On a long trawl through Youtube out of boredom, I came across a video from HBomberGuy, titled “Vaccines: A Measured Response.” I usually watch him because he has decent takes on current events, but the messaging at the end of the video I think hits home in the realm of “radical politics:”
There is another way the truth can change people’s minds; Living Proof. If someone thinks the Coronavirus vaccines might be dangerous, one of the best ways to help seems to be people around them getting it and showing them how it’s fine.
The truth is, it was easy in 2020 to have your doubts about a theoretical vaccine that no one had had yet, but now when half the people around you already have it and they’re obviously fine, it’s a whole lot harder to have those doubts.
if there are people in your life who could be at risk who need convincing of the vaccine’s safety, you could be the evidence they need.
You can read this at face value as a message on vaccine safety and how people tend to change their minds when they see no significant risk with being vaccinated, but I feel this can extend further into other topics – in particular, anarchism in practice.
Living proof can be analysed within the scope of other modes of anarchist praxis.
To put it mildly, what is considered “effective praxis” within anarchist circles is highly variable and contentious, from attempts to incite revolution (or more realistically, “preparing” it to happen) to attempts to use electoral politics to gain some form of temporary relief via “lesser evil” selection of candidates. Both modes of “praxis” inevitably fall flat, as often seen in a historical context.
For revolution, we have seen multiple instances where revolution fails, often for two major reasons. The first is the presence of a large state opposition, as seen in the French Revolution (1848) and the Spanish Civil war. The second major reason is the presence of other ideological cliques within the revolution who are “on the same side,” but eventually undermine and destroy anarchist groups to uphold their own cliques. This has been seen in most “communist” revolutions, but is most clearly observed in Russia during the October revolution and Kronstadt rebellion, along with Soviet “aid” in the Spanish civil war.
For electoral politics, the failure of voting within a democratic system for change is ubiquitous. This is most clear within the context of a common argument for said voting: a shift to a “lesser evil” to produce “better conditions for change.” This was a common argument for voting Democratic (for Biden) in the most recent US election. While certainly having some benefits in terms of health (vaccine rollouts for example), it leaves much to be desired. For one, each state has enough autonomy to make their own decisions. These decisions can contradict what the federal rulings are. Biden can roar about needing vaccines and to wear masks, but that doesn’t stop a state governor from having their own agenda; the president is both too powerful and able to make sweeping changes, but also too weak to change what state governments do of their own accord. While this could mean that certain states are less authoritarian in their implementation of policies, it can also mean the exact opposite.
A common argument among anarchists who are in favour of electoral politics as a means of change is that voting has brought about several changes that make things “more bearable” than they otherwise would be. Is this not “change in the now,” the very thing I am talking about with the concept of “Living Proof?”
No, because the voting isn’t what made those changes: groups of individuals did.
You didn’t get 8 hour work days in the US because people voted for it: you needed the spark of insurrection and individual autonomy seen in the Haymarket riot. You didn’t get further emancipation for African Americans because people voted for it: you needed the spark of insurrection and individual autonomy seen by the Holy Week Uprising, the 1992 LA Riots, and the George Floyd protests, to list just a few. You didn’t obtain greater support and autonomy for LGBT+ people through voting: it needed the spark of insurrection and individual autonomy seen in the Stonewall riots.
This is what Living Proof entails: change doesn’t occur simply through the ballot – this ballot never would have been set up if not for the actions of individuals fighting for what they believe in. No attention would have been given to what could change if people never made it known things could be better. And at the end of the day, even actions for change at the local level as seen in Haymarket and Stonewall can evolve into something more significant, sparking chain reactions in people who see that they can ask for more, they can do more, they can be more.
The localism tied to these actions means the goal set before you isn’t gargantuan, something that I see as a major issue within the ideals of revolution and electoral politics. It isn’t about trying to create an uprising to overthrow an entire state to somehow “create” anarchism within that region, nor about waiting every election season to vote in the ”less evil” person. Volunteering, providing food for the homeless, and providing safe spaces for the shunned and forgotten – to give but a few possible examples of localist praxis – are activities you can do now.
If any message can be taken away from the above, it is that change doesn’t need to start as the loud roar of revolution, nor end as a whimper as seen in electoral politics: can be here, and it can be now. And in many ways, anarchist interactions are already here. People reciprocate all the time without use of a state, people trade without the use of a state, people create value without use of a state, people love and multiply without use of the state, so on and so forth.
The state only acts to create a dependency on their facilities that they clamp upon through force, and ultimately perpetuate their own existence. They do not make you free, nor do they protect you. Freedom must be taken, and we must protect each other. And to do that, we need to start with ourselves, and need to prove that this is possible without the state as it is always: we need to be Living Proof of anarchism.