UPDATE: Read this entry en espanol.
A common reaction to Anarchism is that Anarchists should use political means, that they should play the game, in order to obtain some measure of change. An argument of this sort:
“As an Anarchist, you should stop all this fussing about, and instead you should become a politician, and try to change things properly”
But this is complete insanity, it’s raving lunacy. You can fully see its lunacy if you apply it to another area:
“As someone who is against abortion, you should stop protesting and making all this fuss. Become an abortion doctor and try to reform the AMA from within.”
If you told this to any anti-abortion activist, they would think you were mocking them in a very clumsy way or that you were grandiosely retarded. It would really take someone of a great stupidity to even conceive of such an argument, let alone have the complete lack of humour necessary to say it out loud without laughing. Or like this:
“If you’re against slaughterhouses, you should start your own slaughterhouse, kill a whole bunch of animals, make a lot of inroads in the industry, and use your influence to get other slaughterhouse owners to be more humane.”
Eventually, you’d get slugged in the face, and I wouldn’t blame whoever did it. And yet the argument is used for gradualism and against revolutionary action, with a straight face. Why do we even accept this as being anything but raving lunacy?
To a lesser extent, people who tell Anarchists to vote and “make their voices heard” fall into the same fallacy.
I really hope I don’t have to explain why this is insane: people who are fighting against what they perceive as a great evil have no interest in perpetrating it themselves. As an Anarchist, I have absolutely no desire to participate in the exploitation inherent in the political system. Voting, for instance, is an act of delegated coercion, even if one votes for a “good” cause or for the eradication of a “bad” law (all laws are bad by definition, but eradicating certain “bad” laws only brings the others to the fore). To ask Anarchists to vote is to basically ask them to stop being Anarchists.
The underlying issue is that of gradualism: the belief that by “working the system” we can gradually reform it and reduce it until it is eradicated. Gradualism therefore stands in stark contrast to revolution (the belief that violent or non-violent action against the system from the outside can eradicate it) and evolution (the belief that the individual must change first and create new ways to relate and new societies in order to crowd out the old ways).
Unlike the other two, gradualism is labeled as the “pragmatic” approach because it can achieve results faster. Well, there’s no doubt that the gradualist approach produces fast results. The problem is the nature of what one calls “results.”
The Libertarian Party was started by a bunch of Anarchists and minarchists who wanted to be represented in the political arena and eventually reform the system. Their goal was very much a gradualist one. And yet, in the almost forty years that the party has existed, not only has it failed at accomplishing anything, but its original libertarian ideal has been diluted and perverted beyond recognition, to the point where someone like Bob Barr can credibly be appointed its presidential candidate. Of course, the “hardcores” (i.e. the people who actually believe in the founding principles) moan and bitch about it constantly, not realizing that it’s an inevitable phenomenon.
The underlying principle here is this: political means can only create more political means. Or more simply: using politics to achieve an end only gives more power to the political system. Therefore doing so only works if your goal is to give more power to the political system. if your goal is to achieve lasting freedom, then participating in the political process will yield no results whatsoever. In fact, a group of disenfranchised participating in the political process has never, ever yielded lasting freedom in any area in the history of politics.
The gradualist reasoning is based on the (mostly implicit) premise that the political system is at least somewhat “fair” and will yield freedom if that’s what people want. But this is an extremely unreasonable premise. The processes that are part of the political system (such as voting) were created by the ruling class and are rigged so the ruling class can maintain its interests. Any issue, no matter how small, that goes against those interests is silenced or suppressed.
A statist might argue that my position is defeatist. On the contrary, I am not defeatist at all. In fact, I am confident in our eventual victory. I simply don’t want to waste anyone’s energies in a method that has never, ever worked and will never work, and which is a strong net negative to Anarchism as an ideology and as a movement.
This last point, I think, is just as important as the workability aspect. If people who profess to be Anarchists became a political faction yet again and sunk countless hours and dollars trying to proselyte to other people, then Anarchism would become associated in people’s minds with being just another political faction, being part of the game. But Anarchism, if it stands for anything, is a disconnection from all the games that people play against each other. So we’d be projecting the exact opposite image that we urgently need to project.
If people started associating Anarchism with politics, then there’s no doubt in my mind that it would set back the cause of freedom in a massive manner, and no one would understand Anarchism as it actually is. They would cease to “get it.”
Unfortunately the desire for gradualism seems innate in a lot of people when a movement gets started. They want to go for the quick and easy solution. They will try to control their fellows so the “image of the movement” is palatable to the public, regardless of what the truth actually is.
You might think that I am being a hypocrite since I’ve just been saying that one of the reasons to not engage in political means is that it taints the image of the movement. But in that case, to not engage in political means is to be an Anarchist. It’s not actually a lie or a misrepresentation made in order to be accepted.
But when you engage on the path of gradualism, there is no end to the control you can justify in the name of a movement. “You have to stop saying this, doing that, wearing certain clothes or giving off a certain vibe,” on and on, until everyone is a “good representant of his group.” But this is murderous for any movement which is based on freethinking and creativity, and it’s crippling psychologically for the individual. In fact, we already have an insult for that: it’s called “being a politician.”