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Dear Anarchists

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Dear Anarchists,

 

I love you. You are my brethren, my tribe, my people. Your incendiary prose and poetry, your razor-sharp critiques, your brazen, unrelenting defiance inspire and fuel me. Your ideas provoke and challenge me to go further, to not settle for half-hearted reforms and superficial analyses of the problems of modernity. 

 

I am one of you. Ever since I stole that Sex Pistols tape from K-Mart, discovered Crass and got involved with the Do It Yourself ethos of punk rock. Ever since I read Emma Goldman's assertion that it's not my revolution if there is no dancing and joyfulness. Ever since I learned about the Wobblies and the Bread & Roses strikes that happened in the mill-towns of my youth. I sided with Bakunin at the International, and saw (in hindsight, of course) the folly of Marx’s belief that the ‘proletarian state’ would “wither away” after the intermediary transition from Capitalism to Communism. 

 

Anarchists, you are wiser, your music is better, your artists and theorists are more riveting, and you are generally more courageous than others on the Left. I am proud to say I am an anarchist. I will not apologize.

 

All of this is why I am writing this to challenge us further. There has been a tendency in our ranks, which Bookchin correctly noted, to succumb to a superficial analysis, that mistakes spontaneous revolts with organized insurrection. Bookchin called it "life-style anarchism": dress the part, talk the talk, change some consumer habits.  Well, if there is one thing Anarchists do predictably, it is to take ourselves too seriously. It’s both funny and sad that some of us believe that a post-capitalism society is imminent, and that the confrontational tactics of the Black Bloc are what will spark off the revolution. 

 

How many times have we heard this before? Isn't it time to grow up and put this naïve notion to rest, however comforting it may be. I recognize the beauty and power inherent in the idea of revolution. It has a biblical weight, a mythical, poetic quality.  It's a good story, as stories go: somehow people see the light, spontaneously rise up, and everything is utopian and dreamy thereafter. Somehow we shed all our conditioning in the process and learn to live cooperatively for each others benefit. 

 

If we’ve learned nothing else, let us once and forever recognize that the "Revolution" is a myth, a tale, a prophecy not meant to be taken literally. Change is a process not an event. We never fully arrive. We continually evolve and transform; this is what living systems do and it is healthy and interesting. One of the universal truths everyone from the Buddha to science to philosophy has taught us is the truth of change, through impermanence, evolution, or the dialectic. 

 

Perhaps instead of approaching change with a view of having the proper analysis or solutions, we can approach with a set of open questions that serve as guides. As Zen buddhist Shunryu Suzuki puts it, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Cultivating a beginner's mind we may ask such important question as: what actions will lead to the most profound changes to our social structures for the benefit of the largest number of people? In doing so, we cultivate an analysis of our current conditions that is always evolving, and allows us learn from others, past and present, in order to understand how to best facilitate radical transformation. 

 

Anarchists, however, subconsciously pride ourselves on being at the margins, on the fringes (or even outside of) the status quo. Perhaps because we've always felt excluded, we snub our noses at those in the center. But as Foucault and others made us aware, no one operates outside the power structures inherent in modern life. We may pride ourselves on our creation of subcultures that allow us to envision and practice new forms of social and political organization, but this often leads us to become self-satisfied and ineffective as a political force engaged broader transformation and impact. 

 

When we do act, our so-called spontaneous rebellions (re: impulsive) often alienate us from the people we claim to act in solidarity with. We believe it’s because the masses aren’t radicalized and we must agitate them into action. This type of elitism reeks of privilege and arrogance. It also reeks of laziness. A look back to radical movements of the past shows that militancy and actions can (and must if it hopes to be truly revolutionary) have a broad base of support. For example the Black Panthers, garnered widespread community support while taking militant and confrontational actions. In fact, it was really once they started building this broad base that the CIA saw them as a real threat.  

 

We spend an inordinate amount of energy and time in-fighting and blowing air, and too little organizing beyond our circles. It’s good to push the envelope of progressives analysis, but how many more pamphlets and tactical briefings are we going to put forth before we start actually talking to people and building connections? Our ancestors, whatever their faults, put to work Paulo Freire's notion of praxis, that is building theory in the act of organizing people, not in an abstract vacuum, like many of today's theorists. We've become attached and inflexible in our ideologies (those who even admit having one). We are dogmatic in our adherence to tactics and action, and spend little time developing and promoting any vision, strategy or goals.  As Eve Libertine said: “What vision is left, and is anyone asking?”  Why do we do this? "Because that's too limiting", we say. Bullshit! We are scared to take steps for which we would have to be accountable and responsible. When we place ideology before principles and ethics, we pave the quickest path towards a proto-fascist zealotry. Out parasitic behavior, jumping in at protests and marches we do not organize, using the crowds cover to go on confrontational escapades, while remaining indifferent of the larger goals or strategies of the movements.  

 

Then we get pissed and throw tantrums when people don't approve of property destruction or police provocation.  We say they are being divisive, that they are not respecting a diversity of tactics. In our minds and hearts, we believe that engaging in tactics that are more radical and courageous. If we are so radical and courageous, why insist on taking action under the cover of large protests and marches? If we really feel these are the most efficacious tactics why not develop groups to take this project on?  At least anarchists of the past conducted acts of sabotage apart from protests. They understood strategy and timing, and choose not act as provocateurs or endanger the lives of others. My point is not whether such tactics are legitimate or illegitimate. My point is to question their effectiveness when done with no premeditated thought or strategy. Many anarchists have lost sight that for resistance to be effective it must move beyond spontaneity and become cohesive and strategic, however unsexy that may seem to the immature drive to simply act-out.  

 

There is a war being waged on the planet, on life and liberty, by a dictatorship of the corporate states, by the cancerous ideology of capitalism. We are naïve if we think that adopting the strategies of militarism and warfare is the way out. I too feel rage in my cells, but I temper this with the knowledge that I am acting to preserve life and must temper rage with compassion and love, if I am not to create more violence and discord in the world. We must be skillful, mindful, act with true allegiance if we want to build a new world, a new body of relations, a real spirit of mutual aid. How we fight will dictate the culture of the world we are building. As anarchists we know this, and as such have always fought against the hierarchical and elitist tendencies of the Left. Let's not become the evil we abhor. 

 

Anarchists, champions of liberty and freedom, herald of mutual aid and self-governance, I say to you: do not to settle for splashing about in small puddles, make waves in the great seas! We can and must do greater things; go forth and organize. Believe in a world beyond masters and slaves, beyond rich and poor! Bring it forth in communion with others, respecting the richness of our varied traditions, refusing to remain in self-imposed ghettos! 

 

In solidarity,

Marlo Pedroso

 

 

 

Discussion 26 Comments

  • James Wilson 19th May 2012

    "One thing flows into another and cannot be grasped.
    Before the rain stops we hear a bird.
    Even under the heavy snow we see snowdrops and some new growth.
    In the East I saw rhubarb already.
    In Japan in the spring we eat cucumbers."
    Shunryu Suzuki

    Thanks for reminding me Marlo.

  • Kim Keyser 19th May 2012

    What a wonderful ethos this piece has! :)

    "We can and must do greater things; go forth and organize"

    I totally agree.

  • Paulo Rodriguez 19th May 2012

    Mario, that was simply spot on. Cheers!

  • Martin Ravneberg 19th May 2012

    Amen!

  • John Varga 19th May 2012

    THANK YOU, Mario!

  • Poppy Lewis 20th May 2012

    Wow! Reading this has given me much inspiration to learn and become more active. Power to the people! Thanking you kindly for your words of wisdom and vision. Together we can organise and create a new future. We are sowing the seeds now...and growing. We need to end poverty and suffering and make the world a fairer place to be. We need to overthrow elitism and capitalism and step by step communicate our plans. Im not sure how but memories have been triggered for me from when I was struggling to make ends meet...Imagine a world with no money... it's not difficult is it? In Manchester England a long time ago(20 years!) when me and my partner had no money we were fortunate to be part of a group named " Bobbins" in short it was a bartering system where we shared our skills, swapped our trades. So someone may make me bread and I may teach her child to read, someone may fix my computer and I may make a blanket etc...my point is we can help each, humanity does exist. Cheers - for your words Marlo. Comrades unite.

  • Conor Ó Daighre 20th May 2012

    Nicely put, Mario.
    No more sectarianism. No more self-imposed ghettos.
    Let us unite and not be afraid to win!

  • 20th May 2012

    Love this!

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 21st May 2012

    Great text, Marlo. Maybe there should be a a Zen Anarchist project at IOPS? Or would that be putting legs on a snake, beating a drum in search of a fugitive, the boring sound of two hands clapping instead of one?

  • Marlo Pedroso 21st May 2012

    Thanks all for the words of encouragement. I'm just starting to write in public forums, so it is wonderful to get such positive feedback.

    In response to the Zen Anarchist idea, this actually one of my goals, that is: to bring together the best of the Left with the best of Buddhist/spiritual theology and practices. My blog below hints at this, though I am still developing my thinking on this subject. I recently encountered the work of Joanna Macey, who is already radically transforming my thinking on these topics. If any of you have recommendations for further reading on this subject, please let me know.

    For a long time, the left adamantly discarded all spiritual insights due to the crimes/limitations of organized religion. While this was understandable in it's context, I think the current era calls for a fresh engagement with spiritual concerns, rather than ignoring or discarding the existential realities spirituality addresses. I feel that Buddhist philosophy and practices can take us in an emancipatory and radical direction sympathetic with Left politics.

    http://buzzandhowl.wordpress.com/

    • Peter Lach-Newinsky 21st May 2012

      Marlo, in response to your request for further readings on the subject, here are some of my favourites (I'm 63, so some of it is older...BTW Did a great Despair and Empowerment workshop with Joanna Macy in Sydney in 97...).

      Gary Snyder, 'Buddhism and the Coming Revolution' (in Earth House Hold 1969) and many comments of his in interviews
      F. Eppsteiner (ed.), The Path of Compassion. Writings on Socially Engaged Buddhism 1988
      A. H. Badiner (ed.), Dharma Gaia. A Harvest of Essays in Buddhism and Ecology 1990
      K. Jones, The Social Face of Buddhism. An Approach to Political and Social Activism 1989
      K. Jones, Beyond Optimism. A Buddhist Political Ecology 1993
      D. Rothberg, The Engaged Spiritual Life. A Buddhist Approach to Transforming Ourselves and the World 2006

      In addition, old American radical and situationist Ken Knabb has an interesting critique of Socially Engaged Buddhism ('Strong Lessons for Engaged Buddhists') reprinted in his stimulating book Public Secrets (1997) and also available at his great website The Bureau of Public Secrets.

      Have also always found Krishnamurti's talks on radical awareness and the need for total revolution very useful, as are the talks by his most engaged student Vimala Thakar (e.g. in her Towards Total Transformation 1970 and Mutation of the Mind 1966).

      Some of this is probably on the net these days. Hope this may help.

  • 21st May 2012

    Secular/atheist buddhists:
    http://www.stephenbatchelor.org/index.php/en/
    My gurus. Going on another 10 day silent retreat with them in July.

  • 21st May 2012

    Sorry, faulty link:

    http://www.stephenbatchelor.org/index.php/en/

  • 21st May 2012

    Also see Donald Rothberg. His book The Engaged Spiritual Life is very helpful:

    http://www.donaldrothberg.com/

  • Alex Delp 21st May 2012

    Thank you for writing this. I needed to hear it. I have been so discouraged lately, even becoming embarrassed of calling myself an Anarchist. But I say it now again, loudly and with pride.

    Relevent:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0ddOmzQlgY

    :D

    Anarchy and Peace, comrade

  • Poppy Lewis 22nd May 2012

    I like the sound of Zen Anarchism! One of my favourite anarchists had to be Emma Goldman, what a woman.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emma_Goldman

    Poppy

  • Poppy Lewis 22nd May 2012

    Mmmmmm.... that link doesn't work!

  • Marlo Pedroso 22nd May 2012

    Great stuff! Thanks everyone.

  • Caragh du Toit 23rd May 2012

    Yeeehaaaa- On the day I decide to learn to sit zazen I read this wonder! Blessings comrade - strength and purity and wild smiles at awkward times.

  • 23rd May 2012

    Yes: Joanna Macy is great.

    Her latest text, Active Hope, is a lovely resource.

    Her website:
    http://www.joannamacy.net/

  • 23rd May 2012

    Also explore:

    http://www.audiodharma.org/

  • 23rd May 2012

    And:

    http://www.tricycle.com/

    • 23rd May 2012

      (Apologies for posting these individually, but this is the only way I know to overcome the link bug.)

  • Erin Eldridge 24th May 2012

    Excellent post, Marlo!

  • Abram Spritzler 1st Feb 2013

    EXCELLENT indeed!! You got to keep writing my friend!

    if people want to check out something about building broad based support, and winning the class war, read (but then in person discuss with friends and neighbors and me ) http://www.newdemocracyworld.org/revolution/Thinking.pdf

    If anyone wishes, please contact me and we can talk - in person even (whoa!). I attend a weekly casual dinner/discussion at a cheap restaurant every Tuesday in Somerville. give me a shout and i will throw you the info, come on down!

    thanks to all for being on the site and working for a better world. -Abe