Monday, December 28, 2009

Taking ourselves seriously... a serious response

Anarchist strategy is something which has preoccupied a lot of my thought and practice this year — partly through becoming involved in a new anarchist collective, and partly because, like all of us, I often wonder what I could be doing with myself to further the collective struggle in bringing about a different kind of world. This same question is posited in the opening address of ‘Taking Ourselves Seriously’, so it is with excitement that I’d like to share some collective positions myself and others have come to with regard to this question. I hope to address some of the issues that all four speakers put forward, mainly framed around the notion of ‘marginalisation’, and ‘sites of struggle’. Through looking at these topics I hope to put forward strategies which I think may be beneficial in pursuing, and touch on what I think the key element to constructive action is, namely forms of struggle which encourage the building of ‘dual power’.

The panelists illustrate a desire for movement away from action-based activism with no coherent structure, towards a more constructive anarchism. I think this is a worldwide trend, where ineffectual black bloc action and Crimethink-style anarchism is being eclipsed by a return to ‘classical’ or ‘class struggle’ anarchism — what is termed by Schmidt and van der Walt in ‘Black Flame’ as the ‘broad anarchist tradition’.

Josh MacPhee talks about mining history, and questions whether or not what we are mining is effective. While he is specifically talking about graphics, the same question applies to anarchist strategy. It seems for many anarchists, not much ‘mining’ has gone on at all — there seems to be a real lack of knowledge around our own history of mass-based anarchism. Unfortunately, it may be because this kind of struggle (as Cindy points out) can seem both boring and bland due to outcomes not being entirely visible or felt. Yet long-term community and workplace struggle is the work we need to be doing as anarchists, in a way that transcends generational burnout and is outside of our radical milieu.

How do we escape our anarchist ghettos and make the jump from isolated experiments to struggle for mass social transformation? Ideas are put forward throughout the talk, such as more public discourse, linked spaces and an understanding on what we want anarchism to become. Yet these ideas still presume an outsider position with regard to struggle. While this is understandable due to our current marginalisation, I would put like to put forward that we look back — to moments of struggle where our ideas were accepted and practiced by a large minority, if not a majority, of the radical left and the labour movement in general.

The key, as Maia points out, is figuring out and identifying the sites of intervention around us. Yet how can we intervene when we are more often than not located outside mainstream society, or more specifically, the workplace? Maia talks about dropping out in such a way that enables future effective struggle, yet it’s the very notion of dropping out that I think negates our effectiveness. This is not a dig an Maia, but an illustration of her own observation that we tend to be comfortable in the margins of society. What is needed is not a more effective way of evading capitalist social relations but an immersion into and confrontation with them — sites of struggle not outside of capitalism (and not through attempts to 'escape' it), but within and amongst it. And not immersion in the sense of getting involved in an existing mass struggle with the ‘correct line’ and then leaving, but instead to build and help shape that mass struggle in a way that practices what we preach, from the outset, and through it's many twists and turns. How to do this? I hope to illustrate below that it is the methods and forms of anarcho-syndicalism, namely radical workplace action and community assemblies, that we need to be building.

I have to disagree with the strategy Joshua advocates: while worker’s self-management and more ethical forms of capitalist economics now is worthwhile, it is premised on the idea that capitalist relations can be transcended while within a capitalist society — something that leads to: a) a successful business model fostering the notion of gradual and peaceful change without challenging or confronting capitalism, and/ or B) permanent entrenchment within a system that ultimately cannot and will not be reformed. What we need is self-managed struggle, not more successful models of capitalist existence. This is nothing new: any reading of Bakunin, Kropotkin, or the recent debate on about co-operatives illustrates my point a thousand times more succinctly than I could.

Sites of intervention
So, where are the sites of intervention we should engage in? In short, the workplace — in connection with the wider community. Our biggest success in the past, as anarchists, has been when our ideas have been accepted and practiced in workplace and community struggle. It is these sites of struggle which have, or have come close to, destabilising and smashing capitalism through the power we hold as producers. This is not to transplant tactics of a bygone era onto today’s world, but to learn and engage with strategies that were effective. Nor am I advocating we all get factory jobs. I am simply pointing out that this kind of struggle has been done before — we don’t need to re-write the book, but add a new chapter.

Although the nature of capitalism has changed — invisible markets, highly decentralised capital, out-source and casualised labour — the classical analysis of producer power is still relevant. It is in these sites of struggle that action can really be effective, not through pure discourse, but praxis — struggles structured in such a way that fosters self-organisation and the building of alternatives through resistance. What I understand this as is ‘dual power’. The collective I am part of has this to say about dual power:

“Dual power is the idea that the embryo of the new world must be created while fighting the current one; ‘building the new in the shell of the old’. It means encouraging working class organs of self-management, where we can exercise our autonomy and restrict the power of boss and government until such time as we can confront and abolish both. A dual power strategy is one that directly challenges institutions of power and at the same time, in some way, prefigures the new institutions we envision. Therefore, it not only opposes the state, it also prepares for the difficult confrontations and questions that will arise in a revolutionary situation.”

The key to building dual power is coherent strategy and structure, or more specifically, structures which ‘encourage working class organs of self-management’ which challenge and confront the power of the state. Ethical, self-managed businesses do not confront the state. Instead, radical, revolutionary and ultimately threatening dual power could be built through structures such as industrial networks and mass, community assemblies.

Examples of dual power in practice
Here I’m directly quoting from our collective strategy, which has been drafted through experience and in light of worldwide examples of successful, class-based action.

Industrial networks are a structure by which revolutionary industrial unions and other forms of libertarian workplace organisation can be created. An industrial network is a network of workers who support the ideas of anarcho-syndicalism, namely direct action, solidarity, collective decision making and self-organisation. The role of this network would be to call for workplace assemblies, argue for direct workers control of struggle by these mass assemblies, promote direct action and solidarity, put across anarchist ideas, and build organs of dual power.

Community assemblies take a similar form as above, but based in the wider community. It is the building of forums by which we can raise issues that affect our working class communities, and provide a means of solving them. As such, it is a means of directly involving local people in the life of the community and collectively solving the problems facing us as both individuals and as part of a wider society. Politics, therefore, is not separated into a specialised activity that only certain people do, or a specialised workplace existing as an island within capitalism.

The community assembly is the mass assembly of its members, practicing direct democracy in struggle. By organising our own forms of direct action (such as tax strikes, rent strikes, environmental protests and so on) we weaken the state while building dual power. Again, the structure is as important as the issues at hand.

In these ways, a grassroots movement from below can be created, with direct democracy and participation becoming an inherent part of a local political culture of resistance, with people deciding things for themselves directly and without hierarchy. The combination of community assemblies and industrial networks will be the key to abolishing the current order, and to create an anarchist communist society. These forms of struggle allow us to become accustomed to managing our own affairs and seeing that an injury to one is an injury to all.

In this way, revolutionary dual power can be created, not from outside, but from within, and together. As Sam Dolgoff said in 'The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society': "To forge a revolutionary movement, which, inspired by anarchist ideas, would be capable of reversing this reactionary trend, is the task of staggering proportions. But therein lies the true relevance of anarchism."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Taking ourselves seriously

A talk given at Bluestockings Books in New York, New York on Sunday, October 18, 2009 by members of the Institute for Anarchist Studies with Josh MacPhee, Maia Ramnath, and Joshua Stephens. Anarchism has become a widely espoused organizational practice in radical American communities, but many anarchists seem to revel in the margins and are prone to dismissing their own potential. Join our panelists for a discussion of the long haul of social transformation as we work toward an egalitarian, directly democratic society.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Art and activism

CLICK HERE to watch the video! An old talk/slideshow by Zoe and I at Pecha Kucha, looking at things like art, 'activism' and what it means to be an anarchist making 'art'. Just remembered about it and thought I'd post it up. Merry christmas.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What Would Jesus Buy? December film night!

Beyond Resistance presents (in true Christmas spirit): What Would Jesus Buy?

What Would Jesus Buy? follows Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir as they go on a cross-country mission to save Christmas from the Shopocalypse: the end of mankind from consumerism, over-consumption and the fires of eternal debt!

From producer Morgan Spurlock (SUPER SIZE ME) and director Rob VanAlkemade comes a serious docu-comedy about the commercialization of Christmas. Bill Talen (aka Reverend Billy) was a lost idealist who hitchhiked to New York City only to find that Times Square was becoming a mall. Spurred on by the loss of his neighborhood and inspired by the sidewalk preachers around him, Bill bought a collar to match his white caterer’s jacket, bleached his hair and became the Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping.

Since 1999, Reverend Billy has gone from being a lone preacher with a portable pulpit preaching on subways, to the leader of a congregation and a movement whose numbers are well into the thousands.

Through retail interventions, corporate exorcisms, and some good old-fashioned preaching, Reverend Billy reminds us that we have lost the true meaning of Christmas. What Would Jesus Buy? is a journey into the heart of America – from exorcising the demons at the Wal-Mart headquarters to taking over the center stage at the Mall of America and then ultimately heading to the Promised Land … Disneyland.

Watch the trailer here:

Food, drinks and childcare will be provided, so come on down and join your local anarchists as part of our monthly film nights at the WEA! Zines, books and more will also be available on the night.

Thursday 17th December. Doors open: 6.30pm. Film starts: 7pm.
WEA (59 Gloucester Street), Otautahi/Christchurch.

Koha entry.