This weekend, like so many times before, I was drawn into a couple of conversations with non-activist folks about what “the anarchists” have done in Seattle. May Day hiijinks, street fighting, smashed bank windows, all those bandanas and balaclavas. I trot out all my weathered and withered replies: that those tactics don’t represent my style of anarchism; that I think they are immature, but that they also aren’t “terrorism” or usually even “violence” exactly; that the criminality of street fighting or black blocs is trivial in comparison to the daily criminality of the system; that I will support legal defense for such folks, though I lament how it distracts us in the movement. Again, and again.
And then we don’t even talk about anarchism again until some other smashy media spectacle months or years from now. Cue my responses one more time.
So, why am I an anarchist, then, if I don’t see myself at all in the current public face of anarchism? Why do I settle for just being an apologist for what I believe are losing tactics? What am I getting out of this, anyway? When is it time to cut the cord, and grow up from a philosophy that tends to always skew to the younger set? Why do I keep sitting at the anarchist table, when so many other bigger kids have changed seats?
It’s pretty remarkable how quickly my answer comes, and how simple it is. Because anarchism is my philosophy. That’s it. To say anything different would be an opportunistic lie.
I believe in this thing, in this idea. The core beliefs of anarchism–of social anarchism, of anti-authoritarian anti-capitalism, of libertarian communism–still guide and inspire me. Anarchism’s basic analysis of power still holds strong for understanding both the travesties and opportunities of society. The anarchist legacy–flawed though it is–of the Spanish revolution, of the First International, of Emma Goldman, the IWW, of Dorothy Day, of Gustav Landauer and Peter Kropotkin, is a legacy that I am proud to be a part of. For me to try and change the name while keeping the ideas is just playing into baiting and historical forgetting. For me to dump the ideals all together would just be betrayal of who I am. Seriously, what else do I want to claim to be? A Democrat? Some vague progressive? A plain vanilla socialist? None of these come close to the richness that I find in anarchism’s potential…a potential that still remains dormant in the 21st century.
Nope, I’m not going to give up on the word. I’m certainly not going to abandon it to the whims of whatever insurrectionists or smashy-types who want to throw it around. They can go ahead and keeping working with the word, too, because…yeah…all that hooligan stuff is part of the historical tradition as well (including that legacy that I mentioned above). I’m sticking around with anarchism in spite of the elitist crusties and all the the security-culture let’s-make-everyone-else-less-secures, not because of them; but at the same time, I’m not too scared of guilt by association.
But if I’m gonna stick with the word anarchism, I can’t just keep being an occasional apologist for what I see as crappy manifestations of it. I…better say we…we’ve got to go public with an actually different position, a reason why we keep siding with anarchism despite such tactically bankrupt nonsensery. If anarchism is something more than the same old bricks and windows, simplistic chants, and shallow promises of immediate revolutionary gratification–then what is that something else, and how do we let it manifest itself now? What are the other options?
Please don’t tell me that the only other option is the quiet, reluctant example of all those thousands of “mature” anarchists who are doing indispensable work on the reformist and non-profit sidelines. Yeah, yeah, I know about all them because I’m one of them–but that can’t be our great anarchist alternative to the street fighting. “We’re anarchists: we do liberals’ work even more energetically and effectively than them, but we sure have a mighty fine self-critique while we do it.” C’mon, can’t we do better?
No. My kind of anarchists, the anarchists who–in my opinion–really take winning seriously, need to start getting more public. More groups. More literature. More interventions in pop culture…and more toe-to-toe interventions with the smashy-kids to share some of our experience–as condescending as that sounds, and is.
Easier said than done, sure. And sure I’ve said this dozens of times before. Okay, what’s next, then, Jeremy the Grouch?