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aotearoa / pacific islands / miscellaneous / opinion / analysis Tuesday September 22, 2020 20:22 byLAMA
A review of a movie about gang life in Aotearoa.There is a beautifully acted and emblematic scene early in Savage, the newest movie about gangs in Aotearoa. In it, a founding member of the Savages revealingly named Damage[d]/Danny (Jake Ryan) tries to charm a young woman at a party. At first his efforts seem to be successful, then he resorts to an ugly aggressiveness that kills the mood he had almost achieved. This scene lays bare a Manichean struggle between an inner child reaching for a human connection and an outward broken, thuggish creature. Next we are given an extended flashback that shows how this combination came to be. It’s a catalogue of missteps and brutality towards a child in the hands of both an authoritarian father and similar father figures in institutional settings. By the time Danny leaves the latter, the damage is done and Damage is out savaging the world.
We learn along the way how Danny came to help found the gang. In essence the inspiration revolves around the desire for a substitute family. This is assayed in part via a sub-plot involving his biological brother Liam (Seth Flynn). Is blood thicker than water? Does Cain and Abel still resonate? The narrative attempts to answer these questions and is mostly successful. It is at its most effective during quiet moments when there is no dialogue. Ryan is superb at conveying the inner anguish of his character purely through the eyes and with a slight quiver of the lips. Flynn as the adult Liam, (interestingly looking somewhat like Shakespeare) also garners quiet attention here in his interactions with Danny. Their attempts to connect are painful to watch, not because of the easily expressed bitterness and anger but the confused feelings of connection under the surface.
The other element of this mix is Danny’s early brother-in-adversity, Moses (John Tui). Moses is the nominal President of the gang but his position is very much linked to the ability of Damage to enforce his edicts. Given Danny’s volatile internal conflict, this puts Moses in an unstable and dependent situation that provides its own source of tension and drama. There is also a young prospect who represents a slim but real avenue of redemption for Danny and symbolically a potential path not taken during that age of his own journey. While the acting here is uniformly excellent and credible, the purpose of this character in the narrative is just a bit too transparent.
Savage is very much a case study and personal journey of a single person. This has immense benefits when the burden of portraying this is put on the shoulders of a capable actor, as Ryan shows himself to be here. However, the downside of this approach is while it does a good job of exploring personal psychology, it fails to look at the wider effects of the gang phenomenon. First time Director Sam Kelly keeps the action so hermetically focused upon Damage and his associates, we attain little sense of the anti-social harm gangs can cause to others. Much like in The Godfather, civilians barely exist in the world portrayed and even when holding violent disputes with rivals in public, no innocent bystanders are ever harmed. In that regard it just doesn’t ring true. As for the violence itself, credit can be given for Kelly’s choice of not going down the Scorsese route of layering music over the top of it. The weapons of choice are close distance cudgels, hammers and so on and we hear every horrible crunch as they impact upon each victim. There’s nothing stylised about it.
Another aspect of the gang’s existence Kelly’s artificially isolated approach fails to show, is that we have no idea how they survive financially. Whatever it is, you can bet it was not by selling Girl Scout cookies on the streets of Porirua. There is one brief scene at a funeral for a murdered fellow gang member, attended by the dead person’s non-gang family. Danny and his cohorts proceed to hijack the body and conduct their own ritual of sorts. The grieving family are seen at a mid-shot distance, very much as the gang members would view the outside world. Related to this is the fact that not a single policeman ever appears in the movie, even to investigate the killing. True, a movie that did show the intrusion of the world outside the gang itself could become crudely didactic and preachy. However, it wouldn’t have to be, if handled well. In the movie’s choice to look at gang life solely from the inside, it misses an opportunity to widen the perspective and show the full and real impact of what they do to others. A more dialectical interplay between the individual as a product of society and what that results in for that society, would have taken it to a greater level of understanding.
Savage drills down into the specifics of how society creates broken, deracinated people. It is direct, at times lyrical, well acted and directed and among the best movies looking at its subject in the local context.
aotearoa / pacific islands / anarchist movement / opinion / analysis Saturday August 08, 2020 17:04 byAWSM
In September 2020 Aotearoa will experience a General Election. Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement (AWSM) has written this article to outline an Anarchist case against participating in such events.The right to vote is seen as a necessary prerequisite for freedom across the world. People have fought and died for the right to vote in elections. Women across the world fought bitter battles for the right to vote. So why are the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement (AWSM) questioning this as a right worth having?
The entire electoral show is designed to encourage us to believe that not only does our vote matter, but that it’s the most important decision we could possibly make. Indeed voting is held so sacred by many that the mere mention of not voting is enough to cause outrage. When we have pointed out that our vote makes no difference anyway, we’ve been accused of being apathetic, privileged, immature, and even being part of the alt-right!
But as noted anarchist Vernon Richards wrote, “so long as we have capitalism and government, the job of anarchists is to fight both, and at the same time encourage people to take what steps they can to run their own lives.” [“Anarchists and Voting”, pp. 176-87, The Raven, No. 14, p. 179]
We argue that electoralism ensures that a statist perspective becomes dominant. Everything is seen in terms of state intervention and following the decisions of the leaders, which has always proved deadly to encouraging a spirit of revolt, self-management and self-help – the very keys to creating change in a society. Rather than being something other people discuss on behalf of working class people, anarchists argue that politics shouldn’t be a specialised activity in the hands of the so-called experts (i.e. politicians) but instead lie in the hands of those directly affected by it in the process of participation, direct action and self-management. Those that channel any “political” conclusions into electoral politics distort discussions into only what is possible within the current system. Given this, is it surprising that anarchists argue that the people “must organise their powers apart from and against the State?” [Bakunin, The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 376]
We’ve already had some fairly heated debates with those who say we are wrong in saying we should ignore the electoral circus, and, as we get closer to election day, we are sure we will have some more.
We get told that “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about the outcome”, but we consider the opposite to be true. It is those who have voted, who have agreed to the rules, and agreed to be governed by the winners who can’t complain. It is those, like us, who don’t participate, who have the right to complain about the outcome more than anyone else.
We get told that the reality is that voting does change things, but we can, and do, deny that. Voting attempts to provide the population with the illusion of change while in reality it reinforces the current system. A policy here and there may change, the faces may change, but the system of a wealthy minority ruling a poorer majority remains. People are continually telling us that abstaining from voting will help the right-wing win the election, that it is better if the lesser evil wins. This may possibly be the case (although we remain to be convinced), but why should we base our society on a compromise with evil? In fact the progressive left wing party you vote for will often be ready to take the same actions as a right wing government when it comes to imposing anti-working class action upon us, (as we shall show on in this essay the state has a corrupting effect on those who enter politics with high principles). There should be a better way, and we say the dismantling of government, in all of its existing and potential forms is that way.
Most of the left wing in Aotearoa, and quite a few people who claim to identify as
anarchists, will support reformist parties in the upcoming election. You will hear them
saying things like “vote Labour (or Green) without illusions”, or, “vote Labour/Green but
build a socialist alternative”. The slogans that these others may shout only reflect the
idea that change can and should be brought about by a small number of elite politicians.
Here in AWSM we don’t say things like this. There are many problems with our
electoral system of democracy, which we shall run through, but we must state that first
and foremost, as anarchists, we see voting as against running contrary to our anti-statist
and anti-hierarchy principles, and we see electoralism as contrary to our goals and
practice. It reinforces the idea that society is divided into order-givers and order-takers.
Famed French anarchist, Elisee Reclus, put it well when he said :
Before going any further, it is important to clarify that we as anarchists aren’t merely against voting, in fact we are for democracy. What we are against is a system that allows for us to tick a box every few years for candidates that are selected for us, and policies that are chosen for us, which gives whoever received the most X’s to make decisions that affect our lives in all ways. Much of our so-called “democracy” is bogus and undemocratic, as many of the hundreds of thousands of kiwis who don’t vote understand. Politicians, once elected, have no compunction to keep their promises they made while campaigning, they can, and do, pretty much what they like because we have no power to recall them until the next election comes along, when again we will be given a barrage of promises that don’t have to be kept, and mostly won’t be kept. To call this democracy and representative of our demands is a blatant falsehood.
So to continue, we view voting in government elections as an inherently authoritarian activity, and authoritarian means can never yield libertarian results. In the words of Emma Goldman, “participation in elections means the transfer of one’s will and decisions to another, which is contrary to the fundamental principles of anarchism.” [Emma Goldman, Vision on Fire, p. 89]. The very act of voting is an attempt on the part of the voters to delegate to another person power. While states of various sorts provide some services and benefits to their citizens, the institution of government also maintains and makes use of the police ,the courts, the prison, the military, etc, to coercively interfere in the lives of its subjects. For anarchists, it is a basic belief that individuals should not have the authority to coerce others, and therefore they should not put themselves in a position to delegate such authority to any one else, which, after all, is the essence of voting.
As anarchists we argue that no one, whether in or out of government, should have such power. We argue that anarchists who oppose political power and coercion of any sort cannot advocate voting in national elections and stay true to the principles of anarchism. This is a system that divides us into a massive majority ruled by a tiny minority, and which allows for power, wealth and privilege to be ever more concentrated into the hands of that minority. The state is not a neutral body which can be used by all classes in society to protect their interests, rather it is an instrument of class rule that exists to protect the wealth and power of the ruling class and enforce their property rights and authority.
We believe that what we are offered as democracy is a farce, a dictatorship of capital devoid of any real choice. Even worse is that this form of democracy gives the illusion that we, the people, have the power to change it, while simultaneously reinforcing it. No wonder all politicians agree on one point – that we should vote. They want you to sanction the process by which they acquire their position, because without that sanction they have no legitimacy, and it is that claim to legitimacy they use to dismiss any actions taken by oppressed or marginalised groups outside of parliament as illegitimate. Before going to cast your vote remember that there is a real limit to what governments can do anyway – winning an election is not taking power. The real decision-making takes place in the boardrooms of corporations, not in parliament. Political parties, even in a majority government, can only do what capitalism allows them to. The politicians’ only argument is to organise capitalism in a “kinder way”, but we at AWSM want to smash capitalism, not waste our time trying to make it kinder.
MPs are little more than the committee for managing the affairs of capitalism. We cannot elect the revolution, or even a radical government, because capitalism will use its economic power, in the form of things such as sanctions and the flight of capital, to punish anyone who wishes to radically reform society, regardless if the majority voted for it or not. Even worse, in some situations the elected government may well see itself undermined by outside influences, even facing invasion and war. Realistically though the nature of the state means that capitalists rarely have to use these tactics.
While many radicals may be tempted to agree with our analysis of the limitations of electioneering and voting, very few automatically agree with our anarchist arguments of not voting. Instead, they argue that we should combine direct action with electioneering, and they will suggest that the state is too powerful to leave in the hands of right-wingers. Those that say this though ultimately fail to take into account the nature of the state and the corrupting effect it has on politicians. If history is anything to go by, the net effect of radicals using elections is that by the time they are elected to office the radicals will happily do what they once would have condemned the right-wing for doing.
Given that we have had many decades of universal suffrage, not only in Aotearoa but worldwide, and we have seen the rise of Labour and other so-called progressive parties aiming to use that system to effect change, it’s sad to say that we are probably further away from socialism than ever. The simple fact is that these parties have spent so much time trying to win elections that they have stopped even thinking about creating socialist alternatives in our communities and workplaces.
The state shapes people. As Noam Chomsky argues, “within the constraints of existing state institutions, policies will be determined by people representing centres of concentrated power in the private economy, people who, in their institutional roles, will not be swayed by moral appeals but by the costs consequent upon the decisions they make — not because they are ‘bad people,’ but because that is what the institutional roles demands.”
It was Bakunin who predicted in 1869 (three years before Marx hoisted his parliamentarianism onto the First International) that when “the workers . . . send common workers . . . to Legislative Assemblies . . . The worker-deputies, transplanted into a bourgeois environment, into an atmosphere of purely bourgeois ideas, will in fact cease to be workers and, becoming Statesmen, they will become bourgeois . . . For men do not make their situations; on the contrary, men are made by them.” [The Basic Bakunin, p. 108] Similarly, Krotpotkin argued that “in proportion as the socialists become a power in the present bourgeois society and State, their socialism must die out.” [Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 189]. History has undoubtedly proven the anarchists correct.
We can’t repeat this often enough, electioneering results in the party using it to become more moderate and reformist — indeed the party often becomes the victim of its own success. In order to gain votes, the party must appear “moderate”, “responsible” and “sensible” and that means working within the system. This has meant that (to use Rudolf Rocker’s words): “Participation in the politics of the bourgeois States has not brought the labour movement a hair’s-breadth nearer to Socialism, but thanks to this method, Socialism has almost been completely crushed and condemned to insignificance. . . Participation in parliamentary politics has affected the Socialist Labour movement like an insidious poison.” [Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 49]
Every time a so-called or Labour party has come to power, they have acted in a way that makes them almost indistinguishable from their more right-wing opponents. Despite their promises to act for the working class, once in government they always seem to be more concerned with being ‘respectable’ and ‘reasonable’, and not doing anything that would offend the rich, the real rulers of our society. Nowadays we have ‘progressed’ to the stage where parties don’t even pretend to campaign on the basis of representing the working class, limiting themselves to saying they are more “trustworthy”, or are a “safe pair of hands” to control the economy. Socialism is an embarrassment from the past.
The Labour Party in Aotearoa has been one of a history of compromise with capitalism and anti-working class action. Three quotes from Peter Fraser, early once a self-proclaimed revolutionary socialist and Labour prime minister 1940-49 demonstrates this. In 1913 Fraser was writing: “Industrial Unionism plus revolutionary political action, in my opinion, provide the most effective and expeditious means of reaching [socialism].” By 1918, Fraser had moderated his views. Instead of revolution he called for “the peaceful and legal transformation of society from private to public ownership and the increasing of democratic control over land and industry”. By the early 1930s Fraser saw Labour’s main objective as a simple one: jobs for the unemployed.
Janet Biehl sums up the effects on the German Green Party of trying to combine radical electioneering with direct action: “the German Greens, once a flagship for the Green movement worldwide, should now be considered stink normal, as their de facto boss himself declares. Now a repository of careerists, the Greens stand out only for the rapidity with which the old cadre of careerism, party politics, and business-as-usual once again played itself out in their saga of compromise and betrayal of principle. Under the superficial veil of their old values – a very thin veil indeed, now – they can seek positions and make compromises to their heart’s content. . . They have become ‘practical,’ ‘realistic’ and ‘power-orientated.’ This former New Left ages badly, not only in Germany but everywhere else. But then, it happened with the S.P.D. in August 1914, then why not with Die Grunen in 1991? So it did.” [“Party or Movement?”, Greenline, no. 89, p. 14]
Here in Aotearoa the effect has been the same on our own Green Party, whose evolution has seen it tie itself firmly to sensible budgeting and relying on market forces to solve our problems, and moved from something of an activist party to one of “professional politicians”.
It’s not enough to blame the individuals elected to office for these betrayals, arguing that we need to elect better politicians, or select better leaders. For anarchists nothing could be more wrong as it is the means used, not the individuals involved, which is the problem. Writing of his personal experience as a member of Parliament, Proudhon recounted that “[a]s soon as I set foot in the parliamentary Sinai, I ceased to be in touch with the masses; because I was absorbed by my legislative work, I entirely lost sight of the current events . . . One must have lived in that isolator which is called a National Assembly to realise how the men who are most completely ignorant of the state of the country are almost always those who represent it. “There was “ignorance of daily facts” and “fear of the people” (“the sickness of all those who belong to authority”) for “the people, for those in power, are the enemy.” [Property is Theft!, p. 19] Ultimately, as syndicalist Emile Pouget argued, this fate was inevitable as any socialist politician “could not break the mould; he is only a cog in the machine of oppression and whether he wishes it or not he must, as minister, participate in the job of crushing the proletariat.” [quoted by Jeremy Jennings, Syndicalism in France, p. 36]
Ultimately, supporters of using political action can only appeal to the good intentions and character of their candidates,and hope for the best. Anarchists, however, in contrast to Marxists and other radicals, continually give an analysis of the structures of government and the other influences that will determine how the character of the successful candidates and political parties will change. Only anarchists, like us in AWSM, continually present an analysis of the effects of electoralism and its effects on radicals. History is our proof, electoralism, as Bakunin put it, “inevitably draws and enmeshes its partisans, under the pretext of political tactics, into ceaseless compromises with governments and political parties; that is, it pushes them toward downright reaction.” [The Basic Bakunin p. 288]
Not only is making use of the ballot box as a tactic harmful to politicians and their parties, but it also has a negative effect on the rest of the population too. Support for electioneering is at odds with us being in favour of collective mass action. It hinders the arguments for collective organisation and action as the voters expect their representative to act and fight for them. Political actions become solely considered to be parliamentary activities, made for the people by their representatives. There is no other role for the people than that of passive support and spectators. So, instead of working class self-activity and self-determination, there results in a non-working class leadership acting for the people. The real causes and solutions to the problems we face are not understood and ignored by those at the top of the party and rarely discussed in the open, less they damage their chance of re-election.
There is nothing more isolated and individualistic than voting. It is the act of one person in a booth by themselves. It is the total opposite of collective struggle. The individual is alone before, during and after the act of voting. Indeed, unlike direct action, which, by its very nature, throws up new forms of organisation in order to manage and coordinate the struggle, voting creates no alternative forms of working class self-management. Nor can it. It simply empowers an individual (the politician) to act on behalf of a collection of other individuals (the voters). Political parties forsake direct action in favour of success in elections (indeed, winning elections will soon enough become the be-all and end-all of their activity). Also, if radicals are elected the whole focal point of struggle changes. Rather than direct struggle against the state and the boss, this is seen as being no longer needed as the elected representatives will act, or people will think they will act, and so do not act themselves. They have elected someone to fight for them and so do not see, or realise, the need to fight themselves.
In a lot of ways, direct action is a more effective means for people to have a say in society than voting is. Voting is a lottery, your preferred candidate may not get elected, and all the time and energy put into supporting them is wasted. With direct action, you can be sure that your work will offer some kind of results, and the experience you gain, the lessons learnt, and networks and connections built up in the process, cannot be taken away from you.
Also voting is only possible when election time comes around, direct action can be applied whenever the need rises. Relying on electoralism means you can only address whatever topics are current in the political agendas of candidates, while direct action can be applied to deal with the issues in every aspect of your life.
In other words our support for direct action is linked with our rejection of voting, and our
call to not vote stresses the importance of direct action, as well as having an important
educational effect in highlighting that the state is not neutral, but serves to protect class
rule, and that meaningful change only comes from below. So just not voting is not
enough, we need to organise and fight. In the words of an anarchist member of the Jura
Federation writing in 1875:
So we urge people to not vote in order to encourage activity, not apathy. Instead of spending our time urging people to vote for one set or another of groups offering slightly different ways to manage capitalism, we raise the option of choosing to rule yourself, to organise with others in your workplace, in your community, everywhere. We offer the option of something you cannot vote for, a new society. Instead of waiting for others to make some changes for you, along with all anarchists we urge people to do it themselves. In this way, we can build an alternative to the state, which can reduce its power now and, in the long run, replace it. This is the core of our anarchist principles and why we say don’t vote.
By making the principled choice not to participate in the election, we open up an opportunity to question the acceptance of the status quo. We consider it is important to stand up and remind people what’s wrong with voting. Maybe by consciously not voting, and explaining to others why we’re not voting, we can change people’s beliefs about government. We use this opportunity to say that there are better, more meaningful ways to achieve a fairer, freer, more meaningful life; that we don’t need to resort to the state to solve problems.
As anarchists we simply think that our policy should be the destruction of the State rather than looking to work with it. We believe this stance is essential if we are to be able to promote anarchism, and if we are going to mark a divide between others and ourselves, and place ourselves firmly outside the activity and the political games of all the other parties. We believe this is essential so as not to be seen as another bunch of leftists after votes, and to avoid being tainted by the inevitable failure of any government to meet our needs. We believe in revolution and have a revolutionary ideology and we want to win people over to anarchism. If people started associating Anarchism with the political parties, then it would be difficult for people to understand what Anarchism actually is.
By arguing for our anti-electoral position we can get our ideas across about the nature of the current system, how elected politicians are controlled and shaped by the state, and how the state acts to protect capitalism. In addition, it allows us to present our ideas of direct action and encourage those disillusioned with political parties and the current system to become anarchists by presenting a viable alternative to the sham of party politics. For, after all, a sizeable percentage of not just non-voters but voters too are disillusioned with the current set-up. Many who do not vote do so for essentially political reasons, such as being fed up with the political system, failing to see any major differences between the parties, or recognition that the candidates do not represent their interests. Many who do vote do so simply against the other candidate, seeing them as the least-worst option. This is an opportunity when people are talking a little more about politics to challenge the notion that important decisions can only be made by a few, and put across our anarchist ideas.
We started with a quote from Vernon Richards, and we will finish with one:
So… Don’t vote, or spoil your vote if you want, and let’s start making a real difference.
aotearoa / pacific islands / gender / opinion / analysis Tuesday February 25, 2020 12:21 byMatthew Burns
An exploration of the intersection between the queer community and anarchism.On June 14, 2019, A video was uploaded to YouTube. The video was uploaded by someone whose channel name is “Suris the Skeptic.” But Suris doesn’t appear very much in the four minute and three second video. The video was called “We Deserve to Live”. It was made by people who sent in video or audio clips to Suris, all following the same format “My name is x . I am y and I deserve to live.” For nearly everyone y was different, it was a combination of traits after all, but they shared a theme. Queer. Gay. Trans woman. Trans man. Bi. Lesbian. Non-binary. Intersex. Asexual. Aromantic. Demisexual. The video is moving to say the least. It’s incredibly sad, and something about it starts to bring you to tears, about two-thirds of the way through, something that’s very hard to put your finger on.
During 2007 an image started circling the internet. For many it had a profound impact, even if it was a little silly. It prompted this description by a writing collective known as The Mary Nardini Gang:
“A skeleton, dressed as a pirate, bearing a torch named ‘anarchy,’ with ‘communes’ emblazoned upon her chest, ‘round bombs’ around her hat and ‘free love’ on a pin. A sword hangs from her belt and she bears a scroll proclaiming “be gay! do crime!” The skeleton is frenzied.” 1
The skeleton is rather comical, based on a Californian propaganda poster. Something about the image is haunting. I found myself staring at it. Perhaps the absurdity of it that made me laugh drew me in. Or maybe looking at anything long enough makes you laugh. There are a few people in the back of the image, but they seem to turn their heads from the skeleton.
Two days ago, on the 14th of September 2019, the body of Bee Love Slater, 24, was found burned nearly beyond recognition in a car. She was the 18th Transgender woman to be killed this year in the US.
The thing that causes you to cry as you watch “We Deserve to Live” is not graphics, most of it is phone video, or drawn avatars. It’s not really the music, which doesn’t stand out too much. What causes you to cry two-thirds of the way into the 4-minute video is that you realise that the video had to be made.
Something about the image is haunting. The Mary Nardini Gang wrote “The skeleton is frenzied” and it is. But the people behind seem to turn their heads at the skeleton. No one watches her. Eventually as you stare at it you read the small text underneath. It’s a quote from a small comic anthology by a group of queer prisoners. “Many blame queers for the decline of this society—we take pride in this. Some believe that we intend to shred-to-bits this civilisation and its moral fabric—they couldn’t be more accurate. We’re often described as depraved, decadent and revolting—but oh, they ain’t seen nothing yet.” After reading it you take a breath, and your eyes go back from the small text to look at the skeleton again. She’s not funny any more. She’s deadly serious, and her hollow eyes seem to scream silently to a crowd that doesn’t want to know she exists. She screams: “Revolution”.
Part 1. Be Gay, Do Crime.
The Gay Star News published a piece in August 2018 that is partly an interview with Io Ascarian, who created the image of the skeleton , which is an adaptation of an 1880’s political 2 cartoon. Io says at one point:
“We’re still out here risking arrest just to stay fed, housed and alive while waiting to drown in boiling sea water and no cis-gay winning elected office has done a whole lot to change that material reality. But expropriating entire shopping carts worth of video games, art supplies and baguettes to redistribute amongst all the poor gay kids like faggot Father Christmas has at least brought us some comfort.
So I guess the slogan means we’re done negotiating with mainstream gays over respectability. We realized being a gay criminal is the coolest thing you could be and war on bourgeois morality is the coolest thing you could do.”
The revolutionary nature of the cartoon is something not uncommon in gay or queer culture. I believe there are two main reasons for this: Firstly, there has not long been a mainstream gay or queer culture; even now this is only starting to develop, and cultures outside of the mainstream have commonly adopted politics equally radical. Io Ascarian mentions that the gay and queer community has been historically marginalised and disgraced, often homeless and otherwise impoverished. Often the separation between legality and morality becomes increasingly obvious the further into poverty you get. Stealing food from a supermarket doesn’t seem that wrong when you’re starving on the street, so “Being a gay criminal is the coolest thing you could be”. Secondly, the social changes the queer community have fought for and continue to fight for are radical changes. These social changes are something that nearly every queer person has had to fight for on an individual level. Even in New Zealand where we’ve had rather impressive legal reform already, casual homophobia is still a problem, and transphobia even more so. Having to fight this predjudice just to exist as who you are makes radical change something queer communities are more willing to accept than many predominantly straight communities.
I feel it is necessary to mention just how much American politics affects the queer community. US politics has a huge influence throughout the world, both through the country’s admittedly decreasing use of ‘soft power ’ or diplomacy and foreign influence but also as an influence for 3 what is considered acceptable political discussion. The so called ‘bathroom bills’ that target which rest-rooms a trans person can use were originally American talking-points, talking-points I have heard repeated in New Zealand. It is worth noting that many people in New Zealand are strongly influenced by US politics to a potentially harmful degree. This was particularly obvious after the gun buy-back after the Christchurch shooting, when some people complained about losing their second-amendment rights, despite New Zealand not having a constitution. Another factor that applies to queer youth is that finding other queer people is quite hard. Even though there can be hundreds of you in the same city, finding each other can be very difficult, especially since there are very few ways to tell visually if someone is queer, and not many people are publicly ‘out’. In addition to this, the few very obviously queer oriented spaces are usually places like gay bars and gay clubs, which are age-restricted. To make matters even worse, there are many queer youth who are not publicly ‘out’ who are scared of being seen in a queer space and outed without their consent, something that can open them up to bullying and harassment. There have been many instances of young people lying about their ages on queer dating apps just to find another person like them to talk to locally. There are, however, many places to find queer people online, many family friendly chat-rooms or forums and the like. There is a massive representation of US queer people in these online places, in part just because of the size of the US population, and simply from that there comes a large influence of US politics. Radical politics can also be influenced by the politics of the United States, a place where the police, while not exactly exceptional in their oppression of marginalised groups, are far more obvious about it.
The need for radical change is something many queer people have felt in their lives, whether prompted by their own environment or by the environment that international friends have told them of. However, many of the changes commonly considered necessary by the queer community do not exclusively affect queer communities. Many social issues can be unique in the exact way they form for queer people, but uncomfortably similar to those that racial minorities and women have faced and continue to face. As current US senator Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in conversation with Harris Brevis during a charity live-stream : 4
“And that’s why we have these conversations about intersectionality that are so important, because the Trans community does face a crisis when it comes to housing and healthcare, like most people (especially most Americans) do, except when you have this added layer of discrimination it makes these issues much more acute in their crises than they usually are on average for other people, so it’s important that we do talk about these issues in the economic frame but not let go of the fact that discrimination is a core reason for the economic hardship.” 5
Poverty and homelessness, for example, are issues that do acutely affect the queer community. 22-40% of the homeless in New Zealand are queer . Mental health and suicide are problems 6 that acutely affect the queer community. 70% of people contacting New Zealand queer helplines call about suicidal thoughts, and 65% have had a close friend kill themselves . These are not 7 problems that solely affect the queer community, but the queer community feels a particular pressure to deal with them.
Part 2: What’s so Radical Maaaaan?
Poverty is a catalyst for many of the radical views within the non-mainstream queer community, as many of the issues the queer community is faced with are either exacerbated by poverty or exist soley because of the frequency queer people find themselves in poverty. Because of this I expected fairly radical systemic changes to be on the minds of those in queer movements, especially considering the focus on poverty that Marxist analysis. But one ideology in particular caught my eye, one that I intially thought was unrelated to queer issues: Anarchism.
Anarchism is possibly the most misunderstood ideology that exists. You probably have an idea of what an anarchist looks and acts like in your head: black mask, violent, deranged, some sort of Heath Ledger Joker-esque “wants to watch the world burn” attitude. Maybe he’s even a terrorist. What you probably wouldn’t picture is an older Russian man from the late 1800’s, early 1900’s with an impressive beard and small reading glasses. Such a man was scientist and philosopher Pyotr Kropotkin, one of the most prominent anarchist philosophers . I was very 8 surprised when I found out that Anarchism was in fact its own ideology, with a strong philosophical backing and a wealth of literature; some books explaining anarchism are nearly older than the typewriter! Anarchism is, at its heart, an ideology that aims for all people to be equal in political power and to be free from coercion. To this end it attempts the abolishment and/or dissolution of all unnecessary or unjustified hierarchies. From this goal there are several quite distinct branches of anarchist thought, varying in either what they consider justified or unjustified hierarchies, or how an anarchist society should be run. Anarcho-Communists are the most common kind of anarchist, and they believe the class hierarchy is unjustified and must be abolished, and that the state as it would exist in a communist society is a form of unnecessary hierarchy. They advocate for a society that is not simply free from any form of government and law, but one with a bottom-up, direct democracy form of government. Anarcho-Communists are opposed in many respects to Marxist-Leninists, and were very against the authoritarian nature of the USSR. They argue that the state created a new hierarchy, not truly freeing the proletariat from class hierarchy, but replacing a capitalist hierarchy with a statist one . Stalin even had the 9 Russian anarchists executed because of this. Another group of Anarchists are Anarcho-Capitalists, who believe in free-market capitalism and the dissolution of the state. They are hugely criticised by other anarchists,who argue that laissez-faire capitalism would be even worse for people, and exacerbate class and other hierarchies. The other main form of anarchist thought is Anarcho-Syndicalism, which is also somewhat socialist, and believes that governments should be done away with and replaced by a board of worker super-unions. They generally argue that private ownership of the means of production should not be legal, and generally advocate some form of market socialism.
When people look up anarchist flags, there are two that might be surprising. Along with the red-and-black flag of Anarcho-Communism and the yellow-and-black flag of Anarcho-Capitalism are the purple-and-black and pink-and-black flags labeled Anarcha-feminism and Queer Anarchy. These are less whole-form ideologies themselves, but specific movements within the broader anarcho-communist movement (in fact for the rest of this essay I will be focusing on how these groups work, so will be referring to Anarcho-communism as just Anarchism, as Anarcho-Capitalism is rare and there is still hot debate as to whether it is really a form of anarchism). Anarcha-feminism is a movement specifically focusing on how women are treated within anarchism, how anarchist organising should be done in order for women and women’s issues to be properly represented, and finding anarchistic solutions to women’s issues. Anarcha-queers focus on the same but for queer groups. These two approaches are most apparent in the country of Rojava, an autonomous region in east Syria that is currently organised using anarchist principles. There are dual power structures for specifically feminist activism, even including a women-only militia and a form of ‘feminist court’ that deals with women’s issues such as familial abuse and assault. The region also has a similar militia for queer people, The Queer Insurrectionist and Liberation Army, or TQILA. The region has been a dominant force in the fight against ISIS, and a photo of TQILA marching with the sign “These Faggots Kill Fascists” went viral around July 2017. Anarcha-Queer movements are not limited to Rojava however; Queer Mutiny is a British Anarcha-Queer group, and the Bash Back! Movement in the US was an explicitly Anarcha-queer movement during 2007-2011. Queer Fist have been involved in direct action in America, and The Fag Army in Sweden has been politically active since 2014. It is important to note that social progressivism is an important part of most anarchist movements; nearly all anarchist thinkers, far back as the 1800s (with the exception of Proudhon), thought that women should be equal to men. Queer issues lend themselves to anarchism too. Famous writer and gay man Oscar Wilde explicitly called himself an anarchist in his 1891 essay “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”. Anarchism is very focused on equality when it comes to people’s ability to live free from coercion, and gender roles as they currently exist can be very oppressive and limiting in the way society tends to apply them.
Being slightly radical is one thing, but anarchism?! How does the queer community find itself involved with such an out-of the way ideology? One reason is the way anarchists do their activism, and where they focus their attention. A core part of anarchist philosophy is direct action. There is much more anarchist action than one might expect in the world, as anarchists are focused with helping the homeless or those in extreme poverty, those who slip through the cracks of capitalism so to speak. The kinds of direct action that anarchists take part in can include simple things like running community pantries, but anarchists will often be more than willing to work outside of the law if it will help people. An example of such extralegal methods is the work of the Autonomous Nation of Anarchists and Libertarians (or ANAL, anarchist movements tend to be brilliant at creating acronyms), a group in the UK dedicated to setting up squats for homeless people in houses owned by foreign billionaires that haven’t used these giant houses for years. In an interview with the Independent one member of the group says 10
“With this building you can see it’s empty and it’s falling apart in places and there’s dust on the windows. The reason we have done this is because it’s cold and we have a lot of homeless people in the Victoria area that need shelter. We researched the building before we took it and saw it was owned by this Russian oligarch so we figured the damage caused to him compared to the gains for the homeless community is nothing. This is nothing to him but for these homeless people it could stop them from dying, especially with snow on the way apparently.”
Since queer people are much more likely to be homeless they are more likely to find themselves helped by anarchist movements such as ANAL, or the countless other movements who do other social work through anarchist means.
Another reason for some of the queer community to adopt leftist/anti-capitalist ideologies like anarchism is issues that have started to arise from the mainstreaming of queer culture into our neoliberal society. One way this materialises is queer representation in media. Queer people 11 have always had trouble with media representation. They still do, and a notable speaker on the subject is Rowan Ellis. Rowan Ellis started on Youtube making videos predominately about queer and feminist issues, which led into giving talks and participating in panel discussions across Europe and America. Her video “The Evolution Of Queerbaiting: From Queercoding to Queercatching” she describes something very interesting about the way queerness has been handled in cinema recently:
“So although Queerbaiting itself hasn’t finished it’s still going on, we have actually moved onto a third phase. And it wasn’t, as I hoped, that we would have just plain representation and everything would be fine, what a fool I was. This is the phase that I would like to call Queercatching, a.k.a. put it in the movie, not the press tour.
We’ve basically moved from the baiting, which is this kind of underground trapping element, to the explicit catching. Trying to ‘catch the queers’, and then also catching us out.”
She defines Queercatching as: “Explicitly talking in the promotion of a film or TV show about a queer character, but not following through in the piece itself in any meaningful way.” or “Putting little to no indication of a character’s sexuality into a piece of work, and then retroactively telling the audience they were LGBTQ+ all along.” Both of these definitions reveal something about how queer people are treated by corporations: as a marketing demographic. Ellis demonstrates that Queercatching is used to to get queer people excited to to see a film, while not alienating conservative, queerphobic audiences either: being able to sell to two demographics simultaneously, rather than take chances at portraying queer people well. At its worst, this practice shows how willing mainstream film is to throw queer people under the bus (by denying the representation that could help queer people be if not accepted, at least understood by mainstream society), while for the sake of profit, something unsurprising to an anticapitalist view such as anarchism. This exploitation of queer people has come to the fore most obviously in Pride parades. In queer culture Pride parades and festivals are incredibly important, prompting celebrations and generally embodying both the feelings of being able to be who you are, as well as a bit of a “F you, I am who I am despite what you think” to homophobes. However, more and more corporations have been cashing in on this fervour around Pride, which journalist John Paul Brammer notices in his article for the Washington Post “Priced Out”
“The story is much the same for New York. This year, PrideFest VIP tickets will run you $50, though the parade is still free. NYC Pride, meanwhile, offers T-shirts at a cool $55 and a hoodie at $90. Don’t get caught without an overpriced Pride-branded beer in your hand, either! Merchandise at Pride isn’t new, necessarily, but it is the byproduct of Pride growing into a more commercial space where being nickel-and-dimed is the norm rather than the exception.” 13
Brammer goes on to examine how this excludes the poorer parts of the queer community, a large group of people, finishing his article: “So as the celebration marches onward to ticketed festivities, it’s worth asking: Who can afford to be proud?”. This is an extremely valuable analysis, but there are also many other questions to be asked: What do brands get out of supporting pride? Do these oppulant parades wrongly create a wider public image that excludes the topic of queer poverty from mainstream discussion? Do these brands do anything outside of pride month to benefit the queer community, or is it more about being percieved as queer friendly? Also writing for the Washington Post, Vincent Delaurentis notes:
“But a critical contradiction attends brands’ marketing of Pride apparel. The global garment industry is defined by exploitative labor conditions that render workers — particularly queer workers — vulnerable to abuse. For all the alleged solidarity that brands telegraph to their queer consumers, it is rarely extended to queer workers in the factories where apparel is sewn.”
As corporations are increasingly present in pride events it is important to analyse both the effect of their presence on the culture and image of the festivals and the ways in which corporations benefit from the involvement. These are very similar analyses to the analysis of Anarchists and Anarcha-queers. The UK based Anarchist Federation website critiques London Pride through this framework in their article “Queer Liberation – Not Rainbow Capitalism”:
“Pride in London is no longer an act of resistance in the way that Stonewall was. Stonewall was a riot against the police; Pride in London marches with them. Stonewall encouraged everyone to participate; Pride in London hosts TERFs and requires payment in order to be in the march. Simply looking at their website shows us that this march is not something revolutionary, but simply another route to monetary gain. The revolution will not be televised, but it also cannot [must not] be sponsored. Barclays, Amazon Music, and Tesco are sponsoring this year, just to name a few rainbow capitalists” “If we continue to allow marches like Pride in London to be co-opted by corporations and greed, Queer Liberation will become less of a battle cry and more of a Che Guevara t-shirt.” 14
When talking about anarchism, one is almost certain to run into the topic of antifa, or Anti-fascism. Just like anarchism, there are a lot of misconceptions about anti-fascism, most importantly how the movement works. Antifa is a movement aimed at combating fascism wherever it may pop up. Recently many people have been actively performing anti-fascist action in the US, partly in response to a proto-fascist administration, and partly in response to increasing levels of action from known fascist groups such as the Proud Boys. As a decentralised movement many anarchists are also involved with antifa movements: they are often involved in organising support for antifa demonstrations, such as setting up systems of providing protesters water, or making sure as many protesters as possible are informed of the necessary legal details, or they can be actively part of the demonstrations. This is important to mention because fascist organising is incredibly dangerous to the queer community. Fascism is very identity-driven, and works by blaming an outside identity for the problems of the world. As ‘excluding’ these identities fails to stop problems, more are added to the list, and queer people are never far from the chopping block. Anti-fascist action inherently defends the queer community, something that most politically active queer folk are intimately aware of.
In this essay I have focused on aspects of the queer community borne out of a shared discrimination and oppression. It is important to note that anarchist organising, which has an emphasis on community and group effort, has provided something positive for many people. The Mary Narindi Gang, the anarchist writing collective mentioned earlier, describes this effect:
“We proceeded, despite the end of the world, seeking joy everywhere we could. Our communiques took the ruins for granted and we insisted upon dancing amid them. Sex parties, dance parties, street parties, reading parties – partying emerged as a central form in that frenzied moment.”
The revel was, to the Mary Narindi Gang, the greatest accomplishment of the Bash Back! movement. They describe the party like a rebirth, a dance amid the ruins of the old. To many this feeling is the feeling of being truly who you are, among other people who finally see who you are, a rebirth of being you, and this is the other thing that Queer Anarchist movements give: an accepting sub-community.
This essay I hope explained some of the reasons behind a movement that fascinates me, and the reason it appeals so much to the queer community. The queer community has always been radical just in its existence, and has been in a position to be helped by anarchist movements, which can give queer people the basics of life as well as a community in which they can grow and be themselves.
My name is Matthew Burns, I am bisexual, and I deserve to live.
3 Hard power contrasts with soft power, which comes from diplomacy, culture and history. According to Joseph Nye, hard power involves “the ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will”. (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_power;) 4During the live-stream Brewis completed the game Donkey Kong 64, a feat that took him 57 hours. All the money donated during the stream went to the UK charity Mermaids, which deals with trans and gender-queer youth and families. During the livestream Brewis also had many guests including the CEO of Mermaids, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Chelsea Manning. The stream raised a total of $340 000, not counting any money that was directly donated to Mermaids during the time.
7 https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/assets/Our-Work/policy-advocacy/Suicide-... opulation-submission-to-the-draft-NZSPS-26062017.pdf
8 Among the likes of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, and Emma
9 This is of course over-simplified, potentially to the point of inaccuracy.
10 https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/anarchist-squatters-15-m... an-billionaire-oligarch-andrey-goncharenko-eaton-a7549136.html
11 Neoliberalism is a policy model—bridging politics, social studies, and economics—that seeks to transfer control of economic factors to the private sector from the public sector. It tends towards free-market capitalism and away from government spending, regulation, and public ownership. Peter Coffin states it more simply as “Fetishisation of the Market” and the finding of market solutions to all problems.
aotearoa / pacific islands / miscellaneous / news report Saturday February 22, 2020 06:48 byPink Panther
NZ politicians are embroiled in a financial scandal during an election year.Just when it seemed the 2020 General Election (scheduled for September) was shaping up to be another yawnfest both National (traditionally one of the main parties of government, currently in opposition) and New Zealand First (a minor Right-Wing populist party now in the coalition government) have found themselves embroiled in a scandal that could upset the political landscape, or at least the outcome of the election itself.
The scandal that threatens to take down long-term political zombie Winston Peters and his New Zealand First vehicle does not directly involve the main government party, Labour. However, the latest polls mean that the parties Prime Minister Ardern needs to form a coalition government with, may not get back into Parliament. The Colmar Brunton Poll has the Greens at 5 percent and NZ First at 3 percent. Labour polled 41 percent. National polled at 46 percent. Unless New Zealand First, ACT [a very small purist free-market party] and the Maori Party win electorate seats, National will also have problems forming a coalition government. Under New Zealand’s Mixed Member Proportional representation system a party must win either 5 percent of the party votes or an electorate seat to gain representation in Parliament.
So what is this scandal?
Under the electoral laws any political party donations that are at least $15,000 must be made public so the everyone knows who is bankrolling them. To evade this legal requirement it has been alleged that in this case the two Directors of Conrad Properties and other entities owned by these Directors donated a total of $55,000 in four payments to the New Zealand First Foundation so they could avoid the public disclosure requirements of the Electoral Act. (Radio New Zealand, February 18th, 2020) The Electoral Commission, which oversees all matters relating to elections and enforcing the Electoral Act, including political party donations, views the failure to disclose these donations as a breach of the public disclosure provisions of the Act. However, this is not the only reason why there is such a frenzy.
The problem stems from the claim many of the donors, including the two directors from Conrad Properties, were using their 2017 election campaign donations as leverage to press NZ First MPs’ to make changes to the Overseas Investments Amendment Act 2018 that would personally benefit these directors and other donors in the housing sector. No matter how much Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters resorts to the standard Trump tactic of accusing journalists of fabricating news stories and smearing his reputation (Winston Peters’ message to his supporters dated February 18th) the reality is that many voters will see this as cronyism at best and corruption at worst.
Such donations also raised eyebrows among some former New Zealand First members who wondered how a political party that was supposed to be on the bones of its arse (according to Doug Woolerton, one of the two trustees who oversaw the running of the Foundation) was suddenly able to afford a campaign bus for Peter’s campaign in his (failed) electoral campaign for the Northland seat in 2017.
Even more intriguing was that David Carter, the National MP for Northland since 2017, had also been approached by these donors because he was on the select committee that was hearing submissions on the Overseas Investments Amendment Bill. This is nothing unusual in NZ politics: people personally approaching a Member of Parliament to discuss legislation is commonplace even in this day in age. However, in the context of their donations to the New Zealand First Foundation, this meeting has struck some people as highly suspect. Carter himself claimed that he was surprised to learn that the directors of Conrad Properties had donated money to the NZ First Foundation.
This problem of wealthy people donating large sums of money to a political party but avoiding the disclosure laws by donating it in smaller sums has also come to haunt the National Party. This came particularly after it was revealed that an unnamed wealthy Chinese businessman made two donations of $100,000 in 2017 and $100,050 in 2018 to National without this amount being disclosed. (Newshub, February 18th) This case has resulted in four people being prosecuted by the Serious Fraud Office. Three of the four people being prosecuted are being charged over deceptive practices in trying to cover up these donations according to the Auckland District Court. The fourth is being charged with the same charges relating to the other three but is also being charged with misleading SFO investigators.
These people are expected to appear in court on February 25th. On February 19th, Newshub released their names. They are Zhang Yikun, the businessman who donated $100,00 to the National Party; Colin Zheng, Zhang’s business partner and perspective National Party candidate; Hengjia Zheng and JamiLee Ross, the already scandal-soaked MP for Botany. As expected Simon Bridges, the leader of the National Party, denied knowing anything about these donations in a media interview he gave on February 18th.
Despite these scandals Ardern has displayed what at first sight is a surprising lack of decisiveness. The same person who had no qualms about immediately banning military style weapons and generally plays on her own supposed dynamism, has taken a hands off approach to the scandals impacting her coalition partner. When she was interviewed by RadioNZ on February 17th, she said: “Indeed, I’m the Prime Minister, I run the government. I do not run three separate parties, so I don’t think it’s unfair or unreasonable to say that these are matters for New Zealand First, not for me.”
According to a RadioNZ website article dated the same day, she was quoted thus: “It is not conduct I’ve been engaged in. No, I don’t see these things as being explicit to the Cabinet manual, which is the conduct of how we run the government…”. “He [Peters] maintains the role he needs to maintain appropriately as Minister of Foreign Affairs. You’re asking questions of him as leader of a political party … these are matters for him…”. “It is ultimately an MMP environment, it will have separate political parties, they are in charge of their own conduct as party and party leaders. “These aren’t matters that I have any responsibility for. I’m the leader of the Labour Party, I had nothing to do with this and I’m not going to stand here and explain it or defend it because it’s not for me.” “I cannot run both a government and three political parties.”
Here is a Prime Minister stating that serious accusations being made against a key member of her Cabinet are nothing more than an internal NZ First matter that should be left to them to sort out! These accusations threaten to undermine the image of the system she supports and all she can say is that it’s not her concern?! The key to this is probably that once you cut through the smooth PR-generated rhetoric, media hype, advertising and spin, Labour exists as a vehicle that seeks power. That’s what it is for, plain and simple. NZ First is a populist party that specialises in the lowest common denominators of politics such as xenophobia. Since NZ First had sufficient support during the last election to be a serious junior partner, Labour could not alienate them. Though, given their shared nationalism and the anti-Chinese xenophobia Labour stoked up on the housing issue at the time, there isn’t a completely different outlook between them anyway. More importantly,they shared a pursuit for power that was ultimately more motivating than any technical, policy differences or supposed matters of principle. That being the case, it’s hardly surprising really that Ardern is soft pedalling the current scandal.
Ardern is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Winston Peters is a spiteful man and there is no doubt that if she kicked him out of Cabinet she will have to call an early election as he is unlikely to support her on supply and confidence motions. The Labour-led government will be in serious trouble if the poll results prove to be accurate or, worse, the tendency of the Greens to perform worse in elections than the polls holds true, if an early election is called. If she condemns him and kicks him out of Cabinet she will face an election where the chances are she won’t be able to form a coalition government. If she washes her hands of the situation she shows herself to be a moral coward which will almost certainly cost the Labour Party dearly in the election. The only thing that could save her election chances is if Jami-Lee Ross (who is admittedly now an ex-National MP) and Colin Zheng are found guilty of the charges laid against them. This will seriously dent National’s credibility among many swing and undecided voters.
At least she bothered to say something. The Greens have been noteworthy for having nothing whatsoever to say on these scandals. Considering how vocal the Greens have been in the past about holding other political parties to account, this is interesting. Now they have seats at the big table, its not really in their interests to mess with things in a way that might jeopodise their cut of the pie. They would seem to prefer waiting it out, pointing to the puny policy successes they’ve squeezed out of Labour and hoping for the best. Politically they’ve got nowhere to go except to tail behind Labour as the bigger dog anyway.
There is often the lazy and smug assumption in this country that ‘we’ are somehow an exception to the way things work elsewhere. To Anarchists, the scandals that have rocked National and New Zealand First have merely confirmed that this country is not immune to the influence of business elites donating large amounts of money in exchange for favours or, dare I suggest it, buying their way into Parliament. It’s noteworthy that it’s not a crime for wealthy donors to pay out $15,000 or more to a political party, just a crime for political parties not to reveal who made such donations. Just like in failed states such as the U.S.A, wealthy people are buying influence here by offering large donations to political parties they think will be most receptive to their lobbying.
None of this comes as a surprise to us. State-based ‘democracy’ has always been founded upon a link between money and power. You simply can’t obtain power under the current system without raising a lot of money for advertising, meetings, social media promotions, lunches and all sorts of stuff. Wealthy elites influencing the politicians who pass laws that benefit them financially is really just an extreme manifestation of what passes for normal.
The politicians and, by extension, the state itself does not exist primarily to serve the people. It is set up to ensure that the elites within each country or region are able to keep their wealth, privileges and power. As the anarchist activist Lucy Parsons put it a long time ago “Never be deceived that the rich will allow you to vote away their wealth”. Even in the countries that historically some Marxists are fond of calling “deformed workers countries” or “Socialist” the brute reality has been that the state only serves to keep bureaucratic, rather than wealthy, elites entrenched in power.
There are many reasons why Anarchists seek to eradicate the state but the key reason is that without the state these elites would not exist. Without the state there are no laws, no police, no military and no bureaucracies to create, entrench and protect these elites from the workers and everybody else they have bribed, exploited, lied to and terrorised. Attention to the current scandals and this year’s election, should serve to prove that while the scale may differ from elsewhere, this country is no different from any other in that regard.
This article defends the established Anarchist position of not voting for political parties. It arose as part of a dialogue with a self-declared Anarchist who claimed this view is "unhelpful and extreme".This year Aotearoa will be experiencing an election. The various political parties will be expecting people to vote for them and many will. Aotearoa Worker’s Solidarity Movement (AWSM) members will not be doing so. We hope that other anarchists will decide not to either. However, we are aware that some avowed anarchists don’t agree with us. We recently interacted with such a person who argued our approach to this issue is “extreme and unhelpful”. We feel this is wrong and since there may be other people who have that view, we would like to address this point with a wero/challenge in the form of a few initial considerations and questions:
1) Calling our position extreme depends on what you’re comparing us with. Looked at next to the current crop of political parties our stance is extreme. Though…so what if it is? ‘Extremist’ is used pejoratively by the mainstream as if the established centre is intrinsically the best position to be in. We prefer what we see as the appropriate position regardless of how anyone may categorise it. It is what it is, regardless. In addition, the extremist tag is often applied with the assumption it obviates the need to engage in any debate once you have attached that label to somebody. It’s an attempt to use words as a weapon by those who currently wield authority over us. That it can be adopted even by somebody claiming the anarchist name, shows how effective unacknowledged assumptions can be. Fish don’t think about water…but with the literal and figurative water becoming more polluted, perhaps you should?
If you stand outside the dominant paradigm but within anarchist theory built up over centuries, our position is very much the middle-of-the-road, orthodox one. Traditionally nearly all anarchists both as individuals and organisations, theorists and activists have abstained from voting for political parties. There have been historical exceptions. For example, the Anarcho-Syndicalist union in Spain, the CNT did have supporters who voted in favour of the Popular Front in the early 1930s, in order to obtain the release of its militants from prisons. While we are aware of such examples the more relevant point is, such instances are rare enough to highlight that their opposite represents the norm. So, calling for a non-vote is the normal, long-established standard view, not an extreme position.
Therefore, we have to ask our interlocutor and like-minded folks whether they are arguing from outside the anarchist perspective in reaching their claim by accepting the view pushed by the political parties regarding non-voting? If they are claiming on the contrary, that they have reached that point while still being an anarchist, we would like to know how the fundamental, long-held position has failed and theirs is preferable, while still being consistent with anarchism?
2) On a daily basis in order to survive, there are all sorts of compromises that have to be made in accommodating to the current system. It’s not hard to think of examples of times where we put up with shit just to be able to eat and pay rent. Not voting is one of the few times you can opt-out and make a principled protest and not suffer punitive legal sanctions (try not paying your taxes and see what happens!). So why would you not take the opportunity to do that? Why would you commit an unforced error?
3) There’s also a slippery slope argument. If you can find enough in what the parties are doing (whatever that would be?) to vote for one of them, then why stop there? You can use the same justification to begin canvassing for them, donating money, becoming a member and a whole bunch of other unnecessary compromises. It’s no accident that we have had two ex-anarchist Green MPs (Metiria Turei, Nandor Tanczos) in this country and a whole bunch of anarchists who have ended up doing work for the party in its administration. So this is not a point of exaggeration, it has happened.
4) Epistemologically, on a practical basis what criteria would you set to establish which political party is ‘better’ than the others to the point you are prepared to vote for them? For each ‘good’ point a particular party may adopt, it is sure to have a ‘bad’ one that would cancel that out. And there are points that the ‘bad’ parties make that are sometimes ‘better’ than those the ‘good’ ones adopt, such as the Centre-Right National Party increasing unemployment benefits under previous PM John Key. Labour improves funding for roads (good?) while increasing the number of cops (bad?) while the Greens have banned plastic bags (good?) while accepting Labours increased road funding (bad) etc. What about policies they all agree with across their spectrum? The more policies you compare the more complex and contradictory it becomes. So how do you finally determine that a) you should vote and b) for which party? What method can you apply to reliably identify what the ‘lesser evil’ is in the first place?
5) Add to number 4) the short-sighted approach of voting for a particular party based on the current, single election. In doing this you can fool yourself that the differences are somehow crucial and your action in voting will make some kind of historical earth-shattering effect because “this election will decide the future of the planet” or some such politician’s rhetoric. However, if you stand back and look at the overall effect of the alternating parties over the past 100 years you see that there isn’t much between them. The conservative ones have always been upfront about supporting capitalism. The Left -wing ones have eventually given up all pretence of trying to overturn the system, in preference for sharing power with their Right-wing colleagues. When does it reach the point that you can no longer keep making excuses for them and decide that a better way is worth exploring? By voting, you are doing your small but important part in helping prolong the current system. It’s like claiming you are trying to help a meth addict by repeatedly ‘only giving him/her a small dose this time’ and expecting a different outcome from the last time he/she took a hit of the drug.
6) We are not advocating a no-vote for negative “unhelpful’ reasons. If that was the sole extent of what we were about, there might be an argument there. We aren’t anti-social nihilists. Not voting is only one component of a deeper, well-considered, positive political theory. Anarchism works practically to offer a way out of the fucking mess capitalism and all its parties have put us in and that we as anarchists haven’t actively contributed to. We do lots of helpful stuff, on a daily basis. For example, by helping people understand we can work together to get out of this system on a theoretical level through websites, pamphlets and so on, or by practical mutual aid and volunteer work in our community etc on a material level. You have to look at the action of not voting in a broader, fuller context of what we are doing and why we are doing it. If we are unhelpful to anybody, it is the various power mongers and their parties and their system that we are being unhelpful towards. We think that’s a good thing.
Tue 27 Oct, 16:34
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