radical nostalgia?
To remember is to choose sides.

-- Dan Berger

I stumbled onto the above while searching in vain for confirmation of this harrowing account by a woman now living in an Israeli kibbutz, who claims that former Weather Underground leader Billy Ayers (now a respected professor) forced her to be gang raped to somehow "prove" she wasn't racist.

I kept right on stumbling, into a variety of cool far left, Weather-Underground nostalgia sites, like the Plowshares Project. This led to a couple of sites about imprisoned anarchists like Rob Thaxton and Jeffrey Luers (more here), some zine pages like this, and I even discovered blogs I'd never heard of at the Progressive Blog Alliance.

For the most part, the modern Weather Underground counterparts are not ordinary leftists. They're the Ward Churchill variety, and share views quite similar to those of the people who drove me to distraction when I was on the Berkeley Police Review Commission. They viewed Berkeley's rather kind and gentle police as an occupying army of oppressors, no different from Bull Connor's KKK cops in Birmingham. (They said so repeatedly.) There was, of course, no reasoning with them, just as there is almost never reasoning with true ideologues.


I'm feeling nostalgic, that's all. Nostalgia is not always a pleasant experience.

Still, this is the sort of nostalgia which can't be fully experienced merely be recalling memories of how stressful it was to sit on a public commission and be insulted and threatened. I think I should explain why this experience shocked me to the core, and why it continues as a motivational force in my life.

By naively acquiescing in my appointment to the Police Review Commission, I had no idea of the forces I was to encounter. I did not fully realize that because Berkeley was a laboratory and a training ground for the fringes of the far left, that sitting on this commission would mean more than merely hearing complaints brought against the police. It would pit me against fanatical advocates of a philosophy which considered me to be the enemy no matter what I might think or do.

I realize that conventional terminology is already failing me, and perhaps I shouldn't even be using words like "left" or "leftist" to describe what went on. Like most political bodies, the Commission was divided along Berkeley's "leftist" (Marxist) and "rightist" (McGovern Democrat) lines, and even then I had my usual naive illusions about being "independent" and thinking for myself. (A situation which itself caused me to be subjected to much more pressure than if I had simply stuck to one "side.")

But the hard core of the professional anti-police activists were something again. The Commission's Communist faction liked to think that these activists could be harnessed, controlled, manipulated to the benefit of their side, and while this tended to happen in general, it meant very little when the chips were down.

When were the chips down? Whenever any of the professional activists had been arrested for acts of violence. Any and all police actions, and any and all administrative activity on behalf of the City of Berkeley, were considered equally culpable. Thus, even leftists who sat there ostensibly to give the police a hard time were "the enemy."

Which means that it's lame for me to call the professional activists "leftists," for they are so much more.

While it's always tough to generalize about people who steadfastly refuse to be labeled, this article in Salon identifies certain trends:

  • The writings of John Zerzan (closely associated with the imprisoned Rob Thaxton);
  • The Ward Churchill connection, via an influential essay called "Pacifism as Pathology" (which Rob Thaxton reviews here)
  • Anarcho-primitivism -- a radical Luddite/anarchist/environmentalist philosophy which refuses to characterize itself but makes an attempt anyway:
    Individuals associated with this current do not wish to be adherents of an ideology, merely people who seek to become free individuals in free communities in harmony with one another and with the biosphere, and may therefore refuse to be limited by the term 'anarcho-primitivist' or any other ideological tagging. At best, then, anarcho-primitivism is a convenient label used to characterise diverse individuals with a common project: the abolition of all power relations - e.g., structures of control, coercion, domination, and exploitation - and the creation of a form of community that excludes all such relations.
  • Such "power relations" of course encompass anyone naive enough to serve on a city commission like ours, which wasn't really seen as an entity to be petitioned for the ostensible purpose it was formed, but as part of the evil Leviathan which must be destroyed. A leading WTO "Reclaim the Streets" activist offers a glimpse into the pathology of this dualistic thinking:
    With a friend and comrade in a situation like Rob's, of course, basic support work is necessary--building a defense, getting to gether funds for a lawyer, all the banalities that come up in such a situation. But, from an anarchist perspective, revolutionary solidarity is equally or even more essential.

    Revolutionary Solidarity is expressed through the continuation of the struggle against this society, the continuation of the attack against the institutions which judge and imprison ourselves and our comrades. So, although we will certainly not deny Rob all the tools he can use to defend himself, we will not let our struggle be deflected into petitions to the authorities. Rather we will battle the authorities with all means that can be used in an anarchist way.

    As anarchists, we have no interest in the justice system. Rob says he did not commit the crimes of which he was accused, and we will certainly do what we can to prove this. But from an anarchist perspective, the guilt or innocence of a comrade is not important in determining our solidarity with him or her. This concept of guilt and innocence is just another aspect of the democratic system of justice and law which we reject.

    The justice system, justice as it exists in the present society, is a system of judgement, a system which allows certain people to determine that others--whom these judges have never met and know nothing about--should be locked up, forced to give up certain free doms, even killed. Such a system is beyond any sort of reform that could be acceptable to an anarchist, because at its heart it is authoritarian. Thus, an expression of revolutionary solidarity with an imprisoned comrade would be a struggle aimed at the destruction of the justice system.

    This requires an understanding of the justice system. It is courts, judges, prosecutors, the entire trial process; but it is also prisons, police, and laws. There is no use in pursuing prison reforms. No matter how gentle and homely a prison becomes. it remains a prison, a place for locking up one who offends the law. Nor are better behaved police of interest to us. No matter how well behaved the cop is, he or she remains the armed protector of state power and private property, both of which the anarchist seeks to destroy. And better laws only reinforce state power. Their purpose is to protect the present social order, to maintain social peace. And social peace is based in the violence of domination and exploitation, the violence of power.

    So our struggles in solidarity with specific prisoners such as Rob base themselves in our struggle against the social order. They use the anarchist methods of attack against that social order, not the democratic methods of accommodation and negation.

    According to this mindset, the very idea behind Berkeley's Police Review Commission -- citizen review, a remedy against police abuse, etc. -- was bogus, and we were (and were seen as) stooges legitimizing violent state power and private property.

    No one warned me in advance, so it was quite a shock to encounter these people on a regular basis. I was called a "traitor" and a murderer, and my home address (along with those of other commissioners) was printed and distributed on leaflets telling people to "take whatever action" was necessary.

    As to the two opposing "sides" (the Marxists and the McGovern Democrats), we were all on the same side when the crowds grew violent, because we were all "the enemy."

    I think an example is needed here, lest crucial irony of this situation be lost. Bear in mind that our primary function was to sit in judgment on the conduct of the police. The Chief of Police, the officer who headed Internal Affairs, and their legal representatives were normally present at out meetings, and of course the individual officers who were the subject of complaints had to attend individual board hearings with their legal reps. On several of these riotous occasions (where the demonstrators were out in force because the BPD had dared to arrest some of the activists for violent activities), things grew so dangerous that the Chief had to order all officers to leave (along with himself) -- "for reasons of officer safety."

    One such evening wasn't long after a "demonstrator" had thrown a brick which broke the jaw of an officer who was in the hospital. I vividly remember one of the professional activists (a leader of an anarchist group called "Copwatch") coming up to the Chief, and saying (in a tone affecting much sincerity), "I am sorry about the officer whose jaw was broken." A bit surprised, the Chief began to thank him sincerely, but was immediately interrupted by the activist screaming, "SORRY HE DIDN'T DIE!"

    Har har. Quite a sense of humor these anarcho-whatever-they-are have.

    Anyway, that was one of the nights when the officers were ordered to leave, and they really had to, because their cars were being vandalized in the parking lot and the mob was ready to attack them if they stayed. Certainly, it wouldn't have been good politics to call for "reinforcements" now would it? That would only have confirmed that the police and the people who were supposed to be judging them were all in cahoots as enforcers of the power structure!

    Which means the police were very wise in leaving. Quite incidentally, one of the heroes (is "heroine" still OK?) of the activists was a woman named "Rosebud" Abigail DeNovo who broke into the home of the UC Berkeley Chancellor and hid in the shower with a machete. When the officer entered, she came out swinging the blade and the officer shot her in self defense. I say this only because they enjoyed spraying "ROSEBUD LIVES!" all over the officers' cars.

    Har har.

    (All this nostalgic humor is making me lose my point about irony.)

    There we were. The police we were supposed to judge had gone. The mob was angry and violent. (Who you gonna call?) It wasn't until I saw that the Commies were ready to wet their pants that I began to feel as if I was in a horror movie. As irony goes, this was as supreme a moment as I had ever experienced. Yet I just wasn't enjoying the irony at the time.

    Now I can enjoy it as nostalgia, in my very own blog.

    Maybe irony is a dish best sampled cold.

    (That's what Stalin said about revenge too....)

    MORE: Saying that leftist anarchists like the ones I describe above "oppose authority" is an exercise in extreme understatement. However, I think this post by Dr. Helen may be helpful, because I think they epitomize what she calls inverse authoritarians:

    there is no difference in the rigidity between fighting against outsiders or outgroups and fighting against the establishment---both are a form of rebellion that is based not on what is right, but on how one chooses to rebel.
    As their politics mutate (especially as they grow older), it isn't too difficult to anticipate a certain 360 degree "crossing over" -- from extreme left to extreme right where the two ends meet.

    This "graying of the black" almost invites a revival of the Ezra Pound variety of fascism (which saw origins in "anarchist writings that informed.... Ezra Pound's poetry") about which which I've previously expressed concern). Fascism has a long and ugly history of being cool. As does Pound. (And today's anarchists already despise Israel -- with a particularly remarkable passion....)

    Huh? What am I saying?

    That an anarchist personality might actually evolve into a fascist one? God, what a crazy idea.

    (Hope I'm wrong about this, of course.)

    AND MORE: "Anarchists make the best fascists." (Yes, it's been said twice.)

    And who could forget Ernst Roehm, "anarchist"?

    BTW, I'm not making an argumentum ad Hitlerum, because this is theoretical, and to date there is no serious crossover movement from anarchism to fascism. It simply hasn't happened. Even if it did, I very much doubt that any of its adherents would verbalize support for Hitler. More likely (because Hitler's name is synonymous with evil) they'd continue to accuse their opponents of being like Hitler.

    posted by Eric on 01.05.06 at 09:46 AM


    No wonder I don't waste my time on these losers. By their reasoning it would be perfectly fine for me to walk up and shoot one of them in the head, right? I guess any society probably produces nuts like this, they just seem to flourish better in the good ol' US. I think I'll stay out of Berkeley for...ever.

    Tom   ·  January 5, 2006 11:58 AM

    When you peel back the layers of any form of anarchism eventually you find the fascist within. They do not wish to eliminate democratic rule or authority entirely. They simply wish to replace it with their single vote or opinion overriding or making void a million others.

    Grand Stand   ·  January 5, 2006 7:30 PM

    Ironically, many anarchist organizations have served as fronts for more totalitarian ideologies, manipulated behind the scenes by would be boosters of "peace loving peoples", or "progressive elements", or whatever the jargon of the era is. It could be seen during the Cold War and is seen today in the "Peace Movement" that seeks to water down the vigorous and ruthless response needed towards Islamic terrorism. Change of clothing, reshuffling of acronyms, and manipulation of jargon, but still puppetmasters pulling the strings of perenially useful idiots.

    Enrique Cardova   ·  January 5, 2006 10:48 PM

    Ironically, many anarchist organizations have served as fronts for more totalitarian ideologies

    That's the point. There is nothing ironic about it. It's what anarchism is. They wish to destroy what is and replace it with something else, where their rules apply.

    Grand Stand   ·  January 6, 2006 4:06 PM

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