One of our readers, “John S.,” raises what might be the most pertinent questions regarding the future of anarchism, and the other ideas we discuss here at ATS.
I think if anarchy became significantly popular, and actually started to effect politics, economics and/or social issues, it would be co-opted just like the tea party, Operation Wall Street, and libertarianism have been hijacked. People liked what Ron Paul had to say, so Fox News spins libertarianism into neoliberalism. I may be wrong, but I don’t think the mainstream, self-identified libertarians, like Rand Paul, take strong vocal stances against corporate welfare, but don’t get them started on domestic welfare, or drugs.
Absolutely correct! It’s refreshing to encounter observers who understand these things.The problem with the Tea Parties, Occupy, and “libertarianism” (the Ron Paul movement) is that none of these ever really had any genuinely radical foundations to start with. The Tea Parties were primarily a movement of middle to upper middle class, older, conservative, suburban white people that were primarily interested in conservative issues of a reformist nature, e.g. taxes, the national debt, government spending, etc. They were easily coopted by the GOP because their ideas and objectives essentially mirrored GOP rhetoric and stated ideology. Many of the Tea Partiers were already Republicans to start with.
Occupy Wall Street was a standard brand leftist protest movement, no different than the anti-globalization movement before it, or the student protests that have happened more recently. At best, the Occupy movement was merely a hybrid of modest liberal reformism (“Forgive my student loans!”) and typical leftist victimology (“I’m more oppressed than you!”). Very soon Occupy came to resemble a rock concert more than anything else.
The Ron Paul movement was actually the better of three because it had a much stronger focus on foreign policy and the question of U.S. imperialism (although with a limited amount of depth). Ron Paul’s criticisms of the Federal Reserve also involved taking on a core power elite institution. However, it needs to be recognized that Ron Paul’s followers were hardly anarchist revolutionaries committed to anti-imperialist struggle.
Mostly they were disaffected conservatives tired of “business as usual” Republicans, young people looking for something different, and antiwar folks tired of the Left’s impotence on foreign policy issues. Ron Paul was important in that he served as a kind of “gateway drug” to more radical forms of libertarianism for some people, and the anarcho-capitalist, market anarchist, and other similar tendencies have grown considerably since then to the point of overrunning the left-socialist-anarchists in North America. But quite a bit of that has also been steered into other directions, like the neo-reactionary movement or the social justice warriors. And the Ron Paul movement itself has subsequently moderated itself considerably, given that Rand Paul is the movement’s heir apparent, and is taking it in a more moderate direction.
The essential problem with all of these movements was their lack of an explicitly revolutionary outlook, i.e. they were not committed to the defeat of imperialism abroad, and the overthrow of the state and the power elite domestically.
Although, it seems to me like the establishment is so scared of Anarchy, you won’t find a single documentary on TV about it, or even hear the word anarchy uttered on Fox or CNN, unless by the bastardized usage describing lawless chaos. And I think that’s the definition 95 out of 100 Americans would give, if asked what anarchism means.
Yes! And that’s why the “anarchist” label is so important. By embracing the identity of “anarchist,” one is placing one’s self outside the realm of respectable opinion, which is where you need to be if you want to adopt a seriously revolutionary perspective. That’s why I’ve never used the word “libertarian” to describe myself except for the sake of convenience in certain contexts. It’s a provocative, offensive, and controversial concept, and that’s why we need it.
If the term were to disappear or change, since labels can have propagandistic values, you could try using a more empowering title, like self-governism, or independism. I’m sure someone steeped in political history or marketing could come up with a good title.
Anarchists have already done that with terms like “libertarian municipalism,” “confederal democracy,” “participatory democracy,” “direct democracy,” “inclusive democracy,” “communalism,” “decentralization,” “autonomism,” “participatory economics, “gift economy,” “agorism,” “demarchy, “polyarchy,” “panarchy,” “consensus democracy,” “social enterprise,” “anti-authoritarianism,” “bio-regionalism,” “cooperativism,” “dual power,” “self-management,” “counter-economics,” and plenty of other things that might be helpful depending on the context. This is an area of legitimate concern. The larger a movement gets the more it needs to be concerned about winning the consensus of popular opinion and building a core demographic base for the movement in question, rather than merely maintaining an oppositional stance. I wrote about this process extensively in this piece from about 10 years ago: http://attackthesystem.com/liberty-and-populism-building-an-effective-resistance-movement-for-north-america/
However, the more experience I have with these questions, the more I come to the position that before a genuine radical movement can exist, it has to have a genuine radical intellectual, cultural, and political foundation, and a corps of leaders and activists that are committed to such an outlook. Otherwise, it merely gets coopted or comprised by the establishment or by conventional political factions. What has happened to the libertarian movement is a perfect example of this. For the most part, the libertarians have split off into multiple faction, all of which are just variations of the mainstream political and cultural tendencies. The left-libertarians have become full on social justice warriors. Others have become “low tax liberals” in the style of Reason magazine. Some have become Rand Paul-voting “libertarian Republicans” and still other have left libertarianism altogether and become neo-reactionaries. I think something Larry Gambone once wrote summarized why this happened:
“Read even the most superficial book on anarchism and you will discover that many forms of anarchism exist-anarchist-communism, individualist-anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism, free-market anarchism, anarcho-feminism and green-anarchism. This division results from people taking their favorite economic system or extrapolating from what they see as the most important social struggle and linking this to anarchism….The hyphenation presents a danger. Like it or not, everyone, without exception, compromises, modifies or softens their beliefs at some point. Where they compromise is what is important. Do they give up on the anarchism of the other aspect? You can be sure that most hypenated anarchists will prefer to drop the libertarian side of the hyphen. There are plenty examples of this occurring .”
In other words, the folks that the Ron Paul-inspired libertarian movement attracted were never that radical to start with. They were never committed to a revolutionary anti-imperialism, nor a revolutionary anarchism, and were barely committed to an anti-statist reformism. Instead, they were most just ordinary conservatives (“Taxes suck, man!”) and liberals (“Gay Marriage Uber Alles!”).
This is why it is essential for anarchists to take positions are that genuinely radical, frequently offensive, and threatening to the establishment. Merely adopting the label “anarchist” is one of these. Advocating overthrow of the state is certainly one of these. Some of the radical economic positions that many anarchists subscribe to might be among these. An authentically anti-imperialist outlook is another. Secession is another. Advocating for forming militias is another. The kinds of ideas the “sovereign citizens” have fall into this category. So do complete drug legalization, abolition of consensual crime laws, abolition of compulsory education, prison abolition, etc. and other comparable issues that neither conventional liberals or conventional conservatives would likely ever embrace. Still another category of ideas of this kind is the view that offensively un-PC ideas like white separatism or homophobia are just another lifestyle preference like vegetarianism or polyamory.
As for anarchy continuing to fracture into smaller and smaller sub-units, I think that hurts the whole movement overall, just like diluting a toxin reduces its potency. If everyone could band together on commonalities (as you say) instead of pitting their tiny hyphenated, anarchist movement against the others, the movement as a whole would benefit, and in turn so would all of the hyphenated movements. But to think queer-anarchism alone is going to effect the mainstream political landscape by itself is delusional. I guess thinking all anarchs can come together may be a little bit far fetched, as Sir Einzige said in your debate, because they’ll never be able to defeat the trillion-dollar corporations and bankers, who have a trillion-dollar military-industrial complex at their disposal. But, still, what other option do you really have? There is some power in numbers after all. and If the empire does implode, at least there is some affirmed common ground between the multitude of anarchists groups. At least some level of mutual respect and understanding between different groups of radicals would be very helpful in a post-America.
That’s what I’ve been saying for years, and the ATS program is oriented in that direction. Our position is to make revolutionary anti-imperialism from an anti-statist perspective into out primary focus, and a common point of reference for anarchists, libertarians, and decentralists generally. From there, every kind of anarchist tendency would be oriented towards organizing around their primary reference or identity group, their preferred economic system, or their favorite social issue. But the objective would be to create a wider anarchist federation that is united against the state. To the degree that different groups are in conflict, we would invoke the wider anarchist principles of free association, decentralism, voluntaryism, pluralism, and the like. As far as reaching out to the wider society, the ambition is to build a pan-decentralist consensus oriented towards the city-state system (see Bookchin, Mailer, Kohr, Sale, Santillan, Kropotkin, etc), and as far as common issues that set us apart from other ideological factions, I have suggested that building a coalition against consenusal crime laws could be for anarchists what gay rights, environmentalism, anti-racism and abortion rights are for liberals and what gun rights, taxes, religion, and immigration are for conservatives.
Because, I think the elites have prepared for a post America. If a power vacuum opened up in this country, I think David Rockefeller and George Soros would be using their gold stockpiles or whatever, to pay off mercenaries. I don’t think they’ll go out quietly like the former Soviet Union. I may be wrong. How many tons of bombs have they (we) dropped continuously on South America, Asia, Bosnia, now the Middle East, over the last half-century, I don’t think they would hesitate for one second to unleash that type of cruelty in the US to save their power. It would definitely help for anarchists to be united with the possibility of such a grim post America. What do you guys think a Post America will look like? Do you agree with me that the current, overt and subtle power structures would find a way to maintain power?
Those are the million dollar questions. What you are describing there is more or less what happened to the Soviet Union. Thankfully, a generally reasonable, sensible and humane leader in the person of Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union who was committed to ending the Cold War, ending the Soviet empire, and scrapping Soviet totalitarianism in favor of liberalization. But while the Soviet Union died a relatively peaceful death, it almost didn’t turn out that way. Recall the attempted coup by the KGB in 1991 that failed only because the Russian army refused to fight. Even after the Soviet Union fell, a kind of gangster capitalism of the type you describe developed in Russia during the Yeltsin period. Life expectancy for Russians dropped about 20 years during the 1990s.
Real political opposition and radicalism will only develop as things continue to deteriorate. Class relations will increasingly begin to resemble the Third World model. Ongoing cultural, demographic and generational change will generate more and more social conflict. Foreign policy adventurism will continue to generate more and more terrorist reprisals. Totalitarian humanism will continue to tighten its grip and become more extreme the more powerful it becomes. Those on the losing end of the culture wars will become increasingly militant and extreme. The state will increasingly be unable to cover its public debts and budget deficits. Social unrest will continue to grow.
But what we need to be focused on at present is to simply recruit more people, and not just numbers for their own sake, but better quality people, and with more sensible and reasonable ideas, as well as developing projects oriented towards reaching more people on the popular tabloid-level.