Saturday, December 22, 2012

Behind the mask of revolution. Global separatism in the Russian context

Unlike, say, Marxism or Fascism, Anarchism is not a book which humanity has finished reading. And in the current era of globalization, when national governments are in crisis and local political protests on the increase, the as-yet unread page of anarchist theory may turn out to be more relevant than ever.

‘Either the state suppresses individual rights and local life and extends its power over all aspects of human activity, which provokes struggles for power that only exchange one tyranny for another, or the state has to be destroyed. If this happens, energetic individual and group initiatives and voluntary agreements will provide the basis for the beginnings of a new life in thousands of population centres. The choice is yours!’  Pyotr Kropotkin

...The revolution of 1968 couldn't win out everywhere. The Iron Curtain and the suppression of the Prague Spring prevented the rock-n-roll wind of the 1960s storming into the communist world and reforming it. As a result, the ‘60s generation’ in these countries, unable to implement their own agenda of freedom, democracy and peace throughout the world, simply passed the baton on to their children. Gorbachev’s Perestroika, his ‘new thinking’ and the end of cold war were essentially an extended remake of 1968 from the east. Only this time the protesters more or less disassociated themselves from the Marxist-Socialist language that was totally discredited in the countries of the Eastern bloc. Instead, democratic protest actively embraced the ideas of the neoliberal school of economic thought.

At some point it even felt as though the sole point of the events of 1989-91 was to allow the East, now freed from totalitarianism, to adopt the 1968 version of the West’s system of values mixed with neoliberal pragmatism. In which case, from the political point of view, nothing new need ever happen in the world again.
In 1989 Francis Fukuyama published his famous article The End of History, announcing the ideological triumph of liberal democracy in its current state and stating that henceforth we were entering on the stage of post-history: ‘What we may be witnessing in not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.’
The appearance of this overly naive and questionable theory is not surprising at all; there are other futurological theories that are even more exotic. What is really surprising is that world public opinion accepted Fukuyama's conclusions as axiomatic. Contrary to Fukuyama's prediction, and in line with the expectations of a global society tired of the political cataclysms of the 20th century, the triumph of the ideology of freedom didn't mean ‘the end of history’ at all. On the contrary, history started looking inwards. The first outcome was the permanent erosion of the world order based on the old system of nation states. However, such ideological ‘green shoots’ were not the focus of world public opinion at that point. They were completely eclipsed by the spectacular scenes of the final act of the 20th century: totalitarianism defeated without a fight, democracy and freedom triumphant on its ruins, and the end of USSR-USA nuclear confrontation. 
Perestroika successfully produced a wide-screen remake of 1968 and the world, also in widescreen format, slid into Western-style post-modern self-consciousness and ideological stagnation. The 1960's humanitarian project exhausted itself for the second and last time and in these conditions the lack of any new, positive ideas was felt ever more acutely. 
Europe tried to fill this ideological vacuum with the cult of a golden calf called the Euro. However, this idol has turned out to be so voracious and cynical that it is becoming less of a sacred object or magic wand than a huge technical problem, which ‘has at last to be addressed.’ In search of the new ideological sparring partner, the USA decided to replace world communism with global Islamism, but that strategy soon backfired in the form of the ‘Arab spring.’ ....

The young are angry again

It is fairly commonplace for activists of the Occupy Movement, and many commentators as well, to attribute the upsurge of protest activity to the state of the economy, rather than the cyclical laws of modern history. Typically, graphs of income distributions will be produced in an attempt to link the recent activity to an increase in the annual income of the richest 1% of the population. On closer examination, we see that this attempt to explain the protests by using the Gini coefficient and other economic indices is less than convincing. The last decile peak (when the rich became richer and the poor, poorer) was in 1928 during the Great Depression; at that time there were only a few protests.  The opposite is also true: in 1968, a peak period for protest, the super-rich had the lowest relative annual income of the century. 
Neither, it seems, is there any direct correlation between the economy and protests. The Occupy movement emerged not in 2008-9, when the economy was in an appalling state, but after a few years, in September 2011. It did so at the ‘appointed’ time for the beginning of the next historical cycle of social renovation. 
When ‘Occupy Wall Street’ started, it received almost universal and instant support. The USA saw the birth of more than 600 ‘communities’, which took the New York General Assembly (GANYC) as a model for their self-governing body.  The movement’s symbols and slogans were everywhere, from graffiti on the walls of buildings to the internet.  In November, the NYPD destroyed the protesters’ tent camp in Manhattan’s Zucotti Park, but the movement itself continued to evolve and spread. According to media statistics, over 40% of US citizens sympathise with the protests: CBS news/New York Times figures show that only 27% do not approve. According to Time Magazine, over 50% regard the protesters’ activities positively and only 23% negatively. And of course it is not only in the US that the public is becoming more radicalized. ..
Writing at the end of the 19th and into the beginning of the 20th century, Pyotr Kropotkin, the theoretician of anarchism, proposed the commune as the optimal form of political organization, seeing the free cities of Europe as the closest historical analogy. Today his concept would be more likely to be described as regionalism than anarchism. 
Kropotkin saw all human history as a series of cycles in which small territorial entities such as cities and communes play a central creative and formative role, and large states and empires a destructive and parasitical one. Each cycle comes to an end when a civilization reaches an imperial dead end and exits the historical stage. His philosophy in effect challenged not only monarchies and other types of traditional authoritarian rule, but also the very idea of a centralized nation state. Moreover he did this long before the victory of this concept after World War I, when the idea of the nation state replaced the traditional monarchist paradigm. 
Kropotkin regarded the Roman Empire as an example of ‘a state in the strict sense of the word. Rome itself was the centre of everything: the economy, the military, legal affairs, education, religion and wealth. It provided laws, judges, legions for the protection of its territories, governors to rule its provinces, gods.’ He believed that, in making slaves of its own citizens, the Roman Empire signed its own death warrant and started a new cycle of history, based once more on the free creative development of regional political forms.  ‘The 12th century saw uprisings in urban communities throughout Europe....’  In the 16th century, on the other hand, emergent absolutist states destroyed the regionalist civilisation of the Middle Ages and the federation of free cities. 
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