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How has anarchism and radical politics changed over the past 28 years?

+1 vote
I've been kind of curious for a while now as to how society has changed over the course of my life, but this is a pretty overwhelming subject matter. My accessment, given the shit I've read and my limited memories, is that society mostly hasn't changed over the past 28 years except for that it's now harder for people in the US to make money and climbing the social ladder, and the hyper-expansion of the internet and the use of smartphones. Other than that, I don't think things are really that different than they were when I was younger.

Given that you all are much more intimately familiar with the anarchist and radical political scene, what has changed about it over the past 28 years? How was identity politics and all the blame-gaming different from what it's like now?
asked Oct 21 by Nihilist (1,110 points)
The primary difference is that 28 years ago, the veneer of academic authority over accountability (blame-gaming) and identity politics had not yet reached its current level of (deliberate?) confusion

2 Answers

+4 votes
(i'm just speaking for the u.s.) maoism is more intense and accepted now than it was 28 years ago (although it has waxed and waned over the past 50 years, at least). anarchist is the cool label now (as much as there is a cool political label, anyway), 28 years ago it wasn't. punk is less relevant in anarchist politics (as a foundation from which people came into anarchy, for example), to the serious detriment of anarchist thinking, as far as i'm concerned. and environmental issues are undeniably on everyone's mind in a way that they were not 28 years ago.

obviously how and what has changed depends on what plane one is looking at. western civ is still western civ, but there are changes too.
answered Oct 22 by dot (50,940 points)
Wow, thanks for the response, your answer brings up a lot of things that are interesting to me. Around where I live I've literally encountered 0 interest in maoism or stalinism, even though in a lot of LBC books I've read there are lots of marxists out there who seem to sympathize with those communist dictators. I sense that a lot of current "programming" that people on the radical left do comes from maoism, I read in this little chinese history book I used to have about how maoism is all about having these discussion groups and purging any sort of non-communist thinking.

I'm also curious about how punk music was an important stimulant to anarchist thinking to you...there are some punk bands I really like, and I've actually been involved in punk bands in the past, but unfortunately I think a lot of them just sound the same...

oh wait, i just realized, perhaps you are not talking about punk music, but the punk style?? I'm pretty un-cool and culturally deprived overall :-(
mostly modern day maoists don't say they're maoist. but the idea of internal colonies within so-called first world countries, and that those colonies are the revolutionary agent (aka the most oppressed, and so where the most radical change will come from)... that's maoism, even if people don't know it.

as for punk, it's simple. punk was (sometimes still is) angry. anarchy out of anger avoids a lot of pitfalls of this consumerist liberal culture (we should all be able to just get along). i'm shorthanding this explanation--obv sometimes it's fine to get along, and sometimes anger is silly, but if i have to err on one side or another, i find anger to be authentic more often than getting along is.

edit: and also obviously, anger and getting along are not diametrically opposed. getting along in our anger is common... short cuts everywhere!
same reason why negative, pessimistic opinions tend to be easier to stomach for me than really flowery sounding opinions...but like with everything else, no emotions are sacred. Envisioning an anarchism without anger is completely ridiculous.

I guess that Crimethinc has a lot to do with anarchism being a cool-kid thing now?
i don't think so, although crimethinc plays a part, i guess.

i would look to the failures of all the marxist ideologies, and maybe to the lack of unity in definitions of anarchy -- the fact that it can cover such a huge variety of ideas.
yeah, i wasn't trying to put down crimethinc, it's just from my understanding crimethinc made anarchism really popular compared to what it was earlier before the 2000's

i personally think that even though marxism has a big influence on modern liberal thought, most people involved in political interest circles still seem to know very little about it. Rather than looking at the failures of ideologies, I would probably be more quick to consider what goes on in general pop culture and people in their teenage years and in their mid 20's. Not very many people read now adays, and people tend to mis-interpret the little bit that they read.

For example, i researched a little bit how the "small colonies being revolutionary" logic is tied into maoism, and I found that this was discussed at the maoist international. However, i think it still has less to do with maoism as it has to do with the seduction of very simple logic itself. It perfectly goes with the idea that the most oppressed are the most revolutionary, which is a way of thinking inherent to identity politics.

But as always, your opinions are interesting to me and I understand that I know next to nothing about the social world we live in.
+2 votes

Things are different, but things are also remarkably familiar feeling.

Echoing dot, there is a shift in demographics and focus - As a young'n (I am specifically thinking probably about 9th grade on ~ `1990 - present) I came to anarchy because the cool kids (it was an alternative school) had circle-A's on their skate shoes and binders, and a certain punk singer in a band I'd been slowly getting it to for a few years already had boldly stated that he "was an anarchiste". I didn't even totally know what that meant (and as far as I knew, the band Black Flag was named after an insecticide). Identity politics in that scene were a thing (Riot Grrl, etc), but they felt less authoritarian, even while the feminism was still clearly second-wave white college educated feminism (not that I saw it that way then) and the depth and breadth of analysis around queerness, race, etc left something to be desired (at least in the terrible Pacific Northwest suburbs I was living in).

Antifa (or it's US predecessor, Anti-Racist Action) was a thing, and the same criticisms would've held true then, though no one I knew was making them, and for reasons that lead me to be maybe more symapthetic than some to the myopic perspective of Antifa - I knew real people who went from punk to Nazi skin in about three moves on the moral chessboard. Nazis still rolled in to punk shows looking for fights sometimes. I know people only a bit older than me who were involved in drive-bys (both doing and on the receiving end) related to combating Nazis. The memory of the shoot out between the FBI and Robert Matthews of The Order, was still fresh (even though it was half a decade previous), Richard Butler was holding court just across the state line in Idaho with the Aryan Nations, in Portland, OR open street fighting between punks & anarchists and the Nazis was just to be expected. Shit, KKK literature regularly appeared in the affluent neighborhoods I lived and worked in, and I went to school with teens who openly advocated for white separatism. All that is to say that I understand why many people currently feel like fighting Nazis and fascism ought to be central to current anarchism, even if I would put a question mark where they would put an exclamation point.

The internet also happened. This is both positive and negative. If you were going to be an anarchist 28 years ago (so 89/90ish?), it meant a lot of isolation, it meant working to meet people with similar ideas. ANews (or IGD, or Crimethinc, at least as it now exists, or what have you) didn't exist. There were zines and some newspapers and journals, but even that shit was hard to find. I first found not punk-centric anarchist stuff because I recognized titles of papers or magazines (Love & Rage, AJODA, Fifth Estate) or the names of authors (Emma, Chomsky) from punk sources like Profane Existence. I learned about a lot of the ideas that were formative from record inserts from labels like Excursion Records, PE, or Dischord and bands like Crass (etc.)

I am not going to say that it is easy to get connected with anarchyland now (I doubt it is), but the lack of resources led to a great diversity of what people thought anarchy should look like, a lot of cross pollinated, but distinctly localized sorts of action. I know people who think it was better being something one had to almost go on a quest to find, personally, I'm not sure. I am excited when teens have a rudimentary awareness of anarchism (even if I don't like the -ism, even if it ain't my corner of that big tent). I love having resources like http://theanarchistlibrary.org available. And... that searching, that figuring out what I would consume based on raw ingredients, as opposed to being presented with a menu of options I could order, was important to my development.

answered Oct 25 by ingrate (20,130 points)
This is all just so interesting to me because California "culture" is just so damn different from culture around where I live. A lot of your talk about skin heads makes me think about american history x, around where i live in the DC metropolitan area people who are specifically neo-nazis are very rare, i've seen a couple hanging around but it appears that it's still fairly popular out around where you live, especially further north in portland...

For me personally, when I really started getting into anarchism 5 years ago, it was from a very nihilistic perspective, so I just don't have much of an interest in western anarchist culture. Part of me still wants to make friends based on anarchist principles but to me the anarchist scene is pretty much garbage, i guess i just haven't met the right people, and given the rarity of anarchist thinking i probably never will...I've always thought about traveling to greece and hunting the anarchists down but that might now turn out so well lol
To be (semi-)transparent, I don't live in CA, though I am unsurprised that that conclusion could be drawn about me based on my affinities. My recollections of the past are based on growing up and living in the Pacific Northwest (of which PDX is definitely a part). FWIW, I don't think Nazi skins are particularly more rampant here than they are elsewhere in the US. As a diaper punk in the very early 90's, Nazis still had inroads into the scenes I was a part of. Portland always had a heavy concentration of that, but so did Spokane, WA (unsurprising since it is just across the border from N Idaho), and even Seattle and Olympia  had their fair share of boneheads. That is the past.

My answer was not trying to focus exclusively on anarchist = antifa, but I picked one place to focus, and that seems to be the zeitgeist. I could've instead explored how Left Bank Books was, when I first found it, very much a red & black sort of collective, and shifted to being a green & black collective, and is now... I don't really know. Seemingly maybe a bit more identitarian, while also having become a bit more red again. (says an outsider to the actual LBB collective).
i got the impression from an issue of black seed that talked about formerly portland anarchists becoming white supremacists for the sake of short term excitement, but white supremacy is still far from dead in the USA unfortunately. This is a country where you can "have your cake and eat it to", so we get all sorts of amalgams of trends and ideologies.
the most recent brilliant episode (#58) with andy robinson, talks more about things that have changed. and is also really interesting for a bunch of other reasons.
I never thought about neoliberalism before this episode. I hadn't even looked up the definition. I summed up the agonized social environment as merely a symptom of being hyper-civilized. I don't think that that analysis is entirely incorrect, but is a very blunt instrument. I found it difficult to communicate my ideas about the paranoia and isolation of socially-atomized individuals without getting written-off as a hippie / primmie wingnut, uninterested in the cause of justice.

I saw some of my behaviors in this critique of how neoliberalism has creeped into the anarchist scene. It's a gift to have found a way to understand these behaviors, to identify what might motivate these unfortunate reactions.    Kudos y'all.
another good set of media products to provoke thinking are the adam curtis documentaries, in case you've not watched them yet. he made a lot of them. he's definitely not an anarchist, but he stirs similar pots to us. (power of nightmares, century of the self, all watched over by machines of loving grace, the trap, and more)
yeah, i watched century of the self because you recommended it, it was really good. A lot of insights into corporate behavior manipulation and freudian thinking. Will consume the other media you mentioned when i get around to it.

The whole thing about being hyper-civilized is a tragedy, the thing that always makes me sad to the point i want to stop thinking about it is the fact that we are all so dependent on the civilization we live in that we have to deal with it...however, im also happy that eventually humanity will go extinct, there's no way were gonna get off this planet, the space age technology is way too far behind.
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