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The following is a guest post, originally published at What About Peace? by Devon DB:
On Intellectuals and Their Duties in the 21st Century
“It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies.”
~Noam Chomsky 
Intellectuals have always played a major role in society, from the philosophers of old such Plato and Aristotle who articulated thoughts about government, science, and biology to modern intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky and Cornel West who go about speaking truth to power and working toward informing and empowering average people. Yet, the role of the intellectual has changed over time and thus the time has arisen to reexamine and redefine the duties and responsibilities of the intellectual for this new century.
Before going into what the duties of intellectuals are, one must first define what an intellectual is. The tem intellectual can be defined as “a person who primarily uses intelligence in either a professional or an individual capacity.”  This application of intelligence can be for almost anything, but it is more popularly viewed as applying intelligence to social, economic, and political issues. Furthermore, the intellectual goes beyond focusing on newsworthy items and goes into the realm of theory, from thinking and formulating theory to articulating as to how that theory would potentially work in reality.
Currently, it seems that intellectuals are split into three camps: public, private, and dual intellectuals.
The public intellectual is usually a university professor who goes about researching, writing, and sharing their ideas in the public sphere via books, conferences, and being guests on radio and television shows. While this may seem to be a positive occurrence, much of this information remains in the realm of academia or academia-related areas with little of it becoming truly disseminated to the mainstream public. The books may be published and the conferences occur, but the only people who know about them are mainly people who are either in that field professionally or already have an interest in that area of study. Of the little information that does get disseminated on a mass scale, it is mainly done by well-known intellectuals such as Chris Hedges. Thus, there is currently a problem concerning public intellectuals where the information isn’t truly getting out to the people at large and because of this the majority of people are unaware of what new theories or discoveries are occurring and thus more vulnerable to misinformation and less likely to become active and involved in the current economic, social, or political situation.
The private intellectual is one who uses their intellect for the benefit of private groups, foundations, or individuals. One such example is Martin L. Leibowitz, the managing director of the Rockefeller Foundation. Leibowitz uses his intellect for the betterment of the Foundation by managing its assets and investments in order to make the most profit, thus allowing the Foundation to continue its work.
Dual intellectuals are members of the intelligentsia that have one foot in both worlds, occupying the space of a public intellectual and also being or having been a private intellectual. Arguably the most prominent dual intellectual in American politics today is Zbigniew Brzezinski. While he has been a professor at Harvard and Columbia and is currently employed by John H. Hopkins University, Brzezinski was also the co-founder of the Trilateral Commission, which concerns itself with increased cooperation among the United States, Europe, and Japan. Intellectuals such as these are arguably the most powerful as not only do they have the connections and power that comes from being in the private sector, but they also have major sway over the collective consciousness of a society. Dual intellectuals can make their ideas public, put them out into the mainstream society, and because they also have a background as a public intellectual, the public is much more willing to trust them as they see such people as experts.
There are further differences between intellectuals when one breaks them down into their relationship with the current political, economic, and social system. There are three types: loyalist, reformist, and radical.
Loyalist intellectuals are those who uphold and are in favor of perpetuating the current structures. Intellectuals such as these are often deeply embedded within the system and hold government posts or are in think tanks that are quite instrumental in forming policies, such as the Council on Foreign Relations and its relation with the US State Department. Once again, an example of a mainstream loyalist intellectual would be Zbigniew Brzezinski. He has a history of favoring the current global political and economic system, atop which the United States is perched, and wanting to preserve that system for as a long as possible. Intellectuals such as these are highly touted in their societies and may command great influence and respect among the society at large and are used by elites to formulate policies that continue the present state of affairs.
Reformist intellectuals support the overall system but would prefer to see certain reforms to the current system as to promote certain values of equality, justice, and human rights. University professors appear to make up a large percentage of reformist intellectuals. Reformist intellectuals are used by the elites to produce new generations of intellectuals that support the status quo and can be co-opted by elites to promote policies that are favorable to them.
Radical intellectuals find fault with the system and criticize it, often offering alternatives that would break down the current structure. Intellectuals of this type tend to be the most useful in terms of going beyond what is spoon-fed to the public by elite-owned media that ignore, distort, and in many cases outright lie about ongoing situations, both domestic and international, and getting to the heart of the matter by telling what the true reasons policies are chosen and exactly whose interests are served. Radical intellectuals are often among those few intellectuals that have a moral conscience and believe in wholly changing the system if not uprooting and replacing it entirely. While most radical intellectuals are in the fringes, some have gained mainstream attention such as Cornel West and Chris Hedges.
While there are three main sets of ideological stances in relation to the current societal structure, there is a subset of intellectuals in the radical circle: underground radicals. These are intellectuals that are radicals (sometimes even more so than the mainstream radicals), but have had little mainstream notoriety. There are many current-day examples of these intellectuals such as Andrew Gavin Marshall and Allison Kilkenny. Underground radicals often harbor views that are outside the mainstream political system and have no trust whatsoever within the political elite to change society for the better. Such intellectuals are greatly needed as they are often independent voices, not tied to any organization or entity that would censor them and thus they are more likely to be committed to the truth.
While there are different types of intellectuals, they all have the same types of duties.
The intellectual first and foremost has a duty to themselves to be honest in their research and work, honesty being objectivity and avoiding distortion of facts. Objectivity plays a major role as if one is going to espouse policy ideas that are contrary to the actual reality of the situation, no one is helped as the policy will be incorrect and potentially make a situation even worse. This is not to say that intellectuals cannot have any political or ideological leanings, but rather when conducting research or proposing policy, one should keep such things separate.
Empowering ordinary people should be the overall goal of the intellectual. On the local level, intellectuals should work with community organizations with the goal of addressing the problems of the community in a constructive manner. If it requires working with the state, so be it, but one must be aware that the problems that are in a town are best known and felt by those who reside within it, thus working with the local populace and local organizations should be at the center of any plan to quell problems within a community.
On the national level, the intellectual class should work much more to put its research and findings out to the general public, as this increase in information access may allow the general public to become aware of political theory and policy and will allow them to make more informed political decisions. The empowerment of people has a different role in the economic and sociological spheres. The economist should aid in the creation of policies that create economic wealth for the nation, but not at the expense of the many to the benefit of the few. Depending on the situation as well, the economist should also push for policies that would free the nation from dependence on external sources of income such as the IMF or the World Bank and rather support policies of internal economic development which will enrich the nation in the long-term. The sociologist should work to dispel myths and stereotypes of minority races/ethnicities and work to understand different cultures.
The intelligentsia must also combat old and outdated ideologies that hold people back. The current societal structure of the United States is such where it favors heterosexual gender-conforming upper-class white men. This system ostracizes and ignores those who do not fit into that narrow framework. Intellectually, the conversation is twisted and distorted with outright fabrications and myths continuing about Native Americans, blacks, and other minorities while white men are upheld as essentially the creators of modern society and other thinkers, activists, and the like that rebelled against the system are either ignored entirely or viciously distorted. Thus, it is up for the intellectuals to work with other organized groups to combat not only the historical distortions and omissions in the general historical narrative, but also the very system itself that favors one group of people over another.
The intellectual has a duty to the youth, specifically to the students in the classroom. Professors must go beyond the dull repetitiveness of the classroom, from having students memorize facts and figures, to doing serious critical analysis and having them apply the skills they are learning to current, real-world problems. Intellectuals should be willing and ready to go off the set curriculum and tell students about the true history of their area of study; they should willingly reveal such important and relevant information such as that the educational system itself comes from a drive by the elites for social control  that is still being used today.  Revealing the true nature of the study will allow students to be even more critical in their thinking of current problems in the field and will be more inclined to speak truth to power as they know the underpinnings of the current social structure and how it has and continues to effect the lives of ordinary people.
The intellectual need to allow themselves to be challenged by students and ordinary people. Currently, there is so much trust in the intellectual elite that any ordinary person who challenges them is dismissed as a fool and uninformed. Such thinking leads to the public trusting rather unscrupulous people such as dual loyalist intellectual Henry Kissinger, a wanted war criminal.  Allowing intellectuals to be challenged will create an opportunity that will allow people to be exposed to those who have differing opinions and alternative viewpoints. It can foster discussion among individuals and allow people to learn from one another and in this vain of expanding knowledge and being open-minded, intellectuals should welcome challenges and critiques of their work from alternative viewpoints.
Intellectuals should be willing to aid in peaceful revolutionary political activity that advocates the transformation of the current social, economic, and political structures as to break down oppression and work towards true freedom and equality for all peoples, no matter race, sex, gender identity, socio-economic background, sexual orientation or any other form of oppression that holds people back. Yet, they must be careful in involving themselves in revolutions as they must be conscious of what they are doing as to ensure that they do not lead the revolution. The revolution cannot be led by the intellectual class, they can only guide it. Only the people can lead the revolution. However, this is not simply on the national level. We are living in a globalized society where revolutions against established elites have occurred all over the world  and grass-roots organizations have sprung up all over the world and are working together. A global revolution is occurring and, just like the protest groups are organizing and working together (to differing extents and success to be sure), intellectuals from all over the world should organize and work to think, research, and articulate a new system in which the current institutions of power and control are abolished and new systems that do not seek to dominate and oppress come into being.
The intellectual class has the responsibility to stand up for the people and against the systems of oppression for in doing this not only do they free others, but they also free themselves and allow the creation of a new world in which all peoples can be truly free. It is either that or aiding in the continuation of a system that oppresses, exploits, and controls the very many for the benefit of the very few. That is the choice intellectuals face in today’s world. Let us hope they make the right decision.
1: Noam Chomsky, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” Noam Chomsky, February 23, 1967 (http://www.chomsky.info/articles/19670223.htm)
2: Wikipedia, Intellectual, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectual
3: Andrew Gavin Marshall, “The Purpose of Education: Social Uplift or Social Control?” Andrew Gavin Marshall, April 8, 2012 (http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2012/04/08/the-purpose-of-education-social-uplift-or-social-control/)
4: James F. Tracy, “The Technocratization of Public Education,” Global Research, June 14, 2012 (http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=31422)
5: Christopher Reilly, “Henry Kissinger, Wanted Man,” Counterpunch, April 28, 2002 (http://www.counterpunch.org/2002/04/28/henry-kissinger-wanted-man/)
6: Andrew Gavin Marshall, “Welcome to the World Revolution in the Global Age of Rage,” Andrew Gavin Marshall, July 30, 2012 (http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2012/07/30/welcome-to-the-world-revolution-in-the-global-age-of-rage/)
Organize, Imagine, and Act: How a Student Movement Can Become a Revolution
And so it seems that the student strike in Quebec is slowing down and nearing an end, as the college – CEGEPs – in Quebec have voted to return to class, with roughly 10,000 students having voted to continue the strike, a far reduction from the 175,000 students that were on strike in late April and early May. The strike began in February of 2012 in opposition to a planned 75% increase in the cost of tuition. The students mobilized massive numbers, held mass protests, undertook picket lines at schools, expanded the issue into a wider social movement, and were consistently met with state violence in the form of riot police, pepper spray, tear gas, beatings with batons, being shot with rubber bullets, even being trampled by horses and driven into by police cars. The government enacted Bill 78, assaulting the rights to freely assemble and speak, and put a ‘pause’ on the school semester to end picket actions. Now that the school semester is starting back up again, and an election looms in the coming weeks, the students are being led away from the streets and into voting booths. The ‘Maple Spring’ has become the ‘Fall Election’.
Meanwhile, in Chile, where a student movement that began in May and June of 2011, mobilized against a highly privatized education system, is continuing with renewed energy. There had been ups and downs of actions and mobilizations within Chile over the past 15 months, but in mid-August of 2012, the resurgence was seen as students began occupying high schools, blocking streets, and undertaking mass protests. Students who took part in the occupations were threatened with having their scholarships removed. In over a year of protesting, the students have not seen any meaningful changes to their educational system, or even inclinations that those in power were listening to their demands with anything other than disdain and contempt. The students have long been met with state violence, from the oppressive apparatus of a former military dictatorship, fighting an educational system which was established near the end of the military dictatorship. Riot police would meet students with tear gas, water cannons, batons, mass arrests, and other forms of assault. Police have subsequently stormed the high schools and arrested over a hundred students participating in the occupations. This caused the university students to get more involved, and they occupied the Universidad de Chile, which had not been occupied since the beginning of the movement the previous year (often known as the Chilean Winter).
In Chile, as in Quebec, protests and marches and even the right to demonstrate are frequently declared to be illegal. In both Chile and Quebec, when protests erupted into violence (which is more often than not incited by the police themselves), these are called “riots,” and they are used in the media and public discourse to portray the movements as violent, extremist, trouble-makers, vandals, and criminals. This is designed to reduce public support for the protests (which was far more successful in Quebec than Chile), and to subsequently dismiss the demands of the students. There are, in fact, a wider variety of similarities and interesting comparisons between the Chilean Winter and the Maple Spring. Chilean students and academics have even expressed solidarity with the Quebec student movement.
We face an issue here. The student movements don’t seem to be getting anywhere substantial in terms of establishing some sort of meaningful change. This is not to say they have not achieved anything; quite the opposite, in fact. The student movements have been successful at mobilization large numbers of people, organizing protests and indeed, in politicizing a generation, which is their most sincere and important success to date. Students have suffered under propaganda campaigns, violent repression, legal intimidation, and, most of all, the determination of an elite who view any and every minor concession as the ultimate unthinkable sacrifice which would ruin all of society. In short, elites are more stubborn than students could ever seem to be, and they have the means to hold their position and tire the students out if they can’t simply scare them away or crush them down. So, while symbolic actions and political radicalization are necessary achievements, the will to continue taking actions and the hope to manifest radical ideas becomes worn down, demoralized, and sapped of its strength. This is incredibly challenging to revive if the circumstances and courses of action do not change.
So perhaps it is time for a new tactic. Instead of having radicalization follow mobilization, students could begin to have radicalization guide mobilization. For any social movement to advance, grow, and become something not simply demanding reforms, or demanding something from power, it needs to provide something to the students, to the communities, and the public at large; it needs to create. This is the difference between a reformist movement and a revolutionary movement. In this context, the word ‘revolutionary’ is not used to imply a usurping of state power and violent overthrow of authority, but rather to transform on a radical scale our conception and participation in specific or all sectors of society. Thus, it is essential to provide new ideas for action, rather than discussing and debating the new terms of capitulation. It can make all the difference between a question of how little students will get from their demands, to a question of how much we can get from a new educational structure itself. A discussion of new ideas must replace – or coincide with – the articulation of ignored demands.
How is this possible? What might this look like?
For students, the fundamental issue is education. For the student movements, growth came from expanding the issue into a wider social one, and linking up with other organizations and causes. This expands the scope, and thus, the base of support for a student movement. However, established unions played a large role in guiding (or attempting to guide), fund, and organize in cooperation with student movements. While the cause of workers is an issue that must be engaged with, the established unions that have survived to this point, roughly thirty years into the global neoliberal era, have survived only because they function on a basis of cooperating with the established powers of society, the state and corporations. They are corporatist institutions.
Over one hundred years ago, unions were extremely radical, organized, massive, and revolutionary. The actions and ideas of radically organized labour were the impetus for 8-hour work days, weekends, pensions, job security, benefits, an end to child labour, and much more. Unions subsequently faced roughly a century of battering, violence, co-optation, and destruction. Those which remain are not radical, but only slightly reformist. I say ‘slightly’ because they do not mobilize to fight for new ideas or issues, but only to protect and preserve the reforms previously implemented as a result of radical labour agitation. Thus, union representative serve as a buffer for the blunt force of the state and organized capital and corporate interests which consistently seek to undermine and exploit labour. The major unions typically serve to soften the blow against workers as the elite bring down the hammer. Under this system, all rights, benefits, security and protections are slowly and inevitably worn down and thrown away. When the established unions provide funds and direction for the student movements, they tend to steer them away from radical or revolutionary paths, and promote a highly reformist direction, and which can only be undertaken through negotiation with and capitulation to the state and corporate interests. This gets us to where we are.
When it comes to engagement and interaction, solidarity, and cooperation with labour, it should, in fact, be the more radical – and radically organized – students who lead the unions back to a more radical direction, to take them back to their origins when they achieved successes instead of softened failures. If they refuse to follow a radical direction, then students should encourage and attempt to find means of supporting the organization of new labour organizations: provide assistance, direction, ideas and physical and moral support. Students could be mobilized into the streets for workers’ rights as well as educational rights.
The main point here is that for a movement to radicalize and become revolutionary, it must cooperate with, support, and be supported by other radical and revolutionary organizations and movements. If the more dominant force is reformist, established, and corporatist (by which I mean its functioning ideology is accepting of the state and corporate dominated society), then these organizations will attempt to co-opt, direct, and steer your movement into an area ‘safe’ for the elites, if not altogether undermined and eliminated. It is not necessarily done out of an insidious desire to destroy your student movements, but rather the result of an insidious ideology embedded within the very functions of their organizations. Thus, integration, mutual support, dependency and interaction with other social movements must take place at a radical and revolutionary level if you are to sustain that potential and desire within your own movement. It’s unfortunate, because it’s more difficult; but it’s true, all the same.
Therefore, what is required are radical ideas of organization: for the student associations and other associations they interact with to be more accountable, directly, to their constituents. Instead of elected delegates or representatives making all the decisions (which is how our governments function), the decisions must be made by the constituents, and the representatives merely carry them out and organize accordingly. The student associations in Quebec and elsewhere function more along these radical lines, while labour and other groups typically do not. If student associations do not function in this manner, that is the first issue which must be addressed: either demand the associations to change, or create new ones and thereby make the unrepresentative ones obsolete. Thus, for a student movement to become revolutionary, the first step is the radicalization of organization.
Now onto something more interesting: how to radicalize ideas and actions in education itself. This next step is about the radicalization of action. While the first step, in many instances – the radicalization of organization – had been achieved in several of the student movements, the actions themselves lacked radicalization. The actions were largely confined to mass demonstrations, picket lines, school occupations, and youth rebellion against state violence and repression. These are all important actions on their own: establishing solidarity, power in numbers, a public presence, a demonstration of will and power, the development of ‘self-esteem’ for a social movement. These are necessary, but if the actions do not evolve, the movement itself cannot evolve. Thus, what is required at this point is a discussion of new ideas of action. Typically, as is the case at the moment in Quebec, students are being told to stay out of the streets and go to the voting booth, where “real” change can be made. This is illusory and useless. Unless there is a radical party, the best that can be hoped for is to delay the inevitable assault on education, or perhaps achieve a minor concession, which would likely be more of an insult than incentive.
New ideas of action must come from the students themselves, and there are a number of initiatives that could be discussed and undertaken. Fundamentally, instead of demanding from power, create something new. If education is what you want, begin to do it yourselves. In the case of a school occupations, why should the students not simply begin to have discussions on issues, share knowledge, invite professors, academics, and others who are supportive of the movement to come talk and share their knowledge?
This does not need to only take place in occupied schools, though that would be quite symbolic, but could essentially take place in any public space. It would function as a type of grassroots educational system, designed to share and expand knowledge, not to prepare you for the workforce. Job opportunities are already vanishing everywhere for youth, and they will continue to do so as the economic crisis gets worse. These types of educational forums could potentially be designed to educate and share knowledge on issues of relevance to the student movements themselves: the history of education, protest and social movement history, political power, repression, the economic system – Capitalism, neoliberalism, etc. This could – and should – expand into much larger issues and areas of knowledge, including arts, the sciences, philosophy, etc. There are already people within society who have gained their knowledge through educational institutions, and thus, there are already people from whom to draw this knowledge from in a new forum, and in a new way.
To give an example, imagine a ‘class’ (or forum) on the history of social struggles. First, a physical space is required, so to set up in a park, public venue, rent a space, or occupy a space (such as a school lecture hall). The students should have previously discussed – likely through social media networks – which intellectuals and individuals they would like to invite to come speak to them about the issue. The invited speakers would share their knowledge on the history of social struggles, promote discussion, debate one another, and engage directly with the students. For every invited outside speaker, a student should be invited to speak also, to share their own knowledge and engage on an equal basis. The notion that students are there only to learn and not teach is an incorrect one, and it’s a misnomer that should be addressed and acted upon.
The public at large should also be accepted into these educational forums. The point should be to expand knowledge and discussion among the general population, not merely the students. But the students are the ones capable of providing this forum for the population at large. To add to this: such forums should be broadcast through social media, filmed and recorded, watched online both live and archived. Students could organize ‘subject collectives’, perhaps having a group of students organized along the lines of the larger student associations (through direct democracy), who would oversee the organization of each subject or issue: history of social movements, political economy, media studies, etc. Each ‘collective’ could establish its own website, where the wider community would be encouraged to engage, support, recommend speakers and issues and venues, watch archived or live-feed forums, debate in online forums, be notified of events and speakers, and be provided with educational material, reading sources, etc. The students could write papers which would then be posted publicly on such sites, to promote discussion and to actually use the knowledge instead of writing papers for a grade, which is a rather absurd notion. These sites could have news sections, providing relevant news and developments from around the world related to their issue. The collective itself – both within the community and online – then becomes a forum for the development and extension of knowledge to a much larger sector of society, locally and globally.
This is where the actions become even more important. For a social movement to survive and expand into a revolutionary movement, it must not isolate itself, and must engage and interact directly with the wider population. The best way to do this, and one which has the added necessary effect of increasing the movement’s support among the population, is to provide a service or need. In the case of a student movement: that need is education. Merely ‘opening up’ forums to the public may not be enough. Students or ‘subject collectives’ could individually organize smaller meetings and discussions, in neighbourhoods and venues all over the city, region, or country, where students themselves speak with and to the public on issues in which they have been getting their education.
In Quebec, where students have been consistently framed by the media and elites as “entitled brats,” this tactic would be a means to share our so-called ‘entitlements’ with the wider population, and at no cost to them. Thus, as students gain knowledge, they share knowledge with others. For example, a couple history students could hold a small forum at a cafe or in a small public location which they had promoted within the neighbourhood and on social media for people to freely come to listen and engage in a discussion about a particular history topic. Of course, knowledge in such circumstances should not simply be abstract or obtuse, but relevant to those who are engaging with it. So if the discussion is on a ‘history of social movements,’ students should share knowledge on this, but make it relevant to the current social movement, to the social conditions of the wider population, and ask questions and engage with others in the venue: to promote discussion and debate. Thus, instead of the public viewing students as ‘entitled’, they may come to view students as ‘empowering.’
This type of tactic would especially have to be employed within poor communities, and oppressed communities, where students would have to be willing to listen and learn more than they would be inclined to speak and teach. This is because many student movements, simply by their position as being students, generally come from a more privileged sector of society than the really poor, minority, immigrant, or otherwise oppressed communities. These sectors largely remain in the sidelines of the student movements themselves. This must change, and for a very fundamental reason: there is a great deal to learn from these communities. Oppressed peoples have experienced and known for a much longer period of time what the majority of students are only just starting to learn and experience: the true nature and interest of power, the violent and oppressive state apparatus, the underbelly of the economic system, the reality of social existence for a great many people. In short, it would be a means through which to educate the students on deeper issues of social strife, by listening and speaking directly to and with those who exist within oppressed social spheres.
But there cannot be any taking without giving. So while oppressed communities may perhaps be willing to share their own knowledge with students and engage in discussion and debate, the students must provide something back to these communities. There is a very simple way to get this started: ask them what they need most in their communities. For example, if one community cited the cost and quality of food as a central issue, students could then leave the first meeting with the community with the intent to organize and plan around this issue. The students could hold their own discussions, meetings, debates, and share ideas on how to help resolve this specific issue within that specific community, and then propose various ideas to those community leaders. The ideas would be subject to critique, dismissal, support, etc, to go back to the drawing board with new suggestions or to get to work, putting action to the ideas.
So with the issue of food, for example, students could perhaps organize around the idea of establishing a community food garden, proposing it to the community, and, if approved and critiqued, they could find an area of land, get the support and materials they need, and work with members of that community to plant and establish such a garden, to help move toward some form of food sustainability, provided either free or cheap to those within that area. Potentially, there could be a student educational association which specialized in sharing knowledge about nutrition, horticulture, etc., and they could be brought in to share their knowledge, help in the endeavour, or even make it a staple feature of their functioning: to go to different communities to help establish food sustainability.
These are, of course, just ideas of actions, there is no reason to follow this specific outline. This is meant to merely promote the discussion of this concept: the actions, organizations, and objectives which would result from a radicalization of action are likely to be far more varied, interesting, and effective than these mere suggestions. However, I used these examples of actions and ideas to show how a student movement protesting against something (such as a tuition increase), can become a revolutionary movement for something.
These actions are revolutionary because they force people to question and reconsider their conceptions of education, its manifestation, its purpose, its institutionalization, philosophy, etc. The actions themselves engage directly with people, drawing from and providing to the population as a whole. This increases support among the population, but also greatly strengthens the ideas and actions of the students themselves. At such a conceivable point, it could not be called a ‘student movement,’ but could only be identified as a much wider social movement, which would help radicalize the wider society itself, which would in turn provide new ideas and actions to the students; solidarity in both words and actions.
These actions are revolutionary because they attempt to maneuver around power structures instead of expending all of their energy on directly battling the power structure itself. By going around the power structure – around the state, the schools, the corporations, etc. – the students would create a parallel educational structure within society, making the existing one increasingly obsolete. As this is done, the bargaining power of the state and other structures is reduced, because the students no longer rely exclusively upon them for an education. The state would most certainly attempt to repress such a movement, or perhaps even to offer much larger incentives, concessions, or even meet the previous demands of students in order to get them back in the schools and within an educational system that power controls. The state is well-established to deal with direct confrontations: that’s what police, armies, guns, badges and lawyers are for. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’re demanding, or where you are demanding it, the state can simply tear gas you, scare you, disperse you, and wait you out. But to move around the power structure, and to create and establish something new, not under the control or direction of established institutions of power, the power structures become very nervous and insecure.
It would be foolish to think that the power structures would not respond with more state violence than they have up until present, they most certainly would. The primary difference, however, would be that the public support for the movement would have conceivably exploded, and in the case of increased violence, it would explode in anger and opposition to the state. In short, while the state would be likely to increase its tactics of intimidation and violence, the public response would likely be far more powerful than anything we have seen thus far. We saw an example of this in Quebec, when the government passed the repressive Bill 78 and a much larger segment of the population was mobilized in opposition to the government. However, this has now largely faded, and again, it’s about the difference between mobilizing against something and mobilizing for something. It’s the difference between opposition and proposition, demand and action.
The fundamental idea which I am arguing is that for a student movement to become a revolutionary movement, it must transform its demands of education into actions for education. If the issue is education, the answer is education. The inability of the student movements to have their demands met reveals a deeply-ingrained flaw in our society: that an institution does not reflect or respond to the demands of its supposed constituents. This fact makes that institution illegitimate. This flaw further manifests itself across the entire society. If the government itself, which is supposedly ‘representative’ of the people, does not reflect the intentions and interests of the population, then it is illegitimate. Most institutions do not even have a means for their constituents to have a say in who runs the institutions themselves. Some, such as governments or unions, may have elections in which people can choose candidates, but then all the other decisions are taken out of their hands. Other institutions, such as schools, corporations, banks, media, etc., do not even have a means for constituents to select leadership, let alone direction and action. University boards are populated with bankers, former government officials, corporate executives, foundation officials, and other established elites. Therefore, universities are geared toward meeting elite interests under their direction. This is flawed and wrong. Though, because most institutions function in this way across wider society, it tends to go unnoticed and is simply accepted as “the way it is.”
Students must now ask: Does it have to be this way? What other way could it be? What should change? How could that change? What is the intent of education? These questions lead to other, larger questions about the society as a whole, and, as a result, they make necessary the wider radicalization, organization, and revolution of society itself. It is a rather large idea, but I think it is also a logical one. As the economic and social circumstances for most people continue to deteriorate in the near future – and perhaps rapidly so as the global economic crisis accelerates – such ideas and actions will become all the more necessary and will generate much more support.
Since the beginning of the global economic crisis in 2007 and 2008, the world has seen a rapid acceleration of resistance movements, protests, and revolutionary struggles. The world is rumbling awake from a long lost slumber of consumption and consent as the situation of crisis reveals deep flaws in the structures, ideology, and actions of power. We are witnessing the rapid proliferation of global resistance movements, but it requires much more for them to become global revolutionary movements. It has only begun, but it requires new ideas and actions to move forward. It would potentially be very challenging to begin such actions now, but in the very least, student movements should begin to advance the discussion, to debate the direction, and to incite new ideas. These are, after all, the skills that an education is supposed to provide us with.
Perhaps it is time to put our education to use.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer living in Montreal, Canada. His website (www.andrewgavinmarshall.com) features a number of articles and essays focusing on an analysis of power and resistance in the political, social, and economic realms. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, and is currently writing a book on the global economic crisis and resistance movements emerging around the world. To help this book come to completion, please consider donating through the website or on Indiegogo.
A Revolution in Thinking: What is the People’s Book Project?
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
“I am… a Revolutionary.” – Fred Hampton
Since September of 2011, I have been asking people – readers, activists, and others – to support my endeavour to write a comprehensive, critical examination of the individuals, institutions, and ideas of power, domination, and control in our society – both historically and presently. I have called this process ‘The People’s Book Project.’ The support I have asked for is in the form of financial donations, which have come from people around the world: Canada, the United States, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands Antilles, Taiwan, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Sweden, Malaysia, and Norway.
According to the site statistics, the website for The People’s Book Project has reached people in the following countries: the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, Switzerland, Germany, France, India, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Philippines, Finland, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Thailand, Hungary, Greece, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Suriname, Taiwan, Spain, Romania, Italy, Turkey, Austria, Slovakia, South Africa, Qatar, Slovenia, Poland, Russia, Puerto Rico, Estonia, Pakistan, Singapore, Chile, Nigeria, Egypt, Argentina, Czech Republic, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Peru, Uganda, Ukraine, Dominican Republic, Lithuania, Japan, Serbia, Bahamas, Jamaica, Bosnia, Fiji, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Trinidad and Tobago, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Nepal, Georgia, Israel, Benin, Luxembourg, Panama, Kuwait, Latvia, Iceland, Azerbaijan, Cote d’Ivoire, Jordan, Venezuela, Zambia, Bahrain, Aruba, Colombia, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Barbados, Armenia, Tunisia and Ecuador, among others.
The Facebook page for The People’s Book Project has support from people all around the world: the United States, Canada, Dominican Republic, United Kingdom, Sweden, Philippines, Australia, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Portugal, Mexico, Indonesia, Netherlands, Ireland, France, Chile, Estonia, Italy, and Brazil. According to the Facebook stats for the page, 57.7% of those who the page reaches are between the ages of 18 and 34. Many of those who cannot financially support the Project have done so in other ways: re-posting my articles through social media, posting them on blogs, translating them, and spreading the word through other means. Both financially and fundamentally, all of this support has been of immense importance, and both are of equal necessity.
Why is this support necessary?
The People’s Book Project relies upon grassroots support from people around the world in order to remain independent, focused, active, advancing, critical, dedicated, and driven. The avenues for truly independent research and writing is lacking; free to discover itself and its own truths instead of being directed by the purse strings and for the purpose of institutions – whether think tanks, foundations, universities, government, industry, or otherwise. My research and writing is outside the oversight, control, direction, funding and suppression of any institution. It is precisely that which makes this Project have both a great deal of potential, and a great deal of problems. The potential, because the research can take – as it should – its own course to discover knowledge and truth: it is not directed, but instead, it directs me. The sheer volume of research and writing that has already been undertaken presents a great opportunity for a wider audience to receive important knowledge which may inform their ideas and actions: it is knowledge designed not to conform, but to inform; not to indoctrinate, but to liberate; not to overpower, but to empower. Because these are my intentions, and because I ask for support from people – individuals like you – to aid in these efforts, I think it’s only fair if I elaborate on the process of The People’s Book Project, and on my role in it.
What is The People’s Book Project?
I have elaborated on this central question for a great deal of time in many places and forms. Whenever I am asked – “What is the book about?” – I let out a sigh, and think to reply, “What isn’t it about?” I think this, because the more research I do, the more I write, the more I come across, the more stories, individuals, institutions, and ideas I feel the need to discuss and examine and explain; to understand and illuminate the interactions, exchanges, relationships and reactions of these ‘new’ ideas to the ones I have already been spending so much time researching and writing about. As a result, it seems the Project continually gets larger, the scope grows wider, the subject matter swells and expands, the ideas change and evolve. It is precisely because of this last point – that the ideas change and evolve – which pushes the process further: why wouldn’t we want our ideas to change and evolve? It is for this reason that the scope expands and develops, the time it takes to write and research grows, and the efforts increase, and with that, so does the need for support.
Since I have asked for – and received – a great deal of support, and since I will continue to need that support in the future, it is important for me to explain not only an idea of a ‘finished product’ – a series of books – which is being supported, but also the process of getting to that finished product. I also must acknowledge that it is me individually who is being supported in this situation, and therefore it is perhaps appropriate if I explain a little bit about myself and what I am doing. This Project is almost the entire means through which I support myself, I have no other job – (other than a weekly podcast at BoilingFrogsPost) – and I come from a family who are very much among the rapidly-vanishing middle class of Canada. I have just this past January returned to school after more than three years out of school to continue a Bachelors degree, but I am only taking one class in order to dedicate most of my time and efforts to the book. Currently, the students in my province of Québec are on strike, protesting a doubling of tuition fees, which I would certainly not be able to afford.
I have hesitated to write myself into the narrative of the process of the book’s evolution, instead focusing on the subject matter itself. But as the people – you and others – are supporting not only a product, but a process, and a person, it is important that I elaborate on the process and my part in it. In short, to truly explain an end product, one must also examine the process and persons involved.
What is the Process of the People’s Book Project?
I have approached the research and writing of The People’s Book Project in a way unfamiliar to those who have undertaken the task of writing a book on a specific subject. When I began writing this book, the scope of it was comparatively small and narrow, the length was supposed to be short and confined, and the subject was based upon a foregone conclusion. It was to be the product of an institution, not an idea; it was directed and defined as to what it should be and what it should not be. For myself at the time, I was struggling to keep it within the confines of what it was “supposed” to be, for the more research I did, the more I discovered and learned, the more the book – and its ideas – evolved and changed with me. As a result, I could not find it within myself to be moved to – or be proud of – producing a book which began with a preordained conclusion, that the research was simply meant to conform to an idea which was already decided upon. If I were to do that, I would write a book in which I could not agree with nor support its conclusions, nor could I promote it or pretend that it speaks to some great truths when it does not stand up to the scrutiny of my own truths. For this reason, I decided to change my situation and leave my job to pursue my passion. I left behind all that I had written, and started anew, letting the process dictate the product.
Frequently, I find myself even trying to restrict the content and flow and direction of the book. A writer and researcher must, after all, make choices: choices about what to research, what to write, how to write it, why to write it, what to leave out, why to leave it out, etc. Without choices, nothing would get finished (or started, for that matter), and the results would speak for the lack of choices. In spite of my own choices on what subjects I will pursue, what angles I will examine, what I will leave out, what direction I want to go, and even what conclusions I have in mind, I all too often find myself facing this ever-present, persistent, and pervasive power which seems to suggest to me that the only choice I truly have at the moment, is to decide to let the process take on a life of its own.
How does this work?
I will give you a recent example. I have set about – and received a great deal of support – to write a series of chapters on a radical history of race and poverty, specifically focusing on the United States. I wrote a “brief” 20-page essay on the subject, covering its broad focus and ideas, thinking that my efforts would be emphasized on elaborating on the concepts already mentioned in what I wrote, that it would be about filling in the details, connecting the missing dots, and better explaining the circumstances and situations. I often don’t write and research a subject in its exact sequence of events; rather, I approach a subject by focusing in on one aspect, one event, one individual, idea, or institution which has caught my interest and fascination. I use that specific point of interest to act as inspiration; in fact, I cannot help but allow it to inspire. In seeking to learn all that I can about the particular individual, institution, or idea, I must examine its relationship, interaction, and interdependence with other individuals, institutions, and ideas of that particular time, and from there I must go into its history: where did these individuals, institutions, and ideas come from? From there, I follow the path as to where they went: what were the repercussions, results, reactions to and of these individuals, institutions, and ideas, and where do they exist (or not) today? And then of course, the big question: Why?
So for my current subject – a radical history of race and poverty – my point of entry at present into the subject was brought about as a result of the recent anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. I have researched and read about King and his assassination, and how the King we idolize today is not the King who died in 1968. When MLK Day passes, the media, commentators, images, and sounds we hear are about the MLK that existed up until 1965, with the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the “I Have a Dream” speech, and the non-violence of the “Civil Rights Movement.” In the last years of his life, however, King became increasingly revolutionary: he was speaking out against the Vietnam War, the American empire, poverty and economic exploitation, and was even organizing a major national poor people’s campaign to end poverty in the United States. The King up until 1965 was a reformer. The King thereafter was a revolutionary. This is why, when today we “remember” King, we purposely neglect the memory of the man who he was – and was becoming – when he was murdered. By doing so, we are able to forget the issues he was talking about, and how they are even more relevant today than they were in the time in which he spoke, and we can congratulate ourselves on “giving freedom” to black people in the United States. With a black president, many have declared a “post-racial” America. The discourse of race and poverty, discrimination, racism, segregation and exploitation is no longer seen as valid or useful. Naturally, this is wrong.
However, another thing happened to me as I began reading about King and his anti-poverty campaign: I was exposed to new ideas, individuals, and institutions. Specifically, I have been exposed to the ‘Black Power’ movement, organizations like the Black Panthers, individuals like Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton, Angela Davis, Fred Hampton, and others. I began reading about these individuals, listening to their speeches, researching their ideas, learning about their organizations and actions and objectives and then suddenly, it happened, the process took on a life of its own. I have been utterly and completely inspired by the ideas, individuals, and actions of the Black Power movement. I realized that the revolutionary Martin Luther King that I so admire in the last years of his life, was not the only person speaking about such profound issues related to race, exploitation, history, and empire. What King was talking about in the last year of his life, a younger generation of black leaders had been talking about and acting on for years.
Suddenly, I had to know as much as I possibly could about Black Power, about the individuals involved, and about the ideas and their emergence, evolution, and relevance for today. When people typically hear the words ‘Black Power’ or ‘Black Panthers’ today, there are pre-programmed images and ideas which come into mind (especially if, like myself, you have lived most of your life in a predominantly white community and society): you see the images of leather-jacket and beret-wearing black men with sunglasses and guns, you think of violence and reactionary ideas, and even the concept of “reverse racism” – racism by blacks against whites. Like most things, the pre-packaged conceptions are a far cry from reality.
Black Power was not about hatred of whites, it was about empowerment of black people. The Black Power leaders – like Stokely Carmichael – understood that “integration” into white society would not liberate black people, because the solution was not one of repealing segregationist laws and then suddenly the scourge of racism would be erased from society and history. Black Power leaders and ideas were grounded in a significant historical understanding: they understood that racism was institutionalized in society, in all of its institutions and structures of power, not merely in the specific segregation laws of the South. Thus, what was needed in order to eradicate racism was to remake the institutions and ideas of society, not to simply step into the corridors of power (as Obama has) and proclaim a “post-racial” America. Black Power was not about dealing with the symptoms of racism (such as segregation, voting rights), but rather, in addressing the root causes of racism: found in the socio-political and economic system itself.
Racism was born out of class struggle, economic exploitation, imperialism, and poverty. It has remained a central feature of these issues right to the present day. The Black Power movement sought to challenge the root causes of racism. To do so, it was argued, black people themselves had to organize, mobilize and create their own source of power in society, they had to empower their own community and create their own institutions and articulate their own ideas – not against white people – but for black people. The understanding was that since integration would not solve the root causes of the problem at hand (institutionalized racism, as Stokely Carmichael wrote and spoke about), it was not a solution. Instead, black communities had to build their own power base in creating a new society with a new vision, free of racism (thus, those who equate Black Power with “white racism” do not understand Black Power). With its own power, vision, and objectives, Black Power would not have to conform or submit to the institutionalized power structure which already existed in society, and which had repressed black people for over four hundred years.
The Black Power movement was not about destruction or violence, it was about creation and protection. The Black Panther Party became a prominent symbol of Black Power. It was founded as the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, and its initial objective and the ideas behind arming themselves were not based upon an aggressive idea, or one which aimed to “overthrow” the government (as was the media and government portrayal of the Black Panthers at the time, and up until present). Rather, why they armed themselves was for self-defense of the ghettoes. The black ghetto communities in the United States were subjected to incredible amounts of police brutality, murdering black residents, and even white terrorism. The Panthers emerged, acting lawfully and legally in California (where gun laws stated that people could be armed, so long as they did not point their gun at anyone in public), and would act to protect the ghetto residents against the police and other forms of violence. When police would come into the ghetto, the Panthers would make their presence known and would observe the actions and conduct of the police to ensure that no violence was committed against black residents. Black communities were not protected by white people or the state, they were oppressed and attacked by white people and the state. In such a circumstance, one cannot condemn the actions and objectives of black residents to organize and seek to defend themselves.
The Black Panther Party was not only about self-defense; in fact, that was a rather small aspect of what they did. What we don’t hear about is the fact that the Black Panthers – and their leaders – were revolutionary philosophers and intellectuals, who put action to words, gave inspiration to people (whether black or white or otherwise), and empowered their communities: they organized and made self-sufficient a free breakfast program for black children in the community, free healthcare for residents, free education and literacy. J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the FBI, declared the “free breakfast” program to be the greatest internal threat to the United States at the time. Why? Because it was empowering a community of people to become self-sufficient, to not depend upon the existing power structures, but to create their own, based in the people and population itself. This, indeed, was dangerous for the existing power structures.
As a result, the FBI and the federal government undertook a war against black America. Through the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) and other existing avenues, they infiltrated black organizations (as well as anti-war groups and other organizations) and sought to destroy the movement from inside. The COINTELPRO operation was used not only against Martin Luther King (and resulted in his murder), but against the Black Panther Party, and resulted in the assassination of many of its leaders. One such leader was Fred Hampton, a 21-year old man who was a revolutionary philosopher and activist. Not only did he help create the free breakfast program and other community programs in his branch of the Party in Chicago, but he even negotiated a peace settlement between street gangs and brought them within the movement, he (and the Party) worked with white activists and movements in northern cities and in the poor rural south. Black Power saw as essential the empowerment of all people, everywhere, white or black, articulating the fact that the black community would empower itself to create a society free of racism, but that this required white people to seek to empower their own communities to challenge and eradicate the causes of racism within white America. The Black Panthers worked with, traveled to, and inspired and were inspired by revolutionary movements all over the world, from the Caribbean and Latin America, to Africa and Southeast Asia. They spoke out against imperialism and exploitation not only nationally, but globally. Fred Hampton was one of the most profound thinkers, speakers, and actors within this movement. He was a young, vibrant, energetic speaker and activist, garnering the respect of activists all over the nation. In 1969, at the age of 21, he was assassinated by the Chicago Police Department and the FBI, shot to death at 4 a.m. as he was sleeping in bed with his wife, eight-and-a-half months pregnant at the time. She survived, and two weeks later, she gave birth to Fred Hampton, Jr.
Why are these names, ideas and activities not better known today? Not only is Black Power important for black people to understand and learn about, but for all people. The reason for this is simple: Black Power was truly, at its core, about People Power. The movement inspired and often worked with other communities struggling for their own liberation against repression, such as the American Indian Movement (which was also subsequently destroyed by the FBI), and it lent rhetorical and ideological support to women’s liberation and gay liberation movements that emerged. Huey Newton, one of the founders of the Black Panther Party, later wrote and spoke out on the need to support and promote radical women’s and gay liberation movements. Black Power elaborated and acted on ideas which had potential for the liberation of all people. Perhaps the most important principle of the movement was this: that when confronted with oppressive, dominating, and exploitative institutions and systems of power, the pathway toward liberation is not to join – or integrate – with that power, but to actively create something new, at the grassroots, organically developing out of the communities. The relevance these ideas have to the present circumstances of the world is shocking, and no less important to rejuvenate.
My newfound interest in Black Power has inspired me to such a degree that it is evolving my ideas of society and humanity as a whole. This is the profound importance of new ideas: that they lend to the evolution of our own, already-held ideas, that they may further inform the knowledge we already hold and articulate. Many of the ideas of Black Power already conform to ideas which I already held, such as the notion of empowering people and creating a new system instead of integrating within the existing system, the negation of the idea of “usurping” power (or overtaking the government or other existing institutions), and instead, creating a new form of power: vested in the people. However, this does not mean that the ideas of Black Power simply confirm or reaffirm ideas I already held, but instead, further inform them, lead to their evolution and understanding and aid in their articulation, presenting a view and lens through which to see a path of action. Programs like breakfast for children, education, and free health clinics, run by and for local communities, are ideas that need a desperate resurgence. As the current economic crisis descends deeper into a depression, and poverty and exploitation increase, such ideas and actions are essential to human survival as a whole. They bring hope and heart to issues largely void of both.
While a great deal more people than ever before are aware and increasingly becoming aware of such important issues as imperialism, domination, and exploitation, there is a tendency to pursue the path of integrating these individuals and ideas into the existing power structures. The growth of knowledge is leading to mass movements articulating a single philosophy (dogmatic and rigid in their interpretation and understanding), and seeking to put into power one or a few individuals who articulate that philosophy. Thus, the quest for change and articulation of hope become about a single individual, a single idea, and rests upon the premise of integrating such individuals and ideas into the existing power structures. What the history and philosophy of Black Power teaches us is that what is needed is not integration, not usurpation of power, but creativity and creation: not to take power, but to empower.
As such, the history of Black Power is the history of People Power; black history is human history. While it is incredibly important for the black community to learn and remember this history, it is no less important for all peoples – regardless of race, religion, culture or creed – to learn this history. If you claim to articulate a philosophy of change, which can and should work for the benefit of all people in all places, one must not simply learn their own specific cultural history, but the history of all peoples and cultures. An understanding of black history is best delivered by the black thinkers, actors, and ideas which make up that history. Modern black history – both in the world and in the United States itself – is a history of a particularly brutal, oppressive, exploitative, and ruthless social, political, and economic system. If our objective is to truly understand the system in which we live, articulate its strengths and weaknesses, and plan for a solution to change these circumstances, if we do not understand and address the history of what that system did to its most oppressed, most exploited, and most dominated populations (whether black, Native, indigenous, disabled, etc.), we cannot – and DO NOT – properly understand the nature of the system in which we live. Thus, how can we even pretend to have “the solution” if we do not properly understand the problems?
Stokely Carmichael articulated the concept of “internal colonialism,” which was a description for the ways in which the United States government treated the black population of the United States. Many people criticized this term at the time, thinking it to be exaggerated and inflammatory. Carmichael commented that it was an absurd negation of logic to think that what the United States did to others around the world would not be done at home, and he used an example of suggesting that this was the equivalent of saying that the Mafia runs crooked casinos in Peru, but honest ones at home. Thus, just as black history is human history, Black Power is People Power. As such, understanding this history is of vital importance in understanding how to change history as we live today. To allow such profound, important, and philosophical leaders and actors of this history – like Carmichael and Hampton – to rise up and again speak their words and have them heard, will make the murder of 21-year old Fred Hampton and the dozens and hundreds of others have more meaning, will give his words new purpose, will give his ideas new understandings, and will bring the fallen new life as they again, even decades after their deaths, empower the people of the world. To not revive these ideas is to let them die with the individuals, to not bring meaning to their lives and actions, to let them be forgotten to history. This is why when today we hear about “Civil Rights,” these ideas and individuals are not remembered. This is why the movement is referred to as “Civil Rights,” because it implies a specific objective of reform, when, in reality, the “Civil Rights” struggle was but a single phase in a long and evolving history of Black Liberation, which today can and must empower the long and evolving history of human liberation. As Fred Hampton once said, “I am… a Revolutionary.”
So this brings me back to The People’s Book Project, and the process in which it exists and evolves. My exposure to the ideas of Black Power has not even surpassed two weeks of research, but already it is changing, evolving, informing, and adding to the ideas and issues of the book itself. Already, I can see that this area is so important, that to not write about it is to commit a great injustice, that it is already altering the conclusions of the book which I thought I had in stone. Again, the process takes on a life of its own. This is important because it allows me to grow and evolve my thoughts and ideas as I do the research, instead of supporting and regurgitating only that which confirms to my pre-conceived ideas and notions. As I do this, I am able to expose these ideas to others, and to hopefully inform their ideas and actions. This process is long, detailed, and challenging, no less so because of my own living situation in which I find myself having to write it. But that does not matter. What matters is what the process and the book mean, not only to me, but what they could potentially mean to others.
I would like to quote Stokely Carmichael quoting George Bernard Shaw, “All criticism is autobiography… you dig?” My critique – my book – is as much what I think as it is who I am. Both what I think and who I am are in a constant state of evolution and development, and thus, so is the critique itself. The People’s Book Project, as such, is as much a process of development as it is an objective of creating a finished product. I set out to write a book which may help in the cause of liberation for all people in all places. The process of writing this book, then, must be a liberating process; it must not be confined by rigid structures and direction, but must be permitted to find its own free expression, to discover its own path and direction, and to be the change it seeks, as Mohondas Gandhi suggested. The fact that this process is funded by people from around the world, providing what little dollars and cents they may, spreading the word and ideas as they can, is also evidence that the process is being the change it seeks. The patron of this book is not a think tank, a university, a foundation or a government grant. The patron is the people, the community – globally speaking. This is why it is the People’s Book Project, not my Book Project. As much as I am (for obvious reasons) the most influential single person in this project, I would not be able to do what I am doing if it were not for the support of others, everywhere. As much as I am the most involved in this project, despite all my efforts, I cannot control or direct the process more than it controls and directs me. That process is facilitated only by the support from people.
As a result of this process, I have come to accept that this book is not my product, but rather that I am just as much a product of the book. As the process of the project changes me, I change the product of the project. As the people support the process, they allow both of these changes to take place. The end result will be that when the project – which will certainly be a series of books – is finished, it will be all the more important, informed, and purposeful. Thus, the product of this process will be far more beneficial to the people and purpose for which it is being undertaken: to provide knowledge to inform action in the cause of liberation. If I do not seek to produce the best possible piece of work I can and have ever produced, what would be the point? This is why I abandoned what was supposed to be a 200 page book on “Global Governance” and embarked on the journey of a project which has thus far, resulted in an 800-plus page book on people and power.
Now, I have friends and family who are in editing and publishing and writers and researchers, and they hear – “800 pages” – and they think and say, “What the hell are you doing? Edit, condense, concise, cut down” – and of course, they do it out of love, and I need to hear such suggestions and informed opinions. This is important. As I previously mentioned, writers must make choices, and it would appear that at the moment, I have not made many choices save to say that I have chosen to let the process overtake me and the Project. Now I have explained why I made this choice, that it directed me more than I directed it, and what this means in terms of a finished product, in terms of the purpose of the Project. This does not mean, however, that I will not make choices in the future. This Project will not be never-ending and eternal (though it often feels like it, as I am sure it does to ardent supporters who perhaps desire a finished product in the near future). The process has taken on a life of its own, that is true, and it has its place: it is important and essential to the finished product. But when I am left with what I can only assume will be a book far beyond 1,000 pages, when I have made the choices not to go further (as indeed, I cannot cover everything), but to cover what I think as to be most important (as the process itself dictates what is so), then I will make choices in editing: what are the common threads, ideas, institutions and individuals, what are the major events, the major actions and subjects, what must be within and what can be left out, what order should this story be told in, what structure for the chapters, how can it be broken up, how many books should result, and what are the conclusions that I am left with at the end of this current process? For it is when I reach the end of this current process, that I will understand the ideas and information within the research and writing, and thus, it is then that I will truly develop the thesis, and at which point I can truly tell the story as it can and must be told. The editing process is one all to itself. And when I get there, I will do what needs to be done to ensure that the book and books are readable, presentable, approachable, and purposeful.
The books will not be the beginning and end of human history, far from it; they will not be the most comprehensive examination of our modern world (though I certainly am aiming to make them as much, at least for myself as for others), but rather, I see them as a stepping stone, out of which others will critique the books, their ideas, and their suggestions, and through which such critique, the ideas within them will become more informed, more evolved, strengthened and empowered. I will no doubt write future books and research elaborating on the evolution of the ideas within. In such a scenario, the process is, for me, my very life; but don’t worry, this book will not take my entire life. It is simply what I must do at present, to provide for myself and others, a foundation upon which to stand and create something new. It is not to be a rigid dogma, a concise and complete compendium of all knowledge, no single source could ever hope to (or should) be such a thing. It is simply meant to inspire, to inspire with knowledge, to inspire others to add to and critique that knowledge, to evolve and make it stronger, to inspire action and ideas, to inspire and empower people, regardless of race or place. For this to happen, however, I will need to finish the book and get it out to others. Otherwise the process and the product are nothing more than a selfish and insulated personal journey without any other higher purpose. Thus, when the time comes, I know I will have both the instinct and the impetus to know when to make the choice to stop, to say, this is the story I need to tell.
It was upon researching about Black Power these past few weeks that I have come to truly embrace all that I have written about here, that I have come to be inspired to move forward, but that I have also become determined to allow the process to direct the person (me) in creating the product (the book). For if I had stood rigid and controlling over the subject and direction of the book, and decided, without investigation and understanding, what I would and would not include, I would not have allowed myself to research the issue of Black Power, and as a result, I would not have understood the absolute importance of this movement to human history and its evolution into hope for the future of humanity. If I had taken power over the process, instead of allowing the process to have power over me, the end product would be all the more pointless for what it hopes to achieve. At this point, I cannot imagine producing a finished product which does not include the relevancy of Black Power to the past and present.
So I want to extend my appreciation, with the utmost sincerity, to those who have supported this process both financially and otherwise, because none of this would be possible without you, it would not be where it is if it were not for your support, and it will not get anywhere without your future support. So to my patrons, I felt the need to inform you as to the process of this Project, so that you may better understand what it is you are supporting, how you are supporting it, where that support is going and what it is producing. In every sense of the word, then, this is the People’s Book Project, because it would not be possible without the support of the people.
And how many books can say that?
Thank you all, now and forever.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
I have had a number of debates and discussions recently, largely through various social media networks and similar avenues, on some issues that are of major concern to those who seek to confront the challenges of the present and construct a better path for the future. So I thought I would take this opportunity, with ideas fresh in my mind, to simply share some thoughts on these subjects and issues. There is also a relevance between these thoughts and The People’s Book Project, for it is the research for the book which has shaped the conclusions and/or directions of these ideas, and which will be supported with historical facts throughout the book(s).
As the title indicates, the subject of this article is: Liberty, Anarchy, Property, Democracy and Power. What are these concepts? What are their historical and present manifestations? How do they interact, inter-twine, counteract, or confront each other? Is it possible to ground these concepts in a wider understanding?
Let’s start with Power. What is power? Power, I would suggest, can be defined as an authority which is imposed over or through an entity or entities, the authority and right to define and direct existence and action. Exercised through individuals, ideas, and institutions, Power can amount to a person’s right and ability to determine the course of their own life, to exercise free thought, establish their own opinions, ideas and make their own decisions, which inform their actions. This, perhaps, could be explained as ‘Personal Power,’ which I would argue is an absolute necessity and is synonymous with autonomy and independence, individuality and freedom. In this sense, “Personal Power” is Freedom. Other forms of power, exercised through ideas and institutions, can give support to Personal Power (through knowledge, action, information, and inspiration), or, alternatively, can oppress and destroy personal power for the benefit of Institutional Power (or centralized/hierarchical power). The power of an idea has the duality of being able to support Personal Power or Institutional Power, or otherwise undermine and oppose them.
So what is Liberty? Many define liberty as that which allows for the free actions and decisions of one individual to determine their own lives so long as it does not infringe upon the liberty of another. Some view liberty as an individual right, and others as a collective necessity. I do not think, however, that the individual is antithetical to the collective. For an individual to thrive, grow, prosper, discover, understand, decide and live free and with their Personal Power to determine the course and content of their own individual life, I think it is an inherent necessity or pre-requisite that collective liberty and solidarity co-exist with individual liberty.
Freedom for one requires freedom for all. Why is this so? If freedom for one individual exists without the freedom of all, their personal liberty (or Personal Power) exists in a vacuum outside and around the collective human experience. One may then be free to decide their own course in life, so long as that course requires no interaction or involvement of others, as those others would not be free, and thus, the interaction would be based upon the concept of one person’s liberty being derived from the deprivation of another person’s liberty, or in other words: tyranny. Further, the notion of “individual liberty” without “collective liberty” and “collective cooperation” in fact, unknowingly deprives the “individual” of the actual freedom, justice, knowledge, interaction, personal growth, prosperity, development, and humanity that comes through social interaction with others. That social interaction is strengthened if the collective (whether we refer to a small community or the collective of all humanity) is itself free and liberated. In this sense, the freedom of others and the interaction and mutual support (cooperation) of the collective strengthens the liberty of the individual: it gives her or him support, protection, Power, growth, knowledge, interaction, information, insight, understanding, material support, inspiration, humility, and love.
To elaborate on this concept, I must admit that such a situation has never existed in history, and that is the point! One may point to a pocket of freedom or liberty here and there, even examine a small isolated island’s experiment with absolute liberty (or Anarchy), and see how such a society collapsed, thus concluding that such a circumstance is unsustainable, unobtainable, undesirable, and ultimately, impossible. Just as no man is an island, no island is even an island, for beneath the surface of the water, it connects with the landmass of the earth below, which connects with all other landmass, all the oceans are connected, and all the people are connected through our mutual co-existence on this planet, whether we interact personally with one another or not.
One need only look at the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804 to understand how potential liberation becomes absolute tyranny. Once the most profitable colony in the world, Haiti’s slaves (approx. half a million) revolted against the slave-owning class and established the first black republic in history. Almost immediately Haiti’s government became a military dictatorship, designed to protect the newly-liberated country from the foreign imperial powers of France, Great Britain, Spain, and the United States. It’s history has been scarred by revolution, rebellion, invasion, occupation, civil war, coups, corruption, despotism, and poverty. Yet, even in the revolutionary period, a large percentage of the population desired the ability to have a small piece of land with which they could grow their own food for subsistence and live in liberty. Such a situation would have been impossible if the domestic dictatorships were not constructed, as foreign powers repeatedly attempted to invade and restore slavery; thus, it was deemed necessary to maintain a strong national military. However, that military returned the people to plantation labour under conditions which could compare with the brutality of colonial slavery. So what were they liberated from? Surely, an idyllic free island nation of peasants would not have been possible without the military to protect it from foreign empires; but then, the military itself destroyed liberty in order to secure its own institution and provide economic growth in order to protect the nation from those foreign empires. All the while, the people were thrown back and forth, repressed, controlled, and left to the ravages of an historical contradiction: freedom could not exist without the state, which was required to protect the free from those who would enslave the people; nor could freedom exist with the state, which enslaved people to its will to protect its own survival from those who would destroy it and again enslave the population.
So, freedom could not exist without the state, nor could it exist with it. How do we understand this contradiction, how do we remedy this paradox?
If at the same time that Haiti experienced its revolution, freeing itself from all forms of slavery and domination, and giving liberty to the population, imagine, then, what course of history could have been taken had the liberation struggle taken place simultaneously in all the colonies of the Mediterranean, Latin America, and the world; or, for that matter, had true liberation struggles taken place in the imperial nations themselves. If all people, everywhere, threw off the shackles of domination, control, and hierarchical power simultaneously, in solidarity, and in cooperation; what foreign power then would exist to crush the revolution of a tiny island? What state structure would be built without the justification of “protection of those freedoms” through the destruction of those freedoms? Could states at all justify their existence?
It is in this context that I argue that the freedom of one requires the freedom of all, that, inevitably, individual liberty cannot exist without collective liberty. To add to this, absolute freedom and liberty (also known as philosophical Anarchism) is not to be confused with “chaos”, a word often mistakenly interchanged with that of ‘Anarchy.’ Anarchy is not chaos, as an anarchist society is a highly organized and functioning society, requiring cooperation, collective support and effort and interaction based upon the understanding that individual liberty requires collective cooperation. The organization of an anarchistic society is simply not organized on the basis of hierarchical institutions, which deprive others of liberty and freedom, and impose centralized (institutional) power from above. Instead, anarchistic organization requires cooperatives, collective groupings of free-associations of individuals, working together, discussing together, deciding together (as free individuals, not as an organized ‘mob’), and acting in mutual support. When workers take over a factory and run it themselves, collectively making decisions, sharing responsibilities, and taking action, that is Anarchism. It is not libertarianism, or free-market capitalism, because it rejects the concept of the factory being the “private property” of the ‘owner’, and it’s not socialism because the state has no involvement whatsoever. It is the manifestation of workers realizing that they can work, produce, profit, and prosper without the ownership class.
Just this week in Greece, where the State colludes with foreign imperial powers, bankers, multinational corporations, international institutions, the systems of debt and interest and domination, workers have taken control of a hospital in light of the government’s austerity measures to cut health care spending. They are reaching out to the community for support, and make decisions through a workers’ assembly. The hospital workers recognize that the services of health care are essential for the benefit of the people, and regardless of the decisions or excuses of the state, the banks, the IMF, the EU, or any other hierarchical institution of power, its services are needed, and those that provide the services are the workers at the hospital, not its managers, owners, financiers (whether public or private). So the workers take control, and reach out to the community for direct support, as the community will receive the benefits of the health care. They simply remove the elites from the picture. No doubt such efforts will be trampled, destroyed, opposed, oppressed, and erased from history. Nothing is more dangerous to elites than the threat of a good example. Even though many of these experiments have and likely will have failures, flaws, problems, or be crushed, the examples should be noted and the attempts continued to be made. For as more take notice, as more take action, more examples arise, spreading out like ripples from a drop of water into a puddle, and in time, people everywhere may be attempting the same or similar actions, perfecting (or at least bettering) the specifics, addressing the flaws, learning from the mistakes, improving the effects, including wider communities in the actions, generating international solidarity and support… and, through time, struggle, and effort, all hierarchical power structures everywhere would be struggling against the widening wave of people working together in making elite dominated structures irrelevant.
This is not a process that can be accomplished simply through workers taking control of their own work places, however. It will no doubt be a long, arduous, conflicting, challenging, and painful process, marked by flaws, failures, but driven by persistence, possibility, necessity, and humanity. In this sense, and elaborating on the earlier example of Haiti in explaining my understanding of ‘liberty’ (requiring the freedom of all for the freedom of one), I must also acknowledge that never before has this been possible on a global scale.
Today, and in the course of this century, however, it is possible. We are already globally becoming more interconnected through communication, information, and interaction, largely as a result of the Internet, which allows people in most places of the world to interact with others around the world on a person-to-person basis, not through a lens of power. Previously, unless you had the ability to travel everywhere in the world, one in North America could only view others in Africa, for example, through a lens of power: through the media, the government, educational institutions, industry, popular culture, and through ideas which ‘trickle down’ from hierarchical institutions. Now, however, we have the ability to communicate directly with those around the world who have the same means of communication, to talk to them directly, see them on camera, to listen to their knowledge and learn from it. Indeed, this is of the utmost necessity.
Many critical thinkers, activists, alternative media, and people’s movements in the West operate on the assumption that we have the answers to the problems of the world, and we simply need to spread “our” message to the rest (first to the rest of our domestic society and then the rest of the world) in order to obtain our concept of “liberation” and “freedom.” These activists, intellectuals, critics, and others alike are missing a critical component, however (and that is to say, not ALL of them are missing this, but rather as a general observation): as we are just now grumbling awake from our long consumer-imposed slumber of consent to the system of domination over us, largely galvanized by information exposed to us through the Internet and social media, we should, in fact, consult, discuss, and most importantly – LISTEN – to those who have been aware of the domination of the world, who have been subjected to the brutal blunt force of empire, oppression, and control for hundreds of years. It is of the absolute necessity that for us in the Western industrial nations to be able to move forward and build a new vision of society, we must first interact with, listen to, and learn from those who have been living under (and SURVIVING through!) the brutality and ruthless oppression of the empires that emanate from our comfortable living conditions. These are the other 6 billion people on earth. Without their voices being heard, listened to, understood, contemplated, and EMPOWERED, all action will be without informed understanding.
On a simple historical note, we also owe it to the people’s of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere to give them voice as we speak and discover our own, to listen to them as we speak for others, to learn from them as we educate ourselves. We owe it to the rest of the world, for, without our misplaced consent to our nations and the ignorance of our true ruling systems and structures that we have for so long submitted to, the oppression, domination, destruction, impoverishment, murder, genocide, and dehumanization of the other people on this planet would not have been possible. Yes, we were and are lied to. But that does not absolve us of the responsibility to remedy the lies through seeking new truths. If we push ahead without moving alongside those we have – knowingly or unknowingly – pushed down and kept back, we move forward in a superficial sense. If we propose revolution for ourselves, but leave the rest out of our understanding, ideas, and actions, we doom our own revolutions (whether ideological, philosophical, or physical) to absolute failure. Importantly, our interactions with the colonized peoples of the world cannot consist of dictating TO, but learning FROM. We can begin in our own nations, where our displaced indigenous populations have been subjected to 500 years of domination, empire, genocide, and oppression… and yet, they survive, move forward; they act and seek change, they generate ideas and support each other. This has been the source of their strength in solidarity with one another. And while it is a long way to reach a better place, as most of these communities suffer currently a greater deprivation than most people in our modern societies, imagine the prospects and possibilities not only for them, but for everyone, if the population as a whole started to speak to, listen to, learn from, and act with indigenous communities, poor communities, disenfranchised peoples, and other oppressed and dominated and segregated people the world over.
Until we begin to remedy the flaws in our own social existence, which have been constructed around us and with our tacit if not apathetic participation and acquiescence, flaws that support segregation, isolation, division, exclusion, and domination, we will not move forward in any true, honest, and hopeful way. There is a fundamental and logical idea about segregation which is often overlooked without a thought: that the segregation of one individual or group from the rest, automatically entails the segregation of all. When issues of segregation are discussed, it often points to the community being “segregated” – whether it is a specific race, gender, the disabled, “mentally ill”, “criminals”, etc. – and presents them, alone, as being “segregated.” However, this passes over the notion that the wider community is itself segregated from whatever group is being excluded. Thus, apartheid was as much about keeping the black South Africans excluded from society as it was about keeping the whites excluded from the black population. Thus, the whites do not benefit from the knowledge, growth, development, inspiration, understanding, and existence that comes with interaction from the wider segments of society; just as the blacks were deprived of the benefits of the rest of society (to a much more oppressive degree, I might add). Physical separation augments this process of segregation, whether it exists with prisons, mental hospitals, ghettos, slums, in schools, or with walls, fences, roads, etc. Thus, the segregation or exclusion of one – whether an individual or group – automatically entails the segregation and exclusion of all.
To move forward in any meaningful way, we must address this issue, this fact of our social existence, and begin to deconstruct it in order to achieve a greater inclusion, expand the collective community, and thus, expand collective knowledge, understanding, and experience, which in turn, will inform collective action. This long, painful, and challenging process is what is required, however, to achieve a global philosophical revolution, which would make irrelevant any immediate, narrow, and isolated concept of a “physical revolution” in usurping power, which simply turns into another form of tyranny. A philosophical revolution, however, should be the goal for people – individually and collectively, one which cannot be imposed from above, but which must build and grow from below, like a seedling in dirt, sprouting upwards and outwards into the sunlight and slowly growing tall and proud and into a strong, sturdy tree, which in turn blossoms flowers and seeds for future growth. The philosophical revolution will establish the collective understanding that is required to inform action and to create a new society.
In this sense, we are not yet ready for firm “solutions” in terms of stating flatly: this policy, this law, this structure, this system, this constitution, this state, this idea WILL work. There will be trial and error, but we already have a long human history to learn from and move forward with. It is this history, not simply of our narrow society or nation (itself being a false historical construct), but of the collective human history and experience, which can inform our present understanding, and which will come to inform our future ideas and actions as our collective interaction grows and develops into something more concrete and inclusive. And before my own hypocrisy is pointed out, in saying that I have already advocated Anarchism as a “solution” and then say that we cannot advocate solid “solutions” at present, Anarchism is more a process than a product. There have been anarchist movements and experiments in history, most of which were brutally crushed. During the Russian Revolution, there was not simply the Bolsheviks (Communists) and the liberal-tsarist supporters (Whites), but there were also anarchist communities, which were crushed by both the other factions. The Spanish Civil War saw perhaps the largest explosion of anarchism in modern history, which was collectively crushed by Communists, Fascists, and Democratic State-Capitalist societies, all seeking their own interests. Anarchism does not abide by a strict set of “rules” or “regiments” or constructs for what such a society would entail, look like, or how it would manifest itself. It is an incredibly diverse philosophical realm based upon an opposition to hierarchical authority, upon the principle that centralized-institutionalized power cannot be assumed as just, but must justify itself, and if it cannot, it must be abolished; that people flourish best when free. A common term often interchanged with anarchism is: “libertarian socialism,” which may seem a contradiction, but, as explained by anarchist philosopher, Mikhail Bakunin: “We are convinced that freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice, and that Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.”
In this sense, I think anarchism gets to the root ideals of both socialism and libertarianism. Socialism seeks the benefit for the many, libertarianism seeks liberty for the individual. As separate ideologies, they are opposed to one another, engaged in a constant struggle for identity and superiority. In the realm of anarchism, what was once oppositional ideas becomes mutually supporting: to link the collective good with individual liberty, and to suggest that individual good requires collective liberty. Thus, socialism without the state, libertarianism without private property. After all, how could state socialism benefit the majority if it functions through the centralization of authority? If it functions for a time, how long until the weaknesses inherent in institutional power destroy the ideals upon which it justifies itself (namely, that it attracts the wrong type of people to it, those who want to wield power, and who are more likely to rise through institutionalized power simply because they will do anything to do so)?
When it comes to libertarian philosophy, where a small state is desired, and a “free market” economy is favoured, where private property is sacrosanct and individual liberty is the ideal; how can such a society exist within the context of a state, within the context of corporations, which are themselves constructs of the state? Corporations will exist, grow, dominate, and naturally seek to infuse themselves with the State, support its growth, which then will support their growth (as it does today in our State Capitalist societies), and at the expense of everyone else. Thus, we are left with corporate tyranny, or State Capitalism, the very thing we have today in Western societies. The principle of private property, elevated to holy and untouchable heights by libertarians (who refuse to even QUESTION private property), is viewed as a central foundation and necessity for a libertarian society. In their version of history, private property was viewed as the means to liberty from historical monarchical and feudal societies, where the state dominated land and property. Indeed, this change took place, where the “rights” of private property were guaranteed. However, they served the narrow interests of the new capitalist class that developed at the time. What was defined AS private property, also changed through history, and continues to. At one time, humans were considered private property: this was called slavery. Today, our very genes, cell structures, biology, life force, environment, atmosphere, and all material existence is increasingly being defined as “private property” so that corporation may come to OWN the RIGHTS to life, itself.
An early anarchist thinker once declared, “Property is theft.” Indeed, the concept of private property in libertarian thinking can lay the basis for a free society, as, in principle, it allows for individuals to own their own individual property, free from the control of outside forces, specifically, the state. Unfortunately, this is not the world we live in. As private property became a “right” for the emerging capitalist classes hundreds of years ago, the wider populations did not receive the benefits. In fact, where once they worked and laboured on the lands of the state and king, they then worked on the lands of the private businesses and industries. In time, they became property, and were bought and sold. Eventually, formal slavery transformed into wage-slavery, where workers “leased” their labour for hourly pay, and continued to struggle in a much-deprived existence, while those who OWN the industries and land, whether private or public, profit at the expense of the people. The “principle” of private property liberated in as much as it liberated an emerging elite from an old elite; it did, however, continue to deprive the many, who could own or simply exist on and make use of land and resources collectively, not for short-term profit, nor for the State’s reaffirmation of control, but for the wider benefit of all people, individually and collectively, and as such, the land and resources would be used wisely and with a long-term approach to not plundering the earth upon which all communities and peoples depend: something that neither states nor private enterprise is capable of.
Thus, I view anarchism – or libertarian socialism – not as a “single” idea of a “solution”, a society-to-be, but rather an approach to moving forward which removes the barriers that currently exist between people: institutional power, hierarchical authority, segregation, exploitation, exclusion, domination and oppression. Whatever society results would come through trial and error, experience, effort, small successes and large failure, collective action informed by collective understanding; growth not separately, but together, collectively. I cannot even imagine the structure or form of such a future society, though there are many possibilities, many ideas, many suggestions, but ultimately, it is unknown, unstructured, undefined. In this sense, anarchy is, I would argue, the best means of an approach to moving forward, for it is a uniting force for the people (such as finding the common ground between libertarians and socialists), from which knowledge and growth can occur, without which a true global change cannot take place. As such, anarchy is the only true, direct and intrinsic form of democracy, where it would truly be a society “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” What results, is for posterity to determine, but far from imposing a single idea of what we should replace our current society with, it instead sets out a method of discovering that process for ourselves, collectively and individually.
Anarchists, then, can also be seen as highly pragmatic, as has been the case historically. For example, all anarchist thought generally rejects the legitimacy of the State; however, some strands of anarchist thought accepted the necessity of ‘national liberation’ struggles as a stepping stone to a larger global liberation struggle. Anarchists have been known to modify tactics, ideas, approach, and understanding as the circumstances demand. It is a philosophy of patience, but persistence. It holds to ideals, questions, and particular understandings regarding hierarchy, institutions, and power; but allows for actions to maneuver within the existing present circumstances, knowing that all cannot come at once, but that things will come and go in stages, that the march to progress is slow and hard, and that we should support others who march, whether or not we endorse their specific philosophy (say, for example, nationalism).
Many critical American activists, alternative media, politicians and others make up what some refer to as the “American Awakening,” opposing the government, corporate tyranny, empire and other similar facets of the modern society. But a large degree of these individuals and groups espouse highly nationalistic rhetoric, firmly attach themselves to libertarianism (to the degree that is becomes a blind faith situation), and endorse popular myths of the national history: that America was once a great beacon of freedom, and then outside or other forces turned it into what it is today. America is where it is today because of where it was when it was created. A person gets sick because their immune system is weak. America became the most powerful and oppressive empire in the world because of the weaknesses inherent in its form, structures, institutions, and ideologies throughout its history. If we do not reconcile with our own histories, we do not move forward, but try to jump back to a myth of a time that never actually existed in reality.
We see the factions of the American Awakening in the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement, one generally representing the right, libertarian-leaning faction, and the other the left-leaning more socialist faction (admittedly a very wide generalization, considering the immense diversity that exists within the movements, especially the Occupy movement). They become opposed to one another, struggle against the interests of one another, and demonize each other. As they fight and divide, institutional and hierarchical power centralizes and grows. As they fight one another, they weaken one another; as they weaken each other, the power over top grows and strengthens, and it may more easily co-opt, control, or destroy the resistance movements. These are symptoms of a growing awakening, yes, but they are not the “answers.” As we mature and move forward, we must find common ground to unite the factions against common challenges.
The Tea Party and the Occupy Movement both have a distrust of state and corporate power as it exists and functions in today’s context. It is, rather, their solutions and interpretations of power that divide them. But as anarchism has shown, there is mutual ground to stand upon. Thus, anarchism provides a stronger foundation upon which people may come together and move forward collectively, but this requires the willingness and ability of all parties, whether right, left, middle, socialist, communist, libertarian, or staunch anarchist, to allow for practical and strategic capitulations, in both ideology and action. Through finding common ground to stand on and work together in moving forward, there will be immense opportunities and indeed, inevitability of learning and growing and evolving – philosophically and otherwise – through such cooperation and mutual capitulation, for such an experience would inevitably lead to important lessons and understandings that all parties involved would not be privy to otherwise, had they remained fractured, factionalized, segregated from one another.
It is through this process that people may discover their true power, Personal and Collective. In doing so, they will inevitably deprive institutional forms of power from their own positions and hierarchies. Ultimately, I think this process will be one of the major features of the 21st century, stretching well into this century, if not to the end of it. Just as in all things, there is a perpetual search for and attainment of some sort of balancing force in the world: on the one hand, people will have to come together and create a global philosophical revolution as a precondition for and resulting from the struggle of global liberation and absolute freedom for all peoples on earth from all forms of domination; and, on the other hand, institutional and hierarchical power is seeking to globalize and centralize and dominate on a truly global scale as never before seen, more removed from the many, more controlled by the few, and more dehumanizing than any and every form of tyranny before. Indeed, it may be that it will only be this process of the globalization of power and domination which provides the collective experience necessary to spur on a global philosophical revolution. The interesting fact is that never before in human history have either of these processes been truly possible until today: global domination or global liberation. Both, moreover, are advanced by the same socially transformative process: the Technological Revolution. This is the modern form of the historical human revolutions which brought about the Stone Age and organized human society. In this context, humanity is now emerging from its historical adolescence, where we have always had, and to some degree required, some form of authority telling us how to think, what to do, how to act, who to be; but now, it is time to become an adult: to become autonomous, free, independent, and liberated.
It must be freedom for all, or freedom for none.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
7 February 2012
Can you hear it? Taste it? Smell it? See it? Touch it? … Can you feel it? The people of the world are waking up, rising up, acting up, fed up, not giving up, but getting up, standing up, climbing up… looking up. Around the world, in every place, in every case, in every situation, circumstance, and altercation, the powers of our world, sitting firm in their positions, atop the institutions of our domination, proffering the ideas of our indoctrination, seek to confuse, divide, control, co-opt, crush, define, repress, overrun, undermine, and cause distress… to all those people, everywhere, who look forward with new eyes, crying out to the world, and in to themselves, “We want to be free!”
No cry, echoed through all eternity, ever carried such prominence, such eternal relevance and for all past and present circumstance. “We want to be free!”
No single idea, before or hereafter, has such enormous power, such overwhelming possibility, such unsurpassable resonance with the potential for such everlasting permanence. “We want to be free!”
From Tunisia, to Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Palestine… to Greece, France, and Spain, Germany, England, Iceland, and Italy… across the lands of Asia, and the sea itself, to Canada, America (even the South)… Honduras, Chile, and Brazil, from Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, to the birthplace of humanity in that continent across the ocean, that great and wonderful landmass with those great and wonderful people in Africa. Everywhere, people cry out the same. “We want to be free!”
Everywhere, at all times and in all places, there are those among us, not separate, but indeed, very much human, who have lost their way, thrown their heart to the wind, love only themselves and their bank accounts, who seek to dominate, obfuscate, eradicate, the earth they plunder, and push the rest of us under, control, corrupt, and devastate. Their cause is profit and power, their means are deception and dehumanization, and yet their greatest weakness is their own deprivation, their disassociation, endless demoralization and reckless devastation. All they touch and control, has no warmth of heart, no hope of happiness, no joy of love like that which may be found in the smallest country, in the poorest village, with the poorest family, with the saddest story and the hardest life. For even in the greatest of tragedies, humans reach out to one another and find each other in their hearts and minds, hopes and dreams, actions and interactions.
Do not hate and despise those who sit above, in their towers of despair, in their prisons of profit, their cells of control, for they live, daily, paying the price for power. By segregating themselves from everyone else, they deprive themselves of all the humanity they can experience, learn, and love. Do not hate them, for they are weak and petty. Pity them for their self-isolation, love them for their human weakness, which we all share alike. Any such position of power can turn the most benevolent of beings into the most treacherous of tyrants. It is not the human which is depraved, but the society built up around us which makes the human depraved. Don’t hate the people, help the people! For they too, know not what freedom tastes, smells, sounds, looks and feels like. Let us show them the way, let all of us, together and forever, cry out, “We want to be free!”
Let them hear us, fear us, hate us, hurt us, push us, press us, crush us, curse us, and let them see us stand back on our feet, look above and beyond their petty positions, and again cry out, “We want to be free!” Let them see what humanity is capable of creating, instead of destroying. Let them see how humanity can cooperate, not segregate. Let them see, and tremble, and falter and fail, for when they come crashing down to the earth upon which we all stand, from which we all are provided our necessities of life, let us offer them a hand, lift them up, and join the call, “We want to be free!”
This is not the beginning of the end, this is the end of the beginning. This struggle will not be fought and won in the streets of New York, in the sands of the Middle East, in the mountains of Asia or the plains of Africa. This struggle will be fought and won inside every individual human being on this planet, in your heart and mind. But we come together, these new and wonderful days, to see and meet one another, as if for the first time, and to feel what it is to be ‘human’, to be standing side by side, crying out, “No more!” No more war, no more injustice, no more racism and militarism and hatred and dehumanization, no more plundering and destruction, no more segregation and isolation, no more empire and domination, no more institutions and executions, no more division and deprivation. No more. No more. We want to be free!
We want to be free!
We want to be free.
And so, some day, not today, perhaps not tomorrow, perhaps not this year or the next, perhaps not in my lifetime or those of all the rest, but some day… free, we will be. You can feel it, today, everywhere. Always. It’s within each of us and between all of us. It’s here, just see it, take it, and make it yours!
In our struggle for freedom, to throw off the chains that bind us, we become the idea that unites us. The very act of demanding and seeking freedom, requires all the efforts to release those chains and shackles which hold your mind in thinking that there is no way, no chance, no point. The very call, “We want to be free!” is an act of freedom. For all the institutions and ideas of power built up around us, individually and collectively, have been put there to prevent us from ever making such a call, from ever standing up against them, from ever speaking from our hearts and acting from our instincts.
If you want freedom, be freedom. The only way to get it, is to act like you already have it. And indeed, in truth, you do.
So stand, unite, and call out to the world as they call back to you, “We want to be free!”
And some day soon, so it will be.
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Having watched closely the development and rapid growth of the ‘Occupy’ movement from when it began on Wall Street in September to its current global scope, where on October 15th it is expected to erupt in hundreds of cities around the world, there are various concerns and issues which I feel the need to discuss in a little more detail.
First, there is the very real threat of having the movement co-opted, whether by philanthropic foundations, political parties, NGOs, union reps or more likely, an amalgamation of them all simultaneously. This threat is present and pervasive. For those who ignore the potential of co-optation, the result can only be for the movement to be made ineffective for true change.
However, there is another threat, more subtle, and yet, even more damaging than co-optation. This threat comes from not only the movement, but the wider population itself. In a word: division. While closely following the developments in regards to politicians, philanthropists, and long sold-out activist organizations aligning with the movement in order to assert their authority over it, I have been even more disturbed by many reports, voices, criticisms, and perspectives of the wider alternative media and ‘awakening’ population, particularly in the United States, but also elsewhere as the movement spreads. The easiest way for a movement to be co-opted is for the movement to first be divided against itself. So I would like to delve into a little more detailed observations on this issue.
What is the threat of co-optation?
I have written and spoken on this issue previously. I recently wrote an article entitled, “Against the Institution: A Warning for Occupy Wall Street,” in which I explained the methods through which co-optation takes place, as well as another article, “End the Fed… but don’t stop there!“, in which I expressed support for the development of the Occupy the Fed movement, but warned against such a narrow focus, and finally, I did an interview with Russia Today in which I warned about the potential for co-optation and methods to guard against it.
So, at the risk of repeating myself, I will just quickly summarize my points here.
Co-optation is the process whereby established, institutional powers join a movement with the intent to direct the movement into an area which is ‘safe’ for the institutional elite. The ‘institutional elite’ (or global and national elite, if you prefer), are those who own, direct, control, fund, and steer the various institutions and dominant ideologies of our world, including (but not limited to): corporations, international organizations, the State, education, psychiatry, the media, political parties, NGOs, philanthropic foundations, think tanks, the military, intelligence, central banks and private banks.
Principally, co-optation of social movements is made most effective through the efforts of philanthropic foundations. Foundations (most notably the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller Foundations) were created in the early 20th century with a dual purpose: to create consensus among the elites (through the formation of ideology, think tanks, shaping the educational system, etc), and more importantly, the engineering of consent (also through education, as well as facilitating the rise of the consumer society, constructing ideology, organizing Non-governmental organizations – NGOs – and directing social movements). When money from a foundation enters a social movement, it has several effects. Often, the movement may start out as or be organically developing into a radical movement aimed at altering the actual social structure – or system – of which the philanthropists themselves sit atop. Philanthropic foundations were founded by and are still run by bankers, industrialists, the heads of universities, think tanks, and other social and cultural leaders.
When the money from a foundation enters a social movement, it begins to organize the movement. It removes the radical concepts (or demands) and begins to organize around what they consider “acceptable” demands, which are those which promote “reform” (not revolution), which can be enacted through legislation. The funding helps create activist organizations, NGOs, non-profits and lobbying groups. Those within the movement who promote the reformist and legalistic “demands” are then elevated into leadership positions through foundation funding. Those who are radical may even be tempted into such positions with the hope and promise of “making change.” Thus, the foundations ‘professionalize’ the movement. The leaders direct organizations, sit over large budgets, and have comfortable salaries. They are invited to international conferences of NGOs, corporations, international organizations, and governments. Their purpose is to “speak for the people” in such meetings, but by being professionalized in such a way, they are removed from the people. In fact, their new-found personal wealth, status, respect, and ‘inclusion’ into the global institutional structure makes them dependent upon that very structure and system for their own well-being and sense of self-worth. Thus, they will only pursue “reformist” and “legalistic” changes to the system, never radical or revolutionary, as they are now personally dependent upon that system. The foundations will integrate the movements with particular NGOs, other activist organizations, and particular political parties, which will then “take on the agenda” (albeit the heavily “reformist” agenda) of the movement, create legislation, and seek “change” from within the system.
Ultimately, the result is that the movement is made ineffective. Reforming the system is akin to rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic. However, while often creating seemingly benevolent changes, the effects are subtle, yet severe. By turning a potentially radical movement into a reformist co-opted movement, through the effective seclusion of the radical and revolutionary elements and ideas of the movement, the mass of the people behind it are mobilized behind the reformist agenda. As legislation is passed, “causes” promoted, political parties participating, and media attention growing, the movement loses its steam and becomes complacent. The legislation addresses their “demands,” and now that the “professional” and “organized” movement has taken up the cause, the people can go back to sleep and feel comfortable in that they were a part of some effort at “change.” However, by promoting change within the system, instead of creating a new social, political, and economic reality, the changes themselves are ineffective. This is because the fundamental problem, whether the issue is racism, economic exploitation, poverty, war, empire, austerity, tyranny, exclusion, discrimination, and political oppression, the problem rests in the ideas and institutions of power. If the institutional system itself is not addressed as THE problem, no alterations to that system will sufficiently address the particular concern of the activists and social movements.
I have begun a Facebook page to promote the issues and make others aware of the threat of co-optation. Please “like” the page, share ideas, issues, articles, videos, and concerns (as well as SOLUTIONS!) to help stop co-optation!
Solidarity or Co-optation?
In regards to the Occupy Movement, the unions in the United States and elsewhere began showing support and solidarity with the movement, marching with them, and speaking out in favour of their causes. One of the effects this has had has been for those on the right, or the more libertarian social movements, to demonize the Occupy movement, or for those critical of co-optation to decry the movement as “controlled.” Even in my warnings against co-optation, I have mentioned the threat from unions, which has led many on the left to criticize me.
Thus, I feel it is important to differentiate between solidarity and co-optation. Solidarity implies a type of social empathy, in seeing how the cause or struggles of one movement or people is the cause and struggle of your own movement or people. Solidarity is an incredibly important and necessary development, especially in the context of today’s globalized world. Solidarity allows for people the world over to understand and believe that the struggle of one person is the struggle of all people in all places, and indeed it is. Thus, solidarity, no matter with whom, should not be shunned. There is, however, a fine line between solidarity and co-optation.
Co-optation emerges when those who declare solidarity then begin to speak “for” the movement, assume leadership positions within the movement, promote their particular agendas as the agendas of the entire movement, and effectively steer it into directions which they desire. This process must be guarded against.
Now, on unions specifically, there are some things to keep in mind. Historically, as unions began to rapidly emerge in the 19th century in America, the entire century was marked with labour struggles, worker uprisings, protests, activists, and rebellion. At that time, especially in the latter half of the 19th century, the unions were largely organizing against the Robber Baron industrialists and bankers, such as JP Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Harriman, Carnegie, Astor, and Vanderbilt. The protests and rebellions were often repressed brutally by state police or even the national guard, often demanded and paid for by those very industrialists and bankers. Interesting to note that the NYPD, which has been repressing the Occupy Wall Street movement, received a $4 million donation from JP Morgan Chase. Funny how some things never change.
At that time, the unions were incredibly radical, often socialist, communist, or anarchistic. They presented a major threat to the established power, and so the 20th century saw the development of new institutions and ideas to properly manage a disgruntled populace and radical social movements. It was in this context, in the early 20th century, in which the working class and lower classes were increasingly radical, and the middle class was increasingly anti-capitalist and distrustful of the banking and industrial elite, that we saw the emergence of philanthropic foundations and public relations. In turn, both the fields of public relations and the foundations helped facilitate the development of the ‘consumer culture’ in America, with the aim, as one banker with Lehman Brothers, Paul Mazer said, “We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture.” The bankers funded the entertainment industry, Hollywood, Times Square, advertising, and the development of department stores; the foundations helped create credit unions to allow middle class people to borrow in order to finance consumption, and public relations put a new face on corporate America and made consumption the past-time of the middle class. The aim was to separate the middle class from the working class, which were in the context of the late 19th and early 20th century, becoming dangerously close to uniting against the common enemy (the system itself).
The most influential political theorist of the era, Walter Lippmann (the Zbigniew Brzezinski of his era), articulated the need for the “engineering of consent” among the majority of people, so that society may be ordered and controlled from above, while the desires of the lower classes were created and amused by the true ruling powers. Edward Bernays, the “father of public relations,” wrote in his 1928 book, “Propaganda”:
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.
The elite, it can be said, were highly effective in dividing the working class and poor from the middle class. The middle class became dependent upon the system for a particular standard of living (defined by the ability to consume). Radical ideologies were then increasingly made irrelevant, demonized, and erased from the political consciousness. Any criticism of the system was then easily lopped into the category of the “Red Menace” of Communism, a boogeyman which still apparently exists for many right-leaning populations.
While the unions began as radical and indeed, revolutionary entities, this is not what they are today. The unions exist as they are, and are only able to be present in today’s institutional system, by having made the decisions to cooperate with big business and big government, and simply promote minor reforms and critiques to the system. They claim to speak for the workers of the world, but increasingly, especially since the emergence of the neoliberal era, they have come to consistently sell-out the workers. Throughout the Third World, as the neoliberal “Washington Consensus” was spread by the IMF and World Bank as a result of the 1980s debt crisis, union reps were bought off by government and business interests, made their pockets full while stabbing the workers in the back.
In regards to the Occupy Movement, solidarity with unions is not a bad thing. Here’s why: solidarity does not imply unions co-opting the movement (that must be prevented), but it does imply a solidarity with workers. Indeed, workers in America and around the world have suffered much more at the result of decisions and actions by banks, corporations, and governments than the middle class have. But solidarity with a growing and global movement is important, because so long as the movement remains grassroots, or seeks to promote its grassroots and radical potential, the movement can itself be an example for the workers and unions to return to their radical roots. Lead by example!
This seemingly reflexive impulse to simply denounce the entire movement the moment an organization, individual, or idea one does not agree with associates itself with the movement is the height of ignorance. Solidarity with workers and unions is important and necessary. But, if leadership in the movement develops (as it tends to with all social movements), let it develop organically from among the people, let it remain radical and revolutionary, and let it lead those it stands in solidarity with by showing them the way forward to grassroots, globalized, revolutionary social movements.
Destroyed From Within
This hits on another major issue, that of internal and external divisions. In this era, in the midst of the Technological Revolution providing more information and easier global communication than ever before in human history, people have the capacity to come together, to organize, unite, become activated and educated, and seek and promote change together, around the world. This is unprecedented in human history. A totally unique position for humanity to be in, and the greatest opportunity for true liberation humanity has ever had. Let’s not screw this up!
What I am referring to is that even for all the very real threats of institutional co-optation, we the people, seem to be doing a pretty good job of making the movement ineffective before the elite even have a chance to.
Unfortunately, one of the methods through which the movement is becoming divided is in regards to those who see a threat of co-optation. This is largely done through the alternative media and various social critics and activists. While keeping an eye out for the institutions and individuals commonly associated with co-optation, the moment that politicians, activist organizations, philanthropists or others show “solidarity” with the movement, many critical observers simply denounce the movement as “co-opted,” as in: it’s a done deal, party’s over, it’s “controlled” and it’s all a conspiracy! Go home, give up, the end.
Here is why this is an awful position to take: it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If one sees the sharks circling and yells, “It’s over, jump in the water and get it over with!” one may forget that there is still a paddle in the boat. There is still hope. But for the boat to get to shore, attention must be called to the sharks, and those who call attention to the risks, may help steer it best to safety. If those who see the risks inherent simply then jump off the boat, the others remain unaware of those risks, and the boat will likely sink amidst the swarm of sharks. Instead, the movement needs the critical voices, those who see and seek to avoid co-optation. These voices are needed to help mobilize the movement away from co-optation. After all, while the sharks may be circling, we have a much better chance together than alone.
So, to those who denounce the movement as already co-opted and controlled, I have this to say: is it not better to see the problems and make others aware so that they may be avoided, rather than denounce the entire movement, isolate yourself from it, and them from you? After all, once you segregate yourself from the movement, you segregate your ideas from the movement. The most unfortunate aspect of this is that in diversity, there is strength. Diversity of ideas and beliefs is a great thing. The power of uniting regardless of these diversities, and in fact, because of them, is the only way forward.
The elite are constantly engaged in attempting to establish consensus, work together, create common ideology, establish mutual interests, and implement coordinated action. This is their strength. And I am not talking about political parties, Republican and Democrat, they are a sideshow developed for popular consumption, just like Hollywood. The elite – the true rulers of our world – constantly and often effectively seek to establish consensus in ideas and action. Yet, we the people, tend to actively engineer divisions and segregation. This is our GREATEST weakness. The elite love this. They love it especially because it does not even require their active participation. We can do it all on our own!
Examples of this in regards to the Occupy movement are as follows: I have seen articles and comments, blogs and alternative news, critics and dissenters, who denounce or decry the movement because there are “socialists,” “communists,” “anarchists,” or that the movement is “anti-Capitalist,” and thus, a “communist conspiracy by bankers.” Because the movement does not articulate MY specific ideas, the movement is therefore irrelevant and controlled. The movement decries Wall Street, and not the Fed, therefore it is controlled and co-opted! The Fed is the problem, not Wall Street! … These are very common denunciations of the movement.
Well, for those who focus on the Federal Reserve: indeed, the Federal Reserve is one of the MAIN problems, and in fact, the global central banking system itself. However, I find myself confused by those who seem to have enough knowledge of the Fed to know that it “needs to go,” but then state that “Wall Street is not the problem.” My confusion is this: Wall Street owns the Fed. The Federal Reserve System, composed of 12 regional Fed banks, which are themselves private banks, the most powerful of which is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, are controlled by the banks. The board of directors of the NY Fed includes Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase. JP Morgan Chase is one of the principal shareholders in the New York Fed, as are the other major Wall Street banks. Thus, Wall Street owns and runs the Fed for the benefit of the Wall Street banks. So, those who claim we should focus on the Fed and not Wall Street are missing the critical point: they are almost identical, represent the same interests, work to the same ends, and are so heavily integrated that we should be against both (not to mention all other institutions of power).
In fact, many of those who claim that the Fed is the problem and the movement is controlled had themselves for years been highly critical of Wall Street. Yet, it seems, that as soon as others are critical of the same institution, but articulate different philosophies, they are wrong, the movement is controlled, and they are protesting against the wrong things. This creates needless divisions. Instead, would it not be more effective to join the movement and seek to educate the mass of the movement about the Federal Reserve System, instead of denouncing them simply for not knowing? After all, by denouncing them, you segregate yourself and your ideas from the movement. Subsequently, you complain that the movement doesn’t share your ideas, and is therefore wrong and controlled. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It must be understood that the majority of the Occupy movement is made up of students and average people, hurt by the economic crisis, or disturbed by the declining social conditions, the political apathy to make change, and the general dissatisfaction with the status quo, These are reasonable things to make people active and motivated. Do not expect the majority of these people to be as ‘aware’ of the large plethora of issues at hand, or to understand the system as well as those who have made a living out of studying it. I have seen footage from the movement where protesters denounce Wall Street and in the same breath endorse Obama. It’s absurd, yes, Obama is a Wall Street product (much like a derivative!), but don’t denounce the entire movement as a result. Instead, should we not seek to educate, engage, and interact with those people in the hopes of enlarging their perspective? But then, it is always much easier to denounce, disregard, and dismiss than it is to engage, participate, and integrate. What we may not realize is that dismissal only segregates our ideas and analysis from the wider population.
This is an Opportunity! Don’t Ignore it, Take it!
All too often we miss the forest for the trees. We so easily segregate ourselves from one another, as opposed to uniting together. We see the superiority of our own ideas, and demonize all others. Passive observation is always so much easier than active participation. The notion that libertarians have nothing to learn from socialists is as absurd as the notion that socialists have nothing to learn from libertarians. Yet, both groups so often demonize one another, and always keep each other at a distance, segregated, divided, and thereby both sides of the spectrum become ineffective. Both demonize each other based upon false conceptualizations of each philosophy. Socialists, and for that matter, many on the left, identify libertarians with neoliberalism, and thus, as part of the problem, as the status quo itself. Libertarians, for their part, see socialists as absolute Marxist Communists and, many on the right as well, tend to associate socialism with Communist China, the Soviet Union, or North Korea, and therefore they see socialists as wanting to destroy all individuality and freedom in favour of the all-encompassing power of ‘the State.’ This division was not always present, and it’s time it is relegated to the dustbin of history. We cannot move forward lest we move forward together.
There is, however, a philosophy which is known almost paradoxically as “Libertarian Socialism.” One would find this an absurd oxymoron, but it is an actual philosophy. It is often interchangeable with the term “anarchism.” Anarchism itself is perhaps the most effectively demonized and dismissed political philosophy, as well as the most misunderstood, not to mention the one with the most potential to unite the masses of people. It is an incredibly diverse philosophy, not dogmatic or strict, but incredibly all encompassing. Anarchism is simply the belief in human freedom being the necessary condition for human happiness, and that it is institutions of authority which make humanity depraved, violent, corrupt, and controlled. Anarchists have presented the most authoritative critique of the state, as well as various institutions of power. It’s origins and developments can be found in ancient Chinese Taoism, and it emerged as a distinct philosophy organically in several different civilizations, eras, and ideas: in ancient China, Rome, Greece, early Christianity, Medieval Europe, and the word “anarchist” first was used to describe a philosophical position in the 19th century, with philosophers like William Godwin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, Leo Tolstoy, and into the 20th century with theorists like Emma Goldman and many others. In fact, it was the anarchist philosopher, Bakunin, who presented the greatest challenge to Karl Marx at the First International, as Marx sought to (and ultimately did) have Bakunin and the anarchists sidelined and made irrelevant in the Socialist International. Bakunin, for his part, predicted that Marxism is too authoritarian, as it would use the state to establish a dictatorship, and that if ever attempted, it would establish a “Red bureaucracy” all the more tyrannical than the government it was supposed to replace. Of course, Bakunin was correct in predicting this, but we don’t commonly learn about philosophers or philosophies which are accurate, that might have the undesired side effect of educating us.
Instead, we hear the word “anarchism” and think of violence, lawlessness, chaos, disorder, and primitive nature. Anarchism is in fact about the triumph of individuality, and the necessity of community; that the individual is best supported through communal ties. The promotion of absolute freedom from all structures of authority, along with a stressing of individuality (and with it, ingenuity and creativity), as well as the importance of community and interaction, has allowed this philosophy to attract communists, socialists, liberals, conservatives, and libertarians. In fact, it has allowed for mutual cooperation across the spectrum, for anarchism does not sit upon the left/right paradigm, but rather upon the freedom/tyranny paradigm. It is able to remove socialism and communism from authoritarian elements (which promote the state), and is also able to remove libertarianism from its arch-capitalist concepts which promote corporations and banks at the behest of the rest. Anarchism is capable of mixing the ‘free market’ ideals of libertarians with the social principles of socialists.
I stress this point simply to press the idea that there is mutual ground upon which the left and right are able to unite, to come together, act together, and learn from one another. I comfortably place myself within the anarchist philosophy largely because it is not dogmatic. For many years, I struggled to define my own views: I was neither conservative nor liberal, I identified with many social principles of socialists, yet was attracted to the freedom-promoting ideals of libertarians. I felt that Marxist analysis had much to offer, but I had great distaste for its proffered solutions. Through my own individual research on a wide range of subjects, I came to see not capitalism as the problem, nor the state as the sole problem. The problem then, I found, was that I was expected to identify “one” cause of all problems, and therefore, take “one” stance, and offer “one solution.” I could not do this. I found interesting and indeed important ideas in a wide array of philosophies, theories, critiques and concepts, but could not adhere to “one.” Rather, I would seek to take the ideas I liked from each, remove those I didn’t, and throw them together to form my own perspective as a kind of “hodge podge” philosophy. The result, was that I tended to identify the concept of power centralization itself as the issue: the notion of ideas and institutions of power depriving individuals and the collective of humanity the power of self-determination. When I quite literally stumbled into some anarchist philosophy, I realized that this concept has been articulated for thousands of years, developed organically by many civilizations, cultures, religions, and individuals. Known as different things at different times, it all tended to fall under the umbrella of anarchism, and what a wide, all-encompassing umbrella it is. What other philosophy could you have such variations of ideas so as to include what are known as “anarcho-communists” and “anarcho-Capitalists,” and that they may have such common ground to stand upon?
Diversity is Strength
Do not fear different ideas, radical concepts, or foreign philosophies. Engage, learn, teach, debate, articulate, DE-segregate, include, interact, unify, energize, challenge yourself and others, develop and grow. We do not all need to have ONE opinion, ONE idea, ONE solution. All we need is ONE reason to unite, yet we all too often overlook that very blatant, obvious reason to find many reasons for which we can divide. All it takes is one reason to unite, very simple: we are all in this together. That’s it! All the rest is salad dressing. We are all in this little world together. You don’t have to like every idea or every other person, you don’t have to think the same or act the same or dress the same or believe the same, all you have to do is be aware that we are, all of us, here on this little planet together. That realization makes it necessary that we begin to find common ground to stand on. This does not mean we need to have ONE idea, for once we have one dogmatic concept, it becomes institutionalized and corrosive and destructive.
Diversity is strength.
It amazes me, how in doing my own research for several years now, I find myself feeling so secure, so determined and even stubborn on the ‘correctness’ or ‘righteousness’ of a particular idea or understanding I have come to embrace. And then… I do more research, discover more things, delve into more history, more philosophy, more ideas, more analysis… and suddenly, I have to challenge all my preconceived notions and beliefs. Suddenly, I have to refine all my “correct” ideas to become “more correct.” And then, like it says on your bottle of conditioner, “rinse, repeat.” The one thing I have come to stop being surprised by, is that I am constantly surprised. My own beliefs, ideas, understanding and philosophy is in a constant state of growth, as I am in a constant state of learning. And yet, every time I come to some new conclusion, it seems as if my mind says, “Well then, that’s it, I’ve got it… now I’m done… right?” And then, I happen across some new subject, some new idea, or issue… and “rinse, repeat.”
We must learn to all put aside our inherent biases, to engage with our own knowledge, but with the acceptance that we have more to learn from others. Because, we do! Whether or not you believe it, we do. And we won’t ever move forward in this world unless we move forward together. The elite know this. They have always known this since ancient times. That is why elites seek to divide and conquer. But the system that has developed up and around humanity for the several thousand years of our existence on this little planet has become so ingrained in the human conception of itself that we no longer require the elite to divide us, we do such a good and effective job of it ourselves!
Humanity must mature from its adolescent stage of development where we have authority figures telling us how to dress, what to think, where to go and what to do. It’s time humanity becomes an ‘adult.’ In short, we need to grow up! Put aside the petty differences which do us no good, find our common ground to stand on, and move forward together.
The funny thing is, once we are capable of doing that, the elite become a sideshow. When we do that, we realize that the elite are always a sideshow. They become totally irrelevant, archaic, and useless. To change the world, we must change our selves. The true revolution requires no seizure of power or usurpation of the state. The true revolution is a philosophical revolution, fought and won internally. The growing and developing global protest Occupy Movement is an important step in establishing global solidarity, in truly experiencing the ‘power’ of individuals when they come together, in understanding that we are all indeed, together.
If the movement becomes a truly effective engine for change, it will have to promote solidarity with all peoples and groups all over the world, it will not demand anything of institutions and power structures, but demand change only of itself, and as such, seek to forge cooperation, education, understanding, and actively create new ideas and a new social reality.
If it is to be truly effective, not only must it guard against institutional co-optation, but it must more so guard against internal divisions and segregation. Whether the movement isolates itself from others, or others isolate themselves from the movement, the effect is the same.
But always remember…
Diversity is Strength!
My latest interview with RT, in which I discuss the issue of the potential for Occupy Wall Street to be infiltrated, co-opted and controlled, and what could be done to prevent this, both in terms of ideas and action.
Please help prevent co-optation of the Occupy Movement. Join the “STOP Co-Optation” facebook page, discuss ideas, promote information, and share with friends!
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