The Proliferation of Neo-Primitives

Neo-primitives prefer an imaginary past to the work of creating a different society.

Submitted by Reddebrek on May 27, 2016

By Ed Clark



Human beings look for the easiest solution to any problem they may face. This is as true for the problem of abolishing class society as it is for the problem of securing food, clothing, shelter, etc. Since what appears at first glance to be the “easiest” solution is usually so badly misleading as to be useless, it often takes a long time before people give up the “easy” answer and begin to make real process in solving their problems.


The “easiest solution” to all human problems was summed up by Walt Disney: “wishing will make it so:” This answer requires no physical and very little mental work. Anyone can do it in their spare time. Whether you use it to invent Gods and Devils or to explain how class society will be overthrown, it remains equally useful and always available. Of course, it does have one tiny little shortcoming. it doesn't work.


Whenever class society finds itself in serious difficulties, the “easiest answer” comes forward with renewed strength. In its official clothing, it seeks to convince people that their unhappiness is their own fault. What what concerns us here is how the “easiest answer” puts on a “revolutionary” costume.


What does the wishful revolutionary wish for? For reasons that are not clear, he* usually has some distorted version of the past that he wishes to re-create. Since real primitives often have a myth of a “Golden Age”, I choose to call our contemporary wishful revolutionaries Neo-Primitives.


Beginning with a vision of human freedom (instead of some ideas based on an examination of social reality), our Neo-Primitive proceeds to the construction of a theology. Those who support class society become devils; those who oppose it become saints. Even those who say they oppose class society readily slide into the grip of the devil; thus the detection of heretics becomes a major task. The Neo-Primitive is all too ready to respond to communication with excommunication.


The vision of our contemporary Neo-Primitive revolutionaries demands the destruction of science and technology in all its forms — their “Golden Age” pre-dates the machine. They regard science and technology as authoritarian by their very natures. They are “tools of the devil” (class society).


The Neo-Primitive revolutionary (like true primitives) has a basically passive attitude towards his social environment. He views “trying to make a revolution” about the same way a true primitive would view “trying to command the gods.” His bold rhetoric of “burning factories” translates into furtive shop-lifting at best.


The notion that human beings can act on a rational basis (“know what they're doing”) is heresy to the Neo-Primitive. He worships the looters in New York City's recent blackout as “real revolutionaries”, even though the looters themselves thought they were just stealing. If the looters had made a conscious political decision to loot, the Neo-Primitives would have condemned them as aspiring egocrats.


Living in a technological society, the Neo-Primitives inevitably generate a sever internal contradiction. Unless they are willing to withdraw into some rural paradise (like the Amish in Pennsylvania), they find themselves using all of the technological “tools of the devil” to preach the anti-technological faith. They publish newspapers to denounce the whole idea of newspapers as a form of communication. They write pamphlets and circulate books to condemn the idea of writing pamphlets and circulating books. They form organizations based on the premise that all organization turn into counter-revolutionary gangs. In short, at every turn, they subvert their own project. They find, as so many have in the past, that wishing does not make it so after all!


Some of the Neo-Primitives are aware of this contradiction and are self-critical enough to invite us to judge them by their practice. Taking them up on this offer is a risky proposition (given their ever-present impulse to excommunicate but why bother? Now that a small but growing number of people are beginning to reject the “easiest answer” and really try to figure out how to build an egalitarian mass movement and construct a classless society, is there anything to be gained by trying to drag the Neo-Primitives kicking and screaming into the last quarter of the 20th century? It is a shame, of course, to see otherwise admirable people waste their time and energy in visions and theology. Perhaps the best we can hope is that when a libertarian revolution is made, the Neo-Primitives will choose a life of freedom over their dream of freedom.

Ed Clark
Oakland, Calif.

Ten Theses on the Proliferation of Neo-Primitives: (A reply to W.B. Jeffries' “Ten Theses on the Proliferation of Egocrats”, published in the Fifth Estate, September 1977)