A New Year of Global Protest

In 2011, the protester so upset the prevailing order of things that Time magazine named her (or him, as the case may be) its Person of the Year. As I write, protesters in China, Russia and Yemen, to name a handful, are the streets voicing opposition to the kinds of barefaced injustices that feature in human life in every corner of the globe.

In Yemen, Reuters reports, troops loyal to the country’s President Ali Abdullah fired on demonstrators on Saturday, killing at least nine. In China, meanwhile, an uprising is under way against land grabs in Guangdong province pursuant to so-called “liberalization policies begun in 1979.”

However different the situations in China and Yemen, the demonstrations represent attempts of peaceful society to assert itself against and to repel the aggression of the state — “the political means.”

The state is fundamentally a way for organized groups of robbers and exploiters to control valuable resources. It has always been thus, but rather than simply acknowledging its own criminality, the state drapes its continuing mission of deprivation and violence in the robes of “public service.” Giveaways of land, cultivated and therefore owned for generations by, for example, small farmers, are granted the imprimatur of “free enterprise” and “liberalization.” Similarly, turning the military loose on unarmed citizens is defended with the language of social tranquility and respect for the rule of law.

With the social upheaval and brutality that dominates the news today, the “law and order” justification for the state has grown ever more untenable, even preposterous. Anarchism is another possibility for the future, one that calls the methodical crime of the state what it is and seeks a more consensual, more human organization of social affairs.

In 1970, advancing a more scholarly understanding of anarchism, James J. Martin argued that there was “little justification” for the idea of anarchism as “a doctrine of destruction.” Martin explained that “a program of pure negation or obstructionism” is no “more than faintly related” to anarchism, which indeed sets forth in its literature a positive vision for a stateless future.

Individualist or market anarchism, contrary to flimsy caricatures, has never meant advocacy for disorder or for a society without substantive rules for conduct, one pushed into — in Hobbes’ words — a war of all against all. It is instead the state that has made war pass for society, a war that pits the privileged few against the productive many.

The protests materializing around the world in this moment are a reaction, consciously or not, to the chaos bred by political authority. If the state is in fact meant to build the conditions of law and order, then we have to wonder why we live in a world covered by states like Yemen and China, ruled by people like Vladimir Putin.

Though depicted as utopians, obsessed with pie in the sky daydreams, or as bomb-throwing provocateurs of pandemonium, anarchists petition simply for a society in which freedom is the guiding principle. Granted, on its own, that doesn’t mean much, but without aggression against innocents, the state could not exist.

Without the state, we would still be left with lots of questions, forced to deal with the logistical requirements of abstractions like justice, but we’d be closer — significantly so. And maybe that’s enough of a hope for the new year 2012, that we gnaw away even more at the systems of authority that oppress us and defile our communities.

Translations for this article:

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