social ecology

You Don’t Need to Be a Dickhead to Be a Nihilist, But It Helps

06/April/2015

I sit in a caravan in the Sully site, where most of Kilnaboy is based, contemplating the events of the last 24 hours or so, in which I have experienced a series of changing interpretations of the same event

I have heard things second hand, third hand, fourth, all at different times, piecing together the implications. It has caused me at certain moments to doubt whether I had any friends in the world, then to be reassured. At times I felt that the forces of evil were triumphant, and that I was resigned to abandon all my hopes and dreams to discover a new life on the road.

Basically, some shit went down, but it all seems sorted now.

The future ahead of me seems bright, my plans seem not only feasible but almost inevitably bound to come to fruition almost without much effort needed. Of course, this is not actually the case at all and I will need to constantly keep the dream alive in the minds of others, and of course myself, which takes considerable energy.

It’s basically a dream war that I am engaged in, and sometimes rival dreams come into collision to my own in ways that are disturbing and most confusing. Indentifying malignant dreams in the minds of others seems to me now to be of paramount importance for the success of any venture.

Witness the nihilist-individualist-insurrectionalist tendency of the anarchist mileu. Their dreams are on full display, they make no bones about it. They want destruction.

I am not unfamiliar nor even particularly unsympathetic to their world-view. Sympathy is after all about feeling the same way as someone, and I have often felt that there is a great need for the destruction of a great many things that currently exist in this world.

But much of the literature of this tendency uses the word ‘existent’ to describe that which they wish to destroy. Now I am sure that many of these writers have chosen their words carefully and probably could give you a pretty reasonable sounding reason for why they choose to use that word, which sounds so awfully close to the word ‘existence’. But it is certainly not a word in everyday usage in English speaking countries, so it is extremely likely to be misinterpreted.

My understanding of what nihilism means as a political philosophy is not so much that they wish to simply destroy everything that exists, but that they are in favour of the violent destruction of all authoritarian structures and yet do not believe it is wise to formulate a program or vision for how society should be organised afterwards.

I can see a certain logic there from the point of view of someone who wants to see a better world and is convinced that it necessarily involves the dismantling of all oppressive structures. Most anarchists do not claim to have all the answers for how a post-revolutionary anarchist world would look after all.

Indeed, for enough people to be mobilised against the forces of the State in order to stand a chance of defeating them, there would need to be an extraordinary level of unity and cooperation amongst working class people, and perhaps this is unlikely to be achieved if people are to insist upon too much consensus upon theoretical questions.

It is often the case that groups of well-meaning people end up arguing for hours about theoretical questions without coming to a consensus and that this causes much less work to be done than when these discussions are somehow avoided.

Some nihilists may be people who would indeed like to see a world based on mutual aid and cooperation, but just don’t want to ram that vision down other people’s throats while they are trying to unite with them and take on the forces of oppression.

For example I once read a pamphlet called ‘nihilist communism’ which seems to be arguing for nihilism as a strategy for libertarian communist revolution. They claim that attempts by ideological communist and anarchist groups to inspire class consciousness amongst working class people have little to no effect on the actual likely hood of a revolution.

Instead they assume that in the workers will take over the means of production and reorganise them along communist lines inevitably without communist activists having to do anything.

This may just be a rationalisation of these particular nihilists’ laziness or ineptness at reaching out to the public. Or it may be an interesting contribution to a debate on revolutionary strategy. Perhaps both.

At least it is clear that they ultimately believe in a world based on a positive vision of human solidarity, to the point where they naively imagine human nature to be such that people conditioned their entire lives by capitalism would suddenly change their entire world view and way of life over night simply because the power of the State had collapsed.

The same can not be said though of a certain individual I have recently met describing themselves as a “nihilist individualist” – which I understand to be an increasingly popular tendency amongst certain members of the anarchist milieu, thanks in part to the ‘propaganda of the deed’ of certain groups such as the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire.

As an individualist, this person claims not to care about the working class, and as a nihilist, not to care about the world once the State is gone, or even about trying to destroy the State completely, merely doing lots of violent actions against it just for the hell of it. He seems to be one of those people who believe that climate change will sweep away the State, or that everything will collapse on its own.

In this regard he is similar to the nihilist communists in that he thinks the State will collapse on its own and then his preferred vision for the future will come about. Where he differs from the communists is that his preferred vision seems to be a nightmare apocalypse world rather than one which is actually good to live in.

He thinks there is no hope to save the world, and that anyone who thinks there is so stupid that their ideas should be violently opposed.

This is what he has spent many hours talking to me about, even when I have made it clear to him that I do not particularly enjoy listening to it. He will sketch out in detail just how doomed everything is, painting a vision in other people’s minds that he fills in more and more details of. Whatever visions he has in his own mind of such a world must be even darker.

His dreams are on a collision course with those of almost everyone else in the anarchist milieu, and he seems to actively take pleasure in destroying their faith in whatever it is they believe in, through constant angry ranting, regardless of how much people beg him to stop for the sake of their mental health.

This experience is going to make it very hard for me not to become prejudiced against any person claiming to hold views they call ‘nihilist individualist’, or any actions or literature bearing that title.

I know it is not fair to blame a set of ideas for the actions and attitudes of a particularly unpleasant individual, but he truly has scarred my mind, which will surely be likely to impair my rational judgement of a set of philosophical ideas that are so closely intertwined with these unhappy memories.

All of this has made me feel it more necessary to affirm what I do believe in and how it differs from nihilism, and especially nihilist individualism.

The set of ideas that first convinced me that the anarchist project had validity were those of the social ecologists, such as Murray Bookchin. In short, social ecology is the theory that in order for human beings to live in harmony with other species as part of sustainable ecosystems we must organise our society on basically anarchist communist lines, while of course also making other more obvious technological and agricultural changes.

Social ecology is a radical tendency of the environmental movement which has been explicitly influenced by anarchist communist ideas, and creates a theoretical framework for understanding the intersections between social struggles and environmental struggles.

To me, social ecology is compatible with class struggle anarchism, anarcha feminism, queer anarchism, and pretty much every other strand of anarchism. It can be an intellectual tool to help unite working class people of all identities to unite to create a more sustainable world which is also one in which individuals are more or less completely liberated by the fact that their basic needs are met by communistic forms of social organisation.

My experiences as an active anarchist militant between 2007 and 2011 led me to the conviction that the ideas of the insurrectionalist tendency, and especially Alfredo M Bonanno, about the ways in which anarchists should organise in order to help build working class revolutionary consciousness were correct.

At least, I thought they were more correct than those of the platformists, specificist’s and ideological anarcho-syndicalists, though I still retain sympathy for the IWW concept of trying to build ‘One Big Union’ as part of a diversity of tactics, but not as a sole strategy.

Ideological anarchist syndicalists, like the IWA, or groups inspired by platformist and specificist ideas, like the IFA, in my opinion are wasting too much time trying to convince people that anarchist communism is what they should believe in.

This is why I find the ideas of the nihilist communists interesting, but I believe they take it too far. I believe that we should be trying to convince people of anarchist communism, but not by talking about it theoretically as a potential vision for the future that we can choose to struggle for if we want to.

I believe we must demonstrate the necessity of the ideas of anarchist communism by showing how they are directly useful in creating a new society based on a sustainable relationship to the earth, and be actively trying to build a working class movement to fight for the revolutionary changes necessary to save the human species.

I believe that to build such a movement we should adopt an insurrectionalist approach to strategy and organisation. We should organise as informally as possible while retaining as much structure as is absolutely necessary for practical reasons, and the basic unit of organisation in any anarchist project should be the affinity group.

Affinity groups should seek to make direct contact with working class people outside the anarchist milieu to form ‘autonomous base nuclei’ who then engage in a conflict with the State around a clear, achievable goal. Insurrectionalist Social Ecology would mean forming autonomous base nuclei that were engaging in struggles against the State based around both social and ecological goals at once.

By taking action with people outside the anarchist milieu, we avoid ghettoising ourselves and becoming irrelevant ideologues. If we achieve our specific goals we will hopefully inspire other working class people to replicate the actions we have taken alongside the people in our autonomous base nucleus rather than only inspiring other anarchists, as would be the case if we only took action in our own explicitly anarchist affinity groups.

An example of a conflict with the State that had both social and ecological aspects and which involved a combination of anarchists and non anarchists taking action would be a squatted piece of land being used by anarchists and non-anarchists alike to promote ecological awareness and the benefits of communal living, which actively resists attempts by the State to evict it and mobilises the community to help with the resistance by pointing out that they have a common enemy in the local capitalist landlord.

Such a struggle is going on now in the Yorkely Court Community Farm in the Forest of Dean, and it is successfully building it’s support base in the local working class community, while at the same time hopefully inspiring them to care more about ecology and the necessity of struggle against the state.

Thousands of similar revolutionary projects are going on around the world, resisting Fracking, Mining, Tar Sands Oil extraction, and many other environmental disasters being perpetrated by the State and it’s capitalist friends.

The amount of territory on earth which needs to be taken out of the control of the State and be put in the hands of working class people organising in ways compatible with Social Ecology, is huge, and in fact grows by the day. We not only need to be reclaiming the land, sea and sky from our enemies but also to be repairing all the damage they have done over the past two centuries and creating something sustainable at the end of it.

It’s a ridiculously huge task, but luckily for us as individuals we don’t need to really waste our time thinking about how big a task it is, because we are just playing very small parts in a very big task, so we just need to look after our mental health, stay positive and get on with doing our own fair share of the revolutionary work.

By carrying on pushing, by creating good strategies and by constantly updating our understanding of how best to inspire people to change their consciousness and become actively involved in fighting for a more sustainable world, I believe it is possible that the human race will survive the twenty first century.

We are not going to get there if our efforts are hampered by people who openly admit that they do not want to help fight for that world because they either do not believe it is possible or even desirable. If such people get in our way we must resist them and not sacrifice our revolutionary projects to their death-wish for the planet.

If there are people reading this who call themselves nihilists but who do actually care about the survival of humanity and just have some difference of opinion about what kind of strategy we need to get there, then I do not mean to cause you offense, so long as you are someone capable of polite conversation and debate.

If you do not care, either about humanity, or the feelings of those humans who do care about humanity and are trying to help save it, then I don’t know why you would hang around the anarchist milieu except to deliberately provoke people and cause them harm just because they have a different, more positive outlook than yourself. In other words, you’re a dickhead.