Rethinking Anarchism


Anarcho-infantilism
December 27, 2008, 6:33 am
Filed under: Analysis | Tags: , , , , ,

I just took a look at the call for a “Celebrate Peoples’ History, Build Popular Power BLOC” at the January 20th Inauguration. Seems like a pretty good idea to me. The Anarchist movement in the US is still mostly thrashing around in its little ghetto,  uncomprehending of the realities facing working people and the possibilities this creates (take Crimethinc’s recent assertion that the rebellion in Greece had little to do with economic conditions, for example).

Predictably, the call has caused quite a stir amongst the brick and bottles caucus, with long comment threads on Infoshop.org, and Anarchistnews.org. Many Anarchists have a serious deficiency in understanding how to build movements for change. I like the Popular Power Bloc because it will create opportunities for dialogue with the same people who will be open to our ideas in 6 months when the crisis in capitalism is that much deeper.

That said, there’s a place for confrontation and Black Bloc tactics. Streetfighting can be a valuable radicalizing experience for youth. Taken far enough, it can stop certain state initiatives. In addition, the situations rioters face in the streets might actually be somewhat prefigurative of what a revolutionary transformation will look like.

The question is how streetfighting can be one tactic within a broader strategy of social change. In countries with a more developed radical left, youth sections of the various radical parties and unions sponsor demonstrations that often turn into riots. Check out http://antifa.de for example. These organizations are extremely popular and help build a radical youth culture.

The danger is that the clashes with their attendant macho image get fetishized and mistaken for radicalism in its own right. In the US, the result is a kind of infantile approach to politics which treats the streets as the be-all of radical politics.

The question is how to move beyond streetfighting into more serious, effective, long-term approaches to change. One idea is to build up the mass organizations that could make this possible, and then start youth wings (like ANTIFA of ARA) that allow kids to taste confrontation so they can get down to the real revolutionary struggle in their neighborhoods, schools, homes, and workplaces.

It’s one thing when Crimethinc puts out a call for a Black Bloc at Obama’s inauguration, alienating millions of potential supporters. It’s another when the youth wing of an anarchist federation or union makes demands and then stages disruptive demonstrations to win them.

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3 Comments so far
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I have to disagree here. Your critiques of anarcho-protestism, crimethinc, and the subculture/clique of activism is right on. However the popular power block is another matter. There are questions of strategy and of principles.

Strategically, what is to be gained by attending an inauguration? The idea is to show examples of other struggles and celebrate. Realistically how are we either going to alter power, or move anyone through these actions? You wouldn’t, which means the action is symbolic. Symbolism can be powerful if it is able to leverage a change in thinking, but I fail to see how this can happen when the idea is not to critique but rather just have some slogans on signs about causes most people have no clue about. This is merely the other side of the coin of protest politics. Equally symbolic, and equally misplaced. When we could be organizing around real struggles, activists spend their energy engaged in symbolic politics where the goal is have the right message or present ones view on top of some mass of people.

In terms of principles, this effort has an elitist ring to it. We, activists, have critiques but the people celebrating don’t need to, aren’t ready, don’t want to hear it so instead we’ll just give them more palpable signs. This dynamic is set up because its within the realm of symbolic protests rather than struggle amongst movements. The problem again is one of messaging, with activists giving themselves an almost patronizing role.

My positions is abstention. It isn’t the time or place for a critique, it is not a time or a place to intervene either. The drive behind this is numbers. People of color, and the population generally, got behind obama like never before. That’s significant. It doesn’t mean that that’s our place to intervene (especially not in symbolic forums). Huge numbers of people campaigning is not a movement. It could produce a movement (more likely is huge numbers of disenfranchised and disillusioned people), but in itself it is the most indirect form of action possible. The role of revolutionaries is to show the possibility of new worlds within direct struggle we help build and nurture. That means some mass movements aren’t ours, and we’ll have a critical orientation towards them. Otherwise we fall into mere populism, chasing crowds irrespective of their content. This has had deadly consequences on the left as Iran can illustrate.

Comment by todd

Thanks for this comment, Todd. I hadn’t thought of this in terms of what revolutionary organizers should be doing, but more in terms of what Anarchists *shouldn’t* be doing, namely, showing up as a black bloc at the inauguration.

I’m not going to be putting any effort toward this either, but I do think it is the best option for people who are inclined to participate in this spectacle in some way. For instance, if I lived in DC this is what I would do.

Regarding strategy concerns, yes, this is symbolic. Street protests and marches are not the best way to engage people. Then again, having a visible presence in society is crucial if we want to play a role in struggles or change peoples’ thinking. I think that the strategy here is to initiate a dialogue with people who we feel have misplaced their hope in a political figure. Why don’t you think this initiative could change some peoples’ thinking?

The other aspect is the possibility of networking. It’s necessary to have convergences that may be ‘symbolic’ in order for us to know each other and support other struggles that emerge.

I see this as similar to the role of the Anticapitalist Bloc at the RNC.

Regarding Principles, I guess I didn’t find this elitist, insofar as saying you are right and other people are wrong is ever elitist.

I respect the impulse to abstain, but isn’t there a way we can engage people who are Obama supporters because of a deep desire for change? I’m not saying that all anarchists should go to DC on January 20th, but if you live nearby, why not participate?

Maybe I should just write off the Anarchist scene entirely, but until there is some kind of national class struggle alternative, I’m inclined to lend support to any initiative that encourages radical to look outside the bubble and engage the general populace. I’d be in support of going to any crowd and leafletting, for instance. Do you think we should only interact with people who are already in struggle in the workplace or their neighborhoods?

Comment by Erik

“I hadn’t thought of this in terms of what revolutionary organizers should be doing, but more in terms of what Anarchists *shouldn’t* be doing, namely, showing up as a black bloc at the inauguration.”

totally. that makes sense.

“I do think it is the best option for people who are inclined to participate in this spectacle in some way. For instance, if I lived in DC this is what I would do.”

i can respect that.

“having a visible presence in society is crucial if we want to play a role in struggles or change peoples’ thinking. I think that the strategy here is to initiate a dialogue with people who we feel have misplaced their hope in a political figure. Why don’t you think this initiative could change some peoples’ thinking?”

It’s not that I don’t think its possible, I think the chances are quite low. If we had large movements, lots of resources for publications, and excess time, I might think it was a sensible thing to prioritize. But in reality with small numbers, a few fliers, and some signs, how many conversations will we be able to have? Of these, how many will move someone based solely on short conversations with strangers?

Given where we are, a better use of our resources is direct struggle where we build lasting relationships with people and we can develop eachother through struggle.

I think that activists prioritize these symbolic events because they see change occuring like it does in universities, through conscious deliberation and discussion. As such, these protests represent a place to challenge, discuss, etc. Yet I think its pretty clear it never works that way. Protests are good for recruiting the convinced.

“The other aspect is the possibility of networking. It’s necessary to have convergences that may be ’symbolic’ in order for us to know each other and support other struggles that emerge.”

I can see that. But why not just have those independently. A protest is a bad place to form lasting bonds. Protests are called to protest, which if the goal is networking, another venue would be better.

“Regarding Principles, I guess I didn’t find this elitist, insofar as saying you are right and other people are wrong is ever elitist.”

Telling people they’re wrong is different. If you are like the state is going to fuck you, then it’d be a different situation. Instead the proposal is to not critique. That’s why i think its elitist. It is like saying everyday people are too dumb for our critiques. Instead we’ll give them pictures of zapatistas that are more palpable. The answer is to reject the dichotomy of protest politics all together.

“isn’t there a way we can engage people who are Obama supporters because of a deep desire for change?”

Yes, but it would be by meeting people where they are at, in their struggles around common interest in the community.

“I’m not saying that all anarchists should go to DC on January 20th, but if you live nearby, why not participate?”

I’d say why participate? I’d put my time I’d use preparing and participating to build real movements instead.

“Maybe I should just write off the Anarchist scene entirely, but until there is some kind of national class struggle alternative, I’m inclined to lend support to any initiative that encourages radical to look outside the bubble and engage the general populace.”

That is a good point. This is an improvement from the black block for sure.

“I’d be in support of going to any crowd and leafletting, for instance. Do you think we should only interact with people who are already in struggle in the workplace or their neighborhoods?”

Oh no. i’d support that. that would make sense, but I thought that this proposal was not to do that. Rather just be there in the moment. I know of folks who intend to go because they support the obama victory and intend to celebrate.

Comment by todd




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