Anarcho-primitivism is an anarchist critique of the origins and progress of civilization. According to anarcho-primitivists, the shift from hunter-gatherer to agricultural subsistence gave rise to social stratification, coercion, and oppression. Anarcho-primitivists advocate a return of non-“civilised” ways of life through deindustrialisation, abolition of the division of labour or specialisation, and abandonment of large-scale organisation technologies. Primitivists argue that the shift to agriculture was one important factor in humans’ capacity for violence because it increased people’s dependence on material possessions in a way that encouraged violence between groups competing for scarce resources. In the 1950s, anarcho-primitivism appeared in the writings of post-left anarchy. Less influential strands exist within sociobiology and radical environmentalism as well as autonomism, communization and insurrectionary anarchism. The influence of John Zerzan’s works has been particularly significant for anarcho-primitivists since his first essays were published in 1992.
# Helpful Functions
Remember our “helpful functions” from earlier? We’ve defined them below for you so that you don’t have to worry about them as we move forward with this lesson!
- Note: This code won’t run unless you have all previous cells in this notebook running properly.*
Anarcho-primitivism is an anarchist critique of the origins and progress of civilization.
Anarcho-primitivism is a radical branch of anarchism that criticises civilization and seeks to return to a non-technological state. Anarcho-primitivist ideas have existed since the emergence of anarchism as a social movement in the 19th century, but it was not until the early 1990s that it became its own distinct ideology. The term “anarcho-primitivism” was coined in 1995 by the British group Green Anarchy.
Anarcho-primitivists often criticise modern technology, mass society and civilization itself; variably perceiving them as a source of oppression or an impediment to freedom. They are usually nature lovers whose ideal world involves living minimally while using technology only for basic necessities such as food preparation, shelter and medicine (e.g., herbalism). The term “anti-civilization” was used by Lawrence Jarach’s magazine Fifth Estate in 1983, but has seen new use in anarcho primitivist circles with publication of John Zerzan’s essay “Culture against Civilization: An Anarchist Primer” which introduced this concept into green anarchist literature.
According to anarcho-primitivism, the shift from hunter-gatherer to agricultural subsistence gave rise to social stratification, coercion, and oppression.
According to anarcho-primitivism, the shift from hunter-gatherer to agricultural subsistence gave rise to social stratification, coercion, and oppression. Agriculture as a source of oppression
Anarcho-primitivists view agriculture as a major component of domination. In their view, the domestication of plants and animals created a rigid class system with an elite ruling class—a ruling class that could support itself off the labour of others.
They also argue that domestication creates an artificial scarcity which results in inequities between classes and genders. For example:
- An individual with access to wild plants is less likely than someone who has no access at all; this constitutes an inequality between them (and it is not because “God” or “Nature” has made this so).
- Men are more likely than women who live in civilised societies; this constitutes another inequality between them (and it is not because “God” or “Nature” has made this so).
In the 1950s, anarcho-primitivism appeared in the writings of post-left anarchy.
In the 1950s, anarcho-primitivism appeared in the writings of post-left anarchy. This was a time of anti-nuclear protests, such as those at the Nevada Test Site and Rocky Flats; anti-war protests; anti-capitalist protests, such as the 1956 Hungarian Uprising and Polish Poznan workers’ riots; and anti-corporate protests, for example at Wounded Knee in 1973.
The influence of John Zerzan’s works has been particularly significant.
The influence of John Zerzan’s works has been particularly significant. In his essay “Whither Anarchism?”, he writes that the “free-market capitalism” and technology of civilization are inherently oppressive and that they may be abolished only after a period of anarchist revolution.
Another early anarcho-primitivist, John Moore, believes that civilization is itself an instrument of oppression because it destroys freedom by submerging people within a system in which they have no choice but to obey. He also believes that agricultural societies created war so that they could control territory and resources more easily, which could explain why many anarchists were opposed to World War I, where there was an obvious need for central government intervention.
Anarcho-primitivists are sceptical about technological progress and modernity in general.
It’s important to note that the primitivist critique of technology, modernity, and civilization is not simply a rejection of these things. It is a rejection of their relationship with each other, and their impact on human beings as a species. Primitivists are not anti-technology in itself; they are concerned with how it has shaped our current society. Similarly, they are not opposed to being civilised (i.e., living within an organised society). Rather, they criticise how the technologies we use have come at the expense of our wilderness survival skills and animalistic instincts—and that domestication has led us down a path where we’re dependent on civilization for survival rather than cultivating our own means of production.
Anarcho-primitivism is a unique critique of civilization based on the premise that civilization has resulted in oppression. It highlights how civilization has brought about social stratification, coercion and inequality which are the root causes of most human suffering today.