I’m not a big fan of the self-deprivation – which often presents as puritanical and ascetic –often associated with New Year’s resolutions, unless they involve giving up… self-deprivation. The following five points – what I see as ways to make anarchism/ anarchy sexier, more practical, and in the here-and-now – do not serve as an arbitrary set of resolutions for a most heterogeneous of social/ political movements. Rather, they are my own aspirations and hopes for the anarchist movement in the New Year.
If they’re not your own hopes and aspirations, please add to this conversation. That is to say, I would love to hear others’ thoughts on what they would like to see anarchism become in 2011, and in the future.
The 2000’s have been a mixed bag for this movement that seeks to alter globalization. Of course 9/11/01 radically shifted the direction – and changed the dynamics, while slowing the momentum – of a movement that started the 2000’s still coasting off the fumes of Seattle ’99. We could consider 2011 as a time to reconsider what anarchism is, jettisoning the useless, and building on the valuable and useful and imaginative aspects.
I. Be nice to each other
This seems simple enough, but anarchists typically struggle in this department. Anarchism appealed to me as the anti-ideology – certainly the ideas are important, but it transcended other political and religious dogma. But the anarchist community is by-no-means immune to dogma and ultra-ideological partisans. If it’s important for you to tout the “correct” (as you see it) anarchist line, just acknowledge that you could be – and likely are – wrong, and subject to change your mind in the near future. If we want to end domination and oppression and “power-over” social relationships in their entirety, we better be able to play nicely.
A healthy plurality of theories and ideas that may full-well be antithetical to each other is perfectly fine; anarchism is a broad idea with sweeping, subjective principles defining it – always changing, never static. But partaking in these discourses in a manner that seeks to destroy our fellow anti-authoritarian theoretical opponents is counterproductive.
II. Immerse ourselves in community work
All-too-many well-meaning anarchists get lost in theory and counter-culture. I remember hearing a talk by Barry Pateman about anarchists that started a successful infoshop in California, and putting out a well-done paper. Headlines such as “Situationism: Second wave” graced the front page of this particular infoshop’s paper, according to Pateman. In an adjacent impoverished, working-class community, folks were being evicted from their apartments, having their homes foreclosed upon, and were plagued with other Capital-induced problems. The anarchists that made this successful infoshop run had likely no knowledge of what was happening in this adjacent community, or – even worse – they didn’t care. This is a shame, indeed… if you ask this anarchist.
Infoshops and cultural centers are a way to reclaim public space, using it to do non-hierarchical politics and letting non-oppressive social relationships flourish. I don’t want to understate the importance of such endeavors. But if such impressive anti-authoritarian projects flourish, while ignoring problems directly impacting communities in which they’re located, opportunities to build radical consciousness, to offer mutual aid and accompaniment with our neighbors in times of hardship are lost.
There are plenty of small gains that can be attained in the here-and-now in our communities. I can’t find any good reason we shouldn’t be, at the very least, attempting to form democratic neighborhood associations that do not work with the police or city government, foreclosure defense collectives, tenants’ unions, collectives with prisoners returning to the community, radically-oriented, directly democratic youth programs, and weekly, community discussion groups which give neighbors an opportunity to do face-to-face politics. All of these projects can be run non-hierarchically—without leaders. In every sense of the term, these would all be “anarchist” projects.
An infoshop can be an effective and meaningful way to spread consciousness and propaganda, but the community Pateman mentioned in his talk could benefit from the aforementioned examples of mutual aid, and anarchist-inspired projects.
III. Work on our communication skills
Many erudite radicals have come and gone, without the abolition of systems of domination and oppression. It is clear that the more verbose, obscurantist, or abstract our literature is – while this can certainly be an enjoyable challenge at times to read and discuss – doesn’t make it more effective in propagating ideas within non-radicalized communities. In fact, it may do the opposite; I would understand if someone not ensconced in the anarchist community would be more than a little put off if all they were exposed to was literature inspired by post-structuralist thinkers, Tiqqun-style essays, books, or pamphlets. Without points of reference, this style of communication could come off as either pretentious, or perhaps even nonsensical. Why start there?
Instead, we should consider universal accessibility: we need to create propaganda that can be heard for the blind, seen for the deaf, and can be understood by everyone in our communities. All people with so-called “disabilities” (an arbitrary concept and term, to say the least) should be able to experience and understand our means of communication if we stand opposed to social hierarchies. Our means of communication should also transcend language borders, and all borders for that matter. Well-done performance art, or visual art of any kind, would be one way to do this. Imaginative possibilities are endless, and different cultural milieu and geographic regions would create this in different manners.
IV. Attempt to organize workplaces on anti-authoritarian grounds
After our immediate community, the workplace is the most important space to encourage anti-capitalist resistance. In the community we’re consumers, and at the workplace we’re producers of services or goods; capitalism needs both. We need to encourage fellow community members/ workers to break the cycle.
Whether you think anarchism is a tradition that belongs to the lineage of the political left, or if you’re a left-loather and anti-workerist – and if you have a day job – attempt to form radical, horizontally-controlled unions, workers’ organizations, coalitions, or councils. Even if work is something you’d like to abolish in its entirety, organize not to work; you may find quite a bit of sympathy.
If your idea of a post-capitalist society is one for which there is some kind of industry, organize on those grounds. Organize at your workplace simply because you want modest improvements. But if you’re an anarchist, try to organize non-hierarchically; try to create webs of solidarity that exist without leaders or bureaucracy. If we can channel the vitriol most have for management and bosses, coupled with the fact that most do not like their jobs and would choose to do something else with their time if given a more attractive choice, we may be able to get somewhere.
Stand in solidarity with those workers doing just this at Jimmy Johns’ and Starbucks; both are affiliated with the IWW – its history with no shortage of anarchist involvement. Remind your employees that the American labor movement has made many gains thanks to anarchists since the Haymarket affair in Chicago, and remind them who struggled for the eight-hour workday. Promote May Day as a day to celebrate this event in 2011; appropriate it as a candidly anarchist holiday.
There’s no suggestion here that this will bring about some glorious revolution; this may be an outdated goal. If anarchy is permanent, it is dynamic in its meaning and present and future aspirations. Attempting to organize workers, i.e., Capitals’ cogs, can lead to radical community – a community informed to think freely. If a community feels able and is more-than-willing to think freely, this is more than an anarchist can ask for.
It can lead to a spreading conversation, a culture in opposition to the conformist hegemony of western, Eurocentric, capitalist society – even within one neighborhood. “Anarchizing” the workplace, in this sense, has the utmost potential. This is a call to “come out” to your fellow employees, if you haven’t already. Reach for the most absurd and unattainable goals like a city-wide wildcat strike; encourage the strike so the neighborhood can spend a day getting to know each other instead of working, or to abolish capitalism. Simply encourage idolatry, in rejection of the puritanical standards that consider back-breaking work “moral,” or organize on completely different grounds that you think your community might be sympathetic towards.
V. Continue to broaden the scope of our critique
Anarchism is more than an opposition to the State and Capital; we’ve done a poor job at articulating this at great measure. Even in many published, historical overviews of anarchism, it’s often reduced to being against government, or anti-statism. This leads folks to believe that anarchists cannot find liberatory relationships and can never “win” – assuming “winning” some kind of tangible battle is still the program – since winning involves what many in our community refer to as making “Total Destroy.”
This is why we must broaden the scope of our critique. There is a great deal of promising literature coming out regarding anarchism and disability intersections, anarchist perspectives regarding queer theory, and an anarchist analysis of the climate crisis. That said, we could do a whole hell of a lot better. Without capitalism, we would still have all of the constructed binary opposition – some examples of constructed binary opposition include “heterosexuality” v. “homosexuality,” “woman” v. “man,” “able” v. “disabled,” “sane” v. “insane,” etc. The reason all of these binary oppositions should be critiqued robustly by anarchists is that they create “power-over” social relationships. That is to say, binary oppositions create hierarchies with a dominant group, and an oppressed group.
While there is encouraging literature coming out from our community, we could afford to organize on these issues. In the wretched prisons, in our schools – which aren’t much different to our children than the prisons, in our community –in which people who do not conform to rigid gender identities are treated horrendously by market, patriarchal, white supremacist society, there are plenty of ways and means to form solidarity and mutual aid opportunities with these oppressed groups, and create anarchy in real time.
There is no conclusion…
Anarchism will constantly have to redefine itself to remain anti-authoritarian. There is no end result we seek; anarchism is a critique, and a constant demand for liberatory relationships with others, with the environment, with ourselves. This will apply to any future moment, as well. It doesn’t exist in the future. Direct action is something anarchists have been interested in for a reason: it is a demand for non-commodified relationships; opportunities for creative possibilities; making our imagination a reality, in real time. 2011 gives the movement opportunity to start fresh, and to reflect on the many promising, and negative, aspects of anarchism.