Popular Anarchy, Philosophical Anarchism: Changing the Movement Debate

Anarchism in and of itself is a bit of a conundrum. The term means many different things depending on who one talks to. In popular circles anarchism is equated with violence, chaos and a total disregard of any form of cultural or social order. In philosophical circles, however, anarchism is something very different. Anarchism is the idea that just because systems of power and domination exist, they are not necessarily legitimate. In this regard, anarchism questions authority and notes that when systems of power are illegitimate they should be dismantled. What fills the space left by authoritarian power is social power. Liberation is the end goal of philosophical anarchism: A peaceful, vibrant, tolerant society.

Of course dismantling illegitimate authoritarian structures is easier said than done. There are many different approaches and ideas, questions of ethics and morality, that go into just how the deconstruction of power should move forward — these discussions are coming to a head.

Here comes Donald Trump. Still hard to comprehend, but an internet troll is president-elect of the most powerful nation-state on the planet. Yikes. Philosophical anarchism is desperately needed now more than ever within the political territories of the United States.

As Trump rises to power, the left is once again mobilized in the United States — awake from its eight year slumber. Furthermore, a good deal of folks on the political right are aligning against Trump. So competing ideas of dismantling authoritarian power have emerged. Within the anarchist movement, even among colleagues, there are competing ideas regarding how to move forward. It is my hope that the philosophy of anarchism becomes widely accepted. The idea that peace and tolerance is capable of guiding humanity, that violence, any violence, between people or among states is not needed.

As excited as I am about the prospects of movement building, I am also a bit worried about anarcho-actions. Now, more than ever, we should look to the marginalized and offer our hands in support. We can start simple, forming safe spaces in our communities and places of work. We can let the marginalized know they are not alone. We can be loud, we can write, sing songs, protest, march and engage town halls. We can act within the philosophy and challenge power. Or, we can engage in violence ourselves. We can take from them, because forever they have taken from us. After all, often times no one listens until we riot. The riot is the voice of the oppressed. But is now the time for either strategy? Is it ever the time? Will the idea of liberty simply pass?

In this regard, I reflect on an upcoming call for action: #DisruptJ20. This call to action reflects actions of the black0bloc, and seeks to force Trump behind closed doors as he takes his oath to uphold the Constitution. In simple terms, I am a bit nervous about the potential for violence. How exactly is the inauguration to be disrupted? What thought has gone into protecting people from state-violence that is sure to follow? And is the crackdown that is sure to follow in Trump’s America worthy of such disruption? Trump will be inaugurated, but the actions to force him behind closed doors have not been made clear. Furthermore, scores of people, not affiliated with #DisruptJ20, will witness, or be subjected to, whatever unfolds.

So I pose the question: What message is the anarchist movement sending the population if violence becomes a primary tactic, or even an endorsed tactic, even if such an endorsement was made by mistake?

Now, to be clear, no calls for violence against other human beings are currently issued. When one reads the website there are calls for sit-ins, walk-outs, blockades and protests. Yet the language, and the imagery on the site, is that of classic black-bloc anarchism. The potential for violence against people seems real. A call to end peace, to force the heads of state behind doors, is something likely to end rather badly. To the ideological extreme of anarchism, this could give the fascist tendencies of a Trump Administration the reach necessary for authoritarian power beyond the wildest dreams of the Bush and Obama years. Furthermore, we do not have proper networks, channels, and alternative institutions in place to challenge such exertion of authority.

To put it simply, I dissent from the #DisruptJ20 call to action because the potential for violence against human beings, exacerbated by state retaliation, is all too real. I wonder what the end game of “no peaceful transition” is. If anarchists advocate the end of organized violence, what good comes from this aim? What are the plans of disruption? A sit in or baseball bats? And that is the very problem, the call to “action” is unclear.

But, let’s reflect on the black-bloc for a moment because black-bloc activism gives rise to voices of the oppressed. Such activism is a very important piece of anarchism and when used properly can organize massive amounts of people. Is now the time for such actions? The bloc is best when it organizes the majority, those who are silenced by authoritarian regimes. If anarchism is a philosophy that could hit the mainstream, especially while the broader left is mobilized against Trump, will its association with the black-bloc enable or hinder the broader ethics of liberation to break free from the popular corner anarchism has been painted into? I feel it necessary to revisit philosophical anarchism and the popular idea of anarchism.

To me, the bloc will be associated with the popular ideas of anarchism: Busting windows, fighting cops, setting property on fire — in popular media this reflects the disrespect of order. A wave of populism just elected Trump. A wave of populism can also support a massive crack-down on any form of dissent — be it by anarchists, libertarians, socialists, feminists or even opposition conservatives. Philosophical anarchism of course notes that bloc actions are sometimes needed, but also has a pedigree associated with Tucker, Goldman, Warren, Chomsky and the like: Counterstructures, challenging institutions, inclusive/solidarity societies/economics, etc. To me it is the popular image of anarchism that philosophical anarchism struggles against.

So where do anarchists align? That’s the age-old question.

I am a voice of dissent within C4SS because I think the vague language in the call to action leaves open too much of a possibility for violence on the ground and too much state retaliation. I take great pride in C4SS, and I believe our mission statement sums up (in a wee nutshell) my philosophical take on anarchism:

Its (C4SS) mission is to explain and defend the idea of vibrant social cooperation without aggression, oppression, or centralized authority… In particular, it seeks to enlarge public understanding and transform public perceptions of anarchism, while reshaping academic and movement debate.

Contrast this with the #DisruptJ20 call to action website:

No peaceful transition. #DisruptJ20. We call on all people of good conscience to join in disrupting the ceremonies. If Trump is to be inaugurated at all, let it happen behind closed doors, showing the true face of the security state Trump will preside over…

No peaceful transition — what does that mean? Blocking a motorcade, walk-outs, sit-ins? That’s cool. That’s good stuff. But to read further, push the actual inauguration in-doors (if it happens at all, dark language there for sure) — to me that sounds like a call to violence. There will be tons of people there. Some to spectate, others to protest, but most will not have any affiliation with this call to action. But, all will be impacted by the fall-out.

If we at C4SS are to transform the popular idea of anarchism, I don’t think this helps.

In conclusion, I wonder what the end of “no peaceful transition” is? What good can come from that? Can we disassociate from violence with our banner on the site if it does, in fact, occur? The latter, I am afraid not.

Furthermore, I want to make sure the “action” will not escalate state violence and/or detract from other actions happening in DC (such as the woman’s march on January 21). As of now, there is no such guarantee. There are many forces mobilized against Trump, this is a good thing. It is a grand time of bridge building and idea sharing. It’s a great time to reach out to the marginalized and start building counter institutions, to show love and to challenge authoritarian ideas with true liberation ideology. Let’s build the groundwork for a new society — let’s not make our work even harder than it already is. I don’t want the broad left-libertarian/anarchist movement isolated from potential partner groups because tactics associated with the black bloc isolate us.

I’d prefer not to be ostracized from the market, or perhaps markets, of resistance, if you will. I hope to change the popular image of anarchism. Our liberty is, after all, our only hope.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory