Left Rejected

The North American Anarchist Conference (NAAC), held in Los Angeles August 11-13, 2000, the weekend before the Democratic National Convention, attracted an unusually large media presence, including the Washington Post, the Nation, and the L.A. Times. Curiosity about anarchists has become heightened in the last year, as the anti-globalization movement is frequently attributed to anarchists by government officials, police and media commentators.

The conference brought out the need for a stronger and clearer articulation of the basic anarchist ideas. Anarchism is without government, a condition sustained by the creation of non-hierarchical social structures which are not institutionalized and so do not outlive their usefulness.

It is antithetical to anarchism to base the concept of freedom on government permission, yet some attendees presented arguments based on the assumption of legal or constitutional rights. Jay Brophy urged anarchist teachers to work in public schools, claiming that anarchist pedagogy can freely exist under state control.

At one point, the conflict between leftist and anarchist perspectives became explosive. During the panel discussion, Cris Crass of San Francisco Food Not Bombs asserted that \”A movement dominated by white men will never bring about change in this country. Never.\” He went on to stress the importance of \”developing the capacity for everyone to become a leader in this movement.\” John Zerzan, an Anarcho-Primitivist theorist, sharply criticized Crass\’s speech for its advocacy of a rights-based, leadership-based politics. Zerzan declared, \”There\’s nothing anarchist about it. It\’s leftism, not revolutionary.\”

\”The Left\” includes a range of perspectives from liberalism to communism, which seek state-directed social progress. By definition, anarchism, which seeks to eliminate the state, is not part of the left.

Nevertheless, anarchists have historically clung to the fringes of the left. Lawrence Jarech, a Berkeley anti-authoritarian, raised this issue at the conference. The anarchist presence in various left movements has been as a radical conscience, he explains. Anarchists trail after leftists trying to get them to be more like anarchists, which they don\’t want to be. Jarech urges that \”we consolidate among ourselves … as a discrete social movement with a discrete social philosophy.\”

DeeDee, an anarchist from Eugene, addressed the need for building more anarchist structures. At present, anarchists are often dependent on the resources of hierarchical leftist organizations. In joining leftist organizations, anarchists sacrifice their goals to serve the goals of the organization.

Discussion of tactics was hampered during the conference by terms of debate historically set by such left movements as pacifism. Anti-statism, if it is to be an active movement and not merely an ideological position, requires using force against the state. Without force, the state will never perish. Anarchists must employ strategies which are effective and serve the needs and goals of anarchism. But this focus has been obscured by the popularity of pacifism and nonviolence among anti-authoritarians, including many anarchists. Moreover, in the last year the term \”violence\” has been much abused, applied to such acts as property damage and shouting, in an effort to prevent genuine confrontations between demonstrators and the state from developing out of police-approved marches.

Anarchists must be able to critique our tactics if we are going to be effective and maintain any advantage over the police in confrontational situations. An anarchist from Europe commented that in Europe the black bloc is being abandoned because it no longer serves their tactical needs and the police are too familiar with it.

The NAAC enjoyed some police-provided entertainment, but the conference was held without serious interruptions. Neither the police presence nor the media presence had significant impact on the discussions or results of the conference; attendees were able to make helpful contacts and return refreshed and inspired to undertake new work.