Anarchism, the Creed That Won't Stay Dead
ÁÎ×Ó¹â Henry C.K.Liu ¹ù¤l¥ú
hliu at SPAMmindspring.com
Sun Aug 6 19:49:53 MDT 2000
This was sent to me by my friend Cui Zhiyuan, political scientist at
The great Chinese revolutionary writer Ba-jin, whose nom de plume is
constructed from the first and last
syllables of Bakunin and Kropotkin, adopted when he was a young man in
anarchist circles in Paris in 1922. Ba-jin's nomination for the Nobel
Price in Literature has been repeatedly blocked by American machination
for the last decade.
Anarchism is a difficult and complex issue.
Lenin wrote in ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK (REPLY BY N. LENIN TO
ROSA LUXEMBURG) in the latter half of September 1904:
Anyone who does not wilfully close his eyes to what happened at our
Congress is bound to see that our new division into minority and
majority is only a variant of the old division into a
proletarian-revolutionary and an intellectual-opportunist wing of our
Party. That is a fact, and there is no explaining or laughing it away.
Unfortunately, after the Congress the principles involved in
this division were obscured by squabbling over co-optation: the minority
would not work under the control of the central institutions unless the
three ex-editors were again co-opted. This fight went on for two months.
The weapons used were boycott and disruption of the Party. Twelve
committees (out of the fourteen that spoke out on the subject) severely
condemned these methods of struggle. The minority would not even accept
the proposal, made by Plekhanov and myself, that they should set forth
thcir point of view in Iskra. At the Congress of the League Abroad the
thing was carried to the length of showering the members of the central
bodies with personal insults and abuse (autocrats, bureaucrats,
gendarmes, liars, etc., etc.). They were accused of suppressing
individual initiative and wanting to introduce slavish submission, blind
obedience, and so on. Plekhanov's attempts to characterise these
minority methods of struggle as anarchistic did not avail. After this
Congress Plekhanov came out with his epoch-making article against me,
"What Should Not Be Done" (in No. 52 of Iskra). In this article he said
that fighting revisionism did not necessarily, mean fighting the
revisionists; and it was clear to all that he was referring to our
minority. He further said that one should not always fight the
anarchistic individualism so deeply ingrained in the Russian
revolutionary, that at times some concessions were a better way to
subdue it and avoid a split. I resigned from the editorial board as I
could not share this view, and the minority editors were co-opted. Then
followed a fight for co-optation to the Central Committee. My offer to
conclude peace on the basis of the minority keeping the Central Organ
and the majority the Central Committee was rejected. The fight went on,
they were fighting "on principle" against bureaucracy, ultra-centralism,
formalism, Jacobinism, Schweitzerism (I was dubbed a Russian
Schweitzer), and other such bogeys. I ridiculed all these accusations in
my book and pointed out that they were either just a matter of
squabbling about co-optation, or (if they were to be recognised,
conditionally, as involving "principles") nothing but opportunist,
Girondist phrases. (End).
Anarchists have always been "libertarians", traditionally leftist
opponents of capitalism.
Only in the last few decades has "libertarian" been co-opted by right
wing pro-market views such as those of the anarchist economist Murray N.
Rothbard (1926-1995) who led the renaissance of the Austrian School of
Henry C.K. Liu
Anarchism, the Creed That Won't Stay Dead
The Spread of World Capitalism Resurrects a Long-Dormant Movement
By JOSEPH KAHN
Since Karl Marx bested the anarchist leader Mikhail Bakunin in a
to shape world revolution a century and a half ago, anarchism has
undergone a half-dozen resurrections and almost as many deaths.
It was crushed with the Paris Commune in 1871, suppressed in the United
States after an anarchist shot President William McKinley in 1901,
destroyed by Franco in the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930's and left
to wither away with the 1960's student radicalism. Ideologically opposed
to power and ambivalent about organization, anarchists perpetually live
the fringe of great movements -- and on the verge of defeat.
Yet the very qualities that consign anarchism to obscurity also endow it
with many lives, if only as a prefix: anarcho-collectivism,
anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-mutualism, anarcho-individualism,
anarcho-ecologism. And at the turn of this century, it is undergoing a
Black-masked anarchists stoned chain stores in Seattle during global
talks last year. Protesters with giant A's pasted on their shirts
intersections in Washington during demonstrations against international
lending agencies last spring. They were in the streets of Philadelphia
during the Republican National Convention this week and have promised to
stalk the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles this month.
Self-described anarchists are small in number. But anarchism, broadly
construed, is becoming fashionable. There are hints of it in the way
protesters of diverse loyalties -- labor, environmental and consumer
groups among them -- have sought to become a mass but leaderless
a collection of affinity groups that operate by consensus. Many of those
who oppose the institutions that enforce rules of international
call for a return to local decision-making, echoing longtime anarchist
objections to the way nation-states usurped the power of cities and
The protests have often been condemned in the mainstream news media as
imbecilic and chaotic, all action and no theory. But that is also an
anarchist trait. Its adherents have long been dismissed as uneducated
unwashed. Anarchism's most memorable slogan, coined by Enrico Malatesta
Italy, is "propaganda by deed."
"With the decline of socialism, you have seen anarchism go through a
revival as an easy way to oppose global capitalism," said Paul Avrich, a
leading historian of anarchism who teaches at Queens College in New
Mr. Avrich, who has written extensively on early-20th-century American
anarchists, said anarchist cells all but disappeared by the 1970's as
last of the European immigrants who brought the creed to the United
died. But anarchist groups are reappearing in every major city, he
says. Today they have their own bookstores, like Blackout Books on the
Lower East Side and Social Anarchism in Baltimore. They read The Match,
popular magazine published in Tuscon, Ariz., or Fifth Estate, a Detroit
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was probably the first person to call himself an
anarchist when he wrote "What Is Property?" in 1840. (His
answer: theft.) Proudhon advocated free bank credit and rejected
parliamentary politics as hopelessly dominated by the elite. But
was defined and popularized by Bakunin, a heavily bearded Russian
insurrectionist who helped foment uprisings across Europe in 1848.
Bakunin's motto was, "The urge to destroy is a creative urge." Unlike
Marx, Bakunin did not justify his theory as science. He described
anarchists as people who know what they are fighting against more than
what they are fighting for.
Anarchism reached critical mass as a revolutionary movement only once,
during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. But it has long touched a
political and cultural chord in the United States.
Henry David Thoreau was an exemplary anarchist, though he never called
himself one. Emma Goldman, a Russian immigrant who advocated free love,
women's rights and armed insurrection, was the best known of the
anarchists who helped prompt a red scare around World War I. (She
in E. L. Doctorow's novel "Ragtime" and in Warren Beatty's movie
"Reds.") In 1927 the Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo
Vanzetti, both avowed anarchists, were executed after being convicted of
killing a paymaster and his guard at a shoe factory near Boston.
Anarchists consider themselves of the left, not the right. But
antigovernment ideas that sound anarchist themes are common across the
political spectrum. John Wayne, in many of his Westerns, and Mel Gibson,
in "The Patriot," play reluctant but violent American heroes called on
smash evil so they can return to a life of bucolic isolation. The quest
for pure rebellion in some punk rock lyrics reflects the spread of
anarchism, or perhaps nihilism -- anarchism without the utopian impulses
-- among teenagers.
But nothing has revived anarchism like globalization. Anarchists are now
battling what they see as a concentration of power in multinational
corporations. Many oppose the spread of corporate investment across
national boundaries, which, they say, lets companies like Nike and
Electric evade local labor and environmental laws. They have also
the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the International
Monetary Fund because these are seen as superseding national
"For the first time since the 1960's we are actually putting thought
action," said John Zerzan, a leading anarchist thinker who lives in
Eugene, Ore. He distinguishes anarchists from traditional labor and
environmental groups that oppose many of the same aspects of
globalization, though he's not opposed to sharing the stage with them.
"We are succeeding because the liberals failed," he said. "We are less
Mr. Zerzan, 56, is a leading proponent of anarcho-primitivism, which
combines radical environmentalism with an extreme antitechnology bent.
essays and his book "Future Primitive" espouse a theory that time and
technology are not neutral scientific realities but carefully
ways to enslave people. For example, he said, the computer and the
Internet atomize society, create new divisions of labor, demand ever
efficiency and consume ever more leisure time. To cope with the
strains of our technology-driven society, alienated people by the
are resorting to drugs like Ritalin and Prozac.
"What we have learned is that our problem is not just control of
capital," he said. "It is also science and technology."
Mr. Zerzan says that society should return to the Stone Age. He says
more than 12,000 years ago, before agriculture allowed a class of people
to leave food production to others, hunter-gatherers were as intelligent
and as healthy as people today. And he argues that an old
conundrum -- why it took man so long to develop agriculture -- should
be posed in reverse. "The question now is why we ever developed
agriculture," he said.
Mr. Zerzan writes long hand. He does not use the Internet and owns no
car. He lives in cooperative housing in Eugene, which he has helped turn
into a beehive of anarchist activity. Like Bakunin and earlier American
anarchists, he argues that property damage is a legitimate tactic, an
effective way to attract attention.
"We are not library theorists," he said. "We are activists." But he
that while he approved of the antitechnology principles of Theodore
J. Kaczynski, the Unabomber, he condemned the taking of human life.
Many other anarchists call anarcho-primitivism a disturbing trend, and,
perhaps not surprisingly, sectarian strife among the anarchists is
rampant. An old guard supports ethical anarchism, a type of modified
socialism that calls for eliminating the nation-state while embracing
nonauthoritarian local government. Ethical anarchists reject violence,
some view technology like the Internet as tools to achieve freedom. Many
also say that anarcho-primitivists tend to be antiwork and antiworker,
which forecloses the possibility of a lasting alliance with labor
The anarcho-primitives "carry a black flag in one hand and a welfare
in the other," an anarchist named Janet Biehl wrote in a recent Internet
essay. Others have called Mr. Zerzan a "McAnarchist" who dumbs down
anarchism and corrupts "young gullibles" with mystical visions of life
Murray Bookchin, an 80-year-old Vermont-based social theorist who calls
himself a communalist, has sharply criticized recent trends in
though he claims his own writings have contributed to the rise of Direct
Action Network and other antiglobalization protest groups.
Mr. Bookchin wrote "Post-Scarcity Anarchism" in the 1960's. In that
he merged environmentalism and anarchism into a broader theory of how
state and capitalism are at war with nature. But he says some anarchist
groups have taken the ecological message too far, becoming misanthropic
nihilists who ignore anarchism's core humanitarian message.
"Just when there is rising interest among young people," Mr. Bookchin
said, "we are shooting ourselves in the foot."
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