Trump says the rebellion against police and white supremacy is led by “professional anarchists.” Netanyahu parrots Trump like a ventriloquist’s dummy, saying protesters against him are “anarchists, not victims of the pandemic.” Biden tags along, saying “anarchists should be prosecuted.” What is it about anarchists that unites statesmen across cultures and ideologies?
The knee-jerk reaction of many a liberal is to redirect the accusation at the tyrant. No! says the Washington Post, “Trump is the real anarchist.” No! says editor-in-chief of Haaretz Aluf Benn, “Netanyahu is the real anarchist.” The people harangued by federal agents in Portland or brutalized by Israeli policemen in Jerusalem are mere protesters, they say—not anarchists. But, as the saying goes, even a blind goat is right twice a day. Both Trump and Netanyahu attempt to discredit the movement by using “anarchists” as a catchall negative, but to deny the presence of anarchists or the anarchic nature of the protests is misleading and false.
Like Charlie Chaplin, I, too, “am an anarchist—I hate governments and rules and fetters.” I resonate with the words of one of the rogues in my anarchist novel The Sodomites: “For me to be anarchist means to be extremely open to other people’s humanity while radically critical of all forms of oppression,” where radical means “root-source remedy,” and critical means “you act upon it.” I learn equally from my ideological ancestors’ victories and their mistakes: from those anarchists who, for instance, gave us the eight-hour day after Haymarket Square but who, in autonomous Catalonia of 1936 Spain, were too wrapped up in their own ultra-democratic process to escape the fascists and communists who unified to massacre them.
If I were in Jerusalem, my hometown, today, I, too, would bang a drum against tyranny. In Oakland last week, I watched protesters set fire to the courthouse while others chanted “What do we want? Justice! … If we don’t get it? Burn it down!” The familiar chant: no longer metaphor. The courthouse that evicts black women, locking them out, and imprisons black men, locking them in: ablaze, in accordance with the anarchist practice of direct action. These rebellions give me hope not because I romanticize disorder—on the contrary. The suicidal chaos of our current system is such that only thoughtful, uncompromising resistance can stop it and give us the stability, safety, and harmony we need.
Anarchy means lack of a ruler in Greek, not disorder. Anarchists are not outside agitators; we protest where we are, as participants, not rulers. If you look, you will find Black anarchists, Palestinian anarchists, Jewish anarchists, and Gritty. We draw the connection between the police killings of George Floyd in the US and Eyad Hallaq in Palestine. We observe how politicians co-opt and dismantle struggles by bribing leaders and promising reform, and we share the knowledge and skills—musical, medical, and media—we have gathered over decades of struggle.
The blind goat is right twice: anarchists may only be a fraction of the protesters, but the protests are anarchic in and of themselves. Unlike the Israeli social struggle of 2011, the current struggle has no single, identifiable body of leaders that Netanyahu can use to pacify the movement. Protesters organize in a decentralized fashion, by free association, under no doctrine or hierarchical coercion, but with shared guidelines. Similarly, anarchists, as Ursula Le Guin wrote in her science fiction masterpiece The Dispossessed, “have no law but the principle of mutual aid between individuals.”
This principle extends beyond the protests. Anarchists are at the forefront of the mutual aid efforts to support those in need in face of the global pandemic. As colonial settler states, both the US and Israel are employing necropolitical strategies to deal with the pandemic, allowing COVID-19 to kill off vulnerable populations. The US government made calculated decisions to generate crisis and let people die. After numerous politicians and capitalists went on record saying coronavirus is good because it will kill old people and reduce the burden on the economy, they are forcing the country to reopen even as marginalized communities are disproportionately affected and abandoned without healthcare. In a similarly cynical albeit more directly brutal fashion, Israel uses the crisis as an opportunity to further oppress Palestinians. Israel obstructs COVID-19 care in the highly affected Palestinian East Jerusalem; it has demolished a building designated by the Palestinian Health Ministry as a COVID-19 testing site; and it continues its relentless assault on human life in Gaza, forcing Gaza’s last power plant shut and incapacitating an already-devastated healthcare system.
The Trumps and Netanyahus think they can use anarchy as a specter to vilify the uprisings. Facebook has extended their propaganda into policy, removing over a thousand anarchist pages and shadowbanning many more, ostensibly targeting groups that “support violence amidst protests,” but in practice banning some neo-Nazis along with the antiracists who defend against them. By banning the pages that share practice, theory, and history of how to defend against right wing terror, Facebook and the silent liberal establishment are complicit with the murder of antiracist protesters. Against the death cult of capitalism and the state, we offer solidarity, mutual aid, and effective resistance. The more they use the term “anarchists” to disparage a mass movement, the higher we can raise our voices and offer an alternative.