Thursday, February 4, 2010

ANARCHISM AND POSTMODERNISM: Interview with Lucien van der Walt

RICHARD ESTES: Let me ask you one last question; it may be an overly theoretical question, so feel free to be, you know, dismissive of it. But it comes to mind in light of the remarks you just made. One of the things I tend to encounter quite frequently is this tendency among what I would call, I guess, the Marxist-Leninist and parliamentary socialist left to ascribe a lot of the current problems, politically, that they experience to postmodernism, which they seem to broadly define as this sort of excessive relativisation of class and culture to the point where there is no such thing as a meaningful class or cultural identity, or they’re all the same, which I personally believe is a gross distortion of postmodernism from my own readings. But, in any event, they seem to be ascribing a great deal of blame to it in terms of their own predicament, and really criticizing it quite severely. While, as you’ve noted, anarchism seems to have thrived, it seems to have done quite well, during this very same postmodern period. So, I guess my question is: Do anarchists really share this perspective that more parliamentary socialist and Marxist-Leninists have about postmodernism? Or do they relate to it in an entirely different way?

LUCIEN VAN DER WALT: Well, I think there’s two things here.

The one is that one of the strengths of postmodernism is its focus on a more open-ended view of society and a more open-ended view of history. If you look at classical Marxist-Leninism it ended up with a very, very mechanical, narrow, reductionist view of how things work, to the extent you could virtually read off people’s identities solely from their occupation, and their political views solely from their source of income. So that’s a strength, and I think anarchists would appreciate that…in that anarchism is a much more open model, although it makes class central, it’s a much more open than a Marxist model.

However, I do think that anarchism, historically, was very much a movement, a modernist movement that stressed rationalism, that stressed conscious human control of events, one that did see things as having a fixity, as having a stability, as having a pattern and a purpose far beyond anything that postmodernism would conceive. So, I would certainly say that someone like Bakunin or Kropotkin would be very, very critical of postmodern relativism.

On the one hand, it’s also very, very moralistic actually, anarchism. It stresses morals. I’m not saying “moralistic” in a bad sense. On the other hand, it’s very much enamoured of the idea of rationality as a tool to change society.

RICHARD ESTES: Well, LUCIEN VAN DER WALT, we really appreciate you making this time available to us today, and if people are interested in the book, it’s entitled Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism. It’s available through AK Press so you can check out to find out more about it.
Full Interview at: