The First of May Anarchist Alliance

First of May Anarchist Alliance

The First of May Anarchist Alliance (M1) describes itself as an “organization with its members having a… history of collaboration, in some instances reaching back to the 1980’s through an array of revolutionary anarchist organizing. With the creation of M1 we move from the informal affinity to being an established organizational presence; fully engaged with the broader anarchist, revolutionary and social movements.” Here, I set forth excerpts from its programmatic statement, “Our Anarchism.” The statement refers to a variety of anarchist approaches, from anarcho-syndicalism to insurrectionary anarchism, anarchist communism and eco-anarchism, while trying to develop a working class based “anarchism without hyphens,” reminiscent of earlier attempts by some anarchists to develop an “anarchism without adjectives.” I have documented the intellectual development of these various anarchist approaches in my three volume collection of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

anarchist revolution

REVOLUTION: Anarchism is not only direct action, decentralization, and dissent from capital, the state and an array of oppressions. It is not just about struggling to ensure that the practices and processes of the movements we are part of reflect our libertarian and egalitarian values. It is also about putting “Revolution” out there in the many discussions and debates about where society is going.

Overturning the system has long been a moral imperative given the toll it has already taken on people and the Earth. Now a radical leap to an alternative society is becoming an increasingly necessary act of ecological and social self-defense. We must not hide this evaluation from our co-workers, neighbors, classmates or our social movement friends and comrades. It is the need for revolution that, in part, motivates our broad feelings of solidarity. It is the purpose, program and plan that impel our many acts of resistance.

We all need to wrestle with the problem of raising revolution in day-to-day life and activism. It is not easy to do this in a fashion that does not seem fantastic, delusional or perfunctorily tacked on. The present period has been one of intermittent and relatively low levels of struggle and political consciousness. There has existed a constant pressure to downplay the more radical and maximal aspects of our politics. Against this tendency to conservatism we are committed to the development of a more fully elaborated and popular conception of anti-authoritarian revolution and the role of anarchist revolutionaries in its realization.

The potential for a sustained break in the current order of things has been growing. Two draining wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; Katrina and the BP gulf oil spill; the banking collapse, foreclosure crisis and ensuing severe recession (and a litany of other calamities and crimes) have caused large numbers of people left, center and right to have their faith in the system and the elites severely shaken.

A real break will entail the rise of ongoing mass movements left and right. The outlines of this can already be seen in the mobilizations/counter-mobilizations and debates around healthcare, immigration and culture/religion (in particular the political and physical attacks on Muslims).

These developments portend dangers as well as possibilities for action. We cannot trust simply in the course of events to take the broadly left-wing movements into fundamentally attacking the underlying system itself or developing a truly anti-authoritarian character. We cannot confine our role to getting people into motion around their immediate concerns and trusting an unseen logic of struggle to lead to evermore radical and anti-authoritarian results.

A progressively unfolding Left strategy of “one step at a time” will not suffice. We must wage a conscious fight for a revolutionary and anarchist outcome in the here and now if there is ever to be an advance in that direction.

liberty equality solidarity

A WORKING CLASS ORIENTATION: We want an anarchist movement weighted towards and rooted in the working class and poorer sectors of society. The working class has the potential to both shake and reshape society. We do not dismiss the skills, concerns or contributions of other strata – but a solid working class component is necessary to any fully liberatory and egalitarian social transformation.

If the working class is to be a force for liberation, sizeable numbers must turn away from the concept of defending or restoring a precarious “middle class” existence. (In other words, fighting for re-inclusion into a social and environmental arrangement that is proving itself to be ever more unsustainable.) Instead we must champion independent working class organization that aggressively encourages and defends the struggle and self-organization of all the excluded and oppressed as allies in a fight for an alternative society.

Anarchists must increasingly put ourselves in positions to help create such developments. As individuals and collectives we need to carefully assess where we work, live and organize. In these settings we must systematically build our personal and political relationships through involvement in a range of struggles small and large. We should not devalue as non-political the personal acts of solidarity, compassion, and love. Conversely, we should not assume any lack of interest in our grander or more controversial ideas.

We must remain intimately involved in the lives and debates amongst rank and file working and poor people. So we oppose the widespread trend of taking paid staff positions in the unions and non-profits that would place us outside of the grassroots and dependent on and tied to reformist hierarchy. Similarly, while we need a movement that includes serious intellectuals and artists, we must also be on guard against the negative aspects of academic careerism and sub-culture isolation.

Our priority is building personal-political networks within the working-class with our co-workers, neighbors, classmates and their/our families, and developing revolutionary nuclei from within those networks. Workers have numerous familial and community ties to aid in such an endeavor.

workers solidarity movement

A Working-Class Movement
Armed with anarchist principles and concepts (and a good bit of energy and creativity) we must try and resurrect a culture of working class independence, direct action and solidarity on an ever-widening scale. We must push for diverse self-organization and the cooperative development of alternative/decentralist strategies for addressing societal problems outside of and in counter-position to conventional governmental structures.

We fully understand this will involve an uphill battle of methodical education, agitation and organizing. The goal is an anti-authoritarian united front of whatever sections can be mustered of wage labor, immigrants, the excluded urban & rural poor – and grouping around itself sympathetic independent craft and service people, shopkeepers, small farmers, artists, scholars, health and science professionals. We see this being done through conferences, assemblies, councils and common struggle of an array of collaborating formations.

If of enough weight and mass, such a united front could act as a type of societal rallying point against the irresponsible and corrupt capitalist and political classes, the racist and nationalist right-wing movements and a general social dissolution.

The history of capitalism is inextricably bound to white supremacy and patriarchy and has thus left deep structural legacies of inequality in the economy and society. Despite advances on the front of formal equality, the declining and shifting economy coupled with the neglect of the social and educational infrastructure has marginalized large sectors of the population, creating a growing class of permanently excluded. This has fallen heaviest on Black, Brown and Native peoples. Poverty continues to be heavily “gendered” toward women and children. The struggles against patriarchy, racism, and capitalism must become one.

A working class orientation does not dismiss or neglect the need for organized autonomous movements of people of color, women, GLBTQ or other people even if they are of a mixed class character. Anarchists must be active in these formations (and in support), working to cohere the more militant elements around these movement’s more radical demands as well as direct action alliances with a range of other popular and working class struggles.

The Unions
We see the mainstream unions as having a dual character. On the one hand, the unions over the course of time (and some from the beginning) have integrated themselves into the regular functioning of capitalism, becoming reliable partners in economic management and political theater with the ruling elite. On the other hand, despite this (or not), the unions maintain a space where workers struggles do emerge and are either bottled up or push forward. Our approach is therefore not limited to a single organizational tactic.

We are opposed to the pro-capitalist union bureaucracy, have no illusions in any “movement” from above, and thus reject a simplistic “Build the Unions” approach. But depending on the workplace, industry, and union we fully expect to also participate within the unions, union reform movements, or rank & file and “extra-union” groupings – as revolutionaries and anarchists. We would need to carefully assess any bids for elected union/community positions, being clear on what we are trying to accomplish, what we really could achieve, as well as the duration of time spent there.

We are also part of and support the re-emerging I.W.W., Workers Centers, Workers Assemblies and other labor formations outside of the mainstream unions…

anarchism_defined_by_ztk2006

FOR A NON-DOCTRINAIRE ANARCHISM: Our anarchism is both revolutionary and heterodox. We maintain hostility to conventional politics. We are opposed to the programs and methods of the various union and movement bureaucracies, including their most left variants. We are not fooled by authoritarians on the left, who opportunistically clothe themselves in elements of anti-authoritarian garb, but haven’t seriously examined their past and present practices…

We believe anarchist theory and practice needs to be renewed and elaborated. While there are limits and deficiencies in the realms of theory and practice, there is also much past and present in anarchism to uncover, weigh and draw upon. This history is rich and continues to provide a substantial basis for a viable historical trend and a present day fighting movement…

Anarcho-syndicalism. Anarcho-syndicalism has much to recommend in it. It has a working class orientation, a strong sense of organization, and rightly gives great importance to direct action and the general strike. One of the deepest transformations of human society, the Spanish Revolution, was largely due to an anarcho-syndicalist movement.

However, anarcho-syndicalism tends towards a class reductionism, organizational dogmatism (“One Big Union”, “The CNT was my womb, it shall be my tomb”), and down plays the social, political, and cultural dimensions of struggle. It has exhibited strong tendencies towards centralism and incremental reformism on the one hand or isolationist purism within the workers movement on the other.

Changes in the global industrial systems have challenged but not eliminated anarcho-syndicalism as a potential force. That said, we still lean heavily upon its best aspects. Members of M1 actively participate within the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.)

Anarchist-Communism. The other major school in the revolutionary anarchist tradition attempts to have a more holistic vision and flexible approach to organization. There is much to be learned from its practice, writings, and heroism as well.

Anarchist-Communism in its early articulations was weakened by its over-optimistic view of an “anarchist” human nature that led to both anti-organizational (“The street will organize us!”) and propaganda-by-the-deed conclusions.

Modern Anarchist-Communism, overlapping to a large degree with the “Platformist” current, bends the stick too far the opposite direction. While their organizational seriousness and commitment to mass struggle are exemplary, an influence of certain forms and practice (not necessarily politics) reminiscent of Trotskyist groups is apparent.

While a libertarian communism may or may not be our long-term preference, we do not make it a point of unity. Against any dogmatic insistence that the revolutionary society must be organized on a specific communist basis, we make co-operation and experimentation our watchwords. There is no way to get around the fact that a truly mass self-organized revolt will produce diverse attempts at social reconstruction. Fixation on and zeal in the pursuit of one form is a dangerous thing no matter the intent.

Anarchist-Communists generally fail to take seriously the problem of the label “Communism” in a world where millions have been murdered under the banner of “Communism”. As revolutionaries with experience in areas with large Polish, Hmong, Balkan, and East African immigrant communities this is not an academic question for us.

Drawing the wrong connections

Drawing the wrong connections

Green and Eco-Anarchism. With the green and eco-anarchists we share the view that the ecological crisis is fundamental and that the industrial society must be radically reorganized. The tendencies generally associated with the “class struggle” anarchist traditions need to fully integrate ecological concerns into its vision. Economic life arises from human relations with the Earth. How this life is constituted and organized in a decentralist fashion needs to be fully rooted in our politics.

The technologies and industrialization developed and mastered in the service of the authoritarian and capitalist society is constantly reshaping our world. We are witness to an unimaginable and frightening growth of agribusiness and urbanization. This process uproots peoples land based traditions, their knowledge and capabilities for self-sufficiency and autonomy, creates a consumerist culture in which mass sectors of the populace are reduced to cheap labor pools, and creates conditions for the mass extinction of earth’s species – human, non-human, and plant.

A significant development of this devastating course is that the corporations of trans-national capitalism have set up massive economic zones, which combined with the deepening crisis of people’s detachment from the land, gives rise to global maquiladora type factory-cities surrounded by vast slums. Through any combination of factors these factory-cities can be left behind by the capitalist classes with the work “outsourced” to other regions deemed more manageable or with low cost risks. The areas – whether in full capitalist development or abandoned – become bio-catastrophes.

There is resistance ranging from rural insurgencies waged by peasants and indigenous peoples, to independent organizing within the walls of the factory-cities. Tendencies within the green anarchist movement would ignore these struggles, heralding instead the mere collapse of industrial society. We argue for the linking up of the rural and urban forces into a movement that can reshape the terrain imposed upon us by capitalism.

In some of the de-industrialized cities abandoned by capitalism, including where we are active, new movements of community farmers, food activists, and “take back the land” projects have emerged. These new formations are creating networks stretching out over entire regions, encompassing city, suburb, and more traditionally acknowledged farmland. We defend these autonomous projects and support linking them up with oppositional social movements.

We absolutely oppose significant trends within the “green” movements that embrace anti-human and anti-working class ideology. We reject and will fight any and all racist and sexist ideas, for instance those that oppose immigration and support population controls.

Insurrectionism. We do not believe that the revolutionary change needed can be achieved through an accumulated series of reforms or by an expanding community of anti-authoritarian practice. There will need to be an uprising of the oppressed and exploited against the ruling class. Land and workplaces must be seized, police and military disarmed, and the will of the rulers broken. A mass and popular insurrection will be necessary for the revolutionary transformation we seek.

This clear need has prompted several trends – anarchist and others – to identify as “Insurrectionists”. The Insurrectionists reject left bureaucratic movement management and mediation and are rightly suspicious of organization that tends simply towards self-perpetuation. However, the Insurrectionists create an ideology with its own particular fetishisms and by doing so promote a rather dogmatic program regarding acceptable (non)organization and tactics.

While we welcome a radical approach and a confrontation with reformism (including among anarchists), we are not impressed with any lazy caricature of insurrection. Poorly thought out “militancy” uncritical of its isolation from broader working-class communities and social movements offers little threat. The Black Bloc, for instance, has gone from being a useful show of force and protection for the anarchist movement, to, too often, an isolated and state-scrutinized cultural ghetto with limited reach and influence…

Our critique of “Insurrectionism” is not a rejection of militancy and self-defense, nor a consignment of the fight to the distant horizon. Our members’ history and experience, particularly within the anti-fascist movement but in other struggles as well, is one of building popular combativity, developing our capabilities, and in general, keeping the insurrectionary arts alive.

anarchism without adjectives

An anarchism without hyphens. From the above we hope to show our commitment to listening and learning from a number of different traditions and trends within anarchism – without painting ourselves into a narrow ideological corner. This should not be confused with favoring a slop-bag organization with no clarity or direction. We are determined to build a group with coherent anarchist politics and the ability to carry out work and discussions democratically. But we do so with both a sense of humility and an understanding that the politics we wish to develop does not currently reside in any one of the anarchist sub-schools.

Anarchism, Empire and National Liberation. Two approaches have dominated the modern anarchist approach to national liberation movements. Both are inadequate and have helped ensure anarchism usually remained on the sidelines of the major struggles against imperialism and for self-determination.

The first approach condemns all national liberation movements – from top to bottom and across all tendencies – as inherently capitalist and statist and therefore as equal an enemy as Empire. This then justifies abstention from solidarity with those people under the gun of imperialism. Besides being entirely immoral, this practice leaves anarchist ideas and methods off the playing field of the imperialized world.

The second failed approach also removes anarchism as an independent political pole, by uncritically backing whatever force or leader is fighting against (or posing against) US or other imperialism. The traditional anarchist critique of hierarchy, the State, and patriarchy are pushed to the side in order to support the “leadership” of the resistance.

Against all this we promote anarchist participation within movements against Empire and for self-determination, advocating anti-authoritarian, internationalist, decentralized and cooperative societies as an alternative to social democratic, state-capitalist or religious fundamentalist opposition projects. We see this as in keeping with the best traditions from the anarchist movement.

For those of us living and working in North America we have a particular responsibility to oppose the ongoing wars of occupation in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine and other countries around the world. We must help build anti-war consciousness, movements and actions, as well as stand firm against the racist hysteria directed against Muslim, Arab, and East African communities here.

The criminalization of supporters of the main movements in Palestine, Lebanon, Somalia and other countries prevents anti-war movements and those immigrant communities from fully expressing themselves and engaging in dialogue and debate about the course of struggle. We must oppose this criminalization even as we clarify our critique of the dominant or other specific resistance organizations.

We believe it is vital that the costs of Empire be raised in our mass work in the Labor movement and other social movements. The wars in the Middle East are directly tied to the massive cutbacks being demanded by the bosses and politicians in education, social services and retirement. It will not be possible to resist these cuts or make demands for our communities needs without confronting the costs of the war machine. Any base built on narrow trade-union demands will not be sufficient to develop the revolutionary nuclei needed to help create the challenge needed.

Our understanding of Empire includes not only the outward projection of economic, cultural, and military domination but also that the US and Canadian states themselves are built on the colonization of Native land in North America. Our consistent opposition to Empire must mean an opposition to the US state. Our vision is of the Empire dismantled, not some red flag raised at the White House.

We also understand that the organization of Empire is not static and that the continuing globalization of capital and the rise of international economic and supra-state institutions will mean that both imperialism and the struggles against it will look and feel different than previous eras. We will continue to study and discuss the implications of these changes and what it means for our work.

Christian_Anarchism

Religion. Anarchists and anarchist organizations have overwhelmingly seen themselves as militantly atheist. Given our movement’s history this is not surprising. Russia, Italy and Spain are at the center of most anarchist history. These were societies dominated by single state churches intertwined with particularly reactionary landowning classes. So it is also no surprise that much of the opposition to these obscurantist regimes was militantly anti-clerical. Today’s anarchist movement was also largely born in struggles against conservative and reactionary mores epitomized by the so-called Christian Right. No small wonder our movement has maintained an irreligious stance.

M1 jettisons this stance because we believe it to be an un-anarchist but understandable holdover from our past. Further, we believe it to be a roadblock to deepening our movement’s presence in many sectors of the working class and oppressed.

Hypocrites aside, spiritual belief is intensely personal. Anarchy’s bedrock is the defense and development of each unique human personality. The social revolutionary aspect of anarchism comes from the realization that gender, ethnic, class, sexual and other oppressions and exploitation do violence to personhood and must be resisted collectively. If we liquidate individuality in the course of our collective endeavors we position ourselves on the same slippery slope as the authoritarians.

Our experience shows that some folks will respond to our activity and organizing and step forward motivated by their religious beliefs and values. Many assume that our activism is also motivated by such beliefs and are surprised to find we hold atheist views. If someone of religious outlook unites with us in struggle and is interested in our fuller views should they be subjected to bigoted humor or background banter about believers, Jesus, Allah, etc.? When it is their personal version of religious belief that motivates their own resistance and feelings of solidarity? It happens in our movement, all too often.

How one acts in the world should be the basis of our revolutionary affinity. We do not care what personal philosophy motivates a person or group to a similar anti-authoritarian outlook /fighting stance. We argue with folks on issues involving incontrovertible facts (such as evolution). We confront and struggle with people who harbor reactionary and/or patriarchal planks of theology (politics). We actively resist religion-based authority. At the same time we do not discourage or closet those aspects of personal belief that bring people forward as revolutionaries. The movement we need must be mass, determined, and open to latter day John Browns, Zapatas, Dorothy Days, and Malcolms.

A look at the past Civil Rights / Black Liberation Movement and a close look at some of today’s organizations and proto-movements underline another lesson. We see significant activity by faith-based organizations in social justice activities ranging from immigration and anti-war, to workers rights to urban mass transit amongst others. These formations are still defined and limited by their liberalism, but are attracting a new layer of energetic activists amongst youth and workers to the social democratic aspects of their politics. In coming years the cauldron of struggle will undoubtedly lead to a radicalization of elements, if not wings of such organizations, coalitions etc. We should not leave unnecessary obstacles stand between us and such developments.

achieving anarchism

Non-sectarian and Multi-layered Approach to Organization: We are for the creation of anti-authoritarian/anarchist federations of regional, national, continental and even global dimensions. Such federations must be of a mass character and able to intervene in and influence the coming broader left, in addition to launching and defining independent anarchist campaigns and projects.

The outlines and nature of this anticipated wider movement can only be speculated on.

We can be certain that it will be comprised of distinct social formations arising from various communities and sectoral concerns. Some formations will be short lived, but others will be of longer standing and a potentially radically shifting nature. New currents with an anti-authoritarian thrust will undoubtedly arise in and around these formations. Anarchist militants must be inside and contributing to such developments in addition to building independent projects.

Inside the broad movements, we will have to (along with the new currents) contend with forces committed to dominating these movements. Liberals – sometimes pressured and pushed by, but in general allied with more formally left-wing and even self proclaimed “revolutionary” organizations – will be attempting to isolate and block more radical elements and surges.

The liberals’ goal is to subordinate the societal left to a conservative pro-capitalist strategy of cooptation and government reform (in the most limited sense of the term) in an attempt to stabilize the existing system by shifting and reshuffling some of the present structures of domination and exploitation.

In combating an ever more aggressive social movement of the right they will be hard put to come up with effective means of confronting and politically dividing this hard reality. Rather their timidity and statist methods could lead to ill and tragic results.

With enemies left and right the anti-authoritarian left will need to be organized. Serious future social/political battles will be played out on regional, national and international stages. The anarchist movement will need to develop organizational forms to coordinate at these levels. There can be no denying this just as there can be no denying the truth that we need strong popular bases in countless locales.

Any serious, rooted and effective regional to North American anarchist co-ordinations/federations can only fully come together out of a rising curve of politicization, struggle and solidarity/survival organizing. The precise politics and organizational combinations of such formations will be shaped and worked out in struggle. However, it is crucial the discussion and initial steps begin in the here and now.

We are for a common front in action and mutual aid of all anti-authoritarian and anarchist currents.

We do not care whether the people and groups who step forward are coming from a similar interest in developing the anarchist tradition or are instead motivated to a libertarian-egalitarian stance by different religious, ecological or political views.

We are for a simple and clear commitment to a) a free, decentralized and cooperative society achieved by a radical break with the system, b) direct and mass action, independent of conventional politics and c) a voluntary collaboration of individuals, groupings, sectoral and social formations charting their course through respectful deliberation and carried out in the spirit of all going forward together with none left behind.

We support federative efforts of a rich variety of groupings. In addition to regional and national organizations constituted around specific social and political programs and theories, we seek the direct affiliation of ongoing campaigns, clinics, kitchens, anti-fascist projects, autonomous worker and neighborhood centers, art and sports clubs, union caucuses, independent workers committees and radical unions to name a few.

The wide-ranging nature of such an alliance can only contribute to its vitality and innovativeness. The programmatically specific groups can bring many valuable lessons past and present from the international anarchist movement into the mix. This is on top of their memberships’ accumulated skills, experiences and connections. The projects of specific area activism help ensure a more outward facing stance and a much more diverse skill set.

We must be constantly tuned in to preserving and deepening all our organizations’ anti-authoritarian character at all times. Pressures for effectiveness, delegation of tasks, uneven levels of education, experience and skills all are problematic but unavoidable. The attempts at remedy cannot be structural alone. Political questions of ideology, instrumentality, and values are key…

First of May Anarchist Alliance
January 2011

mayday_flagcrop

CrimethInc: From Democracy to Freedom

vote for nobody

Last week, I posted a brief section on “community assemblies” from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. I raised some concerns regarding proposals for direct democracy that to my mind create structures that are too rigid and will result in a return to political parties and power politics as people coalesce into groups with sometimes conflicting interests (a critique I have more fully developed in my article, “Reinventing Hierarchy: The Political Theory of Social Ecology,”[6] in Anarchist Studies, Volume 12, No. 4 (2004)). Previously, I posted some selections from Malatesta, Luce Fabbri and Murray Bookchin setting forth different views about anarchy and democracy. Coincidentally, CrimethInc. has been running a serious of articles providing an anarchist critique of even directly democratic forms of government. Here, I present some excerpts from the section on democracy and freedom.

democracy means police

Anarchist critiques of democracy

Democracy is the most universal political ideal of our day. George Bush invoked it to justify invading Iraq; Obama congratulated the rebels of Tahrir Square for bringing it to Egypt; Occupy Wall Street claimed to have distilled its pure form. From the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea to the autonomous region of Rojava, practically every government and popular movement calls itself democratic.

And what’s the cure for the problems with democracy? Everyone agrees: more democracy. Since the turn of the century, we’ve seen a spate of new movements promising to deliver real democracy, in contrast to ostensibly democratic institutions that they describe as exclusive, coercive, and alienating.

Is there a common thread that links all these different kinds of democracy? Which of them is the real one? Can any of them deliver the inclusivity and freedom we associate with the word?

Impelled by our own experiences in directly democratic movements, we’ve returned to these questions. Our conclusion is that the dramatic imbalances in economic and political power that have driven people into the streets from New York City to Sarajevo are not incidental defects in specific democracies, but structural features dating back to the origins of democracy itself; they appear in practically every example of democratic government through the ages. Representative democracy preserved all the bureaucratic apparatus that was originally invented to serve kings; direct democracy tends to recreate it on a smaller scale, even outside the formal structures of the state. Democracy is not the same as self-determination.

To be sure, many good things are regularly described as democratic. This is not an argument against discussions, collectives, assemblies, networks, federations, or working with people you don’t always agree with. The argument, rather, is that when we engage in those practices, if we understand what we are doing as democracy—as a form of participatory government rather than a collective practice of freedom—then sooner or later, we will recreate all the problems associated with less democratic forms of government. This goes for representative democracy and direct democracy alike, and even for consensus process.

Rather than championing democratic procedures as an end in themselves, then, let’s return to the values that drew us to democracy in the first place: egalitarianism, inclusivity, the idea that each person should control her own destiny. If democracy is not the most effective way to actualize these, what is?

As fiercer and fiercer struggles rock today’s democracies, the stakes of this discussion keep getting higher. If we go on trying to replace the prevailing order with a more participatory version of the same thing, we’ll keep ending up right back where we started, and others who share our disillusionment will gravitate towards more authoritarian alternatives. We need a framework that can fulfill the promises democracy has betrayed…

oakland-commune-barricade

Creating Spaces of Encounter

In place of formal sites of centralized decision-making, we propose a variety of spaces of encounter where people may open themselves to each other’s influence and find others who share their priorities. Encounter means mutual transformation: establishing common points of reference, common concerns. The space of encounter is not a representative body vested with the authority to make decisions for others, nor a governing body employing majority rule or consensus. It is an opportunity for people to experiment with acting in different configurations on a voluntary basis.

The spokescouncil immediately preceding the demonstrations against the 2001 Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in Quebec City was a classic space of encounter. This meeting brought together a wide range of autonomous groups that had converged from around the world to protest the FTAA. Rather than attempting to make binding decisions, the participants introduced the initiatives that their groups had prepared and coordinated for mutual benefit wherever possible.

Much of the decision-making occurred afterwards in informal intergroup discussions. By this means, thousands of people were able to synchronize their actions without need of central leadership, without giving the police much insight into the wide array of plans that were to unfold. Had the spokescouncil employed an organizational model intended to produce unity and centralization, the participants could have spent the entire night fruitlessly arguing about goals, strategy, and which tactics to allow.

Most of the social movements of the past two decades have been hybrid models juxtaposing spaces of encounter with some form of democracy. In Occupy, for example, the encampments served as open-ended spaces of encounter, while the general assemblies were formally intended to function as directly democratic decision-making bodies. Most of those movements achieved their greatest effects because the encounters they facilitated opened up opportunities for autonomous action, not because they centralized group activity through direct democracy.16

Many of the decisions that gave Occupy Oakland a greater impact than other Occupy encampments, including the refusal to negotiate with the city government and the militant reaction to the first eviction, were the result of autonomous initiatives, not consensus process. Meanwhile, some occupiers interpreted consensus process as a sort of decentralized legal framework in which any action undertaken by any participant in the occupation should require the consent of every other participant.

As one participant recalls, “One of the first times the police tried to enter the camp at Occupy Oakland, they were immediately surrounded and shouted at by a group of about twenty people. Some other people weren’t happy about this. The most vocal of these pacifists placed himself in front of those confronting the police, crossed his forearms in the X that symbolizes strong disagreement in the sign language of consensus process, and said ‘You can’t do this! I block you!’ For him, consensus was a tool of horizontal control, giving everyone the right to suppress whichever of others’ actions they found disagreeable.” If we approach the encounter as the driving force of these movements, rather than as a raw material to be shaped through democratic process, it might help us to prioritize what we do best.

Anarchists frustrated by the contradictions of democratic discourse have sometimes withdrawn to organize themselves according to preexisting affinity alone. Yet segregation breeds stagnation and fractiousness. It is better to organize on the basis of our conditions and needs so we come into contact with all the others who share them. Only when we understand ourselves as nodes within dynamic collectivities, rather than discrete entities possessed of static interests, can we make sense of the rapid metamorphoses that people undergo in the course of experiences like the Occupy movement—and the tremendous power of the encounter to transform us if we open ourselves to it.

democracy autonomy

Community Assemblies

A communal assembly in Rojava

A communal assembly in Rojava

Here is a very short excerpt from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in which I discuss Murray Bookchin’s idea of community assemblies, an idea which appears to have been taken up by people in Rojava, under constant threat from both ISIS and Turkish armed forces. The issue for me is whether these assemblies form voluntary federations or whether they become communal or cantonal systems of government.

bookchin next revolution large

Community Assemblies

The contractarian ideal seeks to reduce all relationships to contractual relationships, ultimately eliminating the need for any public political process. Murray Bookchin has argued to the contrary that there is, or should be, a genuine public sphere in which all members of a community are free to participate and able to collectively make decisions regarding the policies that are to be followed by that community. Community assemblies, in contrast to factory councils, provide everyone with a voice in collective decision making, not just those directly involved in the production process (Volume Two, Selection 62). Such assemblies would function much like the anarchist “collectives” in the Spanish Revolution documented by Gaston Leval (Volume One, Selection 126).

Questions arise however regarding the relationship between community assemblies and other forms of organization, whether workers’ councils, trade unions, community assemblies in other areas, or voluntary associations in general. In addition to rejecting simple majority rule, anarchists have historically supported not only the right of individuals and groups to associate, network and federate with other individuals and groups but to secede or disassociate from them. One cannot have voluntary associations based on compulsory membership (Ward: Volume Two, Selection 63).

Disregarding the difficulties in determining the “will” of an assembly (whether by simple majority vote of those present, as Bookchin advocated, or by some more sophisticated means), except in rare cases of unanimity one would expect genuine and sincere disagreements over public policy decisions to continue to arise even after the abolition of class interests. The enforcement of assembly decisions would not only exacerbate conflict, it would encourage factionalism, with people sharing particular views or interests uniting to ensure that their views predominate. In such circumstances, “positive altruism and voluntary cooperative behaviour” tend to atrophy (Taylor, Volume Two, Selection 65), as the focus of collective action through the assemblies becomes achieving coercive legal support for one’s own views rather than eliciting the cooperation of others (Graham, 2004).

Robert Graham

voting fair vote

Toward a Convivial Society

Ivan Illich

Ivan Illich

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 focus on Ivan Illich and his critique of modern institutions, “disabling” professions, and the commodification of everyday life, and his alternative vision of a convivial society. Illich was friends with Paul Goodman, who helped to inspire Illich to write one of his best known books, Deschooling Society. Like Goodman, Illich has unjustly faded from public view since his death (in 2002). By that time he had already become marginalized, as even “liberal” intellectual forums, like the New York Review of Books, had long since ceased to discuss his work, following a brief intellectual opening in the late 1960s and the 1970s (with Noam Chomsky suffering a similar fate). While Illich never described himself as an anarchist, some of his critics did. I included one of his essays in Volume Two of the Anarchism anthology. Anarchists can still benefit from his critique of modern industrialized society.

Illich Tools

Toward a Convivial Society

In the 1970s, Ivan Illich, who was close to Paul Goodman, called for the “inversion of present institutional purposes,” seeking to create a “convivial society,” by which he meant “autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and intercourse of persons with their environment.” For Illich, as with most anarchists, “individual freedom [is] realized in mutual personal interdependence,” the sort of interdependence which atrophies under the state and capitalism. The problem with present institutions is that they “provide clients with predetermined goods,” making “commodities out of health, education, housing, transportation, and welfare. We need arrangements which permit modern man to engage in the activities of healing and health maintenance, learning and teaching, moving and dwelling.” He argued that desirable institutions are therefore those which “enable people to meet their own needs.”

Where Illich parted company with anarchists was in his endorsement of legal coercion to establish limits to personal consumption. He proposed “to set a legal limit to the tooling of society in such a way that the toolkit necessary to conviviality will be accessible for the autonomous use of a maximum number of people” (Volume Two, Selection 73). For anarchists, one of the problems with coercive legal government is that, in the words of Allan Ritter, the “remoteness of its officials and the permanence and generality of its controls cause it to treat its subjects as abstract strangers. Such treatment is the very opposite of the personal friendly treatment” appropriate to the sort of convivial society that Illich sought to create (Volume Three, Selection 18).

Anarchists would agree with Illich that existing political systems “provide goods with clients rather than people with goods. Individuals are forced to pay for and use things they do not need; they are allowed no effective part in the process of choosing, let alone producing them.” Anarchists would also support “the individual’s right to use only what he [or she] needs, to play an increasing part as an individual in its production,” and the “guarantee” of “an environment so simple and transparent that all [people] most of the time have access to all the things which are useful to care for themselves and for others.” While Illich’s emphasis on “the need for limits of per capita consumption” may appear to run counter to the historic anarchist communist commitment to a society of abundance in which all are free to take what they need, anarchists would agree with Illich that people should be in “control of the means and the mode of production” so that they are “in the service of the people” rather than people being controlled by them “for the purpose of raising output at all cost and then worrying how to distribute it in a fair way” (Volume Two, Selection 73).

Illich proposed that “the first step in a more general program of institutional inversion” would be the “de-schooling of society.” By this he meant the abolition of schools which “enable a teacher to establish classes of subjects and to impute the need for them to classes of people called pupils. The inverse of schools would be opportunity networks which permit individuals to state their present interest and seek a match for it.” Illich therefore went one step beyond the traditional anarchist focus on creating libertarian schools that students are free to attend and in which they choose what to learn (Volume One, Selections 65 & 66), adopting a position similar to Paul Goodman, who argued that children should not be institutionalized within a school system at all (1964).

illich deschooling 2

By replacing the commodity of “education” with “learning,” which is an activity, Illich hoped to move away from “our present world view, in which our needs can be satisfied only by tangible or intangible commodities which we consume” (Volume Two, Selection 73). The “commodification” of social life is a common theme in anarchist writings, from the time when Proudhon denounced capitalism for reducing the worker to “a chattel, a thing” (Volume One, Selection 9), to George Woodcock’s critique of the “tyranny of the clock,” which “turns time from a process of nature into a commodity that can be measured and bought and sold like soap or sultanas” (Volume Two, Selection 69).

Illich criticized those anarchists who “would make their followers believe that the maximum technically possible is not simply the maximum desirable for a few, but that it can also provide everybody with maximum benefits at minimum cost,” describing them as “techno-anarchists” because they “have fallen victim to the illusion that it is possible to socialize the technocratic imperative” (Volume Two, Selection 73). It is not clear to whom Illich was directing these comments, but a few years earlier Richard Kostelanetz had written an article defending what he described as “technoanarchism,” in which he criticized the more common anarchist stance critical toward modern technology (Volume Two, selection 72).

Kostelanetz suggested that “by freeing more people from the necessity of productivity, automation increasingly permits everyone his artistic or craftsmanly pursuits,” a position similar to that of Oscar Wilde (Volume One, Selection 61). Instead of criticizing modern technology, anarchists should recognize that the “real dehumanizer” is “uncaring bureaucracy.” Air pollution can be more effectively dealt with through the development of “less deleterious technologies of energy production, or better technologies of pollutant-removal or the dispersion of urban industry.” Agreeing with Irving Horowitz’s claim that anarchists ignored “the problems of a vast technology,” by trying to find their way back “to a system of production that was satisfactory to the individual producer, rather than feasible for a growing mass society,” Kostelanetz argued that anarchists must now regard technology as “a kind of second nature… regarding it as similarly cordial if not ultimately harmonious, as initial nature” (Volume Two, Selection 72).

In response to Horowitz’s comments, David Watson later wrote that the argument “is posed backwards. Technology has certainly transformed the world, but the question is not whether the anarchist vision of freedom, autonomy, and mutual cooperation is any longer relevant to mass technological civilization. It is more pertinent to ask whether freedom, autonomy, or human cooperation themselves can be possible in such a civilization” (Watson: 165-166). For Murray Bookchin, “the issue of disbanding the factory—indeed, of restoring manufacture in its literal sense as a manual art rather than a muscular ‘megamachine’—has become a priority of enormous social importance,” because “we must arrest more than just the ravaging  and simplification of nature. We must also arrest the ravaging and simplification of the human spirit, of human personality, of human community… and humanity’s own fecundity within the natural world” by creating decentralized ecocommunities “scaled to human dimensions” and “artistically tailored to their natural surroundings” (Volume Two, Selection 74).

Robert Graham

radical tech

Anarchy and Ecology

eco anarchist flag

Continuing my recent theme of dealing with big issues, like anarchism and feminism, in today’s installment from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss anarchy and ecology. While Murray Bookchin is often credited with bringing the ideas of ecology and anarchism together, previous writers had dealt with ecological themes, including the anarchist geographers, Elisée Reclus and Peter Kropotkin, the communitarian anarchist, Gustav Landauer, the English writer, Ethel Mannin, and the American social critic and author, Paul Goodman. Selections from their writings can be found across the three volumes of the Anarchism anthology. A bit early for Earth Day, but here it is.

resistance_is fertile

Anarchy and Ecology

Anarchists had long been advocates of decentralized, human scale technology and sustainable communities. In the 1940s, Ethel Mannin drew the connections between increasing environmental degradation, existing power structures and social inequality, writing that as long as “Man continues to exploit the soil for profit he sows the seeds of his own destruction, not merely because Nature becomes his enemy, responding to his machines and his chemicals by the withdrawal of fertility, the dusty answer of an ultimate desert barrenness, but because his whole attitude to life is debased; his gods become Money and Power, and wars and unemployment and useless toil become his inevitable portion” (Volume Two, Selection 14). Murray Bookchin expanded on this critique in the 1960s, arguing that the “modern city… the massive coal-steel technology of the Industrial Revolution, the later, more rationalized systems of mass production and assembly-line systems of labour organization, the centralized nation, the state and its bureaucratic apparatus—all have reached their limits,” undermining “not only the human spirit and the human community but also the viability of the planet and all living things on it” (Volume Two, Selection 48).

Bookchin was fundamentally opposed to those environmentalists who looked to existing power structures to avert ecological collapse or catastrophe. This was because the “notion that man is destined to dominate nature stems from the domination of man by man—and perhaps even earlier, by the domination of woman by man and the domination of the young by the old” (Volume Three, Selection 26). Consequently, the way out of ecological crisis is not to strengthen or rely on those hierarchical power structures which have brought about that crisis, but through direct action, which for Bookchin is “the means whereby each individual awakens to the hidden powers within herself and himself, to a new sense of self-confidence and self-competence; it is the means whereby individuals take control of society directly, without ‘representatives’ who tend to usurp not only the power but the very personality of a passive, spectatorial ‘electorate’ who live in the shadows of an ‘elect’”(Volume Three, Selection 10).

In Mutual Aid, Kropotkin argued not only that the state was unlikely to effect positive social change, given the interests it represents, but that reliance on state power renders people less and less capable of collectively managing their own affairs, for in “proportion as the obligations towards the State [grow] in numbers the citizens [are] evidently relieved from their obligations towards each other.” As Michael Taylor puts it, under “the state, there is no practice of cooperation and no growth of a sense of the interdependence on which cooperation depends.” Because environmental crisis can only be resolved through the action and cooperation of countless individuals, instead of strengthening the state people should heed the anarchist call for decentralization, by seeking to disaggregate “large societies… into smaller societies,” and by resisting “the enlargement of societies and the destruction of small ones,” thereby fostering the cooperation and self-activity upon which widespread social change ultimately depends (Volume Two, Selection 65). Otherwise, as Paul Goodman argued, we are stuck in “a vicious circle, for… the very exercise of abstract power, managing and coercing, itself tends to stand in the way and alienate, to thwart function and diminish energy… the consequence of the process is to put us in fact in a continual emergency, so power creates its own need.” For the emergency or crisis to be effectively resolved, there must be “a profound change in social structure, including getting rid of national sovereign power” (Volume Two, Selection 36).

Robert Graham

Green_anarchism_by_r.freeman

Anarcha-Feminism

feminizm2

Belatedly realizing that I should make a better effort to tie my posts into international dates, like Women’s Day, here is a section from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in which I discuss anarchist critiques of patriarchy, hierarchy and domination that began to emerge in the 1960s and 70s. It’s a bit  out of order, but nothing wrong with that from an anarchist perspective (“I reject my own self-imposed order!”). I particularly like Carole Pateman’s critique of “libertarian” contractarianism, which ultimately results in an anarcho-capitalist dystopia of universal prostitution. Message to Benjamin Franks: please stop describing me as a liberal. You’ve misunderstood my essay on the “Anarchist Contract.” Take a look at the original, more ‘academic’ version, “The Role of Contract in Anarchist Ideology,” in For Anarchism (Routledge, 1989), ed. David Goodway. In both essays, I draw on Pateman’s critiques of liberal ideology, and no, neither “free agreement” nor “autonomy” are inherently “liberal” concepts.

anarcha-feminism-hammer

Patriarchy

In his discussion of the emergence of hierarchical societies which “gradually subverted the unity of society with the natural world,” Murray Bookchin noted the important role played by “the patriarchal family in which women were brought into universal subjugation to men” (Volume Three, Selection 26). Rossella Di Leo has suggested that hierarchical societies emerged from more egalitarian societies in which there were “asymmetries” of authority and prestige, with men holding the social positions to which the most prestige was attached (Volume Three, Selection 32). In contemporary society, Nicole Laurin-Frenette observes, “women of all classes, in all trades and professions, in all sectors of work and at all professional levels [continue] to be assigned tasks which are implicitly or explicitly defined and conceived as feminine. These tasks usually correspond to subordinate functions which entail unfavourable practical and symbolic conditions” (Volume Three, Selection 33).

Radical Feminism

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a radical feminist movement emerged that shared many affinities with anarchism and the ecology movement. Peggy Kornegger argued that “feminists have been unconscious anarchists in both theory and practice for years” (Volume Two, Selection 78). Radical feminists regarded “the nuclear family as the basis for all authoritarian systems,” much as earlier anarchists had, from Otto Gross (Volume One, Selection 78), to Marie Louise Berneri (Volume Two, Selection 75) and Daniel Guérin (Volume Two, Selection 76). Radical feminists also rejected “the male domineering attitude toward the external world, allowing only subject/object relationships,” developing a critique of “male hierarchical thought patterns—in which rationality dominates sensuality, mind dominates intuition, and persistent splits and polarities (active/passive, child/adult, sane/insane, work/play, spontaneity/organization) alienate us from the mind-body experience as a Whole and from the Continuum of human experience,” echoing the much older critique of Daoist anarchists, such as Bao Jingyan (Volume One, Selection 1).

Kornegger noted that as “the second wave of feminism spread across the [U.S.] in the late 60s, the forms which women’s groups took frequently reflected an unspoken libertarian consciousness,” with women breaking off “into small, leaderless, consciousness-raising groups, which dealt with personal issues in our daily lives,” and which “bore a striking resemblance” to “anarchist affinity groups” (see Bookchin, Volume Two, Selection 62), with their “emphasis on the small group as a basic organizational unit, on the personal and political, on antiauthoritarianism, and on spontaneous direct action” (Volume Two, Selection 78).

As Carol Ehrlich notes, radical feminists and anarchist feminists “are concerned with a set of common issues: control over one’s body; alternatives to the nuclear family and to heterosexuality; new methods of child care that will liberate parents and children; economic self-determination; ending sex stereotyping in education, in the media, and in the workplace; the abolition of repressive laws; an end to male authority, ownership, and control over women; providing women with the means to develop skills and positive self-attitudes; an end to oppressive emotional relationships; and what the Situationists have called ‘the reinvention of everyday life’.” Despite the Situationists’ hostility toward anarchism, many anarchists in the 1960s and 70s were influenced by the Situationist critique of the “society of the spectacle,” in which “the stage is set, the action unfolds, we applaud when we think we are happy, we yawn when we think we are bored, but we cannot leave the show, because there is no world outside the theater for us to go to” (Volume Two, Selection 79).

Feminism

Some anarchist women were concerned that the more orthodox “feminist movement has, consciously or otherwise, helped motivate women to integrate with the dominant value system,” as Ariane Gransac put it, for “if validation through power makes for equality of the sexes, such equality can scarcely help but produce a more fulsome integration of women into the system of man’s/woman’s domination over his/her fellow-man/woman” (Volume Three, Selection 34). “Like the workers’ movement in the past, especially its trade union wing,” Nicole Laurin-Frenette observes, “the feminist movement is constantly obliged to negotiate with the State, because it alone seems able to impose respect for the principles defended by feminism on women’s direct and immediate opponents, namely men—husbands, fathers, fellow citizens, colleagues, employers, administrators, thinkers” (Volume Three, Selection 33). For anarchists the focus must remain on abolishing all forms of hierarchy and domination, which Carol Ehrlich has described as “the hardest task of all” (Volume Two, Selection 79). Yet, as Peggy Kornegger reminds us, we must not give up hope, that “vision of the future so beautiful and so powerful that it pulls us steadily forward” through “a continuum of thought and action, individuality and collectivity, spontaneity and organization, stretching from what is to what can be” (Volume Two, Selection 78).

The Sexual Contract

In criticizing the subordinate position of women, particularly in marriage, anarchist feminists often compared the position of married women to that of a prostitute (Emma Goldman, Volume One, Selection 70). More recently, Carole Pateman has developed a far-reaching feminist critique of the contractarian ideal of reducing all relationships to contractual relationships in which people exchange the “property” in their persons, with particular emphasis on prostitution, or contracts for sexual services, noting that: “The idea of property in the person has the merit of drawing attention to the importance of the body in social relations. Civil mastery, like the mastery of the slave-owner, is not exercised over mere biological entities that can be used like material (animal) property, nor exercised over purely rational entities. Masters are not interested in the disembodied fiction of labour power or services. They contract for the use of human embodied selves. Precisely because subordinates are embodied selves they can perform the required labour, be subject to discipline, give the recognition and offer the faithful service that makes a man a master” (Volume Three, Selection 35).

What distinguishes prostitution contracts from other contracts involving “property in the person” is that when “a man enters into the prostitution contract he is not interested in sexually indifferent, disembodied services; he contracts to buy sexual use of a woman for a given period… When women’s bodies are on sale as commodities in the capitalist market… men gain public acknowledgment as women’s sexual masters.” Pateman notes that “contracts about property in persons [normally] take the form of an exchange of obedience for protection,” but the “short-term prostitution contract cannot include the protection available in long-term relations.” Rather, the “prostitution contract mirrors the contractarian ideal” of “simultaneous exchange” of property or services, “a vision of unimpeded mutual use or universal prostitution” (Volume Three, Selection 35).

Robert Graham

emma goldman womb quote

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

Anarchism and Non-Violent Revolution

war resisters logoIn 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 Gandhi inspired Indian Sarvodaya movement and its relationship with the anarchist pacifist currents that emerged after the Second World War.

anarchy-peace

Non-Violent Revolution

In post-independence India, the Gandhian Sarvodaya movement provided an example of a non-violent movement for social change which aspired to a stateless society. Vinoba Bhave (1895-1982), one of the movement’s spiritual leaders, noted that “sarvodaya does not mean good government or majority rule, it means freedom from government,” with decisions being made at the village level by consensus, for self-government “means ruling you own self,” without “any outside power.”

What seemed wrong to Bhave was not that the Indian people were governed by this or that government, but that “we should allow ourselves to be governed at all, even by a good government” (Volume Two, Selection 32). He looked forward to the creation of a stateless society through the decentralization of political power, production, distribution, defence and education to village communities.

indian anarchism

Bhave’s associate, Jayaprakash Narayan (1902-1979), drew the connections between their approach, which emphasized that a “harmonious blending of nature and culture is possible only in comparatively smaller communities,” and Aldous Huxley’s anarchist tinged vision of a future in which each person “has a fair measure of personal independence and personal responsibility within and toward a self-governing group,” in which “work possesses a certain aesthetic value and human significance,” and each person “is related to his natural environment in some organic, rooted and symbiotic way” (Volume Two, Selection 32).

The Sarvodaya movement’s tactics of Gandhian non-violence influenced the growing anarchist and peace movements in Europe and North America (Volume Two, Selection 34), while the Sarvodayans shared the antipathy of many anarchists toward the centralization, bureaucratic organization, technological domination, alienation and estrangement from nature found in modern industrial societies.

Paul Goodman summed up the malaise affecting people in advanced industrial societies during the 1950s in his essay, “A Public Dream of Universal Disaster” (Volume Two, Selection 37), in which he noted that despite technological advances and economic growth, “everywhere people are disappointed. Even so far, then, there is evident reason to smash things, to destroy not this or that part of the system (e.g., the upper class), but the whole system en bloc; for it offers no promise, but only more of the same.”

With people paralyzed by the threat of nuclear annihilation, seeking release from their pent up hostility, frustration, disappointment and anger through acquiescence to “mass suicide, an outcome that solves most problems without personal guilt,” only “adventurous revolutionary social and psychological action” can have any prospect of success (Volume Two, Selection 38).

The-Black-Flag

As Goodman’s contemporary, Julian Beck, put it, we need to “storm the barricades,” whether military, political, social or psychological, for “we want to get rid of all barricades, even our own and any that we might ever setup” (Volume Two, Selection 24). What is necessary, according to Dwight Macdonald, is “to encourage attitudes of disrespect, skepticism [and] ridicule towards the State and all authority” (Volume Two, Selection 13).

This challenge to conventional mores, fear and apathy came to fruition in the 1960s as anarchists staged various actions and “happenings,” often in conjunction with other counter-cultural and dissident political groups, from the Yippies showering the floor of the New York Stock Exchange with dollar bills, causing chaos among the stock traders, to the Provos leaving white bicycles around Amsterdam to combat “automobilism” and to challenge public acceptance of private property (Volume Two, Selection 50).

Macdonald thought that the “totalization of State power today means that only something on a different plane can cope with it, something which fights the State from a vantage point which the State’s weapons can reach only with difficulty,” such as “non-violence, which… confuses [the state’s] human agents, all the more so because it appeals to traitorous elements in their own hearts” (Volume Two, Selection 13). As Richard Gregg described it, non-violent resistance is a kind of “moral ju-jitsu” which causes “the attacker to lose his moral balance” by taking away “the moral support which the usual violent resistance… would render him” (Volume Two, Selection 34).

Robert Graham

anarcho-pacifism

Anarchism and 20th Century Liberation Movements

barbed_wire_fence-575x450

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 anarchist responses to national liberation struggles in the post-WW II era.

anarchism-is-for-everyone

20th Century Liberation Struggles

In the post-WW II era, anarchists continued to oppose colonialism and imperial domination but were wary of those who sought to take advantage of national liberation struggles to facilitate their own rise to power, much like the state socialists had tried to harness popular discontent in Europe, and had succeeded in doing in Russia and China.

Drawing on James Burnham’s concept of the managerial revolution (1941), while rejecting his pessimistic and politically conservative conclusions, the anarcho-syndicalist Geoffrey Ostergaard (1926-1990) warned of the “increasingly powerful managerial class” which holds out the prospect of “emancipation but in reality hands over the workers to new masters,” turning trade unions and other popular forms of organization into “more refined instruments for disciplining the workers” after the intellectuals, trade union leaders and party functionaries succeed in riding waves of popular discontent to assume positions of power (Volume Two, Selection 27).

noiretrouge

French anarchists associated with the Groupe Anarchiste d’Action Revolutionnaire recognized the “proliferation of nation-states” as “an irreversible historical trend, a backlash against world conquest” by European powers, and that although “national emancipation movements do not strive for a libertarian society,” such a society “is unattainable without them. Only at the end of a widespread process of geographical, egalitarian redistribution of human activities can a federation of peoples supplant the array of states.”

Nevertheless, anarchists could afford “national liberation movements only an eminently critical support,” for the mission of anarchists remains “to undermine the foundations of all… nationalist world-views, as well as every colonial and imperial institution. The bulwark of exploitation and oppression, injustice and misery, hatred and ignorance is still the State whosoever it appears with its retinue—Army, Church, Party—thwarting men and pitting them against one another by means of war, hierarchy and bureaucracy, instead of binding them together through cooperation, solidarity and mutual aid “ (Volume Two, Selection 31).

Mohamed Saïl (1894-1953), an Algerian anarchist who fought with the Durruti Column in Spain, regarded Algerian nationalism as “the bitter fruit of French occupation.” He suggested that “the Algerian people, released from one yoke, will hardly want to saddle itself with another one,” given their strong village ties and historic resistance to central authorities, whether Turk, Arab or French. While things did not work out as he had hoped, his fellow Kabyles have continued the “revolt against authoritarian centralism” for which he praised them (Volume Two, Selection 28; Volume Three, Selection 50).

An anarchist critique of the Cuban Revolution

An anarchist critique of the Cuban Revolution

During the 1950s, Cuban anarchists were directly involved in the struggle to overthrow the U.S. supported Batista dictatorship but at the same time had to fight against Marxist domination of the revolutionary and labour movements. They encouraged the “workers to prepare themselves culturally and professionally not only to better their present working conditions, but also to take over the technical operation and administration of the whole economy in the new libertarian society” (Volume Three, Selection 55).

After Castro seized power, they struggled in vain to maintain an independent labour movement and to prevent the creation of a socialist dictatorship. Outside of Cuba, Castro’s victory divided anarchists, particularly in Latin America, with some arguing that to support the revolution one must support the Castro regime, similar to the arguments that had been made earlier by the “Bolshevik” anarchists in Russia. Others came to doubt the efficacy of armed struggle and violent revolution, such as the anarchists associated with the Comunidad del Sur group in Uruguay, who turned their focus towards building alternative communities (Volumes Two and Three, Selection 60).

Robert Graham

comunidad del sur

Murray Bookchin: HeartBern

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Bookchin v.

Sanders

Sanders

When Bernie Sanders began his campaign for president, I recalled that Murray Bookchin had some critical things to say about him when Sanders was mayor of Burlington, Vermont in the 1980s. Fortunately, someone has now posted on the internet Bookchin’s 1986 article on Sander’s record as mayor. Bookchin lived in Burlington, and so witnessed first hand Sander’s peculiar version of “socialism in one city.” Bookchin’s comments on Sanders’ predilection for top down organization and centralized leadership suggests someone well suited for presidential government, while highlighting the limits of Sanders’ so-called “socialism.” I included several selections by Murray Bookchin on social ecology, direct democracy and direct action in Volumes Two and Three of  Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Here I reproduce excerpts from Bookchin’s 1986 article on Sanders in the Socialist Review.

Sanders for mayor

Sanders’ Record 

SANDERS’ CLAIM that he has created “open government” in Burlington is premised on a very elastic assumption of what one means by the word “open.“ That Sanders prides himself on being “responsive” to underprivileged people in Burlington who are faced with evictions, lack of heat, wretched housing conditions, and the ills of poverty is not evidence of “openness” — that is, if we assume the term means greater municipal democracy and public participation. What often passes for “open government” in the Sanders cosmos is the mayor’s willingness to hear the complaints and distress signals of his clients and courtiers, not a responsibility to give them any appreciable share in the city’s government. What Sanders dispenses under the name of “open government” is personal paternalism rather than democracy. After six years of Sanders’ paternalism, there is nothing that resembles Berkeley’s elaborate network of grassroots organizations and councils that feed into City Hall.

When it comes to municipal democracy, Sanders is surprisingly tight-fisted and plays his cards very close to his chest. Queried shortly after his 1981 election on a local talk-show, You Can Quote Me, Sanders was pointedly asked if he favored town-meeting government, a very traditional form of citizen assemblies that has deep-seated roots in Vermont townships. Sanders’ response was as pointed as the question. It was an emphatic “No.” After expressing his proclivity for the present aldermanic system, the mayor was to enter into a chronic battle with the “Republicrat” board of aldermen over appointments and requests that were to be stubbornly rejected by the very system of government that had his early sanction.

Sanders’ quarrels with the board of aldermen did not significantly alter his identification of “open government” with personal paternalism. As an accepted fixture in Burlington’s civic politics, he now runs the city with cool self-assurance, surrounded by a small group of a half-dozen or so aides who formulate his best ideas and occasionally receive his most strident verbal abuse. The Mayor’s Council on the Arts is a hand-picked affair, whether by the mayor directly or by completely dedicated devotees; similarly, the Mayor’s Youth Office. It is difficult to tell when Sanders will create another “council” — or, more appropriately, an “office” — except to note that there are peace, environmental, and gay communities, not to speak of unemployed, elderly, welfare, and many similar constituents who have no “Mayor’s” councils in City Hall. Nor is it clear to what extent any of the existing councils authentically represent local organizations and/or tendencies that exist in the subcultures and deprived communities in Burlington.

Sanders is a centralist and his administration, despite its democratic proclivities, tends to look more like a civic oligarchy than a municipal democracy. The Neighborhood Planning Assemblies (NPAs) which were introduced in Burlington’s six wards in the autumn of 1982 and have been widely touted as evidence of “grassroots democracy” were not institutions that originated in Sanders’ head. Their origin is fairly complex and stems from a welter of notions that were floating around Burlington in neighborhood organizations that gathered shortly after Sanders’ 1981 election to develop ideas for wider citizen participation in the city and its affairs. That people in the administration played a role in forming assemblies is indisputably true, but so too did others who have since come to oppose Sanders for positions that have compromised his pledges to the electorate.

Bernard Sanders’ view of government appears in its most sharply etched form in an interview the mayor gave to a fairly sympathetic reporter on the Burlington Free Press in June, 1984. Headlined “Sanders Works to Expand Mayor’s Role,” the story carried a portrait of the mayor in one of his more pensive moods with the quote: “We are absolutely rewriting the role of what city government is supposed to be doing in the state of Vermont.’ The article leaped immediately into the whole thrust of Sanders’ version of city government: “to expand and strengthen the role of the [mayor’s] office in city government:” This process has been marked by an “expanding City Hall staff,” an increased “role in the selection of a new fire chief,” “a similar role in the Police Department,” and “in development issues, such as the proposed downtown hotel.” In response to criticism that Sanders has been “centraliz-ing” power and reducing the checks and balances in city government, his supporters “stress that citizen input, through both the Neighborhood Planning Assemblies and expanded voter output, has been greatly increased.” That the Neighborhood Planning Assemblies have essentially been permitted to languish in an atmosphere of benign neglect and that voter participation in elections hardly equatable to direct participation by the citizenry has left the mayor thoroughly unruffled.

A FAIR CONSIDERATION of the results produced by Sanders’ increased role in city affairs provides a good test of a political strategy that threatens to create institutional forms for a Burlington version of New York’s Mayor Koch. The best case for the mayor appears in the Monthly Review of May, 1984, where a Pollyanna article written by Beth Bates, “a writer and farmer,” celebrates the virtues of Sanders’ efforts as “Socialism on the Local Level” — followed, I might add, by a prudent question mark. Like Sanders’ own claims, the main thrust of the article is that the “socialist” administration is “efficient.” Sanders has shown that “radicals, too, can be fiscal conservatives, even while they are concerned that government does the little things that make life more comfortable” like street repair, volunteer aid to dig paths for the elderly after snowstorms, and save money. The administration brings greater revenues into the city’s coffers by modernizing the budgetary process, principally by investing its money in high-return institutions, opening city contracts to competitive bidding, centralizing purchasing, and slapping fees on a wide range of items like building permits, utility excavations, private fire and police alarms, and the like…

THE ULTIMATE EFFECT Of Sanders’ aging form of “socialism” is to facilitate the ease with which business interests can profit from the city. Beyond the dangers of an increasingly centralized civic machinery, one that must eventually be inherited by a “Republicrat” administration, are the extraordinary privileges Sanders hasprovided to the most predatory enterprises in Burlington — privileges that have been justified by a “socialism” that is committed to “growth,” “planning,” “order,” and a blue-collar “radicalism” that actually yields low-paying jobs and non-union establishments without any regard to the quality of life and environmental well-being of the community at large.

Bernard Sanders could have established an example of a radical municipalism, one rooted in Vermont’s localist tradition of direct democracy, that might have served as a living educational arena for developing an active citizenry and a popular political culture. Whether it was because of a shallow productivist notion of “socialism” oriented around “growth” and “efficiency” or simply personal careerism, the Burlington mayor has been guided by a strategy that sacrifices education to mobilization and democratic principles to pragmatic results. This “managerial radicalism” with its technocratic bias and its corporate concern for expansion is bourgeois to the core — and even brings the authenticity of traditional “socialist” canons into grave question. A recent Burlington Free Press headline which declared: “Sanders Unites with Business on Waterfront” could be taken as a verdict by the local business establishment as a whole that it is not they who have been joining Sanders but Sanders who has joined them. When productivist forms of “socialism” begin to resemble corporate forms of capitalism, it may be well to ask how these inversions occur and whether they are accidental at all. This question is not only one that must concern Sanders and his supporters; it is a matter of grim concern for the American radical community as a whole.

Murray Bookchin

Socialist Review 90 (November-December 1986), pp. 51-62

bookchin

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