Rethinking Anarchism

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, and 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 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.


Tree vs. Rhizome, Revisited
December 3, 2008, 7:15 am
Filed under: Analysis, News | Tags: , , , ,

The question of what’s next for Obama’s support network just won’t go away. Here’s an article about it that came out today on NPR: “The Fate of Obama’s Net Roots Network.”

The story is that Barack Obama was elected on the back of the biggest wave of “participation” ever seen in a US electoral campaign. This was accomplished largely through mobilizing a constituency through the Internet and allowing local volunteer organizers a relatively high degree of autonomy. Supposedly, the campaign is a network organization, a “rhizome,” rather than a top-down “tree.”

If this is true, if the Obama campaign was in fact a “movement,” the answer to the “what next” question will not come from the President-Elect or his campaign strategy team, but from the network itself.

I doubt this will happen. It seems to me that the Obama campaign was not a qualitatively different way of doing politics- but a quantitatively different way of campaigning. The goal was the same: elect someone. The tactics were the same: phone calls, doorknocking, maybe some house parties, but the scale was different.

These quantitative changes are not without value. It shows that massive numbers of people are looking for solutions, trying new things. If Obama does not deliver the goods, at least some of the now-organized population will move on in search of qualitatively different approaches… and different targets, tactics, and strategies.

I hope that revolutionary anarchists are part of the dialogue when people realize that the change we need isn’t going to come from anyone other than ourselves.

“What’s Left After Obama?”- Anarchist Analysis of the Election
November 16, 2008, 2:37 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

This is one of the best analyses I have read so far about Obama and the election.

Interestingly, it’s by Simon Critchley, author of Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance. His book was revied by Zizek here. And Critchley’s rejoinder here.

Maybe when I get some time I’ll write about this.

A Hissing Sound?
November 5, 2008, 7:07 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

Barack Obama has won the presidency. I was on the streets with Somalis, white liberals, and anarchists as McCain delivered his concession speech. The mood was jubilant. The cops showed up and everyone quieted down.

The big question is- what now? Obama was elected with a progressive mandate. We will now see if his presidency lives up to the hopes he inflated to put himself in the White House. If he goes back on his promises to the electorate, will the people oppose him?

The first hundred days of Obama’s presidency will tell us a great deal about the next four years. Will progressive change encounter roadblocks from entrenched corporate interests that we are too disorganized and weak to surmount? Will the momentum of an at least aesthetically progressive victory carry over into other spheres of society? Is this the beginning of something bigger, or a false start?

I will be listening closely for a giant hissing sound, the sound of deflating hopes.

Whether the hopes that carried Obama to the White House are buoyed or crushed, Anarchists must engage with those around us who are clearly looking for answers, and willing to fight. This is neither the beginning, nor the end. Let Obama’s victory be but a symptom of a broader resurgence in popular confidence to confront illegitimate authority and work together for a better world.