21st Century Anarchism…Part 1

During the 2005 World Social Forum in Brazil, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez helped put socialism back on the geopolitical menu by declaring himself in favor of “socialism for the 21st century.” He claimed that his previous belief in a “third way” between capitalism and socialism was mistaken, and he envisioned a new path toward socialism that would not repeat the mistakes of failed past experiments. In a climate of deep and accelerating disillusionment with neoliberal capitalism, a major world leader made the “S-word” a little bit safer to say, and he fired up the imagination of millions who saw the possibility of a new direction for Latin America and the world.

Chávez’ words fired me up, too, along with so many of his speeches and declarations since. As I have gushed about many times on this blog, the Venezuelan/Latin American process toward socialism is no joke; there is something real happening there, and it fills me with a deep, warm hope. There is no question that they are doing it their own way, with all of the questions, and blunders, and contradictions that it entails. Indeed, all over Venezuela, South America, the global south, and the world, people are carrying out experiments in participatory democracy, and in community and worker control of resources. As the long winter of U.S. imperialism gives way to a multi-polar spring, these experiments are poised to bloom like thousands of beautiful flowers. Chávez’ words were a powerful recognition of this visionary reality, and a vital endorsement (many would say co-optation) of its revolutionary potential. For me personally, they made me feel like I wasn’t crazy for being a radical.

But this brings up a simple but very dangerous problem that I want to confront here. It’s the problem of–to use Tom Cruise’s fluid and profound Scientology vocabulary–Spectatorism. It does very little good to simple watch and romanticize and ooh and aah about the struggles and victories of folks across the world. One should not only maintain a critical eye for the differences between rhetoric and reality, but more importantly, one should use the inspiring examples of others to push against one’s own edges (what that wonderful man Paulo Freire called one’s “limit situations”) and grow to new levels of revolutionary work. I don’t want to be only a spectator of the beautiful work of the Venezuelan revolution, or of the Zapatistas, or of the militant South Korean trade unions, or of U.S. groups like INCITE! or Critical Resistance. I don’t want to be just a revolutionary consumerist, reading my Left Turn and listening to my Blue Scholars while I rent eye-opening documentaries on Netflix.

While I am still here sharing this life with you, while my mind still feels clear and my hands, feet and body still serve me, while my bank account is healthy and while I feel so much love and support from so many directions, I want to be of use. I want to make as big as contribution as I can. And when or if all of those things go, I want to still contribute just as much, if not more.

If Chávez’ speech is just greeted with a spectator’s excitement (or boredom or cynicism), then it is guaranteed to become what some fear: another example of revolutionary work being co-opted by top-down leaders at the expense of authentic grassroots democracy. But if Chávez’ speech is greeted as a challenge, as an invitation (whether intended by Hugo or not) to make our mark and give our 2 cents to the revolutionary project, then we can really get somewhere. I choose the latter. And here I want to confront my Spectatorism a little bit by talking about how we can build (in fact, are building!!!) a 21st century anarchism in the U.S. that can parallel the Bolivarians’ 21st century socialism.

(To be continued…)

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi