propoganda by the deed

ALL THIS TALK OF ANARCHY
                       BENEATH TWEEDLEDUM POLITICS AND BRAND-NAME CULTURE,
                       ANARCHISM FLOWS LIKE AN UNDERGROUND RIVER, BROAD AND DEEP. SO
                       WHY CAN'T WE GET PAST THE SURFACE?

                       By James MacKinnon

                       Over the wire comes a report of an anarchist punching a police officer in
                       the face, "repeatedly," during a street protest in Philadelphia. I imagine
                       that little clot of information exploding outward through the endless
                       fractals of the Information Age. I picture it reaching the suburban
                       dinnertime conversations of a hundred million American Beauty
                       households, and if I listen closely, I can hear America tut-tutting.

                       But then, there is something shocking about some punk putting one up
                       in a copís face. In a culture that can absorb, without flinching, the fact
                       that certain individuals can afford to order take-out for the worldís poorest
                       billion without losing their seats in the Billionaireís Club, punching a cop
                       remains a genuine shock. If you make an effort to understand it, your
                       internal pop-psychologist kicks in: Iím getting the sense that youíre
                       angry. More than likely, you give in to an almost gut-level feeling that this
                       is very, very wrong: In America, One Does Not Punch an Officer of the
                       Law.

                       Sitting in a shady urban park, I bring this up with Closet Punk ("Iím kind
                       of a punk, but Iím in the closet"). He has been sitting cross-legged with
                       an almost Gandhian stillness, but now he stands and begins to act out
                       the climax of a 1999 protest in Montreal, when riot police sealed death
                       penalty protesters in an alley before they had even begun to march.

                       "You could just feel this panic building," he recalls. "Suddenly they ran
                       at us Ė a totally unprovoked police charge."

                       As people scrambled to escape up a single-file staircase, the cops
                       closed the gap. Closet Punk mimes the way a baton to the face
                       knocked his friend down onto the bike she was pushing. He stepped in
                       as a human shield, felt the jarring pain of a truncheon to the thigh, then
                       managed with one hand to grab the officer's weapon. "I just looked him in
                       the eye and . . ." He gropes for a way to describe the complexity of an
                       epiphany. "The state is going to crush you if it doesn't agree with you,"
                       he says finally.

                       The protest in Montreal ended when the police destroyed the activists'
                       signs, then allowed them to leave, two-by-two, like animals off Noah's
                       ark. And so, in Closet Punk's world, news of people striking back
                       against police has a much different effect than it does on a person
                       watching the nightly news and thinking that all these balaclavas and
                       bandanas have grown a little stale.

                       In 1969, Carl Oglesby wrote about the effect in The New Left Reader:
                       "The policeman's riot club functions like a magic wand, under whose
                       hard caress the banal soul grows vivid and the nameless recover their
                       authenticity." Closet Punk wraps up his story of cops and rebels. "That
                       was really like a life-changing thing for me," he says, then laughs lightly.
                       "It's ironic. They've unwittingly created a radical anarchist."

                       Anarchist. (Pause; roll of timpani, clash of cymbals.) Yes, the
                       capital-A-Anarchist is back, and he's wearing a big black gas-mask and
                       breathing like Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet. He's cursing the hippies and
                       climbing the walls of the gated community. He's throwing bricks and
                       lighting fires, and when he rolls out at midnight in his long black car, you
                       better believe that heíll have Jesus in the trunk. This is an
                       all-points-bulletin, and in Anytown, America, good citizens are
                       scrambling to hide the booze and lock up their daughters.

                       Thatís the easy definition. Taking a truer measure of anarchy is
                       puzzlingly difficult, as David Samuels found when he reported on the
                       infamous radicals of Eugene, Oregon, for Harperís magazine. Samuels
                       concluded, in concerned tones, that the anarchists suffer "the absolutist
                       psychology of children whose parents split up or sold out or otherwise
                       succumbed to the instability inherent in modern marriage." However
                       wrong or right about his sample study, Samuels was opening an
                       historical wound. Lenin himself declared anarchism an "infantile disorder"
                       (best cured, added Trotsky, with an "iron broom"), and critics ever since
                       have suggested that anarchists, as one historian put it, "project on to the
                       State all the hatred they felt for parental authority."

                       It is just as easy, of course, to explain a personís faith in authority
                       through the psychology of a child with a burden in his pants. If only
                       anarchists suffer such Freudian analysis, itís because journalists are
                       conditioned to expect tight limits on public behavior, argues Jason
                       McQuinn, an anarchist for 30 years and editor of Anarchy magazine.
                       "Rather than taking into the light the idea that there are some people
                       who believe they can change power in a structural way," he says,
                       "mainstream media wants to believe that these people are in some way
                       acting out their sickness." To many, that will sound paranoid, like the
                       complaint of a nudist who just doesnít get why the rules are against her.
                       But, like the nudist, the anarchist is just so different that youíre all too
                       prone to stare at the obvious. At best, you might try to guess what
                       makes her tick. There are a lot of gaps to jump before you finally think:
                       Maybe this person makes sense.

                       If you want to stare into an anarchist den, you might start on Earl Street,
                       in a mixed neighborhood of Toronto. The building itself is Romanesque
                       Italian, rising in stone and stained glass. This is Our Lady of Lourdes, a
                       Jesuit parish, and the place of worship of poet, author, and professor
                       Albert Moritz.

                       Moritz is an anarchist and Catholic, or as he puts it, "a Catholic among
                       anarchists, and an anarchist among Catholics." Itís a difficult and deeply
                       personal balance that Moritz describes as a refusal to reject any
                       influence that resonates with his sense of humanity. "Iím a palimpsest,"
                       he says. "My life is a matter of maintaining contradictions and
                       attempting reconciliations."

                       Anarchists like Moritz are easier guides into what might be called "the
                       anarchist conversation" than, say, a vegan squatter who goes by the
                       single name "Kronstadt." As he would be the first to declare, though,
                       "easy" does not mean "more legitimate." Itís a question of starting
                       points, and the anarchists interviewed for this story Ė including a
                       warehouse worker, a youth-care advocate, a "boss," and a computer
                       coder Ė start somewhere nearer to the house-in-the-suburbs, 2.5-child
                       norm than my (fictional) Kronstadt. Moritz, for example, recommends
                       anarchism as, to begin with, a way "to lighten up your thought."

                       In its immediate impression, anarchism is the intellectual equivalent to
                       the place the socks go when they vanish from the laundry. Consider, for
                       example, the disappearance of outrage. Earlier this year, The Filth and
                       the Fury Ė a documentary about the seminal punk band the Sex Pistols
                       Ė hit audiences with an opening collage of 1970s Britain. Pneumatic
                       models hawk vacuums on TV; black-tie swells drive past squalid housing
                       projects; the Queen looks like she smells something nasty that she
                       canít possibly mention. Itís a set-up, designed to make sure you
                       understand that, once upon a time, it made sense to scream, like
                       Johnny Rotten, "Anarchy! Get pissed! Destroy!"

                       What might strike the viewer, though, is that nothing much has changed.
                       Imagine a collage for the year 2000: virtual fly-fishing, "doggie day-care,"
                       the cult of Oprah, two million in prison in the USA, the greatest gap
                       between rich and poor in living memory. Somehow, though, all that punk
                       rage seems passé. Are these just "different times?" Or do the same
                       forces that virtually prohibit ripped jeans (so í80s!) also convince us that
                       angerís uncool?

                       Outrage fell from fashion, so much so that even our most visible radical
                       groups Ė like Earth First!, the Ruckus Society, and the Direct Action
                       Network Ė seem restrained. Most have settled into media-savvy
                       campaigns of non-violent direct action (many of their members, it has to
                       be noted, are anarchists). But within the anarchist conversation,
                       OUTRAGE IS A WARMING FIRE around which to debate the unmentionable
                       questions. Right now, a new consensus is attracting a limited following,
                       best known through the Black Bloc street radicals that believe corporate
                       media is a monster that isnít worth feeding, that property damage isnít
                       violence unless living things are wounded, and that enduring police
                       violence may be the same as accepting it.

                       Without this debate, people like Albert Moritz would condemn the Black
                       Bloc anarchists out of hand. Within the debate, he refuses to rebuke
                       them. "I wish them well," he says. In fact, Moritz, the good Catholic,
                       refuses to reject even the possibility of a morally defensible offensive
                       attack on the police.

                       "These are real questions," he says. "After the Second World War, the
                       United States was perhaps the chief enforcer of the notion in the
                       Nuremberg trials that you are demanded to adhere to a higher standard
                       than the laws and ideals of the country that you happen to be in, the
                       organization that governs that country, or the military body that gives you
                       orders. You were held guilty unto death if you didnít dissent from them
                       unto a higher standard. But, within our own political discourse, itís
                       usually considered absolutely verboten to invoke that same principle."

                       The submerged conversation that connects people like Moritz to a
                       teenager building a fiery barricade out of a Dumpster is the reason
                       anarchism, and not only "the anarchist," creates such a furor each time
                       it rises near the mainstream. To government and corporate authorities,
                       no good can come if Jo Coffeecup discovers that this thing called
                       "anarchism" is like an ongoing talk-radio program where the unspoken is
                       always the topic of the day.

                       Youíre listening to Circle A Radio, folks, and the question today is, "Are
                       there times when itís OK to attack the police?" Weíve got Caleb
                       Williams on the line from Boise. Hi Caleb.

                       Hello out there, I just want to say that I love your show . . .

                       You can almost hear the truncheons thumping on the riot shields, the
                       stern murmurs in the White House, the family counselors helping
                       parents figure out if their children are hanging out with anarchists.

                       "I sometimes have the feeling that many of these people suspect there is
                       a kind of Berlin-Wall-in-1988 quality to the supposedly massive
                       satisfaction and confidence of the late capitalist system," says Moritz.
                       "They react with rage because there is some fear behind it."

                       We are slowly circling the anarchist beast, but thereís no other way to
                       approach a 200-year-old philosophy that is still absent from most
                       political science reading lists. Its "experts" reject the term, and insist
                       that if their words arenít fixed and true, then thatís exactly the truth
                       theyíre shooting for. "The first anarchist was the first person who felt the
                       oppression of another and rebelled against it," writes Peter Marshall in
                       his hefty history of anarchy, Demanding the Impossible. In effect,
                       anarchism lays claim to the root of grassroots.

                       A few things can be said for certain about anarchist philosophy.
                       Anarchists reject the legitimacy of external government, political
                       authority, corporate power, hierarchy and domination. They believe that,
                       through social rebellion, society can become a voluntary association of
                       free and equal individuals. "Mind your own business" has been an
                       anarchist motto, but the emphasis on equality separates the anarchist
                       from any free marketeer. Anarchism imagines the maximum individual
                       freedom that is compatible with freedom for all others, and it is along this
                       line that anarchists fiercely debate and divide. Thereís an old joke: "What
                       do you get if you lock two anarchists in a room? Three splinter groups."

                       The movement that emerged with the "Battle in Seattle" has been
                       publicly linked to anarchism, says Cindy Milstein, a faculty member at
                       the Institute for Social Ecology in Vermont, but the association isnít as
                       strong as it should be. "I have never seen a movement that included so
                       many anarchists, whether they were dressed all in black or not," she
                       says. "The direct action part of it Ė from the affinity groups, to the
                       puppeteers, to independent media Ė has either been strongly influenced
                       by anarchism or is initiated by anarchists." The new movement building
                       out of Seattle is, at least, "proto-anarchist." It is radically decentralized,
                       largely leaderless, tolerant of a wide range of expression Ė and ready to
                       party whenever power takes a tumble.

                       These are essential elements of anarchist history. The Zapatistas in
                       Mexico are anarchistic: sovereign, self-governing, structured without
                       hierarchy, intensely local, and in direct confrontation with government
                       and corporate power. Green politics, with its rejection of leader-worship
                       and centralized power, borrows heavily from the concept that "anarchy is
                       order" (the root of the "circle A" symbol). At a time when nuclear
                       holocaust seemed only a matter of time, punk rock urged us to ruin this
                       doomed world and see what emerged Ė an echo of anarchist Michael
                       Bakuninís 1842 statement, "The urge to destroy is also a creative urge."

                       The New Left of the 1960s argued for decentralization and direct
                       democracy, and against the power of the police, state, military, and even
                       "the tyranny of culture." From self-governing communes to yippie
                       sloganeers ("Revolution for the Hell of it!"), a largely unrecognized
                       anarchism bored deep into Americana. The Black Panthers resembled
                       current radical anarchists in their dual commitment to self-defense
                       against police and "active community" in the form of free medical clinics
                       and food services. And anarchism was at the heart of the 1968 riots and
                       general strike that brought France to the brink of revolution at a time
                       when, like now, the word seemed ridiculously naive. The Situationists Ė
                       radical critics who formed an anarchist resistance to consumer society Ė
                       fought police from behind barricades, believing that their sudden glimpse
                       beyond the spectacle of the commercial glut had created a mindshift
                       that state and commerce could never again co-opt.

                       Anarchism has also had its peace: the anti-nuclear movement was
                       deeply inspired by Gandhi, who had studied the pacifist anarchist Leo
                       Tolstoy, who admired historyís first self-declared anarchist, the French
                       revolutionary Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. It has had its brief and requisite
                       fame: anarchism is linked to the assassination of US president William
                       McKinley, and in 1892, popular anarchists Alexander Berkman and
                       Emma Goldman conspired to attempt the murder of Henry Clay Frick,
                       chair of Carnegie Steel. (Frickís use of Pinkerton strikebreakers had
                       resulted in the death of ten workers and three guards.) Anarchists can
                       also claim at least one historic foresight: they had denounced
                       communism before it could even be called a movement. Back through
                       time the anarchist reels. Back to Jesus ("The first anarchist society was
                       that of the apostles," wrote one anarchist thinker); back to the Lao Tzu,
                       who argued that, to the free person who gives others their freedom,
                       "What room is there left for government?"

                       "When you offer people a chance to create their own lives, itís incredibly
                       powerful," says Milstein. "The ideas are strong enough that people will
                       come to them."

                       If anarchism is resonating throughout the new politics, it is in large part
                       because there is just so much to resist: Britney Spears and Tommy
                       Hilfiger, e-commerce and media mergers, tweedledum politics and
                       police-sanctioned protest. The traditional Left has produced Bill Clinton
                       and Tony Blair, while the Right enjoys an exclusive claim on freedom,
                       responsibility, and individuality. The physicistís term "potential energy"
                       seems a good description of the times, and anarchism is the WRECKING
                       BALL WAITING TO SWING.

                       If history is any measure, though, it is the anarchist and anarchism that
                       will be misunderstood, denounced, and driven again into its deep
                       underground. One anarchist, writing for the Independent Media Center at
                       the outset of the early August protests in Philadelphia, predicted an
                       impending storm. "The media simultaneously demonizes and discredits
                       the protesters, turning them from citizens with legitimate concerns that
                       arenít being heard into an unruly mob with no cause that wants to find
                       any excuse to trash buildings and beat up cops. Then, the general public
                       is willing to look the other way as police invade civil rights."

                       Just days later, Philly police commissioner John Timoney, himself
                       jostled during protests surrounding the Republican convention, called for
                       a crackdown. "Somebody who has nation-wide jurisdiction has got to
                       look into these groups," he said. "I intend on raising this issue with
                       federal authorities."

                       Closet Punk can already feel the heat. He asked to be named only by
                       his graffiti tag; he works on a politically sensitive inner-city project and
                       worries that city officials could use the weight of his label Ė anarchist Ė
                       to shut down the operation. "Itís a philosophy thatís really undergone a
                       lot of oppression over the past 100 years," he says.

                       He hopes, without expectation, that the public will come to see beyond
                       the balaclava. Closet Punk has become an anarchist advocate; most
                       recently, heís organized a reading circle that meets in a public park.
                       Theyíre checking out Goldman and Chomsky, and the gentle Peter
                       Kropotkin is coming up on the list. Itís an interesting image: ten allies of
                       the dreaded Black Bloc reading, as Oscar Wilde put it, "a man with a
                       soul of that beautiful white Christ."


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