In the modern world anarchist hot takes can be easily found on twitter or facebook. Such hot takes are of course not a new phenomenon and can also be found in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In this video I shall draw attention to a few of my personal favourites.
The French geographer Élisée Reclus was strongly opposed to children being taught geography with two-dimensional maps because they failed to accurately represent the real 3D earth. In a letter to the Spanish anarchist educator Francisco Ferrer he argued that “maps with unequal scales and projections would do as much damage to my students as they did to me and undoubtedly to the reader as well, because no one manages to completely erase the contradictory impressions that one receives from these diverse maps.” This was because they gave “geographic forms a floating and indefinite appearance”, misrepresented “the proportions between the different regions” and featured “multiple deformations, inflated or narrowed, stretched, elongated, or truncated in various ways”. (Quoted in Ferrer 2019, 102) It was therefore “truly impossible to use traditional maps without betraying the very same cause of education with which they were entrusted”. Reclus’ alternative to 2D maps was the use of 3D globes. He thought that, “the early geographical education of the child must proceed from a direct examination of the globe, an exact and proportional reproduction of the earth itself.” (Ibid, 103) This hostility to 2D maps is not a one off event. In 1903 Reclus argued that 2D maps ”ought to be entirely tabooed. They must be tabooed, because maps are made on different scales, and that being so, it is quite impossible to compare them; and if you cannot compare them, it is only a waste of time and trouble. In all well-conducted schools, globes should be used, and children ought to be entirely forbidden the use of maps’.” (Quoted in Ferretti 2019, 32) Reclus was, in short, a true globe head.
Historical anarchists had strong opinions not only about globes but also about drugs. In 1922 the Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta argued against the criminalisation of cocaine. Although his arguments against drug prohibition are still relevant today, he did seriously underestimate how much people enjoy taking cocaine. He wrote,
There are in France stringent laws against the traffic in drugs and against those who take them. And as always happens, the scourge grows and spreads in spite, and perhaps because of, the laws. The same is happening in the rest of Europe and in America. Doctor Courtois-Suffit, of the French Academy of Medicine, who, already last year , had sounded the alarm against the dangers of cocaine, noting the failure of penal legislation, now demands … new and more stringent laws.
It is the old mistake of legislators, in spite of experience invariably showing that laws, however barbarous they may be, have never served to suppress vice or to discourage delinquency. The more severe the penalties imposed on the consumers and traffickers of cocaine, the greater will be the attraction of forbidden fruits and the fascination of the risks incurred by the consumer, and the greater will be the profits made by the speculators, avid for money.
It is useless, therefore to hope for anything from the law. We must suggest another solution. Make the use and sale of cocaine free [from restrictions], and open kiosks where it would be sold at cost price or even under cost. And then launch a great propaganda campaign to explain to the public, and let them see for themselves, the evils of cocaine; no one would engage in counter-propaganda because nobody could exploit the misfortunes of cocaine addicts.
Certainly the harmful use of cocaine would not disappear completely, because the social causes which create and drive those poor devils to the use of drugs would still exist. But in any case the evil would decrease, because nobody could make profits out of its sale, and nobody could speculate on the hunt for speculators. (Malatesta 2015, 105-6)
Malatesta’s hot take about cocaine is one example of how historical anarchists articulated anarchist theory in response to a specific historical context. Another example is the Spanish anarchist Ricardo Mella’s amusing intervention into discussions about exercise. In 1913 he argued that gym culture emerged due to the wealthy not having to engage in manual labour. Whilst the poor worked their bodies to exhaustion in order to earn a wage, the rich went to gyms where they would “ridiculously move their arms and legs and trunks aimlessly and uselessly.” (Mella 2020, 42) Mella thought that gym culture was not only a product of the capitalist division of labour. It was also inferior to what he viewed as more natural and superior forms of exercise. He wrote,
Some days ago, a French illustrated magazine published a beautiful picture of a group of German ladies in the most ridiculous gymnastic positions. All of them were simultaneously performing the strangest movements. Blunders, pirouettes, jumps, everything was done rhythmically and to the voice of a leader.
We immediately think that those ladies would become healthier and more vigorous and would also be happier running free across the prairie into the forest’s heavy leafiness, bounding over rocks and crags or bathing in the sun on the beach’s warm sand. We immediately think that tidy tough guys who waste their time in fencing halls, in ball games, in horse racing, or in water sports would be much better off running around beaches, forests, and meadows after cute girls, inviting kisses, in pink colors. They would be better off climbing trees in order to reach bountiful nature’s rich fruits for their loved ones. They would be much better off in complete freedom of action and passion. The automated doll is in no way better to natural man. (Mella 2020, 41)
Prior to the invention of crossfit, Mella suggested what could have become a bold new exercise programme: men in pink outfits chasing hot women across the wilderness. Other anarchists do not appear to have endorsed Mella’s attempt to combine cross country running with heterosexual gender relations. When writing about dating they largely focused on the idea of free love. Although this sometimes included the idea of polyamory, it usually referred to a monogamous consensual relationship which occurred outside of marriage. Such love was supposed to be free in the sense that it was voluntary and did not contain any oppressive social relations. One proponent of free love in this sense of the term was the German anarchist Rudolf Rocker. Although Rocker appears to have treated his partner Milly Witkop with respect, other anarchist men were less caring and used women as sex objects. To give one example, Rocker knew a married man who lived with and impregnated a young woman who was not his wife. This man subsequently threw her out of his house when his wife arrived from Russia. In response to this kind of behaviour Rocker endorsed drastic action. He proposed that men who had sex with and then abandoned women should be expelled from an organisation he was involved in. Such men were viewed by Rocker as people who had wrongly mistaken anarchist ideas on free love as license to satisfy their own sexual desires without consideration for the welfare of others. (Frost 2009, 88) Rocker in other words engaged in anti-fuckboi aktion.
Given the above, historical anarchist theory is not only interesting or thought provoking. It is also sometimes very amusing and bizarre. These hot takes highlight the fact that anarchists did not only write about such topics as the oppression of capitalism and the state or what strategies anarchists should use to achieve their objectives. They reflected upon and wrote about a large number of different topics. In 1886 the English anarchist Charlotte Wilson claimed that, “Anarchists believe that the solution of the social problem can only be wrought out from the equal consideration of the whole of the experience at our command, individual as well as social, internal as well as external”. (Wilson 2000, 50) For some anarchists the topics worthy of consideration included drugs, sex, exercise and, most importantly of all, globes.
Ferrer, Francisco. 2019. Anarchist Education and the Modern School: A Francisco Ferrer Reader. Edited by Mark Bray and Robert H. Haworth. Oakland, CA: PM Press.
Ferretti, Federico. 2019. Anarchy and Geography: Reclus and Kropotkin in the UK. London: Routledge.
Frost, Ginger. 2009. “Love is Always Free: Anarchism, Free Unions and Utopianism in Edwardian England”. Anarchist Studies 17, no. 1, 73-94.
Malatesta, Errico. 2015. Life and Ideas: The Anarchist Writings of Errico Malatesta. Edited by Vernon Richards. Oakland, CA: PM Press.
Mella, Ricardo. 2020. Anarchist Socialism in Early Twentieth-Century Spain: A Ricardo Mella Anthology. Edited by Stephen Luis Vilaseca. Palgrave Macmillan.
Wilson, Charlotte. 2000. Anarchist Essays. Edited by Nicolas Walter. London: Freedom Press.