Making Anarchy Palatable

Anarchists can no longer be credibly ignored in public discourse, but the distasteful trend of making anarchism more palatable for mainstream consumption received an enormous boost in the dwindling days of Occupy. Of the non-anarchist books published in the past three years that have dealt with the Occupy phenomenon, almost all of them deal with its New York incarnation, with perhaps a few nods to other places. Most of them have ignored the more troubling (to them) Occupy Oakland, where the national trend was upset by the continued presence of many people (not just anarchists!) who scandalously defended themselves against the police (both external and internal) and on occasion broke a few windows. The apoplectic denunciations of all anarchists from progressives like Chris Hedges and Todd Gitlin eventually became tempered by less frenetic commentators merely trying to split the uncontrollables from those who also condemned Black Bloc tactics. With the publication of Thank You, Anarchy by the University of California Press ($25 for 200 paperback pages, again, almost exclusively about New York, and written by the driving force behind very not ironically titled, the truncating of supposedly anarchist practice into an inoffensive package for an allegedly alternative political sphere has now reached an annoyingly predictable low point.

Once the more general complaint about diversity of tactics (either deliberately or ignorantly misunderstood as a directive to Fuck Shit Up) is exhausted, the next complaint is that the presence of the Black Bloc brings repression down on other participants, and/or makes it easy for undercover cops to infiltrate the event. The more crass and demagogic leftists just accuse the Black Bloc of being provocateurs… This line of reasoning shows a monumental lack of awareness of the role and function of police when confronted with any kind of (mild or wild) public dissidence.

Infiltration by cops is normal; anyone who believes otherwise is deluded. Most of the people who exposed the existence and extent of COINTELPRO have recently come forward to claim responsibility for making those destructively deceptive antics public. Those documents not only showed the reactionary paranoia of Hoover, but also the eager cooperation of local law enforcement with the designs of the FBI to spy on, infiltrate, sow internal dissent, and otherwise disrupt and neutralize just about any group that was for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam, liberal pacifists and (poorly) armed radicals alike. The role of law enforcement is to maintain the status quo, and even the smallest, most innocuous, unthreatening, and disorganized dissent is enough to get cops interested and mobilized. As unbelievable as it may seem for left-liberals and social democrats, cops — even in a democracy — will infiltrate, mislead, threaten, harass, frame, and even murder anyone they want, for whatever reason, and as a matter of course. They didn’t need the Black Bloc (or, as it was called then, the Action Faction) as an excuse in the 60s and 70s, and they don’t need the Black Bloc as an excuse today. Blaming the Black Bloc for the standard operating procedures of the police is as dishonest as it is unimaginative.

That alleged alternative put forward by the non/anti-anarchist champions of Occupy is a left-liberal/social-democratic realm, where democracy (representative always, with different levels of lip service paid to a so-called direct form — if absolutely necessary) remains the dominant ideological underpinning of another world being possible. For actual anarchists, however, that’s no alternative at all; promoting capitalism with a more human face (“People Before Profits”), and government with more voluntary participation (“This is What Democracy Looks Like” and “We Are the 99%”) are absurdities no more plausible for their endlessly droned repetition. The idea that anarchists are merely extreme democrats who adhere to the principles of Nonviolence™ remains an unfortunately (im)potent legend. The actions of plenty of people who identify themselves as anarchists make them more obviously frustrated liberals and impatient social democrats: people who, while publicly unhappy with what seem to be aberrant excesses to their populist critiques, maintain a naive belief in the ameliorative potential of legislation, and an unquestioned respect for the sanctity of private property and the armed gangsters who serve and protect it. There’s nothing recognizably anarchist about that.

Mainstreaming our ideas comes with too high a price. Professional activists and celebrities carve out niches for themselves as they tussle for attention and respectability, all the while obscuring the anarchist principles of definitively destroying capitalism and the state through direct action, voluntary cooperation, and mutual aid. The remaking of these tactics into their own skewed image through mainstream — and much alternative — media makes direct action look an awful lot like lobbying, voluntary cooperation an awful lot like electoral alliances, and mutual aid an awful lot like charity. There’s nothing anarchist about that either.

You Can’t Blow up a Social Relationship… But you can have fun trying!

By Bob Black, 1992, AJODA #33

In 1979, four Australian anarchist and “libertarian socialist” organizations published a tract called You Can’t Blow Up a Social Relationship, presumptuously subtitled “The Anarchist Case Against Terrorism” — as if theirs was the only case against it and there was no case for it. The pamphlet has been reprinted and distributed by North American anarchist groups, usually workerists, and by default appears to enjoy some currency as a credible critique of terrorism canonical for anarchists.

In fact, the pamphlet is rubbish: incoherent, inaccurate, even statist. It makes sense only as an attempt to spruce up anarchism‘s public image. It clutters the question of violence and should be swept, if there is any room left there, into the trashcan of history from a perspective which is not pro-terrorist but on this occasion anti-anti-terrorist.

What makes the diatribe so wonderful is the way it refutes itself as it goes along. Opening with reference to obscure actions by Croatian fascists in Australia, the authors explain that the state uses right wing terrorism to justify the repression of the left. indeed, democracies “will even incite or conspire in terrorism to justify their own actions.” They cite “the famous American Sacco and Vanzetti case of the 1920s” as “an archetypal case of the preparedness of the police to frame dissenters on charges of political violence.” Apparently the case is not famous enough for the authors to notice the duo was not framed for “political violence” but rather — as they proceeded to tell us! — for “robbery and murder.” The Haymarket case would have made a better example but is perhaps not famous enough. The lesson, if any, to be drawn is that one way or another, the anarchists are going to be screwed. Sacco and Vanzetti, like the Haymarket anarchists (except Lingg) did not “take up the gun,” they “engage[d] in the long, hard work of publicizing and understanding of this society” as the Australians propose. Why not throw a bomb or two? (As Lingg was preparing to do when he was arrested… showing that something like Haymarket was inevitable.)

Here is how anarchists sound when they speak the language of the state:

“Around the world the word ‘terrorism’ is used indiscriminately by politicians and police with the intention of arousing hostility to any phenomenon of resistance or preparedness for armed defense against their own terroristic acts. Terrorism is distinguished by the systematic use of, violence against people for political ends.”

A usage which is indiscriminate when police- and politicians resort to it is presumably discriminate when, one sentence later, anarchists do it. By this definition, violent revolution is terrorism; even if it involves the majority of the population. Indeed collective self — defense, which the authors elsewhere imply they approve of, is the systematic use of violence for political (among other) ends. By way of added inanity, the definition leaves out the unsystematic assaults by individuals acting alone — Czolgosz‘s assassination of McKinley, Berkman’s wounding of Frick — which everybody has always agreed are fairly called terrorism. These Australians are not speaking proper English and it’s not a difference in dialect either.

Having adopted a pejorative nonsense definition of their subject, the authors proceed to silly it further. “Just as the rulers” — and, as we see, certain anarchists — “prefer the word ‘terrorist’, terrorists prefer the description ‘urban guerrilla‘ as it lends them a spurious romantic air.” The authors explain that urban guerrillas are terrorists (just like “the rulers” say), but rural guerrillas are not: ’Especially in rural warfare these people can use non-terroristic armed action. This usually involves armed clashes with the police or army.” So an armed attack on police stations in a village is guerrilla warfare, but an armed attack on a police station in a city is terrorism? Do these anarchists think the police care how populous the locality is that they are killed in? Do they think the general population cares? Who’s being romantic here? These guys are romanticizing peasants because they have never met one and maligning urban intellectuals like themselves because they know their own kind.

What, according to these tacticians, rural guerrillas can do is not all of what the successful ones actually do. The Vietcong were based in the countryside but carried out assassinations, bombings, and expropriations in the cities too. Guerrilla warfare is by definition opportunistic and elastic, wherever it happens. The fact that rural guerrillas can (and do) “use non-terroristic armed action” does not mean they don‘t also use terroristic armed action, such as the village massacres of the Khmer Rouge or Sendero Luminoso.

Lexicography aside, what‘s really put ants in these anarchists pants? The pamphlet has nothing, really, to do with terrorism as such. Instead it‘s a critique of urban armed struggle by mostly nationalist and/or Marxist-Leninist outfits in the ’60s and ‘70s: the IRA, PLO, RAF, SLA, etc. Understandably these leftists (as they repeatedly identify themselves) do not want to be confused with these terrorists, but surely their discrepant ends mark the distinction much more clearly than their often identical means? Most Marxist groups, they admit, denounce terrorism in favor of party-building and propaganda, pretty much what the Australians call for. The Red Brigades had no harsher enemy than the Italian Communist Party. Then again, maybe the Australians exaggerate their differences in method (all but ignoring the long history of anarchist terrorism) because they do not differ so much programmatically from the Marxists. They keep making puzzling remarks such as “a democracy can only be produced if a majority movement is built.” Typically, this generalization is false — that was not how democracy came to Japan and West Germany — but regardless, why are anarchists concerned to foster the condition in which democracy, a form of government, is produced? Or did the “libertarian socialists” slip that in?

“Terrorism does not conflict with such ideas” as authoritarianism and vanguardism, they say. Well, there are a lot of ideas terrorism doesn’t conflict with, considering that terrorism is an activity, not an idea. Terrorism does not conflict with vegetarianism either: Hitler was a vegetarian and so were the anarchist bank robbers of the Bonnot Gang. So what? In other words, even if the authors make an anarchist case against terrorism (they don’t), they haven’t made a case against anarchist terrorism, which means they can‘t excommunicate the anarchist terrorist and usurp the label for their own exclusive use. Which seems to be what this all comes down to.

The authors’ treatment of anarchist terrorism is shallow, deceptive, and incomplete. If their definition of terrorism as systematic political violence was meant to dispose of many embarrassing assassinations, bombings, and bank robberies by verbal sleight of hand, they are smarter than they seem, but they’re really just changing the subject (political violence) to an artificiality of no practical interest. They are talking to themselves with no claim to anyone else‘s attention. More likely they aren’t articulate enough to say what they mean.

To state the obvious, anarchists have practiced terrorism in the “Australian” sense collective politically motivated violence directed at persons — for over a century. The bungled anarchist insurrections in Italian towns in the 1870s involved gunfire with the carabinieri. Soon these local revolts became recurrent features of peasant anarchism in rural Spain. By the 1890s the anarchists were killing heads of state all over the Western world and if they were not delegated to do so by authoritative anarchist organizations, does that not sever the link between ‘terrorism’ and ‘vanguardism’?

The authors allude to Stalin’s bank robberies but not to those of the Bonnet Gang or Durruti. More recently, the noted Italian anarchist Alfredo Bonanno has pled guilty to bank robbery. They ignore Berkman’s attentat against Frick, Dora Kaplan’s attempt to assassinate Lenin and Stuart Christie‘s aborted attempt to assassinate Franco. Some of these, certainly the last one, involved conspiracies and thus should be ‘collective’. To equate anarchists with bomb throwers is grossly unfair. To ignore anarchists who were bomb-throwers, often at the cost of their lives, is dishonest and despicable.

What about the Spanish Revolution? The anarchist armed groups, it is said, “drew much of their specific justifications” — what they are, we are never informed — “from the Spanish revolution and war and the urban warfare that continued there even past the end of the Second World War.” Yes, exactly, the urban guerrillas- the terrorists — had some “specific justifications,” valid or not. Which is just to say nobody takes up the gun without reasons, a conclusion as banal as it is evasive. “For our argument the civil war in Spain is exemplary because the slogans ‘win the war first’ was used against politics, to halt the revolution and then to force it back under Stalinist dominated but willing republican governments.” This is asinine coming and going. It equates falsely what the Aussies call ‘politics’ with what the Spaniards made, ‘revolution’. For the wimps Down Under, politics means alternative institution building (presumably the usual leftist stuff, constituency lobbying, food coops, etc.) plus propaganda. For all the Spanish revolutionaries it meant far more, and it certainly included taking up the gun. The revolution no less than the war was done with the gun. When Durruti and his column occupied the town of Fraga and executed 38 police, priests, lawyers, landlords etc. that was politics, that was revolution, and that was political violence. That was, to hear some people talk, terrorism. That was anarchist revolution also. If that upheaval is exemplary what is it an example of pray tell?

It is true that anarchist violence has often backfired and never won any lasting victory. But this is but to say that anarchism is a failure to date. Anarchist propaganda is a failure. Anarchist organizing is a failure (vide the IWW). Anarchist schooling is a failure. If anything, anarchists have accomplished more by violence than in any other way, in the Ukraine and in Spain, for instance. The fact is anarchists have not accomplished anything by any means to compare with their leftist and fascist and liberal rivals. Their propaganda, for instance, has not come close to the efficiency of propaganda by Nazis, televangelicals, and Fabian Socialists. Their institution-building (touted by the Australian consortium) amounts to nothing but anarchists bagging granola in food coops or supplying warm bodies for demonstrations claimed by Stalinists or Green yuppies or whomever. Anything they can do, others do better. Could it be that anarchism itself scares most people away, stirs up their fear of freedom such that they seize upon media spoon-fed slanders like ‘terrorism’ as excuses for looking the other way?

My purpose has been limited and negative, merely cutting some weeds, not planting anything. If anarchists have an image problem — and it they care — it attaches to their anarchism, not to their occasional terrorism. The Australian anarchists seem to have been most concerned not with an anarchist approach to so-called terrorism but with assuring their government they are harmless. To their everlasting shame, I’m quite sure they are. An anarchism that wants to be anything but harmless to the state and to class society must deal with terrorism and much more in another, more radical way.

Transform and Rebel: The Calico Indians and the Anti-rent War

By Thom Metzger, 1992, AJODA #33


Dear Reader,

Think of this article as a preview of coming attractions excerpted from the upcoming Autonomedia anthology, “Gone to Croatan”; an excursion deep beyond the liminal vagaboundaries which mark the seriocomic unfolding of that theatre of survival/resistance/disappearance known as North American history. At a bookstore near you by the Winter of ’92. — Ron Sakolsky, co-editor, “Gone to Croatan”

* * *

The remains: a costume and mask stored behind glass like a saint’s garments in a reliquary. A scarlet linen vest, a gown of printed broadcloth, and a mask made of sheep skin. Fabric flowers ornament the mask, along with faded blue ribbons, leather fringe, mesh over the eye holes, a goatee, sideburns and eye brows made from fur.

In a photograph, sixteen men pose in similar costumes. Most brandish knives, all wear grotesque masks and gowns or jackets of brightly colored calico. Horns of leather, drooping mustaches, long false beards, wolf-like snouts, stag antlers, plumes of horse hair, tassels hanging from pointed ears, and hard fierce animal-like mouths.

They were farmers, many of them teen-aged boys, all of them little better than serfs. And for a few years in the early eighteen forties, while similar anti-authoritarian movements brewed in Europe, these self-styled Calico Indians roved the countryside of eastern New York State, flouting law, order and social norms.

After the American War of Independence, a semi-feudal system remained firmly in place along the Hudson River Valley, reaching from New York City to Albany, through the Catskills and to the Massachusetts border. Three hundred thousand farmers, working almost two million acres, lived like serfs with little hope of ever escaping their bondage to the land’s owners. This patroon system had its origins in the Dutch colonial efforts of the 1600s, when huge blocks of land were “purchased” from the indigenous inhabitants, and tenants were brought in to secure Holland’s hold.

In 1664, the Dutch colony was seized by the British, but the feudal system remained largely unchanged, farmers paying a yearly rent (in food stuffs or its equivalent in cash) yet never having the opportunity to actually own the land. In 1695, the governor granted a patent which transformed the patroonship of Rensselaerwyck into a manor and the patroon into its lord. At the same time, the British further entrenched the system by granting patents to millions of acres of new land. The last colonial governor of New York expressed the thinking of the time when he wrote that giving these huge tracts of land to the aristocracy would “counterpoise in some measure the general levelling spirit that so prevails,” making reference to the antinomian and proto-anarchist Ranters, Diggers, and Levellers of Great Britain.

After the Revolutionary War, some land was taken from the Tories, but the most valuable tracts were given to Federalists as payment for their war claims, and other sections were sold to speculators. The most powerful landowning families — Van Rennselaer, Livingston, Schuylef, and Hamilton — continued to tighten their hold on the area through intermarriage and further purchases. In 1839, Stephen Van Rennselaer, known as the Good Patroon, died. Realizing that the patroon system was fragile and that only so much pressure could be put on it before it collapsed, he often had allowed tenants’ rents to lapse during times of bad harvest or other ill fortune. At his death, it was found that he’d accumulated large debts. Owing him nearly a half million dollars in back rents, his tenants were seen by the Van Rennselaer heirs as a likely way out of their financial predicament. In the Helder-bergs, on the west side of the Hudson, where farming was particularly difficult, resentment against the heirs’ new demand for total payment rose quickly, developing within the year into what is now known as the Anti-rent War.

The first anti-rent meetings were called in Berne, the highest place in the Helderbergs. In a Declaration of Independence dated July 4th, which the newly-formed anti-rent association sent to Stephen Van Rensselaer IV, they compared his oppressive rent measures to the Stamp Act of 1765 and themselves to the self-named Sons of Liberty, who fought against British economic oppression by tarring and feathering the King’s functionaries, ransacking their homes and hanging them in effigy.

Quickly, the anti-rent associations had thousands of dues-paying members and their influence was felt throughout all the leasehold lands. The governor of New York sent in armed militia to put down the rebellion and the Anti-rent War began in earnest. Disguising themselves in costumes of brilliant calico, covered with fur, feathers, and tin ornaments, wearing sheepskin masks or with their faces painted red and black, parties of self-proclaimed Indians struck back against the patroons/un-derlings.

When sheriffs would approach a farmer’s land, intending to sell off some of his livestock in order to pay back rents, the Calico Indians would surround the lawmen — usually on horseback — or ambush, disarm and drive them away. And on the few occasions when the auctions did occur, the Indians deployed snipers to kill all the cattle and sheep that had been sold. The Indians’ tactics were a mixture of guerrilla warfare and adolescent playfulness. They kidnapped sheriffs and held them prisoner in taverns until they agreed to jump up and down three times and shout “Down with the rent!” They stole and destroyed legal papers, threatened farmers who paid their rents, and harassed sheriffs whenever they appeared.

Adopting pseudo-savage names (Red Jacket, Black Hawk, Yellow Jacket, Blue Beard, Little Thunder, White Chief) the Calico Indians bound themselves by an oath. “I do of my own free will and accord come forward to join this body of men and will reveal no secrets of the society made known to me necessary to be kept.” Farm-wives and daughters were enlisted to make gowns and masks, the more outlandish the better. At their peak, the Indians numbered over ten thousand, yet no two costumes were alike. The chiefs’ garments were the most flamboyant, however, because the anti-rent associations provided money to buy calico (as well as ornaments and pistols) anyone was able to deck himself out as outrageously as he pleased. When a prominent Rennselaer county Indian died, an escort of his fellows — ninety-six men strong, mounted and in full battle dress — formed the vanguard of his funeral procession. In 1844, when Governor William Bouck held a conference to meet with local residents, over a hundred Indians stood at the edges of the crowd, shouting and jeering.

Armed with muskets, pistols, scythes, axes, clubs, hatchets and knives, the Indians were able to mobilize quickly whenever sheriffs approached to serve writs or seize property. As a primitive communication network, the Indians convinced (sometimes by the use of force) farmers to use their tin dinner horns only as a warning signal that the law was near. The message could be quickly relayed over many miles, the blaring of the horns (normally used to call workers in for their meals) reaching across the hills and valleys of the Catskills. The organization of the Indian bands followed the cell structure which one of the most important anti-rent leaders, Thomas Devyr, had used while a Chartist agitator in Scotland. The Indians divided into ten-to-fifteen man units, the identity of individuals known only to the chief of the cell, who was in turn known only by his mock-Indian name.

Devyr, born in Donegal, Ireland in 1805, published a pamphlet called “Our Natural Rights,” in which he stated: “I saw that the earth if vigorously tilled would yield plenty of the comforts of life. Willing labor and fertile soil would produce plenty to eat, drink and wear.” After publishing the pamphlet, he fled from Ireland, and went to work in London, working for the liberal papers in which he attacked Irish Landlordism. Working class rebels in Newcastle-upon-Tyne asked him to join them. He left London, catling it “that great social wen,” and quickly rose to prominence among the Scots fighting for social and political reform. In 1840, he fled Scotland to avoid arrest and landed in New York. Within months, he was at the forefront of the anti-rent struggles in the Hudson Valley.

Another prominent anti-rent leader was Dr. Smith Boughton, who came to be known by his Indian name, Big Thunder. A brilliant public speaker and organizer, he traveled up and down the Catskills, addressing meetings, exhorting farmers to join or support financially the Indians’ efforts. Targeted by the lords of Livingston manor, he was eventually arrested for robbery (after a sheriff was relieved of his warrants and writs by a band of Indians) and sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor.

In 1844, the hostilities had increased to such a high pitch that Governor Silas Wright issued a proclamation declaring Delaware County (the epicenter of Indian activities) to be in a state of insurrection and ordered in the military to “preserve order.” Then, in early 1845, he requested that the legislature pass a law making it illegal for any individual to appear with “his face painted, discolored, covered or concealed,” or to refuse help to a law enforcement officer in the pursuit of “seizing, arresting, confining …every person with his face so painted.” Though anti-rent forces were building strength in the legislature, the measure passed easily. The Calico Indians, however, continued their guerilla war. As in most insurgency movements, the rebels remained hidden and highly mobile, striking only when they had sufficient force to overcome their enemy, then evaporating as quickly as they’d gathered.

The Anti-rent War continued until August of 1845, when Sheriff Green More and Osman Steele (his jailor and undersheriff) rode to the farm of Moses Earle near Andes, to sell off some of Earle’s livestock in order to satisfy a warrant for two years’ back rent. The Indians gathered in force, blaring their horns, and surrounded the two sheriffs. Steele resisted and shots were fired. Three bullets hit him and he died late that day. The Indians scattered. As soon as the news got out, public opinion turned against the rebels. The cells disbanded, thousands of masks were burned and buried, and the calico gowns were converted overnight into curtains and quilts. Mass arrests followed the death of Steele and eventually eighty-four men were convicted: two sentenced to the gallows and thirteen to prison terms.

Yet, though the Indians’ violence was condemned by the general population, their goals were still popular and the anti-rent forces continued to work their way into state government. In 1846, John Young was elected governor of New York on an anti-rent platform and a few weeks after taking office, had pardoned all the Calico Indian prisoners still in jail. In 1848, the legislature abolished the tenure rent system.

In retrospect, it is clear that in order to throw off the two hundred year old feudal system, the Catskill and Hudson River Valley farmers needed to transform themselves, physically as well as emotionally. Like the “Indians” who took part in the Boston Tea Party, the Cats-kill rebels disguised themselves for practical purposes, to prevent being identified and punished. However, they also chose to transform themselves into creatures who could do what no law-abiding citizen would dream of doing. By putting on ridiculous costumes, taking false names, and swearing melodramatic oaths, they escaped centuries of social constraint.

The view of Indians that the farmers exhibited is clearly quite skewed/Boyish enthusiasm, romantic notions of the noble savage, and simple ignorance shaped the Calico Indians’ idea of themselves. The costume itself points to a gross misunderstanding of what “Indian” meant. Looking more like animals dressed in women’s clothing than the original inhabitants of the land they worked, the Calico Indians embraced freedom by embracing otherness. Decked out in gowns, flowers, wigs, ribbons and tassels, they allowed themselves, most likely without knowing it, to I play at being women. Wearing masks made from animal parts (sheepskin, horse hair, stag horns, pig ears and feathers) they were more beasts than men. And a few of the most brave even played at being demons: wearing horns, fangs and scarlet talons. Half-drunk, converting their farm implements into weapons, they had strength where before they had only servitude and the prospect of endless toil.

For them the word “Indian” meant something far larger than Native American. It was a label that denoted wildness, lack of restraint, the ability to follow one’s desires. Some took names that were overtly Arabic (The Prophet), or Mexican (Santa Anna). With their secret oaths, midnight forays, bizarre costumes, their violence mixed with grandiose heroics; they clearly believed that to be an Indian was not merely to be non-white, but also something bigger than life. Crossing racial, gender, even species lines, all expectations were over- j turned. Anecdotes were told of parents talking for hours with their sons, and of girls being overwhelmed by the kisses and caresses of their own brothers, without anyone suspecting their true identity. Drunken farm boys could be, for a few hours, powerful chieftains; warriors rather than serfs. Armed sheriffs could be mocked, humiliated and treated as buffoons. Even family ties meant nothing. Social, as well as political law was overthrown.

At the killing of undersheriff Osman Steele, the Indians shouted, “Down with the laws, we are here to break them.” For a few years, they lived out the fantasy of the disenfranchised. By mixing their playfulness with criminality and righteous defiance, they were able to claim their land and a small, but significant, measure of dignity.

The Sad Truth: Femme aux Bananes (Woman with Bananas)

By Michael William, 1992, AJODA #33

A furor has erupted in the art and feminist milieus and in the Quebec and Canadian media after two paintings depicting women carrying fruit on their heads were censored in an exhibition sponsored by the Concordia University Women’s Centre. Originally the exhibition had been announced as “non-juried,” in other words without a selection process. Among different, frequently contradictory reasons given by the Women’s Centre, one member, Shira Spector, said that one of the paintings was ‘racist’ because the artist, Lyne Robichaud, “was exploring primitive and mythical imagery of women.” “Though one image was more blatant, and the other more ambivalent,” a statement by the Women’s Centre’s art committee said, “we could not refuse one without refusing both.”

Putting another spin on the painting’s rejection, however, Robichaud was informed over the phone by art committee member Sue Goldstein that “because you’re white, you should stick to making paintings of white women.”

However, another member of the Women’s Centre, Johanne Cadorette, gave the impression that the painting was rejected primarily because of a lack of submitted paintings of women of color: If we had a really good number of all sorts of really positive images of women of color,” she said, “…then maybe a picture of one carrying bananas on her head would be a completely different issue.”

In their statement of rejection, however, the Women’s Centre flatly accused Robichaud’s painting of “reproducing derogatory, condescending stereotypes of women of color and of all women.” Basing their analysis on a “deconstructive stance,” the Women’s Centre stated that it was their “responsibility to refuse to display images which could be read as reproducing — whether intentionally or unintentionally — racist, sexist, homophobic, and/or violent images and stereotypes.”

But in an interview in the Toronto Globe and Mail, art committee member Shira Spector backed off from implying racist intentions on the artist’s part: “No, we’re not saying that Lyne intended to be racist….” Elsewhere in the interview, though, Spector affirms that the painting “is racist” because it is a “primitive image”: “We are a feminist organization that doesn’t want to promote racism, sexism and homophobia. We felt that [Robichaud’s] image was a primitive image of women. She even said in her written description that she is exploring primitive and mythical imagery of women. We feel that this is racist. We’re not saying that there aren’t women who carry bananas on their head, or that this picture doesn’t correspond to a reality. But this seems to be the main image of women from these countries. It reminds us of colonialism and the noble savage who is happy with her life and smiling.”

“Okay, she’s not smiling,” Spector acknowledged, when the Globe and Mail reporter pointed out that she wasn’t smiling. “But it’s a happy image nonetheless.”

Figuring out what is going on in this tangle of statements from the Women’s Centre is no easy task. But it is clear that a primitivist approach is being slandered.

By the time I decided to write an article the controversy had already turned into a hotly debated media event. A call I left on the Women’s Centre answering machine was not returned and the media shows on which Robichaud and Women Centre members were to be present were canceled by the Women’s Centre. Later a forum to discuss the issues involved was organized at Concordia but Robichaud was not invited to the event to present her side.

In a letter to the Link, a Concordia student newspaper, Natalie Kauffman, a first-year fine arts student, said that her painting depicted “a woman of many colors, not a woman of color” and that the art committee “misunderstood my painting even after my explanation.” “In many ways a self-portrait,” she said, her painting was a “representation of womankind, from different cultures and different areas of the globe” and its theme was “sexuality, cultural diversity and spirituality, exactly what the show’s objectives were.”

Lyne Robichaud, for her part, said that her painting was an “homage to the monotonous everyday tasks that women have performed as mothers for thousands of years.” But she also talks about the “over-automated, polluting and arrogant societies of the Western world” and describes her painting as a being about “a simple way of life and a connection to the earth …We [women] began as nourishers, as gatherers.”

Here we appear to come to the offending primitivist dimension which was deemed so horrid by the Women’s Centre.

Fear of the Primitive

Lyne Robichaud had never heard of Fifth Estate or Anarchy, or primitivist precursors such as Lewis Mumford or Jacques Ellul. But her concerns and an anti-authoritarian, anti-civilization approach coincide in certain ways, and she is clearly being attacked because of the primitivist dimension.

The revolt against civilization stretches back to the rise of civilization itself. Gaining momentum with the advent of massive industrialization and the introduction of the factory system, it has experienced steady growth in recent years, now that the true extent of the damage wrought by the megamachine has become starkly apparent. The libertarian anti-civilization milieu, which has been around for about 15 years in its present incarnation, is only one manifestation of a centuries-old phenomenon. Civilization in effect produces its own negation.

The Women’s Centre, it seems, will not be satisfied with less than eradicating the word primitive: “We could not see ourselves printing that word beside the image because that would be derogatory,” according to art committee member Cathy Sisler, because, she says, the word has “been used to exploit and degrade.” (Actually Robichaud did not use the word primitive in the text which was to accompany her painting; she does use it elsewhere, however.)

It is clearly time to reclaim this word from certain feminists who are attempting to degrade me by eliminating it.

Primitive, for me, simply signifies the antidote to civilization. However, there has been debate about the word in the anti-civ milieu itself. Heme of the French journal Point D’lnterrogations, for example, has called it a “limiting, fragmented label,” a term which “tends to mask the roots of our rejection of this world. Our disgust becomes not the product of what we in effect are living and undergoing on a daily basis and the thoughts that it gives birth to in us, but of an ideological reference to another kind of society about which we have no direct knowledge.”

In any case, mine is only one among not infrequently clashing approaches in the hardly monolithic anti-civ milieu, where outlooks range from positing a pre-language golden age, as John Zerzan does, to the Fifth Estate’s emphasis on community and defending past and present indigenous groups, to the approach of Feral Faun, who, while integrating a critique of technology and civilization, says, “I desire something new, something which, to my knowledge, has never existed,” to approaches within the anarchist tendency of Earth First! (See the recently released third issue of Live Wild or Die). And beyond the anti-authoritarian anti-civ milieu as such, of course, are all those who, past or present, have practiced low-tech or subsistence lifeways.

Though acknowledging that the word primitive might have positive connotations for others, “You can’t unload all the baggage that word carries,” according to Cathy Sisler. But the ‘baggage’ problem is clearly the Women’s Centre’s: they seem to have accumulated an enormous amount of it and of the variety whose claims to be authoritative become all the more strident the more the ideology in question becomes patently dysfunctional. “We are in the vanguard,” Women’s Centre coordinator Margot Lacroix revealingly rants, which for her indicates being in line with the latest theoretical approach (i.e. academic fad). “You have to retain your critical tools, you have to pay attention” lectures Lacroix, as if a subtle, supple critique were being honed as opposed to wheeling out a monstrosity, their “deconstructive stance.” The Women’s Centre complains about ‘ridicule’ in the media. But nobody obliged them to become a laughing stock — they brought it entirely upon themselves. After talking about ‘responsibility’ everywhere in their statements and interviews, they should find it self-evident that actions like theirs cause reactions.

Primitive Stereotypes and Stereotyping Primitivists

But if after the initial firestorm one might have expected the Women’s Centre to become a little less categorical in their assertions and judgements, to back off a bit, such thoughts were quickly laid to rest. “We are not here to justify or apologize for our actions,” as Cathy Sisler put it. The Women’s Centre just doesn’t seem to “get it,” so detached from reality has their approach become. Unable to “pay attention,” to listen to what is actually being said, or to shake free from their rigid grid of academic pigeonholes, the Women’s Centre only manag-es to superimpose its own galaxy of stereotypes, whereby what are considered primitivist approaches are equated, in Shira Specter’s term, with a kind of ‘colonialism’. Referring to the short statement which was to have accompanied Robichaud’s painting, “That’s the kind of thinking that has kept black people down at the bottom of the social ladder for centuries,” Cathy Sisler is reported to have said in an interview with Barbara Black for a Concordia student newspaper. But it is most of the Women’s Movement itself — after a brief, exhilarating battle against hierarchy as such in the ’60s and early 70s — which has accepted a life-as-a-“social ladder” worldview and which has adopted as its primary goal the assurance that an equal number of women can elbow their way to the top.

In the Guatemalan native villages I visited the preferred way of carrying medium-size loads is on the head. But for Gail Velaskasis, the chair of the Concordia Faculty of Arts and Sciences, if I have images of women carrying objects on their head in my mind or express them as words and images, I become guilty of using racist, derogatory, condescending stereotypes …unless, she informs us, with respect to Robichaud’s painting, they are there within a strictly pedagogical framework: “enlightening the public concerning the plight of black women.” The unlamented “socialist realism” of the Stalinist era is not dead, it seems, but is only being modernized and recycled as what might be dubbed “deconstructive realism.” In her painting Robichaud may or may not have succeeded in conveying all the nuances and emotions she desired: what is at issue here is not a question of esthetics or ‘talent’ but the implementation of a form of cultural terrorism. In line with a vanguard approach, judgements concerning Robi-chaud’s painting, however contradictory, all seem to be pronounced with a uniform self-assurance. Where Shira Specter sees a ‘happy’, ‘smiling image, Gail Velaskasis perceives a “beast of burden.”

But on another level there is of course a question of ‘colonialism’, and of ‘savages’ who are ‘smiling’ and ‘happy’. The colonized, according to the colonizers, could not be other than pleased to play their assigned role in the natural, cosmically-ordained scheme of things. Like Shjra Spector the colonizers perceived smiles that weren’t there; blacks on the plantation, for example, could only be carefree, happy, content with their lot. For the colonizers gave the colonized the greatest gift of all — the exquisite luxury of basking in the presence of the colonizers and their culture, their science, their truth, their stern but upright justice. Unfamiliar primitive lifeways were proof of an inferiority which justified expropriating the land of the colonized and turning them into peons or slaves.

Art and the Primitivist Perception

Attitudes toward art in the anti-civilization milieu are diverse. For example in “The Case Against Art” and other writings, John Zerzan took a negative tack, questioning symbolism and representation as such, whereas in an exchange which took place in the Fifth Estate a few years back George Bradford and others were generally favorably inclined toward art and culture.

But the art milieu is clearly one of the precursors of the contemporary anti-civilization milieu. Fauvism, Surrealism, Picasso, and Cubism-primitive influences permeate modern art, underscoring the magnitude of the purification process undertaken by certain feminists. The question of artists and primitive influences is complex, and perhaps best approached with considerable caution. Around the turn of the century exhibitions of African masks, for example, could be seen in European cities and exerted a profound influence on Picasso and others and had a more diffuse effect on the milieu as a whole. Often these influences were primarily aesthetic and did not necessarily imply a profound questioning of civilization or its rejection. At times, primitive influences were only one among an array of factors affecting an artist’s style, or represented a phase the artist was passing through. As well, ubiquitous buying and selling was also having its corrosive effect, with other factors tending to be displaced by the art-as-commodity aspect. Ironically, some works by famous artists influenced by primitivism now fetch colossal sums on the art market.

In an interview about the controversy in the Montreal Gazette, Jean Parris, a black woman, also had harsh comments about the painting: “To a modern-day black woman that image is stereotypical. It’s like continually portraying a black man with chains on his feet. Why can’t artists today depict us as people who have an education and accomplish things, just like whites.” But in an article in La Presse, Vivien Barbot Lymburger, a woman of Haitian origin, said that “Lyne Robichaud’s painting allowed me to recreate an entire slice of my childhood. So for me it is in no way a stereotype and represents what is probably still taking place in many countries…Concealing certain conditions which are specific to black women, in particular in order to exclusively favor representations of American-type ‘success stories’, would have a much more pernicious effect on the status of women, in my opinion.” Linda Dyer, a woman from Trinidad, said in a letter about the controversy that “For the first 18 years of my life and on annual visits thereafter, I would sit on my mother’s front veranda and watch women and men returning home from their nearby farms with the day’s harvest of bananas, cauliflower, baigan, plantain or cabbages. On their heads, of course…carrying loads on the head provides the best distribution of weight for the human frame and so creates the least strain on the spine.” Clarence Bayne, a black man, said, “I don’t see any uproar in the black population about this…It’s not an issue…Some white people are getting too sensitive.”

This is clearly delicate territory, but I will attempt to tread firmly, if carefully:
Every people has its roots in primitive life-ways; for each, civilization is only a very recent phenomenon.

  • I am part of humankind and all of humankind is part of me. Through exploring the primitive lifeways of different peoples, images gather in my head (though personally I have no particular desire to express them as visual art).

  • The self-images of a group undoubtedly constitute the most valuable source of understanding about that group. However, the ethnic group is not the final arbitrator of the images that concern it. Images are not the private property of the group. They belong to everyone.

A New Apartheid?

Nationalists of different stripes (feminist nationalists, gay nationalists, black nationalists, etc.) will argue that the opinions of people who are not members of a group are inherently invalid or even, as Robichaud was told with respect to black people, that they should not express them. “Does that also mean,” Robichaud notes, “that women should only paint women, and men only men, and that you have to be a dog in order to draw a dog?” Having opinions about a group and expressing them, according to a certain discourse, becomes itself a form of imperialism. In practice this outlook usually translates into expecting non-members of the group to rally behind cultural and political elites of the group in question.

The media were “just waiting in the wings to jump on this one,” noted Julianne Pidduck, whose weekly ‘Female Persuasions’ column appears in the free, ad-financed cultural tabloid the Montreal Minor. The media in effect went bananas. (At least) 14 letters and 30 articles have appeared in the print media, and 15 electronic media pieces have been cranked out. Soliciting calls to their “Info-Line” the Montreal Gazette made “Is this picture racist?” their question of the week. Pontificating editors and columnists spouted banalities from their press pulpits. The censored image appeared on the front page of the Montreal Gazette, in La Presse, Le Nowelliste, Le Soleil, the Toronto Globe and Mail (the Canadian equivalent to the New York Times), Voir, the Fredericton Daily Gleaner and in other papers, flashed on TV screens across Quebec and Canada and was bounced off a satellite and into homes around the world. Taking a line from censors the world over, the Women’s Centre claimed that Robichaud’s painting was not censored because it could be displayed elsewhere, a result they certainly did much to bring about!

Appalled by the reaction of the media, Lyne Robichaud said, “It makes me sick,” concerning the question of the week gambit. She was also bitter about being, in the words of Nancy Cole, a feminist artist from Toronto, “unjustly accused” of racism. Indeed, the smear campaign mounted by the Women’s Centre has amounted to a veritable witch hunt. If they can do this to Robichaud (who complained that the Women’s Centre never even bothered to arrange a meeting with her), it can be done to anyone who, in Shira Spector’s words, is “exploring primitive…imagery.”

In the name of anti-racism, a new apartheid is being born. Or in Sue Goldstein’s words, “Because you’re white, you should stick to making paintings of white women.”

“Outwitting the State” takes a different kind of power

By Neil Keating, 1992, AJODA #33

Outwitting the State by Peter Shalnik,

vol.7 of Political Anthropology series
Transaction Publishers, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ. 08903, 1989
172pp. $24.95 hardcover. [review]

One of the most tenacious of contexts within which thinking about society takes place is the context of social revolution; the context that conceives of human society as some kind of organism that evolves, just as human bodies are known to have evolved from other kinds of primates, and ultimately from fish like creatures. This idea, that society, i.e. human activity, evolves over lifetime is a most powerful analogy and is poetically gripping. It is perhaps the most poignant product of a positivistic science of man. But it is also a fantasy. More specifically, it is the creation myth of the society of industrial capitalism. By telling and re-telling this myth, the society is by turn justified, criticized, eulogized, and finally resigned to or else wholeheartedly embraced. Those outcasts who don‘t fit in to this myth are usually blotted out.

In Outwitting the State, this evolutionist myth is largely renounced in the light of eight case-studies which examine various forms of social organization that in the myth, are forerunners of the modern state; but in reality are fundamentally contradicting the state and not simply pre-dating it. In other words, what is being said here is that tribal social organizations, such as ‘chiefdoms’ and kin-based clans, are not only not the ancestors of the modern state, but that they aren‘t seven related. The state must look elsewhere for its heritage. In this light, the state is historically less the inevitable cumulation of some kind of quasi-mystical process of evolution, and much more the occasional aberration intruding upon thousands of years of otherwise unalienated human interactions — which by no means were entirely libertarian or lovey-dovey; there is plenty of intrigue and violence, though arguably less so than today. The point is that none did/does not need a license to kill, nor a permit to love. There are no registration forms, no legal precedence, no laws to speak of beyond what you and yours say is right and wrong. As the great eighteenth century American vagabond Henry Tufts wrote: “I far prefer a savage life, to gloomy cares or vexing strife.” The modern state that currently encircles the entire planet is an aberration that appears to be here to stay, at least until everything else is gone, devoured in its maw as it were. Yet it these case-studies are any evidence, they indicate that the state has so far been unable to entirely control the world it presumes to own. These are not tales of revolution. Some are more, some are less subversive than that. These accounts of outwitting the state have to do with practical, cultural and ethnic motivations rather than ideological, or philosophical rationales. Neither the Kreisha Bedouins (Jordan) nor the Ponapean chieftains (Micronesia) are interested in spreading revolution; They are instead looking to claim for themselves as much autonomy as they can in the face of a stronger power — that of the modern state.

Particularly in the more developed regions, i.e. Europe, North America, and western Asia, the logic of the state forms the bedrock of the prevailing world views. Clastres, in Society Against the State, examined the ways in which other societies resisted such logic, and how their world views had built-in guards against the development of absolute hierarchical relations of power. The societies he studied were ones that had not as yet had the state imposed on them from without. Outwitting the State looks at some of these other kinds of societies, as they are now, after having had the state imposed on them for 50–300 years. What emerges is the generalization that throughout the world are various indigenous forms of social organization that continue to struggle against the modern state. They are not always so successful, and none of them succeed in entirely escaping the pressures of the state. Yet some of them do manage to establish grounds upon which they can retain their culture and their autonomy, at least temporarily.

The last study in this volume especially clarifies this general situation. It concerns two entirely different indigenous forms of social organization. They are the Nanumba and the Konkomba of the Nanun (Ghana). While the Nanumba are people whose organization consists of a centralized hierarchical polity, the Konkomba are described by anthropologists as “acephalous tribesmen” (leaderless, communal). These two ethnic groups came into violent conflict with each other in 1981, largely owing to arbitrary border shifts effected by the state of Ghana. After a few years, both the Nanumba and the Konkomba came; to realize they had more in common with each other than either had with the state. They‘ve since become allies against the alien modern form.

What makes the indigenous hierarchy of the Nanumba different from the absolute hierarchy of the state is that the Nanumba polity was local, without abstract law, was not production based (the Nanumba economy was subsistence farming and had no way of forcing people to work. Whatever authority the Nanumba chief has is directly related to his ability to convince with words, for there are no police in Nanun. Or there weren ‘t any prior to the arrival of the state. It is thus reasonable to say that the hierarchy of the Nanumba chieftaincy is fundamentally different from the hierarchy of the state, in that the former is comforting (in this case, to the people of Nanun), while the latter is oppressive. Local authority is different from expansive power. The former does not evolve into the latter. ln fact, it is a simple thing to trace the origins of the state for the Nanumba. It begins on November 30; 1896 and is imported by German colonialists who conquer them, and make them work.

Another case study, on the Russian Old Believers (raskol’niki) who currently live in Alberta, Canada, under (what they believe to be) the shadow of the antichrist (which is more or less tantamount to the modern state) is of special note. The Old Believers value very highly their vol’nost’ (freedom). Indeed, it is in order to retain their vol’nost’ that the Old Believers have migrated from place to place, always living on the edge of a nation-state until that state became too imposing with its controls and bureaucracy. As the title of this articles suggests, “there is always somewhere to go.” But vol’nost’ specifically refers to freedom of action. According to Scheffel, as much as the Old Believers value their vol’nost’, just so do they abhor vol’nodumstvo (freethinking). The modern state has it the other way around. Here is permitted all the vol’hodumstvo you can eat, and forbidden is any of this vol’nost’. This begs the question of what kind of vol’nodumstvo is possible in a society bereft of vol’nost.

In addition to the Nanumba and Konkomba, Old Believers, Ponapean chieftainships and Kreisha Bedouins, there are studies of the Cree Indians (James Bay, Canada), the indigenous polities of Pahang and Kelantan (Malaya), and of Maradi (Niger), as well as the coastal sultanates and inland chiefdoms on Borneo.

This is recommended reading for all nomads and ’bolo builders.

Deconstructing the Columbus Myth

By Ward Churchill, 1992, AJODA #33


Was the “Great Discoverer” Italian or Spanish, Nazi or Jew?

It is perhaps fair to say that our story opens at Alfred University, where, during the fall of 1990, I served as distinguished scholar of American Indian Studies for a program funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Insofar as I was something of a curiosity in that primarily Euroamerican staffed and attended institution, situated as it is within an area populated primarily by white folk, it followed naturally that I quickly became a magnet for local journalists seeking to inject a bit of color into their otherwise uniformly blanched columns and commentaries. Given our temporal proximity to the much-heralded quincen-tennial celebration of Christopher Columbus’ late 15th century ‘discovery’ of a “New World” and its inhabitants, and that I am construed as being in some part a direct descendant of those inhabitants, they were wont to query me as to my sentiments concernng the accomplishments of the Admiral of the Ocean Sea.

My response, at least in its short version, was (and remains) that celebration of Columbus and the European conquest of the Western Hemisphere he set off is generally analogous to celebration of the glories of nazism and Heinrich Himmler. Publication of this remark in local newspapers around Rochester, New York, caused me to receive, among other things, a deluge of lengthy and vociferously framed letters of protest, two of which I found worthy of remark.

The first of these was sent by a colleague at the university, an exchange faculty member from Germany, who informed me that while the human costs begat by Columbus’ navigational experiment were “tragic and quite regrettable,” comparisons between him and the Reichsfiihrer SS were nonetheless unfounded. The distinction between Himmler and Columbus, his argument went, resided not only in differences in “the magnitude of the genocidal events in which each was involved,” but the ways in which they were involved. Himmler, he said, was enmeshed as “a high-ranking and responsible official in the liquidation of entire human groups” as “a matter of formal state policy” guided by an explicitly ‘racialist’ ideology. Furthermore, he said, the enterprise Himmler created as the instrument of his genocidal ambitions incorporated, deliberately and intentionally, considerable economic benefit to the state in which service he acted. None of this pertained to Columbus, the good professor concluded, because the “Great Discover” was ultimately “little more than a gifted seaman,” an individual who unwittingly set in motion processes over which he had little or no control, in which he played no direct part, and which might well have been beyond his imagination. My juxtaposition of the two men, he contended, therefore tended to “diminish understanding of the unique degree of evil” which should be associated with Himmler and ultimately precluded “proper historical understandings of the Nazi phenomenon.”

The second letter came from a member of the Jewish Defense League in Rochester. His argument ran that, unlike Columbus (whom he described as “little more than a bit player, without genuine authority or even much of a role, in the actual process of European civilization in the New World which his discovery made possible”), Himmler was a “responsible official in a formal state policy of exterminating an entire human group for both racial and economic reasons,” and on a scale “unparalleled in all history.” My analogy between the two, he said, served to “diminish public respect for the singular nature of the Jewish experience at the hands of the Nazis,” as well as popular understanding of “the unique historical significance of the Holocaust.” Finally, he added, undoubtedly as a crushing capstone to his position, “It is a measure of your anti-semitism that you compare Himmler to Columbus” because “Columbus was, of course, himself a Jew.”

I must confess the last assertion struck me first, and only partly because I’d never before heard claims that Christopher Columbus was of Jewish ethnicity. “What possible difference could this make?” I asked in my letter of reply. “If Himmler himself were shown to have been of Jewish extraction, would it then suddenly become anti-semitic to condemn him for the genocide he perpetrated against Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and others? Would his historical crimes then suddenly be unmentionable or even ‘okay’?” To put it another way, I continued, “Simply because Meyer Lansky, Dutch Schultz, Bugsy Siegel and Lepke were all Jewish “by blood,” is it a gesture of anti-semitism to refer to them as gangsters? Is it your contention that an individual’s Jewish ethnicity somehow confers exemption from negative classification or criticism of his/her conduct? What are you saying?” The question of Columbus’ possible Jewishness nonetheless remained intriguing, not because I held it to be especially important in its own right, but because I was (and am still) mystified as to why any ethnic group, especially one which has suffered genocide, might be avid to lay claim either to the man or to his legacy. I promised myself to investigate the matter further.

A Mythic Symbiosis

Meanwhile, I was captivated by certain commonalities of argument inherent to the positions advanced by my correspondents. Both men exhibited a near-total ignorance of the actualities of Columbus’ career. Nor did they demonstrate any particular desire to correct the situation. Indeed, in their mutual need to separate their preoccupation from rational scrutiny, they appeared to have conceptually joined hands in a function composed more of faith than fact. The whole notion of the “uniqueness of the Holocaust” serves both psychic and political purposes for Jew and German alike, or so it seems. The two groups are bound to one another in a truly symbiotic relationship foundationed in the mythic exclusivity of their experience: one half of the equation simply completes the other in a perverse sort of collaboration, with the result that each enjoys a tangible benefit.

For Jews, at least those who have adopted the zionist perspective, a “unique historical suffering” under nazism translates into fulfillment of a biblical prophecy that they are “the chosen,” entitled by virtue of the destiny of a special persecution to assume a rarified status among — and to consequently enjoy preferential treatment from — the remainder of humanity. In essence, this translates into a demand that the Jewish segment of the Holocaust’s victims must now be allowed to participate equally in the very system which once victimized them, and to receive an equitable share of the spoils accruing therefrom. To this end, zionist scholars such as Louis Irving Horowitz and Elie Weisel have labored long and mightily, defining genocide in terms exclusively related to the forms it assumed under nazism. In their version of ‘truth’, one must literally see smoke pouring from the chimneys of Auschwitz in order to apprehend that a genocide, per se, is occurring.[1] Conversely, they have coined terms such as ‘ethnocide’ to encompass the fates inflicted upon other peoples throughout history.[2] Such semantics have served, not as tools of understanding, but as an expedient means of arbitrarily differentiating the experience of their people — both qualitatively and quantitatively — from that of any other. To approach things in any other fashion would, it must be admitted, tend to undercut ideas like the “moral right” of the Israeli settler state to impose itself directly atop the Palestinian Arab homeland.

For Germans to embrace a corresponding “unique historical guilt” because of what was done to the Jews during the 1940s, is to permanently absolve themselves of guilt concerning what they may be doing now. No matter how ugly things may become in contemporary German society, or so the reasoning goes, it can always (and is) argued that there has been a marked improvement over the “singular evil which was Nazism.” Anything other than outright nazification is, by definition, ‘different’, ‘better’ and therefore ‘acceptable’ (“Bad as they are, things could always be worse.”). Business as usual — which is to say assertions of racial supremacy, domination and exploitation of ‘inferior’ groups, and most of the rest of the nazi agenda — is thereby freed to continue in a manner essentially unhampered by serious stirring of guilt among the German public so long as it does not adopt the literal trappings of nazism. Participating for profit and with gusto in the deliberate starvation of much of the Third World is no particular problem if one is careful not to goose step while one does it.

By extension, insofar as Germany is often seen (and usually sees itself) as exemplifying the crowning achievements of “Western Civilization,” the same principle covers all European and Euro-derived societies. No matter what they do, it is never ‘really’ what it seems unless it was done in precisely the same fashion the nazis did it. Consequently, the nazi master plan of displacing or reducing by extermination the population of the western USSR and replacing it with settlers of “biologically superior German breeding stock” is roundly (and rightly) condemned as ghastly and inhuman. Meanwhile, people holding this view of nazi ambitions tend overwhelmingly to see consolidation and maintenance of Euro-dominated settler states in places like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, the United States and Canada as “basically okay,” or even as ‘progress’. The ‘distinction’ allowing this psychological phenomenon is that each of these states went about the j intentional displacement and extermination of native populations, and their replacement, in a manner slightly different ’ in its particulars from that employed by nazis attempting to accomplish exactly the same thing. Such technical differentiation is then magnified and used as a sort of all purpose veil, behind which almost anything can be hidden, so long as it is not openly adorned with a swastika.

Given the psychological, sociocultural and political imperatives involved, neither correspondent, whether German or Jew, felt constrained to examine the factual basis of my analogy between Himmler and Columbus before denying the plausibility or appropriateness of the comparison. To the contrary, since the paradigm of their mutual understanding em-i bodies the a priori presumption that there must be no such analogy, factual investigation is precluded from their posturing. It follows : that any dissent on the ‘methods’ involved in their arriving at their conclusions, never mind introduction of countervailing evidence, must be denied out of hand with accusations of ‘overstatement’, “shoddy scholarship,” ‘stridency’ and/or ‘anti-semitism’. To this litany have lately been added such new variations as “white bashing,” “Ethnic McCarthyism,” “purveyor of political correctitude” and any other epithet deemed helpful in keeping a “canon of knowledge” fraught with distortion, deception and outright fraud from being ‘diluted’.[3]

Columbus as Proto-Nazi

It is time to delve into the substance of my remark that Columbus and Himmler, nazi lebensraumpolitik and the “settlement of the New World” bear more than casual resemblance to one another. It is not, as my two correspondents wished to believe, because of his ‘discovery’. This does not mean that if this were ‘all’ he had done he would somehow be innocent of what resulted from his find, no more than the scientist who makes a career of accepting military funding to develop weapons in any way ‘blameless’ when they are subsequently used against human targets. Columbus did not sally forth upon the Atlantic for reasons of “neutral science” or altruism. He went, as his own diaries, reports, and letters make clear, fully expecting to encounter wealth belonging to others. It was his stated purpose to seize this wealth, by whatever means necessary and available, in order to enrich both his sponsors and himself.[4] Plainly, he prefigured, both in design and by intent, what came next. To this extent, he not only symbolizes the process of conquest and genocide which eventually consumed the indigenous peoples of Ameri-ca, but bears the personal responsibility of having participated in it. Still, if this were all there was to it, I might be inclined to dismiss him as a mere thug rather than branding him a counterpart to Himmler.

The 1492 “voyage of discovery” is, however, hardly all that is at issue. In 1493 Columbus returned with an invasion force of seventeen ships, appointed at his own request by the Spanish Crown to install himself as “viceroy and governor of [the Caribbean islands) and the mainland” of America, a position he held until 1500.[5] Setting up shop on the large island he called Espanola (today Haiti and the Dominican Republic), he promptly instituted policies of slavery (encomiendo) and systematic extermination against the native Taino population.[6] Columbus’ programs reduced Taino numbers from as many as 8 million at the outset of his regime to about 3 million in 1496.[7] Perhaps 100,00 were left by the time of the governor’s departure. His policies, however, remained, with the result that by 1514 the Spanish census of the island showed barely 22,000 Indians remaining alive. In 1542, only two hundred were recorded.[8] Thereafter, they were considered extinct, as were Indians throughout the Caribbean Basin, an aggregate population which totaled more than 15 million at the point of first contact with the Admiral of the Ocean Sea, as Columbus was known.[9]

This, to be sure, constitutes an attrition of population in real numbers every bit as great as the toll of twelve to fifteen million — about half of them Jewish — most commonly attributed to Himmler’s slaughter mills. Moreover, the population of indigenous Caribbean population destroyed by the Spanish in a single generation is, no matter how the figures are twisted, far greater than the seventy-five percent of European Jews said to have been exterminated by the nazis.[10] Worst of all, these data apply only to the Caribbean basin; the process of genocide in the Americas was only just beginning at the point such statistics became operant, not ending, as they did upon the fall of the Third Reich. All told, it is probable that more than one hundred million native people were ‘eliminated’ in the course of Europe’s ongoing ‘civilization’ of the Western Hemisphere.[11]

It has long been asserted by “responsible scholars” that this decimation of American Indians which accompanied the European invasion resulted primarily from disease rather than direct killing or conscious policy.[12] There is a certain truth to this, although starvation may have proven just as lethal in the end. It must be born in mind when considering such facts that a considerable portion of those who perished in the nazi death camps died, not as victims of bullets and gas, but from starvation, as well as epidemics of typhus, dysentery and the like. Their keepers, who could not be said to have killed these people directly, were nonetheless found to have been culpable in their deaths by way of deliberately imposing the conditions which led to the proliferation of starvation and disease among them.[13] Certainly, the same can be said of Columbus’ regime, under which the original residents were, as a first order of business, permanently dispossessed of their abundant cultivated fields while being converted into chattel, ultimately to be worked to death for the wealth and ‘glory’ of Spain.[14]

Nor should more direct means of extermination be relegated to incidental status. As the matter is framed by Kirkpatrick Sale in his book, The Conquest of Paradise:

“The tribute system, instituted by the Governor sometime in 1495, was a simple and brutal way of fulfilling the Spanish lust for gold while acknowledging the Spanish distaste for labor. Every Taino over the age of fourteen had to supply the rulers with a hawk’s bell of gold every three months (or, in gold-deficient areas, twenty-five pounds of spun cotton); those who did were given a token to wear around their necks as proof they had made their payment; those who did not were, as [Columbus’ brother, Fernando] says discreetly, ‘punished’ — by having their hands cut off, as [the priest, Bartolome de] Las Casas says less discreetly, and left to bleed to death.”[15]

It is entirely likely that upwards of 10,000 Indians were killed in this fashion alone, on Espanola alone, as a matter of policy, during Columbus’ tenure as governor. Las Casas’ Brevisima relation, among other contemporaneous sources, is also replete with accounts of Spanish colonists (hidalgos) hanging Tainos en masse, roasting them on spits or burning them at the stake (often a dozen or more at a time), hacking their children into pieces to be used as dog feed and so forth, all of it to instill in the natives a “proper attitude of respect” toward their Spanish ‘superiors.’

”[The Spaniards] made bets as to who would slit a man in two, or cut off his head at one blow; or they opened up his bowels. They tore babes from their mother’s breast by their feet and dashed their heads against the rocks…They spitted the bodies of other babes, together with their mothers and all who were before them, on their swords.”[16]

No SS trooper could be expected to comport himself with a more unrelenting viciousness. And there is more. All of this was coupled to wholesale and persistent massacres:

“A Spaniard — suddenly drew his sword. Then the whole hundred drew theirs and began to rip open the bellies, to cut and kill [a group of Tainos assembled for this purpose]-men, women, children and old folk, all of whom were seated, off guard and frightened.. And within two credos, not a man of them there remains alive. The Spaniards enter the large house nearby, for this was happening at its door, and in the same way, with cuts and stabs, began to kill as many as were found there, so that a stream of blood was running, as if a great number of cows had perished.”[17]

Elsewhere, Las Casas went on to recount how:

”In this time, the greatest outrages and slaughters of people were perpetrated, whole villages being depopulated…The Indians saw that without any offense on their part they were despoiled of their kingdoms, their lands and liberties and of their lives, their wives, and homes. As they saw themselves each day perishing by the cruel and inhuman treatment of the Spaniards, crushed to earth by the horses, cut in pieces by swords, eaten and torn by dogs, many buried alive and suffering all kinds of exquisite tortures…[many surrendered to their fate, while the survivors] fled to the mountains [to starve].”[18]

The butchery continued until there were no Tainos left to butcher. One might well ask how a group of human beings, even those like the Spaniards of Columbus’ day, maddened in a collective lust for wealth and prestige, might come to treat another with such unrestrained ferocity over a sustained period. The answer, or some substantial portion of it, must lie in the fact that the Indians were considered by the Spanish to be untermenschen, subhumans. That this was the conventional view is borne out beyond all question in the recorded debates between Las Casas and the nobleman, Francisco de Sepulveda, who argued for the majority of Spaniards that American Indians, like African blacks and other “lower animals,” lacked ‘souls’. The Spaniards, consequently, bore in Sepulveda’s estimation a holy obligation to enslave and destroy them wherever they might be encountered.[19] The eugenics theories of nazi ‘philosopher’ Alfred Rosenberg, to which Heinrich Himmler more-or-less subscribed, elaborated the mission of the SS in very much the same terms.[20] It was upon such profoundly racist ideas that Christopher Columbus grounded his policies as initial governor of the new Spanish empire in America.[21]

In the end, all practical distinctions between Columbus and Himmler — at least those not accounted for by differences in available technology and extent of socio-military organization — evaporate upon close inspection. They are cut of the same cloth, fulfilling the same function and for exactly the same reasons, each in his own time and place. If there is one differentiation which may be valid, it is that while the specific enterprise Himmler represented ultimately failed and is now universally condemned, that represented by Columbus did not and is not. Instead, as Sale has observed, the model for colonialism and concomitant genocide Columbus pioneered during his reign as governor of Espanola was to prove his “most enduring legacy,” carried as it was “by the conquistadors on their invasions in Mexico, Peru, and La Florida.”[22] The Columbian process is ongoing, as is witnessed by the fact that, today, his legacy is celebrated far and wide.

The Emblematic European

This leaves open the question as to whom, exactly, the horror which was Columbus rightly ‘belongs’. There are, as it turns out, no shortage of contenders for the mantle of the man and his ‘accomplishments’. It would be well to examine the nature of at least the major claims in order to appreciate the extent of the mad scramble which has been undertaken by various peoples to associate themselves with what was delineated in the preceding section. One cannot avoid the suspicion that the spectacle bespeaks much of the Eurocentric character.

Was Columbus Italian?

The popular wisdom has always maintained the Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, a city state which is incorporated into what is now called Italy. Were this simply an historical truth, it might be accepted as just one more uncomfortable fact of life for the Italian people, who are — or should be — still trying to live down what their country did to the Libyans and Ethiopians during the prelude to World War II. There is much evidence, however, militating against Columbus’ supposed Genoese origin. For instance, although such records were kept at the time, there is no record of his birth in that locale. Nor is there reference to his having been born or raised there in any of his own written work, including his personal correspondence. For that matter, there is no indication that he either wrote or spoke any dialect which might be associated with Genoa, nor even the Tuscan language which forms the basis for modern Italian. His own writings — not excluding letters penned to Genoese friends and the Banco di San Grigorio, one of his financiers in that city — were uniformly articulated in Castilian, with a bit of Portuguese and Latin mixed in.[23] Moreover, while several variations of his name were properly applied to him during his lifetime, none of them was drawn from a dialect which might be considered Italian. He himself, in the only known instance in which he rendered his own full name, utilized the Greek Xpõual de Colón.[24] Still, Genoa, Italy, and those of Italian descent elsewhere in the world (Italo-Americans, most loudly of all) have mounted an unceasing clamor during the 20th century, insisting he must be theirs. Genoa itself invested considerable resources into ‘resolving’ the question during the 1920s, ultimately printing a 288 page book assembling an array of depositions and other documents -all of them authenticated — attesting that Columbus was indeed Genoese. Published in 1931, the volume, entitled Christopher Columbus: Documents and Proofs of His Genoese Origin, presents what is still the best circumstantial case as to Columbus’ ethnic identity.[25]


Counterclaims concerning Columbus’ supposed Iberian origin are also long-standing and have at times been pressed rather vociferously. These center primarily in the established facts that he spent the bulk of his adult life in service to Spain, was fluent in both written and spoken Castilian, and that his mistress, Beatriz Enrfquez de Arna, was Spanish.[26] During the 1920s, these elements of the case were bolstered by an assortment of “archival documents” allegedly proving conclusively that Columbus was a Spaniard from cradle to grave. In 1928, however, the Spanish Academy determined that these documents had been forged by parties overly eager to establish Spain’s exclusive claim to the Columbian legacy. Since then, Spanish chauvinists have had to content themselves with arguments that The Discoverer is theirs by virtue of employment and nationality, if not by birth. An excellent summary of the various Spanish contentions may be found in Enrique de Gandia’s Historia de Cristobal Colon: analisis critico, first published in 1942.[27]


Portuguese participation in the fray has been less pronounced, but follows basically the same course — sans forged documents — as that of the Spanish. Columbus, the argument goes, was plainly conversant in the language and his wife, Felipa Moniz Perestrello, is known to have been Portuguese. Further, the first point at which his whereabouts can be accurately determined, was in service to Portugal, plying that country’s slave trade along Africa’s west coast for a period of four years. Reputedly, he was also co-proprietor of a book and map shop in Lisbon and/or Madiera for a time, and once sailed to Iceland on a voyage commissioned by the Portuguese Crown. Portugal’s desire to extend a serious claim to Spain’s Admiral of the Ocean Sea seems to be gathering at least some momentum, as is witnessed in Manuel Luciano de Silva’s 1989 book, Columbus Was 100% Portuguese.[28]


The idea that Columbus might have been a Spanish Jew is perhaps best known for having appeared in Simon Weisenthal’s Sails of Hope in 1973.[29] Therein, it is contended that the future governor of Espanola hid his ethnicity because of the mass expulsion of Jews from Spain ordered by King Ferdinand of Aragon on March 30, 1492 (the decree was executed on August 2 of the same year). Because of this rampant anti-semitism, the Great Navigator’s true identity has remained shrouded in mystery, lost to the historical record. Interestingly, given the tenacity with which at least some sectors of the Jewish community have latched on to it, this notion is not at all Jewish in origin. Rather, it was initially developed as a speculation in a 1913 article, “Columbus a Spaniard and a Jew?”, published by Henry Vignaud in the American History Review.[30] It was then advanced by Salvador de Madariaga in his unsympathetic 1939 biography, Christopher Columbus. Madariaga’s most persuasive argument, at least to himself, seems to have been that Columbus’ “great love of gold” proved his ‘Jewishness’.[31] This theme was resuscitated in Brother Nectario Maria’s Juan Colon Was A Spanish Jew in 1971.[32] Next, we will probably be told that Tlie Merchant of Venice was an accurate depiction of medieval Jewish life, after all. And, from there, that the International Jewish Banking Conspiracy really exists, and has since the Illuminati takeover of the Masonic Orders. One hopes the JDL doesn’t rally to defense of these ‘interpretations’ of history as readily as it jumped aboard the “Columbus as Jew” bandwagon.[33]

Other Contenders

By conservative count, there are presently 253 books and articles devoted specifically to the question of Columbus’ origin and national/ethnic identity. Another 300-odd essays or full volumes address the same question to some extent while pursuing other matters.[34] Claims to his character, and some imagined luster therefrom, have been extended not only by the four peoples already discussed, but by Corsica, Greece, Chios, Majorca, Aragon, Galicia, France and Poland.[35] One can only wait with bated breath to see whether or not the English might not weigh in with a quincentennial assertion that he was actually a Briton born and bred, sent to spy on behalf of Their Royal British Majesties. Perhaps the Swedes, Danes and Norwegians will advance the case that he was a descendant of a refugee Viking king, or the Irish that he was a pure Gaelic adherent to the teachings of Saint Brendan. And then there are, of course, the Germans….

In the final analysis, it is patently clear that we really have no idea who Columbus was, where he came from, or where he spent his formative years. It may be thought that he was indeed born in Genoa, perhaps of some “degree of Jewish blood,” brought up in Portugal, and ultimately nationalized as a citizen of Spain, Province of Aragon. Perhaps he also spent portions of his childhood being educated in Greek and Latin while residing in Corsica, Majorca, Chios, or all three. Maybe he had grandparents who had immigrated from what is now Poland and France. It is possible that each of the parties now vying for a “piece of the action” in this regard are to some extent correct in their claims. And, to the same extent, it is true that he was actually of none of them in the sense that they mean it. He stands, by this definition, not as an Italian, Spaniard, Portuguese or Jew, but as the penultimate European of his age, the emblematic personality of all that Europe was, had been, and would become in the course of its subsequent expansion across the face of the earth.

As a symbol, then, Christopher Columbus vastly transcends himself. He stands before the bar of history and humanity, culpable not only for his literal deeds on Espanola, but, in spirit at least, for the carnage and cultural obliteration which attended the conquests of Mexico and Peru during the 1500s. He stands as exemplar of the massacre of Pequots at Mystic in 1637, and of Lord Jeffrey Amherst’s calculated distribution of smallpox-laden blankets to the members of Pontiac’s confederacy a century and a half later. His spirit informed the policies of John Evans and John Chivington as they set out to exterminate the Cheyennes in Colorado during 1864, and it rode with the 7th U.S. Cavalry to Wounded Knee in December of 1890. It guided Alfredo Stroessner’s machete wielding butchers as they strove to eradicate the Ache people of Paraguay during the 1970s, and applauds the policies of Brazil toward the Jivaro, Yanomami and other Amazon Basin peoples at the present moment.

Too, the ghost of Columbus stood with the British in their wars against the Zulus and various Arab nations, with the U.S. against the ‘Moros’ of the Philippines, the French against the peoples of Algeria and Indochina, the Belgians in the Congo, the Dutch in Indonesia. He was there for the Opium Wars and the ‘secret’ bombing of Cambodia, for the systematic slaughter of the indigenous peoples of California during the 19th century and of the Mayans in Guatemala during the 1980s. And, yes, he was very much present in the corridors of Nazi power, present among the guards and commandants at Sobibor and Treblinka, and within the ranks of the einsatzgruppen on the Eastern Front. The Third Reich was, after all, never so much a deviation from as it was a crystallization of the dominant themes — racial supremacism, conquest and genocide — of the European culture Columbus so ably exemplifies. Nazism was never unique: it was instead only one of an endless succession of “New World Orders” set in motion by “The Discovery.” It was neither more nor less detestable than the order imposed by Christopher Columbus upon Espanola; 1493 or 1943, they are part of the same irreducible whole.

The Specter of Hannibal Lecter

At this juncture, the entire planet is locked, figuratively, in a room with the socio-cultural equivalent of Hannibal Lecter. An individual of consummate taste and refinement, imbued with indelible grace and charm, he distracts his victims with the brilliance of his intellect, even while honing his blade. He is thus able to dine alone upon their livers, his feast invariably candlelit, accompanied by lofty music and a fine wine. Over and over the ritual is repeated, always hidden, always denied in order that it may be continued. So perfect is Lecter’s pathology that, from the depths of his scorn for the inferiors upon which he feeds, he advances himself as their sage and therapist, he who is incomparably endowed with the ability to explain their innermost meanings, he professes to be their savior. His success depends upon being embraced and exalted by those upon whom he preys. Ultimately, so long as Lecter is able to retain his mask of omnipotent gentility, he can never be stopped. The sociocultural equivalent of Hannibal Lecter is the core of an expansionist European ‘civilization’ which has reached out to engulf the planet.

In coming to grips with Lecter, it is of no useful purpose to engage in sympathetic biography, to chronicle the nuances of his childhood and catalogue his many and varied achievements, whether real or imagined. The recounting of such information is at best diversionary, allowing him to remain at large just that much longer. More often, it inadvertently serves to perfect his mask, enabling him not only to maintain his enterprise, but to pursue it with ever more arrogance and efficiency. At worst, the biographer is aware of the intrinsic evil lurking beneath the subject’s veneer of civility, but — because of morbid fascination and a desire to participate vicariously — deliberately obfuscates the truth in order that his homicidal activities may continue unchecked. The biographer thus reveals not only a willing complicity in the subject’s crimes, but a virulent pathology of his or her own. Such is and has always been the relationship of “responsible scholarship” to expansionist Europe and its derivative societies.

The sole legitimate function of information compiled about Lecter is that which will serve to unmask him and thereby lead to his apprehension. The purpose of apprehension is not to visit retribution upon the psychopath — he is, after all, by definition mentally ill and consequently not in control of his more lethal impulses — but to put an end to his activities. It is even theoretically possible that, once he is disempowered, he can be cured. The point, however, is to understand what he is and what he does well enough to stop him from doing it. This is the role which must be assumed by scholarship vis-a-vis Eurosupremacy, if scholarship itself is to have any positive and constructive meaning. Scholarship is never ‘neutral’ or ‘objective’; it always works either for the psychopath or against him, to mystify sociocultural reality or to decode it, to make corrective action possible or to prevent it.

It may well be that there are better points of departure for intellectual endeavors to capture the real form and meaning of Eurocentrism than the life, times and legacy of Christopher Columbus. Still, since Eurocentrists the world over have so evidently clasped hands in utilizing him as a (perhaps the) preeminent signifier of their collective heritage, and are doing so with such apparent sense of collective jubilation, the point has been rendered effectively moot. Those who seek to devote their scholarship to apprehending the psychopath who sits in our room thus have no alternative but to use him as primary vehicle of articulation. In order to do so, we must approach him through deployment of the analytical tools which allow him to be utilized as a medium of explanation, a lens by which to shed light upon phenomena such as the mass psychologies of racism, a means by which to shear Eurocentrism of its camouflage, exposing its true contours, revealing the enduring coherence of the dynamics which forged its evolution.

Perhaps through such efforts we can begin to genuinely comprehend the seemingly incomprehensible fact that so many groups are presently queuing up to associate themselves with a man from whose very memory wafts the cloying stench of tyranny and genocide. From there, it may be possible to at least crack the real codes of meaning underlying the sentiments of the Nuremberg rallies, those spectacles on the plazas of Rome during which fealty was pledged to Mussolini, and that amazing red-white-and-blue, tie-a-yellow ribbon frenzy gripping the U.S. public much more lately. If we force ourselves to see things more clearly, we can understand. If we can understand, we can apprehend. If we can apprehend, perhaps we can stop the psychopath before he kills again. We are obligated to try, from a sense of sheer self-preservation, if nothing else. Who knows, we may even succeed. But first we must stop lying to ourselves, or allowing others to do the lying for us, about who it is with whom we now share our room.

[1] See, for example, Horowitz, Irving Louis, Genocide: State Power and Mass Murder (Transaction Books, New Brunswick, NJ, 1976) and Weisel, Elie, Legends of Our Time (Holt, Rine-hart and Winston Publishers, New York, 1968.) The theme is crystallized in Manvell, Roger, and Hein-rich Fraenkel, Incomparable Crime; Mass Extermination in the 20th Century: The Legacy of Guilt, Hine-mann Publishers, London, 1967.

[2] See, as examples, Falk, Richard, “Ethnocide, Genocide, and the Nuremberg Tradition of Moral Responsibility” (in Virginia Held, Sidney Morganbesser and Thomas Nagel [eds.], Philosophy, Morality, and International Affairs, Oxford university Press, New York, 1974, pp.123–37), Beardsley, Monroe C, “Reflections on Genocide and Ethnocide” (in Richard Arens [ed.], Genocide in Paraguay, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1976, pp.85–101), and Jaulin, Robert, L’Ethnocide a trovers LesAmer-iques (Gallimard Publishers, Paris, 1972) and La decivilisation, poli-tique et pratique de I’ethnocide (Presses Universitaires de France, Brussels, 1974).

[3] Assaults upon thinking deviating from Eurocentric mythology have been published with increasing frequency in U.S. mass circulation publications such as Time, Newsweek, U.S. News .and World Report, Forbes, Commentary, Scientific American and the Wall Street Journal throughout 1990–91, A perfect illustration for our purposes is Hart, Jeffrey, “Discovering Columbus,” National Review, October 15, 1990, pp.56–7.

[4] See Morison, Samuel Eliot (ed. and trans.), Journals and Other Documents on tire Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, Heritage Publishers, New York, 1963.

[5] The letter of appointment to these positions, signed by Ferdinand and Isabella, and dated May 28,1493, is quoted in full in Keen, Benjamin (trans.), The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by His Son Ferdinand, Rutgers University Press, 1959, pp.105–6.

[6] The best sources on Columbus’ policies are Floyd, Troy, The Columbus Dynasty in the Caribbean, 1492–1526 (University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1973) and Schwartz, Stuart B., The Iberian Mediterranean and Atlantic Traditions in the Formation of Columbus as a Colonizer (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1986).

[7] Regarding the 8 million figure, see Cook, Sherburn F., and Woodrow Borah, Essays in Population History, Vol. I, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1971, esp. Chap. VI. The 3 million figure pertaining to the year 1496 derives from a survey conducted by Bartolome de Las Casas in that year, covered in Thatcher, J.B., Christopher Columbus, Vol. 2, Putnam’s Sons Publishers, New York, 1903–1904, p.348ff.

[8] For summaries of the Spanish census records, see Hanke, Lewis, The Spanish Struggle for Justice in the Conquest of America, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1947, p.200ff. Also see Madariaga, Salvador de, The Rise of the Spanish American Empire, Hollis and Carter Publishers, London, 1947.

[9] For aggregate estimates of the precontact indigenous population of the Caribbean Basin, see Denevan, William (ed.), The Native Population of the Americas in 1492 (University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1976), Dobyns, Henry, Their Numbers Become Thinned: Native American Population Dynamics in Eastern North America (University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 1983) and Thornton, Russell, American. Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492 (University of Oklahoma Press, 1987). For additional information, see Dobyns’ bibliographic Native American Historical Demography (University of Indiana Press, Bloomington, 1976).

[10] These figures are utilized in numerous studies. One of the more immediately accessible is Kuper, Leo, Genocide: Its Political Use in the Twentieth Century, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1981.

[11] See Dobyns, Henry P., “Estimating American Aboriginal Population: An Appraisal of Techniques with a New Hemispheric Estimate,” Current Anthropology, No. 7, pp.395–416.

[12] An overall pursuit of this theme will be found in Ashburn, P.M., The Ranks of Death, Coward Publishers, New York, 1947. Also see Duffy, John, Epidemics in Colonial America, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1953. Broader and more sophisticated articulations of the same idea are embodied in Crosby, Alfred W. Jr., The Columbia Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, 1972) and Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe 900–1900 (Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, Australia, 1986).

[13] One of the more thoughtful elaborations on this theme may be found in Smith, Bradley F., Reaching Judgement at Nuremberg, Basic Books, New York, 1977.

[14] See Tpdorov, Tzvetan, The Conquest of America, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1984.

[15] Sale, Kirkpatrick, The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy, Alfred A. Knopf Publishers, New York, 1990, p.155.

[16] Las Casas, Bartolomi de, The Spanish Colonie (Brevisima relacion), University Microfilms reprint, 1966.

[17] Las Casas, Bartolome de, Historia de las Indias, Vol. 3, Augustin Millares Carlo and Lewis Hanke (eds.), Fondo de Cultura Economica, Mexico City, 1951; esp. Chap. 29.

[18] Las Casas, quoted in Thatcher, op. cit., pp.348ff.

[19] See Hanke, Lewis, Aristotle and the American Indians: A Study in Race Prejudice in the Modern World, Henry Regnery Company, Chicago, 1959. Also see Williams, Rob, The American Indian in Western Legal Thought, Oxford University Press, 1989.

[20] The most succinctly competent overview of this subject matter is probably Cecil, Robert, The Myth of the Master Race: Alfred Rosenberg and Nazi Ideology, Dodd and Mead Company, New York, 1972.

[21] The polemics of Columbus’ strongest supporters among his contemporaries amplify this point. See, for example, Oviedo, Historia general y natural de las Indias, Seville, 1535; Salamanca, 1547,1549; Valladoid, 1557; Academia Historica, Madrid, 1851–55, esp. Chaps. 29, 30, 37.

[22] Sale, op. cit., p. 156.

[23] On Columbus’ written expression, see Milani, V.I., “The Written Language of Christopher Columbus,” Forum italicum, 1973. Also see Jane, Cecil, “The Question of Literacy of Christopher Columbus,” Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 10, 1930.

[24] On Columbus’ signature, see Thatcher, op. cit., p.454.

[25] City of Genoa, Christopher Columbus: Documents and Proofs of His Genoese Origin, Institute d’Arti Grapche, Genoa, 1931 (English language edition, 1932).

[26] de la Torre, Jose, Beatrix Enriquez de Harana, Iberoamericana Publishers, Madrid, 1933.

[27] Gandia, Enrique de, Historia de Cristobal Col6n: analisis critico, Buenos Aires, 1942.

[28] Manuel Luciano de Silva, Columbus Was 100% Portuguese, Bristol, RI, (self published) 1989.

[29] Weisenthal, Simon, Sails of Hope, Mac-millan Publishers, New York, 1973.

[30] Vignaud, Henry, “Columbus a Spaniard and a Jew?”, American History Review, Vol. 18,1913. This initial excursion into the idea was followed in more depth by Francisco Martinez Martinez in his El descubrimiento de America y las joyas de dona Isabel (Seville, 1916) and Jacob Wasser-man in Christoph Columbus (S. Fisher Publishers, Berlin, 1929).

[31] Madariaga, Salvador de, Christopher Columbus, Oxford University Press, London, 1939. His lead was followed by Armando Alvarez Pedroso in an essay, “Cristobal Colon no fue hebro” (Revista de Historia de America, 1942) and Antonio Ballesteros y Beretta in Cristobal Colon y el descubrimiento de America (Savat Publishers, Barcelona/Buenos Aires, 1945).

[32] Maria, Brother Nectario, Juan Colon Was A Spanish Jew, Cedney Publishers, New York, 1971.

[33] A much sounder handling of the probabilities of early Jewish migration to the Americas may be found in Keyserling, Meyer, Christopher Columbus and the Participation of the Jews in tlte Spanish and Portuguese Discoveries, Longmans, Green Publishers, 1893 (reprinted, 1963).

[34] For a complete count, see Conti, Simonetta, Un secolo di bibliografia colombiana 1880–1985, Cassa di Risparmio di Genova e Imperia, Genoa, 1986.

[35] These claims are delineated and debunked in Heers, Jacques, Christophe Columb, Hachette Publishers, Paris, 1981.

Bicycles and Civilization

By Michael William, 1992, AJODA #33

Before moving to Montreal in the ’70s I drove a car for about a year in Ontario, the province next door. In the areas I moved to close to downtown Montreal, I found that I could walk to most of the places I needed to reach on a regular basis. That, plus a variety of other frustrations related to driving, induced me to avoid thinking about using a car in Montreal.

My problematic relationship with the automobile may have been a harbinger. But in the ’70s and into the ’80s I was basically pro-tech. Not that I was fervent, a proselytizer. I simply took the techno-structure as a given like almost everybody else. It certainly seemed completely normal, basically healthy, and after a century and a half of techno-optimism and non-stop industrial expansion, to be unshakeable. The very materials, the steel and massive slabs of concrete, exuded a solidity, a triumphal permanence. Although they had only been around for a short period of time, it was as if they had always been there.

After years without any form of personal transportation, toward the end of the ’80s I discovered the bicycle. By this time my outlook had changed considerably. As an apparently ecologically sound antidote to the automobile, the bicycle seemed to fit in perfectly with my by now anti-civilization outlook.

I used my bike almost every day. I explored distant and unfamiliar areas of the city, saved bus and metro (subway) fares, could get to where I wanted to go faster and was able to expand the number of places I could comfortably reach. I used my bike right through January and February (many people are unaware that a bike can be used all winter, even in an icy city like Montreal. It’s only slippery during and just after a snowfall. On the other hand the salt on the streets has a very corrosive effect and tends to wreck the bike).

Having used my bike on a regular basis for several years, however, I am now thoroughly fed up. Whenever possible I avoid my bike and walk. Whereas I previously saw bikes as at least a” partial negation of civilization’s worst aspects, they now appear to be an integral part of the megamachine. Each day more and more of the surface of the earth is gobbled up by streets and highways. Uprooting everything in its path, this onslaught replaces the irregular, spontaneous, unpredictable surfaces of nature with the flat surfaces, the 90-degree angles, the monotonous predictability of the rhythms of the megamachine. When the asphalt crumbles from the constant pounding, and shoots of nature reassert themselves through the cracks, they are crushed and obliterated by cars and trucks until a steaming layer of asphalt ‘disappears’ them and the cycle begins anew.

Cut into rectangles and squares, space in the city is proportioned for specific uses. Bicycles, which require a lot of room, are not enough of a priority so they are shunted into the space reserved for motor vehicles. The congested inner city streets where I use my bike are a zone of constant vulnerability. At any moment a car? can come zooming up from behind without my noticing, a parked car can start up and plunge out in front of me, or kids can leap out from behind parked cars. But if there are very real risks which can be calculated and taken when I use my bike, the scope of these challenges is very limited. These are not the kind of risks which are taken in order to unlearn our domestication and go wild, to confront the demons within and surrounding us. The risks involved in bike riding are simply a question of calculating how many corners you are going to cut safety-wise, which often boils down to how much you’re willing to stick your neck out to get somewhere faster: speed is the essence -of civilization.

Walking is a time to daydream, to analyze, to people-watch. But when I’m on a bike it is almost impossible to let my thoughts and emotions flow because I have to constantly monitor the activities of the metal monsters surrounding me. I could simply ignore them, but that would quickly become fatal. Not that this monitoring activity requires a lot of conscious effort, nor am I usually in immediate danger. But it remains an ongoing irritation because it is constantly intruding. Like an omnipresent pollution, it makes bike riding unpleasant.

As well it’s hard to have other than an alienated relationship toward people driving cars. Especially at night you can’t even see the drivers and passengers properly because they lurk in the shadows, distorted by rapidly moving shapes on curved glass surfaces. Driving transforms the personalities of motorists, who take on its frustrations while at the same time exercising the power it conveys. Bicyclists are intruders, an irritant, and the scarcely-veiled hostility of motorists makes bike riding all the more disagreeable.

Like a moth to the light I get drawn toward the sidewalk, where I can bike along without thinking about cars, at least until I get to the end of the block. But here an inversion takes place: on the sidewalk I become towards pedestrians what cars are towards me on the streets — a physical menace and a general pain in the ass. Since I’m not interested in plowing into kids and little old ladies clutching grocery bags, I usually avoid the sidewalks and end up back on the streets.

Not that I obey the rules, as I was reminded by an ad in a local bicycle-oriented tabloid which featured a number of safety tips: “obey traffic signals” (I don’t); “wear a helmet” (I don’t); “ride with the traffic flow” (I don’t on occasion); “be visible” (I frequently wear dark clothes at night). If I arrive at an intersection and there are no cars coming I see no point in waiting until the light turns green. Industrial civilization has created a labyrinth of absurd regulations, which I attempt to outflank when possible. On the other hand my erratic moves contribute to the bad rep bicyclists have earned with motorists, who in a sense are justifiably exasperated by our antics. Although I am always cutting corners, I contradictorily expect cars to obey the rules, because whimsy and spontaneity on their part rapidly becomes deadly.

However my regulation avoidance, such as it is, has little impact on what happens in the streets: cars and trucks control the space, do what they like, and bikes are ultimately irrelevant and can only adapt. But if the world of cars-speed, power, alienation and pollution-is synonymous with civilization, bikes are not as detached from or hostile to this world as might first seem the case. Since we are constantly interacting with cars, we internalize their rules and logic. But bikes also resemble cars in the sense that, though engineless, they are composed of many of the same materials. Which implies the mines to extract the metals, the factories to process the rubber and plastics and to assemble the bikes, trucks to transport various materials connected with the production process, and the bikes themselves when they are assembled. Not to mention the shops devoted to retailing and repairing bikes, where we run into more boring jobs, commodity relations as usual and a plethora of accessories and gadgets, implying more mines and factories and more boring jobs processing, transporting and selling the stuff. Take a bike, follow it back to where it comes from, and you end up recreating the mega-machine. With the contradictory — or hypocritical — note which often creeps into our relations with our street co-occupiers, bicyclists complain about trucks but tend to forget that we’re dependent on them as well, as long as we’re in an urban environment and unable to provide food in order to create the material basis for self-sufficiency.

If bikes are constantly adapting to the language of cars, cars are an essential component of the larger entity which imposes its needs and logic: the city-state. Streets are the circulatory system, the hardened arteries of the mega-machine. They occupy an enormous amount of space because an enormous number of people have to go often considerable distances as directly as possible on a daily basis. In the city, efficiency and utilitarianism rule (or rather an ideology of efficiency, since something as bureaucratic as a city is highly unlikely to function in a sensible way).

But transportation cannot be detached from where we’re going and why: boring jobs, empty entertainment, mindless shopping, etc. Bikes are a scaled-down version of a need to get somewhere — or nowhere — fast; a coercive rhythm which is internalized and continues to function on automatic outside work-related activities.

Today, when the city has taken center stage in much of the eco-anarchist milieu via Murray Bookchin’s “libertarian municipalism,” questioning the city as such becomes all the more apropos. Using the Athenian polis as an inspiration, Bookchin’s updated version features a triple whammy of municipality worship, electoral politix and high-tech fetishism. “Obviously very wonderful opportunities” gushes Book-chin when asked about the opportunities he sees in the “mass technology of the so-called information age”: “I believe that science and technology should be used in the service ‘of refurbishing and rehabilitating a new balance with nature.” But Bookchin’s vision of a high — tech apparatus passively “in the service” of humanity — a discourse he shares with all the technocrats — denies the qualitative leap, the autonomization of technology which occurs with the implementation of mass techniques in the metropolis. Later, Book-chin backhandedly acknowledges this autonomization, when the underlying techno-determinism of his discourse makes “sophisticated technology” a universal given: “…the very things we are using presuppose a great deal of sophisticated technology. Let’s face the fact that we need these technologies.”* Rather than presupposing a great deal of sophisticated technology, isn’t it more appropriate to question “the very things we are using?” When Bookchin says “we need” these technologies, he is speaking only for himself.

Questioning bikes will be heretical for some, no doubt. But questioning everything, if offering no guaranties, at least allows the possibility of creating situations which are truly different. For now I continue to use my bike and mass transportation but walk whenever possible. Only when walking do you have time to really look at things, or to think about things in the most uninterrupted, spontaneous way.

Seven Theses on Play

By Paul Z. Simons, AJODA #23
  1. Play is desire realized, it is the negation of domination. Play is unmediated activity that does not attempt to produce a specific emotion, indeed, any emotion at all. The result of play may be alternatively orgasm, terror, delight, even death. Play is ambivalent; any one of these conclusions or any multitude of others are possible (there may even be no conclusive result). Yet, each eventuality in its own context is correct because none are specifically elicited except in the content of the play-activity that produces it.

  2. In pre-agricultural societies play was common denominator of all activity, in much the same way that the gift was the characteristic mode of exchange. For the primitive, play was the activity that not only defined tribal and familial relationships, it also provided food, clothing and shelter. In the pre-agriculture era of abundance, the outcome of any given hunt was irrelevant. Necessity (and surplus) meant nothing in such societies, consequently food-generating activites were not driven by the alternative of starvation, rather they existed simply as diversion, play. Further, play was essential to the stability of pre-agricultural societies because of its tendency to exclude coercion, language, even time. The death of play was the triumph of civilization, of domination.

  3. Capital has sought to abolish play and replace it with leisure-time; a void that must be filled as opposed to fullfillment that negates the void. Leisure-time is capital’s valorization of play, another mediation in the infinite maelstorm of mediations. In capital’s dual role of pimp and prostitute it not only creates leisure-time, it produces commodities and spectacles with which to fill it. Such valorization demands passive, stupefied participation (the negation of play) and seeks to elicit a single response, enjoyment. Which is, of course, the pay-off for time/money invested in a specific commodity/spectacle. As a result, play (like language) reverts to its magic form and becomes something dangerous, unmanageable, ultimately lethal; and capital in order to disvourage play portrays it as such.

  4. Capital, even in its current manifestation of real domination, has been unable to eradicate play. The “discovery” of play occured repeatedly in this century, occasionally (though on exclusively) in the realm of the avant-garde. Alfred Jarry in the Ubu plays and his system of pataphysics (the science of imaginary solutions) definitively incinerated the continuum of retrograde representational form. In doing so he reintroduced play not as an anaesthetic, but as a wrecking ball. Dada continued the assault, but with the exception of the Berlin variant (and its most impressive non-member, Schwitters) the notion of play became ritualized, dead. The final recuperation of the avant-garde, achieved via the reaction of surrealism and the concomitant resurrection of the representational form, eliminated play as an element of rejection until the re-emergence of utopian currents after WWII. A number of post-war cultural movements, most notably Lettrisme, the Situationist International, Mail Art and Neoism all incorporated play into their experimentation. Each movement, however, failed to realize the revolutionary implications of play and in doing so allowed it once again to become formalized, rigid and as such recuperated as mediated activity.

  5. Play has become an integral part of revolutionary activity. Even Lenin, the idiot father of the authoritarian left, could (correctly) describe the Paris Commune 1871 as a “festival of the oppressed,” though he (like Marx) arrived at an erroneous conclusion concerning the failure of the uprising. There are a plethora of examples of the inclusion of play in the activity of the Communards, particularly of play in its destructive aspect. This is not surprising, given the Commune’s lack of resources, military contingencies and the fact that the entire rebellion lasted some 72 days. Still, the toppling of the column at the Place Vendome (a universally hated symbol of the Napoleonic victories), as well as the attempt by a few of the more extreme Communards to put Notre Dame to the torch can hardly be interpreted as anything but play. Such manifestations also crept into the behavior of individual Communards. Recall the story of the young rebel who confronted a suspect bourgeois on the street. The nervous capitalist protested that he had never had anything to do with politics, to which the Communard replied, “That’s precisely why I’m going to kill you.” Though the story ends here in historical accounts, it is not hard to imagine the young rebel flashing a fiendish grin at the shaken bourgeois and then walking off to take his place on the barricades…bon chance, Citoyen!

  6. Modern revolutionary eruption have also exhibited certain elements of play. The May-July events of 1968 in France immediately bring to mind the joyful, indignant posters produced by the students of the insurgent Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Further, through the blood, tear-gas and concussion grenades of the nights of barricade fighting (May 6-11th), there emerged numerous examples of play. Most observers concur on this point, Priaulx and Ungar describe the defiant students as “one big frantic family;” even the partisan Trotskyite account by Seale and McConville includes an anecdote about the leftbank café, Le Luxembourg. During one night of rioting the café had been invaded and transformed into a makeshift battlefield, after the insurgents and police moved off the manager was directed by a prefect to close his establishment, to which he replied, “tonight Le Luxembourg will not close its doors; it has none left!” More recently, during the suppression of Solidarity in Poland, a hand full of militants produced a mask with billed officer cap and dark glasses that affected a likeness in the wearer to General Jaruzelski. The twist was that the mask was designed to fit dogs. Evidently, during the last crackdown on Solidarity the police would spend their days breaking up demonstrations and nights chasing stray canines who were, for all intents and purposes, impersonating the General Secretary of the Communist Party.

  7. The very existence of “theses” that attempt to define and illuminate historical examples of play stands in some sad way as a testament to the alienation from the activity they seek to describe. The terminal malaise that has characterized revolutionary theory and culture for at least the past two decades must be interpreted as the triumph of formalized technique, the crushing baggage of intellectualism. Even the ultra-left communist and anarchist movements seem condemned to stumble the same squalid path traversed by social democracy almost a century ago. The “revolutionary” belief that the “liberation” of women, ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians or the Third World will take a significantly differant form than the “liberation” of the working class via better wages, open employment policies and “benefits” exists as an iron-clad example of the pervasive disintegrative consciousness, on the other hand, seems to currently reside in the refusal of all dominative forms, the permanent contestation of every assumption; in a word, play. If the new society gestates in the womb of the old, then its first duty is quite obviously matricide. Workers of the world, come out to play!

Enemies of Society: An Anthology of Individualist and Egoist Thought

Enemies of Society: An Anthology of Individualist and Egoist Thought

Edited by Meme, Myself, and I (Ardent Press, 2011)

370 pages, paper. $20

Anarchists are opposed to authority both from below and from above. They do not demand power for the masses, but seek to destroy all power and to decompose these masses into individuals who are masters of their own lives… Anarchy is the aggregation of innumerable and varied forms of life lived in solitude or in free association… It is not by organizing into parties that one struggles for anarchy, nor by mass action which, as has been shown, overthrows one barracks only to create another. It is by the revolt of individuals alone or in small groups, who oppose society, impede its functioning and cause its disintegration.

“In Praise of Chaos” by Enzo Martucci

This book is designed to provoke its readers, to bring our awareness to the egoist side of the anarchist family tree, an insistently forceful elbowing past the Leftist gatekeepers into the festivities. The individualists and egoists featured in this volume are an indisputable part of the actual real anarchist tradition — whether other anarchists like it or not. As impertinent as an unwanted guest, the authors featured in EoS may be frequently annoying (the constant presence of a rather arrogant and obnoxious S. E. Parker — who eventually abandoned his adherence to anarchism — begins to grate even after only three or four entries). Perhaps as part of the provocation, the editor should have included a Parental Advisory or a Trigger Warning along these lines: “The essays, reviews, and biographies that make up this anthology may alternately or simultaneously induce horror, defensiveness, rage, confusion, frustration, and/or agreement.”

If this book wasn’t written as a defiant response to the ahistorical, insulting, retrograde Black Flame (see review in #68/69), it should have been. The authors of BF invented the Broad Anarchist Tradition™ (in a transparently Orwellian manner, by confining their definition of anarchism to be merely a form of syndicalism), and inducted such obviously absurd figures as self-identified Marxists like the Irish nationalist James Connolly and the founder/lifetime leader of the US-based Socialist Labor Party Daniel DeLeon at the same time as they pared it down to exclude Pierre-Joseph Proudhon — love him or hate him, he was the first person who proudly called himself an anarchist. And of course they excluded the bogeyman of all leftist ideologues, Max Stirner; the editor of EoS has taken it upon her_himself to make sure that nobody can do that in the future without comment.

The editor of Enemies of Society has taken the deliberate path of opening up a long-neglected and deliberately invisibilized aspect of anarchist thought to a modern readership. From the introduction:

As a philosophical weapon, anarchist thought has become dull, has lost its once-lethal edge and become encrusted with leftist clichés. One of the purposes of compiling these outsider voices is to help relieve anti-authoritarians of the burden of carrying the impossible load of universal emancipation (this leftist ideal of herd-life that undermines our individual strength) and to help re-awaken the slumbering dragon of insurrectionary egoism. These are the voices of uncompromising individualists, to whom no topic is taboo or off-limits, voices that have stayed obscure until now, but for which the myriad complexities of our current era provide an excellent context for a re-appearance. What ultimately emerges from these writings is a vision of anarchy that is non-utopian, non-idealist, and decidedly non-leftist, a vision of anarchy that could accurately be described as anti-social, or at least socially pessimistic… Any sketches of an anarchistic future they offer are apparent only by inference. (xxiii)

The term “individualism” has several different meanings in an anarchist context, depending on who’s using it, and whether it’s being used to score rhetorical points against a rival (or group of rivals) or as a self-description, whether as an insult or as a marker of friendly complicity. In the English-speaking world, following the Enlightened Liberal tradition of Mills and Locke, Individualism more often than not signifies a philosophical position gravitating toward the support of private property and commerce. Enemies of Society reminds readers that this was not always the case, as when Benjamin Tucker, whose shadow (through numerous essays that originally appeared in his long-running journal Liberty) looms over the contributions in this anthology while never making his way into it, called himself an Individualist and a Socialist.

Too often, the term has been used as a dismissal, aimed at any anarchist (or group of anarchists) who don’t happen to want to be in the same organization as the one(s) doing the dismissing. Most notably, during the experiments in collectivization that occurred during the Spanish Revolution, anyone (anarchist or not) who was skeptical of the process or outright refused to join a collective was labeled an “individualist” regardless of any particular stance toward private property or capitalism. Much depended on which union was carrying out the collectivization (besides the more well-known of the anarchosyndicalist CNT, the socialist UGT and the anti-Stalinist POUM/FOUS experimented with forms of workers’ self-management); a sympathy for some form of socialism might keep that person out of a CNT-organized collective, and vice versa. This sort of automatic and casual hostility toward organizational non-conformity should not sit well with any consistent and honest anarchist. Indeed it only tends to confirm what many anarchists who were skeptical of the CNT suspected all along: namely that the CNT, because of its inherent organizational structures (coupled with the ideological confines of syndicalism), was destined to become a conservative, bureaucratic, and ultimately authoritarian outfit.

When the term was used as a self-description outside an Anglo-American context, there was a propensity for celebrating (when not embracing it as a principle) what came to be called illegalism: a life dedicated to survival without relying on wage-labor or charity. Yet individualists weren’t ever the only ones who planned and participated in forgery, burglary, assassination, and other activities deemed unsavory by anarchists yearning for respectability. During the years the CNT was outlawed, many of its more dedicated activists and organizers — Durruti, most famously — engaged in them as well. Perhaps, a principled organizational anarchist might think, the distinction is that the CNT bandits gave all their loot (after expenses) to the Cause, the Organization, while those unwashed individualist criminals kept it all for themselves. This doesn’t explain how or why almost all the French anarchist press of the day (individualist and other) was financed by Marius Jacob and The Bonnot Gang.

Some individualist anarchists accept the way things are, some do not; the latter are the activists and interventionists while the former are the finger-waggers. There’s often no love lost between them, which is part of the entertainment of reading different individualists from each tendency in the same volume. The Italians especially figure prominently among the active antagonists of the social order, the staunchest anti-capitalists: my favorite contributor is definitely Enzo Martucci (1904-75), who wrote a long essay in 1967 (published by Parker) called “In Defense of Stirner,” a response to some Italian academic dismissals. The Anglo-Americans tend to be more oriented toward unapologetically finding a place within a capitalist context, the better to pick at the inherent moralist hypocrisy of their fellow anarchists who try to fight against it (especially the leftists, but with a few choice jabs at the insurrectionary egoists as well).

Speaking of Martucci, the flavor of insurrectionary egoism is perhaps easily summed up this way:

But what is egoism? It is an uncoercible need that impels every living creature to provide for itself… When I deprive myself of my last piece of bread and give it to my neighbor who is hungry, I do so because the pain in my generous heart at his torment is less bearable than my hunger. If his agony did not pain me I would not give him my bread… In this absence of government and in the freedom that will come from it, those who feel love will love, and those who do not will not, and will maybe fight each other. We do not understand the motive that identifies freedom with universal harmony and would create one idyllic type of life in place of innumerable different ones. Therefore not even anarchy will produce a general agreement based on an absolute conformism… we are not concerned with whether anarchy or archy can cement the best social relations, or bring about the most complete understanding and harmony between individuals. We try, instead, to discover which is the most useful for the realization and expression of the individual — who is the only existing reality. Is it anarchy, which offers me a free and perilous life, in which I might fall from one moment to another, but which allows me to affirm myself at least once? Is it archy, which guarantees me a controlled life in which I am confined and protected, but in which I can never life as I feel and will? Which is preferable — intensity or duration?… [Stirner] understood very well that in certain cases I cannot obtain the satisfaction of some of my needs without damaging the needs of others… Struggle is inevitable, and it is impossible to eliminate it from any kind of society or co-existence. But there will be other cases in which my interests will correspond with those of my neighbors. Then I agree with them and add my force to theirs in order to achieve a common end. In this way is formed a union of egoists. But this union is based on free agreement that can be cancelled at any time. (259-262)

In addition to many fine essays and reviews that make up the bulk of EoS, there is a fire-breathing introduction called “Preface: First Blood,” which establishes the aggressive tone, as befits a self-consciously insurrectionary anthology. There is also a very useful (and entertaining in its own right) glossary of terms partly written by the editor, partly taken from other contemporary egoists (unattributed, as befits a true egoist) called “Flaming Resurrections of a Charred Alphabet!” Together this makes for a welcome respite from the usual dreary surveys with their pretension to being all-inclusive, uplifting, and inspirational. EoS is agitation; most of the authors couldn’t care less if anyone else finds their writings inspirational or important or even entertaining. They write for their own satisfaction. What else would we expect?

A frustration with the poor reception of the Idea breeds a certain amount of contempt toward what some individualists call “The Herd.” This attitude toward the benighted masses borders on condescension, a know-it-all sensibility they share with many anti-individualist social anarchists. My own annoyance at non-anarchists stems from what seems like a willful misunderstanding of anarchism coupled with their know-it-all attitude, perhaps best summed up in the typical response of those people who remain so (supposedly) objective about such things as Human Nature and History that they are able to proffer their (supposedly) expert conclusion that “it’s a nice idea, but it would never work.” Regardless, however much of a fan of Stirner I might be, however much I am irritated by the facile adherence of most people to the illusions of liberal democracy and an easy resignation (and therefore acceptance) in the face of virtually all of the foundations of industrial capitalism, I just cannot bring myself to abandon a basic empathy with normal people.

When the various authors in EoS express contempt at “the Herd” of normals, I am sometimes annoyed, other times saddened. It’s not that I am so desperate to make anarchist ideas palatable to people I meet or interact with regularly; rather it is perhaps that I remember when I lived with those same illusions, and remember how painful it was to peel my loyalty away from what had, until then, helped me adapt my more or less inherently rebellious nature to the oppressive nature of late-20th century American industrial capitalism. Each new layer exposed meant fewer allies, a pattern of increasing isolation and feelings of loneliness that at times became unbearable. Instead of blaming normals for remaining normal, I recognize that the choice to stand up against the status quo as a radical with any kind of integrity (anarchist or other) is more than a little difficult.

That said, unlike too many (hyper)social anarchists who apparently are so hungry to accept a mass-orientation for their brand of anarchism that they continuously fall victim to the temptation, I refuse to impute exclusive, predominant, or even a minority anarchist content to the ideas and practices of the EZLN, the piqueteros of Argentina, people involved in the Occupy phenomenon, the mutinous sailors of Kronstadt, or the Paris Communards. This is not to say that anarchists in general, and this one in particular, do not find anything of value in their struggles just because most of them didn’t use the label I (reluctantly) choose for myself. Quite the opposite! What many left anarchists hear when someone makes such an observation isn’t “They aren’t anarchist,” but “Anarchists should not support those struggles that aren’t anarchist.”

This constant confusion of form with function gets really old. Even so, I understand at least a little of why it continues to influence the organizationalist wing of Anglophone anarchism; an unsophisticated theoretical understanding of anarchism proper is definitely part of it, but it is often coupled with a desperate yearning for more members/cadre to whatever outfit they’re trying to make more relevant. This allows them to see anarchists — or at least potential members/cadre — everywhere. Anarcho-leftists are not alone in this, but they do seem to engage in such silliness more than other kinds of anarchists. Using a radical organizational form (non-, or minimally, representational assemblies for example) has never guaranteed a radical content. I still recognize the capacity of people who haven’t been particularly engaged in any sort of politics to discover on their own (and perhaps with a little help from uncondescending radicals) the self-organizational forms of decision-making and decision-implementation that anarchists have always held up as positive examples, but which anarchists did not invent.

Enemies of Society is an unwanted guest crashing your formal dinner party. Given that she’s a close relative of the hosts, everyone knows she probably should have been invited (if only to avoid a bigger and more embarrassing scandal), but she’s just so boorish, so impolite, so… exasperating. As the host, all you can do is shake your head at the futility of having tried to keep her from attending.