The New Politics of the 21st Century: Global Resistance and Rising Anarchism

Devon Douglas-Bowers

 

A number of occurrences have taken place in the past 13 years since the rise of the new millennium; we have seen and are seeing the rise of popular movements all over the world and a resistance to the forces of imperialism, capitalism and subjugation, from the most recent Arab Spring to the world’s largest coordinated anti-war gathering in history with the global protests against the Iraq War[1], to the rise of the Occupy Movement and the surfacing of indigenous resistance as in the Idle No More campaign of Canada’s First Nations population. While not all movements are pushing for the elimination of the state, or are even anarchistic in nature, they are rebelling against the current societal structures and creating an opportunity for radical change. What we are seeing around the world is a global resistance that, in some cases, has anarchist undercurrents. We are witnessing the new politics of the 21st century.

While many movements such as the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring included anarchist influences within them, anarchism as a political philosophy is still quite misunderstood, and some time should be taken to understand it.

Anarchism is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “The theory that all forms of government are oppressive and should be abolished.” [2] While it does advocate the abolition of the state, anarchism also includes “a heightened and radical critique and questioning of power and authority: if a source of authority cannot legitimize its existence, it should not exist.” [3] This has led to anarchism being critiqued by a number of individuals and an increase in anarchist thought to the point where there are a large number of anarchist ideas being championed today, from anarcho-feminism to queer anarchism to black anarchism.

Anarchism and the Labor Movement

In the United States, anarchism has had a rather interesting history with regards to not only Occupy, but also the 19th century labor movement. Anti-statism isn’t anything new in the US as there have been a large number of crusaders who “condemned [the government] as an oppressive tyranny” when slavery wasn’t abolished in the newly founded country. This abhorrence of slavery and hypocrisy caused “men like William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips [to renounce] their allegiance to it, John Brown openly declared war upon it, and thousands of others regarded it as unfit to command their respect and loyalty.”[4] Anti-statism only increased in the 19th century with the inclusion of anarchists in the labor movement.

The International Working Men’s Association (IWMA) advocated for the 8-hour workday in its 1866 Congress. The IWMA “had influence amongst the German-speaking immigrant anarchist and socialist workers of Chicago,”[5] and after it was disbanded, the International Working People’s Association, being founded in 1881 by anarchists, took up the struggle.

This struggle for better working conditions culminated in what became known as the 1886 Haymarket Square Riot in which 40,000 workers went on strike to fight for an 8-hour day. The strikes beget protests which beget police confrontation. “On May 3, police fired on strikers who were menacing the strikebreakers at McCormick Harvester, and several strikers were injured. Labor leaders then convened a mass meeting for the following evening at the city’s Haymarket Square.”[6] As the police demanded the rally be shut down, someone threw a dynamite bomb towards a group of officers, to which the police responded with gunfire. The result: seven dead police officers and several workingmen injured. A total of eight anarchists were charged, which resulted in seven people being sentenced to death in addition to one life sentence in prison. Two death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment by Illinois governor Richard J. Oglesby, one committed suicide and four were hung.

Occupy Wall Street

While anarchism continued until World War 1 with massive anti-war protests, it was eventually forced underground. However, the Occupy movement breathed new life into anarchist ideas. OWS’s focus on “direct action and leaderless, consensus-based decision-making,”[7] embodied into the General Assembly, was an anarchistic aspect of Occupy. It also was anarchistic in its refusal to ” recognize the legitimacy of existing political institutions,” “accept the legitimacy of the existing legal order,” and its “embrace of prefigurative politics.” [8] This refusal to recognize the political institutions is anarchistic in nature as it refuses to appeal to political powers to alleviate societal ills. By rejecting the two-party system, and rather than fighting for a third-party, OWS rejected the state and worked to create a community based on horizontal (as opposed to hierarchical) organization. By rejecting the legal order in the form of ignoring ” local ordinances that insisted that any gathering of more than 12 people in a public park is illegal without police permission,” [9] OWS refused to subjugate itself to the very forces that worked to establish and uphold the current status quo. Occupy embraced political ideas and experimented with them, which resulted in the creation of new institutions, from kitchens to clinics to media centers; all of which were consistently built around the ideas of working together, horizontal organization, and voluntary cooperation – elements that are central to anarchist thought. While the encampments may no longer exist, the Occupy movement is still alive in the form of offshoots; and the activists that made up Occupy didn’t disappear, rather they have moved on into other forms of resistance[10], though just not under the Occupy banner. They have even been involved in organizations that have provided large amounts of aid to damaged communities, such as Occupy Sandy, which stepped in when the federal government could not.[11]

Global Uprisings

This resistance to the status quo has not just been taking place in America, but also all over the world. In 2008, Zbigniew Brzezinski warned of a global political awakening. In a New York Times op-ed, he stated “For the first time in history, almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive. Global activism is generating a surge in the quest for cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world scarred by memories of colonial or imperial domination.”[12] This “global activism” is quite real and very well may upend the entirety of the current political, social, and economic systems.

In Brazil, protests have been occurring over issues ranging from inflation to education reform and forced evictions. Among all of this, teachers went to the streets to “demand better wages and school conditions when police decided to disperse the demonstration.” [13] There had already been violent clashes between teachers and police, highlighted by several striking teachers that were occupying a city council building in Rio de Janiero being beaten and dragged out by the police. During the demonstration in late October 2013, the police decided to repress the teachers by using heavy-handed tactics such as shooting tear gas canisters. Brazilian anarchists came to the aid of the teachers by protecting them from the state-sponsored violence. As one teacher, Andrea Coelho, said, “It was the Black Bloc that protected me in that protest.”[14] This protection of teachers has caused the teachers union to declare unconditional support for the black bloc protesters.[15]

These protests in Brazil come amidst a time when there was “less than 1% growth last year and less than 3% forecast this year compared to 7.5% in 2010,” and where its political leaders convinced the world that it “was developed enough to host the soccer World Cup this year and the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, yet seemed so unwilling to show their own people they could improve the country’s pathetically underfunded schools, staffed by just as woefully underpaid and undertrained teachers.”[16] Just last year, a UN study indicated that wealth inequality was increasing with “the richest 20% of the population on average earn 20 times more than the poorest 20%.” [17] It is among this massive increase in wealth inequality on a regional level, along with a corrupt government and lack of educational investment, that the people have finally decided enough is enough and are demanding there be massive changes to the current system.

In Europe, where in places like Greece, children are starving in order to repay banks, revolt is taking place. Last year in Bulgaria, around 4,000 people demonstrated “calling for an end to the ‘reign of the oligarchy’ and demanding that the nation’s government step down to make way for early elections.” [18]They argue that the country is still unstable, unprosperous, and not well governed 24 years after Communist rule was ended. The protest was part of a five-month old anti-government movement that alleges the government has mafia ties. Such accusations were confirmed to be, in part, true after a 2008 investigation by the European Union’s anti-fraud office exposed the Nikolov-Stoykov group, a conglomerate with businesses from meat processing and storage to a Black Sea Resort, had connections to the government and has been accused of being a front for a criminal company network comprised of over 50 Bulgarian companies as well as other European and offshore companies. [19]More recently, the European Commission issued a report discussing the government-mafia ties in Bulgaria, with puts the blame on “both the executive and the judiciary in Bulgaria, which have been engulfed by power struggles, with each accusing the other of serving the mafia.”[20]

In Italy, there have been anti-austerity protests going on for quite some time. The violence escalated at a 2013 demonstration as police fired tear gas at anti-austerity protesters and at least 16 people, including four officers, were injured and eight protesters were arrested. The protesters were “calling for more affordable housing, better wages and improved conditions for immigrants and refugees, tens of thousands of whom live in a twilight zone of semi-legality in Italy, with many forced to squat in disused buildings or sleep rough.”[21] More protests are continuing in Italy where there have been cuts in education spending, and are spreading to all of Europe as the EU proposed spending cuts in its 2014 budget[22]

Amidst the talk and fervor of the Arab Spring, anarchist activists were heavily involved in organizing after Mubarak’s ousting. Egyptian anarchist Mohammed Hassan Aazab noted that after Mubarak was gone, they “started gathering, talking to people, printing up writing about our ideas, and organizing meetings in downtown cafes in front of whoever was there.”[23] The organizing continues and the fight against the oppressive Egyptian regime goes on, even as the Egyptian government bans protests of more than ten people without a police permit; effectively an attempt to end all protests.

In Bahrain, the protests against the Sunni monarchy continue as Shiites protest “repression against the opposition amid an ongoing crackdown on the largely peaceful demonstrations.”[24] These protests occur despite the Bahraini government’s history of using violence against peaceful demonstrators, even going so far as killing children.[25] The majority Shiite nation has been repressed for years; they face employment and educational discrimination, have little political representation, and are barred from most government and military positions.[26]

Protests have even hit nations in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Sudan. In 2012, protesters took to the street initially to protest a cut in fuel subsidies, but since then the demonstrations have evolved “to wider dissent against the country’s leadership after security forces killed at least 50 people [in late September], according to the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies and human rights watchdog Amnesty International.” [27] The Sudanese government admitted “that 87 people were killed, while activists and human rights groups say the number was at least 200.”[28] The main catalyst to the protests was the decrease of fuel subsidies following the separation between Sudan and South Sudan, which was home to about 75% of Sudan’s oil production. All of this is occurring when “the Sudanese pound hit an all-time low on the key black market on [September 21, 2013] as people sought to shift their savings into hard currency in anticipation of higher inflation.”[29] This increase in inflation, coupled with the cut in fuel subsidies, has led to a massive increase in costs of living, and especially to food prices as Sudan is a major food importer.

While quite sparse in certain areas of the region, protests have spread to Asia as well. In China, “Strikes have become increasingly frequent at privately owned factories in recent years, often involving workers demanding higher wages or better conditions,” and technology has helped grow this protest movement as “the explosive growth in the use of home-grown versions of Twitter has made it easy for protesters to convey instant reports and images to huge audiences.”[30] These protests are in response to the continuation of low wages and unsafe working conditions amidst a landscape where the number of millionaires and billionaires continues to increase while China has become the world’s second largest economy. As if growing discontent among the workforce wasn’t enough, the government’s surprisingly slow response to alleviate the disastrous effects of the July 2013 floods has caused flood victims to protest. The Chinese government has responded to these protests by sending out riot police whom may have used violence to quell the protesters as “Photographs showed several residents [of Yuyao city] bleeding from the head” [31] following a confrontation.

There are also protests in Thailand, as Thais seek to oust current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who protesters say control her. Shinawatra’s older brother was wildly unpopular in 1998 after using his American connections to boost his political image, committing Thai troops to aiding the US invasion of Iraq amid protest from both the military and the public,[32] and allowing the CIA to use Thailand for its extraordinary rendition program. [33] In addition to the suspicion of corruption, Yingluck Shinawatra has also been criticized for “her alleged ignorance, lack of political experience, and tendency to stay adrift of key issues.”[34]

On literally every continent, there is resistance to the current political power structures. And while many may not be pushing for the end of the state, they are pushing for radical change toward a society where ‘the many’ will benefit rather than ‘the few’.

Indigenous Resistance

For all of these protests and uprisings, this analysis would not be complete without a group that has been exploited, ignored, stereotyped, and victimized by acts of genocide across the world: the indigenous population.

In Canada, Elsipogtog First Nation members located in New Brunswick province have been fighting against fracking plans as neither the government nor industries discussed the issue with them, despite the fact that “Rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada and lower courts have established a duty to consult and accommodate aboriginal people when development is considered on their land, even non-reserve traditional lands.” [35] The First Nations argue that they have never ceded their lands and that the treaties signed in the 1700s were only to acknowledge peace and friendship between the immigrants and the indigenous population. This revolt has culminated in the Idle No More movement which is aimed to protect not only indigenous lands, but also the larger environment in Canada from corporations which aim to use the land for the sole purpose of extracting its resources through harmful techniques such as fracking.

Indigenous resistance is also occurring in Israel. In November 2013, the Israeli parliament moved to begin debating and possibly approving the Prawer Plan. The Prawer Plan, if passed, would have resulted in “the destruction of 35 ‘unrecognized’ Arab Bedouin villages, the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel, and the dispossession of their historical lands in the Naqab.”[36] On November 30th, it was reported that “In the Negev village of Houra, clashes broke out at the main demonstration where about 1,200 protesters had gathered,” with protesters eventually throwing stones at Israeli security forces and the police responding with “tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon.”[37] While the Prawer Plan was not approved, the Israeli government still “[failed] to recognize the Bedouin communities and villages, thus still rendering them vulnerable to displacement.” [38] It is rather interesting that even though they are citizens of Israel, the Bedouins were still pushed to be subjugated at the interest of the Jewish majority.

Canada and Israel are not the only places where the indigenous population is fighting back. In addition to being wracked with protests regarding education, corruption and a generally inefficient government, Brazil is also witnessing protests from indigenous people. In October 2013, 500 people set up camp in front of Congress to “oppose a constitutional change that would let lawmakers participate in the demarcation of territories. Indigenous people and their supporters say the proposal would allow agricultural interests to encroach on their lands.”[39] The fight of Brazil’s indigenous population to protect their lands has been going on for over a year now, with many of the conflicts resulting in deaths. According to a 2012 report done by the Indigenist Missionary Council, “54 Indians were murdered in 2012, most of them as a result of land conflicts,” [40] and the problem only continues into 2013, with a total of three murders occurring during the first half of the year.

Conclusion

Yet, what does this all mean? Why does it even matter? This global resistance is extremely important as it reveals to global elites that their façade of democracy and consumerism is rapidly falling apart in the face of lagging economies, high unemployment rates, and a political class that is more concerned with its own personal needs rather than that of the people who they have charge over. It serves as a message to people worldwide that they can and must fight back against the current political, social, and economic systems if they are to survive; that they can create new communities and new institutions that don’t rely on the current systems of power, and that are organized horizontally rather than hierarchically.

These protests show that the people will not sit idly by and let the government serve them on a platter to corporations, or, even worse, neglect to uphold the promises they took to protect the population. These movements represent a mass awakening of humanity which has the potential to radically change the entire landscape of society on a global scale.

We must be willing to fight for as long as it takes to alter societies that currently serve small sectors of industry or financial elites at the expense of the many to societies that foster a climate of peace – peace with each other and peace with the environment – and encourage education and cooperativeness for the good of all while respecting the autonomy of the individual. Most importantly though, we must foster peace within ourselves and not be afraid to engage with those in our immediate area on these issues; for if not, we will risk the continuation of this broken system and lose what may have been a great chance to change the current situation for the better.

Notes

[1] Phyllis Bennis, “February 15, 2003. The Day the World Said No to War,” Institute For Policy Studies, February 15, 2013 ( http://www.ips-dc.org/blog/february_15_2003_the_day_the_world_said_no_to_war )

[2] American Heritage Dictionary , 5th edition, s.v. “anarchism”

[3] Devon Douglas-Bowers, On Anarchism: An Interview with Andrew Gavin Marshall, Hampton Institute,http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/onanarchism.html#.UpatMVQ9La8 (October 2, 2013)

[4] Charles A. Madison, “Anarchism in the United States,” Journal of the History of Ideas 6:1 (1945), pg 50

[5] International Workers Association, The 8 Hour Day, the Anarchists and the IWPA: Haymarket and the Radicalization of Labour Demands in the 1880shttp://www.iwa-ait.org/content/8-hour-day-anarchists-and-iwpa-haymarket-and-radicalization-labour-demands-1880s (May 6, 2013)

[6] David Greenberg, “Anarchy in the US: A Century of Fighting The Man,” Slate, April 28, 2000 (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history_lesson/2000/04/anarchy_in_the_us.html )

[7] Dan Berrett, “Intellectual Roots of Wall St. Protest Lie in Academe,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 16, 2011 ( http://chronicle.com/article/Intellectual-Roots-of-Wall/129428/)

[8] David Graeber, “Occupy Wall Street’s Anarchist Roots,” Al Jazeera, November 30, 2011 (http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/11/2011112872835904508.html )

[9] Ibid

[10] Democracy Now, Two Years After Occupy Wall Street, a Network of Offshoots Continue Activism for the 99%, http://www.democracynow.org/2013/9/19/two_years_after_occupy_wall_street (September 19, 2013)
[11] Alan Feuer, “Occupy Sandy: A Movement Moves to Relief,” New York Times, November 9, 2012 (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/11/nyregion/where-fema-fell-short-occupy-sandy-was-there.html?_r=0 )

[12] Zbigniew Brzezinski, “The Global Political Awakening,” New York Times, December 16, 2008 (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/16/opinion/16iht-YEbrzezinski.1.18730411.html?pagewanted=all )

[13] Bradley Brooks, “Anarchist Tactics Grow Among Brazil’s Protests,” Associated Press, October, 22, 2013 ( http://news.yahoo.com/anarchist-tactics-grow-amid-brazils-protests-040814619.html )

[14] Ibid

[15] Revolution News, Brazil: Teachers Union Officially Declares Unconditional Support for Black Bloc,http://revolution-news.com/brazils-teachers-union-officially-declares-unconditional-support-for-black-bloc/(October 9, 2013) 

[16] Tim Padgett, “What Brazil’s Protests Say About Latin America’s Fumbling Elites,” Time, June 19, 2013 ( http://world.time.com/2013/06/19/what-brazils-protests-say-about-latin-americas-fumbling-elites/ )

[17] BBC News, UN Study Says Wealth Gap in Latin America Increases,http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-19339636 (August 21, 2012)

[19] Doreen Carvajal, Stephen Castle, “Mob Muscles Its Way Into Politics in Bulgaria,” New York Times, October 15, 2008 ( http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/16/world/europe/16bulgaria.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 )

[20] Turkish Weekly, EC Draft Report Slams Bulgaria over Govt-Mafia Ties,http://www.turkishweekly.net/news/138606/ec-draft-report-slams-bulgaria-over-govt-mafia-ties.html (July 17, 2012)

[21] Nick Squires, “Anti-austerity Protesters Clash With Police in Rome,” Telegraph, October 31, 2013 ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/10418497/Anti-austerity-protesters-clash-with-police-in-Rome.html )
[22] BBC, Students Protest Over Austerity Cuts in Italy, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-24956693 (November 15, 2013)

[23] Joshua Stephens, “Anarchism in Egypt: An Interview From Tahrir Square,” Waging Nonviolence, July 2, 2013 ( http://wagingnonviolence.org/2013/07/anarchy-in-egypt-an-interview-from-tahrir-square/ )

[24] Russia Today, Thousands Protest in Bahrain Capital, Demand ‘torturers be brought to justice,’http://rt.com/news/bahrain-protests-opposition-repression-194/ (November 23, 2013)
[25] Huffington Post, Bahrain: Hundreds Mourn After Boy Is Killed In Demonstration,http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/19/bahrain-hundreds-mourn_n_1102730.html (Novemer 19, 2011)

[26] Rannie Amiri, “Bahrain: Days of Rage, Decades of Oppression,” Antiwar, February 21, 2011 (http://original.antiwar.com/rannie-amiri/2011/02/20/bahrain-days-of-rage/ )

[27] Henry Austin, “Is The Arab Spring Moving South? Violent Anti-government Protests Hit Sudan,”NBC News, October 1, 2013 ( http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/10/01/20769020-is-the-arab-spring-moving-south-violent-anti-government-protests-hit-sudan )

[28] BBC, Sudan Feels The Heat From Fuel Protests, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-24938224 (November 14, 2013)

[29] Khalid Abdelaziz, Ulf Laessing, “Sudan to Lift Fuel Subsidies Posing ‘Great Risk’ For Economy-Bashir,” Reuters, September 22, 2013 ( http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/22/sudan-economy-idUSL5N0HI0OG20130922 )

[30] The Economist, Unrest In China: A Dangerous Year, http://www.economist.com/node/21543477(January 28, 2012)

[31] Sui-Lee Wee, “China Sends Riot Police to Block New Protests by Flood Victims,” Reuters, October 16, 2013 ( http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/16/us-china-protest-idUSBRE99F0BN20131016 )

[32] Fox News, Thailand Vows to Keep Troops in Iraq,http://www.foxnews.com/story/2003/12/28/thailand-vows-to-keep-troops-in-iraq/ (December 28, 2003)
[33] Max Fisher, “A Staggering Map of the 54 Countries That Reportedly Participated in the CIA’s Rendition Program,” Washington Post, February 5, 2013 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/02/05/a-staggering-map-of-the-54-countries-that-reportedly-participated-in-the-cias-rendition-program/ )

[34] Samudcha Hoonsara, Somroutai Sapsomboon, Kittipong Thavevong, “Yingluck Enters 2013 A Survivor,” The Nation, January 1, 2013 ( http://www.nationmultimedia.com/politics/Yingluck-enters-2013-a-survivor-30197064.html )

[35] Mark Gollom, Daniel Schwartz, “N.B. Fracking Protests and the Fight for Aboriginal Rights,” CBC News, October 19, 2013 ( http://www.cbc.ca/news/n-b-fracking-protests-and-the-fight-for-aboriginal-rights-1.2126515 )

[36] Adalah: The Legal Center for Minority Rights in Israel,Demolition and Eviction of Bedouin Citizens of Israel in the Naqab (Negev) – The Prawer Plan, http://adalah.org/eng/?mod=articles&ID=1589

[37] Russia Today, ‘Day of rage’: Police, protesters clash in Israel at plans to evict 40,000 Bedouins,http://rt.com/news/britain-protest-prawer-plan-511/ (November 30, 2013)

[38] NSBNC International, Israel drops Prawer Plan but fails to recognize Bedouin Villages,http://nsnbc.me/2013/12/13/israel-drops-prawer-plan-fails-recognize-bedouin-villages/ (December 13, 2013)

[39] Fox News, Indigenous Groups Stage Protests Across Brazil to Press For Demarcation of Their Landshttp://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/10/01/indigenous-groups-stage-protests-across-brazil-to-press-for-demarcation-their/ (October 1, 2013)

[40] David Dudenhoefer, “Brazil’s Natives Protest Threats to Their Rights From Congress,” Indian Country, October 8, 2013 ( http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/10/08/brazils-natives-protest-threats-their-rights-congress-151644 )

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