July 20, 2006
“AN ANARCHIST society is a voluntary, non-hierarchical society in which the political and social structures are organised so that all people have free and equal access to the wealth and decision-making power of that society.”
So says the footnote on the invitation from the Anarchist Media Institute, a movement that, if nothing else, confirms this city’s eclecticism.
You probably thought anarchy was all about wilful individualism or collective disruption — about structures deemed necessary for good governance being undermined by noncompliance in the name of personal freedom from busybody authoritarianism. But a small gathering on a city street at lunchtime yesterday heard that anarchy, as portrayed above, is woefully misunderstood.
“In Spain, France and many parts of the world, it is accepted as a legitimate political philosophy,” said Joseph Toscano, spokesman for the Anarchist Media Institute and abundantly productive supplier of material to newspaper letters editors.
As gatherings go, it would be safe to report that Melbourne’s streets have not seen much like it. It was not, Dr Toscano said, a demonstration, nor did it qualify as a rally. It was a simple assembly to mark the 70th anniversary of the Spanish Revolution.
The assembly comprised a dozen doughty citizens, some minor pamphleteering (boo! to the sedition laws, yay! to inalienable human rights), and a couple of banners proclaiming the Eureka Stockade as a definitive study in ordinary folk standing up for their rights against tyrannical authorities.
All this took place in front of a dull Queen Street building from which, in a second floor office, the Spanish tourism bureau dispenses advice to potential visitors.
When Dr Toscano said anarchy was widely misunderstood, he was almost certainly right. In a world awash with big ideas and their believers and detractors, anarchy remains a social and political curiosity.
Not so for millions of Spaniards in 1936, he said. They objected so ardently to a military coup against their democratically elected government, they “raided gun shops and armouries and stopped the military in their tracks”.
Dr Toscano said that was a social revolution that presented anarchism as a genuine alternative to communism and capitalism.
And seven decades later, he said, people still wanted the freedom to organise their lives without overbearing interference from governments, religions and the corporate world.
In 1933, George Bernard Shaw told a New York conference that anarchists were an occasional paradox.
“The ordinary man is an anarchist. He wants to do as he likes. He may want his neighbour to be governed, but he himself doesn’t want to be governed,” Shaw said.
Dr Toscano said anarchy was not about shunning all governance, but adopting a different model in which “the state” was replaced by locally appointed community committees, through which common wealth would be fairly deployed.
Think what you will about anarchy, but its proponents cannot be faulted for punctuality.
The gathering was due to start at 12.30, which it did. It was advertised to last 30 minutes, which it also did.
So passed another Melbourne lunchtime: food for sustenance and food for thought. And just a little sedition on the side.