March 4th Freeway Action Conclusion and Questions
Reposted from Crimethinc.com.
Some in the Bay Area are claiming March 4 as a victory for radicals. An ambitious militant action succeeded in interrupting the daily routine, spreading a message about student struggles and the lengths to which some people are willing to go to confront the state. But if it was a success, it was certainly not without cost. There were about 160 arrests, and although the charges were mostly minor, processing them all will consume valuable resources. More significantly, one young man nearly died—proving right the speaker who warned protesters against joining anarchist-organized actions.
Whether or not this particular action was a success, the most important thing is to evaluate the strategic thinking behind it. Were anarchists successful in rendering revolt infectious on March 4, or were reformists and authoritarians able to marginalize it? What exactly are anarchists attempting to accomplish in the student movement? If we have concrete goals, are we making progress towards them?
In hopes of promoting further dialogue and reflection, we have composed the following discussion questions. We welcome responses—email answers to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them in the comments section here. We expect answers will vary from one community and vantage point to the next; the more, the better.
Anarchists in the Student Movement: Discussion Questions
I. Local Contexts
-How much of the movement that led up to March 4 was anarchist-organized? What were the strengths and weaknesses of anarchist participation and initiatives?
-What were the dynamics between anarchists and authoritarians ahead of March 4? How did the two camps attempt to outflank each other to determine the tone of the actions?
-Which tactics have anarchists had the most success with—occupations vs. protests, spontaneous versus announced actions? What does this tell us about what anarchists are best equipped to do in this context? In what ways was March 4 conducive or not conducive to these approaches?
-How will the events of March 4 influence the development of the student movement? How is this fortuitous or problematic for anarchists?
II. International Influences
-How influential have overseas student occupation movements—the anti-CPE movement in France, university occupations in Chile and Greece and Austria, and so on—been in anarchist participation in the student movement?
-"Public education" is much different in the US than in any of the aforementioned countries: it’s more expensive, and student bodies are thus very different in class composition. How does this affect US student movements?
-Likewise, although there was a powerful North American student movement in the 1960s, there is less continuity in student activism in the US than there is overseas—radicals have to reinvent the wheel every generation. Similarly, university grounds don't have legal "autonomy" the way they do in Greece, Chile, and Colombia; and unlike Chile and Greece, we're not coming out of a recent era of dictatorship, so non-students don’t readily interpret student revolt as a struggle for everyone's freedom as they do in those nations. How can US anarchists inspired by overseas student movements go about offsetting these differences?
-What shortcomings do European/Latin American student movements have that US anarchists risk importing along with the models themselves? What have the limits of anarchist action in those contexts been?
So long as people assume that "progress" around the question of education can only come from the state, anarchists can either settle for being militant cannon fodder for a reformist movement, or risk enabling authoritarians to isolate them when it comes out that they are not interested in reform after all.
-Anarchists have to find some "ground" to act from in a society in which there is practically no space in which anarchist values are legitimized or even understood. This creates paradoxical situations: for example, taking part in a student struggle "for education," in a country in which the very concept of education has always been tied to the state. In what ways does participating in a student movement legitimize social structures, roles, and privileges that anarchists would otherwise set out to undermine? How can anarchists undermine these while finding common cause with those who—at least initially—desire to reform them?
-What are the goals of anarchists in participating in the student movement? To win the respect of others in the movement? To seduce them into anarchism, or into militant confrontations? To win actual concessions from the government? To have exciting adventures? To create unpredictable situations and/or autonomous zones?
-Let us hypothesize that the student movement is a strategic and opportune terrain for anarchists right now, in that students are suddenly facing significantly worse prospects than before: as a downwardly mobile class, students are likely to reassess their interests and consider new allegiances. In this context, is it more important to prioritize the circulation of anarchist messaging, or of militant tactics? Focusing on militant actions can reduce one’s notion of success to getting to use one’s preferred tactics, regardless of whether or not this helps foster long-term connections or critiques. Militancy itself can serve multiple masters: in other times and places, authoritarians have achieved their own ends by means of the same tactics US anarchists currently celebrate—so anarchists should not assume that others are on the same page with them just because they join in for confrontations. At the same time, without a clash, opposition to authority is mere empty rhetoric, and people are always more open to ideas and values that they have seen work. Is it possible to transcend this dichotomy between messaging and tactics?
-Let us further hypothesize that in the US, a movement about "education" is likely to play into the hands of statists, thanks to the common conception of education as something organized by the government or corporate entities. Using militant tactics to address the funding crisis (or that appear to address it, regardless of the participants' intentions) can win anarchists the attention of a broad range of people concerned about "education." But so long as most people assume that "progress" around the question of education can only come from state action, anarchists can either settle for being militant cannon fodder for a reformist movement, or risk enabling authoritarians to isolate them when it comes out that they are not interested in reform after all. Is there a way out of this double bind?
-Let us hypothesize yet further that the actions that go well for anarchists are likely to be the ones initiated by anarchists, or else in conjunction with others who respect anarchists’ goals and autonomy. In such cases, anarchists more likely to succeed in determining the character of events, preparing a context conducive to autonomy and confrontation. This may explain why some of the occupations and more apparently “spontaneous” actions have given more space and opportunity to decentralized forms of resistance than large-scale events such as the permitted marches of March 4. Authoritarian and lowest-common-denominator organizations can more easily dominate the latter, both by literally laying the groundwork of what is to happen and by monopolizing legitimacy in the public eye by presenting themselves as “the” representatives of student protest. So long as anarchists remain on the margins of liberal and authoritarian organizing, organizing breakaway marches and the like, will lack of initiative and “legitimacy” in the public eye always impose structural limits on their efforts? Should anarchists seek more influence and legitimacy in the coalitions that organize major protests such as those of March 4? Or is it wiser to focus on developing a counter-power outside the coalitions, general assemblies, and mass actions?
-Anarchist critiques of the university tend towards calling for the "self-abolition" of the student; this makes sense, insofar as the role of student, like every role in this society, maintains the reign of capitalism and hierarchy. At the same time, as students put this into practice (either by dropping out, or ceasing to organize as students in favor of organizing as anarchists), this abolishes the ground from which anarchists and others could act in the student movement in the first place. Does this mean that anarchist participation in student organizing tends to abolish itself before it can abolish anything else? What strategies could make the best of this internal contradiction?
-Controversy after controvery has focused on anarchists’ alleged whiteness and maleness, alongside accusations that anarchists are outsiders and agents provocateurs. The former allegation exerts disproportionate demands on queer anarchists of color, who often shoulder the burden of credibly responding; the latter creates a narrative in which anarchists are always defending themselves against accusations and responding with charges that authoritarians are attempting to undermine their organizing, a narrative that can itself serve to frame anarchists as distant from everyone else. The fact that liberals and authoritarians find it necessary to attempt to discredit anarchists at least indicates that they view anarchists as a potential threat; but these smear campaigns can cripple anarchists by separating them from the social base they need. Are there aspects of current anarchist rhetoric, organizing, or tactics that render anarchists particularly vulnerable to these charges? Are there ways in which outside anarchists actually are acting as provocateurs, seeing others’ struggles as a field in which to organize militant confrontations for their own sake without reference to the needs of those they claim to support? What can anarchists do to propagate a discourse that engages with oppression without lending itself to efforts to discredit resistance?
-What might a genuinely non-hierarchical approach to learning look like, entirely outside statist models for education? Why has there been so little concrete discussion of this question in reference to the student movement, even in anarchist circles?