We know enough of their dream. Enough to know that they dreamed and they are dead.
- (Paraphrase of W. B. Yeats' "Easter 1916")

Friday, October 24, 2008

Manifeto: I is the Enemy

The incorrect spelling is intentional.

What is “Liberalism’s Hour on the Cross?” Difficult to say as it has the potential to be so many things, but I can tell you what it’s NOT. This is a not a journal of what anarchism is, as much as the symbology would suggest otherwise. I don’t anticipate arguing that “my anarchism is better than your [please choose: monarchy/ socialism/ democracy/ anarchism].” I am not trying to get your kids to pick up bricks and cans of spray-paint and go lay waste to their local Applebee’s, as deserving as their microwaved food is of the treatment. Far from it. I have very little interest in selling anarchism. Indeed, I am not an anarchist; I merely have anarcho-pacifist sympathies.

Nor is this my attempt to demystify the word “socialism,” even as right now it is being used as a dirty word to slander Barack Obama with. I have very strong feelings towards capitalism, but what separates me from mainstream anarchists is that I don’t call for its outright destruction. Instead I call for its gradual transformation. I believe that with strong regulations and a political emphasis on both equality and independence, we can arrive at a more perfect Union, which expresses and champions the rights of the people as a collective, not the individual wealthy.

Similarly, this is not a masturbatory diary of my daily life, about how many pounds of potato salad I eat, or how great it would be if Elvis had indeed, not died. As he did. He most certainly is dead. You should just recognize this fact and move on. But this isn’t about that. Instead, this is my soapbox—a soapbox I will use to talk about political, social, and artistic fancies. Yes, I just said fancies. Get used to it.

Now, before I settle-in, I do feel obligated to explain anarchism (ironic, I know, given what I just said).

The question I hear the most, as someone who sympathizes with anarchism, is usually a simple: “why?” Most conservatives’ gut reaction is to scowl, most liberals’ to laugh. While the question they all ask is why, they should really be asking “what?” I’ve found that many have a mistaken conception of what anarchy really is—myself included, until I studied into it more.

Canned Water

Doesn’t it go against what anarchism stands for, to organize? Hardly; anarchism as a political philosophy has had many strong historical organizations. Including in Spain and in the October revolution—where anarchists and communists jointly overthrew the Czar, to over-simplify. The communists soon betrayed their own ideology, however, and the anarchists that didn’t flee were persecuted, killed, imprisoned, and coerced into joining.

Anarchism now is a splintered movement. There is a myriad of different streams of thought; anarcho-syndicalism, collectivism, communism, pacifism, and more recently feminism and green anarchism. Many share things in common, but they differ on major points. My sympathies lie with the pacifist sect; as I believe violence will never bring about legitimate change, and more often than not will spark a Thermidorian reaction (an outburst of conservative sentiment) among the population.

Crass, Big A, Little a

Leo Tolstoy, who many anarchists look to for philosophical principles, refused to identify with anarchism because of the inherit violence of the times. Anarcho-pacifists take this to heart, and instead follow examples like Mohandas Gandhi, who was a self-identified anarchist (according to George Woodcock). Martin Luther King Jr., who studied Gandhi and his tactics, also used many of the principles that would later be characterized as anarcho-pacifism. These two, Gandhi and MLK, both achieved remarkable change. What has violent anarchy brought us? Not much good, I’ll say that. Thus I agree with the nonviolent protest: demonstrations, sit-ins, hunger strikes, vigils, fringe media—all of these have proven to be effective.

Lucy Parsons

I sympathize with violence being used on occasion. But more often than not, it hurts instead of helps. More to the point, isn’t it counter to what anarchists believe in? When anarchism is simplified, the thing most agree on: individuals freely cooperate together as equals and that there should be no oppressive hierarchy. So what, we just hold off living up to our own anarchist ideals long enough so that we can burn enough cars and magically make the populace fall in love with our philosophy? Then, once we reach that mythical point in the future, then we choose to implement anarchism’s basic creeds? Is that not a form of hypocrisy, too?

Heretofore, Anarchy Has Failed

Heretofore, violent anarchy has failed to establish itself in its own right. I look to successful movements. I look to MLK. I look and I see. I see that, “wow, here is a great analogy to the situation anarchists are in today.” You’ve got the fringe conservatives who want to kill you, you’ve got a whole lot of others who think you’re a murderer or rapist. A violent angry savage. Immature. Isn’t this similar to how anarchists are portrayed in the media? How do you change those minds? You do it like MLK did. It was effective. It worked. It set the groundwork for the future. I would claim that violent anarchists are still fighting the American civil war, I’m fighting segregation. The times have changed, and in the US, and in many European countries, the only way to have a new successful movement is to change with it.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get angry. By all means, get angry. I certainly do. I wouldn’t be active if I wasn’t pissed all the time. You think anarcho-pacifists, or any non-violent protesters, are sitting there thinking “I love you Mr. Cop-man” as he kicks them or sprays chemicals on them? Hell no. That is, I recognize, the dilemma of many anarchists and liberals alike. We care about social justice, to the point that we surround ourselves in it all the time. Yeah, we work with the poor, hell, maybe we are poor. Yeah we get damn pissed when we see a rape victim publicly slandered as being a slut. Yeah we get angry when we read or witness the horrible bum-fighting that goes on. We have every right to be angry... we just don’t have to right to physically take out that anger on someone else. Moreover, we shouldn’t. Because then we become, in a small way at the very least, what we’re fighting against.

In that crowd that gazes down the street at us with admiration while we’re chanting, or behind the smirking faces that laugh as we get on a bus with signs, gear, and shabby clothes; in every one there is a potential convert. Anyone of those people could become us given the right information. I view anarchism—or more broadly, liberalism, as an enlightened state. Not in any spiritual sense—but in the sense that knowledge and empathy can change a person. The knowledge is the catalyst for the empathy, and the empathy for the change. This is why I am a liberal, and this is why I have anarcho-pacifist sympathies.