Occupy: Democracy versus Autonomy

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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.

This text is an installment in our series exploring an anarchist analysis of democracy.

Read on.

Destination Anarchy/Every Step Is an Obstacle

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In summer 2011, tens of thousands of people came together in Syntagma Square in front of the Greek parliament in Athens to express a complete rejection of the government and experiment with direct democracy. At the high point of the protests, over a hundred thousand people clashed with the authorities. Years later, many of the people who flooded Syntagma have poured into the ranks of the ruling party, Syriza, or the fascist party Golden Dawn. In this reflective account, a Greek anarchist narrates the events of 2011 and the developments since then, illustrating the ways that one day’s steps towards liberation become the next day’s obstacles and drawing out the questions that anarchists will have to answer to open the way to freedom.

Read the feature here.

This text is an installment in a series exploring the anarchist analysis of democracy, tracing the trajectories of directly democratic movements around the world.

From 15M to Podemos

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In May 2011, protesters inspired by the Arab Spring occupied plazas across Spain in lively anti-government demonstrations centered around directly democratic assemblies. This was the first of a wave of such movements that spread across Europe and the world. Five years later, the energy that began as a push for participatory politics has been channeled into the rise of new Spanish political parties. Is this a corruption of the discourse of the plaza occupation movement, or its logical conclusion?

Read the feature here.

This eyewitness account is an installment in our series exploring the anarchist analysis of democracy.

From Democracy to Freedom

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Billions around the world have watched the familiar pageantry of the US Presidential race: Trump, the champion of the new extreme right, laying the groundwork for the despotism to come; Sanders, the partisan of an impossible dream, who nonetheless succeeded in luring disaffected millions back into electoral politics; Clinton, the despised representative of the status quo—around whom the hapless majority are forced to rally, since the future is sure to be even worse. Contemplating this bleak spectacle, some people object that this isn’t real democracy.

This talk about real democracy will be familiar to anyone who lived through the Occupy movement or one of its overseas equivalents. In 2011, from Tunis to Madrid and New York, movements triggered by the economic crisis turned into experiments with new forms of governance. By 2014, the luster of real democracy had begun to wear off: the Ukrainian revolution confirmed the right-wing appropriation of the discourse, while the movement that spread from Ferguson began with a riot, not an assembly. But next time revolution is on the agenda, we’ll surely hear more calls for “real” democracy. As long as democracy is the only paradigm we have for change, even anarchists will demand it.

Reflecting on the revolts of the preceding decade, we decided it was high time to get to the bottom of what democracy really is—and whether it’s what we want, after all. After years of research, discussion, and experimentation, we are excited present our conclusions in a massive new feature: From Democracy to Freedom.

In this text, we examine the common threads that connect different forms of democracy, trace the development of democracy from its classical origins to its contemporary representative, direct, and consensus-based variants, and evaluate how democratic discourse and procedures serve the social movements that adopt them. Along the way, we outline what it could mean to seek freedom directly rather than through democratic rule.

This is the flagship text in a series we will be publishing over the next several weeks, including testimony and critical analysis from participants in directly democratic movements around the world.

Read the feature.

Series: The Anarchist Critique of Democracy

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What is democracy, precisely? Will it ever deliver on what it promises? How significant is the difference between state democracy and direct democracy? Is anarchism a kind of direct democracy, or something else entirely? And how do democratic discourse and procedures serve the social movements that adopt them?

This spring, we’re publishing a ten-part series exploring these questions, presenting an anarchist analysis of democracy in all its forms. The flagship text, “From Democracy to Freedom,” traces democracy from its origins up to today, examining its representative, direct, and consensus-based variants. We’ll follow up with case studies from participants in several of the recent movements that have been acclaimed as models of direct democracy: 15M in Spain (2011), the occupation of Syntagma Square in Greece (2011), Occupy in the United States (2011-2012), the Slovenian uprising (2012-2013), the plenums in Bosnia (2014), and the Rojava revolution (2012-2016). We’ll conclude the series with guest contributions on the subject from Paul Z. Simons, Uri Gordon, and others.

To kick off the series, we’ve prepared an updated online version of our classic text on this subject, The Party’s Over. We also encourage everyone to read the English translation of Contra la Democracia (“Against Democracy”) from Spain. Here’s an incomplete syllabus for the whole series:

The Party’s Over
From Democracy to Freedom
From Democracy to Freedom Audio Zine
From 15M to Podemos: The Regeneration of Spanish Democracy
Destination Anarchy! Every Step Is an Obstacle (from Syntagma to Syriza)
Democracy and Autonomy in the Occupy Movement
“Gotovo je!”: Reflections on Direct Democracy in Slovenia
Born in Flames, Died in Plenums: The Bosnian Experiment with Direct Democracy
Lessons from Rojava: Democracy and Commune (Paul Z. Simons)
Democracy: The Patriotic Temptation (Uri Gordon)

You’re invited to form a reading group to participate in this project! We have set up a discussion platform where groups around the world can compare notes on the texts and the topic itself, in hopes of drawing on the conversation for a future episode of the Ex-Worker podcast. If you’re interested, get together some friends and write us at rollingthunder@crimethinc.com for details.

Further Reading

Democracy’s Bankrupt
Contra la Democracia
Malatesta: Neither Democrats, nor Dictators: Anarchists and Democracy and Anarchy

#47: The Anarchist Critique of Democracy

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#47: Introducing the Anarchist Critique of DemocracyIs Democracy what we’re fighting for, as anarchists? In episode 47 of the Ex-Worker Podcast, a contentious debate between Clara and Alanis on this topic sets the stage for an upcoming, in-depth engagement with the topic of Democracy. In addition, we clean out our backlog of listener feedback, clarifying our trash-talking of both the Bay Area and Adbusters in past episodes, as well as hearing from a listener in Australia about various online resources for finding out what’s happening with anarchist and anti-fascists in the land down under. NYC Anarchist Black Cross provides us with thorough political prisoner updates, and we share a review of the book Huye Hombre Huye, available from Little Black Cart. As always, the episode is bookended with global news updates, plus prisoner birthdays, a whole slew of upcoming anarchist bookfairs and other events and more.

You can download this and all of our previous episodes online. You can also subscribe in iTunes here or just add the feed URL to your podcast player of choice. Rate us on iTunes and let us know what you think, or send us an email to podcast@crimethinc.com. You can also call us 24 hours a day at 202–59-NOWRK, that is, 202–596–6975.

Rolling Thunder #10 PDF Now Available

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This morning we sent out the last copy of Rolling Thunder #10, and you know what that means—the full high-resolution RT#10 PDF is now available for free download. This issue was two years in the making and absolutely jampacked:

Rolling Thunder #10 begins with a reappraisal of the anarchist project in today’s context of crisis and technological transformation. From there, we chart the global trajectory of momentum from 2010 to 2012: the student movements in the US and UK—the insurrections in Tunisia, Egypt, and beyond—the occupation movements in Spain, Greece, and finally the USA, from its awkward beginnings in Wisconsin to its aftereffects in Oakland. For case studies, we focus in on the anti-police struggles that catalyzed the rise of confrontational anarchism in Seattle, and scrutinize how US immigration policy is applied on the ground at the border to explain how its actual objectives differ from its ostensible purpose. The issue concludes with a historical review of Canadian anarchism, following it from its origins through the 2010 Olympics and G20 riots and up to the present day. All this, plus a graphic history from Argentine anarchism, 24 pages in full color, and all the other bells and whistles you’ve come to expect from us times two. (114 pages)

Last month we added Rolling Thunder #12 (the most current issues) to the Rolling Thunder Bundle, which now contains issues #8, #11, and #12 for just $10. And, don’t forget, you can subscribe to Rolling Thunder to get future issues hot off the press, while also supporting the project and ensuring the journal’s continued existence.

Europe: Between Rape and Racism

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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.

Read on for our analysis of racism and rape in the so-called migrant crisis.

#46: International Anarchist Reflections

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#46: International Anarchist Reflections on the New Year — What do anarchists around the world think is in store for the new year? In Episode 45, we began our 2015 year in review, focusing on the US. In this episode, we share reflections on developments in 2015 and from anarchists in Chile, Finland, Brazil, Korea, Colombia, Czech Republic, and Rojava. There are also discussions about developments in fascism and anti-fascism, with reports from the UK and Australia, and an analysis by Gulf Coast anarchists of the environmental movement’s supposed “victory” over the Keystone XL pipeline in November. On the Chopping Block, we review the latest issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, the journal of the Institute for Anarchist Studies, on the theme of “Justice.” Long term black liberation political prisoner Herman Bell discusses his upcoming parole hearing, and we share plenty of news, including some reflection on a new round of revolts in Tunisia, plus prisoner birthdays, events, listener feedback, and more.

You can download this and all of our previous episodes online. You can also subscribe in iTunes here or just add the feed URL to your podcast player of choice. Rate us on iTunes and let us know what you think, or send us an email to podcast@crimethinc.com. You can also call us 24 hours a day at 202–59-NOWRK, that is, 202–596–6975.

To Change Everything in Ten More Languages

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Unfortunately, our efforts to update tochangeeverything.com have lagged behind the efforts of comrades around the world to produce versions of To Change Everything in their own languages. We will be updating the site on an ongoing basis, but in the meantime, here are the PDFs of ten more versions of the project, along with the videos for four of them. If you are interested in working on a version for your own language or region, please get in touch!


Català / Catalan

   Screen PDF (Single Page View) [4.4MB]


Français / French

   (continental)

   Screen PDF (Single Page View) [19.9MB]

   Print PDF (Color, Imposed) [21.1MB]


한국어/ Korean

   Screen PDF (Single Page View) [7.6MB]


Română / Romanian

   Screen PDF (Single Page View) [20MB]


Русский / Russian

   Screen PDF (Single Page View) [16.1MB]