( 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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The Zapatistas invite 1.500 activists from all over the world to a ‘Little School of Liberty’ in Chiapas to learn from their experiment with autonomy.

(ROARMag) It was 10 years ago, on January 1, 2003, when — having exhausted the road of dialogue with the government as well the one of a “big R” Revolution that would overthrow the Mexican state — the Zapatistas of Chiapas decided to “abandon the politics of demands, and with it, all contact with the state.” Instead, they chose to concentrate on building their own autonomous, horizontal forms of self-government within their own territories and with their own means.

In other words, to ignore the state as an institution and “act as if they had already won”, comrade ‘Bruce Lee’ of the CCRI in San Cristobal declared during the commemoration of the 1994 uprising that “we don’t have to ask the government’s permission to be autonomous.” Or, as Major Infantry Insurgent Moses put it in an interview with Gloria Muñoz:

The dialogue with the government didn’t work but it enriched us, because we met more people and it gave us more ideas. After the “Color of the Earth march” in 2001 we said that with or without a law we were going to build our government the way we wanted.

It was 10 years ago, on August 9, 2003, when the Zapatistas announced the death of the Aguascalientes and the birth of the Caracoles. Five caracoles were created, each with its own Junta de Buen Gobierno (JBG) established within it, responsible for its own Zapatista Autonomous Rebel Municipal Zone (MAREZ). The five caracoles are the following:

  • “The Mother of Caracoles — Sea of Dreams” (La Realidad)
  • “The Whirlwind of Our Words” (Morelia — 17 de Noviembre)
  • “Resistance Until the New Dawn” (La Garrucha — Fransisco Gomez)
  • “The Caracol That Speaks for All” (Robero Barrios)
  • “Resistance and Rebellion for Humanity” (Oventik)

The municipalities and communities in each zone are not only divided on the basis of geographical criteria but in other ways (like ethnic composition and distance from the caracol) as well. Each caracol has its own autonomous health clinic, normally a primary and/or secondary school, and each of them is also involved in one form or another with one of the five Projects of Zapatismo: health, education, agro-ecology, politics, and information technology.

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( Many people, upon hearing about Anarchism, consider a society based on anarchist principles as unrealistic, idealistic and naive – the vision of dreamers. Given the homogenous view of the world represented in the media, it is often difficult for people to imagine a society where such universally accepted institutions as the state, the judiciary system, the police, armies, and nations no longer exist.

For a glimpse of how such a society would function it is useful to look to the social revolution that took place in Spain in 1936, when, over a period of two years, people took power into their own hands and started to construct a completely different society based on anarchist principles.

Anarchist ideas had been gaining strength in Spain since the second half of the 19th century. The CNT, an anarcho-syndicalist trade union, was formed in 1910, and by 1936 was very powerful, having a membership of 1.5 million. By that time anarchist ideas were strong in the minds of the peasants. In fact, collectivisation had actually started in some areas of the countryside before the revolution.

On July 17th a military coup took place in Spanish Morocco which spread the next day to the peninsula. In the cities and villages the workers organised themselves to defeat the military uprising and thanks to their courage and initiative the fascist revolt was stopped in three-quarters of Spain. These people however were fighting not only to crush the fascist attempt to seize power, they were also fighting for a new social order in Spain.

As soon as the fascists were defeated, workers’ militias were set up independent of the state. The factories in the cities were taken over by the workers, and in the rural areas the lands of the fleeing fascists and fascist sympathisers were taken over. In the rural parts of the Republican zone, under the influence of CNT and FAI (Federation of Iberian Anarchists) members, collectivisation was the most far reaching. Usually it was the members of the CNT or the FAI who called general meetings in the villages and pushed for collectivisation.

At these meetings people voluntarily pooled whatever land, tools and cattle they possessed. To this was added whatever land had been expropriated from the large land owners. “People who had nothing to bring to the collective were admitted with the same rights and duties as the rest”. (1) Soon almost two-thirds of all the land in the area controlled by anti-fascist forces was taken over and collectivised. In all between five and seven million people were involved.

The organisational structure and power structure of the collectives

The smallest unit of each collective was the work group, usually numbering five to ten members, but sometimes more. Everyone in a collective, where possible, was obliged to work.

“The collective was the free community of labour of the villagers…..The group might consist of friends, or the neighbours on a certain street, or a group of small farmers, tenant farmers, or day labourers.” (2)

Each group was assigned land by the collective and they were then responsible for the cultivation of this land. Within each work group a delegate was elected who, while working alongside her comrades most of the time, also represented the views of her group at the meetings of the collective. In some collectives there was an Administrative Commission which met with the delegates from each work group and drew up the work plan for the next day.

The Administrative Commission or management committee was responsible for the day to day running of the collective. “They would look after the buying of materials, exchanges with other areas, distributing the produce and necessary public works such as the building of schools”.(3) Members of the management committee were elected at general assemblies of all participants of the collective. The general assembly of collectivists was sovereign when important decisions were made.

Federations of collectives were also created. In Aragon, where there were 450 collectives involving half a million people, the most successful federation was set up. Here, district federations and regional federations were established. Collectives in the same local area joined to form a district federation which was made up of delegates elected in each of the collectives. The district federation maintained warehouses to store agricultural produce from the collectives. It was also responsible for communication and transport between affiliated villages, and supported cultural progress in the area.

Regional federations, such as the Regional Federation of Aragonese Collectives and the Regional Federation of Peasants, were also founded which were made up of delegates from the collectives. These federations were set up for various purposes. Among others to set up technical teams to improve agricultural and livestock production; to offer training for young people; to collect production statistics; to create regional reserves; and to offer credits and aid, without interest, to the collectives.

All this took place through the initiative of the peasants. Although the government existed it had no power. “It was shorn of the repressive organs of the state. Power was split into countless fragments and scattered in a thousand towns and villages among the revolutionary committees that had taken control of the land and factories, means of transport and communication, the police and the army. The military, economic and political struggle was proceeding independently of the government, and, indeed, in spite of it.”(4)

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( An essay on the rise and fall of organized anarchism in Japan in the early 20th century, with special emphasis on its anarcho-syndicalist dimension, with interesting details concerning the disputes, splits and controversies that plagued the Japanese movement and which were surprisingly similar in their basic contours to those that affected the anarchist movement in the West during the same period.

Anarcho-syndicalism in Japan: 1911 to 1934 – Philippe Pelletier

The history of anarcho-syndicalism, anarchism, and more generally the workers and peasants movement in Japan between the two world wars, is of unprecedented richness. It also contributes powerful lessons in all domains: tactical, strategic, ideological and philosophical. If a conclusion can be drawn from this experience, it is this: on the other side of the world hundreds, if not thousands, of people fought for an ideal of libertarian emancipation expressed in values that, of course, while depending on the local context—Japanese and more broadly Asian—were nonetheless, and still are, of universal significance.

The Japanese anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists, however, did not evolve in a closed environment. They were always informed, sometimes after a certain delay, of the theoretical trends and strategic debates of the movement in the rest of the world. They were always making contacts, traveling and translating. Kotoku Shusui (1871-1911) went to the United States; Osugi Sakae (1885-1923) to France and China; Ishikawa Sanshiro (1876-1956) to Belgium and France (where he was the guest of Paul Reclus) and to China in 1927; Iwasa Sakutaro (1879-1967) to California and China; Yamaga Taiji (1892-1970) to China, Taiwan and the Philippines. Besides learning to speak western languages, many of them also spoke Esperanto (Osugi Sakae, Yamaga Taiji, etc.). They were thus participants in numerous international initiatives. Anarchists were also more numerous than communists in the Japanese delegations that attended the preliminary conference for the “Far Eastern Peoples’ Congress” held in Irkutsk in November 1921. The anarcho-syndicalist Yoshida Hajime was even a member of the delegation that attended the plenary conference in Moscow in 1921.1

This history, however, presents difficulties to the would-be investigator. Besides the problems posed by the linguistic barriers to understanding the texts, we must call attention to at least two factors that have long constituted obstacles to this project: the predominance, among the historians of the post-war period, of not only the viewpoints of liberal democracy, but also of the Marxist left, in the interpretation of the pre-war period, which has resulted in the concealment or marginalization of the role played by the anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists; the extreme weakness of the Japanese anarcho-syndicalist and anarchist movement during this same pre-war period, linked in part to the factor mentioned immediately above [Marxist and liberal predominance] and also to the dramatic changes undergone by a country that over the course of thirty years was transformed from a developing country (as it was categorized by the geographer Yves Lacoste in the fifties) to one of the major industrial powers.

Fortunately, the Japanese, whose culture places such a high value on the written word and memory, have preserved multiple traces of this history. Some of its militants have attempted to translate it into English. Furthermore, after about fifty years, a new generation of western researchers and historians has been able to take a fresh look at the works of their predecessors (George Beckmann, Fred Notehelfer, Thomas Stanley, Stephen Large) who were, to say the least, “commissioned” by the American authorities, in the framework of the cold war, with the job of knowing the global communist enemy; this new generation produced works of high quality, on Japan as well as China (Korea was, at the time, the big missing piece in this picture).

In this connection we must emphasize above all the contribution made by historians like John Crump, Byron Marshall, Phil Billingsley, Arif Dirlik, Edward Krebs and Peter Zarrow (the last two have written about China). The other original contribution of these investigations, although one does not necessarily have to share their perspectives, lies in the fact that, apart from a few exceptions, they offer the invaluable advantage of not distorting the principles or the history of anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism. We must also mention in this regard the work of the Biographical Dictionary of the International Workers Movement, edited by Jean Maitron (the volume on Japan was written by Shiota Shobei, a pro-communist author) [Le Japon. Shiota Shobei, Dictionnaire biographique du mouvement ouvrier international, collection Jean Maitron, Editions ouvrières/Editions de l’Atelier,1978, 2 tomes].

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