Wednesday, February 15, 2006

How I became an anarchist

I first heard about Anarchism, as a political philosophy, when I was at school. One of our science teachers, a stooping hippy with a bone dry sense of humour called Mr Gottisman, turned out to have Anarchist sympathies. This was unbeknown to me when I decided to accompany some friends to his after-school Gin club (the card game, not the beverage). There, I learned how his horrific experiences as a Food Science undergraduate had turned him towards grow-yer-own self sufficiency, as well as his admiration for Michael Bakunin. It’s the kind of education every teenager should experience!

But I didn’t really explore Anarchism proper until I was turning twenty and discovered the British Anarcho-punk outfit CRASS, and found myself in a band with two Anarcho-pacifists, Charley (bass) and Duncan (drums). We went on to became one of the most unremarkable, unrecorded and now completely forgotten local Indie trios, Eat Organic, infamous for two numbers which I co-wrote with other band members – ‘A Cup Cake’s Got More Brains Than Ronald Reagan’ (somewhat Prophetic, I suppose), and ‘Spirit of the Age’. The band broke up when Duncan, an animal rights protestor, got sent down.

Charley and Duncan, like many of the Anarchists I met, appeared to differ from me in that they came from relatively privileged backgrounds, and although they had their own personal demons, neither had spent their childhood being the victim of someone else’s as I had. Charley was public school educated and Duncan had been to grammar school. Both seemed to have come from well-off, pleasant homes, although Duncan hated his parents, especially his mum. I think we all had problems relating to women, which wasn’t difficult in the 1980s, when British middle class liberal white male-guilt was at its height.

Bands often develop a sense of camaraderie from working together, which overcome differences, even musical ones. I was considered more ‘arty’ in my musical tastes – preferring the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen, whereas Charley was into heavy metal. Duncan was the true anarcho-punk, sometimes attending worship at the Chumba Wamba commune in Leeds – a collective who reeked of groupthink. Their early Dadaist performances actually subverted the form by being... dogmatic!

Yet it was our spirit of band-bonding that in many ways defined anarchism for me – we believed, perhaps naively, that together we could really change things, and we did. Animal rights, fair trade, American Imperialism, our pervading suspicion of the society of control that is postmodern consumer culture, are all issues which have moved closer to the mainstream in the ensuing years, thanks to gobshites like us. In my personal life, my own DIY approach to dealing with my autistic son was informed by the principles accrued then – as Michelle Shocked sang, ‘The best kind of jam is always home made.’

Despite the emphasis by many anarchists on public action, I have generally shied away from that kind of thing. I have always been a writer, and today I am convinced – like Foucault – that the knowledge systems of postmodernity do not act on the subject, but rather they become the subject, exercising their control by defining who he or she is. The great head-lie today is the Godless universe and I fight it with my every word/thought.

It is surprising how powerful words can be. Yesterday, I wrote a letter to The Guardian on the British governments plans to introduce ID cards and, more unusually, did a local leaflet drop (anonymously) challenging adult dominance of a local environmental project, which has transformed an area of local beauty once frequented by playing children into an aesthetically vile adult leisure complex dominated by dog owners and their poo.

I am convinced their actions are indicative of the growing diminution of childhood pretend play in our society, which one educational researchers suggests may explain the decline in underlying cognitive abilities in the childhood population – despite the illusion of increasing exam scores.


The Muslim Anarchist

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