In Defense of Utopianism

If there’s one common dismissive epithet that anyone on the left has probably heard it’s the accusation that they’re ideology is ‘utopian’. From the condescending “sure, but we live in the real world” to the full hostility of “just move to <Cuba, Somalia, etc>”, the underlying theme is the same: we on the left aren’t being ‘realistic’ or we are failing to ‘see the big picture’.

What most of the people making these accusations (if they’re made in good faith, which they often aren’t) don’t seem to understand is that there is a *purpose* to what they call ‘utopian’ ideology.

When you are organizing your first consideration really ought to be what do you hope to achieve out of it – what’s the goal?  Is it a short term goal or a long term goal? If it’s short term, how does it fit into a longer term strategy? It’s at this point in the process that, inevitably, someone from the pragmatic sidelines will step in to make the usual arguments: we have to be ‘realistic’ and ‘aim for goals that are achievable’, they’ll say. ‘We live in the real world’ they might tell you.

Hell, they may even go so far as to accuse of ‘purity cults‘- the idea being that in your unrealistic utopianism you are pushing out potential allies.


Pragmatism as a short-term action planning tool is fine, and has a long history of use on the left. It *might* make sense, for example, to put aside real philosophical differences on an individual action and pull the left together with more center groups – such as something like the recent climate march (who’s efficacy I question, but leaving that aside for now). In the same way, provisionally, I can support voting in local elections.

What has to be stated unequivocally though is that there’s no guarantee that these kinds of strategies will work long term, and in fact they seem to be detrimental when taken to long term ends.

For example: in the short term being anti-war is at least a good place to start – but long term if it’s not accompanied by being anti-imperialist you’ll probably end up advocating no-fly zones, humanitarian interventions, and all of the other things that (surprise!) lead to war itself.

If you’ve ever followed me on twitter before I nuked my accounts in frustration, or even read more of my posts here, there’s only really one thing I personally hold as a key to defining radical thought: constantly, at all times, being aware of and pushing back against structures not just issues. It’s great to push back against a gender pay gap, but you fail if you don’t accompany that with an understanding of patriarchy. It’s vital to fight against the cops constantly, daily, murdering unarmed black people with impunity – but it’s a failure if you don’t recognize that they are systemically designed to do so.

Utopianism in this way is not pie in the sky thinking, or putting ideology over reality, or any of the other common accusations. What it is doing is centering the debate, ALL debate, on underlying structures.

Sorry Sarah Kendzior, but in fact corporations *are* the problem, not just their policies.

In a way, leftist thought is a way of replacing old structures with new. It’s purpose is, or at least should be, building frameworks for living that step outside of the old decaying authoritarian structures that hold up oppression of all types. If we’re trying to build a better house, why would we weaken the frame itself? It might make sense to watch how we use our limited resources and, say, cheap out on the carpet – but pragmatic thinking taken to the level of ideology is the equivalent of using cardboard in place of lumber.

Call me utopian if you want, but I’d rather aim for a house that can stand on it’s own then settle for one that we’ll just be rebuilding 50 years from now.

Your Revolution is Depressing as Fuck

“If it was an emotion, it was a totally emotionless one. It was hatred, implacable hatred. It was cold, not like ice is cold, but like a wall is cold. It was impersonal, not like a randomly flung fist in a crowd is impersonal, but like a computer-issued parking summons is impersonal. And it was deadly, again, not like a bullet or a knife is deadly, but like a brick wall across an expressway is deadly.” -Douglas Adams

Over on Tarzie’s blog there’s been an interesting discussion around a post he has up about what he’s deemed “The Celebrity Left”. The discussion has meandered over a lot of interesting ground, but it got me to thinking about my own view of this Celebrity Left, and what it is that bothers me so much about them. I still don’t in any way think they are truly radicals, for all the reasons I’ve stated in a variety of places. They serve power, and they railroad anyone that dares to accuse them of that.

But it’s really not ultimately the ‘real’ radical crap that bothers me, and it was my mistake for getting drawn into it; the abstraction is truly what’s bothering me. Capitalism, imperialism, authoritarianism are all abstractions to these folks. They are the backgrounds upon which they tell their stories.  Empire is a tapestry for them, a backdrop to a play where they are the stars and everyone around them reminds them of that.

Call it radical what they do if you really want to. If you think that in their celebrity, they can be both an integral part of the system (everyone in power needs a dissident; we used to call them court jesters) and a true critic of it, fine. But I’m reminded of the Douglas Adams quote up top because it feels like empty radicalism. The emphasis on centering the person telling the story rather than the people that it’s happening to; the constant refrain of the ‘personal risk’ taken by the reporter; the willingness to run from principle to score rhetorical touchdowns… it all just feels so dull and lifeless (at best). It’s just entertainment (if you enjoy it) and depressing (if you don’t).  If it’s a challenge to power, I’m hard pressed to believe it’s more than a furrowed brow of some billionaire somewhere, a footnoted calculation in a PR strategy.  

The first question anyone who calls themselves a radical should ask, in my opinion, is why are they a radical?  Why do they  oppose colonialism and empire and death and destruction and and and? Is it because you feel like you probably should? Is it cynically, out of convenience or usefulness?  That’s what feels like an abstraction. It’s the echo of a time when they, probably, actually DID care. It feels like a cherished, privileged, memory. 

It’s why I watched the reaction from the residents of Ferguson and felt hope. It stands in stark contrast to the Celebrity Left, the cynical unprincipled unfeeling machine that they are, because at a ground level those residents *get it*.  Empire is an actual boot in the face to them, not an abstraction. 


But The Government Would Never…

Michael Hastings dying in a fiery crash straight out of a Hollywood movie has made a lot of people suspicious. There are very few journalists out there that make a point of pushing the buttons of the powerful, of punching up towards the crown, because most “journalists” at this point are more interested in maintaining their “access”. Access of course being granted only to those who serve, or at the very least don’t oppose, the agenda of various government officials.

But like any suspicious situation like this, it’s all too easy for people to dismiss this as “tinfoil hat” talk. “Of course the government wouldn’t do that!” and the like. So with that in mind, here are a few things the government HAS done, if you’re wondering why some of us are skeptical:

Murdered Fred Hampton in his sleep:

Spied on and setup activists:

Attempted to assassinate Castro 638 times:

Discussed assassinating Occupy members:

Murder a 16 year old kid, then blame it on bad parenting:

Not to mention spying on everyone as seen in the recent NSA leaks, torturing people and dehumanizing them at Abu Ghraib, detaining innocent men for 11 years at Guantanamo, holding Bradley Manning in solitary confinement, murdering an unarmed man in Anaheim and then attacking people protesting that murder with tanks, coordinating a nationwide crackdown on activists, snatching protestors off the street, pepperspraying a group of detained people, targeting blacks and Latinos for “stop and frisk”, murdering Mexican kids on the border, lying to start about 10 different wars, or vaporizing hundreds of thousand people in nuclear attacks.

To name just a few.

Maybe Michael Hastings really did just die in an unfortunate accident. But before you call anyone who is suspicious about it a “conspiracy theorist” or a “tin hatter” – just remember what government is capable of, and remember that it is in no way outside the realm of very real possibility that the government killed someone who was a threat to them.


@vomitinglarry on twitter sent me a link also worth looking at, suspicious deaths during the Bush admin:

Who You Callin’ a Snitch?


In radical circles there aren’t a lot of worse accusations than that. It’s one of those things that will dog you for life, whether it’s true or not. But if that wasn’t problematic enough, there’s an even more fundamental problem with the term: what does it even mean?

What constitutes snitching? At it’s base level it might seem easy to define: giving up information to the State that implicates or harms other folks in your movement. Sounds easy, right? But the problem is not necessarily in coming up with an ‘on paper’ definition, but understanding when it’s appropriate to apply it – and when applying it does more harm to a community/movement than good.  With that in mind, some things I think are worth keeping in mind:


While this might seem glaringly obvious, it’s worth restating in this case. It’s VERY easy to say “I wouldn’t snitch!” when you’re comfortably outside of a situation. It’s a HELL of a lot harder when you’re in it.  No matter how strong you think you are, or how badass your anarchy cred is, until you are faced with armed fucking goons with the entire weight of empire behind them (and you without your usual support network in place) you know fuckall about how you’re going to react. Period. So yes, it is shitty when someone talks to feds and turns on a comrade, but it’s also often understandable – and no amount of condescension from YOU is going to do any worse damage than the guilt that person most likely already feels. A good portion of what radicals and radical movements are about is rebuilding the true sense of community that the state and it’s cronies have robbed us of – ostracizing someone for being crushed under State power is anti-community and arrogant as fuck.


All of us. Everyone of us. Me, you, everyone. If you think that you don’t you’re lying to yourself, and worse you’re lying to the people who depend on you being aware of those weaknesses. I said this on twitter in a discussion about snitching a while ago, but I’m the first to say that the fact that I have a wife with severe mental illness who depends on me, and two very young kids who do as well, is a vulnerability of mine and I’m the first to admit it. There’s no shame in admitting that there are things that the State could use to get to you – but it is damned selfish to deny those things and then have them come up in a critical situation. By me admitting that this is a weakness of mine, then the people in my affinity group can plan around that – whatever that means. Maybe it means I need to exclude myself from certain actions. Maybe it means I need to be doing a lot more self-directed actions, so that I can properly assess risks, and minimize the harm me being picked up by the goonsquad would do to other people. The point is that acknowledging these things is not only healthy, it’s ABSOLUTELY VITAL.


And in a situation like a grand jury, it’s the one thing that the State can’t break… IF we don’t let them. If I’m picked up for a grand jury, and I’ve told you that my main exploitable weakness is that I have people that depend on me, then the response is both simple and profound: don’t rally around ME (or at least only me), rally around my family. Someone being held in solitary for months may still break – it’s a fact of life, and a fact of being human – but if the outside leverage that the State has on them is protected, then the odds are all of a sudden much more in their favour. I can tell you personally that I’d be a hell of a lot more capable of fighting if I knew that there was a community of people that were helping to make sure my kids were fed, that my wife was cared for, etc. State violence, in all it’s forms, is dependent on the built in leverage that it has on people. Minimize THAT and we even the odds a bit.


All of this being said, there are certainly people that ARE legitimately snitches. Brandon Darby is the obvious name that comes to mind. And for these people? Fuck ’em. But given that ‘snitch’ IS such an egregious and life altering accusation, I think we need to be VERY careful in how we apply it to fellow activists. The point of a grand jury, despite the governments bullshit about gathering information (which they probably already have a lot of) is division. Divide communities, divide movements, divide families and friends. Before you write off someone who is a genuine activist that’s been a VICTIM of the State, remember: UNITY is our weapon, COMMUNITY our platform, and SOLIDARITY our lifeblood.


(Much love to @lobeline, @roamingradical, @OaklandElle, and @OLAASM on twitter for the great discussion that inspired this)


Why I’m On Twitter Hiatus: Radicalism And Orthodoxy

It wasn’t an easy thing for me to decide to take a hiatus from the community that I’ve become a part of on Twitter. Twitter has become a part of the fabric of my daily life, filling a need that I don’t find in the morass of suburbia, office work, etc that has become much of my “IRL” existence. A need for conversation with people who feel as trapped by their awareness of “society” as I do. A need for comrades who understand the mental dissonance of on the one hand being an anti-authoritarian, and on the other to navigate the unfortunately necessary paths of daily compliance, work, bosses, etc, of modern life.

In short, in twitter I found that I wasn’t alone in feeling this dillema.

But increasingly, something else has intruded, maybe something unavoidable  but no less in need of being called out: much of radicalism has become as orthodox and strict in its adherence to ideological anchors as the very systems we fight against.

For me, already suffering from depression largely linked to how much of a societal weight we all feel to conform, the radicalism that gave me an escape became one more sea of people vying to be thought leaders, ideological authorities, etc.

Some of this is inevitable. Look at the person who has just awoken to an ideology that is outside the mainstream, and clings to it like a life raft. Look at newly minted atheists, reveling in the feeling of freedom they have, though terrifying, in throwing off the mental bonds that their parents placed on them. Look at libertarians finally letting go of any pretext of a State, and becoming AnCaps. Look at far left liberals (if there are any, anymore) who let go of the last vestiges of liberalism and become communists.

All of these scenarios involve a revelatory change in perception. Yes it was gradual:  it was the lecturer you saw that left you so troubled. It was your Party doing something that felt wrong to you. It’s watching as the majority of the people you formerly identified with take a position you find repugnant. But the actual moment when you look at yourself and declare yourself to no longer believe in God (wow I’m an atheist!) or no longer believe in the State (I’m an anarchist!), that moment of personal revelation is powerful, but it’s also terrifying.

And unfortunately that terror is of weightlessness, of not being bound, of not having an -ism to call your own.

This, I think, is what leads to the one thing that seems to doom the radical fringes of society to irrelevance a lot of times: the need to set a stake in SOMETHING that anchors you to an ideology. It’s this that takes someone who rejected the narrative that mainstream society had built and became an anarchist/communist/whatever by opening their mind, and made them simply close ranks (and their mind) on finding a new ideology.

We as humans are terrified of the unknown, but more importantly of being WRONG about the choices we make in the face of that unknown.

In Twitter, I see both sides of this. I see people’s minds expand, question everything, their own ideologies, their own comrades, everything, in an attempt to HONESTLY look at all aspects of life through a critical lense. It’s this side of twitter radicals that I cherish, which will at some point draw me back to it.

But the ugly side of it, the factionalism, the “only X is a real -ist”, is what I need a break from.

More than anything else, the radicals I most respect are the ones that do what they can to not get sucked into factionalism or wars of ideology. There are people who label themselves AnCap that I respect FAR more than people spouting orthodox anarchist ideas, even though I completely disagree with their ideology. I respect them because rather than using their ideology as a bludgeon or as thought police, it simply provides them a basis from which to evaluate new ideas… but they are always willing to abandon pieces of their own ideology as new information or revelations come to light. In short, they value ideology but abandon orthodoxy.

I will get back on twitter eventually, I really do see it as a valuable resource. But when I do, I’m going to begin culling out people in my TL who are so partisan that challenges to their ideologies are met with hostility. Real radicalism, the kind that overthrows empires, in my view can’t spend its time bogged down on ideological purity questions, and certainly not in pissing matches and name calling when those differences in ideology arise.

So to you my Twitter radical family, I love you all, I miss you all, and I hope you all can start to see the value in working together despite our differences. Remember, we may be anarchists, libertarians, communists, etc, but first and foremost we are ALL the termites gnawing at the support beams of empire, and it’s high time in my opinion that we all started focusing on that.


Beyond Surviving, Everyday Skills to Move to a Post-Society

Today I began reading “The Coming Insurrection”, that piece of revolutionary work that Glenn Beck was so terrified of, and I’m extremly glad I did. It’s a great read, and one I’d highly recommend to anyone and everyone, a take on modern life and society that should be obvious to anyone who calls themselves a dissident – but rarely expressed so eloquently.

While there’s a lot of things percolating while reading it, one thing in particular stuck out and gave me a lot of hope: this idea that the means to escape the traps of society that we all live in daily – workerism, institutionalism, ‘progress’ – are things that still exist within us, albeit in a fragmented manner.

The author(s) use the example of New Orleans after Katrina:

“In this apocalyptic atmosphere, here and there, life is reorganizing itself. In the face of the inaction of public authorities, who were too busy cleaning up the tourist areas of the Frech Quarter and protecting shops to help the poorer city dwellers, forgotten forms are reborn. In spite of occasionally strong-armed attemps to evacuate the area, in spite of white supremacist lynch mobs, a lot of people refused to leave the terrain. For the latter, who refused to deported like ‘environmental refugees’ all over the country, and for those who came from all around to join them in solidarity, responding to a call from a former Black Panther, self-organization came back to the fore.  In a few weeks time, the Common Ground Clinic was set up. From the very first days, this veritable ‘country hospital’ provided free and effective treatment to those who needed it, thanks to the constant influx of volunteers. For more than a year now, the clinic is still the base of daily resistance to the clean-sweep operation of government bulldozers, which are trying to turn that part of the city into a pasture for property developers.  Popular kitchens, supplies, street medicine, illegal takeovers, the contsruction of emergency housing, all this practical knowledge accumlated here and there in the course of a life, has now found a space where it can be deployed. Far from the uniforms and sirens.”

This. This is where we as anarchists, communists, revolutionaries, whatever we call ourselves – this is where the strength and ability to overcome the mountainous barriers of society, government, etc will come from. We all have these pieces of knowledge that, when put together and shared, are going to be the foundation of any actual revolution in the future.

I don’t know how to perform medical treatments. But I bet I know someone who does. They in turn don’t know how to find edible food in the woods, but they know a hunter or lifelong camping enthusiast who does. It’s this network of people with skills that we don’t even think about on a day to day basis that will allow us to break out of society and move on. We all have these skills, whether we think them applicable or not, that we will probably be surprised to find are VERY useful at some point.

I grew up going on camping trips with my parents, learning how to build and maintain a fire, how to fish, how to field-fix equipment with whatever was available. There’s a lifetime of random knowledge about simple cooking, staying warm, sewing old clothing, etc that exists within my brain that I barely ever tap into. This can be my contribution.

It doesn’t really matter HOW you grew up. The knowledge is there, whether it’s how to fix machinery because you rebuilt a car with your dad, how to hunt, how to build things, DIY culture, etc. The things that for most of us society has relegated to ‘hobbies’ may very well be what saves us in the future. After all, the fact that society has pushed so hard for these to BECOME hobbies for the vast majority of us should tell you soemthing about their utility: if modern society thinks it’s useless, there’s a good chance that’s becuase someone, somewhere, wants to sell you seomthing to replace the need for that knowledge.

The survivalism movement has definitely embraced a lot of these things, but I’d say they’ve done so with the wrong intention in mind. Survivalism, at it’s core, is exactly what it sounds like: surviving. Surviving a collapse, or a storm, or a war. But the flaw in survivalism is that a lot of it seeks to PRESERVE small pockets of what we currently have now; or even to simply survive between NOW and when we can get back to NOW.

Going beyond survivalism requries something different. It requires an understanding of the same basic concepts, but with an intention of using them not to preserve pieces of the old society, but how those pieces can be shared and used to build something post-society. That’s where our practical knowledge comes in.

As leftists, anarchists, whatever we choose to call ourselves, I think it’s important that we start spending more time sharpening the skills we already have (and acquiring new ones) with that goal in mind. Not simply surviving. Not maintaining. But building. Don’t sharpen your mechanics skills, for example,
just to keep the generator running in times of collapse – sharpen them because they will be valuable in ways you can’t even imagine as we move PAST society, not as we try to rebuild it.

That’s really the key. We don’t just want to survive, we want to grow.

Anarchy Already Exists: It Just Comes In Small Doses

As I was reading through my normal news feeds tonight, I came across this story from Boing Boing: “Fences as primitive phone networks” and all of a sudden I was 8 years old again, looking at the remnants of one of these myself. And then 8 year old me and 30-something me had a conversation about anarchy as a practical application, and here I am.

When I was a kid I grew up in a rural town of around 9000 people, the largest town in a 300 mile radius. While my parents and I lived in town, my parents best friends lived on a ranch 25 miles outside of town. I spent a good portion of my childhood on the ranch doing ranch type stuff. Not a lot of people can claim to have actually been on a cattle drive, built fences at a cattle camp, helped birth horses and calves, etc. And the more I think about who I am now, the suburban dissident dad stuck in a dead end office job, the more grateful I am for those early experiences. Because more than anyone else I’ve met in real life, these ranchers LIVED anarchy.

It’s easy to talk about theory, legal and economic systems in a post-revolution anarchic society, and all the other ideology that gets thrown around. A little harder is dealing with the interpersonal politics that we see pop up in things like Occupy, protests, general assemblies and all of that.

But the hardest part of anarchy, the part that we as radicals have to take a real hard look at is LIVING. It’s the communities that we want to live in, it’s the people we want to have in our lives. It’s putting food on the table and helping your neighbour put food on theirs. It’s dealing with disputes that arise simply because we are obstinate, opinionated, shitty human beings and no amount of ideology will change that.  And it’s doing this for the rest of our lives, long term. Not in the context of a protest or a temporary commune. Not in the context of an occupation, or talking to people on twitter.  Not even in the context of solidarity in the face of thugs with badges and batons. I’m talking about introducing anarchic ideas into our every day lives.

What that Boing Boing post reminded me of is that there are communities of people who are a hell of a lot further down the road to anarchy then the rest of us are, and they aren’t even aware of it.  Were these rancher communities idyllic? Hell no. There were deeply ingrained problems with sexism, racism, and traditionalism that were (and are) problematic to the extreme.  There were conflicts between ranchers and native peoples (though often much less than the conflicts between the townies and the natives). Like any society on earth, they were filled with things that needed addressing and were, often as not, swept under the rug. And above all don’t think I’ve forgotten the violence that settled these white ranchers on native lands in the first place.

But they were also resilient. These were men and women who valued community over themselves.  They loved the land they lived on, and while many of them didn’t give a shit about environmentalists talking about sustainability of ecosystems, they PRACTISED that sustainability every single day, through generation after generation of family ranches. They were independent and individualistic, and at the same time knew how that individualism best fit as a part of a larger community. Though they’d call you a pinko bastard and run you off their property if you called them a socialist, they practised a form of community that was closer to actual anarchic socialism than anyone I’ve ever met.

None of this dismisses the problems that they did have, problems that were like poison at times.  But in small doses: opening a field for your neighbour to graze their cattle on because theirs was destroyed by a brush fire; working out disputes over land use without ever bothering to call a city land planner (because what the hell did he know about their lives?); in the simple idea that as a community, you knew you could rely on your neighbours in the same way that they relied on you… they lived and breathed a level of anarchy that transcends ideology.

My experience with these people has really effected how I look at community. Living in the suburbs, where we go from front door to car to office to car to front door and at most throw a nod at our neighbours, it’s something I miss.

Like everything else in society, corporations have largely destroyed a lot of these communities. Free range, family owned ranches were replaced with factory cattle ‘production facilities’ (the kind that make my vegan and vegetarian friends violently angry, and rightly so). But the spirit that lead to these communities in the first place is what we as anarchists have to tap into. In every aspect of our lives, corporate-government entities do what they can to divorce us from them.

Because it scares the shit out of them.

Whether it’s urban communities policing themselves because the police are nothing but thugs who prey on them anyway, native communities taking back their traditions and culture, or the ranchers I grew up with figuring out how to make their communities work without worrying about whether they are ‘within regulations’, it’s these practical applications of individuals working within communities that are where anarchy truly lies.

And I guarantee you that if everything collapsed tomorrow, they’d probably be the only communities that could still function, because ‘mutual-aid’ and ‘self-reliance’, etc are so woven into their lives that they don’t even need those words to describe them: it’s just ‘the way’.


A Middle Class Grandma’s Response to the Police State

So this morning I emailed my mom the link to the Guardian article from Naomi Wolf on the FBI’s crackdown, in collusion with big banks, local police, private security firms, etc, on Occupy. My parents don’t tend to see a lot of these articles so I send them on to help them see a different point of view from the mainstream media narrative that they are so often exposed to. 

In response my mom wrote… well I’ll let you read it for yourself.  I think it stands as an incredible piece given her history as a liberal activist in the 60’s, (civil rights movement, antiwar movement, etc), and a university educator… and how that now translates to being a retired mom and grandma. This is not the punditry of the progressive left; it’s not an Obama supporter defending his actions; it’s someone who has spent her whole life fighting to improve and mend a system that she now is beginning to see may not be fixable, and how terrifying that is. 

So here it is, with her permission, unedited (other than redacting some personal info): 

The Guardian article scared me. Not because it critically unpacks the power of the police state but because of how it defines that state, and how that definition creates a dilemma for me and for others my age who have been raised in a culture that seems rapidly to be crumbling. Its dissolution derives less from the historical cycles of economic and social upheaval/renewal that our parents and grandparents experienced and weathered than from a sense of no control, no future that can be envisioned and fought for. That is new here, historically. Past generations fought hard and suffered to overcome severe oppression out of desperation but also because they believed it was possible to do so, and to do it within the context of the american promise and their own communal and individual battles. That meant communal and individual loss and horror, but these were sacrifices made for a goal that was clear and a return to the promise of peace and cultural continuity. Permanent loss of freedom was not an option. (Actually as I read this I realize how insular it is: people have fought and died just because they could no longer stand the oppression even when there was no clear relief in sight).


Now, though, the enemy has slowly evolved into something different, and its various faces are masks, the more terrifying because they belong, increasingly, to one body. So the article reveals. (Actually, again as I read this, it occurs to me that the very consolidation of the “enemy” makes it more vulnerable–). What is terrifying is that many of us – those of us who are middle class, at least – are also connected to that body, and to destroy the body without any real alternative means destroying much of our own ground. Many, (again – not all) westerners want to believe in the possibility of a peaceful, healthy future for their children and grandchildren even if their own lives have been miserable; and they tie that belief into the wishful certainty that the very institutions upon which they want to build – and that includes banks and “democracy” – can be mended. If not, if destruction is the only way to remove the rot from within, then what? Everything collapses. What path then? To bring it home – how can I provide for you and the children if the powerful institutions are brought down? What are the alternatives? What kind of future will [my grandkids] have if they are surrounded by revolution and chaos? What road will they be able to take? What right do we have to bring that on them, who had nothing to do with the causes?


But of course that applies to all revolution and change everywhere. Contemporary children suffer on behalf of their own heirs.


And maybe the revolution will be creative.


I like your suggestion that it lies within local communities to create the alternatives. Revolution within that context is still a dangerous and inevitably violent one but at least there is a goal and a vision to frame it. I like the idea that there is an irrepressible force out there that bubbles up and competes with the police state in forms that outwit it. Those are all things that give hope.


The article (or was it you) mentioned the failure of the media to do its job. I think that beyond issues of power and ownership there is another barrier to wider media discussion of a police state. It is the cultural refusal of those who have benefitted over the last century to believe articles like the one you cited. They are too painful, and it is too easy to dismiss them as left-wing or over-the-top rhetoric. After all, if they are to be believed, it means that the believer will have to either give up what they have known, or fight.


Or, maybe, they will need to take their belief into other, creative directions that do not depend upon traditional paths for solutions. They will have to be willing to try without being sure. They will need to acknowledge the unknown without rejecting it. Maybe that is where the anarchists and occupy folks are going. In fact, maybe it is the “sure” – the certainty – that is one of the greatest barriers. Maybe that is the real evolution. As you said once – evolution instead of revolution.



The Backyard Revolution

(This post is to organize into a coherent piece a bunch of thoughts and conversations I had on twitter this morning)

I’m more and more convinced as of late that there won’t be a “revolution” in the sense that most people on the left have meant that word for the last 100 years (the right just calls it a coup anyway, not a revolution). One of the conundrums of looking at the history of leftist revolutions has always been that they didn’t really end up where the left wanted them to. Some just fell apart, others became simply another version of the previous system – perhaps organized differently, but with the same net result of haves and have-nots, hierarchy, etc. And yet the language of the left has scarcely changed. We still talk about revolution as this grand uprising en masse of all the disenfranchised people in the world (or being lead by a vanguard if that’s your thing) – but where has that ever really fundamentally changed things?

Instead, I propose we need to completely change how we view revolution and revolutionary action – or we need to abandon the word/concept entirely.

One of the biggest benefits of the internet for me as an anarchist has been the ability to witness, in real-time, a plethora of what I would define as “revolutionary actions” happening all over the globe. And while various groups exist that perpetrate some of these actions (Occupy, Anonymous, etc), or in some cases try to bring action into their specific fold, the beauty of all of it has been the spontaneous and decentralized nature of these actions. Just a short list of things I’d consider “revolutionary” in one way or another (even if those DOING the actions don’t think of them that way):

First the obvious ones:

-Occupying foreclosed homes to keep people from being evicted.
-Squatting abandoned buildings and setting up libraries/clinics/etc
-Food not bombs
-Industrial sabotage
-Antifa action
-Rally’s against police brutality
-Agorist style black markets
-Alternate economies (decentralized currencies, barter systems, etc)

But more importantly, think about the non-obvious trends/currents that are, in their own way, just as revolutionary:

-Home gardening
-Home 3D printing
-DIY culture
-Open source software

And many, many more things that can be listed, from jury nullification to filming police for accountability, workers strikes to entrepreneurialism, etc.

Here’s the thing: many of the people that participate in these various actions don’t see themselves as revolutionaries. My mom for example has continually expanded her garden each year so that more and more of her food comes from things she’s grown herself. Isn’t this as revolutionary in it’s own right as sabotaging a piece of industrial equipment?

The problem with seeing revolution as a mass uprising of people is that the only way that happens is to coordinate in such a way that everyone is “on message” and “moving in the same direction” and all of the other platitudes. And in the end, one of two things happen: on the one hand, revolutions that are coordinated and succeed usually end up with the people who did the “coordinating” as the new “leaders”. And what the hell is the point of a revolution when you’re just swapping leaders for more leaders, no matter how well the intention? Then of course the other thing that usually happens to coordinated revolutions is they fall apart, precisely because they are coordinated – when you are fighting a behemoth (say, the United States government and it’s associated corporate partners), the worst thing you can do is create a single point of failure.

I’d argue this is one of the major flaws of the Occupy movement. Occupy itself is fairly decentralized, at least in terms of political views of the individual participants/groups. But Occupy is VERY centralized (even if it’s unintentional) in terms of tactics and rhetoric (i.e. marches, rallies, etc). What this means is that in order to curtail Occupy, the government only has to focus on countering a limited number of tactics. (The corollary here is that there ARE smaller parts of Occupy that have broken away into various different tactics on their own, and THOSE are the groups that appear to be thriving, such as Occupy Foreclosure actions).

Instead I think it’s time to start embracing hyper-local “revolutionary” action, and even more these actions must fit within the context of the skills and principles (as varied as those are) that people are hold. I said on Twitter this morning, and I believe this, that a mass revolution of people trying to coordinate ideologically and tactically is doomed to fail – but a 1000 or 10000 small revolutions that are locally centered (both physically and philosophically) will lead to the system collapsing like a termite ridden log.

It’s the cumulative effect of everyone, in whatever way works best for them, tweaking the nose of the system that is truly revolutionary.