There are some positions on issues that are implicitly against the dominant views in society that when mentioned automatically begin an unspoken argument with those aren’t on board already:
Veganism: The rejection of the comodification of all animals.
Atheism: The lack of belief in a god or gods.
Anarchism: Seeks the abolition of state, capital and unjustifiable hierarchy in our social relationships and the creation of horizontal networks of voluntary association working along side one another in mutual aid.
The stance taken in each of these fields puts me at odds with others due to a common underlying feature…
The Burden of Proof The underlying reason for conflict in all three cases is that the burden of proof is being placed on the structures asserted upon society – structures of hierarchy, privilege and dominance – to justify themselves. Anarchism in particular does not rely on taking a dogmatic stance to reach fixed position so much as asking people to employ the methods of sceptical enquiry and critical thought to find the best methods for reaching the goal of a society where needs are met and well-being for all is the prime concern.
“[Anarchism is] based on the assumption that any structure of authority and domination has to justify itself – none of them are self-justifying. Whether they’re in individual relations, or international affairs, or the workplace, or whatever – they have a burden of proof to bear, and if they can’t bear that burden (which they usually can’t), they’re illegitimate and should be dismantled and replaced by alternative structures which are free and participatory and are not based on authoritarian systems.” – Anarchism 101, Noam Chomsky
To my mind an anarchist analysis of the use of animals as commodities would show that while there are plenty of arguments from tradition and personal taste that can be used to try and justify the many cruelties we inflict upon other species, these do not show why such behaviours are necessary and as such should be removed.
As for believing in god(s), in the whole of recorded history the only case put forward for their existence can be clearly demonstrated as either arguments from ignorance, arguments from authority, arguments from tradition, or unverifiable/unrepeatable personal experience. These cannot justify any prioritisation or imposition of the moral codes or social mores from the attendant belief systems.
When compared to other political philosophies anarchism often gets lumped in with other strands of leftist thought. While we profess the same goal of communism, “the left” peruses authoritarian methods that cannot meet their burden of proof as to their necessity. On the other hand anarchist thought has found that the ends reached are tied to the means used to produce them, and so anarchists reject authoritarian means as they will not provide libertarian results.
Actions speak louder than words While I would stop short of saying that someone was not an anarchist if they held some belief in the supernatural or were vegetarian or an omnivore, I do find that there is a conflict in interests that, depending on circumstances, may make them act in contradiction to their anarchism.
This contradiction becomes irreconcilable when someone says they are an an anarchist while participating in an authoritarian left-wing group or while putting their time and energy into reformist parliamentary campaigns. If the methods being employed do not follow directly democratic organisation modes or employ direct action to resolve an issue or seek goals that move society towards anarchist communism, then ultimately the individual is engaging in systems of domination that do not meet the burden of proof to their necessity. Their claim to be an anarchist is hollow.
In conclusion I feel that anarchists everywhere, myself included, should work to identify any cognitive dissonance between our anarchism and those structures of authority we have not yet questioned and still participate with. When we put out time and energy into trot front groups or parliamentary battles we use more energy for lesser results. Conversely, when anarchists actually follow a consistent anarchist methodology, not having to be part of the same organisation but following principles of mutual aid to other anarchist endeavours, then we find that our ideas punch above their weight. Only by doing this can we remove ourselves from acting against our interests and put energy into those endeavours that will build the new world in the shell of the old.
POSTSCRIPT: So, it was pointed out in a conversation about this post elsewhere that I was getting kinda hyperbolic at the end that:
“Strictly speaking, this is neither irreconcilable nor an example of cognitive dissonance. Both would only apply here if a person held fairly standard anti-state/anti-parliamentarian anarchist positions while *believing* that revolutionary goals could be achieved through those other-than-direct-means. Neither apply if an engagement with those means is understood in terms of utility (however marginal), and this doesn’t make for a ‘hollow’ anarchism or imply ‘bad faith’ on the part of participants.”
I totally accept this point as it is often necessary to work in less than ideal circumstances in the interest of concrete material gains in the here-and-now. However I am still critical of those who would choose to call themselves anarchists while ignoring anarchist methodology and focus all their attention solely into work that has no revolutionary aim or hinders progress towards a free society. If someone is constantly acting to reinforce structures of authority then what is the worth of their professed anarchism?
Content note: this post discusses rape and victim blaming
Look, I respect your decision to call the cops if you’re feeling threatened–it’s not a choice I’d ever make, but do what works for you. Let’s never take things further than that, though. Let us not continue to step in and ask the state to do shit for us, like porn filtering and new laws and the like. Let us remember that they are definitely not our friends.
Let’s have a look at two stories that have been in the news today. First, we have the sad tale of a woman who reported her rape to the police, was referred to the specialist unit and they ignored her. The rapist was her husband. He went on to murder their two children. The police resisted an investigation into how this could have possibly been allowed to happen. Eventually, a disciplinary happened…
I was recently asked why anarchists that take physical action against fascists were not just as bad as those they targeted. To illustrate my answer I’m going to I’m going to “scrub off the serial numbers” and describe three groups of political thought; in doing so I hope to demonstrate the need for a policy of “no platform” for fascists. I’m sure everyone here will know which group is which by the end, especially with the photos at the end of each blurb…
These are people who are willing to use violence, intimidation and oppressive behaviours to assert control and to press their politics forward. They usually target those on the margins of society and play upon ideas of racism, anti-semitism, islamophobia, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, anti-leftist rhetoric and the such. Group A will often plea that their political ideology is just like any other and is willing to abuse naive and misplaced notions of free speech to propagate their hate. However even on casual inspection of the theory and practice it can be clearly demonstrated that they are advocates (and if not current then the future purpitraitors) of violent and oppressive acts. As @ariel_silvera pointed out while playing Sonic: “There is no such thing as Group A organising peacefully”.
These are people who will use peaceful methods to put across their politics except in relation to Group A. Having understood the methods those in Group A will use, those in Group B realise that there is very little space for reason and that Group A must be prevented from having any public platform or place to organise from. Group B do not want this enforcement to come from an external body such as hired thugs or the state’s police force, but want to see communities make the concious decision to tackle Group A themselves. The state will often vilify Group B as they undermine the idea that the state holds a monopoly on violence and the legitimacy of speech. Arguments that the action Group B is willing to take makes them just as bad as Group A are ridiculous as the political ideologies of the two groups can be clearly demonstrated as being different.
This group states that everyone should be heard out in the “marketplace of ideas” and everyone should be given the opportunity to organise in the community, rejecting the ideas of providing no platform to certain ideologies. They will often give misplaced opinions about “freedom of speech”, “fairness” and “balance” while saying that the best way to tackle Group A is to allow them to be seen and heard for what they are. Members of Group C often don’t live in the same communities where Group A organises or don’t belong to the group currently targeted by Group A’s hate. If Group A became a threat then many in Group C will be able to keep their head down or even actively collaborate with A (perhaps with “regret”, perhaps not). As their behaviour pushes the political discourse closer and closer to the goals that Group A are aiming for, ultimately Group C can be seen as being problematic*.
* NB: I have some huge disagreements with the politics of Mao Tse-tung and parts of Combat Liberalism, but I’ll keep them for another day.
Political action is where those with an issue and their allies attempt a remedy to the situation that relies on an outside group (usually those causing the problem) undertaking some further change on their behalf. This can be anything from asking a bigwig to be a little less cruel and a tiny bit less exploitative in person, lobbying a court or parliament, creating a bajillion-signature petition and a media circus to shame the baddies into acting good, or by standing near the source of the problem and shouting quite loudly.
UK Uncut often claimed to be taking “Direct Action” when protesting the closure of hospitals, schools and library’s by occupying businesses such at Topshop, Vodaphone and Fortnham & Mason. The thinking was to highlight that these businesses do not pay a “fair amount” of tax that in turn might be spent by the government to keep services open. I would argue that this type of action, while it is indeed militant, is not direct action as it in no way caused the targets to pay up a “fair share” in taxes. Even if they do choose to pay more there is no guarantee that the government will use this money as the protesters intended.
The politicians making the closures and running the tax system, and the businesses exploiting these “loopholes”, have completely different interests to the communities suffering due to closures. It is very hard for government and businesses to change their behaviour as it would harm their interest (as in their profits) far far more than it seemed the protesters could ever hope to given their understanding of power and use of tactics.
So despite the spectacle and militancy of UK Uncut they were still taking political action as they were relying on outside groups who have different interests to choose to take action.
So what is Direct Action then?
Direct action means those effected (and perhaps their allies) going directly to the problem and removing it without the need to ask someone else for action or hoping someone else changes some rule or another. Direct action is often militant, but it need not be. It just needs to take the problem out by the root using methods that somehow embody what you want to see as the end result.
A great example of direct action could be seen last week when the UK Border Agency set up check-points at train stations so as to harass people of colour for identification. In response the Southall Black Sisters, part of the community being targeted by UKBA officers, took to the streets and made sure that the job of harassing and intimidating people became impossible.
Does this mean political action is bad action? No, It is simply a question of tactics. Sometimes true direct action is not possible as the means of taking care of a problem either because of a lack of physical resources (people, access to a place, equipment, etc), due to a lack of confidence in acting, because those effected lack the skills required skills to pull something off, or because it is felt the backlash would cause a worse situation to erupt. Political action can be used as a way to win the necessary breathing space in order to be able to take direct action further down the line.
Those “Three C’s” again…
Weighing up all these tactical decision over what type of action to undertake is a difficult prospect in a lot of campaigns. Often direct action is not appropriate and some form of political action (militant or otherwise) is the way to go. However there are some consideration that should be taken in light of those old chestnuts the three c’s.
We must be wary of taking militant political action and convincing ourselves we have taken direct action. This substitution doesn’t aid us in our understanding of how power works and can cloud our vision of how the state and capitalism function to exploit us on the ground. As an anarchist and a wobblie I personally see it as the place of the libertarian left to ensure that when we participate in militant political action – especially those actions called by the TUC unions or the hierarchal political groups to show how they are calling the shots as a committee or vanguard – that we ensure that everyone involved understands the power dynamics at play.
The key to this is understanding that when we get someone else to do something that works in our favour we are winning a concession, something that is VERY important as it provides a material change in our lives, but something that will always rely on the good will of others and that may be removed or ignored further down the line. This can best be seen when people campaign for changes in the law only for the new laws to be worthless on the ground. Lasting victory comes when we make social changes that become the framework by which power is handled regardless of external laws or or the will of a those not directly affected.
Militant political action can be a great place to make or break our confidence to act. Many of the people taking to the streets with UK Uncut were energized by the experience thought because they were taking direct action many were ultimately disheartened when despite some people being sacked the expected victory didn’t materialise (in much the same way in which Leninist/Trot groups often march people about to build the party but never win anything). Conversely, the militant political action called by Boycott Workfare (involving members from the IWW, SolFed and the Anarchist Federation amongst more authoritarian leftists and unaligned types) can be seen to have achievable goals and escalating victories that are building up confidence to act, competence in the action we are taking and, if we keep honest about the type of action we are taking and the victories involved, a greater conciousness of how the system currently works.
A Call to Anarchists
While we should be wary of lending our support to just any old campaign or activity I would also say that too many anarchists today sit in isolation. I argue that we should be organising with those who share our political outlook and with those taking self-led action in our communities to tackle workfare, Atos, the bedroom tax, and the host of ills created by the bosses and landlords. We need to go into these campaigns openly explaining our analysis of the how power works so as to gain support for directly democratic modes of organising and build to a point where direct action is possible against the problem at hand.
Liberation can never be granted by another. Social change can only come about when those affected have an equal voice and choose to take direct action for themselves.
The reason for putting the button in place is clear. People do use twitter to harass and threaten others – adding a button to report that abuse gives us a clear means to make that abuse clear to the team over at Twitter and get bigots and bullies removed from our collective space, right?
The Road to Hell is Paved with Liberal Intentions
The problem here is that we are not adding this feature into a “level playing field” in a “free market of ideas” where the best one’s float and the worst examples of hate and bullying will sink. We are introducing it into a site where minority groups already experience marginalisation and are victimised for expressing their views. This feature will be applauded by white, liberal, cis-gendered, able-bodied, middle-class users but does very little to prevent the harassment of those who find themselves on the intersections of several types of oppression and in the worst position at the moment.
If twitter were to release a document stating their principles (say, anti-racist, pro-sex workers rights, trans* inclusive, etc) and then had people who shared those principles as monitors of the service who entered into dialogue on their views and had some way to re-integrate those who made genuine changes in their behaviour then I’d have some faith in what was happening. However, this would be a labour intensive task (read costly), while the values of a purely capitalist endeavour are not what I want to see becoming the cultural norm. Overall I have little faith in a company like Twitter being able to implement this in any useful way.
The Grass is Covered in Turd on the Other Side
So, what do I expect from a button to report abuse on Twitter? Pretty much a copy of how the report feature works on Facebook. No live support, the removal of political content that goes against the mainstream narrative, and a system that favours sexists, racists, homophobes, anti-trans hate groups and the like ganging up to silence those on the margins in yet another forum.
The Home Office is running a consultation on stop and search powers. You can get involved by filling in the online form here. Yes, I am inciting you to engage with the government. I participated. I didn’t even swear. Here’s my responses.
To what extent do you agree or disagree that the use of police powers of stop and search is effective in preventing and detecting crime and anti-social behaviour?
Recent data show that stop and search has a 9% arrest rate, which suggests that the overwhelming majority of stop and searches have no ability whatsoever to detect crime and anti-social behaviour. Furthermore, as I understand it, stop and search powers were granted to stop crime rather than anti-social behaviour so I fail to understand why you have included it in this question.
What are, in your view, the types of crime and anti-social behaviour…
I really don’t want to spoil anything, however this three-hour winding route through the heart of Barcelona at the time of the revolution is an absolute must. The use of George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” along with the photography, artwork and music of the time helped to give a vibrancy and relevance to the whole experience. Nick Lloyd was the perfect tourguide and his wealth of knowledge is evident. The flow of the tour mirrored the flow of events during the revolution, letting the facts and events speak for themselves. I can’t recommend going on this tour enough.
Vibrant and knowledgeable guide who shines new light on popular city locations
Superb use of handouts/photos/music to set the mood
Amazing Q&A at a CNT run bar surrounded by period photos/art to end the experience
Barcelona is hot so taking water & snacks is a must
Not all locations on the tour are wheelchair accessible
I didn’t have time to do the 6 hour version of the tour!
I read this piece in the Guardian and was horrified. Lets look at a translation of what is being said:
People in Africa are poor because white people haven’t helped them out as much as is our duty (and burden). This is changing but remember that without us they are nothing; black people can’t do anything of worth for themselves.
White people went over and while we picked some good black people to help sort things out the bad back people ruined it all. Also the black people we though were goodies were really badies that tricked us, but that’s not our fault and all to do with them being black.
Some governments in Africa are goodies again and it is only through supporting these governments things will improve – I know we just said that even by our own racist logic this doesn’t work, but we are so trusting and fair don’t you know. Such a noble flaw. Most importantly we need to be trusting the UK government as it knows what is best for Africa (and wasn’t to blame for any problems past or present, not in the slightest, except when it was, but that won’t happen again, promise). After all, we are white and they are black.
Of course what they should have said is that our great-grandparents generation stole all their stuff and that our current government would do it all again if they could get away with it (and they are trying). So, in conclusion, it looks like the “White Man’s (sic) Burden” is unfortunately alive an well – just another reason why charity is shite.
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