Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Crimethinc. Look Back at their Childhood

There's an at-times-interesting and at-times-funny piece by Crimethinc, "Fighting in the New Terrain: What's Changed Since the 20th Century", which (if you have the time) is worth skimming, up at

Why amusing? Well, partly just because it's funny to remember how oblivious these folks could be when they started out, and even more so that to the degree that they now acknowledge this, they still need to frame it as "what's changed with the terrain". I.e. the implication being that they were clueless because they didn't see the changes coming, rather than maybe that they simply didn't see things properly as they were even at the time. Such as:

The defining provocation of our early years was to take literally the Situationists’ dictum NEVER WORK. A few of us decided to test out on our own skin whether this was actually possible. This bit of bravado showed all the genius of untutored youth, and all the perils.


In the late 20th century, when the majority of people identified with their jobs, refusing to pursue employment as self-realization expressed a rejection of capitalist values. Now erratic employment and identification with one’s leisure activities rather than one’s career path have been normalized as an economic position rather than a political one.

No real acknowledgment here that what they needed today's economic conditions to notice was being shouted at them by all manner of anarchist well-wishers at the time. They were neither "on the cusp" of unemployment, nor of the debate about work, which goes back further than Marx and the utopian socialists.

That's what's a bit irritating about this piece. Under the guise of being humble, it's really quite self-congratulatory. While Crimethinc may be unpopular amongst many anarchists, may have been criticized by many comrades, that remains unconnected from the fact that today "much of what we proclaimed has become passé".

However, for those interested in recent anarchist history, this is an important document. It does provide an account of how the changes of the past twenty years have been experienced subjectively by one of the most dynamic sections of the anarchist movement. It also provides insight into the ongoing weaknesses and blind spots of this tradition.

Related: Butch Lee's review Would You Shoplift "Days of War, Nights of Love"?


  1. Gosh, talk about self-congratulatory. I don't mean the CrimethInc. text, but your supercilious comments on it.

  2. yeah you might be right, i was in a bit of a mood when i posted that... will try a more balanced appraisal later perhaps...

  3. OK, have reread the Crimethink piece, and while i may have been snotty in my tone i think if anything i should have made my point stronger: if one did not know anything about N. American anarchism, or about the past 20 years history, this essay would be very misleading.

    CT repeatedly treat themselves as if they were representative of the anarchist movement at the end of the 90s, and completely fail to acknowledge the many criticisms anarchists made of their writings at the time on precisely those points that they now feel need to be revised.

    In their revisions too there is a real lack of acknowledgment of the other people - both anarchist and not - who they are drawing on for their insights.

    i'm not asking for a 70s-maoist-style self-criticism, or some kind of roman catholic penance. it's just if a retrospective fails to differentiate between mistakes that were understandable because you were young and overexuberant and maybe unexperienced, and mistakes that were simply unavoidable because you had no crystal ball (although you were "on the cusp" and the "cutting edge") there's really not many deep lessons you can learn. i mean, you'll at best bring your ideas up to 2010, but you won't necessarily be any better at positioning yourself vis a vis the next decade.

    Plus, you're passing on an untrue and misleading version of history and also of where we are now to folks.

    i appreciate CT's willingness to look back at their history and to take the indulgent step of admitting they were not 100% on the ball ten years ago, but really they could have - and should have - either framed the essay differently (i.e. as an examination of trends they could admit having previously underestimated or overlooked), or else been a little bit more honest in their self-appraisal, and in acknowledging that some of these "new insights" were things many people had tried to bring their attention to at the time.

    And i also gotta note, still, ten years down the line, CT seem to see no need to mention gender or nation/"race" into their view of what's going on in the world. A pity.