Toward an Anarchist Politics

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by Cindy MilsteinThis short column is reprinted from Arsenal, no. 3, March 2001, with the kind permission of that magazine's editorial collective ( Cindy can be reached at last fall's televised presidential debates, a curious ad appeared. A semi-scruffy young musician is shown yelling at a boy on a bicycle, "You are all sheep for the capitalist wolves." Next, flashing ominously across the screen, is the tag line: "This guy votes. Shouldn't you?"Sadly, what comes across in the ad is this: the danger posed by anticapitalists is that they will vote. Now one could say that this image is a product of a medium that caricatures and simplifies, and there is much truth to that. Nevertheless, it also illustrates a weakness on our part as antiauthoritarian leftists in this new international movement.An anticapitalist stance was the obvious radical message at direct actions targeting global financial institutions from N30 onward—especially in contrast to the reformist anticorporatism of many activists. The inspiring "Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc" banner held high by black bloc participants during the April 2000 World Bank/IMF protests in D.C. cemented the link between anarchism and a rejection of the market economy. By the time Prague rolled around, demonstrators were routinely labeled anticapitalists by mainstream media across the globe. This is a credit to the anarchists who initiated and organized this movement from the first, and a real triumph that should neither be dismissed nor dropped from our "program."Yet as communists, socialists, and electorally oriented Greens move in to capture the movement's momentum, anarchists must push even harder to make our critique of domination per se as central as our condemnation of capitalism. Both in order to dismantle an exploitative economic system and build a free society, a political vision is needed that doesn't rely on statist means; that has historically been anarchism's unique contribution. Minimally, a "Revolutionary Anti-Statist Bloc" could have served as a foil to the exclusionary politics of last summer's Republican and Democratic conventions.. But more important, anarchists must face the difficult task of offering an alternative to the state we so rightly abhor.For even if we manage to make antistatism as prominent a media darling as anticapitalism, and thus create an equally public debate about the role of the state as we have over that of international finance bodies, we need to be able to articulate a vision of what would replace it. Such a vision is necessary if we are ever to catalyze a desire on the part of more than a small subculture for social transformation. Milosevic fell because many in Yugoslavia saw representative democracy as such a beacon. We also need to hold out an ideal for thousands and ultimately millions of people to come to, but a far more expansive and freeing one: self- government, or direct democracy.Unfortunately, we have often ignored our political lives, and that of the larger society in general. Why? The short answer is that present-day anarchists have largely failed to theorize the distinction between states and governments, and from there, distinctions between types of governments. Any institutionalized system of making social decisions has been seen as authoritarian. And so most anarchists turn a blind eye to the very question of what a politics outside statecraft would look like. How would we organize public policy making in such a fashion as to promote mutual aid, decentralization, equality, and all those other principles we so value? If we fail to address this question, even in the most preliminary of ways, we not only fail to convince people who aren't like us to struggle by our side; we also leave the door open for all sorts of authoritarian alternatives.This brings us back to the here and now of this movement. The first step might be to gather with like- minded others in affinity groups, federations, and such, to begin to detail what we mean by both antistatism and direct democracy. This could then be explicitly expressed to a wider and wider public—whether creatively incorporated into our global and local actions, or spelled out in manifestos and essays. As the more authoritarian anticapitalists converge on this anarchist-inspired movement, we need to up the ante of what we are demanding: a world without masters, neither capitalism nor the state.

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