Jeff Shantz – An Anarchy of Everyday Life
The Anarchist Library
Title: An Anarchy of Everyday Life
Source: Retrieved on August 18, 2022 from https://philosophersforchange.org
Contemporary anarchism offers a mid-range movement organized somewhere between the levels of everyday life, to which it is closest, and insurrection. Rooted in the former they seek to move towards the latter. Anarchists look to the aspects of people’s daily lives that both suggest life without rule by external authorities and which might provide a foundation for anarchist social relations more broadly. This commitment forms a strong and persistent current within diverse anarchist theories. This perspective expresses what might be called a constructive anarchy or an anarchy of everyday life, at once conserving and revolutionary.
Colin Ward suggests that anarchism, “far from being a speculative vision of a future society…is a description of a mode of human organization, rooted in the experience of everyday life, which operates side by side with, and in spite of, the dominant authoritarian trends of our society” (Ward, 1973: 11). As Graeber (2004) suggests, the examples of viable anarchism are almost endless. These could include almost any form of organization, from a volunteer fire brigade to the postal service, as long as it is not hierarchically imposed by some external authority (Graeber, 2004).
Even more, as many recent anarchist writings suggest, the potential for resistance might be found anywhere in everyday life. If power is exercised everywhere, it might give rise to resistance everywhere. Present-day anarchists like to suggest that a glance across the landscape of contemporary society reveals many groupings which are anarchist in practice if not in ideology.
Examples include the leaderless small groups developed by radical feminists, coops, clinics, learning networks, media collectives, direct action organizations; the spontaneous groupings that occur in response to disasters, strikes, revolutions and emergencies; community-controlled day-care centers; neighborhood groups; tenant and workplace organizing; and so on (Ehrlich, Ehrlich, DeLeon and Morris 18).
While these are obviously not strictly anarchist groups, they often operate to provide examples of mutual aid and non-hierarchical and non-authoritarian modes of living which carry the memory of anarchy within them. Often the practices are essential for people’s day-to-day survival under the crisis states of capitalism. Ward notes that “the only thing that makes life possible for millions in the United States are its non-capitalist elements….Huge areas of life in the United States, and everywhere else, are built around voluntary and mutual aid organisations” (Ward and Goodway, 2003: 105).
Kropotkin (1972: 132) notes that the state, the formalized rule of dominant minorities over subordinate majorities, is “but one of the forms of social life.” For anarchists, people are quite capable of developing forms of order to meet specific needs and desires. As Ward (1973: 28) suggests, “given a common need, a collection of people will…by improvisation and experiment, evolve order out of the situation — this order being more durable and more closely related to their needs than any kind of order external authority could provide.”
Order, thus arrived at, is also preferable for anarchists since it is not ossified and extended, often by force, to situations and contexts different than those from which it emerged, and for which it may not be suited. This order, on the contrary is flexible and evolving, where necessary giving way to other agreements and forms of order depending on peoples’ needs and the circumstances confronting them.
Living examples of the anarchist perspectives on order emerging “spontaneously” out of social circumstances are perhaps most readily or regularly observed under conditions of immediate need or emergency as in times of natural disaster and/or economic crisis, during periods of revolutionary upheaval or during mass events such as festivals. Anarchists try to extend mutual aid relations until they make up the bulk of social life. Constructive anarchy is about developing ways in which people enable themselves to take control of their lives and participate meaningfully in the decision-making processes that affect them, whether education, housing, work or food.
Anarchists note that changes in the structure of work, notably so-called lean production, flexibalization and the institutionalization of precarious labour, have stolen people’s time away from the family along with the time that might otherwise be devoted to activities in the community (Ward and Goodway, 2003: 107). In response people must find ways to escape the capitalist law of value, to pursue their own values rather than to produce value for capital. This is the real significance of anarchist do-it-ourselves activity and the reason that I would suggest such activities have radical, if overlooked, implications for anti-capitalist struggles.
For Paul Goodman, an American anarchist whose writings influenced the 1960s New Left and counterculture, anarchist futures-present serve as necessary acts of “drawing the line” against the authoritarian and oppressive forces in society. Anarchism, in Goodman’s view, was never oriented only towards some glorious future; it involved also the preservation of past freedoms and previous libertarian traditions of social interaction. “A free society cannot be the substitution of a ‘new order’ for the old order; it is the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of the social life” (Marshall, 1993: 598). Utopian thinking will always be important, Goodman argued, in order to open the imagination to new social possibilities, but the contemporary anarchist would also need to be a conservator of society’s benevolent tendencies.