This is a response we got recently to the piece called ‘Reclaiming Primitivism’ (https://fiercedreams.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/reclaiming-primitivism/). The response was posted on another website,and the writer emailed and let us know about it. I wrote another response and then felt like putting it up here, so it is posted below. Any further responses can’t be sent to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or just comment here and if it’s not lazy, ill-thought-out, or just plain ol’ trolling, we’ll approve it.
Response to ‘Reclaiming Primitivism’
I was with them until they got near the end. Two things in particular stood out. Well, maybe three.
This article argues for a return to the word primitivism as a description of a tendency in anarchism, without irony, disclaimers or asterisks.
“Primitivism” ought to be reclaimed, and it should definitely be reclaimed without quotation marks and irony. However, while I am not absolutely sure of this, I don’t know if keeping the “anarcho-” part is a good idea.
Here’s the dilemma: one the one hand, it is extremely important for “primitivist” to be not so broad that it includes fascistic tendencies or something like this. On the other, the “anarcho-” bit doesn’t just do this—it also puts primitivism in the context of the anarchist movement.
But the anarchist movement is, in large part, not concerned with the things primitivism is concerned about. There is overlap, for sure, and I don’t think there should be a rejection of anarchism, at least right now, when it is not fully-formed. But my impression of the global anarchist movement is that it is going in several directions, most of which my primitivist self doesn’t want to go.
I don’t know how to specify the exact aspects of anarchism that I find to be antithetical to primitivism, partly because my goal here is not to alienate or be rude to people, just to outline very carefully what those differences are, and in order to do that I’d need more time. But I can say that one of the major reasons I am skeptical of anarchism is that it seems to be feeding off of primitivism rather than the other way around. Anarchism has, to this point, been largely opportunistic. What is it without the other movements it has latched onto? There is anarcho-syndicalism (the largest faction), anarcha-feminism, anarcho-etc. But what is anarchism by itself? I’ve seen a few attempts to outline an anarchism without adjectives, the most notable ones coming from CrimethInc., but I do not think that that anarchism is strong enough yet.
On the other hand, I think that “primitivism” as a tendency is strong enough in milieu and ideas that it could exist as its own movement. So I propose a development of a primitivism that stands on its own, that on its own deters fascists, that on its own builds social power, that on its own offers a critique.
The second thing:
‘All of the above diatribe may sound prescriptive, and of course to the ever-growing posse of nihilists it will surely sound as if I am espousing an ideology. I am willing to live with these accusations!’
The writer never does commit to being on the side of ideology or not. They sway back and forth even after saying they are willing to live with the accusations of having an ideology. But I just want to make clear that we absolutely need to develop an ideology. The trick is, of course, developing an ideology that is a vehicle for freedom, and utilizing the ideology in ways different from the ways revolutionaries have before, but ultimately, we have to develop an ideology.
The result of not having an ideology is opportunism, hopelessness, and wallowing decadence and despair. People need something to believe in. Why do so many nihilists commit suicide or live suicidally? Why do the only ones who don’t commit so strongly to their belief in nothing?
I am firmly for the development of a primitivist ideology. I am not a nihilist, and, more than that, I want it to have nothing to do with primitivism.
‘I argue for a redefinition of ‘primitive skills’ beyond the usual connotations.’
My disagreement with the writer on this whole section is where I disagree with lots of primitivists: strategy. What do we do? These disagreements are going to last for a little while from now, but I just want to mention that I do believe in revolution. We do not have to resign ourselves to relearning skills only. That is important, of course, but not if it doesn’t come with a preparedness to do what needs to be / can be done about our predicament.
John F Jacobi
Thanks for the considered response. I appreciate that you actually read the thing and wrote down your honest opinion and points where you disagree. This is what I always hope for. However, I disagree on several points that I’ll detail below.
For instance, with your claim that by referring to primitivism as a ‘tendency in anarchism’ this “puts primitivism in the context of the anarchist movement”
I may have erred in describing primitivism merely as a ‘tendency in anarchism’, I probably disagree with my own article there because think that primitivism is more than just a sub-genre, sub-set or sub-culture of ‘anarchism’. I slipped up there, and would phrase it slightly differently now, maybe a ‘tendency in anarchistic thought’ or something. I don’t think that ruins the entire point of the essay.
The point is- we are not absorbed into a monolithic anarchist ‘movement’, we don’t have any affiliation with any global network or organisation, and resist all efforts to be incorporated or co-opted. Any anarchist group could be located in the context of a wider conversation about anarchy, I guess. The difference is that we are attempting to break away from ideas of a ‘movement’, but you seem to embrace this concept wholeheartedly.
Fierce Dreams and green anarchists in general talk about anarchy but don’t feel as if we are automatically subsumed into a wider anarchist ‘movement’ (in fact we are in conflict with these groups constantly), and I have no interest in supporting any overarching group that tries to pull the strings. It’s no different to claiming that anybody who ever says they are a ‘primitivist’ is automatically located in the context of a wider primitivist ‘movement’ with all the negatives that can go along with it (expensive skillshares, macho survivalism, cultural appropriation). Individuals and groups can (and do) break away from these labels, categories, and boring patterns of organisation.
I’d say this devalues and ignores the subject’s own relationship with anarchy as an approach to life, or philosophy, or process of liberation. I’d say this is very simplistic and disempowering, and doesn’t recognise peoples’ individual and collective efforts to resist, decivilise, or fight back autonomously outside any movement or structure.
“Anarchism has, to this point, been largely opportunistic. What is it without the other movements it has latched onto? There is anarcho-syndicalism (the largest faction), anarcha-feminism, anarcho-etc. But what is anarchism by itself? I’ve seen a few attempts to outline an anarchism without adjectives, the most notable ones coming from CrimethInc., but I do not think that that anarchism is strong enough yet.”
This paragraph doesn’t show any grasp of the basic sense of the word anarchist, ie. ‘without rulers’. This means, fundamentally, a resistance to authority, domination, and hierarchy. It’s simple at its core. I would argue that so far this has only ever happened in primitive societies ie. Non-complex societies (never in civilised, complex or mass society). So my interest in anarchoprimitivism is derived from this. I don’t believe a society based on anarchy can ever happen in complex or mass society. With this division of labour, and alienation from eachother and our landbase, comes stratification, domestication and the commodity. ‘Anarchism’ is probably attempting to be a social movement glorifying the idea of a ‘revolution’ as you claim, that’s why I have no interest in it, but anarchy can be an influence, or an individualist, personal philosophy and lens to view the world and their own life. As you have mentioned, Crimethinc has always a good breakdown of this; “To say that anarchists subscribe to anarchism is like saying pianists subscribe to pianism. There is no Anarchism—but there is anarchy, or rather, there are anarchies”.
“The writer never does commit to being on the side of ideology or not.”
The piece is specifically NOT arguing in favour of a particular ideology, and states that clearly. I disagree 100 % on your claim that ‘we need to develop an ideology’. Fierce Dreams as a collective is definitely against following any certain ideology, yet the content is construed and labelled as ‘ideological’ by other people, continually. This has more to do with the fact that nowadays in the wretched anarchist ‘scene’ the word ‘ideological’ is just used as a pejorative against anybody one disagrees with. (On top of that, I think folks just like it because it’s a big political-sounding word so people feel clever when they use it). Anyway that’s why I state my position clearly and mention the ‘i – word’, despite my nausea at its neverending overuse. Probably thanks to some hardline, proselytising, evangelical primitivist revolutionaries, we as fellow primitivists are believed to be ideologically driven.
Some folks like to throw the word around and rarely talk about a definition, but at its base an ideology is a fixed set of ideas. That’s my understanding. As we are saying, our ideas are OPEN to review, adaptation, and various influences. I don’t have a problem with having a framework of beliefs, and knowing where you stand, but I want to keep it adaptable and self-critical. You sound from your response as if you want to convert folks, arrange a movement, and start a revolution. FIERCE DREAMS DOES NOT. I certainly don’t. As for what I think about nihilism, I personally have way more sympathy for such a mindset, and have a nearly-completed article I’ll put up on our site soon.
This leads in to the next criticism of mine, your decision to openly discuss ‘strategy’. Many times now I have run across people who demand that others need to ‘do’ more and attempt to fire people up, and I will say right now I don’t trust them. I’d argue that folks need to do what they are doing, shut up, mind their own business, and don’t worry about whether others are fulfilling expectations or not. I do agree with your assertion that there is a need to do more than learn skills, that’s for sure. If you want to offer solidarity and support to certain actions or groups, then go ahead. However, you need to understand why folks may not be so silly as to explicitly discuss strategy on the internet, or encourage others to do so. There’s good reasons for individuals to have those discussions elsewhere, discreetly, offline.
If you want to create a movement, and have yourself an ideologically driven, anti-civilisation revolution, you should quite seriously consider joining your local DGR chapter. That is what they are into. Although I stand like labels that are carved in granite, but I stand by the term anarchoprimitivism for the reasons outlined above. I don’t concern myself with ideology, movement building, or pretending to orchestrate a revolution based on converting people to primitivism. That approach will not go anywhere, and is more likely to turn people away from any potential exploration of primitivism or rewilding altogether.