Resisting the Nation State

Make-Love-Not-War-Shirt

In this installment from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss how movements against nuclear proliferation and the draft in the early to late 1960s helped turn some  people towards anarchism, as they came to see the role of the state in perpetuating rather than resolving conflict.

draft-resistance

Resisting the Nation State

The anti-war movements in Europe and North America that began to emerge during the late 1950s started as “Ban the Bomb” or anti-nuclear peace movements, the primary aim of which was to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons. These movements began to adopt a more expansive anti-war approach as draft resistance movements also began to emerge, first in France in response to the war in Algeria, and then in the U.S. as the war in Vietnam escalated and intensified.

Many people in the various peace movements were pacifists. Some of them began to move towards an anarchist position as they came to realize that the banning of nuclear weapons was either unlikely or insufficient given the existing system of international power relations. Many came to agree with Randolf Bourne that “war is the health of the state” and became advocates of non-violent revolution, for one “cannot crusade against war without crusading implicitly against the State” (Volume Two, Selection 34).

Veteran anarchists, such as Vernon Richards, despite recognizing the limitations of peace marches, realized that for “some the very fact of having broken away from the routine pattern of life to take part” in a march, and “for others the effort of will needed to join a demonstration for the first time in their lives, are all positive steps in the direction of ‘rebellion’ against the Establishment,” for there “are times when the importance of an action is for oneself” (Volume Two, Selection 33).

Some of the people opposed to conscription in France and the U.S. also gravitated toward anarchism, as they came to realize not only that meaningful draft resistance was illegal, thereby making them criminals, but also the degree to which those in positions of power were prepared to use force not only against their “external” enemies but against their own people to prevent the undermining of their authority. As Jean Marie Chester wrote in France in the early 1960s, the young draft resisters had, “through their refusal, unwittingly stumbled upon anarchism” (Volume Two, Selection 31).

Unlike more conventional conceptions of civil disobedience, where demonstrators emphasize that their disobedience is an extraordinary reaction to an extreme policy, accepting the punishment meted out to them because they do not want to challenge the legitimacy of authority in general, anarchist disobedience and direct action suffer from no such contradictions but instead seek to broaden individual acts of disobedience into rejection of institutional power by encouraging people to question authority in all its aspects. From individual acts of revolt and protest, and experience of the repressive measures the State is prepared to resort to in response, will come a growing recognition of the illegitimacy of State power and the hierarchical and exploitative relationships which that power protects. As the Dutch Provos put it, the “means of repression” the authorities “use against us” will force them “to show their real nature,” making “themselves more and more unpopular,” ripening “the popular conscience… for anarchy” (Volume Two, Selection 50).

During the 1960s, anarchist ideas were reintroduced to student rebels, anti-war protesters, environmentalists and a more restless general public by people like Murray Bookchin (Volume Two, Selection 48), Daniel Guérin (Volume Two, Selection 49), the Cohn-Bendit brothers (Volume Two, Selection 51), Jacobo Prince (Volume Two, Selection 52), Nicolas Walter (Volume Two, Selection 54) and Noam Chomsky (Volume Two, Selection 55). While libertarian socialist intellectuals such as Claude Lefort from the Socialisme ou Barbarie group, who came from a Marxist background, regarded the anarchist ideas and actions of the student radicals of the May-June 1968 events in France as the “brilliant invention” of “naïve prodigies,” the Cohn-Bendit brothers, who were directly involved, replied that, to the contrary, those events were “the result of arduous research into revolutionary theory and practice,” marking “a return to a revolutionary tradition” that the Left had long since abandoned, namely anarchism (Volume Two, Selection 51).

Robert Graham

May '68 - the beginning of a long struggle

May ’68 – the beginning of a long struggle

From Protest to Resurgence

1960 Ban the Bomb March

1960 Ban the Bomb March

In this installment from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss the “Libertarians” of the late 1950s who had jettisoned any idea of a successful social revolution in favour of the idea of “permanent protest,” and the reemergence of anarchist currents in the protest movements of the 1960s.

protest withou illusionsPermanent Protest

The Impulso group was most concerned that the “new” anarchism represented by the “resistencialists” would lead anarchists away from their historic commitment to revolution, a concern not without foundation. In the 1950s in Australia, for example, the Sydney Libertarians developed a critique of anarchist “utopianism,” which for them was based on the supposed anarchist over-emphasis on “co-operation and rational persuasion” (Volume Two, Selection 41), a critique later expanded upon by post-modern anarchists (Volume Three, Chapter 12). In response, without endorsing the more narrow approach of the Impulso group, one can argue that these sorts of critiques are themselves insufficiently critical because they repeat and incorporate common misconceptions of anarchism as a theory based on an excessively naïve and optimistic view of human nature (Jesse Cohen, Volume Three, Selection 67).

For the Sydney Libertarians, not only is it unlikely that a future anarchist society will be achieved, it is unnecessary because “there are anarchist-like activities such as criticizing the views of authoritarians, resisting the pressure towards servility and conformity, [and] having unauthoritarian sexual relationships, which can be carried on for their own sake, here and now, without any reference to supposed future ends.” They described this kind of anarchism as “anarchism without ends”, “pessimistic anarchism” and “permanent protest,” stressing “the carrying on of particular libertarian activities within existing society” regardless of the prospects of a successful social revolution (Volume Two, Selection 41).

Hampstead CND

New Social Movements

The resurgence of anarchism during the1960s surprised both “pessimistic anarchists” and the more traditional “class struggle” anarchists associated with the Impulso group, some of whom, such as Pier Carlo Masini, abandoned anarchism altogether when it appeared to them that the working class was not going to embrace the anarchist cause. Other class struggle anarchists, such as André Prudhommeaux (1902-1968), recognized that the masses were “unmoved” by revolutionary declamations “heralding social revolution in Teheran, Cairo or Caracas and Judgment Day in Paris the following day at the latest,” because when “nothing is happening,” to make such claims is “like calling out the fire brigade on a hoax.” To gain the support of the people, anarchists must work with them to protect their “civil liberties and basic rights by means of direct action, civil disobedience, strikes and individual and collective revolution in all their many forms” (Volume One, Selection 30).

By the early 1960s, peace and anti-war movements had risen in Europe and North America in which many anarchists, following Prudhommeaux’s suggestion, were involved. Anarchist influence within the social movements of the 1960s did not come out of nowhere but emerged from the work of anarchists and like-minded individuals in the 1950s, most of whom, like Prudhommeaux, had connections with the various pre-war anarchist movements. There was growing dissatisfaction among people regarding the quality of life in post-war America and Europe and their prospects for the future, given the ongoing threat of nuclear war and continued involvement of their respective governments, relying on conscript armies, in conflicts abroad as various peoples sought to liberate themselves from European and U.S. control.

Robert Graham

anarchist unity

George and Louise Crowley: ‘Chaos” – or Else

Vietnam War Protest

Vietnam War Protest

Below, I set forth excerpts from an article by George and Louise Crowley, “‘Chaos’ – or Else,” originally published in the Seattle Group Bulletin, a mimeographed broadsheet published in Seattle from 1965 to 1971. The Seattle Group Bulletin was broadly anarchist in orientation, and contained articles on anarchism, women’s liberation, the Vietnam War and many other topics. The Bulletins are now available online here. They are a great example of the renaissance of anarchist ideas and practice in the 1960s, a portion of which I tried to document in Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. George and Louise Crowley had been active in the U.S. Communist Party in the 1930s, but left the party because, according to Louise, they had “too much of a sense of humor.” Louise was a committed feminist who helped start some of the “second wave” feminist groups in Seattle in the 1960s, publishing the feminist Lilith magazine. This article, published in 1966, is reminiscent of George Woodcock’s earlier broadside, Anarchy or Chaos, with both Woodcock and the Crowleys arguing that the only real alternative to the insanity of modern warfare, capitalism, sexism, racism and the state is a positive form of anarchy.

Seattle group

“CHAOS” – OR ELSE

Recently a desperate and exasperated citizen asked through the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s “Personals” column: “In the name of God what can be done to end the senseless sacrifice of human lives in Vietnam”. That paper refused to accept our ad toward a constructive answer.

Two days later, a Sunday, a young man jumped to his death from the Freeway bridge. The note he left behind stated that he no longer wanted to be a part of the life into which he had been born.

Monday the United States resumed indiscriminate bombardment of the cities and people of North Vietnam.

There is a common denominator that bonds these events. It is frustration – a deep, demoralizing sense of futility which springs from our power-mad executive’s forward divergence from that steam of tolerance and humanism now in explosive upsurge around the world.

Quickly let us review the facts. The Kennedy administration built an enormous body of good will by backing away from the mess it inherited in Cuba. That administration’s apparent efforts to disengage the Cold War and withdraw from brinkmanship created a great resource of hope and popular favor which it bequeathed to LBJ and his government.

The Johnson campaign was based on what to millions of Americans sounded like a firm promise to make war on poverty instead of on people. In his maiden address to the UN, Johnson, with true insight, equated imperial adventurism with the rampant domestic exploitation that preceded the disaster of 1929. His promise to promote a world New Deal was taken at face value by millions both at home and abroad.

The current government (both the administration and its loyal opposition) have wantonly betrayed that mandate. No action great or small, real or imagined, can alter or justify that fact.

Thus have we arrived at this momentous hour of personal decision. We cast our ballots in overwhelming mandate and were repudiated. We protested to proper channels by millions and were ignored. We demonstrated in the streets by thousands and have been scornfully denounced although counter demonstrations couldn’t raise a corporal’s guard.

Hundreds of young men, faced with the insufferable demand that they join in the monstrous genocide of a weak and inoffensive people far, even, from the traditional spheres of Yankee dominance, have laid their futures on the line and said NO! and have been persecuted therefore.

Several persons, despairing completely of impressing a callous government by any means within the American tradition of petition and protest, have by demonstration in deeds given up their lives in horrible immolation like the Buddhists of Vietnam. The administration has mocked and ridiculed their sacrifice. Where can you go beyond this point!

Historically the area beyond, the transition to tyranny, was left to the revolutionary solution. Time was when this sufficed, but revolution (or the threat of revolution) in the classic sense is no longer a functional deterrent to tyrannical contempt for public will. The evolution of scientific police technology renders next to impossible the success of a revolution of other than coup d’etat nature in any advanced country…

Historically the stricken citizen could draw solace from a certainty that his tyrant would in time raise a community of opposition as his ambitions clashed with other sovereign states, and that an alliance would be raised to abate the horror. The coalition against the Third German Reich was the last such example we have. Reasoned hindsight suggests serious reservations as to whether the awful price of that war had any valid compensation to humanity.

But all such considerations became moot in the holocaust that was Nagasaki and Hiroshima. With the advent of the nuclear age the question of war and peace ceased to be a matter of game probabilities; “victory” and “defeat” now have the same meaning: the end of the world. Indeed, the last US and USSR “tests” came closer to this gruesome finality than any disciple of authority and force is prepared to concede.

The matter does not end here. Advanced weapons systems are so failproof, so intricately interlocked, so linked to the response of the opposite or “enemy” equivalent, that the slightest mishap could unleash a fatal chain reaction irreversible by any human act. Life on earth remains an accident away from extinction until the overkill mechanism that is the insane glory of our power structure has been dismantled.

Just as the reign of the despotic state was traditionally transitory, so was the capacity of any state limited in its control over its subjects. The state could kill the individual against his will; but any other action, even imprisonment, entailed a degree of acquiescence on the part of the victim. Such acquiescence is always conditional and to a large degree temporary. Therefore, to the extent that the tyrant eliminated the will of the populace, to relax his vigilance was to risk destruction.

Further, to the degree that the state used death to quiet opposition or to cow its populace, it cheapened life value and thereby raised the readiness to rebel…

Because such oppressions were transitory and because they effected no permanent modification of his nature, man was able to adopt several rationalizations to make them tolerable. The nihilist could completely surrender his control over an environment to which he ascribed no reality, and could still rationalize a freedom of thoughts. This becomes untenable now in the face of the burgeoning array of pharmaceutic modifiers of the central nervous system. The stoic, accepting all events including death as governed by divine law, could do as he would with calm assurance that thus did he fulfill his destiny. This rationalization now comes to naught with the development of clinical modification of will. The theist and revolutionary alike could bear up with grim fortitude, each confident of his own forthcoming day of reckoning. Today this line of thinking offers no comfort in the face of imminent prescribed genetic modification, and the threat of a premature Armageddon.

Thus the crisis is joined not in the 21st century, not tomorrow, but here and now. Each must ask, and answer, in all seriousness.

Could any conceivable chaos be more awesome or deadly that that first, and last, globe-encircling flash of nuclear incineration? Could any “setback” to human progress be comparable to the finality of extinction?

Could any degree of “security” be an equitable or reasonable exchange for surrender of man’s free will?

We must end this war. We must dry up its sources of compliant manpower. We must cut its channels of supply. We must halt production of the goods that sustain it. And whatever bald and imaginative new means must be taken to achieve this, those means we must take. Johnson, MacNamara, Rusk and Company must be left alone to fight, without a shred of civilized support, this war that they alone want and that their decisions alone are perpetuating.

Since our government has ceased to be responsive to lawful and traditional expressions of the public will, it is futile and self-deluding to continue to limit our resistance to forms appropriate to a democracy but which the willful obstinacy of the Johnson administration has rendered ineffective.

Each of us must live, and die, with himself. Ultimately, it is to our own consciences alone that we must answer, to ourselves that we must be true. If today in the United States to live in accord with one’s principles has become treason for all thoughtful and informed people of good will, then with full consciousness we must make the most of it, for there is no other honorable course. The present administration came to power by murder, and holds power by lies. We owe it no allegiance. We do owe, to ourselves and our otherwise doomed posterity, whatever endeavor may be needed to restore our country to humane and responsible citizenship among the nations of the world. Only deceit and despotism enjoin the young men of America to become hateful predators in an Asian jungle, to be killed from ambush like other beasts, in a dishonorable cause. Only ignorance, servility, or malice could accede to such debasement. The extent to which we resist is the measure of our humanity, not to be compassed by conformism nor limited by law.

Each of us must do these things, and more, now. No longer can we delude ourselves with faith in the gradual processes of education and organization, slow at best and now invalidated by the impact of controlled mass media and the abrogation of constitutional safeguards. No longer can we depend on the organizations of labor, corrupted now by a share of the profits of war; nor do we have time to build new ones, even if the workers were at all inclined to accept them. And they are not; for war, after all, sustains the present high rate of employment. It is in the collapse of such hopes, traditional, familiar, and warmed by human comradeship, that the present frustration has its roots. Yet to succumb to despair is equally fruitless; and moreover, beyond this crisis, if we but survive it, an infinitely better life awaits us. Let us then assert the resiliency of the human spirit. If an era has passed, let us not futilely seek to recall it nor nostalgically mourn its passing, nor burden ourselves with its now useless baggage.

To protest this war, to refrain from all direct or supportive participation in it, to obstruct its continuance by all possible means – these are necessary but no longer enough.

Conventional forms of resistance to despotism, up to and including revolution, have been wrestled with the manifestations of force. Against force, they have posed counterforces, without seriously attacking the premises of authority as such. Where the basic premises have been shaken, they have been shaken only incidentally and new power has promptly entered the breach. Thus successful revolutions have but brought to power new governments, lacking only time to themselves become despotic. In the interval the populace could enjoy a welcome respite from oppression, and be gratified that much of benefit had been accomplished by overturn of the old regime.

For many millennia, acceptance of authority provided a functional method of harnessing human activity on behalf of an evolutionary direction counter to nature’s line of least resistance. Societies that took other paths developed no adequate defenses against the incursions of authority-organized expansionist peoples, and had little or no opportunity to contribute their values to the line of societal evolution that has now culminated in overkill force. Authority is so prevalent as to seem eternal and universal; shaped as we are by our authority-oriented culture, most of us imagine the dominance of man over man to be rooted in immutable natural law, or at least to be the only viable instrument for civilization. The organs of authority have of course found it advantageous to perpetuate this view, and suppress, denigrate, and smother any questioning of its validity and any exploration of alternatives. Even revolution has been kept within its bounds.

In this new era, resistance so limited is bound to fail. The administration’s intransigence over Vietnam is but the focal point of a multifarious campaign by which all organs of authority seek now to solidify their power against the imminent obsolescence of the props that have hitherto sustained it. The last vestiges of supernaturalism are condemned by the current scientific revolution, and in the normal course of events other forms of unreason could not long survive their loss. Economic scarcity, the whiphand of power, becomes untenable with development of cybernated productive complexes virtually unlimited in their capacity. At this juncture the war in Vietnam provides the domestic “affluence” needed to maintain stability while unshakable new props for a totally ordered society are being shifted into place.

Between the Scylla that would destroy the planet and the Charybdis that would negate our humanity there is no safe passage. The current crisis is thus a dilemma irresolvable within the framework of an authority-motivated and force-implemented society. Our efforts must now be directed toward shattering the basic premises upon which authority rests. We must expose the myth of its indispensability; we must discredit its claim to social worth; we must strip off its false cloak of natural law and proclaim its nakedness for all to see. We must dispel fear of the void by making manifest the outlines of the new anarchic society…

George and Louise Crowley

[Seattle Group Bulletin #14 from Seattle 1966 Spring; Bulletins 9 thru 17 of the Seattle Group, published Seattle, Washington. Transcription by Dotty DeCoster, October 31, 2011.]

Seattle feminists' Lilith magazine

Seattle feminists’ Lilith magazine