will capitalism. The revolution still needs to be fought for


re: me

Yes it is true that current level of western agricultural production depend on significant fossil fuel energy inputs. There are however other ways of getting quite high food outputs from more intensive organic methods. Andit may well be that over the period where oil rises in price much of the gap will be filled by alternative energy sources and a much more efficent use of energy. In some countries like Denmark this is already very advanced. If not that capitalism will allow the poorest billion to starve just as it has in other periods of history.


re: Ivan

Anarchism has a history - playing with words does not take this history away.

When you say "primitivism also presents an alternative to capitalism that has worked for the overwhelming majority of human life" I guess you mean that of the 160,000 odd years humanity has been on the planet that for all but the last 12,000 we have been primitivists. This is true but tells us nothing because civilisation not only emerged from that primitivism but there is no going back. That earth only supported maybe 10-30 million hunter-gathers and even so those people wipped out the large animals of the Americas and Australia. It wasn't sustainable even then and it impossible for the 'overwhelming majority of human life' that lives today because 6 billion of us cannot live as hunter-gathers.

The city dwellers of today are not mostly yuppies but the populations of Lagos, Mexico City, Cairo, Mumbai and Calcutta. And unlike the tiny wealthy elite of New York or Toyko (for instance) the vast majority of these people are so poor that the crash you fantasise about can only leave them to starve. The wealthy elite have the wealth to escape the cities if need be and to monopolise the remaining oil supplies.

So while there is nothing wrong with "seeking a lifestyle that is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy and meaningful" there is a problem when the consequences of your fantasy would be mass starvation for the global poor. Seek your lifestyle in a revolution that would mean freedom for them as well.

author by Ivanpublication date Wed Dec 07, 2005 09:25Report this post to the editors

Thanks for bringing discussion to this topic by the way. To expand on PrimalWar's point, I don't think we should be looking at numbers that strictly. 6+ billion people is not sustainable given that groundwater tables are falling, soil loss/erosion/salination/pollution is decreasing quality and yields, desertification, fertilisers will run out when oil does, sea animals are in great decline. It's been said even all-out vegetarian organic agricultural-based diet will not sustain our current population.

Regarding peak oil: while it is true that our oil supply is half-consumed and that we're producing more oil than ever, once we start the decline, into the second half of the oil supply, it will be consumed in no-time and be pricey and increasingly energy-intensive to search for and mine. We are an oil culture in products and design, so with demand skyrocketing and capitalism extracting for the greatest consumption in the least amount of time in the interests of short-term profit, there is not enough foresight to consider investment of the oil in alternative energies/plastics/...

What I'm trying to say is that we are putting ourselves in situations (population, oil, resource use, pollution,...) in which we exploit to extinction, and the only thing saving us is the glimmer that some miracle technology to divert our exploits to something else instead. We have finished extraction from our capital and we are in debt, so to get out of debt we have to sacrifice our assets by cleaning up the situation. So barring some great spiritual awakening, I think we have to unfortunately accept that the current unsustainable population level is due to borrowing from our future, and that in order to dig out of debt, we unfortunately have to expect a decline. And I hate to end with this, but despite the situation humans are in, we are still a long ways from extinction and that any living things and environments in danger of extinction be given a priority to revive.

author by James - WSM (personal capacity)publication date Wed Dec 07, 2005 20:43Report this post to the editors

The division of labour is one the foundation stones of primitivist critique of civilisation. The division of labour is necessary to develop even a low-level civilisation which results in specialists (or specialists result in civilisation). Primitivists argue that specialists accrue power due to their command of important skills. This becomes a self-perpetuating mechanism as they can use their power to suppress opposition due to dependence that the wider population has on them.

Anarchists have argued since Bakunin’s time that it is not the division of labour per se that results in a class society, but the appropriation by a small elite of the produce of the division of labour. This gives them power and it is a self-perpetuating mechanism as they can hire “one half of the working class to attack the other half”.

The anarchist solution has been to introduce some form of communist distribution of goods, wealth etc. So the efficiency and diversity that the division of labour enables is not lost, but the negative class divisions are avoided. In short, mutual aid dissolves the problem, and makes large, densely populated libertarian societies possible.

Obviously, anarchists are aware of the dangers of too much specialisation. This is why from Kropotkin to Parecon, libertarian socialists have advocated a mixture of mental and manual work, or balanced job complexes to help ensure a fair society..

In a sense, then, primitivism is a repudiation of the traditional anarchist optimism that people can organise on a large scale without exploiting others.

author by Anarchopublication date Fri Dec 09, 2005 04:33Report this post to the editors

Andrew has produced a good article, one which builds on the original one. The silence of the primitivists says it all, I think.

As for the division of labour, I think that the Japanese anarchists had it right. They were against the division of labour as it involved turning people into specialised labourers. Instead they argued for a division of work, so that people would do many tasks and develop all aspects of themselves.

It may seem a slight different, but it's an important one.

Related Link: http://www.anarchistfaq.org
author by Adam Weaver - San Jose, CApublication date Fri Dec 09, 2005 14:16Report this post to the editors

Thanks for your response. For the reasons you stated exactly, I alwasy resist using the 'f' word (facist). It doesn't really help your arguement. But I wouldn't be truthfull if I didn't think there was a degree of truth to it.

author by Janos Biropublication date Thu Dec 15, 2005 04:40author email janosbiro at yahoo dot com dot brReport this post to the editors

Not everything in primitivism is a waste. First: critique of civilization does not mean we have to "go back to be hunter-gatherers", it only mean we lived in a sustainable way once, and we can live again, beyond civilization. Second: you cannot say that there’s nothing wrong in the development of expansive agriculture (it’s not just any agriculture) 10,000 years ago, because it caused a destabilization of human population, that have being stabilized for 90,000 years at least. As any living population, stability means the species are well adapted to its environment. A rapid drop OR a rapid grow means the specie is trying to adapt to changes. In this case, a cultural change that ends with the natural cycle of food availability. Every living creature in this world naturally has a small oscillation in their population, but, they stay stabilized. Since that event we call agrarian revolution, our population have never stopped growing, it means it never stopped trying to adapt, because no mammal has ever lived this way. Evolution gave us tribes, we became humans in tribes. We didn’t invent tribal life. That’s the way of life we were born adapted to. It’s the persons who think that mass society it’s the most natural way for humans to live that needs to give some explanation. And until now there’s no explanation that’s not ethnocentric or anthropocentric. Daniel Quinn is not a primitivist, but his ideas may answer some of your questions.

Related Link: http://www.largue.cjb.net
author by Chekovpublication date Thu Dec 15, 2005 22:46Report this post to the editors

"Every living creature in this world naturally has a small oscillation in their population, but, they stay stabilized."

Over 99% of all species that ever existed are now extinct - a stability of sorts, but not one that is very attractive from the point of view of our species.

author by Andypublication date Fri Dec 16, 2005 12:15Report this post to the editors

This article is rather misdirected in its focus. It seeks to decouple anarchism and primitivism. Not only is the severing of these two schools of though rather irrelevant, but fails to give actual alternatives necessary to either camp.

The author contends that “primitivism is of no practical use” based on the feasibility of attaining such a system. The author feels that a massive die-off is either to hard to enact or that such events will not happen in the future. The author even states ““capitalism and the way it uses technology has given us an unstable and unsustainable economic system...although I may not believe 'the end is nigh' I do accept that things cannot go on as they are without major problems”. Although the author may not see the end as near, the end is still there, still coming. And that is what we must focus on. The end of capitalism. Not what comes after.

So how do we end capitalism?

Burn it out. And let it burn itself down. We must stop enacting all this legislation to “protect” the environment. We must stop recycling. We must stop trying to live on the earth now as though we can create sustainability while capitalism is still around. Because no matter how many acres of forest we save and no matter how many milk jugs you send to the recycling bin, the transnational corporations are still going to be there. And the will be around for longer, because we have saved so many resources for them to use later.

So how do we burn it out? Squander ever resource we can get out hands on. Contribute to global warming as much as possible by using fossil fuels. Kill as many species as possible. I know you are already probably pissed off about saying this, but stick with me.

Lets face it. Everything I'm saying we should do, burn fossil fuels and trash the environment, is going to be done inevitably by corporations and governments. Kyoto is a sad joke, and its a joke that doesn't even look like will get much support. And corporations just care about money, so they are not going to listen. So all of this destruction and terrible things like destroying the world population is inevitable.

Second, if we cause all of this destruction rapidly, instead of in slow motion, there is the chance that some parts of the earth might remain intact. Life adapted to the ice age, something will adapt to the global warming. Maybe humans even will. Maybe not, but humans certainly won't live a fulfilling life under a capitalist society anyways.

My point is that we must stop trying to figure out what we are going to do. It is impossible to tell what society will emerge from this phoenix like rebirth. But that does not matter because we can't know what to do until we create a world in which we can do something. Capitalism has precluded the ability of an anarchist or a primitivist society from emerging. So until we get rid of capitalism it seems that all of this talk about “social system x” and “social system y” is rather fruitless.

author by David Rave - Colombian Fishermen Organizationpublication date Sun Dec 18, 2005 14:46author email daverave_14 at yahoo dot comReport this post to the editors

Mr. Flood, congradulations on this eloquent article, it did a very good job of dismissing serious libertarian doubts about the significance of human proggress. Keep up the good work.

author by David Rave - Colombian Fishermen Associationpublication date Sun Dec 18, 2005 15:11author email daverave_14 at yahoo dot comReport this post to the editors

Andy, then what good is standing for peace and fighting for justice? Should we ignore human suffering? You must think human life is cheap.

author by acapublication date Mon Dec 19, 2005 10:59Report this post to the editors

I wanted to briefly add a bit more context to this discussion. Since I'm tired, I won't say much, but if people are interested, I'm sure they can follow up on their own.

Ideologues and writers on both sides of the "red vs. green" debate tend to perpetuate false dichotomies and conceal the roots of this discussion. Basically, I wanted to make clear that anti-civilization theory is rooted in concern with the class struggle, and was largely developed by people engaged with the problems posed by the class war as it raged in the 60s and 70s. Today, a lot of the thinking has devolved into collapsism, but that is far from the only strain of thought. For example, I'd ask people to contrast John Zerzan's thought today (which is deeply ideological bullshit) with his writings from the early 70s (eg. "Unions vs. the revolt against work").

To be clearer: The struggles of the 60s and 70s were of a qualitatively different sort than those of previous periods. However intense these struggles were, they mostly did not lead to the formation of councils. Instead, workers seemed to be moving towards "the refusal of work," through sabotage, absenteeism, checkerboard strikes, etc. all across the industrialized world. Instead of taking the factory, radical workers were leaving it.

People from a number of different perspectives started thinking about why this was. A central theme to these discussions was the nature of increasingly-complex and global production, which inhibited genuinely democratic production processes. Furthermore, people began calling into question the neutrality of production processes. It seemed clear that many forms of industrial production were designed not for efficiency in work, but to police and dominate workers (e.g. Taylorism, neo-Taylorism). The factories themselves were thus unusable in a free society (the economic equivalent of the question of "how can one think freely in the shadow of a church?").

Finally, ecological perspectives were raised, and just as clearly as this essay argues that primitivism must mean the death of 5.9 billion people, its clear that industrial production (in its current form, or anything similar) will kill everything on earth, whether in 50 years or 200.

My point is that I think this conversation is really stilted because people insist on seeing in only black and white. I consider myself to be anti-industrial, and anti-civilization, and am primarily concerned with "social questions" and workplace/community struggles.

A final redudancy: Zerzan (as of the past two decades) and the Species Traitor folks are idiots, and while claiming to be anti-ideological, assert that anarcho-primitivism is the only true way to be against civilization.

Recommended reading:
Fredy Perlman
Jacques Camatte
Midnight Notes Collective (not anti-civ, but see the essay by Zero Work in Midnight Oil)
Rene Riesel

author by Andrewpublication date Thu Dec 22, 2005 22:43Report this post to the editors

re: Ivan

If you are going to make claims along the lines of "strictly. 6+ billion people is not sustainable given that groundwater tables are falling, soil loss/erosion/salination/pollution is decreasing quality and yields, desertification, fertilisers will run out when oil does, sea animals are in great decline. It's been said even all-out vegetarian organic agricultural-based diet will not sustain our current population." it would be very useful if you could provide some sources for these claims.

Some of these just repeat arguments that are already dealt with - for instance oil will not run out (for a long time), it will just get a hell of a lot more expensive. Others state as facts (eg with regard to soil erosion) that are actually highly contested areas of research. And while someone, somewhere may have made that final claim I'm not aware of any evidence for this I am however aware of studies that show organic corn yields from crop rotation are only 7-9% less than fertilizer yields.

In making apocalyptic forecasts it important not to simply state what you already consider to be truths - apart from anything else these things change - as already shown in the essay for instance capitalist investment into alternative energy sources is no longer on the hippie ben and jerry fringe but making up a large percentage of ads in the economist. Provide some facts to back up your assetions - if you think 5.9 billion need to die you owe them that at least.

re: Janos Biro

What does being "beyond civilization" mean if it does not mean a return to the food supply methods of hunter-gathers? These are concrete questions we are dealing with - it does not do to evade them by simply saying we do not have to "go back to be hunter-gatherers". What food supply methods are you suggesting that do not require a form of civilisation to organise them?

Your talk of population stability is just a restatement of the old reactionary Malthus. We have already escaped the "natural cycle of food availability" - that is what the agricultural revolution was all about. That "natural cycle of food availability" was what limited the population of the world to less than 100 million, today there are 5900 million of us - there is no going back.

And why should we be concerned with what is natural anyway? If anything this is another term that is often used to hide a reactionary agenda, in particular in relation to women. Our escape from some of the 'laws' of nature is to be celebrated and not mourned.

re: Andy

I do not think "a massive die-off is to hard to enact" I am simply against an ideological project that requires the death of 98% of the human population. I am more than happy it is "to hard to enact" as I am entirely against such a reactionary ideology .

The rest of your post just illustrates how little primitivism has in common with anarchism - your fantasy of mass destruction (and the unmentioned mass death that would accompany it) reflects the mind set of the far right. Perhaps you meant it as a joke - if so it is not funny.

re: aca

What does it mean to be "anti-civilization" in the way you use it. I understand what Zerzan means - I can't see what you are proposing (rather than opposing).

You say "many forms of industrial production were designed not for efficiency in work, but to police and dominate workers" but even the use of 'many' rather than 'all' hints that there were also forms of industrial production designed for efficiency. And even if these did not exist why could a free society not create them?

I would expect that the construction of a free society would involve drastic transformations in how we produce the goods and services we need. The first step might be the running up of the red and black flag over the existing workplaces but soon after I'd expect many to be abandoned and others to be transformed beyond recognition. But the idea that every worker will simply forget about his or her need to eat and wander off into the forest I don't get.

The transformation of civilisation is the project at the heart of anarchism.

author by malpublication date Wed Jan 25, 2006 16:50Report this post to the editors

You can trace back its roots in the 19th century french and spanish naturist movement. They were mostly what we can consider "primitivists". Don't take for granted that the spanish classical anarchism was monolithic: there were naturists, vegetarians, esperantists, spiritualists, individualists, pacifists, etc. with the most known syndicalists and insurrectionists. (Most of this people were working class)


This comment was moved from http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=2212

author by Andrewpublication date Wed Jan 25, 2006 17:49Report this post to the editors

I'm afraid your post simply reminds me of those 'anarcho' capitalists who take 19th century individualists like Tucker and try and convert them into their ideological forerunners.

There were significant 'back to the earth' and naturist movements connected with both 19th century and 20th century anarchists. But they were not primitivists who wanted to abandon civilisation. Rather they sought to create spaces (sometimes as colonies) where they could practise self-supporting agriculture.

I actually (organically) grow a fair percentage of my own vegtables. Does this make me a primitivist? I don't think so. In any case my argument is not against anarchists who do want self sufficency - it is against primitivists who want to abolish / overthrow civilisation and return to hunter gathering. If there are people who call themselves primitivists who by this only mean they want to personally return to a simple life, either individually or through colonies, my argument really does not apply to them.

An additional point. You say not to "take for granted that the spanish classical anarchism was monolithic: there were naturists, vegetarians, esperantists, spiritualists, individualists, pacifists". Quite why you imagine I think it was monolithic I'm not sure but none of these sets you list were equivalent to todays primitivists and most of them were actually either CNT members or connected to the CNT. The 1936 Saragossa congress which preceeded the revolution actually spent quite a bit of time discussing setting up naturist colonies.

I argue in some detail in this essay and the previous one why primItiivism is a break from anarchism - if you want to convince me I'm wrong it would be better to address these arguments then to try and invent primItivists in the CNT!

author by Nilpublication date Mon Feb 06, 2006 02:25Report this post to the editors

Well, to be fair, 19th century anarchist naturists, spiritualists, vegetarians, etc., are to some extent ideological forerunners of anarchist primitivists. The mystical/spiritual embrace of 'nature' among some anarchists and other radicals is not a brand new thing. I would agree that _some_ current primitivists (anarchist and not) have taken the trend in a rather pathological direction. Of course, many anarchist primitivists are also just confused or ideologically incoherent--something that could be said of many contemporary anarchists of many stripes, unfortunately.

author by GK4publication date Sat Feb 18, 2006 22:35Report this post to the editors

First, thanks for the helpful critiques of primitivism. When you finalize them for the PDF, please review typos (such as 1994, when you probably meant 2004).

Second, in one of your comments, you mentioned "the next Red and Black Revolution will carry an article on the whole Peak Oil panic".

When will that issue be online? Are any of the peak-oil-related articles already available?

I'm interested in this topic and would like to read more anarchist (and other positive radical) perpectives. Thanks.

author by Soulmanpublication date Tue Feb 28, 2006 00:22Report this post to the editors

It's laughable that you ridicule primitivists for being unrealistic. Logically, old time anarchists like yourself are even more unrealistic. You want a free mass society. Guess what? Mass society is inherently not free. The history of civilization has proven that! Primitivists desire the improbable. You desire the impossible. At least the primitivist aren't so foolish as to pretend they have realistic plans.

author by Toby Bpublication date Tue Feb 28, 2006 14:57Report this post to the editors

"You want a free mass society. Guess what? Mass society is inherently not free. The history of civilization has proven that!"

Um, no, not at all. History is littered with rebellions by the oppressed. Its true that none of these rebellions has yet produced a free society, but that doesn't mean it is impossible. In fact, these rebellions foreshadow or prefigure what a possibe future mass free society could look like. There is no iron law of oligarchy in history.

"At least the primitivist aren't so foolish as to pretend they have realistic plans."

this is quite revealing isn't it!

author by Andrewpublication date Wed Apr 05, 2006 20:54Report this post to the editors

I've just uploaded a new version of the PDF that contains both essays to http://struggle.ws/pdfs/andrew/primitivism.pdf

author by Janospublication date Sun Apr 30, 2006 12:26author email janosbiro at yahoo dot com dot brReport this post to the editors

Thinking again, do not read Daniel Quinn. Read Konrad Lorenz, you will understand enough about biology and evolution to see why we CAN'T escape nature laws, we can only fool ourselves that we escaped. To escape from nature = to get extinct. I'm not hiding any reactionary agenda, nature has limits, we are animals, our culture must change from it's real bases. We should rethink civilization as a project of acumulation and expansion that can't go on forever in a limited world. I'm not a god to tell people how they should live, and tribal way of life was not revealed by any theory, was given by evolution, by natural selection, and if you keep thinking ou got everything figured out and human reason is master over nature's wisdon, you are only going the short way to extinction. We are not in an two way road, we are in a million ways road, even if you can't imagine how to live sustainably in a complete new way, that does not mean theres no other way but the ones we already know. We are creative, we are not in the end of history.

author by Kipawapublication date Wed Nov 05, 2008 02:09Report this post to the editors

Here is a response to Flood's article "Civilisation, primitivism and anarchism" (in french):

http://endehors.org/news/civilisation-anarchie-et-anarc...hisme

author by Kalevipublication date Wed Dec 16, 2009 01:24Report this post to the editors

Is primitivism realistic? The state of primal anarchy has been a reality for human beings for millions of years, while there has yet to be a single anarchist technological mass society. I think that pretty much settles the question. Primitivist anarchism is a realistic future scenario while technological mass society anarchism is pure folly.

How did you think an entire complex society would ever adopt anarchism? And once established, how would a society like that remain anarchist? Complex societies require a shit load of bureaucracy to function. How would a bunch of anarchists manage that? Even on a municipal level it wouldn't work.

Anarcho-primitivism is perfectly sensible in its critique of technology because that is the material basis of mass society, the matrix in which this system of domination functions. Target that matrix and the system of domination will collapse with it.

author by Red and Black Actionpublication date Mon Sep 13, 2010 03:52Report this post to the editors

Someone called "Kalevi" makes an argument that presents "primitivism" (or her/his oxymoronic term "anarcho-primitivism") as "realistic".

A quick look through this "response" shows it to be a perfect restatement of most of "primitivism"'s absurdity:

- "The state of primal anarchy has been a reality for human beings for millions of years":
>>humans have only been around at most 120,00 years. Earlier types of hominid are not "human beings"...

-"while there has yet to be a single anarchist technological mass society":
>>barring Ukraine, Korea, Spain... but why worry about history?

-"How did you think an entire complex society would ever adopt anarchism? And once established, how would a society like that remain anarchist? Complex societies require a shit load of bureaucracy to function. How would a bunch of anarchists manage that? Even on a municipal level it wouldn't work":
>>this argument might as well come out of standard liberal toolkit - its simply an argument that democracy is impossible, and that is one of the many reasons that "anarcho-primitivism" is an oxymoronic notion. If you can't envisage an anti-authoritarian society, with the actual humans who live on this world, you cannot reasonably be called an anarchist/

-"Anarcho-primitivism is perfectly sensible in its critique of technology because that is the material basis of mass society, the matrix in which this system of domination functions":
>> again, here we go. The question of what TYPE of modern technology is ignored; we have something here that reads like a caricature of Marxism: "technology" creates something bad called "mass society". Actually, society is the "matrix" of "technology", and a society based on a "system of domination" will have technology to match. So, change society and you change technology, not the other way around.

-"Target that matrix and the system of domination will collapse with it" -
>> because "Kalevi" confuses cause with effect, her/his logic is also confused (I leave aside the absurdity of writing against technology ... on the internet too...) and her/his strategy is peculiar. Somehow Kalevi and her/his pals are going to "target" technology and so, end "mass society". Since pretty much everyone else is going to oppose this, "Kalevi" and co. will a) either eke out their lives writing this drivel and posing, b) or will have to use a super-technology (like the germ bomb in "12 Monkeys") to kill everyone else (not very "anarcho" and not very "primitivist") or c) will need state power and a Pol Pot-style regime (not too "anarcho" either, but certainly anti-technological).

author by Waynepublication date Mon Sep 20, 2010 06:37Report this post to the editors

In any case, so-called primitive society eventually developed into modern society. That is, humanity once had stateless, classless, societies and they developed into the statified, capitalist, world of today. From *that* came *this.* If we should somehow magically return to that (primitive, preclass, preagricultural, preindustrial society) what is to prevent humanity from once again evolving into this (the industrialized class-divided urban society of capitalism)? Primitive society failed. What we need is not a return but something new. This is the program of revolutionary communist-anarchism.

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textReport from St. Imier International Congress, 8th-12th August 2012 21:28 Mon 10 Sep by Collective Action 0 comments

This year marks the 140 year anniversary of the first anarchist International held at St.Imier, Switzerland, in 1872. In celebration of the anniversary an international gathering was called in St.Imier in mid-August. A contingent of Collective Action militants attended the gathering along with thousands of other anarchists from around the world to discuss politics, create new international ties and, of course, have some fun.

anarkismotent.jpg imageDelegation returns from International Anarchist Gathering at St Imier 15:13 Wed 22 Aug by Andrew Flood 4 comments

August saw a gathering of a couple of thousand anarchists from all over the globe in St Imier, Switzerland. This small town was the site of the founding of the Anarchist International in 1872, the gathering was organised to commemorate this event and involved dozens of political, organisational & cultural events. As part of this gathering Anarkismo, the international network that the WSM is the Irish section of, held both a European conference and a global gathering. [Italiano]

300_0___20_0_0_0_0_0_5423_popupp.jpg image"Black Flame" blog updated again 20:09 Tue 13 Dec by Lucien van der Walt 0 comments

The Black Flame blog has just been updated. The blog collates news, views and reviews of Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt's book, "Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism".

zababooks_logo_2011.png imageNew Zabalaza Books website 22:25 Thu 08 Sep by Zabalaza Books 0 comments

The Zabalaza Books pages have moved to the new ZB site.

Freedom Bookshop, venue for the event imageConference of European Anarkismo organizations in London 18:02 Wed 23 Mar by European Coordination Committee 0 comments

On the weekend of 26-27 February 2011, delegates representing organizations from the UK, France, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Ireland and Italy met to discuss how they could work more closely together. [Dansk] [Deutsch] [Italiano] [Ελληνικά] [Nederlands]

videoComunique from A(A)A. Anon Anarchist Action 03:47 Thu 24 Feb by NetAnarchist 0 comments

In the last few years, Anonymous has gained increasing notoriety for its action against websites, agencies and organizations that promote censorship and control. It has helped spread information and supported protestors demanding freedoms and rights. But the popularity of the movement, the attention it brings along, and the structure it has engendered threaten to push Anonymous away from the decentralized, collective movement it has been. As decisions become more centralized and newcomers jump on the bandwagon, Anonymous risks becoming yet another ineffective reformist group, fueled by well-meaning rethoric but subject to third party interests and paralyzed by its fear of authority...

book.jpg imageNew Book: Anarchism & Socialism: Reformism or Revolution? 02:23 Thu 26 Aug by Wayne Price 0 comments

Anarchism & Socialism: Reformism or Revolution?
by Wayne Price

From the Foreword by Andrew Flood (Workers Solidarity Movement--Ireland):

"This collection of essays by Wayne Price…will hopefully play a significant part in helping us build the movement we need…..This volume represents a good foundation to this process. It revisits many of the essential basic questions and lays down a coherent position in regard to them. Wayne's insights are important to us because they are based not just on a theoretical study of revolution but on five decades of practical experience in the North American left and the anarchist movement"

organisational_platform_of_the_general_union_of_anarchists_draft1.jpg imageAnnouncing the new Anarchist Platform Archive 05:54 Tue 22 Jun by AP Archive 0 comments

Announce the new Anarchist Platform Archive. The Anarchist Platform Archive is an archive of texts relating to the publishing of the Organisational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft) by the Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad (“Delo Truda” Group) in 1926.

cover_v_1_b.jpg image"Black Flame" blog updated 20:07 Sat 24 Apr by Lucien 0 comments

The Black Flame blog has just been updated. The blog collates news, views and reviews of Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt's book, Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism' .

start.gif imageZabalaza Books Update - 7 January 2010 15:05 Fri 08 Jan by Griffin 0 comments

As of 7 January 2010 the Zabalaza Books website has just been updated with the following:

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imageKevin Carson’s Revival of Individualist Anarchist Economic Theory Nov 30 by Wayne Price 1 comments

This is a review of Kevin Carson's "Studies in Mutualist Political Economy". Carson seeks to revive individualist anarchist economic theory. Taking from Marxist and pro-capitalist economic theories, he tries to develop an anarchist economics which can analyze existing capitalism as well as provide a model for a market-based but non-capitalist stateless economy.

imageA Response to Rojava: An anarcho-syndicalist perspective Nov 14 by Hüseyin Civan 0 comments

We are not fortunetellers, we can't possibly know what will happen in Rojava a month or a year from now. We can't know that this social transformation which not only gives us hope as revolutionaries that struggle in a geographically close region, but also feeds our struggle in the regions that we struggle in, would move towards a positive or negative future. But we are revolutionary anarchists. We can't just sit aside, watch what's happening and comment; we take part in social struggles and take action for an anarchist revolution.

imageStuart Christie's Preface to "Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndica... May 11 by Red and Black Action 0 comments

Stuart Christie's Preface to Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt, "Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism" (AK Press, San Francisco)

imageThe Political Thought of Errico Malatesta Mar 08 by Felipe Corrêa 1 comments

This text is divided into four main parts for the presentation of Malatesta’s political thought: a.) a brief description of the author’s life, the political environment in which he found himself and his main interlocutors; b.) a theoretical-epistemological discussion, which differentiates science from doctrine/ideology and, therefore, the methods of analysis and social theories of anarchism. A notion that will be applied to the discussion of Malatestan thought itself; c.) theoretical-methodological elements for social analysis; d.) conception of anarchism and strategic positions. [Português]

textSpecifism explained Sep 11 by Collective Action 0 comments

In discussing the platform of Collective Action some individuals have expressed confusion at our use of the label "specifism" to describe the tradition of social anarchism we associate with. The following is a short introduction to what we consider to be the most essential concepts within the specifist model. This text is an adaptation of a forthcoming interview with Shift Magazine on anti-capitalist regroupment. [Italiano]

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image"Black Flame" blog updated again Dec 13 0 comments

The Black Flame blog has just been updated. The blog collates news, views and reviews of Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt's book, "Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism".

imageNew Zabalaza Books website Sep 08 Zabalaza Books [ZACF] 0 comments

The Zabalaza Books pages have moved to the new ZB site.

imageConference of European Anarkismo organizations in London Mar 23 Anarkismo European Coordination 0 comments

On the weekend of 26-27 February 2011, delegates representing organizations from the UK, France, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Ireland and Italy met to discuss how they could work more closely together. [Dansk] [Deutsch] [Italiano] [Ελληνικά] [Nederlands]

videoComunique from A(A)A. Anon Anarchist Action Feb 24 Anon Anarchist Action 0 comments

In the last few years, Anonymous has gained increasing notoriety for its action against websites, agencies and organizations that promote censorship and control. It has helped spread information and supported protestors demanding freedoms and rights. But the popularity of the movement, the attention it brings along, and the structure it has engendered threaten to push Anonymous away from the decentralized, collective movement it has been. As decisions become more centralized and newcomers jump on the bandwagon, Anonymous risks becoming yet another ineffective reformist group, fueled by well-meaning rethoric but subject to third party interests and paralyzed by its fear of authority...

imageNew Book: Anarchism & Socialism: Reformism or Revolution? Aug 26 0 comments

Anarchism & Socialism: Reformism or Revolution?
by Wayne Price

From the Foreword by Andrew Flood (Workers Solidarity Movement--Ireland):

"This collection of essays by Wayne Price…will hopefully play a significant part in helping us build the movement we need…..This volume represents a good foundation to this process. It revisits many of the essential basic questions and lays down a coherent position in regard to them. Wayne's insights are important to us because they are based not just on a theoretical study of revolution but on five decades of practical experience in the North American left and the anarchist movement"

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