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.

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)


Achbar, Mark. (1994). [ed.] Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media: the Companion Book to the Award-winning Film. Montreal: Black Rose Books.
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Monday, September 13, 2010

Concluding analyses of the Anarchist Yellow Pages (AYP)

[The conclusions section from a paper published in Humanity & Society, co-authored with Matthew Lee.]

This research has explored an organizational-level data source of international anarchist organizations. There are no other comparable datasets for the anarchist social movement, and perhaps few as unique as this one, with as much variation by type. Thus, although we do not consider the attitudes or actions of individual anarchists, nor macro-scale goals and strategies of the anarchist movement writ large, our analysis offers many original insights. We began by providing an overview of the geographic distribution of anarchist organizations. We then used political opportunities theory to explore the population ecology of anarchist organizations in a restricted number of countries for which a sufficient number of cases were available.

We found that general anarchist organizations constitute the largest single category of organizations. Yet, when categories are grouped together, physical spaces outrank both class and media organizations. Organizations tend to be found in North America and Europe, and, unsurprisingly, in major urban cities in those countries. Germany and Italy are dominated by physical spaces, France and Spain by class organizations, and the US and Canada by media organizations. The number of comparable anarchist organizations has also grown since an earlier version of the AYP in 1997, increasing over 40 percent in size. This growth could be indicative of an evolution in social movement politics that could have long-term consequences, or could be a temporal “protest cycle” (Tarrow 1998) that may presently be peaking and could recede in upcoming years.

Political opportunities are associated with the geographic distribution and density of anarchist organizations across countries and therefore may plausibly represent an important environmental force for the “natural selection” of such organizations. Countries with a greater per capita rate of anarchist organizations are significantly related not only to all manner of rights, but also to the democratic nature of the polity. In each case, there is a greater density of organizations in countries with more rights and a more democratic political system. Instead of anarchist organizing coinciding with a formally closed society, the opposite appears true--at least as measured by the AYP. Ironically, anarchists appear to prosper more in those countries that appear to be supportive of radical dissent and thus where revolutionary change to an autocracy would seem less necessary. Yet, anarchists are not satisfied with merely an “equal opportunity” society, but rather seek equality of outcomes, and are especially concerned with building a society that lacks a hierarchical and centralized authority or bureaucracy. So, even though these findings seem problematic for an anti-state movement like anarchism, such patterns make sense given the literature on political opportunities and the radical demands of anarchists that require continually expanding freedom and some protection from repression.

One of the central criticisms of the population ecology approach to understanding organizations is that it ignores the power of organizations to shape the environment. For example, one influential critique disputes the notion that the biological theory of natural selection is appropriate for explaining whether certain kinds of organizations are “negatively selected” (killed) or “positively selected” by the environments in which they are located (Perrow 1986:209). The argument is that many corporate organizations are so powerful that they actually control and reshape the environment, rather than the other way around. In this view, the population ecology perspective plays a “mystifying” role by “removing much of the power, conflict, disruption, and social class variables from the analysis of social processes” and substituting “vague natural forces,” almost implying that “God does the negative and positive selecting” (Perrow 1986:213). However, the population ecology model would seem well-suited in the case of anarchist organizations because none of these have anywhere near the power or resources of a giant corporation like General Motors or British Petroleum. Anarchist organizations are often small by design, given the preference for decentralized action, and totally disconnected from the power structures that corporations use to control their environments. The striking variations that we have found across countries with respect to the relationship between political opportunities and the existence of types of anarchist organizations suggests to us that anarchist organizations are shaped by ecological constraints in ways that participants may not expect or consider. If the anarchist movement is to grow internationally, future efforts at organizing will have to pay more explicit attention to such concerns.

This paper offered an initial foundation on which other studies can be built. With the global picture in mind, future researchers may wish to investigate a broader range of ecological conditions in a smaller number of countries as they impact the presence or absence of types of anarchist organizations. Cross-national case studies could reveal the historical development of the movements and provide clues as to particular geographically specific characteristics and emphasis. Our exploratory findings suggest strategic locations for such research, as well as specific political factors that should be examined.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Revisiting Kropotkin: Mutual Aid and Anarchism as Altruism?

[Recently published in the newsletter of the Altruism and Social Solidarity Section-in-Formation of the American Sociological Association.]

Peter Kropotkin was a contemporary of many early sociological theorists, who highlighted factors that contributed to cooperation and sociability. He argued these phenomena are regular characteristics in all societies, although their presence is usually submerged and out of view. Instead, sociologists during his time and ours have tended to focus their scholarship upon the deviant, unequal, and hierarchical. Sometimes it takes extreme circumstances to see the merit in Kropotkin’s ideas, rattle people’s cynicism, and see other possible forms of social order. For example, recent disasters like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti or Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Gulf Coast in 2005 stand as a testament to the “natural” sympathies of people for the suffering victims of natural phenomenon. Or, recall the outpouring of support and solidarity extended to all sorts of Americans--directly affected or not--following the terrorist attacks of September 11th. In each case, complete strangers helped each other, without hope for reward, status, or self-interest, and did what they thought was “right” in a given situation, regularly incurring great personal risk, sacrifice, and hardship on their part. Gone--even if only temporarily--was the typical egotism, individualism, and coldness that define much of life in the modern, capitalist world.

In 1997, I saw through a similar window into a new world. I was a student at the University of North Dakota when the Red River thawed in Springtime at a pace that caused record high-levels of flooding along the river, especially in the town where I lived, Grand Forks. For an entire week leading up to the flooding and eventual evacuation of the town of 50,000 people, life completely changed. Classes at the university were canceled, people didn’t go to work, and youth stayed home from school. Instead, the entire community reoriented its efforts to saving their neighbors from the encroaching water. I spent time on the tall sandbag dikes, protecting the houses of complete strangers, who thanked us with hugs, tears, and sandwiches. I witnessed thousands of people spend every waking hour helping other people. People (including me) hitched rides from random drivers for the first time ever, without fear. It was unlike anything I had ever seen or imagined before. And, although there were surely organizations providing material support and coordinating infrastructure in the struggle against the floodwaters, most people self-organized themselves within each neighborhood: college students, kids, parents, seniors, and soldiers from a nearby military base all chipped-in and made decisions on the ground, with little regard for one’s special status, except for who could offer the most sensible ideas at the time.

In the aftermath of this event, I wrote of my experiences to one of my favorite authors, Noam Chomsky. I was surprised (and honored) that he wrote me back to say he found my observations interesting. He called the phenomena I observed “mutual aid” and recommended I read what he called the most important work in the area of “socio-biology”, Peter Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. Chomsky said the book was rarely recognized or acknowledged by scholars because the book’s implications counter the dominant narrative of meritocracy, free markets, and legitimate authority figures. It took me far too long to get around to actually reading Kropotkin, but after receiving Chomsky’s letter, I immediately started seeing “mutual aid” everywhere.

Mutual aid includes cooperative behaviors that benefit the initiator as well as others. Kropotkin includes countless actions that support the strengthening and continuation of social solidarity, ranging from community self-defense to resource-acquisition and sharing. He argues that mutual aid is “not love, and not even sympathy”, but “a far wider, even though more vague feeling or instinct of human solidarity and sociability” (Kropotkin 2006: xv). Mutual aid is thus the underpinning of community.

For the anarchist Kropotkin, mutual aid is present in many varieties of animal species and communities, as well as most of human history, including the long epochs ranging from the period of “savages” to the medieval age. Most research on this phenomenon--of humans helping others, without immediate expectations or governments--has been done in the area of anthropology. For example, David Graeber’s Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (2004) illustrates this history of non-state social order; or Sam Mbah and I.E. Igariwey’s African Anarchism (1997), focuses on tribal African communalism. Additionally, anthropologists like Harold Barclay (1990), James C. Scott (2009), and others argue that humans have lived without hierarchical authority until all but recently, or have at least lived with autonomy from centralized states. In other words, mutual aid is a very “natural” pattern in the human experience. According to Kropotkin (2006), recent governments and bureaucracies normalize social problems and thus reduce the tendency towards mutual aid:

In the guild -- and in medieval times every man belonged to some guild or fraternity [and] two “brothers” were bound to watch in turns a brother who had fallen ill; it would be sufficient now to give one’s neighbour the address of the next paupers’ hospital. In barbarian society, to assist at a fight between two men, arisen from a quarrel, and not to prevent it from taking a fatal issue, meant to be oneself treated as a murderer; but under the theory of the all-protecting State the bystander need not intrude: it is the policeman’s business to interfere, or not. And while in a savage land, among the Hottentots, it would be scandalous to eat without having loudly called out thrice whether there is not somebody wanting to share the food[…] all that a respectable citizen has to do now is to pay the poor tax and to let the starving starve. (p. 188)

Just as a self-respecting public sociologist would today, during his time Kropotkin sought to make his ideas as accessible to everyone. For example, Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid appears during a period in which radicals and the working-class are being pulled in opposite directions, by authoritarian Marxism on one side, and individualistic and nihilistic Nietzscheism on the other. Kropotkin not only disagreed with those trajectories, but tried to argue the case for an anarchist interpretation of social relations--thus he wrote Mutual Aid as an anarchist response to these competing frameworks. He thought the modern state suppresses humans’ normal inclination to cooperative organization, a problem that could not be overcome by utilizing the state in a “popular” revolution (as the Bolsheviks were to do) or by ignoring our social responsibilities to others (Kinna 1996).

Kropotkin’s argument was also a statement against social Darwinism--particularly as advocated by Thomas Huxley--that people are naturally competitive and that vigorous conflict produces the best possible societies. Instead, Kropotkin showed that human communities survive and thrive, not through competition amongst their members, but through cooperation and sociability. Although this insight has generally been ignored by natural scientists, a few have appreciated mutual aid’s broader significance. Evolutionary biologist and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould confirms Kropotkin’s emphasis upon mutual aid over mutual struggle: “I would hold that Kropotkin’s basic argument is correct. Struggle does occur in many modes, and some lead to cooperation among members of a species as the best pathway to advantage for individuals” (Gould 1997: 21).

Despite the audacity of his work, Kropotkin is largely unknown inside the academy, likely due to never holding an official university position. He wrote scholarly works (including The Conquest of Bread and Fields, Factories, and Workshops) which have been more enduring in the long-run than most sociologists of his era. Unfortunately--but not surprisingly--Kropotkin’s work is not taught in sociological theory classes when describing social solidarity. To my knowledge, courses that focus on demography or social change never use his arguments about mutual aid as an important condition for group selection. Enterprising sociologists (and anthropologists, political scientists, historians, and economists) could work to update Kropotkin’s famous study, by conducting contemporary scholarship based on his fundamental argument about mutual aid. But, this shift in scholarly attention would require an ethical re-emphasis upon the things that make societies work “well” as opposed to what makes them work “poorly” or harm people. Such a shift, I believe, is the general goal of this ASA Section on Altruism and Social Solidarity.

To simply reframe altruism as mutual aid would change its meaning, of course. While both are understudied, altruism is definitely rarer, while mutual aid happens all the time (but is nearly never noted in our discipline). Mutual aid is not altruistic in the pure sense, since people do get something back for their efforts. Yet, mutual aid might be better thought of as karmic--even without the sense of an immediate “payback” for one’s efforts, good deeds eventually benefit yourself as others will help you in your time of need, too.

Or, mutual aid may be a prime example of altruism: what seems to be selfless and sacrificial (thus altruistic), could easily serve to strengthen social solidarity (i.e. mutual aid). Neither phenomena can be driven by authority figures and both require individuals to exercise a fair amount of agency. The adoption of stronger communal norms would likely increase both practices. A society in which everyone offers altruistic assistance to everyone else would be a society filled with Kropotkin’s mutual aid. But this form of social solidarity is only truly possible within horizontal social relationships.

Altruism is well-known for falling victim to free-riding: people who have things done for them by exceptional others are less likely to do for themselves (and perhaps for others). Kropotkin’s conception of mutual aid illustrates that self-sacrificing altruism reduces collective orientations to problem-solving. Instead, true sociability avoids the alienating aspects of altruism and focuses upon community and group action (Glassman 2000). Consequently, mutual aid occupies a more stable position than altruism as the social facilitator of the common good.

Altruism scholars tend to find much merit in the notion of “positive deviants” and “exemplars” within social movements; this could be even more the case within radical, value-driven movements that avoid the approach of “charity provisioning”, such as anarchism.[1] Yet, unlike altruists, anarchists do not do things for people, they will work with others and thus lead by example. In fact, anarchists wholly refuse official leadership and deny the right of the state (even if its power is wielded for supposedly “good reasons”). Countless movement figures--most completely unknown, uncelebrated--have anonymously martyred themselves in pursuit of “the ideal” (as Emma Goldman referred to anarchism). Anarchists sought—and still seek—the transformation of society into a horizontal social order based upon egalitarianism, cooperation, and mutual aid. An individual’s freedom is completely wrapped-up in the freedom of the collective (and vice-versa). To further and accomplish such ends, anarchists have struggled within labor movements, insurrections, and civic organizations of all types. Much effort has been given to deepening, expanding, and radicalizing human tendencies for mutual aid. In pursuit of these formidable goals, anarchists have been incredibly unsuccessful over the long-term, although small pockets of freedom have occasionally existed, and continue to endure within sub-cultures around the world. In return for their efforts, anarchists have been libeled as terrorists, executed by states, arrested on behalf of robber barons and corporations, and “disappeared” by Communist parties.

Short of an anarchist society in the near future, what immediate structures and relationships are worth obtaining and emphasizing? While altruism is clearly instructive of human potential for contributing to the common good, it is overshadowed by the mutual aid people practice every day. Kropotkin’s observation was far more mundane than that of altruism, but so much more important.

Barclay, Harold. 1990. People Without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchy. Seattle: Left Bank Books.
Glassman, Michael. 2000. “Mutual Aid Theory and Human Development: Sociability as Primary”. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 30 (4): 391-412.
Gould, Stephen Jay. 1997. “Kropotkin was no crackpot”. Natural History, 106 (June): 12-21.
Graeber, David. 2004. Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.
Kinna, Ruth. 1995. “Kropotkin’s Theory of Mutual Aid in Historical Context”. International Review of Social History, 40 (2), August: 259-283.
Kropotkin, Peter. 2006. Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. Mineola, NY: Dover.
Mbah, Sam and I.E. Igariwey. 1997. African Anarchism: The History of a Movement. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press.
Scott, James C. 2009. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press.

[1] It is crucial to dispense with cartoonish, pop-culture stereotypes of anarchism as pertaining to chaos and violence. Instead, a scholarly understanding of anarchism ought to emphasize the vision articulated by actual anarchists--like Kropotkin--which is founded on anti-authoritarianism, self-management, solidarity, and egalitarian social order.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Anarchists in Labor Unions -- Conclusions

[This is an excerpt from a paper published in a special issue of Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society, focused on anarchism, syndicalism, and working people that I co-edited with Immanuel Ness. The earlier part of the paper featured analyses of anarchists who did and didn't belong to labor unions, based on data from the 2002 user survey.]

Union members represent a sizable sector of the anarchist movement (as per the Infoshop data). Yet, how do various aspects of NSM [new social movement] theories explain characteristics of the modern anarchists found in the Infoshop survey? There are points of convergence and departure with the theories and empirical observations. The level of union membership of employed Infoshop respondents in the US (19 percent) was somewhat higher than in the general American population. This unionization level is half that of employed respondents from Europe (40 percent). Compared to the height of the anarchist movement in the early-1900s, these levels of union membership are likely to be lower than in the past. NSM theories apply to developed Western nations and thus the higher European membership rate should be included when considering anarchism and NSMs. This suggests that other regions may deviate from the NSM framework more clearly than North Americans. The Infoshop survey was dominated by North American respondents and thus the focus is upon anarchists in that region whom were only slightly more likely to be in a labor union than their fellow, mainstream citizens.

While NSM theories emphasize the importance of new, emergent collective identities, anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-communism are nothing “new” per se. They are, however, oriented towards the goals of achieving autonomy from the dominant economic order, as other collective identities like “feminism” or “gay liberation” might infer. Neither of the economic anarchist ideologies wishes to be embedded within a “business union movement”, but rather wish to see the economy transformed into a more equal, liberatory, and cooperative institution. Yet, since the types of unions that Infoshop respondents belong to is unavailable, it is possible that even these respondents with non-assimilation ideologies are members of assimilated and reformist unions.

This paper has begun the task of creating quantitative research looking at North American anarchists in regards to NSMs. The statistics presented suggest a number of key socio-economic, demographic, ideological, and identity-based differences for anarchist union members within the Infoshop survey. It has sought to address the assumptions of anarchists as participants in a middle-class movement, as is the case with NSMs generally. As for the portion of anarchists who are also union members, the working class is more likely to be the participating class—insofar as self-identification matches an empirical reality. This strengthens the NSM argument about the so-called old social movements (like labor), as the working class, and not the middle-class, is labor’s main constituency. Yet, the current anarchist movement still does belong, in part, to this old social movement.

It should be noted that although this research has tested the characteristics of anarchists who do or do not belong to labor unions, it does not suggest anything beyond that. Active participation or activism within unions is unknown for these individuals. Since NSM theory suggests that traditional movements were active labor and class-based movements, it is not possible to claim that simple membership in a union constitutes participation in a labor movement. Other organizations that also engage in class-focused activism include Food Not Bombs, Homes Not Jails, or others.

Future research should consider the philosophical and real support of unions as part of anarchist ideology, not just that which is economic in focus. It may be that “anarchists without adjective” are equally likely to participate in unions as their economic-focused counterparts, a conclusion impossible to derive from the way the Infoshop survey was conducted. Questions that expand on simple union membership, such as activity within a union or union-organizing itself, would be useful.

Unions are not the only working class or economic-focused organizations that exist, but they are the most prevalent and prominent. Future research should consider other organizations that derive from the working class or focus on economic issues. Anarchist participation in such organizations is likely to be different than membership or participation in labor unions. This possibility would strengthen the confidence that other structures of traditional movement values are still being utilized, even if in new organizational forms with new strategies, not just unions. The extent to which unions may be viewed as “social movement organizations” also needs to be considered, since some unions are remarkably more activist-oriented and radical than others. Clawson (2003) also differentiates between unions and the labor movement—the former being a “circumscribed institution” while the latter is a “fluid formation… [which] depends on high-risk activism, mass solidarity, and collective experiences” (p. 24).

Using a different measure for class, such as annual income, may provide a different result than the question used by the Infoshop survey, which asked respondents to determine their own class background. Anarchists may have ideologically aligned themselves with the working class, regardless of the economic background of their parents or their current occupation. The ability to separate certain sectors of the middle-class—non-profit workers, students and academics, and retirees—would aid in testing who in the middle class is supportive of the anarchist movement according to NSM. Educational status would facilitate analysis of NSM theory’s traditional characterization of middle-class activists as intellectuals. Finally, efforts to seek out anarchists of older generations to further test the impact of age upon union membership would help provide a richer context for how anarchism has changed.

More importantly, future research may wish to seek a better way to more comprehensively explore connections between the anarchist movement and NSM theories. This study did not test anarchist values and attitudes, so a comparison based upon these criteria is not possible. It is difficult to answer these larger questions with just one survey, especially a limited one. One way to evaluate anarchist beliefs and action in lieu of other NSM characteristics is to consider the other characteristics suggested by Sutton and Vertigans (2006), such as anti-hierarchical organization, symbolic direct action, and self-limited radicalism.

Subsequent work on this highly under-analyzed movement should heed these considerations. Anarchism’s complex, contentious, and sometimes contradictory advocates and organizations deserve greater study.