Anarchism 101: Greens and Reds in Basic Black

LOS ANGELES ­­- The Democrats [we]re not the only ones holding their
convention in the City of Angels. Over the weekend, the North American
Anarchist Conference convened the first large, organized national
gathering of the tribe in more than a decade, even though, as a general
rule, anarchists do not like large, organized national anythings.

Since this correspondent is, sadly, a boot-licking commodified lackey
for a corporatized media giant serving the interests of a globalized,
capitalist elite, our welcome was a bit frosty.

"It’s not that you’re not welcome," said one of the organizers from the
August Collective. "But it’s not that you are really welcome, either."

LOS ANGELES ­­- The Democrats [we]re not the only ones holding their
convention in the City of Angels. Over the weekend, the North American
Anarchist Conference convened the first large, organized national
gathering of the tribe in more than a decade, even though, as a general
rule, anarchists do not like large, organized national anythings.

Since this correspondent is, sadly, a boot-licking commodified lackey
for a corporatized media giant serving the interests of a globalized,
capitalist elite, our welcome was a bit frosty.

"It’s not that you’re not welcome," said one of the organizers from the
August Collective. "But it’s not that you are really welcome, either."

We could live with that.

This is what we saw at the revolution:

The meeting took place at an industrial arts space beside a pretty
stretch of the Los Angeles River in a working-class neighborhood not too
far from Dodger Stadium. There were no cameras or recording devices
allowed. But if a member of the press paid the $25 fee, he was allowed
inside and was welcome to the chow, which was earthy but tasty–bagels,
salads, soups and stews. You were supposed to bring your own bowl. After
registering, you got a little pebble with the anarchist’s "A" symbol as
a keepsake.

One of the first things a visitor would notice is there was a lot of
concern about infiltrators. This is a big deal with anarchists. Signs
were posted on all the walls warning of media and infiltrators. The
atmosphere wasn’t necessarily clinically paranoid, but they did keep
worrying that the police were about to come in at any moment, swinging
billy clubs and firing rubber bullets.

This attitude may have been justified by statements from Los Angeles
Mayor Richard Riordan, who warned this city in an op-ed piece in the Los
Angeles Times that "determined" and "organized" and "international"
anarchists were coming to town, "whose sole intent is violent
disruption."

At one point on Friday, one of the organizers freaked everyone out by
shouting that the cops were on the way and that each anarchist needed to
decide what to do "with their own body." They all jumped up and began
milling around and putting bandannas over their faces. Alas, it was a false alarm.

Anyway, there were about 200 people attending the convention, almost
exclusively white people in their twenties. Most of them wore black.
Black T-shirts with revolutionary slogans and the names of punk bands.
Black pants that hung just below the knee. Black sneakers. Some of the
pants were old and torn, and covered with patches. Some of the pants
were new and covered with patches. A lot of anarchists sported tattoos
and piercings. There were a goodly number of nose rings. Anarchists
believe deeply in the individual’s right to do whatever he wants, yet
they all looked alike.

Inside, it was very hot. Over the long afternoons, during discussion
sessions on primitivism, liberation pedagogy, state control, combating
homophobia and other matters, some of the attendees simply sprawled out
on their bedrolls and backpacks, sucking down water and trying not to
faint.

After a day or so, the meeting space smelled faintly of warm bananas.
The revolution, apparently, will not be air-conditioned.

There were tables along the walls offering free pamphlets and booklets
about the history of anarchism and the tactics of disorderly conduct and
civil disobedience.

An intense guy selling T-shirts and booklets offered us the pamphlet
titled "You Can’t Blow Up a Social Relationship." It was about the
anarchist case against terrorism. A century ago, many anarchists,
particularly in Eastern Europe, considered assassination a viable
option. That is no longer the case.

Intense Guy was willing to explain some tenets of anarchism, as long as
we did not identify him. "I don’t want to get blackballed and lose my
job," he explained.

Intense Guy began by describing the central, unifying principle of
anarchism, which most outsiders wrongly assume is "chaos." Nothing could
be further from the truth.

The word "anarchy," he explained, comes from the Greek word anarchos,
meaning without a leader. Anarchists believe that centralized,
hierarchical authorities–such as the state and all its tools–exist to
keep the human species under control. They also believe that people
should be free from governments and that communities of like-minded
individuals should form loose, decentralized units based on "mutual aid"
and "doing it yourself."

The perfect size for these units–known as collectives or affinity
groups–is about a dozen, and no bigger than 20.

"Any time you have a hierarchy," Intense Guy says, "you are
corporatized. You’re letting someone put the boot on your neck."

Some people insisted on wearing bandannas over their faces inside their
own conference. One young woman from the Black Bloc collective, which
caused so much mischief in Seattle, wore a green kerchief over her nose
and mouth, but it was made of a meshlike material, so you could sort of
see what she looked like.

She looked serious.

Her name was Warcry.

Warcry said that direct action and confrontation with authority were
required because the state "enslaves us and brutalizes us on a daily
basis." She also said that the corporate media had "betrayed us" at the
Republican convention in Philadelphia, and that the media were "a viable
target."

"They’re the problem," she said. "They’re the reason why fascists get
elected."

Some anarchists derided the efforts of other protest groups appearing in
Los Angeles, such as DAN, the Direct Action Network, which one anarchist
described as "Do Absolutely Nothing."

One anarchist named DeeDee described the Direct Action protesters–who
were gathering across town to make puppets and banners and plans–as
"trust fund brats," poseurs flying around the country and getting off on
being quoted in the mainstream press. Those social-justice types were,
apparently, not radical enough. DeeDee even accused them of "living in
$600-a-month apartments in San Francisco." The audience did not really
know how to respond to that charge, since many anarchists live in rented
apartments.

The anarchists are a fractious lot, and debate currently reigns among
the various wings of the movement. Some old-timers think the young
people who came into the tribe through punk music have no ideology and
little understanding of what anarchism is about, except raging against
the machine. And there were some young people who did not know Emma
Goldman or Noam Chomsky from Bart Simpson.

But the punker-anarchists said some of the older, more academic set (and
there were not a whole lot of those at the conference) spent too much
time yammering about poli-theory, and not enough time mixing it up with
the state–or taking their message about The Man to the community,
whatever the community is.

But the more serious divide was between the so-called "green" and "red"
anarchists. The green anarchists, sometimes called "primitivist," have a
deeply ecological bent. As the journal Green Anarchy puts it:
"Primitivism views technology and civilization as an unnecessary evil
and believes humanity would be much happier and healthier outside the
modern industrial world."

They like "land-based agricultural communes."

A lot of them live in Oregon.

On the other side are the reds, the "anarcho-syndicalists," who are more
into the working classes and organizing themselves into collectives.
Some are into one big union, sort of nouveau-Wobblies. Others are into
many, many small guilds.

"Anarchists are pretty interesting because we all sort of hate each
other, but we also all hate the same thing, which is the authoritarian
state," said one anarcho-syndicalist who called himself Chuck.

Chuck pointed at a banner above the conference hall/garage. It read:
"Whoever they vote for, we are ungovernable."

Sometime later, on a voice vote, we got ejected from the conference–the
first purge of the week.

Author: William Booth

News Service: the Washington Post Style section 8.15.00

URL: http://www.infoshop.org/