On Sunday, James finally brought in a text about his favorite subject: the Spanish Civil War. The essays from which he drew excerpts provided only a basic overview of Spanish anarchism during the revolution, so our conversation quickly turned from his selections toward a more generalized discussion of the Spanish Civil War. Because James is so knowledgeable about this period in history, we were lucky to be able to use his expertise to guide our debate.
We spent most of our time appraising whether different forms and uses of anarchism could present viable alternatives to our apparently failing political and economic system. To this end, we asked ourselves four basic questions: What type of anarchist system would be appealing to us? Would it be possible to maintain, and, if so, at what level? Would there be any undesirable consequences (such as violence, reduced standard of living, etc.)? If so, would these side effects be worth it?
James looks to the accomplishments of the CNT (the National Confederation of Labor) during the Spanish Civil War for inspiration. According to him, villages run by the CNT during the war saw increases in employment, grain output, gender equality, and standard of living (as measured by education, food distribution, sanitation, and healthcare). When nudged a little, he admitted that some anarchists, in their efforts to de-Christianize Spain, committed atrocities, but he does not believe that this violence diminishes the importance of the CNT’s villages as examples of the benefits of anarchism.
For the most part, group members agreed that anarchism has several appealing qualities, but that we cannot anticipate how feasible it would be on a global scale, especially since much of our technology relies on international trade. Roger said that our global economy cannot continue to sustain itself as it is and suggested that, as the global economy breaks down into national and regional economies, anarchism in some form may emerge to replace it, but he did not indicate whether or not he liked this possibility. Kyle brought up the idea of tweaking the type of anarchism promoted by the CNT to be more global in scope by segmenting cooperative communities according to what is produced rather than geographical location. Michael, however, took a much less radical standpoint; he believes that we at Occupy need to garner popular support and use our unified voice to work with corporations and the government to enact appropriate reforms. Coming from a different angle, but also invoking the potential of Occupy to address our economic problems, Greg wondered whether Occupy could operate as a laboratory for developing alternative forms of governance, but he also expressed disappointment that the movement does not yet seem to be close to doing that. My own thinking was much smaller in scale, and I brought up the reading group itself as an example of the ways we can use small-scale anarchism in order to do what little we can right now for ourselves and our communities. In reorienting our conversation, I conveniently avoided having to state my own opinion on the matter, and I will again conveniently avoid stating it here.
During one exciting tangent, Roger and I reentered a standing debate of ours re: the media and its various truth-claims. Roger often refers to “the truth” as something that is accessible and communicable, and Kyle, our resident journalism expert, tends to agree with him. I, however, tend to believe that “truth” is lost in the process of transmission, or, as Greg eloquently restated for me, that “there is no such thing as truth apart from a model that assesses the truth—so we must bring the model to the forefront.” Our purpose in discussing this was to think about the role of new media in the Occupy Together movements as opposed to relevant social movements in the past. In sum: Kyle thinks that new media complicates things to the point of making it easier for big money to control meaning-making, while the rest of the group expresses perhaps a little more hope, along with a little less certainty, about the role of new media in our activism. My personal belief is that, since we can’t make new media go away, we should try to figure out what it offers us and use it as much to our advantage as possible, but since my realm of expertise is kind of limited to organizing this reading group, that basically means making a blog and a facebook page.
On a personal note, I particularly enjoyed this conversation. Since day one, James has been alluding to the Spanish Civil War, and it was exciting to get to study it, to share in his passion, and to develop a slightly better understanding of how it relates to what we’re going through right now. The discussion was animated, and, as always, I learned quite a bit from my fellow readers. So… thanks y’all.