Posts Tagged ‘George Orwell’


(For the last couple of months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. We’re just starting to run blasts from the past from 2014 — this is the first — and will be posting them for the next few months; we’ll intersperse them with new material.)

Anarchism: What It Is and What It Isn’t

Anarchist Cookbook front cover(from the new [2015] Anarchist Cookbook, by Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe, Introduction by Chris Hedges)

by Chaz Bufe

There are many popular misconceptions about anarchism, and because of them a great many people dismiss anarchists and anarchism out of hand.

Misconceptions abound in the mass media, where the term “anarchy” is commonly used as a synonym for “chaos,” and where terrorists, no matter what their political beliefs or affiliations, are often referred to as “anarchists.” As well, when anarchism is mentioned, it’s invariably presented as merely a particularly mindless form of youthful rebellion. These misconceptions are, of course, also widespread in the general public, which by and large allows the mass media to do what passes for its thinking.

Worse, some who call themselves “anarchists” don’t even know the meaning of the term. These people fall, in general, into two classes. The first, as the great Italian anarchist Luigi Fabbri pointed out nearly a century ago in Influencias burguesas sobre el anarquismo, consists of those who are attracted to the lies in the mass media. By and large, these people are simply looking for a glamorous label for selfish, antisocial behavior. The good news is that most of them eventually mature and abandon what they consider “anarchism.” The bad news is that while they’re around they tend to give anarchism a very bad name. As Fabbri put it:

[These are] persons who are not repelled by the absurd, but who, on the contrary, engage in it. They are attracted to projects and ideas precisely because they are absurd; and so anarchism comes to be known precisely for the illogical character and ridiculousness which ignorance and bourgeois calumny have attributed to anarchist doctrines.1

The second class consists of those who equate anarchism with some pet ideology having essentially nothing to do with anarchism. In modern times, the most prominent of these mislabeled beliefs have been primitivism and amoral egoism. Again, the identification of such beliefs with anarchism tends to give anarchism a bad name, because of, on the one hand, the absurdity of primitivism and, on the other, the obvious antisocial nature of amoral egotism. To put this another way, the identification of anarchism with chaos, mindless rebellion, absurdities (such as primitivism), and antisocial attitudes and behaviors (such as amoral egoism) has three primary undesirable effects: 1) it allows people to easily dismiss anarchism and anarchists; 2) it makes it much more difficult to explain anarchism to them, because they already think that they know what it is and have rejected it; and 3) it attracts a fair number of what Fabbri calls “empty headed and frivolous types,” and occasionally outright sociopaths, whose words and actions tend to further discredit anarchism.

So, if we’re ever to get anywhere, we need to make plain what anarchism is and what it isn’t. First, let’s deal with the misconceptions.

What Anarchism Isn’t

Anarchism is not terrorism. An overwhelming majority of anarchists have always rejected terrorism, because they’ve been intelligent enough to realize that means determine ends, that terrorism is inherently vanguardist, and that even when “successful” it almost always leads to bad results. The anonymous authors of You Can’t Blow Up a Social Relationship: The Anarchist Case Against Terrorism put it like this:

You can’t blow up a social relationship. The total collapse of this society would provide no guarantee about what replaced it. Unless a majority of people had the ideas and organization sufficient for the creation of an alternative society, we would see the old world reassert itself because it is what people would be used to, what they believed in, what existed unchallenged in their own personalities.

Proponents of terrorism and guerrillaism are to be opposed because their actions are vanguardist and authoritarian, because their ideas, to the extent that they are substantial, are wrong or unrelated to the results of their actions (especially when they call themselves libertarians or anarchists), because their killing cannot be justified, and finally because their actions produce either repression with nothing in return, or an authoritarian regime.2

Decades of government and corporate slander cannot alter this reality: the overwhelming majority of anarchists reject terrorism for both practical and ethical reasons. In the late 1990s, Time magazine called Ted Kaczynski “the king of the anarchists”; but that doesn’t make it so. Time‘s words are just another typical, perhaps deliberately dishonest, attempt to tar all anarchists with the terrorist brush.

This is not to say that armed resistance is never appropriate. Clearly there are situations in which one has little choice, as when facing a dictatorship that suppresses civil liberties and prevents one from acting openly, which has happened repeatedly in many countries. Even then, armed resistance should be undertaken reluctantly and as a last resort, because violence is inherently undesirable due to the suffering it causes; because it provides repressive regimes excuses for further repression; because it provides them with the opportunity to commit atrocities against civilians and to blame those atrocities on their “terrorist” opponents; and because, as history has shown, the chances of success are very low.

Even though armed resistance may sometimes be called for in repressive situations, it’s a far different matter to succumb to the romance of the gun and to engage in urban guerrilla warfare in relatively open societies in which civil liberties are largely intact and in which one does not have mass popular support at the start of one’s violent campaign. Violence in such situations does little but drive the public into the “protective” arms of the government; narrow political dialogue (tending to polarize the populace into pro- and anti-guerrilla factions); turn politics into a spectator sport for the vast majority of people3; provide the government with the excuse to suppress civil liberties; and induce the onset of repressive regimes “better” able to handle the “terrorist” problem than their more tolerant predecessors. It’s also worth mentioning that the chances of success of such violent, vanguardist campaigns are microscopic. They are simply arrogant, ill-thought-out roads to disaster.4

Anarchism is not primitivism. In recent decades, groups of quasi-religious mystics have begun equating the primitivism they advocate (rejection of science, rationality, and technology—often lumped together under the blanket term, “technology”) with anarchism.5 In reality, the two have nothing to do with each other, as we’ll see when we consider what anarchism actually is—a set of philosophical/ethical precepts and organizational principles designed to maximize human freedom. For now, suffice it to say that the elimination of technology advocated by primitivist groups would inevitably entail the deaths of literally billions of human beings in a world utterly dependent upon interlocking technologies for everything from food production/delivery to communications to medical treatment. This fervently desired outcome, the elimination of technology, could only come about through means which are the absolute antithesis of anarchism: the use of coercion and violence on a mass scale, as it’s inconceivable that a majority of human beings would voluntarily give up such things as running water, sewer systems, modern medicine, electric lights, and warm houses in the winter.6

Anarchism is not chaos; Anarchism is not rejection of organization. This is another popular misconception, repeated ad nauseam by the mass media and by anarchism’s political foes. Even a brief look at the works of anarchism’s leading theoreticians and writers confirms that this belief is in error. Over and over in the writings of Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Rocker, Ward, Bookchin, et al., one finds not a rejection of organization, but rather a preoccupation with it—a preoccupation with how society should be organized in accord with the anarchist principles of individual freedom and social justice. For a century and a half now, anarchists have been arguing that coercive, hierarchical organization (as embodied in government and corporations) is not equivalent to organization per se (which they regard as necessary), and that coercive organization should be replaced by decentralized, nonhierarchical organization based on voluntary cooperation and mutual aid. This is hardly a rejection of organization.

Anarchism is not amoral egoism. As does any avant garde social movement, anarchism attracts more than its share of flakes, parasites, and outright sociopaths, persons simply looking for a glamorous label to cover their often-pathological selfishness, their disregard for the rights and dignity of others, and their pathetic desire to be the center of attention. These individuals tend to give anarchism a bad name, because even though they have very little in common with actual anarchists—that is, persons concerned with ethical behavior, social justice, and the rights of both themselves and others—they’re often quite exhibitionistic, and their disreputable actions sometimes come into the public eye. To make matters worse, these exhibitionists sometimes publish their self-glorifying views and deliberately misidentify those views as “anarchist.” To cite an example, the publisher of a pretentiously (sub)titled American “anarchist” journal recently published a book by a fellow egoist consisting primarily of ad hominem attacks on actual anarchists, knowing full well that the “anarchist” author of the book is a notorious police narcotics informant who has on a number of occasions ratted out those he’s had disputes with to government agencies. This police informer’s actions—which, revealingly, he’s attempted to hide—are completely in line with his ideology of amoral egoism (“post-left anarchism”), but they have nothing to do with actual anarchism. Such amoral egoists may (mis)use the label, but they’re no more anarchists than the now-defunct German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was democratic or a republic.

The full absurdity of identifying amoral egoism—essentially “I’ll do what I damn well please and fuck everybody else”—with anarchism will become apparent in short order when we’ll consider what anarchism actually is.

Anarchism is not “Libertarianism.” Until relatively recently, the very useful term “libertarian” was used worldwide as a synonym for “anarchist.” Indeed, it was used exclusively in this sense until the 1970s when, in the United States, it was appropriated by the grossly misnamed Libertarian Party.

This party has almost nothing to do with anarchist concepts of liberty, especially the concepts of equal freedom and positive freedom—that is, access to the resources necessary to the freedom to act. (Equal freedom and positive freedom are discussed in the following section of this essay.) Instead, this “Libertarian” party concerns itself exclusively with the negative freedoms, pretending that liberty exists only in the negative sense, while it simultaneously revels in the denial of equal positive freedom to the vast majority of the world’s people.

These “Libertarians” not only glorify capitalism, the mechanism that denies both equal freedom and positive freedom to the vast majority, but they also wish to retain the coercive apparatus of the state while eliminating its social welfare functions—hence widening the rift between rich and poor, and increasing the freedom of the rich by diminishing that of the poor (while keeping the boot of the state firmly on their necks). Thus, in the United States, the once exceedingly useful term “libertarian” has been hijacked by egotists who are in fact enemies of liberty in the full sense of the word, and who have very little in common with anarchists.

This is what anarchism isn’t.

What Anarchism Is

In its narrowest sense, anarchism is simply the rejection of the state, the rejection of coercive government. Under this extremely narrow definition, even such apparent absurdities as “anarcho-capitalism” and religious anarchism are possible.7

But most anarchists use the term “anarchism” in a much broader sense, defining it as the rejection of coercion and domination in all forms. So, most anarchists reject not only coercive government, but also religion and capitalism, which they see as other forms of the twin evils, domination and coercion. They reject religion because they see it as the ultimate form of domination, in which a supposedly all-powerful god hands down “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” to its “flock.” They likewise reject capitalism because it’s designed to produce rich and poor and because it’s designed to produce a system of domination in which some give orders and others have little choice but to take them. For similar reasons, on a personal level almost all anarchists reject sexism, racism, and homophobia—all of which produce artificial inequality, and thus domination.

To put this another way, anarchists believe in freedom in both its negative and positive senses. In this country, freedom is routinely presented only in its negative sense, that of being free from restraint. Hence most people equate freedom only with such things as freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of (or from) religion. But there’s also a positive aspect of freedom, an aspect which anarchists almost alone insist on.8

That positive aspect is what Emma Goldman called “the freedom to.” And that freedom, the freedom of action, the freedom to enjoy or use, is highly dependent upon access to the world’s resources. Because of this the rich are in a very real sense free to a much greater degree than the rest of us. To cite an example in the area of free speech, Bill Gates could easily buy dozens of daily newspapers or television stations to propagate his views and influence public opinion. How many working people could do the same? How many working people could afford to buy a single daily newspaper or a single television station? The answer is obvious. Working people cannot do such things; instead, we’re reduced to producing ‘zines with a readership of a few hundred persons or putting up pages on the Internet in our relatively few hours of free time.

Examples of the greater freedom of the rich abound in daily life. To put this in general terms, because they do not have to work, the rich not only have far more money (that is, access to resources) but also far more time to pursue their interests, pleasures, and desires than do the rest of us. To cite a concrete example, the rich are free to send their children to the best colleges employing the best instructors, which the rest of us simply can’t afford to do; if we can afford college at all, we make do with community and state colleges employing slave-labor “adjunct faculty” and overworked, underpaid graduate students. Once in college, the children of the rich are entirely free to pursue their studies, while most other students must work at least part time to support themselves, which deprives them of many hours which could be devoted to study. If you think about it, you can easily find additional examples of the greater freedom of the rich in the areas of medical care, housing, nutrition, travel, etc., etc.—in fact, in virtually every area of life.

This greater freedom of action for the rich comes at the expense of everyone else, through the diminishment of everyone else’s freedom of action. There is no way around this, given that freedom of action is to a great extent determined by access to finite resources. Anatole France well illustrated the differences between the restrictions placed upon the rich and the poor when he wrote, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

Because the primary goal of anarchism is the greatest possible amount of freedom for all, anarchists insist on equal freedom in both its negative and positive aspects—that, in the negative sense, individuals be free to do whatever they wish as long as they do not harm or directly intrude upon others; and, in the positive sense, that all individuals have equal freedom to act, that they have equal access to the world’s resources.

Anarchists recognize that absolute freedom is an impossibility, that amoral egoism ignoring the rights of others would quickly devolve into a war of all against all. What we argue for is that everyone have equal freedom from restraint (limited only by respect for the rights of others) and that everyone have as nearly as possible equal access to resources, thus ensuring equal (or near-equal) freedom to act.

This is anarchism in its theoretical sense.

In Spain, Cuba, and a few other countries there have been serious attempts to make this theory reality through the movement known as anarcho-syndicalism. The primary purpose of anarcho-syndicalism is the replacement of coercive government by voluntary cooperation in the form of worker-controlled unions coordinating the entire economy. This would not only eliminate the primary restraint on the negative freedoms (government), but would also be a huge step toward achieving positive freedom. The nearest this vision came to fruition was in the Spanish Revolution, 1936–1939, when huge areas of Spain, including its most heavily industrialized region, came under the control of the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo. George Orwell describes this achievement in Homage to Catalonia:

The anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was in full swing. . . . the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the anarchists; . . . Every shop and café had an inscription saying it had been collectivized; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-workers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. . . . The revolutionary posters were everywhere, flaming from the walls in clean reds and blues that made the few remaining advertisements look like daubs of mud. . . . All this was queer and moving. There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.

This is anarchism. And Orwell was right—it is worth fighting for.9
1. Bourgeois Influences on Anarchism, by Luigi Fabbri. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 2001, p. 16.

2. You Can’t Blow Up a Social Relationship. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 1998, p. 20.

3. It may be that now due to apathy, but in violent/repressive situations other options are cut off for almost everyone not directly involved in armed resistance.

4. For further discussion of this matter, see You Can’t Blow Up a Social Relationship: The Anarchist Case Against Terrorism and Bourgeois Influences on Anarchism.

5. Ted Kaczynski is in some ways quite typical of this breed of romantic. He differs from most of them in that he acted on his beliefs (albeit in a cowardly, violent manner) and that he actually lived a relatively primitive existence in the backwoods of Montana—unlike most of his co-religionists, who live comfortably in urban areas and employ the technologies they profess to loathe.

6. For further discussion of this topic, see Anarchism vs. Primitivism, by Brian Oliver Sheppard. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 2003. See also the “Primitive Thought” appendix to Listen Anarchist!, by Chaz Bufe. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 1998.

7. Indeed, there have been a fairly large number of admirable religious anarchists, individuals such as Leo Tolstoy and Dorothy Day (and the members of her Catholic Worker groups, such as Ammon Hennacy), though to most anarchists the advocacy of freedom on Earth while bowing to a heavenly tyrant (no matter how imaginary) seems an insupportable contradiction.

To the best of my knowledge there have been no such shining examples of anarcho-capitalists other than Karl Hess.

8. To be fair, marxists also tend to emphasize positive freedom, but for the most part they’re also curiously insensitive, and often downright hostile, to “negative” freedom—the freedom from restraint (especially when they have the guns and goons to do the restraining).

9. Of course, this discussion of anarchism is necessarily schematic, given that this pamphlet is intended as an introductory 10-minute read. For elaboration upon these themes, see Anarchism and Anarcho-syndicalism, by Rudolf Rocker; What Is Communist Anarchism?, by Alexander Berkman (republished by AK Press as What Is Anarchism?); Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow, by Peter Kropotkin; and Anarchy in Action, by Colin Ward.


“There seems to be an agreement on the left that it is better to write in the style of badly-translated Hegel than to write like John Steinbeck. It is even easier, provided you don’t care to be understood. . . .

“[W]hile many of the examples in [George Orwell’s] ‘Politics and the English Language’ are now very much out of date, Orwell’s advice remains sound. He offers one general principle, six rules, and six questions.

“The principle is: ‘Let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about.’

“The rules are:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

“It is worth noting that, were there a contemporary anarchist style guide, nearly all of these rules would be reversed: Only use figures of speech that you are used to seeing in print; Never use a short word if a long word is available; If it is possible to add a word, always add it in; Never use the active voice where you might use the passive; Always use a foreign phrase or jargon word if the everyday English word can be avoided; And write barbarously rather than violate any of these rules.

“No one has formalized such commandments, and no one has had to. The slow drift of the language, and the overall cloudiness of our thought, allows us to adopt such practices without trying, and often, without consciously recognizing it. To break such habits, however, requires a conscious effort.”

–Kristian Williams, “Anarchism and the English Language

 

NOTE: “Anarchism and the English Language” is the best essay I’ve read in years. It applies across the board to all political language, not just anarchist usage. I’d urge anyone interested in clear political writing–in fact, in clear writing of any sort–to read it.


"The Mormon Cult" front cover(The following is an excerpt from Jack B. Worthy’s The Mormon Cult: A Former Missionary Reveals the Secrets of Mormon Mind Control. Near the end of his mission, former Elder Worthy fell into unworthiness. He was subsequently excommunicated. Here, he describes the “normal” events that follow a worthy missionary’s  homecoming.)

 

What Might Have Been

After my mission I met an eighteen-year-old boy who, before going on his mission, had regular sexual relations with his girlfriend. He lied through all his interviews and went on his mission unworthily. Several years later, he told me that after he had been on his mission for about a year, he couldn’t take the guilt any longer and confessed to his mission president. Instead of getting sent home as he expected he would, his mission president told him that he appeared to have repented and had suffered enough through his year-long guilt.

In order to contemplate a “what if” scenario, I don’t need to go as far as wondering how I would have turned out if I had never had sex with Mandy. All I have to wonder is, What if after I had had sex with Mandy I didn’t confess to my mission president? What if I had instead waited a year or two and then confessed to my bishop? It’s possible that by then I would have regained a strong testimony.

After returning home, I would have immediately begun to lie about my mission, which is something that all active RMs do publicly. The post-mission process of an RM [Returning Missionary] reverently speaking about his or her mission as a wonderful, humbling experience made up of a sequence of spiritual events is not initiated by the RMs themselves. It is a cultural requirement. The first thing any RM has to do after returning home is to stand up in front of the entire congregation and give a homecoming talk in his or her ward, usually addressing several hundred members.

The Church Handbook of Instructions tells bishops to invite “newly called full-time missionaries to speak in a sacrament meeting before they depart.” These “talks . . . should be worshipful, faith promoting, and gospel oriented. The missionary should have sufficient time to deliver a spiritual message” (p. 86). It is understood that this applies equally to RMs, and the same section of the Church Handbook suggests that a sacrament meeting include both a newly called missionary and an RM. RMs are expected to include at least one or two spiritually uplifting stories from their mission experience.

In my homecoming talk, I would have been expected to bear my testimony, and I would have done so. “One of the most important components of a successful welcome-home sacrament meeting message will be [the returned missionary’s] testimony. . . . From the depths of your heart and soul, share what you feel. Let there be no misunderstanding of where you stand when it comes to a testimony of the truth.”9 I would have received praise for the spiritual portions of my talks, and would have been increasingly praised each time my reports of divine guidance increased in number and vividness. If I had gone through this process, perhaps today, more than twenty years after my mission, I would truly believe that my mission was filled with miracles.

Members are taught to believe that God plays a hand in helping missionaries to learn their particular language, and in guiding them in their quest for souls receptive to His message. Missionaries therefore begin their missions believing that there is a direct correlation between a missionary’s faith and obedience on the one hand, and language skills and number of baptized converts on the other. Reality on the streets quickly shows them that this is not the case. Instead, missionaries see that language skills are associated with diligent study and innate ability, and that the number of baptisms achieved is related to a missionary’s efforts and sales ability—an ability based on things such as charisma, appearance, and the gift of gab.

The vast majority of missionaries must see these obvious facts. And even for those who are somehow able to blind themselves to it all, these inconvenient truths undoubtedly exist to one degree or another in their minds. But they exchange the reality based on evidence for a reality based on fabrications. This is done through a process that begins immediately upon the missionary’s return home. Missionaries who have lost their testimonies during their missions have to lie:

The stake president counsels returned missionaries to teach the gospel in talks they give. As they speak in sacrament meetings, they should share experiences that strengthen faith in Jesus Christ, build testimonies, encourage members to live and share the gospel, and illustrate gospel principles. They should avoid travelogues, inappropriate stories about their companions or others, disparaging remarks about the areas in which they served, and other matters that would be inappropriate for a servant of the Lord to discuss in the sacred setting of a sacrament meeting.10

There are two choices for those who literally don’t have any spiritual, faith-promoting material, or, for that matter, a testimony: 1) give talks in church void of any spiritual, faith-promoting material, and without bearing one’s testimony; or 2) begin the process of emphasizing and exaggerating some facts, while de-emphasizing and omitting others, and then adding, “I know the Church is true.” They must choose between feeling uncomfortable about lying, or feeling uncomfortable about not living up to their families’ and ward members’ expectations. It is not hard to guess what virtually all RMs choose to do. Can you blame them?

RMs need a supply of spiritual experiences that they can share with other Church members. Good stories of a spiritual, faith-building nature are an essential part of fitting the mold of a successful RM. So, “Mission stories” are fabricated to strengthen the testimonies of other members—especially youngsters and newcomers. Elder Christensen, former president of the Mexico City Mission, put it this way: “[I]f you are not careful, some harm could be done to the younger members in the congregation.”11 The fabrications are slight at first, but grow with each telling. An RM will very likely judge these lies as not only harmless, but in fact helpful: “If you focus on the experiences that strengthened your testimony of the restored gospel, in the process you will likely strengthen others.”12

On my mission I lied to a pretty girl wearing a silk nightgown. I told her that I felt the Spirit when she asked, because I knew it was the right answer to give. I’m sure I was not unique in this regard. All missionaries have no doubt exaggerated the strength of their testimonies in order to instill testimonies in their investigators. The talks RMs give in their wards are just extensions of that.

A person can’t lie for long, though. Continually lying within a pressure-ridden religious context, and under the pretext of doing good, is especially hard, so RMs soon start to believe their own stories.

Church members also help RMs to believe their own stories. RMs receive positive feedback from the Mormon community every time they tell a good story. The strength of members’ reactions is generally correlated to the degree of inspiration that a story conveys. RMs will “note that the congregation’s attention level will greatly increase when [they] include a personal interest example that also includes a gospel message.”13 This works as a very powerful positive reinforcement, causing RMs to believe they are doing the right thing, and most likely encouraging them to believe their own stories.

Missionaries focus on the one or two times over a two-year period in which the answer to their prayer for guidance actually seemed to lead to a person who opened the door and then went on to be baptized. The idea that this could have happened by chance disappears after telling the story often enough and then being praised. Other spiritual events are “remembered” and told, and, after enough years go by, along with enough tellings of the stories, missionaries end up believing firmly in them. At the same time, they forget all the examples that undermine this faith-promoting view of reality.

This consistent, long-term distortion of the facts works like the gelatinous, insatiable monster from the 1950s horror movie, The Blob. In the end, all recollections of what actually happened are ingested by, and become part of, the new reality. Rule-breaking missionaries are either forgotten, or they are digested and transformed into obedient missionaries. They become like the forgotten, inconvenient facts de-scribed by George Orwell:

To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary.14

What Orwell described is necessary for an RM’s new reality to withstand the occasional reminders of his actual mission experiences. He may be reminded of reality by other RMs who tell stories privately, or by seeing how missionary work takes place within his own ward back home. But he’ll quickly manage to bury such reminders.

The process of changing reality thus begins as soon as RMs return home. After giving their homecoming talk, many members of the ward will approach them with warm compliments and comforting praise. Their slight exaggerations, or outright lies, are thus positively reinforced, making the RMs feel good about what they said.

RMs are given numerous opportunities to tell mission stories and bear testimony in front of large groups of members. After the homecoming talk, RMs who have served in foreign countries will likely be asked on occasion to give a fireside talk about the country where they served—suddenly they are the resident expert on that country’s food, language, culture, climate, and more. During such presentations, RMs know full well that they will be expected to tell at least one inspirational story, and to end by bearing their testimony.

There is a conscious process in the Church that turns good storytellers into cultural icons. Local Church leaders have been instructed to ensure that good storytellers speak often. The Church Handbook of Instructions says, “[e]xemplary returned missionaries should also be invited to speak about missionary work in sacrament meetings and other meetings” (p. 78). It is clearly understood by all RMs that each one of them is expected to be “exemplary.” There is no middle road to happiness in Mormondom.

Fast and Testimony meeting is held on the first Sunday of every month. During this meeting, members of the ward are encouraged to stand and bear their testimony voluntarily. This monthly event is always a welcome opportunity for all RMs to once again tell a mission story, whether they are already considered to be exemplary, or whether they want to use the opportunity to work toward becoming exemplary. Each time a testimony is publicly borne, the person’s belief in it grows. This process not only helps to alter the memory of the RM, it also works to teach children—the missionaries of the future—to believe in these types of stories.

Needless to say, mission stories improve with time. And just like fish stories describing the one that got away, there is a relationship between the length of time that RMs have returned from their missions and the quality of their stories. Most, but not all, storytellers probably grow to believe in their own storie. A few are able to live with the fact that they are lying, publicly repeating their “white” lies enough times to make their presentation smooth, entertaining, and believable. They think that the end justifies the means. And it is easy for them to get away with it, because it is inappropriate for Mormons to question other members’ faith-promoting stories. In addition, most inspirational stories are of a personal nature involving few if any witnesses. The stories seldom include facts that are known to anyone but the speaker, let alone facts that can be researched and verified. “As [RMs] share these experiences, [they] can feel great confidence because, of all people, [they] are the only real authority in reporting what [they] personally experienced and felt.”15
There is a famous case on record, however, that did include verifiable facts, and it is a good illustration of what I have been talking about. As a youth I used to love to listen to talks given by Elder Paul H. Dunn, one of the Church’s General Authorities. On February 16, 1991, the Arizona Republic published the following about Elder Dunn:

Among Mormons, Elder Paul H. Dunn is a popular teacher, author and role model. As a prominent leader of the Church . . . for more than 25 years, he has told countless inspirational stories about his life:
Like the time his best friend died in his arms during a World War II battle, while imploring Dunn to teach America’s youth about patriotism.

Or how God protected him as enemy machine-gun bullets ripped away his clothing, gear and helmet without ever touching his skin.
Or how perseverance and Mormon values led him to play major-league baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals.
But those stories are not true.

Dunn’s “dead” best friend isn’t dead; only the heel of Dunn’s boot caught a bullet; and he never played baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals or any other major-league team.

Dunn acknowledged that those stories and others were untrue, but he defends fabrications as necessary to illustrate his theological and moral points.

One example of how Dunn used fabrications to illustrate his theological points is found in an article in the August 1975 New Era, an LDS magazine for the Church’s youth:

A testimony was born . . . I’ve had verification upon verification that this church is true, that Joseph Smith was called and ordained to restore the gospel of Jesus Christ . . .

Before I went into combat experience, I had . . . a patriarchal blessing given to me . . . that patriarchal blessing stated in a number of paragraphs that I would live . . . to a ripe old age . . . And one of the paragraphs indicated divine intervention in time of combat.

Now there were 1,000 of us in my combat team who left San Francisco on that fateful journey, and there were six of us who came back 2-1/2 years later. How do you like that for odds! And of the six of us, five had been severely wounded two or more times and had been sent back into the line as replacements. There had been literally thousands of incidents where I should have been taken from the earth by the enemy and for some reason was not.

Regarding this story, the Arizona Republic article reveals the following:

[Dunn] has since acknowledged that only 30 soldiers in his unit died during the entire war, but he said the exaggeration of numbers is unimportant.

It is unimportant because the end, without question, justifies the means. So unimportant, in fact, that a member was excommunicated from the Church for challenging Elder Dunn’s stories before these “exaggerations” had become public knowledge.

What if I had continued to participate in this culture that successfully shaped and molded a popular role model such as Paul Dunn? What if I had experienced a period of normal Church life before confessing my sin? What if, before confessing, I had spent a year or two telling faith-promoting mission stories to large numbers of people eager to stroke my ego every time I did so? What if I had had children with a Mormon wife that I loved dearly; and what if I believed that I would lose them if I rejected the Church?

I like to think that I still would have seen the Church for what it is, that I would not have changed my mind about the facts I witnessed on my mission. But who knows? Perhaps today I would be playing my part in The Mormon Show as a local Church leader, doing my best to live a “noble and blessed life” by convincing young boys to save money for their missions. Church leaders are instructed to tell “[m]issionaries and families [to] make appropriate sacrifices to provide financial support for a mission.”16 I would no doubt tell those young boys, therefore, to start saving early, because making such a sacrifice would put them in tune with the Spirit, making their missions all the more miraculous.

“Boys,” I’d say, “it’s going to be the best two years of your lives.”

 

9. Christensen, Joe J. Welcome Home! Advice for the Returned Missionary. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989, p. 18.

10. 1998, Church Handbook of Instructions, p. 86.

11. Christiansen, op. cit., p. 17.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. George Orwell, 1984, p. 163.

15. Christiansen, op. cit., p. 17.

16. 1998 Church Handbook of Instructions, p. 81.


What exactly does  “anarchist science fiction” mean? Stories written by anarchists? Stories with anarchist characters? Stories with anarchist settings? Stories that make anarchist political and social points? Stories with an “anarchist sensibility” (whatever that is)? Stories that anarchists will simply enjoy? All of the above? Who knows…..

We coverBecause of this, I’ve taken a somewhat expansive approach and have included a number of non-anarchist political sci-fi novels in this list simply because I think anarchists would enjoy them. They comprise maybe a third of the total. I’ve added brief comments about books I’ve read recently and those that particularly stand out in memory. I’m still adding to the list, which is far from complete – it’s simply a list of books I’ve read and that I recommend. (I’ve included a couple that I don’t particularly like, but included anyway because they are specifically anarchist or part of a series;  in the comments preceding or following the titles, I’ve noted them.)

If you notice that any of your anarchist sci-fi favorites are missing from this list, please leave a comment mentioning them.

Here’s the list — the links go to reviews on this site.

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Margaret AtwoodWindup Girl cover

  • The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). More speculative social fiction than science fiction,  The Handmaid’s Tale is Atwood’s horrifying vision of what would happen to America, and especially American women, if fundamentalists seized power. Antiauthoritarian, but not specifically anarchist.

Paolo Bacigalupi

  • The Windup Girl (2009). Beautifully written. Probably the best cautionary tale about corporate-controlled genetic modification and control of food sources. Antiauthoritarian and anti-corporatist, but not specifically anarchist. (Note: Friends in the life sciences tell me that Bacigalupi is wildly inaccurate in some biological specifics, that he’s every bit as inaccurate here as he is in portraying climate change in the Southwest in The Water Knife.)

Iain M. Banks

The following are Banks’ “Culture” novels–space opera on a grand scale. While set in the same universe, all work as stand-alone novels. All are set in a galaxy-spanning, far-future anarchist and atheist society, and all feature strong, believable characters (including AIs), complicated ethical dilemmas, and frequent dark humor. Of them, the two best are probably Player of Games and Surface Detail, and the weakest is probably The Hydrogen Sonata.

  • Consider Phlebas (1987)
  • The Player of Games (1988)
  • Use of Weapons (1990)
  • Excession (1996)
  • Inversions (1998)
  • Look to Windward (2000)
  • Matter (2008)
  • Surface Detail (2010)
  • The Hydrogen Sonata (2012)

Transition by Iain M. BanksAnother of Banks’ sci-fi novels worth your time is

  • Transition (2009). It’s a parallel-worlds tale which deals with a wide range of social and political problems, ranging from the character deformation endemic to capitalism, to power-grubbing within hierarchies, to the question of whether the ends ever justify the means. The first half of the book is hard to follow, made up of disparate, apparently unrelated strands from the p.o.v. of different characters, but the tale eventually coalesces and concludes quite satisfactorily.

John Brunner

  • The Sheep Look Up. (1972) Probably the best early science fiction novel about the environmental crisis; antiauthoritarian, but not anarchist.

Several of Brunner’s other sci-fi novels are also enjoyable, particularly Shockwave Rider (1975) and The Crucible of Time (1983)(But don’t pick up one of Brunner’s novels at random and expect a good read — his output was very uneven.)

The Fourth World by Dennis Danvers front coverDennis Danvers

  • The Fourth World (2000). An intermediate-future novel set in the southern Mexico of the Zapatistas, and a very good book that deserves to have sold much better than it did.
  • The Watch (2003). A time travel novel set in Richmond, Virginia, featuring Peter Kropotkin as the primary character. An accurate portrayal of Kropotkin and his ideas, but not particularly engaging, in part because Danvers presents Kropotkin (in line with his actual character) as quite saintly and unconflicted, which isn’t a great prescription for the primary character in a novel.

Cory Doctorow

  • Walkaway (2017).  An intelligent, in places funny, near-future novel about the emergence of a post-scarcity anarchist society in the shadow of the “default reality” corporatist surveillance state.


Greg Egan

  • Distress  (1995). A hard sci-fi novel with pointed political and social commentary, largely set on an artificial island called “Stateless.” If you’re looking for a detailed description of how an anarchist society might operate, this isn’t it, but Distress is worth reading nonetheless.
  • The Four Thousand, The Eight Hundred (2016). An all too timely cautionary tale about xenophobia, demagoguery, scapegoating, and persecution of minorities. Not explicitly anarchist, but antiauthoritarian.

El Akkad, Omar

  • American War (2017). Not anarchist, and only implicitly antiauthoritarian, American War is almost certainly the best fictional depiction of the psychological and physical devastation caused by America’s interventionist wars, and the hatred and terrorism they engender.

Mick Farren

  • cover of "The Armageddon Crazy" by Mick FarrenTheir Master’s War (1987). Antiauthoritarian but not anarchist. A page-turner concerning militarism, imperialism, and religious manipulation.
  • The Armageddon Crazy (1989). An antiautoritarian, at times very funny, and all-too-relevant novel about a fundamentalist takeover of the U.S. government.

(These are Farren’s two best sci-fi novels, and the only two I’d unreservedly recommend.)

Harry Harrison

  • The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted (1987). On the surface this book seems to be escapist sci-fi, but it’s actually a well thought out political novel that perceptively treats mutualist anarchism and nonviolent resistance. Quite probably the best book in the Stainless Steel Rat series.

Robert Heinlein

  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966). Deals with an anarcho-capitalist society on the moon at odds with an authoritarian Earth.

James P. HoganCode of the Lifemaker cover

  • Voyage from Yesteryear (1982). Features a setting directly derived from  Murray Bookchin’s Post-Scarcity Anarchism.
  • Code of the Lifemaker (1983). Hogan’s very funny tale of science versus religious fanaticism is a nearly forgotten gem; not anarchist, but antiauthoritarian.
  • The Immortality Option (1995). The sequel to Code of the Lifemaker; it’s also worth reading, but be sure to read Code of the Lifemaker first.

Ursula Le Guin

  • The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). Leguin’s classic novel on gender relations.
  • The Dispossessed (1974). Considered by many the classic anarchist sci-fi novel, its backdrop, for half of the book, is an anarchist society set on the planet Anarres. That society is well drawn, though dryly and unflatteringly (at least in my opinion; others would disagree).

Of Le Guin’s many other novels, the one I’d most recommend is The Lathe of Heaven (1971), which holds up well nearly half a century after it appeared.


Ken Macleod

The Stone Canal by Ken Macleod front coverThe first four novels are set in the same universe, but are not parts of a series. The next three are a loose trilogy.

  • The Star Fraction (1995)
  • The Stone Canal (1996). The setting is an anarcho-capitalist society.
  • The Cassini Division (1998). The setting is an anarcho-communist society.
  • The Sky Road (1999)
  • Cosmonaut Keep (2000)
  • Dark Light (2001)
  • Engine City (2002)
  • The Night Sessions (2008). A cautionary tale of religious fanaticism
  • Intrusion (2012). A frighteningly plausible dystopian novel of an all-pervasive surveillance state. A modern 1984.
  • Corporation Wars: Dissidence (2016)
  • Corporation Wars: Insurgence (2016)
  • Corporation Wars: Emergence (2017)

Paul J. McAuley

  • The Quiet War (2008)Quiet War Omnibus
  • Gardens of the Sun (2009)

Antiauthoritarian but not anarchist, these two  novels comprise McAuley’s “Quiet War” series. They’re set in the medium-distant future following ecological collapse on Earth, and concern the brutal aggression of the authoritarian empires that emerged from the chaos against the in-some-ways anarchistic “Outers” who have colonized the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. There are two later novels set in the same universe, In the Mouth of the Whale (2012) and Evening’s Empires (2013).  These are largely stand-alone novels. In the Mouth of the Whale is best avoided (very slow reading), but Evening’s Empires is a pretty decent apolitical quest/revenge tale.

Many of McAuley’s other science fiction novels are worth reading. Two that come to mind are Pasquale’s Angel and White Devils.

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan front cover

Richard K. Morgan

  • Altered Carbon (2002). The first of a brutal, noirish trilogy with distinct anarchist undertones.
  • Broken Angels (2003). The second in the series.
  • Woken Furies (2005). The third book in the series.
  • Market Forces (2004). An overtly political projection of the future of corporate capitalism.
  • Thirteen (2007). A very dystopian look at a future theofascist USA.

Annalee Newitz

  • Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz front coverAutonomous (2017). Deals with the underestimated dangers of the corporate stranglehold on “intellectual property,” the horrors it could lead to, and possible forms of resistance to it.

Claire North

  • 84K (2018). A well written, brutal dystopian tale about capitalism taken to its logical extreme (slavery — maximizing profits by minimizing labor costs). 84K is definitely not anarchist and is very short on solutions, but it does provide a gut-wrenching depiction of the emotional and physical carnage that seems all too possible should authoritarian capitalism continue careening downhill into the neoliberal chasm.

Nicholas P. Oakley

  • The Watcher (2014). Explores primitivism, the role of technology in society, and consensus decision making. (Full disclosure: See Sharp Press published this one.)

George Orwell

  • Animal Farm (1945). Orwell’s satirical critique of stalinism.
  • 1984 (1949). Dreary and depressing – as it’s intended to be – but essential. Orwell’s projection of the logical progression of stalinism.

Eliot Peper

  • Bandwidth (2018). A thought-provoking near-future thriller about online manipulation (basically Facebook on steroids), the climate change crisis, and whether the ends, no matter how noble, ever justify the means.

Marge Piercy

  • Woman on the Edge of Time  (1976)

Mike Resnick

  • A Hunger in the Soul (1998). Set in a barely disguised Africa, this is probably the best sci-fi treatment of the psychology of colonialism. Not anarchist, but well worth a read.

Alastair ReynoldsChasm City cover

  • Revelation Space (2000)
  • Chasm City (2001).

The “Revelation Space” novels comprise a fairly loose series set on and around a far future world featuring direct electronic democracy, human-machine integration, uplifted animals, class stratification, and orbiting habitats with a vast array of social structures.  All of the books in the series work as stand-alone novels.

One of the sequels, The Prefect (2007), is worth reading sheerly for its entertainment value, as is the new one, Elysium Fire (2018). It features the same cast of characters as The Prefect, and is a tightly written tale of murder, mystery, and revenge.

Kim Stanley RobinsonCover of Lucky Strike, by Kim Stanley Robinson

  • Lucky Strike (2009). A fine if short parallel-universes novella on the morality of “just following orders.” This is Robinson at his best.

A number of readers have suggested including Robinson’s novels here, especially the “Mars” books. I haven’t done so simply because this is a list of anarchist and anarchist-related novels that I would recommend, and overall I’m not a fan of Robinson’s novels. The two I would recommend (neither related to anarchism) are Galileo’s Dream  (2009) and Aurora (2015).

Rudy Rucker

The “ware” books comprise a very funny short tetralogy (written before the average sci-fi novel bloated to 700 pages) set in part against the backdrop of a sympathetically portrayed anarchist mechanoid society on the moon. The first two books in particular are gems.

  • Software (1982)
  • Wetware (1988)
  • Freeware (1997)
  • Realware (2000)

John Shirley

  • Bioshock Rapture (2012). This novel is a prequel to the popular Bioshock video game. It’s of interest because it concerns the development of a cloistered Objectivist (Ayn Randist) society. Shirley does a good job of outlining some of the horrors that such a society would produce, but the worst horrors he describes are produced by the cloistering, which undercuts the critique of Objectivism as such.  As well, because he was essentially in a straitjacket when he wrote this, Shirley incorporates fantastical elements from the game that are unnecessary from a fictional standpoint and that detract from the novel’s power. But it’s worth reading anyway.

Norman Spinrad

  • The Iron Dream coverThe Iron Dream (1972). Alternately chilling and darkly funny, The Iron Dream’s premise is that Hitler emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s, became a science fiction illustrator, and wrote a single sci-fi novel: The Iron Dream. The bulk of Spinrad’s book is comprised of the “manuscript” of that “novel.” An excellent illustration of the ugliness of the authoritarian psyche.

Many of Spinrad’s other antiauthoritarian sci-fi novels, such as Greenhouse Summer (1999) and He Walked Among Us (2009), both of which concern the ecological crisis, are also worth reading. Getting somewhat away from sci-fi, Mind Game (1980) is Spinrad’s insightful treatment of a barely disguised Church of Scientology, and probably the best novel about cults ever written.

Charles Stross

  • The Rhesus Chart, by Charles Stross, cover imageSingularity Sky (2003). A military sci-fi/time-travel tale that features anarchist characters in an authoritarian setting.
  • Iron Sunrise (2004). The sequel to Singularity Sky.
  • Glass House (2006). A suspenseful, brutal tale about gender roles and conformity.
  • The Apocalypse Codex (2012). One of Stross’s genre-bending, amusing Laundry Files series, The Apocalypse Codex deals with a televangelist, his literally brain dead followers, and tentacled Lovecraftian horrors. Its treatment of both the absurdity and deadly menace of Christian fundamentalism is spot on.
  • Neptune’s Brood (2013). A strange, sometimes funny story about the structure of interstellar finances and financial fraud. Part of the book is set in a sympathetically portrayed deep sea anarchist society of genetically modified humans.
  • The Rhesus Chart (2014). Another entertaining Laundry Files novel. The Rhesus Chart deals with the big banks, and has a clear, concise explanation of exactly how they’re screwing us.
  • The Delirium Brief (2017). This latest Laundry Files novel has privatization schemes as its backdrop, and contains an admirably concise explanation of how such schemes rob the public to the benefit of the rich and the corporations they control. (A Note on the Laundry Files books: While they can be read as stand-alone novels, they’re a lot more fun to read if you read them in order, starting with The Atrocity Archives [2004]).
  • Empire Games (2017). The first book in the new “Merchant Princes” trilogy, Empire Games deals in large part with an even-more-overtly repressive, surveillance-state USA than our current pseudo-democratic nightmare.  Stross provides enough background information that Empire Games works as a stand-alone novel, but for the inconclusive ending.
  • Dark State (2018). The same comments apply to Dark State, the second book in the new trilogy. The third and final book, Invisible Sun, is scheduled for January 2019.

Stross’s work is antiauthoritarian, though anarchism is treated overtly only in Neptune’s Brood. Almost all of his other books, particularly Halting State (2007), Rule 34 (2011), and nearly all of the Laundry Files novels are excellent reads.

Arkady and Boris StrugatskyDoomed City front cover

  • The Doomed City (2016). A bleak, brutal dissection of the Soviet Union and the ideology that produced its horrors. Written in 1972, the brothers Strugatsky kept this novel under wraps for over 15 years until it was finally published in Russian in 1989 during perestroika; at long last it’s now available in English.
  • The Snail on the Slope (2018). A new translation of another Strugatsky classic dealing in large part with the insanity and inanity of Soviet-style bureaucracy. Much shorter than The Doomed City, with shallower criticism of the Soviet system, but an easier read.

Of the Strugatsky’s many other sci-fi novels, the two I’d most recommend are their two most popular: Roadside Picnic and Hard To Be a God. Both are more coherent and much more entertaining than the two novels listed above.

George TurnerDrowning Towers front cover

  • Drowning Towers (UK title: The Sea and Summer) (1987). Drowning Towers was the first major novel about climate change and is still one of the best, if not the best. It’s not anarchist and barely antiauthoritarian, but it is acutely class conscious and a literary masterpiece.

The quality of Turner’s science fiction novels (he was also a literary novelist) was uneven, but mostly good and sometimes great. In addition to Drowning Towers, he produced one other excellent sci-fi novel, Brain Child (1991), which concerns genetic engineering. His final two sci-fi novels, Genetic Soldier (1994) and Down There in Darkness (1999) were decidedly subpar, with the latter being downright awful. (I suspect Turner’s publisher patched together fragments of an incomplete novel.) All of Turner’s earlier sci-fi novels (plus one short story collection, A Pursuit of Miracles [1990]) are worth a read.

T.C. Weber

  • Sleep State Interrupt (2016). A near-future noirish techno-thriller about combatting the surveillance state, and the first book in the BetterWorld trilogy. (Full disclosure: See Sharp Press published this one.)
  • The Wrath of Leviathan (2018). The second book in the trilogy. The concluding volume, Zero-Day Rising, is scheduled for release in September 2019.

Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea

  • The Illuminatus Trilogy (1975). More fantasy than science fiction, this hallucinogenic, sprawling mess of a trilogy veers wildly from the unreadable to the unparalleled, featuring sex, drugs, multiple first-person narrators, shifting chronology, stream-of-consciousness narrative, conspiracies on steroids, self-mockery, zombie Nazis, one of the funniest parodies of Ayn Rand’s capitalist-fantasy/romance novels ever written (“Telemacchus Sneezed,” featuring “John Guilt”), and occasional insightful comments on anarchism.

Yevgeny Zamyatin

  • We  (1924). Written by one of the first Soviet dissidents (within the Communist Party), this dreamy, nightmarish, poetic novel of an all-controlling police state is the direct forerunner of 1984.

 

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Zeke Teflon, who compiled this list, is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia, which takes place in part in an anarchist community. He’s currently working on the sequel in his copious free time.

Free Radicals front cover

 

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