This post is meant, partly as a response to George Monbiot’s latest piece of drivel in the Guardian. For those unfamiliar with George Monbiot, he is someone who has made a tidy sum becoming a spokesperson and writer about the environmental direct action movement. Since the movement has generally done very well without hierarchical organisation and self-appointed leaders, relying upon direct action, rather than lobbying MP’s and appealing for everyone to be nicer, Monbiot has had to pretend that this is exactly what is really needed. Like a Labour party member at an anarchist meeting he is largely redundant, yet convinced that he has links to the powerful and so is the one to be listened to. He gets money writing about this and is, by some, seen as the voice of the voiceless.
Monbiot’s latest piece of writing for the Guardian is yet another attack on why anarchism doesn’t work.
In it he mentions a symbolic squat of st. Georges Hill as the basis of his example, no doubt raising the example of primitive communism and early attempts at anarchist organisation to back his call for rules. The crux of his piece is that it is the lack of rules and anti-social elements running amok who are the problem and that these elements need to be reigned in to be kept in order. It is more a liberal argument, where everything is for the equal benefit of all society, rather than a specifically bourgeois one but instead of showing the problems with anarchism it really shows the problem with liberals and the fetishism of those who are poor as being always lovely. The discovery that those at the edges of society will rip you off and rob from you is nothing new to anyone who lives in the real world but comes as a shock to anyone on the sheltered world of liberalism who try to set up community where no attempt is made to enforce security for the good of all.
Another version of this liberalism raised its head following last summers riots. It was the belief that the looters and scum who set fire to people’s homes were representative of some kind of underclass uprising building a new society, rather than people following their own interests at the expense of others.
Before I start, I should point out that I define liberalism as a philosophy founded on freedom and equal access to institutions for all, with everyone having equal rights no matter the circumstances. Institutions and systems are set up with this aim alone.
Anarchism is a philosophy based social order through the restriction of man with another’s law. Organisation is based upon free association, rather than the imposing of laws through violence or other sanctions.
Both are idealistic and both can only work in certain circumstance, however, anarchism allows you to react if others are attempting to oppose order on you (or your community). This can be the state, another community, anti-social scum stealing from you and others on a St. Georges Hill commune re-enactment and so on. Liberalism is about equality under institutions and so it is only offending against institutions (rather than individuals) that matters. Even then you still have equal rights to everyone else! So law and order aren’t the problem, only being treated equally under law and order. Starvation and poverty aren’t a problem, only being treated equally when poor and starving and having an equal opportunity to the non-poor and starving is. Equality is substituted for equal rights.
Anyway. the experience I’m going to mention is, liked Monbiot’s, based upon experiences with Travellers. I was assisting with security for an Antifa benefit gig. It was taking place at a squatted Buddhist centre in London and some travellers were also based at the site and helping run the site. They had decided to also have their own party that night which was OK, but made matters slightly harder since we were steering people coming to the Antifa gig away from the first party and on to our benefit (and vice versa). Before it started we were warned by one of the travellers that some of their kids might get over excited and try to push things and not to over react. They were told that if they kicked off we would not give special treatment…
As the night went on, this did happen with a couple of travellers trying to start fights at the Antifa benefit (and unlike in Monbiots story, were removed) and them trying to intimidate people going to the Antifa gig by charging them money to get in (the traveller party was free, but they saw anti-fascists as not part of their community and so good game to rip off). As the night went on things got more strained but aq lid was kept on things. It wasn’t until the end (and after I left) that things really kicked off and the Travellers tried to attack people who had gone to the benefit gig. Antifa gave as good as they got and a strongly worded discussion began which ended in exhaustion and a few bruises.
The difference between this and Monbiot’s story is that we manged to organise something. get it working through free association and then had the guts to defend it from others imposing their order. Anarchism can only work in any form if people are willing to defend their free association from others imposing order. It is not a question of allowing others freedom and then tolerating their anti-social behaviour. It is a question of freely associating and then taking responsibility for your actions and if necessary defending this. You do not impose order, but you don’t allow others to impose order on you. Monbiot has got to the point where he believes others have rights, but also believes others should impose order and then everyone have equal rights. He was never an anarchist. The ability of antisocial thugs to impose their will and steal from others at St. Georges Hill (and then allowing the police to re-impose order) was not anarchism but liberalism. If Monbiot and others had defended their community and free association from others who did not share their ideal, then he might have had anarchism. Others might disagree with me and say I’ve got anarchism all wrong (and I admit it is a very specific kind of anarchism) but for me this is the difference between anarchism and liberalism. Free association and a willingness to defend this association because it is the will of the community not the imposed will of a minority.