Making Anarchy Palatable
April 11, 2014 - Editorial
Anarchists can no longer be credibly ignored in public discourse, but the distasteful trend of making anarchism more palatable for mainstream consumption received an enormous boost in the dwindling days of Occupy. Of the non-anarchist books published in the past three years that have dealt with the Occupy phenomenon, almost all of them deal with its New York incarnation, with perhaps a few nods to other places. Most of them have ignored the more troubling (to them) Occupy Oakland, where the national trend was upset by the continued presence of many people (not just anarchists!) who scandalously defended themselves against the police (both external and internal) and on occasion broke a few windows. The apoplectic denunciations of all anarchists from progressives like Chris Hedges and Todd Gitlin eventually became tempered by less frenetic commentators merely trying to split the uncontrollables from those who also condemned Black Bloc tactics. With the publication of Thank You, Anarchy by the University of California Press ($25 for 200 paperback pages, again, almost exclusively about New York, and written by the driving force behind very not ironically titled wagingnonviolence.org), the truncating of supposedly anarchist practice into an inoffensive package for an allegedly alternative political sphere has now reached an annoyingly predictable low point.
Once the more general complaint about diversity of tactics (either deliberately or ignorantly misunderstood as a directive to Fuck Shit Up) is exhausted, the next complaint is that the presence of the Black Bloc brings repression down on other participants, and/or makes it easy for undercover cops to infiltrate the event. The more crass and demagogic leftists just accuse the Black Bloc of being provocateurs… This line of reasoning shows a monumental lack of awareness of the role and function of police when confronted with any kind of (mild or wild) public dissidence.
Infiltration by cops is normal; anyone who believes otherwise is deluded. Most of the people who exposed the existence and extent of COINTELPRO have recently come forward to claim responsibility for making those destructively deceptive antics public. Those documents not only showed the reactionary paranoia of Hoover, but also the eager cooperation of local law enforcement with the designs of the FBI to spy on, infiltrate, sow internal dissent, and otherwise disrupt and neutralize just about any group that was for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam, liberal pacifists and (poorly) armed radicals alike. The role of law enforcement is to maintain the status quo, and even the smallest, most innocuous, unthreatening, and disorganized dissent is enough to get cops interested and mobilized. As unbelievable as it may seem for left-liberals and social democrats, cops — even in a democracy — will infiltrate, mislead, threaten, harass, frame, and even murder anyone they want, for whatever reason, and as a matter of course. They didn’t need the Black Bloc (or, as it was called then, the Action Faction) as an excuse in the 60s and 70s, and they don’t need the Black Bloc as an excuse today. Blaming the Black Bloc for the standard operating procedures of the police is as dishonest as it is unimaginative.
That alleged alternative put forward by the non/anti-anarchist champions of Occupy is a left-liberal/social-democratic realm, where democracy (representative always, with different levels of lip service paid to a so-called direct form — if absolutely necessary) remains the dominant ideological underpinning of another world being possible. For actual anarchists, however, that’s no alternative at all; promoting capitalism with a more human face (“People Before Profits”), and government with more voluntary participation (“This is What Democracy Looks Like” and “We Are the 99%”) are absurdities no more plausible for their endlessly droned repetition. The idea that anarchists are merely extreme democrats who adhere to the principles of Nonviolence™ remains an unfortunately (im)potent legend. The actions of plenty of people who identify themselves as anarchists make them more obviously frustrated liberals and impatient social democrats: people who, while publicly unhappy with what seem to be aberrant excesses to their populist critiques, maintain a naive belief in the ameliorative potential of legislation, and an unquestioned respect for the sanctity of private property and the armed gangsters who serve and protect it. There’s nothing recognizably anarchist about that.
Mainstreaming our ideas comes with too high a price. Professional activists and celebrities carve out niches for themselves as they tussle for attention and respectability, all the while obscuring the anarchist principles of definitively destroying capitalism and the state through direct action, voluntary cooperation, and mutual aid. The remaking of these tactics into their own skewed image through mainstream — and much alternative — media makes direct action look an awful lot like lobbying, voluntary cooperation an awful lot like electoral alliances, and mutual aid an awful lot like charity. There’s nothing anarchist about that either.