… Socialism, as such, implies neither liberty nor authority. The word itself implies nothing more than harmonious relationship. In fact, it is so broad a term that it is difficult of definition. I certainly lay claim to no special authority or competence in the matter. I simply maintain that the word Socialism having been applied for years, by common usage and consent, as a generic term to various schools of thought and opinion, those who try to define it are bound to seek the common element of all these schools and make it stand for that, and have no business to make it represent the specific nature of any one of them. …
Anarchists can be touchy about any sort of authority, so we are frequently at pains to say that we are not followers of any particular leader or historical figure. That’s good. Among other things, the historical figures we’re most likely to follow were almost all pretty clear about how undesirable that would be. And there’s something a little disconcerting about anarchists when they do invest perhaps a bit too much of their identity in an identification with some one of those anarchist figure, whether historical or current. …
I found this note written by scott crow, the Austin, Texas, based anarchist activist, on facebook. He has talked about the merits and demerits of open vs. closed collectives at at least two of the events that I have attend where he was a guest speaker.
One of the difficulties of activism is knowing when it is appropriate to define and defend a social or community space. Most of the anarchist and leftist activist that I have had the good fortune to work with have been patient, charitable, and granted âbenefit of the doubtâ to a fault.
For example, Occupy’s admirable focus on direct consensus based democracy in open public spaces has the unfortunate potential to leave some doubting the effectiveness or desirability of such a project. Especially when individuals or groups are unfamiliar with the âtechnologyâ of participatory democracy â twinkle fingers and progressive stacking come to mind. There is also a tendency to abuse a space, whether it is through groupthink, regarding the participants as a captive audience or seeing an opportunity for group therapy. I recommend checking out the book Come Hell or High Water for other potential hazards to a collective process.
There is balancing act to be maintained between what Carl Oglesby described as our morally prescribed commitment to total vulnerability for democracy and keeping our spaces safe from authoritarians and provocateurs.
With scott crow’s permission to republish, I hope you find it fruitful.
ALL the best, —James
Conflict, Safe Spaces and Removing People
To all of us engaged in groups in general:
If you will allow me a minute - I haven’t paid attention to all of the chatter and conflict et cetera, of your particular group, but I bet it is similar to many other places. I wanted to take a moment to address anarchism and open groups in brief. I believe our spaces have value to them, and we have all learned and shared things over their existence. Flame wars have happened since the dawn of the interwebz and personal conflict has happened at least since we could open our mouths - but sometimes we have to say Ya Basta! (Enough!)
I have been an anarchist in the real world for a long time, and I do not believe in large open groups for much more than short-term organizing. They always fall into trouble over the long haul due to not having enough cohesion, collective input and shared power. I actually mostly only work in small closed collectives with people I can develop intimate shared ideals, principles and actions.
Our Spaces, Our Places
Anarchism is not about all of us getting into one big boat and heading towards the horizon, and all getting along singing Kumbaya. This is the mess we are in now: this ‘boat’ is filled with the lowest common denominator of ideals/principles of all the participants. The way I see it, the horizon is the goal (follow me on this for a minute), and instead of all getting into one big stupid boat, we can each get into our own boats, rafts, ships or whatever and head towards the horizon without sinking each otherâs boats. Some will get there faster, some will not make it, and some will go in armadas. The key is that we get there, individually or collectively how we can, without sinking each otherâs boats.
I also believe in, and practice, protecting the spaces we have carved out within groups, workplaces, meetings, housing et cetera. I am not a liberal who believes we have to (or can) accept everyone. It’s why I am an anarchist. We need multiple small accountable groups that can federate and/or network - or not. If we can’t get along, then we form other groups and don’t try to sink the others boat! We donât have the capacity to deal with everyone’s personal issues - whether its drugs, alcohol, mental healthÂ or just assholes looking for a fight. There is plenty of pie to go around for all of us, plenty of problems to solve and lots of disagreements to be had with people we like or love without the added stress. Find the place that fits and work in it.
Conflicts will happen and can be constructive, but if they are damaging we must weed people out, or the groups will falter and everyone suffers. That said: if people are assholes, KICK THEM OUT of your group - it’s ok! At my work, we fire them! We all have enough trouble getting along with those who are committed to the same values and beliefs, why make it harder? Itâs not easy, but itâs necessary for all of us.
Here are a few things we have used as guidelines for our political training camps over the years in dealing with infiltration and disruptive unaccountable people:
Just and sustainable worlds are going to be built by tight relationships built on trust, not bigger groups. Challenging ideas and debating them is one thing; destructive conversation is a waste of everyone’s energy and time. We only have a little time on this planet â letâs make the best of it.
These are just some thoughts. Take what you want and leave the rest.
scott crow 06.12
“Anarchism’s lone objective is to reach a point at which the belligerence of some humans against humanity, in whatever form, comes to a halt.”
Political libertarianism opposes aggression—the initiation of force—by individuals, including those acting under the color of law. Cultural libertarianism seeks peacefully to undermine hierarchies in workplaces and other social institutions; to promote individual freedom of self-development, self-definition, and self-expression; and to foster an ethos of openness, dialogue, and critical reflection on social norms. Proponents of cultural libertarianism argue plausibly that their position emerges from the same respect for the value of freedom that underlies political libertarianism; that people who are not consistently skeptical about positional authority will find it difficult to sustain a free society; that the assumptions that ground some cultural arrangements are inconsistent with those embraced by political libertarianism; and that aggression frequently makes possible the maintenance of hierarchical social arrangements, even if those arrangements are not themselves aggressive. …
“Anarchism is a definite intellectual current in the life of our times, whose adherents advocate the abolition of economic monopolies and of all political and social coercive institutions within society. In place of the present capitalistic economic order Anarchists would have a free association of all productive forces based upon co-operative labour, which would have as its sole purpose the satisfying of the necessary requirements of every member of society, and would no longer have in view the special interest of privileged minorities within the social union.” —Rudolf Rocker
Morality is not just an instrumental means to that good; it’s actually part of it. Morality stands to the ultimate human good as playing one note stands to playing the whole sonata — or actually, probably as playing two-thirds of the sonata stands to the whole sonata (or if you’re a Stoic, as playing the entire sonata stands to playing the entire sonata).
Now Anarchism, as we have traced it, is not metaphysical but positive. It affirms, as Carlyle would say, not the speculative Rights, but the practical Mights of Man. It affirms, not barely that men ought not be governed by their fellow men, but that they cannot be so governed without a certain compliance on their own part; and that such compliance depends upon their being previously deluded.
If there’s a line to get on a crowded bus, do you wait your turn and refrain from elbowing your way past others even in the absence of police?
If you answered “yes”, then you are used to acting like an anarchist! The most basic anarchist principle is self-organization: the assumption that human beings do not need to be threatened with prosecution in order to be able to come to reasonable understandings with each other, or to treat each other with dignity and respect.