Deleuze, Derrida, and Anarchism

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In this paper, I argue that Deleuze's political writings and Derrida's early (pre-1985) work on deconstruction affirms the tactical orientation which Todd May in particular has associated with 'poststructuralist anarchism.' Deconstructive philosophy, no less than Deleuzean philosophy, seeks to avoid closure, entrapment, and structure; it seeks to open up rather than foreclose possibilities, to liberate rather than interrupt the flows and movements which produce life. To this extent, it is rightfully called an anarchism - not the utopian anarchism of the nineteenth century, perhaps, but the provisional and preconditional anarchism which is, and will continue to be, the foundation of postmodern politics.


From Proudhon to the Paris commune, anarchist movements occupied an important place in the history of French radical politics until the end of the Second World War, when they were driven to near extinction by the triumph of the Soviet-backed French Communist Party (PCF).1 This situation had begun to change dramatically by the early 1960s, however, owing to the increasing influence of so-called 'New Left' theory, the rise of the youth movement, and growing antagonism on the left toward Sovietsponsored terrorism. For the first time in a long time, leftist intellectuals were no longer content to make apologies for Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy and were instead seeking viable alternatives to it.

The visible culmination of this process was, of course, the uprisings of May 1968 in France, which marked the first significant revolutionary event in the twentieth century that was carried out not only independently of the Communist Party, but in flagrant opposition to it as well. Unlike the fundamentally vanguardist revolutions of Russia, China, Vietnam and Cuba, the Paris Spring was fomented in mostly spontaneous fashion by a decentralized and non-hierarchical confederation of students and workers who harboured a common scepticism toward grand political narratives. At the forefront of this confederation were the Enrages, a group of revolutionaries who sought to reinvent anarchist theory and practice.2

Unlike the FAI/CNT during the Spanish Civil War, the Enrages were not so much an organized faction as a loose collection of individuals representing a variety of political persuasions. They were not anarchists in the narrow ideological sense of belonging to a particular anarchist movement or endorsing a particular theory of anarchism (e.g., anarcho-syndicalism).3 On the contrary, the Enrages had little to do with the French Anarchist Federation,4 nor with any other residua of the pre-1945 European anarchist movement.5 While some, like Daniel Cohn-Bendit, were indeed associated with organizations more closely related to traditional anarchism, several belonged to Marxist-oriented groups such as the Situationist International, Socialisme ou Barbarie, and Informations Correspondance Ouvrieres.6 As Cohn-Bendit stated of his comrades, 'Some read Marx, of course, perhaps Bakunin, and of the moderns, Althusser, Mao, Guevara, Lefebvre. Nearly all the militants of the movement have read Sartre.'7 Other influences included:

Trotskyist criticism of Soviet society ... Mao Tse-tung on the question of the revolutionary alliance with the peasant masses, and Marcuse when it comes to demonstrating the repressive nature of modern society or when the latter proclaims that everything must be destroyed in order that everything could be rebuilt.8

Classical anarchist theories and movements, as such, were only one source of inspiration among many, and as with all such sources, the Enragés did not regard them as infallible.9

The Enragés were anarchists in the more important and fundamental sense of advocating certain principles, such as opposition to centralization, hierarchy, and repressive power, that are common to all forms of anarchism.10 It is precisely the realization of such principles in practice, however, that made May 1968 such a decisive turning point in the history of radical politics. …