Editorial: Are we losing?

Some anarchists have made the audacious claim that the fall of the Soviet Union and the resulting rise of neo-Liberalism (aka the new Corporatism) have put anarchism into the position of being the radical opposition for our time. This claim seems to make sense as anarchism is international (not NIMBY localism), uncompromised (by victory), and not compromising (liberal). There are other political tendencies that share many of our values but, like anarchism, they are fleeting and small. On the other hand, if the amount that the Canadian State spent on the Toronto G20 earlier in the year is any indication we have risen to the level of bogeyman of choice and have at least the perception being an enemy of the state.

But that is entirely in the realm of illusion. Enormous police budgets haven’t been spent on anything that can actually be considered part of an anarchist project (and media exposure of our prisoners and persecuted do not count). And we have been playing the “anarchists are coming to town” game for nearly a decade and it has largely grown thin, either as a terrorizing narrative (to windows everywhere) or as something that is internally inspiring (outside one or two trips). Around 2000 it wasn’t impossible (even if it seemed odd) to imagine traveling to Quebec, Genoa, and Seattle while keeping a fire in the belly about our chances to impact multinational organizations and the towns that host them. Today it is more common to hear stories along the lines of “one and I’m out” whether it is the RNC 2008, COP15, or Toronto G20. One experience of sound cannons, multiple tear gassings, and direct state repression (by the nightstick, boot and lawyer) is usually enough to teach the lesson of what exactly is going on around here.

Local projects used to be a regenerative place for anarchist folk. Projects that fed people, supported prisoners, and provided local radical infrastructure were all examples of the unappreciated but shared and long term work that would feed back on itself, nurturing an atmosphere of projectuality that made the anarchist space in many towns seem vital and attractive. While this still exists in many locations, there is also a vocal tendency to belittle this kind of work as “not effective” or aesthetically displeasing to anarchists who only see valuable local work in propaganda or direct action (against breakable public space). Both sides of this argument serve to silence anarchist work that is outside of the circles that have taken stands in this innocuous (but heated) disagreement.

The different political persuasions in North American anarchism don’t seem to be doing particularly well either. Groups are breaking up and the groups that are forming seem to be more ethereal and tenuous than ever. Red anarchism seems to have little to celebrate beyond a yearly meeting. Green anarchism appears to have disappeared altogether. Insurrectionary anarchism is such an approximate tendency that to even say that it exists in a distinguishable form requires eliminating well over 50% of the people who are inspired by it. Perhaps the only persuasion that is healthy is the event planning wing. Pick any month of the year and there is probably a book fair being held in at least one town and (nearly universally) the attendees have a jolly good time perusing titles and having conversations they could be having with each other every day if it weren’t for the death of the independent bookstore and the fact that most of us are spending all of our time online anyway…

But are we losing? Of course we are. Both on an existential axis and in real material ways anarchism is not a revolutionary movement that holds a lot of stake in winning per se. How else can we maintain a relationship with a movement that has lost every conflict it has been in (and will probably lose every future conflict too)?

The better question may very well be how are we winning? The mere threat of us showing up can cost the state nearly a billion dollars. More and more we are choosing to make our impact precisely, either by showing up at one event in a distant land, by participating in long term local projects, or by devoting our energy to getting the word out. Anarchists have made a commitment to modernity which can be seen in their propaganda (in content and–strikingly–in form), in their strategy against the death of the independent bookstore, and in their sophisticated presence on the Internet. Finally anarchists are spending less and less time on time-wasting feuds defending a singular orthodox position on any number of questions. This does not mean that there is any less vitality on questions around violence, strategy, tactics, or ethics but those questions no longer have to be written in one color of ink to be read by a lot of the anarchist space.

Anarchists are winning. Not as a political movement abolishing the state and capitalism, but as an eclectic and paradoxical set of practices that reflect a changed world and a world still worth changing (and not abandoning). Our victory is that while we are the most vital political tendency in opposition to the totality of the existing order and have no significant possibility of forcing our solutions onto the body politic we are still visible and insisting on our approach. We win because we are more like the tortoise than the hare (and we decide where the finish line is).

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