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

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 17 Jan 2004 13:43:08 +0100 (CET)

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> More Than the Sum of Its Parts
Such strands of resistance, themselves pulling from earlier moments,
interwove into the fabric of contemporary anarchism. From the
Situationists, anarchism embraced the critique of alienation and
consumer society, and faith in imagination; from Bookchin, the
connection between anti-capitalism, direct democracy, ecology, and
post-scarcity; from the anti-nuke movement, the stress on with affinity
groups and spokescouncils as well as nonviolent direct action; from the
Autonomen, militant confrontation, the black bloc strategy, and an
expansive do-it-yourself emphasis; and from the Zapatistas, the power of
the Internet, cross-cultural solidarity, and "globalization" for
transnational resistance. But the anarchism that received notoriety in
November 1999 is more than the sum of these parts. It is the only
political philosophy today aspiring to balance a variety of social
change agents and strategies--or ultimately, a "diversity of tactics,"
visions, and people--with universalistic notions of participatory
freedom outside all imposed institutions and behaviors.

For months before Seattle, anarchists worked diligently behind the
scenes to set the tenor of the direct action that would stun the world.
As the key initiators and organizers, even if not recognized as such,
anarchists had been able to structure the demonstration along
libertarian principles. Like numerous other direct actions shaped
largely by anarchists, such as the 1970s' anti-nuke protests and 1989
Wall Street action, Seattle's too would have gone unremarked if not for
its success in shutting down the WTO in tandem with a vicious police
response. Anarchists and anarchism were suddenly thrust into the
limelight. What had always been a minoritarian voice of conscience
within the Left suddenly got a majoritarian public hearing. In turn,
anarchism's philosophy became both cutting edge and normative for a
powerful new global social movement.

This is not to say that anarchism or anarchists alone are responsible
for the movement(s) contesting globalization's brutal side, that such a
movement(s) started in Seattle, or even that the goal is to turn
everyone into anarchists. Like the Zapatistas, anarchists humbly
understand themselves (at least in theory) as acting in concert with the
multiple struggles for freedom waged over time by a variety of
anti-authoritarians. Nonetheless, perhaps because they did it on the
dominant superpower's own turf, anarchists were able to firmly establish
a form of resistance that actually prefigures a joyful politics of, by,
and for all the people of a globalizing humanity. And as such, to lay
down the flexible contours of an empowering movement while unexpectedly
elevating anarchism to its avant-garde.

This means that anarchism's principles along with its culture and forms
of organization are, for the first time, at the forefront rather than
margins of a transnational social movement. In the broadest sense,
anarchism has brought a unique, inseparable bundle of qualities to this
movement: an openly revolutionary stance, colored by an eminently
ethical orientation, made out-of-the-ordinary by a playful though
directly democratic utopianism.

The Anarchist Moment

But still, why anarchism?

Because anarchism has set the terms of the debate. Its emphasis on
social revolution coupled with transparency has meant that anarchists
haven't been afraid to name the concrete concern masked by the term
"globalization": that is, capitalist society. Once Seattle's type of
direct action became a benchmark, though, anarchists received a tacit
green light from most other activists to design similar protests, and so
"carnivals against capitalism" became commonplace. For example, when
people "converged" together at mass actions, they now did so under an
anti-capitalist banner--one held up by anarchists, who compellingly
carried it to the symbolic heart of each contestation. Since this made
tangible what was most disturbing to many about globalization, numerous
people were radicalized by or at least became sympathetic to a focus on
the market economy. While still considered subversive, it has thus
become more acceptable to speak of capitalism and even explicitly
identify as an anti-capitalist. "Anti-capitalism," however, now
frequently implies an anti-authoritarian perspective. And vice versa, an
anarchistic outlook now permeates anti-capitalist work.

But still, why now?

Because globalization makes anarchism's aspirations increasingly
apropos. Far from being anti-globalization per se, anarchists have long
dreamed of the world without borders made potentially feasible by the
transformations now underway. Indeed, the means utilized by
globalization are quite amenable to anarchist values, such as
decentralization and integration, elastic identities and the shattering
of binaries, creative borrowings and cooperation, mobility, hybridity,
and openness. Most strikingly, globalization is structurally undermining
of the centrality of states.

In his day, Karl Marx foresaw the rising hegemony of capitalism and its
cancerous ability to (re)structure all social relations in its own
contorted image. Yet for Marx, this also hailed a certain promise.
Freedom and domination were both bound up in the developmental logic
that was and unfortunately still is capitalism. It was up to the right
social actors, given the right conditions, to "make history," that is,
to make revolution and achieve communism in its best, most general
sense. Much of what Marx unmasked holds true to the present; much more
has become evident, sadly so, to the point where there is almost no
outside anymore to the capitalism that manufactures society as well as
self. The heroic project of Marx and multiple socialistic others to
abolish capitalism remains more poignant than ever, as does the need for
a revolutionary movement to do so. Hence, the power of "anti-capitalism."

Anarchism has traditionally foreseen another potentially hegemonic
development that Marx ignored: statecraft. But unlike capitalism, it
took statism many more decades to gain the same naturalistic status as
the market economy, and so anarchism's critique, while correct, held
less of an imperative for most radicals. In an ironic twist for statists
and anarchists alike, just as U.S.-style representative democracy has
finally achieved hegemony as the singular "legitimate" form of
governance, globalization has begun its work of lessening the power of
states. Thinking outside the statist box now both makes sense and is
fast becoming a reality, offering anarchism the relevance it has long
desired. The relatively widespread embracement in and outside
anti-authoritarian Left circles of anarchist experiments in directly
democratic organization, confederation, and mutual aid evidences how
fitting such forms are to today's decreasingly statist, increasingly
interdependent world. They tentatively prefigure, in fact, the
self-governance institutions that anarchism envisions under a humane
version of the present social transformation.

In this globalizing world, though, "nonstatist" can mean everything from
supranational institutions governed by business elites and international
NGOs to world courts and regional trade zones to networks of
free-floating individuals willing to employ terror tactics. On the one
hand, then, as state-based geopolitics loses ground to a more diffuse
though cruel nonstatist one, anarchism's critique could quickly become
irrelevant. On the other hand, just as marxism had to be rethought in
the mid-twentieth century in light of state socialism's failure to
achieve human emancipation--resulting, for one, in the Frankfurt
school's uncovering of new forms of domination--anarchism must be
retheorized in response to the turn toward nonstatism that bodes both
scary reconfigurations of political monopolies as well as possible
openings for an ethical alternative. The practice of today's anarchism
has, in essence, skipped ahead of its philosophy and social critique.
Both need to catch up if an anti-authoritarian politics is to become
more than a historical footnote about a missed moment.

Still, as the only political tradition that has consistently grappled
with the tension between the individual and society, contemporary
anarchism has valiantly tried to meld the universalistic aims of the
Left and its expansive understanding of freedom with the particularistic
goals of the new social movements in areas such as gender, sexuality,
ethnicity, and ableism. The extraordinary human mix that appeared on the
streets of Seattle could find "unity in diversity" precisely because
anarchists attempted to put this theoretical merger into practice. The
affinity group/spokescouncil model, for instance, allowed hundreds of
disparate concerns to also find an intimate connectivity. Globalization
has facilitated this by making the world smaller every day, bringing the
macro and micro into closer contact. Under capitalism, homogeneity and
heterogenity will always be linked at the expensive of both the
community and self. The substantive inclusiveness tenuously achieved by
anarchistic organizing suggests a structural framework that could serve
first as a revolutionary dual power, then later as the basis for "a
world where many worlds fit," as the Zapatistas demand. Hence, the power
of "anarchism" for anti-capitalist resistance.

We may not win this time around; everything from the rise of a
politicized fundamentalism and the post-September 11 "war on terrorism"
to seemingly insolvable tragedies like the Middle East indicate the
gravity and near impossibility of our task. Everyone from global
policing agencies to the authoritarian Left will try to thwart our
efforts. But the project of the present anti-capitalist movement, and
anarchism's strong suit in general, is to provide a guiding light, even
if we aren't the ones to finally bask in it.

In 1919, anarchists held power in Munich for one week during the course
of the German Revolution and hurriedly initiated all sorts of
imaginative projects to empower society at large. Yet Gustav Landauer
knew that the best they could do was to construct a model for future
generations: "Though it is possible that our lives may be short, I have
the desire, and this you share with me, that we leave behind lasting
effects . . . so that we may hope, when authoritarianism returns,
perspicuous circles will say that we did not make a bad beginning, and
that it would not have been a bad thing if we had been permitted to
continue our work." Landauer was trampled to death in a wave of
right-wing reaction soon after, and fourteen years later the Nazis came
to power. Still, the grand experiments of the past aimed at a free and
self-governing society have not been extinguished--they have reemerged
in the anarchistic strains charted here and, most promisingly, the
current contest against capitalism fought along anti-authoritarian lines.

Not a bad beginning to the twenty-first century.

Cindy is a board member for the Institute for Anarchist Studies, faculty
at the Institute for Social Ecology, and co-organizer of the Renewing
the Anarchist Tradition conference. She can be reached at

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