IV. Recent Anarchism by Dana Williams


Punk Rock

In the late 1970's, England witnessed the emergence of a new type of music that was a sped-up form of rock-n-roll which emphasized simple harmonic structures, loud volumes, and a strong anti-authoritarian presence. The better known of these flagship bands were the The Clash, CRASS, The Damned, Gang of Four, The Sex Pistols, and The UK Subs. These bands brought a sense of urgency to rock music that had not previously been there along with a strong political message that could not often be found in the media of the day. For example, CRASS "espoused the ideals of anti-violence, feminism, and flushing out hypocrisy in organized religion in the context of their ear-damaging vehemence on their records." In the process, as with many other bands, they felt the resistance from the powers-that-be who restricted their access to media and large record labels, while they got bogged down in legal battles with various government agencies.48

By the turn of the decade, the music had fully crossed the ocean and hardcore punk music scenes could be found thriving in Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and New York. Many of these bands simply had anti-authoritarian messages and attitudes without fully embracing anarchist philosophies. All the same, they inspired a new revival in anarchism as the "trademark A with the enclosing circle" could be found on the jackets of youths across the country.49

In this anti-authoritarian attitude and the resistance of corporations to put out music by artists who directly challenged their greed, most punk bands turned to releasing albums via an attitude which is termed "DIY: Do It Yourself". With the DIY attitude punk bands bypassed the greed of corporations and the subsequent emphasis on record sales over quality and message, and released records on their own small labels. The most influential labels of the time, which still continue to today, are Dischord (Washington, DC), Touch and Go (Chicago), and Alternative Tentacles and SST (California). They allowed, and still allow, bands to release music without compromising anything and still reaching nearly as many fans as they could with a major record label. The anarchist tendency to mistrust authorities and unbridled, capitalist greed led many of these bands to do things their own way, in line with their morals.50

Punk rock challenged nearly every power structure available to challenge, from police brutality to corrupt politicians, corporate greed to self-centered consumerism, militarism to nationalism/patriotism, unjust moral authorities to the religious right.51

In addition to spawning a directly anti-authoritarian anarchist attitude, punk rock also ushered in additional mentalities that are considerably proactive towards creating a better society. From the Minutemen's songs on Latin American solidarity during the Reagan administration's interventions in Central America to Minor Threat indirectly starting a movement of sober youth to Propagandhi's questioning of sexuality and machismo. Propagandhi, perhaps one of the most overtly political punk bands from the 1990's, in addition to being strong supporters of animal rights, feminism, anti-militarism, and secularism, they are also vocal anarchists. They operate an independent record label called the "G-7 Welcoming Committee" and are strong supporters of the "Mondragón Bookstore & Coffee House" commune in Winnipeg, Manitoba.52

Culture Jammers

The Mondragón bookstore and the hundreds of similar stores across the world are prime examples of the tools and "warehouses" for active anarchists who feel that since the wide-berth of society is closed to their ideas, they take the strategy that has been coined "culture jamming". This idea of "jamming" comes from the writings of Hakim Bey, specifically "TAZ, Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism" in which he calls for the making of TAZs. His thesis is that since the world is overrun by totalitarian institutions that control nearly all facets of life, the only way to achieve true freedom is on a small-scale in whatever way possible. Such a zone is autonomous from the control of outside authorities. He explains:

... [W]e're not touting the TAZ as an exclusive end in itself, replacing all other forms of organization, tactics, and goals. We recommend it because it can provide the quality of enhancement associated with the uprising without necessarily leading to violence and martyrdom. The TAZ is like an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerrilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it. Because the State is concerned primarily with Simulation rather than substance, the TAZ can "occupy" these areas clandestinely and carry on its festal purposes for quite a while in relative peace. Perhaps certain small TAZs have lasted whole lifetimes because they went unnoticed ...53

Bey, of course, did not start this movement, he just explained some of the better and most effective ways of doing it. Since the beginning of the anarchist movement, activists have been releasing their writings in pamphlets, independent books, and later through anarchist publishers. Publishers such as Black Rose, See Sharp, Freedom, and South End aligned themselves into distribution networks. A good example such a distribution network is AK Press, a cooperative book warehouse/distributor. Anarchists have also taken to periodicals, such as Z(eta) Magazine.54

More in tune with Bey's attitudes, many anarchists bring the message to society, rather than wait for society to come to the message. They "jam culture" by declaring their ideas through the medium of T-shirts, buttons, stickers, graffiti, etc. In this fashion, UnAmerican Activities, a T-shirt/sticker "company" in San Francisco, sells their "tools" at cost to help people "matter" by promoting the ideas that motivate their lives. They feel that by challenging the system with their notion of freedom they can overcome the "obstacles to joy" that the system creates.55

In addition to simply wearing slogans and messages on T-shirts, buttons, and bumper stickers, anarchists will go for a more public display of these ideas, through the use of graffiti. To an anarchist, graffiti embodies the true ideas of democracy and is the active practice of democracy. In a society where most routes of expression are closed off in the mass media to "alternative" ideas, writing on a wall is sometimes the only way that large numbers of people will ever read what you write or hear what you have to say. Unlike print journalism where you need great writing skills, or television where you need to be attractive and a good speaker, all you need for graffiti is a spraycan or a marker.56

The recent surge in the number of pirate radio stations is also a revolt against this inaccessibility to mass media. In the US "licensing costs are in the neighborhood of $250,000 dollars, even for non-profit broadcasters, and frequencies are selling for millions of dollars, beyond the reach of all but the wealthy." So, people with a bit of technical know-how sometimes strike out on their own to produce local-oriented, non-commercial music and alternative radio programs. Also called micro-radio, these pirate radio stations rarely broadcast more than a few miles in radius, and thus emphasize local interests with real people running the radio stations, as opposed to companies like Capstar which is "buying local stations, downsizing workers and turning formerly locally operated stations into robot-controlled profit machines." No one is sure how many pirate stations are operating in the US (due to their illegality and, therefore, low-profiles), but even small towns such as Grand Forks, North Dakota have them.57

Adbusters, the coiners of the phrase "Culture Jamming", is a "journal of the mental environment". In their seasonal magazine they "rage against consumer capitalism" and attack the presence of advertising and marketing by creating "spoof ads" and "uncommercials" that poke fun at the techniques which every American is so used to seeing that the true message of advertisting is never questioned. Adbusters champion many projects that challenge this prevalent consumer and advertisement culture, like "Buy Nothing Day", "TV Turn-off Week", "The Big Question at the WTO", "Aim Higher: Commercial-free Schools", and "Revoke Philip Morris' Charter". Their "uncommercials" are 30 second or one minute commercials which challenge normal advertising ideas, with spots such as "The Product is You", "Bull in a China Shop", "Autosaurus", and "Obsession Fetish". Their spoof ads poke fun at the proclaimed "coolness" of smoking, drinking, fashion, body image, transportation, and food.58

The best current source for present day and prior anarchist literature is on the Internet. Since it's conception in 1969 and the development of the World Wide Web in 1989, with the use of hypertext transfer protocol through the work of Tim Berners-Lee and CERN (Conseil Europeen pour la Recherche Nucleaire), the Internet has expanded exponentially. Ever since this development of inter-linking writings, images, and ideas together, anarchists have republished classic anarchists works, in addition to writing brand-new works. The amazing thing about the Internet is that it is no longer necessary to track down an ancient copy of a century-year-old pamphlet from bookstores and libraries all over the world, because they are freely disseminated and instantly accessed via the web. The Internet has also enabled and eased the international collaboration of anarchists, and has facilitated the writing of a "Frequently Asked Questions" reference document, which much of this essay is based upon.59

Social Movements

From the 19th Century to the early 20th century, the anarchist movement has been actively participating in specific social movements, concerned with dismantling power and authority. Present-day anarchists recognize that such a change is not an immediate event, but a process. Thus, along the way anarchists should make every attempt possible to ease society into a freer form. Since the turbulent 1960's, the anarchist movement, along with the greens and much of the "left", have been active in attempting to make social change. The movements that have involved anarchists may appear varied, but underlying all of them are common threads. In addition, there is the dedication to bypassing authority, increasing freedoms, and enhancing society through a "common morality" that emphasizes treating all the world in a respectful manner.60

One of the most prominent anarchist movements (and perhaps most important movement of all history) has been the feminist movement. One of the earliest American feminists, was also an anarchist, Emma Goldman. She was for women's suffrage, access to birth control, free love, pro-choice empowerment, while she spoke out against against forced marriages, subservient roles in households, and the roles forced on women through the laws, culture, and religion. Anarchists observe similarities between the oppression of females and the oppression by class, race, and other factors. The Anarchy FAQ has this to say on "anarcha-feminism":

Anarchism and feminism have shared much common history and a concern about individual freedom, equality and dignity for members of the female sex (although ... anarchists have always been very critical of mainstream/liberal feminism as not going far enough)... Anarcha-feminists point out that authoritarian traits and values, for example, domination, exploitation, aggressiveness, competitiveness, desensitisation etc., are highly valued in hierarchical civilisations and are traditionally referred to as "masculine." In contrast, non-authoritarian traits and values such as co-operation, sharing, compassion, sensitivity, warmth, etc., are traditionally regarded as "feminine" and are devalued. 61

Closely tied to the anarchist attitudes towards female liberation is the pro-queer attitude. Anarchists see the less aggressive and less macho sexuality of homosexuals to be the main reason they are strategically denied equal political representation in society. Laws like the "Defense of Marriage Act", only exist to deny access to legal rights of gay couples that straight couples enjoy, and anarchists feel that homosexuals need to be liberated from their chains as well.62

Radical environmentalists may also be found in the ranks of anarchists. The group, Earth First!, is one facet of a movement that sees many problems with the existing practices in human society. With a rapid decrease in biodiversity, deforestation of rainforests, poisoning of the oceans, upsetting global climate, destruction of the ozone layer, acid rain, massive air and ground pollution, and the fast reduction in water reservoirs, the environment is one thing that will not wait around for humans to solve their problems. As Murray Bookchin says, "[t]he plundering of the human spirit by the market place is paralleled by the plundering of the earth by capital." "Green" anarchists feel that ecological ideas and concerns should play an important role in free development, decentralization, diversity, and spontaneity.63

Akin to environmentalism is the stance taken by a portion of anarchists who fight for "animal rights". Often, but not exclusively, this group is a subset of the vegan movement, in which one does not only avoid meat, but also all animal by-products, including eggs, fish, and dairy products. These anarchists, see human use of animals as oppression and exploitation as well, not altogether unlike that of humans. In addition to animal rights, many vegans are motivated by concerns over health, money/cost, and how veganism is more sustainable for a global society, than meat. Food Not Bombs is an anarchist group which encourages the distribution of free food to everyone willing to accept it. They protest militarism, hunger, and poverty by directly providing food relief of vegetarian meals.64

One of the most "infamous" books associated with anarchism, which also ironically has very little to do with veganism, is "The Anarchists Cookbook" written by William Powell in 1971. Anarchists see the book as insulting because, in addition to the fact that the book has passed the $25 Million sales mark, it has nothing at all to do with anarchism. They disavow the book and its author's intentions as sophomoric, dangerous, stupid, and often highly inaccurate. Many of the formulas for bombs will end up blowing up the bomber himself and the drug recipes are equally dangerous. The fact that it contains nothing beyond techniques for violence and terror is the main reason that nearly all anarchists distance themselves from it, not to mention that it contains no anarchist theory or ideas. In response to the negative publicity that anarchists often get for their "ideological" link to the book, they decided in 1997 to collectively release a true "Anarchists Cookbook" filled with vegetarian recipes.65

As with Food Not Bombs, all anarchists denounce the violence of the state, in its forms of militarism and imperialism. Although disowning the claims by the "Anarchists Cookbook", many anarchists make the distinction between the violence of the oppressor and the violence made out of futility by the oppressed. Thus, although many anarchists are pacifists and oppose all violence, others oppose the military machine of the state and support armed rebellion against it, such as in the Spanish Revolution and the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (indigenous Mayans in revolt in Chiapas, Mexico). Those who do proclaim pure pacifism, such as Leo Tolstoy did, do not make such a distinction between who actually commits the violence. Yet, even those anarchists who are not pacifists "accept the use of violence as a necessary evil and advocate minimising its use". Pacifism within anarchism is often found in an environmental context, as far as civil-disobedience and direct, non-violent action is concerned. Such pacifists feel that "the masters tools cannot dismantle the masters house" and that to succumb to violence is to become the oppressor. Opposing state violence can be accomplished through resistance, direct action, and self-defense, by means of general strikes, the closing of shops, civil disobedience, and sabotage, as opposed to violence which harms other human beings.66