Welcome to the third issue of Black Rose. One of the benefits of coordinating an issue is writing this introduction which can function as a personal/political statement. Our collective is not enthusiastic at the prospect of spending countless hours hammering out a collective statement for each issue. Rather, we want to print each editors thoughts on a rotating basis. In this manner readers can get a sense of the collective from the diverse statements we produce. The collective discusses these introductions, but the final decision is left to the discretion of the individual editor.
In this introduction I want to explain briefly why I am an anarchist. I should begin by observing that there are many other traditions which have informed my thinking: socialist, situationist, Reichian, pacifist, and so on. However, partly out of a need for a convenient, shorthand expression and partly out of a conscious desire, I call myself an anarchist. This is a personal choice and I really have little desire to convince people to label themselves "anarchist." I must admit that I view much of what goes on today in social change movements as anarchistic. However, what is much more important to me than a person's label is his/her values and practice.
As our magazine proceeds, I hope that we will discuss the different types of anarchism and the historical tradition, especially of American anarchism, which is not very well known. The categories of anarchist thought/practice include: syndicalist, communist, individualist, and Tolstoyan or pacifist (my apologies to anyone who feels left out). I have been influenced by each one of these traditions. Lack of space will not permit a discussion of the distinctions among them.
My commitment to anarchism is complex but can be traced to three significant areas of experience in my life: the anti-war movement; political work critical of Israel; and my sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, but always exciting social life.
In the fall of 1968 I arrived at the campus of a small, New England college I was eager to become involved in the anti-war movement in order to agitate against the war and I spent a good portion of the next several years working with others doing all that we could: demonstrations, leaflets, civil disobedience, speeches, slide shows, and so on. While active, I encountered Marxist-Lenist (M-L) parties and dogmatic individuals who filled me with wonder, rage, and often, disgust.
A specific example will show how my feelings evolved. in the spring of 1972, campus activists at our college held a series of open meetings to plan a strike call in protest of the bombing of Hanoi and the mining of Haiphong harbor. There were several meetings over the course of a few days, with sometimes over 100 people in attendance, and all the local M-L folks participated. We hammered out, with a great deal of effort, a strike call that was acceptable to everyone, including the two local representatives of the Student Mobilization Committee (SMC), an anti-war outfit controlled by the Socialist Workers Party (SW P).
The two SMC'ers arrived early at the auditorium where the strike meeting would occur. They were clearly recognizable as they nearly always wore green army fatigues (just like Fidel) and one always smoked a Cuban cigar. They made some minor changes in the text we had agreed to and had printed up thousands of their own strike calls signed by the local SMC chapter. The planning committee's text had been signed by the ad hoc committee. One of the central reasons for forming the ad hoc group was to involve all elements of the campus anti-war forces in the planning. Thus, confusion and partisan politics could be avoided the night of the strike meeting. These SMC characters simply could not function without being sectarian. Control of events or the appearance of control or leadership was what they wanted. I was enraged when I saw their leaflet although it didn't interfere with an eventual successful strike vote. For all I know, The Militant (newspaper of the SWP) reported that our campus overwhelmingly adopted the local SMC proposal for a student strike.
My many dealings with M-L groups and individuals repeatedly exposed me to: hollow rhetoric; bombastic self-righteousness that proclaimed each vanguard party to be the last word in revolutionary purity; a commitment to authority -- in public and private life; third world voyeurism -- the Vietnamese or Chinese or Albanians or whoever can do no wrong; the ridiculous notion that there is a science of revolution and, related to this, faith in the inevitable triumph of socialism.
I had become convinced from my activities in the anti-war movement that a social revolution was needed. However, I could see plainly that Marxism-Leninism was not a help but an obstacle. Thus, I began to look at anarchist traditions and found that there was indeed a revolutionary heritage with which I could identify.
In the mid-1970's, I did a lot of political work on the subject of Israel and the Middle East. A good deal of my activity was criticism of the Zionist movement in the pre-1948 days and of Israeli policies since the founding of the state. The main target of my critique was the Zionist assumption that Jews are entitled to a privileged position in Palestine/Eretz Israel simply because they are Jews. This principle has led to the downgrading of the status of non-Jews, i.e., Palestinians, and to perpetual conflict between Israel and its neighbors.
My feelings toward anarchism and its criticism of nation-states were reinforced by my reflections regarding the Middle East. Instead of being carved up into small, warring states, the Middle East could thrive if organized along a regional, federated basis. This is especially true given scarce water supplies and the needs of several different peoples to have access to the sea (for water transportation). Of course, the Middle East situation is a result of powerful states' manipulations and intense nationalist feelings on the part of the local populations. In addition, local power in the region can never be fully realized until foreign domination, specifically U.S. oil and military interests, are cast out. came perilously close to making a profession out of Middle East studies, but the advice of a local historian that an ulcer would soon ensue helped to steer me away. Events around the 1973 war greatly affected me and rein forced my anarchist tendencies.
The 1973 war drove me away from my remaining allies in this area. Long before this war, I had already decided that the American Jewish community, remarkably enlightened on such issues as Vietnam and civil rights, was hopelessly irrational when it came to the Middle East. The reasons for this are complex but include: guilt from being alive after the Holocaust; intense paranoia of the non-Jewish world after World War II, which is quite understandable; treatment of Israel as a great insurance policy in the event the U.S. explodes in an orgy of anti-Semitism; and a tendency to treat Israel in the face of criticism just as many Americans responded to anti-Vietnam war protest: my country right or wrong. I felt capable of working with only a handful of American Jews.
I felt similarly regarding most American leftists, especially those involved in M-L parties. The views of the American left tended to be simpleminded, dogmatic, and uncompromising. Israel was a racist, imperialist state and the Palestinians were a good, peasant people who had been wronged. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the representative of the people, was to be supported.
In the wake of the 1973 war, groups within the PLO that supposedly were leftist engaged in a series of brutal and totally unjustifiable assaults on Israeli civilian centers. These actions sickened me and, to add to my horror, many of the local Arab and Palestinian activists I knew started sporting a button which read: "By Any Means Necessary." This brutal slogan finished off some friendships I had had, left me in even greater political isolation, and, soon after, I abandoned the Middle East as my primary area of political activism.
My anarchist feelings were strengthened by my reinforced conviction that militarism and intense nationalism are to be combatted whether they emanate from Israelis or Palestinians. Of course, one must always keep in mind who has the greater resources of power in any conflict situation. in this particular case Israel overwhelmingly holds the balance of forces. In my view, using military organization and war to further moral aims -- dignity for the Jews and restoration of Palestinian autonomy for the Arabs -- only ends in immorality, corruption, ever-spiraling violence, and expanding systems of human domination. There is no doubt that the problem of competing nationalisms (in this case, Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian-Arab) is a serious one, not susceptible to easy solutions. There is the more general, equally complex, problem of how national feelings should be given expression in ways that are not exclusivist and violent. It seems clear to me that nation-states (Israel is a military, chauvinist state par excellence and the PLO would love to have a state of its own) are not the proper format for national expression and in fact only lead to conflict and brutalization of the population. Since anarchists have been the most consistent in their criticism of the nation-state structure, my anarchist convictions were deepened.
The third area I identified -- the realm of social relations -- is the most difficult to write about in any coherent fashion. However, my anarchism has been reinforced by my personal life. Perhaps the best way to indicate what I mean is to describe what I used to believe and how my thinking has evolved. Growing up in New York, I used to think that everyone was happily heterosexual and coupled off. One of the most important quests in life was to find the right woman for myself and settle down. Coming to New England to go to college, I was in for a series of rude and pleasant awakenings as the feminist and gay movements influenced me greatly.
One of the most important concepts I've learned is that, for me, love must be free or else it is not love. Lovers must come to each other out of their own inner desires with no social compulsions acting as a club. This notion has led to more of a sense of freedom and mutual dignity in my life but also to more personal insecurity.
I have no prescriptions for anyone's social life nor would I want to develop any. Personal issues often have political content but the two are never identical. I think we should leave the simple equation of personal and political to authoritarians of the left and right- How the personal and political interact needs to be worked out and lived by each person differently. I do think that Murray Bookchin's concept of a "new sensibility" is of great importance. it is not at all the case that only social institutions must be changed. Social change does not only consist of institutional change; the way that we relate to each other as people is of critical importance. We must transform ourselves as we work to transform society. This is the only way hierarchy and domination can be challenged effectively--by acting in groups against large-scale social forces while simultaneously in our personal lives challenging ourselves and our work companions/friends/lovers to move toward a "new sensibility."
My new sensibility-- which has always been in the process of redefinition-- involves more than the free love I discuss above. There are a host of things, only some of which can be mentioned now: I have relearned how to cry and not be afraid or feel like a sissy... I have come to enjoy a hug and a soft touch after feeling for many years that this was what women asked for. What a man asked for was a good fuck, period... I have come to feel that most of us have bi-sexual or androgynous souls... I no longer believe there is one "right" woman for me. In the course of my life, I believe there are several women who might love me and whom I might love. I say this while being a believer in committed relationships, for myself and others that choose them. This may seem paradoxical, but 1 don't think so... I have come not to be afraid of people who are bi-sexual or homosexual. Everything I learned in high school and in the larger society taught me that these people were sick... I have come to see how women are dominated by men, in both brutal and subtle ways.
If spontaneity, freedom, personal responsibility, and a loathing of domination are integral to anarchism, it would seem to me that these approaches to life are also central to developing a new sensibility. Thus, my social life has also led me to identify as an anarchist.
I have tried to summarize how the Vietnam war, the Middle East conflict, and my social life have helped shape and inform my anarchism. I hope this brief journey through my life has been informative and enjoyable. I want to leave you and welcome you with an invitation from Gustav Landauer's For Socialism (see book review in this issue): "You people, one and all, who suffer under this outrage (society as it is): let not only my voice reach you and the tone of my words. Hear also my silence and atonality, my choking anxiety. And see my clenched fist, my twisted features and the pale decisiveness of all by bearing. Grasp, above all, the inadequacy of this description and my inexpressible incapacity, for I want people to hear me, stand by me, walk with me, people who, like me, can no longer bear it."