[2012/09/16: updated and renamed. The old title was "Why are so many Occupiers attracted to anarchism?"]
Thursday evening I went to an exhibit of photos of the Seattle Occupy movement . I chatted with several people there. With one woman I discussed Occupy and the path forward. She said she distrusts the Democratic Party.
I said that I understand why people reject working through the Democratic Party -- it would take a huge fight to kick out the corporatists -- but I also said that both progressive Dems and Occupiers want the same things: economic justice, women's rights, gay rights, environmental stewardship, a strong social safety net, an end to militarism, an end to the police state, and an end to corruption. We're just taking different paths to the same goal. Progressive Dems want to reform the Democratic Party so it serves the 99%. Occupiers think the Democratic Party is hopelessly corrupt. (I note, though, that angry conservatives tend to take over the GOP, while angry progressives/occupiers flee the Democratic Party, leaving it to the corporatists. As a result of the division on the left, there are neither enough progressives to reform the Democratic Party nor enough occupiers and leftists to form a viable third party or alternative system.)
She disagreed with my claim that progressive Dems and Occupiers have the same aim. She said that she's an "anarcho-socialist" and doesn't want government to be powerful. She disagrees with liberalism. I responded, "But don't you want government to provide Social Security and Medicare and libraries? Well, that's big government." She nodded yes but had no response to this, or not enough time for a response anyway. Our discussion ended by her saying that she's OK with discussing things but doesn't like it when people call her ideas dumb. (I didn't call her ideas dumb.) Her life is busy, she said, and she doesn't waste time arguing with people who see things substantially differently.
I had a bad feeling after that conversation.
Many people in the Occupy movement are more or less anarchist. (I'm not talking mainly about the violence-loving Black Block anarchists that Chris Hedges criticized in The Cancer in Occupy. I'm talking mostly about peaceful anarchists.)
I don't understand the attraction of anarchism, and I'm writing this article to solicit dialog about why people are attracted to it and to draw attention to a troubling fact: anarchist Occupiers may be aiding the anti-government forces on the right.
Thanks to government we have seat belts, childhood immunization, civil rights laws, the Internet, gas mileage standards, pollution controls, Medicare, Social Security, laws, constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion and press (under threat, for sure), public transportation, public schools, disaster relief, medical research (most life-saving drugs produced by government researchers), safety standards on toys, foods, and medicines, .....
See the article We're the government, and we built all these
Especially worth emphasizing is the need for Big Government to act as a
counterweight and check on corporations, which would otherwise dominate
society. Corporations aren't going away, because it is efficient for
people to organize themselves into groups, both
economically and politically. Typically, such groups are hierarchical, and members of the group cooperate to reach shared goals. For corporations, of course, the goal is to earn money; employees benefit when their company prospers.
Of course, too often government just serves the 1% and the corporations. But we need to fix government, not minimize it. Without government we'd be hunter gatherers. I don't believe that a modern society can function without a centralized government. Nor can most organizations function without hierarchy. Give me an example where anarchism, or something based on it, worked in a modern nation. The most successful model seems to be northern European-style Big Government nations: capitalism tempered by high taxes and a strong safety net.
Anarchist Occupiers are similar to Tea Party conservatives: both yearn for some sort of utopian, post-government society where people self-organize into cooperating, non-hierarchical communities. I suspect such libertarian dreams will end up helping the 1%. We need government to regulate industry and to serve the people!
In this age of cell phones and cars and jets and computers, some things can only be created by large corporations, which aren't going away any time soon. So we need government as a counterweight.
I worry that anarchists may feed into the anti-government Tea Party mentality of Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers.
Oddly, despite right wingers' professed preference for individualism, they seem more capable than leftists at cooperating and working as a community. People on the Left are always fighting among themselves. Occupy Movements fall apart due to infighting. So much for cooperation.