There aren’t enough memoirs and biographies of low-key anarchists. Where are the writings of homebodies, sympathetic professionals who bankrolled anarchist newspapers, and anarchists who worked and raised kids all day? What do we know of anarchists who experienced fear more easily than their peers, and had to contend with it on a regular basis?
Certainly there were and are hundreds of us who don’t feel strong and assertive, who are not drawn to spectacular, brave actions, and thus who struggle with our identity as anarchists. Yet we don’t ever read about them.
Maybe this is because biographies or memoirs about revolutionaries must be exceptional or exciting. Readers are interested in moments of courage and revolt. What publisher would put out a memoir of some person who merely hung out with friends, worked on campaigns, and occasionally did illegal stuff but not really? And a more pointed question, what person fitting that description would view their experiences as important enough to write about?
But perhaps we don’t encounter these stories because the anarchist milieu valorizes courage and so-called “will” over all else. Maybe those of us who are more afraid or aren’t drawn to risky action are ashamed, and thus don’t talk about it openly. Nobody wants to be remembered historically as a coward.
It’s a bummer, because it would be useful for many of us to see the ways that less bold anarchists lived and what they struggled with. We could compare our lives with theirs, find ways they dealt with similar things we do, and perhaps feel less alone in the world. One positive way that anarchy resembles religion is that it offers us a lineage through which we can look back at ancestors and forward to future generations. Through this lineage, we can have a sense of belonging, be inspired by those before us, and act in the present knowing that future anarchists will look back to us. Belonging is a strong motivator, making us feel less alone and more powerful in the world.
But if many anarchists don’t see those like them in the past, how do we feel worthy of the label anarchist and its lineage? When we just hero-worship the “willful”, what range of behavior are we limiting our respect to? Is anarchy reserved only for the badass and extreme?
I get the sense that there’s an unspoken ranking among anarchists for how one came to the Beautiful Idea. The best reason to become an anarchist is because one is a “willful” rebel, someone who was always in revolt since childhood and eventually found a political tendency that exemplified their natural way of being in the world.
Somewhere down the ranking are those of us who came to anarchism intellectually, discovering it in college or through activism. Turning to anarchism involved a realization that it matched our values and answered questions related to a social struggle, personal crisis, or campaign in our lives. We might have been shown by anarchists that the root of the social problem we were dealing with was capitalism and the state, leading us to investigate anarchism.
At the bottom of the ranking are those who were friend or lover to an anarchist, saw the scene, and “converted” because they liked what they saw. We anarchists dislike “followers,” so we disparage this latter type.
Social struggles, countercultures, milieus, and any relation between people at all benefit from the presence of different habits, proclivities, and desires. Anarchy would be better off if it was relatable to more peoples’ lives. And it would be more relatable if, rather than only hero-worshiping a canon of badasses, we accepted and made room for a wide range of people.