Thursday, November 25, 2010

Recent Anarchism ("Anarchism, Part IV")

Punk Rock

In the late 1970's, England witnessed the emergence of a new type of music that was a sped-up form of rock-n-roll which emphasized simple harmonic structures, loud volumes, and a strong anti-authoritarian presence. The better known of these flagship bands were the The Clash, CRASS, The Damned, Gang of Four, The Sex Pistols, and The UK Subs. These bands brought a sense of urgency to rock music that had not previously been there along with a strong political message that could not often be found in the media of the day. For example, CRASS "espoused the ideals of anti-violence, feminism, and flushing out hypocrisy in organized religion in the context of their ear-damaging vehemence on their records." In the process, as with many other bands, they felt the resistance from the powers-that-be who restricted their access to media and large record labels, while they got bogged down in legal battles with various government agencies.[48]

By the turn of the decade, the music had fully crossed the ocean and hardcore punk music scenes could be found thriving in Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and New York. Many of these bands simply had anti-authoritarian messages and attitudes without fully embracing anarchist philosophies. All the same, they inspired a new revival in anarchism as the "trademark A with the enclosing circle" could be found on the jackets of youths across the country.[49]

In this anti-authoritarian attitude and the resistance of corporations to put out music by artists who directly challenged their greed, most punk bands turned to releasing albums via an attitude which is termed "DIY: Do It Yourself". With the DIY attitude punk bands bypassed the greed of corporations and the subsequent emphasis on record sales over quality and message, and released records on their own small labels. The most influential labels of the time, which still continue to today, are Dischord (Washington, DC), Touch and Go (Chicago), and Alternative Tentacles and SST (California). They allowed, and still allow, bands to release music without compromising anything and still reaching nearly as many fans as they could with a major record label. The anarchist tendency to mistrust authorities and unbridled, capitalist greed led many of these bands to do things their own way, in line with their morals.[50]

Punk rock challenged nearly every power structure available to challenge, from police brutality to corrupt politicians, corporate greed to self-centered consumerism, militarism to nationalism/patriotism, unjust moral authorities to the religious right.[51]

In addition to spawning a directly anti-authoritarian anarchist attitude, punk rock also ushered in additional mentalities that are considerably proactive towards creating a better society. From the Minutemen's songs on Latin American solidarity during the Reagan administration's interventions in Central America to Minor Threat indirectly starting a movement of sober youth to Propagandhi's questioning of sexuality and machismo. Propagandhi, perhaps one of the most overtly political punk bands from the 1990's, in addition to being strong supporters of animal rights, feminism, anti-militarism, and secularism, they are also vocal anarchists. They operate an independent record label called the "G-7 Welcoming Committee" and are strong supporters of the "Mondragón Bookstore & Coffee House" commune in Winnipeg, Manitoba.[52]

Culture Jammers

The Mondragón bookstore and the hundreds of similar stores across the world are prime examples of the tools and "warehouses" for active anarchists who feel that since the wide-berth of society is closed to their ideas, they take the strategy that has been coined "culture jamming". This idea of "jamming" comes from the writings of Hakim Bey, specifically "TAZ, Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism" in which he calls for the making of TAZs. His thesis is that since the world is overrun by totalitarian institutions that control nearly all facets of life, the only way to achieve true freedom is on a small-scale in whatever way possible. Such a zone is autonomous from the control of outside authorities. He explains:
... [W]e're not touting the TAZ as an exclusive end in itself, replacing all other forms of organization, tactics, and goals. We recommend it because it can provide the quality of enhancement associated with the uprising without necessarily leading to violence and martyrdom. The TAZ is like an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerrilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it. Because the State is concerned primarily with Simulation rather than substance, the TAZ can "occupy" these areas clandestinely and carry on its festal purposes for quite a while in relative peace. Perhaps certain small TAZs have lasted whole lifetimes because they went unnoticed ...[53]

Bey, of course, did not start this movement, he just explained some of the better and most effective ways of doing it. Since the beginning of the anarchist movement, activists have been releasing their writings in pamphlets, independent books, and later through anarchist publishers. Publishers such as Black Rose, See Sharp, Freedom, and South End aligned themselves into distribution networks. A good example such a distribution network is AK Press, a cooperative book warehouse/distributor. Anarchists have also taken to periodicals, such as Z(eta) Magazine.[54]

More in tune with Bey's attitudes, many anarchists bring the message to society, rather than wait for society to come to the message. They "jam culture" by declaring their ideas through the medium of T-shirts, buttons, stickers, graffiti, etc. In this fashion, UnAmerican Activities, a T-shirt/sticker "company" in San Francisco, sells their "tools" at cost to help people "matter" by promoting the ideas that motivate their lives. They feel that by challenging the system with their notion of freedom they can overcome the "obstacles to joy" that the system creates.[55]

In addition to simply wearing slogans and messages on T-shirts, buttons, and bumper stickers, anarchists will go for a more public display of these ideas, through the use of graffiti. To an anarchist, graffiti embodies the true ideas of democracy and is the active practice of democracy. In a society where most routes of expression are closed off in the mass media to "alternative" ideas, writing on a wall is sometimes the only way that large numbers of people will ever read what you write or hear what you have to say. Unlike print journalism where you need great writing skills, or television where you need to be attractive and a good speaker, all you need for graffiti is a spraycan or a marker.[56]

The recent surge in the number of pirate radio stations is also a revolt against this inaccessibility to mass media. In the US "licensing costs are in the neighborhood of $250,000 dollars, even for non-profit broadcasters, and frequencies are selling for millions of dollars, beyond the reach of all but the wealthy." So, people with a bit of technical know-how sometimes strike out on their own to produce local-oriented, non-commercial music and alternative radio programs. Also called micro-radio, these pirate radio stations rarely broadcast more than a few miles in radius, and thus emphasize local interests with real people running the radio stations, as opposed to companies like Capstar which is "buying local stations, downsizing workers and turning formerly locally operated stations into robot-controlled profit machines." No one is sure how many pirate stations are operating in the US (due to their illegality and, therefore, low-profiles), but even small towns such as Grand Forks, North Dakota have them.[57]

Adbusters, the coiners of the phrase "Culture Jamming", is a "journal of the mental environment". In their seasonal magazine they "rage against consumer capitalism" and attack the presence of advertising and marketing by creating "spoof ads" and "uncommercials" that poke fun at the techniques which every American is so used to seeing that the true message of advertisting is never questioned. Adbusters champion many projects that challenge this prevalent consumer and advertisement culture, like "Buy Nothing Day", "TV Turn-off Week", "The Big Question at the WTO", "Aim Higher: Commercial-free Schools", and "Revoke Philip Morris' Charter". Their "uncommercials" are 30 second or one minute commercials which challenge normal advertising ideas, with spots such as "The Product is You", "Bull in a China Shop", "Autosaurus", and "Obsession Fetish". Their spoof ads poke fun at the proclaimed "coolness" of smoking, drinking, fashion, body image, transportation, and food.[58]

The best current source for present day and prior anarchist literature is on the Internet. Since it's conception in 1969 and the development of the World Wide Web in 1989, with the use of hypertext transfer protocol through the work of Tim Berners-Lee and CERN (Conseil Europeen pour la Recherche Nucleaire), the Internet has expanded exponentially. Ever since this development of inter-linking writings, images, and ideas together, anarchists have republished classic anarchists works, in addition to writing brand-new works. The amazing thing about the Internet is that it is no longer necessary to track down an ancient copy of a century-year-old pamphlet from bookstores and libraries all over the world, because they are freely disseminated and instantly accessed via the web. The Internet has also enabled and eased the international collaboration of anarchists, and has facilitated the writing of a "Frequently Asked Questions" reference document, which much of this essay is based upon.[59]

Social Movements

From the 19th Century to the early 20th century, the anarchist movement has been actively participating in specific social movements, concerned with dismantling power and authority. Present-day anarchists recognize that such a change is not an immediate event, but a process. Thus, along the way anarchists should make every attempt possible to ease society into a freer form. Since the turbulent 1960's, the anarchist movement, along with the greens and much of the "left", have been active in attempting to make social change. The movements that have involved anarchists may appear varied, but underlying all of them are common threads. In addition, there is the dedication to bypassing authority, increasing freedoms, and enhancing society through a "common morality" that emphasizes treating all the world in a respectful manner.[60]

One of the most prominent anarchist movements (and perhaps most important movement of all history) has been the feminist movement. One of the earliest American feminists, was also an anarchist, Emma Goldman. She was for women's suffrage, access to birth control, free love, pro-choice empowerment, while she spoke out against against forced marriages, subservient roles in households, and the roles forced on women through the laws, culture, and religion. Anarchists observe similarities between the oppression of females and the oppression by class, race, and other factors. The Anarchy FAQ has this to say on "anarcha-feminism":
Anarchism and feminism have shared much common history and a concern about individual freedom, equality and dignity for members of the female sex (although ... anarchists have always been very critical of mainstream/liberal feminism as not going far enough)... Anarcha-feminists point out that authoritarian traits and values, for example, domination, exploitation, aggressiveness, competitiveness, desensitisation etc., are highly valued in hierarchical civilisations and are traditionally referred to as "masculine." In contrast, non-authoritarian traits and values such as co-operation, sharing, compassion, sensitivity, warmth, etc., are traditionally regarded as "feminine" and are devalued. [61]

Closely tied to the anarchist attitudes towards female liberation is the pro-queer attitude. Anarchists see the less aggressive and less macho sexuality of homosexuals to be the main reason they are strategically denied equal political representation in society. Laws like the "Defense of Marriage Act", only exist to deny access to legal rights of gay couples that straight couples enjoy, and anarchists feel that homosexuals need to be liberated from their chains as well.[62]

Radical environmentalists may also be found in the ranks of anarchists. The group, Earth First!, is one facet of a movement that sees many problems with the existing practices in human society. With a rapid decrease in biodiversity, deforestation of rainforests, poisoning of the oceans, upsetting global climate, destruction of the ozone layer, acid rain, massive air and ground pollution, and the fast reduction in water reservoirs, the environment is one thing that will not wait around for humans to solve their problems. As Murray Bookchin says, "[t]he plundering of the human spirit by the market place is paralleled by the plundering of the earth by capital." "Green" anarchists feel that ecological ideas and concerns should play an important role in free development, decentralization, diversity, and spontaneity.[63]

Akin to environmentalism is the stance taken by a portion of anarchists who fight for "animal rights". Often, but not exclusively, this group is a subset of the vegan movement, in which one does not only avoid meat, but also all animal by-products, including eggs, fish, and dairy products. These anarchists, see human use of animals as oppression and exploitation as well, not altogether unlike that of humans. In addition to animal rights, many vegans are motivated by concerns over health, money/cost, and how veganism is more sustainable for a global society, than meat. Food Not Bombs is an anarchist group which encourages the distribution of free food to everyone willing to accept it. They protest militarism, hunger, and poverty by directly providing food relief of vegetarian meals.[64]

One of the most "infamous" books associated with anarchism, which also ironically has very little to do with veganism, is "The Anarchists Cookbook" written by William Powell in 1971. Anarchists see the book as insulting because, in addition to the fact that the book has passed the $25 Million sales mark, it has nothing at all to do with anarchism. They disavow the book and its author's intentions as sophomoric, dangerous, stupid, and often highly inaccurate. Many of the formulas for bombs will end up blowing up the bomber himself and the drug recipes are equally dangerous. The fact that it contains nothing beyond techniques for violence and terror is the main reason that nearly all anarchists distance themselves from it, not to mention that it contains no anarchist theory or ideas. In response to the negative publicity that anarchists often get for their "ideological" link to the book, they decided in 1997 to collectively release a true "Anarchists Cookbook" filled with vegetarian recipes.[65]

As with Food Not Bombs, all anarchists denounce the violence of the state, in its forms of militarism and imperialism. Although disowning the claims by the "Anarchists Cookbook", many anarchists make the distinction between the violence of the oppressor and the violence made out of futility by the oppressed. Thus, although many anarchists are pacifists and oppose all violence, others oppose the military machine of the state and support armed rebellion against it, such as in the Spanish Revolution and the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (indigenous Mayans in revolt in Chiapas, Mexico). Those who do proclaim pure pacifism, such as Leo Tolstoy did, do not make such a distinction between who actually commits the violence. Yet, even those anarchists who are not pacifists "accept the use of violence as a necessary evil and advocate minimising its use". Pacifism within anarchism is often found in an environmental context, as far as civil-disobedience and direct, non-violent action is concerned. Such pacifists feel that "the masters tools cannot dismantle the masters house" and that to succumb to violence is to become the oppressor. Opposing state violence can be accomplished through resistance, direct action, and self-defense, by means of general strikes, the closing of shops, civil disobedience, and sabotage, as opposed to violence which harms other human beings.[66]


48. "A History of Punk", January 1990. Additional history from All Music Guide, "Punk", 1999.

49. Ibid. Early 1980's American bands who were stridently anti-authoritarian: Bad Brains, Bad Religion, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, MDC, Minutemen, Minor Threat, Social Distortion, X.

50. Michael Marciano, "Do It Yourself!", Hartford Advocate, 1996, an article on the recent independent success of Ani DiFranco. Listing of record labels is compiled personal listening habits-- see author for "references".

51. For examples of songs which challenge power structures see (hear?) the following: Black Flag "Police Story" (police brutality), Dead Kennedys "California Über Alles" (corrupt politicians), Minor Threat "Cashing In" (corporate greed), Bad Religion "American Dream" (self-centered consumerism), Gang of Four "Guns Before Butter" (militarism), Minutemen "West Germany" (nationalism/patriotism), Bad Brains "Big Takeover" (unjust moral authorities), CRASS "Reality Asylum" (religious right).

52. Minutemen, "Untitled Song for Latin America", from "Double Nickels on the Dime", SST Records, 1984. Minor Threat, "Out of Step", "Straight Edge", In My Eyes", and "Bottled Violence", all from "Complete Discography", Dischord Records, 1988. Propagandhi, "Fuck Machine", from "How To Clean Everything", Fat Wreck Chords, 1993 and "Less Talk, More Rock" and "Refusing To Be A Man", from "Less Talk More Rock", Fat Wreck Chords, 1996. Also see other viewpoints on Propagandhi's album and the liner notes to "Less Talk, More Rock". G-7 Welcoming Committee at P.O. Box 27006 C-360 Main Street Winnipeg, MB Canada R3C 4T3. Mondragón information can be found online and at 1A-91 Albert Street, Winnipeg, MB Canada R3B 1G5.

53. Hakim Bey, "The Temporary Autonomous Zone Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism", 1985 (anti-copyright), Autonomedia. Specifically "Pirate Utopias" and "Waiting for the Revolution". Creating "pockets" of freedom can be accomplished through many means, such as described in the next 6 notes.

54. AK Press, "About AK Press Distribution". Z Magazine, in addition to being a print magazine, has also transported itself to the Internet as ZNet, which is referred to as "a community of people concerned about social change".

55. Srini Kumar, About Us, from UnAmerican Activities, Last modified, 1999. In a downloadable "Propaganda Kit", a poster jestingly declares: "URGENT: all advertising (this included) is a subtle form of fascism".

56. Graffiti = Democracy observations are personal theories. "Billboard liberation" is also derived from the notion of graffiti-empowerment, in which a pre-existing sign or billboard is modified to portray a message or convey a meaning which the liberator feels is closer to the truth.

57. Radio 4 All, "Don't Let Them NAB Our Airwaves". NAB is the National Association of Broadcasters, is a powerful lobby in the US, and is highly influential with the FCC. Grand Forks has had an operating pirate station since the summer of 1999, frequency 88.3 FM.

58. Kalle Lasn, "The New Activism", Adbusters, July/August 1999, 6-7. Media Foundation, "Adbusters". Additional information on Adbuster's website for campaigns, uncommercials, and spoof ads.

59. Lenny Zeltser, "The World-Wide Web: Origins And Beyond", 1995. Good online classical and modern anarchist collections can be found at "Anarchist Archive" at Claremont Colleges, "Anarchists and Fellow Travelers" from the Culture-Jammer's Encyclopedia, The Mid-Atlantic Infoshop, "Spunk Library", and "Anarchy for Anybody" from Radio 4 All. The FAQ is mirrored at an estimated 9 Internet sites; this is one.

60. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.7 "Why do anarchists argue for self-liberation?", in which it states "Anarchism is based on people 'acting for themselves' (performing what anarchists call 'direct action')".

61. Anarchist FAQ Section A.3.5 "What is anarcha-feminism?". Emma Goldman, "Anarchy and the Sex Question", The Alarm, Sunday, September 27, 1896, p.3. "The Tragedy of Women's Emancipation", from "Anarchism and Other Essays", Second Revised Edition, New York & London: Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1911. 219-231. "Marriage and Love", from "Anarchism and Other Essays", 233-245.

62. James Hutchings, Let's Talk About Sex, Class War, from Spunk Libraries. It also talks about sexual freedoms, pornography, and sexism. The direct tie or the "pro-queer movement" to feminism is a personal observation. Outcry over prevalent homophobia is declared by the pro-queer Propagandhi "Less Talk, More Rock". For other thoughts on homophobia, see Dana Williams (ed.) "Homophobia: Bigotry by any other name, is still Bigotry".

63. Earth First! Journal, "The Problem" and "Why Earth First!?". Earth First! correctly observes that "Clearly, the conservation battle is not one of merely protecting outdoor recreation opportunities; neither is it a matter of elitist aesthetics, nor "wise management and use" of natural resources. It is a battle for life itself, for the continuous flow of evolution.". Anarchist FAQ Section A.3.3 "What kinds of green anarchism are there?". Bookchin quote also cited in FAQ. Another good Bookchin paper is "Anarchism and Ecology", from "The Anarchist Reader", 365-370. Also see Lester R. Brown, Christopher Flavin, Hilary French, et al., "State of the World 1999: The Millennium Edition", New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999 for chapters on energy, forests, plant diversity, oceans, biodiversity, and cities. Earth First! is deeply involved in the movement to save the Headwaters Forest.

64. Propagandhi, "Animals are not biological machines", from liner notes of their album "Less Talk, More Rock". The reasons for being vegan/vegetarian are compiled from conversations and personal observations. Food Not Bombs, What is Food Not Bombs?"

65. Jack Jansen, About the Anarchists Cookbook, Spunk Press, 1997. Additional information can be found in the Anarchist Cookbook FAQ, compiled by Ken Shirriff, 1995. The real "Anarchists Cookbook" information comes from the Anarchist Cookbook Collective, who are compiling food and drink recipes.

66. Anarchist FAQ Section A.3.4 "Is anarchism pacifistic?". Leigh Kendall, Pacifism, from "Anarchism in Australia Today". Good essays on the Spanish Revolution may be found in "Flowers for the Rebels who Failed", Part 5 of "The Anarchist Reader". Information on the EZLN, can be found online (Spanish). Leo Tolstoy's works are good introductions to mixing pacifism with anarchism and identifying the role of the state's violence. Tolstoy was an extremely religious Christian who was excommunicated for preaching what he saw as Christ's true message of peace, forgiveness, and non-violence. FAQ suffers from many bull-headed notions of "violence", and relies less on principle than the Kendall piece. FAQ section A.3.4 is one of the few sections that this author disagrees with.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Correlations ("Anarchism, Part III")


Now that a groundwork for the essential ideas of anarchism have been laid, it is useful to see how they may be directly applied to modern society, and despite the intuition otherwise, the adaptation may not be incredibly difficult. In order to see how anarchist ideas may be integrated, we can compare the tenets of other ideas, such as the notion of "democracy".

Pericles, the Athenian statesman, defined the Athenian constitution by saying "[i]t is called a government of the people [demokratia] because we live in consideration not of the few, but of the majority." Democracy, in western civilization was thus firstly quoted by the Greeks, and thereafter applied as a term to later governments through out the world. And although in the past "democracy" has often been elitist, racist, and often very far from "rule by the majority", it has come to mean any government "by the people".[38]

Since anarchists emphasize the freedom of the individual, they believe that every person should have a say in every facet of their life. When the scope of an individual's life is enlarged to contain a nation or large organization, it is especially important that an individual can submit his/her opinion. If they cannot, any decision that such a large body makes without individual input and opinion will contradict the reason that those individuals belong to the body and will violate their freedoms. It is for this reason that anarchists state that only via democracy can individuals successfully control an organization of any type without violating others rights and freedoms.[39]

Democracy within an anarchist frame contains many elements that present society does not often consider. The primary instance of this is anarchist's preference of direct democracy over representative democracy. Representative democracy can be found in nearly all countries declared to be "democratic" in the form of parliaments, congresses, or some form of committee. In these cases, the vast majority of the people surrender their opinions to their representative, who is expected to act within the law and policy making bodies according to their wishes. It is obscenely misleading to assume that this happens well, or that representatives will always respect the initiative from their constituency.[40]

With direct democracy the intent is to include all individuals in all decision-making situations, with full capacity to affect outcomes. A referendum is an example of direct democracy. In this light, all voting may be seen as a form of direct democracy, although often most voting is done to select a representative for a government position. Yet, the referendum does not select a single person to represent everyone, but determines the majority's desire on a certain issue or question. So, "direct democratic voting on policy decisions within free associations is the political counterpart of free agreement". The key is that the voting exists in a context of free associations. Thus, if someone is forced to vote on something that they don't wish to be a part of in the first place, it is not democratic, nor is giving them only two choices from which they must pick, while neither is preferable.[41]

The easiest way to facilitate a functional organization with direct democracy without it being unwieldy or constantly deadlocked is to form into associations which take certain actions generally agreed upon by all members. One person equals one vote in such a group, and with a group that is not overly large, voting can avoid the problems of massive disagreement that huge organizations have. Thus, to anarchists the way to achieve direct democracy is through smaller collective groups. Yet, they caution against going so far that consensus is required, whereas that can be coercive within itself, forcing everyone to agree upon everything at all times. Even within groups where dissent exists in the minority it is possible to respect that disagreement and make concessions to handle that minority through percentage-based solutions and the like. To anarchists, that diversity and dissent should be celebrated and negotiated with not condemned and suppressed. The downside to small collectives is that they cannot often accomplish large tasks or meet wider-ranging goals. This problem may be best dealt with by the collective entering into associations with other collective to increase their problem solving capacity.[42]

Direct democracy leads to direct action in which the people who decide to do something do it themselves or directly aid those who do it, to allow individuals to ensure that the outcome results from their input and decisions. Voltairine De Cleyre states that:
Every person who ever had a plan to do anything, and went and did it, or who laid his plan before others, and won their co-operation to do it with him, without going to external authorities to please do the thing for them, was a direct actionist. All co-operative experiments are essentially direct action.[43]


Another important comparison to make is one of humanism to anarchy, whereupon another close connection is found. "Humanism" is defined as "a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values; a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual's dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason". In this definition the opposition to authority is seen in the rejection of "supernaturalism" (which can include any leader who props him/herself up since they are "superior"), while emphasizing everyone's freedom and abilities.[44]

According to Frederick Edwords, of the American Humanist Association, humanism is a philosophy for those who think for themselves, and use reason and science in the pursuit of knowledge. It is a philosophy of compassion, and works to meet human needs and answer human problems. He asserts:
Humanism is, in sum, a philosophy for those in love with life. Humanists take responsibility for their own lives and relish the adventure of being part of new discoveries, seeking new knowledge, exploring new options. Instead of finding solace in prefabricated answers to the great questions of life, Humanists enjoy the open-endedness of a quest and the freedom of discovery that this entails.[45]

This idea of relying on logic, rejecting authorities, emphasizing social interaction, and working on human problems is directly akin to anarchism's goals. In fact, many anarchists readily call themselves humanists as well, such as Peter Kropotkin. For such people "socialism" is not simply an economic attitude, but a way of conduct and community interaction. Daniel Guérin wrote that "[a]narchism is really a synonym for socialism. The anarchist is primarily a socialist whose aim is to abolish the exploitation of man by man." Humanism is also directly synonymous to anarchism; it emphasizes the priority of individual human needs and those of human society over the needs of "civilization" or what leaders dictate.[46]

According to Kropotkin, "the interactions between individuals does develop into a social maxim which ... [may] be summarised as 'Is it useful to society? Then it is good. Is it hurtful? Then it is bad.'" To anarchists and humanists, unethical behavior is essentially "anything that denies the most precious achievement of history: the liberty, uniqueness, and dignity of the individual".[47]


38. Portland State University, "Ancient Greek Politics between 515 and 450 B.C. in Athens", Thucydides quoting Pericles' funeral oration for the men who died in the Peloponnesian War. Democracy's past problems are simply drawn from a variety of nation's histories, including the United States. Merrian-Webster's WWW Dictionary for definition.

39. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.9. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, "Parliamentary Isolation", from "The Anarchist Reader", 110-111.

40. Ibid.

41. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.11 and Michael Bakunin, "The Illusion of Universal Suffrage", from "The Anarchist Reader", 108-110.

42. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.11 and Anarchy FAQ Section A.2.12 "Is consensus an alternative to direct democracy?" The assertion that a percentage-based solution may be sought and is feasible is personally observed and practiced.

43. Voltairine De Cleyre, "Direct Action", from the Spunk Library. De Cleyre's optimism for direct action is echoed by Noam Chomsky: "If you assume that there's no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, [that] there are opportunities to change things, [then] there's a chance you may contribute to making a better world. The choice is yours."

44. Merriam-Webster's WWW Dictionary.

45. Frederick Edwords, "What is Humanism?", 1989. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.19 "What ethical views do anarchists hold?"

46. Daniel Guérin, "Anarchism: from theory to practice", New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.19.

47. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.19. Kropotkin quote starts "Is it useful...", the rest of citation is taken from the FAQ's text.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What Anarchism Is ("Anarchism, Part II")


Anarchist thinking can be embodied in the context of individual freedom and a social attitude. Thus, anarchists "place a high priority on liberty, desiring it both for themselves and others. They also consider individuality-- that which makes a unique person-- to be the most important aspect of humanity." In addition to this is the truth that the individual does not exist within a vacuum, but is a member of a social phenomenon. Both society and the individual require each other to grow, evolve, and develop.[20]

This symbiosis is what allows the human race to function. Society is made up of human individuals, and it gains its importance and dynamicism from that relationship. In the same fashion, the individual gains self-worth from society and the other things that allows one to live a highly functional life.[21]

Like many philosophies, ideologies, or parties, anarchists are "anti" towards certain things; they are anti-authority, anti-oppression, anti-control, anti-hierarchy, and anti-state. The way these terms are defined, of course, could change the attitude of an anarchist. If the "state" becomes something in which all people simply associate within freely and work out problems, then the authority and oppressive elements would be gone, and thus not something they would oppose.[22]

For an individual to develop to the fullest extent possible, it is necessary for the society to be based upon three basic principles: liberty, equality, and solidarity. All three of these are interdependent and must rely on traits of the others to be full and complete. For instance, to be totally liberated, all must have equal opportunity and help each other to remain liberated. Just as, in order to be united, all must be equal in the treatment of others and free to associate or disassociate, and so on.[23]

Many people see a contradiction in the emphasis placed upon individualism and the greater population, and see it as an irreconcilable difference. However, in truth, the relationship between the two is highly linked and inseparable, and just as ignoring the entire structure of an automobile is foolish, so is ignoring the individual components that define it as a car: the tires, engine, drive shaft, radiator, clutch, etc. The society at large is not a colorless formation, but a multi-colored conglomeration and without its individual members, it is nothing. Reciprocally, the individual contributes to society since his/her own interests are enhanced by the same efforts and in the process adds the flavor and personality that would otherwise render a society into simply a "bunch of people who live in the same place".[24]

So how do anarchists think this interaction does/should take place? They see a number of factors that contribute to the individual and community solidarity: voluntary association, confederation, unions, free expression, free will, cooperation amongst equals, social equality, and the removal of authority which creates tiers in society. Tiers are simple hierarchy that promotes one individual over another, and often for reasons that are marginal and with results that are exploitative.[25]

Solidarity means "working voluntarily and cooperatively with others who share the same goals and interests". Solidarity may be accomplished through a variety of "schemes", such as confederations, unions, co-ops, all of which accomplish essentially the same thing. They strive to achieve a common purpose and they are structured so that everyone has an equal say in how they operate. People can join and leave freely as soon as the goals agree or disagree with the individual's goals. That way it is assured that the group cannot control an individual and the individual is assured that the group does not incorrectly speak for them.[26]

Social equality and the free will of individuals are of extreme importance in all of this. Social equality does not mean equality of outcome or equality of endowment, it means that everyone has an equal voice and stake in everything they do. Equality of outcome would mean that everyone has the same goods, the same kind of house, wears the same clothes, etc. and equality of endowment is when individuals all have the same skills and traits, which would also create a truly boring world. Social equality allows individuals to be individuals and retain their freedoms and uniqueness. Only equals can work together, free from exploitation.[27]

Economic Attitude

Like socialists, anarchists see the capitalist/mercantilist system as inherently unfair, cruel, and authoritarian, and thus oppressive. While the capitalist heralds the benefits of competition, he at the same time demands from the state a high level of welfare in the form of high tariffs, subsidies, government/military contracts, and low taxes. Eugene V. Debs correctly observed:
No successful capitalists wants competition-- for himself-- he only wants it for the working class, so that he can buy his labor power at the lowest competitive price in the labor market.[28]

Little has fundamentally changed since Debs' 1904 comments, except that the exploitation has been, if anything, internationalized and increased. 20.5% of American children (under 18) are living in poverty. Wealth inequality in 1989 (the last year that statistics were available) was at a 60-year high and the "top 1 percent of wealth holders controlled 39 percent of total household wealth."[29]

David C. Korten remarks that while from 1992 to 1995 the 500 largest corporations grew 20% annually, the average worker's salary, benefits, and wages only increased 2.7%, the smallest increase on record. He further states:
The disparities in this competition have become truly obscene. In 1960 the annual compensation of the average CEO of a major US. company was 40 times that of the average worker. In 1992 it was 157 times as much. The average CEO of a large corporation now receives an annual compensation package of more than $3.5 million-- their reward for growing company profits by destroying millions of jobs.[30]

This continued exploitation is facilitated by private property that concentrates wealth in the hands of a shrinking minority. Wealth is power, and it restrains the majority of society, thus making it enslaved to a much smaller piece of the pie. Anarchists want to see an end to this enslavement, perhaps through the dissolvement of inheritance and private property. They question what "right" a child born into a rich family has that supersedes the "rights" of a child born into poverty, and thus the near guarantee of lifetime affluence and lifetime poverty, respectively.[31]

Political Attitude

Authority assumes two main forms: economic (as previously mentioned) in the form of private property and political authority, mainly embodied by the state. In many places in the world, the US included, power is highly centralized on a national level, which decreases the power of local communities and their freedoms. Anarchists are in favor of decentralization that would allow local communities to have the freedom to emphasize their priorities over that of the larger state.[32]

The state, often driven by monetary interests, does not always follow the "will of the people", as it is intended to do within democracy. When the state devises laws that take away the freedoms of individuals, people have the right, if not obligation, to protest such laws. In this respect, disobedience is a direct facilitator of greater freedoms because it forces the state to recognize it's "mistakes" and remove its oppressive laws. Obedience to restraining and unjust laws is an act that leads to more restriction, and potential enslavement. Thus, when injustice becomes law, resistance becomes a duty to all people.[33]

When the state commits acts of aggression against other states, be they declared wars or "disputes", the people of the state are expected to fall in line behind the state, and assume that their state is justified in all of its actions. Most, however, can see that this is rarely the case and that when states become aggressors, they lose their innocence. According to anarchists, citizens of a state involved in conflict with another state should not blindly follow their state, blindly agree with its actions, or swallow all of its propaganda. Patriotism lessens freedom as it coerces individuals to make decisions not based upon personal exploration and analysis, but upon state dogma.[34]

Anarchists, like all libertarians, see the military draft or compulsory military service as slavery, and think that there is no reason to fight other fellow human beings under the order of a state. The draft is an attempt by the state to align its citizens behind its flag and intentions, by force if necessary. It creates an attitude of belligerence and self-righteousness amongst a people who are told that "might makes right" and that they are better than other states. Yet, the act of military defense itself often creates a moral dilemma, as revolutionary pacifist A.J. Muste noted after WWII:
The problem after a war is with the victor. He thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay. Now who will teach him a lesson?[35]

In following with the rejection of the state's oppression, anarchists also reject the oppression of Marxist and communist governments, specifically those that stem from the esthetic of the Bolshevik Revolution. Nearly all the anarchists denounced the "revolution" that occurred in Russia in October 1917 because they saw the Vanguard Party as simply an elitist group that gained power and immediately curbed their "lofty goals" as they entrenched themselves to retain power. They dismantled the factory councils set up in prior months (after the popular revolution) and worked to "convert the workforce into what they called a 'labor army' under the command of the leader". Bakunin predicted that the Marxist intellectuals would be unwilling to distribute power amongst the non-intellectual classes, which is exactly what happened in the Soviet Union, as it became a model of "grinding state capitalism".[36]

In the critique of so-called "people's revolutions", the punk band CRASS sang the following lyrics in their 1980 song "Bloody Revolutions":
Romanticize your heroes, quote from Marx and Mao
But their ideas of freedom are just oppression now
Nothing's changed for all the death that their ideas created
It's just the same fascistic games, but the rules aren't clearly stated
Nothing's really different, 'cos all government's the same
They can call it freedom, but slavery's the game[37]


20. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2 "What does anarchism stand for?"

21. Peter Kropotkin, "Anarchist Morality". Specifically relevant are Sections IV and V.

22. From general anarchist readings. These attitudes drawn from a multitude of sources, such as the FAQ and "Anarchosyndicalism".

23. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2, also Anarchy FAQ Section A.2.2.

24. Erico Malatesta, "Mutual Aid-- an essay" From "Malatesta: Life and Ideas", Verne Richards, editor. London: Freedom Press, 1965. Also, parts of Murray Bookchin "Anarchism: Past and Present", Vol. 1, No. 6 of Comment: New Perspectives in Libertarian Thought, 1980. Analogy to a car is self-created. The "bunch of people" line is just an oft-heard saying to define a community, a "definition" which doesn't really get at the true essence of a "community".

25. All summarized with Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.

26. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.3 "Are anarchists in favour of organisation?" and Section A.2.6. Also Emma Goldman "The Individual, Society, and the State", a pamphlet sponsored by the Free Society Forum.

27. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.5 "Why are anarchists in favour of equality?" This idea translates into similar notions of equality in society, such as equal treatment under the law by all people of different genders, races, classes, sexual orientations, religions, and handicaps.

28. Randolph T. Holhut "The Real Welfare Cheats: Corporate America". Eugene Debs, "Unionism & Socialism" from "American Political Thought", 363.

29. Institute for Research on Poverty, "How many children are poor", citing Bureau of the Census, Press Briefing on 1996 Income Poverty and Health Insurance Estimates, 1996. Twentieth Century Fund, "Wealth Inequality in the United States Leads the World and the Gap Here Is Widening", 1995.

30. David C. Korten, "Economic Myths", from "When Corporations Rule the World", West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press, 1995.

31. Anarchist FAQ Sections A.2.2 and A.2.12 "Why is voluntarism not enough?"

32. Peter Marshall, as cited in Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.2. Anarchy FAQ Section A.2.9 "What sort of society do anarchists want?" discusses the need for decentralization and free association.

33. Howard Zinn, "Failure to Quit: Reflections of an Optimistic Historian", Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1993, chapter "The Problem is Civil Obedience", 43-52. Also see Henry David Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience" as cited in Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.4 in which he states: "Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves." The quote "...when injustice becomes law" taken from a sign which appeared in a picture of an anarchist convention.

34. Emma Goldman, "Patriotism, a menace to Liberty", from Spunk Library 1911.

35. Leo Tolstoy, "Resistance to Military Service", from "The Anarchist Reader", 204-208. Muste quote is cited in Howard Zinn "A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present", New York: Harper-Perennial Library, 1995, 416. Additional ideas are found in Randolph Bourne, "War is the Health of the State", from "The Anarchist Reader", 98-103, where he suggests that modern states thrive economically and politically by preying on other states.

36. Noam Chomsky, "Socialism, real and fake", from "What Uncle Sam Really Wants", Berkley: Odonian Press, 1992. Also see Emma Goldman, "The Failure of the Russian Revolution", from "The Anarchist Reader", 153-162, where she remarks: "in its mad passion for power, the Communist State even sought to strengthen and deepen the very ideas and conceptions which the Revolution had come to destroy." Quote of "...grinding state capitalism" from Rudolph Rocker "Ideology of Anarchism".

37. CRASS, "Bloody Revolutions" from the split 7" single with the Poison Girls, 1980, on CRASS Records; also appears on "Best Before 1984" compilation, 1984 also on CRASS Records. CRASS was also fond of the slogan: "Fight war not wars; destroy power not people".

Monday, November 8, 2010

Myths of Anarchism ("Anarchism, Part I")

[This is the introduction to a very ambitious paper I wrote in 1999--my first essay on anarchism--that contains all the signs of my writing at the time: creative-"extending" of the English language, bubbling enthusiasm/cheer-leading, an undergraduate-esque desire to impress even when going beyond the grasp of my own understanding, and (what appears to be) the desire to assault the reader with torrents of argumentation. Even given its problems (sorry, I've retained all the wince-inducing-grammar), this is still pretty good... and it still resonates with my analysis today. More of this treatise to come...]

Anarchy, n:
The worst fear of every politician. A nightmare situation in which institutionalized violence, coercion, and extortion are replaced by free association, voluntary cooperation, and mutual aid. Fortunately, governments the world over maintain secret police, informers, provocateurs, torturers, prisons, execution chambers, and herds of obedient men armed with weapons of mass destruction to guard against this dreadful possibility.

- Chaz Bufe[1]

Power and Authority

Anarchism's casual association with chaos and violence is as unfortunate as the predominate Western-associations of socialism to totalitarianism and the often male-voiced association of feminism to man hating. These generalizations and broad assumptions do a great disservice to the debate over such subjects and work to eliminate discussion before it even takes place.[2]

Taking the word "anarchy" literally, as most anarchists do, it simply means "without authority". The root of the word "archy" means "rule" and the "a" prefix, means "lack of" or "without". It implies nothing to do with chaos or violence unless one assumes that chaos and violence can only be avoided via authoritarian structures, which history has proven to not be the case. In this day and age, however, there is a stigmatism that follows all dictionaries and walks of life that uses the word "anarchy" as the semantical equivalent of "disorder", "chaos", and "terror".[3]

Anarchy's primary concern is with the relationship of power within society and its effect upon human freedom. Anarchists view authority and the power it wields to be coercive and oppressive, because it subjects people to the whim of others without consent of those subjugated.[4]

Authority exists in many facets of society and anarchists argue that all of these should have their legitimacy challenged and removed. Authorities can be found within the all levels of government, private corporations, military structures, religious institutions, and within different social groupings, including intimate relationships, families, and neighborhoods.[5]

Noam Chomsky on anarchy and how people should deal with authority:
Anarchism... is an expression of the idea that the burden of proof is always on those who argue that authority and domination are necessary. They have to demonstrate, with powerful argument, that that conclusion is correct. If they cannot, then the institutions they defend should be considered illegitimate. How one should react to illegitimate authority depends on circumstances and conditions: there are no formulas.[6]

Thus, anarchism is the attitude of wanting to identify the oppressive powers at work in people's lives, and work to increase human freedom, usually through the decrease or removal of that authority. Many anarchists believe that all forms of authority are illegitimate and harmful, and therefore should be removed. Others feel that they should be challenged in, and only the ones that serve a great and mutually-agreeable function within society should be allowed to remain. For example, if a child is walking out into a busy street, many anarchists feel that exerting themselves physically to overpower that child is justifiable. But, often force and coercion are restrictive, not protective, of human freedom.[7]


Anarchists have often been seen as violent people who throw bombs and assassinate others. It is very true that some anarchists have done this. Then again, so have many other groups within societies done similar things, including socialists and Marxists, not to mention conservative elements and established powers whose violence is often officially condoned.[8]

Anarchism, as an idea, has been rigorously derided as an idea through-out the world for its association to a violent minority within its ranks, but most importantly, because of the threat it poses to power and privilege everywhere in the world.[9]

So, although some anarchists have used violence to expand their cause (often in the "propaganda by deed" period of the anarchist movement), many decry all forms of violence and coercion, seeing it simply as another form of control over others, and therefore no different than oppressive authorities. Most anarchists do, however, recognize that force and assertiveness are often necessary, but nearly all stop short of condoning violence. As many are fond of saying, "true anarchists aren't terrorists".[10]

They challenge the notion of "terrorism" itself, asserting that actions are often viewed in the mainstream, especially media, only as terrorism if they are performed by official enemies. Thus, when "friends", "associates", or the state commit atrocities against people it is seen as "justified" and "necessary". A good example of this practice as it is done by the US government can be seen when Turkey (a country that the US is friendly towards) commits atrocities against its Kurdish population, the US turns the other way, yet when Iraq (a country that the US is hostile towards) commits similar atrocities against its Kurds, it is met by harsh criticism and condemnation. Turkey is "handling domestic problems" and Iraq is "committing terrorism against its population". An anarchist views both as wrong and rightfully decries both as terrorism.[11]

Human Nature

As an idea, anarchism (and similarly socialism and communism) is attacked and discredited because many feel (especially in the West) that people aren't "nice enough" to treat others well without authority figures and that it goes against "human nature". The abstraction of "human nature" derives itself from Social Darwinism (now considered an antiquated idea), which expresses essentially the same thing: that people are by nature competitive, Evil, and will go to any lengths to win or beat others.[12]

Taken at face value, this could be a plausible hypothesis. Surely, some of these symptoms apply to our society in many ways. Yet, humans can be generally described as anything one would like to-- "bad", "good", "greedy", "kind", "selfish", "humble", "disrespectful", "noble", etc. Labeling all people to be some certain way, is a dangerous thing. Certainly not all humans are the same, and it would be foolish to assert something like that. Yet, many do, saying that humans are by nature competitive.[13]

Anarchists, in addition to others, disagree with this for a number of reasons. People are capable of working together in groups for absolutely no personal gain. They participate in community projects that share their resources for the betterment of all. They donate to charities, spend time caring for children, the elderly, the poor. In 1902, Peter Kropotkin, a Russian aristocrat turned natural scientist, wrote "Mutual Aid", in which he argues that it is the characteristic of cooperation that facilitates the advancement of society, as opposed to competition. He studied the interaction of animals, "savages", barbarians, the medieval cities of Europe, and civilization at the turn of 20th century. He came to the conclusion that by working together individuals achieve protection, attain older ages, accumulate experience and learning, higher intellectual development, further sociable habits, and secure the continuance of the species and its future maintenance.[14]

This does interplay with the notion of competition, but not on an individual basis. If "competition" does exist, it exists in the respect of the species itself against the hardships of the natural environment, against problems within society, and to come up with the best solutions to benefit all.[15]

Albert Einstein, who was not an anarchist, gave his observations on the concept of cooperation and competition:
Darwin's theory of the struggle for existence and the selectivity connected with it has by many people been cited as authorization of the encouragement of the spirit of competition. Some people also in such a way have tried to prove pseudoscientifically the necessity of the destructive economic struggle of competition between individuals. But this is wrong, because man owes his strength in the struggle for existence to the fact that he is a socially living animal. As little as a battle between ants of an ant hill is essential for survival, just so little is this the case with the individual members of a human community.[16]

Mutual aid is also a useful characteristic as it facilitates the ability for people to unite together against oppressive systems and authorities. This solidarity is a way for people to work to remove authorities and advance larger individual freedoms. Also, this notion of mutual aid is the means that a society can function more freely and with the interaction and participation of all.[17]

Anarchism, then is a collaboration between the desire to expand personal freedom and the recognition that only through mutual aid and working together can people become free. Therefore, these combined premises show that anarchy cannot be at all analogous with chaos, since an "order" must exist within society for people to be free. Chaos is the absence of order, and order most definitely exists within an anarchical frame of mind, although it is not coercive and top-down like authority is.[18]

People within a free society need to recognize the rights of others as well as exercising their own. Members of such a society recognize that their actions can adversely effect others around them, and need to work to make sure that they are not restricting the rights of others. While someone smoking in a small room is practicing his/her right to smoke, they do not have the right to infringe on the rights of others by polluting others' lungs with smoke. Thus, even though smokers have the right to smoke, they shouldn't around others who don't want them to. Those who smoke must realize this relationship, and not do it. This may be accomplished without any outside or higher-up authority dictating it.[19]


1. Chaz Bufe, "The American Heretic's Dictionary", an inclusion within "The Devil's Dictionaries", Tuscon, Arizona: See Sharp Press, 1995.

2. Various authors and editors, "An Anarchist FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) Version 7.8". Section A.1 "What is anarchism?" The FAQ is undoubtedly British in origin, judging by the spelling of certain English words.

3. Merrian-Webster's WWW Dictionary for etymology. Other definitions drawn from Webster's Dictionary 1996 and Fast-Times Political Dictionary 1998. Interesting to note, however is a 1966 definition from The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (Unabridged Edition) on "anarchist": a believer in voluntary association as the most satisfactory means of organizing society. Terror or chaos is not even mentioned. Analysis from Anarchist FAQ Section A.1.1 "What does 'anarchy' mean?"

4. Rudolph Rocker, "Anarchosyndicalism". Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd., 1938.

5. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.2 "Why do anarchists emphasise liberty?" The ideas of religion and family as potentially authoritarian structures derive from statements and acknowledgments made by Michael Bakunin ("God and the State", Chapter II) and Noam Chomsky ("Anarchism, Marxism and Hope for the Future", from the Chomsky Archives) respectively.

6. Noam Chomsky, "Noam Chomsky on Anarchism". Edited by Tom Lane, from the Chomsky Archives. December 23, 1996.

7. Michael Bakunin, as cited in Anarchist FAQ Section B.1 "Why are anarchists against authority and hierarchy?" The legitimacy of authority is heavily discussed in Anarchist FAQ Section B "Why do anarchists oppose the current system?" (et al). The "child in the street" example comes from "Anarchism, Marxism, and Hope".

8. Peter Kropotkin, "Anarchism and Violence", from "The Anarchist Reader", Sussex, England: The Harvester Press Ltd., 1977, edited by George Woodcock, 184-185.

9. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.18 "Do anarchists support terrorism?"

10. Ibid. and Warren Lerner, "A History of Socialism and Communism in Modern Times", Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1994, 46-50. Here there is a very short discussion of anarchists and the terror that is credited to them. "Propaganda by deed" is mentioned as well as some superficial associations with the Haymarket Square Massacre, and the assassinations of Alexander II, James Garfield, and William McKinley.

11. Alexander Berkman, "The Violence of the Lawful World", taken from "The Anarchist Reader", 185-187. The application of the term "terrorism" is applied from "The American Heretic's Dictionary" definition of "bomb": a means of persuasion. When employed by those in power, its use is customarily termed 'in the national interest', and those who use it are customarily described as 'tough' and 'courageous'. When employed by those out of power, its use is customarily termed 'terrorism', and those who employ it are customarily described as 'ruthless' and 'cowardly'. The US's attitude on Turkey and Iraq is drawn from the mainstream media, which can be observed from the articles, 06/28/99 "Grieving Turks call for Ocalan's death" and 08/18/99 "U.S. pushing war crimes charges against Iraq's Saddam Hussein". Also, relevant to the terrorist state discussion is Noam Chomsky, "Deterring Democracy", New York: Hill & Wang, 1991, 193-194.

12. Emma Goldman, "Anarchism: What It Really Stands For" from Sue Davis, "American Political Thought: Four Hundred Years of Ideas and Ideologies". Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1996, p373 and Albert Einstein, "Why Socialism?" from Leo Huberman and Paul M. Sweezy, "Introduction to Socialism". New York: Modern Reader, 1968, 14-15.

13. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.15 "What about Human Nature?"

14. Peter Kropotkin, "Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution". Originally published 1902. His areas of study are broken down by chapter in "Mutual Aid", with his findings summarized in the Conclusion chapter.

15. Personal observations of working on teams, in large groups, and as a community. In such cases the "opponent" is only the problem at hand, not each other.

16. Albert Einstein, from an address in Albany, NY, October 15, 1936.

17. Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.6 "Why is solidarity important to anarchists?"

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid. and Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.11 "Why are most anarchists in favour of direct democracy?" The latter tackles the idea of "self-restraint" which is nothing more than common respect for others, in a community sustainability sense. Public smoking example is personally created, yet adapted from Anarchist FAQ Section A.2.4 "Are anarchists in favour of 'absolute' liberty?"

Friday, November 5, 2010

Social Capital in Anarchist Movements

[Rough draft of an essay originally written in the Spring of 2005. I've since updated and expanded it.]

French sociologist Touraine (1981) argued that social movements are a mandatory, if not central, component to the discipline of sociology. Consequently, the questions “What created the dominant social patterns and institutions of this world?”, “Who resists them?” and “How?” are of primary importance for the study of society and social movements. The potential answers to these questions are what makes social capital theory exciting, herein illustrated by the example of contemporary anarchist movements. The various forms of social capital theorized by James S. Coleman may help shed light on the answers to the above questions. For those lacking economic and financial capital, social capital is a key means to not only individual agency, but also social change, particularly within social movement organizations (SMOs). Social capital theory applied to social movements suggests that the common denominator of any movement is usually its raw, collective people power—both bodies and minds.[1]

Sociologists and activists alike have long debated the degree to which social action is facilitated by agency or restricted by social structure. For Coleman (1988), social capital is one clear means of agency and is created by people within the relationships they share. “[S]ocial capital is productive making possible the achievement of certain ends that in its absence would not be possible… Unlike other forms of capital, social capital inheres it the structure or relations between actors and among actors” (p. S98). Coleman describes (1988) three important forms social capital can take: (1) trust, (2) information channels, and (3) norms and sanctions. Seen through these varieties, it is clear that social capital is an important “thing” created within social movements. This conception of social capital is akin to a particular operationalization of social resources, as described by resource mobilization theory (Edwards & McCarthy 2004); the very strength of movements themselves may derive from the accumulation—and application—of social capital (in other words, movements build social capital as a resource and then mobilize when appropriate). According to Coleman (1988), individually-useful resources like human capital (e.g. knowledge, skills, credentials) necessitate the acquisition and deployment of social capital in order to make an impact. In other words, people need each other in order to pursue their own private ends. Taken to its logical conclusion, social capital helps people working in movement organizations, groups, and networks to acquire collective power that they would not possess as mere individuals.

The first form of Coleman’s (1988) social capital is trust, which can facilitate the exchange of expectation and obligation. The ties between individuals are stronger when there is greater expectation—people know they can rely upon others to follow-through on important, required tasks. Stronger ties foster a more intense sense of obligation, as friends, comrades, fellow participants, and activists feel they have to support each other. This obligation may appear to be rooted in common values, shared experiences, or promises. Curiously, social capital is an unspoken component of the anarchist theory and practice of “mutual aid”: the free exchange of physical, monetary, or political support with the expectation that others will in-turn support them if and when necessary. Movements that encourage the practice of mutual aid are likely to have greater social capital and the more likely people are to trust one another. Trust is particularly useful in revolutionary movements where the risk of state repression is highest. Part of this deep trust is represented in the willingness to plan possibly illegal actions—property destruction against corporate property, blockading military depots, sabotaging logging equipment, supporting wildcat strikes, or unpermitted marches—with each other and assume that sensitive information will not be conveyed to anyone else, whether loose-lipped friends or law enforcement. Sharing secrets is important in radical movements and anti-authoritarian direct action plans tend to be kept strictly within circles that are part of the planning. A key example of such trust is that found within the SMO called an “affinity group”, small grouping composed exclusively of people who know, trust, and share common identities with each other. Affinity groups are similar to families, but deliberately built around political commitments that may engage in contentious and challenging activities—such as in a militant protest or other direct action—that require strong trust and support from one's affinity group.

Coleman’s (1988) second form of social capital, information channels, also leads to the empowerment of social movements. Social capital is fostered and accumulated when activists create and regularly exercise communication through radical information channels. As the networks of communication broaden within movements, it is easier for those movements to understand the obstacles they face. Even within geographically diffuse networks, people may remain in contact through telecommunications and Internet technologies, such as cell phones, email listserves, and groupware (which facilitate organizational decision-making via democratic and collective methods[2]). Activists rely upon each other to gather important information, such as on-the-ground observations about the layout of a city's downtown area, useful for planning a protest, civil disobedience, or other direct action. If one's comrades know whom to contact from other communities, this is valuable information in the search for allies and broader solidarity. Most importantly, anarchist networks are premised upon the free access to information, whether it is mere data, facts, analysis, ideas, or theory. Consequently, anarchists place an emphasis on lowering the cost to information (via free ‘zines, leaflets, internet essay archives, or guerrilla radio programs), the democratic creation of movement analyses (such as with the Independent Media Center model), and mass distribution of news (for example, the A-Infos News Service and accompanying free radio project). To the extent that these information channels permeate every sector of the anarchist movement, the more likely participants will be highly-engaged in important movement debates and theorizing, will have up-to-date understanding of current events and movement activity, and will feel a sense of unity with each other. The quality of information people can acquire in these networks will determine the level of social capital and thus influence the potential of movement personnel's ability to achieve their goals. Movements can aspire to accomplish their goals by wielding information as a tool to combat ignorance, confusion, censorship, and seclusion.

The final social capital form is manifested in social norms, which facilitate certain actions while constraining other. If a movement norm exists that calls on participants to help each other out, even in extreme situations, then the movement will be stronger. Norms can facilitate social capital in all manner of situations. For example, if a fellow demonstrator is being placed under arrest by a police officer during a physically confrontational protest, an anarchist norm often suggests that other demonstrators should assist the person facing arrest. When using “black bloc” tactics, the norm of “unarresting” exists, where demonstrators physically pull such an arrestee away from police officers, removing that demonstrator from police “custody”. If the unarresting is successful, the person is pulled deeper into the bloc’s ranks and helped to disappear from police surveillance. This anarchist norm contributes to the social capital of all participants, as they understand that others will “have their back”. The norms—and potential sanctions—lobbied against those who deviate from these expectations within SMOs help to create and sustain a radical culture of both internal and external criticism. For instance, acting in the interest of the collective is often a SMO norm. As mentioned earlier, if illegal activities (civil disobedience, direct action, property destruction, etc.) are potentialities for the anarchist movement, participants tend to make broad, general statements in support of such actions, but withhold relevant details from individuals not within one’s own affinity group. This norm of “security culture” prevents law enforcement from gaining accurate or useful information about an organization or action. To violate this norm, would result in informal sanctions from other anarchists. A “loose-lipped” individual is unlikely to be trusted as much in the future, will be educated and pressured by others to understand the accompanying risks of sharing private information, and perhaps asked to leave the organization. A regular violation of such a norm (especially by multiple individuals) is apt to harm the social relations upon which social capital rests. For example, intervention by government and corporate actors (in the form of subversion, spying, and disruption) is more successful when the security culture norm is weak or nonexistent. Thus, sanctions are important strategies to improving adherence to important movement norms.

Social capital can also be generalizable. Thus, the social capital acquired by a particular movement can benefit members within an entire social category. For example, the feminist movement benefits all women in society, not just participants in that movement. Civil rights movements benefit the members of all disadvantaged groups (such as racial, ethnic, or religious minorities), not just those who populate civil rights organizations. Gains by anarchist movements—to expand the domains of freedom, to challenge the legitimacy of hierarchical institutions, to create alternative institutions founded on radical values—indirectly benefit others in a society who can use such accomplishments for themselves (this extension may or may not actually enhance social capital itself, for everyone, though, but maybe just its immediate benefits). Thus, social capital’s benefits are different from physical and human capital where benefits are enjoyed only by those who invest in such capital forms.[3]

Since organizations are arguably one of the most important scales of analysis for studying social movements (McCarthy and Zald 1977), it is reasonable to try applying social capital to SMOs. To my delight, but not necessarily surprise, some scholars have already begun to do so, with exciting results (Smith 1998, Paxton 2002, Mayer 2003). Thus, the breadth of social capital theory offers great opportunities to assist in understanding social movements and SMOs. Also, anarchist movements might want to seriously consider how to improve their social capital in order to improve their chances of goal-achievement.

[1] The importance of mass participation is noted in the work of Charles Tilly, where he emphasizes the importance of WUNC: worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment (Tilly 2004).
[2] The Riseup Collective's “CrabGrass” software project is a prime example.
[3] This, of course, introduces the problems of free-riding (see Olson 1965), which may be overcome by value-driven action as opposed to purely “rational” action, social pressures to participate, small-sized groups, and a fair and even distribution of collectives goods in society.

* Coleman, James. 1988. “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital”. American Journal of Sociology, 94: S95-S120.
* Edwards, Bob and John D. McCarthy. 2004. “Resources and Social Movement Mobilization”. Pp. 116-152 in The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements, edited by D.A. Snow, S.A. Soule, & H. Kriesi. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
* Mayer, Margit. 2003. “The Onward Sweep of Social Capital: Causes and Consequences for Understanding Cities, Communities, and Urban Movements”. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 27 (1): 110-132.
* McCarthy, John D. and Mayer N. Zald. 1977. “Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory”. American Journal of Sociology, 82: 1212-1241.
* Olson, Mancur. 1965. The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
* Paxton, Pamela. 2002. “Social Capital and Democracy: An Interdependent Relationship”. American Sociological Review, 67 (2): 254-277.
* Smith, Jackie. 1998. “Global Civil Society?: Transnational Social Movement Organizations and Social Capital”. American Behavioral Scientist, 42 (1): 93-107.
* Tilly, Charles. 2004. Social Movements: 1768-2004. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.
* Touraine, Alaine. 1981. The Voice and the Eye: An Analysis of Social Movements. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

An Anarchist-Scholarship Mission Statement

[A statement of desired values and a explication of aspirations. Written after taking a graduate-level "Teaching Sociology" course (June 29, 2005). Bubbling with passion, copious amounts of naiveté, and [still] some relevance. I might want to update it someday...]

There are anarchists within American academia who have managed to swim against the mainstream sentiments of both society and university. Yet, most so-called radicals within US colleges are self-identified “Marxists” (or worse, “liberals”), whose over-heated rhetoric about proletariat, materialism, dialectics, and revolutionary vanguardism makes most students fall-asleep or coil in repulsion (wrongly and rightly). Such “radicals” might have a different effect if they were interested in true revolutionary change, yet in my own interactions, this is usually not the case: they stick to railing away on capitalism in the classroom but don't participate in any community or activist organizations, except perhaps give a few dollars to a very safe national charity organization. Sure, there are exceptions, but this seems to be the general trend.

The academic anarchists, however, offer instructive counter-examples. Sociologist Howard Ehrlich left a position at the University of Iowa to start his own projects which were less burdened by the stuffiness of academia: a collective research institute (“Research Group No. 1”), a peer-reviewed journal called Social Anarchism, a free school, and a syndicated radio program (“The Great Atlantic Radio Conspiracy”). His own work shows that people with academic backgrounds can apply the ideas, theories, philosophies, and methods of intellectual study and research to deliberate projects outside of the Ivory Tower (if and when need be). Research need not be abstract, unusable, or destructive.

Linguist and decades-long activist Noam Chomsky opines that “a decent education should seek to provide a thread along which a person will travel in his or her own way; good teaching is more a matter of providing water for a plant, to enable it to grow under its own powers” (cited in Barsky 2007, p. 205). Teaching need not be authoritarian or boring.

Anthropologist David Graeber, recently fired (“not rehired”) from Yale University, encourages academics to live their politics. This does not mean necessarily organizing anarchists within the university, but operating in-line with the ideas and values one holds dear. Being an academic does not mean privileging oneself nor shutting off the rest of society.

There are three main areas of work that academics do: research, teaching, and “service” to the greater community. I will explore these three areas below, applying my ideological lens to each.

I. Research

Since I have activist interests that transcend the university, it is logical to save time by studying those political interests in an academic capacity. To warp the proverbial saying: doing this helps to smash two Starbucks' windows with one brick. My research and scholarship thus needs to be not only empowering and interesting to me, but also meaningful and useful to other activists. In conducting research programs, I ought to consult with other activists, if not even bring them in on the research project itself. To do this, I must gain the trust of activists and all other parties involved in order to study them and their actions better. On one level, I would always remain moderately embedded within a given activist community or organization.

I need to avoid becoming beholden to or co-opted by government and corporations, who are always interested in academics validating their actions and beliefs. Accepting grant money which would endorse those corrupt institutions will be resisted at all costs... of course, if people within a corporation wishes to give large sums of grant money, no strings attached, to study radical organizations in a non-exploitive way that would only help enhance a social movement, I will gladly take its money and run. In the process of research I need to retain my insight into how “everyday people” live; the privilege of being an academic can cause one to lose perspective of others without such status and privilege.

Finally, I will try to synthesize activists and academic research and theory. In doing so, it is vital to introduce quality academic research and theories to activists who may use such ideas. Conversely, the academic community needs to be exposed to the equally good analysis and writing done by activists.

II. Teaching

Teaching is an art which requires much deliberation, practice, experience, and experimentation. Most often teaching involves static lectures delivered without passion or interaction. The goal of an anarchist teacher is to engage, inspire, empower, and create critics in students. My teaching needs to be done with the end-goal of empowering students to become more liberated human beings, inspired to improve their lives, community, and world. In advanced classes, the focus should be on facilitating discussion, not merely delivering canned-lectures. Yet, even in introductory courses, discussion and group work can be integrated in place of lecturing. Beyond basic subject matter, the greatest skills a teacher can aid a student in developing is critical thinking, the ability to intellectual defend oneself against bad ideas, faulty logic, and authority-drenched information.

Many students enter the classroom ready to learn new ideas. They must not be disappointed! Teaching is a way to introduce students to new ideas that will help improve their view and analysis of the world. I intend to find way to teach that conveys the anarchism within sociology. The radical critique of the anarchists is often analogous with that of the sociologist, the one key difference is that the sociologist rarely discusses alternative forms of social interaction, social relationships, or societal organization. My goal must be to bring out the other ways that people have throughout history organized themselves without hierarchy, authority, or the state. Teachers can also be organizers who mentor students interested in social change. Thus, for students who have an interest in sociology, particularly its liberatory potential, I will spend any extra time needed to help them focus their thoughts and aspirations.

III. Service

As an academic who wishes to “give back” to the society he is wrapped-within, I see my “service” role as one that is critical of the powerful and a servant of the disempowered. I will not use my academic status to gain power over those with less power than me; thus my degree, education, and other privileges will not be employed to get better treatment or access from those with less privilege than I. Conversely, I will hold the powerful accountable to truth and the people. Where there is silence in public discourse, I will go and say the uncomfortable words, especially when other voices are being ignored. I need to advocate for those who are marginalized and being ignored, to help provide them a platform from which to voice their grievances. In doing so, I will help to contact the mainstream press to expose problems, yet will direct them to everyday people or activists who are working for social change on such problems. I will also respect and work with alternative media to lend my skills and insights when needed.

Finally, my true service role in society is to not just talk or research radical things, but to do those radical things—help out wherever possible. Connect academics and students to social movement organizations and struggles whenever I can. To foster institutional support for alternative projects when needed. To lend my body in protests, my heart in letters and speeches, my mind in meetings, and my wallet in fund-raising drives.

So long as I am a scholar, I will strive to do these things, by the best and most anarchistic means I can.