It occurred to me recently that there are four central tectonic splits within the worldwide political left. Like the tectonic plates that shift beneath the surface of the earth, these represent fundamental cleavages between different tendencies, parties and groups under the broad umbrella of the worldwide left. And, like tectonic plates, these positions clash.
What is Anarchism?
In his famous book Alice in Wonderland, the English writer Lewis Carroll profoundly challenges us to “think” about the power of words. His debate between Humpty Dumpty and Alice over the question of definitions goes like this:
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean. Neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “who is to be master. That is all.” (1)
Definitions and even more, historical interpretations of them are very enlightening. If we truly open our minds and investigate them, they can tell us a great deal about where we have come from, the degree to which we have become chained to the limitations of our past experiences and after careful consideration, can provide us with “sign-posts”, a potential guide to the barriers that stand in the way of our imagination, especially in our pursuit of what “could-be”.
Open any dictionary and you will find definitions of “Anarchy” that contain restrictions to all of these possibilities.
Anarchy: “A lack of established government or control, usually leading to disorder”, or, “a general state of disorder or uproar.”
Anarchist: “A person who believes that all organized authority should be abolished in the interests of individual freedom.”
When we compare these definitions with the original Greek meaning of the word, we can easily see that these are not definitions, but that they are simply interpretations that have developed over time through our ill reasoned experiences and critically, our dogged acceptance of those experiences as the “only” potential reality.
Greek: “An” – without + “Arkhos” – a ruler.
There is no suggestion here that “Anarchy” is synonymous with disorder or uproar. There is also no suggestion that individual freedom, as implied in the dictionary definitions, must therefore by its very nature, have little regard for one’s personal responsibility to the “whole”.
Most Anarchists believe in the absence of “rulers”, not the absence of values or order.
The dictionary definitions, used extensively by Governments, the Media and Corporations around the World, limit our thinking and keep us chained to their dominant ideology.
“The growing power of a soulless political bureaucracy which supervises and safeguards the life of Human’s from the cradle to the grave, is putting ever greater obstacles in the way of unified co-operation between Human beings and crushing out every possibility of new development. Just as for the various systems of religion, God is everything and Human’s nothing, so for this modern political ideology, the State (and its economics) is everything and the Human (and the environment) nothing. And just as behind the will of God there always lay hidden the will of privileged minorities, so today there hides behind the will of the State (and its economics) only the selfish interests of those who feel called to interpret this will in their own sense and impose it on the people.”(2)
(Additions in brackets are the Authors)
Why is Anarchy misunderstood?
“People are free only if they can choose, and they can choose only if they know enough to compare.” (Anon)
Anarchists do not accept authority, and as a consequence, they will not partake in any particular action because they are commanded to. Through a process of direct engagement, Anarchists become personally responsible for examining, through intelligent investigation, contemplation, discussion and consensus, the reasoning behind any action they may take before taking it. This is contrary to most of today’s Society who have been led to believe that it is in their best interests to abnegate that effort and the critical nature of it to others, namely, Governments, God’s, Scientists, Experts or Leaders.
The Anarchist approach demands a commitment to lifetime personal growth and maturity, a “growing away” from the historical reliance on either matriarchal or patriarchal (current) Social systems, the “parental” structures that carry with them the false promises, the supposed solutions that will fix all those nasty things that we are mistakenly led to believe we are powerless to personally do anything about; our present Environmental crisis being just one example.
Anarchists understand that in order to be empowered, we need to trust in those values that exist deep within us, the instinctual knowledge and inherent wisdom to know what’s right, just and fair. These are not “parental” morals or value judgments and as such don’t require external authorities, ruler’s or god’s to oversee or enforce them. They develop best in Human Beings only through true freedom but most critically, gain profound clarity when that freedom is repeatedly challenged by one’s own deeply felt, personal responsibility to the “whole”.
True freedom carries with it great responsibility.
When we hand this responsibility over to others, in exchange for false freedoms, we detach ourselves from truly understanding the impact of our actions and we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn from both the sadness and the joy that are uniquely a part of our connection to the “whole”. We are encouraged instead, by those we entrust, to seek “happiness” and “fulfillment” through specialized careers, material consumption, having more babies, finding romance and donating to charities, and our search, never truly realized, simply erodes our natural spirituality (non religious) and connectedness to our instinctual values, each other and our environment ever further.
Despite this, it is, amazingly, the Anarchist approach to life that is frequently labeled as idealistic. The majority of Society has been led to see Anarchists as little more than a bunch of dreamers: individuals who have no sense of the “true reality” of the World.
This is because, unlike most of Society, Anarchists do not accept prejudiced ideas, that is, ideas that are accepted without question, free examination or prior discussion, the “Growth Economy” being a prime example. The acceptance by Society of “life” as it has been sold to them from birth, leads to an unconscious day to day existence, underpinned by a belief that life “as they know it” appears for all intents and purposes to have existed in that form forever, a given just like oxygen. Therefore anybody who challenges or questions this state of affairs comes to be seen as “unreasonable” or “unrealistic”, because to most of Society, one is only “reasonable” or “realistic” when one acts in conformity and accordance with the prejudiced ideas that are accepted without question by that society.
In contrast, Anarchists believe that “reasonable individuals are not those who act, as their contemporaries, in conformity to prejudices, but are those who reserve to themselves the faculty of weighing on all occasions the motives, which will determine their actions.”(3)
Anarchy and Direct Action
When Anarchists uncover injustice, they are committed to taking direct action against it. Anarchists do not see reform as an option. The reason why is clear. Despite widespread opposition in Australia to the invasion of Iraq, reports like this one below, continue to reveal the arrogance of Governments when it comes to reform.
“Under Howard, the defense budget rose from $A10.6 billion in 1995-1996 to $22 billion in the 2007-2008 budget—taking the total to 9.3 percent of government outlays and 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Australia is currently one of the 15 largest military spenders in the world, with annual expenditure that exceeds the combined military spending of all 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations—Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Burma. Labor’s 2007 “Plan for Defense”, released for the November 24 election, pledged to not only maintain the defense budget at this level, but matched the Howard government’s promise to increase it by 3 percent in real terms every year until 2016. Defense is the only ministry that has been exempted from Labor’s “razor-gang”, which requires every federal department to slash 2 percent of its spending.”(4)
Direct action in this case would quite literally mean “putting your money where your mouth is”. This link will take you through to a great example of somebody who is doing just that. Whilst he is not an Anarchist, he has adopted an Anarchistic approach via War Tax Resistance.
So how do we develop a more Anarchistic Society?
The issues surrounding just why it is that Society acts in conformity in the way that it does are complex and beyond the scope of this introductory piece on Anarchism. We hope to delve into these reasons in a future article, which will include, amongst other topics, areas such as the development of the Human brain.
We are given an insight into one potential area of change, by Clive Bell in his thought provoking 1927 essay, Civilization, where he examines the value of a liberal education. (Education we use here in its truest sense, that being to “educe” or to “bring out”, which is diametrically opposed to our current system which aims to produce Corporate or Growth Economy “ready” individuals).
“From a sense of values comes that desire for, and belief in, a Liberal Education which no (truly) civilized age has been without. The richest and fullest life obtainable, a life that contains the maximum of vivid and exquisite experiences, is the end of every civilized man’s desire. Because he desires it he aims at complete self development and complete self expression: and these are to be achieved only by those who have learnt to think and feel and discriminate, to let the intellect play freely round every subject, and the emotions respond appropriately to all stimuli.
Knowledge in addition is needed; for without knowledge the intellect remains the slave of prejudice and superstition, while the emotions sicken on a monotonous and cannibalistic diet. The civilized man desires an education that shall be as direct a means as possible to what alone is good as an end. He cultivates his powers of thinking and feeling, pursues truth and acquires knowledge, not for any practical value that these may possess, but for themselves, or – that I may distinguish him sharply from the date-collector or competition-winner – for their power of revealing the rich and complex possibilities of life.
The Philistine, wanting the sense of values, expects education to show him the way to wealth and power, things which are only valuable in so far as they are more or less remote means to that ultimate good whereas a liberal education leads direct.
Liberal education teaches us to enjoy life; practical education to acquire “things” that may enable us or someone else to enjoy it.” (5)
This passage reveals the great dilemma of our time. On the one hand, Clive Bell promotes the value of deep questioning, thinking and free examination and on the other, signals clearly through the use of the word “Philistine”, a belief that only “certain” individuals can attain a higher level liberal education. In contrast, Anarchists believe that the vast majority of our Society can attain this level of education under the right conditions, indeed, a small number of Human Societies have achieved this in the past; Clive Bell does to his full credit, discuss them in his essay.
Unfortunately, from the 1920’s on, elite intellectuals became more prominent and the belief that only “certain” individuals should be doing the “thinking” for our Society developed with them. We are now faced with the situation where every 3 to 4 years we “elect” these select few, along with their intellectual advisory bureaucracies, to do our thinking for us and in between we have little or no say in what takes place. This apparently is Democracy.
Many intellectuals today will argue that the problems that Society faces are simply too complex for individuals within that Society to understand and act on and as a consequence, they shouldn’t be involved. This potential outcome was raised by Aldous Huxley in his 1932 classic Brave New World, where he vibrantly outlined the developing Utopia, the select few do the thinking and make the decisions whilst the vast majority are kept busy in an orgy of materialistic and physical consumption.
Whilst we have not reached the full extent of the utopia described in Huxley’s book, we are well on our way. There is already a dominant belief throughout Society that only Governments and external authorities can do anything about the problems we face and our current level of materialistic consumption needs no further explanation.
Over time, Governments and their attendant elite intellectuals have become obsessed with ideology and “the one right way”, the means to ensure the ultimate end. It will therefore come as no surprise to readers that Governments and elite intellectuals do not like the Anarchist approach. Noam Chomsky explains in the following passage just how the intellectuals go about maintaining their powerful position.
“On the rare occasions in which I have an opportunity to discuss these issues, whether in print or in person with people in the media or the academic professions, I often find not so much disagreement as an inability to hear. I have found all sorts of strange illusions about, what say my attitude was toward the Vietnam War, because elite intellectuals often simply cannot perceive that one could hold the opinions that I do hold.
These are very hard barriers to overcome. There’s a complicated system of illusions and self-deception that are given framework for discussion and debate. And if you don’t happen to take part in that system of illusions and self-deception, what you say is incomprehensible.”
He then goes on to explain just why it is that Anarchist perspectives are so threatening to them.
“There has not been a very substantial Anarchist intelligentsia. Anarchism is not a position that appeals to elite intellectuals…it does not appeal to their Class interests.”(6)
Power, as we know, finds much fertile ground in Class distinctions.
An Anarchist approach to life, one that continually strives to seek the truth through free examination, investigation, reason, contemplation, engagement in decision- making and direct action against injustice, offers us far greater potential than that of simply being led.
We did not ask the hard questions in 1945 or as a result, take direct action to intervene before the dropping of Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and because of this we remained ignorant to the fact that only weeks before this appalling event, a vote was taken in the USA on the following question:
“Which of the following procedures comes closest to your choice as the way in which any new weapon that we might develop should be used in the Japanese War? (Results in brackets)
(1) Use them in the manner that is from the Military point of view most effective in bringing about a prompt Japanese surrender at minimum cost to our own armed forces. (23 votes – 15%)
(2) Give a Military demonstration in Japan, to be followed by a renewed opportunity for surrender before full use of the weapon. (69 votes – 46%)
(3) Give an experimental demonstration in the USA with representatives of Japan present followed by a new opportunity for surrender before full use of the weapon. (39 votes – 26%)
(4) Withhold military use of the weapon but make public experimental demonstration of the effectiveness. (16 votes – 11%)
(5) Maintain as secret as possible all developments of our new weapon and refrain from using them in this War. (3 votes – 2%)
“Unfortunately the voting, in which 150 persons participated, took place without any previous debate. Consequently, the greatest number of votes were cast for the second alternative suggesting a Military demonstration in Japan. But after the first two bombs had been dropped on the centre of the town of Hiroshima and on Nagasaki, most of the 69 voters explained that they had taken a “Military demonstration in Japan” to mean an attack on purely Military objectives, not on targets occupied also, in fact, mainly by civilians.”(7)
By the end of 1945, “the bombs killed as many as 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki, roughly half on the days of the bombings. Since then, thousands more have died from injuries or illness attributed to exposure to radiation released by the bombs. In both cities, the overwhelming majority of the dead were civilians.”(8)
We did not ask the hard questions of those who supposedly “knew best” before this needless war, neither did the civilians in Germany, England, Italy, France, America or Japan or people of a myriad of other countries involved.
And to this day we are still not asking the hard questions.
If we truly wish to change that, we need new ways of looking at life. Anarchy could be the means through which we eventually develop far greater congruence between what we know to be right, just and fair and the actions we take in our everyday lives.
It holds the promise of breaking the shackles from those who would have us follow.
In an Anarchist World of course, that choice would be entirely up to you!
(1) “Alice in Wonderland” – Lewis Carroll
(2) “The Reproduction of Daily Life” – Rudolph Rocker
(3) “What is Anarchism – Who are the Anarchists” - Australian Branch of the Groupes D'Etudes Scientifiques, Ralph Carterer, Sydney, 1913.
(5) “Civilization” – Clive Bell, Pelican Books, 1927
(6) “The Chomsky Reader” – Noam Chomsky.
(7) “Brighter than a thousand suns” – Robert Jungk, Penguin Special 1960
The Wednesday Action Group was established in 1999 to take issues that directly affect us as individuals, communities and the nation, directly to the people on the streets. The group is a coalition of concerned reformers, radicals and conservatives who believe the current social, cultural, political and economic needs of the people of this country cannot be met by the economic, legal and political institutions that currently dominate life in Australia. The Wednesday Action Group
On every available indicator and every batch of statistics the gap between the powerless and the powerful has grown in Australia. Despite the wealth being generated by a once in a lifetime mining boom, 22 million people living on a continent still have trouble tackling issues that should have been sorted out decades ago.
Joe Toscano is running for Lord Mayor of Melbourne. Toscano is highly educated in political history and economic systems. He is one of the few doctors in Australia who still makes home visits.
Today, Wednesday 3 October, Dr Joe Toscano and Dr Jean Ely launched a colourful campaign against a backdrop of Spring flowers outside Melbourne Town Hall.
The 774 ABC Jon Faine show was doing a Melbourne By-Election special at the Victoria Markets today Friday 20 July 2012. I rang the show and said that I wanted to hear an interview of Joe Toscano. To give Jon Faine credit, Joe was then interviewed almost immediately and did very well on the subject of the ABC Sheltered workshop for the IPA.
First published 2011-10-10 10:02:39 +1000. Republished on 21-October 2011 at 11:37: There is a new protest movement for democratic occupation of cities all over the world, demonstrating against the financial system and its insults to most of us. We support the principles the movement espouses and urge others to do so.
Article about Brown Mountain on the Anarchist media net says that the logging of Brown Mountain will be done by public servants who would be otherwise deployed in our poorly tended ecosystems if they were not sent off to log. However EEG disagrees on this point. See related important corrections to original article in comments below it inside. They also make interesting reading.
This week - 25 August 2009 - it's about creating a citizens bank. Joe points out that Australians demanded a peoples' bank in 1909 (after the 1890 depression) and got it. Unfortunately they made it the property of the government, and the Hawk Government sold it off.
We are entering can era of severe scarcity
Illustration: Gustave Doré's Don Quixote
Source of illustration
The only way the global sustainability and justice predicament can be solved is via something like the inspiring Transition Towns movement. However thought needs to be given to a number of themes or it might fail to achieve significant goals.
A late 20th century post-leftist school of anarchist thought identified and rejected the contrived ethic and dependency for work as a perversion inculcated to support the industrial process as well as the banking and speculative parasites that feed upon the torrents of essentially pointless activity.
A general reference: www.geocities.com/capitolHill/1931/secAcon.html
General reference: www.geocities.com/capitolHill/1931/secAcon.html
anarchy.org.au: Anarchy.org.au is an online project by and for anarchists in the Australasian/Oceania region, intended to help anarchists with their own online projects. On this site there are blogs, bulletin boards, mailing lists, anarchist email and domain hosting services, sites dedicated to anarchist history, theory and practice and more.
Anarchy.org.au is hosted by xchange, Australia’s oldest anarchist internet presence ... Membership of xchange is open to all anarchists and we encourage participation at all levels. We need moderators, web page developers, programmers, and more… If you don’t know how to do something, we’ll teach you. (from the 'about' page)