Is the Anarchist Ideal Realizable?

Source: La Revue Anarchiste, December 1929, January 1930, February 1930;
Translated: for by Mitch Abidor 2009;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2009.

La Revue Anarchiste” will carry an investigation in each issue.

Its goal is to bring together all opinions, wherever they come from and however unfavorable they might be.

Each month then, “La Revue Anarchiste” will pose a question to representatives of all spheres of society related to the domain in which they carry out their activity.

In January the “Revue” will publish the answers to the following question:

Is the anarchist ideal realizable? Can man live without authority, in the present or in the future? Will the suppression of all constraints ever be anything but the prerogative of tiny minorities?

La Revue Anarchiste” will abstain form any commentary. Its readers will have enough critical spirit to extract from the shock of the various opinions those ideas most in conformity with their temperament

Dear Comrades:

I willingly defer to the friendly invitation of “La Revue Anarchiste” by responding to the investigation that it has begun.

Is the anarchist ideal realizable? Without any doubt, it is realizable in principle. In fact, we can perfectly imagine, without leaving the realm of the likely, that at a given time every man, having become sufficiently conscious of his social role, will conform his individual action to this, on his own, of his own will, impelled by his own reason. On the other hand, I don’t think we have yet arrived at this generalization of social consciousness, a generalization that demands long preparation in the realms of order and action.

The elements one must possess in order to spontaneously adapt within one’s personal sphere to the needs and desires of the collectivity are still the prerogative of personalities that are intellectually and especially morally very superior to the average, and whose activity can only be followed by the whole of humanity with a certain delay. This is why, in rendering homage to the beauty of the anarchist ideal and in willingly recognizing that it constitutes a particularly elevated stage of social realization, I think that this theory is not currently viable. It results from this that those who take the initiative in diffusing it should consider it as a formula for which we can only prepare the masses in the current circumstances, without attempting to realize it in a positive and concrete fashion in contemporary society. It should be noted, in fact, that this formula, of a great simplicity, the crowning of the common life of the masses on earth, can only exist if it is universally accepted. The complete absence of constraints prohibits the possibility of schisms and exceptions in the social organism.

This, dear comrades, is what I think on a whole of anarchist theory. I send you this summary with my fraternal wishes.

– Henri Barbusse

An ideal is an absolute and only the relative can live. But we only live insofar as we approach an absolute.

The living are few. Do you know any practical anarchists who never impose requirements and who laughingly hold in contempt those they must suffer? I believe this as rare as a true Christian and a true Stoic.

Anarchy without anarchists once exploded several bombs, just as Christianity without Christians set alight countless stakes, and as the Stoicism paradoxically professed by an emperor compromised itself through persecutions and wars.

In any event, what does a distant future matter to us? It is today that interests you, comrade of today. And today, you too clearly see, can only be beautiful within you. So be so Christian as to despise priests, so Stoic as to despise the crimes of Marcus Aurelius and the stupidities of Loisel, so anarchist as to smilingly stay at a distance from all groups.

– Han Ryner

I am embarrassed concerning how to properly respond to the investigation of “La Revue Anarchiste.” Is there an anarchist ideal? Is anarchism an ideal? If there is an anarchist ideal which is it, since there are several tendencies or currents within anarchism?

It is true that the follow-up to the question posed by “La Revue Anarchiste” seems to delimit or define the anarchist ideal: “without authority,” “suppression of all constraints.”

We should doubtless read “of all political authority,” of “all constraints of a statist or governmental order or anything having to do with them,” for we know that man isn’t free, biologically speaking: he is subject to the indications of his determinism.

Being an anarchist means denying, rejecting the arche, political and legal domination, the apparatus of power. But it’s even more: it means denying, rejecting the utility of the state in ordering relations between men. Better, it means doing without the intervention and the protection of archist institutions in reaching agreement with others.

How can I know if in the future “man” will be able to do without political authority, of any imposed authority? How can I know if the “suppression of all constraints” will ever be anything but the prerogative of tiny minorities. Judging by appearances, I see no man who does without authority; I see no minority escaping from “all” constraints.

In fact, I don’t really care.

I feel that I am an anarchist, and that’s enough. I feel myself to be hindered, blocked, tied down, limited, restrained by the multiple ties forged by state institutions. I rebel against these constraints, I escape from them as soon as I find the occasion to do so. Whenever I have to deal with an ordinary human being (?) I find him to be imbued with conventional ideas, prejudices, beliefs, commitments, points of view inculcated in him by the agents of archism. I attempt to liberate those I encounter from these foreign suggestions.

Alas, I don’t live “without authority.” At every corner, at every crossroad I must suffer from its visible representation. And if only this was all there was. Nevertheless, in my daily relations with anti-statists like myself I do my best to get along with others by ignoring the play of governmental institutions. I more or less succeed in doing this, but I persevere. And I pay little attention to whether or not the relations I maintain with “my people” square with the education, the economic or sexual morality, or state or church (the stand in for the state) teachings.

And now let us come to individualist anarchism.

Anarchist individualism is not an ideal, but an activity. A state of open or hidden – but continuous- struggle against any concept of life that subordinates the individual to governmental authority, which considers him in function of the state, which judges him by social constraints and legal sanctions whose legitimacy in relation to his personal development he never could and cannot weigh.

I don’t know if those who constitute it form an “elite,” but I maintain that throughout the world there exists an individualist anarchist milieu, a milieu of “comrades” which, by all the means in its power, works at ignoring the social, moral, intellectual conditions upon which archist society rest, using ruse if open escape isn’t possible.

We don’t live on hypotheses or conjectures. If there is an anarchist ideal, I propose to realize all that I can of it immediately, without waiting, without asking if I am a member or not of an elite, doing so by associating myself with atheist, materialist, pleasure-seeking comrades, in a hurry to go full steam ahead just as I am. Everything else is a distraction or metaphysics.

We thank “La Revue Anarchiste” for having given us the occasion to enjoy ourselves among comrades.

– E. Armand

You ask me: “Is the anarchist ideal realizable?”

I will begin by saying that the very nature of an ideal is to not be realized. Its object is to incite our energies towards a goal that forever retreats before human effort. If it would reach its goal life would have no further worth. It wouldn’t even exist any longer. Life is in the élan, in struggle and effort. The goal achieved means death.

But let’s return to anarchy. We must agree on a solid definition of the ideal that this word represents. I take it in the sense of a free and full development of individuality. You ask: “Is this development possible? Can man live without authority?” I add, “authority from without.” For it is obvious that a proportional increase in authority from within, of interior mastery corresponds to any diminution in authority from without. In fact, man only exists in a social milieu. Between himself and the milieu there is a constant exchange of actions and reactions. In order for them to be in harmony an order is necessary, issuing either from within or from without. Order from within is the most beautiful, but it is infinitely more difficult to conquer, for it supposes extremely evolved personalities. And it isn’t enough that a small number of men arrive at this superior state since they are willy-nilly contained within the human block. This block must also reach a high degree of evolution, otherwise the free personalities will be crushed.

I thus think it is illusory to hope that individuals could realize the anarchist ideal for themselves without having formed a social environment capable of allowing them to live and fulfill themselves in their plenitude. Unless he is willing to limit himself to a Platonic independence of thought, satisfied with its inoffensive liberty, mouth closed and arms chained, he who wants liberty for himself must not only conquer it for others, but work for the social progress that teaches others to tolerate it, for this is what they know the least.

And now allow me to expose my point of view in a few words:

I am not an anarchist. I am not socialist, nor of any group at all. I am the grandson of my grandfather Colas des Gaules whose experience was expressed under the veil of the ironic bonhomie of this old French proverb: “You need a bit of everything to make up the world.” Of course, on condition that from this “everything” we succeed in making a harmony. Life, the world, society, intelligence, all appear to me as in a perpetually unstable state, a polyphony in movement whose fixing or stopping would mean death. It follows from this that a living equilibrium demands the counterbalancing of opposing forces. The current evolution of peoples towards socialism calls for and inspires the vigorous vital reaction of anarchist individualism. The victory of the one or the other of the competing forces would bring down the whole edifice. Their coexistence and their combat are necessary. And it is thus for all the other principles who fight in out intelligence and in society – which is always a reflection of the latter. They cooperate without our knowledge in the maintaining of the vault. Every pressure necessitates an equal counter pressure. This is why my personal ideal of peace and harmony can paradoxically be expressed by the image of two rams confronting each other above the abyss. But is a cathedral anything but this?

“A cathedral that rests upon the equilibrium of enemy forces. Shining rose window where the blood of the sun bursts forth inshimering sprays that the harmonious eye of the artist has tied together.” (Ars pacis)

So I say to you: gather your forces, friends, enemies! And may no one weaken. From your energies conjoined in the hand-to-hand struggle the supreme harmony is born.

– Romain Rolland

Yes, the anarchist ideal is realizable.

I have been an anarchist for the past forty years. I didn’t become one because of a sudden revolution, but slowly and after having traversed, step by step, the entire distance that separates the total slavery which the Catholic religion forces on its fanatics to the limitless independence which only the anarchist ideal accords its followers.

I loyally submitted my libertarian convictions to the test of events, which since that already distant time have made an impression social life and, far from weakening these convictions, have ceaselessly fortified them.

So we can boldly conclude that the anarchist ideal is, in my sense, realizable. For if by nature I gladly surrender to the attraction of the ideal, and if my heart feels ever more attracted to it because it seems -and this is the case with the anarchist ideal – more equitable, more fraternal, and bearer of more fertile promises, my reason and my age would have forbidden me from working harder than ever for the triumph of an ideal whose realization would appear to be impossible.

But I don’t have a wild imagination or chimerical intelligence, and any effort I deem useless is of no interest to me.

My conviction then is that the anarchist ideal is realizable. I have the unshakeable certainty that the evolution of human societies will necessarily lead future generations there and that that ideal will become a reality.

But don’t ask me what date that realization of the anarchist ideal will toll on history’s clock. I no more know this than I know at what age such and such a young, healthy and vigorous man will die. What I know, and what I can without any fear of error affirm is that he will die. In the same way I can affirm with no hesitation that the regimes of authority will die and that the arrival of a social environment based on freedom – that is, anarchist – will succeed it upon its disappearance.

For me this arrival is not a hope or a probability, but a certainty.

I say that man can live without authority. It is obvious that because of the centuries of servitude that weigh heavily on the man of the twentieth century the immediate installation of a social environment without constraints will certainly raise numerous difficulties, and that the play of passions suddenly unleashed among individuals insufficiently prepared or totally uneducated will bring with it regrettable acts. But these difficulties, much more easily surmountable than is commonly said by the supporters of authority – and we can guess why – will not long resist the loyal, serious, and persistent efforts of men of good will who have become the masters of their own destiny.

As for the violence, excesses, and crimes that the absence of all authority will signal to I consider:

On one hand that the responsibility for these reprehensible acts can be imputed to the spirit of authority whose survival they are an expression of, and that the cause having been suppressed the effects will not delay in disappearing.

On the other hand, this violence, excess, and crime will be far – very far – from reaching the level of the savagery, iniquity, and misdeeds for which authority is accountable and whose existence no longer need be proved: credulity, poverty, ignorance, fraud, brutality, prostitution, jealousy, hatred, vengeance, war, rapine and brigandage of all kinds.

– Sébastien Faure

We can say of the anarchist idea – or rather ideas – what Buffon wrote about genius: it’s a long patience.

To take these ideas from the heights of consciousness in which they float and to give them in our society the life of feeling is not only possible but, to the honor of the human spirit, is seen every day.

But in this society the act of giving them a life of action can only be sporadic, if I can express myself in such a way, which means that it is possible or even desirable that groups form where these ideas will be not only cultivated but rendered serene by the very ones who have chosen them.

I would like for these groups to take care to harmonize what their efforts have of the just and the nobly virile with what Beethoven called “the sole sign of superiority”: goodness.

This, to be sure, is one of the most difficult but also the most beautiful of tasks that can be proposed for the actions and the passions of a group of young men, or of one young man alone.

It is necessary that these latter start by keeping in mind a thought that was summarized in the formula of William of Orange, called the Silent:

“It isn’t necessary to hope in order to undertake, nor to succeed in order to persevere.”

Should we then despair? No, for as I said at the beginning, anarchism is a long patience.

Societies evolve and by this very fact, they progress. Almost always despite themselves, but it’s a fact: they evolve and progress.

So it thus occurs that, according to the individual in question, without being aware of it they assimilate a few or many anarchist ideas that they said were mad and whose propagators they persecuted.

Alas, I will not swear that anarchist ideas will be fully and wholly realized in a society of men.

But I say, and this is my profound conviction, that those who work, suffer, and struggle for these ideas are not wasting their time and their work is good, beautiful, grand, and necessary.

My teacher and friend Anatole France professed that the efforts of reasonable men, or at least of those who consider themselves to be so, arrive at giving real life to the utopias of a few misunderstood sages.

May my comrades of “La Revue Anarchiste,” who are older or younger than me – I don’t know which – receive as a greeting the wishes that result from such a hope.

Amy they aid in bringing about the success in time of the noble utopias of which they are the guardians.

– Georges Pioch