‘General’ Category Archives
by aragorn in General
or what are we to do about Maoism
One of the reasons that anarchism has become a popular political perspective is because in many contexts (for instance mass mobilizations or broad direct action campaigns) we seem open, friendly, and nonsectarian. This is in great contrast to visible (and visibly) Marxist or Leftist organizations, which either seem like newspaper-selling robots or ancient thorny creatures entirely out of touch with the ambivalence of the modern political atmosphere. Anarchists seem to get that ambivalence and contest it with hope and enthusiasm rather than finger-wagging.
The public face of anarchism tends towards approachability and youth: kids being pepper sprayed, the general assemblies of the occupy movement, and drum circles. These are the images of the past five years that stand in contrast to the image of anarchists as athletic black clad window breakers. Both are true (or as true as an image can be) and both demonstrate why a criticism of anarchists continues to be that (even at our best) we are politically naïve.
Of course very few window breakers believe that breaking windows means much beyond the scope of an insurance form or a janitorial task, but that is beside the point. What matters is that the politics of no demands makes the impossible task of intelligent political discourse in America even more complicated (by assuming that discourse is a Pyhrric act). To put the issue differently, the dialectical binary of both engaging in the social, dialogic, compromising act of public politics while asserting that there is no request of those-in-power worth stating or compromising on isn’t possible. It is cake-and-eat-it thinking that is exactly why Anarchists must do what Anarchist must do1.
This rejection of how the game is played while participating in it hasn’t shown itself to be a long term strategy– impossible never is. For lessons on playing the game we have to turn to the winners of politics and revolution: neoliberalists, sure, but also statist Marxists, reactionaries (from racist populists to nationalist Know Nothings or their descendants in the Tea Party), and what remnants exist of the old and new Left. Just to make the point crystal clear I’ll restate it. On the one hand you have the ridiculous non- or even anti-strategy of anarchist political theater that cannot achieve the impossible goal of everything for everybody forever. On the other hand you have realpolitik: the pragmatic application of power in the political sphere. This simplistic dualism is why most intelligent people abandon politics altogether and retreat to NIMBYism (at best) or the quiet solitude of screaming at a television screen as the only expression of engagement with the outside world.
In this light, a discussion about maoism might seem outrageous and it is! Maoism isn’t a relevant political tendency or movement in America. It isn’t leading guerrilla forces in the hills, it has no leaders-in-waiting just outside the border (unless you count Avakian which you should in no way do), but it isn’t further from the mainstream of American political thought than Anarchism is (anarchist big tent populists to the contrary) and is arguably much closer (in an often cited example, the mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan, is a former Maoist). More pointedly, Maoism and Anarchism have been cross-pollinating for decades. Our task here is to shine a light on that history and challenge what benefits anarchists have garnered from this little-discussed pollination.
A defense of anarchism
One may pause here to consider the goal of defending anarchism against Maoism (or any other ideology of the left). Why bother? Isn’t anarchism exactly as irrelevant as these other 19th century ideas? Yes and no. If you are talking about the fights within the First International about what form the revolutionary party will take (secret or public), or the composition of the most advanced working class groups (craftsmen or factory), than yes, absolutely. Even if you are talking about the integrated partisans of the Spanish Civil War, then the term has declined into the merely historical. Of interest perhaps, primarily because of the optimism and ferocity of it’s partisans, but really a demonstration of a good liberal university education and not much else.
If, on the other hand, anarchism is the term used to describe an open-ended theory that will not, cannot, be set in stone until the day of days, because it isn’t named after a man, because it is named after negation, because it is impossible, then no. In its hostile negative anarchism is a well suited expression of our time.
As anarchism is the theory that we are the ones who directly engage with life, not representatives (whether politicians, NGOs, or community leaders), not systems of control (statistical, bureaucratic, or functional), and not specialists in freedom (authors, etc), then we embrace it. We doubly embrace it if somehow this engagement with life also means the absolute destruction of the system-as-it-is but we know that this destruction–whether called revolution, evolution, or communization–is not guaranteed or even likely in our lifetime. This means that our theory interfaces with the reality of politics and other people every day but without the burden of the correct revolutionary ideology that has in no way been more successful than anarchism, just more bloody.
A little history
I’ll leave it to others to do an accurate and deep review of the history of Maoism in the US since the end of the Vietnam War and how it has melted into the firmament of Cultural Studies programs and the counter-cultural left (by way of Refuse and Resist, No Business As Usual, the October 22 Coalition Against Police Brutality, Not In Our Name, the World Can’t Wait, etc). My task is to show that there is a weave of relationships rather than to make something functional out of that weave. In the Bay Area the vigor of Maoism as a viable political ideology is entirely due to two factors: the Black Panther Party and the RCP.
While the depth of Maoist politics in the BPP is largely locked up in unreported meetings and allegations that the BPP did a bang up business selling Little Red Books in the late 60s, the Maoist trappings of the BPP aren’t in question. We have to contend with the BPP (a relatively small and historical group) currently almost entirely because of their representation in movies and visual media. The BPP continue to be among the most cited predecessors of modern political movements. We all have an image seared into our mind of ourselves, as radicals, engaging with the straight world (whether in the halls of the Legislature or the streets of our towns) wearing visually striking attire, with weapons over our shoulders. Obviously the direct action work (from neighborhood armed defense to feeding and schooling the kids) of the BPP is beyond reproach (if the history of such is to be believed) but this is an entirely different topic than the ideas of The Party per se or the stories of the heroes of the BPP. This is the story of grassroots organizing by any other name; this name just has a solid mythology surrounding it.
It is worth mentioning that I don’t in fact have strong feelings about the BPP. The social and political atmosphere that they derive from are so entirely different than ours that I am in no way qualified to make categorical statements about them. They are a historical artifact that can be, and is, debated as such, but by-and-large this debate isn’t an anarchist one (either in name, sentiment, or aesthetic). For many people, recognizing the significance of the BPP (as in the differences between the perceived work of the BPP and the work of radical politics today) is a necessary part of political development. Recognizing the differences between the work of the BPP in the 60s and our work today is how we determine our own project, and that has nothing to do with political ideologies.
The RCP can be more cleanly dealt with. No caveats need apply to this hack organization that should be utterly reviled by any anarchist. Moreover the concept that building up the theory or personality of Bob Avakian (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolutionary_Communist_Party,_USA#Activities) as important, revolutionary, or even notable is entirely preposterous .
That said, the practice of rebranding oneself, of spinning up front groups as quickly as new single issues come to the fore, is obviously a smart and pernicious idea. It allows a political organization to control its messaging, gating new members through specific interests rather than through an entire, decades-long political program. It provides a way to show rather than to talk (which is a significant anarchist weakness). It builds relationships through “common struggle” rather than through debate, coercion, or brow-beating. While the result is still the same, this multi-form and layered approach to inculcating new members is persuasive and confusing, exactly the goal of groups that do it.
Mentioning these two groups isn’t intended to say that the influence of Maoist ideas, or those of other historical political traditions, can be constrained by these two data points. Modern Maoist thought has become much more diffuse than either of these historic reference points would lead one to believe. We’ll get into examples later but when people used to use terms like Imperialism, Revolution, and the Party, they now use terms like gentrification, insurrection, and organization: softer, less disagreeable terms that reflect our time. The point is that political approaches have evolved from specific times and places, and that to understand that genealogy is necessary to defend ourselves from taking these approaches at face value.
A little about ideas
The reason that anarchists should study and reflect on Maoism, in particular, is because (in the words of MIM, an RCP split that dissolved a few years ago) “Maoism and real anarchism have the same long-run goals.” (Avakian has said similar things in his critiques of anarchism). MIM (and other explicit Maoists) believe that the only fundamental difference between their perspective and that of anarchists is that Maoists have a plan to implement this shared goal, so their revolutionary program is authentic rather than anarchists’ expression of bourgeois ideology. Right ideas + leadership = revolutionary moral authority?
We live in a post-party era, where the traditional left–whether of unions or alphabet groups–has largely disappeared, and the terrain of anarchistic political discourse cannot be dismissed with the typical anarchist wave of the hand and a decry against “authoritarianism.” By and large, everyone (activists, Occupy, organizers) is willing to say they are anti-authoritarian. The rub is to describe exactly what that means.
The most common place where this discussion is happening couldn’t be older, or more historical. It surrounds the concept of the National Question and how one or another perspective has a solution to it. This concept has its origin in Stalin’s working definition of a nation: “a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up, manifested in a common culture.” The Maoist revision includes an addendum that “internal colonies” of nations, exist within the belly of countries like the US (or in the rings of French cities). In either case the National Question is a way to frame the issue of how to organize the shock troops of the next social unrest and how to articulate the program of what the fight is about.
In a useful recent exchange about this between two Maoist groups (the Fire Next Time Committee and Signalfire), here is a summary from Signalfire:
To sum up our stance…it is sufficient to say one step forward, two steps back. In attempting to deal with the real problematic of the ‘people of color’ discourse and identity politics, it seeks to establish an analysis of race coupled with an analysis of class. In doing so, rather than producing an adequate critique and substantive class analysis, the author simply gives us generalities which interrogated at a basic level are superficial and useless in satisfying the need for a real class analysis of the United States.
Rather than seeking truth from facts, it telescopes the particularity of experiences into universalities,and simply doesn’t have an analysis of class that actually corresponds with the existing class structure. It has rather engaged in another sort of “identity politics” of a Brown/Yellow guilt type in relationship to Black oppression, centering it as a fulcrum for the articulation of white supremacist ideology and class structure.
Obviously the National Question still looms large for Maoists and this terminology should be familiar to anyone who is active in big city radical politics. Understanding these two paragraphs is sufficient to function well in the Bay Area political scene.
To draw the linkage between Mao-eque approaches and anarchist thinking we should talk a little bit about Imperialism, Colonialism, and Gentrification. Obviously, according to a dictionary definition, these three things occur. Colonialism leads to Imperialism (or is it the other way around) and from within Empire the shifting of the economic landscape takes on a similar character that is described as Gentrification. These are descriptive terms to the economic, political, and social character of where we live and how we got here.
What they are not are vectors. They don’t trace a line from some historical moment (for example, of primitive purity) on through our current horrorshow into a dystopia/utopia. Descriptors are often confused for causes and this is nowhere more clear than from political perspectives that Have Answers, answers that can be argued for, that are believed to be only capable of winning if others are convinced, and finally, ones that create a logical whole, something coherent (as if this world is coherent).
While many anarchists are convinced by this logical procedural thinking, anyone who is opposed to authoritarianism should break with this trajectory when it comes to a history of Imperialism or Colonialism (or even gentrification) that doesn’t see the state as a necessary part of the genealogy. A monopoly on violence is entirely necessary to invade, control, and genocide a people. It is only to the extent to which capitalism has taken on this monopoly (if it has) that it has taken center stage as the villain for communists and anti-authoritarians.
For anarchists these questions are much simpler. As soon as monopolistic impulses are discovered the hackles of most anarchists are raised. This means that party discipline or even toeing an ideological line tends to be impossible in most anarchist circles. If you accept the Leninist/Blanquist (vanguard/small cadre) model of revolution then anarchists make poor cadre (but so does everyone else!).
Where does this leave us in terms of the most American of all questions: what about race? How is it separable and inseparable from the National Question as framed by Communists in general, and Maoists in particular? Simply put, it leaves us nowhere. The history of racism generally, and slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, etc in particular, is an integrated part of the story of Imperial America. As residents, and as victims, of that place we should feel obligated to understand that story but we have no power to change it. Revolutionary aspirations to the contrary we cannot manage, dictate, or smash our way out of it, but we also don’t have to own it.
Privilege theory places agency on those who have privilege. If one is determined to hold together a pluralist democratic society this kind of thinking is absolutely necessary but what if you don’t? What if you are hostile to the conceptual framework that holds together a society of 300 million people (which you can do even while recognizing that this framework is the structure that society itself is built on)?
Respecting the self-determination of a group of people, from an anarchist perspective, should look a lot less like listening to the leaders or elders of a group you aren’t a part of, than like finding common cause against those that constrain self-determination in the first place. Primarily this is the state but it’s also the economic relationships that subjugate all of us. Respect doesn’t mean friendship or agreeing. It means recognition, boundaries, and qualified solidarity.
One common hostility I have towards many anarchists is the general attitude I find that anarchists tend to be for good things and against bad things. It is a kind of modified kindergarten attitude that makes sure everyone sees each other for the good-intentioned beautiful snowflakes that they are, rather than doing much with all that intention and beauty. At its worst, this attitude makes discussions about personal, emotional issues intolerable, because everybody has to demonstrate to everybody else that they, in fact, are paragons of multi-racial purity. But in fact, everybody, without exception, are bigoted, prejudiced, close-minded idiots. Getting this essential truth out early allows the eventual name-calling of racist, sexist, transphobe, kyriarchiest to be framed appropriately.
We are against bad things, therefore we are also against ourselves.
The Wisdom of Fools
As long as anarchists do not inform ourselves about the myriad of forces that seek to intentionally confuse their project for an anarchist one, we will continue to be fooled by them. More problematically, and over a long enough timeline, this confusion becomes reality. “Anti-authoritarian” becomes a soft way to obscure that you are a Maoist whose “revolutionary program” is what makes you a true anti-antiauthoritarian. “Anti-Imperialist” becomes a way to describe hostility to American foreign policy and not an adherent of the three worlds theory of Maoism. “Decolonization” becomes code for an urban aspiration for an impossible culture instead of a problematic term relating to everything from native resistance to resource extraction, the dismantling of older Empires, or a project of the United Nations.
Perhaps it is too late, at least in the US, at least for my lifetime. We are a culture that has abandoned not just reading but critical thinking on the whole. Watching language morph into its opposite used to be something associated with the totalitarianism of the USSR or Newspeak of Orwell’s fictional universe. Debord’s spectacle updated this dialectical perversion by demonstrating how capitalism has buttressed the monopoly of violence that used to be a prerequisite for this violence to language. Our meme-tastic, utterly superficial engagement with even political questions like how to live, how to do it together, and who am I in relationship to others, seems to show that pointing to Maoists as a political problem is about as useful as talking about aliens and pyramid power. Anarchy as conflict with the existing order, both state and capital and also the its conceptual framework, is an infinite endeavor.
Hesitations aside I know that someone out there will hear me. They will recognize a political pedigree in the rhetoric of some local blowhard and will be tempted to stand alone in a room, point a finger, and shout J’accuse! I would warn you against this line of thinking. If the post-left has anything to teach us it is that being right, and informing others of it, isn’t nearly enough. It may be preferable to maintain the affect of the happy fool, the politically naïve, while tilling the soil for the seeds to feed those who will engage in the challenges of how to engage (as anarchists) with politicians. Decrying their badness polarizes the point too early in the relationship. Timing means recognizing that the first moment one understands a situation isn’t the moment to act. Anarchy means attack and attack means patience.
Links related to text
- MD On What Anarchists Can Say
- Tyranny of Structureless & Anarchist Response
- Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement (STORM)
- Van Jones
- More about VJ
- Reflections on STORM
- More Context
- Roger White’s essay
- 10 Theses
- Response to 10 Theses
- National Question
- Recent commentary on NQ
- Unpacking the Knapsack
by aragorn in General
By and large I tend to keep my vocation (what I do to make money) entirely separate from the things that I write about. Even when that writing is the impoverished form of the blog entry, I try to keep it distinct from my life as a technologist. However I am making some career shifts that will entail, at the very least, working (in my vocation) with more of my anarchist friends, so here I ponder some things that connect the two worlds.
This is a report back from a “trust” conference I went to last Thursday called Trusty Con (https://trustycon.org/). I stayed for the first two of three sessions (loosely: legal, technology, and activism). You can see what I saw here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkO8SNiDSw0. I strongly recommend you watch this if you are interested in current discussions on security and trust in computer communication.
On one level this was a protest event in relation to the RSA Conference (held a block away at the Moscone Center). On another level it was an event needed in its own right. It included a variety of the usual suspects on the topic (EFF, Free Speech Foundation, etc).
Adorably, Trusty Con was held in a movie theater. What was less adorable was the punchline to the event, which is that state agents are incredibly powerful. To give just one example, the presentation by Steve Weiss on “Trusted Computing Tech and Government Implants” was authentically and deeply terrifying. It detailed less than 10% of the known list of active NSA programs designed to compromise server technology, and while there were gaping holes in what could be determined from the slides (it was unclear what the compromise in security would mean for intelligence), what was clear is that current and future attacks on privacy and dissent are coming in directions previously impossible.
Two examples from the slides: a program (DIETYBOUNCE) that attacks the firmware (the software layer that is active after the machine turns on and before the operating system starts) on Dell servers, using a simple USB key insert. This results in a payload delivery into an operating system at boot time. Another program (Cottonmouth) is the production of USB dongles that include a radio for a secondary mechanism to either keylog, root, or attack an air gapped machine. The important point here is that LEO can currently do things that we only suspected it to be capable of up till now and we know some of the specifics.
To put it another way, and this was nicely demonstrated by some slides, compared to us, state agents are in fact operating on the level of James Bond, and our ability to defend ourselves against them, especially when they are focused on us specifically, is nil (or might as well be). Things are far scarier, in this regard, than I imagined.
For the participants of the event this was in contrast to the more recent and perhaps actionable category of problems called SBC (surreptitious bulk collection). In the pre-history of law enforcement (aka before 9/11) the idea was that LEO (law enforcement officers) would start with a crime (or at the very least a suspect) and then use forensic and investigative tools to determine guilt or innocence, or the very least prosecutability. In the past decade infrastructure has been put into place to harvest enough metadata from the entire world to work from the other direction.
The activist privacy advocate would argue that better, or different, laws would protect us from the consequences of this state of affairs. The technologist privacy advocate has to argue that the capacity to harvest is the real risk and that technologies to hide metadata are urgently necessary. The anarchist has to shiver in terror at either solution. For the 96% of the world that isn’t the US, but whose data passes through our pipes, the anarchist isn’t being dramatic enough.
Obviously trust in governmental agencies is out of the question, not only for anarchists but for any intelligent person. (One might trust that the evaluative capacity of LEO is limited as far as what they can grok, but the consumptive capacity can now safely be assumed to be infinite.)
This doesn’t mean that everything we do is being watched. Modern paranoia should be tempered with some understanding of the context in which we live. Many things (especially meta data to services like email, searching, our browser fingerprint, etc) are stored and “big data” type calculations are connecting our usage of Internet communication to Real LifeTM but LEO is still a slow, lumbering beast that thinks in terms of Occam’s Razor and prefers cops-and-robbers (ie the Shield) to Pattern Recognition.
Prosecutorial instincts aside, this does mean that the Internet has become enclosed. It is not a place where freedom happens by default, and whatever libre does occur here does so because of the intentional and consistent labor of someone. Probably someone who is paying for and implementing the infrastructure and technologies for others to perform freedom. In this world, someone is always paying, either directly or in exchange for psychological manipulation (riffing off of Schneier for this one). Most of us have become accustomed to being manipulated, so it seems like the lesser cost. But is it?
Blah. I’m getting too wrapped up in this entire way of looking at the problem. I am a service provider to radicals. I’ve always been ambivalent about it and I’ve done it anyway. I’ve done it less over the years but I think that was the wrong instinct. The right approach was, and is, finding a crew of politically like-minded @ (ie hopeless ones) to do this work with. I have spent too much time doing it alone and now it just feels like an impossibly huge task, especially to do it right.
To put it another way, Riseup does a great job of delivering email but they do little else. Even less that they are “held accountable” for (crabgrass being a case in point). They do not do web hosting because web hosting is a support nightmare! As a matter of fact it’s been 10 years or so since any radical group (tao, mutual aid, etc) has done public web hosting. AFAICT this is because it’s difficult to do and exhausting (no reward if you aren’t doing it for $). Even the providers of free blogging (like noblogs) don’t seem particularly proactive when it comes to user requests. Helping people, day in day out, is hard. Not like rocket science hard but hard enough to be damn near impossible for radicals (and, obviously this is also true for services like those offered by paypal or gmail).
I used to make fun of anarchists who would decry other anarchists with the claim that we needed to “get organized.” Of course they were right if we shared a goal of social revolution or whatever, but they were also deeply wrong, because we don’t share that common of a goal at all. We live in a highly attenuated age where articulation of shared (especially mass) goals is rather naive. Perhaps the end of revolutionary aspirations has entirely negative consequences for the bulk of human, or radical, endeavors but it can’t be said to be innocent… Innocence, today, seems to live in the “in between places” where someone communicates with others, can seem articulate and bright, but has knowledge that is entirely “wikipedia deep” and is more-or-less not available without access to a cell phone. Innocence is the fatal response to leftism, not by becoming the Right (or Conservative) but by becoming useless.
In non-anarchist green thought the topic of enclosure, especially in the intellectual and cultural sense of the term, has been topical for decades. Whether the critique was about using plastic or television sets, the answer was to do less of it (aka the liberal response) or to shy away from destroying our capacity to do it all (the radical response). The anti-civilization turn was to begin with the radical response and go further… but to what end? To become the meanest, greenest boy scouts ever (rewilding)? To become indistinguishable from the street corner preachers declaring apocalypse is nigh? Technology marches on, as a force of doing (rather than convincing), and has overshadowed all critiques of it as a universalizing, totalizing, apocalypse-in-waiting by demonstrating that that isn’t all bad.
When I am feeling hopeless (which is often) I intersect these two lines. On the one hand radicals have valorized uselessness (ie being triggered, idle, anti-work, Critical, etc) and on the other the march of technology has generated meaningful, life-altering, subjectively positive consequences in the vast majority of people’s lives.
My paid work has made me a more successful anarchist not because I’ve become entranced by technology. Quite the opposite. I find technology to be increasingly annoying, cloying, and asphyxiating. But I also recognize that prior to experiencing the constraints of the real world (exemplified by but not limited to paid work) I was not able to set my mind to a task and see it through to completion. Success, as an anarchist, is not about winning (duh). It is about having the capacity to play in increasingly interesting and complex terrains with equally compelling people.
by aragorn in General
Herein we will begin to argue against the revolutionary importance of friendship. Will not argue that friendship isn’t a fine and wonderful thing for daily life, for the eating of brunch, or the consumption of beverages. This is all well and good, do what one will, live your life.
What we will argue against is the way in which the affinity group model that has been abandoned generally (although not universally) in anarchist circles has instead migrated into an unconscious way of life. This migration has caused the conflation of social circles (aka groups of friends) with sharing political values (aka the party) with the result that anarchists (and the ASC who predate on our energy) have become countercultural against their better instincts.
To put this into different terms, the conflation of friendship with politics, if it is caused by conscious agency, is done so either by those who prefer to “just hang out” but also want to believe that they and their friends are conscious social agents OR by those who have a specific political project and want to keep it relevant by having it also be a place where social needs can be met.
If the conflation is not conscious, as in, it merely reflects the spectating nature that radicals have over their own lives, then it goes a long way towards explaining the increasing isolation of radical groupuscles. Our lifeways cannot be attractive outside our capacity to grow our social cliques beyond themselves. It is not that we are not desirable, it is that we are choosing the wrong way to communicate that desirability. Being sexy rebels isn’t nearly enough to affect the kind of attraction we would need to confound even the MSM view of us as dangerous outsiders.
Of course this is not some backhanded way to form or reform some type of anarchist political party. I am asking a question I don’t have the answer to.
Indeed I am suspicious about the way in which this friend-comrade indistinction has occurred. Sure, I can point to a reaction against the new left or organizationalism or the desirability of true affinity or the writing of Tiqqun, but the lack of experimentation after Occupy is suspicious. This is the time to change up, not fall back to pattern. Relying on the cool kids to decide what comes next has obviously had limited returns (unless you’re a cool kid and your goals are limited to, by definition, individual social rewards). Perhaps it is time to stop being coy and declare a goal or two.
by aragorn in General
A self-criticism. I find terrible, mocking humor to be enjoyable. I laugh at others expense and find the foibles and flaws of my rivals and political adversaries to be particular amusing. I will, in all engaged interest, sit for hours detailing flaws and imperfections in others, hopefully to comedic effect. I am not going to attempt to caveat this trait by saying that I will laugh just as hard when the flaw being exposed is mine, although this is true. I just find, and I don’t love this about myself, that cruel humor is my favorite.
But I don’t take it seriously. My actual feelings about rivals, myself, or flawed activity is complicated by all of the qualities that ones feelings usually are. I am as likely to despise an adversary as I am a so-called ally. The qualities that I like in others is not related to my own particular preference towards cruelty.
In this sense I understand a lot of the motivation of trolls and troll culture. When we are powerless to impact the world in such a way where we can see the impact of our blows it makes sense to attack things that get injured. We are curious creatures that deeply desire to see our experiments flourish. The cruelty we inflict on the world is unrelated to the humans we inflict it on. This disconnection has obviously been exacerbated by the Internet and the seeming lack of consequence for cruelty but we (as in humans) have long since been disconnected and done horrible things (to the world & each other) as a result of this social unpluggedness.
While I still find considerable pleasure in a similar type of cruelty I have to acknowledge that I have the incredible privilege of not ever having to do it online. I have people who find the same things funny as I do around me all the time. I have constructed a life where these pleasures feature centrally. But the corporealness of them is most important. Cruelty in isolation would have long since twisted me into the ineffective pathetic creatures I host on various websites and blogs. I understand the troll and despise them because they are what I could have been if not for a combination of luck, will, and being just a bit too old to have become trapped by the Internet for my social self-understanding.
Is all PR good?
I recently have been alerted (thanks everyone!) to an actual IRL troll of me. Correction. This is not a cruel attack done for the lulz (or whatever) but someone who believes they are doing what they are doing in the name of anarchist activists (TM) everywhere. Putting aside the very sad (and real) story of this particular individual the difference between them and a troll, between cruelty and activism, between attack and denouncement, is a central concern for me right now.
Perhaps this is a statement of our time but this is also a way to orient our conflictual capacity in real terms. We can not reasonably talk about movements of the liberation of humans against the oppressors, or perhaps we can but we don’t. Instead our fights are microscopically small and our victories are even smaller. We talk about abstractions that we oppose and our actions in regard to them is very small (aka break window, write manifest). We have an IRC argument with someone and in turn hack their email, delete their memories, and publicly advertise their home address (true story) and call our victory total. Our capacity to hurt individuals is inversely proportional to the importance of doing the same. Bad people, especially bad radicals, have little to do with the condition of the world, the problems of daily life, or our incapacity to do anything about it. Or perhaps the opposite is true, perhaps bad people are directly related to capacity.
In a related story I recently corresponded with someone who is being publicly trolled and they turned to me as someone to fix the problem. The inappropriate mention of their name was a source of concern and they feared that the deceit would be taken as truth. This is real. It is also false.
I’ll try to break this down a little bit more. Assuming the context of an open web forum (which are understandably becoming less common or perhaps more self-selecting) there are a number of concerns about bad information. One is the fact that a (self-selecting) reader might confuse the bad information with truth. They might think that X is a criminal (as a neutral way of discussing everything from the smashy to the genocide) because someone says as much, signs a post admitting to such, or is accused of being one by a convincing story. Two is association. If X is put into the same frame as criminality, in a web forum, then future discussions about criminality could very well include X as a related topic. Third is the idea that X and criminality may have a relationship but as presented is either a misrepresentation or a slander. Finally is the idea that outside of the discussion itself is the future. Search engines are forever. If X is associated in whatever way to criminality (or an open web forum) it means that X doesn’t have control over their own story. This has implication in everything from legal cases (or the States research interests) to jobs.
While this is often much ado about nothing it does put the power of representation into the hands of people who often don’t have any skin in the game. I, for instance, haven’t used my full legal name in any anarchist contexts but I have an old friend who used it to advertise for an event I participated in in the 90s. Several mentions of this event still linger on the front page of a search for my full legal name. I have attempted to contact, and resolve, this concern for several years to no avail. The people who get the emails associated with the top level domains just have no motivation, or interest, or process to protect my desire to not have my legal life associated with my anarchist life. In my case I have had to start the slow, ambivalent, process of changing my legal name as the only real way to sever my future (hostile) relations with employers or stalkers with my oh-so-naive past.
For younger people, for Facebook users, this problem will only get worse.
You may ask what my decision was regarding the trolled person? The other side of this discussion for me relates to the role of being a public person (a “personality”). I realize that talking to reporters, writing a book, or doing presentation shouldn’t necessitate the signing of some sort of unstated contract but for me, it kind of does. It means that you are choosing to associate yourself publicly with something. In my case it is anarchy, in another persons case it may be poetry, or Pokemon, or whatever. If you are public it means you have to accept the fickle, fickle love that the public has to offer. For some people this love means being accepted as a respected public intellectual or activist, for others it means being pilloried and reviled. As far as I’m concerned there is a choice, a willful act, that moves you from a private person to a public person. I am on the public side of this choice, as are many of my friends, but as a result I have had to suffer indignity and attack along side the (positive) attention and respect. I think it is disingenuous for other public personalities to think they should only get the pluses without getting the minuses so I refuse to coddle this kind of behavior. I think this is grist for the mill (see 1-3 on the list above).
But, and this is a big but, I don’t think it should last forever. I think a scandal, most every scandal, should last for the five minutes (or ten seconds) that it deserves and then that we should all move on. Search engines don’t allow for this so my decision regarding the trolled was to remove all mention of them after the scandal (such as it was) was aired.
This whole situation was a useful exercise for me because I much prefer my policy decisions to hinge on a different axis (or two if possible) than just “this is the policy” so putting the temporal axis into this decision was helpful. It also helped that the trolled came in good faith AND that I got good advice from an adviser… but this is how small decisions often times end up being big ones.
I’ll wrap this up. The earth is filling up. Many of the horrific things I despise about the existing order are, from the perspective of capital p Power, crowd control. There are too many of us, we are anonymous, and becoming invisible is most peoples alienated reality. Trolling, and the cruelty of the troll, is a kind of care too. The troll is paying attention, it may be a negative attention, but can you blame them? The troll is the most reviled of creatures in a world filled with the despised, the despicable, the tortured, and the lonely. It’s a funny way to end this but this is one of the few times where I believe in the healing power of the sun, by which I mean not only fresh air, exercise, and being outdoors but the brightness of people in a room, disagreeing and sharing a mammalian moment or two.
by aragorn in General
Earlier this week I gave a presentation at the Anarchist Studies Network conference which was an interesting use of my time. It was my first time talking to a crowd (it looked to be about 15-20 people) via Skype. That was unpleasant. It was also an excuse to put some of my thoughts down about Occupy, now that it is over. Now I share those thoughts with you.
I am going to call this a reportback as I will be sharing quite a bit of rough information with you all, including some thoughts about a presentation by Decolonize Seattle that I attended just last evening in Oakland that is worth referring to in regards to lessons on Occupy.
While I am not an activist I have had first row seats for the activities of Occupy Oakland and occupation activities in Greece, Barcelona, Greensboro North Carolina (just barely avoiding a SWAT team there), and Santa Cruz, CA. In January of this year I put together and published a book on anarchist involvement in Occupy called Occupy Everything: Anarchists in the Occupy Movement with LBC Books. In my not so humble opinion this book provides a comprehensive broad anarchist approach to an Occupy Movement that extends back in time far before 2011 and will continue to be a tactic (like blocing up, blockading, and sabotage) that anarchists will use into the future.
Given that I live on the West Coast of the US I may have different assumptions about what comprises anarchist activity and intervention in Occupy than other US or UK anarchists. Our center of gravity was never Wall Street, per se, or David Graeber (who only received lukewarm response when he spoke in Oakland) but the violence of the OPD, the memory of Oscar Grant (a young man killed by our local transit police on New Years Eve 2009), and the port of Oakland. Obviously there is explicit linkage between the west coast threads of occupy and those in the rest of the country, but the priorities are different here as are the political radicals. The Bay has decades of active radical political history with no real break from the Vietnam-era to today (with a surprising number of people from that era still active). This provokes a very different atmosphere than anytown USA where the most radical people in town are still demanding a recount of the 2000 election.
The specific anarchist energy that was so infectous in Occupy Oakland had a specific history of interventions from the past few years. Anarchists have been involved in the events immediately following the Oscar Grant killing (which included a few near riots in Oakland during the all-too-common clearing of the killer police officer from responsibility for the action). They were involved in the University of California student occupations of 2009-2010, which were recorded in the publication After the Fall Communiques from Occupied California. Finally, prior to the start of Occupy, they were involved in a series of Bay of Rage actions that were surprisingly prescient.
These were specifically organized in the Summer of 2011, prior to Occupy Wall Street but after the Arab Spring in North Africa and Indignado Summer around Europe. These events were organized around targets of austerity cuts, including the Oakland Library (which involved the first of several book blocs in the US context including a second one @ UC Berkeley), increasing police violence as a form of social control, and (humorously) a protest around our local regional train service BART for cutting off cell phone access in their system (this was a panicked response to an earlier protest).
Like many other radicals these people were energized and focused by the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon and called for an occupation of the town hall area of Oakland (formerly Frank Ogawa Plaza, now forever remembered as Oscar Grant Plaza). I am not going to belabor the story of Occupy Oakland any more than I have since its arc wasn’t that different of a story from other occupations in North America with a fairly brief occupation, heavy-handed police eviction, and another few months of something called occupy that really didn’t occupy much of anything at all.
I want to be constructive with my review of the lessons of Occupy but my focus is going to be specific to anarchists. I am an anarchist partisan and while there are broader Occupy lessons for a radical, or activist, crowd, I am not concerned with them. I am concerned with what the future of anarchist intervention holds and consider the sustainability of our public presence, relevance, and agility as more important factors in evaluating the lessons of Occupy than meetings with politicians or the attention of non-profits.
Let us begin.
One – The strategic importance of a anti-police presence
The 99% vs 1% rhetoric was a master stroke of populist propaganda. It said clearly in a few words what class-oriented radicals say have been attempting to say in volumes for years. 99% was fantastic branding but like other branding, it worked better as establishing the product than it did at solving the problems confronted by the situation. No one is to blame for the situation but with Occupy the experience was, again and again, that the successes also embedded the failures.
During the actual Occupation of OGP Occupy Oakland had an informally agreed upon but consistent practice of not allowing uniformed police inside of the occupation. This entailed several stand-offs with hand-held barricades, and general confusion among the OPD brass (as highlighted in a variety of leaked documents, some of which are recounted in the local anarchist publication, Lawless).
Externally this stance established #OO as the most militant of Occupy in the US. This is all fine and good, and histories of Occupy will retell histories of the BPP, Oscar Grant, and the upcoming federal take-over of the OPD but that is what history does… uses unrelated historical high points to make history’s points. In point of fact there was never an “Occupy Oakland’s Collective Decision-Making Process” agreement to the anti-police practice. It was something agreed upon by many of the militants and acted upon in the moments when the OPD came around but probably never would have passed the 90% threshold necessary to have been approved.
Internally the anti-police stance accomplished much of the goals of anarchist agitation without ever having to confront the lack of understanding people have of anarchism itself. It gave a practice to anarchist aspirations of generalized hostility toward authority and made sense in the context of police violence in Oakland as it would have in most densely populated cities in the US.
This ambivalence around what turned out to be such a central differentiator between #OO and much of the rest of Occupy also relates to another lesson that we will get into a bit later.
Two – The US’s very small appetite for politics
It is a trite truism that the US is filled with uneducated, religious, apolitical people who only grudgingly attend the ballot box every four years, mostly sitting jaw agape staring at screens being entertained and pacified by Murdoch, Viacom, Time Warner, CBS, and Disney. Obviously this falsehood conceals the moment of truth that keeps our hobbled liberal elites wringing their hands, making jokes, and pathetically air boxing against powers that are utterly indifferent to them.
Back on point. Whether it is the true existential character of the American (to be disinterested in the economic & political machinations that frame their existence) or due to the activities of Beelzebub, Amadeus, and Moloch acting behind the curtain of pop culture and news-as-misinformation… politics is not a dish appreciated on the American table. It took very little time, during Occupy in 2011, before the mainstream narrative of Occupy changed from a lovable gang of misfits of adorable union losers, college kids, and left-of-liberals into a scary gang of people of color and athletes dressed in black who didn’t like newspaper boxes or windows. This stuff really does play well in Peoria.
But by the end of the year there just weren’t many photo ops left for Occupy. It finally got cold outside and the crowds retreated back to warm screens. More importantly there were fantastic political photo opportunities for nearly six months in the form of the Republican primaries. Every dramatic turn prior to the eventual crowning of Mitt Romney as the loser of the 2012 general election had a narrative written by prime time screen writers for a prime time audience. There is no audience for a second political thriller when the first one has all the special effects, writing, and victory at the box office for over 200 years…
The anarchist lesson here is a difficult one of strategy. Clearly long-term thinking has never been a strong suit but the conversation should have started earlier about how to intervene in the non-discussion around the 2012 election season in more interesting and hostile ways. Perhaps the smartest thing to do is take the year off and wait out the hundreds of millions of dollars that is going to be spent on more-of-the-same.
Three – Decolonize
There was something uncomfortable about the language of Occupation from the first moment Wall Street was attempted to be Occupied. It just doesn’t sit right to take land and call it yours when the people who were robbed of it, usually at gunpoint, in the first place are still fighting genocide and occupation of native land. The brand name Occupy clearly had precedence over the nuanced concern over a little matter of genocide so the story continued.
Except it didn’t, of course. A couple of cities started up with Decolonize as their name for take-overs, and never had an Occupy in their town, but primarily these were smaller events in the South west and they never really had the national press that NY or Oakland had. They stated their case but mostly went unnoticed. Eventually however, decolonize vs occupy became a central conflict in several cities. This story played itself out during the waning period of Occupy but the venom and acrimony it involved was great in proportion to the number of people involved or energy spent on the topic.
The reason for this is because decolonize became the super-saturated way in which to talk about racial issues in the context of what had been a primarily an economic discussion. Obviously race, being a quintessential American concern, was always part of the Occupy discussion but as a secondary issue behind the economic travesty done upon the US by the banks and financial institutions. Decolonize gave the topic claws which nearly tore Occupy apart–or perhaps it did, as, at least in Oakland, there was a marked downturn in GA attendance after the decolonize proposal infamously failed to pass by the 90% required for consensus.
The situation gets additionally murky the more details emerge about the infighting, partisan struggles, and single issue groups that used decolonize as a mechanism to say what they wanted to about Occupy all along (to whit, that it was a primarily white, male, urban, middle-class phenomenon) but decolonize demonstrates a very 2012 example of a very old problem for US radicals. We don’t have an agile response to either bad faith accusations of racism or good faith demonstrations of insensitivity, structural inequalities in our groups, or accusations of cultural myopia. We usually act in a reactionary manner to either of these, and conflate the real with the polemical.
In the case of decolonize the lesson is that phenomenon do reflect their cultural point of origin and in the US, the time period that Occupy had before dissipating was far too short to allow for the kind of pivot necessary to include the very real criticism that its economic orientation was not framed in a way that made sense to non-land owning, non-white people.
Four – The end of consensus
Since the 80s US anarchism has been plagued by the spectre of consensus. In a culture that is deeply functionalist in orientation, having a quick-and-dirty answer to questions like “how will you act without leaders?” was important. It meant that consensus took on a role that it wasn’t particularly suited for but that could be duct taped into place, with additions like spokescouncils for larger groups and modified consensus for less philosophically rigid groups.
Consensus is still the language scattered throughout Occupy and the language and jargon of Occupy but it is clear that many, if not most, anarchists have largely abandoned formal consensus, consensus by large numbers, and consensus as a fundamental principle of anarchist decision-making. Perhaps this opens a can of worms but this division is also about the division between anarchists who see anarchism as a kind of direct democracy or who use democracy, even “real” democracy, interchangeably with anarchism and those who don’t.
This conflict will play itself out on several fronts now and into the future but the hegemonic model of consensus is over and the fractures in consensus as displayed during Occupy activities are instructive. I’ll give two examples, both from #OO . When the initial decolonize proposal was made to #OO it was met with general friendliness. It was generally assumed that changing the name of #OO to #OO/DO was a pure formality. There was little doubt that it would happen. Then the presentation began. The presenters brought several new-to-OO people and seemed to believe that the audience was going to be hostile so from the onset were aggressive to the point of haranguing on points where there was no real disagreement. As a result of defensiveness and moralistic hostility the inevitability of the transformation into decolonize was derailed but only barely. There was perhaps a 70 to 80% super-majority but not quite the 90% that represented (modified) consensus in #OO. This disillusioned strong supporters of decolonize, demonstrating that strong “yes” votes can’t negotiate with ambivalent “no” votes, and that consensus works better as a principle than as a practice.
Perhaps obviously you aren’t ever going to get a group composed of several hundred strangers to agree to a Black Bloc. You may get them to agree to a diversity of tactics, although this seems increasingly unlikely in the future, but never to actual property destruction or confrontation with the police. This is fine, it isn’t for everyone, etc, etc. But the logic of diversity of tactics ends up cutting both ways. For every person who just wants to street fight there is another person who wants nothing to do with fighting the police. Diversity of tactics means that these two sets of people, who represent but two of dozens of different motivated interests, have fewer and fewer reasons to meet at all. Their reasons for being part of Occupy are different to the point of being unrelated. Consensus isn’t relevant for their shared project any more because, over time, they don’t have one.
The language for this, that also has a rich anarchist history, is autonomous activity. We can use this language, and the practice of organizing in small groups that can determine their own logic, to permit dozens of different approaches to the same problems that Occupy raised. Autonomous groups have participated in Black Blocs, small occupations of local schools and libraries that are being shuttered by the city, farm occupations, and recently started a new fuck the police (FTP) assembly that is as large, if not larger, than the remnant of Occupy Oakland that’s still active.
I don’t want to fitter away your attention so I’ll stop at four lessons but obviously there are more that could be discussed including anarchist lessons about violence, how to use and abuse the media, identity politics, and thinking strategically while honoring our autonomous tradition. Thanks for your time.
by aragorn in General
After my trip to Europe I came back to a couple of different existential challenges. This was put succinctly during a conversation with T in Greece who responded to my question “What was your biggest criticism of American Anarchists?” by saying simply “You all act like you are in High School” and as unfair as this is, it is also dead on. We are the Columbine Kids in the worlds largest high school (I doubt even China has this issue to the same extent). We are by-and-large lost & confused by the scale of our national identity and the smallness of the people around us who even seem sane. Who understand that being a dick waving winner doesn’t mean anything other than you scored the last touchdown. The scale of this place, of the engine that won WWII, of the military that still polices the world even though our debt burden is, per capita, among the highest in the world is daunting. We are daunted.
As far as my people are concerned, I think a useful first step to addressing this problem would be to stop considering that we (US nation-state residents) are even in the same country (cultural unit) at all. Instead we are in four different countries. We could call them West Turtle, East Turtle, Middle Turtle and South Turtle (with the place above us probably being broken up into NW, N & NE Turtle itself).
To come at this from a straight anarchist-who-travels-around-alot perspective this makes a lot of sense from a sectarian perspective. To be wholly unfair the East is Red@, the West is Green@, the Middle is practical @ & South don’t care about such things (although, tbh I don’t know the South nearly as well as I know the other 3 countries). This might be a confusing shorthand for anarchists, as we despise the Nation-State (aka countries) and would work towards the abolition of the entire political entity called the US of A if we had the power to do so. But if we had that power would we create a United Federation of Anarchy that was contained by the same boundaries? I think not. I think the scale of another world, without nation-states would be much, much smaller. Probably smaller than the broad cultural units I am implying here, perhaps much smaller (as I am not sure I live in the same place as Los Angeles).
Short that power, we can at least admit that our region (the West) experiences Anarchy in distinct ways from the other regions. This is demonstrated by the General Strike of Oakland, Occupies on the West Coast, and our general attitude towards Federations and the like (as seen from a several decades out perspective).
I’ll end with a pet peeve of mine. This is not to criticize one person or project in particular but the general attitude of some if not most anarchists who start high profile projects. Usually they start their project with an announcement to the world “Here we are, we are going to do EVERYTHING better than what came before” that is also cloaking a desperate plea for help from others. That help doesn’t come, the capacity to DO everything isn’t possible so the clock starts ticking (visible to no one other than people who have been around for a long time), finally when it strikes the project either disappears from sight or flames out.
Before you take on a (public) project you should first figure out what emotional or organizational intelligence is going to be necessary to actually DO it. Talk to others who have done the same one. Have these chats respectfully, because even if your project is 1000x better than what has come before (and it’s not) the past will not disappear in a moment. The past sticks around and does turn out to be the shoulders you step onto if you survive, which you probably will not.
This is particularly resonant for me because when I started a particular “kill your parents” projects I did not publicize it (or my involvement) widely for years. I also didn’t (publicly) damn by elder for being first (and wrong). I did what I did and, over time, I demonstrated my consistency, attitude and ability and the project became what it became.
by aragorn in General
Ever since I saw the Void Network give their presentation on the “Greek situation” I have wanted to seriously think, and put into practice, my understanding of what they meant by “an assembly”. Since I am in Greece now (updates of my Amsterdam trip will have to come later as I don’t want to lose my way regarding this topic) and have attended my first significant assembly I feel far more informed about what is possible to transfer from my Greek experience and from the several conversations I’ve had with different people on the composition of their model compared to what we do in the States.
Asocial @ vs the pigs at the Polytechnic: Photos by Insurgent Photo
Preliminary sidebar: What is broken in US meetings
I have taken a generally hostile stance towards meetings, particularly with people who have a different political center of gravity, for over a decade. I tend not to go to them, as I believe many others do also. This deep ambivalence towards “working with others” has a couple different sources.
One, multi-tendency meetings tend not to be about anything. This isn’t to slight the necessity of people sitting in a room together as part of their individual and group growth process but in terms of actually getting anything done, it tends to happen intra-tendency not inter. A harsh example is to discuss the summer 2010 attempt at an assembly in the Bay. This was an incredible opportunity missed as it ended up being a general directionless gripe session rather than a place where people (outside of a few specific Statist Marxist types who were there) could articulate either general proposals or examples of the kind of work their particular tendency or affinity group believed was appropriate. Here is an excerpt from the call out that exemplifies the problem.
Although any actions that come out of this assembly will be on people’s own initiative – whether they do so alone, through small affinity groups, or in more formal meetings – we should all feel compelled to make a mark on the world we inhibit and not passively let history pass us by!
The intention here is fine. It implores something be done, puts the onus of that something on the participating groups, but leaves the action delightfully vague. Who is going to try to measure our groups initiative with the flow of history?
Two, multi-tendency meetings in the Bay Area (or any other US city) have a life-stealing/soul sucking tendency toward creating ridiculous Manichean mission statements that serve as statements of purpose and/or litmus tests for participation. Here is a particularly egregious example from the brand new call by UA in the Bay for an upcoming quarterly General Assembly.
We’re asking anyone who agrees with the following to attend:
– A rejection of all forms of hierarchy, including capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, heterosexism, colonialism and party based politics
– Organizing on a consensus based, non-hierarchical basis, that promotes autonomy, solidarity, and the agency of those most affected by each decision
– Embracing a diversity of tactics based on practicality, regardless of legality
– Working actively to build relationships and institutions that are based on equality, self determination, and sustainability
This is a laundry list of loaded terms that is, or should be, entirely unnecessary if your goal is to have, or to call for, an Anarchist General Assembly. At some point we either assume that we are dealing with units-of-active-agency (aka adults) and stop treating each other like children, or worse like people who can’t be trusted, or we just stop dealing with each other. I can tell you that even if I was in town this passive-aggressive checklist would make me seriously doubt that this event would be worth my time or would be capable of resulting in (meaningful, interesting, potential building) activity.
Three, multi-tendency meetings in the Bay Area have a proven track record of bringing out the worst kinds of behavior in people, this includes lack of respect, bad faith, general wingnuttery, and unending evil eyes. I, for one, don’t enjoy going into a room where it feels like everyone in the room hates each other, speaks entirely in (historically loaded) jargon, and can’t pull their heads out of their asses for long enough to accomplish more with more people than resentment and enmity. I have enough hate in my life dealing with people who absolutely hate the idea of anarchy to waste my time with my frenemies who will not actually work with me anyway due to misunderstandings and half-knowledge.
Four, multi-tendency groups tend to confuse friendship with politics. Especially in the Bay Area where the groups with the strongest political disagreements also do not socialize with each other (I often refer to the Bay as have 4-6 different anarchist scenes that do not talk to each other) this is a particularly thorny problem. We do not see eye to eye politically but we don’t really know that because we don’t really know each other. When we do experience each other it is in an atmosphere of hostility. This is a chicken-and-egg problem.
We begin: What I saw in Greece
This is a time of incredible tension in Athens. After the general strike on May 11th an anarchist comrade was hospitalized by an attack by the police (putting him into a coma by blunt force trauma to the head). In the days following the informal nationalist/fascists forces attacked immigrants (including a mass stabbing incident with over a dozen victims) and have made serious violent incursions into the public space (with a square next to long standing squat Villa Amalias being a particular target). At the same time some “asocial” anarchists attacked the Exarchia police station with molotovs to disasterous effect. The following day included an attack on the Skaramanga squat (which I happened to witness first hand and it was 1) terrifying and 2) intense for its political consequences) and then a mass arrest (the next day) of residents of the same squat.
To the extent to which there is a central body (which is in no way a central body) of anarchists that would even discuss the incredible week and series of events it is the Assembly of the Polytechnic. The Polytechnic is on the edge of Exarchia and, from what I’ve seen so far, the rumors of it are true. It (it is an architectural school) is a “free zone” from the police. It is the location from which young anarchists stage hit-and-run attacks against fascists and the police. It is a meeting space that is also a place of occupation. We cannot imagine such a place in the US today as nothing even a 1/4 of it has ever existed in my memory.
The Assembly met there on Wednesday night to analyze the events of the past week and to discuss what action makes the most sense to take as a result. The meeting went on for three hours with very few pauses (more on them later). The meeting was smoke filled, multi-generational (mean age: 30), packed by US standards (60 down to 40 by the end) but supposedly small by Greek standards, and totally respectful and productive (even when there were disagreements which there were a number of serious ones). This was a focused serious meeting about what to do in crisis.
Structurally it began with a person introducing the Assembly and then one person after another speaking. There was no structure to the event other than particularly long winded speakers being cut off for talking too long (and at least 8 people talked for 10+ minutes at a go). At the end of the event the proposals (that would be finalized next week) were fairly specific (orientation wise) and agreeable/disagreeable along lines that would cross most political lines. They were different plans along strategic, not ideological, lines.
We end for now: Conclusions
Before we end a note on the interruptions of the Assembly. The day of the Assembly also happened to be the day of student elections at the Polytechnic (which, remember is a university). Traditionally (?!) the anarchists (some faction or another) attack these elections and… they did. Obviously I was inside a meeting room (and none of the @ in the room were involved) but it was clear that at least 4 bombs (bigger than M-80s smaller than a cluster bomb) were thrown, sticks (and helmets) were deployed and the area outside the meeting room (but inside the Polytechnic) was a standoff of mostly leftist (meaning Statist Communists) students in a paranoid stance against the anarchist interlopers of their election. Fucking crazy.
I will end this write up with a few cautious conclusions about what I have seen from Greece that I think is directly transferable to the American context.
1) Treat each other like adults. It makes a substantial difference in the attitude of the participation and, I believe, makes a long term difference. This means no lifestyle restrictions, no “stacks” or “vibe checks”, and freedom of expression of the participants (especially insofar as they demonstrate that they are doing as well as talking)
2) Leave labels and group identification at the door. While it is important to have participation of people from many concerned parties at your event it is not important for everyone to end every sentence with “class” this or “insurrection” that. It is also important that our rooms look more chromatic (and that doesn’t just mean red and green).
3) Our ideas can be communicated without jargon or loaded terms.
Cheers from Athens
I’d like to start having conversations at Anti-Politics again. Join me if you aren’t an idiot.
I have a couple projects that I am launching this month that I am really excited to see people get involved in and check out. I’m not going to link to them here but I’d love to hear opinions about the ideas
- A site of popular culture review
- A portal/blogging aggregator where other web-like services can live
- The initial scratchings of a place where a tech collective can work together
- Three new books (the first one could be arriving this week)
- Preparation for March: 8 days
I think I need to take a break soon.
by aragorn in General
Big changes in the air, which is a great, as 2009 has been utter shit. A horrible year that I am happy to see behind me. I’ll review.
I am still working full time. The job is increasingly grueling as my tasks become more cyclical (month-to-month) and less problem solving (day-to-day or hour-to-hour). My job has become very social in that I work in a “team” where there is an expectation to socialize. This makes side project or learning new tech exceedingly difficult during the week. Very frustrating with no end in site…
As many of you know I had a wretched year health wise. The worst in my life.
First I went in for a simple laproscopic hernia operation. It seemed to go well but instead almost killed me twice. First time, by freezing my GI system forcing a return visit to the hospital for a couple of days of stomach pumping. That was a blast. The second time with an infection that required pumping out two liters of material, a couple of weeks in the hospital, and surgery after surgery.
After all this was wrapped up (which it still isn’t, of course, since I still have a large wound in my abdomen) I had a brain hemmorage. This necessitated two days of symptoms, three days of hospital stay, and three trips to the MRI terror show. We will see what the results are early next year.
The projects are going well. The print projects are changing but include a total of four books in the process for publication (at this time). We hope that all of them will be ready by March 2010.
- Nihilist Communism
- Willful Disobedience: Anthology
- Til the Clock Stops: Beginning Texts for the Constitution of A War Machine
- Anarchy Works – by Peter Gelderloos
For 2010 we (Ardent) have quite a few books lined up (we hope for four releases in 2010) and are already planning for 2011.
The web projects continue to thrive. The news site is still very active and has been frustrating me less and less as time has gone on. The library site has been amazing and continues to inspire me with the dedication and diligence of the new librarians (and old) who have made the project a pleasure to be a part of.
The big new web project (which is evidenced in this URL) has been slow moving but hopefully will launch in full effect sometime in January or Febuary 2010. The idea is to provide a set of web services and portal like functions to the milieu. We will be providing blogging, email, instant messaging and a series of new sites for interested parties. I can’t wait to launch it and start working with an active technical group on a proactive project they can all be involved in.
This year I mostly traveled for bookfairs. I made it to San Francisco, New York (twice, once to go to CT), Portland, Santa Cruz, Seattle, and missed my flight to go to Tacoma. Hopefully next year I will slow down that pace and spend a bit more time in some places so I can spend quality time with friends and comrades.
by aragorn in General
Criticism and Framing
I am hesitant to even offer my thoughts, in the way of analysis, of the IAS event. The feedback that I received to Part I (offline) was typical of what my worst expectations would be for the effort. I was corrected, copy editor style, and reprimanded for not truly being a neutral reporter of the event. I find this kind of “meta-framing” to be fucking obnoxious and exemplary of something I see a lot in anarchist circles. If I am talking about you (your project, your effort, your ideas) that means that I am paying attention to you. Imagine all of the things that I could be talking about that I am not. My time is precious and I am choosing to spend it on reviewing an IAS event. I will never be a member (or invited) to the IAS. I will never be funded by or published by the IAS. I don’t share a lot of affinity with the politics of the group, as I understand them, and yet here I am, caring enough about the project to think about it and sharing those thoughts publicly. To parse the IAS to an audience that would otherwise ignore them (perhaps rightfully).
Instead of feeling complimented, or even honored, the response is that I am somehow “out of box” because my perspective of the IAS, and their presentation, is not the one that they have of themselves or that they would prefer the public to have of them.
This kind of feedback, this suffocation, is exactly why people who have disparate world views tend to avoid one another. Why reinvent the wheel with every person you meet? Why argue about why criticism may be healthier and more useful than nodding your head in agreement? Why use public forums to talk about ideas where they will be “reality checked”? Why explain yourself when you are doing someone a service that may not be particularly helpful to them but may be helpful to others?
Frustration aside I will honor the IAS, and the other people who are interested in the IAS event, through my (!!!) editorial lens, with the rest of my thoughts about their event last weekend (now a couple weekends ago).
What was done well and not so well
The panel was well attended. Probably 60+ people who were engaged and didn’t interrupt the presentation in a way I usually would expect from a Bay Area event. I think the organizers of the event did a good job of “Internet outreach” which worked surprisingly well. There was representation of at least 1/2 of the Bay Area anarchist tendencies which is a pretty good showing of the popularity of the panelists and lack of general distain of the IAS by the Bay Area Anarchist fighting factions (BAAFF).
The presenters did not seem to ramble very much and completely filled 2 hours with words. This was one of the reasons that there were no interruptions is because the 3 people up front actually talked the entire time. They didn’t appear that they would have even stopped if it weren’t for the self-imposed time limit. This “east coast” style of the presentation was probably so shocking to the audience generally that they were stunned into silence. I doubt a second panel like this one would go as smoothly.
Instead of having a Q&A session they gave the audience 30 minutes to “share their thoughts” which was also a great technique of crowd control because instead of the rambling incoherent thoughts of people being directed at the three people up front (who may or may not have handled them well) they were diffused into the crowd, for long enough for the next person to start speaking.
There was surprisingly little hostility expressed from the crowd toward the presenters which I give credit to the IAS members for. By not engaging directly with potential and probable hostility (mostly by ignoring it), by talking the audience into submission (thought their own endurance and lack of breaks), and by leaving very little time for the drained audience to even respond they were successful in holding an event without acrimony. Perhaps also without the discussion they claimed to want, but definitely without rancor. These are all successes, of a sort.
What they didn’t do well was also what they did do well. This was not a discussion about anarchist strategy, this was a presentation of “the IAS approach” to strategy.
What does all of this mean?
At the end of the day the IAS approach is more like a category (or approaches) rather than a specific approach. It is humanist. It is dialectical. It is leftist. I say these terms not as pejoratives, although perhaps it is fair to say that they are that too, but as clarification to what would otherwise be a little confusing for me. I don’t exactly understand when I am listening to the arguments of the IAS members WHY I don’t feel comfortable with what they are saying but I really do. Not quite idiot shivers level of discomfort but something is wrong here and I search for the words. Right or wrong these three seem fair.
Bear with me while I work through something here, history of ideas style, relating IAS ideas and Murray Bookchin’s breaking down of of nature into first and second nature. The story goes that we (humans) are natural and part of biological evolution (aka first nature) but we (humans) are also unique (says Bookchin) in our social awareness and this is second nature. When I hear social ecologists, or really just people in the left who aren’t particularly deep green talk about the environment I usually wonder what in the hell they are talking about. This is why.
At the end of the day it just seems like they are interested in policy or the metaphysics of justice. I guess that is fine, not my thing, but just fine. I don’t understand the connection, it literally escapes me. Nature is just a word, sure, a metaphysical concept. That concept, that word, is a study, a concern totally unrelated to how we do, could, or should live in the world (natural or not). My sense is that the verbage. The terminology has fascinated a certain body of thinkers for too long and that they are confused about where the study begins and ends and where relationships are, and are not, mappable to that territory. More on this another time.
Next point. Humanism. I don’t consider humans to be at the center of my understanding about power relationships or at the center of my view of a better world. I understand that the conflict we are in is with humans but that just informs my understanding of humans as the enemy, not as the center. Anarchism as a humanist project feels like a poor fit. It makes sense if you want to leverage disciplines like social work, cooperatives, and social ecology into a form that is useful for anarchist analysis, or perhaps better said for analyzing anarchists and anarchism, but they continue to feel like projects with their own biases that are not commutable to the project of freeing us from hierarchy, power over, and the domination of exchange relationships.
Final point. Democracy. Democracy is not Anarchy. They are different political positions and the only reason one would try to conflate them is if ones goals are propagandistic, political (as in a politician) or (self)deceptive. I don’t understand why this is even a discussion. Actually it isn’t.