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(en) [fracfriend] Anarchism's Promise for Anti-Capitalist Resistance by Cindy Milstein I. (1/2)

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 17 Jan 2004 13:43:01 +0100 (CET)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
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Note: This essay is from the forthcoming book Anti-Capitalism: A Field
Guide to the Global Justice Movement, edited by Rachel Neumann and Andy
Hsiao (New York: New Press).
For many, a "new anarchism" seemed to have been birthed amid the cold
rain and toxic fog that greeted the November 1999 World Trade
Organization protest. Yet rather than the bastard child of an emergent
social movement, this radical politics of resistance and reconstruction
had been transforming itself for decades. Seattle's direct action only
succeeded in making it visible again. Anarchism, for its part, supplied
a compelling praxis for this historical moment. And in so doing, it not
only helped shape the present anti-capitalist movement; it also
illuminated principles of freedom that could potentially displace the
hegemony of representative democracy and capitalism.

From its nineteenth-century beginnings on, anarchism has always held
out a set of ethical notions that it contends best approximates a free
society. In the parlance of his period, Italian anarchist Errico
Malatesta (1853-1932) long ago described anarchism as "a form of social
life in which men live as brothers, where nobody is in a position to
oppress or exploit anyone else, and in which all the means to achieve
maximum moral and material development are available to everyone." This
pithy definition still captures anarchism's overarching aims.
Nevertheless, this libertarian form of socialism may well have been
ahead of its day in advocating a world of transnational and
multidimensional identities, in struggling for a qualitative humanism
based on cooperation and differentiation. It is only in the context of
globalization that anarchism may finally be able to speak to the times
and thus peoples' hopes. Whether it can fulfill its own aspirations
remains to be seen.

The Vision Made Invisible

While the forms of organization and values advanced by anarchists can be
found in embryo around the world in many different eras, anarchism's
debut as a distinct philosophy was in mid-nineteenth-century Europe. The
English "philosopher of freedom" William Godwin was the first
Enlightenment thinker to scribe a sustained theory of a society without
states in his 1793 An Inquiry concerning Political Justice, but it
wasn't until Pierre-Joseph Proudhon wrote "society seeks order in
anarchy" in his 1840 What Is Property? that the term "anarchism" slowly
began to congeal over the next several decades around a recognizable
core of principles. Godwin's political theory didn't live up to the
liberatory character of his cultural sentiments; and Proudhon should be
roundly condemned on many fronts, from his failure to contend with
capitalism's inherent logic to his patriarchal and anti-Semitic beliefs.
It would in fact take others, from the Russian aristocrat Peter
Kropotkin (1842-1921) to the German Jewish intellectual Gustav Landauer
(1870-1919) and many prominent as well as lesser-known radicals, to fill
out a more pleasing portrait of classical anarchism: a utopian political
philosophy decrying all forms of imposed authority or coercion.

As socialists, anarchists were particularly concerned with capitalism,
which during the Industrial Revolution was causing suffering on a
hitherto-unimaginable scale. Anarchists primarily pinned their hopes for
transforming social relations on workers, utilizing economic categories
ranging from class struggle to an end to private property. All those on
the revolutionary Left agreed that capitalism couldn't be reformed; it
must instead be abolished. But unlike other socialists, anarchists felt
that the state was just as complicit in enslaving humanity, and so one
couldn't employ statecraft--even in a transitional manner--to move from
capitalism to socialism. A classless yet still statist society,
anarchists argued, would still constitute a world marked for most by
domination. As anarcho-syndicalist Rudolf Rocker proclaimed in 1938,
"Socialism will be free, or it will not be at all." For this reason and
others, anarchism evolved out of socialism to indicate an opposition not
just to capitalism but also states and other compulsory, interlinked
institutions, such as organized religion, mandatory schooling,
militarism, and marriage. Thus it is said of anarchism in the most
general sense that "all anarchists are socialists, but not all
socialists are anarchists."

This statement could also be seen as relating to questions of strategy.
Many socialists, at least the radical ones, were not adverse to the
"withering away of the state," it was just a matter of when and how. For
anarchists, a "dictatorship of the proletariat" steering the state until
it withered couldn't be counted on to actually push that process along.
Instead of top-down social organization, anarchists championed various
types of horizontal models that could prefigure the good society in the
present. That is, anarchists maintained that people could attempt to
build the new world in the shell of the old through self-organization
rather than passively waiting until some post-revolutionary period.
Hence anarchism's emphasis on praxis. Anarchist alternatives were
grounded in such key concepts as voluntary association, personal and
social freedom, confederated yet decentralized communities, equality of
conditions, human solidarity, and spontaneity. As the European invention
known as anarchism traveled via intellectual and agitator circuits to
everywhere from the United States and China to Latin America and Africa,
anarchists experimented with everything from communal living,
federations, and free schools to workers' councils, local currencies,
and mutual aid societies.

Anarchism was part of a fairly large internationalist Left from the
1880s through the Red Scare of the 1920s and Spanish Revolution of the
1930s. Then, discredited, disenchanted, or killed, anarchists seemed to
disappear, and with them, the philosophy itself. After World War II and
the defeat of Nazism, it appeared the two political choices were
"democracy" (free market capitalism) or "communism" (state capitalism).
Lost in this equation, among other things, was the questioning of
authority and concurrent assertion of utopia posed by anarchism.

Reemergence as Convergence

The distant nineteenth-century is, of course, formative for anarchism's
reinvention. But the dilemmas and openings of that time--for instance,
the rise of liberalism, colonialism, and industrial production--are far
removed from those of the twenty-first century. Beyond this, classical
anarchism leaves a lot to be desired: its naivete concerning human
nature as basically good, say, or its aversion to any political
replacement for statist governments. When anarchism began to be
rediscovered in the 1950s by leftists searching for an alternative to
orthodox marxism, it therefore tried hard to remake itself. Anarchist
thinkers grappled with new concerns from conspicuous consumption to
urbanization; new possibilities such as feminism and cultural
liberation; and old ghosts of its own from a workerist orientation to
authoritarian, even terroristic tactics. The renewed anarchism that
finally emerged was, in fact, a convergence of various postwar
anti-authoritarian impulses. Though the libertarian sensibility of the
1960s and New Left is foundational, five phenomena are especially
crucial to the praxis made (in)famous in Seattle.

First, there is the Situationist International (1962-1972), a small
group of intellectuals and avant-garde artists who attempted to describe
a changing capitalism. According to the Situationists, the alienation
basic to capitalist production that Marx had observed now filled every
crevice; people were alienated not only from the goods they produced but
their own lives, their own desires. The commodity form had colonized the
previously separate sphere of daily life. As SI Guy Debord quipped,
modern capitalism forged "a society of the spectacle" or consumer
society that promised satisfaction yet never delivered, with us as
passive spectators. The Situationists advocated playful disruptions of
the everyday, from media to cityscapes, in order to shatter the
spectacle via imagination and replace drudgery with pleasure. During the
May 1968 near-revolution in Paris, SI slogans as graffiti such as "Live
without dead time! Enjoy without restraint" were ubiquitous. Ironically,
even though the Situationists were critical of anarchists, anarchists
lifted from the Situationists' critique, especially the preoccupation
with cultural alterations.

From the 1970s on, the interdisciplinary works of theorist Murray
Bookchin also helped transform anarchism into a modern political
philosophy. Bridging the Old and New Left, Bookchin did more than anyone
to widen anarchism's anti-capitalism/anti-statism to a critique of
hierarchy per se. He also brought ecology as a concern to anarchism by
connecting it to domination. As he put it, "The ecological crisis is a
social crisis." Bookchin emphasized the possibility nascent in the
present of an ecological and post-scarcity society, in which the
rational use of technology could free humanity to fulfill its
potentiality in harmony with the natural world. Most significantly, he
drew out the institutional replacement for the state hinted at in
nineteenth-century anarchism: directly democratic self-government, or in
his own language, libertarian municipalism. Bookchin's writings pointed
to the city or neighborhood as the site of struggle, radicalization,
dual power, and finally revolution, with confederations of free
citizens' assemblies replacing state and capital. They also inspired a
radical ecology movement, experiments in anarchist federations such as
the Youth Greens, and a new generation of anarchist intellectuals.

Bookchin's unearthing of the affinity group model in his research on the
Spanish anarchists, sketched in his Post-Scarcity Anarchism (1971), was
influential to the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s and 1980s in the
United States. Emerging from the rural counterculture in New England and
then on the West Coast--a counterculture that included radical pacifists
of both anarchist and religious persuasions--the anti-nuke movement used
civil disobedience, but infused it with an anarchist and feminist
sensibility: a rejection of all hierarchy, a preference for directly
democratic process, a stress on spontaneity and creativity. Varying
levels of nonviolent confrontation at nuclear power plants, from
blockades to occupations, along with the use of pageantry, puppets, and
jail solidarity were determined on in affinity groups and
spokescouncils. Quaker activists, not anarchists, added consensus to the
blend with mixed results (false unity, for instance). Notwithstanding
the difficulty of moving beyond a single issue and what became an
insular community, the tactics and organizational form of the U.S. as
well as international anti-nuclear movement were soon picked up by the
peace, women's, gay and lesbian, radical ecology, and anti-intervention

Beginning in the 1980s, the West German Autonomen made a mark on
anarchism as well. Viewing European New Leftists as discredited, though
affected by their critique of authoritarianism on the Left (Soviet-style
"communism") and Right ("democratic" capitalism), the Autonomen rejected
everything from the existing system to ideological labels, including
that of anarchism. As a spontaneous, decentralized network of
anti-authoritarian revolutionaries, they were autonomous from political
parties and trade unions; they also attempted to be autonomous from
structures and attitudes imposed from "outside." This entailed a twofold
strategy. First, to create liberated, communal free spaces such as
squats in which to make their own lives. And second, to utilize militant
confrontation both to defend their counterculture and take the offensive
against what they saw as repressive, even fascistic elements. The
deployment of a masked black bloc--for one, at a 1988 demonstration in
Berlin during an International Monetary Fund/World Bank
meeting--autonomous neighborhoods and "info-stores," and street battles
with police and neo-Nazis became emblematic of the Autonomen. Anarchists
felt an affinity and imported the trappings of autonomous politics into
their own, thereby linking and modifying the two in the process.

Last but not least, the dramatic 1 January 1994 appearance of the
Zapatistas on the world stage to contest the North American Free Trade
Agreement keyed anarchists into the importance of globalization as a
contemporary concern of often life-and-death proportions. A decade in
the making through the grassroots efforts of some thirty indigenous
communities in southern Mexico, and intentionally tied to struggles
elsewhere, the uprising illustrated the power of solidarity. The
Zapatistas' bold takeover of villages in Chiapas also re-ignited the
notion that resistance was possible, in poor and rich regions alike. "If
you ask what we want, we will unashamedly answer: 'To open a crack in
history,'" Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos declared. "We'll build
another world. . . . Democracy! Freedom! Justice!" For anarchists, the
Zapatistas' inventive blend of high-tech such as the Internet and
low-tech such as jungle encuentros, principled communiquŽs and practical
gains, and the attempt to reclaim popular power through autonomous
municipalities was especially electrifying--the concurrent appeals to
the Mexican state less so. Still, anarchists flocked to Chiapas to
support this rebellion, carrying home lessons to apply to a global
anti-capitalist movement that a refashioned anarchism would shortly help

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