Interview begun: 12/27/2014 and completed: 01/25/2019
How did you first hear about anarchism? What was that encounter like?
I became interested in anarchism via the punk rock and related fanzine network, which I started getting into in 1988. Because of the quirks of my politicization and the time period, I am one of a very few people my age cohort who became involved in anarchism as a youth and have remained involved in the milieu since then. For the U.S. Left in general, my age cohort is something of a “lost generation”; anarchists specifically tended to become politicized earlier in the 1980s, or later in the 1990s. Even anarchists my age tended to get politicized later in life—in college or after.
At first I couldn’t get my head around what “anarchism” was. “Anarchy” in the punk scene usually meant something more like breaking things and drinking in the street. I read in magazines like Maximum Rocknroll and Factsheet Five that anarchism “did not mean chaos and violence” and was for various things such as anti-capitalism and animal rights. But I could not understand how getting rid of the State—or rules, or whatever—would result in people becoming vegetarian! Around 1989 someone in the fanzine world sent me a packet of hard-to-find anarchist magazines including the Industrial Worker (the issue about the Redwood Summer), Endless Struggle (a Canadian pro-armed struggle magazine), and Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed. It was a little much for me to get my head around, since at that point I was living in a small, very conservative town and hadn’t met anyone who was openly anti-capitalist—much less advocating going underground to take up arms against the state and capitalism! And the Situationist stuff passed me right by. In 1991, when I was 16, I started working with an anti-Klan/Nazi monitoring group which included a hippie anarcho-syndicalist and some independent socialists from different backgrounds. They encouraged the teenage punks and skinheads around them, including myself, to form an anti-racist youth group. Mostly we put some flyers out.
Somewhat later, some of us people formed a chapter of the Anarchist Youth Federation (AYF). We sold copies of Love & Rage on the street and attended 1992 conference Love & Rage Network conference. Anarchism, as we understand it, was a refusal of institutional structures (including schools and churches), and was strongly vegetarian, anti-racist, and pro-queer (gay rights at this time was still very marginal; it was almost impossible to be “out” where I lived). We were anti-Marxist and anti-Communist; the really existing Communist governments had suppressed the punk movement, and we equated Marxism with the Orthodox Marxism of the various M-L sects; we had direct experience of this current, as RCYB members were recruiting from the punk scene. We also were in an overwhelming Christian area, and atheism was of central importance. Anarchism was not centered on protests, but rather on small groups, and especially DIY culture. We were nominally anti-capitalist, although this was not the central focus and in retrospect we probably held something close to Proudhonian economic views, which I believe is roughly comparable to the politicized d.i.y. scene. (There were no explicitly feminist or ecological politics, although for me those came later. They easily fit into this framework of “opposition to hierarchy.”) My views could be fairly described as a combination of Emma Goldman, Murray Bookchin, and Crass, with a focus on prefiguration.
Unlike some other anarchists I knew around my age—in particular, those in Love & Rage who turned to Third World Marxism, and workerists and other “mass movement organizers” who denounced the “lifestylist” strawman—my politics remained firmly rooted in the counterculture for many years. This was definitely the norm in the 1990s. In fact, it was many years before I met an anarchist who did not come out of the punk—or at least hippie—counterculture, although the anti-globalization movement changed that demographic dramatically. (There also were no academics; I did not meet an anarchist professor until 2000, and, initially at least for me, there were no anarchists I was around who were college students—much less grad students.)
What within sociology and anarchism are the most compatible?
Well, both of them are concerned primarily with social structures and inequality. They both avoid spending too much time on governmental concerns, and tend to focus on Western, urban areas (since for Sociology, these, respectively, quickly become the province of Political Science and Anthropology). Anarchism’s origins are of course tied up in the same European intellectual milieu as Sociology’s, and certainly starting with Bakunin, both of them share the notion that the social body is an interconnected whole that is the conceptual a priori. That social body is assumed to be the focus of analysis and concern, and anything that damages it is bad. Unlike neo-Situationism, classical anarchism does not want to “destroy society,” but rather wants to preserve it from damage by formal institutions, and unleash its full potential.
Has anarchism contributed anything to sociology?
Historically, not to the best of my knowledge. You will find references to anarchism and syndicalism in a number of classical sociological texts. Offhand, the most comprehensive one I remember was the treatment of Gustav Landauer in Karl Mannheim’s Ideology and Utopia. Weber was around anarchists and had a begrudging respect for them, and Durkheim also was interested in Proudhon. Marx of course had back-and-forths with Proudhon, Stirner, and Bakunin, and so in that sense his development has to be understood by those interactions—although in this case the “contribution” might be more in the negative. But otherwise I’m hard-pressed to think of demonstrable contributions (although see below).
What could anarchism contribute to sociology?
That depends on what you think anarchism is. The kind of Sociology I was around in graduate school was driven by coherent and well-developed theoretical perspectives, and anarchism simply does not possess them in the sense that it is a specific analysis that can deployed to understand concrete social situations. At best it seeks to identify political actions that can act as a tool to transform a social situation; but it is weak at being analytical, and trying to understand the situation in a systematic fashion. Anarchist “analysis” tends to be borrowed from other theoretical traditions in its epistemology, but rejiggered to make sure the actions it advocates are loosely in line with anarchist ways of doing things.
Of course all movements have the potential to offer subjects of analyses. Anarchism probably has, directed Sociologists’ attention to questions like: Why do we obey authority? Do people naturally engage in altruistic social behavior outside the family, and why? What do stateless societies look like, and how can they exist in the modern age? Why do states arise and are there alternatives to this? And sociologists influenced by anarchism have done work on movements like ecology, animal rights, co-operative decision-making and economics—and all the other issues that contemporary anarchist politics has engaged with.
So perhaps in the present the major contribution of anarchism to the social sciences is that there are now “radical” critiques of different social forms that are not classically marxist in approach (even if they often borrow from marxism conceptually). Although whether this critique “is” theoretically anarchist a different question: I would say No, but others might say Yes.
The real theoretical question anarchism could contribute is: Can there be a left-wing theoretical alternative to Marxism? Can there be a rigorous anti-capitalist social analysis that is ontologically and epistemologically distinct from Marxism? This question would require a level of self-reflection and criticism that I believe that anarchists are unwilling to engage in, however—much to anarchism’s own loss. Until they do this, I am convinced that anarchist social scientists will largely act as carrier groups for non-anarchist theoretical perspectives.
What classical sociologists were the most anarchistic?
Personally I think Max Weber was. He developed a non-Marxist approach that was pretty critical—even openly pessimistic—about modern society, and his multi-factor analysis was a nice retort to reductionist Marxism. He even looks critically at how authority works—something that should appeal to all anarchists.
What anarchist(s) (whether classical age or contemporary, individuals or a group) seem(ed) to have the strongest sociological imagination?
I never thought much of this concept so I’m going to pass on this question.
Why has anarchism not had as much impact upon Sociology as other movements (e.g., Marxism, feminism)?
Because it does not have an insightful and rigorous onto-epistemological theory to offer on one hand (like Marxism does), and nor does it look at a concept that cannot be ignored as a major subject of the social world (gender and sexuality).
How could sociology (as a discipline, a practice, etc.) be more anarchist?
It could spend more time looking at issues that anarchists are interested in; it could look closer at 19th century anarchism’s relationship to the sociology of its period; and it could use “do sociology” by looking at the anarchist political movement itself—like asking questions about its demographics and in what places, and under what conditions, has has been popular or unpopular.
Have you encountered anarchists in the classroom? What was their response to Sociology?
I went to grad school with a number of people who loosely identified with anarchism. I found that when you scratched the surface, they all really just belonged to some other theoretical tradition (Italian-style autonomous Marxism was the preferred flavor among my cohort) but were loosely involved in the anarchist political milieu—at least until they became professors. Then they disappeared from the street. Mostly it was a depressing experience.
I never had a professor who was an anarchist while I was a student.
Is it possible (to say nothing of desirable?) for anarchists to work as professional sociologists? (Especially within the academy?) What are the concerns or challenges?
I don’t know. The biggest problem from my perspective is this: once anarchists become professors, on one hand, they withdraw from actual political struggles, and on the other they rarely produce any works of interest. The anarchist historians have easily produced the best work that is of importance today. But I’m hard-pressed to think of an important sociological work—although TBF I stopped paying attention a few years ago.
Anarchists in Sociology would do us a favor by reconstructing the arguments and twists and turns of anarchist theory during the classical era. Otherwise, if they have permanent gigs, I hope they’re contributing money to legal, medical, and prisoner accounts for anarchists and other radicals. And I would encourage them to write prisoners, since that’s a piece of needed activism that’s easily in their wheelhouse.
There’s nothing wrong with being an professor if you’re an anarchist. Most anarchists I know have little money; being a sociology professor doesn’t hurt anyone, probably helps your students, and people simply need jobs. There’s no benefit to anarchists either working poorly paid, dangerous, and/or boring menial jobs; or just being straight-up poor.
But from a political perspective, I don’t really see how there’s much desirable to anarchists being either professors in general, or sociologists in specific.
Calaxas Kriegstorm has been involved in anarchist and related radical projects since the early 1990s. Shortly after the Seattle demonstrations, he didn’t know what to do with his life, so he got a PhD in Sociology. He couldn’t get out of the academy fast enough after receiving his piece of paper. These days, in addition to political work, he writes and puts on intellectual events which are oriented towards a non-academic audience.