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!