Against Prefiguration: An Anarchist Iconoclasm

Anarchist Studies - ISSN 2633-8270
Volume 31 Number 1 (2023)

Against Prefiguration: An Anarchist Iconoclasm
Frankie Hines pages 25-45
DOI: 10.3898/AS.31.1.02


Prefigurative politics is frequently identified as a central, essential feature of anarchist theory and practice. Can claims for prefiguration’s centrality to anarchism, though, withstand scrutiny? Departing from familiar debates that pit prefiguration against strategy, this paper critically assesses the continued relevance of prefiguration for anarchist thought. The first half of the paper contends that prefiguration continues to be ascribed a pivotal role in accounts of anarchist theory largely due to a continued, unacknowledged commitment to Marxism as a category through which anarchism is understood. It also highlights contradictions between efforts to establish prefiguration as one of anarchism’s essential features and definitions of anarchism that disavow the existence of any such essential qualities, proposing that claims for a fundamental centrelessness in anarchism both conflict with claims for prefiguration’s centrality and constitute a more convincing and more useful approach. In the second half of the paper I respond to the vexed issue of prefiguration’s relation to violence. How can an overriding emphasis on ‘being the change one wishes to see’ be reconciled with the fact, recognised by anarchism in its most compelling articulations, that violence is an unavoidable feature of politics and of life? Considering the weaknesses of attempts to reconcile prefiguration with violence, I propose that prefiguration requires a commitment to nonviolence, but that the resulting paralysis requires accounts of prefiguration as a fundamental anarchist precept be rejected.

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To cite this article
Frankie Hines (2023) Against Prefiguration: An Anarchist Iconoclasm, Anarchist Studies, 31(1), 25-45.

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