anarchism

Legendary Comics Creator Announces that He Will Vote Labour

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/11/2019 - 11:27pm in

Today’s I for 22nd November 2019 has this report by Jasmine Andersson that the great comics writer and artist, Alan Moore, has declared that he’s going to vote Labour. The article runs

The comic book writer Alan Moore has revealed that he will cast his vote for the first time in nearly 40 years – for the Labour Party.

The 66-year-old, known for creating Watchmen and V for Vendetta, said he plans to vote for the party in order to make his mark in “unprecedented times”.

He has called the Labour manifesto “the most encouraging set of proposals that I’ve ever seen from any major British party”.

In an open letter on Twitter, Mr Moore wrote: “Here’s something you don’t see every day, an internet-averse anarchist announcing on social media that he’ll be voting Labour in the December elections,. but these are unprecedented times. I’ve voted only one my life.”

Moore was one of a new generation of British and American comics creators, who emerged in the late 70s and early 80s. They took comics seriously as a medium, and brought a sharp intelligence to them, pushing the boundaries of what was previously seen as trivial children’s literature to explore adult themes and issues, such as power, morality and responsibility, gender and sexuality, and racism, gay identity and alienation. I’ve mixed feelings about Moore, as he was one of the creators behind the move towards darker, grittier interpretations of comic book superheroes like Batman. He has said now that he considers his graphic novel, Batman – The Killing Joke to be his worst work. This portrayed Batman as an angry, psychotic vigilante, who was merely the opposite side of the coin to the Joker. Moore now regrets how that destroyed the innocence of the character and other, similar superheroes. It was the increasingly dark, rather sordid tone of comics in the 90s that put me off reading them, with a few exceptions.

Moore, and other leading comics creators from that time, like Neil Gaiman and Pat Mills, are still well worth listening to for their considerable insights into the craft of storytelling and the literature of the fantastic. Moore and Mills have been particularly outspoken about the exploitation of working people and oppression of minorities by the right, and big corporations. Moore’s V for Vendetta, which first appeared in the adult comic, Warrior, was very much a reflection of Thatcher’s Britain, when many on the Left feared that the Leaderene with her connections to the Far Right would turn the country into a Fascist dictatorship.

It’s no secret that Moore’s an anarchist. But I’m delighted that Corbyn and the Labour party have impressed him so much that he has decided that they stand for the real, radical change that Britain needs to the point where he’s going to vote for them. Just as I hope that others will also do likewise, and throw off the justifiable cynicism and apathy that stops so many from voting due to the stranglehold of Thatcherism across the political spectrum.

Thatcherism’s out of date by forty years. It’s time it was thrown out, and a real party committed to the British people elected. One that brings them the radical change Moore and so many others feel we most desperately need.

Documentary Tonight on the Works of SF Author Ursula Le Guin

The Beeb are tonight screening a programme ‘The Worlds of Ursula K Le Guin’ at 10.00 pm on BBC 4. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

The American feminist writer, who died in January 2018, was best known for her ground-breaking science fiction and fantasy novels such as A Wizard of Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness, Produced with Le Guin’s participation over the course of a decade, this documentary explores how she defiantly held her ground on the margin of “respectable” literature until the sheer excellence of her work forced the mainstream to embrace fantastic literature. Tyhe film features contributions from the likes of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell and Michael Chabon. (p. 65).

The additional piece a few pages earlier by Huw Fullerton on page 63 reads

It’s fair to say that Ursula K Le Guin was a one-off. While plenty of sci-fi and fantasy authors could be described as ahead of their time, there are few to whom this applies as aptly as Le Guin, who was writing piercing, feminist and race-sensitive works as far back as the 1960s and 70s with works such as The Wizard of Earthsea, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, elevating her storytelling beyond the literary fringe.

In this new film, luminaries including Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood and Michael Chabon pay tribute to Le Guin’s life and legacy, interweaving with unusual animation to bring her story to (appropriately) fantastical life. 

I read The Dispossessed back in the 1990s, and I can’t say I liked it. It’s about a scientist, Shevek, from a desolate world colonised by Anarchists to its twin planet of Aieio. Shevek has been working on a Faster Than Light communication device, an ansible, a concept found in other SF writers, like James Blish’s Dirac Telephone. Unable to complete it on his world, he defects to its capitalist twin, now undergoing massive worker unrest and an ecological crisis. He becomes a figurehead for the working class radicals, and helps to inspire a revolution. He gives a speech, which is praised by Earth’s woman ambassador. The planet has been left a desert thanks to capitalism’s destruction of the environment. Conditions are consequently very basic, but humanity has been taken to the stars by the Hainish after they discovered Earth. After the revolution’s success, he travels with a member of an alien race, the Hainish, an ancient race of space travelers who have established interstellar contact between themselves, Earth and Aieio and its twin, back to his home world.

Shevek’s anarchist world is a harsh environment with no animal life on its dry lands, although it certainly exists in its seas. The society is based on the ideas of Odo, a female political thinker of a century or so earlier. There is no private property, no prisons and marriage has been abolished. However, couples may live together as partners. Children are brought up in state nurseries away from their parents, who may visit them. The harsh environment and puritanical ideology means that individuality in dress is frowned on as wasteful and extravagant. Everyone basically wears the same costume, although some do make it more individual in the towns and settlements away from the Centre devoted to dyeing. There is no government, but material goods are administered by the Centre, which contains the computer complex used to administer the society.

I didn’t find Le Guin’s anarchist utopia appealing. It’s far too like the totalitarian Communist societies, and particularly Maoism in its uniforms, hostility to religion, marriage and the family. I am also not sure that feminists would like a world where the differences between men and women are so extremely minimised. While women obviously want to be free to enter masculine professions, like science, engineering, construction and so on, there’s still a desire to retain some forms of traditional femininity. This was demonstrated in a piece on the one show about three Air Cadets, who had been voted its top people, and had won a trip to America to see where the latest high performance jet fighters bought by the RAF, were being made. Two of them were young women, and the third a young Black man. It shows that the RAF are trying to recruit a more diverse membership. What I found particularly interesting was that one of these prospective fighter pilots, a woman, outside of the Cadets blogged about makeup. This seemed to me to be the RAF reassuring prospective female recruits that the could still be girly and feminine while piloting an awesome engine of death. I also remember reading an interview with the psychotherapist Suzie Orbach, the author of Fat Is A Feminist Issue in the Financial Times in the 1990s where she said she didn’t want women becoming exactly like men, or men becoming exactly like women.

Also, I found Shevek himself to be a bit of a prig. He was very sanctimonious, pronouncing on the superiority of his planet and its culture at every opportunity. Le Guin recognises that it would have problems, like hoarding, as well as the administrative elite using their authority to suppress music and literature of which they don’t approve, but looking at the problems the Communist societies experienced, it struck me that these problems would be much greater. It also struck me that there would also be a serious problem with crime and criminality, simply because of human – or in this case – humanoid nature – which could not be solved through social engineering alone.

But there is no doubt that she is one of the great SF authors with a very wide following, and I’m sure that this programme will be an excellent examination of her works.

In Defense of A/S: Centralism and Decentralism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/11/2019 - 3:32pm in

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anarchism

image/jpeg icon12963618_1608976839428910_1883103992413802056_n.jpg

discussing the Anarcho-syndicalist approach to centralism

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Fascism’s Advocacy of Privatisation and Financial Retrenchment

I’ve posted a number of blogs about the way some Conservative propagandists have tried to discredit socialism by claiming that Fascism was a form of it. The argument here is that Fascism advocated the state planning and management of the economy like state socialism, and so therefore must similarly be a form of socialism. For the Libertarians, any state intervention in the economy or industry is automatically attacked as socialism. They demand instead complete free trade and the reduction of the state to an absolute minimum, based on their ideas of 19th century laissez-faire economics. For them, any economic system that is not based on complete free trade and unregulated private industry is socialism, not capitalism. Left-wing commenters, on the other hand, have argued very clearly that this is a very unrealistic idea of capitalism, which has never existed in reality. Mussolini did indeed begin his career as a radical socialist, and Fascism itself emerged from Italian anarcho-syndicalism after the First World War.  However, Mussolini broke with the socialists and forces of the Italian left, to embrace capitalism and the parties and organisations of the right. The Fascists were supported by the rich landowners and the industrialists in their attacks on socialism, trade unions, and the peasant organisations. They were invited into the Italian parliament to join a coalition of right-wing Liberals and eventually merged with the Italian Nationalists. They also rejected, at least initially, state intervention in industry. In government, Mussolini stated that Fascism stood for the economics of the Manchester School, that is, absolute free enterprise.

The Fascists’ Conservative economic stance is clearly seen in their 1921 Party programme. This demanded a system of cuts to uneconomic businesses and public works projects that is very similar to the policy taken towards them by right-wing governments, including New Labour, ever since Margaret Thatcher. And it also declared its support for private industry against state control. In the section ‘Cornerstones of Fiscal Policy and Policies for National Economic Reconstruction’ are the following clauses

  1. Balancing state and local budgets (when necessary) by means of rigorous cutbacks to all parasitic or redundant entities and via reductions in expenditures neither crucial to the well-being of the beneficiaries nor justified by more general objectives.
  2. Decentralisation of the public administration so as to simplify the delibery of services and to streamline our bureaucracy, without falling into the trap of regionalism (which we firmly oppose).
  3. Shielding the taxpayers’ money from misuse by means of the abolition of all state or local government concessions and subventions to consortia, cooperatives, factories, special clienteles, and other entities similarly incapable of surviving on their own and not indispensable to the nation.

….

6. Cessation of policies favoring public works projects that are botched, undertaken for electoral reasons, or supposedly to insure law and order, projects that are unprofitable because of the irregular and fragmentary way in which they are distributed.

….

8. Return to private sector of industries that the state has managed poorly, in particular the telephone system and the railroads. Regarding the latter, competition needs to be enhanced between the major lines, which need, in turn, to be managed differentially with respect to regional and local lines.

9. Abolition of the state monopoly on postal and telegraphic communications so that private enterprise may supplement and eventually replace the state-run service.

The subsequent section, ‘Cornerstones of Social Policy’, begins with a statement of the importance of private property and industry as the fundamental basis of Fascist economic and social policy. This runs

Fascism recognises the social function of private property. At once a right and a duty, private property is the form of management that society has traditionally granted individuals so that they may increase the overall patrimony.

In its opposition to socialist projects for reconstruction that rely upon a dogmatically collectivist model of economics, the National Fascist Party has its feet firmly planted in the soil of our historical and national reality. This reality does not allow for a single type of agricultural or industrial economy. The party, accordingly, supports any and every solution, be it individualistic or any other kind, that will guarantee the maximum level of production and well-being.

The National Fascist Party advocates a regime that would strive to increase our national wealth by unleashing individual enterprises and energies – the most powerful and industrious factor in economic production – and by abolishing, once and for all, the rusty, costly, and unproductive machinery of state-, society -, and municipality-based control. The party thus supports all efforts to enhance Italy’s productivity and to eliminate forms of individual and group parasitism. 

see Jeffrey T. Schnapp, ed., A Primer of Italian Fascism (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press 2000), 14-15.

Now the Fascist programme did contain elements of Socialism, such as the demands for an eight hour working day, and later in Mussolini’s regime the state ended up owning a sizable part of the Italian economy as it was forced to buy up failing corporations. But even if the regime was forced to go back on its stated policy of allowing failing companies to go to the wall, it still strongly supported private enterprise although subject to considerable state intervention.

It’s very clear from this that, at least at that stage, Fascist economic policy was very similar to the free enterprise economics of Thatcher and Reagan. There’s also a further similarity, in that contemporary politics in both America and Britain is also corporatist. The Italian Fascist economy was supposed to be run by a ‘Chamber of Corporations and Fasces’ in which both representatives of management and the trade unions sat together. In practice the trade unions were strictly controlled by the Fascist state, with the management and proprietors enjoying a far greater degree of freedom. Contemporary Britain and America has a form of corporativism, in that very members of Congress in the US and parliament in Britain are proprietors or senior management of private firms. The parties also receive substantial funding from private corporations, with the result that government policy is framed to benefit private corporate interests, rather than working people.

Unlike Mussolini’s later regime, however, the current right-wing governments haven’t worked out that free trade and an economy based on untrammeled, absolute private industry doesn’t work either. They’re what the Australian economist John Quiggin has described as ‘zombie economics’, because the ideas are dead and should have been discarded long ago, but are still haunting us.

Conservative propagandists are therefore completely wrong. Fascism was pro-capitalist, and supported private enterprise, despite the movement’s left-wing origins and Mussolini’s attempt to return to socialism during the brief period of the Nazi-supported Salo Republic. It is very similar to today’s Conservativism rather than socialism, although the Republicans and Tories haven’t outlawed rival political parties nor tried to replace parliament or congress with a personal dictatorship and corporativist chamber. But Boris Johnson over here and Donald Trump across the pond are sounding more Fascist day by day, as BoJob’s splenetic attack on British MPs ‘collaborating’ with the EU shows.

The Stepford Daughters of Brexit and Slavery and the Emergence of Capitalism

Yesterday for our amusement the awesome Kerry Anne Mendoza posted a video on twitter made by two very definitely overprivileged girls talking about the evils of socialism. The two young ladies were Alice and Beatrice Grant, the privately educated granddaughters of the late industrialist and former governor of the Bank of England, Sir Alistair Grant. With their cut-glass accents and glazed, robotic delivery of their lines, they seemed to fit the stereotype of the idiotic Sloane perfectly, right down to the ‘Okay, yah’, pronunciation. Mendoza commented ‘I don’t think this was meant to be a parody, but it’s the perfect roast of the “yah-yah” anti-left.’

Absolutely. In fact, what the girls were describing as socialism was really Communism, completely ignoring democratic socialism, or social democracy – the form of socialism that demands a mixed economy, with a strong welfare state and trade unions, progressive taxation and social mobility. It also ignored anti-authoritarian forms of socialism, like syndicalism, guild socialism or anarcho-Communism. They were also unaware that Marx himself had said that, regarding the interpretations of his views promoted by some of his followers, he wouldn’t be a Marxist.

But it would obviously be too much to expect such extremely rich, public school girls to know any of this. They clearly believed, and had been brought up to believe, the Andrew Roberts line about capitalism being the most wonderful thing every invented, a mechanism that has lifted millions around the world out of poverty. Etc. Except, as Trev, one of the great commenters on Mike’s and this blog, said

If “Capitalism works” why are there a million people using foodbanks in Britain today? Not working that well is it? Why did the Government bail out the Banks using our money? Why did the Banking system collapse in the first place, was it because of Socialism? I don’t find these idiotic spoilt brats in the least bit funny, I feel bloody angry. When was the last time they ate food they found in the street? Bring back the Guillotine!

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/08/14/these-young-ladies-of-brexit-need-to-be-seen-to-be-believed/

The two girls were passionate supporters of the Fuhrage and his wretched party, and were really looking forward to a no-deal Brexit. It shows how out of touch these girls are, as Brexit is already wrecking the British economy, and a no-deal Brexit and subsequent deal with a predatory America would just wipe it out completely. Along with everything that has made post-war Britain great – the NHS and welfare state. But these girls obviously have no connection with working people or, I guess, the many businesses that actually depend on manufacturing and exports. I think the girls’ family is part of financial sector, who stand to make big profits from Brexit, or at least are insulated from its effects because they can move their capital around the globe.

The girls’ views on the EU was similarly moronic. They really do seem to believe that the EU is somehow an oppressive, communistic superstate like the USSR. It wasn’t. And the reason anti-EU socialists, like the late, great Tony Benn distrusted it was partly because in their view it stood for capital and free trade against the interests of the nation state and its working people.

And they also have weird views on slavery and the EU’s attitude to the world’s indigenous peoples. To the comment by David Lammy, the Black Labour politico, who dared to correct Anne Widdecombe for comparing Brexit to the great slave revolts, they tweeted

“Lammy being pathetic as usual. The chains of slavery can be intangible, as amply shown in China, the Soviet Union and the EU; to deny that just shows your ignorance and petty hatred for the truth”.

To which Zelo Street commented that there two things there. First of all, it’s best not to tell a Black man he doesn’t understand slavery. And second, the EU isn’t the USSR.

They were also against the Mercosur deal the EU wishes to sign with the South American nations, because these would lead to environmental destruction and the dispossession and exploitation of the indigenous peoples.

“As usual the GREED and selfishness of the EU imposes itself using their trade ‘deals’ in the name of cooperation and fake prosperity. The indigenous tribes of the Amazon need our protection not deforestation”.

To which Zelo Street responded with incredulity about how they could claim environmental concern for a party headed by Nigel Farage.

And they went on. And on, going on about how the EU was a threat to civil liberties. And there was more than a touch of racism in their statement that Sadiq Khan should be more concerned to make all Londoners feel safe, not just EU migrants. They also ranted about how Labour had sold out the working class over Brexit in favour of the ‘immoral, money hungry London elite’. Which shows that these ladies have absolutely no sense of irony or any self-awareness whatsoever.

In fact, Zelo Street found them so moronic and robotic, that it dubbed them the Brexit party’s Stepford Daughters, referring to the 70s SF film, the Stepford Wives. Based on the novel by Ira Levin, the films about a community where the men have killed their wives and replaced them with robots.

See:  https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/08/brexit-party-presents-stepford-daughters.html

There’s a lot to take apart with their tweets. And perhaps we shouldn’t be two hard on the girls. They’re only 15 and 17. A lot of young people at that age have stupid views, which they grow out of. But there is one issue that really needs to be challenged.

It’s their assumptions about slavery and the genocide of indigenous peoples. Because this is one massive problem to any assumption that capitalism is automatically good and beneficial.

There’s a very large amount of scholarship, much of it by Black activists and researchers, about slavery and the emergence of European capitalism and the conquest of the Americas. They have argued that European capitalism was greatly assisted by the profits from New World slavery. Caribbean historians like Dr Richard Hart, in his Blacks in Bondage, have shown that transatlantic slavery was a capitalist industry. For the enslaved indigenous peoples and the African men and women, who replaced them when they died out, capitalism certainly did not raise them out of poverty. Rather it has done the opposite – it enslaved them, and kept them in chains until they were able to overthrow it successfully with assistance of European and American abolitionists in the 19th century.

And among some left-wing West Indians, there’s still bitterness towards America for its constant interference in the Caribbean and Central and South America. America did overthrow liberal and progressive regimes across the world, and especially in the New World, when these dared to challenge the domination of American corporations. The overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz’s democratic socialist regime in Guatemala is a case in point. Arbenz was overthrown because he dared to nationalise the banana plantations. Which upset the American United Fruit Company, who got their government to overthrow him in coup. He was replaced by a brutal Fascistic dictatorship that kept the plantation workers as virtual slaves. And the Americans also interfered in Jamaican politics. They were absolutely opposed to the Jamaican Labour party politician, Michael Manley, becoming his nation’s Prime Minister, and so did everything they could to stop him. Including cutting trade.

And then there’s the enslavement and genocide of the indigenous peoples.

Before Columbus landed in the New World, South America had a population of about seven million. There were one million people in the Caribbean. I think there were similar numbers in North America. But the indigenous peoples were enslaved and worked to death. They were also decimated through diseases carried by Europeans, to which they had no immunity. The Taino people were driven to extinction. The Caribs, from whom the region takes its name, were able to survive on a reservation granted to them in the 18th century by the British after centuries of determined resistance. The conquest of the New World was a real horror story.

And Britain also profited from the enslavement of indigenous peoples. I doubt the girls have heard of it, but one of the scandals that rocked British imperialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was that of the Putomayo Indians of South America. They had been enslaved by British rubber corporations. It was this abuse of a subject people that turned the Irish patriot, Roger Casement, from a British civil servant to an ardent Nationalist.

On the other side of the world, in the Pacific, British imperialism also managed to dispossess an entire Polynesian people and trash their island. This was in the 1920s. The island was rich in mineral deposits, and so moved the indigenous people out, ultimately relocating them to Fiji. Their island was then strip-mined, leaving it a barren, uninhabitable rock. In the 1980s the survivors were trying to sue the government over their maltreatment, but with no success.

This is what unfettered British imperialism and capitalism did. And what I’ve no doubt Farage and other far right British politicians would like to do again without the restraints of international law. It’s why I believe that, whatever the demerits of the Mercosur agreement are, it’s probably better than what individual nations would do without the restraint of the EU.

The girls are right to be concerned about the fate of indigenous peoples. But they are profoundly wrong in their absolute, uninformed belief that unregulated capitalism will benefit them.

It doesn’t. It enslaves, dehumanises and dispossesses. Which is why we need international organisations like the EU, and why the Brexit party isn’t just a danger to Britain, but to the world’s weaker, developing nations and their indigenous peoples.

James Cleverly Tries to Claim William Wilberforce was Tory

The Tory chairman, James Cleverly, whose name is surely a contradiction in his case, has tried rewriting history. According to him, William Wilberforce, the great 18th – 19th century campaigner against the slave trade, was a Tory MP from Yorkshire.

Er, no. He wasn’t. As Mike has posted on his blog, Wilberforce was an independent. Mike quotes two Tweeters, who know far more history than Cleverly, who point out that the Tories largely hated him, and that the Conservative Party only came into being in 1834, a year after the Act banning the Slave Trade throughout the British Empire and Wilberforce himself had died in 1833. And Philip Lowe, one of the Tweeters, also points out that the Tories tried to break him as a politician and a man, just like they’re trying to do with Corbyn.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/08/05/new-tory-chairman-owned-over-slavery-howler/

This looks like another example of the Tories trying to appropriate anything progressive from an earlier era. They tried it a couple of years ago with the National Health Service, despite the fact that it was very definitely launched by Clement Attlee’s Labour government with Nye Bevan as the minister responsible for it. Then there was the ‘Red Tory’ movement launched by David Cameron and his mentor, Philip Blonde, which used the example of the great 19th century Conservative social reformers and radical socialists like the anarcho-communist thinker Peter Kropotkin, to try to position the Tories as more left-wing than Blair’s Labour. In opposition, Cameron had the Conservatives campaigning against hospital closures. Once in power, however, anything left-wing was very quickly dropped. Cameron went on and accelerated hospital closures and the privatisation of the NHS.

He also tried to present the Conservatives as being eco-friendly. ‘This will be the greenest government ever!’, he announced. And put a windmill on his roof as a symbol of his commitment to green policies and renewable energy. But once he got his foot in the door of No. 10, that all went for a Burton too. He and his government decided that they loved fracking and petrochemical industry, cut funding for renewable energy. And took that windmill off his roof.

And somehow I don’t think Cleverly’s attempt to claim Wilberforce for them is unrelated to the current furore about Tory racism. Cameron attempted to present the Tories as nicely anti-racist, severing links with the Monday Club and throwing out anyone who had links to the NF and BNP. Now that Brexit’s the dominant issue, racism and Fascism has come back with a vengeance. There have been revelations about the vitriolic racism and islamophobia in the Tory party, and particularly in online Twitter and Facebook groups for friends of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg. And people very definitely remember BoJob’s comments about Black Africans and ‘grinning picaninnies with water melon smiles’. So Cleverly is trying to sanitise their image by appropriating Wilberforce.

Don’t believe the lies. The Tories are racist and viciously islamophobic. Get them out!

France Recruits SF Writers as Military Strategists

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/07/2019 - 2:39am in

I’m afraid I’ve lost the cutting for this, so I can’t really give you the details. But it was reported in last week’s I that the French have recruited five science fiction writers for one of their defence organisations. I realise that some people will consider it so far-fetched that SF writers can have anything sensible to say on the subject of present day warfare or possible terror attacks, that it’ll sound like a joke to them. There may well be muttered sneers about these peeps protecting la patrie from the Daleks, Klingons or some other threat from beyond the stars. But there’s some very sound sense in it. SF writers have written about terrible threats to global security, wars and terror attacks almost from the very beginnings of the modern genre in the 19th century. Jules Verne described an anarchist waging war against the rest of the world in his story, Robur le Conquerant. H.G. Wells predicted something like modern tank warfare in his The Land Ironclads, although these massive vehicles were more like ships and moved on dozens of mechanical legs like centipedes. Another short story, The Stolen Bacillus, dealt with the attempted use of germ warfare by terrorists. In this story, an anarchist works his way into the confidence and laboratory of a biologist working on a new type of infectious germ. The anarchist seizes a vial of the cultures, and escapes, running across London with the scientist in hot pursuit. When it appears that he will be cornered and caught, the anarchist drinks the vial, deliberating infecting himself with the disease organism, and then runs on, taking care deliberately to bump into people. All is well, however, as rather than being a lethal pathogen, the disease is actually quite harmless. All it does is to make those infected with it turn a different colour. Which is either yellow or blue. The story may have had a happy ending, but for its late Victorian audience it raised a real, terrifying possibility.

With warfare moving into areas previously considered the realm of SF, like Trump’s call for a space force, the US navy testing laser weapons, war robots being developed by Boston Dynamics and the very real threat of cyber attack, it makes sense for the French to recruit suitable SF writers. After all, back in the 1980s before 9/11, one of the major thriller writers published a novel about a group of terrorists flying a plane into the Twin Towers. It’s possible that their recruitment by the military may also be a gesture to show how hip and modern Macron’s presidency is. Alongside old, trusted methods and guides, he’s turning to imaginative popular culture. But it also shows that we really are increasingly living in an age of Science Fiction.

Book Review: Occult Features of Anarchism, with Attention to the Conspiracy of Kings and the Conspiracy of the Peoples by Erica Laglisse

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 19/07/2019 - 9:14pm in

In Occult Features of Anarchism, with Attention to the Conspiracy of Kings and the Conspiracy of the PeoplesErica Laglisse challenges the assumption that rationality and secularism are at the centre of anarchism, instead showing how this is rooted in a disavowal of its roots in religious and occult thinking, with implications for how we view anarchism and conspiracy theories today. This is a rich work that confronts deep-seated contemporary questions about anarchism, conspiracy theories and the nature of knowledge, writes Bethan Johnson

If you are interested in Occult Features of Anarchism, you may like to listen to the podcast of an LSE event in which Erica Lagalisse discusses her book, recorded at LSE on 20 March 2019. 

Occult Features of Anarchism, with Attention to the Conspiracy of Kings and the Conspiracy of the Peoples. Erica Laglisse. PM Press. 2019.

We live in an age of conspiracy theories. In the last decade, millions of messages on social media, interviews on YouTube or on podcasts and references in political speeches tell tales of QAnon and the American ‘deep state’, of the British royal family as shape-shifting lizards and of how terrorist attacks are the work of governments or faked. Add to these the influential anti-vaccination movement and climate change denial, and it is hard to deny that we live in a moment when many wonder if their lives and futures are in the hands of a small yet nefarious cabal of people. We also live in a time when anarchists are more visible than they have been in many years due to their roles in the Occupy Wall Street movement and Antifa. Thus, in a timely fashion, Erica Lagalisse’s book, Occult Features of Anarchism, with Attention to the Conspiracy of Kings and the Conspiracy of the Peoples, seeks to marry these new and contemporaneous developments in our (political) lives, connecting them in ways we perhaps had never considered.

Written more as a treatise in two parts than a book, anthropologist Lagalisse attempts to study concepts of anarchism and the occult in a part historical, part anthropological and part autobiographical/ethnographical work. In establishing a foundation for her research, Lagalisse first effectively demonstrates, partly through anecdotal evidence as well as through more traditional academic lines, how modern anarchists have come to value ideas of rationality, secularity and a particular kind of empiricism, which has alienated those whose activism is constructed along alternative lines, with particularly patronising attitudes towards, and through the silencing of, women of colour and Indigenous women.

Lagalisse then begins a series of chapters reminiscent of an intellectual and book history, tracing the dissemination and reception of particular books. She tracks how the perceived valuing of secular, rational and empirical modes of thinking contravene reality. First, Lagalisse tackles the topic of secularisation and its relationship to anarchism as a function of historic ideas about the role of the state in people’s lives. She presents arguments for the notion that the dichotomy of the ‘individual’ and ‘society’ that undergirds politics is infused with cosmology. ‘The transcendent God of theological dualism’, she writes, ‘can be found just beneath the surface of every argument for centralized authority, including most canonical social theory (which anarchists, we may note, tend to recognize as “authoritarian”)’ (17). Thus, despite the protestations of secular ideology as part of anarchism, she contends that ‘modern anarchism has never been purely atheist except in name’ (18).

In subsequent chapters, Lagalisse works to demonstrate how various forms of knowledge now valued as secular remain infused with religious and notably occult thinking. She traces much of modern science and mathematics through the ideas of Corpus Hermeticum, a mystical document about the integration of all concepts into one entity and the human as the microcosm of the universe itself. She shows the influence of these documents on specific influential Enlightenment and Renaissance individuals who are now identified as men of science, rather than of mysticism: these figures include Réné Descartes, Johannes Kepler and Nicolaus Copernicus. To this point, Lagalisse writes: ‘In retrospect, the European historian has enjoyed categorizing certain forms of worldly operation as “magical” and others as “scientific,” yet the distinction is anachronistic’ (29). Lagalisse goes on to connect these ideas to the rise of various associations now affiliated with some of the most famous conspiracy theories in the Western world: namely, the Freemasons and the Illuminati. She charts how specific men helped to found these societies, and how others expanded their reach.

Amidst all this, Lagalisse deftly defends herself against the charge of having fallen into the conspiracy theory trope herself, clearly noting when the connections she seeks to draw between thinkers or ideas are more speculative or tenuous as regards evidence. She meanwhile does not devalue all of anarchism simply because it has forgotten some of its history. ‘The fact that Marx builds on Hegel who builds on the Hermetica does not necessarily mean they are wrong,’ she writes. ‘It simply means that a vast amount of “rational” social theory relies on archetypes and geometrics of thought stemming from a specific, historiographically situated cosmology—as does the notion of “rationality” itself’ (70). Thus, Lagalisse argues, the use of rationality or secularity to claim a kind of superiority within anarchist circles should be taken as a castle built upon sand.

Contrasting this charted history of ties between the rational and the occult, in the final section Lagalisse transitions into perceptions surrounding belief in modern conspiracy theories. In doing so, she demonstrates how the term ‘conspiracy theory’ has been used as a rhetorical cudgel with which to beat back and delegitimise. She claims that while conspiracy theorists are associated with the image of the solitary white man living in his parents’ basement or with a bigoted Donald Trump voter in 2016, these images are stereotypes. They also betray certain value judgements of the kinds of people who believe conspiracy theories, an epithet that is often associated with working-class people whereas wealthier people of the same opinion avoid such judgement.

In its pursuit to hold a mirror up to anarchism and those who consider conspiracy theories to be the stuff that only uneducated, bigoted people could believe, Occult Features of Anarchism is quite effective. In one of the best interventions of the book, Lagalisse proves especially incisive in her analysis of the elitist and gendered nature of ‘truth-telling’ and ‘magic’. One discussion of particular note is that of how, during the period when magic was being converted into science and mathematics, women were contemporaneously persecuted in ‘witch trials’:

After all, as “magic” itself was gaining respect in certain elite quarters, women were being persecuted as witches precisely for practising “magic,” wherein we may observe that the perceived danger was not “magic” itself but the gender of its practitioner (30).

This discussion illuminates how elite, educated men (not the male peasants who are often blamed) led the hunting of women who had acquired a great deal of knowledge about the human body, and that this was therefore a gendered and classed persecution.

Lagalisse also levels well-articulated criticisms of anarchism itself for not being as inclusive as is often presented. She writes that:

As any anarchist around can see, fluency in a particular vocabulary, knowing the names of certain historical figures, and being vouched for by someone “in the know” is all requirement for entry into the anarchist club, as is a commitment to a specific ideological constellation informed by the history of its practice (81).

Convincing in many areas, Occult Features of Anarchism would nonetheless have benefited from being slightly less like a treatise. Lagalisse discusses her vision for the text as having utility for academics to consider how they study topics such as anarchism, the occult and conspiracy theories, and for those engaged in political activism (108). For academics, though, more work could have been done to flesh out the explicit connection between the earlier sections on anarchism and its links to the occult and the later sections on modern conspiracy theories, as well as simply more engagement with the book history element of the earlier chapters.

While Lagalisse does stimulate reflection upon who is classified as a conspiracy theorist and who gets to do this classifying, I also left the work not entirely convinced by her flattening of the definition of conspiracy theory and arguments about how conspiracy theorists are viewed by the rest of the society. Do I really think of people who talk about ‘Jewish lizard bankers’ (95) in such simple terms as ‘conspiracy theorist’? Are people sceptical of vaccines really being treated with the same degree of contempt as those who think that 9/11 was government-sanctioned?

Meanwhile, in her introduction, Lagalisse makes reference to the idea of enticing people away from conspiracy theories and other beliefs: ‘Of course, reasoned debate will not be sufficient to turn devoted neo-Nazis away from their project, but it may affect the future actions of those still sitting on the fence so to speak’ (11). The question then becomes of whose duty it is to convince people not to believe conspiracy theories. Often, this responsibility falls on the communities already victimised by a conspiracy theory. Given Lagalisse’s take on the difficulty many oppressed groups have being respected within anarchist circles, how does she reconcile this additional burden on their time? While this question does not have a simple answer, some discussion of it felt warranted.

Occult Features of Anarchism is a rich work that forces readers to confront questions about the nature of anarchism, conspiracy theories and knowledge. In many ways, it leaves us needing to do more than simply consider the arguments on the page. Perhaps this is particularly salient in this age of ‘alternative facts’ and conspiracy theories, and we are better for taking a little longer to consider what we consume.

Bethan Johnson is a doctoral candidate in the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge. Her doctoral research explores the rise of militant separatist groups in Western Europe and North America in the mid-Cold War-era. The work explores the life-cycle of violent ethno-nationalism, driving forces behind radicalisation along separatist lines and authoritative methods for ending and avoiding deadly conflicts. Her master’s dissertation, also undertaken at the University of Cambridge, studied the manipulation of cultural nationalism for political unionist purposes by Lady Llanover in nineteenth-century Wales.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.