Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Celebrating Dead People

Our holidays are littered with tribute to dead people. Especially dead White men. Occasionally people like Martin Luther King Jr. can be celebrated, but usually it's dead presidents. And Jesus. There's nothing wrong with this practice, per se, except when it creates false images, and thus false history. And the idea of worshiping the memory of a single dead person-- to the absence of the thousands of others who are likely equally deserving of recognition-- is cult worship.

Unfortunately, dead people get sanitized to the level of acceptability by the reigning status quo. Thus, the brutal leaders become saints and the compassionate revolutionaries become safe fuzzy-wuzzy feel-good leaders.

For example, why should we celebrate George Washington, who was a slave owner and the single wealthiest man in the new United States of America? Why not celebrate the abolitionists (or the slaves who died in Washington's captivity)? Why not celebrate all the poor and indentured servants of the colonies who were conscripted against their will to fight for the aristocracy (who had the most to gain from independence from Great Britain)?

Why is Theodore Roosevelt's face on Mount Rushmore (sacred Native land, no less)? He was a racist, imperialist, and scornful man who remarked that America "needs a war". Why have an agent of genocide like Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill? He was almost solely responsible for the murder of the Seminole nation of Floria and the infamous forced death march now known as the Trail of Tears.

And, "liberals" still mourn the loss of John F. Kennedy, claiming he would have pulled the US out of Vietnam had he not been assassinated, thus saving thousands of American lives (they rarely mention the millions of Indochinese lives who would've been saved by such an act). Yet, there is no proof that JFK was even considering such a move-- if anything, he was escalating the war in Vietnam, as shown by now released internal documents.

Why do we create false history for these people? Why do we hold them up as ideal Americans (let alone ideal human beings), when they were far from that? It is likely because the status quo benefits from the myth that past leaders were not bad people (or that the system itself if bad), but that perhaps a few mistakes were made. Therefore, the oppressed will only look forward to the future with optimism (as opposed to more of the same).

The opposite happens with those who are true people's heroes. When the State does accept some of them, their message and actions are watered down to the point of sterility. MLK is a perfect example of this: how many people actually knew that King spoke out against what he saw as the "three pillars of evil" in America-- racism, poverty, and militarism? We all know about his civil rights work, but who remembers his work organizing a poor people's march or his powerful statements against the Vietnam War?

Or to go further back in time, how often is it mentioned that Jesus was a pacifist? That he was opposed to violence of all kinds, opposed to economic oppression, opposed to corruption? Many Christians still only acknowledge a Jesus who was the son of a vengeful God, who justified war, homophobia, slavery, and oppression of women.

How will the people's heroes of today be remembered by the powers-that-be? Will America make a new holiday for Noam Chomsky when he dies? Or for the recently departed Phillip Berrigan? But, how about all the women out there? Who will be making holidays for Angela Davis, Winona LaDuke, or Gloria Steniem? And how about those who's deaths have already come, but will likely never be remembered, people like Mother Jones, Emma Goldman, A.J. Muste, Caesar Chavez, Fanny Lou Hamer, or Eugene Debs? Where are all the holidays, remembrance services, plaques, national monuments named after these people?

When you celebrate the lives of dead people, do you do it because their lives have meaning for you today? Or do you do it because everyone else does? If you need the heroes of the status quo, of the powerful, of the dominant classes to feel good about your life today, then how far have we really come as a people, as a nation, or as a society?

We should be celebrating Harriet Tubman, the Magon brothers, Sitting Bull, Kate Richards O'Hare, and Frederick Douglass. We need to remember the Haymarket Martyrs, the interned Japanese Americans during WWII, the massacred Lakotans, the Freedom Riders, and the Wobblies.

Forget Lincoln-- celebrate the abolitionists. Forget LBJ-- celebrate the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Forget the MacArthurs-- celebrate the Quakers and the Mennonites.

We need true histories. We don't necessarily need heroes, but we need reference points. We have to know there were people who have struggled for a better world, and that the struggle can and must continue.

(January 2003)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

New Social Movement (NSM) Theories and Anarchism: 6. New Identities

New social movements are formed out of unique, fresh identities. Like with other NSMs, anarchists adhere to specific value- and action-based identities. Many anarchists place themselves in social categories linked to particular ideologically-rooted anarchisms. New identities have emerged within the anarchist movement, in part replacing old identities that were more closely tied to economic ideologies. For example, communalism is another older anarchist strain no longer identified with by present-day anarchists. While identities such as anarcho-communism are still around, Tucker's anarcho-individualism is rarely identified with today. Even during Tucker's time (late-1800s), anarchist strains were points of contention (Nettlau 2001). Voltairine de Cleyre's “anarchism without adjectives”—the rejection of specific labels or strains, and a general adherence to the liberatory trajectory of a self-directed future—can be witnessed within the current movement (de Cleyre 2004), yet her label is rarely explicitly used. Other developments have occurred, too. De Cleyre's orientation towards gender is now labeled anarcha-feminism, an identity that many anarchists since the 1970s—particularly women—share. It can be argued that today the major schism between anarchist identities, particularly in North America, is not between communists and individualists, but between “reds” and “greens”, or “organizationalists” and “anti-organizationalists”. Stark geographic patterns in the US exist: red anarchists (those with an economic, working-class focus) tend to reside in the Northeast region while green anarchists (those with an environmental focus) tend to be found in the West. This dispersion can be partially explained by certain historic structural and organizational factors (Williams 2009a).

Anarchism today is arguably even more multi-faceted and potentially-contentious than during its classical period, as many of the preceding NSM components have indicated. Recent times have also witnessed an explosion of other hyphenated anarchism strains: eco-anarchists, anarcho-primitivists, anarcho-punks, practical-anarchists, post-left-anarchists, anarcho-situationists, queer-anarchists, and anarchist-people-of-color. All of these identities are new amalgams created by the anarchistization of pre-existing identities and the extension of other concerns into anarchist theory. In the case of anarcha-feminists, queer-anarchists, and anarchist-people of color, not only do these categories define an identity that links together some anarchists—usually in such a way as to create smaller caucuses within the movement to discuss internal democracy and tolerance issues—but also indicate the broad character of cultural conflict in society (that extends beyond mere industrial conflict, as discussed earlier in Section 1 above).

NSM theories imply that participants resist conventional lifestyles. Modern anarchism includes practices aimed at sustaining anarchist lifestyles, whether as ends themselves or as a way of building alternative culture for the “long haul” toward revolution. Even though some mainstream social movement scholars are just beginning to acknowledge it, all movements have their own cultures and anarchists are no exception. Cultural lifestyles permit movement participants the opportunity to practice their alternative views and choices, particularly when such alternatives are strongly at odds with mainstream society.[X] As with second-wave feminists, the anarchists consider the “personal to be political”; the way people live their lives is a reflection on their dedication to anarchism. Thus, it would be controversial, within anarchist culture, for a self-professed anarchist to own a corporation and employ multiple workers, or to use aggressive violence against others. Vegetarianism, residing in cooperative housing situations, solidarity with oppressed groups, rejecting partisan politics, or permaculture gardening are all practices that anarchists may include in their daily repertoires that allow them to live anarchy.

Anarchists have a lifestyle heavily influenced by certain alternative subcultures, such as “do it yourself” (DIY) culture, which includes the printing of zines (short for “magazines”) and planning of local events. Punk culture is a major influence of DIY and it has had a strong influence over—or at least interaction with—much of the anarchist movement since the late-1970s (O'Connor 1999, 2003). This synergy may be witnessed in the exchange of punk fashion amongst anarchists and anarchist politics amongst many punk banks. Hundreds of anarcho-punk bands have performed throughout the world, seeing punk's revolt against authority and DIY practice as essentially anarchist in nature (O'Hara 1999). Famous anarchist bands like Crass, Chumbawamba, The Ex, Dead Kennedys, Propagandhi, Against Me!, and others are not only mainstays of punk history, but also serve as artistic inspirations to many anarchists. Punk constitutes an anti-establishment lifestyle and identity, which is both anti-capitalist and often anarchist, and is created in the crucible of local conflict with social control agents (Johnston & Lio 1998).

Cultural anarchy, perhaps best represented by Crimethinc, promotes an anarchist way of life, personal freedom, and lifestyle choices. Crimethinc's unique combination of situtationism, primitivism, punk culture, and insurrectionism is visible within sectors of the North American anarchist movement, and is particularly noteworthy for its advocacy of hitchhiking and train hopping, “dumpster-diving”, and scamming or stealing from corporations. In the advocacy and practice of such activities, Crimethinc draws from a long tradition of survival techniques developed by hobos, as practiced during the Great Depression. This identity is sometimes derogatorily referred to as “lifestyle anarchism”, which prioritizes the individual, or romanticizes “chaos” and spontaneity at the expense of a more serious social anarchism (c.f. Bookchin 1995). Instead, many Crimethinkers feel it is more important to remove oneself from a destructive and hierarchical society than try to organize within it, such as class-struggle anarchism often advocates (CrimethInc 2001). Thus, Crimethinc advocates the abandonment of identity politics, stating that it is more important to practice anarchy than be an anarchist.


[X] “Dual power” is a particular anarchist strategy that extends these counter-cultural efforts, aiming to create alternative institutions that could eventually overtake and make mainstream, hierarchical institutions obsolete.


Bookchin, M. (1995) Social Anarchism of Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm. Edinburgh: AK Press.

CrimethInc. (2001) Days of War, Nights of Love: Crimethink for Beginners. Atlanta, GA: Crimethinc.

de Cleyre, V. (2004) The Voltairine de Cleyre Reader. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Johnston, H. and Lio, S. (1998) “Collective Behavior and Social Movements in the Postmodern Age: Looking Backward to Look Forward”. Sociological Perspectives, 41 (3): 453-472.

Nettlau, M. (2001) “Anarchism: Communist or Individualist?—Both”. Pp. 79-83 in Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman's Mother Earth, edited by P. Glassnold. Washington, DC: Counterpoint.

O'Connor, A. (1999) “Whos Emma and the Limits of Cultural Studies”. Cultural Studies, 13 (4): 691-702.

O'Connor, A. (2003) “Punk Subculture in Mexico and the Anti-globalization Movement: A Report from the Front”. New Political Science, 25 (1): 43-53.

O'Hara, C. (1999) The Philosophy of Punk: More Than Noise. Edinburgh: AK Press.

Williams, D.M. (2009a) “Red vs. Green: Regional Variation of Anarchist Ideology in the United States”. Journal of Political Ideologies, 14 (2), June: 189-210.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New Social Movement (NSM) Theories and Anarchism: 5. Self-Limiting Radicalism

NSMs eschew grand attempts to seize the state apparatus, whether through dramatic revolution or elections. Efforts to shape society—within the parameters of NSM ideologies—take place in civil society, not within the state. Radical goals are pursued, but often through reformist strategies. Likewise, anarchists have no interest in acquiring representation in or control of the State. Anarchists do not seek to work with the state or in it, but rather seek the state's abolition. Unlike Leninists and Maoists, anarchists do not wish to seize the reins of the State in revolution to allegedly turn it over to workers or peasants. Anarchists argue that to simply replace a right-wing or capitalist government with a left-wing or socialist one would not solve the problem of what the State itself is (i.e. an institution of domination). Nor does the anarchist movement aim to achieve its anti-authoritarian goals through electoralism. Thus, the anarchist movement pursues a radical agenda limited to realms that can be democratized and liberated.

Habermas—by no means an anarchist—argues that NSMs resist the “occupation of the lifeworld” by the state (Habermas 1987). NSMs are “new” since their potential to transform society is not within established politics, but within the socio-cultural sphere. In fact, movements aim to re-appropriate society from the State, which has not only repressed people through violence but also undercut their potential by fostering support upon the State for social welfare. According to anarchist theory, it is counterintuitive to expect liberation from various systems of domination deriving from the State. The State props-up and feeds upon these very systems, and thus the anarchist solution comes from action outside the State. Power is pursued to regain control over one's own life, not to acquire a position within the established halls of power. Anarchists argue that a new world will not be built with the seized apparatus of the State, but by disengaging from all systems of domination and creating alternative institutions that serve human needs and that are in-sync with the natural world. But, as opposed to protecting an abstract “lifeworld” or civil society from state encroachment, anarchists explicitly advocate defense of individuals and their collectivities. This may be seen as another example of radical practicality.

Anarchists seek self-determination, the ability for average people to have control over the daily affairs of their lives. The State does not offer this to all, but to a select few officials who claim to act on the behalf of all. To anarchists, allowing others to make decisions for you, even if the decision-makers are benevolent and you agree with the decisions, is to relinquish one's natural right to self-determination.

Unlike nearly all others on the Left, anarchist organizations do not run candidates for political office. The slogans “our dreams do not fit in their ballot boxes” and “don't just vote, get political” used by anarchists have appeared during recent US presidential elections. Anarchism does not suggest a complete disavowal of politics—or the political matters that people make decisions about—but rather a rejection of the notion that politics is best done via the election of candidates or via the State. Thus, modern anarchism distinguishes between self-determined political activity and the mechanisms of the State (including elections). Anarchism argues that elections and Statecraft are only one part of politics.

If specific policy changes are demanded by anarchists, the goal is not simply a change in policy. Anarchists use changes in policy as launching pads for greater changes, ones that strike even deeper into ruling institutions. Albert (2002) advocates anarchist support for what he calls “non-reformist reforms”; or, in other words, reforms which are not ends in themselves (i.e. “reformism”). Some anarchists have advocated participation in campaigns that involve electoral participation as a means of coalition-building—particularly across race and class boundaries, in order to defeat oppressive laws which would further restrict liberties—instead of advocating voting as a means to an end (Crass 2004).

Self-limiting radicalism should not be read to imply “limited radicalism”. Revolution is the ultimate goal of all anarchists, yet anarchists do not desire or aim to be the coordinators of a mass revolution. Instead, anarchists believe that people as individuals and collectives need to reclaim control over their lives—in a radical fashion—and anarchists do not presume to speak for how others should do this. Mumm (1998) argues that it is much more important and desirable for movements to act anarchistically than to merely have a movement of anarchists. By millions of small-scale transformations and revolts, society will undergo a process of revolution that is undirected and undirectable.

Some anarchists do advocate immediate revolution, even the spontaneous riot of oppressed peoples, which is not limited radicalism. However, even “insurrectionist anarchists” do not think that mass, revolutionary action should be aimed at seizing state power or that a party should direct the insurrection (see Bonanno 1988). Insurrections should topple centralized power, and those immediately engaged in the insurrection should help to disperse and democratize control of society. Thus, anarchists do not have limited ambitions; their “limitedness” refers only to the use of non-state means to accomplish revolution.


Albert, M. (2002) The Trajectory of Change: Activist Strategies for Social Transformation. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Bonanno, A. (1988) From Riot to Insurrection: An Analysis for an Anarchist Perspective Against Post Industrial Capitalism. London: Elephant.

Crass, C. (2004) Beyond Voting: Anarchist Organizing, Electoral Politics and Developing Strategy for Liberation. Clamor Communique #42.

Habermas, J. (1987) The Theory of Communicative Action. Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason. Boston: Beacon Press.

Mumm, J. (1998) Active Revolution.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

New Social Movement (NSM) Theories and Anarchism: 4. Symoblic Direct Actions

New social movements enact highly dramatic forms of demonstration, laden with symbolic representation. Anarchists and anarchist organizations employ direct action tactics both within and apart from regular protest. The former type of direct action exists in an oppositional and confrontational setting, aligned against hierarchical authority figures. The latter type of direct action persist within a counter-cultural milieu where anarchists are prefiguring and creating alternatives to hierarchical forms of social organization.

Anarchists favor protest tactics that are novel and unconventional—i.e. not a standard rally with a slate of formal speakers, followed by a legally-permitted march. Actions are deliberately designed to confront authority and provoke a response, demonstrate how to live differently, or to involve otherwise non-political people in a participatory, political event. Mass media attention is often focused upon these efforts, thus illustrating anarchist values and practices to a wider public audience. Such anarchist actions are also distinct from many conventional NSMs because these actions have a practical component that allow participants to directly target a particular problem and solve that problem immediately, without resorting to requests to authority figures.

Dramatic and symbolic protest may be seen most clearly by the black bloc tactic. Originally, developed by Autonomists from Germany in the 1980s, calling themselves Autonomen, the black bloc is a solidaritious direct action in street protests[X], where all participants wear black (thus the name, “black bloc”), covered their faces for security and anonymity, and operated in affinity groups to challenge police lines (Knutter 1995).[XX] These black blocs serve to disrupt the repetition of typical protest as well as the appearance of police authority at protests (Katsiaficas 2006). Indeed, black blocs are fundamentally “ungovernable” since they are uninterested in negotiation with authority (Paris 2003). According to Starr (2006), what is commonly perceived and presented as black bloc “violence” is in fact both theater and practical self-defense. Black bloc activities include masking one's face, throwing tear-gas canisters back at police, destruction of corporate property, mobile defense, un-arresting fellow demonstrators from police custody, and the use of makeshift weapons—usually objects found on the street—as projectiles for defensive purposes.

The explosive engagements between Autonomen and police were transported to other countries during the 1990s. The first appearance of the black bloc in the US resulted from an initiative by the Love and Rage Network during anti-Persian Gulf War protests (Ickibob 2003). Fascinating visual theater occurs when police wearing indistinguishable riot gear engage with all-black-clad (but still uniquely adorned) activists in the street. Black bloc actions also demonstrated that some activists were willing to defend themselves during demonstrations when attacked by police, which has in-turn instigated inter-movement debates around issues of pacifism, self-defense, and violence.[XXX] Although there is a practical utility to covering one's face with a bandanna—to deter police profiling of people who potentially break laws—there is also an echo of the Zapatistas in the regular use of masks by anarchists. The poor Mayans of Southern Mexico, who form the base of support for the Zapatistas, were continuously ignored by the national Mexican political institutions and they thus chose something dramatic, almost illicit-seeming, to cause the State to pay attention. As a Zapatista leader poetically said, they had to hide their faces in order to be seen (Marcos 2001).

Actions by black blocs are also highly symbolic. During the 1999 WTO protests, black bloc participants smashed the windows of chain stores and multinational corporations. In a communiqué released later, this vandalism was explained as an effort to “smash the thin veneer of legitimacy that surrounds private property rights... Broken windows can be boarded up (with yet more waste of our forests) and eventually replaced, but the shattering of assumptions will hopefully persist for some time to come” (ACME Collective 1999).

A similar phenomenon in Europe has emerged, loosely identified as “disobedients”, who engage in essentially nonviolent direct action during protests by confronting police lines with protective gear such as shields, helmets, and lots of personal padding. Organizations like Ya Basta (Spanish for “enough is enough”) and WOMBLES, have had numerous successes since the mid-1990s in breaking through police lines in efforts to reach protest goals, with the eventual goal usually being the shutdown of a target's functionality. The WOMBLES—or White Overalls Movement Building Libertarian Effective Struggles—and their counterparts creatively and dramatically provoke coverage in the media in ways that protest with standard signs and speeches would be unable to. In London, on May Day 2001, WOMBLES helped to turn downtown London into a large-scale Monopoly game-board, encouraging others to participate in a “lived critique” of modern capitalism during the protests scheduled for that day. “Players” engaged in protests and direct actions at symbolic sites throughout London to articulate and illustrate the ill of capitalism, to “subvert the game” itself (Uitermark 2004). Such anarchist methods are highly confrontational, which is a symbol that anarchists are radicals committed to revolution.

Some protest-based activities combine even more playfulness and humor. The Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA) in Britain serve the same role that clowns in rodeos serve—to distract charging bulls (or police officers). CIRCA aims to not only de-escalate potentially violent street confrontations between demonstrators and law enforcement but also to mock authority and its supposedly well-established grip upon civil order. “Radical cheerleaders”, on the other hand, direct their actions towards protesters. Instead of trying to ridicule the authority of police in protest situations, radical cheerleaders provide an alternative “pep rally” at radical protests. Anarchist women (and some men) dress up in homemade “cheerleader outfits” and shake “pom-poms” made from shredded garbage bags. They present radical “cheers” to assembled demonstrators or on-lookers like: “hey all you anarchy fans / let me hear you clap your hands / if you think yer freedom's sweet / let me see you stomp yer feet ”[XXXX]

Anarchists are behind the highly symbolic actions of the Biotic Baking Brigade, who take a decentralized approach to humiliating authority figures. Autonomous groups of activists throughout the world have used the “BBB” moniker to claim “pie attacks” upon hundreds of corporate CEOs, politicians, financial figures, and even former radicals and liberals. By smearing a pie in someone's face—especially when a video camera is conveniently present to record the target's surprise or outrage—the BBB attempts to show that otherwise untouchable authority figures may be “brought down a notch” in the publics' eye. The BBB also uses clever play-on-words and puns in their press-releases to further symbolize their radical dissent: “pie any means necessary”, “let slip the pies of war”, “some people need their just desserts”, “speaking pie to power”, and “pies for your lies” (Apple 2004). These actions reflect Melucci’s observation that NSMs challenge symbolic codes by unmasking obscured technocratic and bureaucratic power.

Another phenomenon—spread globally, like political pieing—occurs the last Friday of most months in cities where cyclists gather to have a rush-hour bike ride through traffic. Critical Mass attempts to create “pockets of freedom” for self- and collective-expression, safety, and community on streets that are otherwise monopolized by cars, which in turn seal drivers off from each other. Such “organized coincidences” are coordinated in an anarchistic fashion—no one is in charge of the rides, anyone can promote and help organize the rides, all participants “police themselves”, and spontaneous direct action creates temporary autonomous zones for people to be free of car culture, if only briefly (Blickstein & Hanson 2001, Carlsson 2002). Anarchists often use Critical Mass as a tool to allow others to “experience anarchy”, and to spread the word about other anarchist projects and events happening in the local area.

Other anarchist direct action strategies assume a less confrontational, and more pro-active and creative orientation. While these approaches are still “protest” of a certain kind, they are less likely to be labeled as such and to emerge during protest events. Two anarchist organizations are not just symbolic in terms of the values their names imply, but also in the consequences their actions suggest. Food Not Bombs (FNB) and Homes Not Jails (HNJ) indicate specific anarchist values about the world within their organizational names, but also utilize direct action to offer examples of potential ways to reorganize social relationships and societal priorities. FNB collects food that would otherwise be thrown-out, cooks meals using the food, and then shares the meals with anyone who would like to eat them, often homeless people. The organization opposes militarism and corporate profiteering, and instead suggests a symbolic reorientation of priorities towards human needs, like housing, food, education, and health care (Butler & McHenry 2000, Gelderloos 2006b). HNJ targets the need for adequate housing more specifically; activists squat abandoned buildings, fix the buildings, and provide the space to homeless families to live in (Roy 2003). This direct action suggests that homelessness and unemployment often lead to downward spirals into desperation, crime, and violence. HNJ represents how basic human needs like housing are essential to stem the tide of rising crime rates and imprisonment—which they argue unfairly harms the poor and people of color.

Perhaps the most dramatic forms of non-street direct action is organized by radical environmentalists, such as Earth First! (EF!). In order to protect old-growth forests from being logged, EF! activists engage in creative forms of civil disobedience, including road blockading and tree-sitting. By occupying stands built high in trees, EF!ers prevent loggers from chopping trees in large areas unless they wish to be responsible for putting tree-sitter lives in danger. This photogenic tactic has been highly successful in many EF! campaigns in recent years in North America (Ingalsbee 1996, London 1998). In the UK, EF! groups have been active in the anti-roads movement where they attempted to prevent new roads from being built (Welsh & McLeish 1996). EF! originally employed a strategy more reliant upon sabotage, but today it focuses upon civil disobedience (Balser 1997), still emphasizing the intensity of resistance to environmental destruction in its slogan: “no compromise in defense of Mother Earth”. EF! sympathizers who wish to engage in eco-sabotage and property destruction are encouraged to do so under the moniker of the ELF, and keep EF! actions within the realm of civil disobedience (Molland 2006).

Direct action is an integral part of the anarchist praxis. Such actions embody polemical symbolism, often illustrating polar opposites: hierarchy and oppression on the one hand, freedom and egalitarianism on the other. However, unlike other movements where symbolism is enough to motivate others (e.g. politicians) to respond, symbolic anarchist actions actually aim to immediately further the goal of a less authoritarian future. Consequently, while usually symbolic, anarchist direct action is also substantive, not merely illustrative. Many of the aforementioned examples of anarchist groupings, including FNB, HNJ, and EF! involve practical and often material resistance, thus differentiating these anarchist tendencies from the more theatrical. “Direct action” is often understood to be an important anarchist quality (Rocker 2004) and, symbolic or not, anarchism is thus a radical and practical movement. Anarchist direct action does not only aim to avoid taking political power in the course of acquiring self-determination, but actively seeks to usurp political power itself. Thus, instead of relying upon representatives to act in one’s favor, anarchists diminish such representative’s influence by accomplishing goals without external assistance. Anarchism does aim to empower others, but not through the means of conventional politics.


[X] For more on autonomist Marxists, see Katsiaficas (2006).

[XX] Ryan (2006) suggests that the black bloc got its name from the black hooded sweatshirts that were the unofficial uniform of Central European squatters. The color could endure stains without showing (p. 50).

[XXX] See One Off Press (2001) for such debates—and a particularly enthusiastic defense of confrontational protest—centered around the 2001 anti-G8 protests in Genoa, Italy.

[XXXX] See CIRCA's website at: See more on the Radical Cheerleaders (and their cheers) at:


ACME Collective. (1999) “N30 Black Bloc Communique”.

Apple, A. (2004) Pie Any Means Necessary: The Biotic Baking Brigade Cookbook. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Balser, D.B. (1997) “The Impact of Environmental Factors on Factionalism and Schism in Social Movement Organizations”. Social Forces, 76 (1), September: 199-228.

Blickstein, S. and Hanson, S. (2001) “Critical Mass: Forging a Politics of Sustainable Mobility in the Information Age”. Transportation, 28: 347-362.

Butler, C.T. and McHenry, K. (2000) Food Not Bombs: How to Feed the Hungry and Build Community. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press.

Carlsson, C. (2002) Critical Mass: Bicycling's Defiant Celebration. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Gelderloos, P. (2006b) “A Critical History of Harrisonburg Food Not Bombs: Culture, Communication, and Organization in an Anarchist Soup Kitchen”. Social Anarchism, 39: 64-70.

Ickibob. (2003) “On the Black Bloc”. Pp. 39-40 in A New World in Our Hearts: Eight Years of Writings from the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation, edited by R. San Filippo. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Ingalsbee, T. (1996) “Earth First! Activism: Ecological Postmodern Praxis in Radical Environmentalist Identities”. Sociological Perspectives, 39 (2): 263-276.

Katsiaficas, G. (2006) The Subversion of Politics: European Autonomous Social Movements and the Decolonization of Everyday Life. Oakland: AK Press.

Knutter, H-H. (1995) “The 'Antifascism' of 'Autonomen' and Anarchists”. Telos, 105, Fall: 36-42.

London, J.K. (1998) “Common Roots and Entangled Limbs: Earth First! And the Growth of Post-Wilderness Environmentalism on California's North Coast”. Antipode, 30 (2): 155-176.

Marcos, S. (2001) Our Word is Our Weapon: Selected Writings. New York: Seven Stories Press.

Molland, N. (2006) “The Spark That Ignited a Flame: The Evolution of the Earth Liberation Front”. Pp. 47-58 in Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth, edited by S. Best & A. J. Nocella. Oakland: AK Press.

Morland, D and Carter, J. (2004) “Anarchism and Democracy”. Pp. 78-95 in Democracy and Participation: Popular Protest and New Social Movements, edited by M. J. Todd and G. Taylor. London: Merlin Press.

One Off Press. (2001) On Fire: The Battle of Genoa and the Anti-Capitalist Movement. London: One Off Press.

Paris, J. (2003) “The Black Bloc's Ungovernable Protest”. Peace Review, 15 (3), September: 317-322.

Rocker, R. (2004) Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice. Edinburgh: AK Press.

Roy, A. (2003) “Paradigms of Propertied Citizenship: Transnational Techniques of Analysis”. Urban Affairs Review, 38 (4), March: 463-491.

Ryan, R. (2006) Clandestines: The Pirate Journals of an Irish Exile. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Starr, A. (2006) “'Excepting Barricades Erected to Prevent Us From Peacefully Assembling': So-Called 'Violence' in the Global North Alterglobalization Movement”. Social Movement Studies, 5 (1), May: 61-81.

Uitermark, J. (2004) “Looking Forward by Looking Back: May Day Protests in London and the Strategic Significance of the Urban”. Antipode, 36 (4), September: 706-727.

Welsh, I and McLeish, P. (1996) “The European Road to Nowhere: Anarchism and Direct Action Against the UK Roads Programme”. Anarchist Studies, 4: 27-44.

Friday, December 10, 2010

New Social Movement (NSM) Theories and Anarchism: 3. Anti-Hierarchical Organization

New social movements allegedly use more horizontally-distributed organizational forms, aiming to be highly participatory and democratic. But, according to popular perception, anarchists are opposed to organization and order. As with many assumptions regarding anarchism, this is clearly incorrect. Anarchists are usually very much in favor of organization and order, but that of a particular variety. They oppose bureaucratic, authoritarian, and hierarchical organization, whether in the economic, political, or cultural spheres of society (Ehrlich 1996). Instead, anarchists envision anti-hierarchical forms of organization that are more organic, small-scale, and directly democratic. As Bookchin (1989) observes, “the new social movements share a libertarian ambience”, as well as the tendency for decentralization, affinity groups, confederation, and “anti-hierarchicalism” (p. 270). Thus, anarchism has emphasized participatory democracy, self-help groups, and cooperative styles of organization (Ward 1996). Unlike other NSMs, these organizational forms are not “new” to anarchism and were widely employed during anarchism’s classical period. Consequently, anti-hierarchical structures are a founding assumption of anarchism writ large.

Anti-hierarchical organization requires conscious choice, especially the adoption of anarchist values such as self-determination, solidarity, cooperation, and mutual aid. Instead of planning for an idealistic, perfect future, anarchists create a new society in the shell of the old society by acting out their values in the present.[X] Values are not abstractions to be merely debated; for anarchists values must be lived, on a daily basis. To avoid living these values would mean to avoid being an anarchist. As such, there are no mere “philosophical anarchists” in the broad anarchist movement, who only think and debate anarchist ideas. Anarchism is practiced and created in the continual deliberation and activities of anarchist lives and organizations.

Anarchist politics may be viewed as a particular strain of “anti-politics” that oppose the typical forms of political activity, such as participation through political parties. Instead, principal anarchist organizational forms include affinity groups, cells, collectives, cooperatives, networks, and federations (see Ward 1996, Ehrlich 1996, Gordon 2007, and Day 2005). These forms constitute “looser” and fluid organizational structures than those found in standard bureaucratic and top-down organizations.

Affinity groups are “closed” organizations composed of people who have intimate relations with each other—trust, companionship, and common interest are prerequisites—and are utilized in specific situations, such as protests. Made famous during the Spanish Civil War for their decentralized defense of the Republic against fascist forces (Bookchin 1998), affinity groups have since been deployed during anti-war, environmental, anti-nuclear, feminist, and global justice movement protests (e.g. Finnegan 2003). These groups provide a small-scale, flexible alternative to bureaucratic or command-and-control style organizations that are common at many conventional protests. Members of affinity groups are in a constant process of evaluating their goals for present and future situations, as well as their levels of commitment and appreciation for specific tactics (Bookchin 2004).

The most decentralized organizational form that anarchists create is that of the autonomous cell. Although some have argued that cells are not anarchist, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF) take seriously the anarchist concepts of decentralization and direct action against authority. Anyone who takes an action—illegal or legal—to either stop the destruction of the environment or the exploitation of animals, or to curb the potential for such abuses, may claim to be a member of these “organizations”. So successful were ELF and ALF cells at their goals of disruption and property destruction that in 1999 the FBI called them the top domestic terrorist threat in the US (Federal Bureau of Investigation 1999)—despite both groups' denunciation of violence and physical harm to human or animal life. In a practical sense, such “organizations” are not really organizations at all, but rather loose collections of associates or even single individuals who presume to operate under the auspice of the ELF or ALF labels (Beck 2007). In the case of the ELF, a “front press office” (run by an unaffiliated but sympathetic individual) received press releases from such groupings announcing an action, often calling themselves a unit, cell, faction, or wing of the ELF from some particular location. In this capacity, the press office was merely a central location to distribute the words and actions of pro-ELF people, while the office had no control over what any particular ELF cell did. Other anarchistic groupings also take on a relatively clandestine approach, also implied in their self-labels, notably the Biotic Baking Brigade (described below). Crimethinc is also well-known for encouraging various groupings of people and individuals—who likely do not know each other—to publish propaganda under its moniker.

Collectives are designed to serve an above-ground and longer-lasting purpose. Anarchist collectives have flat organizational structures, particular goals, and an established (although not necessarily formalized) decision making process. These organizations may do any number of things, including run a social center or “infoshop”, print an activist newspaper or manage a guerrilla radio station, provide women health care and advice, organize a community garden, offer legal aid, or wage political campaigns. Atton's (1999) research on the British tabloid, Green Anarchist, demonstrates how NSM organizational characteristics drawn from Melucci (1996) can be seen in many aspects of the paper's collective, including: self-management of writing and distribution amongst many geographically dispersed people, and decentralized editing.

Some collectives could also be considered cooperatives—designed to either manufacture or provide a good or service, or to purchase or acquire such things, respectively. Anarchists have been active members for decades of housing, food, bike, child care, and even punk rock record store cooperatives. Cooperative members pool their economic resources and physical labor in order to create the best possible, equal outcome for all involved. Rothschild-Whitt (1979) argues that cooperatives possess a collectivist-democratic nature, which appears largely analogous to anarchist values (a relationship that has not been explored by sociologists). There are no elite owners of cooperatives, only members. Consequently, many cooperatives have a staunchly anti-hierarchical structure that empowers equal participation.

While most anarchists emphasize the need for localized organization, they also acknowledge that larger, more complex forms are also sometimes necessary. Yet, instead of creating centralized bodies that coordinate policy, anarchists advocate network or federation structures. Networks are flexible, informal mechanisms for interaction. Both individuals and organizations may participate in the coordination of campaigns, events, or other projects. According to Day (2005), these anarchistic organizational structures rely upon a “logic of affinity” as opposed to a “logic of hegemony”. Sometimes networks exist merely for the exchange of information and communication (Juris 2008). Federations, on the other hand, are a more structured way of linking formal organizations and sympathetic, supporter organizations to each other. Unlike many federation systems, however, anarchist federations are horizontal relationships: no central committee exists and no member organization has any more power than any other. The anarcho-communist NEFAC, for example, makes decisions at yearly conferences via direct democracy of all members. In-between meetings of a federation council—consisting of recallable spokespersons from each member organization—deals with administrative and executive functions (NEFAC n.d.). By mandating recallable positions, NEFAC collectives can control wayward spokespersons.

If there is an enduring quality to all of these organizational forms, it is their impermanence. Anarchists emphasize the means almost as much as the goal itself, assuming that it is impractical for anarchist organizations to use hierarchical and rigid means, even to achieve supposedly liberating ends. As such, Welsh (1997) finds disdain in Melucci's assumption that
“new social movements have to transform themselves into durable organisations in order to achieve [success] remain problematic in terms of anarchist and libertarian approaches... SMOs [social movement organizations] reproduce hierarchies and bureaucratic structures which are antithetical to grassroots movements” (p. 167).

Another common thread in all the above organizations is that no one person or small group of persons can control these groups. Theoretically, everyone in each organization has an equal say in how the organization is run. Leadership is usually informal and decentralized, and, if it exists at all, it resides in rotating positions with little power. Positions like “facilitator” or “note-taker” exist not to direct the trajectory of an organization, but to allow the group to realize its goals. Anarchist organizations operate on the basis of either direct democracy or consensus decision making. Unlike in representative democracy, where people elect others who will then theoretically vote in their best interests, anarchists advocate direct democracy, where everyone votes on each individual issue to be considered. Members vote on proposals without channeling their “voices” through other individuals designed to represent them, as in most “representative democracy” systems.[XX] Consensus decision making may be considered even more radical; an organization must try to reach a common decision that everyone involved can live with. With consensus, even small minorities must be respected and organizations must find ways to reach common ground where all participants are satisfied with a decision and its foreseeable outcome (Gelderloos 2006a).

These are not “new” characteristics as NSM theories might suggest, but practices that have driven the anarchist movement since its origins. These organizational forms and decision-making processes are not seen by anarchists as approaches to be selectively implemented, but are appropriate (or necessary) elements of everyday society. Presently, they represent a minority of approaches in society and operate in a “sub-political” world, but anarchists view them as potentially the major political forms in a future, more-anarchist society.


[X] According to Gordon (2007) this is a central tenet of modern anarchism—an open-ended experimentation that supplants the Marxist-Leninist practice of “Five Year Plans” and other pre-determined visions of Utopia. The IWW dubbed the saying “the structure of the new society within the shell of the old” in their Constitution. Source:

[XX] See Skirda (2002) for a historical account of anarchist direct democracy voting at an international anarchist gathering (pp. 80-93).


Atton, C. (1999) “Green Anarchist: A Case Study of Collective Action in the Radical Media". Anarchist Studies, 7 (1), March: 25-49.

Beck, C.J. (2007) “On the Radical Cusp: Ecoterrorism in the United States, 1998-2005”. Mobilization: An International Quarterly Review, 12: 161-176.

Bookchin, M. (1989) “New Social Movements: The Anarchic Dimension”. Pp. 259-274 in For Anarchism: History, Theory, and Practice, edited by D. Goodway. London: Routledge.

Bookchin, M. (1998) The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years 1868-1936. Edinburgh: AK Press.

Bookchin, M. (2004) Post-Scarcity Anarchism. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Day, R.J.F. (2005) Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements. London: Pluto Press.

Ehrlich, H.J. (1996) Reinventing Anarchy, Again. Edinburgh: AK Press.

Federal Bureau of Investigation. (1999) Terrorism in the United States. Washington, DC: Department of Justice.

Finnegan, W. (2003) “Affinity Groups and the Movements Against Corporate Globalization”. Pp. 210-218 in The Social Movements Reader: Cases and Concepts, edited by J. Goodwin & J.M. Jasper. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Gelderloos, P. (2006a) Consensus: A New Handbook for Grassroots Social, Political, and Environmental Groups. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press.

Gordon, U. (2007) Anarchy Alive! Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory. London: Pluto Press.

Juris, J.S. (2008) Networking Futures: The Movements Against Corporate Globalization. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Melucci, A. (1996) Challenging Codes: Collective Action in the Information Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

NEFAC. (n.d.) “The Constitution of the Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC)”. Available online:

Rothschild-Whitt, J. (1979) “The Collectivist Organization: An Alternative to Rational-Bureaucratic Models”. American Sociological Review, 44, August: 509-527.

Skirda, A. (2002) Facing the Enemy: A History of Anarchist Organization from Proudhon to May 1968. Edinburgh: AK Press.

Ward, C. (1996) Anarchy in Action. London: Freedom Press.

Welsh, I. (1997) “Anarchism, Social Movements, and Sociology”. Anarchist Studies, 5 (2), October: 162-168.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

New Social Movement (NSM) Theories and Anarchism: 2. New Social Constituencies

Both NSM theories and resource mobilization overlap in their emphasis upon the “middle-class”. In the view of both theories, the middle-class has a central role in movement struggles. Yet, this emphasis is derived from different premises. For resource mobilization, the middle-class is the logical agent of movements since they are more likely to belong to organizations with greater resources than the working class (c.f. McCarthy & Zald 1977). NSM theories emphasize middle-class participation due to the shift of societal struggle from industrial/economic to cultural/political.

While anarchism has historically been a working-class movement (Guérin 2005), NSM theorists suggest modern movements include greater participation and leadership by middle-class members. Williams (2009b) notes a similar, NSM-like trend for contemporary anarchists: only 31 percent of respondents to a popular anarchist webpage survey self-identified as “working-class”. Although still a sizable minority, this represents a dramatic reversal from classical anarchism. Also, only 24 percent were members of an economic, class-based organization: the labor union (Williams 2009b). Still, the presence of a self-identified working-class—as well as one apt to belong to labor unions—indicates a certain inconsistency with NSM arguments about the “classlessness” of contemporary movements.

Instead of working class-led movements, NSMs supposedly consist of a “new middle class” that includes non-managerial professionals, such as artists, academics, and social service workers. Many well-known anarchists work in such occupations, although this presence is clearly not sufficient evidence for accepting NSM arguments. Numerous anarchist artists and organizations exist, including Clifford Harper, Gee Vaucher, Josh MacPhee, Eric Drooker, Seth Tobocman, Art & Revolution, Black Mask/Up Against the Wall, Just Seeds, and many small art collectives (see MacPhee & Reuland 2007). Anarchists have been at the forefront of alternative education projects since the turn of the last century. Francisco Ferrer's “modern schools” were early attempts to free children from the indoctrination by both the State's nationalism and capitalism's workforce obedience (Avrich 1980, Spring 1998). Free schools have also received consistent support from anarchists (see Ehrlich 1991), although the extent to which these projects are truly anarchist is debatable, as is the implication for those who may “work” at such schools (likely without pay) and their subsequent class status. Famous anarchist intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, Paul Goodman, Howard Zinn, David Graeber, and others have occupied academic positions, even at elite universities, while retaining their anarchist sentiments. The recent re-birth of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the US in a more anarchistic (and less Marxist) form is another example of this constituency. Finally, social work is an active, action-oriented profession/practice, aimed at directly helping people. Yet, there are few openly anarchist social workers, perhaps because the occupation tends to be subsumed within the bureaucratic confines of state welfare systems (Gilbert 2004).

Ultimately, however, contemporary anarchists may not be distilled down neatly into just the middle-class (and its professional occupations) or the working-class; the movement’s composition is too nuanced and complex for the typical reductionism NSM theories have previously offered. It could be that middle-class anarchists have higher than average visibility in the movements, perhaps due to their human capital or other resources, such as flexible work schedules.

Anarchism pulls from an ideological—rather than ethnic, religious, or class-based—community. All anarchists are linked by their ideology, not socio-economic-cultural background. In most anarchist organizations—outside of organizations founded to create safe-spaces for oppressed minorities, like anarcha-feminist or anarchist people of color (APOC) collectives—the uniting factor is one's belief in anarchism. Thus, young and old, educated and undereducated, or middle-class and working class, work together for common goals. As opposed to old movements where unity might have come from common class-background or ethnic status, NSMs like modern anarchism are based upon a shared radical vision and praxis. Yet, this unity based on ideology is not inherently new—anti-authoritarianism was also the uniting factor in classical anarchism, too. Thus, contemporary anarchism cannot easily be categorized as a NSM if its adherents share the same commonalities as in an earlier era.[X]

Youth are one final “new constituency”. This constituency presents unique problems for movements in the long-term: younger participants grow older. The anarchist movement shares other commonalities with the standard NSMs usually noted (i.e. student, environmental, anti-war) in that its ranks are incredibly young.[XX] Unlike other movements—such as the anti-war movement—anarchism seems to have been less able to retain its membership cohorts over the past few decades. The extent to which this pattern will continue for much of the anarchist movement is presently unclear. During anarchism's “golden age” in the late-1800s and early-1900s, anarchists were of all ages, as they were socialized to be anarchists while in childhood or were radicalized through industrial experience. Today, anarchism is associated in the media with “youth rebellion” against society, thus implying that anarchism is a side-effect of immaturity. To the extent that this is true, once youthfulness recedes such rebellious tendencies may also pass.


[X] NSM theory’s temporal ambiguity is also the target of Calhoun (1993) and Tucker (1991).

[XX] Williams’s (2009b) study shows an average age of 26 years old.


Avrich, P. (1980.) The Modern School Movement: Anarchism and Education in the United States. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Calhoun, C. (1993) “'New Social Movements' of the Early Nineteenth Century”. Social Science History, 17 (3), Fall: 385-427.

Ehrlich, H. (1991) “Notes from an Anarchist Sociologist: May 1989”. Pp. 233-248 in Radical Sociologists and the Movement: Experiences, Lessons, and Legacies, edited by M. Oppenheimer, M. J. Murray, and R. F. Levine. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Gilbert, M.S. (2004) Anarchists in Social Work: Known to the Authorities. Self-published.

Guérin, D. (2005) No Gods, No Masters: An Anthology of Anarchism. Oakland: AK Press.

MacPhee, J. and Reuland, E. (2007) Realizing the Impossible: Art Against Authority. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

McCarthy, J.D. and Zald, M. (1977) “Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory”. American Journal of Sociology, 82 (6): 1212-1241.

Spring, J. (1998) A Primer of Libertarian Education. Montreal: Black Rose Books.

Tucker, K.H. (1991) “How New are the New Social Movements?”. Theory, Culture & Society, 8: 75-98.

Williams, D.M. (2009b) “Anarchists and Labor Unions: An Analysis Using New Social Movement Theories”. WorkingUSA: The Journal of Labor and Society, 12 (3), September: 337-354.

Monday, December 6, 2010

New Social Movement (NSM) Theories and Anarchism: 1. Post-Industrial Politics

[Part 1 of 6 from a now-scuttled essay on anarchism and new social movement theories. Reviewed by numerous referees and rejected by four successive peer-reviewed sociology journals. I await the spare time, clarity of mind, and enthusiasm to re-draft the entire thing... Read at your own risk.]

The early non-social psychological view of social movements was often Marxist: class conflict led to social movements, revolutions, and social change. NSM theories took issue with the Marxist interpretation of social movements, particularly the emphasis upon struggle at the point of production. Anarchists are not aligned with authoritarian Marxists and likewise consider the exclusive emphasis that political Marxists put upon class exploitation as a perpetual blind-spot of Marx (see Bookchin 1991). Marx (and his contemporary followers have) tended to ignore or reduce the many other forms of non-class based inequality—such as privilege, status, and power (as well as domination by gender, race, and sexuality, etc.)—that exist in society, particularly political inequality manifested in the state. Although not all Marxists have prioritized an analysis of industrial capitalism and class exploitation, this is more common than not.

Unlike Marxists, Touraine (1981) argues that modern social conflict in advanced capitalist countries is post-industrial or non-class based. He principally observes cultural and political conflict, a sensible claim considering the dramatic rise of the peace, feminist, environmental, and gay rights movements since the late-1960s. Superficially, these movements were not inherently concerned with class or economics. But, is the modern anarchist movement overall equally dismissive of class matters as these “new social movements”? While many anarchists are not engaged directly in class-struggle efforts, other strands of anarchism are still intimately concerned with class and capitalism (e.g. Robinson 2009). Not only does class figure prominently in the anarchist critique of modern society, but anarchists are also explicit anti-capitalists.

Anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-communism are two ideological variants that advocate anti-capitalism and emphasize activism around class issues. The anarcho-syndicalist unions of France and Spain (the CNT and UGT), the Industrial Workers of the World in Anglo countries, and others view class-struggle in the workplace between bosses and workers as a central struggle. Anarcho-syndicalists advocate cross-industry solidarity, direct action tactics, and worker self-management (Rocker 2004). The International Workers Association (IWA) is a global anarcho-syndicalist federation with over 200 member organizations, including some of the above unions (Williams & Lee 2008). While not explicitly anarcho-syndicalist, the British Class War organization also highlights the role the working class plays in community struggles, external to unions, and has argued that the class has a central role in revolution.

Anarcho-communists are similar to their anarcho-syndicalist counterparts, but advocate a more community-oriented version of anti-capitalist class-struggle. They envision a future communist society that is different from the Bolshevik version—a collective society without a central party, vanguard, or “dictatorship of the proletariat”. Anarcho-communist federations exist, including anarchists referred to as “Platformists” that adhere to a general platform of beliefs and action (see Skirda 2002). One such US-Canadian grouping is the Northeastern Federation of Anarchist Communists (NEFAC), while globally, the International of Anarchist Federations (IAF) links together over 80 anarcho-communists organizations (Williams & Lee 2008).

Even more broadly than anarcho-syndicalism or anarcho-communism, anarchism is itself anti-capitalist. This means that all anarchists—not just those who adhere to the two aforementioned tendencies—advocate the elimination of capitalism, so-called “free markets”, and the modern business corporation.[X] This attention to class conflict has been around since the origins of anarchism in the mid-19th Century, when anarchists argued that capitalism destroys communities, the human spirit, and the Earth. The recent global justice movement, which has featured prominent anarchist participation, is propelled by a strong anti-capitalist streak (Epstein 2001). The Direct Action Network (Polletta 2002) and Peoples' Global Action (Maiba 2005, Wood 2005), which are laden with anarchist values and highly anarchistic organizational structures, have played a pivotal role in planning cross-national “days of action” to challenge capitalism at international economic forums and meetings. On a local-level, a case study of a small Midwest US town found strong class-based themes throughout its local movement, including a broad critique of corporate capitalism and participation in anarchist unionism (Robinson 2009).

The anarchist movements of the late-19th and early-20th centuries were nearly indistinguishable from the labor movement (individualist tendencies in North America aside)—or the general swell of activity we associate with the resistance to Industrial capitalism. Nevertheless, anarchism does not exclusively focus on class and class struggle today. Some anarchists have actually emphasized the decreasing importance of industrial capitalism and class in modern movements. Why might this be? Sheppard (2002) has suggested that divergent values, lifestyles, and occupational patterns have kept anarchists and labor unions apart in recent decades. More importantly, anarchists and other radicals have long been critical of hierarchical business unionism that conducts professional labor negotiations in which rank-and-file union members take little, if any, role in decision-making and planning. Often, collective bargaining is favored in place of strikes. Conflict is kept to a bare-minimum as workers are essentially bought-off by corporations in a supposed “capital-labor truce” (Aronowitz 1973, Brecher 1997). Anarchists like Zerzan (1974) and Black (1997), and others have criticized anarchist participation in labor unions, concluding that labor unions—and their industrial-age structures and strategies—should not be considered viable revolutionary organizations in the struggle against modern capitalism.

A new strand of anarchism termed “post-left anarchism” has arisen in the wake of such critiques of Leftism. Post-leftists reject large federations—like the aforementioned IWA and IAF—as old, sloth-like super-organizations, that build organizations for the sake of organization. As such, post-leftists are more apt to characterize “organizationalists” as the “Stalinists of anarchism” than to admire their revolutionary gumption. Post-leftist criticisms implicitly replicate many similar concerns and observations raised by NSM theories, while still asserting that people are exploited in terms of class and remaining anti-capitalist in orientation.

Another recent, vaguely-anarchist philosophy called “primitivism” challenges not only unions and capitalism for their hierarchical and destructive capacities, but industrial society itself. It is debatable whether or not primitivism’s concern over the near-apocalyptic destruction of the environment by “civilization” and primitivism’s advocacy for a return to a less-destructive hunter-gatherer existence can be considered to be “post-industrial”. This desire for a future designed by the past could be both “post-” and “pre-industrial”. However, a non-genocidal strategy for activists to achieve these ends is unclear from primitivist literature. Despite primitivist critiques of anarchist activity within the industrialized world, some anarchists do consider union syndicalism to be well-suited to the task of re-charting a more environmentally-sustainable course via labor-environmental coalitions, “green-bans”, and other strategies (Shantz & Adam 1999, Shantz 2002, Purchase 1994).

Touraine's (1981) observation of increased cultural-conflict (in place of industrial conflict) finds support since anarchists reject a narrow emphasis upon class-conflict. Post-class conflict now includes engagement with gender and race domination. Anarchists have been active, and in some respects, major actors in radical feminist and anti-racist movements. Radicals in feminism's second wave included anarcha-feminists who demanded not only a rejection of sexism and patriarchy, but also an end to capitalism and the state, which they argued all oppress women (Ehrlich 1977, Kornegger 2002). Anarcha-feminists in the US came to play an influential role in the activities of the anti-nuclear movement of the late-1970s (Epstein 1991). Anarchism today also clearly incorporates a rejection of White supremacy. Some Black radicals in the US, who were militants in the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army, have become relatively widely-read theorists, injecting critical race theory into anarchism (see Ervin 1993, Balagoon 2001). Since the fall of Communism and the re-appearance of so-called “White power” activism (neo-Nazi and other fascist organizing), anarchists have participated in anti-racist struggles throughout Europe, North America, and South America, in organizations such as Anti-Fascist Action (or “Antifa”), Anti-Racist Action (ARA), and Red and Anarchist Skinheads (RASH). New identities based on these distinctions will be explored more in Section 6 below. While these new forms of conflict have added on to the original anarchist critique of the state and capitalism, they have not displaced such concerns.


[X] Anti-capitalist anarchists participate in typical movement behavior: they engage in protest, extra-electoral political activity, and conflictual social discourse. Still, some people with free-market orientations do identify as anarchists, while lacking social movement qualities. “Anarcho-capitalists” or “Big-L Libertarians”, in the view of the anarchist movement, are not anarchists, but pro-capitalist individualists (McKay 2008).


Aronowitz, S. (1973) False Promises: The Shaping of American Working Class Consciousness. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Balagoon, K. (2001) A Soldier's Story: Writings By a Revolutionary New Afrikan Anarchist. Montréal: Kersplebedeb.

Black, B. (1997) Anarchy After Leftism. Columbia, MO: C.A.L. Press.

Bookchin, M. (1991) The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy. Montréal: Black Rose.

Brecher, J. (1997) Strike! Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Ehrlich, C. (1977) Socialism, Anarchism, and Feminism. Baltimore: Research Group One.

Epstein, B. (1991) Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970s and 1980s. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Epstein, B. (2001) “Anarchism and the Anti-Globalization Movement”. Monthly Review, 53 (4), September: 1-14.

Ervin, L.K. (1993) Anarchism and the Black Revolution. Philadelphia, Mid-Atlantic Publishing Collective.

Kornegger, P. (2002) “Anarchism: The Feminist Connection”. Pp. 21-31 in Quiet Rumours: An Anarcha-Feminist Reader, edited by Dark Star. Edinburgh: AK Press.

Maiba, H. (2005) “Grassroots Transnational Social Movement Activism: The Case of Peoples' Global Action”. Sociological Focus, 38 (1) February: 41-63.

McKay, I. (2008) An Anarchist FAQ: Volume I. Edinburgh: AK Press.

Polletta, F. (2002) Freedom is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Purchase, G. (1994) Anarchism & Environmental Survival. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press.

Robinson, C. (2009) “The Continuing Significance of Class: Confronting Capitalism in an Anarchist Community”. Working USA: The Journal of Labor & Society, 12 (3), September: 355-370.

Rocker, R. (2004) Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice. Edinburgh: AK Press.

Shantz, J.A. and Adam, B.D. (1999) “Ecology and Class: The Green Syndicalism of IWW/Earth First Local 1”. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 19 (7/8): 43-72.

Shantz, J. (2002) “Green Syndicalism: An Alternative Red-Green Vision”. Environmental Politics, 11 (4), Winter: 21-41.

Sheppard, B.O. (2002) “Anarchism and the Labor Movement”. Z-Net.

Skirda, A. (2002) Facing the Enemy: A History of Anarchist Organization from Proudhon to May 1968. Edinburgh: AK Press.

Touraine, A. (1981) The Voice and the Eye: An Analysis of Social Movements. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Williams, D.M. and Lee, M.T. (2008) “'We Are Everywhere': An Ecological Analysis of Organizations in the Anarchist Yellow Pages”. Humanity & Society, 32, February: 45-70.

Wood, L.J. (2005) “Bridging the Chasm: The Case of Peoples’ Global Action”. Pp. 95-117 in Coalitions Across Borders: Transnational Protest and the Neoliberal Order, edited by J. Brandy and J. Smith. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Zerzan, J. (1974) “Organized Labor Versus 'The Revolt Against Work': The Critical Contest”. Telos, 21, Fall: 194-206.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Comparing Anarchism and Sociology

As Purkis (2004) has noted, anarchism and sociology appeared within the same tumultuous social and political milieu in Europe known as the Enlightenment. This social revolution spurred all sorts of new intellectual traditions, which helped to lay the necessary groundwork for the creation of radical social movements and the scholarly study of societies. Despite these shared origins, anarchism and sociology are very different. Before noting areas of overlap and commonalities between the two, I explore the major ways in which anarchism and sociology can be critically contrasted with each other. In other words, how best can we organize and order these traditions in relation to each other?

The origins of anarchism can be found in the left-intellectual critiques of state, church, and capitalism, such as those of William Godwin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, as well as the burgeoning internationalist and radical labor movements of the second half of the Nineteenth Century. Anarchism's golden age produced activist-intellectuals (or revolutionary philosophers?) such as Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, and Errico Malatesta. Each faced exile and imprisonment, while writing numerous volumes each and establishing long-lasting traditions for future anarchists. Sociology has somewhat tamer origins and emerged from academic philosophy departments in universities. Sociology began to slowly constitute itself as a separate discipline, apart from economics, history, and political science (see Collins 1994). Early sociologists such as August Comte, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Georg Simmel, Harriet Martineu, and W.E.B. DuBois skirted the intellectual boundaries between academia, professional social work, and public policy creation. The foci of these intellectuals is comparable to the anarchists, although their analytical frameworks differed and their conclusions were far less likely to lead the sociologists to advocate revolutionary transformation.

Anarchist practitioners have included countless varieties of radicals and anarchists, some of who do not publicly identify or know they “are” anarchists. Given its outsider and oppositional status, anarchism does not have a method of professionalization to institute long-term adoption of anarchism within communities. Consequently, anarchism's permanency is constrained and limited to flexible and short-term organizations and projects; it is regularly under attack from major societal institutions (especially capitalism and the state). The popularity and traction of anarchism is attributable to the salience of ideas to people in the present, in light of contemporary conditions. As such, when consciousness about social disruption peaks, anarchism has tended to thrive, and vice-versa. Anarchism resides in the margins, existing in a variety of collective and cooperative organizational spaces, including affinity groups, networks, and federations, all of which have little coercive capacity over their membership. Sociology is very different: its practitioners are mainly professional, university-trained sociologists or students within universities. While many are academics and teachers, some sociologists also act as policy-makers, analysts, or community organizers. Sociologists are professionalized through formal education via course work, exams, and degrees (often advanced ones). Training in research methods, statistics, and sociological theory are often mandatory, culminating in professionals' own research projects which take the form of theses, dissertations, and academic journal articles. Due to these institutionalized structures, sociology endures overtime, particularly to the extent it is funded (through student tuition and state subsidy) and popularly respected (in some periods, Sociology may become controversial and lose support). Most sociology is sequestered away, outside of public view, in educational organizations—principally universities and colleges—but also professional associations, research institutes, and policy agencies.

Anarchism's realm of engagement has traditionally been within the world's working-classes, other variously-dominated populations, oppositional movements, and—in spatial terms—the streets. To casually encounter anarchism, one must usually be in society's “temporary autonomous zones”, including social centers and infoshops, or the meeting-places of anarcho-syndicalist unions. Anarchism's position in the periphery is due to its antagonistic relationship with authority, particularly bureaucratic, hierarchical, and dominating institutions. The public tends to fear anarchism, due to relentless, multi-generational anti-anarchist propaganda. Marginal interaction between the public and anarchists and their organizations would likely dispel the most absurd myths about the latter. Sociology, on the other hand, engages within the realm of ideas and scholarship; although anarchism has its theorists, they are outgunned by the overwhelming influence of professional intellectuals, especially academics who are paid to think and write. It has thrived within the spatial domain of “learning sites”, ranging from college campuses to think-tank offices. Authority figures have a mixed relationship with sociology; if its research and teaching is supportive of the status quo, then the state, university administrators, foundations and grant-givers, and policy-makers are congratulatory. If sociology is critical, such authority figures tend to reduce their support or initiate campaigns of opposition. The public tends to know little about sociology—in fact, regularly confuses it with either psychology, social work, or socialism—with the exception of the many millions of student who take classes annually. Yet, given the simple lecture-exam character of most education, this “instruction” often does little to re-acculturate most students to more favorable views of sociology or social criticism.

Change is viewed by anarchists as something to be deliberately pursued—in so far as it expands the domain of social freedom—but something that should be resisted if of a right-wing, totalitarian, or fascist character. The goal of anarchism is to radically transform society, to aid revolution through the spread of radical ideas and support for cooperative, alternative culture. Anarchism's impact upon society has been rather limited, especially in terms of its most dramatic goals. There are numerous examples of small-scale anarchistic projects and organizations, such as food cooperatives, social movement networks, alternative media outlets, and other such counter-institutions, but none that have (as of yet) created long-lasting revolutionary change. Sociology has also viewed change as a mixed-proposition. Research has indicated that lots of things cause change—everything from war to technology, natural disasters to social movements—but that change is not necessarily “good”. Sociologists have also held conflicting views regarding their own participation in change (c.f. Feagin & Vera 2008). Instead, sociology has mainly aimed to study society, conduct research, advance “knowledge”, teach students, and sometimes, moderately impact society (usually within the framework of objective rationalism). Consequently, sociology has had a muted impact upon society, especially in comparison to other social sciences. The discipline has had only limited policy reach and influenced other academics.

Even considering the major areas of disagreement and divergent focus, anarchism and sociology could generate a compelling synthesis, one that I attempt to define next [...]


* Collins, Randall. 1994. Four Sociological Traditions. New York: Oxford University Press.
* Feagin, Joe R. and Hernán Vera. 2008. Liberation Sociology. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.
* Purkis, Jonathan. “Towards an Anarchist Sociology”. In Changing Anarchism: Anarchist Theory and Practice in a Global Age, edited by J. Purkis and J. Bowen, 39-54. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Reviewing Liberation/Critical Sociology

[A book review I wrote for Anarchist Studies in 2009 on two Paradigm Publisher books that I had high hopes for. They were good, but not quite anarchist...]

Joe R. Feagin and Hernán Vera. 2008. Liberation Sociology, 2nd Edition. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers. 318 pages.
Steven M. Buechler. 2008. Critical Sociology. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers. 288 pages.

I have been searching for a compelling treatise of anarchist-sociology. The last few years have offered me some thought-provoking contenders. For example, professional introspection has occurred with self-conscious progressive American sociologists, resulting most notably in Michael Burawoy's “public sociology”. Both Liberation Sociology and Critical Sociology extend other progressive-minded views of sociology. Each is clearly on the “left” end of the socio-political spectrum and sympathizes with society's most oppressed. Each takes a challenging view of authority (although not always conceptualized as such) and articulates an agenda of emancipatory social change. Neither, however, pulls from an anarchist tradition, nor do they articulate an anarchist analysis and vision for society.

A clear difference between the two books is their intended audiences. Liberation Sociology is written for academic sociologists, presumably interested in “making a difference” in society. The book's goal is to critique the epistemological ways of knowing social facts and acting to change the world. Critical Sociology on the other hand, is not written for academics. At least, it is not written for professional sociologists. Thus, there is less disciplinary introspection and more discussion of what makes sociology critical. This text includes the ontology of sociology and is less interested in disciplinary internal debates than with critiquing society.

Liberation Sociology is largely a broadside attack upon instrumental-positivistic research, particularly that done via quantitative methods (especially surveys). The authors detail the weaknesses implicit in these research methods, keenly attributing these methods to the Chicago School, structural-functionalism, and elite clientelism. Regrettably, the contributions of quantitative methods are rarely noted, nor the theoretical benefits of mixed methods and how qualitative and quantitative methods can reinforce each other. The voices of deliberately marginalized sociologists are emphasized, including women and people of color (e.g. Jane Addams and W.E.B. DuBois). In focusing on these voices—as well as other more prominent sociologists, including Durkheim and Mead—the authors point to sociologists who have openly worked for social change and not feigned “neutrality” like the still-obviously-pro-system Chicago School and others do. This second edition's epilogue includes ideas about teaching liberation sociology to students. This addition saves the book from being short-sighted and unconcerned with those who most routinely encounter sociology: students.

A principle weakness of Liberation Sociology is that it circumscribes the empowering potential of (capital-S) Sociology to actual practitioners (mainly academics). The in-depth discussion of various social change agents focuses almost exclusively on specific academics. While this may be due to the book's target audience, it also portrays sociological ideas as being mainly useful to people with PhDs who are properly trained to use the ideas. For example, the premiere examples in the chapter on “participatory action research” are troubling. Some examples are not participatory at all, other research projects only occurred when external funding was available from hierarchical sources, in very few projects did the “subjects” influence the project's focus and carry out their own research, and only one or two could be said to actually have empowered the subjects or expanded their self-determination. “Liberation” here is something that happens to people, not something that the disempowered direct themselves. Ideas of self-management, self-determination, and direct democracy (classic anarchist principles of liberation) are notably absent.

The second weakness to Liberation Sociology is that it almost exclusively focuses on the individual acts of “great sociologists” or other individuals. Collectivities and organizations are subtly avoided, with the exception of Sociologists Without Borders and the Sociology Liberation Movement. Curiously, the latter, although perhaps the most appropriate example of liberation sociology (given its name), is only mentioned in passing and never actually elaborated upon; unfamiliar readers will be left feeling tragically uninformed.

Critical Sociology would work well as an introductory read for those interested in sociology, including undergraduates and even anarchists. It provides an overview of many of the ideas, social facts, and theories that make up the sociological canon, but in a comprehensive fashion that is very readable, and dare I say radical.

The author's concerns in many ways parallel an anarchist's concerns about hierarchical society: capitalism, the state, media-driven culture, and major forms of inequality (class, race, and gender). A somewhat out-of-place series of chapters in the middle of the book consider individuals, the self, and micro-interactionist views. What preserves Buechler's critical theme, however, is the rare emphasis upon how power still matters in terms of symbolic interaction and social constructionism. The final chapters round-out Buechler's forward-looking critical sociology by tackling globalization, social movements, and democracy. The latter two are especially important for anarchist audiences, as Buechler clearly articulates how social movements drive progressive change in society and why democracy matters (and the obvious limitations of the present unequal political economy and representative “democracy”).

There are a few limitations. As an advanced survey book, Critical Sociology seems to want to explore “major areas” within the discipline, regardless of how they contribute to a critical sociology—for example, Charles Cooley's “looking glass self” is surely interesting, but just how “critical” is it? Curiously, “anarchism” appears in the book once—“market anarchism” is used as a synonym for “chaos”, thus indicating the author's limited appreciation of what anarchism entails to actual anarchists. Additionally, potentially sociological elements that could anarchize an understanding of society—autonomy, mutual aid, and decentralization—are notably absent. In a chapter called “Toward a Critical Sociology”, Buechler focuses wholly upon Critical Theory as developed by the Frankfurt School, in particular the work of Jürgen Habermas. This raises the question of how distinct Buechler's vision is, or whether it is merely a restatement of Habermasian sociology. Finally, while staking out a sociology that could articulate a better world, the book does not fully grapple with the ways in which this could occur. Thus, the emphasis is largely on criticism of the existing order, as opposed to a radical, value-driven, pre-figurative social order in line with anarchist practice. The exception is the final chapter in which the author details ways in which democracy could be expanded in US society.

Although Liberation Sociology and Critical Sociology are important texts and are worthwhile reads for anarchist scholars, I will have to continue my pursuit for an anarchist-sociology. It will, undoubtedly, have to be articulated by an actual anarchist-sociologist.