Thursday, December 16, 2010

New Social Movement (NSM) Theories and Anarchism: 6. New Identities

New social movements are formed out of unique, fresh identities. Like with other NSMs, anarchists adhere to specific value- and action-based identities. Many anarchists place themselves in social categories linked to particular ideologically-rooted anarchisms. New identities have emerged within the anarchist movement, in part replacing old identities that were more closely tied to economic ideologies. For example, communalism is another older anarchist strain no longer identified with by present-day anarchists. While identities such as anarcho-communism are still around, Tucker's anarcho-individualism is rarely identified with today. Even during Tucker's time (late-1800s), anarchist strains were points of contention (Nettlau 2001). Voltairine de Cleyre's “anarchism without adjectives”—the rejection of specific labels or strains, and a general adherence to the liberatory trajectory of a self-directed future—can be witnessed within the current movement (de Cleyre 2004), yet her label is rarely explicitly used. Other developments have occurred, too. De Cleyre's orientation towards gender is now labeled anarcha-feminism, an identity that many anarchists since the 1970s—particularly women—share. It can be argued that today the major schism between anarchist identities, particularly in North America, is not between communists and individualists, but between “reds” and “greens”, or “organizationalists” and “anti-organizationalists”. Stark geographic patterns in the US exist: red anarchists (those with an economic, working-class focus) tend to reside in the Northeast region while green anarchists (those with an environmental focus) tend to be found in the West. This dispersion can be partially explained by certain historic structural and organizational factors (Williams 2009a).

Anarchism today is arguably even more multi-faceted and potentially-contentious than during its classical period, as many of the preceding NSM components have indicated. Recent times have also witnessed an explosion of other hyphenated anarchism strains: eco-anarchists, anarcho-primitivists, anarcho-punks, practical-anarchists, post-left-anarchists, anarcho-situationists, queer-anarchists, and anarchist-people-of-color. All of these identities are new amalgams created by the anarchistization of pre-existing identities and the extension of other concerns into anarchist theory. In the case of anarcha-feminists, queer-anarchists, and anarchist-people of color, not only do these categories define an identity that links together some anarchists—usually in such a way as to create smaller caucuses within the movement to discuss internal democracy and tolerance issues—but also indicate the broad character of cultural conflict in society (that extends beyond mere industrial conflict, as discussed earlier in Section 1 above).

NSM theories imply that participants resist conventional lifestyles. Modern anarchism includes practices aimed at sustaining anarchist lifestyles, whether as ends themselves or as a way of building alternative culture for the “long haul” toward revolution. Even though some mainstream social movement scholars are just beginning to acknowledge it, all movements have their own cultures and anarchists are no exception. Cultural lifestyles permit movement participants the opportunity to practice their alternative views and choices, particularly when such alternatives are strongly at odds with mainstream society.[X] As with second-wave feminists, the anarchists consider the “personal to be political”; the way people live their lives is a reflection on their dedication to anarchism. Thus, it would be controversial, within anarchist culture, for a self-professed anarchist to own a corporation and employ multiple workers, or to use aggressive violence against others. Vegetarianism, residing in cooperative housing situations, solidarity with oppressed groups, rejecting partisan politics, or permaculture gardening are all practices that anarchists may include in their daily repertoires that allow them to live anarchy.

Anarchists have a lifestyle heavily influenced by certain alternative subcultures, such as “do it yourself” (DIY) culture, which includes the printing of zines (short for “magazines”) and planning of local events. Punk culture is a major influence of DIY and it has had a strong influence over—or at least interaction with—much of the anarchist movement since the late-1970s (O'Connor 1999, 2003). This synergy may be witnessed in the exchange of punk fashion amongst anarchists and anarchist politics amongst many punk banks. Hundreds of anarcho-punk bands have performed throughout the world, seeing punk's revolt against authority and DIY practice as essentially anarchist in nature (O'Hara 1999). Famous anarchist bands like Crass, Chumbawamba, The Ex, Dead Kennedys, Propagandhi, Against Me!, and others are not only mainstays of punk history, but also serve as artistic inspirations to many anarchists. Punk constitutes an anti-establishment lifestyle and identity, which is both anti-capitalist and often anarchist, and is created in the crucible of local conflict with social control agents (Johnston & Lio 1998).

Cultural anarchy, perhaps best represented by Crimethinc, promotes an anarchist way of life, personal freedom, and lifestyle choices. Crimethinc's unique combination of situtationism, primitivism, punk culture, and insurrectionism is visible within sectors of the North American anarchist movement, and is particularly noteworthy for its advocacy of hitchhiking and train hopping, “dumpster-diving”, and scamming or stealing from corporations. In the advocacy and practice of such activities, Crimethinc draws from a long tradition of survival techniques developed by hobos, as practiced during the Great Depression. This identity is sometimes derogatorily referred to as “lifestyle anarchism”, which prioritizes the individual, or romanticizes “chaos” and spontaneity at the expense of a more serious social anarchism (c.f. Bookchin 1995). Instead, many Crimethinkers feel it is more important to remove oneself from a destructive and hierarchical society than try to organize within it, such as class-struggle anarchism often advocates (CrimethInc 2001). Thus, Crimethinc advocates the abandonment of identity politics, stating that it is more important to practice anarchy than be an anarchist.


[X] “Dual power” is a particular anarchist strategy that extends these counter-cultural efforts, aiming to create alternative institutions that could eventually overtake and make mainstream, hierarchical institutions obsolete.


Bookchin, M. (1995) Social Anarchism of Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm. Edinburgh: AK Press.

CrimethInc. (2001) Days of War, Nights of Love: Crimethink for Beginners. Atlanta, GA: Crimethinc.

de Cleyre, V. (2004) The Voltairine de Cleyre Reader. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Johnston, H. and Lio, S. (1998) “Collective Behavior and Social Movements in the Postmodern Age: Looking Backward to Look Forward”. Sociological Perspectives, 41 (3): 453-472.

Nettlau, M. (2001) “Anarchism: Communist or Individualist?—Both”. Pp. 79-83 in Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman's Mother Earth, edited by P. Glassnold. Washington, DC: Counterpoint.

O'Connor, A. (1999) “Whos Emma and the Limits of Cultural Studies”. Cultural Studies, 13 (4): 691-702.

O'Connor, A. (2003) “Punk Subculture in Mexico and the Anti-globalization Movement: A Report from the Front”. New Political Science, 25 (1): 43-53.

O'Hara, C. (1999) The Philosophy of Punk: More Than Noise. Edinburgh: AK Press.

Williams, D.M. (2009a) “Red vs. Green: Regional Variation of Anarchist Ideology in the United States”. Journal of Political Ideologies, 14 (2), June: 189-210.

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