Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Anarchism as cooptation

Education vs Praxis.
See this critique and the comments... [LINK]
When it's called anarchism is it anarchism?

Since the above Ottawa Indy Media link no longer works, here is the original article (newly posted on September 18, 2010):

Anarchism as Co-optation
A critique of Cindy Milstein’s “education for freedom”

by Denis G. Rancourt
November 9, 2007
(Originally posted on Ottawa Indy Media)

Cindy Milstein (co-organizer of the annual Renewing the Anarchist Tradition conference, board member with the Institute for Anarchist Studies, member of the Free Society Collective and Black Sheep Books collective; Montpelier, Vermont) gave the Wednesday unScooling Oppression conference plenary talk entitled “Education for Freedom” in Ottawa.

Milstein’s talk upset many anarchists in the audience because her described approach to social justice activism appeared to be counter to anarchism principles while claiming to be grounded in the anarchist tradition.

Milstein wholly endorsed the mainstream idea that change is to a large degree driven and informed by education, that we need to educate ourselves and interact with the community in communicating our discoveries and proposals as key effective steps in catalyzing consciousness and activism. All of Milstein’s many examples were of this type.

By contrast, anarchists, such as Erico Malatesta that Milstein cites, embody the notion that the primordial catalyst for change is the act itself of resistance and defiance against one’s oppressors, that only such acts involving significant personal risk can inform one of the true nature of the oppression, and that any education devoid of a high-risk direct action component is theorizing in a vacuum, typically a vacuum that can only be sustained in highly privileged circles.

Such educational projects, even if they apply horizontal decision making and are inclusive, gender balanced, class conscious, etc., are nonetheless privileged and sophisticated forms of sticking one’s head in the sand. Creating a near-ideal community for mutual support is not activism in itself.

It is only a way of satisfying one’s basic needs for food, water, shelter, love, and community connections, but it does not satisfy one’s need for political agency to truly control one’s life as a citizen of the World. And it does not bring one in solidarity with those at the bottom of the capitalist project.

Only fighting one’s oppressors with the intensity required to be effective will put one at significant risk and only such actions and their backlash can inform one of the true nature of the exploitative instruments of oppression that feed on us all to remove our humanity and maximize profits, interest extortion, and control.

We need to stop thinking of education as a beginning or as a necessary first step. In our society, institutional education and alternative educations that mimic institutional forms by venerating education are instruments of co-optation that neutralize activism by intellectualizing consciousness.

Praxis is action and reflection as equals. Any actor contemplating resistance and its real consequences will be motivated to learn as much as possible about the situation and to perceive reality as clearly as possible. This learning will integrate all backlashes and responses and is not afforded the luxury of intellectualization or mental experimentation into a distant future of idealized possibilities.

Privilege-preserving intellectuals should have the honesty of recognizing their stances and should not use the cover of anarchism in their quests to create nurturing community devoid of the anarchist thrust to demolish dominant hierarchical structures.

(Photo: Cindy Milstein as negative.)

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