BERTALAN, Hilton. "Dancing to Death : The Ongoing Movements of Emma Goldman and Differential Activism - 5 -

Chapter 5 – Conclusion
jeudi 21 février 2008
par  R.C.
popularité : 3%

Previous :

Introduction and Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3 - Chapter 4

Chapter 5

“Pay homage to those whose backs served as bridges” (Anzaldúa, 2002b, 576).

“If you don’t admire something, if you don’t love it, you have no reason to write a word about it” (Deleuze, 2004, 144).

“But remember. Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent” (Wittig, 1971, 2).

In this thesis I have made a number of suggestions. First, certain elements of Goldman’s work and differential activism are worthy of more attention than they have been given. Second, these elements constitute new and radical ways of theorizing and understanding social movements and social change. Third, the fact that Goldman can be connected to these forms suggests resonances between them – and more specifically, that Goldman can be seen to have anticipated certain concepts. Chapter three and four were constructed in a way so as to make them very similar, that is, as separate yet connected fields that could be brought together through the concepts of transformation found in the work of Anzaldúa, Butler, and Deleuze. Yet more remains to be explored with regard to this connection – one which I could only begin to discuss in this thesis. Many remarks by Goldman that are similar to those of differential activists were not discussed. For example, Goldman’s (1969) discussion of ‘violence’ as “but a drop in the ocean […] compared with the wholesale violence of capital and government” (34) is strikingly similar to a remark from the One Off Collective (2001) that “our ‘violence’ is a drop in the ocean compared to their violence” (5). In other words, the resonances that have been pointed out in this thesis are only a beginning of a Goldman scholarship that focuses on the contemporary relevance of her work. A literature of this sort would contribute to an existing academic project that takes seriously the contemporary relevance of anarchist thought – a project whose list of contributors is all too short (Antliff, 2004 ; Call, 2002 ; Day, 2001/2005 ; Heckert, 2005 ; Jeppeson, 2004 ; Lance, 2006 ; May, 1994/2004). [1]

The element of anarchist thought that has resonated with differential activism is the construction of social, political, and economic alternatives with two things always in mind : that they seek to be interconnected rather than insulated and that they remain aware of individuals, groups, and tactics that may be excluded. Multiplicity is connected to, and rooted in, what transgender activist and theorist Kate Bornstein (1993) calls an “outsider sensibility” (166). The outsider, the freak, the dispossessed, the marginalized, and minority discourses are not only recognized as those most often left out and ignored, but also those from whom activist-theorists can connect with and learn from in an attempt to give up privilege and the desire to dominate. This also means learning from (both internally and externally) the forms of organization, resistance, and strategies for survival that have come from oppressed spaces. This notion comes through well in a story about an incident involving the scientist William James :

“William James was giving a public lecture on astronomy, describing how the earth spins around itself as it orbits the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. He was in full flight when a little old lady interrupted from the back of the auditorium. ‘Young man, excuse me, but you’ve got it all wrong. The world rests on the back of a giant turtle.’ William James was slightly taken aback, but ready for a discussion. He asked, ‘If that is true, madam, what is the turtle standing on ?’ ‘Another turtle,’ she shot back. Gently, now, ‘And what is that turtle standing on ?’ ‘Don’t get smart with me, young man. It’s turtles all the way down.’” (Hawking, 1988, 1).

In this instance, multiplicity can be seen in two ways : as a view of the old woman’s discourse as being equally important as the scientific discourse (as one of multiple discourses) and as the minority discourse which we could initially align ourselves with despite the likelihood that we would consider the scientific discourse to be the most sensible and rational.

Chapter two and three discussed several other transformative elements that can be found in both Goldman’s work and discussions of, and from, differential activism. First, each rejects the notion of a vanguard or leaders as a necessary component of social movements. For example, Goldman’s (1970a) statement, “I claim no monopoly of the movement” (399) irritated reporters who wanted to clearly identify who was leading struggles in a way similar to the frustrated observers that Marcos refers to in chapter four of this thesis. The refusal to offer a programme or final answer to struggles is a unique characteristic of both Goldman and Marcos. This element is made particularly unique by the notoriety that Goldman and Marcos each experienced, and thus the available opportunity they each had to take a position of authority. Second, both Goldman and differential activism focus on struggle as necessarily interconnected, that is, aligned with other groups and tactics. In doing so, each go beyond simply developing relationships between groups by concerning themselves with issues of power and domination amongst both groups and their participants. Divisiveness, undemocratic decision-making, and domination are a key concern in Goldman’s work as well as amongst differential activists such as Marcos (1995) who (in a manner similar to both Goldman’s concern discussed in chapter three and Anzaldúa’s comment on the need for a collectivity to connect diverse identities) argues that “the differences that divide us and turn us against one another should not prevent us from uniting against a common enemy” (245). Third, both engage in an ethico-political refusal to settle down. One of the key connections that the work of Goldman and differential activism have to poststructuralist thought is that they are equal in their unintelligibility and their lack of desire to occupy a comfortable and identifiable theoretical or political space. Fourth, both can be characterized by an affinity for decentralized forms of organizing. Fifth, each make reference to an ethic of love to describe a way of interacting that avoids domination and cultivates democratic and self-critical discourse. Sixth, both Goldman and differential activism embrace ceaseless change as a way to remain perpetually open to new ways of thinking. Seventh, social change is viewed as that which takes place not only in traditional political and economic spheres, but also in everyday interactions, culture, and the relations of race, gender, and sexuality. In this sense, social change is prefigurative, taking place immediately rather than put off for a later date.

By making these connections, I have tried to demonstrate the contemporary relevance of Goldman’s work and, more generally, the anarchist tradition to which she is connected. I have tried to suggest that however unique the ethico-political notions of differential activism, they are not entirely new. As Emilio (2003) from the MTD puts it,

“the concepts of horizontalism, self-organization/self-management and direct democracy are not at all new […] anarchism has been talking about these themes for many years” (33).

Anarchism, therefore, helps those of studying social movements become aware, understand, and historically situate the transformative elements of differential activism. In this sense, anarchism becomes what Marcos (2001a) refers to as “the stubborn history that repeats itself in order to no longer repeat itself, the looking back to be able to walk forward” (104). By looking back to anarchism we can not only better understand elements of differential activism, but also reactualize conceptions and forms of resistance so as to carry on a still relevant ethico-political project. Raising anarchism in such a way is also meant to suggest that Marxism and its accompanying notions of social change and organization, limits what we see and appreciate in differential activism. From Foucault’s (1973) suggestion that “Marxism exists in nineteenth-century thought like a fish in water : that is, unable to breathe anywhere else” (262) to Day’s (2005) claim that “Marxist revolutionism and liberal/postmarxist reformism have hit their historical limit” (18), the limitations of Marxist thought have been deeply problematized. However, given that the complexities of contemporary Marxist thought are beyond the scope of this thesis, I am content to simply suggest that when analyzing differential activism and contemporary social movements one need not turn to the political philosophy which has dominated the lens through which we understand political conditions. Instead, as I have argued, one is perhaps best served by looking elsewhere.

JPEG - 125.4 ko
"a contemporary world of fluid and displaced identities, ceaseless change, and commitments to multiplicity and interconnectivity"

A second aspect of the importance of making the connection between Goldman’s anarchism and differential activism is the reinforcement of the political implications of poststructuralist thought. By linking Goldman and differential activism to thinkers and concepts connected to poststructuralist thought, those concepts otherwise perceived as apolitical, unpractical, and purely theoretical are seen for what they are – ethico-political commitments with the deepest seriousness and political relevance in a contemporary world of fluid and displaced identities, ceaseless change, and commitments to multiplicity and interconnectivity. In doing so, poststructuralism becomes the radical tool that Deleuze wanted it to be. As Deleuze (2004) puts it (paraphrasing Proust), “use my books he says, like a pair of glasses to view the outside world, and if it isn’t to your liking, find another pair, or invent your own, and your device will necessarily be a device you can fight with” (208). Butler too recognized the political implications of poststructuralist thought. “The critique of poststructuralism within the cultural Left,” Butler (1990) argues, “has expressed strong skepticism toward the claim that anything progressive can come of its premises” (ix). However, as Butler points out with regard to the deconstruction of sex and gender, this act “is not the destruction of politics,” but rather, the establishment “as political the very terms through which identity is articulated” (189). The question for many in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s was how anything political could come from such sites – how social movements that did not seek power, reform, representation, or even intelligibility could be studied, understood, or viewed as effective. The question, as Butler (2004) points out, should be, “how can one think politics without considering these sites of unrepresentability ?” (107). What has been of particular interest to me in this thesis is that these unrepresentable sites reach back to nineteenth and early twentieth century anarchist thought (and more specifically to the anarchist thought of Goldman).

Not surprisingly then, Goldman is at the center of my motivation for writing this thesis. Making sense of differential activism led me to ask whether the currents of transformation had been present elsewhere. In many ways I was confounded by the fact that anarchism was not a major focal point for many of those writing about contemporary activism. Although decentered, non-hierarchical, non-representative, and consensus-based organizing has been a part of anarchist groups for over a century, little has been said about it with regard to differential activism. Similarly surprised by this absence, Graeber (2002) argues that, “most of the creative energy for radical politics is now coming from anarchism – a tradition that they [academics] have hitherto mostly dismissed – and that taking this movement seriously will necessarily also mean a respectful engagement with it” (62). In a work published two years later, Graeber (2004) remained puzzled that despite the fact that “anarchism is veritably exploding right now” and that “traditional anarchist principles […] have gone from the basis for organizing within the globalization movement, to playing the same role in radical movements of all kinds everywhere […] all this has found almost no reflection in the academy” (2). The argument that social movement scholarship should take seriously anarchist connections to differential activism is here extended by my suggestion that Goldman’s work is a particularly fruitful source for locating these resonances. I have taken this further, however, by suggesting that even those who have located connections between differential activism and anarchism and/or between poststructuralist thought and anarchism have, to some extent, overlooked the work of Goldman. Goldman’s discussions of self-reflection and self-change, fluidity, diversity, prefigurative politics, and ceaseless change, her questioning of the male/female binary, her commitment to solidarity, shared ethics, and empathy, her rejection of the notion of biological predisposition, and the strong influence of Nietzsche all make her relevant to contemporary political and social movement theory.

There are a number of ways to understand the currents that I suggest are present in differential activism. May (2005) uses origami to describe the capacity to take form (political positions and identities) yet remain in motion and flexible ; queer theorist Judith Halberstam (2005) uses the children’s cartoon character Sponge Bob to describe a lack of commitment to fixed, limiting, exclusionary, and ultimately violent notions of masculinity ; and Marcos draws on the stories of a mythical beetle (Don Durito) to explain ceaseless change. In this thesis I have used the work of Goldman to understand the transformative elements in differential activism. As I have shown, for Anzaldúa it was the ‘mestiza consciousness’. For Butler it was ‘unintelligibility’. For Deleuze it was the ‘rhizome’. To this we may add, for Goldman, it was ‘anarchism’.


[1Although Saul Newman (2004) is arguably a part of this project, I have not included him for a particular reason. While he briefly recognizes that the “contemporary anti-globalization struggle is an example of both classical anarchist and poststructuralist politics” (52), he makes it clear that he is uncomfortable with certain poststructuralist disruptions. The suggestion that poststructuralism undoes classical anarchism’s reliance upon a universal subject and rationalist vision of liberation is, for Newman, “an important point” about which he is “becoming increasingly concerned” (50).