Thursday, July 21, 2011

"What is Movement?" by Giorgio Agamben

My reflections come from a malaise and follow a series of questions that I asked myself whilst at a meeting in Venice some time ago with Toni, Casarini etc. A word kept coming up in this meeting : movement. This is a word with a long history in our tradition, and it seems the most recurrent one in Toni’s interventions. In his book too this word strategically crops up everytime the multitude needs a definition, for instance when the concept of multitude needs to be detached from the false alternative between sovereignty and anarchy. My malaise came from the fact that for the first time I realised that this word was never defined by those who used it. I could have not defined it myself. In the past I used as an implicit rule of my thinking practice : the formula ’when the movement is there pretend it is not there and when it’s not there pretend it is’. But I didn’t know what this word meant. It is a word everyone seems to understand but no one defines. For instance where does this word come from ? Why was a political decisive instance called movement ? My questions come from this realisation that it is not possible to leave this concept undefined, we must think about the movement because this concept is our unthought, and so long as it remains such it risks compromising our choices and strategies. This is not just a philological scruple due to the fact that terminology is the poetic, hence productive moment of thought, nor do I want to do this because it is my job to define concepts, as a habit. I really do think that the a-critical use of concepts can be responsible for many defeats. I propose to start a research that tries to define this word, so I will try to just begin this with some basic considerations, to orient future research.
First some banal historical data : the concept of movement, that in the sciences and philosophy has a long history, in politics only acquires a technically relevant meaning in the 19th century. One of its first appearances dates back to the French July Revolution of 1830, when the agents of change called themselves partie du mouvement and their adversaries partie du l’ordre. Only with Lorenz von Stein, an author who influenced both Marx and Schmitt, this concept becomes more precise and begins to define a strategic field of application. In his The History of Social Movement in France (1850) he plays the notion of movement in dialectical contrapposition to the notion of State. The state is the static and legal element whilst the movement is the expression of the dynamic forces of society. So the movement is always social and in antagonism with the state, and it expresses the dynamic primacy of society over juridical and state institutions. However, Von Stein does not define movement : he ascribes to it a dynamic and designates its function but he neither provides a definition nor a topos for it.
Some interesting historical indication in the history of movements can be found in Arendt’s book on totalitarianism. She does not define movement, but shows that around the first world war, immediately before and immediately after, movements in Europe undergo an exceptional development in a strategic contrapposition to partieswhen the latter enter a period of crisis. In this period there is an explosion of the concept and phenomenon of movement, a terminology that is used both by the right and the left : Fascism and Nazism always define themselves as movements first and only secondly as parties.
However, this term exceeds the political realm : when Freud wants to write a book in 1914 in order to describe what he is part of, he calls it a psychoanalytical movement. There is still no definition here, but evidently in certain historical moments, certain codewords irresistibly impose themselves and become adopted by antagonistic positions, without needing to be defined. The embarassing point of my research, where blindess to the concept becomes visible, is when I realised that the only person who tried to define this term was a Nazi jurist : Carl Schmitt.
In 1933, an essay entitled State, Movement, People and subtitled The Tripartition of Political Unity, he tries to define the political constitutional function of the notion of movement. This is embarassing because in this essay Schmitt tries to define the constitutional structure of the Nazist Reich. I will summarise his thesis, given that this promiscuity with a thinker of Nazism demands clarity. According to Schmitt, the political unity of the Nazi Reich is founded on three elements or members : state, movement and people. The constitutional articulation of the Reich results from the articulation and distinction of these three elements. The firts element is the state which is the static political side : the apparatus of the offices. The people is on the other hand, mind you, the unpolitical element that grows in the shadow and under the protection of the movement. The movement is the real political element, the dynamic political elelement that finds its specific form in the relation with the National Socialism Party and its direction, but for Schmitt the Fuhrer is only a personification of the movement. Schmitt suggests this tripartition is also present in the constitutional apparatus of the Soviet state.
My first consideration is that the primacy of the notion of movement lies in the function of the becoming unpolitical of the people (remember that the people is the unpolitical element that grows in the shadow and under the protection of the movement). So the movement becomes the decisive political concept when the democratic concept of the people, as a political body, is in demise. Democracy ends when movements emerge. Substantially there are no democratic movements (if by democracy we mean what traditionally regards the people as the political body constitutive of democracy). On this premises, revolutionary traditions on the Left agree with Nazism and Fascism. It is not by chance that contemporary thinkers who try to think of new political bodies, such as Toni, take a distance from the people. For me it is significant that around Jesus there are never laos or demos (technical terms for people) but only oclos (a mass, a turba, multitude). The concept of movement presupposes the eclypse of the notion of people as constitutive political body.
The second implicaiton of this Schmittian concept of movement, is that the people is an unpolitical element whose growth the movement must protect and sustain [Schmitt uses the term wachsen, biological growth]. To this unpolitical people corresponds the unpolitical sphere of the administration, and he also evokes the corporatist state of Fascism. Looking at it today we can’t help seeing - in this determination of the people as unpolitical - the implicit recognition, which Schmitt never dares to articulate, of its biopolitical character. The people is now turned from constitutive political body into population : a demographical biological entity, and as such unpolitical. An entity to protect, to nurture. When during the 19th century the people ceased to be a political entity and turned into demographical and biological populations, the movement became a necessity. This is something we must be aware of : we live in an era when the transformation of people into population is an accomplished fact. The people is a biopolitical entity in Foucault’s sense and makes the concept of movemnt necessary. If we want to think the notion of biopolitics differently, as Toni does, if we think about the intrinsic politicisation of the biopolitical, which is already thoroughly political and needs not be politicised through the movement, then we have to rethink the notion of the movement too.
This labour of definition is necessary because if we carry on reading Schmitt we see threatening aporias : in so far as the determining political element, the autonomous element, is the movement, and the people is unpolitical, then the movement can only find its own being political by assigning to the unpolitical body of the people internal caesura that allow for its politicisation.This caesura in Schmitt is what he calls the identity of spieces, i.e. racism. Here Schmitt reaches the highest identification with racism and the greatest corresponsibility with Nazism. This is a fact but we must recognise that this choice, of being forced to identify a caesura in the unpolitical body of the people, is an immediate consequence of his notion of the function of the movement. If the movement is the political element as the autonomous entity, where can it draw its politics from ? Its politics can only be founded on its capacity to identify an enemy within the people, in Schmitt’s case a racially extraneous element. Where there is movement there is always a caesura that cuts through and divides the people, in this case, identifying an enemy. This is why I think we must rethink the notion of movement, and its relation with the people and multitude. In Schmitt we see that the excluded elements from the movement comes back as what must be decided upon, the political must decide upon the unpolitical. The movement politically decides on the unpolitical. It can be racial but it can also be a management of government of populations, as in today.
These are my questions :
Do we have to keep using the concept of movement ? If it signals a threshold of politicisation of the unpolitical, can there be a movement that is different from civil war ? or
In what direction can we rethink the concept of movement and its relation to biopolitics ?
Here I won’t give you any answers, it is a long term research project, but I have some indications :
The concept of movement is central to Aristotle, as kinesis, in the relaiton between potenza and act. Aristotle defines movement as the act of a potenza as potenza, rather than the passage to act. Secondly he says that movement is ateles, imperfect act, without an end. Here I would suggest a modification to his view, and maybe Toni might agree with me for once on this : that movement is the constitution of a potenza as potenza. But if this is true then we cannot think of movement as external or autonomous in relation to the multitude. It can never be subject of a decision, organisation, direction of the poeple, or element of politicisation of the multitude or the people.
Another interesting aspect in Aristotle is that movement is an unfinished act, without telos, which means that movement keeps an essential relation with a privation, an absence of telos. The movemetn is always constitutively the relation with its lack, its absence of end, or ergon, or telos and opera. What I always disagree with Toni about is this emphasis placed on productivity. Here we must reclaim the absence of opera as central. This expresses the impossibility of a telos and ergon for politics. Movement is the indefiniteness and imperfection of every politics. It always leaves a residue.
In this perspective the motto I cited as a rule for myself might be reformulated ontologically as this : the movement is that which if it is, is as if it wasn’t, it lacks itself (manca a se stesso), and if it isn’t, is as if it was, it exceeds itself. It is the threshold of indeterminacy between an excess and a deficiency which marks the limit of every politics in its constitutive imperfection.
08 March 2005
Transcribed and translated by Arianna Bove from audio files available here :

Sunday, July 17, 2011

"Marxism and Revolutionary Theory" by Cornilius Castoriadis

This is a further instalment, in English, of Marxisme et Teorie Revolutionnaire byCornelius Castoriadis (Paul Cardan). The original French text appeared between 1961 and 1964) in issues 36-40 of the now defunct journal Socialisme ou Barbarie. Published in English by Solidarity London in 1966 (vol. IV, no.3) under the title ‘The fate of Marxism’.
The Marxist theory of history claims in the first place to be scientific, i.e. to be a generalisation susceptible to validation or challenge at the level of empirical research. As a scientific theory, which it undoubtedly is, it was inevitable that it should share the fate of every important such theory. Having produced an enormous and irreversible upheaval in our way of looking at the historical world, it is itself overtaken by the research it has unleashed and must find its place in the history of theories. This does not minimise what it bequeaths. One can say then, like Che Guevara, that is it no more necessary today to proclaim that one is a Marxist than it is necessary to assert that one is a Pasteurian of a Newtonian – provided we know exactly what we mean thereby. Everyone is a Newtonian, in the sense that nobody would return to the way of posing problems, or to the categories people used before Newton. But at the same time, no one is really a Newtonian, for one can just go on defending a theory that is purely simply false. (1)
But at the roots of the Marxist theory of history there is a philosophy of history profoundly and contradictorily woven into it, and itself, full of contradictions as we shall see. This philosophy is neither ornament nor complement: it is the very foundation of the theory. It is just as much the basis of how Marxism looks at past history as of its current political conceptions and of its perspectives and programme for revolution. The essential thing is that it is a rationalist philosophy. And, like all rationalist philosophies, with the answers to all the problems it raises.

Objective rationalism
The Marxist philosophy of history is first and foremost an example of objective rationalism. We see it already when Marxism seeks to tackle the past. The object studied is seen as a natural object: the model applied to it is analogous to models drawn from the natural sciences. Forces, acting at defined points, produce predetermined results according to a great schema of causality which has to explain the statics of history as well as its dynamics, the structure and the functioning of each society well as the instability and upheavals that will lead history to produce new forms. Past history is thus rational, in the sense that everything that happened in it happened in accordance with perfectly adequate causes, penetrable by our reason, as it stood in 1859. According to this theory, the real is perfectly explicable. In principle, it is already explained. (One can write monograms on the economic causes of the birth of Islam in the 7th century: these will ‘verify’ the materialist conception of history but will teach us nothing about it.) Humanity’s past conforms to reason. Everything in it has a definite reason, and together there reasons constitute a coherent and exhaustive system.
But future history is just as rational. It will carry reason into effect, and this time in a second scene: in the sense not only of the fact itself but of the value attached to it. Future history will be what it ought to be. It will witness the birth of a rational society which will embody aspirations of humanity, where mankind will finally be human – that is its existence will coincide with its essence and its effective will realise its concept.
Finally, history is rational in a third sense: that of the link between the past and the future, of facts which will necessarily become values, of this set of blind quasi-natural laws which blindly generate the least blind situation of all: that of liberated humanity. The reason immanent in all things will produce a society miraculously in keeping with our own reason.
We can see, in all this, that Hegelianism is not really transcended. All that is real, and all that will be real, is and will be rational. That Hegel stops this reality and this rationality at the point in time when his own philosophy appears on the scene, while Marx prolongs them indefinitely what we say. It reinforces it. The empire of reason, which, in Hegel’s case, embraced (by a necessary speculative postulate) all that is already given, now extends to encompass all that can ever be given in history. The fact that what can be said now concerning the future becomes increasingly value the further one moves from the present is due to contingent limitations to our knowledge – and even more to the fact that today’s tasks are on today’s agenda and that they do not include ‘providing recipes for the socialist cookshops of the future’. But this future is already fixed in its principles: it will be liberty, just as the present is – and the past was – necessity.
There is therefore a ‘Cunning of Reason’, as old Hegel used to say. There is a Reason at work in history which ensures that past history is comprehensible, that future history is desirable, and that the apparently blind necessity of facts is secretly arranged in such a way as to give birth to what is good.
Just stating this idea is enough to shed light on the extraordinary number of problems which it masks. We can only deal with some of them, and briefly.
To claim that past history is comprehensible, as does the marxist conception of history, is to say that there exist in history a casual determinism without ‘important’ exceptions. (2) It is also to claim that this determinism carries – at one remove, so to speak – meanings linked together in totalities which are themselves barers of meaning. Neither of these ideas can be accepted without discussion.
We certainly cannot think of history without reference to the category causality. Contrary to what the idealist philosophers said, history is the area par excellence where causality makes sense to us: for it assumes there, at the very outset, the form of motivation. We can therefore understand the ‘casual’ concatenation in it, something we can never do in the case of natural phenomena. An electric current makes the bulb grow. The law of gravity causes the moon to be in such and such a place in the sky at such and such time. There are, and for us will always remain, external connexions: necessary, predictable, but incomprehensible. But if A treats on B’s toes, B swears at him, and A responds with blows, we understand the necessity of the links even if we consider them contingent. (We can reproach the participants for having less themselves be carried away when they should have controlled themselves – while we know all the time, from our own experience, that at certain moments one cannot stop oneself from being carried away.) More generally, we constantly think and act out our lives (and envisage that of others) in terms of causality – whether it be in terms of motivation or of the choice of the indispensable technical means; whether it be that the conditions of its achievement or whether it be that there are inevitable, even in unwanted, effects from one’s actions.
The casual exists in social and historical life because there is ‘a subjective rationality’: the deployment of Carthaginian troops at Cannes (and their victory) flows from a rational plan devised by Hannibal. The casual also exists because there is an ‘objective rationality’, because natural casual relations and purely logical necessities are constantly present in historical conditions, steel production and coal extraction stand in a constant and quantifiable relationship to one another (more generally, in a functional relationship). And there is also a ‘raw causality’ which we can perceive without being able to reduce it to subjective or objective rational relationships. There are established correlations of which we do not know the foundations, regularities of behaviour, individual or social, which remain just facts.
The existence of these casual relations of various kinds allows us – beyond a simple understanding of the behaviour of individuals and of its regularity – to gather these behaviour patterns together into ‘laws’ and to give to these laws an abstract expression, from which the ‘real’ content of the behaviour of living individuals has been eliminated. These laws can then provide a basis for satisfactory predictions (verifiable to a given degree of probability). For example, there is in the economic functioning of capitalism an extraordinary number of observable and measurable regularities. As a first approximation we may call them ‘laws’. They ensure that in many of its aspects this functioning seems both explainable and comprehensible and that it is, up to a point, predictable. Even beyond the economy, there are a number of partial ‘objective dynamics’. We find it impossible, however, to integrate these into a total determinism of the system, and that for reasons quite different from those that express the crisis of determinism in modern physics. It is not that determinism collapses or becomes problematic at the limits of the system, or that cracks develop in the latter. The opposite is rather the case: it is as if some aspects, some areas only of society where governed by determinism, while themselves bathed in a mass of non-determinist relations.
It is important to understand what this impossibility is due to. The partial dynamics which we establish are of course incomplete. They constantly refer to each other. Any modification of one modifies all the others. But if this gives rise to immense problems in practice it creates no difficulties of principle. In the physical world too relations are only valid ‘all other things being equal’.
The impossibility we are discussing does not stem from the complexity of the social material, it arises from its very nature. It seems from the fact that the social (or the historical) contain the non-causal as an essential ingredient.
This non causal appears at two levels. The first, which is the least important to us here, is that of deviations between the real behaviour of individuals and their ‘typical’ behaviour. This introduces an unpredictable element. But it would not, as much, prevent the problems from being tackled in a determinist way, at least at an aggregate level. If these deviations are systematic they can themselves be subjected to causal investigation. If they are random, they can be treated statistically. The unpredictability of the movement of individual molecules has not prevented the kinetic theory of gases from being one of the most rigorous branches of physics. It is in fact this very individual unpredictableness which generates the extraordinary power to theory.
But non-causal also appears at another level, and it is this one which is important. It appears not simply as unpredictable behaviour but as creative behaviour, the creative behaviours of individuals, groups, classes, whole societies. It asserts itself not as a simple deviation from the prevailing type but as the position of new behaviour patterns, as theinstitution of new social rules, as the invention of new object or forms – in short, as an emergence or creation which cannot be deduced from what was there before, as a conclusion which exceeds the premisses or as a positing of new premisses. It has already been noted that living being go beyond the realm of simple mechanism because they are capable of giving new answers in new situation. But the historical being exceeds the merely biological (or living) being because he can give new responses to the same situations, or create new situations.
The chain of meanings and the “cunning of reason”

Beyond the problem of determinism in history lies the problem of ‘historical’ significations. In the first instance history appears as the scene of conscious actions of conscious being. But this obviousness collapses as soon as we examine it more closely. We then find, with Engels, that ‘history is the realm of conscious intentions and unwanted ends’. The real results of historical action are prectically never those which their performers had intended. That isn’t, perhaps, so hard to understand. What creates a central problem is that these results, which no one had wanted as such, present themselves as ‘coherent’ in a certain way. They posses a ‘signification’ and seem to obey a logic which is neither a ‘subjective’ logic (carried by consciousness, or posited by someone), nor an ‘objective’ logic, like the one we believe we detect in nature. We shall call it an historical logic.
Hundreds of bourgeois, visited or not by the spirit of Calvin, or stuck by notions of this-wordly asceticism, begin to accumulate. Thousands of ruined craftsmen and starving peasants find themselves available to enter the factories. Someone invents a steam engine, someone else a new weaving loom. Philosophers are physicists seek to conceptualise the universe as a gigantic machine and to discover its laws. Kings continue to impose their authority on – and simultaneously to emasculate – the nobility. They create national institutions. Each of the individuals and groups in question pursues his own ends. No one aims at the social totality as such.
The result however is of a quite different order: it is capitalism. It is quiet immaterial in this context, that the result might have been totally determined by the causes and conditions, taken as a whole. Let us admit for the sake of argument, that one can show for each of these facts (up to and including the colour of Colbert’s breeches) all the multi-dimensional causal connexions linking them to one another, and linking all of them to the ‘initial conditions of the system’. What is important here is that their outcome has a coherence which no person or thing wanted or could guarantee to start with – or subsequently. The result has a signification (or another appears to embody a virtually inexhaustible system of significations), so that there is well and truly a sort of historical entity that is the capitalist system.
This signification appears in many ways. Through all the causal connexions and beyond them it confers a sort of unity upon the features of capitalist society and enables us to recognise immediately, in a particular phenomenon, a phenomenon of this culture. It allows us immediately to classify as belonging to this period objects, books, instruments, phrases of which we might know nothing else, and to exclude from this culture, just as immediately, a host of other objects. It appears as the simultaneous existence of an infinite set of possibilities, and of an infinite set of impossibilities given, so to speak, from the outset. It appears moreover in the fact that all which happens within might call the ‘spirit of the system’, but contributes to reinforce it (even when it opposes the system and seeks – at the limit – to overthrow it as a real order).
Everything happens as if this overall signification of the system was given, in some way, in advance, as if it ‘predetermined’ and over-determined the causal sequences and links, subjecting them to itself, compelling them to produce results compatible with an ‘intention’ which, of course, is no more than a metaphorical expression, given that it is no one’s intention. Marx says somewhere that ‘if there was no element of chance, history could be magic’ – a profoundly true phrase. But the astonishing thing is that chance itself, in history, takes on most of the time the form of meaningful chance, of ‘objective’ chance. The ‘by chance, no doubt’ of popular irony captures it very well. What is it that gives to the innumerable gestures, actions, thoughts, individual and collective behaviour patterns which make up a society this overall unity of a particular world, where a certain order (an order of meaning, not necessarily an order of causes and effects) can always be found woven into the texture of chaos? What gives great historical events that appearance, which is more than appearance, of an admirable thought out directed tragedy? At times it seems as if the obvious errors of the actors could not in any way stop the result being achieved; as if the ‘internal logic’ of the sired moment, the ‘stops’ and the ‘goes’, all the corrections and all the ;special effects’ necessary for the process to proceed to its conclusion. And at other times the actor, till now infallible, makes the one and only mistake in his life, in its turn indispensable to produce the ‘aimed at’ result.
This signification, already other than that actually lived through the particular acts of given individuals, poses, as such, an altogether inexhaustible problem. For the significant cannot be reduced to the causal. The significant builds up an order of concatenations which are separate from and yet inextricably woven into concatenations of causality. (…)
1) Well and truly false, and not ‘an approximation improved by subsequent theories’. The idea of ‘successive approximations’, of an addictive accumulation of scientific truths, is meaningless 19th century Progressivism which still largely dominates the thinking of scientists.
2) Determinism only has meaning as total determinism: even the tone of the voice of a fascist demagogue or of a working class orator should flow from the laws of the system. To the extend that this is impossible, determinism takes refuge behind distinctions between what is ‘important’ and what is ‘secondary’. We are told that Clemenceau added a certain personal style to the policies of French Imperialism, but that style or no style, there policies would in any case have been ‘the same’ in their important aspects, in their essence. Reality is thus divided into a principal layer, where ‘essential’ things happen (and where causal connections can and must be established around the event considered) and a secondary layer (where such connections either don’t exist or don’t matter). Determinism can thus only fulfil itself by again dividing the world. It is only at the level of ideas that it aims at ‘one world’ – when applied, it is compelled to postulate a ‘non-determined’ part of reality.
the second part (link)
the third part (link)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

There is no Authority but Yourself: Reclaiming Krishnamurti for Anarchy

“All authority of any kind, especially in the field of thought and understanding, is the most destructive, evil thing. Leaders destroy the followers and followers destroy the leaders. You have to be your own teacher and your own disciple. You have to question everything that man has accepted as valuable, as necessary.” — J. Krishnamurti, Freedom from the Known

“Having realized that we can depend on no outside authority in bringing about a total revolution within the structure of our own psyche, there is the immensely greater difficulty of rejecting our own inward authority, the authority of our own particular little experiences and accumulated opinions, knowledge, ideas and ideals. You had an experience yesterday which taught you something and what it taught you becomes a new authority — and that authority of yesterday is as destructive as the authority of a thousand years. To understand ourselves needs no authority either of yesterday or of a thousand years because we are living things, always moving, flowing, never resting. When we look at ourselves with the dead authority of yesterday we will fail to understand the living movement and the beauty and quality of that movement.
“To be free of all authority, of your own and that of another, is to die to everything of yesterday, so that your mind is always fresh, always young, innocent, full of vigor and passion. It is only in that state that one learns and observes. And for this a great deal of awareness is required, actual awareness of what is going on inside yourself, without correcting it or telling it what it should or should not be, because the moment you correct it you have established another authority, a censor.” — J. Krishnamurti, Freedom from the Known

When I was asked to contribute an article to this special “spirituality” issue of Green Anarchy, I found myself at a rare, uncharacteristic loss for words. Sure, I could regurgitate all the obvious critiques of monotheism, polytheism and religion in general, but it's unlikely that I'd be introducing any new concepts to this rather boring and tedious discourse (Does any anarchist really need to be convinced that authoritarianism lies at the root of all religious paradigms?). I also (briefly) considered scrutinizing the reactionary, uncritical embracing of Neo-paganism and Eastern cosmological designs (what I call the “substitution faiths”) by so many self-professed anarchists, but again, I wasn't able to muster up any sincere enthusiasm for such a dull, fruitless undertaking (After all, the elevation of mythological forms and structures to the level of eternal verities is appealing only to those who fear the swirling, magnificent mystery of chaos and seek to impose an illusory “order” on it; those who are afflicted with a pathological need for a “belief system” to quell their own nagging insecurities).

It was tempting as well to assail the metaphysics of the Left (dialectical materialism, reason, logic, science, progress), but the pastime of “left-bashing” is starting to become a little redundant in the pages of GA and I'm loathe to give this terminally-ill worldview any more importance than it merits. The blunt truth is that I find nearly all communication about “spirituality” to be farcical, supernatural rubbish, not to mention highly pretentious; theology is about as useful to me as a book of soggy matches, and morality nothing more than a covenant to stay deaf, dumb and paralyzed — a social prohibition on instinctual expressions and a voluntary acceptance of mutilated freedom. I similarly deplore all notions of humyn “saintliness” and “perfection” (political, ethical or otherwise), and the cloistering of intelligence within transcendental castles (or monasteries) of sand.

Yet, against this background of irreverent disdain for all unearthly creeds and ethereal conjecture, I've occasionally encountered “spiritual” writings that have inspired me in my own quest for personal liberation. For instance, the Taoist reflections of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu (which at times seem to be taking into account domestication and the civilizing process itself), or some of the more “primitive” (pre-religious) versions of Zen (which include refreshing elements of foolishness, buffoonery and absurdist qualities in their speculations on consciousness). There are also certain Western intellectual heretics — like William Blake, Percy Shelley, the French amoralist Jean Genet, and the profoundly underrated Dadaist philosopher, Tristan Tzara — who have “spiritually” enriched my existence through their radically subjective takes on liberty and autonomy.

But in my (sometimes) humble opinion, the “spiritual” thinker who has the most relevance to anarchist theory (by virtue of the fact that he was an anarchist!) is J. Krishnamurti, an iconoclastic “anti-guru” from India who devoted his life to burying the putrid corpse of religion, superstitious spiritualism, and every other mystification that impairs the experience of being alive.

A Disturber Of The Peace

“War is the spectacular and bloody projection of our everyday living. We precipitate war out of our daily lives; and without a transformation in ourselves, there are bound to be national and racial antagonisms, the childish quarreling over ideologies, the multiplication of soldiers, the saluting of flags, and all the many brutalities that go to create organized murder. Education throughout the world has failed, it has produced mounting destruction and misery. Governments are training the young to be the efficient soldiers and technicians they need; regimentation and prejudice are being cultivated and enforced. Taking these facts into consideration, we have to inquire into the meaning of existence and the significance and purpose of our lives. We have to discover the beneficent ways of creating a new environment; for environment can make the child a brute, an unfeeling specialist, or help him to become a sensitive, intelligent human being. We have to create a world of no government which is radically different, which is not based on nationalism, on ideologies, on force.” — J. Krishnamurti

Jiddu (“J.”) Krishnamurti (1895-1986) was a unique figure in twentieth century philosophical thought. He belonged to no religion, sect, or country, nor did he subscribe to any school of political or ideological thought. Instead, he stated that these are the very factors that divide us from one another and bring about personal and social conflict, ubiquitous feelings of disconnection and ultimately, the ghastly ordeal of war. The century in which Krishnamurti lived saw two world wars, continuous political, ethnic and religious violence, mass murder on an unparalleled scale, the physical annihilation of the biosphere and the development and proliferation of genocidal regimes throughout the world. In virtually every public talk he gave, Krishnamurti addressed this global crisis, calling on his listeners to give serious attention to the psychological structures that breed violence, conformity, obedience, exploitation, stupidity, slavish tendencies, and wretchedness in their lives.

Unlike most anarchists who probe these desperate circumstances from entirely economistic or materialist standpoints, Krishnamurti considered our planetary predicament to be commensurate with a more grievous and buried (as in “un-discussed”) crisis of consciousness. From his perspective, the settlement of this quandary relied on a pitiless inspection of our internal environment; in other words, searching out, locating and overthrowing the symbolic shackles, the blighted “moral frameworks”, and the ideological strongholds that fester beneath the outer world of appearances; the conceptual and ideational enslavers of perception that have brought about a generalized poisoning of consciousness, one that lies at the root of the despotic society we inhabit.

Krishnamurti was not interested in providing his “audience” with more ritualized, schematic and occultist systems around which to base their lives. He left behind no “sacred” books or dogmatic tenets, no ceremonial formalities or “special prayers” for those who sought to turn him into their “saviour”. On the contrary, Krishnamurti resolutely denied the validity of all doctrinal authority and “spiritual” conventionalism and was unwavering in his conviction that all conditioned belief systems and ideologies inevitably result in a world of dimmed, compressed consciousness — a deformed perception full of restrictions, of walls blocking the way to freedom. And always, his central preoccupation remained authority and the ossification of consciousness that results from our acceptance of it.

Krishnamurti never spoke in abstractions and offered no consoling fundamental principle of “transcendence” for those sick at heart with the misery and hardships of this world; more accurately, he insisted that the “answer” to humyn suffering (war, alienation, political oppression, the myriad varieties of poverty) was not to be found in some fantastical hereafter, but in the here and now. These aren't problems for spiritual “specialists” or externalized superhuman “deities” to solve, but rather, an accumulated heritage of cultural ignorance and conformity that necessitates the active willingness of all who truly desire freedom to keep their eyes and minds open in the midst of all the tyranny, carnage and heartlessness around them; to engage in an unflinchingly honest examination of all the conventional answers, all the conventional routines, and all the conventional games our degraded, socialized minds reenact daily, as if on auto-pilot.

Igniting the Flame of Awareness

“To revolt within society in order to make it a little better, to bring about certain reforms, is like the revolt of prisoners to improve their life within the prison walls; and such revolt is no revolt at all, it is just mutiny. Do you see the difference? Revolt within society is like the mutiny of prisoners who want better food, better treatment within the prison; but revolt born of understanding is an individual breaking away from society, and that is creative revolution.
“Now, if you as an individual break away from society, is that action motivated by ambition? If it is, then you have not broken away at all, you are still within the prison, because the very basis of society is ambition, acquisitiveness, greed. But if you understand all that and bring about a revolution in your own heart and mind, then you are no longer ambitious, you are no longer motivated by envy, greed, acquisitiveness, and therefore you will be entirely outside of a society which is based on those things. Then you are a creative individual and in your action there will be the seed of a different culture.
“So there is a vast difference between the action of creative revolution, and the action of revolt or mutiny within society. As long as you are concerned with mere reform, with decorating the bars and walls of the prison, you are not creative. Reformation always needs further reform, it only brings more misery, more destruction. Whereas, the mind that understands this whole structure of acquisitiveness, of greed, of ambition and breaks away from it — such a mind is in constant revolution.” — Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

Krishnamurti recognized that the age we live in is one of mass murder, of brute thinking, of thought control, of blind, stupid concentration on trivial externals. Therefore, absolute internal honesty was — in his opinion — the first requirement for extricating ourselves from all the mental artificialities, deluding mirages and labyrinthine mazes of our conditioned belief systems, with the object of obliterating all remnants of psychological subordination from our consciousness. Within Krishnamurti's thought, solitude maintains a substantial function as a methodological tool.

Time and again, Krishnamurti points to solitude as a methodology for dispelling the arbitrariness of culture and authority, an indispensible instrument for amplifying the mindfulness and sensitivity that is a prerequisite to “knowledge of self”. Krishnamurti emphasized not only the path of solitude as fundamental to “enlightenment” — or self-realization — but also the requisiteness of experience, rather than ritual or doctrine external to oneself. How much solitude? How much self inquiry and reflection? That is exactly for the individual to discover, not awaiting any “authority” to sanction it or persuade the individual to pursue it.

For the total development of the humyn being, solitude — and the push for clarity it compliments — becomes a categorical necessity for the individual seeking to discern how fettered their minds are to regulated, conditioned thoughts. Krisnamurti conceived of solitude as a separation from the social contrivances and accretions of the oppressive culture around us, and as the only reliable means of emancipating ourselves from all the psychological encumbrances of our conditioning. If we can rid ourselves of all that is merely dependent on culture, says Krishnamurti, we can unfold as individuals — alone, yes, but also free.

No Defences and No Masks

“We do not want to be disturbed, we want our thoughts to run in easy grooves. We set up habits of easy thought, easy existence, have a comfortable job and there stagnate. For most of us, that is peace — having a clear sky. But in this clarity there are a great many things going on, a great disturbance in the atmosphere, which we do not see. What we see is very superficial, is just on the surface. The kind of tranquility we want, is a superficial calm, an easy existence. But peace is not so easy to come by. We can only understand peace when we understand the great disturbance, the discontent in which each one of us is caught, when the mind is free from easy thought, easy grooves of pattern, of action, when we are really disturbed — which we all avoid. Most of us do not want to be disturbed. But life does not leave you. Life is very disturbed, life being the poor people, the rich people, the camel that suffers with so much weight on its back, the politician, the revolution, the war, the quarrels, the bitterness, the unhappiness, the joy and the dark shadows of life. We carry on; and the beauty of life passes by.” — J. Krishnamurti

Krishnamurti's critique of authority as a hindrance to free inquiry is well-known. His critique of the flight from disturbance as another major hindrance to free inquiry, is considerably more subtle and probably less widely recognized. In Krishnamurti's view, all walls, even “soft walls”, hinder free inquiry and every individual must ultimately choose between comfort and awareness, or as he sometimes put it, one must choose between security and truth.

In his writings and public talks, he consistently sounded a steadfast warning to beware of those who offer comfort — “a snare in which you are caught like a fish in a net”. This is one of many vivid metaphors he used to convey the urgency of facing reality in a more robust and vigorous frame of mind, in order to cast off the strangling snares of religion, nationalism and all other forms of ideological escapism. From early in his life to his final days, he counseled against putting up “Please Do Not Disturb” signs when the house we live in is burning. Krishnamurti saw in the crisis of our times an unprecedented opportunity for a revolution of the individual, a revolution of the mind, where the myth of external authority would be renounced conclusively and the “spiritual”/material deadlock of our troubled culture would be untangled.

Out In the Dark, There is Only You...

“War is intellectually justified as a means of bringing peace; when the intellect has the upper hand in human life, it brings about an unprecedented crisis. There are other causes also which indicate an unprecedented crisis. One of them is the extraordinary importance man is giving to sensate values, to property, to name, to caste and country, to the particular label you wear. Things made by the hand or by the mind have become so important that we are killing, destroying, butchering, liquidating each other because of them. We are nearing the edge of a precipice; every action is leading us there, every political, every economic action is bringing us inevitably to the precipice, dragging us into this chaotic, confusing abyss. Therefore the crisis is unprecedented and it demands unprecedented action. To leave, to step out of that crisis, needs a timeless action, an action which is not based on an idea, on a system, because any action which is based on a system, on an idea, will inevitably lead to frustration. Such action merely brings us back to the abyss by a different route. As the crisis is unprecedented there must also be unprecedented action, which means that the regeneration of the individual must be instantaneous, not a process of time. It must take place now, not tomorrow; for tomorrow is a process of disintegration.
“If I think of transforming myself tomorrow I invite confusion, I am still within the field of destruction. Is it possible to change now? Is it possible completely to transform oneself in the immediate, in the now? I say it is. The point is that as the crisis is of an exceptional character to meet it there must be revolution in thinking; and this revolution cannot take place through another, through any book, through any organization. It must come through us, through each one of us. Only then can we create a new society, a new structure away from this horror, away from these extraordinarily destructive forces that are being accumulated, piled up; and that transformation comes into being only when you as an individual begin to be aware of yourself in every thought, action and feeling.” — J. Krishnamurti

It should be self-evident that this exceedingly individualistic approach to cultural deprogramming — with its rejection of formalized traditions, “secure” structures, and the extreme authoritarianism of the guru/ disciple relationship — is not for the servile, weak-minded, or dependency oriented. If “spirituality” (to use a very loaded term) is to be equated with self-awareness, then it's a pursuit that's going to involve acknowledging some very hard truths about what's really going on in our mangled, repressed psyches. It's going to entail a confrontation with all the psychological buffers and insulations we erect to prevent such a frightening procedure of self-inquiry from occurring — the sophisticated mechanisms with which we deflect exploration of our inner lives. It's an incredibly arduous, difficult task — as socialized animals saddled with centuries of authoritarian conditioning — to unmask our ingrained predilections towards submission and critically enter into conflict with the powerful patterns of self-mistrust that have become part of our psychic structures.

But anyone who desires self-rule will pragmatically benefit from initiating such a thorough deconstruction of their socially implanted mentalities, keeping in mind that any thrust towards “self-awareness” has no finality; there is no static state of “enlightenment” for any of us to aspire to. Instead, self-awareness is a living, fluid experience that is ongoing and that can never be tied to verbal representations, visual signifiers or any other type of reification. It's an adventure that is wholly unique to every individual, and for which there is no map or external guide; it's the internal aspect of our revolution against authority, the dislodging of all the comfortable lies and hypocrisies that smother our intrinsic, creative vitality and make us so susceptible to authoritarian manipulation.

In fact, if “spirituality” is synonymous with self-awareness, then those that don't seek it are all mad as hatters. That is to say, they are all robots, and sleepwalkers; detatched, as it were, from the workings of their own minds and slaves to all the mental acrobatics of personal dishonesty; for without a willful effort to apprehend ourselves, we stay unreflective self-deceivers and livers in a collective fantasy-land of endless social torments, inward stupefaction and standardized behaviour...

When Our Minds and Hearts are Burning: Some Concluding Quotes From Krishnamurti

“The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth. I am not concerned whether you pay attention to what I say or not. I want to do a certain thing in the world and I am going to do it with unwavering concentration. I am concerning myself with only one essential thing: to help set man free. I desire to free him from all cages, from all fears, and not to found religions, new sects, nor to establish new theories and new philosophies. If an organization be created for this purpose, it becomes a crutch, a weakness, a bondage, and must cripple the individual, and prevent him from growing, from establishing his uniqueness, which lies in the discovery for himself of that absolute, unconditioned Truth.” — J. Krishnamurti
“Unfortunately, education at present is aimed at making you conform, fit into and adjust yourself to this acquisitive society. That is all your parents, your teachers and your books are concerned with. As long as you conform, as long as you are ambitious, acquisitive, corrupting and destroying others in the pursuit of position and power, you are considered a respectable citizen. You are educated to fit into society; but that is not education, it is merely a process which conditions you to conform to a pattern. The real function of education is not to turn you out to be a clerk, or a judge, or a prime minister, but to help you understand the whole structure of this rotten society and allow you to grow in freedom, so that you will break away and create a different society, a new world. There must be those who are in revolt, not partially but totally in revolt against the old, for it is only such people who can create a new world — a world not based on acquisitiveness, on power and prestige. — J. Krishnamurti, Think On These Things
From One Cage to Another
“I know many who daily practice certain ideals, but they become only more and more withered in their understanding. They have merely transferred themselves from one cage to another. If you do not seek comfort, if you continually question — and you can question only when you are in revolt — then you establish freedom from all teachers and all religions; then you are supremely human, belonging neither to a party nor to a religion nor to a cage.
Crisis Ignites the Flame
“As long as your mind is carefully, surreptitiously avoiding conflict, as long as it is searching for comfort through escape, no one can help you to complete action, no one can push you into a crisis that will resolve your conflict. When you once realize this — not see it merely intellectually, but also feel the truth of it — then your conflict will create the flame which will consume it.
Throw Away Your Crutches
“Friends, why don't you worship a cloud? Why don't you pray to the man who is labouring in the fields, or take delight in shadows cast on tranquil waters? While you are worshipping in an enclosed shrine, Life dances in the street and escapes you. If you do not test your strength by throwing away your crutches, how can you know your integrity, your vitality? I have done all these things and so I know that ... these things are shadows. If you are burning for Truth you must come out of your shadows ... and enjoy that which creates all things.
Stand Alone
“If you deny every form of clinging to something that will give you comfort, not knowing where it is going to lead you in that state of uncertainty, in that state of danger, that is denial. In this search for contentment, comfort, your thoughts and feelings become shallow, barren, trivial, and life becomes an empty shell. The human mind is lethargic; it has been so dulled by authority, so shaped, controlled, conditioned, that it cannot stand by itself. But to stand by oneself is the only way to understand truth. Are you really, fundamentally interested in understanding truth? No, most of you are not. You are only interested in supporting the system that you now hold, in finding substitutes, in seeking comfort and security; and in that search you are exploiting others and being exploited yourselves. In that there is no happiness, no richness, no fullness. Be Disturbed for The Rest of Your Life.”
“Why do you want to read other's books when there is the book of yourself?” — J. Krishnamurti

Notes: from Green Anarchy #20 Summer 2005
Source: Retrieved on November 27, 2009 from

for a complete biography of Jiddu Krishnamurti: