Magazine article Dissent

The Anarchist Spirit

Magazine article Dissent

The Anarchist Spirit

Article excerpt

There is not much of a global anarchist movement today. At the same time, since the 1990s, many popular movements around the world have been animated by something that I would call an anarchist spirit-a way of organizing and relating that opposes hierarchy and embraces direct democracy. This is a spirit that we should applaud and help to flourish. Although they may not define themselves as ideologically anarchist or even always be aware of the connection, these new movements nonetheless have much in common with ideas developed by historical anarchists like Emma Goldman, Murray Bookchin, and the libertarian left in Spain during the 1930s.

Anarchism is not a unified ideology or theory, but it does emphasize a few core beliefs: opposition to both capitalism and the state, an emphasis on face-to-face relationships, and prefigurative ways of organizing society. Some anarchists look to the working class as the main agent of change; for others, it's ecology, and still others view feminism as the starting point for transforming society. All anarchists oppose institutional forms of hierarchy and the idea of power as something to wield over others. That does not, however, mean that anarchists oppose organization, structure, rules, accountability, or decentralized forms of governance.

Many commentators on the left have criticized recent movements like Occupy in the United States, the Squares movements in Spain and Greece, and even the Zapatistas in Mexico by labeling them anarchist, often in an attempt to dismiss them as unserious, violent, or opposed to building political parties or taking state power. But if we want to change the world, we should listen closely to what these newer movements are thinking and doing, instead of seeking to confine them in an ideological box.

Contemporary movements, such as PAH (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, the housing defense movement in Spain), the autonomous Social Solidarity Clinics in Greece, most of the land defense movements in Argentina, and Occupy, to name only a few, emerged from communities and neighborhoods of all kinds. They are not mobilized or organized by a union, specific group, or political party. They organize horizontally, generally using forms of direct democracy. They employ direct action as the first step instead of petitioning, lobbying, or putting forward demands to institutions of power. Above all, they subscribe to prefigurative politics-they embody the future they wish to see in their day-to-day relationships. They reject hierarchy, and ground their organizing in affect and trust.

The current surge in this new form of organizing began most significantly in 1994 with the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico. Rather than making demands on institutional power, they created dozens of autonomous communities where tens of thousands of people collectively decided on all matters related to the running of their lives and societies, from health care and education, to defense and governance.

In Argentina, during the popular rebellion of 2001, people sang in the streets, "Que Se Vayan Todos! Que No Quede Ni Uno Solo!" (Everyone Must Go! Not Even One Should Remain!). The rebellion was a response to the government freezing people's bank accounts in the context of an economic crisis, and a rejection of the government, but also an expression of being fed up with being told what to do. People there organized thousands of horizontal neighborhood assemblies (the language of horizontalidad was first used at this moment in history in Argentina). …

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