Questioning Anarchist Aesthetic and Rhetoric

I’ve been involved in anarchist organizing for a while. I was at the DNC Really, Really Democratic Bazaar today and at some point I started thinking about how the people who weren’t involved in the “scene” perceived us. Maybe I shouldn’t have; maybe I should have been like: “fuck that, why should I give a fuck about what other people think?” But the truth of the matter is that I do. Vangaurdism is for authoritarians; not anarchists. But I think that we’re perceived as vangaurdist sometimes. I feel that we’ve built some strains of a very interesting subculture and movement that is fun to be a part of and that is doing a lot of good work. But I feel like we need to step back a second and think about how our rhetoric, aesthetic and project focus/ implementation relates to what we claim to want.

For example, does “smash the state” or “up the punx” or half the rhetoric that we use mean anything to anyone outside our own egos? Does our rhetoric actually communicate what we’re all about and what we want or does it contribute to misunderstanding of what we are and what we’re all about. Are we communicating with people or at people? Does our punk rock talk alienate potential allies from us because they see what we’re doing as a sub-cultural thing that doesn’t relate to them? Are we caught up in old-left revolutionary or hippie or punk rock rhetoric or some other subcultural talk when we communicate with others not like us? If our language is about expression of ideas and not about conformity, then what are we expressing and how do we think expressing it is going to connect us with our communities, our regions and our world? Are we being dismissed because we are so self-absorbed and focused on our own subcultural styles of communication that we can’t understand how others communicate?

And this kind of bridges over to our aesthetic. There’s something to be said for the effect that dressing in anti-conformist ways have in combating a larger mindless control system. Situationism and the original punk rock seemed to be a lot about that. But what was originally anti-conformist has just turned into another form of sub-cultural conformity. An anti-conformity conformity. Does it have any effect anymore? Could the effect instead now just be a further separation from potential allies because other folks dismiss us as a subculture and don’t feel like they connect to our aesthetic expression? How does this contribute to lack of real diversity among anarchists? Are our political beliefs just another fashion? What kind of “insider”/ “outider” dynamics are we creating by our aesthetic? Are there more effective ways of communicating what we’re trying to communicate through our aesthetic, if we’re actually consciously communicating anything at all?

And lastly, what about our project focus/ implementation: How integrated are we really into our communities? Are we integrated enough to build projects that make a real step towards social revolution? Do we have alternative projects and counter-institutions that could replace the system we have now? Are we actually building towards them? Are we doing it in ways that are effective and inclusive? Are we ready to make real long term commitments to these projects or are our projects just another way to fit into the scene? Do we give a fuck enough to engage in the kind of projects and do the kind of work that doesn’t have glamour or excitement; but in the long term actually make a difference? Are we also just caught up in a world of instant gratification without the determination to build towards a world ready for revolutionary change? Are we ready to engage and connect with the world at a deeper, more serious level than just another sub-cultural scene? How are we really stepping things up? And what ways can we?

I don’t mean to be negative. There are a lot of really positive steps that we’re making. But I think that we also have a long way to go. And I feel like progress is going to be made if we start thinking about our actions and our commitment levels for the long-run. I feel like we need to be thinking about our rhetoric, aesthetic and project focus/ implementation on a much deeper and serious level than I can do in this short commentary. And I think that these are among many other things we’re going to need to do to move beyond a subculture and become an inclusive and effective movement towards social revolution.