“Things got out of hand & we’d had a few drinks. We smashed the place up and Boris set fire to the toilets.” David Cameron, 1986.
Recently, there have been several events that have, again, illustrated the sheer ideological connotations behind what being a ‘terrorist’ means. Anarchists have been included on a Westminster police anti-terrorist strategy, with the public and organisations encouraged to report suspected anarchists (go on, report me). As Jay Baker considered in his book, Pissing in the Mainstream, which I recently reviewed, Gandhi was even considered a terrorist! Gandhi saw himself as a philosophical anarchist, meaning that the state was seen as a temporary evil, that force should NOT be used to bring down the state but rather evolutionary change should occur and in the meantime people have no moral obligation to the state:
Like Marx, Gandhi hated the state and wished to eliminate it, and he told me he considered himself “a philosophical anarchist.” But he was a practical socialist in that he never opposed the state as a necessary instrument in achieving social democracy, though democracy as he understood it is certainly not to be confused with the kind of police state ruled by the Kremlin…
Whilst anarchists such as Bookchin have criticised individual anarchism, philosophical creeds such as anarcho- pacifism and philosophical anarchism illustrate the strong tradition of anarchist thought that isn’t explicitly violent. There was a period of anarchist thought, called the propaganda of the deed – that mainly died out after WW1 and the October Revolution 1917 – however, the association of violence and anarchism is still heavily represented, as anarchists are demonised as terrorists. To many in the anarchist community, violent acts are not political in nature and are often acts of new forms of domination and hierarchy, going against the meaning and philosophy of anarchism.
However, these questions come at a very interesting time, politically. There are discussions regarding whether to bring the death penalty back,alongside the spreading of rioting/looting across London and beyond. Many people have surprised me with how ignorant and dismissive they have been of those involved in the rioting/looting. These are people who have been shut out of society, its resources and opportunities – prevented from speaking and having effective forms of representation. Whilst I don’t advocate nor support the practice of looting/rioting per se, it’s important to understand why it is happening:
“When you cut facilities, slash jobs, abuse power, discriminate, drive people into deeper poverty & shoot people dead whilst refusing to provide answers or justice, the people will rise up & express their anger & frustration if you refuse to hear their cries. A riot is the language of the unheard. – Martin Luther King Jr.”
What is worrying is this utilisation of a biological, ‘naturalistic’ argument that certain people such as the looters are ‘naturally’ violent and angry people. This is an argument I have seen many so-called progressives utilise. Instead of trying to understand what’s happening; they have chastised people, who already feel so disconnected from society, even further. The irony is that without understanding why this happens, these things will happen again and again – and it’s surprising it doesn’t happen more. If you aren’t willing to treat people like human beings, then why should they act in the ‘civilized’ human being construction we pretend we all represent. A biological ‘argument’ is exactly what those supporting the death penalty use, arguing that some people are ‘naturally’ evil, and that no amount of analysis will ever help us understand what horrible vile people they are, ‘naturally’.
Civilization, as Zygmunt Bauman and Norbert Elias have discussed in differing fashions, is a construction that is open to debate. Bauman was heavily critical of it in relation to the Holocaust, arguing that rather than the Holocaust being a blip in our civilization, it was rather a product of ‘civilization’ with all the technology and advancement of modern medicine and ‘reason’ etc being manipulated by the Nazis. With that in mind, many especially the media, are representing the looters as uncivilized (with racist connotations), rather than understanding that what we call ‘civilization’, currently framed by a political economy shaped by capitalist and neoliberal forces, is central to creating many of the problems that exist today.
“The most violent element of society is ignorance” – Emma Goldman.