How do leftist anarchists engage with current politics?
April 18, 2017 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Leftist anarchists of MetaFilter, your ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter. I've been a fairly conventional liberal for a long time, but the recent U.S. election has me rethinking that a little bit. I'm curious about socialist anarchism as an alternative. I know there are some MeFites who identify this way politically, so my question for you is: how do you engage with politics as it currently exists?

Who do you vote for? What steps do you want to take in today’s world about healthcare? How about guns? What is it that separates you in today’s political reality from, say, libertarians?

If you object to anarchism as a political philosophy, you can assume I’ve already thought of your objections, as they are part of what prompted my question. I’m mostly interested in hearing about peoples’ personal experiences, but book recommendations are welcome as well!
posted by Ragged Richard to Law & Government (7 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Libertarians in the US are different from Anarchists in that they usually believe "the market" is the way to level playing fields and get things to work out. So you don't need environmental regulations because better companies will naturally achieve more market share blabity bla. I am handwaving broadly but the difference between the hands-offness of Anarchism and the hands-offness of Libertarianism is that Anarchism isn't anti-governance, it's anti-governance from without and often anti-government (i.e. the clowns in office right now and it's always clowns). That is, it's ok for people to govern themselves and set the rules they want to live under. I'm not here to argue with Libertarians, just to explain why I think Anarchism is different. To many people, Anarcho-capitalism is actually Libertarianism. I live in VT and we're thought of as more Anarchist (more social programs, more spending, more recycling, more pot, no billboards, etc) and NH which is basically VT upside-down is seen as more Libertarian (lower taxes, fewer social programs, different sort of poverty, etc)

A few things people do nowadays with anarchistic leanings, though the funding isn't anarchistic

- Mutual Aid stuff like fire departments, Books to Prisoners, Food not Bombs, CSAs and public libraries
- Tech stuff like working on free and open source software projects, sharing data as freely as possible
- Collective Action like organizing in and outside of the workforce (unions and in other ways) which can extend to
- Propaganda of the Deed stuff in and around some of the marches/protests that have been going on because it's important to make useful statements to the large number of people who are not on this team

In an ideal Anarchist world people could self-organize so that they were in communities of shared interests so that people could be with the people who shared their beliefs more (which takes care of some of the guns/no guns stuff, some Anarchists are heavily into gun ownership, some think it's a necessary evil "until the revolution", and some hate them for various reasons).

I think many Anarchists differ tactically on how to deal with voting. I vote locally (anything up to the state level) because I feel I have a direct connection to the outcome. This is, of course, a somewhat privileged position. I'm also (nyuk nyuk) an elected representative in my town. Which seems counterintuitive but I get to sit in and have impact on tax hearings in my town as well as get to marry people (i.e. use the power of the state for good) for free if I so choose. Realistically at this point, the state exists and pretending like it doesn't isn't, for me, a tactical way to go through life. I don't expect the world or even my state to become Anarchist. However I do think there are many "better ways to live" that would be genuine options in the world if people could adjust the slider between caring about what is good for themselves and caring about what is good for the community. So I try to model some good practices.
posted by jessamyn at 10:19 AM on April 18 [31 favorites]

> I think many Anarchists differ tactically on how to deal with voting.

Yup. I don't, at all; it's my equivalent of a religious mandate. Otherwise, basically what my comrade jessamyn said. I don't expect anarchism to exist in the world in my lifetime or my grandsons', or maybe ever, but that doesn't mean I have to give up my belief that forcing people to do what you want by violence or the threat of violence is wrong. I compare it to someone realizing, a couple of millennia back, that slavery is wrong. You can't change the society around you, you can't even figure out how that society is going to do without slaves, but that doesn't mean you have to be a slaveowner.
posted by languagehat at 10:55 AM on April 18 [8 favorites]

It's interesting to me that you frame your question as one about "today's world" but then talk about healthcare and guns. Where I live, guns really aren't an issue in the same way (and healthcare... kind of isn't?, but our govt. are very keen on adopting a US style system for some reason). Are you interested in answers from a global perspective or are you more concerned with the finer-grained details of how anarchist politics could play out in contemporary US society? (I don't want to give you a ton of useless or unwanted information!)
posted by the north sea at 2:21 PM on April 18

Who do you vote for? What steps do you want to take in today’s world about healthcare?

I vote for the least-bad option (so does Chomsky), but otherwise I avoid electoral politics. I want everyone to have access to the care they need, which in Canada today, pragmatically, means I want free universal health care preserved and expanded, not privatized or hedged with user fees. I have concerns about for-profit medical companies and so on. But anarchists don't have a platform or a five-year plan for health care; that would only make sense if we wanted to take over the apparatus of power.

Most of the anarchists I know prefer to work on local/low-level stuff. They do anti-poverty and anti-gentrification activism, run collective community spaces, support undocumented migrants, set up renters' unions, blockade pipelines, and organize workers -- spheres of activity where direct action is possible. So an anarchist response to "health care" might involve forming a women's health collective, or arranging transportation and support for women seeking abortions in underserved areas, or organizing alongside other folks with mental health issues against involuntary treatment or abuse by cops, rather than staking out a position on the ACA. Strategically, this kind of organizing can be seen as laying the foundations for counter-institutions to challenge and replace the institutions of capitalism and the state (cf. dual power).
posted by Gerald Bostock at 3:09 PM on April 18 [3 favorites]

Are you interested in answers from a global perspective or are you more concerned with the finer-grained details of how anarchist politics could play out in contemporary US society?

Good question! I guess I'm interested in U.S. politics in particular. For example, right now, I have some baseline political assumptions, and one of them is that the U.S. is uniquely bad among western countries in not having single-payer healthcare. Another is that the U.S. is uniquely bad among western countries in having extremely weak gun control. I assume that both of those are incompatible with an anarchist worldview, but on the other hand, I basically never hear left-leaning anarchists say that the U.S. healthcare system is awesome, or that we're the only country that gets it right on guns.
posted by Ragged Richard at 4:50 PM on April 18

My political philosophy starts with this:

No human should have power over another human.

Of course that's simplistic and generally refers to adults and "normally" functioning adults which then needs further refinement but basically yeah, power over others is bad.

For me this means I don't vote. By voting you are endorsing a system of governance based entirely on the premise of some people having power over others. The two things are incompatible.

But I'm also somewhat pragmatic even given my idealism. And being liberal I recognize that the Democratic party is far more in line with my beliefs than the Republican party and I support them through my words (like in political discussions). I also realize that our political system strongly encourages a two-party system so supporting a third party even if that party is a better fit for me does more harm than good. Especially in the short term. And that's kind of important. The poor people in this country are in shit-filled situation and need help and support now and not down the road via some kind of gradual third-party evolution.

I also believe that societies have the right to protect themselves from other people. What I mean is protect themselves from violence, theft, etc. If we can't rehabilitate someone then keeping them separate from society in as a humane way as possible is warranted. So this becomes my view on criminal justice. We have to violate the first principle above but we do so to protect the interests of the rest of society and do so in such a way to minimize how much we violate the first principle.

Healthcare for all is a no-brainer. While Obamacare is a compromised solution it's 10,000 x better than what we had before. Again, while I hate to see this come from any kind of government the people who need it would otherwise be suffering even more than they already are.

Guns. Wow. Totally against them. Too much they run up against the first principle. Now in certain living situations like where bears are present then they might be necessary, etc, but normally when among other humans then no. And I come from a family of hunters (5th generation Texan) and have seen all the truly horrific aspects of allowing people to own guns. It's a tough calculation but I'm firm on it.

I don't want to turn this into a longer manifesto but hopefully this gets the basic point across. All people should have decent lives and never at the expense of others. And given that we can't have this anarchistic utopia right now then we should at least work as hard as possible to making sure the people at the bottom are receiving the most help and attention.
posted by bfootdav at 8:43 PM on April 18 [3 favorites]

I'm an anti-capitalist anarchist in America and have been so since I was 16. I'm now over 40. I strongly believe in universal health care and gun control. Though I am strongly pro-union and pro-labor, I do not believe anyone should be forced to work for someone else. Therefore, my ideal life would be one of self-sufficiency combined with mutual aid. It looks a lot like permaculture and DIY in the context of a community with shared goals. I'm very pro-technology and a proponent of open source software and free information. I believe in the concept of usufruct, which means that people are allowed to use other people's resources and property without destruction, as long as this is agreed on by all parties. The Green Bikes initiative was an example of this, where bicycles were available around a city for anyone to ride. I also like bartering and exchange of goods and services. One thing that many anarchist groups work toward is a jury-like consensus; I'm not super-crazy about that because it gives one person veto power and can be coercive. Majority rule, or forming other groups, seems preferable.

Our current system of electing leaders by the Electoral College is, in my opinion, dysfunctional and forces a two-party system into existence. I like decentralized policy-making and I do support states' rights and communities' rights. People should be allowed to live as they please. However, if one state has rights that infringe on another's (like air pollution, for example), there should be consequences. There should also be incentives to make egalitarianism more attractive than greed. I believe that if everyone had enough, there would be less conflict and acquisitiveness. I also believe that the root of all of our dysfunction in this country is the result of late-stage capitalism which necessitates the economic oppression of most of the citizens so the capital can be concentrated in the hands of a few. Therefore I do, unlike the libertarians, believe in taxation and that's what makes me an anarcho-socialist. Hoarding wealth infringes on the rights of others to have resources, so it is a form of violence.

I do vote, and I vote for the least objectionable candidate. Our system forces us to have to do this and I personally believe abstaining or voting third party is not pragmatic and contributed to a capitalofascist winning our election. I wish it were otherwise, but this is all we have to work with right now. In the meantime, we should organize and work locally as Gerald Bostock said above. One reason I voted against the fascist is because of my fear that he will suppress our ability to organize and he's already started.

My beliefs have been shaped by experiences living collectively with anarcho-syndicalists, left-libertarians, and various creatives since my late teens, as well as by writers like Karl Hess and Murray Bookchin. There are differences between all of these influences, but one thing I was taught was to respect those differences and work together toward the common good. I've been involved with activism for decades too, participating in demonstrations and writing articles starting with community newspapers. Right now I am really feeling the lack of this kind of community in my life, and I'm kind of going it alone except for my partner. I expect there are a lot of us isolated anarchists in America, as toxic consumerism makes communitarianism extremely difficult. The Internet has mitigated some of that, but there's no substitute for hand's-on solidarity and I'd like to get back to that.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 11:24 PM on April 18 [4 favorites]

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