The Crusade of Innocents
Two days before Christmas package bombs were delivered to the Greek, Chilean and Swiss embassies in Rome allegedly by "an anarchist group, the Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire". Now a motorcycle-bomb has struck a courthouse in Greece in what police suspect is a protest against the trial of the Cells of Fire suspects. Because of a warning call, nobody was hurt. According to USA Today, in an article full of irony, European anarchists are growing more organized as people suffer from declining levels of state welfare. Even more fecklessly, USA Today has described anarchy as a movement within the Left. Can it be?
Extreme left-wing and anarchist movements have existed for decades in Europe— waging deadly attacks across the continent in the 1960s and 1970s that trailed and became sporadic in recent decades. Officials, meanwhile, focused far more intensely on the threat of Islamist terrorism.
But the European Union's police agency, Europol, reported this year that attacks by far-left and anarchist militant groups jumped by 43% in 2009 compared to the previous year, and more than doubled over 2007, with most of the incidents in Italy, Spain and Greece. Spain and Greece have been hit particularly hard by government cutbacks and unemployment resulting from a continentwide debt crisis. Italy has also been growing tense in recent months in response to austerity measures and the government's increasing popularity.
Anarchy is back. The Guardian's list of the 20 most significant developments of 2010 citing Wikileaks and the "student" riots in Britain among them, along with the failure of "old politics" -- parliamentary leftism -- is consistent with the atmosphere of crisis. But since nothing is ever the fault of the Left, that of course means that a crisis is developing on the right and the Guardian article obligingly concludes that America's politics is on the verge of collapse because "reason is close to impossible with the Tea Party ... adherence to common values is disintegrating. The American centre is crumbling, and with it economic, social and political power." But this is misdirection.
It is the welfare state that is in crisis and the Left is divided on the question of how to fix it. Anarchists, who are the cannon fodder of the extreme left, are sending the message that the Old Leftist politics has failed and the time has come to double down. They do this by manifesting an "anger" and "outrage" which the parliamentarians cannot. The British Pakistani Leftist Tariq Ali recently wrote a book entitled The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad in which he claims that people like Obama are "incapable of dealing with the right". His point is that Obama, like Nick Clegg in Britain, is regarded as the symbol of the leftist politics that has sold out. They aren't radical enough, and what the Left needs more than ever is men of principle, the purest and most uncompromising of which are the anarchists.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Gibbs, the White House press spokesperson, going after the so-called "professional left"? Your thoughts?
TARIQ ALI: Well, I mean, it’s interesting that they are incapable of dealing with the right. With the right, it’s conciliation. That’s what they feel they have to appeal to. With critics from the left, they tend to be very harsh, as if they are saying to us, "You don’t know how lucky you are." But why are we lucky? I mean, you know, we judge people not by how they look or what they say, but by what they do. And what Obama has been doing is, you know, to put it mildly, extremely disappointing at home, and abroad it’s murderous. On Palestine, on Iran, no changes at all. So, one has to spell this out, because if they don’t realize that they’re doing this, they’re going to get more shocks. And Rahm Emanuel refers to people on the liberal left who are critical of Obama, and he uses a bad swear word and then says, "effing retards"—well, we’ll see who the retards are after the midterms, Amy. That’s all I can say.
That is at any rate, all he can think. Tariq Ali, who confused the liberal critics Rahm was calling "retards" with the Tea Party, demonstrates the cardinal principal that even when criticizing the Left, always blame it on the Right. No matter; it sounded good. Maybe the idea he was looking for is that the "netroots" are disappointed; having hoped to inherit the earth they are finding, to their chagrin, that they have not. But since such catastrophes cannot be the consequences of their own ideology, the problems must be caused by a failure to apply that ideology ruthlessly and thoroughly. The anarchist activity on the extreme Left suggests some within are ready to move onto the next phase: internal rectification.
Rectification is not an electrical term. On the Left it means "power struggle" or purge. In the beginning it will take exactly the form we are witnessing now: a signaling exercise on the Left ostensibly directed at the mythical right but essentially aimed at sending a message to leftist politicians and semi-respectable activists that they haven't been militant enough. It is an open political letter from one faction to the other. In the case of Greece the message is simple. Keep spending, the hell with austerity. The warnings to get clear of bombs suggests the "anarchists" still regard their targets as broadly fraternal, but the subsequent real explosions say their forbearance will not last forever unless the moderate left gets serious. The USA Today article continued, ""Anarchists-insurrectionists work to try to raise the level of clashes when there are problems' said Marco Boschi, a criminologist who teaches a course on terrorism at the University of Florence". The anarchists themselves are ineffectual but provide the symbols around which the larger Left can rally.
Swiss anarchist and environmentalist Marco Camenisch, a hero to many anarchists, was arrested by Italian police in 1991 and imprisoned over the 1989 murder of a Swiss border police officer. After serving nine years in an Italian maximum-security prison, he was extradited in 2002 to Switzerland, where he was later sentenced for the murder. In April 2010, Swiss police with the help of Italian authorities arrested two men and a woman who idolized Camenisch and were members of an Italian eco-terrorist group. They were suspected of planning to bomb an IBM Corp. research facility near Zurich.
In fine anarchists are Red Guards of the European Left, a collection of dupes formed inside the vast and creaky infrastructure of Marxism to advance the interests of one faction against another faction. It is impossible to understand the politics of the Left without grasping that it is all about deniable intimidation. The real problem European anarchism solves is how to send bombs without seemingly sending them, or how to trash the Tory party headquarters in London without really doing it.
Just as Mao's Red Guards were never about themselves, always about Mao, anarchists are about a larger political question: what is the correct political line? Once the Red Guards of China had resolved that in Mao's favor they were allowed to rampage for a time to bring hatred down upon themselves and subsequently suppressed, hapless tools to the very end.
The leadership in Beijing also simultaneously tried to restrain and encourage the Red Guards, adding confusion to an already chaotic situation. On the one hand, the Cultural Revolution Group reiterated calls for non-violence, but on the other hand the People's Liberation Army was told to assist the Red Guards with transport and lodging, and there were eight rallies in Tiananmen Square between the 18th August and the 26th November 1966 (in total, twelve million Red Guards traveled to see Mao in these rallies). However, by the end of 1966, most of the Cultural Revolution Group were of the opinion that the Red Guards had become too much of a political liability. The campaign against 'capitalist-roaders' had led to anarchy, the Red Guards' actions had led to conservatism amongst China's workers, and the lack of discipline and the factionalism in the movement had made the Red Guards politically dangerous. 1967 would see the decision to dispel the student movement....
In the year that followed, the PLA violently put down the national Red Guard movement, with the suppressions often brutal. For example, a radical alliance of Red Guard groups in Hunan province called the Sheng Wu Lien was involved in clashes with local PLA units, and in the first half of 1968 was forcibly suppressed. At the same time, in Guangxi province, the PLA carried out mass executions of Red Guards that were unprecedented in their nature in the Cultural Revolution.
A Permanent Majority
"Reportedly, in an audience of the Red Guard leaders with Mao, the Chairman informed them gently of the end of the movement with a tear in his eye." That would be par for the course. In them Mao would have seen some aspect of his youthful self -- the loser aspect. The coming decade will see the Welfare State fight to save itself, whether by accommodating to the "sordid" reality of capitalism or by idealistically "doubling down" remains to be seen. What will be chosen depends on cold calculation. But in the meantime they have need of straws in the wind. Anarchists will eventually discover, as George Orwell found in Catalonia, that they principally exist in order to prove spontaneity within the Left, to be those wisps of volatile material that flare for a brief moment and fall to the ground as forgotten ash. Their historical role is to signally sacrifice themselves for an impossible dream and be martyred with very much regret. That and nothing more. But we've heard it all before. It's always about the children, but never quite in the way we think, as sacrificial rite.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.
"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."
"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."
"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.
"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.
Link to Wretchard's novel "No Way In" print edition