Where do you see the main reason for this? NC: I think it has always been true. Maybe in the US they heard of Emma Goldman, but they just developed out of their needs, concerns, instincts, natural commitments. In the mid 19 century when the workers in the mills, in Lowell and in Salem, were developing a very lively and active working class culture, I doubt that they knew anything about the Transcendentalists, who were right from the same neighborhood and about the same period.
Is pejorative usage of the word anarchism maybe a direct consequence of the fact that the idea that people could be free was and is extremely frightening to those in power? But that is not true just for anarchism. Even democracy is feared.
He said something like this: The problem is that Germany and France have weak governments, and if they go against the will of the population, they have to pay a political cost. This is the libertarian Cato Institute talking. The fear of democracy and hatred of it is so profound that nobody even notices it. In fact the whole fury about Old Europe and New Europe last year was very dramatic, particularly the fact that the criterion for membership in one or the other was somehow not noticed.
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The criterion was extremely sharp. This was pretty uniform across the spectrum, just taken for granted. It makes sense, in any system of domination and control, to try to change it as far as possible within the limits that the system permits. If you run up against limits that are impassable barriers, then it may be that the only way to proceed is conflict, struggle and revolutionary change.
But there is no need for revolutionary change to work for improving safety and health regulations in factories, for example, because you can bring about these changes through parliamentary means.
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So you try to push it as far as you can. People often do not even recognize the existence of systems of oppression and domination. They have to try to struggle to gain their rights within the systems in which they live before they even perceive that there is repression. Try to get women to perceive that it is not the natural state of the world for them to be dominated and controlled. And one of the ways to do that is to try to press reforms within the existing systems of repression, and sooner or later you find that you will have to change them.
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ZV: Do you think that the change should be achieved through institutionalized party politics, or rather through other means such as disobedience, building parallel frameworks, alternative media, etc? NC: It is impossible to say anything general about it, because it depends on circumstances. Sometimes one tactic is right, sometimes another one. Talk of tactics sounds sort of trivial, but it is not. Tactical choices are the ones that have real human consequences. We can try to go beyond the more general strategic choices — speculatively and with open minds — but beyond that we descend into abstract generalities.
Tactics have to do with decisions about what to do next, they have real human consequences. If a large group that calls itself anarchist acts in such a way as to strengthen the systems of power and antagonize the public, they will be harming their own cause. If they can find actions that will get people to understand why it makes sense to challenge systems of formal democracy without substance, then they picked the right tactic.
But you cannot check or look in a textbook to find the answers. It depends on careful evaluation of the situation that exists, the state of public understanding, the likely consequences of what we do, and so on. ZV: The United States has a very long history of Utopism — of different attempts towards alternative social orders.
Transcendentalism was also famous because its Brook Farm and Fruitlands experiments. NC: My feeling is that any interaction among human beings that is more than personal — meaning that takes institutional forms of one kind or another — in community, or workplace, family, larger society, whatever it may be, should be under direct control of its participants. And here I disagree with some of my friends; I think spelling out in extensive detail the form or future society goes beyond our understanding.
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ZV: On many occasions activist, intellectuals, students, have asked you about your specific vision of anarchist society and about your very detailed plan to get there. A lot of flowers have a right to bloom. People do things in different ways.
ZV: With the process of economic globalization getting stronger day after day, many on the left are caught between a dilemma — either one can work to reinforce the sovereignty of nation-states as a defensive barrier against the control of foreign and global capital; or one can strive towards a non-national alternative to the present form of globalization and that is equally global. It makes perfect sense to use the means that nation states provide in order to resist exploitation, oppression, domination, violence and so on, yet at the same time to try to override these means by developing alternatives.
There is no conflict. You should use whatever methods are available to you. There is no conflict between trying to overthrow the state and using the means that are provided in a partially democratic society, the means that have been developed through popular struggles over centuries. You should use them and try to go beyond, maybe destroy the institution. It is like the media. I am perfectly happy to write columns that are syndicated by the New York Times, which I do, and to write in Z Magazine.
It is no contradiction. I have been here for fifty years, and have never thought about leaving it. But there are things about it that are hopelessly illegitimate. For example, it is a core part of the military-linked industrial economy. So you work within it and try to change it. They object to the notion of majority rule, noting that the views of the majority do not always coincide with the morally right one. Therefore we have an obligation to act according to the dictates of his conscience, even if the latter goes against majority opinion, the presiding leadership, or the laws of the society.
Do you agree with this notion? NC: It is impossible to say. If you want to be a part of the society, you have to accept the majority decisions within it, in general, unless there is a very strong reason not to. If I drive home tonight, and there is a red light, I will stop, because that is a community decision.
But there comes a point when this is unacceptable, when you feel you have to act under your own conscious choice and the decisions of the majority are immoral. But again, anyone looking for a formula about it is going be very disappointed. Sometimes you have to decide in opposition to your friends. I can only see the tips of their flagpoles from where I stand on tippy-toes, here on the leftwing side. A couple of hundred have rocked up for the left, a couple of hundred for the right.
There was expansive space for rallying in Melbourne and Bendigo. This is not the case today. The socialists and anarchists are pushed up close to the police, confined to the same strip of grass as them. They can wander back, but they wander onto a road. Across the road, locals have gathered in a park to watch the circus that has rolled into town. Melton folks have also bundled together a little further up the road, near the shops. For some reason, this giant banner — this giant middle finger — is propped up to face the Melton folks up the road.
Now Double Denim is grumbling to the police. He complains that cops have hassled him for wearing a motorcycle helmet in the street, yet are letting these masked anarchists roam free. Three kids on BMXs look on from the park. One of these BMX bandits, an year-old, is particularly feisty.
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Or maybe she means she wants this foreign race of hipsters to fuck off back to their own country of inner-city Melbourne. I spot Ahmet, who has shown up with seven of his Turkish buddies to provide security for the socialists and anarchists , standing under trees near the police line. The bandanas pulled over their faces are theatrical — a couple feature skull jaws, others feature hot-rod flames. Tight T-shirts with anarchist slogans show off their gym bodies.
Ahmet and the Seven Turks stare ahead, like Buckingham Palace guards when the tourists pull faces. A grandmother, a mother and a son gripping Aussie flags — and each other — push through the crowd of socialists and anarchists. This is the only way for them to reach the Reclaim side. He lives nearby and was pedalling past on his bike. He is pushing the anarchists away. A dad and his family stride through next. A big inflatable hand with an Aussie flag print is squeezed over his real hand.
Anarchists dressed like ninjas swarm around. The hand hits the street. Four ninjas stomp on the hand and it pops. The dad darts off. He folds it and elbows through the mob. Ahmet has more to say. A woman! At least attack our men, you know? I promise these Isis people will kill us before they kill you guys. This is what they want us to do. You reckon I can get rid of terrorists? Ahmet says white supremacist groups take photos, and after the rallies harass the people in those photos.
I dart up the street. Three shirtless Meltonite teens are facing off some ninjas. One of the Meltonites holds a BMX over his head. Is he going to chuck it at the ninjas? I reckon they should respect it.
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