Monday, September 27, 2010

Explaining the Geographical Dispersion of Red and Green Anarchisms in the United States

[From a 2009 article in the Journal of Political Ideologies, entitled "Red vs. green: regional variation of anarchist ideology in the United States". Study based upon 2002 survey data from the prominent anarchist website,]

First, who are the red and green anarchists? Do Infoshop survey respondents reflect the concerns that one would expect of those who hold each particular ideological variant? Infoshop respondents were asked to choose their first and second ‘priorities for the anarchist movement’ from a list. There are statistically significant differences (based on t-tests, results not shown) between red anarchists and others, and between green anarchists and others. Red anarchists were more likely than all others to prioritize anti-capitalist organizing, cooperatives, organizing new federations, tenant organizing, and workplace organizing. Green anarchists were more likely than all others to prioritize radical ecology. Green anarchists were more likely than all others to choose as their second priority direct action, riots, and smashing the state. Unsurprisingly, both red and green anarchists’ priorities match the expectations that ought to derive from the previously described red and green ideological variants. Red anarchists strongly emphasize the role of organizing, especially in terms of economics, while green anarchists emphasize the importance of ecology and action.

If the priorities of red and green anarchists match those expected of their ideological variant, the next question is: how do these ideologies vary across space? Bivariate correlation analysis was done on the Infoshop survey, comparing region to ideological variant. This method is employed to show statistically significant relationships between both red or green anarchists, and their residence in a given US region. The results show interesting relationships that have previously been unmeasured. Although long suspected by activists, the Infoshop survey provides quantitative evidence supporting the relationship between anarchist ideological variants and region.

Significant correlations between region and ideology were found in the West and Northeast regions. Northeastern US anarchists were positively correlated with the economically focused ideological variant of red anarchism. Western US anarchists were positively correlated with the environmentally focused ideological variant of green anarchism. Also, there was a significant negative relationship between Northeasterners and green anarchists, meaning that those in the US Northeast tended not to have an environmental ideology. Westerners also had a negative correlation to an economic ideological variant. This evidence supports the notion of a regional red–green split in the US anarchist movement. See Table 2 [not shown] for the correlation coefficients.

Neither of the other two geographic regions, Midwest or South, had significant relationships to either ideological strain. This suggests that there was no clear, dominant tendency within these regions. The only other significant finding here is that anarchists without adjective (‘anarchist’, ‘anarchist without adjective’, or ‘anti-authoritarian’) are more likely to be found in the Northeast than expected at random. See Table 3 for the percentages of ideology per region that reinforce the correlation results.

Given the significant differences between anarchist ideological variants and regional difference for the Northeast and West, are there conditions in either region that might be providing support for either red or green anarchists? The rest of the paper discusses two different types of factors that help to explain this relationship: structural factors and organizational factors.

Structural factors
Factors within the structural environment of a region first include historical factors, such as the period of westward expansion funded and campaigned for by the US government that entailed massive settlement of the Western portion of the United States, and the subsequent displacement of both indigenous inhabitants and ecosystem. Additionally, economic factors that contribute to the nature of each region’s economy are important. The West is the least industrialized area of the United States and has traditionally served as an extractive region for supplying raw resources to the industrial corporations based primarily in the Northeast and Midwest regions. The Northeast is itself the most urbanized region in the country, with the highest concentration of population--and thus the highest concentrated workforce--in the country.

Then there are the logical consequences of this economic primacy—the impact upon where the forests are, where the unions are, and so forth. For example, Western states account for 73% of all public lands surface area managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the US. ‘Eastern States’, in which the BLM considers the inclusion of more than just the Northeast, do not have any BLM administered lands. Since much of green anarchism involves practices referred to as ‘eco-defense’--such as physically preventing corporate logging of public forests by ‘tree-sitting’--it is reasonable to assume that there must be large tracts of relatively untouched land around to be defended by activists. As Table 4 [not shown] demonstrates, National Forest lands are clearly more prevalent in the West than the Northeast, by two orders of magnitude, in fact (NFS 2002). This regional difference is likely the result of US economic development and ‘Westward expansion’ that industrialized the Northeast to a higher degree than the West, as opposed to there simply being more forests in the West—the forests of the Northeast have simply been mostly chopped down.

National forest acreage shows one environmental explanation. Another explanation could be offered by forestry workers who would be engaged in the harvesting of such timber. Table 4 shows the ratio of both low- and high-density forestry workers per region. In this case, the South has the greatest number of such workers per capita, followed by the West. The Northeast is lowest.

Although the Northeast has the fewest forestry workers, it has the highest level of unionization (strongly related to red anarchism) in the US (see Table 4), while the South has the lowest level--nearly one-third percent unionized in the Northeast.

Organizational factors
To address the presence of anarchists more directly, there are deliberate anarchist institutions that may aid in explaining the regional variation between ideologies in the US, rather than the incidental structural occurrences outside the anarchist movement discussed in the previous section. All manner of organizations and communication mediums may foster regional variation.

Anarchist organizations may be seen as responses to and as outgrowths of more moderate organizations. Fitzgerald and Rodgers indicate many differences between ‘moderate social movement organizations’ (MSMOs) and ‘radical social movement organizations’ (RSMOs), primarily in terms of organizational structure, ideology, tactics, communication, and assessment of success. As seen above, unions are more prevalent in the Northeast, thus suggesting a higher percentage of pro-labor, economic-focused anarchists and organizations. The Infoshop survey clearly demonstrates that there are more individuals in the Northeast expressing a red anarchist ideology. Yet the above data on regional unionization does not suggest that Westerners do not deal with issues of class. Indeed, the anarcho-syndicalist union the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) remains active in the West, especially in Portland, Oregon. In fact, there are more IWW unions in the West than any other region, including the Northeast (see Table 4). It is difficult to state a clear historical predominance of the IWW in any one region—although the West is where the IWW was most active during the early-1900s. Since the period of the 1920s--when the IWW and other radicals were repressed by the Palmer Raids--the IWW has lost the majority of its membership, and has diversified its organizational approaches and the industries in which it organizes. Some IWW organizations are workplace unions, while others are general membership branches (GMBs) for people who adhere to anarcho-syndicalism and class struggle ideology, but do not necessarily work directly with a labor union. With more IWW chapters found in the West as opposed to the Northeast, the ideological distribution appears somewhat contradictory and suggests that red anarchists may not be benefiting as much as expected from the organizations in their region. Or, IWW members may be older than average and/or less likely to use the Internet.

The existence of MSMO environmentalist groups--such as the Sierra Club--could also be associated with the location of green anarchists. The Sierra Club tends to be reformist in politics, recreational in behavior, and not all members are likely to consider themselves members of the environmental movement. Table 4 shows the number of Sierra Club groups in all four US regions compared to the general population. As expected, this MSMO follows the already suggested pattern of difference between the two US coasts: the West has the greatest per capita Sierra Club membership and the Northeast has the lowest. Other research has also noted such a relationship between established movements, supportive political sentiment, and more radical activism.

The perceived strategic shortcomings of certain MSMOs may spur the formation of more radical organizations. The anarchistic environmentalist organization Earth First! (EF!) is one such radical organization that is on record for (in fact, formed as based on) its critique of reformist environmentalist organizations for not doing enough to protect the environment.

It is plausible for anarchistic organizations to be in the same areas as MSMOs. This seems true in the case of the Sierra Club and EF!. As evidenced in Table 4, Northeastern anarchists do not necessarily neglect issues of the environment--there are a number of (EF!) collectives throughout the region. The geographic presence of these organizations should be taken with a large grain of salt, since the number of collectives may be misleading--it does not suggests the size of the collective (which could be two or over 100 people) or its level of activity. Predictably, Western EF! collectives dominate the US, both in terms of raw number and per capita.

An EF! spin-off, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), is also heavily rooted in the West region. The ELF is a clandestine direct action moniker under which people engage in destructive ‘monkey-wrenching’ activities (usually arson), usually against corporations involved in resource extraction, development, and genetic engineering. Thirty-nine percent of ELF actions occurred in the ‘Pacific Northwest/West Coast’ and another 11% in the ‘West/Southwest’ regions. Only 18% total occurred in the Northeast.

The prevalence of anarchistic organizations in a region is important to consider because of the easy in-roads these organizations facilitate for anarchists in the formation of their ideological beliefs. Organizations have resources that allow them to do outreach into their local communities, to attract and socialize new members, and to engage in regular social and political activities that draw sustained attention and activity. Due to the young mean age of the Infoshop survey respondents (24 years old), it is likely that these anarchists have had less time to fully and maturely develop their beliefs independent of social factors. Thus, people may adopt ideological variants from the organizations and other anarchists available to them. Organizations help to socialize individuals who come into contact with them and can even assist in the formation of ideological orientations. Longer term and more stable organizations often provide support for social movement growth and diffusion. Consequently, the relative stability of EF! compared to the IWW (in recent years, at least)--organizations in the same anarchist ‘social movement industry’--is of primary importance.

Similarly, large regional organizations may also provide stability and easier induction into an ideology. For example, the continent-wide federation called the North Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists is located in the Northeast US and Eastern Canada, and has 19 member collectives. Although ‘communist’ in name, members also express some pro-syndicalist sympathies for worker selforganization. The Federation is based on the aforementioned anarcho-communist Platform. An ideologically similar federation called Northwest Anarchist Federation formed in the US West, including collectives from Seattle, Portland, and Victoria, BC.

Regional clustering is important to consider, such as the concentration of green anarchists around the influential personality of primitivist writer John Zerzan in Eugene, Oregon. Yet, anarchists are notoriously independent and share a common ‘anti-hero’ tendency. If Zerzan’s presence is important, it likely stems from the organizational structures and actions he has helped influence, not his residence in Eugene itself.

Finally, print magazines and publishing groups are a good measure of a social movement organization’s support base, since media can act as the vehicle that circulates the ideas of a movement. The coasts again feature predominantly the expected strain of ideological media outlets. For example, the red anarchist journal Anarcho-Syndicalist Review from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is usually filled with updates on current strikes throughout the world, historical essays on past syndicalist campaigns, and theoretical pieces discussing unions and anarchism. The green magazine called Earth First! Journal is published in Tucson, Arizona and features stories about ongoing campaigns against corporations who harm the environment, government inaction to prevent such harms, and letters-to-the-editor debating radical environmentalist strategy. Until just recently, there was no ideological publication that crossed-over between the coasts; the Northeast did not publish a green publication and the West did not publish a red publication. Yet, in 2004, The Dawn published from Oakland, California--which focused some attention on unions, workers, and strikes from an anarchist perspective--was the first periodical to violate this trend (although it is not currently publishing). There may have been earlier periodicals that violate this norm, but they are also not currently in print. These media organizations are listed in Table 4.

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