Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Anarchists Then and Now

This is a guest post by Dr. Steve Gallop. Steve sends his thoughts to a group of online friends via email, one of whom sends them on to me.  His observations are  trenchant and articulate and often quite original.  Today I offer you his excellent comparison of the Tea Party to Sixties Hippies and Anarchists of old.  It's a fascinating read.   
The Tea Party phenomenon has captured the attention of Americans across the political spectrum. The thing I find most intriguing is their demands resemble what in the past was often reviled as those of angry, anti-American anarchists. Today’s Tea Partiers/Libertarians seem far more threatening in demeanor, rhetoric and signage.

The long-haired hippie liberals who protested policies of the Federal Government in the Sixties and Seventies were mocked, denigrated, infiltrated by the FBI, beaten by police, shot and killed by National Guardsmen and told to “love it or leave it” by those who saw themselves as patriots. The protesters were denounced as anarchists who hated America. In general they (we) did not want to abolish the government, only certain policies like government-sanctioned discrimination based on race and gender and the increasingly disastrous Vietnam War.

Many of today’s protesters more closely resemble the most radical element of the Sixties protest movement except previously that element was a tiny minority of the movement whereas today they ARE the movement, including one senate candidate warning of “Second Amendment remedies” if elections don’t turn out as hoped.

Tea Partiers aren’t the first to rail against their own government, but they are very visible and well-armed. Tea Partiers sound like anarchists when they talk about government, yet they have massive corporate backing. The movement was all but created by lobbyist Dick Armey. The movement and now its candidates are heavily funded by, among other heavy hitters domestic and foreign, the Koch brothers whose Koch Industries ironically benefits tremendously from federal subsidies. Tea Partiers also have their own cable network in Fox where their events are publicized free of charge and their candidates can solicit contributions free of charge.

Many Tea Partiers spent last summer shouting down elected officials and making a show of carrying firearms in public. What makes the Tea Party’s anti-government rhetoric more palatable than the anti-government rhetoric of the Sixties? Does America prefer right-wing anarchists to the left-wing variety?

The so-called anarchists of the past fought to protect the people from the depredations of corporations, while today’s anarchists are not only corporate-sponsored, they are trying to protect corporations from the people. Maybe that is why the Tea Party candidates avoid any microphone not bearing the Fox logo. Patriots like Abbie Hoffman never shied away from the press because they believed in the positions they espoused. The old malcontents wanted to move forward, away from discrimination, unjust war and corporate greed dominating our society; the new anarchists want to return to a past where states’ rights ruled the day and Robber Barons ran free.

The Sixties malcontents were mostly young people. They saw what they believed to be injustices in the world they were just beginning to understand and wanting to improve the life that lay mostly ahead of them. Today’s complainers are mostly older people who clearly enjoyed the Vietnam War and racial segregation. Perhaps nobody is urging them to “love it or leave it” because they were the ones previously urging others to do so.

Tea Partiers have a new twist to how democracy works. They are not in favor of a majority being free to carry out its agenda if they disagree with it. Tea Partiers who call themselves patriots – to the exclusion of any with whom they disagree – are apparently the only ones worthy of being free to carry out their agenda, whether or not they are in the majority. The Tea Party already acts like the big government they bemoan. How can we elect to office people who despise government?

There were strong arguments and feelings both for and against independence while the Colonies debated separation from England. Loyalists wanted to remain loyal and subservient to The Crown, preferring the comforting protection of the familiar super-power whose colonists they were. The Patriots believed the comforting protection had become oppressive tyranny. They also wanted freedom from bullying at the hands of any particular religion or of multi-national corporations, particularly the East India Company whose tea ended up in Boston Harbor.

Tea Partiers wail about deficits and bloated, oppressive federal government. Let’s at least be factually accurate about big government in America. The Bush/Cheney administration increased the powers of the Executive Branch more than anyone since Richard Nixon. Some of the biggest bloating of the federal government and the largest federal deficits came at the hands of Ronald Reagan (who presided over the largest tax increase in American history) and George W. Bush. I know this is not what most people believe; look it up for yourself.

Our nation’s founders did great and terrible things. They fought the Revolution, wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, created a nation unlike any other and raised and nurtured it from a seedling. They owned slaves; they fathered children with some of them. They oversaw the slaughter of the Original Inhabitants as they simultaneously learned from them, incorporating their ideas of governance into their own thinking. Nobody’s perfect yet our system is a beacon to many across the globe.

There was great division even among those who would become known as the Founding Fathers. Adams believed in a strong government with long-lasting implications regarding future behavior. Jefferson believed it was wrong to shackle subsequent generations with inflexible rules and laws enacted before the living were even born. Jefferson held that one generation had no more right to impose its beliefs on future generations than one independent nation had to command another. The contrasts are exquisite if not irreconcilable on some level, yet they managed a consensus and founded a new nation.

This nation was founded on the right to disagree. We must somehow find a way to avoid so much all-or-none posturing on the issues of the day. We must learn better how to disagree while simultaneously respecting, accepting and truly understanding the sincerity and legitimacy of the other side. And if we are going to call the malcontents of one generation anarchists, we should be ready to do the same in another.


rbava said...

This article is maddening. Anarchists are damn near the polar opposite of teabaggers, who want limited government that does little else aside from bombing other countries, repressing strikes, pissing on civil rights, and letting corporations do whatever the hell they want. They are the free market fundamentalists of old, wrapped up in patriotism and ignorance. There is no such thing as right-wing "anarchists"! Anarchism is a coherent, radical political theory of the left - always has and always will be.

pinkpackrat said...

sorry to "madden" you-- you are right that Anarchists are clasically on the left. What I found interesting and unique about this article was the unusual comparisons made between 60's hippies and today's libertarians and tea partiers. NOt in total agreement with everything he has to say myself, but he makes an interesting case and I haven't heard anyone else make this case.

rbava said...

Fair enough. Just wanted to point out the distortion of the meaning of anarchism.

pinkpackrat said...

and it is an important distinction. Thanks for pointing it out :-)