SEPTEMBER 12, 2012 WAS SUPPOSED TO BE a day of reckoning on the left: best-selling liberal author Chris Hedges would finally be called to account for his opportunistic attack on anarchists within Occupy Wall Street. In a piece posted widely around the progressive internet press, Hedges called Black Bloc protesters — a reference to people associated with small-scale property destruction who show up to marches all in black — "the cancer of the Occupy movement," asserting that the movement would be better off turning window breakers over to the police. After a few aborted attempts, Hedges would sit down to defend himself mano a mano against a bona fide anarchist in front of a large audience at the CUNY Graduate Center. Brian Traven sat on the other side of Hedges: a member of the anti-authoritarian publishing collective CrimethInc., an organization associated more with the image of smashed Seattle Starbucks locations than any of their actual texts.
But while the crowd showed up ready for a clash of rhetorics and ideologies, the event was in fact characterized by deference and agreement. While Hedges barely deigned to address his opponent, Traven was hardly the aggressive bomb-thrower some spectators expected. He had the patience, good faith, and white-boy dreads of a yoga instructor, responding calmly and concisely to Hedges's points and taking care not to speak on behalf of anyone else. His lines about treating other protesters with respect, not using eliminationist language, and people having control over the decisions that affect them went over well with a crowd that ranged from jeering communists to scandalized Democrats. I'm not sure anyone left the auditorium with their mind changed about the tactical viability of property destruction; had there been a poll after the debate about who won, the result would have been a dead heat. If the event proved anything, it's that in the wake of OWS, the appeal of anarchism has come a long way since CrimethInc. published the anti-globalization crust-punk Bible Days of War/Nights of Love 12 years ago. Consensus and twinkle fingers aren't just for kids with Crass patches any more.
It's in this situation, with the anarchist position apparently rehabilitated for reasonable leftists, that a book like James C. Scott's Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play seems to make sense. With the “A” on its cover circled in red (a symbol first used in 1868 by the Federal Council of Spain but popularized in Italy in the late 1960s), Two Cheers might at first appear to be preaching to the converted, but in fact it's an attempt to explain and advocate for an anarchist perspective to a readership not already disposed to smash the state (as the title's echo of E.M. Forster's 1938 slogan "two cheers for democracy" may be meant to signal). That Scott, an anthropology professor at Yale, even took the time to put these (admittedly disorganized) fragments of thought into book form suggests that he thinks there are people who could be convinced to adopt what he describes as an "anarchist squint" at the world. Touching all the familiar progressive touchstones (the Civil Rights Movement, the New Deal) along the way, Scott makes the case for everyday insubordination and disregard for the rules in pursuit of freedom and justice.
But ru...read more