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Review: Whither Anarchism? by Kristian Williams

19 hours 21 min ago

via Anarchist Writers

by Anarcho

In 1998 Murray Bookchin wrote a response to the critics of his Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm entitled Wither Anarchism?. Twenty years later appears a pamphlet bearing the same name and in a way covering the same issue – the state of the movement. Only the most blinkered anarchist would disagree that this is a valid question – and one we need to address even if the rest of the revolutionary left is hardly much better and without the benefit of having a viable theory.

By Kristian Williams, who has been active in the American anarchist movement since the early 1990s and the author of Between the Bullet and the Lie: Essays on Orwell, this pamphlet is divided into three sections. The first, on Anarchism, is excellent. It presents a good, short, introduction on why Anarchism is an appealing theory and one which has, and will continue to, attract rebels. The second attempts to understand something many an anarchist has wondered at some stage in their political life – why, if anarchism is so good a theory, is the movement in such a state? The third is an attempt at beginning the discussion on how to bridge that gap.

I will concentrate on the second and the third parts as these are the important aspects of the pamphlet. This may, however, not be a review as such as the themes raised warrant discussion. I also admit to being perhaps at a disadvantage in being Scottish and not part of the American anarchist scene/movement – nor am I necessarily completely au fait with its ins-and-outs and its history. However, his comments are relevant to the British movement and my experiences within it for over three decades. I am also sure we will find similar articles and pamphlets in every decade – unlike Marxist Parties, we do not have many qualms about washing our dirty linen in public! – and I do agree with his stated aim:

“It is my hope that, despite everything, anarchism may someday transcend its present limitations and once again come to represent the highest ideals and aspirations of humanity, and that anarchists may make a distinctive contribution to the struggle for freedom and equality, and to the new world that the struggle seeks to create.”

So my comments are to be taken as a contribution to this task, hopefully will be constructive, provoke further discussion and, more importantly, action and organising. For that is the thing about washing our dirty linen publically, it gets clean rather than festering behind closed doors (the examples of the British SWP and WRP shows what happens when it does not).

Section two draws primarily on two works, Andrew Cornell’s recent book Unruly Equality: U.S. Anarchism on the Twentieth Century and a dissertation by Spencer Sunshine entitled “Post-1960 U.S. Anarchism and Social Theory.” I have read parts of the first and am unfamiliar with the second. Cornell’s book is comprehensive and well researched, although I do think he tends to exaggerate the influence of pacifism on the movement – during and after the Second World War many activists still stressed the central role of class struggle. This is the case in the UK, even after the influx of anti-war activists due to the rise of CND the class struggle anarchists remained and eventually created Black Flag magazine and viable, if small, federations.

It is thus an unfortunate and somewhat misleading exaggeration for Williams repeat this analysis and consequently to suggest that the “anarchist vision shrank, from the One Big Union and the General Strike, to the affinity group and the poetry reading” (23) as anarchism “became wed to pacifism during the Second World War”. (38) To say this was a “turn to pacifism” (29) is exaggerated (not least because being anti-war does not equate to pacifism), although the links in many ways were a mistake as it brought in ideas quite alien to anarchism (not least the idealisation of consensus). Yet there has always been a cultural aspect to anarchism, with anarchists organising picnics, choirs, dances as well as unions, militias and debates – whether in Chicago or Barcelona. No one lives by bread alone, we just have to remember that both are required.

Likewise, the notion that prefiguration involved “counter-institutions” like “utopian communities” and “lifestyle practices” (15) was one which few anarchists accepted – in the 1930s Vanguard repeated the arguments raised in previous decades by Kropotkin and Malatesta on this. He is right to bemoan the tendency – which seems to have increased since the association with pacifism – of dropping out and the viewpoint that living a libertarian life is sufficient in and of itself.

Yes, “lifestyle practices” can be overblown and, unfortunately all too often, turned into the moralising Williams rightly bemoans (not to mention “prolier than thou” attitudes) – but you cannot be a good anarchist if you act in the same way you did before recognising the evils of hierarchy! The problem arises when people think that this is enough in and of itself and forget wider movements – in the UK this saw a few so-called anarchists refuse to support miners and print workers during the 1980s – and happily proclaim so in Freedom! – because they were, well, not enlightened like they were. They forget that they, once, were just as “unenlightened” and that people learn from struggle – how else will anarchy arrive? I am happy to report that most anarchists – with those associated with the class struggle anarchism so-often dismissed by the “new” anarchists as being irrelevant – supported such struggles and as a result grew as a movement.

The few who shamed the pages of Freedom reflected what Williams describes as “a tendency to view ourselves as outside and apart from society as a whole” (18) and this indeed produces a movement which “turns increasingly inward,” (31) both of which he is right to bemoan. Sometimes it is hard not to conclude that some anarchists embrace positions designed to marginalise themselves, positions so extreme that no possible social revolution could every make them happy never mind any popular movement. I am thinking here of the likes of the primitivists (of whom we thankfully hear less of) who, while waiting for the collapse of “Industrial society,” dismiss any movement in favour of quietism (and presumably preparing to be one of its few survivors). Much the same can be said of the “insurrectionists” whose masking-up hides their ideas even more effectively from other protesters and the general public than their faces – some appeared on The Daily Show during the anti-Globalisation protests and completely failed to take the opportunity that afforded to express an attractive vision to the audience at home (I wonder if any of those are still in the movement and, if so, whether they regret wasting this opportunity). This is not to say that Black Bloc tactics are not useful at times, simply that we must take care not to needlessly alienate others nor fetishise something which has worked well in specific occasions (nor forget it failed in others).

We all need to be outward looking and that in itself would help solve many of the problems Williams points to. Yet while Williams is right to bemoan the (often self-imposed) isolation of the movement, his own analysis at times seems to be isolated from the wider world. After all, Marxists could point to numerous “successes” – to the appeal of Russia was added China, Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua and, more recently, Venezuela. Likewise, activists may find it easier to join a party with an infrastructure in place rather than help build one along with a few others. So, yes, the Red Scare “all but destroyed the IWW” but “with it the movement” (14) ignores many other factors – such as the expulsion of anarchists back to their “native” countries (not least Russia, to which many immigrant libertarians also voluntarily left to join the revolution). Likewise, the anarchist movement, like the IWW, had to deal with the new Communist Party – well-funded by Moscow Gold and with an apparently successful revolution to point to. As such, Williams fails to place anarchism within the wider left and the challenges it faced. This wider context is important to explain most of American anarchism’s weaknesses after the First World War – but not all.

The decline of the wider socialist left must also be factored in. We must remember that those described today as “socialists” are simply seeking reforms within capitalism – as if capitalism with a welfare state stops being capitalism! So hardly any of “the socialists” (like Sanders or Corbyn) are actually socialists and do not envision anything more than a reformed capitalism – so even being reformist would be a step forward (i.e., seeing reforms as a step towards socialism rather than just making capitalism better). The various tiny authoritarian socialist organisations that keep to some notion of revolution seem wedded to an alternative which is worse, namely state-capitalism. To perhaps damn with faith praise, at least as far as the wider left goes anarchists remain socialists – but this context does reduce the numbers of those who already accept elements of anarchism and can be more easily convinced of the rest compared to the pre-1917 era.

In some ways Williams repeats the stereotype so popular in Marxist circles than anarchism is lacking theory and weak on the understanding of power and the State which leads many anarchists to appropriate bits-and-pieces from other theories. Sadly, yes – but again he generalises too much and so exaggerates the problem. Yet it is a problem that does exist: I attended a talk in Glasgow a few years ago on Scottish Nationalism by a member of the Anarchist Federation and their point of departure was Rosa Luxemburg’s critique of national liberation struggles (itself a response to the position of the Second International and Lenin’s repetition of it). As I said at the meeting, it is not like anarchists had not written extensively on this subject and been faced with national liberation struggles in places like Cuba – so why not start with those? But, then, the arguments and conclusions felt more ultra-leftist rather than libertarian, seeking to dismiss a progressive, popular movement rather than engage and influence it. But, then, I think that some in the British anarchist scene are unfortunately too influenced by ultra-leftism – at best, council communism, at worse being concerned what various Left-Communists sects think… hopefully more are becoming aware of the utter unimportance of the opinion of groups who are in such a state that they are parasitical on the tiny UK anarchist scene!

Likewise, Williams is right to note that the likes of Zerzan come from a non-anarchist position and surely Zerzan’s previous Marxism explains his position on technology – like Engels in “On Authority,” he sees technology and liberty as being incompatible and while Zerzan and Engels may embrace and reject the opposite options, they share the same (non-anarchist) analysis. So, yes, Zerzan and certain others have “little identifiable connection to Proudhon, Kropotkin, and Bakunin, and in fact draw their key concepts from entirely different traditions,” but can the same really be said of “Bookchin, Graeber, and a number of lesser figures”? (13) Particularly if these “lesser figures” include, say, Sam Dolgoff (another anarchist – and the numerous groups he was associated with, such as the Vanguard group, the Libertarian League, etc. – whom he singularly fails to mention).

Yes, there is a tendency to be apologetic about our theoretical legacy, which is ironic as we have been proven right time-and-time again (Marxism has spent most of its time catching up). Indeed, much of what passes for Marxist analysis was first articulated by Proudhon and I am sure if we provided unattributed quotes to a Marxist by Bakunin and Marx they would agree with those by the former and dismiss the latter. But, then, we have not had the resources of more than a sixth of the world’s surface area to produce translations of the complete works of our major thinkers. That is changing, but it is still a labour-of-love more than systematic project. And we are still dependent on anarchist activists reading the writings made available in order to learn from, rather than repeat, the past.

So Williams does point to a problem but, again, I feel he exaggerates the situation. However, we can both agree on the need for anarchists to read more theory and become better acquainted with the wealth of ideas within those writings. Luckily, for all its drawbacks (not least, the amplification of cranks), the age of the internet has made such a task easier – the number of past anarchist papers, pamphlets and books on-line increases daily. However, again, I feel he exaggerates for it is more a case of what we draw upon and how we do so. For example, as well as Proudhon’s and Kropotkin’s economic analysis I also draw upon Marx, Keynes and post-Keynesian economics to inform my understanding of capitalism. If others have produced useful analysis, then why reinvent the wheel? The question is whether what is utilised can fit into an overall libertarian perspective. In terms of economic analysis, Bakunin was right to note Marx’s contribution in volume 1 of Capital and recognising its lack of connection to his political strategy. So, when it comes to other positions which relate far more to strategy then we should and must be wary of undermining our core ideas with alien politics.

Yes, we all need to become better acquainted with the theorists of anarchism and, I would add, its history. If we do not do that then we are, I fear, doomed to painfully relearn the lessons previous generations gained. Such an engagement has to be critical for times and conditions have changed. We cannot mechanically apply the ideas of Malatesta, Kropotkin, Bakunin, etc. in the 21st century, but we do need to know them as Williams suggests. Yet he makes no mention of Malatesta at all when the Italian should always be included, preferably at the top, of any list of thinkers to read: worse, after rightly denouncing the “turn to pacifism,” he suggests Godwin as someone we could derive a theoretical core from! (29) Godwin’s pre-industrial perfectionist ideology, in spite of any useful points made, would not tackle the problems Williams points to and would probably increase them.

Which points to a core problem with his account, namely discussing “anarchism” as if it were one thing. For although we are all against capitalism, we differ on many issues: not least on the nature of a free socialist system and, far more importantly, how we get to the stage were creating such a society becomes a possibility. So the first thing to recognise is the undesirability of viewing “anarchism” or “anarchists” as the basis of a single movement. Ultimately, this gets us into quite a muddle – although I can understand why people may see it as useful to unite as broadly as possible due to the benefits joint activity offers. Do not get me wrong: I recognise the similarities within the many schools of genuine anarchism and have sought to remind others of this when possible. Yet this does not mean that we should organise together into a single all-embracing federation! Simply put, we need to work with those with similar views of tactics and let the others do their own thing (although, from experience, this usually amounts to just criticising those who actually organise to do something). The basis of any such agreement will need to be on tactics, not ends – the original rationale for “anarchism without adjectives” was precisely to allow people who saw the need to work within the class struggle to organise together (Voltairine de Cleyre with Mother Earth, Malatesta with the Spanish Collectivists). It was not a call for general all-embracing federations, rather the reverse – and to save time and resources by not discussing which future (probably distant) possibility is the best but rather working to bring it closer.

Williams does point to outward looking groups (24-5) and rightly notes that practice, while important, cannot answer all questions. However, I cannot agree that renovation will come from “a loose association of politically engaged scholars” (35-6) for part of the problem is that many people – not just anarchists – leave such discussions to others, a specialised caste. This is not to say that there have not been excellent anarchist academics – David Berry, Nunzio Pernicone, Davide Turcato instantly spring to mind – just that we should not dependent on just a few for our theory. Unless he uses the term “scholars” in a wide sense (and I hope he does), then this would not create a healthy movement but rather one which mimics some of the worse aspects of vanguard parties with their cadres and “professional revolutionaries.” Better an anti-intellectual, outward focused movement than one whose rank-and-file are dependent on a few enlightened thinkers – although I must stress that I think we can do better than both by having a movement were all think and act (and I cannot help thinking that the first part of this sentence will be quoted by Marxists and scholars than the end of it, in spite of this prediction, for I have seen the shameless selective quoting by both too many times!).

Talking of which, Williams is quite right to say that we “have not excelled at engaging ideological opponents in an effort to win the war of ideas,” (19) although that again seems exaggerated when we look at, say, Murray Bookchin (at times it seemed that was all he did do!) or Sam Dolgoff (who regularly debated with the rest of the Left). Also, again to present some context, given the systematic lying by Marxists about anarchism it is understandable why anarchists would not wish to dignify them with a response, particularly as they generally repeat the same nonsense (biologists face the same dilemma with creationists). Still, I think that we do need to engage more for it strengthens our ideas and builds the movement, although I would say we need to be selective as the fool can ask more questions than the sage can answer….

So he is right to stress that “[w]hen our theories are no longer tested against reality, they cease to be testable at all; and soon, they cease to be theories”. (33) Equally, debate now can expose the flaws – indeed, hollowness – of certain positions. For example, after an exchange of letters with a few primitivists in Freedom the poverty of primitivism soon became apparent and they stopped contributing their column. Since then I have concentrated on more fruitful, productive and frankly more enjoyable activities – a position I sometimes think more of us should begin with as regards such tendencies (yes, I know this is contradictory but some ideas are really so weak that ignoring them may for best given limited time, resources and – most importantly – enjoyment).

Which raises an obvious question – what is to be done? We are currently a small movement and resources, time, energy and often patience is lacking. Chomsky once noted that many activists give up because their hoped for social transformation does not quickly materialise. They forget, he suggested, that social change is like chess – it takes time and strategy to reach a position when checkmate even becomes a possibility. We need to recognise this truth and act accordingly.

Where to start? This recalls Marx’s criticism of Proudhon in the Poverty of Philosophy that as everything is interlinked, Proudhon was an idealist for not discussing everything at the same time along with their histories. As Capital twenty years later proved, such a task is impossible: so he simply borrowed Proudhon’s methodology and started with one aspect of capitalism and added others logically. As we simply cannot address and oppose everything, we need to start somewhere and aim to broaden our activities as we can. Given the defeats over the neo-liberal period, we are similar to post-Commune France and Kropotkin viewed the issue then as a matter of encouraging the “spirit of revolt” and I think he is right – getting people empowered enough to directly defend their own interests would be a major step forward.

We need to start from where we are rather than where we hope to be. All too often, the perfect is the enemy of the good. Thus criticising the CIO from the outside, pointing to the IWW as the real Industrial Union meant missing opportunities in the 1930s as Williams indicates (15). An example is recounted by Cornell when rather than work with an existing union an anarchist group gave a list of changes the union had to implement before they would do so – and, understandably, the union declined and an opportunity was lost (but at least one of those involved later recognised the mistake, namely confusing the end point of activity with its start).

So we need to work with people and movements as they are, seeking ways of bringing them to anarchist conclusions while helping them win reforms. And this is important. I remember one posting on an anarchist site which proclaimed the defeat of the recall election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was a good thing because of the illusions victory would have created! That Walker was now empowered to continue his onslaught on Wisconsin workers and the opposition was demoralised and fatally weakened seemed an irrelevance. I agreed that the opposition placing all their hopes in recalling Walker was a mistake but to suggest what was obviously a defeat was “really” a victory was the worst kind of “the worse the better” stupidity.

I do take objection to Williams’ suggestion that “under neoliberalism, many anarchists have seen the necessity of fighting to defend and preserve welfare programs but lack any theoretical justification for doing so”. (27) To be fair, he is echoing comments made by others over anarchist participation in anti-austerity protests in the UK at the start of the 2010s. However, these others were commentators who were clearly unaware of what anarchism means and Williams, as shown in the first part of the pamphlet, knows better.

Despite attempts by our opponents (whether Marxists, Propertarians, etc.), anarchism has never been just against the State – it has always been opposed to capitalism. This means that in terms of privatisation or nationalisation, neither are particularly favoured – we should raise socialisation under workers’ management as an alternative. So in terms of whether we should have profiteering bosses in charge of services or state officials, that is somewhat beside the point. However, we can say, for example, that the privatisation of British Rail (as with the privatisation of public utilities, natural monopolies) has led to poorer services and the fleecing of the public and so can understand why so many wish it to be renationalised – but, we would add, under workers’ control. Similarly, “privatisation” could be fine if the companies a service was being devolved to were workers’ co-operatives or when governments bail-out companies, we should call upon said company to be given to its workers to run. None of this is ideal but both suggestions reflect where we are now and a path towards somewhere better as these are demands which could provoke militant action (such as occupations) which can win and so encourage further actions, further reduction in the power of the State and Capital by an increase in the power of those subject to them.

Likewise with State intervention in general. While the right (and echoed by “the left” to some degree) limit State intervention to purely that which claims to benefit working class people, in reality State intervention primarily benefits the ruling class. This, however, goes unmentioned – indeed, it seems to be not considered State intervention at all. Why we should be supporting attempts by the few to bolster its own State aid (absolutely or relatively) should be lost on anarchists – we should simply note that we wish State intervention to be reduced from below, by mass action by the people, not from above, by politicians and bureaucrats acting under pressure from the wealthy. Similarly, making the poorest pay for a crisis caused by the wealthiest makes no sense and is inherently unjust.

Ultimately, who seriously suggests that the role of anarchists is to support the government against its subjects? Or help further impoverish the poorest sections of the working class? This is hardly the way to build a mass movement – but, then, the Propertarians have long recognised that would never happen for them so they have cosied up to the elite (and get well-paid for their shrilling on their behalf). And, as anarchists, surely, we should get to determine which reductions in State action we support rather than be expected to give carte blanche to the Government? Apparently not – a truly a strange way of interpreting our ideas! But what can you expect if you seem to base your notions on dictionary definitions…

Ultimately, such commentary is like suggesting that because anarchists oppose representative democracy then we should be in favour of military coups, fascism and monarchies for these, too, end electing masters… or suggesting, if the trains are nationalised, then, as anarchists, we should walk or drive (on the government owned roads). As such, Williams in right to suggest (although I would not use these precise words) that “our opposition to the state would probably need to become less total and more strategic – not so much a smashing as a dismantling, with specified pieces to be recycled or repurposed.” (27) I would add that Malatesta and others highlighted this very point long ago – thus Anarchy’s analysis of the State is more sophisticated than often attributed to anarchists, recognising it does (at times) intervene beyond simply enforcing minority interests (but, always, to maintain the class system). We do, in other words, have a rich theoretical foundation to build upon.

I do feel he reads back the post-1945 consensus back to the 1930s with his suggestion that “anarchists failed to take account of the ways Keynesianism was reconstituting both the economy and the state.” (15) Given that Keynes’ General Theory was published in 1936, the New Deal was very much a “let us action and see what happens” process in its attempts to save capitalism from itself. Which is the point, namely that as revolutionaries aiming to end capitalism, anarchists (like others on the revolutionary left) viewed it correctly – but the question was how to relate to the mass movements which it coexisted with (and at times inspired and encouraged, whether directly or indirectly). Yet this was hardly an exclusive issue with anarchists – many Marxists viewed the New Deal as a variant of fascism (namely state intervention on behalf of capital). Did the various Socialist Parties leave the 1930s in a better state than when they entered that decade?

So anarchists were not alone in having “failed to take the advantages of the opportunities presented by the New Deal,” (27) if by opportunities it is meant the mass revolts of that era. However, we should not be blind to the problems that what could be termed “social Keynesianism” generated. Yes, unions were tolerated, even encouraged at times, but it meant when the State turned on them, they were so flabby and so surprised that they did not know how to resist. Britain saw the National Health Service (NHS) created and this frees the bulk of the population of a great many of the worries that afflict Americans (watching Michael Moore’s Sicko while sick brought that home) and, of course, it weakens the clout of employers as their workers do not fear losing their healthcare along with their wages if they talk back (assuming they are lucky enough to have employment-based insurance, of course). Seeking to “roll-back State” by eliminating the NHS does not feature on any British anarchist’s “to-do-list” even though we are aware of its limitations – not least, that as a nationalised health system it is the plaything of politicians. The only people who contemplate that are the far-right fringe of the Tories, a party whose idea of “rolling-back the State” involves using the State to roll-over the working class and which, whenever in power, has subjected the NHS to numerous “reorganisations” and directed our public health funding (via mandatory tendering) into the coffers of the private companies which fund the party. Which means that any proposed “Green New Deal” or state-intervention in medical care to improve upon the dire nature of the American system needs to factor in that any such scheme will become the play-thing of the next Donald Trump (look what Trump tried to do to Obamacare), which means that a libertarian socialist perspective is really essential to avoid the mistakes made in social reform in the past – namely, leaving it up to politicians and state bureaucrats to develop and run them. So social reform needs to be driven from below, not above.

The gap between here and there, between the grim reality we face (and the often soul-destroying indifference expressed by those subject to it) and the possibilities of a libertarian society are large. It can be depressing to realise youthful hopes of complete social and individual transformation need years, decades, of agitation over minor reforms (in the shape of pay rises and such like) to build up a social movement and sense of hope which makes that possible. Yet that is the case and rather than simply reject anarchism and embrace social-democracy we need to think of how we can apply our ideas here-and-now and in such a way as to encourage the many libertarian tendencies which exist. Needless to say, the key one is encouraging popular resistance and movements – the labour movement and other groups resisting authority, whether public or private.

This is the key, I think. Williams is right to note that freedom “must be created” and if we could life as anarchists under the current system we would have no need to destroy it. (16) However, prefiguration cannot be rejected as Williams seems to suggest for we do need to apply our ideas in the class struggle – his summary that prefiguration includes “the notion that our revolutionary organisations would later provide the means of coordinating and managing society” (15) does not do this necessity justice. Needless to say, any real movement will suffer its limitations, its contradictions, along with its possibilities – we need to recognise that and see prefiguration as a process which we help shape rather than an ideal we compare actual movements to.

As Williams notes, these debates on the nature and future of the movement are hardly new. The recently published volumes of Malatesta’s Complete Works have similar debates on organisation, reforms, etc. which we can learn from – particularly given the common sense and practicality which permeate them. We have the failures of Marxism to our advantage now (rather than just predictions), but also the disadvantages that the State has also learned from its experiences in repressing past movements and groups, as have the bosses – strangely Williams does not mention the poisonous impact of business-sponsored think-tanks and academia in the list of obstacles we face. (37) So we face similar tasks and problems as previous anarchists which make their writings relevant – but only insofar we also recognise your situation is also unique.

This takes time, of course. We also need flexibility. We need to recognise that one-size fits all may not be the best or the wisest position to take – for example, in some circumstances organising an IWW branch may be the best approach but at other times working within an existing trade union may make more sense (while remaining an wobbly). We need to recognise that freedom of association means the freedom not to associate, so attempts to group together disparate elements into one anarchist organisation will be doomed to failure. We need to organise with those who share similar tactics and strategies to be effective. For popular organisations the issue is the opposite, insofar as we need to organise as many people as possible to be effective – hence the pressing need not to confuse the two. Expecting members of a union or an occupation to be or act in every way as committed anarchists will ensure its and our marginalisation but we can and should aim for it to be run by its members and use direct action and solidarity (and not bore and alienate people by, say, discussing how best to discuss). This also means working within it to keep it that way – otherwise, as with (say) the Mexican Casa del Obrero Mundial it becomes a victim of its own success and ends up being taken over by others (with a devastating impact on the Mexican Revolution). The price of freedom is constant vigilance.

We also need to recognise the different contributions of different people. Yes, anti-fascist activities are important but that is often only open to the young, fit and brave – and the movement needs to be wider than that. We cannot expect everyone to be a Durruti: we also need grannies, parents, everyone. Similarly, while we should encourage self-education – both as individuals and as groups – we need to remember that we are all subject to the limitations of time, energy, and interest which vary from person to person, particularly those with work and family commitments. We must also be aware of those who want to become a big fish in a small pool – and seem to aim to make the pool smaller to increase the relative size of their ego. An outward looking perspective based on this should reduce, if not eliminate, such issues along with the “perfectionism and moral purity” (31) Williams notes is a problem.

To try and sum up. Williams’ pamphlet raises important questions even if, at times, it feels somewhat exaggerated and one-sided. By concentrating on certain negative elements, the positive ones are ignored rather than pointed to as alternatives we can learn from – for there have always been sections of the movement which have done exactly as Williams urges. We need to learn from the past rather than be nostalgic for it, for nostalgia is not what it used to be. Williams’ pamphlet, with all its flaws, should help in this process and, as such, should be read and discussed. Let us hope it has a more successful legacy that Bookchin’s work of the same name.

Whither Anarchism?

Kristian Williams

AK Press / To the Point


The post Review: Whither Anarchism? by Kristian Williams appeared first on Infoshop News.

On Anarchist Organisation

21 hours 23 min ago

via Anarchist Writers

by Anarcho

“organisation, that is to say, association for a specific purpose and with the structure and means required to attain it, is a necessary aspect of social life. A man in isolation cannot even live the life of a beast […] Having therefore to join with other humans […] he must submit to the will of others (be enslaved) or subject others to his will (be in authority) or live with others in fraternal agreement in the interests of the greatest good of all (be an associate). Nobody can escape from this necessity.”

– Errico Malatesta[1]


The notion that anarchism is inherently against organisation is one much asserted.

George Woodcock, the ex-anarchist turned anarchism’s self-appointed historian, proclaimed that “it seems evident that logically pure anarchism goes against its own nature when it attempts to create elaborate international or even national organisations, which need a measure of rigidity and centralisation to survive.” A syndicalist union, however, needs “relatively stable organisations and succeeds in creating them precisely because it moves in a world that is only partly governed by anarchist ideals”. He reflected the opinion of a large band of more hostile commentators on anarchism who inflict a fundamental irrationality on anarchists. If “pure” anarchism is against any form of organisation beyond its “natural unit” of the “loose and flexible affinity group” then few sensible people would embrace it for neither a rail network nor a hospital could be reliably run by such a unit.[2]

However, if we accept that anarchists are no different from other social activists and so fundamentally rational and realistic people as Davide Turcato persuasively (and correctly!) argues[3] then we need to admit that anarchist theoreticians and activists would not be advocating an ideal that could not possibly work. Unsurprisingly, then, we discover that anarchists – in general – spent some time thinking about organisation and how they could apply their ideas to the world around them. This is understandable as anarchists aim to change society for the better – whether by reform or revolution – and as such sought practical solutions to the social problems they saw around them. Theory needs to be reflected in practice and a theory which – by “its own nature” – precludes practical alternatives to the social ills it is protesting against would be a waste of time. No anarchist considers their ideas in such a light.

Anarchism rather than ignoring the need for organisation has always addressed it. This is because rather than being a peripheral concept, organisation is fundamentally a core aspect of any ideology as it is “the point where concepts lose their abstraction” and “are interwoven with the concrete practices sanctioned or condemned by an ideology.”[4] What organisational forms an ideology advocates says far more about its actual core values than the words it uses.

This can be seen from anarchism considered as both a theory and a movement. It was born in the context of an intellectual inheritance of liberalism and democracy and a social context of the rise of industrial capitalism and opposition to it in the shape of the workers’ movement and socialism. We will show how it built upon the critique of liberalism pioneered by Jean-Jacque Rousseau and applied it against both wage-labour (capitalism) and democracy itself. In the process it developed clear organisational principles to ensure social life could continue – indeed, flourish – without archy.[5]

The Ideological and Social Context

While there has been a tendency, started by Paul Eltzbacher and popularised by Woodcock to view anarchist theorists as being isolated thinkers, in reality all the major thinkers have been very much part of their society and its popular movements, seeking to gain influence for the ideas they have produced to solve its problems.[6]

This applies to the key thinkers associated with the birth and rise of anarchism as both a named theory and as a movement in the mid- to late-nineteenth century: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Michael Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin.

All three, like other lesser known anarchist thinkers and activists, were embedded in the world they were seeking to transform. They were aware of the intellectual and social context in which they lived and critically engaged with both. This can be seen most obviously with Proudhon’s writings and its well referenced polemics against the defenders of property, liberal economists and state socialist colleagues within the French democratic and labour movements but it should also be clear that Bakunin and Kropotkin, being Russian aristocrats, were well-versed with the intellectual currents of their times even if their writings were usually for the readers of anarchist journals.

The main immediate ideological influences on anarchism were liberalism (as personified by John Locke) and democracy (as personified by Rousseau). The social context was the failure of the French Revolution and the rise of industrial capitalism as well as the oppositional movements each produced: radical republicanism and the labour and socialist movements, respectively.

Locke: Justifying Subordinate Relations

Liberalism is usually associated with John Locke who is often presented as the foundational thinker for modern Western freedoms and democracy. Yet we cannot understand Locke if he has “modern liberal-democratic assumptions read into his political thought.”[7] His political theory is not primarily concerned with defending liberty but rather property and the power that comes with it.[8] Thus he takes wage-labour as existing in his “state of nature” and as a self-evident natural order:

Master and Servant are names as old as History […] a freeman makes himself a servant to another, by selling him, for a certain time, the service he undertakes to do, in exchange for wages he is to receive […] it gives the master but a temporary power over him, and no greater than what is contained in the Contract between ‘em.”[9]

This produces a situation where “a Master of a Family” rules over others with “all these subordinate relations of Wife, Children, Servants, and Slaves” and with “a very distinct and differently limited Power”. He was at pains to differentiate the power of “a Master over his Servant, a Husband over his Wife, and a Lord over his Slave” from political power. Thus power from wealth was considered as not an issue beyond ensuring that it did not take the form of a political power, namely “a Right of making Laws with Penalties of Death, and consequently all less Penalties”. However as the State existed “for the Regulating and Preserving of Property, and of employing the force of the Community, in the Execution of such Laws”[10], the property owner could expect the full backing of the state in ensuring his authority was obeyed.

Locke, then, argues that alleged free and equal individuals create organisations in which the few rule over the many. That is, within the liberal organisation “subordinate relations” – hierarchy – is the outcome yet the awkward question remains: “it is hard to see why a free and equal individual should have sufficient good reason to subordinate herself to another.”[11]

Locke rose to this challenge with the liberal use of the word consent and a “just-so” story rooted in what appear reasonable assumptions. The latter are of note for Locke is keen to base his defence of the bourgeois order on both labour and common property. Thus land is given to everyone in common by God while labour “is the unquestionable property of the labourer”. He uses examples of people who have “appropriated” the produce of the commons (“the Acorns he pickt up under an Oak, or the Apples he gathered from the Trees in the Wood”) to the appropriating the commons themselves. To the objection that appropriating the commons ends the freedom of others to take its produce, he suggests “no man but he can have a right to what [his labour] that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.”[12]

Yet this limitation is quickly overcome[13] by the increased productivity of the appropriated land which meant “there was still enough, and as good left; and more than the yet unprovided could use. ” The “tacit Agreement” to use money “introduced (by Consent) larger Possessions” which in turn meant “it is plain, that Men have agreed to a disproportionate and unequal Possession of the Earth, they having, by a tacit and voluntary consent, found out, a way how a man may fairly possess more land than he himself can use the product of, by receiving in exchange for the overplus, Gold and Silver, which may be hoarded up without injury to any one”[14] Significantly, this inequality of property exists in the state of nature and precedes the creation of the state. Equally significantly, Locke justifies appropriation of the world not in terms of increased liberty for all but rather by the trickle-down effect of increased wealth produced by that appropriation.

With all the land appropriated and inequality in wealth the norm, any free agreement between the rich and proletariat would favour the former and create authoritarian social relationships which Locke took as both natural and unproblematic for liberty:

“since the Authority of the Rich Proprietor, and the Subjection of the Needy Beggar, began not from the Possession of the Lord, but the Consent of the poor Man, who preferr’d being his Subject to starving. And the Man he thus submits to, can pretend to no more Power over him, than he has consented to, upon Compact.”[15]

This is part of Locke’s argument against absolute Monarchy and its ideological justifications, namely that the sovereignty of a Monarchy – the King’s power of life and death – rested on ownership of the land (“Private Dominion”). Thus while the property owner had authority over his wage-worker and tenant as specified in a contract, ownership “could give him no Sovereignty” understood as being “an Absolute, Arbitrary, Unlimited, and Unlimitable power over the Lives, Liberties, and Estates of his Children and Subjects”.[16]

Once the worker has consented to being under the authority of the wealthy then his labour and its product is no longer his own property: “Thus the Grass my Horse has bit; the Turfs my Servant has cut; and the Ore I have digg’d in any place, where I have a right to them in common with others, become my Property.” The workers’ labour is now his employer’s and “hath fixed my property” in both the product and common resources worked upon.[17] Thus Locke’s defence of property as resting on labour becomes the means to derive the worker of the full product of that labour. This is unsurprising for “the more emphatically labour is asserted to be a property, the more it is to be understood to be alienable. For property in the bourgeois sense is not only a right to enjoy or use; it is a right to dispose of, to exchange, to alienate.”[18]

Thus liberalism rationalises organisations based on “authority” and “subjection”, which turns one into the “subject” of another thanks to property which, lest we forget, “the Preservation” of was the “great and chief end” for men “uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under Government”. Therefore, “Subjects or Foreigners, attempting by force on the Properties of any People, may be resisted with force”[19]

Government is based on an alienation of the natural liberty of the property owners into “the Legislature” who could not “think themselves in a Civil Society” until the government “was placed in collective Bodies of Men, call them Senate, Parliament, or what you please”[20] and so Locke’s “liberal state, or the political sphere, stands over and above, and external to, the world of everyday life.”[21] This collective body of landlords would rule supreme over the individuals who make it up “for it would be a direct Contradiction, for any one, to enter into society with others for the securing and regulating of property […] to suppose his Land, whose Property is to be regulated by the Laws of the Society, should be exempt from the Jurisdiction of that Government, to which he himself, the Proprietor of the Land, is a Subject” After this, a man “is at liberty to go and incorporate himself into any other Commonwealth”.[22]

Once the land is appropriated and wealth accumulated in a few hands, then this few combine to form a political state because the previous government – a monarchy – no longer acts as an impartial umpire and takes a self-interested part in the numerous conflicts between property owners. This turns “the state of nature” into “the state of war” as the King starts to exercise absolute power over the property owners and their property. This produces the need to overthrow the monarchy and create a political power which “turns out to be the majority of the representatives, and the latter are chosen by the propertied.”[23]

This meant that while the “labouring class is a necessary part of the nation its members are not in fact full members of the body politic and have no claim to be so”. Locke considered “all men as members [of civil society] for the purposes of being ruled and only the men of estate as members for the purpose of ruling” (or “more accurately, the right to control any government”). Workers, the actual majority, “were in but of civil society” and so Locke “would have no difficulty, therefore, in thinking of the state as a joint-stock company of owners whose majority of decision binds not only themselves but also their employees.”[24]

In short, Locke “was not a democrat at all.”[25] Needless to say, many liberal writers have objected to these kinds of arguments and conclusions and given these conflicting interpretations of Locke and his democratic credentials (or lack of them), some may consider it impossible to determine the facts of the matter. Here, however, Locke himself provides an answer with his The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina that postulates rule by wealthy landlords as well as the introduction of serfdom. Significantly, its preamble is very clear on who is forming this state and why:

“that we may avoid erecting a numerous democracy, we, the lords and proprietors of the province aforesaid, have agreed to this following form of government”[26]

Ignoring his “just-so” story of land appropriation, Locke simply allocated the land to “eight proprietors” who each received “one-fifth of the whole” in perpetually while “the hereditary nobility” received another fifth. The parliament would be made up “of the proprietors or their deputies” and “one freeholder out of every precinct.” The freeholder members of parliament had to have more than “five hundred acres of freehold within the precinct for which he is chosen” while the electorate would be made up of those who have more than “fifty acres of freehold within the said precinct.”[27]

Compare this to a Commonwealth described in the Second Treatise which had a “single hereditary Person having the constant, supream, executive Power”, an “Assembly of Hereditary Nobility” and an “Assembly of Representatives chosen, pro tempore, by the People”.[28] Where “the People” being those who matter, the wealthy, for “Locke’s argument says nothing” about what the character of this majority in the two Treatises is because he “took for granted” that the “members of the political community” were “males who own substantial amounts of material property” and so “politically relevant members of society.”[29]

Given that Locke, in spite of his apparent denunciations of slavery, was a shareholder in slaving companies, it comes as no surprise that a freeman “shall have absolute power and authority over his negro slaves” while this civil dominion of a master over his slaves was likewise extended to workers or, more correctly, hereditary serfs (called leet-men) who were “under the jurisdiction of the respective lord” and could not leave the land “without licences from his said lord”. Rest assured, this serfdom is based on consent for an additional article included in 1670 allowed anyone to voluntarily register himself as a leet-man.[30]

This serfdom is not inconsistent with Locke’s Treatises on government. There he noted that by commonwealth he wished “to be understood all along to mean not a democracy, or any form of government, but any independent community” while he acknowledged that “men did sell themselves” into slavery, although he favoured the term “drudgery”. Slavery, Locke argued, meant a relationship “between a lawful Conquerour, and a Captive” where the former has the power of life and death over the latter. Once a “Compact” is agreed between them, “an agreement for a limited power on the one side, and obedience on the other” meant “Slavery ceases.” As long as the master cannot kill or main the slave, then it is “plain” that this was “only Drudgery” as “it is evident” that “the person sold was not under an Absolute, Arbitrary, Despotical power.”[31]

It should also be noted that Locke invented another story to justify actual slavery, namely the notion of a “just war.” Like the one to justify appropriation of land and rationalise master-servant relations, in this story slavery could be justified when the victors in a war started by those they have defeated offered the prisoners a choice, slavery or death: “Slaves who being captives taken in a just War, are by the Right of Nature subjected to the Absolute Dominion and Arbitrary Power of their Masters.” This meant that the conqueror “has an Absolute Power over the Lives of those, who by an Unjust War have forfeited them,” a power Locke calls “purely Despotical” for “he has an absolute power over the Lives of those, who putting themselves in a State of War, have forfeited them.” The slave-owner can murder his slave and this, too, is ultimately based on consent: “For, whenever he finds the hardship of his Slavery out-weigh the value of his Life, ’tis in his Power, be resisting the Will of his Master, to draw on himself the Death he desires.”[32]

Just as his just-so story protected his property in land and capital (and the status and power that went with it), so this just-so story protected his substantial investments in the slave trade. That no wealthy man had acquired his property in the manner described was as irrelevant as the slaves he profited from were not aggressors against the slavers (quite the reverse). So even absolute chattel slavery, with the power of life and death, is based on consent – and his investments safe and ethical.

All this indicates that Locke’s Constitutions of Serfdom was not in contradiction with the alleged egalitarian and democratic ideas in the Treatises any more than his spurious hair-splitting over “slavery” and “drudgery” is no accident. Rather it exposes the core of his ideology as his works were written to justify and rationalise rule by the wealthy and provide a veneer of voluntarism for oppressive, authoritarian and exploitative social relationships.

That Locke himself was a wealthy man hangs heavy over his work as it is fundamentally a defence for his social position. He attacked both absolutist monarchy and radical democracy. He justifies a class state for he takes a class society – his own – for his starting point and, indeed, eternalises it in “the state of nature”. The Lockean (liberal) social contract gives “justification to, and is expressly designed to preserve, the social inequalities of the capitalist market economy”[33] and the authoritarian social relationships within production these create, relations which Locke was well aware of. The master-servant relationship was precisely what his theory of property in the person sought to justify for a servant’s labour (and liberty) being their property it could be alienated (sold). Yet, for Locke, both the owning class and working class benefited from the social contract. The former saw their property and power protected by a government of their own class from the whims of Monarchs proclaiming their divine right to rule. The latter saw the power of their masters reduced to a limited authority and so could not be killed or maimed on a whim by those who they had consented to obey. After all, “no rational Creature can be supposed to change his condition with an intention to be worse”.[34]

In both cases, consent is the means used. This is the hardest worked concept in Locke’s ideology and is used to justify a multitude of liberty destroying social relationships: actual slavery, voluntary slavery, wage-labour, patriarchal marriage. Yet any ambiguities in Locke’s theoretical work – and any read into the work by later readers whose liberalism has been modified by other influences – are clarified when we look at the organisation within which he sought to apply it. A class state based on wealthy landlords assembling together in a Parliament to rule themselves and their servants is exposed in his organisation for Carolina.[35]

Rousseau: Liberty cannot exist without Equality

Locke’s theory was “no less influential in France than in its native England”[36] and was likewise utilised to combat absolutist Monarchy. However, the person who is most associated with French democracy, Jean-Jacque Rousseau, “denounces the liberal social contract as an illegitimate fraud”.[37] If Locke proclaimed “we are born Free[38] then Rousseau replied that we are “everywhere in chains”[39] and sought to explain why liberalism produced and justified this.

Critiquing Liberalism’s “just-so” story of state formation, Rousseau noted how “[a]ll ran headlong to their chains, in the hopes of securing their liberty” when, in fact, it “bound new fetters on the poor, and gave new powers to the rich; which irretrievably destroyed natural liberty, eternally fixed the law of property and inequality, converted clever usurpation into unalterable right, and, for the advantage of a few ambitious individuals, subjected all mankind to perpetual labour, slavery, and wretchedness.”[40] The liberal social contract was based on defending property rather than liberty:

“The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, ‘Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.’”[41]

In contrast to liberalism, Rousseau recognised that the “greatest good of all” reduces down to “two main subjects, liberty and equality” for the former “cannot exist without” the latter.[42] He rightly argued that contracts between the wealthy few and the many poor will always benefit the former and, for the latter, become little more than the freedom to pick a master:

“The terms of social compact between these two estates of men may be summed up in a few words: ‘You have need of me, because I am rich and you are poor. We will therefore come to an agreement. I will permit you to have the honour of serving me, on condition that you bestow on me that little you have left, in return for the pains I shall take to command you.’”[43]

Thus “laws are always useful to those with possessions and harmful to those who have nothing: from which it follows that the social state is advantageous to men only when all posses something and none has too much.” The ideal society was one where “no citizen shall be rich enough to buy another and none so poor as to be forced to sell himself.”[44] In a passage sadly not included in the final version of the Social Contract, Rousseau goes to the core problem with liberalism:

“That a rich and powerful man, having acquired immense possessions in land, should impose laws on those who want to establish themselves there, and that he should only allow them to do so on condition that they accept his supreme authority and obey all his wishes; that, I can still conceive […] Would not this tyrannical act contain a double usurpation: that on the ownership of the land and that on the liberty of the inhabitants?”[45]

We cannot really “divest ourselves of our liberty […] just as we transfer our property from one to another by contracts” for “the property I alienate becomes quite foreign to me, nor can I suffer from abuse of it” but it “concerns me that my liberty should not be abused”. This meant that a contract “binding the one to command and the other to obey” would be “an odd kind of contract to enter into” and so “to bind itself to obey a master” would be “illegitimate.” It would be the “voluntary establishment of tyranny” and so if “the people promises simply to obey, by that very act dissolves itself and loses what makes it a people; the moment a master exists, there is no longer a Sovereign.” In short: “To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender the rights of humanity and even its duties.”[46]

Political association had to be participatory and so the people of England regards itself as free; but it is grossly mistaken; it is free only during the election of members of parliament. As soon as they are elected, slavery overtakes it, and it is nothing.” The “people, being subject to the laws, ought to be their author” and so the “problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before.” Sovereignty, “for the same reason as makes it inalienable, is indivisible; for will either is, or is not, general; it is the will either of the body of the people, or only of a part of it.” Any government “is simply and solely a commission, an employment” and “mere officials of the Sovereign”.[47]

The proclaimed indivisible nature of sovereignty produced a tendency in Rousseau’s ideas that subsequently influenced the Jacobin tradition: the vision of a centralised republic. Local associations were viewed negatively because “when factions arise […] partial associations are formed at the expense of the great association” and it was “therefore essential, if the general will is to be able to express itself, that there should be no partial society within the State”. While Rousseau also suggested that “if there are partial societies, it is best to have as many as possible and to prevent them from being unequal”, his preference (and how he was interpreted) was that the citizens should have “no communication one with another” so that “the grand total of the small differences would always give the general will, and the decision would always be good.”[48] Thus democracy favoured a centralised, unitarian regime.

The democratic critique of liberalism produced both the idea of popular sovereignty and the importance of equality within society. Rousseau’s ideas were never implemented during his lifetime and so, unlike Locke and his Fundamental Constitutions, it is the example of his followers during the French Revolution we need to turn. This revolution was a conflict between both the people and the monarchy but also between the rising bourgeoisie and the toiling masses.[49] It expressed itself in both popular and representative organisational forms, both of which could be found in Rousseau. Yet while “the Sections under sans-culotte control” produced “a vision of a city taken over by workshop Rousseaus,”[50] power under the Jacobins was increasingly centralised into fewer and fewer hands – from the electorate into representatives, from representatives into the government, from the government, finally, into the hands of Robespierre. Eventually groups such as the sections of Paris, workers associations or strikes were destroyed as they were considered “states within the state” for the Republic was called “one and indivisible” for a reason.[51]

Associationism: Fraternity does not stop at the workplace door

Rousseau presented a critique of inequality but did not fundamentally criticise property. This is to be expected as he lived before the rise of industrial capitalism. The economy was based predominantly on peasant farming and artisan workshops, the authoritarian social relationships within production associated with wage-labour were not widespread nor of prime importance in continental Europe. The solution for the domination of landlords over peasants was clear and, moreover, did not need question property as such – land reform by breaking up large estates and parcelling out the land to those who actually work it. The small-scale of technology meant that most could eventually become artisans working with their own tools in their own workshop.

The French Revolution raised the issue of artisan organisation in the shape of guilds and journeymen societies with one building employer reporting in alarm that the “workers, by an absurd parody of the government, regard their work as their property, the building site as a Republic of which they are jointly citizens, and believe in consequence that it belongs to them to name their own bosses, their inspectors and arbitrarily to share out the work amongst themselves.”[52] These perspectives only increased when the industrial revolution transformed France and artisans became wage-workers. Faced with the obvious authoritarianism within the factory, these workers sought a solution appropriate to the changed circumstances they faced.

Unlike peasant farmers, the workplace could not be broken up without destroying machinery and the advantages it produced alongside master-servant relations. This reality produced a new perspective in the new working class and so “Associationism was born during the waves of strikes and organised protests provoked by the Revolution of 1830” when “there appeared a workers’ newspaper” which “suggested cooperative associations as the only way to end capitalist exploitation.” This paper was produced by printers and entitled l’Artisan, journal de la class ouvrière and “laid the basis for trade socialism.”[53] It argued as early as October 1830 that by “utilising the principle of association, workers could overcome the tyranny of private property and themselves become associated owners of industrial enterprises.”[54]

While many intellectuals – the so-called utopian socialists like Saint-Simon and Fourier and their followers – had raised various schemes for improving society, this was the first example of workers themselves making practical suggestions for their own liberation. Across France, many workers started to combine their existing organisations for mutual support with trade union activity as well as visions of a world without masters. This process intertwined with existing political Republican ideas. The radical neo-Jacobin Sociéte des Droits de l’Homme recruited amongst workers which resulted in a “two-way interchange of ideas” with that organisation taking up “the ideology of producer associationism which was becoming central” to artisanal socialism. Louis Blanc was the most public expression of this process and his “distinctive contribution was to fuse the associationist idea with the Jacobin-Republican political tradition”[55] but there were many others who expressed the associational idea in different forms.[56]

Organisation: the application of theory

By 1840 there was not only a wide appreciation for the need of some kind of association to replace capitalism but also extensive workers organisations across France which aimed to do so. It was in this context that a working man, a printer by trade, would transform socialist politics forever by proclaiming himself an anarchist.

Proudhon did not develop his ideas in isolation. Indeed, he did not invent his preferred term for them – mutualism – as the workers organisations in Lyon, where he stayed in 1843, had been using it since the early 1830s. So there is “close similarity between the associational ideal of Proudhon” and “the program of the Lyon Mutualists” and it is “likely that Proudhon was able to articulate his positive program more coherently because of the example of the silk workers of Lyon. The socialist ideal that he championed was already being realised, to a certain extent, by such workers.”[57]

This shows the importance of sketching the ideological and social context within which Proudhon was living when he wrote his seminal What is Property? in 1840. Indeed, the title of the first work in which a person self-proclaimed themselves an anarchist is significant. While there is a tendency (particularly by Marxists and right-wing “libertarians”) to reduce anarchism to just being anti-state, the reality is that from the start anarchism has always been critical of property and capitalism. As Proudhon repeatedly stressed, the critiques of property and of the state share common features and are interwoven. They cannot be considered in isolation without destroying the very notion of anarchism for the fundamental commonality between organisations anarchists oppose – the state, capitalist firms, marriage, etc. – is that they are authoritarian and “power and authority corrupt those who exercise them as much as those who are compelled to submit to them.”[58]

Moreover, these critiques are relevant with regards to what anarchists aim for and what they do now to bring that desired future closer. The logic is simple enough – if you oppose something for specific reasons then you will not seek to reproduce them in your visions of a better world nor in the organisations you create to bring that better world about. So, for example, based on his analysis of how exploitation occurred under capitalism – how wage-labour allowed the employer to appropriate the “collective force” produced by his workforce – Proudhon argued for the necessity of association (“By virtue of the principle of collective force, workers are the equals and associates of their leaders”[59]) and socialisation (“All human labour being the result of collective force, all property becomes, by the same reason, collective and undivided”[60]) Equally, we would expect thinkers who sought to transform their world to have a politics that was practical, namely a theory of organisation that could result in their principles being applied – “All theory is practical at the same time. What is said in theory today will be done tomorrow”[61] – and this is what we do find in the works of Proudhon and those he influenced, not least Bakunin and Kropotkin.

So analysis, advocacy and activity are interwoven, with the critique of what exists informing what could be and what could be informing our struggles of today. Anarchist organisation, in short, reflects anarchist theory: it is its application.

Proudhon: Laying the Foundations

Like most aspects of anarchism, anarchist organisational theory did not appear ready made in 1840. While a basic principle was postulated then, it took over a decade for all its elements to be raised and incorporated into it. This was for the very good reason that Proudhon had to respond to current events and so expand his ideas to take them into account.

Initially, Proudhon’s ideas on organisation were made in the context of economics and his critique of property. While he will forever be linked with “property is theft” this was just one part of his answer to the question What is Property?, the other being that “property is despotism.” Property “violates equality by the rights of exclusion and increase, and freedom by despotism.” Anarchy was “the absence of a master, of a sovereign,” while the proprietor was “synonymous” with “sovereign,” for he “imposes his will as law, and suffers neither contradiction nor control” and “each proprietor is sovereign lord within the sphere of his property”.[62] Echoing Rousseau, Proudhon laid down his position clearly:

“Liberty is inviolable. I can neither sell nor alienate my liberty; every contract, every condition of a contract, which has in view the alienation or suspension of liberty, is null: the slave, when he plants his foot upon the soil of liberty, at that moment becomes a free man. […] Liberty is the original condition of man; to renounce liberty is to renounce the nature of man: after that, how could we perform the acts of man?”[63]

This brings him into conflict with Locke and the liberal tradition. Rejecting the notion that master-servant contracts were valid, he dismisses its basis of property in the person in a few telling words: “To tell a poor man that he has property because he has arms and legs, – that the hunger from which he suffers, and his power to sleep in the open air are his property, – is to play with words, and add insult to injury.” Property, then, is solely material things – land, workplaces, etc. – and their monopolisation results in authoritarian relationships. To “recognise the right of territorial property is to give up labour, since it is to relinquish the means of labour”, which results in the worker having “sold and surrendered his liberty” to the proprietor. This alienation of liberty is the means by which exploitation occurs. Whoever “labours becomes a proprietor” of his product but by that he did “not mean simply (as do our hypocritical economists)” – and Locke – the “proprietor of his allowance, his salary, his wages” but “proprietor of the value which he creates, and by which the master alone profits.” Locke is also clearly the target for Proudhon’s comment that “the horse […] and ox […] produce with us, but are not associated with us; we take their product, but do not share it with them. The animals and workers whom we employ hold the same relation to us.” So for “[w]e who belong to the proletarian class: property excommunicates us!”[64]

Freedom and property were incompatible and to secure the former for all we have to seek the “entire abolition” of the latter for “all accumulated capital being social property, no one can be its exclusive proprietor” and land is “a common thing”. In short, the means of life become “a collective property” for while “the right to product is exclusive”, the “right to means is common.” This meant “equality of conditions and universal association” was needed for “[f]ree association, liberty – whose sole function is to maintain equality in the means of production and equivalence in exchanges – is the only possible, the only just, the only true form of society.” This meant industrial democracy as “leaders, instructors, superintendents” must be “chosen from the workers by the workers themselves.”[65]

Thus use rights replace property rights and so a piece of land or workplace is “a place possessed, not a place appropriated.” Anarchism is “association, which is the annihilation of property” for while “the use” of wealth “may be divided” as “property [it] remains undivided” and so “the land [is] common property” and capital is “common or collective.” So “to destroy despotism and the inequality of conditions”, master and worker must “become associates”.[66]

This position is reflected in his next significant work, 1846’s System of Economic Contradictions.[67] As before, property “degrades us, by making us servants and tyrants to one another” for the wage-workers’ lot was to “work under a master” to whom they had “sold their arms and parted with their liberty” and so monopoly “must republicanise itself”.[68] A new economy would be organised on a new basis:

“a commercial society […] should lay down as a principle the right of any stranger to become a member upon his simple request, and to straightway enjoy the rights and prerogatives of associates and even managers […] it is evident that all the tendencies of humanity, both in its politics and in its civil laws, are towards universalisation […] towards a complete transformation of the idea of the company as determined by our statutes […] articles of association […] should regulate, no longer the contribution of the associates – since each associate, according to the economic theory, is supposed to possess absolutely nothing upon his entrance into the company – but the conditions of labour and exchange, and which should allow access to all who might present themselves […] In order that association may be real, he who participates in it must do so […] as an active factor; he must have a deliberative voice in the council […] everything regarding him, in short, should be regulated in accordance with equality. But these conditions are precisely those of the organisation of labour”[69]

Rejecting capitalism and state socialism, this would be “a solution based upon equality – in other words, the organisation of labour, which involves the negation of political economy and the end of property.”[70] This was because, under capitalism, work may be “free. But what freedom, for heaven’s sake! Freedom for the proletarian is the ability to work, that is, of being robbed again; or not to work, that is to say to die to hunger! Freedom only benefits strength: by competition, capital crushes labour everywhere and converts industry into a vast coalition of monopolies.”[71]

Politically, Proudhon argued that the state was created to “conduct [an] offensive and defensive war against the proletariat” and – again against Locke – wondered “what advantage is it to [the proletarian] that society has left the state of war to enter the regime of police?” This meant that “from the moment that the essential conditions of power – that is, authority, property, hierarchy – are preserved, the suffrage of the people is nothing but the consent of the people to their oppression” and so the task of the proletariat was to create “an agricultural and industrial combination […] by means of which power, today the ruler of society, shall become its slave” and so “envelop capital and the State and subjugate them.”[72] Interestingly, he notes in passing the state “contributes to the general welfare” by “establishing in society an artificial centralisation, the image and prelude of the future solidarity of industries”.[73]

Thus by 1847 Proudhon had produced both a critique of capitalism and an alternative rooted in democratic values: “to unfold the system of economic contradictions is to lay the foundations of universal association.”[74] The current State could not be captured nor reformed as it was an instrument of capital. This meant labour had to organise itself, and so “we want the organisation of labour by the workers, without capitalists or masters” along with “government of the people by the people, without that supernatural person called the prince or the state” and “guarding of the people by the people, without any other army than a citizen militia.”[75]

The 1848 revolution thrust the issue of political – social – organisation to the fore. This lead Proudhon into a direct and sustained polemic with the Jacobin tradition with its vision of a centralised, unitary and indivisible democracy and so Rousseau. While previously he had proclaimed Rousseau “the apostle of liberty and equality,”[76] Proudhon now appeared not only to attack him but also democracy as such. However, a close reading shows that Proudhon’s critique of democracy was that it was not democratic enough and so his negative words should not make us forget Rousseau’s influence on him.[77]

The earliest weeks of the revolution saw Proudhon produce a pamphlet entitled Democracy which proclaimed that “problem of the People’s sovereignty is the fundamental problem of liberty, equality and fraternity, the first principle of social organisation” but concluded that democracy “does not answer any of the questions raised by that idea” and “is the negation of the People’s sovereignty”. This was because “democracy says that the People reigns and does not govern, which is to deny the Revolution”, and concludes “the People cannot govern itself and is forced to hand itself over to representatives”. His solution to this problem has become a core idea of anarchist organisation for “we can follow” those we elect “step-by-step in their legislative acts and their votes” and “make them transmit our arguments” and when “we are discontented, we will recall and dismiss them.” Thus the electoral principle needed “the imperative mandate, and permanent revocability” as its “most immediate and incontestable consequences”. This should be “the inevitable program of all democracy” but one which democracy rejects and so it “exists fully only at the moment of elections” and then it “retreats; it withdraws into itself again and begins its anti-democratic work. It becomes AUTHORITY.” This meant that for democracy “the People cannot govern themselves” and so “after declaring the principle of the People’s sovereignty” it “ends up declaring the incapacity of the People!” Instead of a democracy understood in the manner of the Jacobin left, Proudhon suggested in an anarchy “all citizens […] reign and govern” for they “directly participate in the legislation and the government as they participate in the production and circulation of wealth”.[78]

Thus a genuine democracy had to be both participatory and include the economic realm. Unsurprisingly, then, Proudhon considered his key economic reform, the Bank of Exchange, as “an essentially republican institution; it is a paradigmatic example of government of the People by the People” for “association is universal” with workplaces becoming “democratically organised workers’ associations” within a “vast federation of companies and societies woven into the common cloth of the democratic and social Republic” for “under universal association, ownership of the land and of the instruments of labour is social ownership.” The Bank of Exchange was seen as a means of a wider economic transformation, as the means of abolishing wage-labour: “all the workshops are owned by the nation, even though they remain and must always remain free” for “[b]y virtue of its over-arching mandate, the Exchange Bank is the organisation of labour’s greatest asset” and so allow “the new form of society to be defined and created among the workers.”[79]

Government, in the shape of an executive power with its Presidents and Ministries would be replaced by the National Assembly “through organisation of its committees […] exercise[ing] executive power, just the way it exercises legislative power through its joint deliberations and votes” while “as a consequence of universal suffrage” there would be the “implementation of the imperative mandate” otherwise “the people, in electing representatives, does not appoint mandatories but rather abjure their sovereignty” which is “assuredly not socialism: it is not even democracy.” The Assembly would be controlled by the “organisation of popular societies” as these were “the pivot of democracy, the cornerstone of republican order” and would “rip the nails and teeth off state power and hand over the government’s public force to the citizens.”[80]

With more experience of the workings of the Assembly – he was elected as a representative in 1848 and remained one until imprisoned for insulting the President in 1849 – Proudhon came to see the limitations of this position. Rather than all questions flowing to a single body, the decentralisation of power also required its decentring. So the question was “to organise universal suffrage in its plenitude” for each “function, industrial or otherwise”. Each functional group would elect its own delegates in its own separate bodies (Proudhon uses the examples of the church and the army). In this way “the country governs itself solely by means of its electoral initiative” and “it is no longer governed” for it “is a matter of the organisation of universal suffrage in all its forms, of the very structure of Democracy itself.” Instead of centralising all issues into the hands of one assembly, there would be a multitude of assemblies each covering a specific social function. For “a society of free men” is based on the “associating with different groups according to the nature of their industries or their interests and by whom neither collective nor individual sovereignty is ever abdicated or delegated” and so “the Government has ceased to exist as a result of universal suffrage”. This “truly democratic regime, with its unity at the bottom and its separation at the top, [is] the reverse of what now exists” and meant that “centralisation [would] be effected from the bottom to the top, from the circumference to the centre, and that all functions be independent and govern themselves independently.” He added to anarchist theory by calling this vision a “revolution from below” for “from below signifies the people” and “the initiative of the masses” while “from above” meant “the actions of government”.[81]

Thus anarchist organisation was decentralised, decentred, from the bottom-up, based on collective decision making with delegates elected, mandated and subject to recall. He attacked his colleagues on the left for advocating a democracy in which the sovereign people were ruled by an elected few. Against Louis Blanc – whose economic ideas he has previously attacked in 1846 – he argued that the state “is the external constitution of the social power” and by this “external constitution of its power and sovereignty, the people does not govern itself; now one individual, now several, by a title either elective or hereditary, are charged with governing it, with managing its affairs”. Anarchists, however, affirm that “the people, that society, that the mass, can and ought to govern itself by itself” and so “deny government and the State, because we affirm that which the founders of States have never believed in, the personality and autonomy of the masses.” Anarchy “maintains itself without masters and servants” and so when we “deny the State and the government” we “affirm in the same breath the autonomy of the people and its majority” for “the only way to organise democratic government is to abolish government.”[82]

This was needed because the State is “the constitutional silencing of the people, the legal alienation of its thought and its initiative into the hands of” the few in which “the people no longer have anything to do but keep silent and obey”. It is a body “distinct from the people, apart from and above the people” based on the “alienation of public power for the profit of a few ambitious men” which “no sooner exists than it creates an interest of its own, apart from and often contrary to the interests of the people; because, acting then in that interest, it makes civil servants its own creatures, from which results nepotism, corruption, and little by little to the formation of an official tribe, enemies of labour as well as of liberty”. Anarchy, however, “is the living society, the people having consciousness of their ideas, governing themselves as they work, through division of industries and special delegation of jobs, in short by the egalitarian distribution of forces.” Universal suffrage “implies the nomination by the people of all the functionaries without exception, their permanent revocability, and consequently the government of the people by the people.”[83]

Proudhon turned his polemical skills towards the intellectual father of the French Left, Rousseau, in 1851’s General Idea of the Revolution. A superficial reading of that work may cause some to consider the idea that Proudhon was working in his tradition as paradoxical. Yet Proudhon favourably quotes Rousseau on “the conditions of the social pact”[84] before starting his polemic which showed how Rousseau failed to achieve the task he set himself due to two key issues.

First, Rousseau “speaks of political rights only; it does not mention economic rights.” By ignoring the economic sphere he ends up creating a class state in which the Republic “is nothing but the offensive and defensive alliance of those who possess, against those who do not possess”, a “coalition of the barons of property, commerce and industry against the disinherited lower class”.[85]

Second, Rousseau’s political solution – a centralised, unitarian, indivisible republic – recreates the division between rulers and ruled which it claims to end. Thus, “having laid down as a principle that the people are the only sovereign”, Rousseau “quietly abandons and discards this principle” and so “the citizen has nothing left but the power of choosing his rulers by a plurality vote”. Echoing Rousseau’s own words about England, Proudhon proclaimed that France was “a quasi-democratic Republic” in which citizens “are permitted, every third or fourth year, to elect, first, the Legislative Power, second, the Executive Power. The duration of this participation in the Government for the popular collectivity is brief […] The President and the Representatives, once elected, are the masters; all the rest obey. They are subjects, to be governed and to be taxed, without surcease.”[86]

Thus the democratic principle is nullified and the people exercise a mythical sovereignty rather than a real one.

Against the idea of representative democracy in a one and indivisible republic, Proudhon advocated a decentralised, federal, participatory democracy. The “idea of contract excludes that of government” for it is in “this agreement that liberty and well being increase” as there would be “[n]o more laws voted by a majority [in a nation], nor even unanimously; each citizen, each commune or corporation [i.e., co-operative], makes its own.”[87] There would be a radical decentralisation of decision-making into the hands of the people and their associations:

“Unless democracy is a fraud, and the sovereignty of the People a joke, it must be admitted that each citizen in the sphere of his industry, each municipal, district or provincial council within its own territory, is the only natural and legitimate representative of the Sovereign, and that therefore each locality should act directly and by itself in administering the interests which it includes, and should exercise full sovereignty in relation to them. The People is nothing but the organic union of wills that are individually free, that can and should voluntarily work together, but abdicate never […] it becomes necessary for the workers to form themselves into democratic societies, with equal conditions for all members, on pain of a relapse into feudalism […] they will themselves be the State; that is to say, in all that concerns their industrial speciality, they will be the direct, active representative of the Sovereign.”[88]

Democratic principles must be extended to the economy – including the workplace – and this, in turn, would eliminate class differences and so the need for a state. The capitalist workplace involved the worker being “simply the employee of the proprietor-capitalist-entrepreneur” and so “subordinated, exploited” in a “permanent condition” of “obedience and poverty”. So “due to the immorality, tyranny and theft suffered” under wage-labour, association was needed. The worker must “become an associate” and “participate in the chances of loss or gain of the establishment, he will have a voice in the council” and so “resumes his dignity as a man and citizen” by becoming “a part of the producing organisation, of which he was before but the slave” just “as, in the town, he forms a part of the sovereign power”. A workplace with “subordinates and superiors” and “two industrial castes of masters and wage-workers” is “repugnant to a free and democratic society” and must be replaced with one in which “all positions are elective, and the by-laws subject to the approval of the members.”[89]

This meant that there “will no longer be nationality, no longer fatherland, in the political sense of the words: they will mean only places of birth. Whatever a man’s race or colour, he is really a native of the universe; he has citizen’s rights everywhere.”[90] So freedom and democracy did not end at the workplace door for the political and economic regimes were linked. As well as meaning association within the political and economic spheres in a free society, this also showed why the centralised political structure did not come about by accident. It was required to ensure bourgeois rule:

“And who benefits from this regime of unity? The people? No, the upper classes […] Unity […] is quite simply a form of bourgeois exploitation under the protection of bayonets. Yes, political unity, in the great States, is bourgeois: the positions which it creates, the intrigues which it causes, the influences which it cherishes, all that is bourgeois and goes to the bourgeois.”[91]

The centralised, hierarchical, state is “the cornerstone of bourgeois despotism and exploitation”[92] for how else can a minority class rule? So it was no coincidence that “nothing resembles a monarchy more than a unitarian republic” and “[l]et us not forget that the constitutional, bourgeois and unitary monarchy, tends, with regard to international politics, to guarantee from State to State the exploiting classes against the exploited classes, consequently to form the coalition of capital against the wage-workers, of whatever language and nationality they all are.”[93] Thus monarchies and republics were class states, run by and for dominant minorities regardless of whether elections take place. This was the function of centralism, hence the need for federalism:

“In short, whoever says freedom says federation, or says nothing;

“Whoever says republic, says federation, or says nothing;

“Whoever says socialism, says federation, or yet again says nothing.”[94]

If, in 1847 he suggested the goal of “industrial centralisation, administrative, without hierarchy,”[95] by the early 1850s he had embraced the more precise and clearer term federalism as better expressing his vision. In 1863 he stressed “the idea of an industrial federation serving as a complement to and ratification of the political federation” and that his “economic ideas, elaborated for twenty-five years, can be summarised” as “Agricultural-Industrial Federation” and his “political views are reduced to a similar formula: Political Federation or Decentralisation.”[96]

Anarchy, then, was an economic as well as political participatory democracy – a self-governing society – for “any one-sided conditions” in which “one part of the citizens should find themselves, by the contract, subordinated and exploited by the others, it would no longer be a contract; it would be a fraud”. Politically, “the object of the Revolution” is “to put paid to all authority and do away with the entire machinery of government” by “the organisation of universal suffrage” for “freedom and authority must be equal in every citizen: otherwise, there would be no equality […] and the sovereignty of the people, vested in a small number of representatives, would be a fiction.” Economically, just as citizens could not alienate their liberty to a government, so the revolution meant that workers would not sell their liberty to a boss so “[c]apitalist and landlord exploitation [is] stopped everywhere, wage-labour abolished” by association for “industrial associations” were “worker republics”.[97]

Individuals would join self-government groups within a “universal federalism” based on making “the citizens vote by categories of functions, in accordance with the principle of the collective force” for “the federative system is the opposite of administrative and governmental hierarchy or centralisation”. Thus the “groups that comprise the confederation” would be “self-governing, self-judging and self-administering in complete sovereignty” and “universal suffrage form [their] basis” and each “enjoys a right of secession”. This means that in “a mutualist confederation, the citizen gives up none of his freedom, as Rousseau requires him to do for the governance of his republic!”[98] In summary:

“no longer do we have the abstraction of people’s sovereignty as in the ’93 Constitution and the others that followed it, and in Rousseau’s Social Contract. Instead it becomes an effective sovereignty of the labouring masses which rule and govern […] the labouring masses are actually, positively and effectively sovereign: how could they not be when the economic organism – labour, capital, property and assets – belongs to them entirely”[99]

Thus the “abolition of man’s exploitation of his fellow-man and abolition of man’s government of his fellow-man” were “one and the same proposition” for “what, in politics, goes under the name of Authority is analogous to and synonymous with what is termed, in political economy, Property; that these two notions overlap one with the other and are identical”. The “principle of AUTHORITY [was] articulated through property and through the State.” and so “an attack upon one is an attack upon the other.”[100] Association had to replace both.

Before leaving Proudhon to see how his ideas were later developed, it must be noted that many commentators view him as an opponent to association, large-scale industry and social ownership. To do so is to misunderstand his ideas and the context in which he expressed them. Against those other socialists vying for influence in the French labour movement, Proudhon was keen to stress that these utopian schemes turned the “community” into proprietor and so resulted in the oppression and exploitation of labour just as much as capitalism did.[101] Similarly with Louis Blanc, who came “under attack by Proudhon for eliminating all competition, and for fostering state centralisation of initiative and direction at the expense of local and corporative powers and intermediate associations. But the term association could also refer to the mutualist associations that Proudhon favoured, that is, those initiated and controlled from below.”[102] If Blanc advocated Association, Proudhon supported associations:

“But there is not one single public function, one single industry in society; and the question is precisely to know if the public thought or action can and should be exerted ex æquo, in equal measure and by equal title, by all the citizens individually and independently of one another: that is the democratic or anarchic system – or whether that collective thought and collective action should become the exclusive attribute of an elite of functionaries, appointed for that purpose by the people and with respect to whom the people are then no longer COLLEAGUES, but obedient, passive subjects or instruments.”[103]

Proudhon, then, had an opposition to one centralised Association or association for its own sake (what Proudhon termed “the principle of Association”) but he was in favour of workplace associations to replace wage-labour as well as an “agriculturalindustrial federation” in which associations would “not to absorb one another and merge, but to mutually guarantee the conditions of prosperity that are common to them”.[104] Nor was he opposed to large-scale industry for these associations were advocated precisely to ensure its benefits for workers rather than a few capitalists.[105] Similarly, the free access to workplaces and land to abolish wage-labour required Proudhon to advocate their social ownership precisely to ensure that those who used them controlled them. Thus possession (or use-rights) were postulated within the context of collective or undivided ownership by all.[106]

Déjacque, Léo and Varlin: Being consistently libertarian

It was in reaction to a specific aspect of Proudhon’s ideas that the term libertarian (libertaire) was first used in the modern sense. While denouncing both the state and the capitalist workplace as authoritarian and seeking to replace both with a federation of self-governing associations, Proudhon refused to apply his ideas within the family: there he advocated (and rigorously defended) patriarchy.

Yet, as Carole Pateman reminds us, until “the late nineteenth century the legal and civil position of a wife resembled that of a slave”. A slave “had no independent legal existence apart from his master, and husband and wife became ‘one person,’ the person of the husband.” Indeed, the law “was based on the assumption that a wife was (like) property” and only the marriage contract “includes the explicit commitment to obey.”[107] Other anarchists saw the obvious contradiction in Proudhon’s position.

Joseph Déjacque in 1857 extended Proudhon’s ideas to communist-anarchist conclusions as well as applying them to the family and in the process coined the word libertarian. It was a case of “plac[ing] the question of the emancipation of woman in line with the question of the emancipation of the proletarian” so that both enter “the anarchic-community” in which “all despotism [is] annihilated, all social inequalities levelled.”  Proudhon did “cry out against the high barons of capital” but “wish[ed] to rebuild the high barony of the male upon the female vassal” and so was “a liberal and not a LIBERTARIAN.” The need was to create a “true anarchy, of absolute freedom, [in which] there would undoubtedly be as much diversity between beings as there would be people in society, diversity of age, sex, aptitudes: equality is not uniformity.”[108] The following year Déjacque used this new synonym for anarchist as the title for his paper La Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Social.[109]

Eleven years after Déjacque issued his challenge to Proudhon, André Léo, a feminist mutualist and future Communard, also pointed out the obvious contradiction to his French followers and others on the left in her work La Femme et les mœurs:

“These so-called lovers of liberty, if they are unable to take part in the direction of the state, at least they will be able to have a little monarchy for their personal use, each in his own home. When divine right was shattered, it was so that each male (Proudhonian-type) could have a piece of it. Order in the family without hierarchy seems impossible to them – well then, what about in the state?”[110]

Both Déjacque and Léo argued that Proudhon’s Rousseau-derived critique of wage-labour and the state (including Rousseau’s democracy) was equally applicable to family relations. Anarchists, to be consistent, cannot be blind to social (“private”) hierarchies while denouncing economic and political ones. Given that the rationale for all these forms of subjection were justified in liberal theory in the same manner – voluntary or contractual – there was no logical reason to defend patriarchy any more than any other archy.  Unsurprisingly, almost all subsequent anarchists (including Bakunin and Kropotkin) recognised the need for consistency and so followed the likes of Déjacque and Léo in applying Proudhon’s principles against his own contradictory application just as Proudhon had done to Rousseau.

They also sought to apply their ideas within another area Proudhon opposed, namely in the union movement. Thus we find Eugène Varlin as well as “advocat[ing] equal rights for women in opposition” to Proudhon also arguing that unions and strikes were “necessary to abolish capitalism.”[111] As well as mitigating capitalist exploitation and oppression in the here and now, unions had a wider role in “organis[ing] the production and distribution of products” in the future:

“Unless you want to reduce everything to a centralising and authoritarian state, which would appoint the directors of mills, factories, distribution outlets, whose directors would in turn appoint deputy directors, supervisors, foremen, etc. and thus arrive at a top-down hierarchical organisation of labour, in which the worker would be nothing but an unconscious cog, without freedom or initiative; unless we do, we are forced to admit that the workers themselves must have the free disposal of their instruments of labour […] Workers societies, in whatever form they exist at present, already have this immense advantage of accustoming men to social life, and so preparing them for a wider social organisation. They accustom them not only to reach an agreement and understanding, but also to take care of their affairs, to organise, to discuss, to think about their material and moral interests, and always from the collective point of view […] trade societies (resistance, solidarity, union) deserve our encouragement and sympathy, for they are the natural elements of the social construction of the future; it is they who can easily become producer associations; it is they who will be able to operate social tools and organise production […] all workers should group themselves into resistance societies by trade in order to secure the present and prepare for the future.”[112]

This position was held in the libertarian sections of the International Workers’ Association, which had been founded in 1864 by British trade unionists and French mutualists. The idea of unions becoming the economic framework of socialism in chambres de travail (workers councils) was first raised by mutualist delegates from the Belgium section at its Brussels conference in 1868 before becoming policy at the Basle Congress.[113]

Bakunin: Building and Applying

When Bakunin joined the International in 1868 he took up and championed these syndicalist ideas, arguing that it had to “expand and organise itself […] so that when the Revolution […] breaks out, there will be […] a serious international organisation of workers’ associations […] capable of replacing this departing world of States.”[114] Anarchists would only achieve their goal “by the development and organisation” of the “social (and, by consequence, anti-political) power of the working masses.”[115] The “organisation of the trade sections and their representation in the Chambers of Labour […] bear in themselves the living seeds of new society which is to replace the old world. They are creating not only the ideas, but also the facts of the future itself.”[116] Thus libertarian socialism was based on federations of workers’ councils organised at the point of production in the fight against exploitation and oppression:

“Workers, no longer count on anyone but yourselves […] You bear within you today all the elements of the power that must renew the world […] Abstain from all participation in bourgeois radicalism and organise outside of it the forces of the proletariat. The basis of that organisation is […] the workshops and the federation of the workshops […] and their federation not just nationally, but internationally. The creation of chambres de travail […] the liquidation of the State and of bourgeois society […] Anarchy, that it to say the true, the open popular revolution […] organisation, from top to bottom and from the circumference to the centre”[117]

An anarchist organisation “must be a people’s movement, organised from the bottom up by the free, spontaneous action of the masses. There must be no secret governmentalism, the masses must be informed of everything […] All the affairs of the International must be thoroughly and openly discussed without evasions and circumlocutions.” This is in contrast to “the principle of authority, that is, the eminently theological, metaphysical, and political idea that the masses, always incapable of governing themselves, must at all times submit to the benevolent yoke of a wisdom and a justice imposed upon them, in some way or other, from above.”[118]

Like Proudhon, Bakunin contrasted authority with collective self-government. He argued for “no external legislation and no authority” and rejected “all legislation, all authority, and all privileged, licensed, official, and legal influence, even though arising from universal suffrage” because “it can turn only to the advantage of a dominant minority of exploiters against the interests of the immense majority in subjection to them.” However, he was well aware of the need for individuals to associate together into groups and make decisions. This meant how we organised was what mattered for “man in isolation can have no awareness of his liberty. Being free for man means being acknowledged, considered and treated as such by another man. Liberty is therefore a feature not of isolation but of interaction, not of exclusion but rather of connection”.[119]

Long before Rosa Luxemburg made the same distinction,[120] Bakunin contrasted two kinds of discipline, an “authoritarian conception of discipline” which “signifies despotism on the one hand and blind automatic submission to authority on the other” and another “not automatic but voluntary and intelligently understood [which] is, and will ever be, necessary whenever a greater number of individuals undertake any kind of collective work or action.” The latter was “simply the voluntary and considered co-ordination of all individual efforts for a common purpose” and did not preclude “a natural division of functions according to the aptitude of each, assessed and judged by the collective whole” but “no function remains fixed and it will not remain permanently and irrevocably attached to any one person. Hierarchical order and promotion do not exist, so that the executive of yesterday can become the subordinate of tomorrow.” In this way “power, properly speaking, no longer exists. Power is diffused to the collectivity and becomes the true expression of the liberty of everyone, the faithful and sincere realisation of the will of all”.[121]

An anarchist organisation made decisions without giving power to the few. Anarchists “recognise all natural authority, and all influence of fact upon us, but none of right; for all authority and all influence of right, officially imposed upon us, immediately becomes a falsehood and an oppression.” The “only great and omnipotent authority, at once natural and rational, the only one we respect, will be that of the collective and public spirit of a society founded on equality and solidarity and the mutual respect of all its members.” Freedom “is something very positive, very complex, and above all eminently social, since it can be realised only by society and only under conditions of strict equality and solidarity.”[122]

He contrasted this with Marxists who, he argued, were “champions of order established from the top downwards, always in the name of universal suffrage and the sovereignty of the masses, for whom they save the honour and privilege of obeying leaders, elected masters.” The state, then, was “the minority government, from the top downward, of a vast quantity of men”[123] while in an anarchy the “whole people govern” and so “there will be no one to be governed. It means that there will be no government, no State.”[124] Therefore anarchists do “not accept, even in the process of revolutionary transition, either constituent assemblies, provisional governments or so-called revolutionary dictatorships; because we are convinced that revolution is only sincere, honest and real in the hands of the masses, and that when it is concentrated in those of a few ruling individuals it inevitably and immediately becomes reaction.”[125]

Thus, like Proudhon, Bakunin contrasted collective decision making with representative government. The latter – whether within the groups at the base of a society or at the top – empowered the few at the expense of the many.

This is reflected on Bakunin’s discussion of union bureaucracy and how to combat it. In the Geneva section of the International, the construction workers’ section “simply left all decision-making to their committees […] In this manner power gravitated to the committees, and by a species of fiction characteristic of all governments the committees substituted their own will and their own ideas for that of the membership.” The union “sections could only defend their rights and their autonomy in only one way: the workers called general membership meetings. Nothing arouses the antipathy of the committees more than these popular assemblies […] In these great meetings of the sections, the items on the agenda was amply discussed and the most progressive opinion prevailed.” In addition, delegates elected by the membership had to fulfil “their obligations to their respective sections” by “reporting regularly to the membership the proposals made and how they voted” and “asking for further instructions (plus instant recall of unsatisfactory delegates).”[126]

In short, to “contract a relationship of voluntary servitude” was inconsistent with anarchist principles as “the freedom of every individual is inalienable” and so associations could have no other footing “but the utmost equality and reciprocity.”[127] Like Proudhon, Bakunin saw the need for directly democratic – self-managed – associations for the capitalist workplace created “master and slave” relationships for “the worker sells his person and his liberty for a given time.”[128] The workplace had to be a free association of individuals who organise their joint work as equals and so he was “convinced that the co-operative will be the preponderant form of social organisation in the future, in every branch of labour and science.”[129] This implied socialisation of property so that the “land belongs to only those who cultivate it with their own hands; to the agricultural communes. The capital and all the tools of production belong to the workers; to the workers’ associations.” By being “converted into collective property of the whole of society” it would be “utilised only by the workers, i.e., by their agricultural and industrial associations.”[130] He extended this into a vision of social revolution in the traditional rather than reformist sense that Proudhon had used:

“the revolution must set out from the first radically and totally to destroy the State and all State institutions […] confiscation of all productive capital and means of production on behalf of workers’ associations, who are to put them to collective use […] the federative Alliance of all working men’s associations […] will constitute the Commune. […] The Commune will be organised by the standing federation of the Barricades and by the creation of a Revolutionary Communal Council composed of one or two delegates from each barricade, one to each street or district, vested with plenary but accountable and removable mandates […] all provinces, communes and associations […] first reorganising on revolutionary lines and then sending their representatives to an agreed meeting-place, these too vested with similar mandates to constitute the federation of insurgent associations, communes and provinces in the name of the same principles and to organise a revolutionary force capable of defeating reaction. […] There can no longer be any successful political or national revolution unless the political revolution is transformed into social revolution, and unless national revolution, precisely because of its radically socialist, anti-State character, becomes universal revolution […] created by the people, and supreme control must always belong to the people organised into a free federation of agricultural and industrial associations […] organised from the bottom upwards by means of revolutionary delegation”[131]

A free society would be based on federations of community and workplace assemblies, initially locally in the Commune and then ever wider in regions, nationally and, ultimately, internationally – all based on decision making from the bottom-up with all delegates elected, mandated and recallable. This would ensure that society would be “reconstituted on the basis of liberty, henceforward to be the sole determinant of its organisation, both political and economic. Order in society must be the outcome of the greatest possible development of all local, collective and individual liberties” to ensure that the “political and economic organisation of society must therefore not flow downwards, from high to low, and outwards, from centre to circumference, as it does today on the principle of unity and enforced centralisation, but upwards and inwards, on the principle of free association and free federation.”[132]

It is useful to note that, in stark contrast to those who (like Marx and Lenin) assert that Bakunin, like all anarchists, thought an ideal socialist society would spring-up overnight, Bakunin himself explicitly stated that he did “not say” that the peasants and workers, “freely organised from the bottom up, will miraculously create an ideal organisation, conforming in all respects to our dreams. But […] that what they construct will be living and vibrant, a thousand times better and more just than any existing organisation,” be “open to revolutionary propaganda” and so “will develop and perfect itself through free experimentation” with the “development of each commune” taking as “its point of departure the actual condition of its civilisation.”[133]

Bakunin, then, urged a socialism from below by means of a “popular revolution” which would “create its own organisation from the bottom upwards and from the circumference inwards, in accordance with the principle of liberty, and not from the top downwards and from the centre outwards, as in the way of all authority.”[134]

Kropotkin: Expanding and Consolidating

As with Bakunin, Kropotkin aimed for a society “wherein nobody should be compelled to sell his labour (and consequently, to a certain degree, his personality) to those who intend to exploit him” and sought “to create among the working classes the union structures that might some day replace the bosses and take into their own hands the production and management of every industry.”[135] He dismissed the “Economists [who] represented as a state of freedom the forced contract agreed by the worker under the threat of hunger with the boss”[136] for capitalism produced hierarchical relationships:

“In today’s society, where no one is allowed to use the field, the factory, the instruments of labour, unless he acknowledges himself the inferior, the subject of some Sir – servitude, submission, lack of freedom, the practice of the whip are imposed by the very form of society.”[137]

Returning repeatedly to the French Revolution, Kropotkin noted that while it had “proclaimed the sovereignty of the people” it “by an inconsistency” also “proclaimed, not a permanent sovereignty, but an intermittent one, to be exercised at certain intervals only, for the nomination of deputies supposed to represent the people”. It was “absurd to take a certain number of men from out the mass, and to entrust them with the management of all public affairs”. The state “is the power of the bureaucracy”[138] for the “pyramidal ladder that makes the essence of the State” means “the existence of a power placed above society” but also the “concentration of many functions in the life of societies in the hands of a few” and this resulted in “thousands of functionaries” (“most of them corruptible”) to “read, classify, evaluate” on numerous issues, great and small.[139] Worse, if “an all-powerful centralised Government” – as in state socialism – tries to manage production as well its other tasks then it “develops such a formidable bureaucracy” which proves “absolutely incapable of doing that through its functionaries, no matter how countless they may be”.[140]

The State, then, was “developed during the history of human societies” to “subjugate the masses to minorities” and dismissed the arguments of the politicians who “described as a state of freedom the present situation in which the citizen becomes a serf and a taxpayer of the State.” Referencing Proudhon’s debate with Louis Blanc, he argued that the state “is necessarily hierarchical, authoritarian – or it ceases to be the State.”[141] This meant that both the Liberal and Democratic States were class regimes, and as regards the latter “the Jacobin club was the bulwark of the bourgeoisie coming to power against the egalitarian tendencies of the people. […] the ideal of the Jacobin State […] had been designed from the viewpoint of the bourgeois, in direct opposition to the egalitarian and communist tendencies of the people which had arisen during the Revolution.”[142] A State was needed because of the class interests of the few who owned and ruled society:

“To attack the central power, to strip it of its prerogatives, to decentralise, to dissolve authority, would have been to abandon to the people the control of its affairs, to run the risk of a truly popular revolution. That is why the bourgeoisie sought to reinforce the central government even more, to invest it with powers of which the king himself would never have dreamt, to concentrate everything in its hands, to subordinate to it the whole of France from one end to another – and then to make sure of it all through the National Assembly.”[143]

The “people does not govern itself” and so Kropotkin’s aim was “economic equality” in which “free and equal citizens, not about to abdicate their rights to the care of the few, will seek some new form of organisation that allows them to manage their affairs for themselves”.  He pointed to the sections of the French Revolution as popular institutions “not separated from the people” and “remained of the people, and this is what made the revolutionary power of these organisations.” Rather than nominating representatives and disbanding, the sections “remained and organised themselves, on their own initiative, as permanent organs of the municipal administration” and “were practising what was described later on as Direct Self-Government”. These were “the principles of anarchism” and they “had their origin, not in theoretic speculations, but in the deeds of the Great French Revolution” for the Commune “was not to be a governed State, but a people governing itself directly ― when possible ― without intermediaries, without masters.”[144]

A similar organisation would exist on the economic field, based on the “expropriation pure and simple of the present holders of the large landed estates, of the instruments of labour, and of capital of every kind, and by the seizure of all such capital by the cultivators, the workers’ organisations, and the agricultural and municipal communes. The task of expropriation must be carried out by the workers themselves in the towns and the countryside.” The workers “ought to be the real managers of industries” and “the importance of th[e] labour movement for the coming revolution” is that these “agglomerations of wealth producers” will “reorganise production on new social bases. They will […] organise the life of the nation and the use which it will make of the hitherto accumulated riches and means of production. They – the labourers, grouped together – not the politicians.”[145]

These social and economic self-managed assemblies would then federate with others, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally:

“Our needs are in fact so various, and they emerge with such rapidity, that soon a single federation will not be sufficient to satisfy them all. The Commune will then feel the need to contract other alliances, to enter into other federations. Belonging to one group for the acquisition of food supplies, it will have to join a second group to obtain other goods, such as metals, and then a third and a fourth group for textiles and works of art […] the federations of Communes, if they were to follow their free development, would very soon start to mingle and intersect, and in this way form a network […] the Commune […] no longer means a territorial agglomeration; it is rather a generic name, a synonym for the grouping of equals which knows neither frontiers nor walls. The social Commune will soon cease to be a clearly defined entity. Each group in the Commune will necessarily be drawn towards similar groups in other communes; they will come together and the links that federate them will be as solid as those that attach them to their fellow citizens, and in this way there will emerge a Commune of interests whose members are scattered in a thousand towns and villages.”[146]

This diversity of groupings, federations, links and contracts means that a free society would by decentralised and decentred, with questions no longer channelled into one body. This would allow genuine delegation to develop:

“The question of true delegation versus representation can be better understood if one imagines a hundred or two hundred men, who meet each day in their work and share common concerns, who know each other thoroughly, who have discussed every aspect of the question that concerns them and have reached a decision. They then choose someone and send him to reach an agreement with other delegates of the same kind on this particular issue. On such an occasion the choice is made with full knowledge of the question, and everyone knows what is expected of his delegate. The delegate is not authorised to do more than explain to other delegates the considerations that have led his colleagues to their conclusion. Not being able to impose anything, he will seek an understanding and will return with a simple proposition which his mandatories can accept or refuse.”[147]

Groups raised “questions and discussed them first themselves” and “sent delegates – not rulers” – to congresses who “returned with no laws in their pockets, but with proposals of agreements.[148]  This “free agreement, by exchange of letters and proposals, by congresses at which delegates met to discuss certain special subjects […] is a new principle that differs completely from all governmental principle, monarchical or republican, absolute or parliamentarian.”[149]

This would produce “an interwoven network, composed of an infinite variety of groups and federations of all sizes and degrees, local, regional, national and international – temporary or more or less permanent – for all possible purposes.”[150] The Commune “will know that it cannot admit any higher authority; above it there can only be the interests of the Federation, freely accepted by itself as well as the other communes […] the Commune will be absolutely free to adopt all the institutions it wishes and to make all the reforms and revolutions it finds necessary […] The Commune will know that it must break the State and replace it by the Federation.”[151] Anarchism now had its full social organisation on all three levels – economic, social and personal:

“The idea of independent Communes for the territorial organisation, and of federations of Trade Unions for the organisation of men in accordance with their different functions, gave a concrete conception of society regenerated by a social revolution. There remained only to add to these two modes of organisation a third […] the thousands upon thousands of free combines and societies growing up everywhere for the satisfaction of all possible and imaginable needs, economic, sanitary, and educational; for mutual protection, for the propaganda of ideas, for art, for amusement, and so on.”[152]

Socialism “will therefore have to find its own form of political relations” as it “cannot utilise the old political forms”. In “one way or another it will have to become more popular, closer to the assembly [forum], than representative government. It must be less dependent on representation, and become more self-government, more government of each by themselves.”[153] This was needed because the State was no neutral structure:

“Developed in the course of history to establish and maintain the monopoly of land ownership in favour of one class – which, for that reason, became the ruling class par excellence – what means can the State provide to abolish this monopoly that the working class could not find in its own strength and groups? Then perfected during the course of the nineteenth century to ensure the monopoly of industrial property, trade, and banking to new enriched classes, to which the State was supplying ‘arms’ cheaply by stripping the land from the village communes and crushing the cultivators by tax – what advantages could the State provide for abolishing these same privileges? Could its governmental machine, developed for the creation and upholding of these privileges, now be used to abolish them? Would not the new function require new organs? And these new organs would they not have to be created by the workers themselves, in their unions, their federations, completely outside the State?”[154]

In short, the revolution would see “the commune, independent of the State, abolishing in itself the representative system” while the “workers’ organisations” seize “the instruments of labour” and land. So instead of a society “based on the subjugation of the people to rulers, be they usurpatory, hereditary or elected, anarchists work for the realisation of a society based on the mutual agreement” for they “deny every form of hierarchical organisation”.[155] Thus the aim was to produce a society where people were genuinely free rather than simply free to pick their masters:

“We finally realise now that without communism man will never be able to reach that full development of individuality which is, perhaps, the most powerful desire of every thinking being.”[156]

Anarchy, though, was not for the future. Anarchists “work so that the masses of workers of the soil and of [the] factory endeavour to form organisations” based “not in pyramidal hierarchy, not in the orders of the central committee” but rather “in the free group, federative, from the simple to the complex.”[157] The struggle against exploitation and oppression was the means by which anarchism was created, for “to make revolution, the mass of workers must organise themselves, and resistance and the strike are excellent means by which workers can organise.” What was needed was “to build resistance associations” and “fight against the exploiters, to unify the workers’ organisations of each town and trade and to put them in contact with those of other towns, to federate across France, to federate across borders, internationally”.[158]

Let Bakunin, Kropotkin – myths aside – saw that a social revolution “is not the work of one day. It means a whole period, mostly lasting for several years, during which the country is in a state of effervescence; when thousands of formerly indifferent spectators take a lively part in public affairs”. For “this immense problem – the reorganisation of production, redistribution of wealth and exchange, according to the new principles – cannot be solved by parliamentary commissions nor by any kind of government. It must be a natural growth resulting from the combined efforts of all interested in it” and “must grow naturally, proceeding from the simplest up to complex federations, and it cannot be something schemed by a few men and ordered from above.”[159]

Anarchist Organisation: Principles and Practice

Our discussion of the origins of anarchist organisation has shown its influences – ideological and practical – and its characteristics. Anarchists since the first self-proclaimed anarchist text, What is Property?, had already answered Engels’ question of “how do these people propose to operate a factory, run a railway, or steer a ship without one will that decides in the last resort, without unified direction”?[160] Anarchism was born precisely to answer it and did so with a single word: association.[161]

Anarchists have always recognised that freedom is a product of interaction between people and it is how we associate which determines whether we are free or not. While anarchism’s perspective is social, Engels’ is fundamentally liberal as it sees isolation as true freedom (“each gives up some of his autonomy”[162]) and so confuses agreement with authority, co-operation with coercion.

The real question is simple: is an association based on the self-government of its members or do a few decide for all? So to qualify as libertarian an organisation must be based on certain core principles[163] that ensure that liberty is not reduced to simply picking masters:

  • Voluntary
  • Democratic
  • Egalitarian
  • Federalist
  • Functional

Taking each in turn, we can sketch the principles of anarchist organisation which “has sought to change relationships between people, and that will one day transform them, both those that are established between people living under a single roof and those that may be established in international associations.”[164]

An organisation that is not voluntary would hardly be free. So free association requires that individuals decide for themselves which groups to join. Yet it is more than that for “to promise to obey is to deny or to limit, to a greater or lesser degree, individuals’ freedom and equality and their ability to exercise these capacities [of independent judgement and rational deliberation]. To promise to obey is to state, that in certain areas, the person making the promise is no longer free to exercise her capacities and decide upon her own actions, and is no longer equal, but subordinate.”[165] Being free to join a group that is internally hierarchical is simply picking masters and this means that groups have to be democratic so that those subject to decisions make them. Thus anarchist organisation is rooted in “the possibility of calling the general assembly whenever it was wanted by the members of the section and of discussing everything in the general assembly”.[166]

This means freedom does not end at the workplace door or with a marriage ceremony. As Proudhon noted, under capitalism workers may ostensibly sell just their labour but in reality they sell their liberty as well for the reasons Pateman summarises:

“Capacities or labour power cannot be used without the worker using his will, his understanding and experience, to put them into effect. The use of labour power requires the presence of its ‘owner’ […] the worker labours as demanded. The employment contract must, therefore, create a relationship of command and obedience between employer and worker […] In short, the contract in which the worker allegedly sells his labour power is a contract in which, since he cannot be separated from his capacities, he sells command over the use of his body and himself. To obtain the right to use another is to be a (civil) master. To sell command over the use of oneself for a specified period [. . .] is to be an unfree labourer. The characteristics of this condition are captured in the term wage slave.”[167]

Wage-labour is not consistent with anarchism for, least we forget, “a corporation, factory or business is the economic equivalent of fascism: decisions and control are strictly top-down.”[168] This means that “staying free is, for the working man who has to sell his labour, an impossibility” and so a free economy existed only when “associations of men and women who would work on the land, in the factories, in the mines, and so on, became themselves the managers of production.”[169]

In short, “neither a commercial, nor an industrial, nor an agricultural association can be conceived of in the absence of equality”.[170] The anarchist critique of property rests on its core principles of liberty and equality and is reflected in its organisational principles. Yet while democratic, anarchist organisations have to be egalitarian as well for simply electing a few who govern the rest reintroduces hierarchies, albeit elected ones, and least we forget government is the “delegation of power, that is, the abdication of the initiative and sovereignty of every one into the hands of the few” and should not be confused with administration, which “signifies delegation of work.”[171] This means “organising society, not from above downwards, but on a basis of equality, without authority, from the simple to the complex”.[172] If an organisation is not centralised and top-down then it is not a state. So anarchism’s anti-state position, like its anti-property one, is a socialist critique driven by its egalitarian core principle:

“we are the most logical and most complete socialists, since we demand for every person not just his entire measure of the wealth of society but also his portion of social power, which is to say, the real ability to make his influence felt, along with that of everybody else, in the administration of public affairs.”[173]

Anarchists have tended to call this self-management rather than democratic precisely because democracy has, in practice, meant electing a government rather than a group of people governing themselves. This does not preclude the need to “allocate a given task to others” in the shape of committees but it is a case of group members “not abdicating their own sovereignty” by “turning some into directors and chiefs”.[174] These would be agents of the group rather than their masters for these committees would be “always under the direct control of the population” and express the “decisions taken at popular assemblies”[175] – subject to election, mandating and recall, like all delegates. How much an individual participates within an association is up to each person but the option to take part is always there.

Just as individuals associate within groups, so groups will need to co-ordinate their activities (“collective beings are as much realities as individual ones are”[176]) by the same kind of horizontal links that exist within an association. This federalist structure is made up of delegates “elected by each section or federation”, “duty-bound to enact the wishes of their mandatories” and “liable to be recalled at any point.”[177] Decisions, then, are co-ordinated by means of elected, mandated and recallable delegates rather than representatives. This would, by definition, be a decentralised organisation for power remains at the base in the individuals who associate together into groups rather than at the top in the hands of a few representatives and the bureaucracies needed to support them:

“True progress lies in the direction of decentralisation, both territorial and functional, in the development of the spirit of local and personal initiative, and of free federation from the simple to the compound, in lieu of the present hierarchy from the centre to the periphery […] through the organisation in every township or commune of the local groups of producers and consumers, as also the regional, and eventually the international, federations of these groups.”[178]

It would also be decentred, with decisions made by those affected rather than every decision being channelled into the hands of a single organisation, whether locally or nationally, which decides upon everything – regardless of its (lack of) competency to discuss and decide upon the issue. Federalism, then, is based on both decentralising and decentring decision making back into the hands of all affected by the decisions made.

Groups and federations exist for clear reasons and self-manage the activities they exist to achieve and so the permanence or otherwise of specific groups or agreements is very much dependent on the functional needs of the situation or the participants and so cannot be formalised by a hard or fast rule. Some agreements will be fleeting (to provide specific goods or services) and other more-or-less permanent (to provide healthcare or run a railway network). The key is that the federation lasts as long as is required, that association is produced by objective needs and does not exist for its own sake. This does not preclude general gatherings at specific times or in response to specific events or needs, just that there will be a multitude of groups and federations alongside these.

This brings us to another issue, namely size. While some suggest that anarchism inherently supports small-scale groups or industry this is not the case. It recognises that size is driven by the objective needs of a functional task. A workplace is as big as its output requires (“oceanic steamers cannot be built in village factories”[179]) while a commune can be a village, a town or a city. While large organisations would – as is the case now – be sub-divided internally into functional groups, this does not change the fact that anarchists have always incorporated the fact of, and need for, large-scale organisation and industry. Indeed, federalism is advocated precisely to co-ordinate, plan and provide services judged by those who need them to be better done together.

What level a specific industry or service should be co-ordinated at will vary depending on what it is so no hard and fast rule can be formulated but the basic principle is that groups “unite with each other in a mutual and equal way, for one or more specific tasks, whose responsibility specially and exclusively falls to the delegates of the federation” Thus it is a case of “the initiative of communes and departments as to works that operate within their jurisdiction” plus “the initiative of the workers companies as to carrying the works out” for the “direct, sovereign initiative of localities, in arranging for public works that belong to them, is a consequence of the democratic principle and the free contract”.[180] In contrast to Marxists who have traditionally fetishised large-scale industry, planning and organisation at the expense of common-sense, anarchists advocate appropriate levels of all these within a federal structure which is the only form flexible enough to take into account all the differing objective requirements and needs of a complex world.

In short, self-governing individuals join self-governing groups that, in turn, join self-governing federations. Individuals are free in-so-far as the associations they join are participatory and without hierarchy:

“The essential principle of anarchism is that mankind has reached a stage of development at which it is possible to abolish the old relationship of master-man (capitalist-proletarian) and substitute a relationship of egalitarian co-operation. This principle is based, not only on ethical ground, but also on economic grounds.”[181]

This self-managed society was termed by Proudhon a “Labour Democracy”[182] to clearly differentiate it from existing – bourgeois – forms of democracy.

Minorities and Majorities

Rather than constantly governed by the few – whether that few is the elected of the majority matters little – individuals within an association will participate in decisions and will sometimes be in the majority, sometimes not, in numerous groups and federations. The “necessity of division and association of labour” means “I take and I give – such is human life. Each is an authoritative leader and in turn is led by others. Accordingly there is no fixed and constant authority, but continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and, above all, voluntary authority and subordination.”[183] No one’s permanent position would be one of subjection as under statism and capitalism.

Anarchists do not think that there will be unanimity within each group for “variety, conflict even, is life” while “uniformity is death.[184] In disagreements, the minority has a choice – agree with the majority, decide to leave the association or practice civil disobedience to convince the majority of the errors of their way. Which option is best depends on the nature of the decision and the group. Similarly, the majority has the right to expel a minority (free association means the freedom not to associate) which is acting in anti-social ways or not keeping their word and so threatening a joint activity:

“Let us take a group of volunteers, combining for some particular enterprise. Having its success at heart, they all work with a will, save one of the associates, who is frequently absent from his post. Must they on his account dissolve the group, elect a president to impose fines, or maybe distribute markers for work done, as is customary in the Academy? It is evident that neither the one nor the other will be done, but that some day the comrade who imperils their enterprise will be told: ‘Friend, we should like to work with you; but as you are often absent from your post, and you do your work negligently, we must part. Go and find other comrades who will put up with your indifference!’ […] A certain standard of public morals is maintained in the same way.”[185]

None of this assumes that the majority has the right to rule the minority just that, in general, members who join a group do so understanding the decision making process within the association and can leave if they no longer agree with specific decisions of the majority.[186] Thus we have majority decision making but not majority government for the minority can leave and join or form other associations. While anarchists “have the special mission of being vigilant custodians of freedom, against all aspirants to power and against the possible tyranny of the majority,”[187] the case for anarchy – self-management – is not that the majority is always right but that no minority (even an elected one) can be trusted not to prefer its own advantage if given power:

“the present capitalist, authoritarian system is absolutely inappropriate to a society of men so improvident, so rapacious, so egotistic, and so slavish as they are now. Therefore, when we hear men saying that the Anarchists imagine men much better than they really are, we merely wonder how intelligent people can repeat that nonsense. Do we not say continually that the only means of rendering men less rapacious and egotistic, less ambitious and less slavish at the same time, is to eliminate those conditions which favour the growth of egotism and rapacity, of slavishness and ambition? The only difference between us and those who make the above objection is this: We do not, like them, exaggerate the inferior instincts of the masses, and do not complacently shut our eyes to the same bad instincts in the upper classes. We maintain that both rulers and ruled are spoiled by authority; both exploiters and exploited are spoiled by exploitation; while our opponents seem to admit that there is a kind of salt of the earth – the rulers, the employers, the leaders ― who, happily enough, prevent those bad men – the ruled, the exploited, the led – from becoming still worse than they are.

“There is the difference, and a very important one. We admit the imperfections of human nature, but we make no exception for the rulers. They make it, although sometimes unconsciously, and because we make no such exception, they say that we are dreamers, ‘unpractical men.’”[188]

The aim of anarchism is to eliminate permanent relations of subordination, in other words hierarchy. This is achieved by collective decision making (self-management) and socialisation (abolition of private property). It does not postulate the notion of everyone always seeing their ideas implemented within every freely joined association they are part of. This would be near impossible, unless the person is the dictator of the group and so violates the freedom of the others.

The key is that internally the associations are as free as they were to join and so no one alienates or denies their liberty in order to become part of them. Thus the newcomer to an anarchist workplace has the same rights as existing members while the capitalist firm can only be joined if the potential worker agrees to obey the property-owner: the servant-master relationships inherent in the latter are abolished in the former. It also shows how other, more obviously, core principles are expressed – thus liberty is protected by means of equality which is achieved by the abolition of property.

This raises the issue of minorities and majorities. Anarchists are well aware that majorities can be unimaginative and oppressive, that social progress is a product of energetic minorities – sometimes even individuals – who push the accepted norms, challenge the status quo, and so on. Emma Goldman put it well in her article “Minorities and Majorities”:

“Not because I do not feel with the oppressed, the disinherited of the earth; not because I do not know the shame, the horror, the indignity of the lives the people lead, do I repudiate the majority as a creative force for good. Oh, no, no! But because I know so well that as a compact mass it has never stood for justice or equality. It has suppressed the human voice, subdued the human spirit, chained the human body. As a mass its aim has always been to make life uniform, grey, and monotonous as the desert. As a mass it will always be the annihilator of individuality, of free initiative, of originality.”[189]

This was why she, like most other anarchists, supported syndicalism and other mass movements based on direct action, to encourage what Kropotkin called the “spirit of revolt” and break the mental chains which secure those of economic and political inequality.[190] However, the issue remains – would a self-managed socialist society ensure freedom for all, for minorities along with majorities? Would social pressure be oppressive, would the associations become bureaucratic due to administrative routine?

This is no idle point and many sympathetic to anarchism, including George Orwell and Ursula le Guin, made this point.[191] Yet anarchist thinkers have long recognised the issue. Kropotkin, for example, noted in the conclusion of Mutual Aid the importance of minority action to shatter social forms which have become set in their ways:

“It will probably be remarked that mutual aid, even though it may represent one of the factors of evolution, covers nevertheless one aspect only of human relations; that by the side of this current, powerful though it may be, there is, and always has been, the other current – the self-assertion of the individual, not only in its efforts to attain personal or caste superiority, economical, political, and spiritual, but also in its much more important although less evident function of breaking through the bonds, always prone to become crystallised, which the tribe, the village community, the city, and the State impose upon the individual. In other words, there is the self-assertion of the individual taken as a progressive element.”[192]

The importance of revolutionary minorities, then, does not end with the creation of anarchy.[193] Thus the majority will be subject to the influence of minorities within associations and the federal structure of anarchy ensures experimentation due to the diversity it inherently allows:

“The principle of political centralism is openly opposed to all laws of social progress and of natural evolution. It lies in the nature of things that every cultural advance is first achieved within a small group and only gradually finds adoption by society as a whole. Therefore, political decentralisation is the best guaranty for the unrestricted possibilities of new experiments. For such an environment each community is given the opportunity to carry through the things which it is capable of accomplishing itself without imposing them on others. Practical experimentation is the parent of every development in society. So long as each district is capable of effecting the changes within its own sphere which its citizens deem necessary, the example of each becomes a fructifying influence on the other parts of the community since they will have the chance to weigh the advantages accruing from them without being forced to adopt them if they are not convinced of their usefulness. The result is that progressive communities serve the others as models, a result justified by the natural evolution of things.”[194]

Diversity, disagreement, is reflected in anarchist organisational theory for anarchists are well aware of the importance of individual and minority freedom within the wider context of social self-management. The idea that full, unanimous agreement (“consensus”) is needed is not part of the anarchist tradition.[195] While anarchists recognise that consensus may be suitable for some groups – most obviously, the family and circles of friends – it would not be so for most others, particularly those associated with waging the class struggle or the post-revolutionary organising of industry on a large-scale. Yet, the danger which consensus seeks to eliminate (while exaggerating it) – that minorities are subject to the oppressive will of the majority – is minimised within anarchist organisations. Participation within a multitude of associations means that no one will be a minority all the time whether in a specific group or in life as a whole.

In addition, with the means of life socialised, individuals and groups have the real freedom to leave groupings and form new ones for they have the resources available. Thus, if you are permanently in a minority then you can leave an association far more easily than under capitalism – you do not have to pay for or gain the permission of others to utilise unused resources to do so. As Kropotkin argued:

“in a communist society which recognises the right of everyone, on an egalitarian basis, to all the instruments of labour and to all the means of existence that society possesses, the only men on their knees in front of others are those who are by their nature voluntary serfs. Each being equal to everyone else as far as the right to well-being is concerned, he does not have to kneel before the will and arrogance of others and so secures equality in all personal relationships with his co-members. […] communism […] guarantees the most freedom for the individual – provided that the guiding idea of the commune is egalitarian Freedom, the absence of authority, Anarchy.”[196]

Thus there is substantial freedom for individuals and minorities to not only live their own lives as they see fit but also to push society forward, to ensure social progress. While under authoritarian systems like capitalism “progress” is usually imposed by minorities for their own advantage (such as higher profits or power) at the expense of the many, with any wider gains purely coincidental, in an anarchist society progress would be achieved by the possibility to experiment and the knowledge that the benefits of change would be shared by all. Few would object to changes which improve their life – particularly if they see pioneers reaping the benefits of applying the new ways.

Any discussion of the dynamic between minorities and majorities must note that this works both ways – groups can expel individuals who systematically undermine decisions reached by the organisation. Just as majorities can be oppressive, so can minorities. An anarchist society would seek to defend itself against those seeking power, whether economic, political or social – a point worth stressing as some seem to believe, as Malatesta so elegantly put it, “that anarchists, in the name of their principles, would wish to see that strange freedom respected which violates and destroys the freedom and life of others. They seem almost to believe that after having brought down government and private property we would allow both to be quietly built up again, because of respect for the freedom of those who might feel the need to be rulers and property owners. A truly curious way of interpreting our ideas.”[197] In other words:

“Our Revolution […] is […] a fact consisting of the aggregate of individual victories over the resistance of every individual who has stood in the way of Liberty. Under these circumstances it is obvious that any visible reprisal [of authority] could and would be met by a resumption of the same revolutionary action on the part of the individuals or groups affected, and the maintenance of a state of Anarchy in this manner would be far easier than the gaining of a state of Anarchy by the same methods and in the face of hitherto unshaken organised opposition. […] the gradual and temporarily imperceptible regeneration of the old evils […] must eventually become perceptible to those affected by them, who cannot fail to become aware that in such or such a quarter they are excluded from the liberty they enjoy elsewhere, that such or such a person is drawing from society all that he can, and monopolising from others as much as possible. They have it in their power to apply a prompt check by boycotting such a person and refusing to help him with their labour or to willingly supply him with any articles in their possession. They have it in their power to exert pressure upon him […] to use force against him. They have these powers individually as well as collectively. Being either past rebels who have been inspired with the spirit of liberty, or else habituated to enjoy freedom from their infancy, they are hardly likely to rest passive in view of what they feel to be a wrong. […] And at the worst, it can hardly be supposed that the abuse would grow to be a general system like that which exists at present, without having already provoked a severe struggle.”[198]

Anarchist organisational theory, in short, has always built into libertarian systems safeguards against irremovable imperfections – safeguards such as federalism, election, mandates, recall, socialisation. In this way, both minorities and majorities have freedom and so social progress is ensured based upon the natural give and take of group life. Anarchism, then, does not deny the potential dangers of majority decision-making and the possible bureaucratic degeneration of even the best organisation but it seeks to minimise them by means of bottom-up structures and the role of vigilant individuals and active minorities in challenging social crystallisation.[199]

This discussion of majorities and minorities points to a paradox of individualism. In order to always see your ideas implemented you either have to abolish all groups (including the family) or be a dictator (or owner, the terms being synonymous). The first option is impossible while the second is hardly libertarian. Most individualists, however, opt for the second option but obscure what is little more than voluntary dictatorship under – like Locke – much talk of “consent” and “property in the person”. It is to these we now turn in order to show the contradictions of this position as well as the dangers of ideology.

Libertarians against “Libertarianism” (or the dangers of ideology)

Many anarchists are sympathetic to the saying – popularised if not invented by the Situationists – that the difference between theory and ideology is that the former is when you have ideas and the latter is when ideas have you. As such, anarchists tend to suggest that anarchism is not an ideology but rather a theory. The dangers of ideology can best be seen by comparing libertarian theory with the ideology that is called “libertarianism” by its proponents.

We need to clarify an obvious objection: how can anarchists – who have been calling themselves libertarian since 1857 – be against “libertarianism”? Simply because the advocates of “libertarianism” did not let their ideological support for absolute property rights stop them knowingly stealing the name from those who invented and used it. As Murray Rothbard, one of the founders of “Libertarianism”, recalled:

“One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence [in 1950s America] is that, for the first time in my memory, we, ‘our side,’ had captured a crucial word from the enemy […] ‘Libertarians’ […] had long been simply a polite word for left-wing [sic!] anarchists, that is for anti-private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over”[200]

Given this quite brazen – and ideology contradicting! – act of theft, it is understandable that anarchists are somewhat less than sympathetic to “libertarianism”. This is confirmed by the self-contradictory and liberty-denying conclusions that its advocates reach. Ignoring what drove the creation of anarchism, “libertarianism” seeks to return to the authoritarianism of classical liberalism and, inevitably, to the contradictions Rousseau had exposed. Thus we find Rothbard proclaiming that the state “arrogates to itself a monopoly of force, of ultimate decision-making power, over a given territorial area” before, buried in the chapter’s end notes, quietly admitting that “[o]bviously, in a free society, Smith has the ultimate decision-making power over his own just property, Jones over his, etc.”[201] Needless to say, Rothbard does not mention the obvious issue – they like the State have “ultimate decision-making power” over those who use that property as well. Unlike Robert Nozick who was more open:

“if one starts a private town, on land whose acquisition did not and does not violate the Lockean proviso [of non-aggression], persons who chose to move there or later remain there would have no right to a say in how the town was run, unless it was granted to them by the decision procedures for the town which the owner had established.”[202]

While some would argue that it “would be logically inconsistent for an ideology to defend individual choice and to deny people the vote”[203], for “libertarianism” the opposite is the case – individual choice is the means by which people are subjected to authoritarian (indeed, dictatorial) social relationships in the name of “liberty”. Yet the glaring contradictions – “libertarians” advocating dictatorship, a definition of the state (evil) identical to property (good) – are all too clear and already denounced by anarchists in the critique of liberalism they extended from Rousseau into property itself. Rothbard, ironically, shows the validity of the anarchist position while haplessly trying to defend his own:

If the State may be said to properly own its territory, then it is proper for it to make rules for everyone who presumes to live in that area. It can legitimately seize or control private property because there is no private property in its area, because it really owns the entire land surface. So long as the State permits its subjects to leave its territory, then, it can be said to act as does any other owner who sets down rules for people living on his property.”[204]

The question now becomes one not of liberty within an association but whether those who hold power (“sets down rules”) do so legitimately or not and this relates to property rights. Rothbard argues that the state does not “justly” own its territory and asserts that his “homesteading theory” of the creation of private property “suffices to demolish any such pretensions by the State apparatus” and so the problem with the state is that it “claims and exercises a compulsory monopoly of defence and ultimate decision-making over an area larger than an individual’s justly-acquired property.”[205] Yet private property has never been acquired in the form Rothbard (repeating Locke) suggested but has been bound-up with state and private coercion – assuming his theory was robust, which it is not. He attempts to eliminate the clear difficulties he faces by liberal (pun intended) use of “adding mythical and imaginary happenings to make up for the ‘reality gaps’”[206] combined with the hope that he found people “simple enough to believe him” (to requote Rousseau).

Ignoring Rothbard’s “immaculate conception of property” as being as unrelated to reality as Locke’s social contract theory of the state, the question arises why current and future generations should be dispossessed from liberty because property is monopolised by the few. While he denounced social contract theories of the state as invalid because “no past generation can bind later generations”[207] he fails to see he is doing exactly that with his support of private property: current and future generations of humanity must be – to use Proudhon’s word – excommunicated from liberty by proprietor hierarchy.

One of the many reasons why the state has intervened in society – and why liberalism has evolved away from its classical form – is because people recognised both the contradiction between proclaiming liberty in the abstract while denying it in practice and the obvious injustices that the private hierarchies associated with property can produce.[208] Ironically, Rothbard himself shows that this is the case when he utilised a hypothetical example of a country whose King, threatened by a rising “libertarian” movement, responses by “employ[ing] a cunning stratagem,” namely he “proclaims his government to be dissolved, but just before doing so he arbitrarily parcels out the entire land area of his kingdom to the ‘ownership’ of himself and his relatives.” Rather than taxes, his subjects now pay rent and he can “regulate the lives of all the people who presume to live on” his property as he sees fit. Rothbard then admits people would be “living under a regime no less despotic than the one they had been battling for so long. Perhaps, indeed, more despotic, for now the king and his relatives can claim for themselves the libertarians’ very principle of the absolute right of private property, an absoluteness which they might not have dared to claim before.”[209]

While Rothbard rejects this “cunning stratagem” he failed to note how this argument undermines his own claims that capitalism is the only system which is based upon and fosters liberty. As he himself argues, not only does the property owner have the same monopoly of power over a given area as the state, it is more despotic as it is based on the “absolute right of private property”. Indeed, he states that the theory that the state owns its territory “makes the State, as well as the King in the Middle Ages, a feudal overlord, who at least theoretically owned all the land in his domain”[210] without noticing that this makes the capitalist or landlord a feudal overlord within “libertarianism.”

The one remaining defence of “libertarianism” is that these absolutist social relationships are fine because they are voluntary in nature: no one forces someone to work for a specific employer and everyone has the possibility of becoming an employer or landlord. That some may become a proprietor is true but that does not address the issue – are people to be free or not. It is a strange ideology that proclaims itself liberty-loving yet embraces factory feudalism and office oligarchy.

The context in which people make their decisions is important. Anarchists have long argued that, as a class, workers have little choice but to “consent” to capitalist hierarchy as the alternative is either dire poverty or starvation. “Libertarianism” dismisses this by denying that there is such a thing as economic power.[211] It is easy to refute such claims by turning to Rothbard’s arguments about the abolition of slavery and serfdom in the 19th century:

“The bodies of the oppressed were freed, but the property which they had worked and eminently deserved to own, remained in the hands of their former oppressors. With economic power thus remaining in their hands, the former lords soon found themselves virtual masters once more of what were now free tenants or farm labourers. The serfs and slaves had tasted freedom, but had been cruelly derived of its fruits.”[212]

So if “market forces” (“voluntary exchanges”) result in the few owning most of the property then this is unproblematic and raises no questions about the (lack of) liberty of the working class but if people are placed in exactly the same situation as a result of coercion then it is a case of “economic power” and “masters”.

Such is the danger of ideology that it allows someone to write a book that actually refutes its own arguments.

It also shows the importance of organisation to a political theory. Anarchism by placing liberty as a priority principle took it seriously and organised the concepts it had inherited from previous ideologies in such a manner that it also took organisation seriously. It recognised the obvious contradiction in defining (or, more correctly, limiting) liberty to just consent and, with Rousseau, opposed the liberal attempt to decontest the notion by pointing to its practice. That Nozick can ask whether “a free system would allow [the individual] to sell himself into slavery” and answer “I believe that it would”[213] shows the correctness of anarchism in this.

The apparent paradox of why an ideology self-proclaimed as “libertarian” is not particularly interested in liberty and justifies numerous obviously authoritarian social relations (up to and including voluntary slavery and dictatorship) is not a paradox at all. Contract in the liberal sense “always generates political right in the form of relations of domination and subordination” and so rather than “undermining subordination, contract theorists justified modern civil subjection.”[214] Once it is realised that its core principle is property rather than liberty then it is logical to rename it something more accurate: propertarianism.

This may seem counter-intuitive or contradictory but it is not: it is the aim of the whole ideological tradition. Locke was not seeking to undermine traditional hierarchies (beyond absolute monarchy) but rather to reinforce them. He did so by a “just-so” story whose desired conclusions – his favoured socio-economic system, the one he benefited from – are reached by what appear reasonable steps. And here we have the crux of the matter for in Locke’s “just-so” story the state does rightfully own its property for it is a joint-stock corporation formed by landlords (servants are in civil society but not of civil society and have no say, just as employees are part of a company but its owners run it). Rothbard refuses to take this final step but gives no reason to reject this final chapter of the same fictional story. For we must never forget that this is what this ideology is based upon – a “just-so” story. Locke, Nozick and Rothbard seek to defend the inequalities of capitalism by convincing us to believe his story and ignore history – not to mention the evidence of unfreedom before our eyes.

The farcical self-contradictions that Rothbard repeatedly gets himself into shows why “every society declines the moment it falls into the hands of the ideologists”[215]. At its worse, ideology allows its believers to not only ignore – even justify – social injustice but also to contradict their stated aspirations and abuse logic. While it may be argued that it is only by using ideology as a concept that we can expose this kind of contradiction, the fundamental problem is that it is ideology which blinds Rothbard and Nozick to the obvious, namely that the state and private property produce identical social relationships and “if you have unbridled capitalism, you will have all kinds of authority: you will have extreme authority.”[216]

The contradictions of propertarianism also shows that historical understanding and context is important. It does not afford “a typical example of a gravitational shift within conventional ideologies that obscures an ideology’s foundational principles by reorganising the core units.” As Locke shows, this is not the case and rather than “crowding out or demoting other liberal core concepts,”[217] propertarianism sees itself as clearing it of that which has no place in it.

While it may be true that “private property migrated within liberal ideology from a core position to a more marginal one” this is due to the rise of subsequent theories which critiqued it (most notably democracy). This means that propertarianism is a reaction to liberal-democratic ideology and the erosion of property rights and power it implies. It is simply not the case that propertarians “overemphasize individual liberty at the expense of other liberal values” because they do not “expand the liberty theme” at all but rather aim to restrict it – for the many. This can be seen by the awkward fact that while neo-liberalism may have “a built in reluctance to contemplate state regulation as a possible cure to social evils”[218] but this does not apply when it comes to, say, organised labour when State power is regularly invoked.[219]

This means that propertarianism is not “a strange hybrid” which is “also carved out of conservativism” with the aim of “the sanctioning of existing economic inequalities”[220] for classical liberalism’s goal was precisely to sanction the economic inequalities of the developing capitalist economy and to firmly secure (conserve!) the market-driven master-servant relationships which were replacing more traditional ones. That other self-described liberals, are horrified by it is down to the evolution of liberalism and its embrace of ideas from other traditions, namely democracy and socialism.

Resistance is Fertile: From Here to There

Regardless of propertarian claims, it is as not a simple fact of nature that the propertyless must serve those with property – it is a product of specific, human created, social institutions which produce specific hierarchical social relationships and these can and must be ended to achieve freedom for all rather than a few. The struggle to end them  is the link between the present and the future, from here to there.

Thus anarchist organisation is not something for the future, it must be applied now. It is only by applying libertarian ideas today, in our daily lives and struggles, that we become capable of being free. Anarchists “are convinced that one learns through struggle, and that once one begins to enjoy a little freedom one ends by wanting it all”[221] and so “by degrees, the revolutionary education of the people” is “accomplished by the revolution itself.”[222] Struggle against social hierarchies, whether public or private, political or economic, is the means to transform both individuals and society:

“Between man and his social environment there is a reciprocal action. Men make society what it is and society makes men what they are, and the result is therefore a kind of vicious circle. To transform society men must be changed, and to transform men, society must be changed.

“Poverty brutalises man, and to abolish poverty men must have a social conscience and determination. Slavery teaches men to be slaves, and to free oneself from slavery there is a need for men who aspire to liberty […] Governments accustom people to submit to the Law and to believe that Law is essential to society; and to abolish government men must be convinced of the uselessness and the harmfulness of government.

“How does one escape from this vicious circle?

“Fortunately existing society has not been created by the inspired will of a dominating class, which has succeeded in reducing all its subjects to passive and unconscious instruments of its interests. It is the result of a thousand internecine struggles of a thousand human and natural factors […] From this the possibility of progress […] We must take advantage of all the means, all the possibilities and the opportunities that the present environment allows us to act on our fellow men and to develop their consciences and their demands […] to claim and to impose those major social transformations which are possible and which effectively serve to open the way to further advances later […] We must seek to get all the people, or different sections of the people, to make demands, and impose itself and take for itself all the improvements and freedoms it desires as and when it reaches the state of wanting them, and the power to demand them […] we must push the people to want always more and to increase its pressures, until it has achieved complete emancipation.”[223]

In short, as Bakunin stressed, there is “but a single path, that of emancipation through practical action” which “has only one meaning. It means workers’ solidarity in their struggle against the bosses. It means trades-unions, organisation, and the federation of resistance funds.[224] The struggle against hierarchy is the means to achieve anarchy, for by challenging hierarchy we both create the structures which will replace it and get used to managing our own affairs without masters. As George Barrett put it:

“The Anarchist’s argument is that government fulfils no useful purpose. Most of what it does is mischievous, and the rest could be done better without its interference. It is the headquarters of the profit-makers, the rent-takers, and of all those who take from but who do not give to society. When this class is abolished by the people so organising themselves that they will run the factories and use the land for the benefit of their free communities, i.e., for their own benefit, then the Government must also be swept away, since its purpose will be gone. The only thing then that will be put in the place of government will be the free organisations of the workers. When Tyranny is abolished Liberty remains, just as when disease is eradicated health remains.”[225]

So, “[t]o make a revolution it is not, however, enough that there should be […] risings […] It is necessary that after the risings there should be left something new in the institutions, which would permit new forms of life to be elaborated and established.”[226] Struggle is the means by which the new social organism is created.

It is easy to see how union and strike assemblies and committees can become the structures by which workers run their workplaces. Indeed, how else could it occur? Thus “the weapon of the future will be the general strike” and “it must be the strike which will stay in the factory, not go out,which “will guard the machines and allow no scab to touch them,” which “will organise, not to inflict deprivation on itself, but on the enemy,” which “will take over industry and operate it for the workers, not for franchise holder, stockholders, and officeholders”.[227] So the need, as Kropotkin summarised, is to “constitute a formidable workers’ force that might impose its will on the managers of industry and extract from them, first, improved working conditions – better pay, reductions in working hours, healthier factories, less dangerous machinery, and so on – but also, – ultimately, wrest the very organisation of industry from their hands. […] unions [are] more than merely a tool for bettering wages. They must, of necessity, become bodies that would, one day, take the entire organisation of each branch of industry into their hands.”[228] In this he was repeating the ideas raised in the first International and championed by the likes of Bakunin and Varlin.

Thus strikes “trains the participants for a common management of affairs and for distribution of responsibilities, distinguishes the people most talented and devoted to a common cause, and finally, forces the others to get to know these people and strengthens their influence.”[229] Trade unions were “natural organs for the direct struggle with capital and for the organisation of the future order,”[230] a position echoed by others who “recognise[d] in the Trades Unions the embryonic group of the future ‘free society.’ Every Trades Union is […] an autonomous commune in the process of incubation” which as well as fighting capitalism “will yet take its place by superseding it under the system of universal free co-operation.”[231]

These unions – the people in their workplaces assembled and federated – would be the means to first challenge Capital and then destroy it.

Likewise with community organisations, with Kropotkin pointing to the “sections” of the French Revolution as the means by which “Revolution began by creating the Commune […] and through this institution it gained […] immense power.” The “masses, accustoming themselves to act without receiving orders from the national representatives” and “[b]y acting in this way – and the libertarians would no doubt do the same today – the districts of Paris laid the foundations of a new, free, social organisation.”[232]

These sections – the people in their communities assembled and federated – would be the means to first challenge the State and then destroy it.

In this way workplaces and communities would govern themselves, federating with others to manage their common interests. Thus, “Anarchism is not […] a theory of the future to be realised by divine inspiration. It is a living force in the affairs of our life, constantly creating new conditions.” It “stands for the spirit of revolt” and this – the class struggle, the struggle against political, economic and social hierarchy – is based on and encourages “defiance and resistance” and these “necessitates integrity, self-reliance, and courage.” It breaks the mental chains hierarchy forges within us all and fuels the spark of liberty which always remains even in the most tyrannical system. This is why “[d]irect action against the authority in the [work]shop, direct action against the authority of the law, of direct action against the invasive, meddlesome authority of our moral code, is the logical, consistent method of Anarchism.”[233] If, as Bakunin rightly argued, trade unions created the living seeds of (libertarian) socialism within capitalism, then the class struggle ensures they blossom.

In this way we create the means by which anarchy becomes a possibility for, as Proudhon argued during the 1848 Revolution, if “a body representative of the proletariat be formed […] in opposition to the bourgeoisie’s representation” then “a new society [is] founded in the heart of the old society.”[234] The structure of the new society is not only formed within the shell of the old, as the famous words from the Industrial Workers of the World’s preamble puts it, we are transformed as we fight it. In short: “Only freedom or the struggle for freedom can be the school for freedom.”[235]


Organisation is a fundamental aspect of any theory simply because it is how its core principles are applied. If an ideology places organisation to the periphery then it suggests that its adherents are not particularly bothered by their stated core principles for it implies an indifference to whether they are achieved in practice.

This can be seen from propertarianism and its return to classical liberalism in protest to the attempts by many liberal thinkers to grasp the obvious contradictions between their stated aspiration to liberty and the various authoritarian social relationships that can happily coexist with consent. Yet this transformation of mainstream liberalism due to the influence of democratic, socialist and labourist ideas and movements should not blind us to the authoritarian social relationships which liberalism was created to justify and defend.

Anarchism is part of the reaction to liberalism and its production of both “industrial servitude” and “obedient subjects to a central authority.”[236] Liberalism “is primarily about a way of creating social relations constituted by subordination, not about exchange.” Indeed, “contract doctrine has proclaimed that subjection to a master – a boss, a husband – is freedom” and is a “theoretical strategy that justifies subjection by presenting it as freedom” and has “turned a subversive proposition” that we are born free and equal “into a defence of civil subjection” for “the employment contract (like the marriage contract) is not an exchange; both contracts create social relations that endure over time – social relations of subordination.”[237] Democracy recognised the problem but its solution failed – it created a new class state, albeit with a different basis and rationalisation.

Like democratic theory, anarchism saw its task as seeking a form of organisation within which freedom was protected and so critiqued both democracy and property. In contrast to the stereotype of anarchism as an impractical dream without an understanding of the complexities of the modern world, anarchists have spent considerable time discussing how to best organise to meet social needs in a world marked by large-scale industry and ever wider personal and social interactions while ensuring individual and social freedom. This was achieved by extending democracy’s critique liberalism to democracy itself and extending it to the economic and social realms.

This was why Proudhon quoted Rousseau approvingly on the nature of the social contract while denouncing how far in reality he was from it and showing what was needed to achieve it. So if, in an “embryonic” form, “universal suffrage provides” us “with the complete system of future society” anarchists recognise that “[i]f it is reduced to the people nominating a few hundred deputies” (i.e., a government) then “social sovereignty becomes a mere fiction and the Revolution is strangled at birth.”[238] Anarchist opposition to Rousseau is driven not by a rejection of democracy but rather a desire to see a genuine one created.[239] Woodcock was wrong both logically and historically to proclaim that “the ideal of anarchism, far from being democracy carried to its logical end, is much nearer to aristocracy universalised and purified.”[240]

Anarchism recognises that there are many types of organisation – there are those which are forced upon you and those which you freely join as well as those which are authoritarian (run from the top-down) and those which are libertarian (run from the bottom-up). Genuine liberty necessitates groups that are free to join and are libertarian internally as voluntary archy is not compatible with an-archy. Anarchist organisational principles are core ones because they intersect with other core concepts – not least (the critiques of) property and state – as they express them:

“All depends on the fundamental ideas by which we wish to association. It is not […] association which brings about slavery; it is the ideas of individual freedom which we bring into the association which determine its more or less libertarian character. […] The cohabitation of two individuals in the same house can lead to the enslavement of one to the will of the other as it can bring freedom for both. […] Likewise for any association, however large or small it may be. Likewise for any social institution.”[241]

Anarchism values individual liberty but sees it a product of social interaction and so embraces the necessity of equality (self-management) within groups to ensure it remains meaningful. This, in turn, means embracing a critique of property to ensure that those who join a workplace are associates rather than master and servants. Finally, if self-management is applicable within the workplace then it is also applicable for all social and private associations. The anarchist critique of hierarchy – whether the state, capital, patriarchy, racism or homophobia – is rooted in an awareness that “far from creating authority, organisation is the only cure for it and the only means whereby each of us will get used to taking an active and conscious part in collective work, and cease being passive instruments in the hands of leaders.”[242]

End Notes

[1] Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas (London: Freedom Press, 1993), Vernon Richards (ed.), 84-5.

[2] George Woodock, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (England: Penguin Books, 1986), 226-7.

[3] David Turcato, Making Sense of Anarchism: Errico Malatesta’s Experiments with Revolution, 1889-1900 (Edinburgh/Oakland: AK Press, 2015).

[4] Michael Freeden, Ideology: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 62.

[5] For a similar analysis see Robert Graham’s “The Role of Contract in anarchist theory” in For Anarchism: History, Theory and Practice (London: Routledge, 1989), David Goodway (ed.). For a useful exploration of the same issues from a non-anarchist perspective which draws similar conclusions see David P. Ellerman , Property and Contract in Economics: The Case for Economic Democracy, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992).

[6] Iain McKay, “Sages and Movements: An Incomplete Peter Kropotkin Bibliography”, Anarchist Studies 22:1.

[7] C. B Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964), 194.

[8] For a wider analysis of liberalism along the lines explored here see Domenico Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter-History (London/New York: Verso, 2011).

[9] John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Peter Laslett (ed.), Second Treatise, section 85 (322).

[10] Second Treatise, sections 86, 2, 3 (323, 268).

[11] Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract (Cambridge: Polity, 1988), 40.

[12] Second Treatise, sections 27, 28, 27 (288).

[13] Macpherson, 203-20; Carole Pateman, The Problem of Political Obligation: A Critique of Liberal Theory (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1985), 66-7.

[14] Second Treatise, sections 33, 36, 50 (291, 293, 302).

[15] First Treatise, section 43 (170-1).

[16] First Treatise, sections 43, 9 (171, 148).

[17] Second Treatise, section 28 (289).

[18] Macpherson, 214-5.

[19] Second Treatise, sections 124, 231 (418, 550-1).

[20] Second Treatise, section 94 (329-30).

[21] Pateman, Problem, 71.

[22] Second Treatise, sections 120, 121 (348, 349).

[23] Pateman, Problem, 67, 72.

[24] Macpherson, 221-2, 248-9, 227, 251.

[25] Macpherson, 196.

[26] John Locke, Political Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), Mark Goldie (ed.), 161-2.

[27] Locke, Political, 162, 174-5.

[28] Second Treatise, section 213 (408).

[29] Pateman, Problem, 71-2.

[30] Political Essays, 180, 166.

[31] Second Treatise, sections 133, 24 (355, 284-5).

[32] Second Treatise, sections 85, 178, 180, 23 (322-3, 387, 388, 284).

[33] Pateman, Problem, 68.

[34] Second Treatise, section 131 (353).

[35] Rudolf Rocker’s notion that anarchism is “socialism vitalised by liberalism” and “the synthesis of liberalism and socialism” therefore misreads liberalism. He is right to highlight the authoritarian tendencies of Rousseau but completely ignores those of Locke. While he notes that “deficiencies in [Locke’s] political program” were “enhanced by the economic inequalities in society”, Rocker fails to mention that Locke sought to protect these as his ideas assumed “victorious capitalism” in the state of nature and that the liberal regime was rule by the wealthy over the rest. (Nationalism and Culture [Minnesota: Michael E. Coughlin, 1978], 142, 238).

[36] William H. Sewell, Work and Revolution in France: The language of labor from the old regime to 1848 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 120.

[37] Pateman, Problem, 142.

[38] Second Treatise, section 61 (308).

[39] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract and Discourses (London: Everyman, 1996), 181.

[40] Rousseau, 99.

[41] Rousseau, 84.

[42] Rousseau, 225.

[43] Rousseau, 162.

[44] Rousseau, 199, 225.

[45] Rousseau, 316.

[46] Rousseau, 105, 269, 104, 200, 186.

[47] Rousseau, 266, 212, 191, 201, 230.

[48] Rousseau, 203-4.

[49] Peter Kropotkin, The Great French Revolution, 1789–1793 (London: Orbach and Chambers Ltd, 1971); Daniel Guérin, Class struggle in the First French Republic: bourgeois and bras nus, 1793-1795 (London: Pluto Press, 1977).

[50] Gwyn A. Williams, Artisans and Sans-Culottes: Popular Movements in France and Britain during the French Revolution (London: Edward Arnold, 1981), 25.

[51] Peter Kropotkin, Modern Science and Anarchy (Edinburgh: AK Press, 2018), 270.

[52] quoted by Roger Magraw, A History of the French Working Class (Oxford/Cambridge: Blackwell, 1992) I: 24-25.

[53] Bernard H. Moss, The Origins of the French Labour Movement 1830-1914: The Socialism of Skilled Workers (Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 1980), 32-3.

[54] Sewell, 202.

[55] Magraw, 55, 72.

[56] K. Steven Vincent, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and the Rise of French Republican Socialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984) 127-140.

[57] Vincent, 164.

[58] Michael Bakunin, The Political Philosophy of Bakunin (New York: The Free Press, 1953), G.P. Maximov (ed.), 249.

[59] Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Système des contradictions économiques ou Philosophie de la misère (Paris: Guillaumin, 1846) I: 377.

[60] Property is Theft! A Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Anthology (Edinburgh/Chico: AK Press, 2011), Iain McKay (ed.), 137.

[61] Peter Kropotkin, Le Révolté, 8 July 1882.

[62] Property, 132-5.

[63] Property, 92.

[64] Property, 95, 106, 117, 114, 129, 104. It should be noted that Proudhon takes for granted Adam Smith’s assertion that the “produce of labour constitutes the natural recompence or wages of labour.” (An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations [Chicago: University of Chicago, 1976], Volume 1, 72). Needless to say, he had no time for arguments by any economist on why this was not applicable under capitalism.

[65] Property, 91. 118, 105, 137, 112, 109, 137, 119. Proudhon appears to have first used the term “industrial democracy” in 1852 when he noted “an unavoidable transition to industrial democracy”. (La Révolution sociale démontrée par le coup d’État du 2 décembre [Antony: Tops-Trinquier, 2013], 156). Later the same decade saw him argue that “an industrial democracy must follow industrial feudalism” for “Workers’ Associations are the locus of a new principle and model of production” (Property, 610, 616)

[66] Property, 93, 148, 153, 150.

[67] This work has been misrepresented by some, particularly by Marx in his The Poverty of Philosophy. Most obviously, Proudhon did not advocate “labour notes” regardless of Marx’s assertions – see my “Proudhon’s Constituted Value and the Myth of Labour Notes,” Anarchist Studies 25: 1 (Summer 2017) and “The Poverty of (Marx’s) Philosophy,” Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 70 (Summer 2017).

[68] Property, 248, 212, 255.

[69] Property, 213-5. See Vincent’s excellent discussion (154-6).

[70] Property, 202.

[71] Système II: 519.

[72] Property, 223, 222, 223, 225, 226.

[73] Système I: 288.

[74] Property, 179.

[75] Besancon municipal library, MS 2881 f. 30v.

[76] Property, 179, 147.

[77] Aaron Noland, “Proudhon and Rousseau,” Journal of the History of Ideas 28:1 (Jan-Mar 1967).

[78] Property, 260, 261, 267, 273, 277-8, 280.

[79] Property, 287-9, 377-8, 296-7.

[80] Property, 378-9, 407.

[81] Property, 439-41, 461, 446-7, 398.

[82] Property, 482-5.

[83] “Regarding Louis Blanc – The Present Utility and Future Possibility of the State”, Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 66 (Winter 2016).

[84] Property, 565.

[85] Property, 566.

[86] Property, 566, 573.

[87] Property, 562-3, 591. By corporation Proudhon, like many socialists at the time in France, meant organisations of worker-run co-operatives. This federation of co-operatives in a given industry should not be confused with modern corporations (i.e., stock issuing companies) which Proudhon opposed as being basically identical to state-communist associations.

[88] Property, 595-6.

[89] Property, 583-6.

[90] Property, 597.

[91] La fédération et l’unité en Italie (Paris: E. Dentu, 1862), 27-8

[92] La fédération, 33.

[93] Du principe fédératif (Antony: Tops-Trinquier, 2013), 125, 163.

[94] Du principe fédératif, 122.

[95] Besancon municipal library, MS 2881 f. 30v.

[96] Property, 712, 714.

[97] Property, 563, 502, 596, 780.

[98] Property, 677, 698, 716, 763, 762.

[99] Property, 760-1.

[100] Property, 503-6.

[101] Property, 132.

[102] Vincent, 224-5.

[103] Proudhon, Regarding, 29.

[104] Proudhon, Property, 711-3.

[105] Vincent, 156.

[106] Iain McKay, “Proudhon, Property & Possession”, Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 66 (Winter 2016).

[107] Pateman, Sexual, 119, 122, 181.

[108] Joseph Déjacque, “On the Male and Female Human-Being”, Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 71-72 (Fall 2017).

[109] Max Nettlau, A Short History of Anarchism (London: Freedom Press, 1995), 75-6. Use of libertarian became more commonplace in the 1880s and 1895 saw leading anarchists Sébastien Faure and Louise Michel publish La Libertaire in France. (Nettlau, 145, 162). Soon after libertarian was used as an alternative for anarchist internationally, see my “160 Years of Libertarian,” Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 71-72 (Fall 2017).

[110] quoted by Carolyn J. Eichner, Surmounting the Barricades: Women in the Paris Commune (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2004), 40.

[111] Robert Graham, We do not Fear Anarchy, we invoke it: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement (Oakland/Edinburgh: AK Press, 2015), 77, 128.

[112] Eugène Varlin, “Workers Societies,” La Marseillaise, 11 March 1870, from “Precursors of Syndicalism I,” Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 75 (Winter 2019).

[113] Graham, 92, 109-111, 118-120.

[114] The Basic Bakunin (Buffalo, NY: Promethus Books, 1994), Robert M. Cutler (ed.), 110.

[115] Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings (London: Jonathan Cape, 1973), Arthur Lehning (ed.), 197-8.

[116] Bakunin on Anarchism (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1980), Sam Dolgoff (ed.), 255.

[117] “Letter to Albert Richard”, Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 62 (Summer 2014).

[118] Bakunin on Anarchism, 408, 142.

[119] Selected, 131, 135, 147.

[120] “Organisational Question of Social Democracy,” Rosa Luxemburg Speaks (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970), Mary-Alice Waters (ed.), 119-20.

[121] Bakunin, Anarchism, 414-5.

[122] Philosophy, 241, 255, 268.

[123] Selected, 237-8, 265.

[124] Philosophy, 287.

[125] Selected, 237

[126] Bakunin, Anarchism, 246-7

[127] Selected, 147, 68

[128] Philosophy, 187

[129] Basic, 153

[130] Bakunin, Anarchism, 247, 427

[131] Selected, 170-2.

[132] Selected, 65.

[133] Bakunin, Anarchism, 207.

[134] Selected, 170.

[135] Direct Struggle Against Capital: A Peter Kropotkin Anthology (Edinburgh/Oakland/Baltimore: AK Press, 2014), Iain McKay (ed.), 203, 385

[136] Modern, 223.

[137] Modern, 226.

[138] Direct, 120-1, 464

[139] Modern, 275, 234, 269.

[140] Direct, 490.

[141] Modern, 273, 223, 227.

[142] Modern, 364-6.

[143] Words of a Rebel (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1992), 143.

[144] Direct, 225, 228, 419-25.

[145] Direct, 500, 680, 344.

[146] Words, 87-9.

[147] Words, 133.

[148] Kropotkin, Anarchism: A Collection of Revolutionary Writings (New York: Dover Press, 2002), Roger N. Baldwin (ed.), 68.

[149] Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread and Other Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 117-21.

[150] Kropotkin, Anarchism, 284. Also see Direct, 229.

[151] Words, 83.

[152] Direct, 188; Also see Direct, 105, 598-9.

[153] Modern, 187.

[154] Modern, 164.

[155] Direct, 504, 500, 131, 475

[156] Modern, 227.

[157] Modern, 367.

[158] Direct, 309.

[159] Direct, 535.

[160] Marx-Engels Collected Works 44: 307.

[161] Interestingly, Errico Malatesta speculated in 1924 that “associationist” could be used as an alternative to communist by anarchists as that term was falling into “disrepute as a result of Russian ‘communist’ despotism.” (The Anarchist Revolution [London: Freedom Press, 1995], Vernon Richards [ed.], 20).

[162] Engels, 307.

[163] Colin Ward produces similar criteria in “Anarchism as a Theory of Organisation”, Autonomy, Solidarity, Possibility: The Colin Ward Reader (Edinburgh/Oakland: AK Press: 2011).

[164] Kropotkin, Direct, 199.

[165] Pateman, Problem, 19.

[166] Kropotkin, Direct, 426.

[167] Pateman, Sexual, 150-1.

[168] Noam Chomsky, Letters from Lexington: Reflections on Propaganda (Monroe/Edinburgh: Common Courage Press/AK Press, 1993), 127.

[169] Kropotkin, Direct, 160, 187.

[170] Proudhon, Property, 129.

[171] Malatesta, The Method of Freedom: An Errico Malatesta Reader (Edinburgh/Oakland, AK Press, 2014), Davide Turcato (ed.), 136.

[172] Kropotkin, Direct, 201.

[173] Malatesta and Hamon, No Gods, No Masters: An Anthology of Anarchism (Oakland/Edinburgh: AK Press, 2005), Daniel Guérin (ed.) , 370.

[174] Malatesta, Method, 214.

[175] Malatesta, Life, 175, 129.

[176] Proudhon, Property, 655.

[177] Malatesta, Method, 63.

[178] Kropotkin, Direct, 165.

[179] Kropotkin, Direct, 665. As Proudhon put it: “Large industry and high culture come to us by big monopoly and big property: it is necessary in the future to make them rise from the [workers] association.” (quoted by Vincent, 156).

[180] Proudhon, Property, 969, 594-5.

[181] Herbert Read, Anarchy and Order: essays in politics (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1954), 92.

[182] Property, 724.

[183] Bakunin, Political, 353-4.

[184] Kropotkin, Anarchism, 143.

[185] Kropotkin, Conquest, 137-8.

[186] Malatesta, Method, 488-9.

[187] Malatesta, Life and Ideas, 161.

[188] Kropotkin, Direct, 609.

[189] Emma Goldman, Red Emma Speaks: An Emma Goldman Reader (London: Wildwood House, 1979), Alix Kates Shulman (ed.), 85.

[190] Goldman, 75-6, 87-100.

[191] Orwell in the essay “Politics vs. Literature – An examination of Gulliver’s Travels” (1946) and le Guin in her classic Science-Fiction novel The Dispossessed (1974).

[192] Kropotkin, Direct, 368. Also see Direct, 613-6.

[193] See Kropotkin’s discussion of “Revolutionary Minorities” in Words of a Rebel.

[194] Rudolf Rocker, Pioneers of American Freedom: Origin of Liberal and Radical Thought in America (Los Angeles: Rocker Publications Committee, 1949), 16-7.

[195] Neither Proudhon nor Bakunin mentioned consensus (in the sense of unanimous decisions), while Malatesta explicitly and repeated defended majority decision making. Kropotkin mentioned it a few times, usually in relation to the peasant villages of his native Russia and once in relation to the Medieval Commune but also noted that the minority “ended up accepting with good grace, even if only on trial, the view that gained support of the greater number.” (Words, 139) It only became associated with anarchism during the 1960s and the influence of radical pacifists (often coming from Quaker and other radical religious traditions) within the peace and other movements.

[196] Modern, 226.

[197] Anarchy (London: Freedom Press, 2001), 42-3.

[198] Kropotkin, Direct, .614. This obviously applies to those who seek to exclude others from socially used resources. So regarding those who spuriously invoke “freedom” to justify hierarchies (for example, discrimination against people of certain skin colours or sexuality from restaurants), this would not be tolerated in a free society. While bigots, like all possessors, would be able to control who they invite to their homes (as it is personally used), socially used resources (such as a restaurant) would be available to all and any individual or group acting in such a manner would face the solidarity and direct action of the wider society. With no State to call upon to enforce such claims, freedom for all rather than a few would soon prevail.

[199] This is a theme of Ursula Le Guin’s classical Science Fiction novel The Dispossessed (1974), which addresses the issue well and shows the importance of individual and minority “self-assertion” against “crystallised” social structures even in an Anarchy, see my “Ursula Le Guin and Utopia,” Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 73 (Spring 2018).

[200] The Betrayal of the American Right (Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 207), 83.

[201] The Ethics of Liberty (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1982), 170, 173.

[202] Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia (Oxford: B. Blackwell, 1974), 270.

[203] Freeden, 55.

[204] Rothbard, 170.

[205] Rothbard, 171, 173.

[206] Freeden, 106.

[207] Rothbard, 145.

[208] This tendency should not blind us to the reality that the State has always interfered far more in the interests of the wealthy. That intervention occasionally occurs with a wider remit is due to popular pressure and because “government cannot want society to break up, for it would mean that it and the dominant class would be deprived of sources of exploitation; nor can it leave society to maintain itself without official intervention, for then people would soon realise that government serves only to defend property owners […] and they would hasten to rid themselves of both.” (Malatesta, Anarchy, 25)

[209] Rothbard, 54.

[210] Rothbard, 171.

[211] Rothbard, 221-2.

[212] Rothbard, 74.

[213] Nozick, 371.

[214] Pateman, Sexual, 8, 40.

[215] Proudhon, Système I: 75.

[216] Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky (New York: The New Press, 2002), Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel (eds.), 200.

[217] Freeden, 95.

[218] Freeden, 61, 64, 95.

[219] This applied to propertarianism as well, for many of its leading lights embraced fascism as a temporary bulwark against the labour movement and socialism (see my “Propertarianism and Fascism,” Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 75 [Winter 2019]).

[220] Freeden, 95.

[221] Malatesta, Life and Ideas, 195.

[222] Kropotkin, Great French Revolution, 241.

[223] Malatesta, Life and Ideas, 188-9.

[224] Bakunin, The Basic Bakunin, 102-3.

[225] “Objections to Anarchism,” Our Masters are Helpless: The Essays of George Barrett (London: Freedom Press: 2019), Iain McKay (ed.), 71.

[226] Kropotkin, Great French Revolution, 180.

[227] Voltairine de Cleyre, “A Study of the General Strike in Philadelphia”, Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth (Washington D.C.: Counterpoint, 2001), Peter Glassgold (ed.), 311.

[228] Kropotkin, Direct Struggle, 384-5.

[229] Kropotkin, “Must We Occupy Ourselves with an Examination of the Ideal of a Future System?,” Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1970), Martin A. Miller (ed.), 113.

[230] Kropotkin, Direct, 476.

[231] Albert Parsons, “The International,” The Alarm, 4 April 1885, from “Precursors of Syndicalism II,” Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 76 (Summer 2019).

[232] Kropotkin, Direct Struggle, 419, 421, 423.

[233] Goldman, 74, 76-7.

[234] Proudhon, Property, 321.

[235] Malatesta, Life and Ideas, 59.

[236] Kropotkin, Anarchism, 137.

[237] Pateman, Sexual, 40, 146, 39, 148.

[238] Proudhon, Property, 29.

[239] Read, 130-2.

[240] Woodcock, Anarchism, 31.

[241] Kropotkin, Modern, 226.

[242] Malatesta, Life and Ideas, 86.

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After Facebook

Fri, 11/15/2019 - 13:22

If you are like many people these days, you are here because you are looking for alternatives to the large social media companies. We get asked all the time for our suggestions of alternative services that people can’t switch to, or, at least help minimize the time spent on Big Social Media. We get that you want to stay in touch with friends and family, but you can reduce the time your eyeballs are parked on Facebook and their ilk.

General Practices

  • There is a wealth of online content that you can enjoy just by bookmarking and consciously visiting websites more often.
  • Public libraries have tons of books, magazines, newspapers, videos, audio, and other materials and services available. Apps like Kanopy, Hoopla and Libby give you access to free movies.
In the News Alternative Social Media
  • Mastodon – Probably the most viable alternative to Facebook that has similar features like status updates and media sharing. Does require that you know somebody who has set up an “instance” which is like a small network of friends, family or like-minded people. Try out
  • MeWe – A simple new social media service that is starting to see lots of users.
  • Diaspora
  • Edmodo – educators and students
  • Family Wall
Secure Chat Search News Feed

One of the most popular things about Facebook is the access it gives you to news and opinion from sources you like. But you can replicate and replace this feature, often with better services.

Alternatives to Twitch

Twitch is owned by Amazon.

Podcasts Free and Open Journals Open Web Further Reading

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The Fight in Catalunya: Independence or Self-Determination?

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 04:21
How the Lines Are Drawn—An Account from the Front Lines

by CrimethInc

The following breathless account of last week’s street fighting in Barcelona and the surrounding regions reaches us from anarchists in Catalunya, where the Spanish government’s crackdown on the movement for national independence has provoked a wave of popular resistance that threatens to transform the demands and consciousness of the movement itself.

For background on the Catalan independence movement in English, we recommend “Catalan Independence and the Crisis of Democracy.” This nuanced text offering an anarchist analysis of the situation is still awaiting translation.

We’ve just experienced the heaviest rioting in Catalunya since the 1970s. Six nights straight, starting Monday, October 14. It’s Sunday night now. Reports are coming in of a barricade on fire in Girona, so make that seven nights.

According to one journalist, 1044 dumpsters burnt, 358 city trash cans ripped out of place, and 6400 square meters of asphalt burnt. And that’s just in Barcelona.

A fascist—or just a good citizen—ran over two people in a highway blockade near Mataró. Earlier in the week, cops ran over two protesters with their riot van in Tarragona, then got out and beat one of them. We’ve had a few hit by cars this week. There’s a comrade in critical condition in the hospital right now; cops hit her in the head. A cop in critical condition, too, shot in the head with a slingshot Friday night; the steel ball broke his helmet. He had spent the week shooting and beating people who didn’t have any protection. Fucker never thought the tables would turn.

In addition to the highway blockades, there are still big protests in Barcelona, roads blocked. It’s mostly peaceful at this point. The media have been trying to sound the death knell of the uprising for days now, and more independent twitter accounts are getting shut down. It could start up again at any moment; it hasn’t really ended. For now, the state hasn’t instituted martial law, though the conservative government of the Madrid region wants to ban all pro-independence rallies there. There are supposed to be clear sides, remember? Spain vs. Catalunya. But those aren’t the lines of this conflict.

What are the lines of conflict in the Catalan independence movement as it spirals out of the control of parties and pacifists?

What’s It All About?

On Monday, the Tribunal Supremo gave seven politicians and two mainstream activist leaders prison sentences of 9-13 years apiece for organizing the independence referendum of October 1, 2017. Sedition. Several more people in exile would likely receive the same sentences. Fuck politicians and these politicians in particular: they were fine running a prison system while they were in charge, and in 2017 they preferred sabotaging the independence movement with the straitjacket of pacifism to losing control of it. My friends and I protected a polling station, starting at 5 in the morning. We hate voting, but we hate the cops even more.

Regardless, this one trial wasn’t the sole focus of the upheaval. The unions said if organizing a referendum is sedition, any protest could be, so they called a strike for the end of the week. And a month ago, seven members of the CDR [Committees to Defend the Republic, grassroots pro-independence and sometimes anti-capitalist assemblies formed in 2017] were arrested and accused of terrorism. They’re still locked up. We have our reservations, but we’re on the side of people fighting against repression and for freedom, always. So the liberal idea of self-determination is contradictory nonsense? Definitely, but that’s a long conversation and we’re still in the middle of it. A barricade in the street? It’s a good figure of speech. Metaphor, comparison? Spell? This is what we mean by self-determination.

By Wednesday, lots of people in the streets were calling for the resignation of the whole Catalan government [which has been pro-independence throughout the last several elections]. Pro-independence politicians have been insulted and ejected from demonstrations. Meanwhile, el Cercle de l’Economia, a think tank representing a large part of the Catalan bourgeoisie, is pointing out that the crisis has political roots, stemming from Madrid’s attempts to reduce Catalan autonomy going back a decade, and they re-emphasize their proposals for more self-government and better financing… within the Spanish state. Their top priority is to put an end to the rioting, so if nationalism means an interclass alliance on the basis of putative ethno-linguistic sameness, this isn’t exactly that. The bourgeoisie have been against the movement for a while now.

It’s Sunday, and a new week is about to start. Whether they are rioters or unlucky bystanders, 28 people are sitting in prison with no option of paying bail, beginning the two-year wait until trial; 194 people have been arrested. Fully 590 people have been reported injured, but a lot of us don’t go to the official medics, so the true number is surely two or three times higher.

There’s a new blockade at la Jonquera, the principle highway connection between the French and Spanish parts of Catalunya. It’s maintained by 500 people, way out in the Pyrenees mountains. Earlier in the week, they blocked the road for 30 hours, drilling rebar into the asphalt and putting plastic bottles on top to make them visible. A group of gilet jaunes came to blockade the other side of the border. When the former blockade got cleared away, a group of truckers decided to make a blockade. Truckers!

The Audiencia Nacional has started investigating Tsunami Democràtic, the nonviolent platform that organzied the airport protests, for terrorism. They just don’t learn. This whole uprising was sparked by repression.

Already on Monday, things started to get out of control with the blockades at the airport, the highways, and on train lines. There was too much chaos, spread out too widely, for the police and the political parties to control it all. Tuesday, the blockades continued, but that night rioting broke out in all four provincial capitals—Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. Wednesday, the National Assembly of Catalunya (ANC)1 continued with their plan for marches departing from five different cities in the farthest reaches of Catalunya to converge on Barcelona on Friday. The distance they would cross was 100 km in some cases. This plan was pacifist and pacifying, aimed at just tiring people out—but they didn’t go home, they blocked all the highways, god bless ‘em.

Marching on the highways to Barcelona.

Wednesday night, there was even heavier rioting, even in some smaller cities. When the police charged hard and laid out left and right, people didn’t like that. There were more burning barricades. Catalan politicians started saying it was the work of infiltrators, circulating bogus stories on social media about encaputxats [masked ones] getting envelopes full of cash. I’m still waiting for my envelope, Torra, you stingy Catalan prick! [Quim Torra is a member of the Parliament of Catalonia and the current president of the Government of Catalonia. This appears to be a play on the stereotype of Catalans being stingy.]

On Thursday, the rioting in Barcelona lasted till 6 in the morning. It also continued in the other capitals. Protests took place in solidarity with Catalunya in Madrid, Donostia, Granada, and València. Fascists marched for Spanish unity, too; there were clashes in Madrid and València. They caught an anti-fascist in Barcelona and beat him badly. Another Nazi tried to knife some protesters; he was disarmed, stomped, and left in a coma.

At the beginning and end of the uprising, the barricades represented a symbolic rejection of authority. Throughout most of the week, though, they also served the material function of preventing police from retaking the streets.”.

On Friday, 500,000 protesters converged in Barcelona. Shortly after they arrived, the ANC cancelled the march. I heard some people complaining, “The Assembly calls it off, and everyone goes home,” even as they dutifully headed for the metro. All across the city, street after street, the asphalt was fire-scarred. Where haven’t the rioters been, this week? I picked my way through the crowd at Jardinets to meet up with the group with YPG flags, the Rojava solidarity demo. The Kurdish movement has long supported Catalan independence and Catalunya has been a hub of support for Rojava and democratic confederalism, though the latter is much easier to co-opt in Europe. For its part, Turkey hasn’t been interested in co-opting, only annihilating.

The march managed to start off through the dense crowds, chanting and wrecking a couple BBVA’s [a bank heavily invested in Turkey].

Then it was done. Passeig de Gràcia was packed all the way down to Plaça Catalunya. One block over, Pau Claris was full all the way to Plaça Urquinaona, at the top of Via Laietana, which was guarded by riot cops. Plenty of those people were trying to get down there. The sun hadn’t even set and it was a war zone.

The cops were holding a corner, shooting rubber bullets, and people were responding with stones. People would run when the cops made a particularly strong assault, but then immediately poured back in, edging closer and closer. Barricades went up, increasing in complexity and effectiveness. Every couple minutes, the cops would shoot off a few rounds of tear gas. People would extinguish them in seconds. The cops had to be conservative with their ammunition; after the previous night, they knew they could run out—and that the crowd won’t be merciful. Each gunner was easily shooting off 100-200 rubber bullets and 50-100 canisters of tear gas a night. Added up along an entire police line, that makes for a fierce barrage, but it barely slowed the crowd down.

Early on Friday night, things were a bit awkward. Behind the front line, there were huge crowds of young people hanging out, eager to be close to the action, but not entirely sure that a riot is a good thing. Consequently, the rioters stayed with their own, breaking up rocks at the front, directly in the line of fire. If you tried breaking up the paving stones 20 meters back, where it made sense to do it strategically, a circle of gawkers would form, many filming, asking, “what are you doing?”

Let’s set the scene. There are all sorts of people here—mostly young, but some older. Many people have Catalan flags, plenty are speaking Spanish, some are tourists. Some are clad all in black, some have no masks at all. Of all the arrestees so far, only two have belonged to an independence organization or party, though of course the CDR has no formal membership. Some people question the necessity of the property destruction that is taking place; one has to explain, “rocks are needed up front.” No one questions the attacks on the police—they are the common enemy. Too many years of getting beaten, of peaceful protests and things staying the same. “Forces of occupation, out!” is one of the common chants, and it is hurled against mossos [Catalan police] and nacionales [Spanish police] with no distinction, although people chase after the vans of nacionales with a special fervor. Their presence in the streets here is hatefully symbolic: whereas the mossos live and work here year round, the Spanish cops were sent in just to repress the movement. They’re the ones who beat up people’s grandmothers for voting in 2017.

The Spanish flag is like a red banner, taunting the bull. it provokes a special reaction, but all cops are targets, and the mossos are getting their share. Their more quotidian presence is no advantage: just the week before this all started, they were beating up people who were trying to stop evictions in the Raval and Poble-sec neighborhoods. Hundreds of people were there, thousands of neighbors saw it, everyone saw the videos.

In the hinterland, behind the escalating combat, people are calm, enjoying the liberated space, building ever more complex barricades, occasionally pulling another dumpster to the front to serve as fuel for the fire. I pass some of the biggest barricades I’ve ever seen. Several banks are trashed, while others are oddly untouched. I glimpse what becomes my favorite graffito of the night: “Violent fags seeking revenge.” Another is also spot on: “in the riots, we aren’t so alone.” It’s true: people take care of each other.

There’s a lower street that angles back up to the police position at the bottom of the Plaça. If we take it, the crowd can flank the cops battling it out at close quarters at Urquinaona. A line of riot police holds the top of the street. The approach is 100 meters, under fire the whole way. People start picking their way up the sides, leapfrogging from doorway to doorway to get into throwing range, while one comrade keeps blinding the cops with a laser. The combat grows intense. Projectiles whizz by. People wince or fall when they’re hit, go limping back. Some old guy in an anarchist militia hat, 1936-style, stands in the middle of the road, taunting the police, magically unscathed. When you run out of rocks, you have to scramble, doorway to doorway, back to the mouth of the street.

As the assault intensifies, the police counterattack. A column of riot vans charges down the street and people scatter, but as soon as the vans turn, people charge right back in. This happens over and over. Each time, the vans get to an intersection and they have to choose—they can only pursue one group. As soon as they turn or go straight, everyone who ran in the other two directions starts chasing the cops, pounding on the vans. At this point, all the vans are damaged.

It’s too dangerous for the cops to get out of the vans like they used to do. There are too many people, too angry. They’d get stomped. We’d love for them to get out of the vans. What sorts of goodies might be found inside?

A police van.

The cops have retaken the dumpsters that people pulled across the lower street, which afforded a protected vantage point within easy throwing distance. They pull the dumpsters out of the way. It’s a naked approach again, all one hundred meters of it. People go back to trying.

Suddenly, a group in black is pulling their injured comrade back down the street, calling for medics. Something is wrong. We help them get to a clear spot. I know we shouldn’t crowd them, but I want to slip in, just for one second, to see if they’re all right. A cameraman is going in: I duck in to push him away, and while I’m close, I look. Hit in the face. Eyeball exploded. The medic’s hands are already covered in blood. I turn to my buddy. We’ll stay here, help keep the area clear—and if the cops charge again, we won’t move. No retreat. After what feels like a long time, the ambulance comes. Some reports say four people have had their eyes shot out this week. Other reports place the number at seven.

Back at the Plaça, there’s a burning barricade on the corner and people have sacked a restaurant terrace for the big cloth umbrellas, which they expertly place over a barricade just 10 meters from the police position. Now people can throw from a perfect distance, completely protected. The quarries for preparing projectiles have been set up where they should be, out of the way. People have fashioned tools to lift up the paving stones and the huge fire at the secondary barricade is burning off most of the tear gas. The cops are now pinned under a barrage of hundreds of stones a minute, not to mention the occasional discreet throw from a balcony. How many tons of stone will be thrown at them in the course of this night?

The collective intelligence of the crowd has increased exponentially. People have reconstructed the street so everyone is as safe as possible, so people can approach close to the cops and put them in constant danger. There’s a constant supply of ammunition and the whole crowd is protected from van charges from the rear. What a difference from just one hour ago. The cops are starting to get traumatized as more of them are injured. We’re no longer the victims. We’re winning.

Street after street, the fires are growing bigger, reaching as high as the third floor. In Gràcia, this caused some problems with neighbors, who practically had flames scorching their balconies. But here around Urquinaona, right in the center, Airbnb has already destroyed the neighborhood; many of the buildings are empty. Who cares if tourists can’t get to their cheap apartments? They stole those houses from the people who lived here.

It’s not entirely empty, though. At the moment of maximum conflict, an older couple, faces drawn, walk with a tense step past the rioters, towards the police line, which doesn’t stop shooting. I peek around the corner to watch. It looks like they make it to the door of their apartment without getting hit.

A little later, on the lower street, I take in a sight that stays with me. There are no more dumpsters providing cover in the middle of the street. Three young people have pulled a couple mopeds from their parking spots to fashion a makeshift barricade. They’re crouching down, just 15 meters from the police position, farther forward than those of us taking cover in the doorways. Two of them are masked, but the third, a teenage girl, has nothing in the way of protective clothing. All the same, she keeps straightening up, exposed to police fire, to throw more objects. If only she’d cover her face! Some people make a mad dash from cover to leave the three another pile of stones. People take care of one another as best they can.

This fighting continues for more than four hours. It’s not as long as Thursday night, but far more intense, with more people and better technique. Only after repeated van charges and heavy assaults have hammered away at the crowds on Urquinaona—and after many people have slipped away due to exhaustion, injuries, or just plain satisfaction—do the police bring out their celebrated new weapon, a water cannon mounted on a tank. They make a video showing the tank advancing and extinguishing some burning barricades, but in practice it’s not as decisive as all that. They keep it in reserve until late in the night, only using it with massive police backup, and only after many people have already surrendered the plaza.

I can imagine the cops had a directive from the very top: use it, but under no circumstances let demonstrators destroy it. The crowds would have loved to tear that thing apart.

Smoke engulfs the Barcelona skyline.

Friday is a high point, but it’s not the end. The police deploy some innovations on Saturday. They have a cordon of good citizens forming between their lines and the demonstrators at Plaça Urquinaona that helps to keep things peaceful. How quickly the pacifists agree to serve the forces of repression when people stop obeying them! No one prevented them from doing their peaceful marches, but they’re incapable of accepting any difference or multiplicity of opinion—much like the state itself.

And they don’t accomplish anything. They killed the movement in 2017—and while it’s true that this week of fighting won’t break apart the Spanish state, in these very same days, we’ve seen how people fighting fiercely in the streets have defeated austerity measures in Ecuador, Chile, and Lebanon.

Saturday in Catalunya isn’t a total bust, though. There are still riots in the Raval and Gràcia neighborhoods as well as in some other cities, much as the corporate media try to play that down.

Sunday is definitely calmer, but still people don’t give up. In Girona, 1000 people surround the courthouse, trying to block the judges from sending the arrested to pretrial detention.

We don’t know what will happen next. Society has been divided and the line does not trace any national or linguistic divide. It separates people on the basis of their chosen relation to social control: those who support the police and those who oppose them. Some people still talk about democracy, but they mean opposite things. They’re willing to shoot down helicopters to attain it—or willing to run over protesters and beat up old folks to preserve it. Some of the former people will eventually have to acknowledge that what they actually want is anarchy; some of the latter may admit that what they really favor is fascism. But for the most part, things will remain muddled and equivocal—and we anarchists will do our best to develop and share clear visions of the enemy, clear lines of flight, lines of attack.

In any case, many, many thousands of people have experienced something they’ll never forget. Most of them will not join us in our projects and conspiracies over the next few months, but some will, and we’ve got to learn how to grow and share with them as they share with us.

The rest, they’ll still be there, and we’ll meet in the streets once again. These are not calm times that lie ahead of us.

Solidarity actions in Madrid.

Monday Update

There are protests today outside jails and courthouses. Two of the detainees were sent to migrant detention. The cops have announced the arrest of a youth accused of shooting fireworks at the police helicopter on Wednesday. He has been charged with attempted murder, public disorder, and assaulting authority. This struggle will not end any time soon.

Meanwhile, in one small town outside Barcelona, masked individuals set fire to a couple police cars right outside the station. In a small village on the coast, some people pelted a cop with stones as he was driving away from the station in his private car. In both cases, the targets were mossos, the Catalan police.

Our overlords are also in the news. P. Sánchez, Socialist president of Spain, comes to Barcelona, but refuses to meet with the President of the Generalitat [the Catalan semi-autonomous government]. Dialogue is impossible. Not even the leaders of democracy are trying to fix the situation, if it means looking weak in front of their imagined voters.

The whole circus tent is falling down.

  1. The National Assembly of Catalunya (ANC) is a large pro-independence civil society organization. Their former leader got up on a police van at a moment of maximum tension two years ago and convinced the crowds to quit the streets. He is now serving a 9-year prison sentence for sedition.

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Union-made pizza? In Portland, Wobblies serve a fair slice

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 04:14

via NW Labor Press

By Don McIntosh

In September, all 13 workers at Scottie’s Pizza at 2128 SE Division Street in Portland signed a petition announcing their decision to unionize with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the storied union whose members are known as Wobblies. On Sept. 22, half of them delivered the petition to owner Scottie Rivera … and found him happy to recognize the union. It wasn’t a big surprise: When Rivera opened the parlor in 2015, he won acclaim for paying employees at least $15 an hour. The business also provides health benefits, free shift meals and beverages, and an annual stipend for safe work footwear. Walls in the restaurant’s tiny dining area are covered with political posters and framed photos of lefty luminaries. 

“The general attitude among workers in the restaurant industry is that it’s impossible to have a union,” says Scottie’s employee David Adams. “But we think workers need to be represented and have a voice in decisions that are made in the restaurants where they’re living their lives.”

Rivera and the workers expect to negotiate a first collective bargaining agreement in the coming months. Adams says workers hope it will serve as an example to other pizza enterprises.

“We want to show that you don’t have to exploit and manipulate,” Adams said. “You can have a relationship with your workers that will make your business stronger.”

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When America Tried to Deport Its Radicals

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 03:44

via The New Yorker

By Adam Hochschild

On a winter night a hundred years ago, Ellis Island, the twenty-seven-acre patch of land in New York Harbor that had been the gateway to America for millions of hopeful immigrants, was playing the opposite role. It had been turned into a prison for several hundred men, and a few women, most of whom had arrived in handcuffs and shackles. They were about to be shipped across the Atlantic, in the country’s first mass deportation of political dissidents in the twentieth century.

Before dawn on December 21, 1919, the prisoners were roused from their bunks to be packed onto a barge and transported to a waiting vessel, the Buford, which was berthed in Brooklyn. The Buford was an elderly, decrepit troopship, known by sailors as a heavy “roller” in rough seas. One of the two hundred and forty-nine people who were deported that day, Ivan Novikov, described the scene in the island prison: “It was noisy and the room was full of smoke. Everybody knew already that we are going to be sent out. . . . Many with tears in their eyes were writing telegrams and letters.” Many “were in the literal sense of the word without clothes or shoes,” he went on. “There was no laughter.” Then, as now, deportations severed families: “One left a mother, the other a wife and son, one a sweetheart.”

At 4 A.M., with the temperature in the twenties, shouting guards ordered the captives outside, where a gangplank led to the barge and an attached tugboat. “Deep snow lay on the ground; the air was cut by a biting wind,” wrote that day’s most famous victim of what she called “deportation mania,” the Russian-born anarchist and feminist firebrand Emma Goldman. “A row of armed civilians and soldiers stood along the road. . . . One by one the deportees marched, flanked on each side by the uniformed men, curses and threats accompanying the thud of their feet on the frozen ground.”

The mass expulsion was so important to the U.S. government that, despite the hour, a delegation from Washington joined the deportees on the trip across the harbor to the Buford. The group included several members of Congress, most notably Representative Albert Johnson, of Washington State, who was the chair of the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization as well as an outspoken anti-Semite, a Ku Klux Klan favorite, and an ardent opponent of immigration. Shepherding the party was a dark-haired, twenty-four-year-old Justice Department official who was quietly respectful toward the dignitaries he was with but who would, before long, wield far more power than any of them: J. Edgar Hoover.

Hoover had met Goldman some weeks earlier, in the courtroom where he made the case for her deportation. Now one of the great American radicals of her day and the man who would become the country’s premier hunter of such dissidents encountered each other one last time, in the galley of the tugboat. She was fifty, more than twice his age, but they were of similar stature, and would have stood nearly eye to eye, with Goldman looking at Hoover through her pince-nez. One admirer described her as having “a stocky figure like a peasant woman, a face of fierce strength like a female pugilist.” Hoover had won this particular match, but, according to a congressman who witnessed the exchange, she got in one last jab.

“Haven’t I given you a square deal, Miss Goldman?” Hoover asked, as they steamed toward Brooklyn in the darkness.

“Oh, I suppose you’ve given me as square a deal as you could,” she replied, two hours away from being ejected from the country where she had lived for thirty-four years and found the voice that had won her admirers around the world. “We shouldn’t expect from any person something beyond his capacity.”

Read more

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When the Ruling Class Feared Communism

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 02:55

via Jacobin

By Liza Featherstone

There are plenty of irrational reasons to be nostalgic for the middle of the twentieth century: who doesn’t love the furniture, the hairdos, the cars with vulva-shaped grilles? But there are plenty of practical reasons, too; it was a time of significant social change, thanks in part to the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States.

Obviously, the Cold War caused plenty of human misery. Repression marred political life while millions died in neocolonial proxy wars and gulags. And the stress of potential nuclear Armageddon wasn’t trivial. But the contest between two superpowers over which system delivered more comfort, freedom, and happiness to its citizens greatly improved the human condition worldwide. University of Pennsylvania ethnographer Kristen Ghodsee writes, “the general scholarly consensus is that ordinary people — whether in the capitalist, Communist, or developing worlds — benefitted from superpower competition. An unintended consequence of American and Soviet grandstanding was often real progress.”

Here are a few benefits that the working class in the West reaped from these tensions.

Civil Rights

As many historians have pointed out, political leaders across the ideological spectrum persistently argued that racial segregation undermined the United States’ position in the Cold War, making capitalism look bad at home and abroad. Civil rights activists often advanced such arguments, and the political class embraced them. In Brown v. Board of Education, the historic Supreme Court case that made racial segregation illegal, integrating schools all over the nation, the Truman Administration filed an amicus brief arguing that the color line was detrimental to US foreign policy interests: “The United States is trying to prove to the people of the world of every nationality, race, and color, that a free democracy is the most civilized and secure form of government ever devised by man.” The condition of African Americans posed an obstacle to this ambitious scheme, the administration wrote, as “racial discrimination furnishes grist for the Communist propaganda mills.”

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Just 3% of broadcast TV news segments on the California wildfires connected them to climate change

Sun, 11/10/2019 - 20:29

via Media Matters

by Ted MacDonald

A string of destructive wildfires spread across parts of California in October. Broadcast and cable TV news shows have been quick to cover these fires, airing hundreds of segments over a 12-day period from October 21 to November 1. However, the number of climate change mentions in wildfire segments across these shows is pitifully low.

Major morning and nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 243 segments on the wildfires, but only eight of them, or 3.3%, mentioned climate change. These broadcast numbers are actually worse than the coverage of last year’s deadly and destructive California wildfires. As wildfires ravaged parts of the state in November 2018, broadcast TV news shows mentioned climate change in only 3.7% of overall wildfire segments.

Cable news shows in 2019 did not fare much better — out of a combined 419 wildfire segments aired on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, only 20 of them, or 4.8%, mentioned climate change.

It is clear that the warming climate is increasing the frequency and intensity of wildfires in California. Burned area due to wildfires has increased fivefold between 1972 and 2018, and the average wildfire season length is over two full months longer. California has warmed roughly three times as much as the global average in the past century, making many parts of the state’s land more prone to wildfires. In fact, according to Climate Central, “human-caused climate change has been responsible for more than half the increase in fuel aridity” since the 1970s, resulting in drier and more flammable vegetation that is easier to burn.

Research has also been done into the connection between climate change and the strong Santa Ana winds that help fan the wildfires. Climate scientist Daniel Swain stated, “While there’s not much evidence at this point of a direct link between climate change and changes in offshore wind patterns, there is evidence that climate trends are increasing the likelihood that such winds coincide with dangerously dry vegetation conditions, leading to increased wildfire risk.”

Earlier this fall, it looked like California would avoid another bad wildfire season, but now there is a heightened chance for large fires for the rest of 2019. Continued greenhouse gas emissions will increase the wildfire risk for much of the region, making this is all part of a “new normal” that California residents will have to grapple with in the future.

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Rojava: The radical eco-anarchist experiment betrayed by the West, and bludgeoned by Turkey

Sun, 11/10/2019 - 20:21

In the Heart of Syria’s Darkness, a Democratic, Egalitarian and Feminist Society Emerges (June 2019 article)

Four million people, thousands of communes, a non-hierarchical social structure and a cooperative economy. Why is no one talking about Rojava?

Dor Shilton, Haaretz

The most amazing thing about Rojava is that hardly anyone knows it exists. We hear plenty about Syria – the battlefields and chemical attacks, the brutality of ISIS and barbarity of the Assad regime. But very little has been written about the fact that in northeastern Syria an anarchist-feminist autonomous region has arisen that is the antithesis to everything around it. Well, maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise. In a world sinking ever deeper into consumer culture, careerist individualism and financial plutocracy, who can believe in the idea of a non-hierarchical society? A coherent autonomy without a centralized government? A cooperative economy? True gender equality? Yet this is precisely the vision that the people of Rojava – known officially as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria – are realizing in practice, in an appallingly hostile environment, surrounded by enemies bent on their destruction.

Against all odds, Rojava, which declared its autonomy in 2014, continues to exist – encompassing four million people, seven regions, hundreds of neighborhoods and thousands of communes. Several principles underlie Rojava’s democracy. To begin with, it is decentralized and lacks any hierarchy, a democracy in which communities preserve their sovereignty and manage their lives by themselves. Second, it’s an egalitarian democracy, which does not prefer one ethnicity or religion over others, and where women play an equal and essential role. And third, it’s a democracy based on a fair, ecological and sustainable economy, which does not sabotage the environment and aims to meet the needs of the common people, not aggrandize the powerful. In short, the inhabitants of Rojava are trying to create a political entity that is the opposite of the capitalist nation-state. They are out to forge true democracy, a society in which the people is sovereign.

“We are all children of the village,” says Zelal Ceger, co-chairwoman of Tev-Dem, the Movement for a Democratic Society in Rojava, which initially created the organizational structure of the autonomous entity, from the level of the commune up to the regional one.

“Our system is not like that in Europe,” she notes in a recent interview arranged under the auspices of the Rojava Information Center, which works with foreign media and academics. “For example, go to our villages and look. If a house gets damaged, the whole village fixes that house together. The natural society was created in Mesopotamia, and even now we still have some of that with us, it’s our basis. As such, our people are ready to create a communal life. But in the last 2,000 years of life under the state system, the state wanted to remove the communal life and ruin it for the people, and wanted society to disperse. After the [democratic and feminist] revolution started, we’re coming together once again to build up that life.”

Island prisoner

Rojava (meaning “west” in Kurdish – the region is actually located in western Kurdistan) constitutes a new solution to an old problem: the oppression of peoples. Like the Jews, the Kurdish people suffered for many long years at the hands of hostile rulers and regimes. Unlike the Jewish people, the Kurds have always lived, since antiquity, in a single, contiguous geographical area: the vast, mountainous region called Kurdistan. Despite that fact and their large numbers, however, a series of Great Power agreements after World War I split the Kurds into minority groups in four different countries: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. As a result, their sense of common identity was lost and the Kurds were persecuted and attacked by four different oppressive regimes. Numbering some 35 million in the region, the Kurds have long held the dubious title of the largest nation in the world without a state.

The collapse of Iraq, and afterward Syria, created a propitious moment to realize Kurdish sovereignty and create a state. In Iraq, the Kurdish Regional Government assumed control over some of the northern provinces, and has been steadily breaking away from the federal government. Even though, compared to their neighbors, women are treated better in Iraqi Kurdistan, it has the same political structure as other centralist nation-states. Its almost-exclusive reliance on local petroleum resources effectively made it another paternalistic, Middle Eastern oil-producing state. Revenues are divided among the rulers and their cronies, and because most of the material goods and investment capital come from Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan has become, in effect, Ankara’s colony. The alliance between the two has been particularly vexatious.

Like Israel, Rojava, too, was an idea that evolved into a reality. It even has a visionary whose writings were the underpinnings of its creation: Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). When it was founded, in 1978, the PKK was a Marxist-Leninist movement whose aim was to establish a socialist state for the Kurdish people in eastern Turkey, which is northern Kurdistan. Turkey, for its part, tried to deny the existence of a Kurdish people and toughened restrictions on their language and culture. Even before a military coup in Turkey in 1980, the PKK felt that the situation was becoming more dangerous and violent. In 1979, Ocalan and other party leaders moved to Syria and dug in there. Ocalan lived in Syria for almost 20 years and became a revered figure among the Kurds, known fondly as “Apo” (uncle).

Already then, Ocalan grasped the importance of women in fomenting a true democratic revolution. Women played an active role in the PKK from the outset and became increasingly involved in organizational matters and in combat roles. The PKK’s first women’s organization was formed in 1986, and seven years later, Ocalan set up an all-female military unit. In his other activities, too, such as in military training and study camps of the PKK, Zelal Ceger relates, Ocalan introduced new norms to promote women’s involvement, including in everyday affairs. He asked men to cook and not to expect their wives to do it, so that the women could devote their time to studies. Increasing numbers of female activists joined, the women’s organizations grew stronger, and the seeds of the process were planted that would culminate in the socially egalitarian practices of Rojava.

While the PKK commanders waged the struggle from Syria, many of its activists returned to Turkey, resulting in a blood-drenched conflict between the party and the Turkish army between 1984 and 1993. About 40,000 people died, with both sides accused of deliberately targeting civilians. In February 1999, in an operation involving Turkish intelligence and the CIA (some in the PKK also accused the Mossad of involvement) – Ocalan was seized in the Greek embassy in Kenya and extradited to Turkey. A show trial was held in which Ocalan was charged with treason and sentenced to death. Fortunately for him, Turkey’s attempt to enter the European Union – which had abolished the death penalty – led to the commutation of his sentence to life imprisonment.

For a decade, between 1999 and 2009, Ocalan was the only inmate in the prison on Imrali Island, in the Sea of Marmara, where he remains incarcerated today. In his small cell, guarded by 1,000 warders, he began to delve into Sumerian mythology and the origins of Neolithic cultures, as well as the history of the first city-states. He was influenced by a number of thinkers, among them Fernand Braudel, Immanuel Wallerstein, Maria Mies and Michel Foucault.

The theorist who influenced Ocalan most profoundly was Murray Bookchin, a Jewish-American writer and anarchist who formulated the theory of social ecology. Drawing on the connection between the environmental crisis and capitalist society, Bookchin argued that the enslavement and destruction of nature is the continuation of the enslavement of other human beings. To avert calamity, he observed, the structure of society needs to be rethought; a shift is needed from a rapacious capitalist society to an ecological social structure that maintains a balance between its parts. Consequently, Bookchin proposed a confederative-municipal entity by means of which communities could organize their lives independently.

Ocalan eventually forsook the nation-state concept, which he’d actually begun to turn away from even before his arrest. Instead, he proposed democratic confederalism, a fusion of Bookchin’s social ecology and emergent Kurdish feminism, a system of decentralized social organization that would avert creation of a centralized government like that of Syria, which oppresses its people, and allow individuals and communities to wield true influence over their environment and activities, and most important, would ensure that women would play a vital and equal role at all levels of organization and decision-making.

Ocalan’s ideology began to spread. When the protests of the Arab Spring reached Syria, in 2011, and Assad’s forces started to withdraw from western Kurdistan, the Kurds used the opportunity to establish autonomy, based on a well thought-out political program that they previously devised.

Zelal Ceger met Ocalan in 1993, in Syria. She had grown up with his ideology, but when she finally got to meet him, her knees shook, she relates. But Ocalan turned out to be a warm, friendly person, she says – very far from the dictatorial image sometimes associated with leaders of popular liberation movements. “When I was with Ocalan,” she relates, “I felt simultaneously like a child and an adult. He was like a brother to us.”

She goes on to explain that the Democratic Union Party (PYD) “could not organize the people on its own. We wanted to create an umbrella organization, a council, which could lead all of society. Therefore, we created the Movement for a Democratic Society, or Tev-Dem. Through Tev-Dem we could reach all the peoples: Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs, Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Circassians and everyone who lived in Rojava. We took everyone into account.”

By August 2011, half the Kurds in Rojava were already organized in community councils. In that same month, 300 delegates from all parts of the region founded the People’s Council of West Kurdistan, which in turn elected the Tev-Dem; the latter’s members established and helped implement a bottom-up model of governance and autonomous administrative bodies. In January 2014, Rojava’s de facto constitution was signed, declaring its commitment to freedom for all peoples, regardless of ethnicity or religion, and to gender equality, and setting forth the principles of decentralized democracy.

Millennia-old tradition

How can millions of people manage their lives autonomously? That is precisely the challenge of democratic confederalism, as practiced in Rojava. Their system of social organization continues to evolve, but its fundamental principles remain constant.

The basic unit of political organization in Rojava is the commune. Each commune consists of a few dozen families, and its members run their lives by themselves. They meet regularly to discuss the important issues and initiatives, and choose committees to advance them. They also elect two chairpersons, a man and a woman. The coordinating board, headed by those chairpersons, sends representatives to the next level of organization: the locality. It consists of a number of communes, and here too committees are founded to organize tasks, coordinate between the communes and elect the representatives to the next level – the district. Above that level are the canton (in a few cases), the region, the General Council for the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, with 70 members, and the Syrian Democratic Council, the chief legislative authority in Rojava.

There are as many as nine different committees at the different levels, each devoted to a specific subject. For example, there are reconciliation committees, comprising five women and five men, which arbitrate a variety of disputes. Only about a third of the cases brought before these bodies at the first level are referred to the next one, to regional courts; the others are resolved at the communal level. In any event, every committee regardless of its mandate must have at least 40 percent female membership, and be headed by both a woman and a man.

Women also take part in Rojava’s military and police forces: There are both coed and all-female units. The goal is to ensure that women do not remain outside the centers of decision-making in the security realm – and elsewhere. “Without equality of the sexes, any call for freedom and equality is pointless and illusory,” Ocalan wrote in a 2010 manifesto.

Rojava’s entire political system is constructed in a way that grants people the true power to decide how they wish to run their lives and about their environment. After all, who knows better about what a particular neighborhood needs than the people who actually live there? For example, at a meeting held in April in a commune of 25 families near the city of Derik, in the northern part of Rojava, residents met to decide what to do with an area of about 30 dunams (7.5 acres) surrounding their village. They agreed to devote most of it to growing crops cooperatively, and a smaller section to a community center. While in the past people needed approval from various government agencies just to plant a tree, restrictions on building have now been lifted: Rojava is replete with construction sites. The ultimate goal is to avert the disintegration of the communally based society, as has occurred in the industrialized West.

According to Mohammed Said, co-chairman of the PYD party in a locale in Jazira, one of Rojava’s largest regions, the sort of social structure being introduced today is based on a tradition going back thousands of years.

“Fifty years ago, I remember, I was living in a village of five or six families,” Said recalled in an interview. “In the summer, if we needed to build a house, we didn’t pay others to do it. We formed a group and we built it. If a house burned, everyone got together and contributed until that house was okay again. If someone fell ill, everyone would help. The communal system we want to build up is exactly that.”

Khalid Ibrahim, a member of a reconciliation committee in Derik, describes the workings of the judicial system in Rojava. “In this committee there are nine members. Of these, two are elected members of the General Council in Derik and seven are elected directly by the reconciliation committees of the localities. An election is held every two years, and the next election is scheduled to take place in another seven months.” However, he notes, that may not be possible, “because it’s not clear if the political situation in northeast Syria will be stabilized” by that time – a reference to the activities of the Turkish armed forces that have occupied a neighboring district.

“Generally, when a conflict occurs, it’s solved at the commune level,” Ibrahim says. “If not, the [reconciliation] committee members write a report and send the case to the next level, the locality. If the conflict is not solved there, the committee writes a report and sends the case onward. If the conflict is still not resolved, it is referred to the justice institutions that operate at the provincial, regional and federation levels, to carry out a deeper investigation.”

Trained jurists are found only in Rojava’s official judicial bodies, but the members of the reconciliation panels are ordinary people whom the community trusts to listen to all sides and to resolve conflicts fairly.

Ibrahim offers a case history concerning a debt: “Mahmood used to sell yogurt from his village to Ahmed. But Ahmed hadn’t paid him for six months. Finally, Mahmood brought the case to his commune’s reconciliation committee. A committee member listened to both sides, understanding both the reasons why the shop owner didn’t pay and the economic needs of Mahmood’s family. She facilitated an agreement between the two. They agreed to reduce the debt, and agreed that Mahmood’s family would have the right to acquire other goods from the shop freely to satisfy its needs. They both signed a contract. With time, the relationship between Mahmood’s family and Ahmed became close again.”

Jihad Omer, co-chairman of the PR office of the Syrian Democratic Council, Rojava’s main legislative body, used to serve on a reconciliation committee in the Afrin district, north of Aleppo, where he helped resolve a long-running conflict. “About 35 years before,” he relates, “some killings took place between two families from two different villages. Each one killed some members of the other’s family. Since then, the two families have not spoken a word to each other and they could not go to the other’s village.

“Our committee of conciliation consisted of old men and old women who have people’s respect. We spoke to the elders of each family, again and again. We got five members from each family to sit together and share all their sorrows. We explained to them that we need to live as a society with love. We told them that they are all living on the same land, they are from the same people, so why should they let their old quarrels keep going? After a month and a half of meetings, we got the two families to sit together and eat together. And this was a big victory.”

There has been a dramatic improvement in the lives of Rojava’s women thanks to its feminist ideology and social structure, says Khawla Diad, a PYD co-chairwoman in a town called Til Temir. An Arab woman, she was initially suspicious of the revolutionary movement that gave rise to the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, she told the Rojava Information Center. “At first we thought it was a nationalist revolution for the Kurds, not a revolution for peoples’ brotherhood and democracy. But Apo’s [Ocalan’s] ideology was far-reaching. Slowly we saw that this ideology was not only for Kurds, but also for Arabs and Assyrians, and especially for women.”

Describing the changes in the lives of women in Syria and in her own life, Diad becomes emotional: “Before the revolution women had no life, especially Arab women. They had no opinions, no work, no freedom. Arab women were only supposed to give birth, raise children and tend to home duties, and that’s it. Women were nothing, they were slaves. Step by step, things changed. Kurdish women became an example for all women.”

How have the lives of women changed thanks to communal organization?

Diad: “In many ways. For example, underage marriage. A girl of only 14 would be given to a man to be married. But not any more. Another thing is a second marriage. A man could take four women for himself. But not anymore. Now only one woman. Before, if I had brothers … within our house I didn’t have the right to anything in my family – not property or money or land. But now, women have the right to all those things.”

What about the relations between the Kurds and the Arabs?

“The Syrian state tried to divide the Kurds and the Arabs. We do not accept this conflict. This land is for all of us, not just for Arabs or for Kurds. We organized ourselves according to the philosophy of Ocalan and said we do not want a nationalist state, we don’t want Syria to be divided. We are one people together, we are brothers.”

Diad is determined to continue working to promote revolutionary changes in the lives of women: “Before the revolution I was a person with no will, without any opinion, without existence,” she says. “Today I am free, but other women are still enslaved. This philosophy has not reached them all. It’s my role to bring it to them.”

Social economy

Another vision harbored by the new democracy of Rojava involves a social economy – based not on communism but rather communalism. The goal is simple: to serve the citizens and not the owners of capital. The basis for achieving this is the creation of cooperatives guided by the universal values set forth by a Belgium-based NGO called International Cooperative Alliance: mutual help, mutual responsibility, democracy, equality, fairness and solidarity. There are hundreds of economic cooperatives in Rojava, on local and all other levels, whose establishment has been encouraged by the autonomous administration and by Kongra Star, a local confederation of woman’s organizations. The cooperatives are in essence joining a global movement toward sustainable alternative economies.

The Cooperative Contract of Rojava, issued in August 2016, describes the principles and limitations devolving on the cooperatives. These include: one vote for each member; consultation with the relevant autonomous administration and consideration for the community in which the cooperative is formed; a ban on monopolization, speculation and exploitation; active participation of women; and no more than one person per family serving on the management board, which is elected annually by the General Assembly. Membership in a cooperative involves the purchase of shares, with the standing rate being 20,000 Syrian liras (about $40) per share.

Women’s cooperative business ventures account for about 3 percent of the Jazira district’s economy. For Arin Sterk and Baran Bawer, members of an economy committee in the city of Qamishli (called Qamishlo by the Kurds), on the border with Turkey, the importance of the cooperatives lies in their battles against monopolies.

“Our economy should serve the needs of all the people and not just profit a few people,” Sterk says. “We are not against free trade, but we need to prevent the formation of monopolies. A simple example is seeds. Rojava is an agricultural land, so we need to ensure that the seeds are in the hands of the people, and prevent any monopoly over them.”

What kind of problems do you encounter?

Sterk: “Capitalist mentality is strong inside our society. There is a mentality of ‘I pay you and you work for me,’ but we are fighting against this attitude. You find this kind of mentality on both sides: in the cooperatives, but also among responsible people in the economy committees. We need to understand that economics is connected to our mind-set. As such, the first step toward developing the economy must be to change women’s mentality. The effects of hundreds of years of oppression through the patriarchal system, and the influence of the Syrian regime, as well as the impact of religion, are still strong. Women are still sometimes looked upon badly if they leave the house alone for work, because there should be a man at her side. So women’s economic problems are bound to this mentality.”

Bawer: “On the other hand, we also need to change the dominant, male mentality, the capitalist attitude that looks on everything solely as a means to profit. We cannot allow women to become independent by putting themselves in a position of being exploited by men. It’s not about integrating women into a capitalist system – it’s about building a new economic system.”

Sterk: “We go to houses and talk to the men. We ask them, ‘Why don’t you let your wife go to work?’ We tell the men that women have the right to earn money, too, and help the family’s financial situation. When we gather six or seven women, we ask them: ‘What kind of work do you want to do? Which type of cooperative could you work in?’ As an economy committee, we can also give women financial support to start a cooperative. This is how we can motivate women to liberate themselves.”

Are there other difficulties, apart from mentality?

Bawer: “There is a need to professionalize the women, to supply the needed skills. For example with regard to milk production, we had cases where the know-how was poor.”

How many women have joined the cooperatives in Qamishli?

Bawer: “About 4,500 women are members of cooperatives. Most of these cooperatives are occupied with agriculture, but there are also restaurants, bakeries, patisseries, chicken farms, textile industries and some that manage electrical generators for the neighborhoods.”

How are salaries organized in the cooperatives?

Sterk: “In cooperatives that sell products, such as shops, they divide the sales profits among themselves equally. In agriculture, each women decides how much land to work and for how many hours. She receives a proportional part of the produce and sells it independently.”

The vision behind the creation of Rojava is astonishingly progressive – but there’s a gap between it and reality. Many activists relate that they are having difficulty getting enough people involved in administrative roles in their locales: Most of them, especially women, are simply not used to the type of democratic activism required of them. And young people appear not to be very impressed by the new democratic system.

“The young people in our society are not joining the communal life,” says Zelal Ceger, from Tev-Dem. “They see it as a prison. They are under the influence of capitalism; they don’t accept the new system. They say they want freedom, they want to live in their way. But really, it’s the commune that gives you freedom. You can solve all your problems through the communes. Some of this hasn’t been understood yet, and thus we have certain difficulties.”

That analysis is largely confirmed in a brief correspondence with a young computer programmer from Qamishli, who asked not to be identified by name.

“The system is not really functioning,” he maintains. “The culture here is very communal, so people get along with their neighbors socially, but politically this is not an effective way to manage a society.” Nevertheless, he believes in the potential of the democratic revolution underway in Rojava, which he believes is still in its incipient stages: “Whether they are efficient or not, we have to remember that the social structures are not yet fully formed. People can and should influence them. That is the challenge and the potential of Rojava. Rojava is not an empty page on which someone can create a new society out of nothing. It is a reality that is rooted in history, and in order to develop it we need to recognize its complexity and depth.”

Silence in the West

One might think the emergence of a progressive political entity like Rojava would be welcomed by the enlightened West, which might even invest resources to ensure its development and survival. But it’s just the opposite. The West’s response ranges from relative indifference, as seen in limited media coverage and half-hearted, self-interested military support – to tacit hostility, because NATO supports Rojava’s largest and most dangerous enemy: the Turkish army. Thus, as President Donald Trump withdraws American forces from Syria and Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan assails Rojava with force of arms, there’s a genuine danger that the most democratic autonomy regime in the Middle East will become no more than a historical curiosity, gradually assuming the aura of a legend.

“I think that part of the reason [why people don’t talk more about Rojava] is that we no longer believe revolutionary utopian movements are possible,” American anthropologist David Graeber, who has been writing about Rojava since his first visit there in 2014, tells Haaretz in a recent interview. “We’ve become so cynical that a lot of people just don’t believe it. You get a lot of people on the left whose politics are: ‘Whatever the Americans do, we’re against it.’ I call it the loser left – they basically don’t even imagine that they could win. And, frankly, a lot of liberals, in my experience, really don’t like the idea of [direct] democracy; they might not admit it, but they’re inherently suspicious of ordinary people’s ability to govern themselves.”

You’ve studied a lot of anarchist movements. What’s unique about Rojava?

Graeber: “Since [1930s] Spain, there’s been no place where so many people were able to create institutions outside of a state framework for so long. It’s important to point out just how historically unprecedented some of the things that are happening [in Rojava] are. In Afrin, for example, I think two-thirds of all political positions are held by women. And that might be the only society in human history of which this can be said.”

Leaving aside the external challenges, what do you think are the major internal challenges facing Rojava?

“Well, other than not getting killed… I think that if the revolution endures, the biggest problem will be the tension between the bottom-up structures and the top-down structures. They basically have the equivalent of a dual power system, but it’s a dual power system where they themselves created both sides, which might be historically unprecedented. So you have the self-government system that has a parliament, ministers, and you have to have that to deal with foreigners, otherwise they won’t take you seriously. For example, there’s an airport in Qamishli, it’s the only area that’s still under Syrian government control. Why do they do that? Because if you’re not a government, where are you going to fly? To fly anywhere, you need to have aviation agreements, you need to have security agreements.

“In a way, their isolation has been really helpful, because it made it possible to keep this centralized structure largely toothless. But once they start engaging with external structures, people with technocratic knowledge are going to have an advantage. They’re going to take these [top-down] institutions – with the best intentions – and strengthen them, and that’s going to create a threat to the bottom-up [decentralized] structures.”

Rojava has indeed only begun to address the challenges of a modern society and economy. The power grid within its territory supplies electricity only in the morning and the evening; the rest of the time the localities rely on generators. Despite its aspirations to ecological sustainability, the Rojava General Council is compelled to rely mainly on oil resources. Not only that, but in the absence of a budget to underwrite modern drilling and refining facilities, it is unable to produce sufficient quantities of fuel for trade, and resorts to inefficient, environmentally harmful refining techniques. Indeed, because Rojava is besieged on all sides, current trade possibilities are more or less confined to Assad’s Syria. Taxation policy is also still in its infancy, with most regions levying only import and export taxes and taxes on business that are not cooperatives, though income tax is collected in the Jazira district.

The economy in Rojava, as said, remains largely agrarian, and the fact that the majority of available resources (about 70 percent) go toward self-defense hinders economic and infrastructure development. A relatively new challenge is the tens of thousands of ISIS fighters who surrendered to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. The al-Hawl camp in Rojava, for example, currently holds about 73,000 prisoners in an area of four square kilometers. Most of them are former fighters, but about 10,000 are their relatives, mostly women and children. The camps are a ticking bomb, in both humanitarian and ideological terms, and they are depleting Rojava’s coffers at an unprecedented rate.

In the meantime, Ocalan continues to be a prisoner on Imrali Island, despite his repeated calls for peace over the past two decades and his assertion that he does not want an independent Kurdish state in eastern Turkey – only a confederated autonomy as in Rojava. In November 2018, Leyla Güven, a member of the Turkish parliament from the People’s Democratic Party, launched a hunger strike to demand an end to Ocalan’s solitary confinement and permission for him to meet regularly with his family, as well as with his lawyers; he had not met with the latter for some seven years, at that point. Thousands of Kurds worldwide subsequently joined Güven.

On May 2, after 176 days of striking and the submission of more than 800 petitions to the Turkish government, Ocalan was finally allowed to meet briefly with his lawyers. In a statement made through their auspices, he asked the hunger strikers not to put their health at risk and called once again for reconciliation. “There is an urgent need for a method of democratic negotiations, away from all kinds of polarization and culture of conflict in the solution of problems. We can solve the problems in Turkey, and even in the region – first and foremost the war – with soft power; that is with intelligence, political and cultural power instead of tools of physical violence,” the statement said.

On May 26, following another plea to the strikers from Ocalan, the hunger strike ended.

The interviews in this article were conducted with the assistance of the Rojava Information Center.


Turkey Moves to Crush Rojava, the Kurds’ Radical Experiment Based on Democracy, Feminism & Ecology
Democracy Now
As Turkey launches an aerial and ground assault on northern Syria targeting Kurdish-controlled areas, we look at how the offensive threatens the Kurdish region of Rojava with Debbie Bookchin, co-founder of the Emergency Committee for Rojava. She is a journalist and author who co-edited a book of essays by her father, Murray Bookchin, “The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy.” We also speak with Elif Sarican, a Kurdish Women’s Movement activist and anthropologist at the London School of Economics, and Ertuğrul Kürkçü, honorary chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party in Turkey, known as the HDP. He is a former member of Parliament in Turkey.

Pity the Kurds
Chris Hedges, Truthout
Kalowa Hill is a metaphor for the tragic history of the Kurds. I remain haunted by the images of women searching frantically through skeletal remains in uncovered pits for their disappeared children or husbands. I can still feel in my hands the skulls with their blindfolds and bullet holes. While boys and men, the majority of the victims, were usually blindfolded and shot, girls and women were most often blindfolded and strangled.

The Rojava revolution
Evangelos Aretaios, Open Democracy
The Rojava model is based on two main pillars which may prove very efficient in the strengthening of democracy in the region. The first pillar is direct democracy as the basis of a communalist system in which citizens participate actively in decision-making and the management of the polis, from the neighborhood to the municipality and as far as the government. The second pillar, equally revolutionary, is the denial of the nation state structure and philosophy as such. In Rojava, many different religious and ethnic groups–Christians, Yezidis, Arabs, Turkmens, Chechens, Armenians–live together with the large Kurdish majority. By officially and insistently denying the nation state and by trying to create administrative structures that incorporate these different elements, the Rojava model gives to minorities a participatory role unprecedented in the Middle East – a role as equals in the management of the polis.

Rojava: A practical example of ecosocialism?
Climate & Capitalism
The Rojava Internationalist Commune was founded in 2017 by internationalists from all over the world, supported by the Rojava Youth Movement (YCR/YJC). The aim of this structure is to share knowledge, skills and experience through an internationalist perspective, as well as to support projects and the revolution in Rojava. Since then, many internationalists have taken part in training courses in order to later join various works and projects with the civilian population of Rojava. Built as a collective living project with an ecological focus, the Internationalist Commune also intends to be an academy to train internationalists and the people of Rojava in environmental awareness and practice. It serves as a kind of laboratory to build an ecological society.


Totnes: The world’s most forward-thinking eco settlement?
The Guardian
Totnes has been called ‘Britain’s town of the future’. This month, the small town which kick-started a worldwide movement of sustainable urban living, completes 11 years of being a Transition Town. As fossil-fuel reserves dwindle and the economy contracts, will resident-led Transition Towns prove to be a viable model for the future?[

Why Ecosocialism: For a Red-Green future
Michael Löwy
Capitalism, driven by the maximization of profit, is incompatible with a just and sustainable future. Ecosocialism offers a radical alternative that puts social and ecological well-being first. Attuned to the links between the exploitation of labor and the exploitation of the environment, ecosocialism stands against both reformist “market ecology” and “productivist socialism.”

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Making Waves: From Boston to Wisconsin, vulnerable workers push back against impossible conditions

Sun, 11/10/2019 - 05:02

via The Baffler

by Kim Kelly

The U.S. working class is currently riding a mighty strike wave, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the height of Ronald Reagan’s 1980s union-busting spree. The biggest stories have dominated the headlines for weeks, or—in the case of the ongoing #RedforEd movement within the education sector—even years, and their main characters have become folk heroes: The CTU and SEIU teachers and support staff of Chicago fighting for a better future for their coworkers, their students, and their city. The UAW factory workers of General Motors who left the line cold for almost six weeks to end discrimination and inequality at a company that had grown fat off of a government bailout and kept the spoils for itself. The Uber and Lyft drivers leading protests for the fair wages and safer working conditions that their Silicon Valley overlords will do anything to avoid paying for. The fast food workers of #Fightfor15 calling for basic dignity, a $15 minimum wage, and a union, who have forced the national conversation (and the current crop of presidential hopefuls) to catch up to their demands.

These and so very many other players are the driving force behind our current moment of widespread labor unrest, one that has seen almost half a million workers hit the bricks in pursuit of a better deal since 2018. The year’s not over yet, and it’s likely that those numbers will shoot even higher before 2020. While a bona fide general strike may still be a revolutionary’s daydream (for now . . . ), one thing is certain: direct action gets the goods. More and more regular working people, union and otherwise, have realized that the only way to win anything resembling equity—let alone liberation—is through militant collective action, and they’ve shown that they are prepared to take that battle to the bargaining table, to the picket lines, and to the streets. The spirit of 1919 lives on a century later, even if it looks a little different.

The trouble now is that there are so many campaigns, actions, and contract fights happening at any given moment that it can be difficult to keep up—even when it’s your job to do so. I was recently commiserating over this very quandary with another labor reporter (one of the small but dedicated group of journalists covering this beat), lamenting the fact that we can’t cover every story because of the dwindling number of publications to pitch, the bane of editorial indifference, and our own occasional need to sleep. Every strike or protest determines the well-being and livelihood of dozens if not hundreds of workers, but a cruel fact of our media ecosystem is that some strikes reap hundreds of headlines, while others languish in near-silence. Contrast the amount of (well-deserved!) press that the GM strike received with the coverage of the 1,800 Spectrum cable company workers of IBEW Local 3 who have been out on strike for over two and a half years. If a worker on the picket line cries out for justice and nobody hears it, what does that say about our movement? It must be emphasized: every strike matters, and every good contract won is a victory for workers everywhere.

It’s true that the amount of labor reporting at various publications has rapidly increased over the past few years, due in no small part to digital media’s post-2015 organizing wave led by the Writers Guild of America, East and the NewsGuild (as well as endless bloodletting in the form of recurring mass layoffs). The quickest way to change someone’s opinion on unions is to drop them into a bargaining session with the boss to see exactly how the sausage is made; much like Soylent Green, the main ingredient is people. The fledgling organizing efforts in tech and ongoing student worker organizing campaigns at ivory towers like Harvard (whose grad student union just held a 90 percent pro-strike authorization vote!) have also attracted interest from a mainstream media who’d long ago written off the working class as a bunch of bigoted roughnecks in hard hats. Of course, movement publications like Labor Notes, The Nation, and In These Times have been chronicling these stories, big and small, for decades, and upstart newsletter Strikewave has done an admirable job following in their footsteps. No one can cover everything happening in this chaotic capitalist dystopia, but it’s heartening that so many of us are trying. It is my intent with this monthly missive to shed light on those labor stories that may have gotten lost in the shuffle or taken place too far outside East Coast centers of power to have warranted closer inspection from establishment sources.

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The St Petersburg vegans cooking up a revolution

Sun, 11/10/2019 - 04:46

via BBC

By Ashitha Nagesh

As Russia enters its 20th year under the authoritarian leadership of Vladimir Putin, St Petersburg’s vegan anarchist community thrives. Hated by the far right and out of tune with Russia’s prevailing nationalist mood, the activists have created a version of what their ideal society would look like – and they’re promoting this vision with delicious food. Could they be changing attitudes among other young Russians?

Once a month, the eight people who work at the Horizontal takeaway hold a meeting in which they air any grievances, discuss updates to the menu, and vote on any changes they may want to make. The front of their restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall that serves vegan burgers, hot dogs and nuggets to go, is covered with stickers promoting anti-fascism, anarchism, and other vegan outlets in the city. Their meal deal offer, something commonly called a “business lunch” in Russia, is called “the anti-business lunch”.

Lately, the group has been discussing whether or not to change location – the complex they’re currently based in holds shows featuring captive animals, which they believe are cruel and exploitative.

Although some of them have been working there for longer than others, all eight members of the team have an equal say within the business. There are no managers and no hierarchies. Varya, 26, has been at the restaurant the longest.

“That’s why we’re called Horizontal – because every person who joins our restaurant is on the same level, and has the same rights and an equal position with all of the others,” she says. The restaurant adheres to the principles of anti-racism, feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, the abolition of borders, and animal liberation. In a country where people who are gender non-confirming or trans are shunned, and even sometimes attacked, Horizontal is a space where anyone’s preferred pronouns will be respected.

The group is planning to compose a manifesto of sorts stating what its values are, to make sure any new starters are on the same page. “For us, it’s important that people who join us hold similar ideology, that they share our views, and that they understand what ‘veganism’ really means to us,” Varya says.

Horizontal is one of about a dozen similar spaces across St Petersburg, promoting vegan anarchism – “veganarchism” – by cooking up delicious vegan food.

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Deconstructed Special: The Noam Chomsky Interview

Sun, 11/10/2019 - 04:42

via the Intercept

Deconstructed with Mehdi Hasan

Mehdi Hasan: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan.

This week who better to speak with about a combination of domestic and international crises, from violence in Syria to the Democratic presidential race in the U.S., than the legendary writer, activist, and political theorist, Noam Chomsky. Wanna know what he makes of impeachment too?

NC: I mean, Trump is impeachable 100 times over. He’s a major crook. Is it politically wise? I frankly doubt it.

MH: Today, in a special episode of Deconstructed, I speak to the one, the only, Noam Chomsky.

My guest today has been a scathing critic of U.S. presidents, and especially U.S. foreign policy, for more than 50 years. He rose to prominence as an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam war and was even included on Richard Nixon’s Enemies List. An academic, activist and best-selling author, he’s been described as “the founding father of linguistic philosophy,” but he’s best known today as the intellectual hero to anti-capitalists, anti-imperialists, socialists and anarchists.

I’m talking of course about Noam Chomsky, who is often referred to as one of the 10 most quoted sources in the humanities, along with Shakespeare and the Bible, and yet you rarely if ever, see him quoted, published or invited onto the mainstream media, whether it’s the New York Times op-ed page or CNN primetime.

Chomsky, the arch-anti-interventionist surprised a lot of people last year on my colleague Jeremy Scahill’s Intercepted podcast, when he said that the U.S. should maintain a troop presence in Syria in order to deter Turkish aggression against the Kurds. Does he still feel that way today, in the wake of President Trump’s controversial withdrawal of U.S. troops? And what’s his view on impeaching Trump and on the presidential prospects of his old friend Senator Bernie Sanders?

Recently — and I should add shortly before Donald Trump announced the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi — Noam Chomsky joined me for an interview from his new academic base at the University of Arizona, where, aged 90, he’s now laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics and chair of an environment and social justice program.

[Music interlude.]

MH: Professor Chomsky, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

Noam Chomsky: Very pleased to be with you.

MH: In recent weeks, we’ve seen some pretty gruesome images coming out of northeastern Syria, rebel groups backed by Turkey on the offensive killing and mutilating, not just Kurdish fighters from the SDF, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, but women and children too.

Announcer [translated from Arabic]: This house you see here, there were children playing. A motor fell and killed a boy. The girl she lost her leg.

MH: Am I right in saying that you didn’t support President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the front lines in Syria?

NC: That’s correct. For a long time, I’ve been trying to organize support for opposition to the withdrawal.

MH: And why is that?

NC: Because the, from the left at least, the call for withdrawal was based on anti-imperialist principles. But principles have to be understood in connection with the human reality of the existing circumstances. A small, U.S. contingent with the sole mission of deterring a planned Turkish invasion, which was obvious, is not imperialism. It’s protecting the Kurds from an expansion of the atrocities and massacres that Erdogan has been carrying out both within Turkey itself and in the areas of Syria that he’s already conquered.

MH: And a lot of people listening especially on the left might be surprised to hear you say this. They might say Noam Chomsky, we associate him with anti-interventionism, with opposition to U.S. foreign policy, and U.S. military interventions abroad. Why are the Kurds the exception to that, you know, life-long, career-long opposition to U.S. military interventions, especially in the Middle East?

NC: If you take a look at what’s happening, it’s not intervention. Syria was already invaded by Turkey. The troops that are there were essentially doing nothing except deterring an expansion of a further invasion. You have to not deal with slogans as if it’s a religious catechism. You have to ask how they apply in particular to complex human circumstances.

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Eyewitnesses to the Rojava revolution: women empowerment

Fri, 11/08/2019 - 04:25

via Roar magazine

by Debbie Bookchin, Emre Şahin, Marina Sitrin

What has been taking place in Rojava is easily one of the most inspiring and exciting experiments in autonomous self-government to ever exist. It is also one of the most massive, and gender inclusive, often compared to the Spanish Revolution of 1936, as well as the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico. And yet, people outside the region know little about the different dimensions of the revolution taking place in Rojava. And now, this revolutionary territory is under military and political attack — its very existence at risk.

What follows is the first of a three part interview series with people who have had ongoing relationship to Rojava, and who have spent time in the revolutionary territory. The first two parts of the series are with Debbie Bookchin and Emre Şahin. Debbie, a journalist, author, public speaker and organizer is Murray Bookchin’s daughter and spent a part of the spring of 2019 in Rojava. Emre, a Kurdish PhD student and translator, spent most of the summer of 2019, traveling to 14 different towns and cities in Rojava, conducting research and in-depth interviews.

The third part is an interview with Carne Ross, Executive Director of Independent Diplomat and author. Carne left his career as a British diplomat, having served in numerous embassies and was Head of the Middle East section and Deputy Head of Political Section at the UK Mission to the United Nations. Carne made the film, Accidental Anarchist, based on his time in Rojava.

What was your overall impression? What is the first thing you would want to share about the process in Rojava?

Debbie: My overall impression is that we are looking at people who are profoundly transforming social relations in every aspect of life; the economy, politics and the environment. There is a commitment to changing the way society is organized completely so that every person, in every sphere of life, feels that they have control, has a say, are empowered and get to participate in the decisions that affect everyday life.

There was a long period of preparation for this. This is interesting, because a lot of people think the Rojava revolution happened overnight, but it didn’t at all. This society did not all of a sudden pop up to say, “Oh here is an idea let’s try this.” Rather, it took many years, starting already under the repression of the Assad regime. They were reading about this and watching the model grow, little by little, across the border in the southeast of Turkey where the towns were starting to implement what we call this democratic confederalist philosophy.

Kurds were being elected as mayors in towns across southeastern Turkey, and these mayors were deliberately empowering people based on their reading of various ideological texts. I know they were reading the work of my father, Murray Bookchin, since a lot of it is in Turkish, and because Öcalan recommended it. This was a very carefully thought-out process that required deep commitment to education, study groups and underground discussions about what kind of society is really the most empowering for people in their everyday lives.

Emre: What I found was that although communal and anti-capitalist, economic organizing is at its infancy in Rojava, there are more than 200 cooperatives and thousands of different communes and collectives that operate across the region. Most common examples are village communes, women’s collectives and agricultural, livestock, generator, canned food, garment, bakery, furniture and car repair cooperatives.

The most remarkable aspect of Rojava’s communal economy is its ability to emerge under conditions of war and embargo. I never could have imagined that a decentralized, need-based and diverse network of cooperatives and communes could take root under such conditions where food sovereignty and even daily sustenance for millions of people is at risk.

One of the most significant features of life in Rojava is the direct and participatory forms of democracy. Were you able to observe or participate in any of the popular assemblies or other democratic forms of decision making in Rojava?

Debbie: At the core of the Rojava revolution is this idea of democratic confederalism which is based on the principle that all power flows from the bottom to the top — the complete opposite of the way things are done almost everywhere else the world, with the Zapatistas in Chiapas being an exception to that rule. The idea is that society is strongest and healthiest and people feel the best when they get the feeling that the decisions that affect their lives come from the community rather than from some elected representative who proports to know what is best for the community. That is a dramatic difference even from what we would call democratic socialism in the US. It means that instead of power flowing from the top it comes from the bottom, and that means that people becomes invested in their communities.

I saw people coming together in local assemblies, which start on the very local level — the basic unit is the neighborhood commune — and they talk about all sorts of things affecting them, ranging from things like the traffic to the needs related to electricity and internet accessibility — all things that happen on the local level, including economic development. They make decisions together, often by consensus, sometimes by voting and then they ask that their position on a particular position be represented on the next level by a delegate.

A delegate is very different from just electing somebody based on a political platform, as for example we have in the US. A delegate is accountable to the assembly or the group from which it was sent, and if they do not represent the ideas of the group then they can be recalled. This means that people really have a very direct say at every level. In each case the delegates are mandated by the community, or council in some cases, and this goes all the way up to a confederated group of delegates who meet to decide policy for an entire region. All those policies are reflected upon by the smaller councils and communes, and even though people don’t always get exactly what they want, at least they all have a say and there is discussion and debate.

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This Women-Only Village Was Built to Be a Feminist Utopia. Now It’s Under Threat.

Fri, 11/08/2019 - 04:15

via Elle

By Jessica Roy

In the Kurdish region of northeast Syria, a female-only ecological commune has sprung up as a place for women displaced by the Syrian revolution and the rise of the Islamic State. The cooperative is called Jinwar—Kurdish for “Women’s Land”—and it’s home to more than 30 women, many of whom were widowed in the fight against ISIS, and their children. In Jinwar, there is no central power figure; instead, there is a democratically-elected town council, and every month a different council member acts as the town’s leader. Men are allowed to visit only during specific hours, and they’re not allowed to stay overnight. Women of different religions and ethnicities live together in mud brick homes they built themselves, eat food they grow themselves, and teach each other English. There is a bakery and a store, where the women can sell handicrafts they make to people from other villages.

Together the women of Jinwar are working to build a life that is free of the constraints of patriarchy and capitalism. When 33-year-old Amira Muhammad’s husband, a soldier in the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, died fighting ISIS in 2017, she was left without an income or a place to live. Eventually she made her way to Jinwar, where she told The Independent last year, “Here they provide a lot of benefits like education for the kids, their living expenses. It is a nice village, most importantly, my kids like it.”

Having survived the rule of violent jihadists, the residents of Jinwar are attempting to build their own female utopia. It’s a wild feminist experiment in democratic communal living that’s happening in one of the most socially conservative regions in the world, and for nearly two years it seemed like it might actually work. But with Turkey’s ongoing military offensive against the Syrian Kurds, whom Turkey considers terrorists, the village has been under constant threat, and on Monday it was temporarily evacuated following heavy shelling.

Women have played a major role in resisting the spread of ISIS and working to create a democratic society in the wake of the Syrian uprising, which left the Kurdish region of Rojava with de facto autonomy. In July 2012, a handful of women founded Yekîtiya Star (now called Kongreya Star), an umbrella organization for Rojava’s many feminist collectives that strove to ensure the revolution embraced feminist principles. Yekîtiya Star worked with other groups to form democratically-run communes, provide self-defense training, and establish schools and a communal economic system. The People’s Protection Units, a portion of the largely Kurdish and Arab-led Syrian Democratic Forces that played a major role in driving out ISIS, is famously mixed-gender and boasts all-female brigades called the Women’s Protection Units. In 2017, five years after the democratic revolution, Kongreya Star decided to build Jinwar as a safe place for women seeking an egalitarian and self-sufficient way of life.

Now, that dream of a feminist utopia could come to an end. Trump’s support of the Turkish military offensive—which began in earnest last month—threatens not just Jinwar, but the entire autonomous Kurdish region in Syria, which has spent more than seven years attempting to build a free society. It is a blatant betrayal of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which the U.S. employed in the fight against ISIS, and will exacerbate an already enormous humanitarian crisis that has left millions displaced. It’s also a disaster for global security, as SDF troops are holding several thousand ISIS militants in makeshift jails roiling with extremism and violence. At least 750 “ISIS affiliates” have already escaped due to Turkish shelling.

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The Revolution Isn’t Being Televised

Fri, 11/08/2019 - 03:51

via Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)

by Alan MacLeod

It’s all kicking off everywhere in 2019. Haitians are revolting against a corrupt political system and their President Jovenel Moïse, who many see as a kleptocratic US puppet. In Ecuador, huge public manifestations managed to force President Lenín Moreno to backtrack on his IMF-backed neoliberal package that would have sharply cut government spending and increased transport prices (FAIR.org10/23/19).

Meanwhile, popular Chilean frustration at the conservative Piñera administration boiled over into massive protests that were immediately met with force. “We are at war,” announced President Sebastián Piñera, echoing the infamous catchphrase of former fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet. Piñera claimed that those responsible for violently resisting him were “going to pay for their deeds” as he ordered tanks through Santiago. (See FAIR.org10/23/19.)

Huge, ongoing anti-government demonstrations are also engulfing LebanonCatalonia and the United Kingdom.

Yet the actions that have by far received the most attention in corporate media are those in Hong Kong, where demonstrations erupted in response to a proposed extradition agreement with the Chinese central government that opponents felt would undermine civil liberties and Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status. A search for “Hong Kong protests” on October 25, 2019, elicits 282 responses in the last month in the New York Times, for example, compared to 20 for “Chile protests,” 43 for Ecuador and 16 for Haiti. The unequal coverage is even more pronounced on Fox News, where there were 70 results for Hong Kong over the same period and four, two and three for ChileEcuador and Haiti, respectively.

This disparity cannot be explained due to the protests’ size or significance, the number of casualties or the response from the authorities. Eighteen people have died during the ongoing protests in Haiti, 19 (and rising) in Chile, while in Ecuador, protesters themselves captured over 50 soldiers who had been sent in as Moreno effectively declared martial law. In contrast, no one has been killed in Hong Kong, nor has the army been called in, with Beijing expressing full confidence in local authorities to handle proceedings. The Chilean government announced it had arrested over 5,400 people in only a week of protests, a figure more than double the number arrested in months of Hong Kong demonstrations (Bloomberg10/4/19). Furthermore, social media have been awash with images and videos of the suppression of the protests worldwide.

One way of understanding why the media is fixated on Hong Kong and less interested in the others is to look at who is protesting, and why.

Worthy and Unworthy Victims 

Over 30 years ago, in their book Manufacturing Consent, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky developed their theory of worthy vs. unworthy victims to explain why corporate media cover certain stories and why others are dropped. They compared the media coverage of a single murdered priest in an enemy state (Communist Poland) to that of over 100 religious martyrs, including some US citizens, murdered in Central American client states over a period of two decades. They found that not only did the New York TimesTimeNewsweek and CBS News dedicate more coverage to the single priest’s assassination, the tone of coverage was markedly different: In covering the killing of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, media expressed indignation, demanding justice and condemning the barbarism of Communism. The killings of religious figures in Central America by pro-US government groups, on the other hand, were reported in a matter-of-fact manner, with little rhetorical outrage.

In other words, when official enemies can be presented as evil and allies as sympathetic victims, corporate media will be very interested in a story. In contrast, they will show far less enthusiasm for a story when the “wrong” people are the villains or the victims.

On Hong Kong, the New York Times published three editorials (6/10/198/14/1910/1/19), each lauding the “democracy-minded people” fighting to limit “the repressive rule of the Chinese Communists,” condemning the Communist response as evidence of the backward, “brutal paternalism of that system,” in which China “equates greatness with power and dissent with treachery.” Hong Kong, on the other hand, thanks to the blessing of being a former British colony, had acquired “a Western political culture of democracy, human rights, free speech and independent thought.” (The Times has not elected to publish any editorials on the other protests.)

The Times also ridiculed the idea that “foreign forces” (i.e., the US government) could be influencing the protests, calling it a “shopworn canard” used by the Communist government. Yet the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has officially poured over $22 million into “identifying new avenues for democracy and political reform in Hong Kong” or China since 2014. The Times editorials did not mention this funding as possibly complicating their dismissal of foreign involvement in the Hong Kong protests as a “canard.”

However, media (e.g., Voice of America10/11/19Miami Herald10/9/19Reuters10/9/19) are taking seriously the accusation that the Ecuadorian protests are, in fact, masterminded abroad, by President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, with the Guardian (10/8/19) going so far to describe the Ecuadorians not as “democracy-minded people,” but “rioters”—a label not appearing in connection with Hong Kong, except as an accusation by Chinese officials (e.g., Time10/2/19CNN10/22/19), are almost universally condemned in coverage as part of a “repressive” (e.g., Vox8/29/19Guardian10/19/19) “dictatorship” (New York Times8/29/19).

In the cases of the less-covered protests, the “wrong” people are protesting and the “wrong” governments are doing the repressing. As the Washington Post (10/14/19) noted on Haiti,

One factor keeping Moïse in power is support from the United States. US officials have been limited in their public comments about the protests.

On Ecuador, the State Department has been more forthcoming, issuing a full endorsement of Moreno’s neoliberal austerity package:

The United States supports President Moreno and the Government of Ecuador’s efforts to institutionalize democratic practices and implement needed economic reforms…. We will continue to work in partnership with President Moreno in support of democracy, prosperity, and security.

In other words, don’t expect any angry editorials denouncing US client states like Haiti or Ecuador, or arguing that the Chilean government’s repression of its protest movement shows the moral bankruptcy of capitalism. Indeed, corporate media (e.g., Guardian10/8/19CNN10/8/19USA Today10/10/19) emphasized the violence of the Ecuadorian protestors while downplaying Hong Kong’s—the New York Times (6/30/19) even inventing the phrase “aggressive nonviolence” to describe the Hong Kong protesters’ actions, so eager was it to frame the demonstrations against China as unquestionably laudable.

Which protest movements interest corporate media has little to do with their righteousness or popularity, and much more to do with whom they are protesting against. If you’re fighting against corporate power or corruption in a US-client state, don’t expect many TV cameras to show up; that revolution is rarely televised.

Alan MacLeod is a member of the Glasgow University Media Group. He is author of “Bad News From Venezuela: 20 Years of Fake News and Misreporting.” His latest book, Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, was published by Routledge in May 2019. Follow him on Twitter: @AlanRMacLeod

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Banks Not Tanks: How to Take Over a Government 2.0

Fri, 11/08/2019 - 03:28

via Institute for Anarchist Studies

by George Katsiaficas

A Review of Yanis Varoufakis, Adults in the Room: My Battle with the European and American Deep Establishment (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017), by George Katsiaficas 

On July 5, 2015, with their government bankrupt and every bank closed, the people of Greece voted overwhelmingly to reject their creditors’ demands. Despite capital controls and threats of impoverishment turning into reality, the country wanted to exit from the tyranny of austerity and toil. While it took seven years, Greece’s fall from grace began with the 2008 US financial crisis, when American banks teetered on the edge of bankruptcy and called in European loans. Themselves overextended and short of liquidity, German and French bankers demanded loan payoffs from Greece, Spain, and Portugal. Beginning in 2010, three successive Greek governments were compelled to borrow increasingly enormous sums of money to pay their European creditors, and with “help” from the International Monetary Fund, a small but proud country had control over its economy wrested away by a foreign power—the troika of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF.

The 2015 referendum was Greek people’s last attempt to regain control over their destiny. From the beginning, popular resistance to austerity was fierce. The country’s GDP had more than doubled in seven years after 2001, when it joined the Eurozone. As is often been the case, when rising expectations are crushed, movements emerge with unexpected speed and depth. Beginning in 2008, street protests and general strikes steadily built in numbers and militance. In 2010, when PASOK leader George Papandreou signed the first bailout of €110 billion, three bank employees were killed before order was restored. The following year, Syntagma Square in the center of Athens was occupied for more than six weeks. Public assemblies continually called for politicians to be removed from office and for the troika to leave Greece. Dozens of cities and islands experienced popular uprisings before police brutally cleared the squares. The next year, fighting grew even more intense. On February 12, 2012, many parts of downtown Athens were in flames as protesters demanded an end to austerity. Nine days later, the second bailout of €246 billion was signed by the conservative Samaras government.

Amid nationwide jubilation, Syriza (as the Alliance of the Radical Left was known) came to power on January 25, 2015 with Varoufakis as its first finance minister. Syriza had promised voters to renegotiate and cut the country’s debt, nationalize banks, restore the minimum wage and labor protections, and reconnect electrical service to thousands of people who had been taken off grid for failure to pay. Days after Syriza came to power, European Central Bank president Mario Draghi banned Greek banks from purchasing their own government’s T-bills, thereby assuring that the Greece would go bankrupt. From the first day of Syriza’s ascendancy, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised Varoufakis that if banks were forced to closed, Syriza would implement a plan to keep the economy going through a parallel payment system using digital smart cards and rotating tax credits for businesses and consumers. Foreign debt would get an immediate haircut, at least temporarily, and the Central Bank of Greece would be returned to parliamentary control.

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All Organizing Is Magic

Sun, 10/27/2019 - 04:28

via Verso

by Sarah Jaffe

Witches are troublemakers.

Specifically, witches cause trouble for capitalism. When Silvia Federici wrote Caliban and the Witch, it wasn’t because witches were having a “moment” but to bring us a history braided into social movements around the world. Witches, she wrote, were “the heretic, the healer, the disobedient wife, the woman who dared to live alone, the obeah woman who poisoned the master’s food and inspired the slaves to revolt.” And the witch-hunts of a world coming under the domination of capitalism were part of the process of dispossession and accumulation, a process that Federici noted “was also an accumulation of differences and divisions within the working class, whereby hierarchies built upon gender, as well as race and age, became constitutive of class rule and the formation of the modern proletariat.”

While the actual practice of witchcraft isn’t the focus of Federici’s book, it is these days the focus of an increasing number of books, Instagram accounts, magazine articles, profiles, and podcasts. More to the point, today’s left movements are home to many who are reclaiming witchcraft, magic, and indigenous spiritual practices that capitalist imperialism attempted to stamp out. The collective practices of a new generation of young people—mainly women, queer-identifying people, and people of color—may or may not have much in common with the practices of people tortured and killed for witchcraft. That’s because, as Federici noted, the witch-hunts “destroyed a universe of practices, beliefs, and social subjects whose existence was incompatible with the capitalist work discipline, thus redefining the main elements of social reproduction.”

Malaya Davis is one of those people. We met when she was organizing with the Ohio Students Association after John Crawford III had been killed in an Ohio Walmart by the local police. I didn’t know at the time that she had just gotten her first tarot deck; she told me, “It was all around the same time that I was exploring my personal spiritual power, and exploring my personal political power.” Her spiritual practice was very personal at the time, she said, while her political work was incredibly public. The realization that the two were intimately connected came later: “I realized ‘we can’t actually get the freedom that we want if we aren’t free within ourselves.’ That looks like a lot of intentional decolonization, including our spiritual practices, including our practice to heal the trauma that’s a result of the systems that we’re actively dismantling.”

Davis practices Ifa, a faith with West African roots, one that felt familiar to her as she began to learn about it. She had been raised Christian, and for a while she had been a “follow the rules kind of girl.” But as she moved out into the world, beginning her organizing work, she decided to follow her own spirit, to do more research and find people who could teach her. “Following the rules was not getting me to a lot of places that I was told I would get,” she said. What she was learning was a way to find her own power—much as she was finding her political power with OSA. As she told me, “It’s not like, you do these things then by the grace of God something will happen, it’s like by the grace of God and your own personal power, things will happen.”

It was that kind of belief that the witch-hunts aimed to crush, because it encouraged rebellion against the emerging capitalist labor process. Belief in magic had to be eradicated, Federici wrote, because magic was a way to get something you wanted without working for it, “a refusal of work in action.” A belief in magic was a belief in an “anarchic, molecular conception of the diffusion of power in the world,” a conception fundamentally at odds with the centralized hierarchical power structure of the boss. Forcing people to submit to wage labor and the discipline of the time-clock first required the discipline of the stake. Though Davis noted that the women punished as witches did work, “It wasn’t work that benefits capitalism. It was work that benefited the community,” she said. “How do we extract the labor from witchcraft? How do we exploit the labor? We can’t, so therefore it’s demonic.”

The emerging proletariat had to be trained to defer gratification; to stifle desire; to value accumulation over expenditure. A belief in magic, instead, centered desires—and their fulfillment—communal and personal, for care and sustenance and protection. It is no surprise, then, that magic is in vogue again just as the old bargains around work are breaking down. For young college graduates like Davis, taught to follow the rules, the promise of a good job has disappeared into the reality of mountains of debt. Work is no longer working. The scrim of freedom and choice dropped over capitalism’s coercion is falling away, and people are reaching for new—and old—ways to make things happen.

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Why Don’t We All Rise Up?

Sun, 10/27/2019 - 04:23

via Upping the Anti

by Élise Thorburn

Thinking About Resistance with Nangwaya and Truscello

Why aren’t people outraged?” is not a question I often ask myself—it seems that outrage is everywhere, overheard in conversations and witnessed in public life. On the other hand, “Where is the collective expression of this outrage? Where is the collective struggle?” are questions that perpetually niggle at my mind. Living on the edges of the continent, in an isolated rocky province with a near unbroken legacy of poverty, a horrifying colonial history and present, and currently in the midst of yet another economic crisis, I often ask where the collective struggle is to fight the existing state of affairs? In times such as these, as dire as they often seem, concerted collective action is notable here for its absence. Why is there no unrest? Why are “the poor” (the vast majority of the province’s population) not “rising up?” And, even if they are, as individuals, what can—and must—organizers do to translate general discontent and anger into sustained collective action? As an often lonely organizer on these shores, I picked up Ajamu Nangwaya and Michael Truscello’s edited collection, Why Don’t the Poor Rise Up? I wanted to see if and how I could apply its myriad lessons to my own struggle in Newfoundland and Labrador (NL)—an isolated province with a small population bearing little politically in common with economic centres like Toronto or Vancouver.

The book’s divisions into two distinct sections—The Global North and The Global South—were the first surprise, in that several of the stories told in the category of the Global South addressed questions and concerns of organizing that seemed more relevant to my experience of organizing on the margins of the Canadian state. But the book, and its 17 chapters plus foreword and introduction, were full of such surprises of the small yet cataclysmic kind. Covering Indigenous struggle, race and policing, Black labour, the alt-right, and anti-poverty movements (in the North section) and anti-poverty, environmental, policing, and healing struggles throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Kenya, Sudan, and South Africa (in the South section), the book is wide ranging and offers new stories if not always new lessons for just about anyone.

The title of Nangwaya and Truscello’s collection comes from a 2015 New York Times op-ed of the same name by Thomas Edsall, a journalist and Columbia University professor. While several of Edsall’s assertions are not wrong—neoliberalism has brought greater levels of individualism, household incomes for working class people have bottomed out while wealthy households’ incomes have skyrocketed—it is the fundamental premise of the assertion, that the poor are not in fact engaged continually in projects of resistance and uprising, that the editors of this collection dispute. Nangwaya and Truscello argue that the framing of Edsall’s question itself asserts a liberal narrative that is fundamentally incorrect and incomplete. And this argument is supported by foreword contributor Affiong Limene Affiong, who asks, “Is it true that the poor do not rise up? Or do we simply not recognise their resistance and rebellions?” (1). Alex Khasnabish addresses this question in his chapter on the radical imagination. He reminds us that asking why they don’t rise up is part of an “endless deferral of responsibility on the part of the socially privileged speaker” (120) and does not implicate oneself in the process of collective liberation. Instead, Khasnabish and several other authors insist we must work to collectively understand what is possible through struggle and what propels and animates movements of resistance. In order to bring these rebellions into recognizable light, Nangwaya and Truscello offer a set of global perspectives “on the ways in which the poor are defined, the forms in which they resist, and the obstacles to mass insurrection” (22). In the end, the collected chapters provide evidence that in fact we do rise up, we have risen up, and we will again rise up, and in so doing charts our collective missteps so that we can, as Samuel Beckett urged, fail again; fail better.

Not wanting to endlessly defer responsibility for resistance, reading this collection made me reflect upon my own place in the world and in struggle. I currently live in NL, a province recently revealed to have the highest levels of income inequality in Atlantic Canada. It is a place geographically removed from the rest of Canada and that physical distance reflects itself in a removed mindset: its rugged landscape populated by those proud of their ability to withstand isolation, barrenness, and an often unrelenting wind. It is also far removed historically and culturally from urban centres in the rest of Canada, only joining the country 69 years ago. This distance makes it a doubly difficult place to organize as a radical, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, settler interested in decolonization. Those who organise in NL perpetually lament the inability to bring more people together due to a lack of familiarity with the tactics of social movements and a lack of history of resistance (outside of the fishery), but also because of the distance felt from centres of political resistance, and the difficulty in connecting what is happening elsewhere to what is (or isn’t!) happening here.

NL is a place with histories of struggle. However, these struggles were often centred on individual or community-wide ways to cope, subsist, and survive rather than giving voice to collective expressions of outrage. Isolated into small coastal communities and at the mercy of merchants for generations, 19th century fishery workers engaged in spontaneous acts of rebellion but little organized resistance. Collective organizing came in the seal fishery in the 19th and 20th centuries—then-socialist Joey Smallwood famously walked the length of the island along the railway tracks organizing rail workers in the 1920s. Certainly organized collective struggle has existed in NL, but it also has a long history of bitter betrayal—Smallwood’s turn on unions in the 1960s, for example—and genocide—the Beothuk people, upon whose land the colony squats, were systematically murdered over the course of colonial settlement. Newfoundland and, even more so, Labrador are peripheral zones of extraction whose Indigenious and settler populations have been contained or put to use in the concentration of wealth central to processes of colonization and capitalist expansion. Organizing for resistance, rebellion, or even revolution at the edge of empire—in the peripheral zones of extraction—has long been a challenge. It is even more so when you live on a remote island with few experienced organiziners or long lineages of radical movements and ideas to draw from. From this chilly rock, amidst so much inequality, so much blatant thievery, racism, and resource extraction it may be easy to sense people’s outrage, but difficult to understand why there isn’t more unrest, more revolt, more “rising up.” Why here—and of course, elsewhere—is capitalism viewed as the only permissible game in town?

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The “Ceasefire” Is a Deadly Fraud: A Message from a Comrade in Rojava

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 03:52

via Crimethinc

The supposed ceasefire announced by US Vice President Mike Pence is a deadly fraud. Its only purpose is to enable the Trump administration to wash its hands of the bloodshed that the Turkish military is perpetrating while shifting the discourse to blame the victims for continuing to resist. If anything, this fake ceasefire is a greater betrayal than Donald Trump’s original decision to give Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan the green light to invade Rojava and carry out ethnic cleansing against the Kurdish people there in the same way he has in Turkey.

The terms of the agreement between Turkey and the US follow this text as an appendix.

Activists blocking the Bay Bridge in San Francisco on Saturday, October 19 in solidarity with the people of Rojava. The banner refers to the saying that the Kurds have “no friends but the mountains.”

By declaring surrender unilaterally on behalf of the people who have been defending themselves against Turkey’s invasion, Trump and Erdoğan are trying to force them to give up the territory that Turkey hasn’t yet been able to occupy by force. The Islamic State (ISIS) and the other jihadi groups that have taken advantage of the Turkish invasion to resume activity won’t respect the ceasefire in any case. The US has pulled its forces out of the area and has no intention of monitoring Turkish aggression, let alone discouraging it. The fact that Trump has used the supposed ceasefire as an excuse to suspend the economic sanctions that other members of the US government demanded he impose on Turkey confirms this clearly enough.

In fact, Turkey has explicitly denied that this represents a truce and the Turkish military and its Syrian mercenary proxies are already violating the ceasefire with impunity. In addition to reports that have reached us direct from the YPJ (Women’s Protection Units), various corporate media sources have reported that the ceasefire has not stopped Turkish forces from continuing to fire on parts of Syria held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF commander in Serêkaniyê reported Friday that more than 40 of their positions had been attacked since the declaration of the so-called ceasefire.

So the ceasefire is a lie.

We fear that as soon as the designated time period expires, Turkey will escalate its attacks on civilians and resistance fighters in the so-called “safe zone.” To the dictionary of Orwellian doublespeak in Syria, alongside “Peace Spring” and “ceasefire,” we can add “safe zone” as a word for killing fields. It’s hard to imagine anything more brazen than killing thousands of people, displacing hundreds of thousands, and enabling jihadis to resume their activity throughout the region and justifying all this on the grounds that it is necessary to defend Turkey from “terrorism.”

As we emphasized last week,

A free Rojava doesn’t threaten the Turkish people; it threatens Erdoğan’s regime and the oppression that Kurdish people face in Turkey. This is an ethno-nationalist war, pure and simple.

Trump is determined to abet all this at any cost in corpses. A Turkish official told CNN, verbatim, the “military operation paid off.” A US government official, speaking more frankly than usual, admitted:

“This is essentially the US validating what Turkey did and allowing them to annex a portion of Syria and displace the Kurdish population… This is what Turkey wanted and what POTUS green lighted. I do think one reason Turkey agreed to it is because the Kurds have put up more of a resistance and they could not advance south any further as a result. If we don’t impose sanctions then Turkey wins big time.”

Rojava solidarity demonstration in San Francisco—Saturday, October 19.

Russia and Assad also want the Syrian Democratic Forces of Rojava to withdraw from the area along the border in order to extend their control into the region. After bombing hospitals and gassing civilians, this imperialist international power and the local tyrant it props up are thrilled to pretend to be peacemakers and to defend “the territorial integrity of Syria.” From the perspective of Russian imperialism, this entire tragedy is simply an opportunity to put all of Syria back under the authority of Assad, a petty despot that tens of thousands have already given their lives in hopes of toppling.

We received the following message from an anarchist in the middle of the war zone in Rojava. It offers a piercing insight into the so-called ceasefire and the consequences this now double betrayal by the United States will have for the embattled fighters and civilians in Rojava.

18th of October, 13:51 local time. Last night, we heard of the breaking news about the vice president of the US meeting with Turkey and deciding that over northeastern Syria there would be a so-called “ceasefire,” a winning agreement that’s a “great day for civilization,” in Trump’s own words.

To me, it reminds me more of what happened in Czechoslovakia in 1938: the Munich Agreement, when Adolph Hitler from Nazi Germany, Benito Mussolini from Fascist Italy, Neville Chamberlain from Great Britain, and Eduoard Daladier from France met over the table in Munich in 1938 and agreed to give Germany the Sudetenland, a 30- to 50-kilometer zone around the border of what used to be Czechoslovakia. According to the agreement, some small parts of territory went to Poland; Slovakia was cut off and became its own fascist republic run by Jozef Tiso; and the rest of what was left of Czechoslovakia, Bohemian Moravia, would be occupied by Germany as something like a protectorate, but not formally annexed as a part of Germany.

What I see happening here is you have Erdogan as Hitler, you’ve got Trump as, say, Chamberlain—or perhaps more like Mussolini, actually, the high capitalist/clear fascist asshole running his country. The Bashar al-Assad regime is kind of like a stronger Slovakia, leading the fascist section of what will form another part of the “secured” Syria; and the Sudetenland is like what Turkey is claiming for their “safe zone.” But instead of calling it the Munich Pact, they call it a ceasefire. It means that the local people, unless they are jihadist Arabs or Turks, will be moved out or “cleansed.” Or, if not, they will live under extremely terrible conditions and many of them will be killed. There will be atrocities, as happened in Afrin and in many places before.

That is what’s going to happen, what this glorious ceasefire supposedly “saving civilization” is about. It legitimizes the Turkish invasion from NATO. Basically, the proposal we rejected a week ago, and what we are fighting for and people are dying on a massive scale to defend, is now being given to Turkey by the US. That means that we can either accept this and lose, or we can keep fighting, but now the fight will now be even harder. It was already nearly impossible in my eyes; but it was a fight for dignity, for the resistance, for the future generations, if not for winning. You know, as they are always saying, “This is for the spirit of struggle, not for the spirit of victory.” And this might be an exact example of this sentence in practice on a big scale.

So we, the people and the fighters here, can either give it to them or we can fight—but this time, not only against Turkey and the jihadists, but also against the whole world, because they’ve made this agreement. The problem—and this is why I’m referring to Munich in 1938—is that in that agreement, no one asked Czechoslovakia what they thought about it; no one brought them to the table. Not that I agree with representation in the first place, but even for the majority of people who recognize democracy as the legitimate representative order or system—even the democratic representatives of Czechoslovakia weren’t brought to the table in Munich, just as they weren’t brought to Ankara yesterday. No one from the Kurds or the Syrians, Armenians, Assyrians, or other people living here was consulted at all.

[Interruption.] They brought another dead body from the front. [Shouts in the background.] This one has clearly been hit by an airstrike… OK, it was a comrade. This was not the first one today, nor the second.

So, coming back to an analysis of the situation: I see a very direct connection to these events in history, with the people who are the most affected and actually living in these areas having no voice and not even having any means of resistance in their hands. None of the means we had until now were great in the first place. To consider this so-called ceasefire as any kind of progress is really exaggerated and hypocritical.

A rally expressing solidarity with Rojava in Flensburg, Germany, outside the headquarters of Rheinmetall, which produces the tanks Turkey is using in its invasion.

All this tragedy only confirms that no government—neither the US nor Russia, neither Syria nor Turkey nor any state government that might have come to power had the Syrian revolution been successful—can be trusted to look out for the human beings who always suffer most as a consequence of politics and militarism. Autonomous social movements grounded in principles of self-determination and solidarity are the only reliable way to oppose military aggression and support struggles for liberation worldwide. We need to make our movements powerful enough to be able to leverage a real threat to governments and corporations that are complicit in invasions like the one that Turkey is carrying out. Developing international connections with social movements on the other side of the battle lines in Turkey and Russia, and everywhere else around the world from Ecuador to South Africa, is an essential part of this. This is not just a question of long-term outreach, but also of doing everything we can to carry out disruptive solidarity actions right now.

Read our call to action, including information about a host of corporations that are complicit in the invasion.

For more information on the intricacies of the situation in Rojava:

Why the Turkish Invasion Matters: Addressing the Hard Questions about Imperialism and Solidarity

The Threat to Rojava: An Anarchist in Syria Speaks on the Real Meaning of Trump’s Withdrawal

Appendix: The Text of the Agreement between Turkey and the US Regarding the Supposed “Ceasefire”


October 17, 2019


  1. The US and Turkey reaffirm their relationship as fellow member of NATO. The US understands Turkey’s legitimate security concerns on Turkey’s southern border.

2.Turkey and the US agree that the conditions on the ground, northeast Syria in particular, necessitate closer coordination on the basis of common interests.

  1. Turkey and the US remain committed to protecting NATO territories and NATO populations against all threats with the solid understanding of “one for all and all for one”.
  2. The two countries reiterate their pledge to uphold human life, human rights, and the protection of religious ethnic communities.
  3. Turkey and the US are committed to D-ISIS/DAESH activities in northeast Syria. This will include coordination of detention facilities and internally displaced persons form formerly ISIS/DAESH-controlled areas, as appropriate.
  4. Turkey and the US agree that counter-terrorism operations must target only terrorists and their hideouts, shelters, emplacements, weapons, vehicles and equipment.
  5. The Turkish side expressed its commitment to ensure safety and well-being of residents of all population centers in the safe zone controlled by the Turkish Forces (safe zone) and reiterated that maximum care will be exercised in order not to cause harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure.
  6. Both countries reiterate their commitment to the political unity and territorial integrity of Syria and UN-led political process, which aims at ending the Syrian conflict with in accordance UNSCR 2254.
  7. The sides agreed on the continued importance and functionality of a safe zone in order to address the national security concerns of Turkey, to include the re-collection of YPG heavy weapons and the disablement of their fortifications and all other fighting positions.
  8. The safe zone will be primarily enforced by the Turkish Armed Forces and the two sides will increase their cooperation in all dimensions of its implementation.
  9. The Turkish side will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to all the withdrawal of YPG from the safe zone within 120 hours. Operation Peace Spring will be halted upon completion of this withdrawal.
  10. Once Peace Spring is paused, the US agrees not to purse further imposition of sanctions under the Executive Order of October 14, 2019, Blocking Property and Suspending Entry of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Syria, and will and consult with Congress, as appropriate, to underline the progress being undertaken to achieve peace and security in Syria, in accordance with UNSCR 2254. Once Operation Peace Spring is halted as per paragraph 11 the current sanctions under the aforementioned Executive Order shall be lifted.
  11. Both parties are committed to work together to implement all the goals outlined in this Statement.

The post The “Ceasefire” Is a Deadly Fraud: A Message from a Comrade in Rojava appeared first on Infoshop News.

Change the World or Change Your Shopping List?

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 03:45

via Commune

by Sergen Canoglu and Nicole Möller González

How often have we heard that the climate crisis is caused by our insatiable consumerism, our lack of environmental concern, rampant population growth, or the inherent selfishness of human nature? At the current rate of consumption, we would need 1.7 planets to sustain our way of life. So to avoid catastrophic climate change, we are counseled to eat vegan, travel less, turn off lights, drive electric cars. Some critics of consumption even believe that our buying habits are to blame for our stress and depression; they argue that we would be happier with less wealth. The solution to our climate emergency, they suggest, is individual willpower. Resisting the urge to consume would not only free us from misery by leading to a “simpler life”; it would also avert ecological disaster.

In the following points, we explain why this logic is grossly inadequate in the fight for climate justice.

1. The Problem Is Production

We are often told that the way to lessen the environmental impact of capitalist production is through ethical consumption. Products are produced only because people buy them; production, therefore, is driven by our desires. But if we really want to get to the root of the climate crisis, we have to go beyond consumption and understand the dynamics of production. This means not only asking who owns the factories and companies, but also understanding what is produced, how, and why.

Capitalism functions in such a way that production in our society must be ever expanding and competitive. The only reason to produce in capitalism is to earn a profit, which is used to accumulate more capital, which is used to earn more profit, and so on. Constant growth is the only way for a capitalist firm to out-compete other firms. Capitalist production thus depends on an ever-growing supply of natural resources and energy, usually in the form of fossil fuels. This is how environmental crises arise. It is actually quite simple: infinite growth (or accumulation) in a finite world is impossible.

In the capitalist system, production is not primarily determined by supply and demand, but by profit maximization, i.e., by maximizing production and thus consumption. The consequences of this logic can be seen in the staggering array of products that exist, many of which are discarded without ever being used. As much as 50 percent of food produced worldwide is thrown away before it even reaches our plates. Any rational or ethical constraints on production are nullified by the imperative to maximize profits.

In addition, a sizable proportion of emissions can be attributed to industries that don’t produce anything useful but instead exist solely to increase the profits of other industries. According to CarbonTrack, the advertising industry is responsible for 2 million tons of CO2 emissions in the UK alone, enough to heat 364,000 homes in the country for a year. Another example is the oil consumption of the US military, which at 100 million barrels a year is the biggest emitter worldwide. Furthermore, commodities are deliberately designed to not last very long, thus stimulating new consumption and generating further profits for corporations while the environment suffers the consequences.

Read more

Banjir Jakarta
Kompas/Hendra A Setyawan (HAS)

The post Change the World or Change Your Shopping List? appeared first on Infoshop News.