Friday, March 17, 2017

Michael Benton: My Understanding of Anarchism 5.0

[I was asked to explain my understanding of anarchism -- so I have revised this earlier statement]

This started out as a response to Sara P. on the Occupy Education email list in the winter of 2011 and I was reading scott crow's book at the time. Sara asked me to define in greater detail my understanding of Anarchism. There is a lot of confusion about the political philosophy of anarchism, mostly because of the disinformation propagated by corporate media, but also because there is no "one" Anarchism, instead it is a diverse, evolving part of global autonomous movements and participatory economics.  Of course this is just my perspective, others no doubt will provide different views and even disagree.  I think that is a good thing!

PM Press link for the book


'Black Flags and Windmills' TRAILER from Louisiana Lucy on Vimeo.

also a full presentation by scott crow on the ideas and experiences in the book



Sara, it is important that we each set down our understandings of anarchism and initiate broader discussions/debates about anarchism:

You asked about the confusion in regards to the many uses of the words libertarian/libertarianism.

First, the political concept of "libertarianism" has many meanings/uses in American political discussions. Because of our corporate media's focus on conservative politicians most Americans are familiar with right-libertarians (also known as individualistic/economic libertarians)? This is the Tea Party's or Ron/Rand Paul's American version of libertarianism that wants to limit government and privatize everything.

On the other hand, there are the left-libertarians (also known as communal/socialist libertarians). These are the traditional anarchists developing from earlier European versions that branched off from socialism (rejecting its authoritarian impulses) and sought to bring more autonomy into individual/collective lives while realizing the potential of liberated communities.

There are many more types of anarchism, but let me lay out some basics (I would also encourage you to watch scott crow's presentation in the video I provided -- he/Common Grounds is a great example of anarchist direct action. I would suggest going to see the upcoming screening of Howard Zinn's The People Speak (based on his landmark history The People's History of the United States:



For the record Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky both claim they are left-libertarians.

Short descriptions:

Anarchists do not seek complete absence of government. There is a need for basic communal structures to provide everyone with the necessary staples of life, for instance, a good example would be the provision of water for a large community. What anarchists do want is leadership, not leaders; in other words a society in which we cultivate the ability of all to step up and work for the greater collective good. They also demand, yes demand, transparency of actions/processes (the Occupy Movement's general assembly and decision making processes are partly inspired by anarchist principles) and that leadership should always be held accountable. Most anarchists are also opposed to privatization of basic necessities (at the least) under the control of a corporatocracy. These types of monopoly relations rest upon the infantilization of dependent populations, as well as the creation of a plutocracy that dominates all aspects of our state/government/society/culture. This is the belief that democracy doesn't come from a small group of people at the top of society, instead, democratic processes depend on the full involvement of informed/engaged citizens from all sections of a society.  This can be seen in the AK Press statement:

We don’t advocate “no control,” but insist on asking “control by whom?” We work to destroy arbitrary power (political, economic, and social), to take decision-making power away from “officials,” while developing our ability to fill that void and provide for ourselves. “People's governments” invariably become calcified and abandon the struggle for human freedom. This is why we identify with the liberatory strains within the history of socialism—the unbroken thread of impassioned resistance against both the terrors of capitalism and the tyranny of government.
Anarchism doesn't tell people what to do. It tells them that they have the ability to make decisions about the issues that affect them. Anarchism, and the anarchist movement, is about emancipation, empowerment, and agency. Ask yourself this: what would your ideal transportation system, agricultural system, neighborhood, school, or workplace look like? Now ask yourself how much influence you and the people around you have over these issues? Can we afford to leave these decisions to the same people who have been screwing up our lives thus far?


Anarchists do not believe in complete freedom for the individual -- as in free from any responsibility to anything. I have a problem with the word "freedom" which has its origins in slave societies. A master granted freedom to a slave for exemplary service and to hold out hope to the rest of the slaves that one day they might be "freed." With this in mind, we can see the correlation to our current system, were the many toil endlessly in the desperate hope that they might someday be granted "freedom" from want and need (by becoming one of the elites). Former President Bush defined our limited freedom in the aftermath of 9/11 when he exhorted Americans to respond to the attacks on their "freedom" by going about their daily lives of "working and shopping and playing." Is this what it means to be a "free" person in a democracy? Instead anarchists seek autonomy for individuals and communities through participatory economics and consensus decision making.

For me, I think of autonomy in this way: autonomy = individual responsibility + consensus decision making + cooperative learning + participatory economics. At every step of this formula is the development of individual liberty in tandem with collective responsibility. I believe that communities are best served by free-thinking, autonomous individuals (and this is the polar opposite of the "radical individualism" of consumer capitalism and economic libertarians) and that autonomous individuals are best cultivated in liberated, participatory collectives/communities. If anything, Anarchists are truly the most concerned with community because they struggle with the individual's role in communities. Responsibility can only be cultivated through individuals that have the ability to respond. The reason why anarchists hold such value on the creative development of autonomous individuals is because self-direction is a necessary step for the cultivation of individual responsibility to the community. Consumer capitalism seeks fragmented, alienated, anxious individuals/communities because these are people that are the most easily exploited for profits. Furthermore, anxious, detached and fragmented people are incapable of response-ability to anything beyond their basic addictive appetites.

Anarchists are not opposed to profits. There is nothing wrong with co-ops, local markets, exchange of goods with ones neighbors. We just don't want to worship at the altar of profits or genuflect to a mythical corporate free market (lets face it, America has a massive corporate welfare system in place). Instead of our current economic system that values things over people and profits over places, anarchists value people/places over profits. Money is an illusion, a powerful one that has real effects in the world, but an illusion nonetheless.

I view anarchism as a personal philosophy (the personal is political and vice versa). Here is my take on it as my personal philosophy:

Anarchism is a person-centered philosophy. Its focus is on autonomy amidst the social and economic pressures of mass society for superficiality and conformism. It is our responsibility, as free and conscious beings, to create meaning out of life and to develop an authentic existence. It is also, in my opinion, in this regard, our duty to help others develop their response-ability to do the same (for me as a teacher this is the core of an anarchist pedagogy). In this anarchism is radically collective in orientation. We are cultivating autonomous, ethical and responsible individuals who care about their community. Anarchism does not discount other beings in this world, it is holistic, in the sense of recognizing that humans are just one set of beings that live and share in the development and continuation of the broader environment.

Anarchism is a philosophy of autonomy. Autonomy requires a sense of responsibility. It requires that we step back and reflect/reassess on what we have been doing and what effect our thoughts/actions have on the world. In this sense we are more than just individuals, we are members of larger collectives and our personal ethics always extend beyond ourselves (this anarchism is not vulgar egotism). In this we can only be as "responsible" as we are "autonomous." Response-ability, the ability for people to respond to the problems of their society and the impetus for them to care beyond themselves, is only realized by liberated, authentic, free thinking and ethical beings. Where there is mindless conformism, shallow consumerism, or brutal oppression, you will see a breakdown in the development of response-ability (both in the ruled/rulers... or, manipulated/manipulators).

Ethical considerations are the primary questions. We all understand ethics and liberty differently, this is a given, and thus we must bring each of our understandings into play and sharpen our ideas through open/free public discourse. In this we, as individuals, as a community, as a society, and as a global ecosystem, should consider ethical questions as primary steps to building a better world. An autonomous individual is responsible to develop and consider the authenticity of their own personal lives in relation to their society. My authenticity should not be at the expense of your opportunity to realize yourself (for example, we are not bloated ticks that feed off the misery of others in order to realize some twisted sense of self).

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I realize I am a flawed and difficult person. This is always a work in progress and I struggle as an individual.

To realize true liberty as autonomous citizens through participatory economics developed in cooperative communities .... that is all I have ever dreamed of since I was a little kid.... seriously -- it is all summed up in the usage of the word: "solidarity"

and once again to circle back again to scott crow -- why does the government/media/corporations fear anarchist so much?

NY Times: For Anarchist, Details of Life as F.B.I. Target

Potter, Will. "FBI Agents Raid Homes in Search of “Anarchist Literature” Green Is the New Red (July 30, 2012)

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