We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Ukrainian Revolution & the Future of Social Movements

Click here to access article by CrimethInc. Workers' Collective from their website. (Appears to be based in Salem, Oregon.)

I and many others think that a thorough study of what happened in Ukraine is of utmost importance if we, ordinary people, have any chance of surviving in a decent world. Although this collective does not clearly identify themselves as anarchists in their "about" page, from their writings, and this one in particular, they clearly express an anarchist perspective. 

I've never been able to identify my own political orientation even though I have agreed with some elements in various left ideologies. This has been especially true of anarchism about which I've always experienced a lot of ambivalence. It looks to me like that this piece may be helpful in clearing up most of my confusion in addition to offering a very thoughtful examination of recent Ukrainian events. Therefore, while my following comments may seem like a digression from the article's examination, I think it adds clarity to the latter.

In this article as in so many anarchist writings, one sees an emphasis placed on the "state" and governments which rule states. Anarchists are fundamentally anti-authoritarians and, of course, states and their governments are inherently authoritarian. Socioeconomic class concepts are sometimes inserted in their discussions, but their importance is lost in the background because the state is so dramatically thrust into the foreground. Thus the state becomes an independent actor in the drama of human affairs, according to anarchists, and I think that this perspective is clearly reflected in this article.
A variety of capitalists and state actors must be evaluating these protest movements as a way to pursue politics by other means. As more resources flow into the hands of reactionary participants in social struggles, we will likely see more developments like those in Ukraine and Venezuela.

Likewise, powerful governments will not stand by and let common people get a taste for overthrowing them. They will be pressed to intervene, as Russia has in Ukraine, in hopes that war can trump insurrection. War is a way of shutting down possibilities—of changing the subject. It is a risky business, however—it can help governments to consolidate their power, but history shows that it can also destabilize them.

With war looming, even the limits of violent nationalism become obvious. Mere protest militancy is worthless in the face of the Russian military; only contagious disobedience could serve to even the odds when a social movement does battle with a superpower. This is the one thing anarchist opposition to the state has going for it today: in a globalized world, all insurrections must ultimately become international or perish.
I argue that states (and their governments) are creations of the capitalist class to serve the competing interests of capitalist players and to establish the legitimacy of their class rule in the eyes of their working class subjects. Capitalist propaganda has always portrayed the state as serving all of society. This is explicitly expressed in national documents where one encounters such words as "of the people, by the people, and for the people", "inalienable rights" of people, and a "Bill of Rights" as in the US constitution. They have continually affirmed in their propaganda and indoctrination that they have established "democratic" governments and the "rule of law" that supports all people. (Of course, the reality is completely different: rights and access to their legal system, as well as everything else, all depends on how much money you have.) 

Victorious capitalist classes merely substituted state concepts in place of kingdoms after taking power from monarchs and aristocracies. They did this originally to enlist the support of working people to overthrow the rule of the old feudal authorities. When their victories were accomplished, they were stuck with all the promises contained in their propaganda and thus had to create new authoritarian structures which pretend to be "democratic". Hence, their construction of the concept of "state".