The introduction to the new issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, available from AK Press.
We know what injustice is.
We know instinctively from the time we’re little. Even if she can’t describe it, a child’s protestations of “That’s not fair!” “He cheated!” “She got more than me!” “That’s not FAIR!” signal what she senses on principle.
But what is justice?
Is it a code of ethics, how you’re supposed to treat people on the individual, interpersonal level? Or is it that which promotes conditions for what is fair and equitable on the structural, systemic level?
I don’t know how to begin because I am no longer sure for whom I am writing. I am concerned that there is no longer an audience to write for.
As a necessary aside: with the disappearance of Left print media and the rise of blogs, there are few places left to publish. Journals with limited circulation or preselected audiences dominate the landscape and the contemporary radical media cannot reach fellow adherents, much less the larger public. Often, it seems that all that remains is a smattering of decrepit publications that speak for the ‘dead institutions’ of the American Left or function as the Daily Worker of a non-existent party — or, and possibly worse, blogs that only run the poorly written position papers of minuscule sects too self-obsessed to see their vanguardism coupled with, and only overshadowed by, their irrelevancy.
The forces responsible for changing the climate and endangering the future of humanity have names. Names such as: Chevron and Exxon Mobil, Saudi Aramco and Petroleos de Venezuela. They are the predominant groups responsible for playing havoc with our collective future. In fact, two-thirds of historic carbon dioxide and methane emissions can be attributed to exactly ninety entities. They are based in forty-three countries and extract resources from every oil, natural gas, and coal rich region in the world. They process the fuels into products that are sold to consumers in every nation on the planet. Of the top 85 emitters, 54 are in industrialized countries and 31 are in developing nations. Knowing who and where they are demonstrates that an end to the problem is within our reach. In order to stop global climate change all we need to do is put pressure on these isolated entities, right?
Wrong. While these are the primary economic forces responsible for climate change, it would be a mistake to think if we stop these particular companies from conducting business as usual, we can solve the problem. They are only the most public faces of a system that goes much deeper.
This essay examines one of the most important historical events of the past decade, the 2008 Greek rebellion and its possible relationship with the rise of the Coalition of Radical Left (SYRIZA) to power. My aim is to eludicate this revolutionary moment without exhausting my focus on urban violence, which I consider a second priority. I will elaborate on the anarchist elements of the revolt and the influences in the general attitude of the public. Certainly (and to avoid crucial misunderstandings) the December revolt would be unimaginable without having incarnated some of the most fundamental anarchist elements that are widely embraced by a large part of the Greek youth (and most of all we cannot ignore Exarcheia – district of central Athens – where the revolt begun, an area of particular symbolism, which for years was the main epicenter of the Greek anti-capitalist movements). However, it is certainly wrong to classify it as a purely anarchist event as it is believed by many activists across the world. This very common false assumption has led to a peculiar but also unacceptable mystification for the Greek anarchist space. Contrary to that, the vast majority of young Greek anarchists seem to be reluctant to abort sectarianism and idolatrous invocation to ideological puritanism, which isolates them from the public sphere. Thus, instead of allowing their presence to become a significant protagonist in the country’s antagonistic movement, to propose radical alternatives beyond liberalism and parliamentarism, their absence from the procedures that shape a new political consensus results for all populist initiatives to become entirely consumed by the rhetoric of party mechanisms. This, precisely, explains the rise of the SYRIZA, which although has not much to do with horizontalism and direct democracy, should not be discarded since its victory in the recent elections of January, 2015 is of utmost important (I will discuss this issue in relation to the December revolt).
“By marking our own text with the signs of battle, we hope to go a little further towards a more open and self-aware discourse.” – Partha Chatterjee
In the aftermath of the failed revolutions of 1848, the exiled Russian radical Mikhail Bakunin published a pamphlet titled Appeal to the Slavs by a Russian Patriot. Bakunin, not yet an anarchist but already showing anarchistic tendencies, called for the destruction of the Austrian Empire and the establishment of a federation of free Slav republics. Typical to what would later become the anarchist analysis for which he is known, Bakunin asserted that the peasantry was the revolutionary class that would be the decisive force in bringing down capitalism and empire. In reference to the uprisings, Bakunin praised what he called the “revolutionary spirit” of “all those who suffered under the yoke of foreign powers.” He called for greater solidarity among the colonized and warned against doctrinaire ideology:
“The oppression of one is the oppression of all, and we cannot violate the liberty of one being without violating the freedom of all of us. The social question…cannot be resolved either by a preconceived theory or by any isolated system… We must, first, purify our atmosphere and make a complete transformation of our environment, for it corrupts our instincts and our will by constricting our hearts and our minds.”
From its earliest articulations, revolutionary anarchism was not only anticapitalist, but also anti-imperialist and anticolonialist.
There is a clear case to be made for the connection between ecology and anarchism.1 Many philosophers, academics, and radicals have elaborated this over the past two centuries2. But reviewing the history of this theoretical relationship is not the goal here. The movement surrounding anarchism in the past 200 years has certainly included its fair share of theory, yet what has rooted anarchist ideas so deeply in human society is the prioritization of action. It is this action-based relationship between the ecological movement and anarchism that we explore.
How has anarchism inspired and shaped ecological action in recent history, and how might it continue to? The experience of Earth First! over three-and-a-half decades embodies the most critical aspects of this question.
While Earth First! (EF!) has never considered itself to be explicitly anarchist, it has always had a connection to the antiauthoritarian counterculture and has operated in an anarchistic fashion since its inception3. In doing so, it has arguably maintained one of the most consistent and long-running networks for activists and revolutionaries of an anarchist persuasion with the broader goal of overturning all socially constructed hierarchies.
Laura Hall Laura Hall’s background is Mohawk and English-Canadian. Her work explores decolonizing and Indigenist approaches to environmentally sustainable community planning, while gendering the work in order to focus on the issues of Indigenous women as well as two-spirited peoples. She is a PhD candidate in Environmental Studies at York University.
Her project is called “Eco-Queer Indigenous Feminism” I name my approach according to my own experiential, embodied and intersectional lived experience, but also as a way of representing the depth of Indigenist and decolonizing theory. In grounded, embodied, intersectional movements and story, Indigenous Eco-Queer feminist analysis is forming against a number of pressing issues— opposing oil and natural gas development for example and also ongoing housing/poverty needs, the likes of which are being addressed in our Indigenous communities in creatively culturally rooted ways. I would like to draw connections between our movements and anarchist-socialist discourses, while also lending a (Haudenosaunee) Indigenist analysis of the state’s relationship to hegemonic theory and treaty understandings (at two extremes) in order to better understand ways that we might unthink the state, rethink the state, or dream new/old governance in the spirit of treaty based responsibility (as both Indigenous and ally/accomplice groups).
E Ornelas E Ornelas is a queer and genderqueer identified anarcha-feminist of mixed ethnic background who is an English-as-first-language, US citizen living in a colonized land. E’s research interests include the intersections of anarchist and feminist theory, particularly in educational contexts. When E is not facilitating both formal and informal discussions on these topics, E enjoys biking and baking.
E’s project is called “Purple & Black: An Anthology of Anarcha-Feminist Theory & Action” This is meant to provide a review and synthesis of anarcha-feminism while moving conversations about anarcha-feminism beyond past authors’ attempts at defining and defending it within anarchism, to a compiled recognition and celebration of its achievements and contributions. My approach is to examine and annotate pertinent anarcha-feminist cultural artifacts, whether textual, artistic, oratory, etc. Though I am influenced by previous anarcha-feminist publications, I also wish to expand their reach beyond a predominantly white, western, and/or predominantly English-speaking sampling of theory and action.
Jack McGinn Jack McGinn has long been involved in activism and international solidarity related to the Palestinian cause, having worked with Students for Justice in Palestine for six years, translating and distributing dispatches from activists based in Palestine, and writing for an online audience on related matters. He lives in Northern Ireland.
His project is called “Anarchist Trends in the Organizational Methods Underpinning the First Palestinian Intifada” Palestine remains a well-examined and critical point of focus for the international anti-hierarchical Left, situated as it is at the intersection of imperialist, capitalist, and neocolonical power. However, research into how specifically anti-hierarchical thought and practices play a role in the (multi-faceted) Palestinian resistance is lacking and in many cases is nonexistent. A pertinent example is the first intifada; a remarkable example of a decentralized and subaltern-led campaign of sustained resistance. Work has been done on the Israeli Anarchists Against the Wall, and a sparse amount of research on the dynamics of queer resistance against patriarchy and occupation exists, but there is as yet no study (in Arabic or English) like that of Sam Dolgoff’s edited collection of essays on the anarchist collectives in revolutionary Spain, for example. This piece looks to fill that void.
According to anthropologist Akhil Gupta, the structural violence of the state in India kills two to three million people every year, mostly lower caste or tribal women and children. Yet, numerous anti-poverty programs target a population that actively participates in the democratic project through the electoral process. Gupta tries to explain this paradox in his new book, based on a detailed ethnography of the Indian bureaucracy.
“To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorised, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished.” Without directly referring to this quote from French anarchist Proudhon, Gupta provides a similar description of the Indian government that perceives poor women and children as “segments of the population that had not been as extensively surveyed, counted, classified, measured, injected, or schooled in the past” (261).
In fact, his references are less Proudhonian than Foucauldian. Basing his argument on the concept of biopower as it was elaborated by Michel Foucault, Gupta suggests that poverty in India has been normalized through numerous statistical projects aimed at measuring it. As a consequence of this normalization, the killing of the poor is neither considered a violation (of law, justice, morality or the Constitution), nor a scandal that delegitimizes power.
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Consistent with the ‘strategy’ theme of the current issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory (No. 27), Shane Burley lays out what the anarcho-syndicalist tradition offers movements outside the workplace.
There has been an effort by scholars and organizers alike over the last forty years to segregate anarcho-syndicalism from the rest of the broad anarchist movement. The labor movement dominated social struggles in the first half of the twentieth century, but as large business union bureaucracies were formed and new shop organizing began to diminish, the participation of anarchists in labor began to wane as community struggles around environmental issues, LGBT and women’s struggles, and housing justice took precedence. The syndicalist strategies that defined the earlier successes of anarchism internationally diminished to only the most hardcore adherents of a labor strategy, though these ideas have had spikes during periods of economic crisis. This shift away from syndicalism as a strategic foundation has robbed movements of some of their tactical inspirations, and organizers from the New Left forward attempt to reinvent the wheel every time, completely reimagining every struggle as though it was disconnected from the entire history of libertarian social movements. This is a loss as these developing community struggles can still look towards these syndicalist battles in the workplace as a model for how to democratically structure movements.
The idea of community syndicalism, bringing the syndicalist organizing strategy out of the workplace and into other aspects of life, can be a way to intentionally create a specific set of tactics. These tactical choices could take the form of solidarity structures that form as a union, which mean that they unite a set of interests against an adversary that is in control of a particular sector of society, such as labor, housing, or healthcare. These different sectors are the different puzzle pieces of social life that are all intimately affected by access to resources, and one in which a real element of class is present at all times. Since syndicalism in the workplace does not rely on simply one tactic, but instead on the use of solidarity, trying to utilize community syndicalism could simply mean a whole range of strategic points all building on some of the basic ideas of anarcho-syndicalism. The question then arises: what are the core elements of anarcho-syndicalism that can be boiled down and moved from the shop floor to the neighborhood, from workers issues to healthcare and environmentalism, and to all the sectors where class struggle takes place?