Why doesn’t anarchism reach more people?
Presented as material for discussion in occasion of the 2023 Saint-Imier gathering (19-23 July) to celebrate the 150 years from the Congress of the Anti-authoritarian International (Saint-Imier, 15-16 September 1872)
When I talk about working for social change on a global scale, many anarchists tell me that it is not possible, that critical mass is needed. Sometimes I reply: “you and I are already there to start something; let’s start and try to get more people to join”. “Critical mass is needed”, they reply, as if that mass were something that would one day fall spontaneously from the sky.
The truth is that anarchism, I think all over the world, is still a residual option despite being so beautiful and liberating. I leave here my conclusions as to why I think we are not reaching more people and not making enough progress:
1. Many people are not clear about what it is to be an anarchist. There are many people who share anarchist principles without knowing it. We need to reach out to them. Others identify us with chaos and bombs. We need to change that image.
2. We are determined not to preach, not to convince anyone. It is not about trying to impose our vision on other people, but about showing them that there are alternatives to the established way of seeing the world. I don’t accept the answer “whoever wants information should look for it”, because there are many people who don’t even know what to look for, because they don’t really know what anarchism is.
3. To preach anarchism is not to go under a banner proclaiming different theories. It is to apply its principles in all facets of our daily life, showing them in every action and in every conversation, as far as possible, to make the rest know them without the need for labelling.
4. We often stop at words. If anarchism is going to remain a speech, it is of no use to us. We have to lead by example. It is not enough to tell people what anarchism can do, but to show them what it does. This point is very important. If anarchists themselves think that anarchism is a utopia, there is no point in anything.
5. Many have decided to opt for experiential anarchism (creating coherent communities), but they are not interested in going beyond maintaining their own little paradise and do not want to “waste” forces on trying for a global social change that they think is not possible. We need to organise ourselves and start creating the world we want in a coordinated way, so that we can show that what we are talking about is not a utopia, but can be implemented. For everyone, not just for hippies who go to the countryside. We have to believe that we can really achieve it and start to think, among all of us, how to implement it and move it forward in a coordinated way.
6. Many people are afraid to step out of their comfort zone. They feel secure in their “miserable” or “comfortable” lives (depending on who you look at it) as long as they have a way to make ends meet and can kill their vital emptiness by consuming all kinds of things non-stop. They are the ones who are said not to want to change. How to reach these people? By offering them alternatives on the move that maybe they like better than what they have, maybe they don’t. But people will not be moved to change anything when they have an “easy” life and lack a better alternative. Nor when their life is so “difficult” that they can’t see any exit door. This is a tricky point.
7. We ourselves have no unity. Instead of thinking of anarchy as the goal, we confront each other, limiting ourselves to one model or another and losing strength, debating whether anarcho-communism, mutualism, etc., would be better. What difference does it make which one is better if in the end we have not been able to implement any of them for years? It is necessary to think of a global, practical strategy adapted to the current times.
8. Today’s society is not the same as that of the 19th century. Socio-economic changes have been very significant, so it is necessary to adapt the discourse to the new situation. Even the basic unit of the social structure, the family, is not the same as before. Now they prefer us to be even more divided. They encourage individualism and connect us to machines that, managed by algorithms, know how to indoctrinate each one separately; and that serves them much better than what they used before. Social classes are not what they used to be either, as the economy moves in a globalised and highly technological world. The basic problem has always been the same: the ability of some people to exercise power over others. The contexts in which this situation is reproduced are different.
9. The world has evolved at an unprecedented speed in terms of technology. To the anarchists who speak out against it, I would say this:
– It is here to stay. As much as we may not like the way it is being managed, we are all dependent on it today (who doesn’t have a mobile phone?). And in a few years’ time we will be even more dependent. On the other hand, I don’t see technology as a bad thing in itself. I think that, as a tool at the service of the common good, it can bring very good things that we could stop to analyse, rather than denying them as a matter of principle.
Here, I would highlight two aspects:
1. The economic aspect: CBDCs (Central Bank Digital Currencies) will soon be introduced and, unless we decide to return to barter (something “tremendously practical and feasible”), we will have to use them with all that this implies (those who control fiat currencies could know at all times what we do with our money and will even be able to allow us to do only what they want – (see the case of China and its social experiments). Therefore, I fully advocate taking advantage of Blockchain technology to create our own exchange tools (the “money” that anarchists are so allergic to, but which they all – or almost all – use because it is practical and necessary in today’s society).
2. The intellectual: if the economy is going to move through the internet and we are all going to be interconnected to centralised networks, reality is going to be what they want to tell us and our possibilities to act are going to be what they allow us to act. This is why I advocate the creation of decentralised networks in which we can exchange knowledge, carry out coordinated actions and organise ourselves in the way we want in total security, beyond the scope of local trust networks. We must not forget that they used to have the tanks and the weapons. Now, the most powerful weapon is the Internet, and it is within everyone’s reach. Within our reach too.
To sum up:
– I think that anarchism should be preached, but without the need to label it. Equally, we have to act as one among ourselves, whatever non-fundamental differences we may have. Not to mention the personal disputes that break down our relationships as activists.
– We have to offer alternatives so that people lose their fear of stepping out of their comfort zone.
– We need to rigorously analyse the new socio-economic situation to assess how we can act on it in this new scenario.
– We need to focus on building small groups all over the world and put our efforts in their coordination and visibility.
Let people know that anarchists exist and that we are not just debating, but creating a new reality, adapting to each circumstance in the best possible way, focusing on practice rather than theory. The theory has to be mutual respect and the common good, that no one has power over anyone else. How to do this will depend on the situation, but we must adapt the practice to the circumstances that reality shows. We have to carefully analyse the best strategy to follow at any given moment. If not, imho, we will not move forward.