Growing the Numbers of Pan-Anarchists: Reflections on Propaganda Techniques

About 20 years ago, I began to formulate ideas for the development of what I now call a “third wave” anarchist movement, with the “first wave” being the era of classical anarchism from the 19th and early 20th century, and the “second wave” being the forms of anarchism that have their roots in the New Left from the 1960s. The intention was that this “third wave” would embrace and honor the two previous waves, but would differ from earlier forms of anarchism in that it would lack the Marxist-influenced class determinism of much of the first wave, and it would also lack the emphasis on cultural politics found among the second wave. Instead, the third wave would be specifically oriented towards attacking the emerging global capitalist “Empire” critiqued by thinkers such as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, and its various component parts.

The third wave would likewise embrace the entire historical trajectory of anti-authoritarian thought in the manner previously pursued by thinkers such as Paul Eltzbacher and Matt Nettlau, or more recently by Peter Marshall and Robert Graham. Nor would the third wave confine itself to conventional “leftist” analysis, theory or action, but would instead embrace anti-authoritarian ideas, traditions and movements wherever they may appear on the political, cultural, or philosophical spectrum. The general objective of the third wave would be to oppose authoritarian institutions such as governments, empires, and corporations, and replace these with alternatives based on ideas like individual liberty, decentralism, voluntarism, federalism, mutual aid, cooperativism, syndicalism, communitarianism, pluralism, human scale institutions, freedom of association, and other ideas that have emerged from the historic libertarian trajectory. The background to this project was explained in an interview I gave to the author of this book. The transcript of the interview can be viewed here.

Over the years, I have published a voluminous amount of material dealing with questions of theory, strategy, and organization, as well as potential insights that may be helpful for these purposes that can be gained from various elements of philosophy, history, social science, political science, economics, social psychology, anthropology, religion, military theory, and other relevant disciplines, along with helpful ideas that can be gleaned from ideological tendencies outside the anarchist trajectory.

The reception to this now two decades old project has predictably been mixed. For example, hardline “red anarchists,” such as the writers Michael Schmidt and Lucian van der Walt, have taken the position that anarchism should be defined merely as “part of the libertarian wing of the socialist movement,” which in my view is a far too self-limiting view of anarchism. Others from the New Left-influenced versions of anarchism have taken the position that anti-authoritarian movements should aggressively exclude those who have not fully adopted the cultural norms of the post-1960s center-left or far left. Once again, this would seem to be a far too self-limiting view. Yet another conflict involves my rejection of the “no platform” ideology of some anarchists, in favor of an approach that seeks out as many platforms as possible in which embed anarchist ideas, including a lot of unlikely and seemingly incongruous places.

There have also been other anarchists that have enthusiastically embraced the general position I have put forth, and still others that have exhibited a lukewarm response. Fair enough.

However, none of these ideas are of any value without the possibility of their becoming the basis for actual action. Therefore, if the objective is to develop a “third wave” anarchist movement that is oriented towards the ideas described above, it would seem that the focus from this point on should towards increasing the numbers of people that embrace the pan-anarchist, anarcho-pluralist, or whatever it would be called paradigm that has previously been outlined.

This consideration leads to the question of what kinds of propaganda techniques would be the most effective. Once again, I would part with much of what is considered to be anarchist orthodoxy on this question.

Most anarchists are primarily oriented towards “alternative” political and cultural milieus, or towards issue-based activism of some particular kind. There is nothing wrong with such an approach. In fact, creating spaces for anarchists in political and cultural subculturse as well as in issue-based movements is very necessary. However, as with many other kinds of anarchist activities, it would seem to be too self-limiting as a matter of focus. Instead, the objective should be to reach as wide an audience as possible with anarchist ideas. To use an analogy from mainstream US politics, anarchists need to develop the equivalent of a “50 state strategy,” which is about injecting anarchist ideas into as many cultural, political, activist, demographic, generational, socioeconomic, or other milieus as possible, including those which many anarchists would no doubt write off as hard cases.

The question that remains would be the matter of how to generate propaganda of this kind. A few basic rules of thumb might be appropriate

1) Focus on the lowest common denominator.

Most people are not intellectuals, and are not interested in ideology. The human norm is to simply follow the values of one’s community, family, and culture of origin. Abstract theoretical perspectives are not interesting to most people. Instead, anarchist ideas should be presented in the form of a few basic statements or slogans. “The Government is the Enemy.” “For the Community, Against the Government.” “Smash the Government.” “Attack the System.” “The System is Evil.”

These are all very simple statements or slogans that convey a very basic message. It is also essential to use terminology that is as basic as possible. For example, the term “government” should be used in lieu of “state.” The term “system” should be used in lieu of “ruling class,” “power elite,” “capitalism,” “hierarchy,” etc.

It is also necessary to maintain a positive as well as negative message. For every “against,” there should be a “for,” and the context in which these are applied should depend on the intended audience. Some people are more receptive to an “against” message, and others are more receptive to a “for” message.

2) Endless repetition.

It is necessary to remain focused on a singular message that is expressed in memorable slogans and statements, to the point where these become matters of common language. The most successful advertising campaigns are conducted in this way, e.g. “Have a Coke and a smile.” The key to conveying any idea in a propagandistic manner is to simply repeat the same idea on a basic level over and over again, and in a way that indicates sincerity and conviction.

3) “Shotgun marketing.”

Shotgun marketing is a technique that is oriented towards gaining as wide an audience as possible. Pan-anarchist propaganda should be oriented towards every possible audience, including all cultural milieus, all political tendencies, all social classes, all education levels, all racial and ethnic groups, all ages, all areas of particular interest, etc. This includes audiences that are likely to be hostile or indifferent, at least initially.

4) Politicize the non-political.

Politicizing the non-political is not just about encouraging those who are politically disinterested to become politically motivated. Rather, it is about using non-political means to advance political objectives. For example, rather than establishing yet another YouTube channel devoted to anarchist theory, it might be helpful to establish a channel that is oriented towards a non-political interest. A YouTube channel that is oriented towards skateboard tricks, funny animal videos, “dumb criminal” stories, fandom of particular sports teams, or movie reviews can certainly be used to lead the audience towards pan-anarchist propaganda. For example, a video that features 20 minutes of skateboard tricks could also include in the middle a 20-second “commercial” conveying lowest common denominator anarchist propaganda, with links and information on “where to learn more.” Similarly, a website devoted to basketball fandom could include a single set of links, or a brief statement conveying basic level anarchist propaganda. Publishing a National Enquirer-like tabloid devoted to celebrity gossip and “news of the weird” that also includes advertisements for anarchist ideas and materials as a supplement would probably do just as much or more to increase the number anarchists, fellow travelers, and sympathizers as yet another anarchist “zine.” The objective of this kind of work should be to “normalize” anarchism and anarchist ideas, in the same way that ideas like gay marriage, marijuana legalization or atheism have become increasingly “normalized” over time to the point that being an anarchist is not any more abnormal than than being a Star Wars fan. It is only at the point when large numbers of people self-identify as anarchists (of some particular kind), or are receptive to many ideas advanced by anarchists, or are willing to participate in projects organized and/or led by anarchists that any other questions involving theory, strategy, organization, or issues will become relevant.

5) Meeting people where they are.

It is important to recognize that most people who come into anarchist milieus in response to propaganda of this kind will certainly not be fully informed concerning some kind of orthodox anarchist political platform, and will likely bring a great deal of pre-existing baggage with them. It is therefore necessary to meet people where they are, and focus on areas of agreement rather than disagreement. This is perhaps one of the most serious difficulties that many anarchists will have given the propensity of many anarchists towards sectarianism and exclusivity. It is therefore best that different types of anarchists orient themselves towards generating propaganda that is directed towards audiences they are comfortable working with, or can at least tolerate. My own approach is that there is no audience that I am unwilling to reach, and that it’s often best to start with the hard cases rather than the easy cases. However, I seem to be in the minority among anarchists.

6) The question of anarcho-sectarianism.

It has been observed that there are about as many different kinds of anarchism as there are other ideologies combined. I consider this to be a positive rather than a negative. The many hyphenated forms of anarchism are a means by which anti-authoritarian ideas can be embedded in as many different kinds of cultural and political milieus as possible. However, it is also true that many anarchists trend towards sectarianism. Yet sectarianism is not by itself a disadvantage. Christianity and Islam are well-known for the sectarian propensities of their adherents, and yet these are history’s two most successful religions. Sectarianism simply means that there are many anarchists who will choose to exclude themselves from many projects that require large scale organizations or organizing, which is fine, because there always needs to be outsiders offering criticism. Therefore, what is needed is a growth of both sectarian and ecumenical forms of anarchism. The ecumenicalists will likely be the ones that are involved in the development of large scale movements, while the sectarians will likely be involved in more specialized and specifically-oriented projects. The sectarians are a kind of “check and balance” on the ecumenicalists and vice versa.

Sectarian rivalries among different kinds of anarchists will likely extend into the relationship between anarchists, and both mainstream politics and rival extremist organizations. For example, during the 2016 election, I knew self-proclaimed anarchists who voted for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, and (my choice) nobody. It is predictable that as anarchist movements grow and expand, many hyphenated forms of anarchists will align themselves tactically with mainstream factions they consider to be the “lesser of the evils.” This is not undesirable. For example, the riots that were staged by anarchists during the Trump inauguration on the grounds of “anti-fascism” were perfectly legitimate from an anarchist perspective. What is regrettable is that anarchists do not stage similar riots at all presidential inaugurations. Perhaps in the future there will be “right-wing” anarchist factions staging riots at the inauguration of Democratic presidents on the grounds of “anti-communism” or whatever.

I am generally critical of the “no platforming” efforts of the “anti-fascist” anarchists and others to prevent center-right and far-right speakers from speaking in public as this seems to conflict with spirit of free speech, free association, and Socratic dialogue. However, another approach might be to favor “universal no platforming.” Just as left-wing anarchists might participate in leftist riots against a Milo Yiannopolous or a Ben Shapiro, so could right-wing anarchists stage right-wing riots against leftist or Communist speakers. In fact, rival groups of leftists and rightists could seek to “no platform” each other. Vegans and vegetarians could wage such a battle against each other as could anarcho-capitalists and alt-rightists. Indeed, such activities have already taken place within the anarchist milieu, such as the attack on Kristian Williams at a gathering in Portland some years ago, or the 2009 battle in Philadelphia between members of Crimethinc and Anarchist People of Color.

Battles between rival groups of extremists can often get quite bloody. The “Battle of Charlottesville” of August, 2017 is Exhibit A. I personally knew anarchists that were participants on both sides of that melee, including personal friends. Perhaps in the future rivalries between different groups of extremists will begin to resemble those of gangland cultures. Right-leaning anarchists will team up with alt-rightists and fascists to combat leftists, antifa, and Communists, and left-leaning anarchists will team up with leftists, antifa, and Communists to combat fascists and alt-rightists. Perhaps there will be similar conflagrations between different kinds of anarchists on an even more intense level, along with battles between anarchists and other extremists, or between different kinds of non-anarchist extremists. Of course, as movements of these kinds grow, it is likely there will also be increased and more intense confrontations between anarchists and representatives of the state, perhaps in alliance with other extremists in various situations.  It may even be true that antifa-anarchists are needed to keep rival extremists from the far right, such as fascists, in check, just as right-wing anarchist vigilante groups may be necessary to keep other rival extremists, such as Communists and Islamists, in check as well. The attack on the Communist Party carried out by Greek anarchists some years ago might be a model of this kind. Such rivalries may eventually become as violent and bloody as the rivalries between urban street gangs, outlaw motorcycle clubs, or factions of the mafia.

Such activities might well be part of the “growing pains” that future anarchist mass movements have to endure during their developmental process. However, what actually matters is that anarchists movements continue to grow and expand over time to the point that these can actually challenge the power of states, and the various components of the global corporatocracy on an international level, while at the same time keeping rival extremists, whether left, right, or religious in check. Nor would it necessarily be good for any one faction of anarchists to be entirely or even primarily dominant. For every anarcho-communist we need an anarcho-capitalist. For every anarcho-insurrectionist we need an anarcho-pacifist. For every anarcho-primitivist we need an anarcho-transhumanist. For every anarcho-syndicalist we need an anarcho-agorist. For every anarcho-fascist we need an antifa-anarchist. For every anti-racist anarchist we need a national-anarchist. For every atheist anarchist we need a religious anarchist. For every anarcho-masculinist we need an anarcha-feminist.

However, the long range goal is for anarchist mass movements to become the “revolutionary center,” in that anarchism eventually becomes accepted on the basis of a society-wide consensus in the same way that “liberal-democratic state-capitalism” and “rule of law” dominates the current consensus. To achieve that goal, we need numbers, numbers, numbers. So it’s time to start cranking out the lowest common denominator anarchist propaganda, devising the necessary slogans, utilizing shot gun marketing techniques, and politicizing the non-political.

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