[Apologies for duplicates. The earlier submission had the serious defect
of failing to clearly set off my remarks from the excerpt of the Tribune
article itself. IMCers: please delete the earlier submission. Sorry.]
Those images of protesters clad in black with their faces
hidden behind scarves and hoods as they stormed police lines in Genoa make
it tempting to dismiss their opposition to globalization as stemming from
anger, not reflection.
The name of their rallying cry doesn't help either. Anarchism sounds
too much like a synonym for the chaos and confusion they recently brought
to the streets of Italy and to previous economic summits in Seattle, Washington,
D.C., Melbourne, Prague and Quebec City. Yet it would be foolish to write
off those young militants as inspired by nothing more profound than "Easy
Rider" or some other version of the Hells Angels' philosophy of life.
The anarchist movement has a long history and a perfectly coherent
It is not likely to go away anytime soon. It is more likely due for
a renaissance. Arguably, it is tailor-made for the increasing numbers of
people who feel alienated by the incessant absorption of all the Earth's
societies and local cultures into a brave, new, one world of free trade
and Golden Arches.
That last mouthful may sound a bit mystical. But anarchism can be
easily understood by considering a kind of work-a-day experience many of
from Ron Grossman, "Rebels with many causes," Chicago
Tribune, August 5, 2001
Take a gander at this
article, you radicals you, and pray tell what you think of it. This
could signal an important opening for discussion.
I'm trying to make up my mind on whether the article was favorable or
unfavorable. I'm having a hard time deciding. On the one hand, we can rejoice
when any radical, visionary political ideas are treated with anything other
than contempt and vilification in the corporate press. (Am I the only one
here who noticed the irony of this article appearing in the same rightwing
rag that, 115 years ago, beat the drums most loudly for the bloodthirsty
lynchmob against the renowned anarchist martyrs of Haymarket Square?) On
the other hand, the conclusion that it leaves us with invites dismissal
of anarchism as thoroughly quixotic tilting at windmills. It invites the
reader to view radicals as "beautiful dreamers." This serves the interests
of the powerful almost as well as contempt and vilification.
Unfortunately, a retort to this sort of misleading and harmful argument
requires skill and careful thought. This shows our work is cut out for
us. I almost think one picture like that at http://www.indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=57531&group=webcast
is worth more than a thousand words. But we also need some historical analyses
to really show in positive terms why the author's dismissive conclusion
is silly and wrong. I think we could come up with many practical examples
to show that radical political thought is actually eminently practical.
Once upon a time, for example, abolitionists would have been similarly
dismissed. Or, for that matter, should we dismiss the commandmant "Thou
shalt not kill" as silly and impractical because it is too often violated?
This makes me think that perhaps another powerful and more accessible
line of reasoning we can use in defense of radical, visionary politics
is an ethical one. Who really thinks it's right in principle for one man
or woman to lord it over another against that person's will? Most people
would say that's wrong as a general rule. But we don't often use or honor
this sort of ethical reasoning, or draw from it its logical conclusions
in the political, economic, and social spheres.
I often hear inane arguments against ethically based politics, usually
by people with extremely retrograde politics, but sometimes even by self-professed
"progressives" -- arguments, for example, that the Geneva Convention is
somehow silly, because war is inherently cruel and immoral, or the Convention's
rules are regularly violated. They thus miss entirely the moral tenor that
the Convention seeks to uphold, one entirely consistent with humane principles,
principles which, if followed, would end war altogether. They also thus
miss the importance of demanding accountability from the powerful for abiding
by the commitments they themselves have made, and the importance of attacking
their hypocrisy when they fail to do so. The more regularly they fail to
do so (as in, practically every war), the more powerful a tool this could
be. We must use this tool among others to discredit the legitimacy of the
rulers for failing to follow their own rules. If those who rule are themselves
shown to be lawless, they can then rule only by force alone. This greatly
weakens them, because the strongest, most crucial reinforcement to the
rule of the powerful is the willing submission of the ruled, without which
it is ultimately fatally undermined.
As to historical analysis, we can show people that the most powerful
individuals and institutions, when conditions are right, can tumble like
a house of cards. We already have examples of just such collapses recently
at hand. The Soviet Empire seemed immovable in 1980. It collapsed ten years
later. Even if it wasn't really a victory for democracy, it shows that
rapid change is possible, and oppressive institutions are anything but
immortal. We should apply this analysis further to all the other institutions
that today seem immovable to most people: the state, the corporation, the
police, and capitalism itself. When people come to understand how relatively
young these institutions are, when they come to understand, beneath the
seeming invincible strength, the real fragility that undergirds them, then
change will come to seem possible, practical, necessary, and eventually,
Eben Fodor -- in a book not ostensibly about radical politics,
Not Bigger: How to Take Control of Urban Growth and Improve Your Community
-- makes the following interesting remark: Having grown up in rural
Maryland, he attests that one could, in many small towns and rural communities
in this country, live for all one's formative years without everr seeing
a "cop." This held true until relatively late in the last century. Once
in a while, one of them might appear on a trip from out of a major city.
The fact that the police state now seems to be so much more ever present
is a very recent phenomenon, and owes much to the wider phenomenon of urban
sprawl and the attendant decimation of the countryside and rural and smalltown
life and economies in this country. The seemingly ever present "police"
are thus a product of the perverted merger of rural life with urban life
under American capitalism, known in this country as automotive "suburbanization.
"The police" as a specialized profession of "law enforcement," i.e.,
a separate class of fulltime, specialized "experts" charged with enforcing
the law against their fellow citizens, is a phenomenon that only
started appearing in the biggest cities of this country around the middle
of the 19th century. No doubt the generation of Americans who fought the
revolution against British rule would have viewed such a concept with the
utmost horror, aversion, and contempt. Nor would they have ever dreamed
that freeborn American men and women would passively submit to such a ubiquitous,
omnipresent subversion of freedom. And yet, the magic of corporate state
propaganda has made such a state of affairs seem natural, ineluctable,
And so it goes with many other oppressive institutions that are taken
for granted. A detailed historical analysis although hard work, is in order.
And we ought not to fear that it will bore people. I predict we will be
surprised to find how receptive they are to it. The support for most such
institutions is mostly cooked up by elite-controlled media and is, to quote
a popular aphorism, "a mile wide and an inch deep."