Perhaps one of the most significant differences between a radical and a liberal is the radical’s interpretation of “electing” leaders to “represent us” as little more than the act of “choosing” between the subtle stylistic differences of one current within the ruling class over another.  This is not to say that there are not noticeable differences between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.  It’s of course obvious that there are, and I for one would much rather live under a Democratic regime than a Republican one, if that is the choice before us.  For many anarchists and other self-described “radicals”, however, the point is often more about exposing the lie that this is what our choice is.  Mind you, either a Democrat or a Republican will be elected president of the United States come November.  I am not challenging or doubting that.  It’s just that I, for one, cannot believe that the culmination, the end-result, the highest and ultimate progress of thousands upon thousands of years of human history (or millions of years of evolutionary history, really) is capitalism.  Tomorrow’s reality is always today’s impossibility and this notion spurs many of us to believe in and advocate for a world that transcends materialist, greedy, short-sighted relativism for something else, something braver and more livable.   

The problem, of course, is how many radicals go about articulating and posturing from this point when we come into contact with the uniquely shallow spectacle of elections.  Democracy, liberal capitalism, is in countless ways quite more desirable than much of what passed for social order beforehand.  And because so much suffering, so much struggle and sacrifice has taken place to throw off the shackles of old there is rightly much skepticism and hesitation is the human heart when faced with departing from the relative comforts of the current system.  Much like the parents who are trying to wean their toddler from breast to cup, there is little sense in trying to denounce the mother’s milk as unnecessary, no good anymore, and to be wholy thrown away and forgotten.  Any good parent knows that you slowly introduce the child to cups and bottles and sippy-cups, and you remain vigilant, consistant, and yet willing to compromise from time-to-time so that the toddler themselves eventually makes the decision on their own to ask for a cup of water insteed of the boob.

The young radicals, when noticing the limitations and follies of electoralism and “representational democracy” do as much as forbid the breast, ridiculing it and forcing a cup into the hands of their toddler, smugly and self-righteously denouncing the uselessness of what they’ve come to know and expect while the tears and screams of confusion and loss wail out.  The absolutist world in which many radicals, especially anarchists, encase themselves in is far too quick to let their hopes blind them to what is really happening in the world around them.  This is not a unique or un-expectable thing: a fragmented, shallow, lonely world (such as capitalism offers us) is bound to stir passionate responses from people in a number of ways.

Following Barack Obama’s recent victory in the Democratic primary race, his speech in Minneapolis, MN was met by a rash of banners dropped throughout the city by radicals hoping to draw attention to the limitations of what kind of “change” a different capitalist Head of State will really bring to the average person.  What I liked far more than the banners or their messages though, was the statement that the perpetrators released in conjunction:

Dearest Barack, 

Embarrassing though it is, we have to admit that we have a crush on you. 
Alas, our love for you is bitter-sweet! While your speeches and charisma 
are enough to make anyone swoon, your winning smile just isn’t enough to 
cover up the wrongs of the oppressive and tyrannical “democracy” that you 
seek to rule. Though it’s sad to say it, you are just another pretty face 
that the two party system uses to sell their lies. 

Empire is empire, no matter who the emperor is. Any system that lets one 
person swindle, manipulate, murder, commodify, and subjugate the beings of 
our earth, is not going to change because we give that power to another 
single person. Even if that person is a major hottie. 

We left some love notes (banners) for you around town while you were 

We love you Barack, we really do! …but it’s just not enough. It’s not 
that you’re Democrat, infact, we would feel the same if you were 
Republican. Visiting St. Paul was a nice gesture, but we just wouldn’t 
respect ourselves if we said “Yes”. We would say you might have a better 
shot when you visit Denver, but from what I hear the folks there feel the 
same way we do. 

With forbidden passion, 
The Anarchist Action Group: 
“Obama is hot, Empire is not”

Speaking of Denver at the upcoming Democratic National Convention there, the highly-publicized group, Re-Create ’68 that had formed to organize protests in Denver during the convention has fallen apart on completely predictable and typical lines: liberals and radicals unable or unwilling to work together.  The liberal, reformist groups (such as Code Pink, United for Peace and Justice, the Green Party, and the American Friends Service Committee) have split to form the Alliance for Real Democracy group because they “were not comfortable with its (Re-Create ’68) organizational techniques”.  From a piece by Colleen O’Conor for the Denver Post:


Glenn Spagnuolo, an organizer with Re-create 68, said he doesn’t mind the new structure.

“More power to them,” he said.

Spagnuolo characterizes the groups that are splitting with his as liberal Democrats who are largely white and middle-to-upper class and want their party to guide the country out of the war in Iraq. He described Re-create ’68 as representing minorities, anarchists, communists, socialists and “radicals” who don’t support Democrats or Republicans.

While the members of the break-away group seemed to be uncomfortable with Re-Create ’68‘s insistence of language in their platform that supports protesters rights to “defend themselves” against police oppression and brutality (language that I think they rightly insist on keeping) there is a more subtle problem here for anarchists and radicals; one which is entirely unique to this particular presidential election.  For radicals to oppose Obama’s candidacy on the classical anarchist grounds of anti-electoralism carries with it the perceived rejection of all that is symbolic in the first African-American presidential candidate.  To reject Obama, even from the left, is to reject and ostracize and “turn-off” the African-American community from what is otherwise a message and a platform that they are otherwise quite in need of being exposed to: namely, the inherent injustice of the capitalism system and their revolutionary potential as the working class.  This is not to be read as a blanket statement that all African-American’s are working class and all white people are upper class or anything else of the sort; but it is true that black people are disproportionally represented in the lower-income brackets and this generality is all that I’m speaking of.

For at least the past few presidential elections, an “anarchist black bloc” was staged at the presidential inauguration in Washington.  These have actually been surprisingly “successful”, for whatever they’re trying to accomplish, in 2004 even getting quite near the presidential motorcade (within just a few dozen yards).  The massive  unpopularity of George Bush has even also seen a higher degree of support from other protesters and on-lookers.  But in a protest outside of a Barack Obama inauguration there will only be two groups: neo-Nazi’s and anarchists.  Now, obviously both groups will be there for quite different reasons, but this fact should be noted and analyzed by radicals.  I am not at all advocating that radicals should “sell-out” their ideas or ideals, or that they should capitulate to liberal politics- only that thoughtful analysis of the situation and a careful critique of tactics are much more the order instead of blind sloganeering and blanket reactions. 

If, and as anarchists we should, we realize that it is the working classes that hold the most revolutionary potential amongst society, and if we then see our work to be that of building strong, class-conscious community-based organizations and movements in order to work towards the possibility of revolution, then we must recognize the tremendously ostracizing and isolating differend that will be accomplished by out-of-context protests against candidate Obama.

Which brings me back to the letter written to Obama by the “Obama is hot, empire is not” group.  While their angle here may be too cute-sy for some people’s taste, they should still be applauded for succinctly separating the message of the limitations and contradictions of the system from Obama himself, in all his charismatic, inspiring, “hotty” glory.  The people who stand to benefit the most from a social revolution aren’t going to wage one because they are simply told to by someone claiming to know better; they will do so after being introduced to new ideas, after being empowered to explore what was previously unknown to them, and being given the opportunity to arrive, on their own, at the right choice.