I think often that my anarchism is too mystical for most other anarchists to find much in common with. Hell, it’s been seen as too impractical by liberals who insisted that I needed a plan to make my version of the ideal world come into existence, and that if I wasn’t advocating the overthrow of the government then I wasn’t much of an anarchist. Given the criticisms of “Lifestyle” anarchism from many camps I feel certain that I could get the same kind of responses from anarchists, particularly those who are more dogmatic. Yet for me it is completely practical. It’s not pie-in-the-sky, after the revolution anarchism. My anarchism asks how we can manifest the spirit in everyday life. It asks how we can increase autonomy covertly or overtly. It’s anarchism-in-the-moment.
It seems to come down to the belief (and my lack thereof) that the world is perfectible. No, we’re an imperfect mess. But anarchism, far from being utopian, recognizes that mess and works with it openly. In a conversation with a coworker recently I was asked “Doesn’t anarchism require a lot of faith in other people?” That’s a fair question, and my answer is “No more than any other system, and possibly less.” People ask this because they assume that without the threat of violence keeping them in line, people will be reduced to murdering, thieving, raping hordes. And there are lots of answers to this concern.
1) We have laws now, and people still commit horrible acts. Laws don’t prevent bad behavior.
2) Is using violence against people okay if they’re judged to be bad people? Who do we trust to make that judgment?
3) We already have murdering, thieving, raping hordes. We just call them governments.
4) Is the only reason you don’t steal or kill because you might get caught and punished, or because it’s wrong?
And so on and so forth. In my estimation, removing the institutionalization of violence is a much greater good (and more sensible) than retaining it for fear of violence.
But all that said, I don’t expect there to be an anarchist society or territory, not for any long term at least. So then why do I call myself an anarchist? Because I still think anarchism is the best option, and that the systematizing of violence on which government is dependent is wrong. And I let those ideas drive me to strive for something better. I’m willing to take small victories.
My anarchism is tied up with my faith, and my faith is an outgrowth of my experience of Christ. Jesus himself said the poor will always be with us (Matt 26:11, John 12:8). I think that if that is true then Empire will always be with us as well, as it is the uneven distribution and use of power that causes poverty. That doesn’t excuse anyone from struggling against Empire and its effects. James wrote later that true religion is caring for the suffering, so Jesus’ statement can be taken as an ongoing challenge. If the poor are always with us, and we are to stand with them, then we are to stand against Empire. (There are those who would argue against my interpretations, citing other scriptures they believe to be in support of government. My only response is that I understand sacred scripture through my experience of the Divine.)
My problem with anarchism as it’s often put forth is that, just like liberalism and conservatism (assuming those words carry any content at all), it seems to want to create the world in its image. The syndicalists think the world should be run one way, the primitivists another. Often forgotten is the room for localization. Bakunin wrote:
[W]e neither intend nor desire to thrust upon our own or any other people any scheme of social organization taken from books or concocted by ourselves. We are convinced that the masses of the people carry in themselves, in their instincts (more or less developed by history), in their daily necessities, and. in their conscious or unconscious aspirations, all the elements of the future social organization. We seek this ideal in the people themselves.
So perhaps this means that my anarchism does require a lot of faith in people to manage themselves, while at the same time having little faith in their ability to manage others.
But for those of us who are not revolutionary anarchists, we wonder how we can manifest anarchy in our own lives and our immediate surroundings. I recently quoted Emma Goldman, from her Anarchism: What it really stands for:
“Anarchism is not, as some may suppose, a theory of the future to be realized through divine inspiration. It is a living force in the affairs of our life, constantly creating new conditions… Anarchism does not stand for military drill and uniformity; it does, however, stand for the spirit of revolt, in whatever form, against everything that hinders human growth.”
This makes sense to me, and thus my anarchism is in the moment. It is doing what I can to make things better (making more room for human growth) with no attachment to the actions being systematized. It is a declaration of self. It is not asking permission. And for a lot of folks this takes the forms of Food Not Bombs, dumpster diving, Critical Mass, intentional communities, flash mobs, things that are sometimes written off by revolutionary or social anarchists as “useless”.
After writing the first draft of this I came across a passage in the book I’m reading, Tearing Down The Streets, that speaks to the usefulness of this small victory, anarchism-in-the-moment:
As seen in the ongoing direct action of Critical Mass, Reclaim the Streets, and other anarchist groups, in their talk of “the bicycle revolution” and “the ghosts of past revolutions,” revolution for anarchists suggests not so much a single, historical moment of insurgence as an insurrectionary process that is already and always underway, never to be completed or resolved, only to be embraced and enjoyed. In fact, a century before Critical Mass and Reclaim the Streets, Bakunin invoked this same sort of endlessly disorderly process, defining anarchy in terms of an emergent “unfettered popular life,” and arguing that “what we understand by revolution is unleashing what are known as dangerous passions and destroying what the same jargon refers to as ‘public order.'”
I’m still figuring out what forms my anarchism can and will take, but it’s these things, these small victories, that matter. Leonard Cohen sang in “Anthem” that “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Occupying and adding to those cracks is my micro-revolution. Whose cracks are where I can relate to people as equals. They make room for human growth and take away the room in which the Empire operates. Anarchism-in-the-moment is life in the cracks.