Title: Beyond the state
Subtitle: Anthropology and 'actually-existing anarchism'
Date: 2012
Source: Critique of Anthropology Volume 32, Issue 2, pp. 143-157, DOI: 10.1177/0308275X12438779.
Notes: PDF available at voidnetwork.gr.


In this article we seek to explore the different ways in which anarchists use anthropological materials for the purpose of advancing the anarchist cause. We note the extensive deployment of such materials within anarchist texts and identify four generative functions that they play within them. They include, respectively, the generation of critique, the generation of techniques for sustaining stateless relations, the generation of reflexivity and the generation of solidarity. The delineation of these functions demonstrates that anarchism is misunderstood as principally or exclusively a transformative ideology like socialism or Marxism. Rather, anarchists set great store by pointing to the existence of anarchist practices, anarchist groupings and particularly anarchist societies and communities that might embrace a different, cooperative social logic. Anthropology is particularly useful in this respect as anthropologists have provided a reservoir of evidence confirming not just the possibility of anarchism, but its existence albeit in the often precarious and marginal folds of the global system.

What kind of genre or discourse is anarchism? What if anything differentiates it from other kinds of ‘ism’ or ideology? Anarchism is often portrayed as a product of the Enlightenment imagination: a strongly normative genre where the present is contrasted with an ideal ‘blueprint’ or utopia, along with an idea of how we are supposed to get there. In these terms anarchism is another modernist metanarrative, which is of course why anarchism is often included in textbooks on ‘political ideologies’ (see for example Heywood, 1992). Our view is that this account overlooks a key dimension of anarchism, which is that anarchists see themselves as defending something that exists as both potential and reality: the availability of statelessness, horizontal modes of organisation and non-hierarchical forms of social cooperation. Anarchism as a genre is arguably less concerned with the making-present of something that exists only as an ideal or blueprint, what Deleuze and Guattari characterise as ‘royal science’ (1987: 367–74). Rather, anarchists seek to generalise forms of social cooperation found at the margins, at the interstices, in the forgotten or overlooked nooks and crannies of an otherwise all-encompassing world system. It is for this reason that anarchists often share an intense interest in anthropology, sociology and cognate disciplines, one that translates as a ‘nomadic’ interest in learning from, generalising and proliferating forms of social interaction that reject hierarchical and representational strategies.

In order to highlight the above, this article outlines some ways in which anarchist activists relate to anthropology, and in particular, the question of what anthropology can contribute to these kinds of activism in terms of perspectives. We show how anarchists (particularly eco-anarchists) mobilise anthropology as a means to imagine alternatives to oppressive social orders such as neoliberal capitalism. Difference, imagined here as cultural difference, provides a platform for cultural critique: anarchist interest in anthropology is in accessing difference in order to use it as a lever to undermine dominant western ways of seeing. Anarchists also find themselves wrestling with questions of how to resist domination in their own social, alternative relations. In unpacking the nature of the relationship that anarchist activists and authors have with anthropology, we show that anarchists are engaged in a form of critique that is much more than mere wishful thinking as per traditional accounts of anarchism as ‘ideology’. A great deal of anarchist writing concerns ‘actually-existing-anarchism’ as opposed to the ‘anarchism-to-come’. It seeks the generalisation and spread of alternative, marginal and indigenous social practices, as opposed to the imposition intellectually, intuitively and politically of an ab initio ‘normative ideal’ of the kind associated with traditional modernist theorising. These practices include most obviously forms of self-organisation, cooperative economic activity, non-monetised forms of interaction and the generation of social bonds built on solidarity and reciprocity, friendship and mutual enjoyment.

Anarchists and the functions of anthropology

Our argument is that anarchists use anthropology for four main functions [1] as follows:

the generation of critique – the development of critical tools to de-fetishise and de-normalise the present, to unsettle it so that other options, alternatives and social logics can be discussed and considered;

the generation of techniques for sustaining stateless relations – to contrast dominant or mainstream thinking with the experience and discourse of movements at the margins who have succeeded in resisting and defending non-state ways of living;

the generation of reflexivity – to encourage an awareness of the bounded and contingent nature of one’s own beliefs and in turn to promote a dialogical exchange in which other people and peoples are not seen as deficient or lacking, but possessing and encompassing different ontologies and epistemologies;

the generation of solidarity – particularly for indigenous struggles and struggles at the margin. By highlighting struggles at the margin, we see that the plight of marginal struggles is also part of the larger struggle for autonomy capaciously defined.

In the following sections, we will unpack each of these functions through examples drawn from recent anarchist texts.

Before we do so, however, a cautionary word is due regarding the concept of ‘the anarchist’. The anarchist texts we draw on emerge typically from collectives. These collectives are composed of people, some of whom identify as anarchists, some as something else (autonomist for example), some as radical activists for a particular cause, and some as rejecting all labels. These collectives form an overlapping network of dissident groups involved in challenges to dominant practices in capitalist/statist societies (mainly in the global North). The boundaries between anarchism, autonomism (or spaces of autonomy), and (direct) activism are blurred.

The generation of critique

What anarchists are looking for most of all in anthropology, argues Graeber, are the ‘possible dimensions of non-alienated experience’ (2004: 75), or ‘liberation of the imaginary’, the ability to think about life in a world without restrictive forms of power (2004: 102). Anarchists can deploy anthropological studies of stateless societies to show that the state is not necessary in social life, or showing the possibility of conflict resolution without a state, or showing that the nuclear family is not universal, or using Mauss’s (1990 [1922]) theory of gift-economy to show that capitalism is not inevitable. The effort is to show that objectionable aspects of modern capitalist-statist societies are not natural or inevitable. Difference is mobilised to demystify dominant relations which have been naturalised and reified, whether in the wider society or among certain anarchists. One can think here of the dominant social system as providing a limited and limiting frame, and anthropology as offering a gaze which passes outside this frame, showing the existence of perspectives, practices and forms of social life which are invisible from inside it.

We can see this function clearly in relation to Green Anarchy. Published from 2000 to 2009, Green Anarchy was an eco-anarchist, mostly anarcho-primitivist magazine. Indigenous issues figured prominently from a perspective which emphasised indigenous peoples’ ecological and anti-systemic claims. The publication also included critiques of industrial civilisation and regular round-ups of the struggle of anarchists, and ecological, indigenous, anti-capitalist and anti-prison activists. In the spring/summer 2008 issue, of 20 articles, 9 refer to indigenous or other marginal groups. ‘A culture beyond time’ by Thomas Toivonen (2008) is illustrative of the way certain eco-anarchists view indigenous groups. It seeks to use the difference between a particular indigenous culture and dominant western conceptions as a basis for critique of the latter. The focus is on the Amazonian Piraha, with some discussion of the Huaorani, derived mainly from the work of anthropologist Daniel Everett. According to Everett, the Piraha language does not contain recursion, a crucial aspect of dominant representational systems, the Piraha rarely if ever use numbers, their grammar is radically incommensurable with Portuguese, and they do not have concepts of present and future. This is taken by Toivonen to suggest that the Piraha may have rejected the loss involved in the transition to civilisation, and that their existence as a lived alternative disproves ‘the necessity of a civilized culture’. The main purpose of the reference to the Piraha is thus to provide a reminder of the availability of a radically different relationship to time and, by extension, a different conception of how we might live.

What does this say about the uses of anthropology? This selection, as well as others in the same edition of the journal, suggests that eco-anarchists are interested in anthropology mainly as a way of exploring differences to the contemporary dominant mode of living. This use of anthropological evidence would doubtless seem clumsy to anthropologists, as authors are not always careful with inferences from one group to another, are less concerned about how the sources they cite fit with academic literatures, and when in doubt err on the side of inferring incommensurable difference. We believe that it is problematic to portray the writers and readers of Green Anarchy – apparently composed of socially marginal activists, prisoners and radical critics of Eurocentrism (and including an unknown number of Native Americans) – as simplistically bearing a western narrative projected onto others. They are people who have rejected such a narrative and are looking to other cultures for alternatives. If they sometimes frame these alternatives in ways which residually reproduce (as inversions) the dominant frame, this is not because they remain inside it but because of the limited success of their critique of it.

More worrying is the potential accusation that the approach elides power by being insufficiently reflexive. Statements from people identified as indigenous, and sometimes also from anthropologists, are taken at face-value in this literature, rather than as strategic claims or attempts at cultural translation. We don’t think this is a case of unawareness of power-relations, which are referred to whenever relations between indigenous groups and the West are discussed. Rather, it is assumed (but not stated explicitly) that the power-relations involved in cultural translation will work to elide or suppress difference, so that any difference that shines through in spite of this work of suppression can be taken at face-value. Accusations of ‘romanticism’ could also doubtless be made, especially about the construction of the Piraha, which is based on one of several contending views and on rather limited evidence. Yet the point remains: anarchists are looking for evidence of alternative social logics and alternative ways of being in the world from the western liberal frame. They see in groups like the Piraha a different way of relating to the world and to each other, one that seems to suggest an alternative rationality to the dominant goal orientation of the occidental form of life with its obsessive attention to past, present and future, to linearity, planning and performance of tasks to the detriment, so it seems, of just living and being.

Techniques of statelessness

Concrete examples of social life without the state and resistance offer potential models for replication as well as support for the theoretical orientation underpinning anarchist critiques. This function is thus similar to the first, but focuses less on the general characteristics of other social relations and more on techniques. Graeber (2004: 82) recognises this when he argues that anthropology can contribute more specifically to questions of what organising without the state is like. Anarchists can find themselves wrestling with questions of how to relate socially without reproducing certain dominant patterns (expressed variously as debates around organisation, questions of informal hierarchies and unconscious reproduction of oppression, and questions of specific alternative social forms such as radical pedagogy or alternative economies). This function includes issues such as anarchist interest in sustainable ecological practices, adoption of ritual techniques by anarchist neo-pagans, suggestions of forms of education outside formal schooling, interest in consensus decision-making and in how social groups can operate without centralised authority, ways of growing or gathering food without industrial agriculture, the use of moral economies to inflect exchange-relations to the detriment of capitalism, and the adoption of strategies of resistance, evasion, conflict, etc. To illustrate the difference from the first approach, Yves Fremion’s Orgasms of History (2002) is a collection of 30 short case studies of historical episodes, from the Greek Cynics to Christiania commune, which the author deems to prefigure an anarchistic society. Orgasms of History comes from a broadly leftist anarchist tradition, and the bulk of the content deals with leftist anti-authoritarian uprisings and communities. One chapter, however, inserts the Iroquois League in this series (2002: 32–6). This account primarily situates indigenous resistance as anti-colonial, and the account resonates with postcolonial theory, complete with accusations of American rewriting of Iroquois narratives and imitating the Iroquois constitution for their own project. It also compares the Iroquois way of life favourably with the Europe of its day. For example the Iroquois’ dream-analysis is depicted as prefiguring psychoanalysis and thus a sophisticated account of the unconscious. However they are also portrayed as expansionist and as using torture to achieve their aims. While most of the account is unsourced, and the sources which appear are mainly historical, the work of two anthropologists is considered in greater detail: that of Lewis Henry Morgan, who is denounced as a ‘rabid capitalist’ (2002: 36), and that of Pierre Clastres, who provides the epigraph for the chapter (2002: 32). This treatment differs from the eco-anarchists and post-left anarchists in leaving to one side the cosmological aspects of indigenous society, focusing instead on practical questions. The primary interest is in the organisational forms which might be replicated, and to an extent the psychological practices, of the Iroquois. The organisational approach of the Iroquois is valued because it was a form of power operating without a permanent centralised hierarchy, with representatives open to being deposed.

Another work that draws on indigenous societies to demonstrate how statelessness works in practice is Peter Gelderloos’s Anarchy Works (2010). Each subsection addresses a specific criticism of anarchism, usually by referring to concrete instances either from indigenous groups, autonomous social movements in the South, or explicitly anarchist movements. The book confronts the view that anarchist society is impossible for reasons of organisation or human nature, and examples of anarchist practices in a range of societies are used as part of the rebuttal of these claims. Some of these examples come from indigenous groups. For instance, the Mbuti are referred to as source of the claim that elderly people can be looked after without state support, alongside an example from an autonomous community in Argentina (2010: 92–3). In another case, the anthropologist Alan Howard is sourced for claims about Rotuma alternatives to punishment of crime. The Rotuma system is based on autonomous agency and the ‘shaming’ of bullies, and is reported as leading to a very low murder rate (2010: 160–1). The Rotuma are situated alongside the Oaxaca popular movement, the Exarchia district of Athens, and a prison uprising in Massachusetts. The chapter on the environment includes frequent references, including a page-long citation from Maori author Bruce Stewart (2010: 136–7), discussions based on Jared Diamond’s interpretation of Tikopia (2010: 138) and a discussion of environmental management in Tonga (2010: 145–6).

The use here is slightly different from the other cases, in that indigenous groups appear mainly as examples, alongside other examples. The function of the references is, however, similar: the examples are used to show that hierarchical institutions are unnecessary and to demonstrate how alternatives operate (the first and second functions). Again it is noticeable how a continuity is established in which indigenous examples appear alongside historical anarchist struggles, contemporary autonomous forms of organisation such as social centres, and southern autonomous social movements such as the Argentinean recuperated factories. The point is that indigenous groups provide practical rebuttals of capitalist naturalisations and practical alternatives to dominant practices, and the explicit use of the examples is for the purpose of showing that anarchism is practically possible. This is particularly important given the dominance within the liberal imaginary of the idea that sanctions or penalties for unsocial behaviour have to be concentrated and formal thereby ‘normalising’ the perceived need for a state or statelike entity to govern over society. In these examples we see how societies govern themselves, often with the use of diffuse, informal sanctions of a kind that obviate the need for state-like institutions, a permanent judiciary, prisons and so forth. And of course part of the reason for preferring this mode of sanctioning is, as Clastres shows in his classic studies (1989, 1994), to prevent the emergence of a caste or class who might make claim to concentrated formal power. Clastres’ point is that stateless peoples are highly aware of the danger of concentrating judicial and police powers in the hands of a few and thus maintain regimes of diffuse sanctions to ‘ward off’ the state and statelike behaviours.

The generation of reflexivity

Reflexivity is the internal critique of relations within the anarchist or activist scene. It concerns whether they have sufficiently dispensed with certain forms of what Gayatri Spivak terms ‘privilege’ (such as Eurocentrism) or are sufficiently reflexive about particular issues. Some of those who identify with anarchism continue nonetheless to think in conventionally western ways embodying implicit, unquestioned hierarchical assumptions. Challenging people to address how others think and relate in less ‘statified’ social settings is often a way to expand critical literacy and draw out implications of theoretical positions for everyday beliefs and practices. This is similar to Graeber’s argument that ethnography provides a model of how ‘non-vanguardist intellectual practice’ might operate as a dialogue between European imaginings and present observations (2004: 11–12). Anthropology can be used to question residual hierarchies and pose challenges of reflexivity and selfunderstanding. We would also include here the kind of structural ‘arguments by analogy’, which allow anarchists to make sense of their own practices by reference to anthropological theories (e.g. leadership in diffuse networks such as Clastrean chiefdoms). The structural similarities between anarchist networks and indigenous social networks (even in cases where the latter are not anarchistic but simply performing everyday subversions) provide analogies through which anarchist networks can be interpreted, though this has often been undertaken by those studying anarchist groups as opposed to anarchists themselves (e.g. O’Neil, 2009). The self-critical function is probably the least frequent of the three kinds of use, but it is always available to anarchists familiar with anthropology. In the case of Mauss, for instance, this might involve examining whether wealth inequalities persist in an anarchist community and whether people continue to think about generosity in capitalistic terms. Mauss might be invoked to criticise an anarchist who was judgemental towards someone else for being wasteful with money for example.

The spring/summer 2006 volume of Anarchy: Journal of Desire Armed was devoted to anthropology, featuring four articles on the topic. One article, a response to Zerzan (see e.g. his 1994, 2008) by eco-anarchist prisoner Ted Kaczynski (2006), uses citations from a number of anthropologists (including Colin Turnbull, Carleton S. Coon and Allen R. Holmburg) to criticise Zerzan’s association of hunter-gatherers with values such as gender equality, non-violence and animal rights, instead portraying such peoples as nascent survivalists oriented to material values. Another chapter (Barclay, 2006) is an abridged version of anarchist anthropologist Harold Barclay’s pamphlet The State, which situates the state in a wider history of stateless societies. The piece speculates on the origins of the state in ‘Big Man’ patron–client systems, agriculture, warfare, trading and status differentiation, and argues that some of the seeds of the state, such as status differentiation and trading, exist in all societies. In the same issue, Lawrence Jarach (2006), an anthropology graduate and anarchist author, charts the history of anthropology. He begins by criticising the ugly side of anthropology in history, such as Hobbesianism (or methodological individualism) and complicity in colonialism. Jarach then criticises the ‘Man the Hunter’ generation, which is praised for revalorising hunter-gatherers but criticised for overlooking practices problematic to anarchists, such as gender inequalities. Finally, he criticises cultural relativism as conservative in supporting oppressive practices, while also denouncing the impulse towards state responses to oppression. He concludes that what he learnt from anthropology was that societies can exist without the state (even if they are far from ideal), and to take a critical view of ideological rigidity. Dot Matrix (2006) criticises anthropology as a variety of objectifying science which creates a false boundary between observer and observed, wrongly reifying the other as pure and authentic. She views the purpose of the boundary as othering, which the system performs in order to dominate and kill. The conclusion, so it seems, is that while anthropologists can be interesting, anthropology cannot be anarchist, a point reinforced by direct reference to the views of Native American authors such as Vine Deloria. There is also a short primer to introduce anthropology. This piece depicts anthropology as ‘a way to see humans in a better light than the horrors of watching the evening news’ (Anonymous, 2006: 63), as providing evidence and hope that humans can live in anti-authoritarian ways, and as suiting anarchists well because of its ‘respectful and cautious’ approach to other cultures. This primer also summarises the uses made of anthroplogy by anarcho-primitivists and other anarchists, and runs through a number of criticisms of anthropology, notably by indigenous activists.

A follow-up issue, spring/summer 2007, includes a piece on the history of science, and two more pieces on anthropology. Brian Morris (2007) discusses political anthropology, making much use of Clastres to critique western political theory. He argues on the basis of several anthropological studies that indigenous gender relations are ‘complementary’ and ‘egalitarian’, and counterposes ‘band’ societies to ‘state’ societies. Differences between warlike and peaceful groups are also discussed. Bob Black (2007) also provides a critique of Barclay’s article, which he views as imprecise, and meets with counter-citations from anthropology and history. There is also a review, by Aragorn! (2007), of Species Traitor magazine, which among other things criticises anarcho-primitivist author Kevin Tucker for writing like ‘an anthropologist with a mission’, an approach which he associates with essentialist and positivistic truth-claims about human nature.

A common thread in these articles is the attempt to counteract the perceived one-sidedness of eco-anarchist accounts, paying attention to hierarchical aspects of indigenous social relations. Kaczynski follows the pattern of seeking organisational models in stateless societies (the second function), but based on a different reading of the anthropological literature to primitivists such as John Zerzan (see his 1994, 2008). He is also attempting to pursue the third function, criticising other anarchists based on indigenous difference. Barclay’s approach is more analytical, and closer to mainstream anthropology, but it retains a focus on the existence of societies without states, and the historical contingency and relativity of the state (the first function). He appears to be seeking conditions for state emergence so as to discover how state-formation could be avoided or destabilised, which, it is implied, would come about by minimising the contributory factors (the second function). Unusually, the other two pieces focus on anthropology as a discipline rather than on the people it studies. Jarach’s lessons of anthropology correspond closely to the two functions of demonstrating alternative ways of life and performing a critical exercise against dominant assumptions (the second and first functions). Dot Matrix’s critique is of a different kind, continuous with a wider tradition of anarchist critiques of dominant institutions, applied to anthropology interpreted as a form of science.

It is also interesting that in the various disputes – Kaczynski versus Zerzan, Black versus Barclay, and implicitly Morris versus several of the original authors (particularly Barclay and Kaczynski) – anthropological texts figure prominently as sources of claims. Indeed, these texts are cited more frequently and diligently in critical rebuttals than in other kinds of articles. Morris’s critique focuses on defending the degree of difference claimed for hunter-gatherer societies by qualifying claims of oppressive features either with counter-examples or situated reinterpretations; it is primarily asserting a strong version of the first function. The Anarchy collection also stands out for, unusually, devoting attention to power-relations in anthropology and to the problems with essentialist claims. Hence, the third function figures more prominently than is usually the case, with anthropological approaches discussed in such a way as to problematise what are taken to be other anarchists’ unreflexive approach to it. The importance of the pieces and the debates in which they engage is, more broadly then, that it signals the ambivalence within anarchist discourse between an ‘essentialist’ mode of discourse and a non- or anti-essentialist mode, one that of course mirrors the concerns in the wider theoretical field influenced by post-structural and other anti-essentialist positions. However, while the latter sees the absence or impossibility of essential ‘human’ or ‘social’ characteristics as a ‘lack’ that indicates alienation, struggle and anomie as key shapers of human sociality, anarchists hope that by mobilising anthropological insights into diverse societies they can demonstrate that ‘lack’ is itself a historical construction and thus an ‘essentialist’ category like those criticised by post-structuralists. The stakes are very high in these debates, for if it can be shown that there is no necessity for antagonism and conflict within and between the ‘human’, then this opens the possibility for more harmonious, cooperative and autonomous forms of life to emerge.

Solidarity: Mobilising support for indigenous struggles

A fourth reason for the deployment of anthropological sources is the desire to mobilise support for indigenous peoples and initiatives. A range of reasons can be offered for such support, including anti-racist and anti-state arguments (indigenous groups are victims of persecution and genocide). They might also offer appeals to affinity (indigenous groups are in some regards anarchist or anarchistic), anti-colonial or ‘common enemy’ appeals (indigenous struggles are struggles against western capitalism), and ecological appeals (indigenous struggles are also struggles to defend particular ecosystems from destruction). Here the emphasis is not so much on what anarchists can gain from indigenous groups or anthropologists, but rather on what anarchists can offer indigenous groups.

Do or Die, a periodical put together by activists from Earth First!, carries a range of pieces from an eco-anarchist perspective, including reports on indigenous struggles. A volume published in 2003 contains an interview with a Kuna activist from Kuna Yala, an autonomous zone in Costa Rica. Questions asked focus on the nature of indigenous government, the past and present struggles and their protagonists, responses to repression, and how the interviewee feels about northern struggles such as Seattle (Do or Die, 2003: 151–4).[2] The questions put to a Zapatista educator, while distinct, have a similar emphasis: what is done, how the process works, how problems are addressed, and what the reader can learn from the Zapatista struggle (2003: 243–5). Both these pieces connect to indigenous interlocutors directly, without the mediation of anthropology. Another interview does have a mediator: a New Jersey resident who had lived with the Bayaka. The Bayaka are portrayed as having an anarchist group structure and likened to protest campers. This piece also discusses changes in Bayaka life due to capitalism, and the Bayaka attitude to an apparently powerful outsider. Anarchistic aspects of Bayaka society are discussed at length, along with the harmful effects of logging and the enclosure of land for nature reserves, but the account also notes that many Bayaka have jobs, that they no longer live in the forest, and that indigenous knowledge and skills are gradually being lost (2003: 223–35).

In an article on the Mapuche struggle (including numerous quotes from local agents in both spiritual and practical vocabularies) the emphasis is on attempts to escape western control and resist monocultural agriculture, and the Mapuche are portrayed as horizontally oriented (2003: 159–63). Also included are suggestions for solidarity actions in support of majority-world struggles (2003: 84–9). Some pieces also discuss the recovery of local knowledge, such as feminist uses of herbs (2003: 183–4). As in several of the sources discussed here, indigenous struggles are presented alongside struggles of the global poor, of groups resisting oppression (e.g. feminists), and anarchist and autonomous initiatives (e.g. social centres). The critical function of the discussions, as demonstrating alternatives to dominant social forms, are made clear by an article titled ‘Return to Paradise’, on how nature would reclaim London if it were left unattended (2003: 218–22).

The fourth function plays a prominent role here, as do the first and second functions. The general sense is that northern activism should be in the service of southern and indigenous struggles. Interviewers elicit the views of indigenous interviewees on what northern activists should be doing and how they feel about the mobilisations designed to support their struggle. The position taken is not that indigenous people are uncontaminated, but rather, a conflict-theoretical approach which treats degrees of incorporation in terms of struggles between contending principles. The second function is clear from the extent of interest in the specific practices of marginal groups, for instance the processes of decision-making. The first function is demonstrated in the broader treatment of indigenous struggles as a possible outside, equivalent to autonomous and anarchist struggles.

Also derived from a broadly leftist variety of anarchism, the Canadian-based Mostly Water website (formerly resist.ca) has strong affinities with Canadian First Nations struggles, to the point of placing ‘Canadian’ in inverted commas on their homepage. Principally a news-aggregation site, it includes an indigenous section (formerly known as the Turtle Island section; see Mostly Water, 2010). The site has reported on protests and police abuse, a report linking ‘Columbus Day’ to climate change, an article criticising government responses to violence against First Nations women, and a report on the siege of a Mexican indigenous community. It also includes a statement in support of Mapuche political prisoners on hungerstrike in Chile (Mapuche and Solidarity Organisations, 2010). Among the themes mentioned are the repressive nature of Chile’s anti-terrorism law in violation of human rights, the ‘ethnic persecution’ of the Mapuche, and the right to selfdetermination of the Mapuche nation. There are also two articles on the front page by Krystalline Kraus of rabble.ca, a Saami activist based in Toronto. In ‘Don’t Melt My Homeland! (Save the Arctic!)’ (Kraus, 2010a), focused on climate change, Kraus argues that Saami culture does not recognise a separation between humans and the earth. In ‘Indigenous Justice: Apologies and Accountability are Two Separate Things’ (Kraus, 2010b), Kraus criticises Canadian apologies for abuse as insufficient given the failure to take action to ensure accountability. This is an activist response to recent apologies for residential schools and forced relocations. The Canadian government is denounced for cutting funding to services for indigenous people. Another piece on the front page was a summary of Chief Arvol Looking Horse’s speech on the White Buffalo Prophecy (Anonymous, 2010). Articulated in a spiritual discourse referring to the ‘Cycle of Life’ and ‘Grandmother Earth’, the speech is based on a prophecy of the reunification of ‘Indian’ peoples, and calls for healing the earth from ecological problems.

In this case, the fourth function (anarchist solidarity with indigenous struggles) predominates. Solidarity with oppressed people and commonality of struggles around ecology and capitalism are key recurring themes. Indigenous authors speak in their own voice, reflecting the emphasis in recent anarchist work on avoiding a representational form of discourse that drowns out the articulation of particular views, interests and needs. Crucially, this occurs even when indigenous discourse is not specifically anarchist (as with the Mapuche solidarity statement, which relies mainly on a global human rights discourse). This depends on a degree of trust in the authenticity of the sentiments expressed. The spiritual claims made by Kraus and Looking Horse are of the kind criticised by some anthropologists as romantic, and would be read as strategic by certain scholars; but there is no evidence from the transcripts that this is the case. In particular the commitment to ecological issues seems direct, and not a means of articulating land claims. The site conveys indigenous struggles as part of a range of struggles by marginalised groups for liberation or justice. While ecological claims are prominent among the indigenous claims articulated here, it is not suggested that indigenous claims are somehow limited by a global ecological agenda. Rather, indigenous people are portrayed as struggling for their own liberation. Indigenous claims are certainly not limited to claims serving an outside agenda, with land rights and anti-indigenous racism figuring prominently in the coverage. Both claims articulated in a spiritual language and more pragmatic articulations are included. Some of the pieces also appear to have a function of learning from indigenous groups, particularly the White Buffalo Prophecy piece.

The larger point in relation to these pieces is that the struggle for statelessness, for horizontal and immanent forms of life, is one taking place in real time; it is taking place now. ‘Anarchism’ is not in this sense a ‘project’ to be realised. It is not an ideal or a utopia that requires a radical break from the present, an aufhebung of the kind described by Marx and indeed Bakunin. The struggle for anarchism is one that starts with the recognition that anarchism is not a singular entity, a normative unity, an ideal blueprint. Rather it is located in the practices, ethics, habits and modes of being evinced by a multitude of different groups and societies many of them struggling at the periphery of the periphery, the margin of the margin. These are struggles being fought by people with scant resources against nation-states, paramilitaries and groups enjoying vastly superior police and military power. Solidarity with such groups is not ‘giving’ or charity in the manner celebrated by Bono and Geldof. Nor is it an extension of the struggle for human rights. Solidarity in this context is becoming part of the struggle to preserve and enhance ‘actually existing-anarchism’. It is by extension a struggle for forms of life that refuse to obey the governing logic of the world system.


What do the case studies tell us about the preceding theoretical discussion? What becomes quickly apparent trawling anarchist and eco-anarchist materials is the importance attached to underpinning an assessment of the prospects for anarchism by reference to empirically existing stateless societies, communities and initiatives. Anthropology offers a rich reservoir of materials for approaching statelessness, which is why anarchists make frequent reference to such materials in the infra-battles of the anarchist scene and in terms of differentiating anarchism from other kinds of critical and political discourse. Anthropology offers a reminder of the availability of examples of stateless living as an antidote to those who insist, pace Aristotle and Hobbes, that we cannot envisage a commodious existence without the polis or the state. It reminds us of the availability of specific examples and case studies of campaigns to resist conquest as state territorialisation. It can show us how groups organise and adapt to the particular political, economic and geographical morphology on which the struggle for autonomy takes place. Anthropological materials are important correctives to dominant, western, orientalist conceptions of how we must live. They offer valuable resources for checking our own prejudices and situated ‘intuitions’ so as to avoid an essentialising discourse and political practice. Finally, contemporary anthropological accounts of peoples and societies in struggle promote calls to action, to solidarity, to resistance, in turn providing a source of support and assurance to those pockets of statelessness that are able to survive within the always encroaching global states system.

So much for the use of anthropology for anarchists; what does the deployment of anthropology tell us about anarchism? It tells us that anarchism’s temporal horizon is often quite different to that of classical modernist ideology. Anarchism’s sense of possibility is not informed by a ‘break’ in or from the present. Anarchism does not appear here as a future – or even a future of present - a kind of near horizon of the kind that informs the Derridean idea of the ‘democracy-to-come’. Anarchism’s future, so well-painted by Kropotkin (1902), is already here. It is contained in the micro-struggles, ways of living, forms of cooperation and stateless being-together which, in its kaleidoscopic variety, underpins an impression of anarchism as something ordinary and everyday. Anarchism from this angle appears less as an irruption in the normal order of things, a fantasy, or product of ‘wishful thinking’. Even less does it seem encapsulated by the fashionable neo-Lacanian assessment of anarchism as ‘utopian fullness’ or ‘self-transparency’ (Stavrakakis, 1999: ch. 4). Anarchism appears rather as a distinct social logic, albeit one which, by very virtue of its cooperative basis, sharing of power and collective approach to organising social life, poses a threat to the hyper-real logic of global capitalism, with its relentless war against gift, cooperation and solidarity in the name of the commodification of the world. On this reading, it is liberal capitalism that acts out the utopian phantasy of ‘fullness’ and ‘self-transparency’, and anarchism that appears – ironically but joyously – as the ordinary, everyday experience of myriad peoples and communities scattered across time and space, within and behind borders, in the discrete folds and niches as yet unconquered by primitive capitalist accumulation.


The authors would like to thank Holly High, the participants at the workshop on ‘Anarchy and Anthropology’ held at Cambridge in 2010, and the twoanonymous referees for this manuscript for their thoughtful comments and suggestions.


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[1] Three of these functions are similar to those discussed by David Graeber (2004), though we set them out here more schematically.

[2] As individual pieces in the periodical do not have cited authors, this issue of Do or Die has been cited instead.