Critique of the NAAC

                      WHY CAN'T
                      ANARCHISTS BE
                      When people make the choice to call themselves
                      anarchists, I assume they mean that they are
                      making a choice about how they want to go about
                      their lives, their projects and the creation of
                      revolution. There are plenty of other perspectives
                      on how to go about creating social transformation,
                      that there is no need for those who don’t wish to go
                      about their projects in an anarchist manner to use
                      that label. Thus, when I went to the anarchist
                      conference in L.A., I was disappointed, not in the
                      level of discussion or the sort of people who
                      showed up—I had no expectations for the former
                      and am aware enough of the general make-up of
                      the anarchist movement to expect a predominantly
                      young white turn-out for such a thing. What
                      disappointed me was that the conference itself was
                      not organized in an anarchist manner.

                      When people call themselves anarchists, they are
                      stating that they absolutely reject all state
                      institutions, all external rule and all delegation of
                      the decisions relating to their lives and actions.
                      This is simply a most basic definition of what
                      anarchism is. On a practical level, this means that
                      in creating our projects, we refuse to imitate state
                      institutions, we avoid making hard and fast rules
                      and we only make decisions that relate directly to
                      what is necessary for us to accomplish our
                      projects—not decisions that relate to or could affect
                      the actions of our comrades who are not involved in
                      the decision-making process. The NAAC fails on all

                      I recognize that planning a continental anarchist
                      conference is a difficult task. If anything though I
                      would think that such a daunting task would move
                      those involved to try and make it as simple as
                      possible for themselves—limiting their activities to
                      arranging a space and possibly—out of
                      hospitality—some food, taking care of publicity and
                      scheduling, and being available to give people
                      information about what was going on. In other
                      words, it would have made sense—from both an
                      anarchist and a practical perspective—if the
                      organizers had stuck to simply organizing the event
                      and not trying to organize beforehand the behavior
                      of those who came.

                      When I came to the place where the conference
                      was taking place, I was immediately confronted with
                      a sign telling me that I was not allowed to drink or
                      take drugs and was to avoid talking about illegal
                      activities. I had never been given a say in these
                      restrictions—they were rules made over my
                      head—that is to say, laws. I was not greeted or
                      welcomed as a comrade when I entered, but was
                      rather met with the demand to register—a demand
                      that included pressure to pay an exorbitant $25.
                      Even most border guards in other countries that I
                      have entered will at least say “Good morning! How
                      are you?” before demanding that you check in. I felt
                      as if I were entering some bureaucratic nightmare,
                      not a gathering of anarchists intent on developing
                      their own revolutionary project. The plethora of
                      people apparently doing security was equally
                      unnerving. When one adds that the organizing
                      collective also made the decision to invite the
                      press—a decision that quite clearly goes beyond
                      what is necessary to the practical organizing of the
                      conference—it is clear that the organizers in fact on
                      a practical level chose to act as a governing body
                      of the conference, not merely as its organizers.

                      From the way the conference was structured, it is
                      clear that the organizers, like so many within the
                      anarchist milieu, have made a fetish of security.
                      Certainly, when one is in the process of taking
                      illegal action, one needs to consider precautions to
                      prevent arrest, but when we extend this way of
                      thinking to the totality of life and to the way we go
                      about all of our projects, then the state has won.
                      And this isn’t mere rhetoric. Constant security
                      consciousness is the mentality of the state and
                      capital—it is the constant visibility of the cop on the
                      street; it is the ever-ready nuclear weapons system;
                      it is the security guard walking the aisles of every
                      major store, sitting at the desk at the front of the
                      library or the welfare office; it is the INS at the
                      border. And it is also the anarchist who immediately
                      confronts you at the door of conference requiring
                      you to register with less courtesy than a border
                      guard, or the black-clad shithead who interrupts a
                      workshop to point out someone suspiciously just
                      because they don’t look like a typical anarchist.
                      The culture we live in—the culture of the state and
                      capital—is a security culture. When we let that
                      same mentality come to dominate our way of doing
                      things, we end up imitating the state and that is
                      what the organizers of this conference
                      did—creating rules of behavior for others, setting
                      up an imposing security system, requiring
                      registration—and allowing all of this to take
                      precedence over comradely welcomes and making
                      people feel at home.

                      Having been an anarchist for almost 25 years now,
                      I have been to a few anarchist gatherings (including
                      the one in Long Beach in 1992). The others I have
                      been to were organized by people who gave priority
                      to comradeship and hospitality and to the smooth
                      running of the gathering itself. There were no rules
                      imposed —except if a space itself required it (and
                      even then the “rule” was more one of not getting
                      caught breaking the rules of the space)—, instead
                      problems that arose were dealt with on the spot. If
                      there was registration it was voluntary, for the
                      purpose of providing housing and adequate food. It
                      was not as a security measure. The organizers
                      made no decisions that did not deal directly with the
                      practical necessities of organizing the conference.
                      And any security that may have existed to watch for
                      possible police raids were amazingly
                      invisible—apparently feeling no need to come
                      across as counter-cops in a lame attempt to scare
                      off undercovers. And these gatherers generally
                      went along smoothly, in a friendly manner. They, in
                      fact, showed that it was possible to accomplish
                      even a complex task such as organizing a gathering
                      of several hundred to a few thousand (in the case
                      of the San Francisco gathering of 1989) people in
                      an anarchist manner. Of all the anarchist
                      gatherings I want to the one that just happened in
                      Los Angeles came across as the most bureaucratic
                      and the least well-organized.

                      If there is such a thing as an anarchist revolutionary
                      project—that is a projectuality toward a world
                      without authority or capitalism—it can only be
                      accomplished by using specifically anarchist
                      methods, but if we cannot even gather a few
                      hundred anarchists together without resorting to
                      authoritarian, state-like methods of organizing,
                      because we have let our minds be permeated by
                      the same security-first mentality on which the state
                      operates and by a media-induced sense of
                      self-importance (we are so American, aren’t we?),
                      how do we ever expect to bring about such a
                      revolution. Before organizing such events, before
                      publishing our papers, before taking part in
                      demonstrations or other events, before taking any
                      action, each of us as individuals need to clarify just
                      what our revolutionary project is, just what it is we
                      are really aiming for as anarchists and as
                      revolutionaries, so that each individual project we
                      do will be within the context of our revolutionary
                      projectuality and will use a methodology in keeping
                      with the aims we proclaim. If we do not do this we
                      will keep on blundering about, all too often imitating
                      those we call our enemies. Such blundering is
                      precisely what the organizers of the NAAC did and
                      it made the Los Angeles conference the least
                      enjoyable one I have ever been to.

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