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Pereira-Colson dialogue. 3. Colson to Pereira

Translated by Jesse Cohn


Pereira’s first letter

Pereira’s second letter

Dear Irene Pereira,

I am not sure that I myself am very qualified. But I thank you for the interest which you take so that I write, and of the interest of your questions. I would answer initially, in the order, with that of the first part. (Ronald Creagh has passed along to me your text on science, but I have only the very long quotation of Bakunin (besides your brief introduction, is it missing a piece?))

1 - Anarchism and ontology

It does not seem to to me that there is an opposition between anarchism and the project of founding an ontology; on the contrary. One finds this ontology in Proudhon, but also in Bakunin, particularly in his most philosophical text, the one which you quote on the subject of science (“The Divine Phantom”). Bakunin claims to grasp “the intimate being” of things, and it is for this reason that he is so violently opposed to the positivists who relegate this “intimate being” to noumena, to the unknowable, and who thus explicitly renounce any ontology. Bakunin does not renounce ontology, but his ontology is very particular, since for him the “intimate being” is for him

“the least essential side, what is the least interior, most external, and at the same time most real and most momentary, most fugitive in things and beings: it is their immediate materiality, their real individuality, as it presents itself only to our senses, and which no reflection of the mind can retain, nor any word express.”

I try to explain that in the lexicon under the entries for “intimate being,” “fugitive” and elsewhere. The ontology of Bakunin is thus particular, but the ontology of Deleuze and thus of Deleuze’s Spinoza and of all his other companions in thought (affinitaires), carefully selected among all the possible versions of Spinoza, Nietzsche, Whitehead, Tarde and Simondon, is as well. And this particularism of Deleuze seems to me very close to what Bakunin said, but also Proudhon and many other anarchists who were not all philosophical by profession, such as Pouget and Griffuelhes, for example. Words are misleading, for ontology as for the rest. It seems to me that following Tarde, Deleuze poses, I no longer know where, the question of possibly substituting “to have” for “to be” and thus replacing “ontology” with “echology,” in the end, like Tarde, retaining the conventional word “ontology,” but [signifying by it] an ontology of another type, as the continuation of your questions makes it possible to characterize in a more precise way. One could say however that this original ontology, which one can confidently identify with “anarchy,” has four aspects:

a – being simultaneously theoretical and practical [here, your brief allusion to Dewey and to pragmatism seems very significant to me. And while I would like to have explored it more, I have not read a line of Dewey, and not much of W. James, whom I know only slightly through Bergson].

"anarchy [...] this strange unity which only speaks of the multiple”

b – being a thought and a perception of the “multiple” (see the definition of Deleuze and Guattari in Thousand plates: “anarchy [. . .] this strange unity which only speaks of the multiple”);

c – being a thought and a perception of ceaseless change, the becoming of things, the infinity of possible things, and thus of a “becoming” so atomized that it is quite as particular;

d - being a “selective” thought and perception which, among other things, justifies the philosophical companions of Deleuze (their choice and the choice in what they say). And at the same time the denunciations of “errors” of which Deleuze is often the object, but which also justifiy (any modesty put aside) what I am trying to accomplish through the anarchist project, and which also justifies your interest in a movement without a “party line” (if one excludes the particular ontology of multiplicity its unity), with references as different as Bakunin, Proudhon and Godwin.

- Except that – and here one rediscovers ontology – this diversity and this multiplicity do not simply return to an eclectic bricolage which would leave to noumena and God the problem of specifying (or rather not specifying) the nature of things.

- Except that this diversity and this multiplicity, selected from the medium of the multitude of other possible worlds, return to the “strange unity” (that “which only speaks of the multiple”), a common “plane of consistency” that Deleuze and Guattari (become Deleuzian) rightly call “anarchy.”

And which we (anarchists) would be thus wrong to neglect and reject, while at the same time in this approach, one finds Proudhon (not any old Proudhon, you are right, but the “selection” which one cannot at the same time reproach for being arbitrary and for returning to an ontology, namely the possible unity of the multiple and the different, thus anarchy). One finds Bakunin, etc. But also (and it is even more significant for me) multiple experiences and experiments of the labor and libertarian movements in Europe and elsewhere (which are, in fact, my speciality, because I am “philosophical” only contingently and because everyone should be philosophical since the entire world produces philosophy and thus ontology (whether good or bad, emancipatory or oppressive) without knowing it).

2 - Anarchism and Nietzsche

This point appears decisive to me. Historically, the anarchists or at least many anarchists (Louise Michel, Goldman, Rocker, Pelloutier, the syndicalists) and not initially nor only the “individualists,” read Nietzsche (from very early on) and found themselves in his texts. And in my view they were obviously right to do so. Their first movement was the good one. Because the strength or debility of libertarian thought depends on its power to associate itself with Nietzsche (see the companions of Deleuze above) and to make of him a significant element of its own movement of thought. In the time of Louise Michel, the practical and theoretical strength of anarchism was such that this association-appropriation (see echology) did not pose any problem. The problems came afterwards. After a century of terrible misfortunes but also of a true collapse of anarchism (shortly after the First World War), a collapse of its practices and its emancipatory experiments, came a concomitant collapse of its thought which made it apprehensive and more and more conformist. It is only with the libertarian revival of these last thirty years that the question of the bond between Nietzsche and anarchism has again become obvious. And the way in which this question will be solved constitutes without any doubt the best symptom of the force or the deliquescence of the contemporary libertarian thought and project.

However, force or not, how is this bond or rather this association between Nietzsche and anarchism possible once we are aware of all that seems to separate them (from which comes the question of social justice)?

Answer: Ontology. Anarchism, like the thought of Nietzsche, is not a “humanism” with all the programs, the regulations and Utopias which accompany this word. Anarchism is an ontology, a conception of what exists, of what is possible and of the conditions necessary to “emancipation,” to “life.” This anarchist ontology has its concept, an obvious concept, the concept of anarchy, a concept which is simultaneously theoretical – eminently theoretical – and practical. In Spain, just as in every consequent case in which anarchism spread, in reality, one did not shout “long live (human beings’) freedom,” “Long live (human beings’) communism or socialism,” “long live (human beings’) equality or fraternity,” etc. One shouted “long live anarchy,” the anarchy which, as one sees, escapes from all the old humanistic conceptions of the human being and what it is capable of. Indeed, what sense would the formula “the anarchy of human beings” have? None, if not to make a useless provocation that the naïveté and lack of culture of some historically disqualify who shouted in the street “long live anarchy!” and which one understands badly why Proudhon, Bakunin, Elisee Reclus (among other) concern themselves with it.

What is anarchy? Undoubtedly too difficult a question. And this is why anarchism, reduced to a mere ideology and thus to a humanistic bricolage of small skeletal groups, cut off from any movements of consequence, could only reject the concept of “anarchy” from a distance, treat it with a great mistrust, leave it to some more or less eccentric individualists, and consider with emotion but much condescension the great naïveté of the illiterate Spanish mothers shouting “viva anarchia!”

3 - A world without others

In my opinion it is a little as for social justice or democracy. I fear lest the deliquescence of anarchist thought should lead it to be satisfied with once again taking account of the categories of the existing order by radicalizing them a little, and especially by requiring that they really be applied, that they become true, without realizing that it is precisely, among other things, these categories which anarchism first of all claimed to denounce and abolish. As for the question of others, it seems to to me that anarchism is quite as eager as Nietzsche to denounce the hypocrisy of altruism, humanism and the Judeo-Christian heritage. Coeuderoy defines with much precision, which anarchism henceforth will not cease to repeat theoretically and practically, when he writes: “when each one fights for his own cause, nobody will need to be represented any longer” (in Hurra!! Ou la révolution par les cosaques). It seems to to me that neo-monadology (that of Proudhon and of Tarde for example) rather nicely solves this question of the other. I carry the other within my own depths, and it is there that I can find it, not in communication, not in altruism. And it is for this reason that Arshinov can, at the twilight of the Russian revolution, invite the “proletarians” not to speak, to make congresses, to communicate, to meet, discuss, work out a program, but on the contrary to withdraw within themselves: “proletarians of the world, go down into your own depths, seek the truth there and there create: you will not find it anywhere else.”

4 - Common sense, language and “collective reason” (Proudhon)

I did not note that Deleuze made a severe criticism of the concept of common sense in Difference and Repetition. This astonishes me. You are sure that it is not a critique of “good sense”? Because it is this distinction which I rediscover in Whitehead and Stengers. Common sense is the practical sense of Bourdieu, which is indeed opposed not to language, but to the traps which language authorizes (de Certeau is very enlightening on this point). Language lies by mobilizing the good sense and realism which accompany it. Common sense is resistance to this lie and its violence, through formulas such as “I know very well (vis-a-vis ‘realistic’ and ‘logical’ arguments, e.g., those of liberalism), but nevertheless!” – this enigmatic “nevertheless!” which perhaps contains all anarchism. As for the right (see further the reference to Chambost’s thesis), Proudhon develops an exciting analysis of “collective reason” (in De la Justice) which makes it possible to avoid all the traps of a misleading and dominating “reason.” And without ever being proof of the “irrationalism” that the proponents of this dominatory reason systematically oppose to those who refuse their logical lies.

5 - One or many Proudhons

Proudhon wrote a great deal, and in what he wrote, there are inevitably many slag heaps, dead ends, abortive attempts, even impossible theoretical justifications (I think for example of all that he says on women). But each time that someone has made a serious attempt to read him attentively, i.e. with a sufficiently strong angle of approach to lead to an attentive reading, the great coherence of Proudhon has always appeared in a manifest way. Among the most recent readings I would call your attention to Sophie Chambost’s book, Proudhon et la norme, Pensée juridique d’un anarchiste, a remarkable thesis in legal theory which has been just published by the Université de Rennes. The author underlines (not without a certain astonishment taking into consideration her own prejudices) the coherence (theoretical and legal) of Proudhon on a ground, that of law, where he was not necessarily expected. From the Durkheimean Bouglé to Pierre Ansart and George Gurvitch, to quote only the most well-known and only the sociologists, this observation is frequent. Under the tangle of his topics and his references, Proudhon seems me to be extremely coherent, the carrier of a great coherence. I will not expand further on the point. But your remark on the Proudhon-Kant relation seems to me very interesting. You saw well that I did not explore this aspect of Proudhon at all. I tended to consider that the Proudhon-Kant relation was comparable with the Proudhon-Hegel relation (which I examined a little more closely, but doubtless insufficiently). A relation where, with his Franche-Comtoise pride and impertinence, Proudhon does not doubt for a moment to manage to affirm his own thought, even if he means to make these authors say anything else than what they obviously say and which Proudhon does not seem to understand (but it is clear here that this is not without relationship to all that precedes in my response to your remarks). To speak to you frankly (I do not know what you are currently working on), if you explored this question of the relationship between Proudhon and Kant or if you plan to do it, I would be very happy and would wish very much that you would keep me updated.

6 - Bakunin, Proudhon, Godwin . . . eclecticism and perspectivism

I agree with you when you appreciate the fact that the thought of Bakunin, Proudhon or Godwin results from very different presuppositions. Anarchism thus originates everywhere, from the anarchy of beings and things. But this multiplicity would be nothing (in my opinion) if it did not return to a “strange unity” which makes it possible, practically and theoretically. This is not a “party line,” but a common theory, an ontology of the multiple which makes it possible to maintain these differences of point of view and points of departure from these points of view. The unity of diversity or the multiple maintains a tension and especially the multiple of which this (“strange”) unity is the expression. From which comes federalism, syndicalism. But also – when one does not take into account this common ontology – sterile struggles to impose its particular “party line,” with a corresponding discouragement and a collapse into a kind of eclectic ecumenicism. Paradoxically, although I am explaining it very badly, it is because of a common ontology (starting from the concept of anarchy) that the multiplicity of libertarian points of view can at the same time be maintained and produce the common in its turn, in the form of controlled tensions, as Proudhon and his conception of the dialectic demonstrate.

Your proscriptum

My inspiration is not Stirnerian, even if The Unique One And Its Property seems me to be a significant contribution to this common thought founded on anarchy. The individual dimension of the subjectivism of Stirner seems to me much too restrictive. Through Proudhon, Bakunin, Nietzsche . . . anarchist subjectivity acquires a diversity which completely destroys the poor and false distinction between “individual” and “collective.” For Proudhon (I summarize), the individual is a group and any group is an individual, and that changes everything. I think that the term “aristocracy” is too dependent on its current significance, related to appearances and the constraints of the social order, to be used validly from the libertarian point of view. But if it had to be used at any cost (as the Nietzschean concept of “Master”) it would be in order to say that the “powers” that anarchism aims to release are indeed “the best” in each of us, therefore in all of the “others,” and thus in a paradoxically levelling way since it is in common with all beings, so that these beings can produce as emancipatory associations. An attentive study of the libertarian labor movements shows well how these collective emancipations and this birth of new subjectivities operate (see the active minorities, the affinity groups, the “Knights of Labor” . . .). Anarchism (in my opinion) is obviously not “democratic” (there are too many texts which show this to quote), because democracy is the rule of numbers, of quantity, i.e., the negation of individualities (both “individual” and collective). Anarchism is on the side of the multiple (which does not concern numbers) and of qualities (of associations, of selected powers). In short, it seems to to me that anarchism makes it possible to avoid all the questions which you put in the postscript (how the individual could constitute itself apart from the social and the political, how it would be necessary to try to invent “interactions,” to join together what one arbitrarily separated, etc). But your quotation of Hegel, on the other hand, seems to me to define very well the anarchist position and the analyses of Proudhon “We who I am and me that we are.” And I can only agree with all that you say then. “The different is constituted on a pre-individual common foundation, and this is why there can be at the same time singularity” and, if not “communication” (there one falls back on the prescription for a disease caused by the prescriber), at least common subjectivities. From which comes the importance of “experiments,” of good and bad encounters, good and bad associations. And I agree entirely with you in your final criticism of Foucault.

The misunderstanding between us (very relative) relates to the question of the monads and Leibniz. It seems to to me that you have yet to become familiar with the current interpretation (for example, that of Renault in L’ère de l’individu). With the neo-monadology (of Proudhon and Tarde for example), everything changes once again. But to discuss it would considerably lengthen an answer which is already quite long.

Very cordially

Daniel Colson

Continued: Colson’s second letter

Contribución de: CREAGH Ronald

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COLSON, Daniel
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