Anarchism, ethnicity, and culture: building a global movement

The seventh and final part in a series of articles discussing the anarchist movement as it relates to non-European peoples and cultures. What lessons are to be learned from the examples of anarchism beyond the West? How can we build upon them to make a truly global resistance movement?

Throughout this series, one of my major sources has been Jason Adams’s Non-Western Anarchisms: Rethinking the Global Context. It has proven invaluable as a way of looking back and seeing where anarchist movements in various parts of the world have come from even as I look to where they are going. As such, I feel that his conclusion on the subject is worth quoting;

In the final judgement, the relevance of this work to the future of social movements may not be so complex but alternatively, it might be simply to “keep the maps that show the roads not taken” as Edward Krebs has put it (1998, p. xiii). Academics often have a tendency to see everything they develop as being new and unprecedented ; I believe this work has demonstrated that while there are several new currents within anarchism today, many of them were preceded by other roads that were not taken or that were conveniently forgotten in the construction of what has become the phenomenon of Western anarchism. In league with the other more specific attempts at such a project in the recent past, I say “let the deconstruction begin.” While we may not know exactly where this project will ultimately lead us, we do know that it will be a place radically more holistic, global, and aligned with the origins of anarchism as a counterhegemonic force than what has developed in the tradition of Western anarchism in the past several decades.

The question then becomes what form this “deconstruction” must take.

Unlike Adams, I am not an academic, and so I cannot talk clinically of “projects” to be undertaken in the future. Likewise, as a member of the working class who is directly affected by the inequalities that capitalism engenders, I cannot look at anarchism from within a “pure” revolutionary ghetto, as some might be able to. As such, I am only interested in theory when there is a viable way to translate it into practice. This is why I have been keen to avoid the abstractions of post-structuralist anarchism (or post-anarchism) in these essays. I am not interested in the vague idea that Western anarchism may be Euro-centric simply because it contains Europeans, but rather in concrete differences of perspective and practice.

Such differences are not difficult to find, though they have not been as thoroughly examined as perhaps they ought to have been. That the idea of Euro-centrism has been most vocally espoused by those “anarchists” who minimise or altogether dismiss the relevance of class struggle has, understandably, pushed class-struggle anarchists into a defensive position. Likewise, the fact that black anarchists such as Chuck Morse say we have yet to fully develop “an anarchism that can both fight white supremacy and articulate a positive vision of cultural diversity and cultural exchange,” it also creates a defensive attitude. Anti-racist anarchists will be affronted as the idea that we have still to see “what a truly anti-racist anarchism might look like.”

They needn’t be. If there is just one thing that anarchists take from the lessons of struggles in non-European cultures, it should be a reminder that anarchism is not a “complete” ideology. The idea of a “pure anarchism” that contains all the answers on every issue should be rejected outright as garbage. If we had all the answers, we would already have anarchy. We must be constantly learning the lessons of our comrades across the world in order to advance in the struggle. In the words of Rudolph Rocker, “I am an Anarchist not because I believe Anarchism is the final goal, but because there is no such thing as a final goal.

I can hardly lay out every lesson that can be learned from anarchist movements in other cultures here. Such would require several tomes, and a comprehensive history of every struggle that has ever taken place. But, from what has been covered in this series I can offer an example.

Currently, the Zapatistas of Mexico are engaged in a primarily defensive war against the Mexican state. Since 1994, they have existed to fight off corporate, military, and paramilitary incursions into the territory of rural indigenous peoples. As a part of this, they have formed several autonomous municipalities in the Chapias region. This is just the latest precedent of the people seizing power from the state and governing themselves, in line with the Paris Commune, the original self-governing soviets of the Russian Revolution, the Autonomous Shinmin Region in Manchuria, and the short-lived Spanish Revolution.

The difference, of course, is the longevity of the Zapatista communities and the fact that they exist in the here-and-now rather than a past obscured by capitalist and imperialist control of the history books. It also serves to offer a lesson that anarchists should have learned long ago. Whilst the previously cited examples of anarchy in action are often given as proof that non-hierarchical societies can function efficiently, the link is never made between theory and reality. Although, obviously, the ultimate goal is a global revolution, we need to recognise that waiting for all peoples to rise up simultaneously is to wait forever.

US imperial planners rightly fear the “threat of a good example,” and this is precisely what the Zapatista initiative offers. Whilst rightly rejecting what Murray Bookchin called “lifestyle anarchism,” i.e. retreating into our own revolutionary ghetto, we should not be afraid to seize the initiative and seize control whenever it becomes possible. In this context workplace occupation, for example, is more than just a form of industrial action. It is a way to push towards workers’ control of industry as the Zapatista municipalities represent a way to push toward community control of resources.

Another good lead to follow from the Zapatistas is “The Other Campaign,” which they initiated in 2006. Essentially, the intention of the campaign was to create connections between the Zapatistas and other resistance groups in Mexico and to build up an alternative to parliamentary democracy and the electoral system. It is the anarchist slogan of “don’t vote – organise” in action. Other anarchists should take note of this, offering as it does not only an excellent way to introduce people to the concept of anarchism and build up the movement but also to put the alternative forms of organisation and resistance that we advocate into practice at the same time.

There are, of course, many more things that anarchists in different cultures and different parts of the world can learn from each other. Ours is an oranic movement led from below by its numbers, rather than an ideology built upon rigid and immovable ideas and hierarchy as the authoritarian left is. As such, we grow around exactly this flow of ideas and perspectives. Indeed, if the global working class is composed of innumerable peoples and cultures of which white Europeans are the minority, we have to in order to win the class war.

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