Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Primitivism, post-Modernism, Chomsky and anarchism


There are those who want to popularize anarchist ideas, and then there are those that want to radicalize them. The post-modern anarchists, not unlike the primitivists, are, of course, going to be dismissed by the former group of thinkers who are nothing more than bent on tradition. What is truly interesting, however, is why, afterall, Purchase believes it worth discussing the so-called popularity among radical intellectuals of dismissing the working class while, in the same breath, admitting that these post-modern anarchists are just a very small group. He has mixed up the description of post-modern anarchism with the advocacy of it. What is more ironic is that the book does not tackle, in any way, post-modern anarchism. Why does Purchase feel the need to include them?

"The dismissal of the working classes is currently popular among "radical" intellectuals. Some of the stupidest political ideas and outlooks maybe found among primitivists (back-to-the caves) and post-modernists. A few individuals mistakenly believe themselves to be avant garde anarchist thinkers or philosophers. Post-modern `anarchists' (a tiny clique embedded in the academy) believe class analysis is passé and the working classes largely irrelevant and/or virtually non-existent. Primitivists believe workers exist but are just human robots within our evil industrial-technological civilization, which will end with our return to the caves. Quizzed about his views on such nonsense, Chomsky sensibly replies that "post Modernism is gibberish" (216), and primitivism would entail "the mass genocide of millions" (226). For Chomsky, "technology is a pretty neutral instrument," utilizable for both good and evil ends. (225) He dismisses the post-modernist denial of "fundamental class differences." He hasn't "much problem in discerning class differences and their significance. In fact we see class issues rising all the time." (228)"


  1. The review is really sad. Until now I've often found Purchase to be a very interesting thinker.

    Graham, if by chance you read this:

    - anarchism after post-structuralism (what you call post-modern anarchism) has not "dismissed the working class" so much as folded it back into an account of the disseminated nature of control. Class (or the abolition of class)remains a problem for anarchists of every stripe, even those who move it to a less central place in their analysis, if not for the very reason that anarchism has, obviously, devolved from class analysis.

    - The working class is not irreducible. Critique can probe deeper into the workings of power than class. As you no doubt know, it wasn't so long ago that attending to ecological problems was seen as some kind of betrayal of class.

    - Finally, the class analysis you're so attached to is profoundly limited by its entanglement with the academic discipline of sociology. This problem extends to your own work, which has by and large failed to overcome the disciplinary boundaries imposed on it.

  2. Parser,

    Yes, I would agree with your analysis. Unfortunately, the article in question is supposed to be about a Chomsky book from AK Press, so it is difficult to respond to these capricious meanderings.

    Saint Schmidt

  3. First rule of publishing/writing: know your audience. He gave the audience exactly what they wanted to hear. That's how academics make a living, isn't it?