No, no, no! I am the purest anarchist!
Part 2 (of 4)
SM: What about all these new small European countries that are now part of the European Union? The EU is a new monster: incredibly bureaucratic, with a huge administrative apparatus. What do you think about the Union?
HB: When I used to go to Europe in the 1990’s and talk against the EU, most of the leftists and of course all the liberals couldn’t understand what I was talking about. “Why are you against the EU?” Because I’m an anarchist, goddammit! Any big government entities are bad news. You’re absolutely right.
SM: And Europe is not self-sufficient. They get oil and energy from elsewhere, and they are a significant part of this global economy utopia, exchanging their overrated currency for Chinese-made toilet-seats and other goodies.
HB: What I am saying is not a real solution – even for America. It’s just a tactic that presents itself at the moment, because so many people are disgusted and fed up with America. And so this idea seams to have some appeal. But I know that this is not a utopian solution. My point is that I don’t see – in America especially – any so called “leftist institutions” working towards a more realistic political solution. In Europe, you have the remnants of the Left: you still have some powerful unions, you have the social welfare system still, to a certain extent, surviving – in some countries better than in others, but still very good compared to America. I don’t know… I get a little envious of that – living here and knowing Europe pretty well – I have a feeling of envy that there you could be an anarchist and still have healthcare. This would be kind of nice in my old age.
But, of course, you’re quite right – living in Europe for more than a couple of years, you begin to realize that there’s a certain death in the air that accounts for this bourgeois comfort that extends even to the former working class. And a big deal has been cut and the deal stinks.
It’s all a matter of comparison: when I think how fucking awful it is in America, then the European model looks a bit better. When I think how fucking awful the European model is – then I don’t know what to think because, where is the realistic alternative? As anarchists, we have to ask ourselves what exactly are we proposing that has a realistic chance even if changing the lives of a few people, much less of whole countries or the world. And too much anarchist purism – I call it “futilitarianism” – it’s like “Oh, we don’t want to hear about those ideas, because those ideas might work, and we prefer being right to getting anything done”. Since everyone has a totally different idea of what’s right, we spend our time fighting with each other. Here in America all the anarchists are just tearing up each other’s throats up over ideology! We claim to be post-ideological and we spend all our time bickering about ideology. “I am the pure anarchist! – No! I am the pure anarchist! – No, no, no! I am the purest anarchist!”
SM: Does it have to be on local level?
HB: Whatever. Not necessarily violence, of course, in the sense, that we’ve always talked about direct action and they think that we mean violence, whereas we could as easily be talking about a food coop. So, when I say “revenge” – a food coop can be a good revenge, because we don’t have them here. We have one in the whole county.
SM: They’re more spread in Quebec.
HB: Again, this is because Canada is basically a Northern-European country with a soft-ass liberal, leftist government. “Let’s take care of everybody, let them smoke pot…” and all this. Which is much more pleasant than here, believe me!
SM: Sure, I had time to compare.
But there are sad things in Canada. They’re actually destroying this social welfare system since maybe ten years, now. Recently, they have increased the cost of university education and cut off a good deal of the bursary programmes. So, now Quebec students are on strike. Except for private schools…
HB: The strike is about money?
SM: Well, about money and about the whole ideology of education, which has shifted. Before, they believed that higher education was one of peoples’ fundamental rights. They were thinking about gradually decreasing the price for education in Quebec in the 60’s and 70’s and eventually to make it like in Northern Europe, free for all. Now they’re moving in the American direction, meaning that higher education is just another tool to be successful on the job market — to sell yourself for a better price.
But, I don’t really think that they’re going to succeed in anything with these strikes and demonstrations. The bureaucrats and the corporate “people” will proceed with their agenda with an iron fist.
HB: True. But again, the sheer anti-americanism generated by this regime could push even Canada a little bit backwards — lets call it “reaction” – towards that old social-democratic model. Just out of sheer disgust. I don’t know, do you think it is possible? Because you’ve been living there for some years now and I haven’t been there even to visit in a long-long time. The Canadians are not Americans – they are bewildered by all this, I know. Maybe they won’t do anything but anti-americanism alone might push them, do you think?
SM: Maybe. But there are several issues here. Anti-americanism itself has been ritualized; periodically we have these nice little demonstrations in Montreal with the burning of the American flag and all the paraphernalia that comes along. People do it once a year, twice a year: burning the flag, saying “Fuck Bush!” and “No oil for blood – no blood for oil!” and so on. This show-off is like a routine now but nothing happens after that.
And obviously, the american system of thought dominates Canada so strongly and intensely. What is Canada compared to the States? It’s a fraction – both politically and economically. Yes, many people, when asked, would say that Canadians are not Americans; but what does it mean exactly? I guess, nobody knows.
A few minutes ago you were talking about America not producing anything. It’s pretty much the same situation in Quebec – “the service society” as they call it – people selling each other services – is quite frightening. Maybe, it is even worse than in the States since, let’s say, Quebec is actively selling out its resources to the States.
HB: Which they stole from the Indians.
SM: Exactly. Ore, forest. Two years ago, I hiked with a friend in Northern Quebec. You wouldn’t believe: for days, we were walking on this lunar landscape with smashed, destroyed trees – apparently they cut only the good ones and left the rest to rot. Very sad.
HB: To tell you the truth – although I talk about separatism and so forth – I like to play political games to keep my head warm. But if I really said what I thought the proper response to all this would be – it would be total retreat.
Basically, I see this as a metaphorically military situation: we had a war in 1968 and we lost but apparently we haven’t realized it, so instead of retreating we do this ritual of repeating the prayers of the 1960’s, like I told you about this Peace March. All I can think of is to try to retreat as deeply as possible into something else.
SM: To retreat where?
HB: That is the problem, of course. It has to be a kind of an inward retreat. It has to be “space-beyond-space” retreat, and I haven’t figured that out yet. In the 60’s we called it “dropping out”. In effect, that looks to me like a good idea again. Maybe, it always did it in a way, because I’ve always been interested in communes and communitarian experiments; but now more than ever, it could take any form. It could take a camouflaged form, so that you would have dropped out but no one notices; or you could try to get a whole lot of people to go to one place so you could get some control over municipal organizations, like school boards, zoning boards. Or, you could just do the hippy commune thing in the woods. We could have some sort of new secular Anabaptist monasticism, whether communist, communalist, communitarian, or just communities.
This would involve some kind of a movement – now we’re getting into the idea of a movement, because if enough people DID this, it would start to be significant. Either it would end in violence or we would get away with it because the Empire would be collapsing. In any case, it seems to me that when you’re beaten – in the military sense – then you retreat. And if possible, you make an orderly retreat towards sources of reinforcement and logistic supply. That was what Napoleon said. Guy Debord liked to read Napoleon for his smart ideas about these things.
And when you take this metaphor from the military level to the social level, it seems to me that something like that can be done. First of all, of course, on the individual level and if it becomes popular, eventually it becomes an organized retreat. As the old saying goes: “He who fights and runs away – lives to fight another day.”
SM: People will still be in the United States?
HB: Yeah! It might be done through secession – you stay in the same place but change the politics. This is a kind of escape. Or whatever, as Malcolm said: “By whatever means necessary.”
SM: What do you think about more and more people home-schooling their children?
HB: It is of course politically unfortunate – there should be free schools; but if I had children I would do it. I wouldn’t even think of inflicting modern education on my own children! And people should try to homeschool in the groups. This is the only thing you can do, since the alternative/free school movement was smashed in the late 70’s.
SM: What exactly do you mean by “free-schools”?
HB: Well, anarchist schools. We used to have them – strange how everyone has forgotten. It was a strong movement in America in the late 70’s. It was one of those things that happened in the 70’s that was a logical extension of the 60’s. I sometimes think that the 60’s actually lasted from about 1962 to 1972 and then the 70’s were brief; they only lasted until 1978. But they were a logical extension of the 60’s. And one of the important things was the institution building. People were quite serious about it: food coops and schools, in particular; because those were peaceful things – you could get away with them. But they changed the laws and changed the capitalist strategies in order to destroy those movements. And they succeeded. So, home-schooling is all there is. It’s unfortunate; it can only be done on a communitarian basis or by the elite. Most of the people who are involved in it are from the middle-class. Poor people simply don’t have the time.
That’s why I say that politically it’s unfortunate but there’s no other choice.
SM: Many people are involved in the anti-corporate movement, and sometimes they even become economically successful like this Canadian-based magazine “Adbusters” – they are now selling sneakers…
HB: I lost respect for them 10-12 years ago, when they started to publish their magazine in a sleek colored format.
SM: Yeah, horrible. Is there anything worth mentioning in the “anti-corporate” area?
HB: There is. There is an organization called “POCLAD”. I forgot what it stands for – it’s a single-issue organization – just about corporations and they’ve done valuable research on legal history and so forth. I don’t know whether they’ll have any success or not.
In Pennsylvania, there are a number of municipalities that have passed laws against corporations doing business in the municipality. Now, I don’t know whether this is some freak of Pennsylvania law or whether anybody could do this. I still haven’t found out all the details. Last I heard, there was a dozen or so towns that have done this, which suggests almost a possibility of a movement. But apparently, they are doing it through the law and I don’t know whether that’s state law or federal law. I don’t know whether it’s possible for other states to do that.
There’s also a new movie, called “The Corporation”, that seems to be having effect. It was about time something like this appeared. But, I haven’t seen it, so I don’t have any judgment about it.
Again, it’s like I said about food – the consciousness has grown, but it’s very hard to focus it when there is no movement and no leftist institutions. I use “leftist” in a broad, general sense here. We could even talk about “post-leftist”, if you want.
SM: No, I hate all these “post-” things.
HB: Yes. The problem is that any possibility of action remains atomized. There’s no chance of molecularity. And that’s what capitalism is so good at – separation! That’s what it does.
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