Committed anarchist

Print edition : April 18, 2014
An insight into revolutionary politics from below.

"Oh good elector, inescapable imbecile, poor wretch... go home and start a strike."

--Octave Mirbeau

WE cannot lose faith in the collective will and power of citizenship. The participatory politics of people’s movements lends respectability to the idea of democracy and sends out a clear message: it is time for the public to realise that every five years the country engages in an electoral exercise that bestows power in the hands of a few while the public is totally silenced until the next elections. This is an electoral lie of democracies. As Elisee Reclus, the French anarchist, argued, “to vote is to abdicate”. Choose your masters and then sanction privileged ways of maintaining the powerful institutions of domination. Through the right to vote, you become the “self executioner” of your right to dissent or intervene.

Normand Baillargeon, in his timely book Order Without Power, argues through his analysis of the philosophy of anarchism that in order to fulfil human nature and ensure that human life thrives, it is imperative to respond to and resist the global phenomenon of oppression. His examination of the history of social and political dissent demonstrates that there have been upright, law-abiding citizens who believed that they had been driven by their conscience to alter the system over issues that infringed the fundamental rights of man.

In a constantly changing world, it is through resort to protests that antiquated laws are revisited and then undergo necessary revisions. Vaclav Havel, the writer and former President of Czechoslovakia, maintains, “You do not become a ‘dissident’ just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society.”

Under the overwhelming force of capitalism and bureaucracy, the smouldering undercurrents of anarchism will always be there, which, in the words of Rudolf Rocker, the anarcho-syndicalist writer and activist, is “a definite trend in the historic development of mankind, which… strives for the free, unhindered unfolding of all the individual and social forces in life”. Anarchism must replace democracy with its foremost objective being “to secure the personal and social freedom of men”. However, the state takes all measures to silence the anarchists to a routine of established inertia or irrelevance so visible in the working of our established and unchanging governance mechanisms.

Keeping in view the political philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Cartesians and other libertarians, it is believed that the best way to maximise individual freedom, which is one’s birthright, is through a brand of anarchism that has both a historical force and a deeply positive ideology of absolute welfare of the public. Unfortunately, in the hands of the media and their controllers, this school of thought takes a rather “destructive” or “negative” complexion as seen in the heated debates over the “unlawful” interventions of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

Noam Chomsky is of the view that anarchism is a “tendency in the history of human thought and action which seeks to identify coercive, authoritarian, and hierarchic structures of all kinds, and to challenge their legitimacy”. Baillargeon elaborates that the philosophy of anarchism is misunderstood not only by the common man but also by the right-wing intellectuals. It is not the absence of government or order, as regarded by many, but etymologically anarchy stands for the absence of power or authority, where “an” means “absence” and “archie” government. Order in society does not ensue from control or governance; order, born in the absence of power, is produced in a state of freedom. Opposition to authority is not a state of disorder; it is a cry for freedom and justice, an idea inimical to the state apparatus that “holds its legitimacy through a constitution that weighs heavily towards public control”.

It must be clear to those who consider anarchism unruly that it refrains from overlooking institutions that use power for the enforcement of legitimate regulations. Georges Brassens, the famous French singer, put it emphatically: “I am such an anarchist that I go out of my way to cross at the crossroads!” The concept is, therefore, wrongly given the semantics of violence and disturbance. Legitimacy cannot be read into fossilised systems of authority that fail to achieve the desired results. The surveillance of any drug trafficking by the public, for instance, gains legality if the police system fails. Although appearing to be the assertion of turbulent ideas or what is often termed unconstitutional interference, the “anarchy” that we have seen in the past few months in India has behind it what Peter Kropotkin, the Russian revolutionary philologist, calls “the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilised being”.

Opposition leaders would tell you that a modest-sized party like the AAP is of no consequence. This is the argument of those who have no idea of revolution, underscoring their distaste for dissent and reaction against a popular and inspiring uprising against established institutions. Political movements across the globe, from the Zapatista-led revolution in Mexico to the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Arab Spring, have been made possible by the masses possessing the audacity to challenge the status quo of a moribund system and with no interest in power.

Democratic space

In view of the critical analysis of anarchism, the book makes out a case for living with dignity and not the triumph of a single party, but to create a democratic space where diverse points of view can be heard. The libertarian anarchist stance combined with a socialist ideology that “anarchists” like AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal adopt leads to the fight for causes of social justice, unmasking the perceptible duplicity of politicians and intellectuals. Such ideological positions involve building autonomous structures that give people not only water and electricity but an environment conducive to a developed civil society where the judiciary, the executive and the legislature work in collaboration to usher in economic and judicial processes that ensure basic standards of living. Still, the mainstream media, in tandem with the floundering political parties, disparage such movements by ingenious strategies of incessant debates to convince the public of its unconstitutional and anarchic functioning and dismiss what is accomplished.

Anarchism, therefore, as a revolutionary philosophy in the works of thinkers such as William Godwin, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, Emma Goldman and Chomsky, focusses on the idea of the common human abilities that can “speak truth to power”. External control cannot check the evolution of moral and intellectually rebellious cultures. Wilhelm von Humboldt, the founder of the University of Berlin, and John Dewey, the philosopher, as well as Adam Smith, have written extensively on the treason of the intellectual elite and the political leadership that works for profit at the cost of public exploitation. Rather than laying out a plan for any single revolutionary moment that would bring about the intended social transformation, their emphasis is on the imperceptible changes that would occur under a process that seeks to liberate people from oppression and domination, an ideology that has as its central tenet the understanding of social reality and commitment to change.

This school of thought is blatantly anti-capitalist with the underpinnings of a non-hierarchical social structure. The liberalism of the American ‘New Deal’ brand of cut-throat competition and corporate authoritarianism in the industrial sector is what elite intellectuals take upon themselves to support, whereas the socialist anarchist stands polemically opposed to such hierarchical fascism so integral to corporate thinking. The deception cast by the media, by the flood of literature at all levels of special institutions such as schools, churches, television and cinema, makes the people believe in the “sincerity” and moral action of the state. The facade of classlessness or democracy is cast on the public, manipulating it to believe that the state upholds the principle of equal opportunities.

Empowering individuals is one way of meeting this challenge and providing a meaningful form of freedom, a critical practice that refuses to put all initiatives and solutions in the hands of the bureaucratic establishment. Therefore, the idea is not to overthrow governments but to take over institutions so that they begin to work more in favour of the sovereignty of the people. This is the Cartesian underpinning of an inspiring and adamant movement, an impulse towards the non-systematic and highly relative and flexible character of everything in society from organisations to individuals. Here, governance as a communal activity is not to be left in the hands of the specialists who focus narrowly on their respective areas of interest, ignoring the larger well-being of society.

The book is relevant to the understanding of revolutionary politics from below. However, there is no reason to suppose that the battle is won. The structures of authority and domination are not easy to dismantle. It would be naive to undervalue the power and privileges of the state. As Chomsky argues, “In today’s world, the goals of a committed anarchist should be to defend some state institutions from the attack against them, while trying at the same time to pry them open to more meaningful public participation—and ultimately, to dismantle them in a much more free society, if the appropriate circumstances can be achieved.”

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