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Anarchy Blossoms amid Disenfranchised

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  • Clore Daniel C
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo Published on Tuesday, August 14, 2001 in the St Paul Pioneer Press World Without Borders
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 15, 2001
      News for Anarchists & Activists:

      Published on Tuesday, August 14, 2001 in the St Paul Pioneer

      World Without Borders
      Anarchy Blossoms Amid Disenfranchised

      by Ron Grossman

      Those images of protesters clad in black with their faces
      hidden behind scarves and hoods as they stormed police lines
      in Genoa make it tempting to dismiss their opposition to
      globalization as stemming from anger, not reflection.

      The name of their rallying cry doesn't help either.
      Anarchism sounds too much like a synonym for the chaos and
      confusion they recently brought to the streets of Italy and
      to previous economic summits in Seattle, Washington,
      Melbourne, Prague and Quebec City. Yet it would be foolish
      to write off those young militants as inspired by nothing
      more profound than "Easy Rider" or some other version of the
      Hells Angels' philosophy of life.

      The anarchist movement has a long history and a perfectly
      coherent ideology.

      It is not likely to go away anytime soon. It is more likely
      due for a renaissance. Arguably, it is tailor-made for the
      increasing numbers of people who feel alienated by the
      incessant absorption of all the Earth's societies and local
      cultures into a brave, new, one world of free trade and
      Golden Arches.

      That last mouthful may sound a bit mystical. But anarchism
      can be easily understood by considering a kind of work-a-day
      experience many of us share.

      For instance, as a teen-ager I worked in a florist shop. The
      owner was a hail-and-well-met fellow, overflowing with
      enthusiasm and possessing a booming voice to match. Every
      morning, he would take a look at our stack of orders for
      prom corsages and funeral wreaths and announce the obvious:
      "Boys, we've got our work cut out for us today." Then he
      would dart from one workstation to another, pulling a
      gladiola out of one centerpiece, impulsively sticking an
      extra carnation into another and generally getting in the

      He had a real talent for that, not being a florist himself
      but having come to the business from a totally different
      walk of life. From the standpoint of us worker bees, he was
      a burden we had to bear until the daily relief from that
      part of our toil. By 11 o'clock, he would generally get a
      phone call from a buddy inviting him to lunch, a game of
      cards, or maybe an afternoon at the racetrack.

      Thus freed from the distraction of his presence, we would
      churn out bridal bouquets and altar vases by the dozens. At
      closing time, the boss would return. Surveying a shop floor
      covered with scraps of ribbon, leaves and stems, he'd
      proclaim victory: "Well, we got the job done, didn't we?"

      No matter how many times repeated, that performance was
      greeted by a collective rolling of our eyes at the boss's
      inclusion of himself in the "we" who had gotten the job
      done. During more than one smoke break, we toyed with the
      calculation: If we had managed to turn out X amount of work
      in the hours the boss left us in peace, how much more might
      we have accomplished if he hadn't come in at all?

      We raised precisely the philosophical question that had
      haunted Prince Peter Kropotkin and Emma Goldman, the great
      theoreticians of anarchism: Bosses, who needs them?

      Unlike their kissing cousins, the socialists, anarchists
      apply that question to all social arrangements, from a small
      workshop to the highest level of government. Socialists
      argue that the problem with government is that it is in the
      hands of the wrong people. Put right-minded folks -- that
      is, socialists -- in charge of government and it would work
      just fine.
      [Historically inaccurate -- anarchists were originally
      considered to be the libertarian (anti-authoritarian) wing
      of the socialist movement. -- DC]

      Anarchists say that a boss is a boss, whether a factory
      owner, a president or a commissar. Government is an
      unnecessary burden at best and more likely a tyrannical
      noose around its subjects' necks, argued Pierre-Joseph
      Proudhon, the 19th-century French writer and the anarchist
      movement's founding father.

      "To be governed," he wrote, "is to be at every operation, at
      every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed,
      stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized,
      admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished."

      Proudhon's solution was to get rid of all bosses without
      exception. It was he who coined the political use of the
      word anarchy, which comes from the Greek and means "no
      leader." Proudhon and his successors taught that, just as we
      managed nicely in that florist shop without the boss, so
      should all of society be run by the workers themselves.

      How, you ask, would those little worker-administered
      workshops coordinate their efforts in the absence of any
      higher order authority?

      Just like we did in the florist shop. Not infrequently, we
      would run short of some necessity in those afternoons when
      the boss was gone. We didn't phone up Sportsman's Racetrack
      and ask that he be paged so he might call the wholesale
      supply house. We just called ourselves and asked our
      counterparts, the worker bees there, to send over some mums,
      say, real quick.

      But can you run a whole country that way? But how do you pay
      each other for supplies and products if there is no
      government to guarantee the money supply?

      Those are, indeed, tough questions.

      The fascinating thing is that they don't necessarily seem
      important to ordinary people, when they find themselves up
      against the wall of real life. Anarchism can make sense to

      A few years back, I was traveling through a part of Greece
      where a little village had been scheduled for demolition so
      an airport could be expanded. A government wanting to take
      away their ancestral homes had no standing in the eyes of
      the peasants who lived there. They were flying black flags,
      the traditional symbol of anarchy, from their windows. On
      their walls they had written: i anarkhia, i thanatos
      (anarchy or death).

      The British novelist George Orwell was a
      participant-observer in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s.
      He reports that, in the midst of that bloody conflict, the
      prostitutes of Barcelona kicked out their pimps and
      procurers and proclaimed themselves to be an anarchist

      Consider, then, globalization from the viewpoint of its
      opponents -- and not just those young people who take to the
      streets but all those with the nagging suspicion that
      something is afoot that isn't to their benefit. Every few
      months, they see the leaders of a few nations coming
      together to plot the next step in the process. They do so
      behind closed doors. Everybody else is, essentially, being
      enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed,
      licensed -- whether they like it or not.

      Now, the leaders of the great economic powers aren't
      dummies. They get reasonable public-relations advice, so
      they don't come on like Louis XIV and say that they are
      doing these things simply for their own benefit.

      To the contrary, they piously proclaim that free trade will
      launch all of us into an unprecedented era of worldwide
      prosperity. They soft-pedal a reasonable corollary to that
      prediction: While we might be headed to a rosy economic
      future, there are bound to be bumps in the road leading
      there. History makes that probable: The industrial
      revolution of the 19th century similarly was hailed as
      making prosperity available to all -- which eventually it
      pretty much did. But not before several generations of
      factory workers had put in 12-hour days working in
      oppressive conditions and living in slums.

      Which is why a lot of those 19th-century workers lent a
      ready ear to the radical political prophets of their day.
      Accordingly, we shouldn't be all that surprised to see
      increasing numbers of our contemporaries fly the black flag
      of anarchy, at least mentally. For those who feel that the
      scale of authority is growing so large as to crush the
      average person, anarchy is a logical mental refuge --
      precisely because it holds out the promise of a return to a
      human-scale society.

      Of course, like the fabled Missourians, you could say: "Show
      me" an example of where anarchism has worked. It can't be
      done, but there is no reason to think that such practical
      considerations make it any less attractive. To the contrary,
      the anarchist impulse seems to flourish where the prospects
      for success are dimmest. Something about taking on the
      greatest powers in the name of the powerless has always made
      anarchists equate martyrdom with accomplishment.

      Grossman is a Chicago Tribune reporter.

      Dan Clore

      Lord We├┐rdgliffe:
      Necronomicon Page:
      News for Anarchists & Activists:

      "It's a political statement -- or, rather, an
      *anti*-political statement. The symbol for *anarchy*!"
      -- Batman, explaining the circle-A graffiti, in
      _Detective Comics_ #608
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