Saturday, January 19, 2013


img005 James C. Scott is a political science and anthropology professor at Yale University According to a recent New York Times profile: ‘He is the official founder of Yale’s agrarian studies program, as well as an unofficial founder of the field of “resistance studies,” in which his book “Weapons of the Weak” (1985), a study of peasant resistance based on fieldwork in a Malaysian village, is a kind of Bible.’ Now 76, he continues to teach and write while in his spare time he runs a 46-acre farm in Durham, Connecticut and keeps bees.

‘Two Cheers for Anarchism’ says Scott was ‘born of disillusionment and dashed hope in revolutionary change.’ In the 60s, he writes, there was ‘a romance with the peasant wars of national liberation’ which many believed offered ‘utopian possibilities’. Bear in mind, he says, that the peasantry are the largest class in world history.

In fact what happened Scott says is that ’virtually every major successful revolution ended by creating a state more powerful than the one it overthrew’. He quotes the example of Mao’s Great Leap Forward (1958-1962), which led to the death of what Scoot says is ‘unlikely to be less than 35 million people’.

A ‘crude’ Marxist, Scott found himself initially drawn to anarchist thinking as perhaps a fresh way of examining old problems. In order to understand it, he taught a course at Yale which allowed him to read all the anarchist classics and the histories of the anarchist movements.

Twenty years later this slim book is Scott’s attempt to make the case for what he calls ‘a sort of anarchist squint’ at the world.

His book is not  offering an ‘elaborately worked out argument for anarchism that would amount to a consistent political philosophy’ nor an examination of Anarchist movements.

It is rather a collection of essays he calls ‘fragments’ – a ‘series of apercus that seem to add up to an endorsement of much that anarchist thinkers have had to say’ about the State, Revolution and Equality.

The ‘fragments’ often or mainly begin with a personal experience or anecdote providing a telling example of a larger theme.



‘Mutualism, as a variety of anarchism, goes back to P.J. Proudhon in France and Josiah Warren in the U.S.  It favors, to the extent possible, an evolutionary approach to creating a new society.  It emphasizes the importance of peaceful activity in building alternative social institutions within the existing society, and strengthening those institutions until they finally replace the existing statist system.  As Paul Goodman put it, "A free society cannot be the substitution of a 'new order' for the old order; it is the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of the social life.". Source:


Scott is interested in Proudhon’s idea of ‘mutuality’ – cooperation without hierarchy or state rule – and in the ‘anarchist tolerance for confusion and improvisation’ and in its ‘confidence in spontaneous cooperation’

He follows the lead of British anarchist Colin Ward [See Previous post] in showing that this mutuality is ubiquitous in our societies.

He extols a populist anarchism that believes in the possibilities of autonomy and self-organisation and the encouragement of diversity and complexity.

He is at pains to distance himself from many other varieties of anarchism – the utopian scientism of the early 20th Century and the modern sort of libertarianism ‘that tolerates (or even encourages) great differences in wealth, property and status.’ This, Scott says, ‘make a mockery of freedom….Democracy is a   cruel hoax without equality.’

More controversial is Scott’s views that ‘episodes of structural change occur only when mass disruption and open defiance threatens established institutions.’ This is certainly true in the case of the civil rights movement for example.

Less easy to defend are the actions of what is known as the ‘black bloc’ who came to initial prominence in 1999 at the ‘Battle of Seattle’ outside the WTO meeting. They smashed shop windows and skirmished with the police. Scott says that one may ‘deplore’ this strategy but, without the media attention generated by this violence, the ‘anti-globalisation movement would have gone largely unnoticed.’

He quotes Martin Luther King: ‘A riot is the language of the unheard.’ Such riots, he says do get ‘the attention of the elites’ but they risk triggering of an authoritarianism or fascist response rather than leading to reform or revolution.

His book’s first chapter concentrates on acts of disobedience and insubordination. These ‘weapons of the weak’ are lower risk alternatives to open defiance.

In  later ones he contrasts Vernacular Order with Official Order making a strong case for diversity against homogenisation at all levels.  He emphasises the value of play as a basic activity and we need to undertake the urgent tasks of fostering institutions ‘that expand the independence. autonomy and capacities of the citizenry.

The book as a whole is not completely successful. One misses a concluding chapter of sorts at the book’s end. Several of the essays ramble somewhat and appear to make slight points at great length.

Yet one feels that there is a lot of passion behind this writing and a genuine attempt to offer his America audience at least,a different view of anarchism than the media stereotypes.

‘Two Cheers for Anarchism’ by James C. Scott is published by Princeton University Press (2013)



For those like myself who didn’t know, the book’s title draws from E.M. Forster’s ‘Two Cheers for Democracy’ published in 1962. He wrote: "We may still contrive to raise three cheers for democracy, although at present she only deserves two."


There is an interesting piece on Anarchist symbolism in Wikipedia.

‘The first recorded use of the A in a circle by anarchists was by the Federal Council of Spain of the International Workers Association. This was set up by Giuseppe Fanelli in 1868. It predates its adoption by anarchists as it was used as a symbol by others. According to George Woodcock, this symbol was not used by classical anarchists.

‘ In a series of photos of the Spanish Civil War taken by Gerda Taro a small A in a circle is visibly chalked on the helmet of a militiaman.

‘The first documented use was by a small French group, Jeunesse Libertaire ("Libertarian Youth") in 1964. Circolo Sacco e Vanzetti, youth group from Milan, adopted it and in 1968 it became popular throughout Italy. From there it spread rapidly around the world.’





Time Magazine's Person of the Year, re-imagined as a celebration of the Black Bloc. Image: Occupy Duniya. Source: The Occupied Wall Street Journal.


There’s a very punchy piece about Scott’s book by Malcolm Harris in the Los Angeles Review of Books.  Let’s just say he’s not totally approving and calls Scott an ‘Anarchish’

The article also refers to ‘best-selling liberal author Chris Hedges’ and ‘his opportunistic attack on anarchists within Occupy Wall Street. In a piece posted widely around the progressive internet press, Hedges called Black Bloc protesters — a reference to people associated with small-scale property destruction who show up to marches all in black — "the cancer of the Occupy movement," asserting that the movement would be better off turning window breakers over to the police.’



By coincidence or not, found this book by Henry Hemming - ‘Together: How Small Groups Achieve Big Things.’ [John Murray. 2011] The book claims that, during the first decade of this new century, there has been a surge of people in Britain joining or forming associations. Hemming sets out to find out why this might be and examine what it is that we get from being a part of an association. These incidentally come in all shapes and sizes from rat breeders and book clubs, to creches and model makers. He quotes Lester Salamon of John Hopkins University who said, in 1999, that  a ‘global associational revolution appears to be underway.’ By the way, the book never mentions the world ‘anarchism’. Mutualism rules!

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