Anarchy, alchemy and awakening

by | Mar 8, 2023

It’s been ten years now since the publication of my first book, The Anarchist Revelation: Being What We’re Meant To Be.

A lot has happened in my life since then, but re-reading it today I find that it very much provides the pillars of my personal philosophy in 2023.

This is perhaps to be expected. I was already 50 years old a decade ago, with more than 30 years of political activity and introspection behind me, and well beyond the stage where my ideas were likely to veer dramatically off in a different direction.

There are a lot of quotes from a number of different authors in the book and many of these have since made their way on to the Winter Oak Quotes website and are thus familiar old friends.

But there are one or two I had forgotten, such as the words ascribed to the Sufi poet Rumi, when he told his hearers that they were “ducks being brought up as hens” and “they have to realise that their destiny is to swim, not to try to be chickens”. [1]


I am pleased to report that I was already explicitly condemning the idea of “sustainable development” back in 2013.

It has also given me some pleasure to rediscover and re-identify with some passages I wrote about our contemporary era, “as we plunge into days of darkness and impending disaster”. [2]

I noted: “There’s a falsity here, which pervades everything we do. Things are never what they seem to be. We are rapidly losing touch with truth and have been for some time”. [3]

I condemned the modern world on account of “its fake democracy; its violence, persecution and corruption; its lies and hypocrisies; its relentless propagandising and mind-manipulation; its denial of history; its restriction of language and thought to its own shallow and self-referential level”. [4]

The passing years have only confirmed my opinion of the authority under which I was living. I warned back then: “The British state, along with others of a similar kind, would stop at nothing to protect its power – as witnessed by its actions up to this point, designed to ensure that dissidents can never push events so far that the state is forced to reveal itself to all as the callous, murderous beast that it has always been”. [5]

The only thing that slightly jars now is my rather starry-eyed conviction that I was part of an anarchist movement that shared all my own principles.

I claimed at the time: “In the blood of each and every anarchist flows the need to question everything, to accept no limits to the freedom of the individual and – therefore, as a logical consequence – the community”. [6]



Today, having observed the Covid complicity and assorted insanities of so many so-called comrades, I would feel the absolute need to insert the adjective “real” before the word “anarchist”!

When I wrote that for an anarchist “being free as an individual is absolutely non-negotiable”, [7] little did I think that seven years later anarchists would be taking me to task for even using the term “individual freedom” [8] and snottily placing inverted commas around the words to emphasise their distaste for a concept that they associated uniquely with Donald Trump, libertarian American capitalists and “Covid deniers”.

The preface reminds me that I had already had a hint of the divisions that were to follow, in the shape of feedback on the draft of the book that I had received from a fellow anarchist.

He had felt my outlook was overly individualistic and he contested my assumption that the anarchist personality was essentially that of an “outsider”, alienated from others in contemporary society.

I retorted: “The anarchist vision is so profoundly at odds with everything on which our current society is based – all that domination, exploitation and control enforced by state-sanctioned violence – that it is not possible to be an anarchist and not feel alienated from that world and the mindset that uncritically accepts it”. [9]

My subsequent comment that “there may be those who are happy to label themselves ‘anarchists’ for superficial reasons”, [10] was a small foretaste of a realisation that was later to be fully forced upon me.


I had several encouraging reactions to The Anarchist Revelation, such as from the poet Helen Moore in Permaculture magazine [11] and from Austrian anarchist author Gabriel Kuhn. [12]

My work also caught the attention of well-known US green anarchist writer John Zerzan (later to take a disappointing stance over Covid), who declared it to be “the least pessimistic book I can recall reading” and said that “it brings anarchist resistance and the spirit together in a very wide-ranging and powerful contribution”. [13]

I was honoured when the book was later reviewed in the academic Anarchist Studies journal. [14]

The reviewer, Brian Morris, was quite affable when I later met him, and his write-up was no hatchet job, describing The Anarchist Revelation as “well-researched and written in a lively style” and “highly readable and engaging”.

Morris added: “Cudenec’s lively discussion of anarchism and his critique of industrial capitalism and the state are very worthwhile, and full of interest”.

However, his review revealed to me an immense and hitherto unsuspected gulf between my own outlook and that of a certain seemingly dominant version of anarchism.

He complained, to my surprise: “To describe contemporary Western people as brain-washed, as alienated from the natural world and as completely ‘supine’ before the forces of the modern state and industrial capitalism, let alone describing them as all ‘insane’ (following the ardent primitivist Derrick Jensen) is arrogant and elitist and insulting towards ordinary working people”.


But where I had evidently most irritated Morris was with the “mystical” aspect of my personal anarchist philosophy, which was completely at odds with his own staunchly materialist worldview.

He insisted: “Beliefs in ancestral spirits, or in some deity or in a world spirit have no reality apart from the social practices in which they are embedded… Spirituality, state power and capitalism are intrinsically linked, as is exemplified by fundamentalist religious movements throughout the world”.

Morris did make me smile when he wrote that I seemed to be “stuck in the medieval era”, as I often secretly wish that this was the case!

A very unmodern spirituality was certainly at the core of the philosophy I advanced in The Anarchist Revelation, including my identification of the need for individuals and society alike to undergo a purifying and renewing transformation, a “descent into, and re-emergence from, some kind of flaming ordeal on the metaphorical alchemist’s stove”. [15]


Implicit in my attempt to combine anarchism and esoteric spirituality was the feeling that “mainstream” anarchist thinking would benefit from what the Sufi thinker Idries Shah describes as “the purification of the dross and the activation of the gold”. [16]

I wonder now whether the Covid years have been that purifying ordeal, not just for many of us personally, but for the resistance movement that I had always described as anarchist.

In the book, I quoted Gustav Landauer when he said: “There is no need to fear a lack of revolutionaries: they actually arise by a sort of spontaneous generation –
namely when the revolution comes”. [17]

And I imagined a hypothetical moment of crisis in which anarchist revolt was not a fun-packed teenage house-wrecking party but a grim and lonely responsibility in the face of seriously adverse circumstances.

I wrote: “This is when the real anarchists are needed, the anarchists who will always be anarchists regardless of whether or not they find themselves buoyed up by the warmth and friendship of others with the same aims.

“But where do they come from? Who are these people who will emerge from among the children of today to become the liberators of tomorrow? What kind of individual could wrench themselves free from the mental and physical confines of our society and brave all the derision, isolation and persecution to take on a struggle with a sense of necessity that is incomprehensible to most of their fellow citizens?” [18]

Since 2020 we have had some answers to this question and it seems that the courageous and clear-minded freedom fighters who stepped forward to defy tyranny were mostly not people who described themselves as anarchists, while many of those who did use the label turned out to be sadly unworthy of it.


I insisted in the book that transformation and renewal on a personal level has to be seen as part of the same process as transformation and renewal on the social plane.

And this process might also take place, at a time of unprecedented global danger for humankind, within the collective social antibody, the “resistance movement” if you like, that the species generates for its own protection.

The dross of spiritless and conformist posturing that appeared on the surface to be “anarchism” was burnt away by the flaming alchemical ordeal, allowing a renewed form to emerge.

This may have lacked the label, and precise political form, of anarchism but nevertheless carried within it the vital energy that had gradually dried up and withered away inside the hard and dogmatic shell still bearing the name.

The gold of genuine resistance had emerged from the ashes of despair!

And it is this resurgence of life, love and the yearning for freedom, unwittingly created by the forces of repression themselves, that can act as the catalyst for a worldwide alchemical miracle.

As I wrote in 2013: “A remarkable transformation is required if we are to shake off the mental disease that is condemning humanity, and the planet, to a slow and ignoble death by ignorance and greed.

“An awakening is required on a scale never seen before, an awakening that will spread like a tsunami around the globe, sweeping away the machineries and mindset of hateful oppression and denial.

“It is not so much a revolution that is needed, but a revelation – a lifting of all the veils of falsity and a joyful rediscovery of the authentic core of our existence”. [19]

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[1] Paul Cudenec, The Anarchist Revelation: Being What We’re Meant to Be (Sussex: Winter Oak, 2013), p. 16. All subsequent page references are to that work, available as a free pdf.
[2] p. 20.
[3] p. 5.
[4] p. 51.
[5] p. 41.
[6] p. 53.
[7] p. 114.
[9] p. vii-viii.
[10] p. viii.
[15] p. 90.
[16] p. 93.
[17] p. 124.
[18] p. 63.
[19] p. 121.

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