Ever wonder about the insistence that OWS has no leaders, agenda or goals?
But they might as well be talking to rocks. Both left and right have made the error of thinking that the forces behind Occupy Wall Street are interested in democratic politics and problem solving. The left mistakenly believes that the tendency of these protests to end in violence, dissolute behavior, and the melting away of the activists is an aberration, while the right mistakenly brushes off the whole thing as a combination of Boomer nostalgia for the New Left and Millennial grousing at the lousy job market. The truth is that the violence is not an aberration and Occupy Wall Street should not be laughed away. What we are seeing here is the latest iteration of an old political program that has been given new strength by the failures of the global economy and the power of postmodern technology.
To be sure, there are plenty of people flocking to the tents who are everyday Democrats and independents concerned about joblessness and the gap between rich and poor. The unions backing the occupiers fall into this group. But the concerns of labor intersect only tangentially with those of Occupy Wall Street’s theorists and prime movers. The occupiers have a lot more in common with the now-decades-old antiglobalization movement. They are linked much more closely to the “hacktivist” agents of chaos at WikiLeaks and Anonymous.
Anarchism is often dismissed as merely the rationalization of hooligans. But that is a mistake. Anarchism has a theory and even a canon: Bakunin, Kropotkin, Goldman, and others. Anarchism’s purpose is to turn the whole world into one big Fourierist phalanx. “At every stage of history our concern must be to dismantle those forms of authority and oppression that survive from an era when they might have been justified in terms of the need for security or survival or economic development, but that now contribute to—rather than alleviate—material and cultural deficit,” writes Noam Chomsky in an introduction to Daniel Guérin’s classic, Anarchism. Dismantle “the system.” Then we’ll be free.
This permanent rebellion leads to some predictable outcomes. By denying the legitimacy of democratic politics, the anarchists undermine their ability to affect people’s lives. No living wage movement for them. No debate over the Bush tax rates. Anarchists don’t believe in wages, and they certainly don’t believe in taxes. David Graeber, an anthropologist and a leading figure in Occupy Wall Street, puts it this way: “By participating in policy debates the very best one can achieve is to limit the damage, since the very premise is inimical to the idea of people managing their own affairs.” The reason that Occupy Wall Street has
no agenda is that anarchism allows for no agenda. All the anarchist can do is set an example—or tear down the existing order through violence.
Just as hostility to property is inextricably linked to utopian socialism, violence is tightly bound to anarchism. “Anarchists reject states and all those systematic forms of inequality states make possible,” writes Graeber. “They do not seek to pressure the government to institute reforms. Neither do they seek to seize state power for themselves. Rather, they wish to destroy that power, using means that are—so far as possible—consistent with their ends, that embody them.” What seems aimless and chaotic is in fact purposeful. By means of “direct action”—marches, occupations, blockades, sit-ins—the anarchist “proceeds as if the state does not exist.” But one who behaves as if the government has no reality and the laws do not apply is an outlaw, not to say a criminal.
When you see occupiers clash with the NYPD on the Brooklyn Bridge, or masked teenagers destroying shop windows and lighting fires in downtown Oakland, you are seeing anarchism in action. Apologists for Occupy Wall Street may say that these “black bloc” tactics are deployed solely by fringe elements. But the apologists miss the point. The young men in black wearing keffiyehs and causing mayhem are simply following the logic of revolutionary anarchism to its violent conclusion. The fringe isn’t the exception, it’s the rule. The exception would be “direct action” that took care to respect the law.
There is a reason that anarchists tend to be young, single males with no children. That is the only group dumb enough to find the idea of chaos appealing.