Part 2 of 2: The Rise of the New Anarchists

During the 188Os, when anarchists and socialists were particularly active in the old unions, the American labor movement was an inspiration to the workers of the world. Most of the leaders were Socialists. The trade unions were also radical. The Federation of Trades and Labor Unions (later the A. F. of L.) called and engineered the great general strike of 1886. This historic movement entranced the working class rebels all over Europe, not only because it was the first modern attempt to win the universal 8-hour workday, but especially because it marked the first successful application of their beloved weapon, the general strike of all trades in all localities. Inspired by the American movement for a shorter workday, socialists and unionists around the world began celebrating May 1, or “May Day,” the day upon which the strike began, as an international workers’ holiday.

The strike of 1886 saw 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the US walk off their jobs. In Chicago the epicentre of the strike 40,00 went out on strike with the anarchists in the forefront of the public’s eye. On May 3d violence broke out at the McCormick Reapers Works between police and strikers. The police beat the demonstrators with clubs, which escalated into rock throwing by the demonstrators which the police responded with gun fire wounding many. Full of rage, a public meeting was called by some of the anarchists for the next day in Haymarket Square to discuss the police action. The next day about 3000 showed up at Haymarket Square, but as the police moved to disperse the crowd a bomb was thrown into the police ranks. Enraged the police fired into the civilian ranks killing seven or eight and wounding about forty.

The jury at the trial was composed of business leaders. Lacking credible evidence that the defendants threw the bomb or organized the bomb throwing, prosecutors focused on their writings and speeches (their political and social beliefs). Immediately after the Haymarket Massacre, big business and government triggered a heightened anti-labour movement. Spun by mainstream media, anarchism became synonymous with bomb throwing and socialism became un-American. Anarchism became associated with fear in America. Even after the unsatisfactory outcome of the great 8-hour strike and the execution of the rebel leaders, Parsons, Spies, Fisher, Engel, and Lingg in connection with the Haymarket riot, the Socialists and other radicals enjoyed great power and influence in the trade unions for several years.1

From 1920-1940 anarchism was supplanted by Marxism which became the leading form of left thinking. Elizabeth Girly Flynn and William Foster were both anarcho-syndicalists, before becoming communists. William Foster (1881-1961) founded in Chicago the Syndicalist League in 1912, and wrote a pamphlet (with Earl C. Ford) on Syndicalism, which described the ideological basis for his Syndicalist League of North America, basically to work within the American Federation of Labor to win the trade union over to radical syndicalism. Foster played a role in the great steel strike of 1919. After visiting Soviet Russia in 1921 he joined the American Communist Party and served as party chairman from 1932 to 1957.2

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890-1964) was born in Concord New Hampshire. In 1907 she became full-time organizing for the Industrial Workers of the World. Flynn’s organizing efforts took her all over the US. She led organizing campaigns among garment workers in Minersville, Pennsylvania; silk weavers in Patterson, New Jersey; hotel and restaurant workers in New York City; miners in Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range; and textile workers in the famous Lawrence, Massachusetts, strike of 1912. She was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Flynn joined the American Communist Party in 1936.3 With the appearance of the middle class after World War II unions adopted conservative ideas.

The philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) was a prominent social Darwinist of the late nineteenth century who used Darwin’s theory of evolution “to justify extreme laissez-faire capitalism as natural and right in the sense that free competition ensured the survival of the fittest’’. Spencer believed that human society reflects the same evolutionary principles as biological organisms do in their development. Spencer’s philosophy provided a foundation for an integrated, scientific approach to individualism. In particular, his emphasis on science caught the attention of anarchists of his day as progress was defined as “that form of society in which government will be reduced to the smallest amount possible, and freedom increased to the greatest amount.”4 In addition, the robber barons embraced his theory as it provided the necessary ‘science’ to support long workdays, low wages and child labour.

Not all anarchists accepted Spencer’s ideas. Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) made the achievements of modern natural science available for the development of the sociological concepts of anarchism – including countering the point of social Darwinism, whose exponents tried to prove the inevitability of the existing social condition from the Darwinian theory of the struggle for existence by raising the struggle of the strong against the weak to the stature of a natural law for all natural purposes, to which even man is subject. The ‘unbridled individualism’ seen in contemporary capitalist societies was, Kropotkin claimeded, a ‘modern growth’. What was needed was the emancipation of the individual and of society from the political machinery, the State, which helps to maintain economic slavery. His discussions on co-operation was a means of advancing the debate to counter the exponents of Social Darwinism that the struggle of the strong against the weak was not a natural law.5 A common thread that ties the 19th century anarchists to the new anarchists is Social Darwinism.

The trickle down economic theory was rebranded in the 1970s to an ideology – supply side economics – the doctrine that tax cuts could be had for free (incentive effects would generate new activity hence more revenue) without causing budget deficits. Its creators never believed supply side economics worked – it was an ideology that was created to unite the right. In 1984, Charles Murray published Losing Ground. It was described by the New York Times Review of Books as a “persuasive . . . new variation on Social Darwinism.” Its central thesis was that all government welfare programs should be abolished, supposedly because welfare hurt the very people it was intended to help by “rewarding bad behavior” such as “illegitimate babies.” Murray also called for ending food stamp programs.6 Murray’s work was used as the ‘science’ behind an ideology that supports slashing social programs.

Occupy Wall Street protesters challenged the excesses of the corporations in general, and in particular, a government controlled by corporate money and the growing income gap between the very wealthy and the rest in society. Areas of concern include anti-union activities, and banking reform. The corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) develops model bills such as No Rights at Work bill (promoted under the guise of creating jobs and job security) and bills attacking prevailing wage, minimum wage and living wage laws (that support a wage suppression agenda). Americans for Prosperity, funded by the Koch brothers, supports ALEC, as well as pushes other anti-worker, pro-business agenda by supporting union-busting activities such as concession bargaining. The Volcker Rule refers to the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, originally proposed by American economist and former United States Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to restrict US banks from making certain kinds of speculative investments that do not benefit their customers. Volcker argued that such speculative activity played a key role in the financial crisis of 2007–2010. Wall Street lobbyists have managed to gut many provisions in the Dodd Franks bill including the Volker Rule such that the new regulations for the financial industry are no more robust than prior to the 2007 economic crisis (i.e. by ensuring loopholes and new ways to interpret the law).

Thirty years after Reagan’s re-election in 1984 the economic theory that claims cutting the taxes of the rich will provide jobs for the rest of society has become the dominant economic theory. This policy of minimal taxes and government continues to create a growing income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society – removing social mobility for most of society. In the spring of 2014 Rep. Paul Ryan introduced a budget that proposes to cut $5.1 trillion over a decade in a bid to erase the federal deficit to enhance US global competitiveness. Such a budget would degrade the social safety net including Medicare and Medicaid, cut funding for the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, and cut spending for programs combating climate change.7 The program of the new anarchists perpetuates fear of change – if taxes are raised unemployment will rise and existing jobs will disappear.

The new anarchists of the 21st century perpetuate fear around the world on a scale unimaginable in the 19th century. Critics of Obamacare claim it has five hidden taxes in it – creating  fear that this will interfere with job growth, or even lead to job loss. The Canadian Finance Department shelved plans to crack down on so-called ‘treaty shopping’ by multinationals. The move suspends a long campaign by Ottawa to stop what it says is rampant ‘abuse’ of international tax treaties by companies seeking to duck Canadian taxes. Facing intense lobbying from resources companies and their tax advisers, Canadian finance minister, Joe Oliver fears that curbing treaty shopping would put a chill on foreign investment in places such as the Alberta oil sands, leaving Canada at a competitive disadvantage.8 The fossil fuel industry in the US peddles  fear of a weakening economy if environment regulations and responsibility are enforced.

The new anarchists control what you think through proxies who control the information and communication supporting deregulation of the government and the environment, and through their lobbyists who influence what most of your politicians believe. They are responsible for the economic debacle of 2007 with the accompanying loss of jobs, homes and pension funds. The rise of the new anarchists ensures that taxes continue to shift from corporations to the middle class and working poor. The next generation of workers are being paid less in terms of part time work and hourly wages. This means less benefits (pensions), poorer health, for workers and less taxes being paid. Less taxes being paid will translate into less support for safety nets and environment controls. The outcome of the rise of the new anarchists is less equality of individuals and less freedom and opportunities for many to reach their full potential.

1 Chas, Eric (1993) “The Brief Origins of May Day.”

2 “Syndicalist League of North America”

3 Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Facts

4 McElroy, Wendy. (1981) “The Culture of Individualist Anarchism in the Late Nineteenth Century.”

5 Rocker, Rudolf. “Anarchosyndicalism” (originally published in 1938 by Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd.)

6 Horsman, Greg. “1984 and Big Brother.” (01 Jan 2014)

7 Berman, Russell and Bernie Becker (01 April 2014) “Ryan’s $5 trillion cuts set midterm debate.”

8 McKenna, Barry. (14 Sept 2014) “Corporations vs. Canada: The threat of treaty shopping.”

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2 Responses to Part 2 of 2: The Rise of the New Anarchists

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