Saturday, September 18, 2010

Anarchist Re-Socialization

[More from a forthcoming Contemporary Justice Review article.]

If most people tend to be socialized within hierarchical societies to obey authority figures, then counter-socialization strategies are mandatory to create even a limited degree of autonomy from those hierarchical institutions. Fostering this autonomy within “the system” is a central anarchist goal. Murray Bookchin wrote in Post-Scarcity Anarchism (2004) that

[anarchists] try to prevent bureaucracy, hierarchy and elites from emerging in their midst. No less important, they attempt to remake themselves; to root out from their own personalities those authoritarian traits and elitist propensities that are assimilated in hierarchical society almost from birth.” (p. 141, emphasis in the original)

And according to Graeber (2002), “ultimately [anarchism] aspires to reinvent daily life as whole” (p. 70). These prescriptions are no easy task. The goal of “taking-in” hierarchically-socialized people, broadening their world-views, and perhaps make them anarchistic requires long-term, rigorous, wide-spread, and thoughtful efforts on the part of anarchists. As indicated above, political or economic revolution without a parallel revolution in social norms is unlikely to remain a permanent revolutionary current and will be apt to roll-back into hierarchical practices.

Anarchists have a long and rich history of attempting conduct the re-socialization they believe necessary for long-term transformation. For example, in the decades leading up to the Spanish Revolution, anarchists organized across Spain. By the 1930s a particularly Spanish form of anarcho-syndicalism had deeply embedded itself into Spanish working class culture. The influence of anarchism grew--most noticeably through the success of the CNT-FAI—through the slow, organic formation of affinity groups. Once the Republic was declared and Franco's uprising occurred--creating both space and motivation--it was only “natural” for sizable portions of the Spanish working class to act upon their anarchist socialization and behave in-line with anarchist norms.

The counter-cultural movements of the 1960s and 1970s--which contained a strong anarchist aesthetic--also attempted to established different norms that were at odds with the dominant society. For example, housing communes, intentional communities, food cooperatives, and squats, as well as more temporary configurations like “be ins” or Rainbow Gatherings (Amster 2003) were designed to foster alternative norms, socialize people in the ways of positive deviance, and create social spaces autonomous of dominant norms. Many of these examples still persist and are places of refuge for individuals with values at odds with hierarchical society.

Contemporary, yet usually unidentified, examples of anarchistic norms exist, too. In most small groups of friends there is often a sense of egalitarianism and comradery. Neighbors regularly cooperate with and aid each other. Sizable minorities (and sometimes majorities) in most societies harbor a strident distrust of authority figures, especially politicians. Many profess solidarity with the disadvantaged (however inappropriately manifested). The people of most societies have strong support for various “commons” and collective property, ranging from social security to libraries to public parks. Regardless of how ill-formed or superficial some of these patterns are, they do exist and it is important to highlight them and consider their persistence in society, despite relentless efforts by state capitalism to atomize people into obedient workers and consumers. But, how to expand the desirable norms and weaken the undesirable norms? Anarchist opinion on this question differs from state socialists and communists in that it is unethical to force others to adopt new anarchist norms, or to merely preach the merits of revolution. Instead, anarchists show by example the merits of more desirable norms, in the hopes of non-coercively convincing wider anarchist norm adoptions.

Anarchists, along with many other politically-active groupings, attempt to re-socialize others. These efforts to “anarchize” sympathetic and interested persons take a variety of approaches. First and foremost, anarchists are actively involved in re-socialization through propaganda. Propaganda raises anarchist concerns, critiques, and alternatives that can be applied to everyday life by their intended recipients. Most of the central anarchist theorists that historians identify were also authors and publishers of anarchist propaganda that attempted to sway the masses of Europe and North America towards revolution. In fact, Jun (2009) considers the populist medium of the pamphlet to be a central factor that helped to position anarchism within the militant working class labor movement. Today, propaganda takes a variety of forms, in addition to the traditional pamphlet and newspaper: books, websites, radio programs, magazines and zines, graffiti and stencils, and guerilla art and culture jamming (see Atkinson 2006, Atton 1999, Downing 2003, Hertog & McLeod 1995). These mediums are designed to reach wide and diverse audiences, challenge their assumptions, rationally convince, and provoke and inspire emotions.

Re-socialization also takes place through the regular interactions that anarchists have with other non-anarchists. By “practicing what they preach”, anarchists demonstrate what their beliefs are in both conversation and action. This is likely the most common way in which “new anarchists” are created--through basic, perhaps mundane, conversations and relationships. Once this connection has been made and the character of anarchism is clear to the new adherent (even if not identified as “anarchist ideology”), re-socialization can begin. Anarchists re-socialize non-anarchists in the practice of anarchist norms using anarchist-friendly rewards and sanctions. Relationships between anarchists and non-anarchists are advanced by utilizing supportive rewards for non-anarchists’ more anarchistic behaviors; for example, the expression or practice of collectivism or anti-authoritarianism is verbally affirmed and endorsed. “Soft” sanctions are also used for un-anarchistic behaviors, such as classism, racism, or sexism; anarchists tend to express general disagreement with these ideologies, provide evidence for their inaccuracies or inappropriateness, and indicate better orientations to others.

Various anarchist-sponsored events help to re-socialize people. Protests provide the opportunity for many to experience collective and (hopefully) liberatory participation with others. Anarchist tactical approaches differ from conventional protest and are premised upon anarchist values like autonomy, self-determination, and anti-authoritarianism. Protest tactics including blockades, lock-downs, sit-ins, black blocs, snake marches, disobedients, flying squads, and others teach people about the merits of these anarchist values and provide practical experience of anarchy in action (see Atkinson 2001, Starr 2006). But, it is not just the mere experience during an event that matters, but also the skills, values, and aesthetics absorbed during the planning of events with other anarchists. One can learn the importance of incorporating as many people as possible in an event, designing the protest to be radical in orientation, and working to defend the event against those who would take it hostage for their own purposes (whether liberals, fascists, or police). Less physically-intense events like teach-ins or workshops serve a similar function for anarchists. Here, energy is focused in a more explicitly intellectual way and efforts are made to raise consciousness, and offer an anarchist critique and resolution to some social problem.

Anarchists also re-socialize others within their organizations and informal groupings. For example, formal collectives often intensely discuss not only their goals, but the means by which they are attempting to achieve them. Collectives usually discuss their internal power dynamics and attempt to refine their working relationships, decision making processes, and socio-political vision (c.f. Rothschild-Whitt 1979, Fitzgerald & Rodgers 2000). More broadly, anarchist circles (or scenes) allow for social networking and the creation of an independent counter-culture. Anarchist infoshops are an example of geographically-rooted projects that practice anarchist values, while actively spreading such ideas (Atton 2003). It is within these loose communities that anarchists learn from each other and develop new ways of living. The eventual norms that emerge from this complex process serve as the ground rules and framework that guide the local anarchist movement's operation and direction.

Finally, the act of creating dual power institutions also accomplishes re-socialization. Dual power is the establishment of counter-institutions that serve useful functions for society, accomplishing goals and fulfilling needs, but in a way in-line with anarchist values (Mumm 1998). For example, instead of trying to change corporations to be kinder and gentler, dual power means the creation of producer and consumer cooperatives accomplish necessary economic functions. In doing so, the power, necessity, and attractiveness of the corporate capitalist model would diminish and eventually disappear. Or, as opposed to mandatory schooling, the legitimate goal of learning could be alternatively achieved during the life-long process of learning via homeschooling, alternative schools, free skools, popular education, teach-ins, skill-shares, and the like. In the practice of these alternative institutions, people will learn better ways of acting that are founded on values like cooperation, anti-authoritarianism, horizontalism, and self-determination (c.f. “revolutionary transfer culture”, Ehrlich 1996). Dual power requires people to adapt oneself and one's community to the calculus of values and practicality, often in a free-flowing and emergent environment. Learning to solve problems in the absence of hierarchy is challenging, as well as an amazing re-socializing experience. Re-socialization could help to guarantee the thorough overthrow of hierarchical institutions, through the permanent establishment of anarchist norms.

Present concerns for the future

But, how well do these re-socialization efforts work? In particular, is there “roll-back” for participants? It is unknown--and no conclusive efforts have been made to understand--for whom re-socialization fails, why it fails, and how. Not only do some “anarchists” unsuccessfully adopt anarchist norms, but would-be anarchists regularly “drop-out” of anarchist scenes, perhaps through burn-out, disillusionment, frustration, value-change, or some combination of these. These questions are not only concerned with the short- and long-term sustainability of local anarchist scenes, but the eventual success of anarchistic social revolution. If nurturing a justice-oriented society is a goal, how best can anarchists and like-minded people guarantee progress and critical mass?

Past anarchist movements socialized youth into anarchist norms and values less painfully. During anarchism's “golden age” (late-1800s, early-1900s), working class culture and labor movements kept anarchist norms alive from generation to generation. Various phenomena have wiped out this anarchist culture, thereby reducing the capacity of the anarchist movement to reproduce itself through conventional socialization agents (such as families and peers). Many popular commentators have remarked (usually disdainfully) upon the seemingly youthfulness of the anarchist movement and how it lacks “elders” and older, experienced cohorts. Supporting anarchist aging in an affirming and supportive culture not only assists “institutional memory”, but also establishes wizened socialization agents who can assist in the re-socialization of younger would-be anarchists. Thus, anarchist re-socialization strategies must appreciate the long-term vision and effort needed to expand, diffuse, and strengthen anarchism within most societies.

Ultimately, “revolution” cannot be a singular event, disconnected from the past, with no uncomfortable growing pains before or after the fact. Deliberate efforts to change society are hard work, as are efforts to retain the revolutionary nature after rebellions occur. Revolution will likely involve fits and starts, and years (or even decades) of re-socialization to change practices, values, and attitudes. Anarchist norms must be fostered prior to revolution, remade during the process of revolution, and then spread and defended afterwards. Crucially, anarchists and others interested in a just social order need to appreciate the quiet strength that social norms have and seriously consider how to transform these as much as they consider the transformation of the polity and economy.

According to Geertz (1980), performances occur to illustrate relationships of power. These performances are composed of meaningful symbols that need to be understood in order to understand--and dismantle--hierarchical power. Following this logic, it is crucial to subvert the performance of everyday actions and common symbols in order to transform social order. For example, orienting chairs in a circle during a meeting not only makes the meeting more direct and functional for all involved, but also symbolically de-centers “leaders” from the meeting. Or, eliminating formal, privileging titles (e.g. “sir”, “professor”, “your honor”) not only makes conversations shorter and more multi-directional, but also imbues the conversation with an air of egalitarianism. Of course, it is not enough to just change the symbols--the form of relations must also change. But, Geertz argues that symbology is an important part of power relations. Thus, one avenue towards social transformation is through changing the many performances people do that project and reify inequality and domination.

Thus, the key objective for those concerned with seeking greater social justice is to present to others hierarchy as a human creation and something under our control. This means nurturing an anarchist imagination and fostering self-efficacy. As German anarchist Gustav Landauer (2010) famously wrote:

The state is a social relationship; a certain way of people relating to one another. It can be destroyed by creating new social relationships; i.e. by people relating to one another differently. (p. 214)

This destruction/creation requires individual and collective action. The ways that each person decides to engage with this project will vary (especially due to one’s skills, interests, values, and social positions). But, the important factor in any anarchist re-socialization will be a principled, value-driven practice (Milstein 2010, Gordon 2007). Academics and students within universities could move towards anarchist norms and re-socialization via experimentation with alternative learning environments and pedagogical styles. For example, these approaches could emphasize student-driven learning objectives, student-control over syllabus and course design, and participatory action research and community-service learning embedded within social movement organizations. Efforts could also be made to de-center the site of learning to outside of the university itself, through the creation of popular learning institutions, skill-sharing, and community-based networking. Scholars who conduct research could break-down the barriers between the Ivory Tower and “the masses” by embedding themselves within movements (as partially suggested by Burawoy (2005) in his so-called “organic public sociology) and providing their expertise in struggles for emancipation. For example, Howard Ehrlich and other ex-social scientists helped social movement organizations survey their memberships, strategically design campaigns, and pursue other research endeavors beneficial to justice struggles (see Ehrlich 1991). Regrettably, most social science scholarship tends to either be isolated within universities and their inaccessible journals that few non-academics have access to or can understand, or exist for the partisan purposes of social policy makers.

More generally, the promotion of collective organizations that are not based upon profit, self-interest, or consumerism is crucial. If there were more visible groupings within societies (especially in North America) that overtly, unabashedly advocated progressive social change in a democratic, cooperative, and horizontal context, then norms would not merely be affected for those immediate participants, but also those who indirectly encounter such groupings and their values. For example, anyone could join together with a number of other colleagues, friends, neighbors, or classmates under the auspice of a collectively-run project that had a deliberate name, agenda, and principles of unity. Such organizations could shamelessly promote the key anarchist values of self-management, horizontalism, solidarity, and direct action, through their words, but also their behavior. The possible objectives are endless, but some possibilities include: a print or web-based collective that provides a critical (anarchist) analysis of local conditions and issues; a study group that would read about and apply ideas about cop-watching, restorative justice, prison abolition, worker cooperatives, community self-defense, direct democracy, or anarchism; or an organizing campaign to help facilitate community empowerment through direct action and dual power creation.

These ideas are not meant to delineate a limit upon strategies for anarchist re-socialization, but to serve as food for thought. As is true with any anarchistic endeavor, strong-armed proscriptions are not only unhelpful for generating anti-authoritarian norms, but also limit the collective, creative imagination of peoples in struggle. Anarchist re-socialization will succeed if and only if people are reflexively active in trying to change themselves, others, and social expectations. Linguist and anarchist social critic Noam Chomsky put it thus in the film Manufacturing Consent:

The way things change is because lots of people are working all the time... they’re working in their communities, or their workplace, or wherever they happen to be, and they’re building up the basis for popular movements which are going to make changes. That’s the way everything has ever happened in history... whether it was the end of slavery, or whether it was the democratic revolutions, ... you name it, that’s the way it worked. (cited in Achbar 1994, p. 192)


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