TOTW: Anarchist Aesthetics

How do Anarchists recognize one another outside the bookfair, outside the demo, outside the show? In days past, and perhaps still, it was through wearing certain clothes, carrying certain books, presenting a certain attitude, styling one’s hair just so; in other words through an aesthetic. As capitalism moves ever onward these symbols become less and less distinct as more and more people have ready access to all the band t-shirts, obscure books and identities that were once locked away in something like subculture, but anarchists continue using similar aesthetic tools and references to signal where they’re coming from and where they’re going.

In the world of anarchist news, the aesthetic reference I see most is that of punk. Whether that is the use of detourned, rough-cut, collage style images and graphics or just actually playing punk music during your podcast, anarchists are still reaching back into that same cultural font, connecting themselves to a specific sub-cultural lineage. But what is communicated to others through this aesthetic? An aesthetic of rage, of youth, of certain cultural products, of destruction and no future. This aesthetic clearly brings in a certain crowd when something like an anarchist publication uses it, but who does it push away?

And so these are my questions to you, what other aesthetics have you seen in anarchyland? Did this aesthetic attract you? Repel you? Why? Who do you see playing with anarchist aesthetics, symbols and lineage? And, most importantly, how could anarchists be doing aesthetics better?

Other Aesthetics I have noticed:

  • Gnarly Black Metal Font
  • What if it was orange?!?!
  • Slick web 2.0 professionalism

There are 28 Comments

I mostly dress in hobo rags or practical stuff myself but I don't really use aesthetics to relate to people because it doesn't work? aesthetics don't mean much except maybe for objectifying people (which I'm not above) or if you're wearing $1000s of dollars, then I might assume you suck and avoid you? might even go so far as to say you'll probably be a boring, shitty person, the more invested in aesthetics you are. not always but usually, just like musicians! lol

Isn't this just another fortress of commodified identity? I get it, kids gonna be kids but man ... when I was a kid? was I ever disappointed by most people fronting those "radical" aesthetics. they usually just wanted the social capital and people to fuck and what not and that's fine but its OH SO BORING.

Novatore wore suits.
Emma wore the finest of gowns.
Bob Black wears Walmart.
Who cares? Only LARPers.

hi damo! I'll try again.

option 1: they can't recognize each other on sight. sorry.
option 2: by talking.

Dress in black. All black. Everyday and everywhere is a black bloc.

Please, "thecollective", don't confuse aesthetics with fashion - two vastly different topics. The history of anarchist fashion (which I would start with Malcolm McClaren, Vivienne Westwood, and the SEX boutique) may be a fun subject to discuss, but not a very important one.

if the question is about how our personal aesthetic interacts with or is part of how we communicate with others, then fashion is a significant part of that, as is music, humor, jargon, etc.
you could always answer the question the way you think it should be answered.

In "Homage to Catalonia," Orwell says you could always recognize the anarchists because they wore leather jackets and bandannas. So, no, anarchist fashion did not begin in the 70s.

They, consciously or not, picked up on what the fascists did in Italy, minus the strict uniforms... but close. Maybe it was more rooted on the less-contradictory commie expressionism from Germany. Look at all the regalia and imagery during the Civil War... they had CNT-themed armored urban vehicles and using pop radio stations for anarcho-commie propaganda. You couldn't have it closer to a fashion industry.

Of course you had the dadaist and surrealists, more compatible with anarchism, tho beyond a certain bohemian, artsy subculture, I ain't sure they produced anything close to a wider fashion like CNT did. They nowhere politicized art like the forementioned political movements did, beyond serving the sheer purpose of subversion or social critique. The biggest anarcho-artist in Spain imo, Bunuel, had shifting, unclear political positions, as he was always into subversion and parody.

Westwood-McLaren (which can be perhaps reduced to Westwood, for how McLaren was nowhere a talented designer...) just came up with a new, subversive approach to aesthetics, within the same spirit of '68, unlike the CNT "chic". It was mostly aesthetics made for subversion.... before it quickly developed in not just a fashion but more importantly a subculture. As we all know, Punk music wasn't even invented my these punks. There was at least The Stooges and rowdy hippies/metalheads like Hawkwind, Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer who around years before. So Sex Pistols was more of a fashion business.

So it was literally the reverse of what fascism started and CNT reproduced. Where the purpose of "fashion" wasn't a tool to uniformalize a social struggle and therefore allow for a massive spreading of revolutionary ideology and values with the aim of making these the new, dominant paradigm; but rather as a rejection of what Andy Robinson refers to as the "Fordist order", and assertion of a fierce, nihilistic neoliberalism up against it.. that just kept rising over the years along with the predominant postmodern, neoliberal (dis)order. Even the recent progressive ID pols are part of it, unconsciously reproducing neoliberal morals and aesthetics with the whole punky-queer hipsterism.

"You're all part of the social order 'til realize you are!"
- me

The Dada group were saying to the world "Art is dead, also god and the institutìons of culture" And what happened, a binary ideological war between the deaf hordes of culturists broke out. Having failed to get their message and warning out, some joined the resistance and inevitably became drawn into the leftist and liberal creed.
Reoccurring juxtapositions of nationalist dictatorships and capitalist democracies wìth all their spectacular propaganda of artful distraction became the opiate of the mass hedonistic materialists.
Still, the culture industry churns out the megalomaniacal idols of charismatic corruption, glittering in neon glory, as the plunder of biospheric tranquility and its innocent souls are swept into the vortice of corporate commodity worship and its shiny aesthetic of immaculate production,.....

They're often seen as mere clowns but were in fact the most accurate seers of the modern world.

Art was dead already back in their days, and this is the very reason why all comtemporary art looks just like nothing else but *corpses*, Art galleries and museums are just like funerals homes, and the university art school feels like a morgue.

To grab a quick referent and not have to look for one a bit farther away, Bonanno in "Armed Joy" mentions that we should oppose the work ethic with the anti-work aesthetic. This alone is enough to hint at us the aesthetic dimension encompasses more than merely looks. If an ethic asks what is correct or what should be done, an aesthetic asks what's enjoyable and what's pleasing to the senses and the intellect. In a similar way in which Oscar Wilde pointed out in many as recently summarized and retold by Kristian Williams, but I will refrain from veering into that tangent, and it's there for someone else to pick up.

What is beautiful to an anarchist? What do anarchists consider a luxurious sensuous joy?
Certainly the living flesh, of peers and of the earth, voluptuous landscapes to explore, dizzying heights, cavernous depths. The quietude and the stillness of a serene night for a deep sleep, or a nap in the afternoon. The warmth of cuddling, the cold of a plunge in ice water. The list is endless.

In the area of personality traits which we may find beautiful as anarchists, many of them shine differently under the light of defiance of authority and submission, and these are the main aesthetic traits Anarchists are drawn to and help them sometimes recognize one another outside the bookfair, outside the demo, outside the show. These are the real jewels, not the tacky iconography of circled letters, acronyms and two-tone flags.

What do anarchists consider sublime? Well, what is sublime in itself, regardless of what you call yourself, the inordinate and incommensurate: but in particular that of limitless freedom, this is a squarely aesthetic (even romantic) concept, impossible to satisfy by operationalization, overflowing any pragmatic circumscription.

I like the DIY aesthetics of making things for yourself and mending what you have as it falls apart. I keep a small sewing kit in my bag with some patches in it when I'm away from home for that reason. Spray paint works pretty well on cotton too. Some day I might decide that I want a pocket in a particular spot, and then I hand stitch one into place. And the place where I live is the same way: a large assemblage of found or purchased structural and decorative materials, evolving piecemeal over years along with the plants. It's more interesting to me to grow into your own style that suits you through a sequence of experiments and experiences than to adopt vague cultural signifiers like "punk" or "anarchy" or whatever.

Its all about the androgynous queer punx aesthetic. Everyone knows this.

"Gnarly Black Metal Font": Neat, but usually unreadable
"What if it was orange?!?!": Inhabit! Not exactly anarchist...
"Slick web 2.0 professionalism": u mean like those RAM-sucking sites where you can't comment?

Anyways, what do I have to say of what anarchist aesthetics should be...

What about none?

How about we define ourselves by a set of ethics and practices (or, dum-dum-dum-dum, it's the infamous "praxis"!) that truly bring people together no matter where they're from or their personal preferences?

Aesthetics got something fascicizing to me. Not necessarily fascist per se, but in the sense that it attempts to format people to a conformity pattern that also can lose substance at some point. Equally, queer used to be a way radical counterculture but what it's become today?

as anyone who was at Occupy LA can tell you, the cultural revolution is really Guy Fawkes masks and bandannas that say "you can't arrest an idea." See also: Elliot's black hoodie on TV show Mr. Robot, which also borrows from V for Vendetta very heavily. Hoodies, Gunpowder plot signalling, people going "whooooo" during rowdy protests... this concludes my total analysis of anarchist aesthetics.

"Who do you see playing with anarchist aesthetics, symbols and lineage? And, most importantly, how could anarchists be doing aesthetics better?"
there was a workshop at bastard one year that compared monks to anarchists -- called something like "the hooded ones". it was good. and spoke to what k. williams has written about too, the implicit puritanism of so many anarchists, whether it's from growing up in a christian society (those of us who have), or being influenced by christian-influenced leftism (those of us who were).... if anarchists are saying "no" to things all the time, as we are and as i support, it's probably easiest to fall into the implicit no's related to minimalism, aescetism, etc. despite the emma-affiliated references to dancing.

but there's also something compelling about claiming the ominousness of black, about wanting to be dangerous (of course it's always easier to look the part). being bright and colorful suits some kinds of anarchy a lot better than others. how hard is it (not a rhetorical question) to be happy and joyous while dressed dourly? is the point that happiness is too associated with conformity? does that change as an anarchist marker as other people acknowledge/become more unhappy?

there's a lot to this topic.

"how hard is it (not a rhetorical question) to be happy and joyous while dressed dourly?"

There need not be any connection whatsoever, additionally, the relationship may be inverse as well to some in some contexts, and one can also change clothing according to the occasion; festive, sporty, tactical, scary, solemn, naked, etc. Just like songs change, for celebrating, for mourning, for battle, for relaxation. In this way, and many others, anarchists are unremarkable people. People are more alike than dissimilar.

"is the point that happiness is too associated with conformity?"

It need not be, but a range between bland contentedness and mellow melancholy seems to be. Assertion. ONLY ECSTASY AND EYE RIPPING ANGUISH ARE ALLOWED. MANICURE YOUR AFFECTS, ANARCHISTS! HAVE BEAUTIFUL FEELINGS AS WELL AS IDEAS AND ASPECT! VIRTUE!!!!!! Not saying this is what you claim, this is just a histrionic farcical tangent.

"does that change as an anarchist marker as other people acknowledge/become more unhappy?"

Do you mean that an anarchist should be bright and colorful in order to contrast a gloomy and dismal world?
That the aesthetic intention is to be against the grain, shifting in opposition to the norms and trends?
Is this in conflict with the desire to wear and look like you want without regard for how you're perceived?

I would further inconvenience the whole question by asking questions pointing to annoying paths: can an anarchist even be beautiful? is anarchy by definition ugly? isn't it that the world is really bright and beautiful and anarchists are the ugly rejects?
Again reminded of the Crimethinc medusa poster, like the last time a similar topic was circulated.

At some point, after getting dizzy in the carousel of words, we can recognize that we're dumb animals that say "ooh, shiny thing!" and other things that hint things to us related to our very mundane and absurd biological impulses, not lofty ideals or musings. People are not the only animal that ornaments (their surrounding and their personal appearance), or marvels at beauty. I've even seen stray dogs gather on the top of a hill to watch the sunset, moved by its beauty. And stray dogs, even when in a particularly blatant case of pack hierarchy, are more anarchist than people, including anarchist people.

What are doggy aesthetics?

that anarchy is slowly dying as aesthetics does not mean that anarchy is utterly at an end. that will be the case only if aesthetic experience remains the sole element for anarchy. everything depends on getting out of aesthetic experience and into anarcho-essence, which means reaching an entirely different "element" for the "becoming" of anarchy.

the question remains: is anarchy still an essential and a necessary way in which that truth happens which is decisive for our insurrectionary existence, or is anarchy this no longer?

the anarcho-insurrectionist wears her boots in the street. only here are they what they are. they are all the more genuinely so, the less the anarcho-insurrectionist at work thinks about the boots, or senses them at all, or is even aware of them.

the anarchist grounds herself on the aesthetic and the aesthetic juts through the anarchist. the anarchist, in resting upon the aesthetic, strives to raise the aesthetic completely into view. as self-opening, the anarchist cannot endure anything closed. the aesthetic, however, as sheltering and concealing, tends always to draw the anarchist into herself and keep it there.

anarchist and aesthetic are essentially different from one another and yet are never separated.... the anarcho-essence of the aesthetic consists in the fighting of the battle between anarchist and aesthetic.

the aesthetic really represents nothing. yet, what is there, with that you are immediately alone, as if on an early winter evening, when the last dumpster fires have burned out, you yourself were heading wearily home from the street with your molotov.

I disagree with your assertion "that anarchy is slowly dying" . Anarchy is a discontinuous, categorical, elusive, inclusive and expansive abstract concept that cannot be quantified so as to declare it is increasing or decreasing, to say it is slowly or quickly dying, each moment is a recursive eternity, and there's no essence that can be distilled from it without inevitably reducing it to a lesser part that can't even resemble the limitlessness it points to. You reify the aesthetic sphere, you refer to " the aesthetic" as an object, instead of a mere orientation or concept to focus your attention to an aspect of what you can sense. The sublime of the irreducible tumultuous expanse is the epitome of anarchy.

"I disagree with your assertion "that anarchy is slowly dying"".

i disagree with your reading comprehension. the sentence was "that anarchy is slowly dying as aesthetics does not mean that anarchy is utterly at an end."

try again. then, perhaps, i'll address the rest of your nonsense assertions.

Anarchist aesthetics is created in struggle and cannot be given. Dadaism and punks understand that. But it's sad to just stay there. Because it just becomes a superficial attitude. Anarchism always keeps pace with the times, but when we talk about aesthetics, it seems that the topic becomes very narrow.

During the Spanish Civil War, the use of revolutionary symbols was very common. These are the products of a particular historical period, and they are often used as propaganda. With the change of times, memes have become popular now. But these have not yet risen to aesthetics. It can be aesthetic when a fighter fires at a fascist, but propaganda doesn't. But even so, a Gothic aesthetic can always be found in the stubborn far left: even if times have changed, stubborn revolutionaries seek their way home in an eternal night.

In my personal understanding, anarchism should not be an ideological dogma, but a kind of self inspiration. It is always something to be explored and closely related to the struggle of our times. And the struggle of anarchism cannot be separated from an individual, which always makes it go from the bottom up. In this era, liberalism is very popular culture and capitalist media, but this method is not a struggle.

But what is the aesthetics of struggle? After all, a given aesthetic is something to be broken. Like Baudelaire, an artist is good at discovering beauty, but it may come from ugly things, such as demons. In other words, such an aesthetics always confronts with its times. Or, as Foucault mentioned, people with bad reputation may come from margin of society. They are vagabonds, deserters, traitors, criminals or weirdos. A dark legend always collides with power.

Such a struggle is decadent to some extent in Christian civilization, but at the same time it is eternal. It depends on what we fight for. And it is worth our continuous writing and creation. In a way, it's anti hero and anti folly.

If we can't realize how much fear, pressure, boredom and hatred are brought to us by the current era of complete reactionary, how can we find the beauty of fighting against it? It doesn't need any epic or industrial design. It may come from a healed heart, or from the unknown. For me, there is always a sense of beauty in stories like this: the waves of darkness are scouring the world, but we have to fight a war with no hope of victory. This is our terrible time. Under the control of its global media and eyeball economy, all atrocities seem to be covered up, but for individuals, it is always a big deal. In particular, with the emergence of financial markets, a war society has been concealed under the so-called peace. It kills a lot of people, but no one talks about it on social media. People hypnotize themselves in a disguised friendly environment. What does it mean to struggle in such an environment?

People always like to hypnotize themselves among the masses and then establish a political culture. But this kind of struggle will not produce new things. Only a kind of struggle aesthetics can do, it often comes from various individuals and groups. The anarchists in Greece who put on gas masks and confront the police are doing well. If we want to create a kind of beauty for the end of civilization, this is appropriate. But there's no need to stick to fixed forms. Beauty is always diverse: a peddler who died with the police, Dostoevsky's basement man and demons, a vengeful woman, and so on. They always tell us what the times are like.

Broadly I think it all comes down to the ever present Dionysian vs Appollonian dichotomy which exists in the human psychodramatical relationships existing in life, expressed between extreems of nihilistic abandonment or precise order.
Through history we see these manifestations and narratives erupting more so as complexity and order reach a threshold in civilized populations.
The aesthetics are as ephemeral as the laws and morals that exist at any one moment.

Adding- Like all aesthetics, some permanence crystalizes around the priority that certain values have acquired within a group, tribe or culture, their beauty in function and in expressing the collective desires.

Also again, Duchamp's "the fountain" was an attempt to shock highbrow art culture out of the fake value it attached to objects of "art". The urinal is functional, by inverting it and naming it "fountain" created the concept of true art being a reciprocated exchange, on one hand, the fountain gathers water and pours it into the human body, and in turn the urinal catches it and disperses it. Aesthetics is recognizing the relationships and exchange mechanisms between the human and environmental condition. Landscape pictures of fox hunts through idyllic pasteurs which were highly valued in that era are in fact ugly, boring, false and deceptive depictions of reality and even a work by Turner or Constable are grotesque daubs which lack sensitivity and beauty and only appealed to the aesthetics of a few 1% of the aristocracy or the sycophant snobs who shared their values.

And also, yet again, if one considers the art of children before they have acquired the values and therefore sense of aesthetic appreciation, their works, whether music, painting, sculpturing etc expresses the innocent raw unleashed perception, amazing glimpses into the non-aesthetic but rather emotional expressionism of youth, something I feel is close to an anarch aesthetic, though a mature functionalism must have some place there.

The most interesting part of this question is: "This aesthetic clearly brings in a certain crowd when something like an anarchist publication uses it, but who does it push away?" Anarchists needn't be such a minority of the general population, needn't seek to appear as a unified counterculture, nor an easily identified one. I think a functional milestone in numbers will have been reached when anarchists' aesthetics are as diverse and mundane as are the general populations' aesthetics. In other words, most all walks of society should be infiltrated by and partially populated by anarchists. Narrowness and broadness of aesthetics is one way of measuring whether that is the case. There is utility in being able to blend in, when one wants to. Be invisible at times in a way that potentially makes any grouping of people illegible and so less governable.


I suppose, when I have more deeply "reverted to savagery", I could show up in town in nothing but a g-string and some tasteful body paint. This will show off my abnormally healthy/strong body for my advanced age, at least compared to the decrepit "civilized" males my age.

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