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It’s hard to talk long about revolution or revolutions without looking back towards examples throughout history. While in theory, it’s easy to get lost in the seemingly endless possibilities of total social transformations, things aren’t always so rosy in practice. Some of the darkest chapters in recent history began with the fall of regimes, and it wouldn’t be terribly honest to discuss the subject without mentioning them.

During the 20th century, two revolutions stood out – China and Russia. Both countries were enormous but corrupt and incredibly poor, and in both cases revolution brought rapid development and a relatively short trip to worldwide “superpower” status. At the same time, both suffered tens of millions of deaths (mostly through famine) and incredibly brutal repression as their new rulers sought to impose ‘Communist” economies. Today, Russia’s attempts at socialism have collapsed, leaving the nation in ruin, an impoverished and corrupt shadow of its former Imperial glory. China, on the other had, has spent the last decade rapidly outgrowing every other commercial economy on the planet, though (arguably) now socialist in name only.

There is, of course, no documentary or lecture which can do this topic justice, and neither this blog nor the fictional avatar who authors it endorse any particular interpretation of these events. Decades of Cold War propaganda have left these subjects incredibly polarized between valorization and villainization, bringing out no end of spurious logic and disinformation from both sides. It’s hard to imagine that either nation would have been better off without a revolution of some sort, but it’s also hard to deny that both fell far short of their potential to really liberate society.

Whatever your personal view, it’s important to learn from these events, not just endlessly regurgitate the same tired myths.

These two features offer a glimpse of revolution from the anarchist perspective, something that’s usually left out of these stories. It shows that the range of ideas in these uprisings went well beyond the capitalist/communist rivalries we hear about nowadays, and most importantly avoids taking one ‘side’ or the other.

In the first, a (Discovery Channel) documentary, the history of the Russian Revolution is explored with a particular focus on the sailors from Kronstadt, a naval base outside the (then) capital of Petrograd (St Petersburg). These soldiers, literate and self-educated (largely anarchists), had fought hard against the Czar, but had no love for Lenin’s bureaucratic ambitions. As the Bolshiveks consolidated power, they attempted one of the era’s best-known uprisings, only brutally crushed by the Red Army. Of the two, this one is more ‘watchable’, and though it doesn’t go into the most depth, it’s a good introduction to the subject.

The Russian Revolution

In tonight’s second feature, a lecture, Andrew Flood of Ireland’s Worker Solidarity Movement (also a founding member of Ontario’s Common Cause) discusses the Chinese Revolution from an anarchist perspective. What makes this viewpoint so important (and interesting) is that anarchism as a movement and ideology had spread to China a decade or so before communism – even Mao (allegedly) originally identified as an anarchist. Unlike the first, Andrew’s talk contains no dramatic reenactments and may be a little dry for the tastes of some, but anarcho-geeks should be happy, as it goes into a lot more detail.

The Chinese Revolution – Andrew Flood (2008)

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Last winter, in the midst of excitement over the Occupy movement and rapid expansion of global protest movements, Chris Hedges wrote a very nasty and poorly researched article about “black bloc anarchists”, calling us “The Cancer Within Occupy”. The controversy it evoked played no small role in the fissures which eventually tore the young movement apart. Fiery responses were written and debate raged for months, bringing responses from most of the “big names” of anarchism today, Gelderloos, Graeber and Zerzan.

Class War is a Force which Gives Us Meaning (My original response)
The Hedge-Row Continues (Some collected responses)

Well, tonight, it’s all going down. After simmering for seven months, the matter is set for a public debate. Tonight at CUNY, a little after 6:30, Hedges will debate B. Traven of Crimethinc in front of a sure-to-be-packed hall, Livestreamed for the rest of us (link will become active around 6:30). Events are scheduled in cities across the continent (including Steeltown) to publicly or privately screen it at infoshops or punk houses. For protesters, this might as well be the UFC, perhaps the biggest brawl since Chomsky had it out with Foucault all those years ago.

Whatever happens in the debate, that it’s happening at all is a success in itself. For far too long, the subject has been utterly taboo, and that in itself is dangerous. Tactical decisions should never be based on assumptions or dogma, and always need to be questioned. Whatever your views on the matter, we need to be able to have constructive conversations about heated tactical matters if any “movement” is to move forward. Will tonight be constructive? We’ll see. But at the very least, it should be a good fight.

What a week. The fallout of Chris Hedges’ rantings continues to spread, uniting the anarchist world in a ways we haven’t seen in decades. The constant flow of replies to Hedges’ rantings has now moved from bloggers and activists to some of the the best known names in anarchism today, and spreading all over the radical sectors of the internet. Ironically, Hedges may have inadvertently proven his point – poorly constructed attacks only serve to benefit the intended target.

I don’t really know what would constitute an “official response” from the anarchist movement, but if you’ve managed to become the subject of essays by David Graeber, Peter Gelderloos and Kevin Carson within a few days of each other, that’s got to count for something. John Zerzan’s radio show has replied (though he’s off in India at the moment), Occupy Oakland has weighed in, as have a great many other radicals.

Chris Hedges’ Epic Fail – Solidarity with Anarchists – Occupy Oakland
Concerning the Violent Peace Police – David Graeber
The Surgeons of Occupy – Peter Gelderloos
Should Occupy Use Violence? (I Dunno, Should the Cops?) – Kevin Carson
Anarchy Radio (John Zerzan’s show) Responds
Violence Begets Defeat or Too Much Pacifism? – Michael Albert (not an anarchist, but Chomsky couldn’t be reached for comment)

All of these should make clear the profound and visceral reaction to Hedges’ writings. In light of this, and the large-scale debate which has ensued, he clarified his comments in an interview, or at least attempted to. This piece confirms, without a doubt, that the man has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about, but we’re assured that he suffered through several entire hours of Anarchy Radio for the purposes of research. He also makes very dubious claims about the Civil Rights movement, and still seems totally unaware that Derrick Jensen is a member of the nasty “anti-civilization” crowd he’s describing.

Interview – Chris Hedges About the Black Bloc

A number of things have become clear from the many responses. First would be that he grossly overstates the role of property destruction as a tactic in anything remotely Occupy-related, as well as overstating the black bloc’s role in those events. The coffee shop he mentions was in fact part of a chain, smashed by an individual wearing neither black nor a mask. More recent actions in Oakland, numerous participants have stated, followed a similar pattern with the black bloc as a part of the shield wall, and those who vandalized city hall part of a plain-clothed group who’d just escaped from an attempted mass arrest. In all of these cases, as well as recent actions in Portland and elsewhere, the scale of this destruction has been extremely minor – even the G20 in Toronto was fairly tame compared to more recent hockey riots, and none of these actions even approach that scale.

The next thing that has become clear is that while opinions differ on the effectiveness of various tactics in specific cases (and always will), solidarity is more important and many of us are willing to defend that. Many personal accounts from Oakland and elsewhere of people involved in these events have come out, and it’s pretty clear many have been deeply offended by these mis-characterizations. Hopefully the Occupy movement will take the word of those involved, but if much of the chatter I’ve witnessed on comment pages is any indication, the battle is far from over.

Occupy Oakland Move-In-Day Account

I will never say that I support every act of vandalism which comes along with a black mask or circle-A in spray paint. As I said the other day (and admittedly, I was a dick about it), even I have my issues with property destruction. However, I’d never go so far as to attempt to use force in my objection, and turning people over to the police is a fundamentally violent act. Collaboration with the authorities to publicly denounce or arrest those we organize with has consequences which go way beyond throwing rocks, both in terms of landing people in jail and shattering any hope of building a movement.

This discussion could not have come at a better time. Europe is erupting, again, threatening to throw a wrench into the gears of this year’s sudden dramatic surge in stock markets. Greek politicians have been struggling to pass austerity measures demanded by European bankers in exchange for continuing bailouts, prompting massive unrest (again). But while the black block attacked riot cops guarding the parliament with molotov cocktails, what response came from the police? Their unions are now threatening to side with the protesters and arrest IMF officials. Elsewhere in Belgium, striking firefighters refused to resort to such fiery tactics, and instead broke police lines with their hoses. Fighting has also broken out in Madrid. Obviously, in the fight against austerity programs in Europe, there’s still a place for a diversity of tactics.

Today another austerity bill hits the Greek parliament, amidst another general strike. It threatens to cut a fifth from the minimum wage and cut 15000 public sector jobs in an already collapsing economy, and the newly installed Prime Minister Papademos is threatening national ruin if it doesn’t pass. The question is, what tactics, if any, can stand in its way?

In a new article by Chris Hedges, “The Cancer within Occupy“, he calls out “black block anarchists” in a very big way. With an extensive set of half-truths and utter fabrications, he’s going on the attack against those who refuse to play by his liberal sensibilities, and the internet is now awash with responses.

Among the numerous questionable “facts” brought up by Hedges are claims that “Occupy encampments in various cities were shut down precisely because they were nonviolent” – a curious statement, since Oakland (which clearly was not) has seen some of the harshest repression. Other include claims that anarchists oppose environmentalists, unions and intellectuals (where exactly were liberals during the Nine-Hours movement?). Most laughable is his statement that anarchists oppose “populist movements such as the Zapatistas” – obviously missing the black masks, machine guns and autonomous indigenous villages run by consensus (as one friend remarked the other day – this is pretty much a quintessential anarchist rebellion). With all of these errors in the first two paragraphs alone, one has to wonder: Does Hedges even know what an anarchist is?

Beginning the third paragraph, it’s blatantly clear that Hedges does not. Virtually all of his research seems limited to back issues of “Green Anarchy” magazine (a primitivst publication many anarchists find more than a bit embarrassing). Claiming that “black bloc anarchists do not believe in organization”, he makes his own lack of research and comprehension clear. The “black bloc” is not a ideology, it’s a tactic. Most black-blockers are anarchists (though not all), and there’s never been a coherent set of “black block beliefs”. The black bloc has never been any more unified in ideology than the rest of the anarchist movement. Hedges picks and chooses from different fringes of anarchist thought (John Zerzan, anti-organizationists), creating a straw-man dogma. If Hedges wants evidence that John Zerzan doesn’t represent most anarchists, he need look only at the conflict he cites with Noam Chomsky – who is, by the way, also an anarchist.

Throughout the article Hedges continues to cite mainly Green Anarchy, yet strangely he has no problem taking the word of “his friend”, Derrick Jensen, who writes consistently about the moral importance of “taking down civilization” in thoroughly violent ways. The guy is a one-man pacifist wrecking crew. Jensen’s views and writings aren’t all that different from the most militant ends of the primitivist or insurrectionist fringes of anarchism (though he generally avoids the “anarchist” label and is often accused of being an authoritarian) – for anyone who’s actually read Zerzan, it’s almost impossible to read Jensen’s work without wondering where all the footnotes (and real analysis) went. As someone who’s met Chomsky, Zerzan and Jensen, it’s obvious that Hedges just doesn’t get the nature of anarchist infighting (and puts a little too much faith in Jensen).

Derrick Jensen can bash the black bloc if he wants – he’s free to contrast their petty insurrections with the broad-based coalition of eco-terrorists he proposes in his books (“Endgame”, “Deep Green Resistance” etc), which despite their best-selling status have yet to be conclusively linked to a single bombing, shooting or arson. It may be easy to write off rioters as “amateurs revolutionaries”, but if some would the real “insurgents” care to step up and demonstrate some “real rebellion”, then perhaps their condescending attitude might be a little more convincing. For an avowed moderate like Hedges to use Jensen as evidence here is really nothing but embarrassing.

As for “violence”, the definition Hedges is working by seems to include burning flags and holding shields – but does it include wrestling with black-blockers and handing them over to the police? What about Tahrir Square? Did throwing stones “discredit” their revolution? And if black-clad anarchists rioting is really so bad for movements, why did it prompt him to write such flattering things about Greek protests a short while ago?

Then there’s his paragraph about “hypermasculinity”, another testament to his faith in media stereotypes. As someone who’s been in, near, and around many blocs, they’ve never been exclusively male – women have even more reasons to hide their faces from (mostly male) police. The Oakland actions which Hedges complains about had a “Feminist and Queer Bloc” participating – something he left out. What we have here might be described in today’s popular internet lingo as a “white male gender-baiting fail”.

Hedges basic point contains a fatal contradiction. On one hand, he valorizes nonviolent protests which end up on the receiving end of police violence and openly acknowledges that nonviolence has not prevented many cities from facing brutal evictions. On the other hand, he continues to claim that “violent” protests by the black block instigate (or justify) such repression, which then isn’t valourous. The goal of nonviolence, supposedly, is to de-legitimize the establishment – but doesn’t explain how change is supposed to happen once people have lost their faith in power. Nor does he explain why countless examples of such violence haven’t galvanized the public yet. Worst of all, he claims that a few disorderly protesters “discredits” the hundreds of thousands around them, while ignoring how his own writings perpetuate this sad state of affairs. By essentially taking the side of riot police in these cases totally glosses over what actually happened on the ground, and reinforces all the same stereotypes authorities use to discredit radicals.

People are up on charges, Chris, because they dared stand up for the ideals you claimed to write about. Many (most, in all likelihood) weren’t “violent” at all, however you want to define it. They don’t need one of their self-appointed spokespeople publicly siding with the District Attorney. These words have consequences, and you should know that.

If this were a critique of the illegalist, insurrectionist and primitivist aspects of anarchist actions, like so much of what’s come across the anarchist news-wires in the last few months, I’d be glad to read it. Such an approach might require research with an adult reading level, and the admittance of other (often more prominent) anarchist traditions such as platformism or prefigurative politics. Sadly, Hedges draws no distinctions here – an anarchist is an anarchist in his eyes. There’s lots of problems with most black black block actions, which I have no problem admitting – but these types of critiques have a tendency to “co-opt” movements in far worse ways by shunning less-priviliged participants for not obeying their professional leftist strategists (like Hedges and Jensen), and showing a total willingness to co-operate with the establishment when it suits them. If anarchists frequently oppose leftist organizers, this is why – and any look at the largest unions, environmental NGOs or academic bastions of “radicalism” will yield countless examples of how ineffective and corrupt these self-proclaimed “leaders” can become.

There is a cancer growing within the Occupy movement. Like the environmental, labour and others before it, large parts of the struggle are hurtling towards irrelevance as the ideals it was founded on are being systematically stripped in the name of moderation and “unity”. This implied consensus never needs to be discussed since it’s trumpeted by all the mouthpieces of the status quo already. Opposing ideas treated as taboo, threatening to drive “normal” (ie: middle class, white and very privileged) people away, while the same questions are never asked about the effects of turning popular struggles into political parties and registered charities. The self-serving careerism of writers like Hedges is obvious here – more than willing to invoke revolutionary symbolism for their own purposes, but harshly critical of any actual radicals in their midst. This cancer, if it is allowed to grow, will eclipse all real potential the organization has, like so many before it, and “the masses” (and press) will move on to something more exciting.

Sorry Chris, but in this game, class war is a force that gives us meaning. Anything else, like a Che Guevara tee shirt from Old Navy, is just entertainment.

Some other excellent responses to Hedges’ piece:
Colonizer: A Postcolonial Reading of Chris Hedges – OLA Antisocial Media
I Respectfully Disagree, Chris – Bat County Word
To be Fair, he is a journalist – A Short Response to Chris Hedges on the Black Bloc – Facing Reality
The Folly of Christopher Hedges – Nihilo Zero
I am the Cancer. I am not a Human Being. I am the Beast – Birds Before the Storm

In the past two weeks, this same question keeps coming up. Whether I’m posting on the internet, carrying flags around labour rallies or sitting at a conference, the topic has been almost inescapable. It’s not always an easy subject – there’s an incredible amount of stigma attached, plenty of ignorance and cartoonishly super-villainous stereotypes. Nevertheless, I’m hardly ashamed. I am an anarchist. That means something, and it’s worth taking the time to explain (which is why I’ve spent the last week consumed with re-writing this essay three times).

Given the misconceptions it’s traditional to start off talking about what anarchism is by explaining what it isn’t. I’m not a terrorist or a nihilist – I don’t oppose laws, order, organization, morals, justice or society. What I and other anarchists do oppose is power based on force and coercion, even under the guise of law, order or morality. We question everything – government, class, race, schools, prisons and war (to name a few) in our attempt to build an analysis and plan of action which directly confronts their common roots.

Placing any form of power “above question” would lend it tacit support. This isn’t just an issue of hypocrisy. Attempting to abolish capitalism without questioning the state itself led to the deaths of tens of millions in Russia and China, and attempting to stamp out communism and implement “market utopias” led to millions of deaths across Latin America, Asia and Africa. “Humanitarian interventions” have exacted continuing massive death tolls as they raged against foreign tyrants without stopping to reconsider the underlying imperialist, colonialist and fundamentally racist ideas driving them. Given the ugly options available, it’s not hard to see why so many become apathetic or adopt a cold pragmatism – which is exactly why so many do everything they can to make sure anarchism isn’t offered up as an option.

Is anarchism an ideology? If so, then just barely. There is no central, unified dogma. Groups of anarchists are always arguing about the details of some theory or vision, and over the decades this fierce self-criticism has driven its evolution in theory and practice. This ‘anarchic’ diversity suits us – it offers an incredible range of ideas, tactics and underscores the principle that truly free forms of organization need not be mutually exclusive and can never be free if they’re implemented by force. Historically speaking, it’s certainly a “movement” – with slogans, writings and symbols shared and evolving for nearly two centuries now.

Why take such a hard-line approach? Because ultimately, beyond any particularly nasty kind of rule, power itself is the question. States and empires conquered and enslaved people long before today, and the problems we face are far from unique. While capitalism (or “Communism”) has a lot in common with feudalism or old-style imperialism, equating them all would be hopelessly simplistic. While the economic models and rationales changed, though, they tended to be implemented the same way – as anthropologist Stanley Diamond states, “Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home”, and all of these societies have shared remarkably similar bureaucratic and militaristic methodologies (unlike most stateless societies…).

To say that states rule by force isn’t some theoretical technicality. States are defined by violence. They begin and end at the limits of the control of their military (borders), enforce their edicts and laws with domestic security forces (“police”) and maintain order through a “monopoloy on the use of force” (define “legitimate” violence). They are literally military occupations, no matter how they’re dressed up – they don’t prevent violence, they institutionalize it. This isn’t to say that this is the only kind of force or coercion, but states and empires not only practice this on an unparalleled scale, but also make countless other forms of domination possible.

Economic issues come into the question as states strive to fund their war machines and ever-growing bureaucracies. Armies aren’t cheap, and neither are government officials. They can levy taxes, but this is very difficult without a prosperous (and technologically advanced) economy to draw from. Commerce (and inequality) has been around since the dawn of civilization, and ever since increasingly complex forms have been the driving force behind the expansions of states and empires. When I studied archeology in school, it really didn’t surprise me that the first states come along with the first skeletons several inches taller (and obviously healthier) than the rest, covered with jewels. Inequality is key here – whether the working masses were serfs, slaves or waged workers, a large imbalance in control over resources has always been key to getting them to work. It’s easy to characterize this as “greed” (and certainly, lots of greed is involved), but personal spending is beside the point – it isn’t about personal property, it’s about who “owns” (controls) the property we share – like factories, forests or farmland and the products of our collective work on them. States legally define ownership, set the rules of competition and enforce the laws, and in return they get the products they need to make it happen.

There’s obviously a degree of competition when elites expand to include religious or commercial leaders, and across history this has led to many conflicts as militaries, religions, industries and bureaucracies struggled for primary control. These conflicts, though, tend to be greatly exaggerated. This glosses over how much they have in common and rely on each other, as well as downplay their much larger conflict with everyone else in society. For all that they compete, they all end up at the same parties, unlike the rest of us. What tends to get ignored when people talk about the grand conflict between businesspeople and the government is that the property-owning middle class already did go to war with “the state” when they overthrew the old European aristocracies two centuries ago, setting the stage for the industrial revolution and defining the modern world. The power structures created as a result aren’t “conspiracies” and only in the simplest examples (warlords, etc) are run by single organizations or institutions. Collusion helps, but it isn’t required – the mutual benefits are clear enough to everybody involved.

This process imposes itself on entire societies. Hierarchies operate by ranking people within them. Those at the top get the most benefits and pay the lowest price, and the far larger groups below get much less (as a group and moreso as individuals), and often pay far higher prices (longer jail terms, shorter lifespans, smaller homes etc). This makes people far easier to rule by placing each “rank” above the last, giving each a reason to identify with the overall power structure and resist change for fear of losing what little they have to those below them. While one’s economic position (class) is clearly very important here, there’s a lot of other factors. By ranking entire groups of people by race, gender and other characteristics, further amounts of oppression are justified. In Ontario today, an average woman of colour makes 53 cents for each dollar made by an average white male. That incredible discount shows the profits possible by devaluing people in this way, and it magnifies with every dimension added (age, ability, sexual preference, religion, etc) measuring people against a definition of “normal” which gets more scarce with each one (what percentage of the society are really white, straight, middle-class, Christian, english-speaking, adult males?). Beyond the economic benefits, states and elites also gain important social controls, since this process effectively limits access to the political system to those on the lower levels, ensuring that those with the loudest voices will be those with the most to gain.

But, how else would people organize themselves? And perhaps more importantly, how would people manage to organize themselves well enough to wrest power from states and corporations without getting shot? Well…they’d do it themselves. The many proposed models of anarchist organizing have one thing in common – they all focus on the people directly involved. Nobody knows a workplace better than the workers, and nobody knows a neighbourhood better than the people who live there. This is the point where ideas and practice meet. Anarchism cannot be imposed, it has to grow from the ground up, which is why grassroots, community-based organizing is so important. A revolution needs to come from everybody, or it just isn’t a revolution at all.

One of them main points anarchists make is that we can’t wait for a revolution to start solving our problems. This power structure is massive, and no single act can dethrone or replace it. Direct action means actively pursuing goals instead of begging those in power to do it for us, or seeking state power for ourselves. Prefigurative politics are all about beginning the kind of organizations that we’d like to see in a revolutionary future today – free-schools, co-operatives, neighbourhood assemblies etc. It gives us a chance to experiment with and learn from different models of our ideas in action, and presents a picture to the public far easier to grasp. We don’t naively hope that “bringing down the government” will bring about a better world – we intend to build one in spite of them.

Anarchists are getting a lot of press these days. And while, as always, it’s focused on rioters, it reflects much deeper growing current. Over decades, as the influence of authoritarian communist ideas and parties declined, anarchist ideas and organizing methods have filled much of the vacuum. It was visible by the late 90s with the rise of the Anti-Globalization movement which operated through anarchistic “spokescouncils” of “affinity groups” and which celebrated self-organized rebellions like the Zapatistas or popular assemblies and factory takeovers of Argentina. The popular protests of the last year took this one step further, occupying public squares with open-air assemblies which shunned parliamentary politics and brought down a number of governments. This polar shift in radical thought toward libertarian ideas has gone well beyond those who identify as anarchists (as always), spreading widely throughout technological, academic and activist circles.

The consequences of this shift are only beginning to be felt. For decades conservatives have held a virtual monopoly on “libertarian” ideas in public discourse. The emergence of a libertarian left on a large scale threatens both sides of the traditional political spectrum. On the right, it threatens to de-throne Ron Paul and his ilk as champions of ‘liberty’. On the left, the failures of statism and moderation are quickly finding a new champion in President Obama. Revolutionary sentiment spread quickly around the globe over the last year, but after the first large round of battles, most are now involved in licking their wounds and re-thinking their tactics. These things take time to unfold, but are already clearly visible if you know what to look for.

In the wake of the first big round of “Occupy” protests and evictions, as well as others like them around the world, questions of direction remain. The rhetoric of “the 99%” is fundamentally incompatible with a movement which seeks mainly to reach out to “normal” middle-class Americans (or Canadians, Egyptians, etc), and a conflict limited to “peaceful” and “legal” means (as defined by the state) means competing entirely on terms dictated by those such a movement claims to oppose. So far, many are unconvinced that it’s more than a power play or temper tantrum by people far more privileged than themselves, something I can’t fault them for. A broader, more organized and consistent movement is clearly going to be needed if real “change” is to come, but also one which doesn’t achieve those goals at the price of its convictions (as have so many…). Revolution can’t just be re-branded to escape the stigma and connotations of past terms, and there’s no use in reinventing the wheel unless you’re willing to pay close attention to where you went wrong the last time. “Anarchy” says it in a single word, as in its Ancient Greek origins: an arkos, or no rulers.

Over the years, anarchists have used many other names in order to be polite – libertarian socialists (or communists, municipalists, etc), syndicalists, mutualists, primitivists, anti-authoritarians, autonomists, horizontalists and many others. Each of these schools of thought had its own writers and movements, many of whom weren’t “anarchists”, and most still exist as somewhat distinct within the anarchist millieu today (“anarcho-syndicalists” etc). None of these names, though, have had the staying power or ability to continually resurface. Admittedly, I will just as soon join any movement which promises to get even some of these ideas direly needed public attention (I’m a member of “Occupy” and others), but for all it’s faults, the anarchist movement is the only one I see with the potential to really connect these struggles. The name may be thoroughly stigmatized, but that’s because anarchists have been stirring up these conflicts for well over a century. In this business, if you’re not slandered by the press and prosecutors, you’re probably doing something wrong.

Even in the massive protests of the last year, anarchists have generally been a fairly small group (except, perhaps in Athens, Oakland and a few others). What’s important, though, is that anarchist groups took part in thousands of actions across the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia. This international and historically rooted presence says something, and it’s only a matter of time before ignorance of anarchist ideas can’t be used as a defense in public debates. As we grow in numbers and influence, the questions we raise become increasingly hard to ignore, both to power and the notion of revolution and resistance.

Yes, I’m an anarchist. And no, I’m not alone.

The word “socialist” is getting a lot of press these days. This past weekend, it captured national attention after a big debate at the NDP’s national convention in Vancouver. It seems many wanted to remove the term from the party’s official constitution, to give the party a more moderate image and hope to attract voters. The convention voted otherwise, and so for now, they’re still “socialists”. Since the NDP’s stunning win of over a hundred seats in the recent Federal Election, this was probably inevitable, but it does raise a lot of questions.

As long as I can remember, the moderate left has been possessed with a kind of paranoia about not being seen as “moderate enough”. This kind of fear kept the NDP in the shadow of the Liberals for years, as they simply copied out all the best parts of the NDP’s (watered down) platform. This gave the NDP the illusion of being next to useless – why vote for them when the Liberals are promising all the same things, and might actually win? The NDP’s recent success has as much to do with the implosion of the Liberals as it does with the (very real) leftward shift of Canadian opinion, and Layton knows it.

This is a big part of the reason I haven’t worked with the NDP in a very long time. Not only is this strategy self-defeating, it borders on outright dishonesty. And the ultimate result, either way, is that nobody on the “organized left” is willing to actually argue a “leftist” position. When this happens, centrists and “right-wingers” win by default, and the population at large is left without any radical alternative.

The next part of the story comes from Europe, where established “Socialist” parties are taking a beating. In Spain and Portugal, ruling Socialists have lost recent elections over the outright disgust of Spanish society over their handling of austerity measures, whom either voted Conservative (Spain) and Centrist (Protugal) or refused to vote and took to the streets and squares instead.

What does “Socialism” mean when a ruling Socialist party is willing to push austerity cuts on the population on the behalf of EU and IMF? Not a whole lot. And despite the very clear dislike of capitalism present in the new wave of European radicalism (particularly in Spain), not a whole lot of it is using the “S-word”.

The final part of this story comes from our neighbours to the south, the Americans. We’re all familiar with the culture of red-baiting, and absolutely over-use of terms like “socialist” (eg. “Obama is a socialist”). In spite of all this, a recent poll of Americans showed that even if you use the dreaded s-word, a surprising number are all for it. Only 53% of Americans believe capitalism is “the best system”, about half that are unsure, and about 20% said socialism. Among young people, it’s nearly even, with 37% saying capitalism, 33% socialist and 30% undecided. Pretty startling numbers if you believe Fox and CNN reflect “America”.

Since Reagan, Republicans and others have repeatedly attacked many parts of “the government” – schools, public services, health care etc – as essentially “socialist”. Unfortunately for them, those are the parts of the government that people actually like and tend to rely on. The predictable backlash has been that people really aren’t all that scared of the idea anymore, especially if the alternative is Reagan-style “big government” (more cops, prisons, armies and corporations).

Like so many other terms in modern politics, “socialism” has been used and abused to the point of meaning almost nothing. The 20th century left socialists with a legacy of failure in nearly every arena of statecraft – from the autocrats of China and Russia to moderates of the west. And while there’s clearly a demand for an alternative to capitalism, socialism in general seems far less clearly defined than it did a century ago.

If there’s a future for socialism, it’s going to have to be a lot more grassroots. The dream of a workers’ state has proved absolutely unworkable in nearly every form. With all the general strikes and popular uprisings in the last year, there hasn’t been much in the way of a “party” rising to lead, especially a socialist one. Perhaps, though, with the death of the (dreadful) notion of a governing party which can make all our dreams come true, the actual issue of workers controlling production can be discussed.

If the word “socialism” won’t do, how about syndicalism? Or mutualism? “Economic democracy”? Open-source? Autonomist Marxism? Or (gasp) anarchism? What does it take to get a serious discussion of an economy that isn’t run by government bureaucracies or investors and profiteers? We’ll probably never again be able to use the term “Soviet” (worker’s council), and if many corporations get their way the term “co-operative” will become just as tainted. Whatever words we use, it’s that idea that matters.

Liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.” – Mikhail Bakunin (Marx’s famous anarchist adversary)

Ten Things You Can Do To Incite Anarchy in 2011

1.Collect and share data. Online and off – zines, books, speeches, movies, music – there’s terabytes of this stuff out there, and these days every laptop, printer and CD burner has the potential to be its own infoshop. When people express interest, have things you can give them that they’ll enjoy and learn from.

2.Garden. After the zombie apocalypse, you’re going to be really glad you learned to grow lettuce and tomatoes well before your life depended on it. Gardens are beautiful, productive, and set a great example of self-sufficiency, sustainability and nutrition.

3.Learn about local plants. Chances are there are the makings of dozens of salads, batches of wine, jams and jellies, flours, beers and countless herbs growing within a few blocks of your home in even the most industrial parts of Hamilton. Within a few blocks of mine there’s grapes, hops, acorns, greens, chicory, mint and many others. A very good chunk of what grows up through the cracks in the sidewalk (lamsbsquarter, for instance) is more nutritious than spinich, and grows nearly anywhere.

4.Start a blog. It’s free, easy, and they’re read by a disturbing number of people.

5.Carry a camera. The argument about the dangerous nature of surveilance culture, unfortunately, is one we lost. But in its wake comes one of the most potent weapons against authority ever devised: Youtube. Catch cops, security guards, irate business owners and other authorities in the middle of their abusive acts and publish them for the world to see. This type of evidence can be invaluable if you end up in court (or the Landlord Tenant Board) and a good picture always makes a point at least as well as words.

6.Support a political prisoner. Send letters to people in jail, donate money to legal defense and show up for court dates. Being on the receiving end of judicial repression is a horrific experience and people need to know we’re with them.

7.Join a co-op, a CSA or any other kind of collective organization. None are without flaws, but all can teach us a lot.

8.Learn a new skill. Find some way to become more autonomous, valuable and versatile – learn to preserve food, brew beer, woodwork, sew, fix plumbing, edit photographs or do a backflip.

9.Go off the grid, or at least get closer to it. Any and all steps you take to get away from industries like coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear will do worlds to help not only you, but the world around you. The sooner we all do it, the sooner we can stop getting those annoying bills in the mail.

10.Talk To People. Explain that anarchism isn’t and never has been about chaos, and that anarchists do a lot more than smash windows. Connect the dots between subjects like globalization and local issues like factory closures. And do it calmly and in an accessible way. No form of communication is more effective than word of mouth from people you trust, so don’t discount the value of a good conversation.

I for one am not the biggest fan of “conspiracy theories”, at least in the traditional use of the term. I don’t doubt that many conspiracies exist. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have stealth bombers, nuclear weapons or most of this continent. However, having spent my time with many from the 9/11 crowd, I can say that there are many that I personally never wish to see again. That doesn’t mean that I think I know for sure what happened that day (none of us do). But there’s a point where questions and criticism just give way to fantasy (I knew I had to get away the first time I had a serious conversation about reptile-aliens).
Did Bush allow 9/11 to happen? Maybe. Are there aliens? Have they been here? I honestly don’t know. But while I’d like answers to these questions, there are far more important issues. And that’s where people like Alex Jones start really scaring me. The more you look at the world through a lens like this the more you start seeing everything as some part of the conspiracy. That’s because everything is connected, and that’s why radical philosophies exist. But to say that things are connected, is one thing, to say that they’re all a part of the same Illuminati or Reptillian (not to be confused with Reptoids) plot is a stretch.
This is an issue of cause and effect. Things can be related without one directly causing the other. And while conspiracies are certainly an important part of everything from banking to party politics, that doesn’t mean that conspiracies are responsible for them. The same patterns of colonization, exploitation and oppression have been playing themselves out for centuries, from the Conquistadors to the British Enclosure movement to modern day China. This could mean that Replitllians have been in control all along, ever since Babylon perhaps. But it could also mean that the social structures (which in many important ways haven’t changed a lot since then) tend to produce the same effects.
And while you can debate these two theories, when it comes to taking action, the two are an entirely different story. For the first, the assumption is that everything would be ok if we just got rid of the “bad guys”. But if we question these institutions, it becomes clear that it doesn’t matter who’s in charge. If our civilization still runs on much of the same model as Ancient Rome, aliens, satanic cults or time-travelling robots from the future might as well be running the show.
There is a New World Order. George Bush announced it. The mechanisms and institutions aren’t hidden, they’re studied at nearly every university. The WTO, IMF, World Bank, G8, WEF and others rule the world with every aspect of cartoonish supervillians. The damage they do is documented everywhere you look. And tens of thousands of people regularly turn out in the streets on their doorsteps spoiling for a rumble.
The thing that just about anybody from Raging Grannies to Black Bloc rioters will tell you, though, is that we need to fundamentally rethink all of it – the government, economy, corporations etc. Alex Jones, Zeitgeist and their ilk won’t tell you that. Instead, all too often we’re told everything will be ok if we get rid of the Federal Reserve and get back to “constitutional values”. Hiding behind that is a deeply flawed and frightening (lack of) analysis about governments and the economy.
What’s even more frightening is that hiding behind many of the conspiracy theorists are some even more frightening ideas about redesigning society. Fascists like Lyndon LaRouche regularly blame the world’s problems on everything from “the Jews” to “the Queen of England”, and much of their work all too often makes it into the work of people like Michael Rupert. Fascists love conspiracy theories, going back to Hitler and Mussolini’s fictions about secret banking conspiracies holding back “the people” (while they, in fact, conspired with these interests themselves). I certainly wouldn’t state, as some do, that the entire “conspiracy” movement is a front for neo-fascists, but they’re certainly there.
I agree with a hell of a lot of what the “conspiracy movement” says, and I think there’s a lot to be said about the massive number of people who’re interested in it. The world is run by a small “power elite”, and has been for a long time now. Banking is usury and extortion. And even if Osama flew all of those planes himself on 9/11, the American government has a hell of a lot of explaining to do about the way it’s exploited the tragedy.
What’s different with anarchist analysis (like most radical analysis), is that it doesn’t require a conspircy. Capitalism gives people every reason to do all of these things without ever speaking to each other. Whether it’s Monsanto, Enron or Halliburton, they clearly do influence governments, and much of what they do is clearly immoral, illegal, and evil (if anything ever is). It’s public knowledge, on public record, and nobody’s paying the price – except us. So where’s the outcry? The pitchforks and torches? These criminals, inside and outside of government, continue to make millions from their crimes and the best we can hope for protesting them is not getting arrested.
If Obama revealed tomorrow that 9/11 was, in fact, a CIA plot, what would change? At least, under Bush, a government would have fallen, but now it would just be another on a large stack of atrocities for which one or two people went on trial, and the matter was forgotten about. The CIA has killed tens or hundreds of thousands of people at a time in countries like Indonesia, Chile, Guatemala and Haiti. This is public record. So where, I ask again, are the pitchforks and torches?
Revolutions aren’t single-issue things. They’re every-issue things. And as far too many people learned from “revolutions” in France, Russia or Haiti, throwing out a part of the old regieme does not guarantee a glorious and benevolent new one. I encourage people to question the government on every issue, even conspiracies (or as more mainstream people call it, corruption). Just don’t limit yourselves to them.

I, like many activists, am fairly critical of the notion that new technologies are about to arrive which will diffuse the ticking time bombs that are peak oil and climate change. But there’s a much bigger mythical solution which needs even more scorn and contempt: government. Too many activists, academics and pundits have become addicted to seeing government policy as a magic wand which can be used to solve any and all problems. It won’t, and it can’t. A much better analogy would be a magic ring, like something Tolkein would write, which has an evil and devious mind of it’s own.

It’s 2010. Bush is gone. The science on climate change is stronger than ever and runaway oil prices already have wrecked the world economy. Everyone from Al Gore to Alan Greenspan is admitting that we have a very serious problem. And yet the “solutions” we are being offered have not changed. Bigger highways, fossil fuels and a strong auto industry. These policies overshadow in every way any “progress” made in North America towards sustainable government policies.

I’ve already written recently several times about Obama’s bailout extravaganza for the auto industry. But the situation is becoming pretty clear at all levels. Deutsche Bank recently snubbed the US over its failure to pass effective climate change legislation and pledged to focus its $6-7 billion climate investing portfolio on Western Europe and China instead. And locally, though he did pledge billions in his most recent tax break for big corportions to build new rail lines, it was not only overshadowed by a much larger increase in highways, but also isn’t going to come close to meeting the growing maintenance backlog for America’s transit system – now $77.7 billion. This case is especially telling, since people are actually flocking to public transit in droves, passenger miles went from 39.8 billion in 1995 to 55.2 billion in 2008. Unfortunately, without extra funding, this success is putting a huge added strain on transit networks.

Locally, politicians continue to drag their feet. In the name of “giving more stalls to local farmers”, the newly redeveloped Hamilton Farmers Market will have 26 less stalls than it did before. The stadium debate still rages around the merits of a highway-side location, and now threatens to tear up the Aberdeen rail yard on the recommendation of city staff. Now that’s planning for a low-oil future.

The $100 million budget for the Pan-Am games would be really handy at dealing with these problems. It’s a damn shame we’ll never be able to direct that money as it should be spent. But what’s even more unfortunate is that this money is only a drop in the bucket of the billions we hand over annually to deal with these issues, for which we get less and less (school, health care etc) back. The very nature of governments prohibits them from solving these problems because it places them in bed with the corporations which cause it. Canadians can understand this – the entire history of our colonization is one where big, resource-hungry corporations like the Hudson Bay Company ran the land.

The first step in taking effective action is to realise that the government is not going to do it for us.

Kevin Carson’s latest paper, “The Thermidor of the Progressives – Managerialist Liberalism’s Hostility to Decentralized Organization
” is about as long (48 pages) and complex as any other academic piece I’ve read, but the way he covers the issue makes a painful amount of sense.

Progressive is the new Reactionary – Summary and link.

The issue of “progress” with the left is filled with confusion and hypocrisy. We frequently critique capitalists and governments for pushing development programs under the guise of “progress”, but are more than willing to use the term to describe issues we like. It’s a beautiful word for use in propaganda because it can mean anything. Whoever uses it gets to slide a whole bunch of assumptions about where the world is, was, and where it’s going along with whatever claims they make. This is why I try not to use it in these contexts. Is a superhighway “progress”? How about gay marriage laws? Or iPods? And who is designing this future world of highway-commuting, happily married gay men commuting to work listening to iPods?

Progress, as an argument, lends itself to authoritarian arguments a little too easily. If we know what the bright and perfect world of the future’s going to look like, what’s the harm in forcing it on people now? And the “progressive left” (liberals, social democrats and many single-issue campaigners) is a pretty good example of this.

“A lot of the people who call themselves Left I would regard as proto-fascists.” – Noam Chomsky

The lingering legacy of leaders like Lenin is a deep sympathy for the state. And while revolutionaries and radicals have soured on these old-school Stalinist notions, many on the more moderate left haven’t. After constant attacks on any and all state programs as “socialism” by conservatives, we’ve forgotten the difference ourselves. This would be a prime cause of why so many anarchists absolutely refuse to call themselves leftists at all (some use the term “post-leftist”), and it’s hard to blame them.

Libertarianism was alive and well on the “left” a century before conservatives discovered it. Rejecting all libertarian arguments because they sound like something Ayn Rand would say is ridiculous. Libertarians (like Thoreau or Proudhon) have long had longer and stronger associations with the left than liberals (like Adam Smith). In fact, modern capitalism is usually described in terms of “neo-liberalism”.

A century of policy-making has turned much of the “left” into cheerleaders for professionalism, regulation, centralization, industrialization and management. Radicals understood well in 1910 or 1950 that things like welfare and labour laws were concessions and not ends in themselves. Like the Soviet Union, we’ve mistaken the bureaucracies we’ve created for the ends they were supposed to achieve. And by siding with them, time after time, Progressives have become deeply suspicious and critical of ideas or solutions which come from outside this massive bureaucracy. And that makes Progressivism very attractive to people who are about as leftist as Attila the Hun.

This is why Progressives so often make arguments which sound like something out of Fascist Italy. Mussolini himself was once a socialist. And while Fascists are clearly not Socialists, we can’t forget the crucial role that those ideas played in the rise of leaders like Hitler, Mussolini and Franco. Fascism is about more than power and tyranny – it’s a specific kind of totalitarian state, which uses revolutionary rhetoric to inspire the people. There’s nothing leftist at all about conspiring with industry leaders to break unions, imposing police states or military imperialism. But pretending that you’re “fighting the power” while you’re doing those things makes them a lot easier.

The main difference between a hardline Leninist and Fascist (and there aren’t many) is that Leninist and other authoritarian socialists embrace a powerful state as a means to achieving their ends – such as health care, education, or the right to work. Fascists use these social programs as a means to achieve their end which is a strong and powerful state.

The more we confuse “leftism” or “socialism” with authoritarianism, the more shelter we give to authoritarians who want to use our support base. Socialism was never about running society like one giant corporation. Socialists only embraced the state because they felt it made it possible to deal with the crippling issues we face in a manageable way. But that opinion has never gone without challenge in the socialist world – right back to the fiery rivalry between Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin.

The problem here is the other ideologies: industrialism, centralization and authoritarianism. While the specific type of ownership was different, there was little practical difference between the way a factory functioned under Lenin or Ford. Both are credited with applying the management-style of the old Prussian Military to industry. Neither were terribly critical of the role played by armies of managers and bureaucrats, the inefficiencies of centralization or the amount of force and coercion needed to make the systems work.

Corporate and government leaders know which way the wind is blowing in the 21st century. People are fast running out of patience for good old-fashioned queer-bashing, poor-stomping conservatism. To appeal to the crowds of the future they’re going to need to adopt a new set of flagship issues to push their agendas. By embracing smart growth, public health care, and internet censorship, they can carry on their resource wars in peace. The age of Bush-style Fascism may have ended, but the age of Obama-style fascism is only beginning. Wanna see what this looks like? Look at the “right wing” side of any Western European parliament.

If we’re going to change the world, we need ideas which are thoroughly thought out, and not just reactions against reactionaries. We need solutions which set people free, not solutions which empower governments to “fix things for us”. And if that means free markets, it means free markets. I’ll be the first to argue that it doesn’t have to. But it’s not trade that’s the problem – it’s trade on unfair terms that exploits people. And without the state, this wouldn’t be possible. Capital, by definition, is property that you don’t directly use (and which you can bill other people for using). The task of the state is to enforce the legal monopoly on this property so that capitalists can make money from it, with violence where necessary. These forces aren’t at war with each other any more than any old married couple. They’re at war with us.

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