What anarchism really means + history of *Anarchist Studies Network*
Direct action is part of creating direct democracy, but the student protests saw the media painting a caricature of anarchism. Protesters are never a homogenous group, but those who protested under the anti-cuts banner last week were united in the view that the marketisation of higher education should be opposed. Typically, however, property destruction magically transformed a sizeable subset into "anarchists", and gave a green light to the general dismissal of their concerns.
What's misleading is the media's assumption that there's a generalised relationship between anarchism and violence. Anarchism is a far richer tradition, and in the light of the media frenzy, it's worth reflecting on what it stands for. The Con-Dem alliance is looking to roll back the state. Anarchists want this too, but the government is looking to roll back the state and let business take up the slack, thereby bringing a fictitious "free market" into every last recess of our lives. That's where the disagreement lies. Anarchists advocate practical alternatives to both this neoliberal slash-and-burn policy and the old Labour state-socialism.
Following along the lines of thought that led us to do a show about what anarchism really means, we feel that it's time to do some in-depth discussion about what democracy really looks like.
Modern liberal democracies garner the opinion of some adults of voting age once every five years as a solution to pre-determined elite bargaining. Who voted for the Con-Dem coalition? When the governments that are voted in then routinely ignore the will of the people, be that over wars, cuts, or the minutiae of policy, we see modern representative democracy for the sham that it is. Allowing protest only on condition that it will never present a challenge to government is part of that same sham.
Because this fake democracy doesn't work and the interests of anarchists could never be represented by a political party, direct action is the tactic of choice. And direct action is part of the process of creating direct democracy. It produces results by raising the profile of causes and often halting practices many object to.
As well as a tactic, direct action is also a means for self-empowerment. It is a component of the society we hope to create, where people take control of their lives into their own hands and confront the root causes of injustices directly, without representatives. This sometimes includes property damage, but anarchists take seriously the notions of liberty and equality: that people are capable of speaking and acting for themselves and become even more capable through practice rather than representation.
The threat to a liveable world comes not from anarchists, but from governments and capitalism. Before the current crisis is used as a front to take us even deeper into a neoliberal nightmare, let's reconsider alternatives.
by ............... The Anarchist Studies Network is a specialist group of the UK Political Studies Association. This piece was collectively written but does not necessarily reflect a consensus view
History of *Anarchist Studies Network*
What constitutes "anarchist studies," and where did it come from?
"Anarchism and Anarchy: A Historical Perspective"
There has even been some interest in revisiting the theoretical documents left in the wake of anarchist movements, dusting off the old ideas in search of new perspectives. Far from having been anti-intellectual "primitive rebels," anarchists produced a rich critical discourse on every facet of life and knowledge, from economics to linguistics, from social history to aesthetic theory, from urban planning to ontology -- a counter-institutional archive that has barely begun to be investigated. Amid a widespread increase in doctoral theses and academic publications directly engaged with the anarchist archive, some researchers have begun to draw inspiration from it, to see their work as an extension of anarchist theory and practice. For a number of us, what we are calling "anarchist studies" no longer necessarily takes anarchism as its object of study but as a standpoint from which to study the world. Anarchist contributions to thought are making a reappearance in a number of fields, challenging established orthodoxies. Perhaps, against all odds, we are witnessing the emergence of a new anarchist paradigm in academia.
It is unlikely that this paradigm has a future unless steps are taken to foster its growth, to maintain a space for it within the existing institutional structures it inhabits while preventing it from being simply absorbed by those structures. Therefore, the Anarchist Studies Network seeks
1.) to build on the renewed interest in anarchist and anarchistic thought by facilitating and promoting the study of anarchism as modern political theory and practice, across scholarly disciplines, both within and outside the official academic sphere;
2.) to provide an interdisciplinary institutional forum bringing together graduate students, professional academics, and independent scholars across the world; and
3.) to provide a platform for the promotion of anarchism as a vital and viable analytical, conceptual, and pedagogical paradigm for the 21st century.
To these ends, the group has four specific aims and objectives:
a.) We plan to organise a seminar series to allow academics and graduate students to present their work to a more specialist audience.
b.) We also plan to organise an annual two-day conference on the legacy and work of individual anarchists, or on aspects of anarchist history, contemporary anarchist practice, or anarchism’s potential to contribute to ongoing political and economic change.
c.) This will clearly demand the coordination of broader and more long-term research projects and funding applications.
d.) Our basic aim is to reinvigorate the study of anarchism within academia by building links across subject areas, and to this end we will actively seek close relationships with other interested specialist groups in the PSA, BISA, APSA and ISA, as well as groups located outside the official sphere of academia, including those formed for activism and public intellectual life.