Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Village Anarchist

“The Five Stages of Collapse – Survivor’s Toolkit,” by Dimitri Orlov, 2013. 

Orlov is the village anarchist. At least that’s the solution this book comes up with.  Financial, commercial, political, social and cultural collapse coming? Get back to small hunter/gatherer or farming communities based on family and gift economics.  Orlov disregards the working class and socialism, which is understandable for many people burned by Stalinism / bureaucratism.  But he’s not naïve enough to suck up to capital, which he criticizes throughout the book.  He does see some benefits in the workers state economies, which were not based on the ‘market’ but on earlier forms of cooperation.  Yet his enemy is not profit or the capitalist class but industrialism itself, ‘largeness’ itself, the state itself (as if the state or an armed force can never represent the majority) and hierarchy itself – mostly centrist-anarchist concerns.  

Orlov wrote “Reinventing Collapse” (reviewed below) about the destruction of the Russian economy in the 90s under the tender bourgeois tutelage of Jeffrey Sachs and George Soros.  That book had the benefit of a specific and factual focus.  Now he’s attempted to synthesize that experience to global dimensions – and produced an idiosyncratic, contradictory and somewhat derivative account.  Just the anthropological studies he chooses to highlight are odd.  Iceland’s premier in the face of the 2008 financial collapse; the Russian Mafia; the Pashtuns; the Roma; and a tribe in Africa called the “Ik.”  Many right-wing anarchists have a fascination with lumpenism, thieves and crime.  His inclusion of the Russian Mafia, the Roma and the Pashtuns as examples of solid family structures that are enduring and perhaps enviable in the coming collapse reflects this.  Iceland makes sense, but the Icelandic right just triumphed in recent elections, reflecting that the anti-financial consensus in that tiny nation was very fragile.  And not the occasion for 'smallness' to overcome.  The mass struggles in Greece, Spain and Egypt?  The restiveness of the massive Chinese and Indian working classes?  Invisible.  In fact, the majority of people in this world are invisible to the great cooperator, Orlov.

Right-wing anarchists dislike the working class and here Orlov agrees.  His theory is that the working class was born of industrialism and will die as it decays, due to peak commodities, financial collapse and climate change.  This certainly has some truth – although even the working class of Marx’s time, small as it was, was able to impact events.  Witness the 1848 revolutions and the Paris Commune.  As he well knows, the small Russian working class led the Russian revolution and later the Chinese revolution.  Now that the working class is the largest it has ever been in history world-wide, Orlov wants to hasten it off the stage of history quickly – to be supplanted by nomadic hunter-gatherers, without written languages but a splendid oral tradition.  This he calls ‘survival.’  I call it petit-bourgeois romanticism.

Unfortunately for Orlov, the working class outnumbers the Pashtuns, the Roma and the Russian Mafia now and will, even after a financial, economic or political collapse.  That is OUR mob. The possibility of world-wide global revolution is now more possible than it was even during Lenin and Trotsky's time.  It can result in a steady-state economy that is sustainable and is not based on chaotic markets or growth.

Orlov does support cooperation as the answer to collapse, and that is progressive.  Like Kropotkin he understands that humans succeed when they help each other, not when they fight. Yet he pictures the pyramid of people to cooperate with like this.  First, family and clan; second, friends; third, strangers.  Now you will notice there is no room here for ‘co-workers’ or even ‘neighbors,’ let alone something like ‘class.’ Given Orlov is an isolated writer, he has no co-workers.  His only co-worker is his cup of tea or perhaps a liter of vodka.  Instead he advocates ‘de-proletarianization,’ which to him means the wonders of avoiding industrial and white-collar work.  I suspect he has been highly successful in that regard.  He highlights lumpens who proudly avoid work or rip off those who do. His vision of the future under a collapse of all industrial life seems to be a very luxurious life.  No one evidently has to hunt or farm or work much.  Just create cultural artifacts and socialize.  Agricultural work in the hot sun without many machines?  No problem.  Hunting for small game?  Always a dead shot!  Fishing without a fish finder in the wide ocean?  No problem.  The perspective is somewhat ridiculous and starry-eyed, but then, we have to look forward to something other than the abyss.

Contradictions abound in this book.  He slights the survivalists who are making money off fear.  Yet his books are selling based on the fear of collapse.  He denigrates literacy and the internet while writing a popular blog.  He denigrates the nation-state while promoting the ‘city-state’ of yore.  He claims atheism, while promoting the enduring quality of religious institutions.  He opposes theocracy and then tells us how ‘together’ and ‘anti-imperialist’ the Pashtuns are.  He predicts world collapse by 2050 at the latest, but then delineates how the present European financial crisis is leading to near economic collapse.  Certainly, this particular collapse will not take 38 years.  He stigmatizes the U.S. for its high prison population, then claims it is a result of illiteracy, not the war on drugs.  He is encouraged by the increasing number of ‘failed states’ – glorying in the fall of the state apparatuses.  Yet he ostensibly opposes their replacement – war-lordism.  He insists there is a space for anarchic cooperation to develop in Mogadishu and the upper Congo instead.  This paradise of cooperation has not occurred yet.  Misery by itself usually does not produce progressive social change.  Oppression, instead, oppresses. 

Orlov, unfortunately, has become adept at lazy, sweeping generalizations and general bloviating.  There are certainly some nuggets of usefulness here, but submerged in a sea of romanticism.

His theory is that his stages of collapse – first financial, then commercial, political, social and cultural – can be separately analyzed.  He hopes that social and cultural collapse can be contained, because otherwise human life will descend to below animal culture, as his survey of the “Ik” tribe describes.  The Iks are subject to extreme starvation because the Kenyan government has forbidden them access to their ancestral homelands inside a ‘nature’ park.  The government has chosen animal-animals before human-animals in this case.  As a result, the Ik have no food and live a ‘every person for themselves’ life – throwing children out of the hut at 3 and letting the old die. Their biggest source of humor is the misfortunes of others.  The Ik, however, are not victims of collapse per se, but of bureaucratic state laws, neo-liberalism and the resulting starvation.

Who is Dimitri Orlov?  Well, in this book he mentions that both his father and grandfather were professors in the old USSR.  The family left the USSR in the first wave of dissidents in 1972.  Now he loves sailing and is a self-identified writer and blogger.  His hero is Peter Kropotkin, who engaged in the Russian Revolution by doing absolutely nothing while in-country, dying in his bed in 1921.  If the revolution or even social upheaval comes to the U.S. Orlov will probably be invisible, preserving his family in water-world, while fishing for the few remaining species in the ocean. Co-operation?  ‘Group’ survival?  Not unless you are related.  

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
July 4, 2013

Celebrate the 1776 Revolution from British Colonialism, a true revolution of cooperation, not carried out by families, mafia or thieves, but by an army of dedicated small farmers and city workers.  “Our” mob.

1 comment:

AA said...

'Unfortunately for Orlov, the working class outnumbers the Pashtuns, the Roma and the Russian Mafia now and will, even after a financial, economic or political collapse. That is OUR mob. The possibility of world-wide global revolution is now more possible than it was even during Lenin’s time. It can result in a steady-state economy that is sustainable and is not based on chaotic markets or growth.'

There's no 'steady-state economy' I'm aware of. Peak fossil fuel, galloping climate change, and soil depletion are going to cause a die-off in the human population. It's also disputable whether there is an 'our mob.' If there is group co-operation it seems to be along clan and ethnic lines rather than abstract 'worker brotherhood.' I've seen enough of 'class solidarity' at meetings at Mayday Books to realise not one person would give me a bed for the night were I to become homeless. So Orlov's advice resonates with me. I agree, though, that his examples have been chosen idiosyncratically. But again, his chapters on the gypsies and the Russian mafia I found insightful. Not so convinced by his chapters on Iceland and the Ik.