When I was a small kid, my family used to rent a cabin just outside of our town for a week or two every summer. It was nothing fancy, just a wooden house at a large lake, but I have fond memories of spending time there. I still vividly recall the smell and sound of camp fire at night, feeling the summer breeze against my face, or going down to the shoreline and watching the waves. One day, my dad decided we would build a kite of our own. I was excited. I’ve never been particularly good with my hands, and somehow I didn’t think of a kite as something you can build, but rather something you get ready-made. Dad worked on it for a good hour or two, and then me, my sister and him went outside to try it out.
It was a beautiful, sunny day. We gave it a good twenty minutes or so, but the kite didn’t really take off. Disappointed, me and my sister decided to go back to our cabin, but dad said he would stay and play around with it for another while. Walking back, I turned around, and watched as he ran across the meadow, patiently attempting to get it to catch wind. A couple of times, it looked as if it was about to, but then it wobbled and fell down again. I felt a sting of guilt coming over me, leaving him behind like that, and I felt sorry for him and for our kite. For some reason, that sight and feeling stuck with me, as a short intermission in an otherwise rather happy set of memories.
When I think of social change, whether it is just in the shape of organizing for an event, or generally thinking about all the ways in which society could be different, it strikes me that it is a lot like building your own kite. There’s the initial thoughts and ideas, the process of organizing or construction, and finally, full of anticipation, you go out and see if the thing you’ve been working on takes off. We know it can in principle, because we have seen it happen in our lives or in the lives of others throughout history, but we can never know for certain if a new project really catches on. We don’t know if we will experience the change we are fighting for. The question, then, seems to be; what makes them fly?
We could take the analogy a bit further here; the construction needs to be strong but flexible enough; we need motion to achieve liftoff – it is the very definition of a social movement; and we need to know how to navigate the wind, which is our ever-changing social context. But there comes a point when the analogy breaks down, and we have to grapple with how to translate what we think and feel into meaningful, practical action.
There is great inspiration to be drawn from the struggles of the Spanish revolution, the free territory of Ukraine, the Zapatistas of Chiapas, the Kurdish efforts in Rojava or innumerable amounts of other movements and individuals despite all their peculiarities, cracks and imperfections. But the same thing is never constructed twice, it always has to be built anew as something unique to the time and place it originates in, leaving the inspirational stories as the silver lining with the potential to unite us, to give us strength and confidence in our visions, and keep us going even when things seem gloomy and the world around us is unsympathetic.
For me, that focal point, that thing I always return to and start out of, is anarchist communism – a mesh of ideas, critiques and observations stretching from even before the days of the earliest of our comrades to the contemporary ones. This is the idea that no person stands above another, that we fight for the well-being of all, that free and voluntary association should be the basis of society, and that as a consequence, individuals would contribute according to their desires and abilities, while receiving from society according to their needs. Anarchism, here, represents the baseline, and communism the anticipated and desired outcome, an outcome that can only emerge out of organic and voluntary association, through agitation, education and direct action – not out of force or domination. With this in mind as my personal preference of the expression of anarchism, I also think that it is extremely important for the de facto movement to be inclusive, welcoming and multifaceted.
This is the notion of positive anarchism – an anarchism primarily concerned with the common struggles and overlapping points of solidarity, not the differences in forms of organization or personal preferences and predictions. All too often, radical movements become crippled by a tendency to spend time critiquing comrades rather than expending energy and resources on combating the oppressive systems we wish to dismantle. It doesn’t have to be this way. There are many practices we can utilize to stress the reciprocal and cooperative tendencies of anarchism. Practices such as for instance consensus decision-making exemplify the potential for building and bridging movements and ideas on a basis where it is in everyone’s best interest to construct opposing opinions in the best light possible, instead of mischaracterizing them to gain a simple majority for one’s own position. It is a matter of not seeing these processes as competitions of rivalrous ideas, but as collaborations and attempts to exchange, inspire and build a mutually beneficial common ground.
More concretely, this leads down a path of acknowledging that we will all find different ways to express ourselves in the common struggle. Some will organize in syndicalist unions, fighting the capitalists and bureaucrats in this arena, and will find great inspiration and camaraderie in such a struggle. Others will prefer acting through affinity groups, direct action, agitation or by directly joining social struggles – and some will do all or a mix of these things. Individualist and post-leftist forms of action and organized struggles of social anarchists can both complement each other, anti-work can be a part of the worker’s struggle, attacks against capitalism can be launched from feminist, anti-racist, anti-ableist, environmental or anti-speciesist campaigns or vice versa, and all these things together, all of us with our shared principles but personal preferences, can in this manner cover a wide array of social and personal areas in which we challenge unjustified authority and domination.
I also think that we need a vigilant anarchism. Anarchism means perpetual motion, it never stands still. Part of this means that we should always form critiques of ingrained systems, wherever they may manifest. Whenever a system, method or organization takes itself too seriously, and starts to act as an end in itself, it has to be questioned. This is not to be understood as an argument against all forms of organization, but as a way to keep organization fluid, ever-changing and never self-serving. A way to keep our practices on their toes, so to say. This notion of vigilance also ties into critiquing deeply ingrained methods such as for instance the scientific method – again, not to reject it entirely, but to object the arrogant trend of turning everything in its way into statistics, metrics and numbers – and complementing it with a fluid, subjective and dynamic experience-based understanding of struggles and social phenomena. Such vigilance also stresses that there is a fine line to tread between utilizing the rich historical examples and texts as inspiration, and turning them into dogma. Anarchism, in the end, cannot be found and defined exclusively in books and stories of old, it has to be experienced, lived and constantly (re-)defined here and now.
Finally, I believe that our anarchism must be a practical anarchism. We have to dare to try our kites – so what if a few of them crash horribly? Even in a crashed kite, the idea of the flying kite lives on. We shouldn’t let cynicism or doubt stop us from putting projects in motion. It is oftentimes easy to become overly critical of ourselves and each other, pessimistic regarding the society at large, doubt our efforts and capabilities and on occasion over analyze ideas instead of getting on with them. At times, instead, we find ourselves isolated, and while we might read about the great events of past times, the inspiring culmination of struggles, we lack the connection to our communities to start making a difference here and now, or we don’t know where to start. But the start is as important as any other part of the process. We are all links in a chain, and while some of us are positioned at the tipping point of social change, our actions and struggles are equally contributing towards that change wherever and whenever we live. We are like the waves and the wind, hitting the shores and the cliffs, slowly changing the terrain, until something crumbles, and gives way for a radically new landscape. There’s no point saying that the last wave or the last gust of wind was more important than any of the others. And just like the waves and the wind swirl and soar freely, we must be and act out the change we envision, in the very process of working towards our goals.
The details of our activities are often left vague – not because there’s nothing concrete to do, but because it invariably depends on the specific situation and location we find ourselves in. Where I live, for instance, the main problems concern things like inequality, racism, segregation, gentrification and alienation. There is a variety of struggles I engage in or would want to engage in; syndicalist union organization and workshops to empower ourselves; industrial action in solidarity with comrades; organizing in local communities to help alleviate the poverty and resignation; encouraging critiques of the present system and pointing out the core problems – in our workplaces, schools or other social areas; reaching out by leafleting, writing pieces and sneaking them into the free newspapers distributed every morning in our city; initiating or joining in protests; and generally supporting all movements and initiatives that share common goals and fight common issues. This is where we cannot be blinded by the image of the revolutionary climbing the barricade with a rifle in one hand and hoisting a flag with the other – tempting as that may be. This is often not what struggle looks like. Maybe, the biggest contribution you can make is helping to organize marginalized youths in a suburb in order for them to gain access to meaningful activities. If we want to change reality, we have to live and act in reality. And when we see that we can change it, when we establish positive exchanges with people, and feel the reciprocal solidarity, that is an immensely rewarding feeling.
The practice thus has to come out of asking ourselves what matters to us, what matters to our communities and where we think we could make a difference. We need to try staying on the right side of becoming too cynical, passive or sectarian on the one hand, and too wrapped up in books and fantasies on the other – even (or sometimes, especially) regarding the small things. In the small things we might find a stepping stone, both finding comrades and issues to engage in. No matter if it is just a matter of setting up stickers or posters, agitating, or actively engaging in struggles and organization. If it matters to you, it matters to me. That should be our mentality. I can’t help but think of Pride, the movie about LGBT activists raising money for the striking miners in south Wales. At one point, the miners’ representative gives a speech at a gay bar:
When you’re in a battle, against an enemy so much bigger, so much stronger than you… to find out you had a friend you never knew existed… well, that’s the best feeling in the world.
Our struggles are all intertwined, in the small things as well as the big ones. That is how we take things forward. With a positive, vigilant and practical anarchist movement – together as individuals, in solidarity, as a dynamic, heterogeneous and colorful synthesis.
For a moment, I imagine that I am that small kid at the meadow again. As I walk away in disappointment, I slow down my pace and turn around. I see my dad struggling with the kite. I squint as the sun hits my face, and I watch on as the dark silhouette of the kite wobbles – slanting left, slanting right – until finally it catches a breeze and, this time, it flies.