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primitivism

Primitivism and Ecofascism

Primitivism: An Illusion with No Future

By Stephen Booth - ca. January 1, 2005

Web Editor's Note - This very lengthy article was originally written for an anarchist audience as a critique of the so-called "green"-anarchist (i.e. anarchism with a strong ecological orientation) marriage to primitivism. However, this critique can easily be extended to all varieties of primitivism (anarchist or not) and can be useful to anarchists and non-anarchists alike.

Anarchism vs. Primitivism

By Brian Oliver Sheppard - 2003

Web Editor's Note: - This article was written for an anarchist audience. The IWW is not explicitly or exclusively anarchist in its orientation (though it does share a good deal of commonalities with anarcho-syndicalism, in particular). Likewise, neither are "primitivists" exclusively anarchist, nor are anarchists for the most part primitivist. In spite of that, this critique adequately addresses a general anti-capitalist, revolutionary working class critique of the primitivism, and/or "anti-civ" tendency so prevalent among radical environmentalists.

1. The Demonology of Primitivism

“No one has ever been so witty as you are in trying to turn us into brutes: to read your book makes ode long to go on all fours. Since, however, it is now some sixty years since I gave up the practice, I feel that it is unfortunately impossible for me to resume it: I leave this natural habit to those more fit for it than are you and I.”

— Voltaire, letter to Rousseau, August 30, 1755.

Bakunin vs. the Primitivists

By Brian Oilver Sheppard - Originally published at Zabalaza Books, September 27, 2011

In Bakunin’s day, those who longed for pre-capitalist, feudal social relations were the aristocracy. Those who took it even further and hearkened back to the days before feudalism, before slavery and to the days of free nomadic peoples, were the romanticists. They were inspired in the main by the political writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and by much romantic poetry and literature that indicted industrial civilization. They regarded intuition at least as important as rational deliberation, but usually more so.

The values held by these romantic socialists are very similar to those held by anarcho-primitivists [sic.]. Bakunin often spoke against the romanticist socialists; he felt they held individualist values that could only develop in a very privileged milieu and which reflected that privilege and its latent elitism. What Bakunin condemned in the thinking of the political followers of Rousseau are largely the same things found in modern primitivism. It is this commonality between the political romanticism of the Rousseauists and the beliefs of modern anarcho-primitivists that makes Bakunin’s statements applicable to the present state of the anarchist movement, especially to the anti-worker, primitivist element within it.

“In every Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association,” Bakunin lamented in the late 1860’s, “we have fought the individualists or false-brother socialists who say that society was founded by a free contract of originally free men and who claim, along with the moralists and bourgeois economists, that man can be free, that he can be a man, outside of society.” Bakunin’s refers here to the followers of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and his criticism carries weight to this day. In the anarchist movement, the romantic, anti-society sect are the primitivists.

Against Green Reactionaries: Writings on eco-fascists and exterminationists

By various - Green Antifascist - Spring 2020

A compilation of writings against ecofascist infiltration of revolutionary ecology and green anarchist milieus, includes:

  • Confronting the Rise of Eco-Fascism Means Grappling with Complex Systems - by Emmi Bevensee and Alexander Reid Ross
  • There’s nothing anarchist about Eco-Fascism - by Scott Campbell
  • On No Platform and ITS - by William Gillis
  • ITS, or the rhetoric of decay - a Joint statement of insurrectional groups in Mexican territory

Web editor's note: we highly recommend the first three sections of this document. As for the last chapter, we vehemently disagree with their anti-organizational and anti-structural dogma as well as their sectarian denunciations of "the left", but welcome their distancing from ITS and similarly minded eco-fascists. In any case, the document is a package deal. Plus, note our standard disclaimer:

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

Download (PDF).

Ghostbusting: Exorcising the Separation Between Workplace and Community Struggles

By anonymous - It's Going Down, January 28, 2019

The following essay, written by Wobblies for a Revolutionary Union Movement, continues the back and forth dialog and discussion on the back and forth dialog about unions, syndicalism, and the IWW.

For the last several weeks, an exchange of articles has appeared on It’s Going Down, on the value of workplace organizing, including “Nothing to Syndicate”, “Aiming at Ghosts”, “Crafty Ghosts”, and several other pieces. Most of these have taken aim at “syndicalism”, and opponents of workplace struggle have insisted on using a restricted, shop-floor-only definition of “syndicalism”, accusing workers who support unions of having a narrow focus on their own workplace, of wanting to run the existing exploitative economy under their own democratic management, and of ignoring oppressions beyond class.

Supporters of workplace struggle, meanwhile, have answered with a broader definition of our organizing based in the real work that we do. Our revolutionary unionism is based in interconnected community and workplace organizing, imagines the radical transformation of the economy and liberation of people from our exploitation as workers, and sees the oppressions that we face on and off the shop floor as our shared concern. We are here as revolutionary unionists speaking about the work we actually do – not as “syndicalists” defending a workplace-only stance that we don’t take.

Several of the pieces, starting with “Crafty Ghosts”, take aim at the General Defense Committee and Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, claiming that these are “entryist” projects, competing with other radical projects. “Crafty Ghosts” specifically names Wobblies for a Revolutionary Union Movement (WRUM), a caucus of the IWW that supports prisoner organizing, the community self defense mission of the GDC, and further democratization of the union. The author of “Crafty Ghosts” specifically mentions “the author of Aiming at Ghosts—and the Wobblies for a Revolutionary Unionist Movement (WRUM) in general”. We’re glad that someone wrote Aiming at Ghosts, but it wasn’t anyone in WRUM.

We are members of WRUM, writing specifically to respond to the charges of “entryism”. However, given the short length of “Crafty Ghosts”, we hope to use it as a jumping off point for clarifying some misconceptions about the IWW’s role in community self defense and prison abolition.

A Response to “Crafty Ghosts”

By anonymous contributor - It's Going Down, January 10, 2019

Another response and continuation of the discussion around syndicalism, work, civilization, and the anarchist movement.

I’ve been reading some of the debates that have been going on lately around the topic of workplace-organizing, economics, ecology and the future. I think its not bad that this is being discussed at all, but the matter is leaving me more and more puzzled due to the way things are being brought up.

There is some kind of contradiction being brought to the forefront that at least in my opinion is not really there. This especially visible in the latest response of the 28th of December called “Crafty Ghosts: A Critique of Entryist Trajectory.” It’s a little related to the actual article “Nothing to Syndicate” and I do recon that by responding to this very article in a way I am adding to the drifting from the original subject. But with such an article actually being published I find it necessary to add a short response. First and foremost the anonymous author of “Crafty Ghosts” is having a different opinion on the value of open organization with membership and organizing that has a nation-wide (or beyond) reach – like for instance the IWW. There can be flaws made with this way of organizing for sure. For instance when the main goal is getting as many people to sign up. But that would be a caricature of the IWW. If there would be a problem around this there is hardly anything being put forward what could be helping to overcome this issue. The concept of membership seems to be just dismissed as a whole.

Instead there author claims that “Anarchist projects like antifa crews, Books to Prisoners, Anarchist Black Cross (ABC), and more [are] […] objectively superior to the GDC and IWOC’s approach.” This is quiet a subjective statement as it is put here and I’d like to see that substantiated. I’ve been an active anarchists for years and I’ve seen many autonomous initiatives over the years by very good comrades. But as far as I know these collectives are subject to very similar problems. I do not see how these initiatives function so much better in terms of E.G. being more productive or easier accessibility. I would suggest they are above all complementary and adding another modus operandus that fits better to certain people. The overcoming of the problems attributed to formal organizing and membership-organizing that the author of “Crafty Ghosts” puts forward, has little to do with membership itself, but more with the question of how a certain organization (formal or informal) is being filled.

Build the Revolution: Anarcho-Syndicalism in the 21st Century

By Radical Education Department - It's Going Down, January 10, 2019

The Radical Education Department (RED) weighs in on the ongoing debate around syndicalism and organizing strategies, arguing that modern variations of syndicalism still offer powerful weapons for autonomous anti-capitalist struggles and movements.

Read and Print PDF HERE

Introduction

Anarchists are debating anarcho-syndicalism once again. If anarcho-syndicalism is a “ghost”—like some critics are claiming—it has proven extremely hard to exorcise. But it is something very different entirely.

The current debate was sparked by “Nothing to Syndicate,” which largely repeats standard criticisms of AS, some of the more recent of which can be seen here and here; see also the summaries here. Then came a critique of “Nothing” (“Aiming at Ghosts”), and then two replies defending the original piece (here and here). The debate has been fairly limited so far. The important first reply to “Nothing,” as well as the defenses that followed, have been wrestling over the details of the original piece. But what’s been missing is a comprehensive response to the original question. What does anarcho-syndicalism offer radicals in the 21st century US?

Some have given this kind of response to critics before, though often in more limited ways (like here). My goal is to go further and deeper. First, I give a systematic historical-materialist analysis of 21st century capitalism in the United States today: its basic drives, structures, and developments. Then I examine the profound limits facing anarchists and their revolutionary allies facing such conditions. (This section tacitly rejects the superficial analysis of the original article.)

And then I offer a vision of what anarcho-syndicalism has to offer. It is far from a ghost. It is a set of inherited, audacious, and sometimes conflicting experiments. Those experiments are still developing. (The ongoing evolution is obvious in more recent syndicalist praxis like green syndicalism and community syndicalism.)

I locate in AS explosive resources for our present—for moving past the fundamental limits of radical organizing today and building revolutionary power to strike at 21st century capital. Defending AS, I explore how its inner resources could be developed to meet the revolutionary needs of the moment.

Anarcho-syndicalism offers badly needed tools for building mass, durable, working-class autonomy inside and outside the workplace for the sake of the revolutionary overthrow of every institution of capitalist control. It is an idea whose time has come again.

The Ableist Logic of Primitivism: A Critique of “Ecoextremist” Thought

By Conor Arpwel - Protean Magazine, December 30, 2018

In his recent article for New York MagazineChildren of Ted, John H. Richardson ruminates on the recent rise of a fringe political movement centered on the writings of Ted Kaczynski, the ecoterrorist widely known as “the Unabomber.” On its face, Richardson’s article amounts to an eccentric human-interest story for a mainstream publication. Yet, in typical liberal fashion, Richardson approaches his subject with a dangerous combination of cynicism and naiveté. He frivolously mischaracterizes much of modern anarchist thought by describing the article’s main subject, John Jacobi, as an (idiosyncratic and largely mythical) type of leftist radical who is “sure that morality is just a social construct that keeps us docile in our shearing pens.” Richardson goes on to assert that “Kaczynski was Karl Marx in modern flesh, yearning for his Lenin”—a highly misleading and facile assertion. Due in part to this semi-implicit disregard for the potential for fundamental social change, Richardson does little to present alternatives to Kaczynski’s fascistic “solution” to our climate catastrophe that has already begun.

KACZYNSKI ADVOCATES A PRELAPSARIAN “RETURN TO NATURE” IN ORDER TO ALIGN OUR SOCIAL REALITIES TO GENETICALLY PRESCRIBED HUMAN BEHAVIOR. HOWEVER, IT IS CRUCIAL TO UNDERSTAND THAT THIS PERSPECTIVE IS FAR MORE INSIDIOUS THAN SOME ROMANTIC YEARNING FOR THOREAU’S WALDEN POND.

Although Richardson prefers to refer to this type of thought as “ecoextremism,” Kaczynski and his groupies are better understood as advocates for a callous strain of primitivism. This ideology is grounded in a belief that technological development must be stopped—even reversed. From Kaczynski’s perspective, industrialization and technological progress are responsible for societal instability and immense psychological suffering. To remedy this, Kaczynski advocates a prelapsarian “return to nature” in order to align our social realities to genetically prescribed human behavior. However, it is crucial to understand that this perspective is far more insidious than some romantic yearning for Thoreau’s Walden Pond. Kaczynski takes an artificially “constrained,” as Thomas Sowell describes it, view of humanity—namely, that we are defined by a “bedrock of selfishness,” over which altruism and cooperation manifest on occasion but remain mere exceptions to the cynical rule. This reflects the polemics of other reactionaries, such as white supremacist “race science” sophists and “intellectual dark web” charlatans like Jordan Peterson. Such ideologies all serve the same end: to foreclose the possibility of any systemic change to the status quo and dismiss any societal structure not predicated on hierarchy and subordination.

How to change the course of human history

By David Graeber and David Wengrow - Eurozine, March 2, 2018

The story we have been telling ourselves about our origins is wrong, and perpetuates the idea of inevitable social inequality. David Graeber and David Wengrow ask why the myth of 'agricultural revolution' remains so persistent, and argue that there is a whole lot more we can learn from our ancestors.

1. In the beginning was the word

For centuries, we have been telling ourselves a simple story about the origins of social inequality. For most of their history, humans lived in tiny egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers. Then came farming, which brought with it private property, and then the rise of cities which meant the emergence of civilization properly speaking. Civilization meant many bad things (wars, taxes, bureaucracy, patriarchy, slavery…) but also made possible written literature, science, philosophy, and most other great human achievements.

Almost everyone knows this story in its broadest outlines. Since at least the days of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it has framed what we think the overall shape and direction of human history to be. This is important because the narrative also defines our sense of political possibility. Most see civilization, hence inequality, as a tragic necessity. Some dream of returning to a past utopia, of finding an industrial equivalent to ‘primitive communism’, or even, in extreme cases, of destroying everything, and going back to being foragers again. But no one challenges the basic structure of the story.

There is a fundamental problem with this narrative.

It isn’t true.

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