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(en) US, Athens, Media, Anarchist speaker envisions a world without head honchos at the North American Anarchists Conference August 13-15th, 2004

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 13 Aug 2004 08:36:18 +0200 (CEST)

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For many people, the word "anarchism" probably connotes chaos,
broken windows and wild-eyed rebellion.
But according to a theorist who will speak at an anarchist gathering in
Athens this weekend, anarchism is actually an alternative method of getting
people to work together effectively, without putting anyone in charge.
"Basically, anarchism is a theory of organization," explained Howard
J. Ehrlich, who will speak at this weekend's convergence on "Building a
Revolutionary Transfer Culture." Ehrlich, director of the Prejudice
Institute in Baltimore, is also the author of a number of books including
"Reinventing Anarchy, Again" and "The Social Psychology of Prejudice."

The 2004 North American Anarchist Convergence takes place in
Athens from Friday to Sunday, and features numerous speakers,
educational workshops and recreation events.

Many of the events take place in OU academic buildings, including
Bentley and Ellis halls, though a punk-rock show featuring several
bands is set for Friday at The Wire on Kern Street, and another
performance event begins at 8 p.m. Saturday at the same spot.

Ehrlich said anarchists aim to create alternative institutions --
schools, factories, media outlets, whatever -- to those existing in
society. But whereas the standard way of organizing people in a
capitalist world is a power pyramid, anarchists strive to create
groupings in which decisions and work are collective, with no
bosses or underlings.

Anarchists believe that "one can build organizations that are
non-authoritarian and non-hierarchical," he said. While anarchist
organizations "do exactly the same things that established
institutions do," he said, they go about it in a radically different way.

In an anarchist collective, Ehrlich said, while some people may
naturally gravitate to jobs they do better than other members, it is
important that everyone get some experience in doing every job. In
collectives he has been involved in, for example, "when we started
a new member, one of the first things we had them do is work with
the account books."

He noted that in many organizations, the financial records are
treated as mysterious, secret documents that can only be viewed
and understood by certain experts. But if everyone in an
organization has a basic understanding of the group's money
situation, he said, it demystifies the budget books. "You can't
pretend to be such an expert that you can keep me from doing it,"
he said.

Likewise, according to Ehrlich, when he was involved in a radio
production collective, "our training meant that everybody knew how
to run a (sound) board."

Ehrlich acknowledged that making a true collective work is a big
challenge, and requires unlearning habits of authority and
obedience that society instills into people from an early age.

"Where collectives often fail is, they do not have programs of
internal education," he said. "Most people don't know very well
how to work in groups."

He also argued that if an anarchist collective is working the way it
should, it must inevitably engage with the outside world to make
social change. An anarchist food co-op, for example, should not
just provide its members with healthy food, but should also work to
inform people about the economics of food production in our
society, what additives are put into food products, and so forth.

"The role of the anarchist today is to build social communities," he

OF COURSE, MANY CRITICS of anarchism might suggest that
hierarchy, a system of leaders and followers, is built into human
nature. Ehrlich readily acknowledged that he takes it as a matter of
faith that human beings are not hard-wired for hierarchy, but
instead have a natural tendency to cooperate and work together in a
fair and equal way.

He cited a work by the famed anarchist Peter Kropotkin
(1842-1921), in which Kropotkin critiqued Darwin's notion of
"survival of the fittest." In human history, Ehrlich said, "Kropotkin
argued that survival came to those societies that were best able to
engage in mutual aid."

Of course, Ehrlich said, a hierarchical society is full of messages
about who outranks whom, which bombard its members practically
from birth. "By the time a child is 3 years old, they already begin to
understand some of the basic aspects of stereotyping by gender and
by skin color," he said. "What often looks to be part of human
nature in fact turns out to be the socialization of children."

The point of anarchist organization, Ehrlich said, is not to pretend
everyone in the group is equally capable at every job, but rather to
make sure everyone is informed and involved in decision-making,
with no one able to override the consensus of the group.

"There is a difference between being an authority on a subject --
which I want people to be -- and being in authority," he explained.

Ehrlich will speak at 4 p.m. Saturday in room 124 of Bentley Hall,
and also will conduct a workshop during the anarchist convergence.


Link: http://www.naac2004.org/

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