A number of occurrences have taken place of the past 13 years since the rise of the new millennium; we have seen and are seeing the rise of popular movements all over the world and a resistance to the forces of imperialism, crony capitalism, and subjugation, from the most recent Arab Spring to the world’s largest coordinated anti-war protest in history with the global protests against the Iraq War, to the rise of the Occupy Movement and the rise of indigenous resistance as can be seen in the Idle No More campaign of Canada’s First Nations population. While not all movements are pushing for the elimination of the state, or even anarchistic in nature, they are rebelling against the current societal structures and creating an opportunity for radical change. What we are seeing around the world is a global resistance that, in some cases, has anarchist undercurrents. We are witnessing the new politics of the 21st century.
While many movements such as the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring had anarchists and anarchist influences within them, anarchism as a political philosophy is quite misunderstood and some time should be taken to understand it.
Anarchism is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “The theory that all forms of government are oppressive and should be abolished.” While it does advocate the abolition of the state, anarchism also includes “a heightened and radical critique and questioning of power and authority: if a source of authority cannot legitimize its existence, it should not exist.” This has led to anarchism being critiqued by a number of individuals and an increase in anarchist thought to the point today where there are a large number of anarchist ideas being championed, from anarcho-feminism to queer anarchism to black anarchism.
In the United States, anarchism has had a rather interesting history with regards to not only Occupy, but also the 19th century labor movement as well. Anti-statism isn’t anything new in the US as there have been a large number of crusaders who “condemned [the government] as an oppressive tyranny” when slavery wasn’t abolished in the newly founded country, as Charles A. Madison notes. This abhorrence of slavery and hypocrisy caused “Men like William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips renounced their allegiance to it, John Brown openly declared war upon it, and thousands of others regarded it as unfit to command their respect and loyalty.” The anti-statism only increased in the 19th century with the inclusion of anarchists in the labor movement.
The International Working Men’s Association (IWMA) put forward in its 1866 Congress that the 8-hour day be advocated for. The IWMA “had influence amongst the German-speaking immigrant anarchist and socialist workers of Chicago,” and after it was disbanded, the International Working People’s Association, being founded in 1881 by anarchists, took up the struggle.
This struggle for better working conditions culminated is what is known as the 1886 Haymarket Square Riot in which 40,000 workers went on strike to fight for an 8-hour day. The strikes beget protests which beget police confrontation. “On May 3, police fired on strikers who were menacing the strikebreakers at McCormick Harvester, and several strikers were injured. Labor leaders then convened a mass meeting for the following evening at the city’s Haymarket Square.” As the peaceful rally ended, the police demanded that it be shut down and someone threw a dynamite bomb towards a group of police to which the police responded with gunfire. The result: seven dead cops and several workingmen injured. A total of eight anarchists were charged, which resulted in seven people being sentenced to death and one life sentence. Two death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment by Illinois governor Richard J. Oglesby, one committed suicide and four were hung.
While anarchism continued until World War I with massive anti-war protests occurring, it was eventually forced underground. However, the Occupy movement breathed new life into anarchist ideas. OWS’s focus on “direct action and leaderless, consensus-based decision-making,” embodied into the General Assembly, was an anarchistic aspect of Occupy. It also was anarchistic in its refusal to “recognize the legitimacy of existing political institutions,” “accept the legitimacy of the existing legal order,” and its “embrace of prefigurative politics.” This refusal to recognize the political institutions is anarchistic in nature as usually when protests occur, they appeal to political powers to alleviate their suffering. By rejecting the two-party system and rather than fighting for a third-party, creating a small, autonomous community, OWS rejected the state and worked to create a community based on horizontal as opposed to hierarchical organization. By rejecting the legal order in the form of ignoring “local ordinances that insisted that any gathering of more than 12 people in a public park is illegal without police permission,” OWS refused to subjugate itself to the very forces that worked to establish and uphold the current status quo. Occupy embraced political ideas and experimented with them, which resulted in the creation of new institutions, from kitchens to clinics to media centers, but they were consistently built around the ideas of working together, horizontal organization, and voluntary cooperation, all of which are central to anarchist thought. The Occupy movement is still alive as while the encampments may no longer exist, it has created a number of offshoots and the activists that made up Occupy didn’t disappear, rather they have moved on into other forms of resistance, though just not under the Occupy banner. They have even been involved in organizations that have provided large amounts of aid to damaged communities, such as Occupy Sandy, which stepped in when the federal government could not.
Yet, this resistance to the status quo has not just been taking place in America, but also all over the world. In 2008, Zbigniew Brzezinski warned of a global political awakening. In a New York Tines op-ed, he stated “For the first time in history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive. Global activism is generating a surge in the quest for cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world scarred by memories of colonial or imperial domination” (emphasis added). This “global activism” is quite real and very well may upend the entirety of the current political, social, and economic systems.
In Brazil, protests have been occurring over issues ranging from inflation to education reform to forced evictions. Among all of this, teachers went to the streets to “demand better wages and school conditions when police decided to disperse the demonstration.” There had already been violent clashes between teachers and police as nights before the protest, several striking teachers that were occupying a city council building in Rio de Janiero were beaten and dragged out by the police. During the demonstration in late October, the police decided to repress the teachers by using heavy-handed tactics such as shooting tear gas canisters. Brazilian anarchists came to the aid of striking teachers by protecting them from state violence, as one teacher Andrea Coelho said, “It was the Black Bloc that protected me in that protest.” This protection of teachers has caused the teachers union to declare unconditional support for the black bloc protesters.
These protests in Brazil come amidst a time where, according to Time Magazine, there was “less than 1% growth last year and less than 3% forecast this year compared to 7.5% in 2010” and where its political leaders convinced the world that it “was developed enough to host the soccer World Cup next year and the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, yet seemed so unwilling to show their own people they could improve the country’s pathetically underfunded schools, staffed by just as woefully underpaid and undertrained teachers.” Just last year, a UN study indicated that wealth inequality was increasing with “the richest 20% of the population on average earn 20 times more than the poorest 20%.” It is among this massive increase in wealth inequality on a regional level, along with a corrupt government and lack of educational investment, that the people have finally decided that enough is enough and are demanding there be massive changes to the current system.
In Europe, where in Greek children are starving in order to repay banks, revolt is taking place there as well. In Bulgaria, around 4,000 people demonstrated “calling for an end to the ‘reign of the oligarchy’ and demanding that the nation’s government step down to make way for early elections.” They argue that the country is still unstable, unprosperous, and not well governed 24 years after Communist rule was ended. The protest was part of a five-month old anti-government movement that alleges that government has mafia ties. Such accusations are in part true as back in 2008, the European Union’s anti-fraud office was investigating the Nikolov-Stoykov group, a conglomerate with businesses from meat processing and storage to a Black Sea Resort, whose leading partners had connections to the government and has been accused of being a front for a criminal company network comprised of over 50 Bulgarian companies as well as other European and offshore companies. More recently, the European Commission issued a report last year discussing the government-mafia ties in Bulgaria, with puts the blame on “both the executive and the judiciary in Bulgaria, which have been engulfed by power struggles, with each accusing the other of serving the mafia.”