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Temporary autonomous zone

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“Are we who live in the present doomed never to experience autonomy, never to stand for one moment on a bit of land ruled only by freedom?”

Hakim Bey
In Sum

An alternative to traditional models of revolution, the T.A.Z is an uprising that creates free, ephemeral enclaves of autonomy in the here-and-now.


Hakim Bey (aka Peter Lamborn Wilson)

Coined in 1990 by poet, anarcho-immediatist and Sufi scholar Hakim Bey, the term temporary autonomous zone (T.A.Z.) seeks to preserve the creativity, energy and enthusiasm of autonomous uprisings without replicating the inevitable betrayal and violence that has been the reaction to most revolutions throughout history. The answer, according to Bey, lies in refusing to wait for a revolutionary moment, and instead create spaces of freedom in the immediate present whilst avoiding direct confrontation with the state.

A T.A.Z. is a liberated area “of land, time or imagination” where one can be for something, not just against, and where new ways of being human together can be explored and experimented with. Locating itself in the cracks and fault lines in the global grid of control and alienation, a T.A.Z. is an eruption of free culture where life is experienced at maximum intensity. It should feel like an exceptional party where for a brief moment our desires are made manifest and we all become the creators of the art of everyday life.

The key, suggests Bey, is to remain mobile, relying on stealth and the ability to melt into the darkness at a moment’s notice. Before the T.A.Z is spotted and recognized by the state, which will inevitably seek to crush it, it dissolves and moves on, reappearing in unexpected places to celebrate once again the wonders of conviviality and life outside the law. It might last hours, days, years even, depending on how quickly it is noticed by authorities.

Bey claims that T.A.Z.s have always existed. He sees their ancestry in the numerous liberated zones that pepper history: from the secret “state” of the medieval Persian Assassins to the eighteenth century pirate utopias — islands where buccaneers, escaped slaves and convicts lived outside the law, sharing goods and property. From the radical communes of Paris and Munich to the dissatisfied colonizers of North America who deserted their enclave to join Native American communities, leaving the infamous sign behind them, “Gone to Croatan.”

Bey maintains, however, that the T.A.Z. cannot be defined; it is simply a “suggestion…a poetic fancy,” not “political dogma,” and that “if the phrase became current it would be understood without difficulty…understood in action.” Twenty years on, the notion of T.A.Z has inspired movements and actions across the world, from the creative play of Reclaim the Streets parties see CASE to the autonomy of protest encampments, the Anonymous hacker movement to the Burning Man festival and secret rainbow gatherings.

When Bey first came up with the concept, the web was in its infancy, yet he already imagined a future world where a multitude of autonomous zones could be linked by dispersed networks of communication freed from political control. The web would not be an end in itself, he wrote, but a weapon without which autonomous zones would perish. At the time, he dismissed his own theory as pure speculative science fiction, but the future always arrives faster than one can imagine.

MOST FAMOUS APPLICATION: If we wrote it down here the authorities would soon learn about it and it would have to dissolve. Keep your senses open; the nearest T.A.Z. is nearer than you think.

IMPORTANT BUT LITTLE-KNOWN APPLICATION: The 1920–24 free state of Fiume (now the city of Rijeka, Croatia), whose constitution was written by poets and anarchists.

John Jordan was co-founder of Reclaim the Streets (1995-2001) and now works with the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, a collective that merges art, activism and permaculture. He loves to apply creativity to social movements such as Climate Camps and has invented various new direct action methodologies such as the Rebel Clown Army. Co-author of We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anti-capitalism (Verso), he has just brought out a new book-film with Isabelle Fremeaux exploring Europe’s utopian communities, Les sentiers de l’utopie (Editions Zones/La Découverte). Balancing on the tightrope between art and activism, creativity and resistance, is where he’s most at home.

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