[sixties-l] All this talk of anarchy

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 09/17/00

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    All this talk of anarchy
    Beneath tweedledum politics and brand-name culture,
    anarchism flows like an underground river, broad and
    Deep. So why can't we get past the surface?
    By James MacKinnon
    Over the wire comes a report of an anarchist punching a police officer in 
    the face, "repeatedly," during a street protest in Philadelphia. I imagine 
    that little clot of information exploding outward through the endless 
    fractals of the Information Age. I picture it reaching the suburban 
    dinnertime conversations of a hundred million American Beauty households, 
    and if I listen closely, I can hear America tut-tutting.
    But then, there is something shocking about some punk putting one up in a 
    cop's face. In a culture that can absorb, without flinching, the fact that 
    certain individuals can afford to order take-out for the world's poorest 
    billion without losing their seats in the Billionaire's Club, punching a 
    cop remains a genuine shock. If you make an effort to understand it, your 
    internal pop-psychologist kicks in: I'm getting the sense that you're 
    angry. More than likely, you give in to an almost gut-level feeling that 
    this is very, very wrong: In America, One Does Not Punch an Officer of the Law.
    Sitting in a shady urban park, I bring this up with Closet Punk ("I'm kind 
    of a punk, but I'm in the closet"). He has been sitting cross-legged with 
    an almost Gandhian stillness, but now he stands and begins to act out the 
    climax of a 1999 protest in Montreal, when riot police sealed death penalty 
    protesters in an alley before they had even begun to march.
    "You could just feel this panic building," he recalls. "Suddenly they ran 
    at us  a totally unprovoked police charge."
    As people scrambled to escape up a single-file staircase, the cops closed 
    the gap. Closet Punk mimes the way a baton to the face knocked his friend 
    down onto the bike she was pushing. He stepped in as a human shield, felt 
    the jarring pain of a truncheon to the thigh, then managed with one hand to 
    grab the officer's weapon. "I just looked him in the eye and . . ." He 
    gropes for a way to describe the complexity of an epiphany. "The state is 
    going to crush you if it doesn't agree with you," he says finally.
    The protest in Montreal ended when the police destroyed the activists' 
    signs, then allowed them to leave, two-by-two, like animals off Noah's ark. 
    And so, in Closet Punk's world, news of people striking back against police 
    has a much different effect than it does on a person watching the nightly 
    news and thinking that all these balaclavas and bandanas have grown a 
    little stale.
    In 1969, Carl Oglesby wrote about the effect in The New Left Reader: "The 
    policeman's riot club functions like a magic wand, under whose hard caress 
    the banal soul grows vivid and the nameless recover their authenticity." 
    Closet Punk wraps up his story of cops and rebels. "That was really like a 
    life-changing thing for me," he says, then laughs lightly. "It's ironic. 
    They've unwittingly created a radical anarchist."
    Anarchist. (Pause; roll of timpani, clash of cymbals.) Yes, the 
    capital-A-Anarchist is back, and he's wearing a big black gas-mask and 
    breathing like Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet. He's cursing the hippies and 
    climbing the walls of the gated community. He's throwing bricks and 
    lighting fires, and when he rolls out at midnight in his long black car, 
    you better believe that he'll have Jesus in the trunk. This is an 
    all-points-bulletin, and in Anytown, America, good citizens are scrambling 
    to hide the booze and lock up their daughters.
    That's the easy definition. Taking a truer measure of anarchy is puzzlingly 
    difficult, as David Samuels found when he reported on the infamous radicals 
    of Eugene, Oregon, for Harper's magazine.  Samuels concluded, in concerned 
    tones, that the anarchists suffer "the absolutist psychology of children 
    whose parents split up or sold out or otherwise succumbed to the 
    instability inherent in modern marriage." However wrong or right about his 
    sample study, Samuels was opening an historical wound. Lenin himself 
    declared anarchism an "infantile disorder" (best cured, added Trotsky, with 
    an "iron broom"), and critics ever since have suggested that anarchists, as 
    one historian put it, "project on to the State all the hatred they felt for 
    parental authority."
    It is just as easy, of course, to explain a person's faith in authority 
    through the psychology of a child with a burden in his pants. If only 
    anarchists suffer such Freudian analysis, it's because journalists are 
    conditioned to expect tight limits on public behavior, argues Jason 
    McQuinn, an anarchist for 30 years and editor of Anarchy magazine. "Rather 
    than taking into the light the idea that there are some people who believe 
    they can change power in a structural way," he says, "mainstream media 
    wants to believe that these people are in some way acting out their 
    sickness." To many, that will sound paranoid, like the complaint of a 
    nudist who just doesn't get why the rules are against her. But, like the 
    nudist, the anarchist is just so different that you're all too prone to 
    stare at the obvious. At best, you might try to guess what makes her 
    tick.  There are a lot of gaps to jump before you finally think: Maybe this 
    person makes sense.
    If you want to stare into an anarchist den, you might start on Earl Street, 
    in a mixed neighborhood of Toronto. The building itself is Romanesque 
    Italian, rising in stone and stained glass. This is Our Lady of Lourdes, a 
    Jesuit parish, and the place of worship of poet, author, and professor 
    Albert Moritz.
    Moritz is an anarchist and Catholic, or as he puts it, "a Catholic among 
    anarchists, and an anarchist among Catholics." It's a difficult and deeply 
    personal balance that Moritz describes as a refusal to reject any influence 
    that resonates with his sense of humanity. "I'm a palimpsest," he says. "My 
    life is a matter of maintaining contradictions and attempting reconciliations."
    Anarchists like Moritz are easier guides into what might be called "the 
    anarchist conversation" than, say, a vegan squatter who goes by the single 
    name "Kronstadt." As he would be the first to declare, though, "easy" does 
    not mean "more legitimate." It's a question of starting points, and the 
    anarchists interviewed for this story  including a warehouse worker, a 
    youth-care advocate, a "boss," and a computer coder  start somewhere 
    nearer to the house-in-the-suburbs, 2.5-child norm than my (fictional) 
    Kronstadt.  Moritz, for example, recommends anarchism as, to begin with, a 
    way "to lighten up your thought."
    In its immediate impression, anarchism is the intellectual equivalent to 
    the place the socks go when they vanish from the laundry.  Consider, for 
    example, the disappearance of outrage. Earlier this year, The Filth and the 
    Fury  a documentary about the seminal punk band the Sex Pistols  hit 
    audiences with an opening collage of 1970s Britain. Pneumatic models hawk 
    vacuums on TV; black-tie swells drive past squalid housing projects; the 
    Queen looks like she smells something nasty that she can't possibly 
    mention. It's a set-up, designed to make sure you understand that, once 
    upon a time, it made sense to scream, like Johnny Rotten, "Anarchy! Get 
    pissed! Destroy!"
    What might strike the viewer, though, is that nothing much has changed. 
    Imagine a collage for the year 2000: virtual fly-fishing, "doggie 
    day-care," the cult of Oprah, two million in prison in the USA, the 
    greatest gap between rich and poor in living memory.  Somehow, though, all 
    that punk rage seems pass. Are these just "different times?" Or do the 
    same forces that virtually prohibit ripped jeans (so '80s!) also convince 
    us that anger's uncool?
    Outrage fell from fashion, so much so that even our most visible radical 
    groups  like Earth First!, the Ruckus Society, and the Direct Action 
    Network  seem restrained. Most have settled into media-savvy campaigns of 
    non-violent direct action (many of their members, it has to be noted, are 
    anarchists). But within the anarchist conversation, OUTRAGE IS A WARMING 
    FIRE around which to debate the unmentionable questions. Right now, a new 
    consensus is attracting a limited following, best known through the Black 
    Bloc street radicals that believe corporate media is a monster that isn't 
    worth feeding, that property damage isn't violence unless living things are 
    wounded, and that enduring police violence may be the same as accepting it.
    Without this debate, people like Albert Moritz would condemn the Black Bloc 
    anarchists out of hand. Within the debate, he refuses to rebuke them. "I 
    wish them well," he says. In fact, Moritz, the good Catholic, refuses to 
    reject even the possibility of a morally defensible offensive attack on the 
    "These are real questions," he says. "After the Second World War, the 
    United States was perhaps the chief enforcer of the notion in the Nuremberg 
    trials that you are demanded to adhere to a higher standard than the laws 
    and ideals of the country that you happen to be in, the organization that 
    governs that country, or the military body that gives you orders. You were 
    held guilty unto death if you didn't dissent from them unto a higher 
    standard. But, within our own political discourse, it's usually considered 
    absolutely verboten to invoke that same principle."
    The submerged conversation that connects people like Moritz to a teenager 
    building a fiery barricade out of a Dumpster is the reason anarchism, and 
    not only "the anarchist," creates such a furor each time it rises near the 
    mainstream. To government and corporate authorities, no good can come if Jo 
    Coffeecup discovers that this thing called "anarchism" is like an ongoing 
    talk-radio program where the unspoken is always the topic of the day.
    You're listening to Circle A Radio, folks, and the question today is, "Are 
    there times when it's OK to attack the police?" We've got Caleb Williams on 
    the line from Boise. Hi Caleb.
    Hello out there, I just want to say that I love your show . . .
    You can almost hear the truncheons thumping on the riot shields, the stern 
    murmurs in the White House, the family counselors helping parents figure 
    out if their children are hanging out with anarchists.
    "I sometimes have the feeling that many of these people suspect there is a 
    kind of Berlin-Wall-in-1988 quality to the supposedly massive satisfaction 
    and confidence of the late capitalist system," says Moritz. "They react 
    with rage because there is some fear behind it."
    We are slowly circling the anarchist beast, but there's no other way to 
    approach a 200-year-old philosophy that is still absent from most political 
    science reading lists. Its "experts" reject the term, and insist that if 
    their words aren't fixed and true, then that's exactly the truth they're 
    shooting for. "The first anarchist was the first person who felt the 
    oppression of another and rebelled against it," writes Peter Marshall in 
    his hefty history of anarchy, Demanding the Impossible. In effect, 
    anarchism lays claim to the root of grassroots.
    A few things can be said for certain about anarchist 
    philosophy.  Anarchists reject the legitimacy of external government, 
    political authority, corporate power, hierarchy and domination. They 
    believe that, through social rebellion, society can become a voluntary 
    association of free and equal individuals. "Mind your own business" has 
    been an anarchist motto, but the emphasis on equality separates the 
    anarchist from any free marketeer.  Anarchism imagines the maximum 
    individual freedom that is compatible with freedom for all others, and it 
    is along this line that anarchists fiercely debate and divide. There's an 
    old joke: "What do you get if you lock two anarchists in a room? Three 
    splinter groups."
    The movement that emerged with the "Battle in Seattle" has been publicly 
    linked to anarchism, says Cindy Milstein, a faculty member at the Institute 
    for Social Ecology in Vermont, but the association isn't as strong as it 
    should be. "I have never seen a movement that included so many anarchists, 
    whether they were dressed all in black or not," she says. "The direct 
    action part of it  from the affinity groups, to the puppeteers, to 
    independent media  has either been strongly influenced by anarchism or is 
    initiated by anarchists." The new movement building out of Seattle is, at 
    least, "proto-anarchist." It is radically decentralized, largely 
    leaderless, tolerant of a wide range of expression  and ready to party 
    whenever power takes a tumble.
    These are essential elements of anarchist history. The Zapatistas in Mexico 
    are anarchistic: sovereign, self-governing, structured without hierarchy, 
    intensely local, and in direct confrontation with government and corporate 
    power. Green politics, with its rejection of leader-worship and centralized 
    power, borrows heavily from the concept that "anarchy is order" (the root 
    of the "circle A" symbol).  At a time when nuclear holocaust seemed only a 
    matter of time, punk rock urged us to ruin this doomed world and see what 
    emerged  an echo of anarchist Michael Bakunin's 1842 statement, "The urge 
    to destroy is also a creative urge."
    The New Left of the 1960s argued for decentralization and direct democracy, 
    and against the power of the police, state, military, and even "the tyranny 
    of culture." From self-governing communes to yippie sloganeers ("Revolution 
    for the Hell of it!"), a largely unrecognized anarchism bored deep into 
    Americana. The Black Panthers resembled current radical anarchists in their 
    dual commitment to self-defense against police and "active community" in 
    the form of free medical clinics and food services. And anarchism was at 
    the heart of the 1968 riots and general strike that brought France to the 
    brink of revolution at a time when, like now, the word seemed ridiculously 
    naive. The Situationists  radical critics who formed an anarchist 
    resistance to consumer society  fought police from behind barricades, 
    believing that their sudden glimpse beyond the spectacle of the commercial 
    glut had created a mindshift that state and commerce could never again co-opt.
    Anarchism has also had its peace: the anti-nuclear movement was deeply 
    inspired by Gandhi, who had studied the pacifist anarchist Leo Tolstoy, who 
    admired history's first self-declared anarchist, the French revolutionary 
    Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. It has had its brief and requisite fame: anarchism 
    is linked to the assassination of US president William McKinley, and in 
    1892, popular anarchists Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman conspired to 
    attempt the murder of Henry Clay Frick, chair of Carnegie Steel. (Frick's 
    use of Pinkerton strikebreakers had resulted in the death of ten workers 
    and three guards.) Anarchists can also claim at least one historic 
    foresight: they had denounced communism before it could even be called a 
    movement. Back through time the anarchist reels. Back to Jesus ("The first 
    anarchist society was that of the apostles," wrote one anarchist thinker); 
    back to the Lao Tzu, who argued that, to the free person who gives others 
    their freedom, "What room is there left for government?"
    "When you offer people a chance to create their own lives, it's incredibly 
    powerful," says Milstein. "The ideas are strong enough that people will 
    come to them."
    If anarchism is resonating throughout the new politics, it is in large part 
    because there is just so much to resist: Britney Spears and Tommy Hilfiger, 
    e-commerce and media mergers, tweedledum politics and police-sanctioned 
    protest. The traditional Left has produced Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, 
    while the Right enjoys an exclusive claim on freedom, responsibility, and 
    individuality. The physicist's term "potential energy" seems a good 
    description of the times, and anarchism is the WRECKING BALL WAITING TO SWING.
    If history is any measure, though, it is the anarchist and anarchism that 
    will be misunderstood, denounced, and driven again into its deep 
    underground. One anarchist, writing for the Independent Media Center at the 
    outset of the early August protests in Philadelphia, predicted an impending 
    storm. "The media simultaneously demonizes and discredits the protesters, 
    turning them from citizens with legitimate concerns that aren't being heard 
    into an unruly mob with no cause that wants to find any excuse to trash 
    buildings and beat up cops. Then, the general public is willing to look the 
    other way as police invade civil rights."
    Just days later, Philly police commissioner John Timoney, himself jostled 
    during protests surrounding the Republican convention, called for a 
    crackdown. "Somebody who has nation-wide jurisdiction has got to look into 
    these groups," he said. "I intend on raising this issue with federal 
    Closet Punk can already feel the heat. He asked to be named only by his 
    graffiti tag; he works on a politically sensitive inner-city project and 
    worries that city officials could use the weight of his label  anarchist  
    to shut down the operation. "It's a philosophy that's really undergone a 
    lot of oppression over the past 100 years," he says.
    He hopes, without expectation, that the public will come to see beyond the 
    balaclava. Closet Punk has become an anarchist advocate; most recently, 
    he's organized a reading circle that meets in a public park. They're 
    checking out Goldman and Chomsky, and the gentle Peter Kropotkin is coming 
    up on the list.  It's an interesting image: ten allies of the dreaded Black 
    Bloc reading, as Oscar Wilde put it, "a man with a soul of that beautiful 
    white Christ."

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