Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Can We Reclaim Democracy?

In Guest Feature, O. Adams on March 13, 2013 at 1:34 pm

DEAR Socialism, I don’t want you to be a dirty word for so many, too many, any more. You are needed and we all need to embrace you.

I had been wary about putting my cards on the table for all to see: but Government and Parliament have provoked me into doing so. I feel it’s time to stand up and be counted.

“This government – a government with a flimsy, pathetic excuse of a mandate – is intolerable, and it must be stopped in its tracks. No more silent simmering with rage.”

Owen Jones says it better than I could, in his editorial for The Independent, January 9, 2013.

“Take to the streets. Strike, and support those who do. Learn from this country’s proud history of peaceful civil disobedience…” “Sounds too radical, too extreme, or too much like hard work?” he continues.

“In the years to come, you will be asked what you did to stop this horror show. And if you need another incentive, picture again those baying Tories, jeering as they mugged the poor.”

As the New Labour project was on its last legs, having stuffed banks’ black holes with £1.3 trillion public cash, the stand-up comic/activist Mark Thomas told the 2009 Put People First rally in London:

“We have to build a movement that will fight… to reclaim democracy, to reclaim our lives from capitalism… WE are the alternative… We must start today.”

Occupy made waves internationally last winter, putting into practice a form of direct democracy through general assemblies, consensus when making decisions, and calling for the 99% to overpower the 1%. Occupy is loath to label itself as an –ist movement, and I’ve heard campaigners reject the old left/right-wing definitions.

But I’m holding five cards in a leftwing, anti-authoritarian, egalitarian pack, which I feel correspond with Occupy, plus the Tony Benn-fronted, TUC-aligned Coalition of Resistance, and a massive groundswell of autonomous individuals not part of any organisation but fired up by the spread of information outside the traditional mainstream media, their personal deprivation, disenfranchisement and victimization by a clutch of nasty, cruel, inhumane millionaire powerbrokers. All of us want an end to exploitation and oppression, all want to strike back against the bullies, and all want to be part of a united movement, I would hope, to achieve those goals.

I’d hope that even if many folks and their organizations only share one or two of these five cards I hold in my heart, it won’t deter us towards solidarity, co-operation, and organizing in a broad resistance movement.

First on the table is Socialism, my Ace of Hearts (no kings and queens in this pack!). I’d think I’d share that card with anyone who supports The Clarion.

The second is Democracy – I believe the Chartists and Suffragettes got so far, but a vote proscribed and regulated by the bourgeoisie every four years for a nominal change of guard with no option to end capitalism, is not real democracy.

I lay my third, Pacifism, face-up, as I believe freedom for all, something I strive for, cannot include the freedom to punch another person in the face, or blow them up. It might seem the Cold-War spectre of the mushroom cloud, of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) went out with Perestroika and Reagan. But we’re surrounded by nuclear facilities, the arms trade is flourishing, and so is war. There are innumerable ways of sorting disputes that do not involve violence: many anthropologists, many civil rights and civil disobedience advocates, including Gandhi, can vouch for that.

Cue now a thundering theme tune (by Motorhead, perhaps?). My fourth card is… the Ace of Spades… Anarchism.

The revealing of this card might possibly provoke a confused or hostile response based on misconception. To borrow the 1920s words of Bartolomeo Vanzetti, anarchists are seen as “the black cats, the terrors of many, of all the bigots, exploiters, charlatans, fakers and oppressors. Consequently we are also the more slandered, misrepresented, misunderstood and persecuted of all.”

You’d be hard pushed to find a universal definition of what anarchism is, but in my view, and that of so many of its thinkers past and present, from Peter Kropotkin to Noam Chomsky, anarchism is a type of socialism, just as Marxism, syndicalism or Fabianism are. The 19th-century American Jo Labadie explains it well: “It is said that Anarchism is not socialism. This is a mistake. Anarchism is voluntary Socialism. There are two kinds of Socialism, archistic and anarchistic, authoritarian and libertarian, state and free. Indeed, every proposition for social betterment is either to increase or decrease the powers of external wills and forces over the individual. As they increase they are archistic; as they decrease they are anarchistic.”

The living Scottish anarchist Stuart Christie provides a wonderful definition:

“Anarchism is a movement for human freedom. It is concrete, democratic and egalitarian … Anarchism began – and remains – a direct challenge by the underprivileged to their oppression and exploitation.”

Although Marxists and anarchists often don’t see eye-to-eye (with the exception of the Zapatistas of Chiapas, Mexico, whose peaceful and highly successful peasants’ movement, is anarchist-based but whose spokesman Subcomandante Marcos, leans towards Marxism), their histories have been intertwined from the start.

The Paris Commune of 1871 and its failure resulted in Marx’s “dictatorship of the proletariat” theory, and then, the following year, Marx and his followers getting anarchists expelled from the (socialist) First International.

But Anarchists took part alongside the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution. But, as Marx had, Trotsky and Stalin each went out of their way to violently crush anarchists in power struggles – Stalin’s influence split the republican forces in the Spanish Civil War, giving Franco victory; Trotsky responded to calls for democratic rights and freedom of expression for sailors and peasants in the Kronstadt Rebellion of 1921 with a 60,000-strong Red Army; while the Makhnovist anarchists’ Free Territory in Ukraine (1918-21) alliance with the Bolsheviks to defeat the Tsarist White Army, was undermined by Trotsky who seized the area for the USSR.

Many people, including those who label themselves anarchists, will have a different idea of what anarchism is (as I emphatically believe that a capitalist cannot also be an anarchist, despite the erroneous claim of so-called right-wing ‘libertarians’ and laissez-faire free-market extremists, few Marxists would embrace Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge or China’s current one-party neoliberal model).

So many people refuse to consider the concept of anarchy in much other than pre-Enlightenment, Hobbesian, terms. In 1651, Hobbes defined anarchy as a state of nature, a naturally depraved selfish free-for-all; an authoritarian state, monarchy or dictatorship, he argued, was essential to protect people from themselves. And this belief still upholds even the most vicious authority.

Anarchism does not mean chaos and disorder, as it is commonly claimed, but the opposite. Almost every school of anarchism speaks of order from the bottom up. Perhaps a good example of an anarchist achievement is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948; or it could be something as prosaic as the internet or world postal system arrangements, not coerced and controlled by an authority but the result of friendly agreements and mutual aid (incidentally the author of the key text Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution was the anarchist Kropotkin).

The fifth and final card I am laying down I’m not sure how to define precisely: it could be compromise, consensus, responsibility to others, community tolerance – it could also be viewed as realism, hypocrisy or prostitution… it’s about give and take, it means I would vote Labour if there was an election tomorrow although I consider just about all politicians in the rebranded One Nation party charlatans and turncoats. It means that although I detest supermarkets, I will do my shopping there as I can’t afford to buy more ethically.

It also means that while arguing about anarchism – and confirming it as a form of socialism – until the cows come home, I will join together in solidarity, and seek common cause, with others fighting the good fight against the Tories and capitalism! Being involved with the HOOF campaign has shown me that people of all political persuasions, religious and non-religious, of all classes, backgrounds and ages, can come together to defeat the authorities, with their beliefs and individual freedoms staying intact and respected. THEY want the left to be split, THEY want us divided. Let’s show them otherwise… Unity is strength, and so are diversity and openness. And I’d like to see both Socialism and Anarchist given the prominence, respect and attention they deserve, for people to say it loud, that they’re red (and black!) and they’re proud.

OWEN ADAMS (Forest of Dean Anarchists)

Forest of Dean Anarchists is a new affinity group formed for anyone with an interest in anarchism: for discussion, agitation and grassroots organisation. It meets informally every other Tuesday evening (from January 15) at the Severn View Inn at the top of Primrose Hill, Lydney. See http://fodanarchists.wordpress.com/news/ and www.facebook.com/fodanarchists

Further reading: Iain McKay (ed): An Anarchist FAQ (2007) is a detailed reference book. Available online at http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Anarchist_FAQ or in book form from AK Press ISBN 978-190259390-6 Stuart Christie: My Granny Made Me An Anarchist is an engaging and entertaining autobiography. See also www.christiebooks.com

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