Becoming anarchist through action?

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explainthingstome
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Sep 27 2020 14:54
Becoming anarchist through action?

I've been given the impression that it is common for anarchists to believe that most people in society are not going to embrace anarchism just through discussion with anarchists or reading anarchist stuff, but rather through some kind of action.

How strong of a connection is there between these actions and anarchism?

I have no experience with any kind of action, but I have been given the impression that the leap from working class action to an adoption of revolutionary ideas is not all too obvious.

For example, a strike, or even an illegal strike, doesn't seem to immediately make its participants think about "big" ideas. A lot of times it seems like people have a very specific, practical goal. "I want my wage to be bigger". "I want it to be harder to fire people". Etc.

The impression that I have from the United States is that a lot of unions have been very alien to anarchist ideas (Cesar Chavez and Jimmy Hoffa).

I suspect that there are also sometimes other actions that easily attract some who are not interested in any societal results. Riots are a good example of this. Writing obscenities in a supermarket or taking products from the shelves without paying for them are not in themselves revolutionary actions.

What I mean is, someone who steals some food may have no intention of establishing a classless society of voluntary labour and free access to products. It could simply be that they are hungry, or they want something to sell and get money for etc.

Has anyone witnessed people becoming anarchists through participating in strikes, or perhaps some other kind of activity? Has anyone been able to kind of move them in the right direction and not just think about wages and working hours but also what society could look like?

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jondwhite
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Sep 27 2020 20:38

I would not conclude the majority are incapable of achieving revolutionary consciousness through thought (rather than action), simply because a revolutionary majority has not happened yet.

Not exactly the same question but there is a good debate audio recording here
https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/audio/can-majority-workers-develop-s...

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R Totale
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Sep 27 2020 21:02

I mean, there's not that many anarchists around at the moment, so it's not really ideal conditions for studying how people become anarchists, and I'm not too aware of any in-depth sociological studies that could help answer the question, so I'm kind of going off "I reckons" here, but I strongly suspect that if you looked at anarchists in the UK, there's probably like a cluster or cohort who got involved off the back of the 2010/11 student movement, then another bunch who came in through like Reclaim the Streets and summit protests, and then others who came in through the poll tax struggle before that. Similarly, it's my impression that if you did a survey of US anarchists, you might well find people who came in through anti-Trump and anti-fascist stuff from the last few years, then others who came in through BLM before that, and then probably a fairly sizeable number who first came in through Occupy, I think.

About strikes, I think if nothing else they have the virtue of clarifying what side people are on. Someone may start out thinking that Muslims or Mexicans or whoever are their enemy, but they're clearly not the main enemy in a strike situation, and may well be people who are important to keep on side; similarly, you might go into a strike thinking that Green politicians are good, or that Labour politicians are on the side of the workers, and then be forced to re-evaluate those ideas by the course of events. It might be something of a cliche, but I think the story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners and how attitudes to homosexuality changed over the course of the miners' strike is a really classic example of some of this stuff.

And none of that means that people will automatically become anarchists, and I'm sure that there's all sorts of things that can complicate the picture (immigrant workers being pressured into scabbing, for example). But I think that having experience of stuff like strikes can lead to having a general level of class consciousness in a basic "us vs them" way, understanding the importance of solidarity and mutual aid, and so on, and that if that's your starting point it's a lot easier to become an anarchist from there. Looking at really committed, long-term anarchist activists in the UK, like Stuart Christie or Colin Parker, I don't think it's a coincidence that a lot of them came out of that culture.

Historically, I think Spain's probably the best place to study how people became anarchists, although there were also big movements in lots of other places. But in Spain especially, I think it's hard to separate out the popularity of anarchism as an idea from the role that the CNT played in action and struggle. There's probably all sorts of stuff you can read on this, although not much comes to mind off the top of my head - maybe Blood of Spain?

In terms of more contemporary examples, you could look at the Vaughn 17? Now, I don't know what kind of political backgrounds the Vaughn defendants had prior to taking part in the uprising - it seems fairly unlikely that any of them would have consciously described themselves as anarchists, but who knows? - and I don't know for sure whether any of them would specifically describe themselves as anarchists today, but if you look at their writings you can see that several of them have definitely come to a greater engagement with anarchism, for instance Kevin Berry or Robert Hernandez. Robert Hernandez' statement is actually quite relevant here, come to think of it:
"Some events in life can change a person dramatically and these experiences we can carry for a lifetime...Truth is, I believed the Delaware Department of Corrections is the most corrupt, but I’ve come to learn that all of America’s Department of Corrections are unstable and unjust... We should never forget those individuals who were crucified by society for hope in a better tomorrow, a better system for all and for truth.

The prison culture teaches us to be tough, cruel and selfish to survive. However, may we inspire a new culture not of color, race, status, etc, but one of brotherhood...

The moments I spent with my seventeen comrades I learned so much. I truly can say I was inspired to stand for something far greater by Zach and Fariha, the supporters and true soldiers on the front lines. Anonymous anarchists.

I was all about my own people, brown pride, my attitude was different, but through this experience, I am reborn, liberated. I truly can say I embrace my brothers not by color or set clique, no, no, no. I embrace my brothers, black, white, brown as one."

I think Martin Glaberman is probably also worth looking into on this point.

redsdisease
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Sep 27 2020 21:19

I just wrote a long response to this but deleted it because I wasn't happy with it, then R Totale said what I was trying to, but much better.

On a personal level, I had fairly light engagement with anarchism through punk records and Howard Zinn, but it wasn't until being tear gassed at a demo against the Iraq War that I started seriously engaging with radical theory and sussing out avenues to organize. I know a lot of people with similar stories.

ajjohnstone
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Sep 28 2020 00:38

At one time trade unions were perceived a "schools for socialism". That view has disappeared by experience. There will always be a class struggle to protect what little we have and to gain a little more but without a clear objective to end it class division, the class struggle is a never-ending treadmill, is it not?

Ideas still has to link up with practical struggle and the question is , does militancy lead to revolutionary ideas. As you all know, the SPGB answer is that there is no automaticity about it. The role of a political party such as ours or any anarchist group is to provide political education.

If action led to anarchist/socialist understanding, the question becomes why there is not more of us because various actions have been engaged in by many many millions. Socialist consciousness comes from life experience, but that being said, why are not more people achieving this consciousness?

Anton Pannekoek in his Workers Council pamphlet explains

Quote:
“[class consciousness ] is not learned from books or through courses on theory and political formation, but through real life practice of the class struggle”

Paul Mattick with his understanding to his own political experiences wrote:

Quote:
“There is no evidence that the last hundred years of labour strife have led to the revolutionizing of the working class in the sense of a growing willingness to do away with the capitalist system…In times of depression no less in than these of prosperity, the continuing confrontations of labor and capital have led not to an political radicalization of the working class , but to an intensified insistence upon better accommodations within the capitalist system…No matter how much he [the worker] may emancipate himself ideologically, for all practical purposes he must proceed as if he were still under the sway of bourgeois ideology. He may realize that his individual needs can only be assured by collective class actions, but he will still be forced to attend to his immediate needs as an individual. It is this situation, rather than some conditioned inability to transcend capitalism. He may realize that his individual needs can only be assured by collective class actions, but he will still be forced to attend to his immediate needs as an individual. It is this situation, rather than some conditioned inability to transcend capitalist ideology, that makes the workers reluctant to express and to act upon their anti-capitalist attitudes ” - Marxism, Last Refuge of the Bourgeoisie

Quote:
Wilhelm Reich in Sex-Pol describes class consciousness in these terms:
“Question: If two human beings, A and B, are starving, one of them may accept his fate, refuse to steal, and take to begging or die from hunger, while the other may take the law into his own hands in order to obtain food. A large part of the proletariat, often called the lumpenproletariat, live according to the principles of B. Which of the two types has more elements of class consciousness in him? Stealing is not yet a sign of class consciousness but a brief moment of reflection shows, despite our inner moral resistance, that the man who refuses to submit to law and steals when he is hungry, that’s to say, the man who manifests a will to live, has more energy and fight in him than the one who lies down unprotesting on the butchers slab...we have said that stealing is not yet class consciousness. A brick is not yet a house, but you use bricks to build a house”

On personal level, every one of us involved have individual separate and different motivations of why we developed our ideas and reached particular conclusions. But when it comes to social change, we have to wonder about what moves people collectively and towards a potential revolutionary consciousness because i have no clear definitive answer. I can only assist in laying down the foundations for the success (as i see it) of the future awakening of the working class. Others on this website hold differently and prepare in their own way. But we both wait, because we know we cannot impose a voluntary society on an unwilling or unenlightened majority of fellow-workers.

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R Totale
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Sep 28 2020 10:44

That Reich quote's quite a good way of looking at it - a brick isn't a house, but if you try and build a house with no bricks you're likely to run into trouble. I also think that consciousness alone is only one part of the issue. Some people have phrased it as being about the "three Cs" of consciousness, confidence, and competence, which is perhaps a bit too neat but I think is still a useful way of thinking about things. Or, just to check off one more square on my anarchist cliche bingo card, there's that Solidarity bit about "Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification." I think that using either of those formulations is a good starting point for evaluating the importance of action.

The word itself tends to be a bit of a joke nowadays, but I still think that praxis in the full sense - like, acting in a way that's informed by your understanding of the world, and then modifying that understanding based on your actions and their effects - is one of the most vital concepts for socialists.

asn
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Sep 28 2020 13:55

"I mean, there's not that many anarchists around at the moment, so it's not really ideal conditions for studying how people become anarchists, and I'm not too aware of any in-depth sociological studies that could help answer the question, so I'm kind of going off "I reckons" here, but I strongly suspect that if you looked at anarchists in the UK, there's probably like a cluster or cohort who got involved off the back of the 2010/11 student movement, then another bunch who came in through like Reclaim the Streets and summit protests, and then others who came in through the poll tax struggle before that. Similarly, it's my impression that if you did a survey of US anarchists, you might well find people who came in through anti-Trump and anti-fascist stuff from the last few years, then others who came in through BLM before that, and then probably a fairly sizeable number who first came in through Occupy, I think."

But are many of them really 'anarchists'? Its more likely for most an identity - a label covering confusion - heavily informed by an ultra liberal conception of anarchism - about perfecting dimensions of bourgeois society - and informed by identity politics courtesy of the massive corporate media predominance and cultural/education apparatus impact and the middle class/student social base of many focusing on hierarchies of oppression rather than the class struggle and the legacy of deep state operations - the CIA's operation Chaos - which promoted identity politics such as the Women's movement to disrupt new left groups in the early 70's. In this period such groups particularly in the US were interwoven with the industrial insurgency and wildcat strike movement. There is an explosive new book about another facet of Operation Chaos - The CIA played key role in the promotion of LSD and engineering of the Manson Family as a sort of death squad to wipe out key figures in the Anti-Vietnam War and other movements.
When anarchist movements developed in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries - they were inter woven with the emergence of mass syndicalist union movements and major upsurge in the class struggle - key figures such as Malatesta, Rudolph Rocker, George Maximoff etc and their theoretical writings were connected with it. Today in the Anglo World - there is no mass syndicalist union movement and most books about Anarchism are often written by academics often presenting an ultra liberal conception of anarchism garnished with identity politics and oppression mongering connected with their middle class situation. An example is 'Unruly Equality: US Anarchism in the 20th Century' by Andrew Cornell See review in Rebel Worker Vol.34 No.2 (226) July-Aug 2016 on web site www.rebelworker.org These books just add to this confusion about Anarchism many of these people have. Also you have to take account of the Stalinist legacy upon the leftist milieu - in many so called anarchist groups which have sprung up in the Anglo World- aspects of identity politics are seen as beyond debate and discussion. You see this sort of thing with the BLM phenomena.

ZJW
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Oct 5 2020 07:28

When you refer to an article in your organ, why not give the specific link for the issue in question (which in this case is http://www.rebelworker.org/archive/REBEL%20WORKER%20ARCHIVE/rw%20july-au... )? Would that not make things easier for prospective readers of it?

explainthingstome's picture
explainthingstome
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Oct 9 2020 19:04
R Totale wrote:
But I think that having experience of stuff like strikes can lead to having a general level of class consciousness in a basic "us vs them" way, understanding the importance of solidarity and mutual aid, and so on, and that if that's your starting point it's a lot easier to become an anarchist from there.

I think it sounds reasonable that it could become easier. But I'm not sure how much easier, really.

I think virtually every anti-communist I've talked to have said "you can't solve the free-rider problem".

I believe that the common belief in the inability to fix the free-rider problem is the biggest hinder to communism. And that topic doesn't really relate to other common objections that relate to morality ("how can you steal someone's factory?" etc). That means that there isn't a visibly "logical" jump from involving yourself in a strike to believing in the substainability of a free access society of voluntary labour.

That being said, I read some big thread on Reddit where people were asked why they left their religion. A lot of the answers were about how they found the morality wrong, and about not the illogic of following any particular faith.

Do you think that people who believe in the unfixable free-rider problem would abandon their idea in a similar way? I.e. that they would change their mind despite their "lesson" not actually relating to the issue?