From Eugene Weekly. Nov 23:
Mutual Aid Society
Anarchy does not mean violence
By Warren Weisman
Calling anarchists violent is every bit as prejudiced and ignorant as calling black people thieves; the difference is people freely get away with it and are even encouraged to do so. FOX News does so on a daily basis with complete immunity since the liberal civil rights industrial complex isn’t about to protect the rights of nonviolent anarchists. They don’t even vote, for crying out loud. Those mischievous masked seventh graders who break windows and call themselves anarchists have no idea about the rich intellectual history of the movement; they’re just being anti-authoritarian and rebellious. They have never heard of the 19th century anarchist giants like Reclus and Kropotkin, any one of them more intelligent than the Founding Fathers combined. Others have read the masters, but through some intellectual deficit prefer the likes of Emma Goldman and the Italian anarchist Luigi Galleani who advocated “propaganda through deed.” Galleani’s followers perpetuated the 1920 Wall Street bombing that killed 38 and wounded more than 140. But the overwhelming majority of true anarchists are ordinary people from all over the world who are not violent, and whose only crime is choosing to exercise their right to think for themselves and seek a stateless society free from the influence of the church, centralized government and capitalist economic system.
The word anarchy comes from the Greek word anarchia, which means without a leader. There is an extremely good reason the rulers-of-might have made certain American history books equate anarchy with violence to scare people away from learning any more about it. Unlike communism, anarchy is an extremely viable alternative to representative democracy that is much more efficient and doesn’t require an Owellian centralized bureaucracy to manage it. There is no greater threat to any form of government than for ordinary people to realize how powerful they truly are when they become better organized and more self-reliant. Where in democracy you are a vote and in socialism you are a worker, anarchy is the radical notion you are a human being with immeasurable intrinsic value.
The Russian anarchist writer Peter Kropotkin was a crown prince who renounced all claim to the throne and any inheritance and instead chose a simple life of extensive travel and study. He was said to have lived a near-perfect life. Where Charles Darwin had examined the natural world and concluded survival of the fittest to be the catalyst for natural selection, Kropotkin — who was, in fact, far better traveled than Darwin as well as a more astute geographer who lived among many native peoples — concluded that mutual aid, animals helping one another, was more important to a species survival than survival of the fittest. Those animals that cooperated together the best had a better chance of survival than the fittest individual. Human nature, Kropotkin argued, was cooperative, not competitive. An optimism that defined his political thought and was lost to history.
The form of organization advocated by Kropotkin was people in free association federated together by unwritten mutual aid agreements. While unwritten, such a mutual aid agreement implied, “If you are in need, I will come to your aid, and if I am in need, I trust you to help me.” In addition, everyone agrees to meet their own needs to the best of their ability to not be an unnecessary burden on anyone else. Kropotkin called such federations the folkmote system. Folkmote being an archaic English word meaning “gathering of ordinary people.” The basic organizational unit of the folkmote in Medieval England was known as the “cof,” a voluntary clan. That group of 20 to 30 family, friends and neighbors who you interact with on a regular basis, know well and trust. A temporary cof formed just for a single purpose, such as a work project, was known as an “artel” in Russia, but could also be called and affinity group.
The folkmote system is a cultural universal, like fire and music, found on every continent. It was used by Native Americans as well as Australian aborigines, meaning it was most likely used by our ancient ancestors before the Exodus out of Africa. Variations of the folkmote system have been used by everyone from the Mexican drug cartels to Amway, and from the Viet Cong to the Zapatistas. In North Africa it is known as the djeema system, in Saudi Arabia it is called the fereej system. The Chinese know it as the all-encompassing xa, the village as the universe.
|FOLKMOTE ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE|
|Administrative Division||Consists of||Approximate No. Members||Comparable Tribal Unit|
Consider the cities of Eugene and Springfield. In Eugene, 150,000 residents are represented by eight city councilors, a ratio of one representative for every 18,750 residents. Springfield is a little better, with six city councilors for 60,000 people, one for every 10,000. Now, consider if in place of confusing and nonsensical redistricting, Eugene and Springfield instead adopted the folkmote system. All 200,000 people in both cities agree to meet in their own 20-30 person “cof” of friends and family members. It would immediately break this unmanageable number down into 6,600 groups of 30. Each of these groups then sends a single representative to a neighborhood-level meeting and we have then broken these 6,600 groups down into 220 groups. The representatives from these groups would then form seven groups. The representatives from these final seven meet at a citywide meeting. Basically the same number of representatives, only everyone is represented through groups small enough to have quite conversation and use 100 percent consensus, while no one is ever more than four people away from city leadership.
The Eugene Mutual Aid Society is being formed to help everyone in Eugene-Springfield meet their own needs as close to home as practical to reduce dependence on government and big business. We would like to act as a clearinghouse for information and education about becoming more self-reliant and independent; permaculture and reducing one’s ecological impact; co-housing, co-ops and ecovillages where people can reduce their rent in exchange for being part of a greater community. And possibly most importantly as a resource to connect individuals and groups together for local economic self-sufficiency through economic opportunities for cottage industry, small business and individual artisanship.
The Eugene Mutual Aid Society will be holding a potluck/jamboree starting at 5 pm Friday, Nov. 25, at Maitreya Ecovillage Strawbale, 1641 W. Broadway, Eugene. Bring a musical instrument if you are so inclined. 100 percent kid-friendly.
Warren Weisman is, among other things, project director of Complejo de Energía Renovable, México (CEREM), a non-profit biogas power plant, education and training facility planned in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Anarchy does not “mean” violence, certainly.
However, I am convinced that “non-violence” can become a symbol within movements for collaboration, diffusion and cheapening. It’s one thing not to stand for aggression and chaos for its own sake. It’s another thing to chant “we love cops” and persecute individuals or groups willing to resist and defy illegitimate authority when it attempts to exert its will over free peoples. I believe we have seen examples of this happening within the Occupy Wall Street movement.
I also believe that one cannot be “violent” against inanimate objects, such as property. Whether or not it is most helpful to break windows or deface objects could be a matter for debate, and I’m open to that conversation. I am not open to debating whether or not one can be “violent” toward property. One cannot. That is, and has always been, a definition maintained and enforced by rulers, tyrants and owners to serve their own interests, and I reject it wholesale. That does not mean I’m going to break windows on my way home tonight. But I might, if I felt that it was appropriate and connected to what is necessary in the larger struggle.
I believe that violent *aggression* and violent *instigation* are dangerous and often (I am not willing to say always, because I don’t believe that sort of certainty is possible) at odds with the core values which I understand to be at the heart of my commitment to anarchist ideals and actions. However, I believe that resistance to violent oppression, even if that means responding to violence with defensive force, is appropriate and often desperately needed.
When police push back against the people and decree that they are not “allowed” to walk their own streets or occupy their own public spaces, I believe it serves no one to meekly agree. I believe it serves no one to ask our corrupt and criminal rulers or their hired enforcers for “permission” to march or act. Some of the most powerful and massive protests or marches in the Occupy movement occurred when the people defied illegitimate authority, marched where they did not have permits to march, occupied where they were not “allowed” to be and took that power back.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has never actually occupied Wall Street. They were told by police that they were not “allowed” to be on Wall Street, and so they turned tail and occupied a park several blocks away. Over time, the movement still managed to achieve some power. But not trans formative power.
When people were told they were not “allowed” to march on Wall Street, they should have went anyway. When they were pushed back by police, they should have pushed forward. When the people were beaten with Police batons, other people should have grabbed those batons and defended the innocent with force if necessary. If the police chose bloodshed, the defensive, protective but committed response should have been to defend the innocent with force if necessary.
If corrupt and criminal rules and their hired thugs declare war on the people for resisting their tyranny, we should – no we must – be willing to fight that war by any means necessary. We do not have to promote unprovoked violence. We don’t have to be aggressive or instigate violence. But until we the people are prepare to respond to the tyranny of our rulers and match them at their level of commitment, there is little hope for substantive transformation of our broken society.
“But the overwhelming majority of true anarchists…..”
No true Scotsman, eh?
Excellent post but I must make a correction: “Where Charles Darwin had examined the natural world and concluded survival of the fittest to be the catalyst for natural selection…”
As anarchism is misrepresented as you’ve outlined; so too has Darwin’s theory of evolution been equated with “survival of the fittest” when Darwin never posited this. We can attribute this to Herbert Spencer who adopted Darwinian evolutionary theory to his own socio-economic theories.