by Émile Armand
Anarchy is a methodology and a means of individuation as well as an organizational strategy. Free association, autonomy — Emile Armand knew there was, between society and the individual, a veil of mystifying ideology that had to be torn.
So many anarchists today fear interacting with the world outside their circles; but they forget how many natural anarchists there are in the world, people opposed to profit and power without labeling themselves anything at all. Reading Emile Armand today is like peering at the present through lenses of the past that clarify everything suddenly, in flashes, a past with the same alienations, the same struggles, the same hang-ups.
The concern of some modern anarchists for concepts such as ‘race’, ‘class’ and ‘gender’, concepts with no material reality except as social constructs, ‘conventions and prejudices’ which torture and distort the vision and should be destroyed in daily life, is the typical result of a sexual repression that also forbids discussing sexual issues in many modern literary anarchist circles.
The sexually repressed person categorizes themselves and other people, because s/he can’t directly experience the vast intricacies of anyone for fear of their involvement taking on a sexual dimension, and must erect walls of armoring, like clothing, but extended analogically to the character itself, protecting the individual from emotion. All authentic interaction has, implicitly, a sexual aspect, and if it is liberated, expresses not an obsession with that sexual side of things but a conscious acknowledgment and self-management of it.
When the lights are out, race, class, and gender have no more meaning; only individual feelings and sensual enjoyments are meaningful in the anarchy of truly free emotional association. Sexuality is a primary force in life, and our social relations come from that same place. The repression of that force creates an inversion in the mind and body which is fertile soil for the planting of authoritarian ideology; this is something Armand saw clearly so many years ago, as did individuals in so many other “forgotten” strains of the vast treasure trove of individualist and anarchist thought that has been expressed over the centuries.
Like other individuals, such as Wilhelm Reich, Han Ryner, or Thomas De Coster, Emile Armand knew well the insularity we see around us in radical circles as well as in society at large, and he knew the rigidity accompanying it; he saw it as an expression of a communist pollution in anarchy. Communism was always just a thin façade hiding a brutally ‘scientific’ authoritarianism, and Armand’s distaste for it was plain.
Most of Armand’s life was spent directly living it, but his writing was mostly polemical. His position was his own, and he seems to have struggled to make his voice heard in the bustling anarchist milieu of his time, as well as in society at large. He was a nudist and a polyamorist, taking to their logical conclusion, in daily life, the arguments of the anarchists, and living his own life in his own way.
A thorough rereading of Armand today is a healthy alternative to the dry ideologies — always infinitely less messy than the realities — that come in and out of fashion, and an invigorating look into the life of a man who tried his best to be himself and be happy, in the midst of all the misery and role-playing.