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  • Anarchism, Poststructuralism and the Future of Radical Politics

In the post-Marxist era—in the time defined, in other words, by the eclipse of Marxism and the state socialist projects that emerged in its name—it would seem that radical left politics is adrift in uncertain waters. It would appear that we are living, as Jacques Rancière would say, in the age of "post-politics," where the global neo-liberal consensus is shared by the parliamentary Right and Left alike (an ideological distinction that has become, at the formal level, largely meaningless) and where the very idea of emancipation is now regarded by many as a dangerous and outdated illusion. However, this sterile space has been disrupted in recent years by the unleashing of new reactionary forces—the political emergence of the Far Right, the uncanny appearance of religious fundamentalism (and not just of the Islamic variety), as well as the aggressive and violent reassertion of the authoritarian state under the dubious pretext of "security."

All this would not seem to bode well for any sort of radical politics of emancipation. Indeed, the dominant ideological message today is to accept the "rules of the game"—to accept, in other words, free-market economics and the "security" state, the only alternative being fundamentalist terrorism. Indeed, "terrorism" has shown itself to be a mobile and infinitely extendible signifier that can now be applied to virtually any form of dissident activity, even—and especially—in our so-called liberal democracies. Despite these constraints, however, there have been signs of a certain revitalization of radical left politics—in particular, the anti-capitalist and anti-war protests that have taken place around the world in recent years. These protest movements suggest new forms of radical politics that break with traditional Marxist categories of class and economic struggles, and at the same time go beyond the particularistic and ultimately conservative logic of identity politics. While these struggles are made up of different and heterogeneous identities, and are not subordinated to the universal subjectivity of the proletariat, they are at the same time mobilized around universal issues and concerns—the current course of capitalist globalization, and the permanent state of war through which it is now articulated. [End Page 3]

Importantly, these movements are anti-authoritarian and non-institutional. They resist the centralizing tendencies of many radical struggles that have taken place in the past, and they do not aim at seizing state power as such, or utilizing the mechanisms and institutions of the state. In this sense, they can be seen as anarchist struggles—and they bear a distinct reference to the anarchist tradition of anti-authoritarian, anti-centralist politics. Here I will suggest that anarchism—as a political philosophy and activist tradition—can be seen as the hidden referent for radical political struggles today. This is reflected in a number of contemporary debates in continental theory over the future of radical politics. Thinkers as diverse as Laclau, Badiou, Rancière, Hardt and Negri, and Derrida have all sought, in different ways, to diagnose and redefine radical politics, and to explore its possibilities in the wake of Marxism. However, despite their silence on the subject, they all implicitly invoke—if the logic of their arguments is to be examined—some form of anarchist or anti-authoritarian politics of emancipation. Here I will show how anarchist theory can intervene in these debates, and allow a rethinking and renewal of radical political thought. However, anarchism as a philosophy is itself in need of rethinking: it remains mired in a positivist and humanist framework that to some extent limits its radical innovativeness. Postanarchism can be seen as a project of renewing the anarchist tradition through a critique of essentialist identities and the assertion instead of the contingency of politics.

Toward a New Radical Politics

If we examine debates within continental theory over the current status and future directions of radical politics, a number of themes become apparent. Among them are: a common rejection of statist and institutional forms of politics; a critique of the politics of representation and a loss of faith in the party; a questioning of the traditional Marxist category of class; and...


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