Sunday, April 28, 2013

Benjamin R. Tucker in the Boston Globe

One of the aspects of Benjamin R. Tucker's career that has received comparatively little attention is his interest in European literature, and his translation efforts. His Five Stories a Week remains half-mythic for many of us who have devoted a lot of attention to Liberty and the Radical Review, but the same is true for quite a bit of the fiction that appeared in those magazines as well. I'll admit I've only read parts of Sarah E. Holmes' translation of Georges Sauton's "Ireland," despite all the time I have recently devoted to radical feuilleton literature. But as I have been working on migrating material from the old Libertarian Labyrinth to the new one, one of the things I've been try to do is follow up on as many of the notes and unfollowed leads tucked away in the old archive as I can, and one of the things that involved was to make sure I had a complete text of "The Handsome Orlando," Tucker's translation of a work by Oliver Chantal, which was widely published in newspapers in 1890. 

The peculiarities of newspaper archives being what they are, completing a serial can require coming at the material with a number of strategies and through a number of search engines, where possible. A long-shot Google News search didn't advance my "Handsome Orlando" search much, but it did suggest that I had been missing a real trove of Tucker translations, tucked away behind a paywall in the Boston Globe archives. The access was fairly cheap, and the search apparatus was perhaps a little less than I paid for, so the first keyword searches, on several variations of Tucker's name, returned about 50 articles by or about him, with indications of about five stories, some of them serials, that he had translated for the paper. The peculiarities of newspaper archives being what they are, a variety of other searches has brought the count to five serials, one with roughly seventy-five installments, and a total of close to 200 articles. There are also just a couple of political articles. The Globe was consistent in announcing at the end of each installment when the next would appear, so completing the research will be fairly straightforward busy-work, once I print out a couple of 1890s calendar pages. And then I'll be able to begin to tell if the stories themselves are of interest. 

But it's certainly not everyday anymore that I can add close to 200 records to one of my author bibliographies.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The future of the Libertarian Labyrinth archive

There's been a sort of elegiac quality to many of the responses to my recent change in focus and keywords. For me, although there are obviously costs involved with shifting from rhetorical ground that I've invested a lot in, the changes almost all seem like upgrades and improvements. It's a question of making the body of work I've done and the body of materials I've collected as useable as possible. That seems to mean a less partisan focus for the writing and the continuation of some ongoing improvements in the archives. Last year's big project was to improve the citations for materials in the Labyrinth wiki, and the additions of COinS metadata to a large number of articles. This year's move from a Mediawiki-based archive to one built on the Omeka platform means that cataloging data will take center stage, allowing me to begin to specialize the archive for research purposes. I've been wanting to bring together my various bibliographic projects for some time, and Omeka seems to be the right platform to do that. Omeka also provides much greater control over text formatting, so it will be possible to present the documents in the archive with more of their original formatting intact, and makes it easy to attach pdf/A file facsimiles where that seems most appropriate. It has a powerful, if complex, advanced search system, which will let researchers zero in more closely on the desired records. In fact, making the most of the system's capacities will probably be an ongoing project. The raw catalog may be a little less inviting to casual browsers than the wiki, but the ability to build exhibits will mean that I will fairly quickly be able to give the key collections a rather attractive presentation. Indeed, the ability to more easily curate and display individual authors' oeuvres, the content of particular magazines, or annotated texts (etc.) will free me up to use the catalog not just as a text repository, but as the bibliographic reference that I've angling towards for some time. At the same time, a developing partnership with my friends at The Anarchist Library means that some materials from the archive will also get distribution there, and in a little more systematic manner than we've managed so far. We're currently working together on improving the cataloging system for both sites, with vague visions of anarchist union catalogs no doubt dancing in various heads. 

I'm hoping for a sort of Grand Opening about June 1. There are 2000+ wiki articles and blog posts to at least look over, in order to migrate all the texts currently available to the new archive, and there are indexes and finding aids to update. There are hard decisions to be made about metadata schemes and maybe a little reprogramming of some plugins to be done. But there is already a lot of information on the new site, with over 1000 bibliographic entries migrated and more texts input each day, and I would be interested in any feedback on the general look and feel of the place.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Instead of a Book... a Different Book

With the essay on Proudhon and the state finally in the hands of the reviewers, I've been able to think a little more seriously about what portions of the Two-Gun Mutualism: Rearmed book are both of general interest and unlikely to be better dealt with in the context of the Atercracy project. After recontextualizing and "rebranding," there is still a basic study of Proudhon's thought and its modern application that remains to be written. Here's a tentative outline of the "replacement" text:
Exploring the Theory and Practice of Proudhonian Anarchism

Introduction: The Long Road Back to Proudhon

Part One: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: An Introduction and Restoration
I. The Philosophy of Progress
                  Two Kinds of Truth
                  The Nature of the Revolution
II. Anarchism: Critical, Constructive and Ungovernable
III. Absolutes and Free Absolutes: Proudhon’s Theory of Beings
IV. In the Balance: Proudhon’s Theory of Justice

Part Two: Neo-Proudhonian Explorations
I. A Gift Economy of Property
II. State and Market as Collective Beings
III. Proudhon for Lovers
IV. Thinking Like an Anarchist
There are also a few purely practical observations on topics like occupancy and use, mutual banking, and the cost principle that I want to eventually write up, and those will probably appear on the blog.

Friday, April 05, 2013

A peek at the future...

It is looking more and more like the new site will combine my various archives, and be much more library-like. There is probably a blog in the future, but it may take some time to materialize. So there will undoubtedly be some wrap-up, reflection and bridging-to-the-future stuff here for a while yet. Some low-traffic wiki and blog projects like the Proudhon Library and Splendors of the Combined Order will be disappearing fairly quickly, and the archives ending up at the new Libertarian Labyrinth site, where I can use them to work through some questions about site design, cataloging, metadata, etc. That new library site is in a very unformed state, with much of the standardizing and adapting work still to be done, but if you want a glimpse, it's right here...

Tuesday, April 02, 2013


Among the bridges from "Two-Gun Mutualism" to the broader project I'm taking on, one of the most important is probably the ANARCHISMS Project that I launched last month. The new research and writing program takes off from my always-increasing sense of anarchism's ungovernability, part of which is displayed in the enormous number of ways in which it has, and continues to be, summarized and advance. The real diversity of anarchist positions is hardly reducible to the sort of short-list of tendencies we tend to rely on, and our reliance on that short-list arguably stifles a considerable amount of past, present, and potential future diversity. There is, I think, a lot of room between narrow, sectarian categorizations and the sort of abandonment of basic anarchistic principle which perhaps we think we're guarding against . 

The immediate interest in an ANARCHISMS anthology has complicated my initial plans, in a pleasant enough way. I certainly have enough, and varied enough material in hand to put together a "representative" collection demonstrating the real internal diversity of the tradition, but by the time that collection appears it would be preferable to also have assembled a larger body of manifestos, short intros, personal statements, etc., for those really interested in exploring anarchism's possibilities. Assembling that collection will also undoubtedly be a good first step to launching the new thing—for now, let's just grin and wink and call it Codename: Atercracy—which will take the ungovernable diversity of anarchism as its basic premise.

My goal for the ANARCHISMS Project is to construct an archive and index—and eventually a body of commentary—of the mass of introductory texts produced between roughly 1820 and 1920. And I would like to see the collection grow as comprehensive as possible. But that's no small task, since it was common in the late 19th century for anarchist periodicals to include one or more such summary statements in any given issue. So obviously it would help if others who are working their way through the literature could keep their eyes open for this sort of material. (Take a look at any of the first three pamphlets for a listing of what I've published so far.) My own list is currently considerably longer, and I'll try to post that on a project page within the next week or so, but in the meantime I would welcome comments here or contact through my profile page with additions, suggestions, links, etc.

As I said in the essays on ungovernability, I have little or no interest in attempting to end the debates over "true anarchism." I think they are a necessary part of the evolution of the idea, and obviously the ungovernability arguments mark my own position in the debate. But I also have a strong preference for better fighting—if fighting is what we have to do—and figure there are worse things to do at this stage of anarchism's development than make sure there is lots of high quality fuel for whatever fires we feel the need to set. I'm sure there will be some people, for whom the question of anarchism seems eminently governable and already decided, for whom these new projects will be an even greater affront than the mutualist resurrection, but I doubt many of those people ever see this blog. Among those still reading, and those likely to follow the project into its next stages, I have some hope that a catalog of anarchist diversity—and perhaps untapped anarchist potential—may hold some real attraction.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Beyond Mutualism

[I see this post is being used as ammo in a particularly trolly attack on anarchism. Those arriving here thinking that "mutualism has been abandoned" might be interested in my tentative return to the label. But simply reading what has actually come "beyond mutualism," in this post and those that have followed it, should wipe out any notion that anything beyond a particular label was ever abandoned.]

It's really not an April Fool's joke: I'm preparing to leave "mutualism" behind as the way I describe my politics. It's a reinvention that I have been contemplating for a long time, but there are obviously associated costs, given the amount of energy I've invested in attempting to restore the good name of the anarchism of Proudhon and Co. I certainly stand by all of that work—which will naturally go on, though in a somewhat different context.

Mutualism was always unstable ground on which to try to build. You can go back to some of the very first posts on this blog and find Kevin Carson, Larry Gambone and I attempting to clarify the various things that "mutualism" means and has meant, or look at my more recent work on "the ungovernability of anarchism" to see some more mature thoughts on those same complexities. I have no doubt that there might well be some good work left in that much-contested political label, but my own personal experience is that the costs of keeping the term viable seem to be—at this point in time, and for me—considerably higher than the benefits of continuing to fly it as a flag.

In important ways, the battle that Kevin, Larry and I were engaged in when this blog launched—the struggle to restore mutualism to its proper place among the anarchist traditions—has been rather spectacularly won. The hegemony of the sort of anarchist history which simply sidelines mutualism has largely broken down, and the strong arguments in its defense—anarchist history of the Black Flame school, for example—can't simply rely on general agreement. The work to restore Proudhon to his place in the anarchist canon is well underway, and a wide range of more-or-less mutualist figures now enjoy at least a certain amount of name recognition. Ben Godwin's mutualist banner, featuring Proudhon, Ezra Heywood, William B. Greene, Jeanne Deroin, Dyer D. Lum, Herman Kuehn, Alfred B. Westrup, Clarence Swartz and Sidney H. Morse, has become a sort of stock visual representation of the school—and if anarchists are still hazy about what some of those folks actually accomplished, we've still come a long way from where we were even a few years ago. Iain McKay and Crispin Sartwell have done their share in exposing wider audiences to key figures, and Charles Johnson, Roderick Long, and others—some of them some distance outside the traditional limits of the anarchist movement—have done important work, broadening and enriching that canon. I like to think I've done a little myself, with my archiving, translating and publishing endeavors, as well as in the various attempts at interpretation and extension of mutualist theory that I've engaged in.

But one of the problems with the contemporary mutualisms or neo-mutualisms has been the fact that they have necessarily had one foot in a still-obscure past and one in some boldly projected future. We ended up with a variety of rather unlike things bearing the same "mutualist" label because the burial of the original mutualisms had been fairly complete. As a result, we uncovered the mutualist tradition in roughly reverse historical order. First came the Tuckerite footnote, then the adaptation by Greene, and only later any real engagement with the philosophy and social science of Proudhon, his contemporaries or his predecessors. All of the modern confusions of Carsonian vs. neo-Proudhonian vs. proto-communist mutualism have quite naturally been the result—and all sorts of more-or-less organization tensions have naturally followed from them.

That—from my perspective, at least—is how the costs of this whole "mutualist" thing have come to soar well above the level of its benefits.

But there is another problem with the mutualist renaissance, which we might call a sort of "retrospective" character. While I think all the active currents of new mutualist thought present at least pieces of a fairly powerful strategy for moving forward—and indeed share a great deal in those terms—it is almost inescapable that a revived mutualism would be seen, and to some degree see itself, in terms of an anarchist history which, if it has significantly relaxed its strictures against mutualism, still treats mutualism as a particular school, with a particular, largely preliminary role to play in the development of anarchism. Subsequent developments in the tradition have established what is important about mutualism in terms of their disagreements and differences, and it has been the hardest of tasks to simply present the philosophies of the early-to-mid 19th century on their own terms and in their own vocabulary. (Think, for example, of the critiques which claim that Proudhon abandoned anarchism by "abandoning" an anarchist anti-statism which arguably wasn't even a thing for another decade or two.) We're encouraged to think of mutualism as what is left of anarchism when all the cool, revolutionary stuff has been claimed by other traditions, when it might make as much sense to say what mutualism was before we chopped it up, parceled it out, and did our level best to govern it. I'm perfectly happy to take things that far, but even if we didn't, there are lots of questions we might raise about whether our present tendency to define anarchistic schools according to the institutions and conventions they privilege or prohibit is faithful to the original vision of anarchist anti-authoritarianism that we all ultimately inherited. And then there are simply practical concerns that arise when we allow a contemporary political philosophy to be defined by the 19th century approximations that its historical proponents themselves understood as experimental and "approximate." There are lots of useful things that might be said about "mutual banking," Josiah Warren's "time store" or particular formulations of "occupancy and use" property norms, but they aren't, alas, the things that there has been much opportunity to say in the usual debates.

One of the results of the deeper and deeper delving into the history of mutualism has been a steady chipping away at most of the accepted wisdom about the tradition, and the neo-mutualists that have attempted to delve and build at the same time have naturally created difficulties for themselves. Our story, once freed from the dismissive narratives of mutualism's would-be gravediggers and successors, leads off in dozens of interesting directions, many of them unexpected, and we find "mutualism" dissolving off into a lot of different stories, some of which (like the role of women in early mutualist associations) those intent on dismissing mutualism might not be so pleased—or at least consistent—to silence. But mutualism does indeed dissolve in those expanding histories—at least to a very great extent—and we are left with something more general, and potentially more interesting: an anarchism that looks more than just a bit different from our own.

I have often talked about the necessity, in the work on property, of solving the problem of our basic opposition to property by confronting it seriously and pushing through. That has ultimately been my experience with mutualism as well. It has been necessary to take it on, and take it very seriously, in order to push through and see what sort of anarchism might be hidden on the other side. The realization that I might be most of the way through mutualism has been dawning on me as I have begun work on Two-Gun Mutualism: Rearmed, increasingly conscious that the very last thing I'm interested in doing is establishing yet another anarchistic "school" or identity, another way of disciplining the tradition. That way, it seems to me, lies the same old shit, the very stuff that often makes me ready to discard anarchism altogether.

But there is this body of accumulated work, much of which seems useful or even important, all laid out in the book outline, and no shortage of loose ends hanging here on the blog, so what does a shift away from mutualism mean for ongoing projects?

My hope is to proceed so that none of the really good stuff gets abandoned, but everything that does get pursued gets a more useful treatment than I can be certain of giving it in the context of a more-or-less partisan mutualist work of theory or history. And I think that moving away from the specific mutualist context will remove some obstacles to making sense of my work, which, after all, has come to cover a lot of territory that is not "mutualist" by any stretch of the imagination. Some of the fun of organizing the book has been precisely the partisan nature of it, the audacious project of retelling early anarchist history in a way which ought to have repercussions for the way we think of anarchist history in general—the "Proudhon's revenge" element. But arguably all of that sort of fun will be clearer—and stripped of at least some partisan silliness—if it is a question simply of reexamining anarchist history, without the mutualist lens. There is more than enough of interest in all the variations of what we might call "pre-classical" anarchism and the lingering influence of the "utopian" predecessors, without making a mutualist history, and there are a variety of elements that it will be easier to represent fairly, on their own terms, if there is no partisan lens at all.

Historical objectivity being out of the question, of course, my current plan for a reorganized TGM: Rearmed is attempt as much as possible to rely on that other anarchism which seems to be lurking in our anarchist past as the lens. Of course, anarchism has been what it has been and will be whatever we make of it, and to avoid as much as possible the "true anarchism" debates, I'm inclined to steal a word from Claude Pelletier and call the lens-anarchism "atercracy," and treat the unabashedly revisionist history as a sort of alternate timeline, a series of historically grounded speculations on what might have been, in the interest of carving out another usable historical account from the same material as the one that a resurgent mutualism has struggled against. If I do the sort of minimal reorganization I'm currently envisioning, the first volume will be rechristened something like The Spirit of '58, and focus on the story I've already begun telling in piecemeal fashion, from Etienne de la Boetie to the Paris Commune, with Proudhon and Déjacque situated at center stage, emphasizing the constructive side of anarchism. And then the second volume, Dancing with St. Ravachol, can address the more strictly negative side of anarchism, reaching back to at least Déjacque and Coeurderoy and forward into at least the 20th century. In the process of telling the story—and its various might-have-beens—the bits of TGM: Rearmed that at least some people are anticipating—the material on the "gift-economy of property" and "Proudhon for lovers"—will undoubtedly find their place, or be published separately.

Ultimately, and other concerns aside, the shift in focus will probably give me a better platform from which to spin off various other bits of radical history, like the oft-delayed Rogues radical biography project and some introductory author anthologies. The Mutualist will be a casualty of the adjustment, but I expect will receive the same sort of intermittent development that it has in the past.

I'm sure there will be lots of complications and concerns to deal with as I extricate myself from a familiar context and set out on a somewhat new course, but I've reached a point where I don't see—for myself—any way forward which does not involve a broadening of context.

I'll post links to whatever follow-up sites emerge, and to the Travels in the Libertarian Labyrinth volumes as they are completed. Beyond that, things will probably wind down here pretty quickly. Thanks to those who have followed along.