November 2009

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Capitalism, A Love Story, and Anarchist Organizing

Writing my last post has got me thinking about all sorts of possibilities, which was exactly my intention in writing it. When I post on this blog, I think I somehow give myself permission to think more intensely, to feel more honestly, and to engage more profoundly with the relationships in my life. So I’m glad that I took the step and wrote some stuff out.

And tonight I finally saw Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, and it’s got me thinking even more. If you are a radical in the U.S., I’m sorry, but I think you have to see it. Not because it’s so super good or anything, but because I think it’s important. A major media presence is repeatedly claiming that capitalism is a deep social evil. Not just once. But repeatedly. Talking with priests about it. Criticizing propaganda that teaches to the contrary. And pretty much outright encouraging folks to look more into socialism. That is a major cultural happening. As we can see, the red scare is finally, perhaps deeply breaking, particularly among young people. Thanks, Mike, for helping out.

But what’s really interesting to me about the movie is thinking about anarchist responses to it, and to the crisis and community reactions to the crisis that the movie is talking about. I’m noticing a reluctance among some anarchist I know to really delve into these more straightforward economic issues like foreclosures, layoffs, etc. Maybe it’s a fear of staying in that class reductionist framework of organizing. Or perhaps they worry about just jumping in to the “issue of the day” like the Socialist parties do, thus exploiting people in their struggles. These are both good things to be wary of, but I think we do have to admit that this is an important historical moment to be talking and organizing around the economy. In new and intersectional ways, of course, but in ways that speak clearly and elegantly about the class struggle that really does exist.

I’m thinking hard about what I’d like our Seattle branch to be organizing around, and I’m enjoying it. Right now I’m leaning towards something related more explicitly to the economy, but maybe I’ll shift elsewhere tomorrow. I’m not sure. Hopefully I’ll come back soon and write more about it here…it’ll keep my energy up!

On the verge of a big new organizing project…

So, I’m a member of a regional anarchist organization here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s called Common Action. When it was founded and when I joined, it was called Class Action Alliance, but the majority of us thought that name sounded too class reductionist, conjuring images of the old left shirtless white male worker swinging the big hammer and all that. The name change was just one of many instances of growth that we’ve gone through as an organization in our first year of existence that has given me a profound sense of hope in this particular grouping of radical people. I think we’re on to something here.

And this week we just had our Seattle branch meeting, and we came to the agreement that it’s time for us to engage in a common project, or a common focus, or even in a common campaign. You know, common action. For a long time, we’ve been doing a lot of internal and structural work. We’ve been doing a lot of consciousness raising events in the community that have built quite a bit of goodwill with fellow radical and progressive groups in the region. And now it looks like we’re ready for a new level of organizing together. Yes!

But the question is what? And how? What is the most valuable type of political struggle for organized anarchists to be doing? How does it differ from organizing that is done by groups from other political tendencies? And if it’s not different, then what is the point of even labeling it as anarchist? These are questions we have discussed frequently in our branch and in our whole organization, but now it’s time to try putting some of those concepts to the test.

Within our particular tendency of anarchism, there is a lot of talk about “social insertion” within mass struggles. That is, engaging humbly and fully within non-anarchist spaces of struggle, so that anarchism’s very practical and principled ideas can be put to use directly at the grassroots. I agree with this tendency, except I have a lot of questions about this notion of “mass struggle.” What is mass struggle in contemporary U.S. society? The anti-war movement? The climate change reform movement? Anti-austerity movements within poor communities? Obama supporters and the netroots? It’s tricky. What if the greatest political potential, the potential for really creative and innovative action, doesn’t exist within current “mass struggles?” Do we hold off on those ideas because they didn’t emerge from a grassroots, non-anarchist base? Or is that kind of idea a fetishization and exotification of “ordinary” people, and their historical destiny to spontaneously spin mass movements out of their own initiative? What about the fact that most of the “mass struggles” we see in U.S. society are actually the products of highly professionalized and well-funded reform groups that are already geared heavily toward policy advocacy and engagement with people in power? What is the anarchist contribution there? There are lots of smart people debating these ideas, as always, and I think it’ll do me some good to start reading more in the radical section of my personal library again…no more liberal progressive mish-mush for awhile, Jeremy.

We won’t have a decision for a little while, and then from there the actual planning and development of the project will take even longer, but even these initial brainstorming conversations are invigorating. Do I finally get to actually try out some of my long-held ideas about praxis, community education, and dual power? It’s a like a dream come true.

And I can tell you now, I have my own ideas unfolding out of the cracks of my mind, and forming into some pretty cool visions. Hopefully I’ll take the time to work out some of those ideas here.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi