Anarchy Explained, or, Maybe Your Head Will Implode

By Tom Gilson Published on August 5, 2020

I was exchanging comments with an anarchist on my blog when he got impatient with me for not doing him the courtesy of reading a FAQ on anarchism. I do like to be courteous except I counted, and no kidding, this FAQ was 1.73 million words long. That’s just a bit shorter than The Lord of the Rings. Plus War and Peace. Plus the entire King James Bible. All added together. It’s probably longer now.

But hey, if that’s what it takes to get through anarchism’s frequently asked questions, I guess it’s no wonder Donald Trump was off track when he portrayed Portland and Seattle “protesters” (his quotes) as anarchists.

That’s the charge, anyway, at a article by a young writer named Vanessa Taylor. Apparently a lot of us need to read that FAQ. “In the American imagination,” she writes, “anarchy is nothing more than chaos for chaos’ sake, detached from any political analysis or meaningful struggle for liberation.”

I Stand Corrected

That’s wrong, says Taylor. Want to know the real truth? In less than three months of reading time? Taylor quotes a top source on the subject, labor journalist Kim Kelly. Anarchism is actually “a radical, revolutionary leftist political philosophy that advocates for the abolition of government, hierarchy, and all other unequal systems of power.”

Well, I stand corrected. And here I’d been thinking it was chaos “detached from any political analysis.” What a relief to know the truth. It’s actually chaos coming from a radical, revolutionary leftist political philosophy. I feel much better now.

But hey, I’m just an opinion columnist. Gimme a break. I can’t know everything about every political movement. The president, though? Shouldn’t he have known? Shouldn’t he have read those bazillion words? Couldn’t he at least have read Teen Vogue for Kim Kelly’s deep professional analysis? (Yes, that’s where Taylor found it.)

Black Anarchism is “Different”

Black anarchism is different, though. That is, it’s different “from person to person,” says Taylor. Maybe that’s why it takes thirty or forty pounds of paper to print out the answers to just the most frequent questions.

One black anarchist Taylor quotes says it’s about “fully embracing the life that is denied us” — a life that was formed by anarchy? I don’t think so. It means “living in total conflict with the forces that subjugate, exploit, and kill us.” Yeah, that will get them the life that was denied them.

It’s worth noting that “only” about five-of-six black Americans support the police in their communities.

The rest of Taylor’s article continues along the same lines. Building “non-hierarchical communities” — which on full analysis is a contradiction in terms. “Having my cake and eating it, too” — which is a proverb precisely because it’s a contradiction in terms.

What, Me Worry?

Anarchy, she says, “harkens back to the Red Scare,” when “‘communist’ was thrown around as haphazardly as Trump’s use of ‘anarchists.’” No, actually much more haphazardly. The label “communist” was overused in the McCarthy era. Designating “protesters” (Trump’s quotes again) who burn, smash, loot, and kill as anarchists is right on the mark.

But then again, Trump hasn’t read that FAQ, and neither have I. How are we supposed to know? Why should we worry? Why should we even fight it? Out of ignorance, I guess.

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The fight will go on, though. One of Taylor’s sources predicts “there is going to be an intense crackdown on anarchists, probably on a level we haven’t seen since the Earth Liberation Front was active in the early ’90s and 2000’s.”

That’s quite a comparison. The ELF were a top domestic terror threat in the U.S. in the late 1990s, setting fires, bombing my alma mater (Michigan State), sabotaging power lines, and more. And my goodness, can you believe it, the government waged an intense crackdown on them. The gods forbid we’d do anything so unjust to anarchists today! Why, they’re helping organize protesters!

Or Maybe Your Head Would Explode

They’re even practicing street medicine, says Taylor. “These skills are vital during protests,” she says, “when the state is often the one harming people and calling 911 for medical assistance is no longer an option.”

It was no longer an option inside Seattle’s CHAZ or CHOP. Now, though? I think they still try to get through to help. Even when anarchists are doing their best to block them, stop them, threaten them, harass them, and otherwise fulfill their own prediction that calling 911 is no help.

Here’s the point of it all, though: This all comes from an article that’s trying to explain the value and goodness of anarchy, especially black anarchy. But it’s only 1/1000 as long as the FAQ. Maybe if you read the whole thing it would make more sense. Or maybe your head would implode on you.


Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the just-released Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.

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