A Living Spirit of Revolt: The Infrapolitics of Anarchism

A Living Spirit of Revolt: The Infrapolitics of Anarchism


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Dissecting anarchist history from classic examples through contemporary occurrences, and even tying it to everyday life, this exploration collects many disparate movements into a cohesive whole to better understand anarchy in theory and praxis. The book posits modern anarchy as not only the most revolutionary, but as the only antisystem movement left—a seclusion that is occurring for the first time in history. Chronicling anarchy with a discerning eye, this study provides a greater understanding of anarchist thought, including how it applies in current tumultuous times, and reveals how many movements have been forgotten—contributing to a misconception of anarchy’s essence. Further insight into American philosophies, such as New England Transcendentalism, is also included.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604865233
Publisher: PM Press
Publication date: 11/01/2013
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Žiga Vodovnik is an assistant professor of political science in the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Ljubljana. His teaching and research focus on contemporary political theories and praxes, social movements in the Americas, and the history of political ideas. Howard Zinn was a lifelong activist for peace and justice as well as a historian, playwright, and author of numerous books, including the bestselling and groundbreaking A People's History of the United States.

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A Living Spirit of Revolt

The Infrapolitics of Anarchism

By Ziga Vodovnik

PM Press

Copyright © 2013 PM Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60486-523-3


Lectori Benevolo Salutem!

"Die Anarchie ist nicht die Sache der Zukunft, sondern der Gegenwart; nicht der Forderungen, sondern des Lebens." (Anarchy is not a matter of the future; it is a matter of the present. It is not a matter of making demands; it is a matter of how one lives.)

— Gustav Landauer, "Anarchische Gedanken über Anarchismus," 1901

"The choice between libertarian and authoritarian solutions occurs every day and in every way, and the extent to which we choose, or accept, or are fobbed off with, or lack the imagination and inventiveness to discover alternatives to, the authoritarian solutions to small problems is the extent to which we are their powerless victims in big affairs."

— Colin Ward, "The Unwritten Handbook," 1958

In a city of nearly half a million people, there have been no police on the streets ever since the onset of the public uprising three months ago. All government agencies have been closed and are now populated by women's delegations of the new people's assembly. Improvised clinics have been set up in different parts of the city where doctors, nurses, and medical students offer medical care and medicines for free. The occupied radio and television stations have opened up their studios to anyone wishing to take part in the creation of their programs. Façades of city houses have turned into "canvasses" and are freely used by both men and women working jointly under the auspices of the Assembly of Revolutionary Artists. Many shops are giving out free food and water. All across the neighborhoods, people are consulting each other and coordinating activities that are helping them to defend and strengthen their newly gained autonomy. Despite, or perhaps because of, the absence of the police and government agencies, the crime rate in the city has fallen substantially and any violations and offenses are only being sanctioned with a day of community service.

Nearly all the streets are packed with heaps of stones, abandoned trucks, buses, burning containers, or simple banners protecting the city against attacks by paramilitary groups, and the police attempts to reestablish "order and discipline" through killings and bomb attacks. The paradox that people must protect their experiment in the prefiguration of direct democracy from the police is not the only one that can be seen on the streets of this city. People at the city square are saying that the attacks at the barricades and the explosions right across the city become worse during the night. The masked attackers are heavily armed, while the women, men, and children at the barricades only have stones to defend themselves. Only the topiles — groups of young men and women in charge of public order and safety in the city — are better armed and carry slings, petards, and rockets that were probably purchased for the upcoming Independence Day.

As a token of solidarity, most students and professors from the local university have suspended lectures and joined groups committed to setting up new barricades or rebuilding the old ones. The central square is the headquarters of the People's Assembly, which brings together over three hundred different groups from feminist collectives, agricultural cooperatives, indigenous organizations, anarchist affinity groups, trade unions, and artistic collectives to students' societies, district communities, nongovernmental organizations, and parties from the left side of the political spectrum.

This is not Barcelona in 1936, as a friend erroneously describes my report, but Oaxaca, the capital of the State of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, in 2006. There are countless reasons for discontent and revolt — poverty, corruption, the systematic violation of human rights, racism, cultural imperialism. One could easily overlook any one of them, or paint an oversimplified picture of the entire political and economic situation, but the cause of the uprising is well known.

In the early morning hours of June 14, Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz ordered the police to remove more than twenty thousand teachers of Section 22 of the National Union of Education Workers (Sindicato Nacional de los Trabajadores en la Educación, SNTE) occupying the zócalo. As a result of the brutal raid, the strike suffered a high number of casualties among the teachers, their children, and pupils who joined them in occupation of the city square; the shelters the teachers had prepared for their plantón (encampment) were destroyed. And the people of Oaxaca revolted, for the first time viewing this annual, nearly traditional protest by teachers calling for higher salaries, better working conditions, and free school supplies for all pupils as their own battle, a capacitor of all other social struggles.

With every passing hour, the teachers' strike was joined by more individuals and collectives who had together coordinated the Zapatista Other Campaign (la Otra Campaña) stop in Oaxaca only a few months before. The main aim of the Other Campaign was to intertwine the (so far) separate revolts by marginalized groups and build a new political force to connect "from below and to the left" (abajo y a la izquierda) those subjects that had either been unnoticed or disregarded by political leaders.

In response to the police repression of the teachers' strike, the people of Oaxaca not only liberated the square and rebuilt the plantón for the teachers but set the entire city free in a few hours. After three days, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca, APPO) represented a revolutionary decision-making body that faithfully followed the Zapatista principle mandar obedeciendo (to rule by obeying) for the next five months, until the "Federal Preventive Police" broke in and brutally suppressed the uprising.

The APPO united over three hundred different collectives and initiatives with different visions of the future society, internal decision-making structures and organizational forms that, according to Gustavo Esteva, were characterized by "one no and many yeses." Namely, they were all critical of the status quo but professed different aspirations. In its collectivity, Oaxacan community once again showed the creative potential of people during the "orgasms of history." Their efforts showed and proved that real, participative or direct democracy is not a matter of a specific type of production or consumption but a matter of freedom.

The APPO was first established as a coordinating body with no formal structure, for the purposes of discussion and reflection. However, the need soon arose for a new political form to offer those involved — as heterogeneous as they may be in their form and content — a suitable place for collective work. The Assembly discovered many solutions for building a fluid and dynamic political structure in the political practices and traditions of the indigenous communities whose usos y costumbres, fused with anarchist and autonomist thought, resulted in a new and unique formation of direct democracy leading to people's power (poder popular). The Assembly rejected the idea of majority voting at all levels, inevitably requiring a new center of power to be established for sanctioning failures to follow the adopted solutions. It rather embraced the radical concepts of consensual decision-making, communal labor (tequios), and mutual help (guelaguetza).

Even though the "commune" was crushed bloodily after five months of the prefiguration of radical democracy, the movement was far from dead. The Oaxacan movements not only pursued the project of democratization from below, but the popular assemblies in other parts of Mexico took over and adjusted the APPO model to their needs. They also adopted and built on the ideas and experience of the Zapatista movement which, despite the geographical limits of its "other democracy" and autonomous organization, was able to stir the imaginations of progressive movements all over the world.

In the early morning hours of January 1, 1994 — the day of the foretold "end of history" when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) entered into force — in the Mexican province of Chiapas, the Maya peoples of Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Tojolabal, Ch'ol, Zoque, and Mam emerged from the Lacandon rainforest and historical oblivion. The slim figures of these indigenous people — wearing traditional Maya clothing, faces covered with black masks or red scarves (so that the world would finally "see" them), armed with obsolete (and, in most cases, fake wooden) rifles and waving black-and-red flags — disrupted the festive atmosphere by declaring war on neoliberal capitalism. They had come to realize that Mexico's entry to the "free-trade" union was a fatal blow for Maya culture that would lead to the extermination of the entire indigenous population of the region. Subcomandante Marcos, the strategist and voice of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN), offered the perplexed European tourists on their Christmas and New Year's holidays in Chiapas only a brief explanation: "I apologize for the inconvenience, but this is a revolution!"

In the years marked by the global predominance of neo-liberalism, even the most optimistic were forced to believe in the illusion of the perpetuity of the existing regulation. Then, just when it seemed that the "capitalist magicians" had succeeded in their intention, the collective hypnosis was disrupted by the story of the Maya indigenous peoples who, in the face of hundreds of years of injustice and oppression, showed courage by again sending their oppressors the message ¡Ya Basta!. Zapatismo is dangerous for the opponents on one side and attractive to the sympathizers on the other mainly because of its "humble" claim: to change the world. To create a different world or a world of many worlds (un mundo donde quepan muchos mundos) where the enormous wealth on Planet Earth would (will) be allotted to people and these would finally be given what they need. As Gustavo Esteva has pointed out, this unhumble goal of the Zapatista uprising is not the upshot of romantic dreams and illusions, but a very pragmatic attitude in a world of cynics and hypocrites.

Why is it both reasonable and necessary to start this work on anarchism and its forgotten currents with a description of the uprising of the peoples of Oaxaca and Chiapas in southern Mexico? If we understand anarchist thought and practice as a flexible, ever-changing set of ideas and practices open to modifications in the light of new findings, we can see that anarchism has never been a result of individual anarchist thinkers. It was "born among the people; and it will continue to be full of life and creative power only as long as it remains a thing of the people." All around the world, people will continue to evolve and enrich anarchism with their theoretical and practical contributions.

According to Stuart Christie, the anarchist movement owes very little to "theorists" and "intellectuals." Rather, "professional writers have dipped into the achievements of anarchist workers to enlighten themselves on social theory or to formulate other theories." Similarly, Albert Meltzer reckoned that for every Kropotkin there were a thousand like Facerias, a thousand Jack Kieltys for every Rudolf Rocker. While the extraordinary contribution of the "classics" of anarchism should not be underrated, they are usually the results of many anonymous individuals who played active roles in the workers' movement of the nineteenth century and, with their common sense and activism, contributed, as Mikhail Bakunin says, "not only the ideas, but also the facts of the future itself."

Throughout history, anarchism has been an idea and practice not only of self-proclaimed anarchists but also of common people practicing anarchism without being aware of it or with no previous knowledge of the word anarchism. The anarchist principles of nonauthoritarian organization have spread around to such an extent, that many social movements could be classified as anarchist even without assuming this identity. By contrast, many anarchists intentionally refuse to declare themselves anarchists, probably due to their extreme adherence to the anarchist ideas of an anti-cult attitude, openness, and flexibility, whereby complete emancipation also encompasses emancipation from the rigidity of identity.

Accordingly, the following movements came close to an anarchist milieu and some could even be placed in it: the labor unrests in Great Britain (1910-1914), Germany (1919-1921) and Portugal (1974); the Mexican Revolution (1910-1919); the German Socialist Students' Union (Sozialistische Deutsche Studentenbund, SDS) in the then Western Germany (1950s and 1960s); the Japanese student movement Zengakuren (1950s and 1960s); the Italian "Hot Autumn" (1969); the broad coalition of radical antimilitarist groups called "The Committee of 100" in Great Britain (1960s and 1970s); the Provos and Kabouters in the Netherlands (1960s and 1970s); the "March 22" movement and Situationist International in France (1960s and 1970s); the strike by British miners (1984-1985); the radical unionist movement Cobas (Comitati di Base) in Italy (1980s and 1990s); the alterglobalization movement (since 1994); and a series of other "carnivals of resistance."

Colin Ward wrote that "an anarchist society, a society which organizes itself without authority, is always in existence. Like a seed beneath the snow, buried under the weight of the state and its bureaucracy, capitalism and its waste, privilege and its injustices, nationalism and its suicidal loyalties, religious differences and their superstitious separatism." Darij Zadnikar postulates that the seeds of resistance are to be sought in the everyday resistance of life against the imperatives of the system; in the joy of living and the buffoonery of ordinary people; in the dance of the ignored; in the moving of nomads; in the settling of migrants and the struggle of peasants for land; in the love between homosexuals; in the piercing of punks; and, last but not least, in the smile of an overworked shop-assistant. One should not forget the squatters; people without documents (the "Erased" in Slovenia and the sans-papiers in France) and the "illegal dwellers" in the global Babylon; adbusters and culturejammers; women working in maquiladoras; the unemployed, precarious workers, piqueteros and cacerolazos; the activists of social centers; the pacifists in the streets; the feminist groups; the antifascist organizations; Reclaim the Streets; Food not Bombs; the No Borders network; the gardening guerrillas; the No-to-War and Noto-NATO activists; Black Cross; the graffitists and hackers or hacktivists on the Internet; the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), and Earth First!; Indymedia activists; the open-source code and copyleft advocates; the producers of healthy food; and the explorers of spiritual dimensions.

Still, many still argue that anarchism has long been over. While this thesis (like the pronouncement of "end of history,") is premature, it points to a perennial problem. Through theoretical purism, stubborn adherence to principles and the absolute rejection of compromises and reformism, anarchism has preserved its ontological radicalism. Along the way, however, it has lost some of its value and topicality, since "anachronist" anarchism is torn "between tragic Past and impossible Future, and it seems to lack a Present." In 1847, Alexander Herzen issued his comrades a similar warning:

If progress is the goal, for whom then are we working? Who is this Moloch who, as the toilers approach him, instead of rewarding them ... can only give the mocking answer that after their death all will be beautiful on earth? Do you really wish to condemn human beings alive today to the mere sad role of caryatids supporting a floor for others one day to dance upon? ... A goal which is infinitely remote is not a goal at all, it is a deception. A goal must be closer — at the very least the laborer's wage or pleasure in the work performed. Each epoch, each generation, each life has had, and has, its own experience, and en route new demands grow, new methods.

According to Paul Goodman, anarchism is simply a continuous process of facing future situations, while ensuring that already won freedoms do not disappear or degenerate into their opposites, as the free economy degenerated into neoliberal capitalism and voluntary slavery became disguised as wage labor. By overcoming the rigid adherence to a specific doctrine and paying attention to the concrete consequences for people's lives, anarchism can remain one of the most important and topical intellectual streams in the modern world and a springboard for future social changes.

To do so, anarchism must first overcome the negative "fetishization" of the state, because today's struggle for a better world involves antistatism but should be much more encompassing. It would be useful here to imagine the struggle as the fight against the mythological many-headed monster Hydra, wherein the state represents only one of the threats (i.e., heads) to be "severed" while others (capitalism, racism, sexism, militarism, homophobia, nationalism, etc.) remain to be fought. The state should be understood not as a monolithic external structure, but rather, as German anarcho-socialist Gustav Landauer explained it, "a social relationship; a certain way of people relating to one another." As such, it should be addressed as soon as possible, rather than rejected it for the sake of theoretical purity or an ontological high-principled attitude.


Excerpted from A Living Spirit of Revolt by Ziga Vodovnik. Copyright © 2013 PM Press. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

A Fresh Look at Anarchism Howard Zinn ix

Preface xv

1 Lectori Benevolo Salutem! 1

2 Perceptions and Conceptions of Anarchism 29

3 Ontology of Anarchism 63

4 A Brief Genealogy of Anarchist Thought 77

5 Currents of Anarchism 103

6 The Forgotten Current of Anarchism: New England Transcendentalism 125

7 Transcendentalism and the American Anarchist Tradition 139

8 Transcendentalism as an Inspiration and Aspiration 179

9 The Anatomy of Revolt 191

References 203

Index 220

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