This weekend marks the 9th annual Anarchist Bookfair in Montreal. One of, if not the largest events of it’s kind in North America, it brings together over 100 booksellers, distributors and organisations, in an incredibly open, and bilingual, atmosphere that attracts close to a thousand visitors over 2 days.
I’ve always gone back and forth defining my own political tendencies, mostly because I don’t think I’ve read, learned, or, by extension, thought about it enough to really be able to defend a particular belief; I can’t say for certain that anarchy, or another system, is feasible. On the other hand, the current system is obviously broken and is failing billions of people world-wide, so I readily identify as anti-capitalist. This year I plan to build on that and come out with a better idea of what I want to be working toward as a replacement. As a start I picked up what I think will be a great read and introduction: Daniel Guérin‘s anthology ‘No Gods, No Masters’ (AK Press, 2005).
And, as if to help me on my way, an excellent Q & A with Howard Zinn was at the top of the news feed on Alternet yesterday afternoon. A great read and strong overview of some of the current challenges anarchy faces within mainstream society. Entitled ‘Anarchism Shouldn’t Be a Dirty Word,’ Zinn was interviewed by Ziga Vodovnik, assistant professor of political science in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia.
A short excerpt:
Ziga Vodovnik: Most of the creative energy for radical politics is nowadays coming from anarchism, but only few of the people involved in the movement actually call themselves “anarchists.” Where do you see the main reason for this? Are activists ashamed to identify themselves with this intellectual tradition, or rather they are true to the commitment that real emancipation needs emancipation from any label?
Howard Zinn: The term anarchism has become associated with two phenomena with which real anarchists don’t want to associate themselves with. One is violence, and the other is disorder or chaos. The popular conception of anarchism is on the one hand bomb-throwing and terrorism, and on the other hand no rules, no regulations, no discipline, everybody does what they want, confusion, etc. That is why there is a reluctance to use the term anarchism. But actually the ideas of anarchism are incorporated in the way the movements of the 1960s began to think.
I think that probably the best manifestation of that was in the civil rights movement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee — SNCC. SNCC without knowing about anarchism as philosophy embodied the characteristics of anarchism. They were decentralized. Other civil rights organizations, for example Seven Christian Leadership Conference, were centralized organizations with a leader — Martin Luther King. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) were based in New York, and also had some kind of centralized organization. SNCC, on the other hand, was totally decentralized. It had what they called field secretaries, who worked in little towns all over the South, with great deal of autonomy. They had an office in Atlanta, Georgia, but the office was not a strong centralized authority. The people who were working out in the field — in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi — they were very much on their own. They were working together with local people, with grassroots people. And so there is no one leader for SNCC, and also great suspicion of government.
They could not depend on government to help them, to support them, even though the government of the time, in the early 1960s, was considered to be progressive, liberal. John F. Kennedy especially. But they looked at John F. Kennedy, they saw how he behaved. John F. Kennedy was not supporting the Southern movement for equal rights for Black people. He was appointing the segregationists judges in the South, he was allowing southern segregationists to do whatever they wanted to do. So SNCC was decentralized, anti-government, without leadership, but they did not have a vision of a future society like the anarchists. They were not thinking long term, they were not asking what kind of society shall we have in the future. They were really concentrated on immediate problem of racial segregation. But their attitude, the way they worked, the way they were organized, was along, you might say, anarchist lines.