Anarchism Gathering 3 – tensions

17 Aug

In the evening, we crammed ourselves into a small, unventilated room to hear Xavier Renou talk about civil disobedience and violence/non-violence. Given the title of the talk, some participants were clearly expecting a debate on the use of violence versus non-violence in activism, when instead they found Xavier standing next to his Powerpoint slides to advocate the practices of his collective, “Les Désobéissants“. When it became clear that there wasn’t going to be any interaction until the question and answer session scheduled for the end of the talk, some started to protest. In front of the roomful of anarchists asking whether they could participate, Xavier said something like “I am going to explain what I mean by civil disobedience first and then we will have a discussion”. Tension started to mount ostensibly: interruptions manifesting discontent became more frequent, participants who wanted to hear the presentation were irritated, and Xavier became more anxious since the remarks he had to address lengthened his talk, thus leaving less room for discussion at the end. When he did finish, the situation was a mess: some wanted to have the discussion out of doors so that other people could join, others were already voicing their discontent right there. All constructive talk became impossible, and unsurprisingly the few individuals who were heard were white males, because they shouted louder than others and knew how to take control of the space. It was just my idea of the popular stereotype of anarchism as chaos.

Before that, there had been intelligent interventions, but they were not taken into account. Someone suggested that since this talk was clearly not intended as a conversation, and since it had been pointed out that there was no space to discuss violence at the gathering, an assembly could be organized the following day in order to remedy the situation. Another participant asked why this presentation had to be interrupted when many such talks had been allowed to be conducted before. But their words were lost, partly because the space was crowded and consensual decision-making would have required a moderator, and mainly because, as a result, a few individuals managed to impose on the conversation and voluntarily made it escalate. I left soon after that: there was no way I could have made myself heard and I no longer felt safe.

In order to work, anarchism needs flexible structures of organisation, but more than anything it requires that all types of domination be acknowledged and addressed, especially within the movement. According to Uri Gordon in Anarchy Alive!, the movement is not impervious to the dominant structures of power: “patterns of domination in society are imprinted on interactions within it – uncovering dynamics of racist, sexist, ageist or homophobic behaviour” (52). If anarchist politics promote the adequation between the means of the revolution and its desired outcome, then challenging unspoken assumptions of unequality must become a priority. Otherwise we’ll only be fighting one another.


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