There are few writers who have had as much influence on my work as Fredy Perlman. So to be involved in the second edition of the 1992 Phoenix Press book of Fredy's essays, Anything Can Happen, is truly an honor. I've worked closely with his widow, Lorraine Perlman, who went above and beyond to iron out all the wrinkles in both this edition and common online versions of the essays.
The book is currently in transit back to us from the printer and will be shipping out within days. So I'm sharing my introduction here.
For more information and to order a copy, click here.
Introduction to Anything Can Happen
Civilization has a tendency to repeat its own mistakes.
This makes Fredy Perlman’s insights about civilization increasingly relevant today. This book of his essays, originally written between 1968 and 1984, and published by Phoenix Press in 1992, is a case in point.
Fredy Perlman (1934-1984) is among the most impassioned and articulate writers that anarchism could have asked for. While he was aligned with anarchist perspectives, he opted not to weigh himself down with the label. He famously stated that “the only –ist name I respond to is ‘cellist.’” Despite his reluctance to use the word, Fredy has been one of the most influential writers on anarchist thought, particularly anti-civilization, green anarchist and anarcho-primitivist strands. His monumental Against His-Story, Against Leviathan gets my recommendation for one of the most important books ever written.
The nine essays in this book are linked to Fredy’s earlier Marxist-leaning critiques, his Situationist-inspired move towards the “ultra-left,” and initiate his critiques of civilization itself. As Mo of Phoenix Press succinctly overviewed the spectrum covered in these essays in the Phoenix edition:
The changes in Fredy’s analyses, from Marxist economics to an anti-industrial perspective, produced contradictions which the reader will have to resolve because Fredy died in 1985. It seems Fredy was too busy developing new ideas to go back and modify his earlier ones.
According to Lorraine Perlman’s memoir of Fredy’s life, Having Little, Being Much (Black & Red, 1989), it was a trip to Alaska in 1971 that turned his eye directly towards Progress and industrialism: the core drivers of modernized civilization. The civilizer’s hatred of the environment itself became a central theme of his work, most evident in the final three essays of this book.
Yet all of his work is driven by a fierce and fiery passion to attack the core of political power. Not content to advocate a party line, these essays refuse to cater to weak liberal agendas as they assault the power-hungry aspirations of the left. Within the radical milieu, Fredy glimpsed the same form and function of the State. Always critical of the ideologue, there’s cautiousness and reluctance towards the revolutionaries throughout that is as insightful as it is correct. These essays have a progression in thought and critique, but you can see that the underlying impulse: a consistent and innate refusal of the power-hungry politicians and their games.
While anarchism has significantly incorporated these trajectories, the same practices persist. Not just within anarchism, nor in the leftist milieu, but in society as a whole. This is why an essay about socialist Yugoslavia (a nation that no longer exists nor are its remains socialist) or a 1969 letter about professors being fired from their University remain relevant. ‘Progress and Nuclear Power’ was written in response to the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant leak in 1979. Today the 2011 meltdown of the Fukoshima nuclear power plant in Japan continues leaking and intensifying. While I write this, North Korea and the United States are engaged in threats of nuclear warfare between Egocrats.
‘Anti-Semitism and the Beirut Pogrom’ is an essay I find necessary to circulate again and again. I don’t think anyone can consider that situation resolved. With the current global wave of reactionary populism, ‘The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism’ takes on a new sense of urgency.
This book takes its name from the title of the first essay. It is the most Situationist inspired text in terms of content and in terms of when it was written. You can feel an infectious sense of hope in what might come next.
Hope has itself become a boogeyman amongst anarchists. To a certain degree, I understand. And I think Fredy would have as well. Within anarchist circles, hope has mistakenly been equated with naivety. I think Fredy certainly would have agreed that it isn’t.
Its hard to shake the idealism that the phrase “anything can happen” seems to steep in, but when faced with the reality of a world torn by Egocrats, shaped by the false notions of community in the guise of nationalism, when acts of repression and genocide are justified by victimization; “anything” might not always be seen positively.
And that’s where the realness enters.
We have stepped onto new turf of the world that we currently live in, but only in terms of scale. Our problems are old ones with more technologically-driven consequences. As Fredy traces the repetitive and repressive history of civilization in Against His-Story, Against Leviathan, as he charts the path of conquest and colonizers in The Strait, he never forgets that what cannot be destroyed is the undercurrent of resistance as old as civilization itself. This wild spirit remains alive: against all odds, against all circumstances. We may not know how this beast, this globalized civilization, will end. We may not know what lies ahead or what Leviathan will try to suffocate. We may presume the worst, but it doesn’t make it true.
We do know is what is happening. We know what has happened.
And we know we can resist it as others always have. Resistance means remaining untethered to the conventions of revolutionaries. It means staying clear of organizational rigidities and ideological platforms. If that wild spirit has not died, then the weaknesses of civilization will be found in the kinks in its armor. In the mistakes it has made and will continue to make. This is how we locate the vulnerabilities.
Most crucial among them is that enraged, impassioned piece of each of us that refuses to be tamed. Fredy had a gift for essay writing. He was articulate in his anger and drive. This, in itself, is inspiring. If we refuse to domesticate our passions as wild beings, then maybe hope isn’t such a bad thing. It might seem implausible, but it is the spark that reminds us that we aren’t dead yet. We aren’t crazy. Perhaps anything can happen.
We, like the earth and all its communities, may be held captive by civilization. But we can also be very fucking dangerous.
I would like to take a moment to thank Lorraine Perlman for her steadfast and diligent work on this project. Without her exemplary effort, it certainly wouldn’t be what it is.
For wildness and anarchy,