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I'm a better anarchist than you

Interview with David Rovics about Anarchism
JH: You have a pretty sizable following among anarchists across the world, but although you're obviously sympathetic to the aims and ideals of anarchism I've never heard you explicitly align yourself with "the anarchists" as a group, or other political or ideological movement for that matter. It strikes me that there's probably a very good reason for that. What is it?

DR: Yeah, I have a more sort of populist orientation in terms of my understanding of reality and history. I have lots of respect for people who want to use the term 'anarchist' to describe their politics, or 'socialist' or 'communist' for that matter, but I think that if you start attaching labels to your way of thinking most people have no idea what you're talking about. I think that if you use terms like that you end up pigeonholing yourself and marginalising yourself, and people don't know what you're talking about and you have to explain yourself every time you use the word.

Sure, it's efficient shorthand for people who already understand each other and understand where they're coming from - maybe then they can use terms like 'oh he's an anarchist', 'he's a Trotskyite', he's whatever, but once they get outside of their circle, even among other left-wingers, most people don't know what they're talking about.

I think that basic anarchist views are totally commonsense and held in common by huge numbers of people, and I just don't feel the need personally to sort of pigeonhole myself by calling myself an anarchist and then have a large block of people discount my perspective as a result of my having chosen to attach that label to my viewpoint. I just want people to read my essays and listen to my songs and see what kind of political conclusions they get to from that.

But I think that so many of the things that I'm writing about are basically talking about anarchist principles, but are they not socialist principles as well? I certainly wouldn't want to say that, because a lot of anarchists (by many people's definitions of anarchism, whether they're anarchists or not), have definitions of anarchism that I think are just ridiculous. On the other hand, other people have very sensible definitions. But the same can be said for socialism, and communism for that matter, although I have real issues with most people who call themselves communists - I have real issues with their perspective because you tend to find that if they call themselves 'communists' and not 'socialists', it often means that they have a real reverence for Josef Stalin, which I don't share. That's not always the case of course, and I think I have a lot in common with some of the anti-Stalinist, antiauthoritarian elements within the group who like to describe themselves as 'communists' or 'socialists'.

Depending on one's definition I would certainly either be a communist or an anarchist or a socialist; I've just never found it helpful to pick one of those things and reject the others because I think the lines are all too blurry.

JH: Anarchism of course is, and has always been, one of the most singularly misunderstood of all political ideologies. There is this common perception of anarchists that there are plenty who are to tell you what it is they want to get rid of, but fewer who are capable of telling you what they would put in its place. In other words, although anarchism does present a coherent idea of post-capitalist society, its followers often come across as being all about what they're against, rather than what they're actually for. It seems to me that a lot of people who call themselves anarchists these days don't actually do much to remedy this situation.

DR: Yeah, absolutely; there's a real element, particularly among anarchist youth, of simple, mindless rebellion and antiauthoritarianism, or people who don't like their parents or don't want to go to school or whatever. All of that is a perfectly understandable reaction to living in a relatively authoritarian society with values that are all messed up, and people have to go through these phases, but hopefully they come out the other end with some kind of analysis of what kind of world they'd like to see.

Rebelling against the world they don't like is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but at the same time, naturally, growing up in a basically conformist sort of society, anarchists are actually also quite conformist, often very dogmatic as anarchists, and this can get very scary. Conformist, stylistically means, you know, wearing black or having the right kind of tattoos and facial piercings - nothing wrong with any of that, but often you'll find that there's a real dogmatism about it, and a real fear of straying from the party line, even though technically there isn't any party line.

I think that's why a song like I'm a Better Anarchist than You tends to go over really well in the anarchist community, because most people within that community, with very, very few exceptions, are all thinking the same thing - they're all thinking "yeah, I really like the anarchists, and if I'm going to be in a community anywhere this is it... .but jeez they're dogmatic". They're thinking these things, but at the same time they're thinking 'maybe I shouldn't say them, because I want to be like these people too, and I don't want to get criticised for being bourgeois or something'. But when you actually say it, when you say look, come on, just fucking relax, people really appreciate the sentiment.

JH: I imagine you play that song in some places and you'll get a few uncomfortable looks...

DR: Yeah! Yeah, that's the best part! Most everybody loves it, but then you get a couple of people who are looking like, "uh-oh, he's talking about me, and I know everybody else is thinking he's talking about me".

Better Anarchist than you
By David Rovics

i don't drive a car
'cause they run on gas
but if i did
it'd run on biomass
i ride a bike
or sometimes a skateboard
so fuck off all you drivers
and your yuppie hordes
sitting all day
in the traffic queues
i'm a better anarchist than you

i don't eat meat
i just live on moldy chives
or the donuts that i found
in last week's dumpster dives
look at you people in that restaurant
i think you are so sad
when you coulda been eating bagels
like the ones that i just had
i think it is a shame
all the bourgeois things you do
i'm a better anarchist than you

i don't wear leather
and i like my clothes in black
and i made a really cool hammock
from a moldy coffee sack
i like to hop on freight trains
i think that is so cool
it's so much funner doing this
than being stuck in school
i can't believe you're wearing
those brand new shiny shoes
i'm a better anarchist than you

i don't have sex
and there will be no sequel
because heterosexual relationships
are inherently unequal
i'll just keep moshing
to rancid and the clash
until there are no differences
in gender, race or class
all you brainwashed breeders
you just haven't got a clue
i'm a better anarchist than you

i am not a pacifist
i like throwing bricks
and when the cops have caught me
and i've taken a few licks
i always feel lucky
if i get a bloody nose
'cause i feel so militant
and everybody knows
by the time
the riot is all through
i'm a better anarchist than you

i don't believe in leaders
i think consensus is the key
i don't believe is stupid notions
like representative democracy
whether or not it works
i know it is the case
that only direct action
can save the human race
so when i see you in your voting booths
then i know it's true
i'm a better anarchist than you

At First... 24.Jun.2007 01:18

Sixpack wabc@mutualaid.org

I had a point-by-point rebuttal for about half of those comments about the nature of anarchists, but I think I'll just keep it simple---


An anarchist is who he is, no apologies---no regrets.

much appreciated perspective 24.Jun.2007 13:30

seven katidani@gmail.com

thanks for sharing your ideas. i resonate as i often find myself in very different circles, polorizing places, spending time with multi-sides, with people who might not be found dead with the others i often share a bridged perspective to. and when i do speak of an opposing group or paradigm that expresses an understanding because i know people from that place, i always get mixed reactions: some people are confounded, others are appreciative. i struggle with the way we often communicate with each other when we do have very passionate and important messages to get out there and help people hear. we often only preach to the choir, telling our comrades the news, the protest spot and time, the subject, the ______ and never go much farther outside that circle. when we meet we often sit side by side silently when we don't share the same wardrobe or expected aura for such a demonstration. we sit with friends, eat the same free food, talk through the loud speaker directed toward those who have gathered, our signs propped, and the cars driving by wondering what private meeting is taking place on the sidewalk they pass. how can we share the beauty we propose to bring through the change that must occur with those who might reject us from the get go because of our at times alienating tactics? when we don't even know how to comfortably welcome someone who joins the crowd who may not fit our idea of how we should live life--whether it's because thy are wearing furs or leather, or because they drove up in an suv--how can we expect to make our imprint indelable on the minds of all city folk regardless of what they believe, and how do we expect to make our justice song heard?

these are questions i ask constantly, and i want to struggle through in this community. as soon as we call our fight something that fits within a box, that's when we start fighting over all the wrong things--where the box ends and begins--who's in, who's out--and that is where we often depart from our original purposes of bringing change from the bottom up, revolution that must include ALL people, rich, poor, workers, scholars, homeless, even brainwashed politicians. i believe that change will only happen when we meet our supposed enemies and come to KNOW them because we are living life together. maybe this sounds an impossible feat, but are we going to be as thickheaded in our ideals as those we fight, so thickheaded that we have no room for certain types of people/ideas, or are we going to rise above all of the cultural wars that have been created to keep us apart and live something strangely different, something that challenges the notion of sepritism, and embraces the true community that we supposedly espouse?

liked the song; thanks for sharing your words on life and now for letting me rant. comments and criticism welcomed

Yaay Sixpack! 25.Jun.2007 12:11

Marlena Gangi en_lucha@riseup.net

I'm an anarchist. Turns out I was an anarchist years before I knew what anarchism was.

My years of direct action activism in university classrooms, the streets and in print has introduced me to a wide variety of people and different political ideologies. I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I'm a recovering liberal. Not that I have anything against liberal politics (...well actually, I do have problems with liberals. Maybe more on this in later...) It's just that I identify as an anarchist person of color--an APOC. As if my politics could have gone more radical.

Over the past few years I have met and have been forever altered politically by APOCs who have come into my life as friends, comrades and lovers. Amazing people! Some of the best minds that I have ever engaged in discourse and activism with. My circle of APOCs ranges from lifestyle anarchists, which is mostly how I identify for the time being, to extreme, over the edge radicals who...well, I'll just say that when they walk, they walk their talk.

I live anarchism as the ideology applies, which is basically self rule, freedom of association, a sovereign autonomy. As I have embraced this, it has occurred to me that anarchy is not chaos but rather a kind of ordered community that has sent me back to my Indigenous roots because tribal "rule" contains all of the points of anarchism: sovereignty, autonomy, no hierarchy, no sexism, classism or racism, no monetary form of capitalism but rather an ecological economy. No exploitation of the earth or those who walk the earth.

As for rebuttals to r & b's post; I've been the anarchist in Rovic's song. This is something we've all struggled with, trust me. And as far as my own political growth and thought, I'm with Sixpack. I walk my path, absorb lessons as I can and really don't give a shit about what anyone thinks about me.

Y tu?