What is real anarchism?


Anarchism is a philosophy which, over the years, has often been seriously misunderstood, thanks largely to the efforts of its enemies. But the situation seems worse than ever today, in that even those who call themselves anarchists sometimes lack a clear understanding of what it involves. Sometimes they accept the comic-book version of anarchism presented to us by the mainstream media and so help perpetuate that parody. Sometimes they undermine the whole sense of anarchism by trying to combine it with a political philosophy with which it is entirely incompatible, such as capitalism, liberalism, postmodernism, Marxism, nationalism or the politics of “racial” identity.

By real anarchism, we mean an anarchist vision unblurred by a confusion of other ideas and influences, an anarchist point of view which is strong and coherent because it is built on the foundation stone of anarchist philosophy. Anarchism, as a political movement, is doomed to disintegrate and disappear if it fails to reconnect itself to the roots of its own world-view.

Anarchy comes from the Greek terms arkh meaning “ruler” and an- meaning “without”: it therefore means a society without rulers. An anarchist is someone who thinks we should live without rulers and who tries to push society in that direction. Note that an anarchist isn’t just someone who thinks we could possibly live without rulers, in certain circumstances and if certain conditions were met, but someone who thinks it preferable to live without rulers.

The obvious question which springs to mind is why do anarchists think it would be better to live in a society without rulers, without government? After all, most of us have been brought up to believe that a state, the rule of law and so on are necessary for our well-being and protection. There may be arguments about how much power the state should have, or how it should use that power, but there is no general question about the need for some kind of authority in charge of our society. People assume that without a government, human society would fall apart into chaos, with everyone trampling over each other in a brutal “dog-eat-dog” world. The word “anarchy” is often used in this way by non-anarchists. They talk about a fear that we could “descend into anarchy”.

From this perspective, the anarchist point of view doesn’t make any sense at all. One common conclusion is that anarchists must be hopelessly naïve to believe that it could be possible to do away with authority without disastrous consequences. Another reaction is that anarchists must be destructive-minded and violent people, who actively want society to slip into a nightmarish condition of chaos. In fact, these two depictions of anarchists are used pretty much interchangeably by our enemies, particularly in the mainstream media, depending on the needs of the moment. One day anarchists are bunch of woolly-minded idealists, completely detached from “the real world”, foolishly clinging to a childish cloud-cuckoo fantasy of stateless society. The next day they are a sinister and violent gang of sociopaths, plotting underground to wreak havoc and destroy everything that is good in society.

Behind all this misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the anarchist position lies the important question of how we regard human nature. If you believe that humans are naturally selfish, greedy and violent, then you will argue that they need the structure of a state to control them. If you believe that there is no such thing as human nature, and that we are entirely shaped by the environment in which we grow up, then you will be keen to ensure that the correct environment is provided and may well look to some kind of state to ensure this happens.

But what if you believe that humans have a natural tendency for co-operation rather than for competition, for mutual aid rather than for mutual robbery? This is the anarchist point of view, most famously set out by the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin in his 1902 masterpiece Mutual Aid. In this case, you obviously do not believe that a state is necessary to hold society together, as this is something that happens naturally from within, because of this tendency for co-operation.

This difference between the statist and anarchist outlooks is fundamental. It is the point where anarchism diverges from all other political philosophies. So it is crucial to understand why Kropotkin, and his anarchist followers, have this particular view of human nature. Kropotkin made it quite clear in Mutual Aid, and elsewhere, that it is not just human nature he is describing. All animals show the same tendency to co-operate, simply because it makes sense. That is how species, including the human species, survive and flourish – by working together and looking out for each others’ interests. He makes it clear that this is only a tendency he is describing. There are plenty of instances of competition in nature, as well in human society. Anarchists do not suggest that a future anarchist society would never involve any conflict between individuals or groups. But the overall pattern remains one of co-operation.

This potential and natural tendency for co-operation and mutual aid is based on our belonging to the natural world, where co-operation remains intact as the general rule of life. It is a continuation of nature within humanity, the extension of the organic structure of nature into the realm of human affairs. A human society without a state can hold itself together because that is what it had evolved to do, before the modern era of hierarchies warped our ways of living.

So-called anarchist thinking in recent decades has been overly influenced by other philosophical ideas which do not share its roots. It is fashionable in some circles to reject the idea of “nature”, particularly when applied to human beings. It is wrongly seen as being some kind of restriction applied to individuals from the outside, an attempt to make them conform to someone else’s model. This hasn’t been helped by the right-wing misuse of the words “natural” and “unnatural” to describe behaviour or ways of being that are considered acceptable or unacceptable by certain groups. This has nothing to do with actual nature, which is simply the living world of which we are part.

Nature is at the heart of real anarchist thinking. The idea of a natural state of freedom that has been stolen from us by states, churches and other forms of domination underlies the whole anarchist tradition. Time and time again anarchists write of removing the constraints of the state, so that we can organise ourselves into co-operative societies where we will always have the potential to flourish.

For most people today, the existence of a state is accepted as something necessary for the general welfare of humanity. But what does the state represent for anarchists? If human society naturally functions well on its own, and then something comes along which interferes with that natural functioning, then that thing is a problem. Yes, the state is unnecessary, but it’s even worse than that. It is actually stopping us from living how we should be living. The state is a positive menace to human well-being.

Comparisons are sometimes made between anarchism and the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism. Taoism describes a natural flow to the world which can be blocked and disrupted by any attempts to control it, even well-meaning ones.

For those who see anarchy as being a natural and desirable condition of humankind, all kinds of authority are regarded as both unnatural and undesirable. This is the basis of the anarchist position. While those in power regard anarchists as wanting to turn their world upside down, anarchists regard the current world as already being upside down and want to put it back the right way again, how it’s meant to be.

Seen from the anarchist point of view (from the right way up), all the structures of our current society take on a different appearance. They are revealed as ways of keeping us enslaved and concealing from us the truth about our predicament. Here are some examples.

The state. Anarchists regard the state as an appalling imposition. A group of powerful people declare themselves to have some kind of right to authority, tell the people they need that authority, and then force people to obey them. This is unacceptable.

Property. The powerful people who run the state also claim to “own” parts of the surface of the Earth and exclude others from these areas.

The law. This is the way that all the theft and domination is justified, disguised and imposed. The law replaces the principle of “right” and “wrong” with narrow definitions of “legal” and “illegal” suiting the interests of those who run the state, possess the wealth and write the laws.

The police. They are the physical means by which the powerful people who run the state violently enforce obedience to their system.

The “nation”. The concept of a “nation” is a false one, designed to give legitimacy to the existence of states controlling particular territories. Obviously there are fluid cultural and linguistic identities across the world, which should be defended from statist imperialism and centralisation, but anarchists reject any idea that these identities are fixed or that humans can be defined by national or racial labels.

“Democracy”. To hide the reality behind their theft and domination, the powerful people behind the state have constructed an elaborate façade of so-called “democracy” to persuade the dispossessed majority that they do, in fact, have a say in the running of society. The usefulness of the illusion of “democracy” is to head off the need for constant violent repression of the public.

The main aim of the powerful people behind the state has always been to increase  their own wealth and power at the expense of everyone else. They disguise this aim by describing it as “progress”, “development” or “economic growth”.

In order to boost their own wealth, the ruling class have stolen from the rest of humanity the ability to live freely off the natural fruits of the land and trapped us into a complex system of enslavement based on money. The basic idea is that you either become a slave to their system, or you starve. To encourage voluntary submission, we have been taught to think that any kind of paid employment has a positive value, whatever the work involves. The accumulation of money and possessions is likewise presented as praiseworthy in itself, and confers social status.

The increase in the wealth of the ruling class – or “economic growth” as they call it – is presented as an unchallengeable priority, justifying unending and ever-increasing exploitation of life in all its forms – human, animal and our natural environment.

Anarchists reject this rhetoric, and everything that goes along with it. We have our own set of values which have got nothing to do with the fake and self-serving “values” of the world of money.

Ethics form an important part of the anarchist vision. There is already an ethical dimension in the basic idea of a co-operative way of life founded on mutual aid. But real anarchists extend this further in seeing a sense of values which naturally goes hand in hand with the idea of a self-governing and organic anarchist society. These values provide an ethical structure for this society; they are the fabric that make it possible and hold it together on a physical level. This basic concept has been shared by many cultures in human history. It is the Chinese Tao, it is the Indian idea of dharma or cosmic order, or the indigenous South American sumak kawsay or “right way of living”.

This anarchist dharma is key to the superiority of anarchist society. As well as naturally having a tendency to co-operate, for survival and well-being, humans have a tendency to be guided by certain values which help build harmonious and sustainable societies. Respect for each other, respect for other creatures, for trees, plants and rivers. These values are commonplace amongst us but are not allowed to come to the fore and guide the direction of our societies, because of all the false structures imposed upon us.

Freeing humanity from the yoke of state control and enslavement would also free us to live according to values coming naturally to us, rather than being forced to obey the laws imposed on us by the slave-owning minority.

People new to anarchist ideas often misunderstand the role of the individual in anarchist philosophy. The emphasis on individual freedom leads some to imagine that anarchism is little more than an extreme form of individualism, a mere libertarianism which could theoretically be coupled with liberalism or capitalism. However, this interpretation neglects the strong social aspect of anarchism, its emphasis on our innate tendency towards co-operation and mutual aid.

Anarchism rejects the idea that there is an inherent clash of interests between the individual and the community, which has to be resolved by some kind of social contract or compromise. Instead, it understands that the individual human’s sense of belonging to a wider community is a natural one, if allowed to flourish. We do not need a state (whether capitalist or communist) to artificially impose that belonging and loyalty on us – indeed, trying to do so is more likely to destroy affinity with wider society.

Because anarchists maintain that humanity has a natural tendency towards co-operation, we trust people to organise themselves, rather than wanting to force them to behave in the ways that we see fit by means of laws, police and so on. For anarchists, the idea of complete freedom for all individuals is not something to be feared, because we recognise that, in the long run, individuals will act in the interests of the communities of which, after all, they are part. For the minority who use the structures of the current system to dispossess and exploit the majority, complete freedom is indeed to be feared – as a threat to their own privileged status.

Freedom of the individual is, for anarchists, necessary for the freedom of the community. A society cannot be considered free if its members are not free. An individual cannot be considered free if they are not free to act according to their own conscience and their own values. Those values are found deep within each of us. But, since each of us is also part of the human species, these are shared human values. When we search in our hearts for what is right and wrong, just and unjust, we are searching within the collective culture, the collective thinking, of humankind.

And embedded within that collective human culture is the idea of dharma, or Tao, or natural harmony, the sense of rightness by which human society can guide itself. When that sense of rightness has been obscured by all the false representations of contemporary society, it is the role of anarchists to bring it back to the fore.

Since anarchists demand complete freedom for all individuals, it goes without saying that we also recognise a complete equality of worth in all. The labels attached to people by current society, denoting their social or “national” or “racial” status, have no meaning for anarchists, who see only fellow human beings with a right to define themselves as they see fit and to be treated with respect by others.

We know that many in society today are subject to discrimination and oppression in ways that are not always seen, or regarded as significant, by others who do not undergo the same experiences. And we know that it is important to always remain aware of this. However, anarchists do not define ourselves in terms of our oppression, or accept the role of victim. We prefer to fight back, focusing not on the differences between us but on what we all have in common.

Anarchism is not a narrow dogma and emerges in many different forms. Sometimes it can embrace struggles which may not be anarchist themselves, but are wholly compatible with anarchism. Anti-fascism is a good example of this. Not all anti-fascism is necessarily anarchist, but all anarchism is necessarily anti-fascist, as fascism is entirely incompatible with anarchism. Likewise, while class struggle does not have to be specifically anarchist, class struggle is very much part of the anarchist struggle – specifically the struggle to abolish the whole economic system in which humans are ranked in “classes”.

It has become fashionable to dismiss any idea of revolution as naïve. It is argued either that it is impossible, or that it will merely lead to new forms of oppression. But for anarchists, real naïvety lies in imagining that real change can be brought about without revolution. This is not revolution in the state-communist sense of a transfer of power to a new ruling elite. Anarchism aims at nothing less than the permanent destruction of the state and all the layers of authority it uses to enslave us.

While short-term social gains are not to be sniffed at, they are always to be seen for what they are. Without the demolition of all the structures of current system (law, work, patriarchy, borders, etc.) the structure of enslavement will remain intact and will, in time, reassert control. Real anarchists refuse to abandon the call for revolution, because we know that it is our only hope. Moreover, the myth of revolution, the dream of the complete destruction of the current system, is something that can galvanise action, that can capture people’s imagination and create powerful energies. One thing is for sure, and that is nothing will ever change if we all give up believing that change is even possible.

The anarchist view of the individual comes into play again when the question of revolution comes up. For us, the freedom of the individual is always combined with the responsibility to use that freedom in the general communal interest. In times of social harmony (i.e. anarchy), this would involve protecting the dharma of a stable and happy community. But in times like ours, where the world is upside down, the responsibility lies elsewhere.

Instead, say anarchists, individuals must find within themselves the strength to fight against the oppressive system in whatever way they can. This is partly a question of asserting own individuality through our dissent from the status quo and our adherence to our own set of values. But, of course, we are also acting in the interests the wider human community – as our values demand. Any anarchist who is true to themself has no choice but to act.

This courage to destroy injustice, tyranny and domination in all its forms is sometimes mistaken for negativity. But in fact anarchism has the deeply positive aim of sweeping away an existing negativity blocking human well-being and happiness. Anarchism is the spirit of life reasserting itself against oppression.

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The Acorn – 38

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Number 38


In this issue:

  1. “Chimps” swing into action
  2. Defend the living!
  3. Fighting the cancer of economic growth
  4. D for defiance in struggle against arms trade
  5. Protecting the planet is not a crime
  6. Sabotaging the subversives
  7. Acorninfo

1. “Chimps” swing into action

The primate resistance movement has struck out against those who want to destroy our planet and replace us with robots.

A group of French activists swung into action on Monday November 20, at the start of a conference in the south-western city of Bordeaux which was celebrating the “cyborg future” of humankind.

They made their move under the label of the Bordeaux Chimpanzees of the Future, referring to the infamous comment by UK transhumanist techno-guru Kevin Warwick that, in a tomorrow’s world peopled by AI-enhanced cyborg hybrids, actual living human beings like you and me would be regarded as nothing more than evolutionary remnants. We would be the “chimpanzees of the future” as he arrogantly put it.

In keeping with their primate identity, the activists scattered banana skins around the conference venue, as well as a leaflet explaining why they were there.

This pointed out that Bordeaux had just seen the arrival of a branch of the Singularity University, “a propaganda tool of the techno-totalitarianism founded by Ray Kurzweil (top transhumanist at Google), under whose patronage the conference is being held”.

Conference publicity

And it declared: “We don’t function, we live. We weren’t built, but born. We refuse to be ‘customised into cyborgs’. We refuse to ‘get ready to change planet’. We want to live on earth and remain free and human”.

The transhumanist cult represents the worst excesses of industrial-capitalist fantasy, dreaming of a humanity with artificial bodies and replaceable parts whose brains will eventually be uploaded into computers, giving them unimagined mental powers.

Not so long ago, this strange vision was regarded as little more than a weird joke, but it has increasingly become the religion of the technological avant-garde and has even succeeded in contaminating some so-called “anti-capitalist” thinking with its ultra-capitalist creed.

The transhumanists’ dream is a nightmare not just for human beings but for the living planet as a whole, as it depends on ongoing industrialisation and all the environmental destruction that this brings with it – a harsh fact that transhumanists try to avoid.

Transhumanist Kevin Warwick

As Paul Cudenec writes in Nature, Essence and Anarchy: “On the most basic level, the industrialist vision of a technological posthuman future is entirely divorced from the physical realities of industrialism. Even if post-natural posthumans managed to upload their minds (or, rather, soulless copies of their brains) into a virtual realm of their own construction, the objective reality of the world they thought they were escaping would not somehow cease to exist.

“Pollution would worsen as the technological world expanded, animals would suffer from its consequences, the food chain would be imperilled, the very life-system of the earth would be at risk. Their technological bubble would still be dependent on an outside reality and infrastructure.

“There would still have to be mines to extract the minerals to build the computers, oil and gas wells to provide the energy, waste to be disposed of, pipelines and cables to be laid and repaired, flood defences to be built or strengthened as the climate span further into extremities, cooling systems to be installed for the huge banks of computer servers, bolts to be tightened, cogs to be lubricated, mould to be wiped off walls, and so on ad nauseam.

“Even if all the hard labour was done by machines and there were further machines to repair those machines, who would repair these? Who would be doing all the dirty work, wiping the metaphorical bottoms of the immortal posthuman narcissists plugged into their ego-massaging virtual existences?

“A race of ‘chimpanzee’ slaves maybe, the left-over essentialist scum who had refused to jump on the naturaphobic bandwagon to oblivion?”

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2. Defend the living!

A poignant short film celebrating the UK road protests of the early 1990s can now be seen online.

I Am Alive by Tom Lloyd, Gill Barron and Mark Melville combines archive footage shot over the summer of 1994 from roof-tops and tree-tops with a poetic voice-over and haunting soundtrack evoking the beauty in finding the courage to defend life.

And it reminds us that although particular battles of the time, such as at Solsbury Hill or Wanstead, were lost to the forces of industrialism, a generation’s war on roads was won, with the UK government putting new schemes on hold for decades in the face of the inspiring resistance.

The effort, the trauma, the arrests and the convictions will all be vindicated by history, as will one day all the current struggles against fracking, pipelines, mines, airports, high speed rail lines and all the other assaults on Mother Earth.

As the film says: “Land isn’t a commodity: it doesn’t belong to us. It’s a community: we belong to it.

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

Expect resistance. As long as we are alive.

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3. Fighting the cancer of economic growth

The so-called “need” for economic growth is the perfect excuse for the industrial capitalist system to keep expanding, exploiting and exterminating, so arguments for “degrowth” have a massive radical potential.

The movement is little known in the UK, but is becoming increasingly influential elsewhere. For instance, next summer sees the 6th International Degrowth Conference in Malmö, Sweden. It will take place from August 21-25 2018 and is organised by the Institute for Degrowth Studies (Institutet för nerväxtstudier). There is a call for participation for academics, activists and artists (deadline: December 31).

Across the Atlantic, the first North-South Conference on Degrowth will be held in Mexico City from June 19 – 21 2018, supported by universities, NGOs, and social movements.

This is the first time a Latin American country will host an international gathering on Degrowth, after five conferences in Europe and one in Canada. Decolonisation of the imaginary, survival,  cultures, and wealth will be the main issues under discussion.

Degrowth ideas are also sneaking into mainstream European thinking. From September 18-19 2018 a post-growth conference supported by various “stakeholders” (Members of the European Parliament from different political groups, academics, NGOs and unions) will take place in the premises of the European Parliament in Brussels. The date coincides with the 10th anniversary of the collapse of the US Bank Lehman Brothers that sparked the “economic crisis” justifying the intensification of neoliberal economics.

The work will be preceded by a preparatory session at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and followed by a debriefing and exchanges on how to coalesce allies to ensure that change will actually happen.

There is lots of English-language information on degrowth on the German website, degrowth.info.

Explaining the basic idea, it states: “By ‘degrowth’, we understand a form of society and economy which aims at the well-being of all and sustains the natural basis of life. To achieve degrowth, we need a fundamental transformation of our lives and an extensive cultural change.

“The current economic and social paradigm is ‘faster, higher, further’. It is built on and stimulates competition between all humans. This causes acceleration, stress and exclusion. Our economy destroys the natural basis of life. We are convinced that the common values of a degrowth society should be care, solidarity and cooperation.

“Humanity has to understand itself as part of the planetary ecological system. Only this way, a self-determined life in dignity for all can be made possible”.

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4. D for defiance in struggle against arms trade

A woman convicted of disrupting an arms fair in Wales has defiantly stood by her actions.

D told the court in Cardiff: “My motivation that day was to stop the arms fair. I am not denying it – what I am saying is that I was trying to prevent something worse from happening.”

She was found guilty by the court of making hoax calls claiming there was a bomb at the Motorpoint Arena, which was hosting the Defence Procurement, Research, Technology and Exportability event, better known as Cardiff Arms Fair.

D was expecting to go to prison, but in fact received a suspended sentence and an order to pay £2000 costs and £115 “victim surcharge”.

She declared afterwards: “I said when I was first arrested that it was the arms dealers who should have been arrested in my stead, and I still believe it’s the arms dealers and the UK Government who should have been in the dock on trial for their complicity in war crimes.

“My resolve in opposing the arms trade has only been strengthened by this experience and I hope to see a huge protest outside next year’s DPRTE Arms Fair at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff.”

Said a report from Bristol Defendant Solidarity: “It was very inspiring to hear the defendant, D, clearly tell the judge and the jury that she was not sorry for her actions and that she remains committed to direct action against war and the arms industry.

“Her explanation of how she could not stand by while arms dealers furthered their profits by marketing mass murder was very powerful. She admitted making the calls, but argued that she was acting to prevent a greater crime by aiming to stop the selling of arms used for ‘mass indiscriminate killing of civilians’.

“Her moving account of witnessing first-hand the destruction wreaked by these weapons in Palestine and her motivations for doing all that she can to stop arms sales brought tears to many eyes. She told the court of her experiences driving an ambulance of medical supplies to Gaza after the Israeli bombing.

“’I saw kids my grandchildren’s age being teargassed on a daily basis’ she said. ‘I saw with my own eyes the aftermath of war. Standing in the wreckage of bombed out homes, schools and hospitals brought home to me the utter destruction war wreaks on people’s lives. That strengthened my resolve to do everything in my power to oppose this awful trade’.”

Israeli police teargas Palestinians

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5. Protecting the planet is not a crime

Brutal physical violence and insidious legal intimidation are being used by UK police to try and crush resistance to the fracking industry.

This is the stark conclusion of a new report from police monitoring group Netpol, called Protecting the Planet is Not a Crime. Its research confirms and usefully exposes the extent to which the police act as taxpayer-funded private security for  private business interests – in this case oil and gas.

It says: “Over the course of 2017, Netpol has seen evidence, particularly from Lancashire, of police officers pushing people into hedges, knocking campaigners unconscious, violently dragging older people across the road and shoving others into speeding traffic.

“We had also heard about the targeting of disabled protesters (including repeatedly tipping a wheelchair user from his chair) and officers using painful pressure point restraint techniques. In Lancashire, campaigners have repeatedly accused the police of ignoring violent and unlawful actions by private security employed by the shale gas company Cuadrilla. Similar allegations are now emerging in North Yorkshire.

“These confrontational and aggressive tactics are combined with often significant numbers of officers who seem, based on the testimony we have heard, ready to contain, assault or arrest any demonstrator for the slightest infringement.

“Police tactics appear deliberately intent on making it as difficult as possible for local people to effectively oppose the activities of the onshore oil and gas industry. There have also been claims that officers have tried to deliberately provoke the protesters in order to make more arrests.”

Netpol also draw attention to the civil injunction taken out against protesters by shale gas company INEOS.

The firm says it was advised to do this by the police – again showing that the cops are not “neutral” upholders of the peace, but active participants in imposing the toxic industrial capitalist agenda.

The order is directed against “persons unknown” and prohibits them from interfering with the “lawful activities” of INEOS staff and contractors. People who breach the order risk prison or having their assets seized.

The injunction refers to a range of “unlawful activity” that is not necessarily a criminal offence. Specifically, it mentions “slow walking” of lorries, which is not inherently unlawful unless it involves unreasonable obstruction without lawful authority or excuse.

Say Netpol: “Our concern is that, if INEOS’ injunction is made permanent, it not only opens in further pre-emptive injunctions by other fracking companies based on widespread smearing of all anti-fracking campaigners as ‘militant extremists’. It may also significantly restrict even further the ability of campaigners to take part in civil disobedience or, indeed, any form of effective protest”.

* In the early hours of Thursday November 30, frack-free activists occupied the so-called “Gatwick Gusher” oil site at Horse Hill in Surrey. The site, operated by Horse Hill Developments Ltd, has received planning permission for a further two wells and testing, reports Drill or Drop.

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6. Sabotaging the subversives

Imagine, if you can, that you are the chief of the secret political police in some far-off and fictional dictatorship.

Your networks have succeeded in completely infiltrating the small groups of dissidents who dare challenge the corruption and repression of the ruling elite.

True, there has been a spot of bother with one group of trouble-makers who rumbled a couple of clumsy low-level spies and have been exposing their dubious methods.

But overall, this has changed nothing. Indeed, the paranoia created by the spy revelations has even helped your task, instilling a mood of back-biting suspicion in dissident ranks and paralysing many would-be revolutionaries into inaction with the spectre of past or present spies in their ranks.

You have your enemies pretty much where you want them. You know exactly who they are and what they are going to do next. Your infiltrators, on many levels, have successfully shunted dissident networks away from effective opposition to the system into ineffective and dead-end ways of thinking and acting.

Dissidents whose words and deeds pose a real threat to the dictatorship are systematically marginalised and excluded from a movement which is largely under your control.

And yet, despite all this dominance, you are tempted to take it a step further. You can see that, with just a little provocation and encouragement, certain political disagreements within the opposition movement could be heightened to the point at which there was a major rupture in the dissident ranks which could even close down one of their most successful organising focal points.

In doing so, you could even take a passing swipe at one of those pesky troublemakers who has been giving you grief over your spies.

Would you do it, if you were this imaginary spy chief? Would you deliberately sabotage the dissident milieu you are paid to suppress, evil genius that you are?

While you’re thinking about it, let’s turn to some completely different events which have unfolded in the non-fictional world of 21st century Britain.

As readers may well be aware, the annual London Anarchist Bookfair in October was disrupted by a nasty row between some feminists and some others who accused them of transphobia.

We won’t pass judgement on the details of the dispute itself: an ill-judged leaflet matched by an ill-judged physical response.

But what was truly alarming was the vitriolic nature and tone of the accusations against the bookfair organisers who have done such a great job with the event over the years.

In an open letter stating their case, these critics accused the organisers of allowing “racist imperialism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny and ableism to ingratiate themselves as part of the culture of the Bookfair”.

Eh? Where did that come from? What imperialism? What anti-semitism? What Islamophobia? What misogyny? No indication is given as to what any of this refers to – the insults are just vomited forth without any context.

The authors declare that unless certain demands are met, they will not be participating in future bookfairs, which is of course their right.

But, incredibly, they add: “Further, we will encourage our members and associated groups to picket the LABF in the future and provide material to those attending about the problems we have identified and the demands we are making”.

Are there really anarchists out there who would picket the anarchist bookfair on the basis of this kind of disagreement?

This open letter was supported by many comrades who we would have thought would have known better, pretty much obliging the bookfair collective to announce that they would not be organising an event in 2018.

They say in their own statement: “What hurts us most is we know a lot of you. A number of the signatories to the open letter are groups we know and have worked with over the years; sometimes many, many years.

“Yet not one of you has tried to contact us as individuals or as the Bookfair collective to ask our views before you signed the open letter, even though some people appear not to have read all of it before signing. We thought of many of you as friends. We were obviously wrong.

“We guess it’s easy to sign a statement. It’s a lot harder to actually talk to people and try to work things out.

“We are also tired of being told what to do. We are told to ban people. We are told have this or that policy. We are told this or that group can/can’t have stalls. We are told we shouldn’t have a certain venue. We are constantly told we get it wrong. However, no one has offered to join the Collective and help us make the Bookfair better or offered to take it on”.

Actual fascists

They also reveal that (with sickening inevitability) they were accused of being “fascists” by some so-called comrades on the day (as were, apparently, both sides in the quarrel).

They comment: “It seriously concerns us how easy this terminology is thrown about in the anarchist milieu. Survivors of the Spanish Civil war, survivors of the death camps, political activists in Pinochet’s Chile, activists in parts of the world today and many others who have been at the blunt end of actual fascism are done a disservice by this indiscriminate use of the word.

“We feel that the Bookfair is not the place for tactics used on demos against fascist groups and cops. Some of us are traumatised enough by activism and look forward to enjoying an event where we can see friends and exchange ideas without the pressure of these actions”.

And there have been other voices challenging the basis of the vitriolic attack on the bookfair by the open letter authors.

Some “friends of the Bookfair”, for instance, posted a response in which they point out that the demands in the letter amount essentially to a call for tight ideological control over the content of the bookfair – something which should set the alarm bells ringing for any remaining authentic anarchists out there.

The “friends” say: “The Bookfair Collective operates on the principle that it is not for the small collective that organises it to take on defining and enforcing a rigid policy on safety and behaviour; it is for the wider movement that takes part in the Bookfair to do so, along anarchist principles of opposing centralized authority with dispersed and grassroots responsibility.

“Points raised in the open letter call for a radically different event, with a much more centralized program, organized or tightly overseen by the collective.”

“Yes” to central ideological control, comrades!

Another anarchist response on the 325 website reflects on “the harassment and public shaming of an individual simply because they’d dared deviate from the party line; the line being that there is to be no doubt and certainly no criticism of any of the dominant narratives around identity politics”.

It adds: “We are not in any way surprised that liberal activists would seize on the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon, slag off anarchists, signal virtue with their impeccable ‘Ally’ credentials, and try to sabotage a major anarchist event for good.

“Neither are we surprised that people we disagree with or whose views are offensive would turn up at the Bookfair; some such groups in fact, sometimes have tables and workshop slots and their own supporters.

“We also recognise why trans people and other anarchists present would be pissed off with the leaflets, which the authors and distributors must have known were offensive and would provoke a reaction.

“What we’re angry at is our fellow anarchists, who we hold to higher standards, and it’s on this that we want to concentrate. We’re disappointed at the abandonment yet again of anarchist principles of independent and critical thought in favour of groupthink.

“We’re angry at the willingness to sacrifice plurality of ideas for policing and self-censorship. And we’re saddened at the failure to balance our antagonism with a corresponding care and comradeship, so that bullying and public humiliation reigns unchecked. Finally, we’re pissed off that anarchists feel it’s so much more important to target another anarchist with unpopular views, than to attack institutional structures of our oppression”.

The authors also draw attention to the fact that the number one target of the protest inside the event was Helen Steel, a long-term anarchist activist and one-time McLibel defendant who was subjected to intrusive state surveillance by an undercover police officer who deceived her into a two-year relationship.

They comment: “One of the most disturbing aspects of all this was the way in which people allowed rumour to spread. The T-Word, once uttered, seemed to diffuse any flicker of concern from onlookers, all independent thought going out the window. ‘Apparently she was giving out Terf leaflets’, said a few.

“As mentioned, this transpired to be false information, and when those spreading the rumours were asked whether they had seen the texts for themselves, none of them had actually done so. When challenged, one person brushed it off by saying there was no smoke without fire, as if people were incapable of making mistakes.

“This sentiment also reveals ignorance of the long history of state agents using divide and rule tactics against dissidents – from COINTELPRO, to Stasi ops – and the fact that HS has herself been a target for state deception and manipulation”.

7. Acorninfo

Eco-activists protecting the Hambacher Forest near Aachen in Germany have won a little time in their battle to protect the area from open coal mining. After cops started to try and shift protesters, using pepper spray, and clear-cutting began, work was halted again on November 28 by a court pending further deliberations from the regional parliament.

* * *

Legendary US environmental activist Katie Lee has died at the age of 98. She was best known for her fierce opposition to the Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona. She felt it was a crime against nature, humanity and history: “The way I describe it is an aneurism, an aneurism. It’s a stoppage of the blood in the body, and that’s what they’re doing to our rivers with these dams, what we’re doing to our planet, I mean, you cut off all the blood in your body, you die. You cut off all our rivers and we’re gonna be out of here. We can’t survive without them”.

* * *

“The world of undercover policing, informers and corporate spies is by its very nature murky. It is populated by professionals who go to great lengths to hide their activities, and to build cover”, warns a pamphlet on police infiltration from undercoverresearch.net. As evidence of these infiltrators and their activities continues to emerge, dissidents would do well to have a good careful read of Was My Friend A Spycop?

* * *

The next Anarchist Action Network meeting is being staged on Sunday 10th December, from 1pm to 3pm, at 11 Ferry Rd, Shoreham-By-Sea, West Sussex, BN43 5RA. The AAN is an autonomous network made up of local groups and individuals from the anarchist movement based in the UK. All are welcome, except for cops pretending to be anarchists!

* * *

Scientists have called for an urgent ban on killer robots, with technology now existing to create autonomous weapons that can select and kill human targets without supervision. Campaigner Noel Sharkey, the emeritus professor of AI at Sheffield University and chair of the International Committee on Robot Arms Control, said: “We must succeed because the alternatives are too horrifying.” More info at autonomousweapons.org

* * *

One by one, all those dystopian sci-fi nightmares are coming true. Another one comes (again!) from Facebook, which has rolled out new “proactive detection” artificial intelligence technology which “will scan all posts for patterns of suicidal thoughts, and when necessary send mental health resources to the user at risk or their friends, or contact local first-responders”. It’s all in the interests of your own “safety”, of course, and Facebook spokesman confirmed that “users cannot opt out”.  You can opt out of Facebook altogether, though…

* * *

“Madrid’s refusal to compromise, in the view of the Catalan nationalist movement, renders the push towards Catalan independence impossible to avert”, concludes a useful summary of the current situation at euroasiareview.com.  We continue to support Catalan autonomy, despite our complete lack of faith in the idea of any kind of state. As we said in Acorn 37: “With its use of the whole gamut of repressive methods, from internet censorship and brutal violence to media distortion of what has been happening, the Spanish state could almost be acting out a dress rehearsal of clamp-downs on disobedient populations elsewhere. If the authorities can get away with it in Barcelona and Catalonia, with their proud revolutionary spirit and sense of community, they might conclude they could get away with it anywhere.”

* * *

“Anarchy is a word we use to describe those moments when force cannot subdue us, and life flourishes as we know it should”. So declares Fighting for Our Lives, an anarchist primer produced by US comrades Crimethinc some 15 years ago and now, happily, available online. So-called anarchists in London and elsewhere may want to ponder its concluding words: “Then, as now, as always, the important question is—which side are you on?”

* * *

Acorn quote: “It does not require more than a simple act of insight to realise that infinite growth of material consumption in a finite world is an impossibility”.

E.F. SchumacherSmall Is Beautiful

(For many more like this, see the Winter Oak quotes for the day blog)

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