( Notes on the early 20th century history of anarcho-syndicalism in China by Vadim Damier.

The history of anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism in the East is generally little known outside of the region. The few foreign historians who addressed this topic were unanimous in stressing big difficulties in it study. The main factor here is perhaps the fact that the Eastern libertarians did not fit into the framework of those myths and beliefs by which the “winners of history” in this region of the globe (liberal democracy, on the one hand, and the ideology of the Communist Parties, on the other) sought legitimize their victory (1). However, the studies show that the anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists in many Asian countries were at the beginnings of the socialist movement, and they were often not inferior in strength and influence than their Marxist rivals or even sometimes surpassed them. They were able to leaving their specific and very vivid mark on the workers movement in their countries. The reason for this should probably be sought in the special nature of the Eastern societies of the early twentieth century: in the bitter resistance of communitarian social and ideological structures to capitalism and to ruthless invasion of a capitalist – industrialist modernization. Anarchist ideas were here (more than anywhere else) the banner of resistance. “Nul doute que l`aspiration kropotkinienne à un communalisme décentralisé unissant le champ, l`usine et l`atelier sur une base communiste a touché les fibres d`une société asiatique profondément rurale et collective, marquée par les pratiques et valeurs quasi communautaire de la rizi-culture irriguée », F. Pelletier, a French historian noticed. It was a tentative to combine the technical and scientific progress with our own communitarian structures and values, “débarrassée(s) des pesanteurs féodales, patriarcales et bureaucratiques” (2). The psychology and the feelings of rural communes perceiving themselves as “village – State – microcosm” (utilizing the words of the famous Japanese writer Kenzaburo Oe) which opposed to the central government and lived according their own rules (3) , were very close to the idea of self-governing and mainly self-sustaining Commune.

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Alternate Tendencies of Anarchism

Uri Gordon (2008). Anarchy Alive!
Michael Schmidt & Lucien van der Walt (2009). Black Flame.

It has been stated by various theorists that there are two main trends in modern anarchism. How they are conceptualized varies with the writer. I will state how I see the two broad tendencies in the anarchist movement, using the above two books to illustrate the two trends (this is particularly not a review of Black Flame). I will describe them as differing on the issues of revolution or reformism, of democracy, of what “prefigurative politics” mean, and of attitudes toward the working class.

Near the beginning of a recent book on anarchism by Uri Gordon (2008), an Israeli anarchist, the author discusses the “most prominent division” among anarchists. He starts with the way this was framed by David Graeber (2002) of the U.S. as between “a minority tendency of ‘sectarian’ or ‘capital-A anarchist groups,’” which have developed, dogmatic, political programs, and “a majority tendency of ‘small-a anarchists’…who ‘are the real locus of historical dynamism right now’” and who are much looser programmatically (Gordon 2008; p.23–24; for my views on Graeber’s anarchism, see Price 2007). The only group Graeber referred to as sectarian, dogmatic, big-A, anarchist, was the Northeastern Federation of Anarchist-Communists (I am a member of NEFAC, but not an official spokesperson).

Gordon thinks there is “something” to Graeber’s distinction, but that it should be more “subtly” interpreted. First of all, “capital-A groups are hardly a minority tendency …[having] many thousands of members” (p. 24). This is especially true if we include the memberships of the anarchist-syndicalist unions in Europe and elsewhere. Contrary to charges of “sectarianism” and “dogmatism,” Gordon notes that most “platformists” do not regard Makhno’s Organizational Platform of 1926 as a sacred text but treat it as a beginning for discussion. (Often, calling someone “dogmatic” is a writer’s way of saying that someone disagrees with the writer and is stubbornly refusing to accept the writer’s opinion.)

Instead, Gordon sees the distinction between the two tendencies as over “political culture” (this is a non-ideological way of discussing differences). One trend (the capital-A anarchists) identifies with “the traditional political culture of the anarchist movement established before the Second World War” (p.25). He says that they have formal structures with elected officials, and that decisions are often made through votes. They emphasize workplace organizing, anti-war actions, and publishing their ideas. The other (small-a) trend does not care much about anarchist traditions, has only informal groups, makes decisions by consensus, and, he writes, focuses on ecology, identity politics, experimental community, and Eastern spirituality.

“The difference between the two anarchisms is generational — an ‘Old School’ and a ‘New School’” (same). Without wanting to denounce the Old School anarchists, Gordon (like Graeber) is plainly on the side of the New School of anarchism. (He is not always so nonsectarian; later in his book, he angrily denounces my views on Israel/ Palestine — which is not directly related to my topic here; see pp. 149 — 151; responded to in Price 2009).

While I think that Gordon has accurately distinguished the two main trends in current anarchism, I do not think that Old versus New is a useful way to understand the division. Many of the so-called New School views he cites can be found way back in anarchist history, starting with Proudhon and Stirner and others. Gordon specifically cites Gustav Landauer’s concepts from 1911, to illustrate his own views. Many of these ideas were raised by Paul Goodman and Colin Ward, among other anarchists, in the 60s and 70s. Few of the New School’s ideas are all that new.

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(Fuckin Ⓐ) First published in 1929, this book by Alexander Berkman answers some of the charges made against it and presents the case for communist anarchism. Thorough and well stated, it is today regarded as a classic statement of the cause’s goals and methods.

“Our social institutions are founded on certain ideas; as long as the latter are generally believed, the institutions built on them are safe. Government remains strong because people think political authority and legal compulsion are necessary. Capitalism will continue as long as such an economic system is considered adequate and just. The weakening of the ideas which support the evil and oppressive present-day conditions means the ultimate breakdown of government and capitalism. Progress consists in abolishing what man has outlived and substituting in its place a more suitable environment.”

Can be read here:

By Leila Shrooms for Tahrir-ICN

Photo from: YallasouriyaOmar Aziz (fondly known by friends as Abu Kamal) was born in Damascus. He returned to Syria from exile in Saudi Arabia and the United States in the early days of the Syrian revolution. An intellectual, economist, anarchist, husband and father, at the age of 63, he committed himself to the revolutionary struggle. He worked together with local activists to collect humanitarian aid and distribute it to suburbs of Damascus that were under attack by the regime. Through his writing and activity he promoted local self-governance, horizontal organization, cooperation, solidarity and mutual aid as the means by which people could emancipate themselves from the tyranny of the state. Together with comrades, Aziz founded the first local committee in Barzeh, Damascus.The example spread across Syria and with it some of the most promising and lasting examples of non-hierarchical self organization to have emerged from the countries of the Arab Spring.

In her tribute to Omar Aziz, Budour Hassan says, he “did not wear a Vendetta mask, nor did he form black blocs. He was not obsessed with giving interviews to the press …[Yet] at a time when most anti-imperialists were wailing over the collapse of the Syrian state and the “hijacking” of a revolution they never supported in the first place, Aziz and his comrades were tirelessly striving for unconditional freedom from all forms of despotism and state hegemony.”[1]

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( JOSEPH BONICIOLI mostly uses the same internet you and I do. He pays a service provider a monthly fee to get him online. But to talk to his friends and neighbors in Athens, Greece, he’s also got something much weirder and more interesting: a private, parallel internet.

He and his fellow Athenians built it. They did so by linking up a set of rooftop wifi antennas to create a “mesh,” a sort of bucket brigade that can pass along data and signals. It’s actually faster than the Net we pay for: Data travels through the mesh at no less than 14 megabits a second, and up to 150 Mbs a second, about 30 times faster than the commercial pipeline I get at home. Bonicioli and the others can send messages, video chat, and trade huge files without ever appearing on the regular internet. And it’s a pretty big group of people: Their Athens Wireless Metropolitan Network has more than 1,000 members, from Athens proper to nearby islands. Anyone can join for free by installing some equipment. “It’s like a whole other web,” Bonicioli told me recently. “It’s our network, but it’s also a playground.”

Indeed, the mesh has become a major social hub. There are blogs, discussion forums, a Craigslist knockoff; they’ve held movie nights where one member streams a flick and hundreds tune in to watch. There’s so much local culture that they even programmed their own mini-Google to help meshers find stuff. “It changes attitudes,” Bonicioli says. “People start sharing a lot. They start getting to know someone next door—they find the same interests; they find someone to go out and talk with.” People have fallen in love after meeting on the mesh.

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(darkernet) Charlie Chaplin gained great wealth during his Hollywood years, was knighted and may well be the last person many would think of as being an anarchist. He neither wrote about anarchism, nor took part in organised strikes or demonstrations. But he did annoy one of the greatest dictators that ever lived. And the American government feared him and his politics so much they banished him from US shores. So, perhaps he really was a ‘secret anarchist’….

1. Childhood

Charlie Chaplin was born on 16 April 1889 in an inner London borough and lived for most of his childhood in abject poverty. Before he was age nine he was twice sent to a workhouse as his mother (his father was absent) was not able to look after him. He also attended a pauper’s school. Eventually Charlie’s mother was committed to a mental asylum having developed a psychosis brought on by syphilis (common in those days amongst the poor) and malnutrition. The authorities then arranged for Charlie to live with his father, who was an alcoholic and who would beat Charlie violently. After his father’s early death (age 38) Charlie, then age 14, slept rough on the streets, scavenging food from bins.

At a very young age Chaplin learnt how to survive by performing in music halls (both his parents had worked similarly) and, later, working as a stage actor and comedian. At 19 he was signed to the Fred Karno company, which took him to America. Chaplin was then scouted by the film industry, and he made his first appearances in 1914 with Keystone Studios. He soon developed the Tramp persona and formed a large fan base. By 1918, not yet thirty years old, he had become one of the most famous men in the world.

2. Early politics

Chaplin was not just an actor, film director and screenwriter, but throughout his life concerned himself with the social and economic problems of the times. In 1931 and 1932 he went to tour Europe, but was deeply disturbed to see the rise of nationalism as well as the widespread poverty resulting from the Depression. He was particularly shocked by the high levels of unemployment, but also the kind of automaton work that people were expected to do. He devised his Economic Solution, an exercise in mutual aid, based on an equitable distribution not just of wealth but of work. In the film, ‘Modern Times’, Chaplin was determined to transform his observations about life and poverty and the drudgery of the working class through the vehicle of comedy.

Chaplin hated fascism and all it stood for. He also knew he had to do something to help the fight against fascism – but what? He then had an idea. And that idea grew into another film. The ‘Great Dictator’ was begun in 1938. Chaplin not only starred in the film, but scripted it, directed it and financed it. Once news of the film leaked out, German and British diplomats in the United States were enraged (at that point, appeasement was the name of the game). It was not long after Chaplin began making the ‘Great Dictator’ before the then fledgling House of Un-American Activities began to query Chaplin himself.

3. Exile

In 1940 the ‘Great Dictator’ was finally released. By then, of course, Britain was at war with Germany, though America was yet to join the conflict. Historians believe that the release of the film was one of several influences that would eventually encourage the USA to join in the fight against the Nazis. It is also understood that Hitler ordered a copy of the film and on seeing it was so incensed he immediately put Chaplin on his death list. The ‘Great Dictator’ was nominated for five Academy Awards.

In 1952, the American Legion, a right-wing organisation linked to the McCarthyites, organised pickets of Chaplin’s latest film, ‘Limelight’, even though it had no noticeable political content. The FBI, meanwhile, had begun an investigation into Chaplin. Chaplin then made another trip to Europe, where ‘Limelight’ would be premiered in London. This time, however, his departure from the USA was used as an excuse for the House of Un-American Activities, then at its height, to issue a notice disallowing Chaplin from re-entering the USA. In essence he was exiled, banned, deported. In contrast, in Europe, Chaplin was greeted like a returning hero, feted and dined wherever he went. He eventually decided to live in Switzerland.

4. Latter years

In 1972, when the political climate in the USA was much different, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences offered Chaplin an Honorary Award, “to make amends”. Chaplin was initially hesitant about accepting, but decided to return to the US for the first time in 20 years. At the Academy Awards gala, Chaplin was given a twelve-minute standing ovation, the longest in the Academy’s history. Chaplin was also knighted.

Chaplin never forgot his impoverished roots and this was reflected in every one of his films. In later years, when he was asked about his politics, Chaplin stated unequivocally that he was an anarchist.

Chaplin died on Christmas Day, 1977. Decades later, the incredibly moving final six minutes of the ‘Great Dictator’ – when Chaplin, pretending to be Hitler, addresses the massed troops at the Nuremberg Rally not with an exhortation to war but to peace – has been turned (see below) by those in the Occupy movement into another rallying call – for equality throughout the world and an end to all conflicts and tyranny.

If Chaplin were alive today be would undoubtedly be part of Occupy, or of Anonymous, or publishing a dissident blog, admonishing the USA for its present day adoption of totalitarian technologies and its protection of the 1% while millions still suffer in poverty. For Chaplin may well have been a secret anarchist.


( Worried about the NSA snooping on your email? Maybe you need to start creating your own personal internet

THE internet is neither neutral nor private, in case you were in any doubt. The US National Security Agency can reportedly collect nearly everything a user does on the net, while internet service providers (ISPs) move traffic according to business agreements, rather than what is best for its customers. So some people have decided to take matters into their own hands, and are building their own net from scratch.

Across the US, from Maryland to Seattle, work is underway to construct user-owned wireless networks that will permit secure communication without surveillance or any centralised organisation. They are known as meshnets and ultimately, if their designers get their way, they will span the country.

Dan Ryan is one of the leaders of the Seattle Meshnet project, where sparse coverage already exists thanks to radio links set up by fellow hackers. Those links mean that instead of communicating through commercial internet connections, meshnetters can talk to each other through a channel that they themselves control.

Each node in the mesh, consisting of a radio transceiver and a computer, relays messages from other parts of the network. If the data can’t be passed by one route, the meshnet finds an alternative way through to its destination. Ryan says the plan is for the Seattle meshnet to extend its coverage by linking up two wireless nodes across Lake Union in downtown Seattle. And over the country at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, student Alexander Bauer is hoping to build a campus meshnet later this year. That will give his fellow students an alternative communications infrastructure to the internet.

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