What harm could possibly come of using the discourse of democracy to describe the object of our movements for liberation? We can answer this question with a fable drawn from history: the story of the uprising that took place in Paris in June 1848.
In addition, to commemorate the June 1848 uprising, 168 years ago this week, we’ve prepared a biography of one of its many colorful participants, including the first translation into English of the only surviving account from the proletarian side of the barricades.
In the latest installment in our series exploring the anarchist critique of democracy, guest author Paul Z. Simons offers us a meditation on revolutionary forms of organization. Drawing on his experiences in Rojava in 2015, he contrasts conventional democratic practices with what he has seen of democratic confederalism and evaluates the federation of communes as a model for North American anarchists. At a time when the ruling order has been discredited but there are very few proposals for how else to shape our lives, Simons suggests some much-needed points of departure.
The story goes that the very first gathering of Occupy Wall Street began as an old-fashioned top-down rally with speakers droning on—until a Greek student (and perhaps—an anarchist?) interrupted it and demanded that they hold a proper horizontal assembly instead. She and some of the youngsters in attendance sat down in a circle on the other side of the plaza and began holding a meeting using consensus process. One by one, people trickled over from the audience that had been listening to speakers and joined the circle. It was August 2, 2011.
Here, in the origin myth of the Occupy Movement, we encounter a fundamental ambiguity in its relationship to organization. We can understand this shift to consensus process as the adoption of a more inclusive and therefore more legitimate democratic model, anticipating later claims that the general assemblies of Occupy represented real democracy in action. Or we can focus on the decision to withdraw from the initial rally, seeing it as a gesture in favor of voluntary association. Over the following year, this internal tension erupted repeatedly, pitting democrats determined to demonstrate a new form of governance against anarchists intent upon asserting the primacy of autonomy.
Though David Graeber encouraged participants to regard consensus as a set of principles rather than rules, both proponents and authoritarian opponents of consensus process persisted in treating it as a formal means of government—while anarchists who shared Graeber’s framework found themselves outside the consensus reality of their fellow Occupiers. The movement’s failure to reach consensus about the meaning of consensus itself culminated with ugly attacks in which Rebecca Solnit and Chris Hedges attempted to brand anarchist participants as violent thugs.
How did that play out in the hinterlands, where small-town Occupy groups took up the decision-making practices of Occupy Wall Street? The following narrative traces the tensions between democratic and autonomous organizational forms throughout the trajectory of one local occupation.
As Europe descends further into nationalism and xenophobia, we are seeing feminist, atheist, and progressive discourses appropriated to serve reactionary ends. Following the assaults in Cologne and the media feeding frenzy about “migrant violence,” many people have struggled to find a way to speak about the situation without minimizing the issue of sexual assault or contributing to the demonization of migrants. Yet displacement and sexual assault are not distinct issues—they are interrelated components of a larger context that must be confronted as a whole.
Last month, we concluded the To Change Everything US tour, bringing together anarchists from Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and North America to compare notes on the uprisings and social movements of the past decade. In the course of 65 days, we presented 59 events in 57 towns, speaking with well over 2000 people altogether. To hear an audio recording from one of the presentations, tune in to episode 44 of the Ex-Worker Podcast.
Many people have seen the booklet and video we are distributing on the theme To Change Everything; we wanted to follow up by initiating intercontinental conversations about strategy and liberation. In the digital age, it is more important than ever to meet and debate and form bonds in person. If you met us on this trip, please stay in touch and help brainstorm what we should do together next.
We had a wonderful tour. For those of us from the US as well as overseas, it is instructive to take in the entire country in a single continuous trip. It gives you the lay of the land. Here is what we saw.
We participated in the following dialogue with members of the French news source Lundimatin, comparing the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States with the situation in France today. This interview is available in French on their site.
Bonjour, France, and welcome to team War on Terror! For fourteen years, you’ve looked askance at us across the Atlantic, raising your eyebrows at US foreign policy. Now you get to have your own state of emergency, your own far-right party in power, your own warrantless wiretapping and waterboarding scandals and Department of Homeland Security. Where will you put your Guantanamo Bay? (Finally, French fries and Freedom fries will mean the same thing!) For maximum effect, consider starting a new war that has nothing to do with the cause of the attacks, so you can destabilize another region and draw additional populations into the conflict.
We Americans know all about this stuff. For decades now, the US has been the policeman of the world, while social democratic France has been its comfortable bourgeoisie. But in the 21st century, everyone has to take part in policing. To preserve France, the liberal alternative to the US, it is now necessary to copy the US model of anti-terrorism. Permit us to show you the ropes.
We received the following report from the group that produced the French version of To Change Everything, Pour Tout Changer. They describe the situation in Paris before and after the attacks of November 13: the intensification of xenophobic discourse, the repression of homeless refugees, the declaration of a “state of emergency” as a way to clamp down on dissent, the preparations for the COP 21 summit at which demonstrations are now banned, and what people are doing to counter all this. It offers an eyewitness account from the front lines of the struggle against the opportunists who hope to use the tragedy of November 13 to advance their agenda of racism and autocracy. With demonstrations forbidden and the COP 21 summit around the corner, what happens in Paris will set an important precedent for whether governments can use the specter of terrorism to suppress efforts to change the disastrous course on which they are steering us.
In Paris, on November 13, 129 people were killed in coordinated bombings and shootings for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility. European nationalists lost no time seeking to tie the attacks in Paris to the so-called migrant crisis, even though many of the refugees are fleeing similar attacks orchestrated by ISIS.
Tighter border controls won’t protect us from attacks like the one in Paris, though they will go on causing migrant deaths. Airstrikes won’t stop suicide bombers, but they will produce new generations that nurse a grudge against the West. Government surveillance won’t catch every bomb plot, but it will target the social movements that offer an alternative to nationalism and war. If the proponents of Fortress Europe succeed in suppressing and segregating us, we will surely end up fighting each other: divide and rule. Our only hope is to establish common cause against our rulers, building bridges across the boundaries of citizenship and religion before the whole world is carved up on the butcher’s block of war.
In this new feature on the struggle in Rojava, we offer an overview of the history of transnational Kurdish resistance, culminating in the present moment of crisis in the conflict with ISIS and the Turkish state. Drawing on repeated trips to Kurdistan during which he met with youth militias in Cizre and visited Kobanê immediately after its liberation, our correspondent traces the trajectory from the founding of the PKK to the Suruç massacre, spelling out exactly what is at stake in this struggle.
This Tuesday, our comrades are embarking on a two-month tour of the US, comprising fifty events in twenty-five states. Where our massive outreach project To Change Everything introduces anarchist ideas, on this tour anarchists from three continents will discuss their experiences acting on these ideas in a variety of struggles, movements, and uprisings.
There are still a couple days open in Southern California in late October. If you want to help us book those dates, or you would like to host future CrimethInc. tours anywhere in the world, please contact us at email@example.com.