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On Wolff, Chomsky, Anarchism and Occupy (Blog)

Are anarchists generally ‘disorganised’, or is that just The Left?

Earlier today I watched a clip that primonutmeg had uploaded in November last year of the Marxist economist, Prof Richard D Wolff discussing Noam Chomsky & Anarchism. There are many similarities between these two old white blokes. They’re both well established, respected academics who went to posh schools and got safe jobs as tenured professors. They both have the courage to use their privilege to speak truth to power. Wolff’s a fair bit younger than Chomsky though, who’s getting on a bit now*.

Watching the clip, I was struck by what I’d say was Wolff’s mischaracterisation of anarchism as being anti-organisational. I think he ends up applying this critique to ‘The Left’ in general, which is more fair but I’ll come to that.

He was also speaking in the American context, so perhaps it’s different there but in my experience, anarchists are generally very well organised, (when we’re not burnt out and traumatised by the ravages of capitalism ‘pon our bodies and psyches). Like many people in the youtube comments, I took his critique to be about anarchists, so it stung a little bit to be entirely honest with you.

My internet connection dropped out near the end of the clip, so I forced myself to get up and take the recycling out, had a covidiot induced panic attack and forgot all about it. Later, I was having a browse through twitter which made me start thinking again about how we really do need to figure out ways to effectively unite ‘The Left’, in everybody’s interests. (That old chestnut).

I had a poo, washed my hands, made a cup of tea, sat down and opened the youtube tab up again, only to be reminded that Prof Wolff had been discussing exactly the same point. Had it been bubbling away in my subconscious? Probably. Anyway, I watched the end of the clip and it was good. Broad strokes, I agree with him. Unity: The Left should do more of it again. It’d be good.

It brought to mind a story from back in the Occupy days. I’ve told this one before but bear with me, it’s a good ‘un.

November 2011

It was like magic at first, how well organised everything turned out. All the practical stuff, like the kitchen, the rubbish and recycling points, the communal fire in an upcycled washing machine bin…We even had a portaloo at one point! “Human ingenuity”. “Aren’t we an amazing species” etc.

Despite inclement weather, everything had been rolling relatively smoothly for the first few weeks of the occupation. We were changing the world. The camp was growing every day. More and more people were joining. Then one evening at the General Assembly (GA), a local politician wanted to speak but there was a loud ‘block’ objection from somebody. (A ‘block’ meant that the objection was so serious that they would leave the group if it was not upheld). They were overruled by the GA. The objection had come from somebody in the anarchist bloc and so ALL the anarchists left there and then, en masse. I remember being surprised to notice that they had probably comprised between 1/4 and 1/3 of the GA.

Looking back now, it was all dealt with really badly but wtf did we know? Really we should have tried to find a compromise but I wasn’t an anarchist yet, so like most of the well meaning fluffy liberal types who remained, I thought it was the right decision, at the time. The politician was an ally. Why wouldn’t we let them speak? etc.

So, the GA decided to overrule the anarcho who had objected – the facilitator accepted the decision like a gameshow host shrugging at a contestant who had been voted off. The anarchists all left together. The politician spoke. There was applause. More speaking. More applause. Eventually the well-heeled daytrippers who had delivered the decision to overrule the objection melted away to reveal that the camp itself had become visibly, palpably smaller. Less tents. A lot less bodies. Very few sober people…

Over the coming hours, days and weeks, it became obvious that all those ‘magical’, practical things that had ‘just happened by themselves’, hadn’t just happened by themselves at all. It was the anarchists who had organised and maintained all that shit and it started to fall apart the minute they left.

The well-heeled daytrippers kept stopping by for the nightly assemblies where they took turns to dominate with their personal gripes, hobbiehorses or ‘passions’. To be fair, a very small number of them volunteered to help pick up the slack on site but they soon dropped out again as the state of the camp degenerated. Who could blame them? A small, sleepless handful of us tried to keep it all going but it was impossible. We didn’t really have a clue about organising, or camping for that matter. The camp was pretty much all vulnerable people by this stage; homeless and mentally unwell folk. I was one of them! Most couldn’t help out because they either went to work or to beg all day and got back late and nackered. Or they were alcoholics, or abusing other substances, or in some cases all of these things. It was freezing and wet and windy and miserable and hopeless. A very sad end to my first ever occupation.

Understandably, the experience had piqued my interest in anarchism.

Before Occupy, I had believed as Wolff does that the word just meant ‘disorganisation’; chaos and violence. As many of you will already have figured out, that’s actually what we have now under so-called ‘neo-lilberal’ capitalism.

I’m extremely grateful to the handful of anarchist comrades who stuck around in the aftermath of Occupy to introduce me and others to actual anarchist ideas, theories and history. I’m grateful to all the good anarchists online now, sharing yet more anarchist ideas, theories and history. I feel like I should start making more effort in this regard myself, hence sharing this little story again.

It’s easy to rip the piss out of Kieth Stormer, Boris Johnson and the rest of their Parliamentary Pantomime Pals. It can even be good fun, at times. I think it’s supposed to be easy and fun though. We all know that ultimately it’s just low-vibrational bullshit that’s not actually going to get us very far. I might stop participating for a bit and try to pick up one of the heavier, extra-parliamentary projects that I’ve left sitting on the backburner …maybe. idk. Watch this space.

*note – there were calls to cancel Chomsky after his comments on antifa last year. Personally, I think it would be a mistake to cancel him. After a lifetime of being 100% right about absolutely everything, I reckon Noam’s earned the right to be wrong about something. As a treat.

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