I suspect that I first became aware of Anarchism as something to take seriously through the work of Noam Chomsky. But, other than general ideas about the nature of authority, Chomsky doesn't spend much time articulating a vision of the future. In his famous essay, "Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship" (found in his first book, American Power and the New Mandarins--reissued in 2002 by The New Press), Chomsky does discuss at length the Spanish Civil War, particularly the initially revolutionary nature of that conflict and the typical inability of the liberal media to recognize it. In doing so, he quotes extensively from George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, particularly passages in which Orwell describes what he encountered upon arriving in Spain--genuine worker control, the apparent lack of hierarchies, etc. Chomsky's discussion fired my imagination, creating in me an abiding interest in the Spanish Civil War as one of the key events of recent history.
I finally read Orwell's book last month. It had been a contender for "next book" for some time, but Ellis Sharp's brief post about it brought it front and center in my attention (I also highly recommend the book and agree with Sharp, and Chomsky incidentally, that it is considerably better than Orwell's fiction). One of Orwell's observations is that the war was only truly alive to the general public when they felt there was something they were fighting for, beyond just generic "democracy" from above, when they had the arms and still controlled the territories that the Anarchists had captured, when it was revolutionary, which the Communist Party clearly was not, controlled as it was by the Soviet Union (which, perhaps, did not want to alienate its military ally, France). This theme is important. Bookchin, in the above-mentioned collection, makes no bones about the fact that the American Communist Party followed the dictates of the Soviet Union, but he stresses that, by the 1930s the Soviet Union, and by extension the Communist Parties in other countries, had long since ceased to be a revolutionary force. I don't have Bookchin's book in front of me to refresh my memory, but these passages, for me, put the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s in an even more tragi-comic light than before. I will return to this with at least quotations from Bookchin in future posts. I have and plan to read soon Bookchin's history The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years 1868-1936.
Richard Estes at American Leftist has a nice post about Bookchin, with links to some other articles, including this obituary in CounterPunch by Brian Tokar, and, after quoting some passages from Bookchin himself, ties his ideas in with what is going on now in South America:
No doubt some Marxists will take umbrage at Bookchin's blunt celebration of anarchism as the source of most contemporary social movements. It is the argument that will never go away, always returning in new variations. Is it only possible to carry forward the revolution by taking control of the instruments of state power, or, must the revolution, if it is to succeed, aspire to the eradication of the state itself?I don't know a lot about Chávez and the Bolivarian movements. We hear a lot in the US about Chávez's "authoritarianism" but not much about what is actually happening on the ground. Estes quotes from an interview with Al Giordano in 2002, which contains a number of important observations, a couple of which I want to also quote:
Nowhere is the question more acute than in Venezuela, where the Chavistas have seized control of the state, through recourse to a paradoxical ideology that emphasizes the nationalism of Bolivar and the universality of Guevara, using it to defend against the imperial intervention of United States, while social movements exploit the newly opened space for experimentation, frequently relying upon the broad anarchist principles enunciated by Bookchin, artisanship, the mutual aid of the community, a closeness to nature and enlightened ethical norms.
For me, Murray Bookchin's clear, no-nonsense style has been an important starting point on the way to understanding a lot of radical thought. In the process, he has addressed a number of the superficial concerns that I had about Anarchism, particularly its co-optation by "lifestyle anarchists"--technophobic people with an excessive interest in mystical new age hooey. I have still used the word "Anarchism" to signify what I am interested in here, but perhaps it's better to use Bookchin's term "communalism" to differentiate from the lifestyle anarchists. In any event, Bookchin's work has fascinated and inspired me. I mourn his passing, and I look forward to reading more of his books, such as The Ecology of Freedom, as well as another one on Spain, To Remember Spain: The Anarchist and Syndicalist Revolution of 1936.
The Bolivarian Circles are very similar to the Workers Councils of Paris 1968. There's also a Situationist tendency in some of what we see in the Venezuelan revolution. One of my best writers recently put that word, revolution, in quotation marks, but I don't. The surrounding of the TV stations, the confrontation with "the spectacle," Chávez's own willingness to confront the corrupt Commercial Media and legalize Community TV and radio, these things are showing the entire world a way out of this media mess. I love it.
None of this means I think that a Chávez government or a Lula government or a Lucio government or any other government is all honey over cornflakes. But the insistence that any movement be "perfect" or "correct" is the quickest route to a permanent state of defeat. What we've seen in Venezuela is that the government (the classic concept of the state) has taken very key actions, like legalizing Community Media as a Constitutional right, and smashing to bits the previous corrupt two-party system, has opened a space for more anarcho-syndicalist and self-valorized activity to gain a foothold in society, where previously it had none.