Keith Rankin on Globalisation and Anarchism : An Anarchist Responds
Keith Rankin (Globalisation and Anarchism, 26 July) is right to suggest it's time to reflect more on anarchism and less on globalisation. Along with many anarchists, I share his frustration at the confusion caused by the use of vague labels such as "anti-globalisation".
As has been pointed out on numerous occasions, anarchists welcome many of the developments that are often associated with globalisation, such as the spread of new technologies that enable people around the world to share information and resources almost instantly. Anarchists, in fact, have been at the forefront of developing and using such technologies. Just look at the scores of Indymedia sites around the world, which all run on a simple program originally developed by a small group of anarchists in Australia.
Anarchists would also welcome the dissolution of national borders and the free flow of both goods and people between countries that true globalisation would bring. But of course this is not what is happening today; just ask the thousands of people from developing countries locked up in immigration detention camps in Australia, the United Kingdom and other so-called developed countries, or the protestors recently deported from Italy (after being beaten, illegally detained and in some cases tortured) for daring to challenge the authority of the G8 leaders and their lackeys in the Italian police force.
What we see happening today is a largely one-sided globalisation, a globalisation imposed from above, geared to serving the interests of the small minority who own and control the world's resources. Perhaps Rankin is correct in suggesting that globalisation can be steered into "an inclusive (public) form", but this will never happen as long as the rudder is in the hands of the unelected elites who run the world's companies, and who dictate the polices of powerful international organisations such as the IMF and the WTO.
Because the very concept of globalisation is vague and open to different interpretations, many anarchists would hesitate before calling themselves anti-globalisation. I suspect this label was invented by the corporate media as a catchall phrase to describe the protestors who gather at events like the G8 Summit. In reality, these protestors represent a diverse range of groups and ideologies, and so coming up with a single label to refer to them collectively is not easy.
The term "anti-capitalist" is a lot clearer, but then many of the protestors outside these meetings simply want to reform capitalism, not get rid of it completely. And while the so-called "anti-globalisation" movement is organised in an essentially anarchic fashion (in other words it has no leaders, and is non-hierarchical and decentralised), Rankin is correct when he suggests that most of the protestors would hesitate to call themselves anarchists. This is not surprising given the bad press anarchists have received over the years, so it was a breath of fresh air to find in Rankin's column a serious attempt to portray anarchism in a positive light. Having said that, however, I would like to take issue with some of the points he made.
Rankin starts off on the right track when he describes anarchism as emphasising a "socialised, cooperative" way of organising economic and social life based on "voluntary action, civility, trust". Yet he confuses matters by later suggesting that this is somehow compatible with "well-developed principles of private property". Like communists, anarchists have historically opposed all forms of private property (not to be confused with private possessions for personal use) as well as other features of capitalism, such as wage labour. No doubt I will be accused of looking "too literally to the 19th century writings of Bakunin and Kroptkin" for holding these views, but this is hardly a valid reason to jettison what has always been a fundamental tenet of anarchism. Anarchists want to abolish capitalism, not reform it. After all, how can socialised and cooperative ways of organising possibly thrive under an economic system based on competition and exploitation?
Rankin further confuses matters by suggesting that meetings such as the G8 Summit are an example of the kind of "global cooperation" that might help bring about an anarchist society, apparently because they could lead to the emergence of "regional commonwealths" and avert "world government".
But as Rankin notes earlier in his article, anarchists are against all forms of government. Governments are based on domination, authority and hierarchy, which are hardly likely to foster the voluntary action, civility and trust that Rankin himself points to as being among the hallmarks of anarchism.
Rather, anarchists look to grassroots unions, affinity groups and other non-hierarchical forms of organisation as ways to encourage these traits while working to build a truly just society. These are the very kinds of organisations that anarchists are involved in, whether on the streets of Genoa or in downtown Wellington. Yet, having chastised the media for failing to look beyond the stereotypical image of anarchists as a bunch of black-clad, stone-throwing youths hell bent on destruction, Rankin falls into the same trap by concluding that the new protest movement is not constructive because it is focussed on destruction!
Rankin concludes by stating: "Dialogue and mutual respect were conspicuously absent in Genoa." I was not at Genoa, but judging from my experiences at the blockade of the World Economic Forum meeting in Melbourne last September, I can assure Rankin that the level of dialogue and mutual respect among the protestors in Italy would have been extraordinarily high.
As for the likes of Bush, Blair, our own Mike Moore and the other assorted riff-raff who actually attend these meetings, they get the level of respect they deserve: zilch.