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Revisiting Buddhist Anarchism

Revisiting Buddhist Anarchism

I’ve been revisiting Buddhist anarchism lately, the strain of socially engaged Buddhism that some foundational Buddhist Peace Fellowship movers and shakers were associated with in some form. Like any religion, Buddhism’s tenets and teachings can be interpreted in many ways, including in the anti-state and anti-capitalist direction. In other posts I have indicated that some interpretations of Buddhism have leaned in the direction of strengthening the state, whether explicitly or implicitly.

In his 1969 essay “Buddhist Anarchism,” Gary Snyder details various key aspects of Buddhism as having “nation-shaking implications.” In particular, the practice of meditation “wipes out mountains of junk being pumped into the mind by the mass media and supermarket universities.” The emphasis on non-harming is implicitly antithetical to ideologies that justify violence and oppression, of which the state and capitalism partake and rely on. The practice of ethical conduct (sila) encourages responsible action towards all beings, which for Snyder implies an internationalist, classless world in which, to borrow a phrase from Animal Farm, nobody is more equal than another.

Snyder advocates “civil disobedience, outspoken criticism, protest, pacifism, voluntary poverty and even gentle violence” to support moving towards such a world, “affirming the widest possible spectrum of non-harmful individual behavior.” I think of Occupy Wall Street—whose culture, language, tactics, and direct democracy, however imperfect, has left an indelible mark in protest consciousness even as individuals have dispersed into local efforts. There is perhaps a growing tendency that understands capitalism and state power as major roadblocks to human freedom—a freedom that affirms individuality, differences, and responsibility to community, where power circulates between us rather than from above.

I’m currently re-experiencing Ursula K. LeGuin’s book The Dispossessed (1974), an excellent semi-utopian science fiction novel that won the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus awards. It’s set in on two planets, Urras and its moon Anarres. Urras is dominated by a capitalist, patriarchal country and its rival is an authoritarian, communistic country, who fight proxy wars in a less developed country. The desert moon Anarres has been settled by anarcho-syndicalists for over a century, who left Urras as revolutionaries.

LeGuin turns a critical eye not only to the repressive nation-state structures of both capitalism and communism, but also to the long-term weaknesses of a non-statist, revolutionary anarchist society. In Anarresti society, which functions without a centralized government, laws, property, jails, police, or armies, power is beginning to coagulate in a web of passive aggressive influence, established custom, and the peer pressure of mass opinion. These all have violent effects on those who step outside of accepted boundaries.

Buddhist institutions can and have worked in similar ways at times, whether leashed to militaristic nationalism, patriarchal hierarchy, or racialized, middle-class cultural customs. But the Buddha rejected much of his contemporary social structure. Personally, I lean towards Snyder’s interpretation, that Buddhism has nation-shaking implications. For me it is a decolonization and radical compassion practice. The phrase “all beings” really does mean all, without exception, weak or strong, omitting none. And this means we are all irretrievably, frighteningly, beautifully responsible to and for each other. We can build a community, a society, a world on this, and anything that gets in the way is, frankly, unnecessary.

Comments (63)

  • Ian Mayes

    Heya Kenji, all,

    This topic of “Buddhist Anarchism” is actually something that I have put a lot of thought into, and I am glad to see you writing about it here. I would like to work on developing this subject some more as well as time goes by. I have two pieces of writing on it so far that you might be interested in checking out, there’s “Reflections on a Buddhist Anarchism” which you can find at: http://parenthesiseye.blogspot.com/2011/03/reflections-on-buddhist-anarchism.html

    And then there’s “Envisioning a Buddhist Anarchism” – http://parenthesiseye.blogspot.com/2011/11/envisioning-buddhist-anarchism.html

    I welcome whatever comments or questions you may have on these two pieces!

    Oh, and one last thing: Gary Snyder originally wrote his piece on “Buddhist Anarchism” in 1961, and it has been republished a number of different times after then, including under the title “Buddhism and the Coming Revolution”.

  • Richard Modiano

    Our only model of “really existing anarchism” are the collectivized industries and peasant communes that existed for the first 19 months of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War of 1936. George Orwell was an eyewitness and vividly describes his experiences in “Homage to Catalonia”: “Every shop and café had
    an inscription saying that it had been collectivized; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared…There was no unemployment,
    and the price of living was still extremely low; you saw very few conspicuously destitute people, and no beggars except the gipsies. Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine.” And, “…The estates of the big pro-Fascist landlords were in many places seized by the peasants. Along with the collectivization of industry and transport there was an attempt to set up the rough beginnings of a workers’ government by means of local committees, workers’ patrols to replace the old pro-capitalist police forces, workers’ militias based on the trade unions, and so forth…In a few places independent Anarchist communes were set up, and some of them remained in being till about a year later, when they were forcibly suppressed by the Government. In Catalonia, for the first few months,
    most of the actual power was in the hands of the Anarcho-syndicalists, who controlled most of the key industries…”

    Paul Goodman who was a communalist anarchist opted for gradually creating anarchist alternative institutions neighborhood by neighborhood with parent-teacher-student managed Summerhill type schools, consumer-producer co-operatives, worker owned small manufacturies while at the same time spreading anarchist ideas with independent alternative media, etc. In other words, building the new society within the shell of the old as the IWW has it (and its corollary, an injury to one is an injury to all.)

  • Ian Mayes

    Richard, the most successful and longest-lasting model of “really existing anarchism” was how humanity had lived for most of it’s existence. I am talking about the hunter-gather, pre-industrial, pre-agriculture time-period.

    During this time human social organization was based on decentralized small-scale groups, sharing resources, sustainable, tribal, with a high degree of intimacy with each-other as well a strong connection with the natural world around them. There was no state and no capitalism during this time-period, it was, essentially, anarchy.

  • Richard Modiano

    Maybe Ian.

    We don’t really know what the status of women was during the neolithic, whether or not the young were dominated by the old or what forms of hierarchy may or may not have existed.

    But within historical memory and more appropos to the current configuration of social, political and economic organization the Spanish Revolution is a surer guide, and it wasn’t perfect since issues of male domination were still being resolved through the efforts of Mujeres Libres.

    I know there’s an anarcho-primitivist tendency (John Zerzen is its champion) in contemporary anarchism but it seems to me to be predicated on a massive die off of humanity that’s entirely unacceptable. And I know that the position I articulated above has been dismissed as “workerist”, but we have to start where we are.

  • Philip Kienholz

    A Buddhist monk once passed on to me the saying that, “The work of the order has been revolution for 2000 years.” We were discussing the state as institutionalized egotism. thanks to Ian Mayes for the two references, and to Kenji Liu for remembering Gary Snyder’s essay.

  • Richard Modiano

    “We were discussing the state as institutionalized egotism.” If the state is institutionalized egotism, then capitalism is institutionalized greed, and once these institutions dominate society they reproduce themselves by fostering egotism and greed in the individual; the relationship is dialectical.

  • Geoff

    A historical case of Buddhist participation in Anarchist movements, for your consideration
    : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uchiyama_Gud%C5%8D

  • Maia Duerr / The Jizo Chronicles

    Kenji and all, check this out — I think you’ll enjoy it:

    http://www.thezensite.com/ZenTeachings/Miscellaneous/Aitken_on_Responsibility.pdf

    We piped in Aitken Roshi via telephone to speak to us at this BPF gathering in in NY in 2006… I will always remember his passionate rant about the Dukabors, and his proposal that BPF re-name itself as the Buddhist Anarchist Caucus. Truly inspired!

  • Richard Modiano

    I love that piece by Aitkin Roshi! I recall that an edited version was printed in Turning Wheel.

    Roshi’s proposal was that we create a Buddhist Anarchist Caucus within BPF. I’m for that but so far I haven’t met any Buddhists who are anarchists or any anarchists who are Buddhists (I know some Buddhists who are social democrats though, about as radical as an American Buddhist can get it seems.)

    In Japan it’s different (thanks for the citation of Uchiyama Gudo Geoff.) I did meet Buddhist anarchists, and Buddhist communists too. And there’s the Dhammic Socialism movement in South East Asia. Sorry to say, but the USA is behind the curve on this.

  • Katie Loncke

    Richard, would love to read more on Dhammic Socialism… got any resources to recommend specifically?

    Maia, that is fabulous!

  • Richard Modiano

    Katie, here’s a place to start: http://www.liberationpark.org/bpf/dsocial.htm

    Sulak Sivraksa has a collection of articles called The Wisdom of Sustainability : Buddhist Economics for the 21st Century.

  • Geoff

    @Richard, Yes, I think you are correct to say that U.S. Buddhists are behind, in many ways, as far as drawing out explicit connections between Buddhist praxis and Socio-Political theories, particularly those that have been traditionally demonized in American context (i.e. far left ideologies). The reasons for this are myriad, but most obviously, this is largely due to the novelty of Buddhism in western cultural context in contrast to cultures where Buddhism is well established for millennia, and the unfortunate ‘new age’ interpretations as primarily a ‘feel-good’ practice, etc. That is not to say that Buddhism has not, for a large part of its history, been complicit, to varying degrees, in the dominant power structures of various Asian polities, but there are counter-examples to this as well. In fact, there is strong evidence to suggest that the socio-political organizational scheme of the area of India where the historical Buddha came was primarily ‘republican’, and thus, at worst, oligarchical, and at best, some form of primitive syndicalism. This has huge implications for the very notion of ‘Sangha’, as a preservation of a relatively egalitarian, democratic form of social organization (albeit a parasitic one, that relies on ‘dana’ from outside, in exchange for a kind of ‘merit-currency’).
    As far as more contemporary Buddhist involvement in leftist political movements, in addition to the Soto Zen sect Uchiyama Gudou, there was another figure involved in those series of events leading to the ‘high treason’ incident in Japan, Takagi Kenmyo (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRp8PCNo1mY) , a Jodo sect figure who was involved in emerging Socialist movements at that time (along with the Anarcho-Syndicalists). Incidentally, there are direct connections to groups of Japanese leftists then living in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, along with Russian anarchists etc.
    @Katie, another SE Asian proponent of ‘Dhammic Socialism’ worth investigating is a figure by the name of ‘Buddhadasa’. In addition to his support for a kind of Socialist social contract, he also had a very ecumenical approach to religion that called for a unity among various traditions. (Clearly, many Theravadins in Myanmar and Sri Lanka did not get the message, sadly.).

  • Dawn Haney

    Richard, I’ll have to see if I can scan in and post Roshi’s piece proposing a Buddhist Anarchist Caucus within BPF. I have that issue laying around the “home office” somewhere :)

    It has me wondering what a more deliberate caucus model might look like within BPF? What other political affiliations might people be drawn to (Radical, Socialist, Progressive, perhaps even Log Cabin Buddhists)? I could also see identity-based caucuses (people of color), issue caucuses (environmental, prison industrial complex), and lineage caucuses (Nichiren Buddhists).

    I think we’re still mobilizing people to feel connected to BPF, but this might be a good strategy to better hold all the differences that exist between people who are drawn to BPF.

  • Jeff

    Buddhist anarchism – it’s an inspiring idea, a noble worldview, and something I hope human society can evolve toward, or at least allow to exist. Even if there has rarely been a thriving Buddhist community that is truly egalitarian, democratic, and nonhierarchical, incorporating these relationships into social cooperatives would seem to be good practice for building a benevolent political system.

    Whether or not Buddhist anarchists can be a relevant force or simply a footnote in 21st century world history is an open question. The anarchist-influenced Occupy actions in 2011-12 revived protest and redefined social contradictions in a way that resonated with many of the 99% who had been blindsided by Wall Street gangsters. I for one don’t blame consensus decision-making for Occupy’s dissipating momentum this year, but I do wonder if shunning leadership and political strategy may have given the movement an evanescent quality for some of its former participants.

    What does Buddhism add to anarchism? It depends. Many progressive Buddhists decry the most flagrant excesses of global capitalism (imperialist drones, tear gas, sweat-shop exploitation, rape of the Earth) while seeking to restore harmony between the warring classes. Engagement becomes a voice of conscience calling for a little more justice and a little less violence within the framework of an economy predicated on exploitation. For example, Dhammic Socialism appears to have been suggested as a “middle way between…greed-based capitalism…[and]…anger-based Marxism.” I would argue that achieving a really just and compassionate society cannot happen until avarice is no longer institutionalized by law and being a “winner” no longer means at the expense of everyone else. Capitalism’s time has come and gone – it has lost whatever redeeming social value it once had.

    Regardless of our personal vision of utopian society, or what ideal form we would like political action to take, most of us will need to work collectively with many others to make a real difference. There are ongoing movements to slow climate change, stop financial control of government by private interests, end terrorist wars, provide universal health care, and a thousand other struggles at local and national levels to bring the means of sustenance and peace to those who have been robbed of them. If there is interest within BPF in forming Buddhist anarchist, Buddhist communist, or Buddhist left-of-center Democratic caucuses, my suggestion would be that these groups engage actively in existing struggles for social change to learn lessons about how Buddhist ethics and practice can strengthen them and how Right Action can transform us.

    Many of us have plenty of experience in progressive politics and realize how hard it is to keep ourselves and our fellow activists going with all the demands of family, the day job, lack of immediate success, personality conflicts, cynicism, burnout, etc. At the same time, we Buddhists take the long view, thrive on this kind of adversity, and have loving-kindness to spare. It’s a match made in Nirvana.

  • Ian Mayes

    I am interested in being a part of a Buddhist Anarchist Caucus within the BPF. I have felt pretty disconnected with the BPF in general, and perhaps having such an organization-within-the-organization would help to change that. :-)

    By the way, it appears that in October of this year a Buddhist Anarchist guy named Joshua Stephens will be publishing a book on this topic of Buddhist Anarchism. It seems as if this guy also has connections with the BPF. More information on this can be found here:
    http://www.akpress.org/self-and-determination.html

  • Alex Comardo

    I’m very, very interested in a Buddhist Anarchist Caucus

  • Richard Modiano

    The caucus proposal sounds good to me Dawn. It would show that BPF is a multi-tendency organization with room for liberals, conservatives and leftists of various persuasions.

    Since there’s some interest in a Buddhist Anarchist Caucus perhaps we should start with that as a pilot project. I already attend anarchist book fairs and conferences in Los Angeles, and there’s a big anarchist book fair in San Francisco (internationally there are major anarchist book fairs all over Europe) so the out reach potential is big. The BPF-BAC could get at table at one of those venues if we actually create the caucus.

  • Ian Mayes

    Richard, you live in LA? I live in Minneapolis myself. Last year here I was a part of the organizing committee for the Twin Cities Anarchist Bookfair. The year before that I gave a workshop at that event about Buddhist Anarchism. It looks like there will not be another anarchist bookfair here in Minneapolis this year.

    I have to say, though, that this year in particular has been really bad so far as far as anarchist events in the U.S. goes. Pretty much every big anarchist event has had some kind of nasty controversy surrounding it. I’ve written about this phenomena on my blog here:
    http://parenthesiseye.blogspot.com/2013/05/public-affairs.html

  • Richard Modiano

    Ian, I’m familiar with all these events. So far, nothing like that has happened at any of the L.A. events (not counting the police attack on May marchers in 2007, but that incident was not strictly directed at anarchists.)

    Here in L.A. the main anarchist formations are Revolutionary Autonomous Communities (RAC,) Cop Watch L.A., Food Not Bombs, the Black Riders Liberation Party (styled after the Black Panther Party for Self Defense and made up of ex-gang members,) Rise Up Radio (a micro radio station,) a chapter of Anarchist Black Cross, Anarcha-Feminists and a loose knit queer anarchist group. There are also several loosely affiliated anarchist groups among bike messengers and bike riders, and the Eco Village is quasi anarchist. While I belong to the L.A. General Membership Branch of the IWW, the IWW is not an anarchist outfit as such although a lot of class struggle anarchists are members.

    Aside from May Day, the book fair and the conference are the only times all these groups get together, but the idea in your blog about smaller conclaves makes a lot of sense.

  • Bob

    Hi Ian!
    I’ve been visiting Buddhist Anarchism since the late 90’s. My basic gripe with Buddhism is that American Buddhists are too American. Dumb, deaf and blind to the realities of our global empire. It matters because erupting ecological crisis and the threat of global war demand a modicum of responsibility from the citizens of western democracies. However, personal responsibility depends upon examining aspects of the self which are ugly and unacceptable. Namely America’s support for genocide, torture, terror, economic exploitation, endless assaults on foreign democracies, etc. Therefore rather than face the truth about our own past and take responsibility for our actions in the future, Americans have decided (albeit unconsciously) to flush our species down the crapper. Given that is a more or less realistic assessment of our current predicament, Anarchism is starting to sound pretty reasonable

  • Mushim Patricia Ikeda

    Maia Duerr, former director of Buddhist Peace Fellowship, quotes Robert Aitken, Roshi, here:
    http://jizochronicles.com/2011/10/14/quote-of-the-week-robert-aitken-roshi-3/ as saying:

    “Buddhism is anarchism, after all, for anarchism is love,
    trust, selflessness and all those good Buddhist virtues
    including a total lack of imposition on another.”

    ~Robert Aitken Roshi

  • Bob

    To ignore the responsibility of rich countries in causing the conditions of misery and impoverishment of the worlds poor isn’t just unethical; it makes for really bad story telling. To miss out on that truth is simply, painfully, missing the boat.

    Like the word “tantra”, Anarchism has a scandalous popular meaning along with one grounded in careful observation. It is a tradition based on examining society and bringing awareness to the suffering caused by exploitation. This is not necessarily the focus of Buddhsim, however I consider anarchist insights to be “dharma” in the sense of revealing the truth. And it appears to me that social dharma is absolutely unavoidable at this moment in history. At least for those of us who want to tell good stories.

  • charles

    Hi Dawn! Is this the Aitken piece on crerating an anarchist caucus you were referring to?

    http://www.thezensite.com/ZenTeachings/Miscellaneous/Aitken_on_Responsibility.pdf

    xo,

    c.

  • Derek

    Thanks so much for this Kenji.

    It’s so great to see mention of Snyder’s pivotal essay on this subject and see your thoughts as well.

    A couple of us wanted to do a workshop on Buddhism and Anarchism for the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair but shied away after watching a friend get flamed for bringing up the connections/insights on an anarchist blog.
    Would love to see notes from Ian’s presentation that he mentions above–maybe he can come to Montreal’s fair next year?

    BTW, Dhammic Socialism was a 1986 lil paperback book by Bhikkhu Buddhadasa (translated by Donald K. Swearer); you can find used copies online sometimes.

    And thanks also to Maia and Charles for the link to the pdf of Aitken Roshi’s wonderful talk.

  • Richard Modiano

    “A couple of us wanted to do a workshop on Buddhism and Anarchism for the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair but shied away after watching a friend get flamed for bringing up the connections/insights on an anarchist blog.”

    In the days of the Free Association in NYC in the 1970s there was a workshop on Buddhism and anarchism. As one of the facilitators I pointed out the support the state received from institutional Buddhism and cited the passage in the 1969 version of Snyder’s essay where he writes, “Institutional Buddhism has been conspicuously ready to accept or ignore the inequalities and tyrannies of whatever system it found itself under.” So Buddhism is going to be a tough sell to anarchist purists without being prepared to offer counter examples:

    South East Asian Buddhists have a record of participating in anti-colonial struggles, and the Jodo Shinshu peasant school of Japan has its history of “ikko ikki” rebellions against feudal overlords, with a 90 year confederation of self-ruled villages in Kaga to its credit.

  • Mushim Patricia Ikeda

    Great discussion, everyone. I’m enjoying it very much. Richard Modiano, I am fascinated by your mention of the Jodo-Shinshu peasant rebellions — where can we find more information on these movements? I must say, this part of our discussion is giving me a deep sense of satisfaction. BPF has long been dominated by people from meditation-based schools of Buddhism such as Zen. This has resulted in what I’ve privately termed the “just add sitting” forms of activism. Want to protest a nuclear facility? Get a group to do sitting meditation near its gates. Want to do a socially engaged Buddhist “get out the vote” project? Get a group to do sitting meditation together at the start and end of the door-to-door day. I was trained in Zen and I like sitting as much as the next meditator. But I don’t worship it or regard sitting as the summum bonum of Buddhism. The Jodo-Shinshu lineages and teachings of Shinran Shonin are treasures of the Dharma — bring ‘em on!

  • Geoff

    This book gives a nice overview of the context of Jōdo-shū/Shin-shū, and the necessarily revolutionary consequences of nembutsu-only practice and the concept of the ‘ordinary person’ as a challenge to the ‘elite’ and dominant religious and political institutions in early Medieval Japan..resulting in various disturbances including peasant rebellions against feudal monastic landlords, etc. :http://books.google.com/books?id=H4ZZ8NKOdrUC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
    It is questionable how relevant this might be to a discussion of a contemporary ‘radical/anarcho/communist/socialist buddhism’ though, simply because in this case, other Buddhist sects were complicit with, if not wholly responsible for some of the oppressive treatment of lower classes/peasants. For a more relevant case of Shin-shū criticism of contemporary unrestrained Capitalism, see Takagi Kenmyō.

  • esta web

    Couldnt be written any better. Reading this post reminds me
    of my old room mate! He always kept talking about this.

    I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • Richard Modiano

    “I am fascinated by your mention of the Jodo-Shinshu peasant rebellions — where can we find more information on these movements? ”

    Mushim, the most recent historical study is War and Faith: Ikko Ikki in Late Muromachi Japan by Carol Richmond Tsang. You can probably find it in the UC library system if not the Berkeley or Oakland Public Libraries.

  • Mushim Patricia Ikeda

    Wow. Thanks, Richard! I’m going to ask my friend, Rev. Harry Gyokyo Bridge, minister of the Buddhist Church of Oakland, if he has this book, also.

  • Bob

    With regard to Ians Buddhist Anarchism presentation at the Twin Cities Anarchist Book fair. I was part of that, and I suspect Ian would be down for doing something in Montreal.
    In the past few years there has emerged some great research into Asian rebellious traditions.

    Asia’s Unknown Uprisings Volume 2: People Power in the Philippines, Burma, Tibet, China, Taiwan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand and Indonesia

    The Art of Not Being Governed
    An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia

  • Mushim Patricia Ikeda

    This evocation of resources is pretty darn fantastic, IMHO. I’m going to ask BPF coleaders Katie and Dawn to record all of these books as part of a resource bibliography that describes and documents Asian uprisings that will hopefully erode the Orientalist notion of “the passive Asian.”

  • Bob

    Mushim;
    I totally agree with your proposal to create this bibliography.

    Years ago I was hanging out with a Bhutanese Lama and master story-teller with and unending collection of Bhutanese folk lore. He talked about how long ago Bhutan had a mad king who decided that a particular mountain outside his palace had an unpleasant shape. The King decided that the peasants would have to remove the mountain, one grueling shovel full at a time. As the months passed, the project grew increasingly dreadful and naturally the peasants began slacking off. Outraged at the slow progress, the king went up to the mountain to confront the disgruntled workers. As the King was ranting and raving about the slow progress, a worker came up behind him and… CHOP. Off went the Kings head.
    So ,much for Quietism

  • Mushim Patricia Ikeda

    Bob, there may be Buddhists who would protest your Bhutanese mad-king-mountain story as being violent and un-Dharmic, but I am not one of them. (Neither do I condone head chopping in general as a quick response to oppressive situations.) And your relaying this story from the Bhutanese lama here on this thread is significant because I don’t think many of us have heard these types of stories from Asian Buddhist countries — and we need to, in my opinion! Enough to the quietism thing, just as you say.

  • Richard Modiano

    ” As the King was ranting and raving about the slow progress, a worker came up behind him and… CHOP. Off went the Kings head.”

    We haven’t addressed the issue of violence yet. The subject of armed struggle came up in a discussion of Nelson Mandela’s career and an interview with his comrade Ronnie Kasrils.

    Mandela started his activism by embracing Gandhi’s South African non-violent legacy and then turned to armed struggle when he created the “Spear of the Nation” (known as MK) with Kasrils in 1961 as the para-military wing of the African National Congress. Mandela was adamant that MK would not kill people but its tactics would be aimed at sabotage. In his own words, the aim was to “hit back by all means within our power in defense of our people, our future and our freedom”. He and Karslis and others set up regional command units and set about training their army in bomb making and clandestine operations. MK carried out numerous bombings during the next 20 years and the pledge not to kill became redundant – in the whole campaign, at least 63 people died and 483 people were injured.

    During the 1970s the Angry Brigade in the UK also adopted the same notion of symbolic attacks on exploitative and authoritarian targets like banks, policy agencies and politicians’ residences. No one was killed or injured in those attacks.

    My proclivity is toward non-violent resistance including sabotage, occupations, and strikes. I don’t think armed struggle will be effective in the US at this time. But I recognize that spontaneous outbreaks of violence are inevitable, particularly when masses of people are gathered.

    Meantime, here’s an excerpt from the interview mentioned above:

    Chris Hedges: What is it that makes a rebel? In your own case, you were young, you were 18, white. What is it, what’re you, what’s the common denominator that you find within a rebel?

    Ronnie Kasrils: Well, I, certainly it’s a question of compassion, and I think it’s a question of standing up for the underdog. I think that young people, children, in their purity, tend to see these things pretty easily, but that it tends to be blocked off by the type of socialization from family to school and society. Otherwise, I think there’d be an incredible number of rebels in this world. There have been, in fact, time to time. But it has that, that inner core to it, I believe, certainly in my experience for myself and the way I see the reaction of others. So it’s compassion, concern for others. And if we take it through to biblical origins, or the way they wrote the Bible at certain times—and I refer particularly to the Christian narrative of Jesus, and I’m an atheist, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect other belief systems—and certainly most belief systems, the Jewish prophets, the Hebrew prophets … who speak about doing unto thy neighbor what you wish to be done to you. So I think that’s deep within humanity. I’ve got a positive view of humanity. I know that human beings can be incredibly cruel, but environmental factors create that.

  • Bob

    I think the story has something to say about the limits of power, even in traditional hierarchical societies. For Americans, the removal of formal structures of authority such as kings and ministers has not created equality. Instead people are controlled through debt and work combined with inescapable media and propaganda. It’s hard to imagine a modern American chopping off the kings head, metaphorically, literally or in any other way.

  • Mushim Patricia Ikeda

    Good points, Richard and Bob. To Bob’s excellent point about what controls United Statesians (to use a term used by the late and great Prof. Ruth Frankenberg (http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/0816622582 ), I reply:

    For those of us in the U.S., I think that “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is what we need to use as a guiding wisdom story, rather than the chop-king’s-head-off model. And the first thing I’d advocate for is for people to turn off the television, find ways to get real news the best they can, and unplug from addictive use of smartphones. Spend time researching issues you’re interested in and practice holding thought diversity (widely varying viewpoints and experiences) in order to develop more sophisticated, nuanced thinking. Take time to slowly reflect; go deep. And this would mean going in the direction of living simply and finding ways to get off the debt / accumulation of property wheel. This is not easily done but it’s only possible if we try to make it possible.

  • Mushim Patricia Ikeda

    Richard et al — how’s this for quick results? My friend, Rev. Harry Gyokyo Bridge was thrilled to hear about the book Richard recommended about Jodo-Shinshu peasant uprisings in Japan, “War and Faith: Ikko Ikki in Late Muromachi Japan by Carol Richmond Tsang.” I asked Rev. Harry if he’d heard about the book and he replied just now, “Ooh, I have not but I will soon! Very interesting!!! I’ll make sure the BCA Bookstore in Berkeley orders copies too. Thanks for the heads-up!”

    Good work, “team”! :-)

  • Bob

    Hey Y’all the stimulating conversation on this thread inspired me to write about my thoughts and feelings on the subject of radicalism and Buddhism.

    As a mindfulness practitioner and an activist I try to ask the question;
    What happens in those moments when a heated topic comes up, especially in a public setting like at work? Emotionally charged topics could be anything from an injustice experienced in the workplace, to a news report alleging US war-crimes.

    I think a good practice for aspiring Buddhist revolutionaries would be to breach controversial subjects with co-workers or nonpolitical friends and family, then simply listen to what they have to say. I’m not suggesting that this is the ultimate goal, but its a great step. For one thing it gives the speaker a platform to vent about subjects which are typically repressed from public discussion. It also allows the listener to LEARN how other people think and talk about taboo stuff.

    I think at this stage Buddhist and therapeutic practices can be very powerful. For instance listening to people is very powerful. Most of the issues that we leftists struggle with are also issues about which most people feel some distress. The selling of war relies upon ignorance, unexamined assumptions and unchecked contradictions. It is not beyond the intellectual capacity of ordinary folks to see this stuff for what it is. However seeing through the fog of war, or the fog of hierarchy requires confronting frightening aspects within oneself. Such self discovery is squarely in the domain of Buddhism and therapy.

    I think there is an emerging tension within Buddhism concerning the ethics of intervention. What I mean is that over the past generation we have produced a sizable cadre of capable, professional Buddhists active in helping professions like psychology or more broadly in social science related fields such as marketing. These good folks are almost entirely left leaning. But (I’m sorry to say) most have a shallow analysis of the history of social justice struggles and lack what might be considered common sense amongst radicals. Dangling ones toes in the waters of emptiness, even for extended periods of time, does not automatically lead to any great wisdom about how social power is constructed. The 20th century dismantling of radicalism under the guise of anti-communism, the decimation of trade unions, the consolidation of story telling into a handful of media conglomerates, the capture of politics by corporate billionaires, and the rise of titillating entertainment with an emphasis on NOW, while old people are locked away in nursing homes has led to a situation in which many people who should know better, just Don’t.

    The tension then for the Buddhist / mindfulness / therapy community is to decide when listening and political neutrality is no longer enough. At what point must we address the conditions of society itself? How many battered women and suicidal veterans do we have to see in our private practice or in our jobs as social workers and hospital psychologists before we decide to address the conditions that cause war and extreme poverty? When caring, sensitive mindfulness practitioners turn their attention to the classic questions asked by revolutionaries they will perceive the dark age of American populism. A world where narratives and insights from former generations of rebels have been lost. I think that part of the goal of a group like the Buddhist Peace Fellowship is to keep the ancient torch of revolution burning.

    We can shine the light of those who have struggled for freedom in the past along with the many millions whose stories exist outside of the capitalist media today. By telling the story of political freedom in the language of insight and mindfulness we can offer something unique. Does this mean opening to wisdom outside of Buddhism? Of course! Does it mean telling stories from Asian sources that don’t conform to the passive, yin, quiet narrative? I hope so! Does it mean questioning the ethics of those practicing mindfulness in the service of corporations and the military? Yup.

  • Jeff

    To me, Bob, that’s what engaged Buddhism is about — Buddhists openly questioning oppressive institutions and asking our coworkers and friends to help change them! Thanks for making this good discussion even better. You’re right that we need to listen more than talk. For those of us on the left who’ve thought about these issues for years, it’s very tempting to overwhelm the uninitiated with our cherished theories of everything, but it makes more sense to begin a conversation than to try to win an argument. I have found that starting with shared observations of systemic ills is a good entrée. For example, it’s obvious to almost everyone in the helping professions that health care and social services are getting worse for both clients and providers. Most health workers would agree that corporate malfeasance is at least part of the problem, but there’s also a lot of misinformation attempting to shift the blame onto other workers, demanding patients, immigrants, etc. It’s a field of endeavor in which the contradictions of capitalism are very sharp and very deadly, abounding in examples of profit-seeking causing disease, bankruptcy, and provider burnout. Plenty of topics for the lunch room!

    In my organizing, I try to hear beyond what folks are saying to what keeps them tied to self-defeating ideologies and social relations (fear of change? hope of getting rich someday? too busy to care? it sounds good in theory but you’ll never make it happen?). It takes a lot of patience, but I think of these conversations with coworkers as lasting weeks and months, gently pointing out the truth staring my them in the face, if only they will look. Most of the time I learn something new from them while they can acknowledge at least part of the picture I draw, and that’s fine. We’ll talk again in a few days and if my analysis was correct, it will help them make sense of this crazy system. Next time they might ask me what I think, and maybe even what we can do about it! But that rarely happens if I don’t really listen to them.

    There’s no question that building a movement is a slow struggle, perhaps similar to spiritual awakening. I share the frustrations that others have alluded to: finding the time, feeling isolated, overcoming cultural resistance, cynicism, inertia, and all the rest. Nonetheless I’m optimistic that with all the protest we’re seeing globally and nationally, there’s great potential for defeating exploitation and creating a just society if we keep at it and learn to think and act collectively.

    I’d love to hear how other Buddhists have engaged politically and any lessons they can share. Like, for instance, is there a Buddhist anarchist (or socialist) group that’s actively organizing anywhere? Or Buddhists within other campaigns? How’s that going?

  • Mushim Patricia Ikeda

    I hope I’m not getting this wrong — I think that my old friend, Robert Aitken, Roshi, who was fiercely political, used to say he was a proud, card-carrying member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Any thoughts from those of you in this conversation about the effectiveness of that organization, and any thoughts on democratic socialism?

    Jeff, I so appreciate it when you say, “Nonetheless I’m optimistic that with all the protest we’re seeing globally and nationally, there’s great potential for defeating exploitation and creating a just society if we keep at it and learn to think and act collectively.” In my understanding, part of thinking and acting collectively involves a balance between knowing and understanding the past so as not to keep on reinventing the wheel, on one hand — and resisting the dynamic of people who think of themselves as politically knowledgeable (and who may well be very knowledgeable) lecturing and correcting those who may be younger or less experienced or less intellectual, on the other hand. I remember that Aitken Roshi expressed his frustration, near the end of his life, that he would sometimes meet younger people who would say, “What is fascism?” These folks knew nothing of the not so ancient historical events that seemed very vivid and pertinent to him as lessons humanity could learn that we should strive never to repeat.

  • Richard Modiano

    ” I think that my old friend, Robert Aitken, Roshi, who was fiercely political, used to say he was a proud, card-carrying member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Any thoughts from those of you in this conversation about the effectiveness of that organization, and any thoughts on democratic socialism?”

    To be brutally honest, DSA is the tail of the Democratic Party. It’s positions are no different from the shrinking progressive wing of the Democrats. DSA is entirely concerned with electoral politics (the party invariably endorses whatever Democrat is running) and direct action action isn’t part of their program at all. In other words, from the anarchist perspective, it’s a state capitalist bourgeois outfit. The policies and programs DSA pushes are nothing like the “Scandinavian Model” of social democracy which looks like a living utopia in comparison.

    If you want to join a party than the Socialist Party USA, the party of Eugene Debs, is a multi-tendency party that fields candidates in local and national elections and is controlled by the general membership (unlike DSA which has a top down apparatus.)

  • Mushim Patricia Ikeda

    Thanks, Richard. I’m not surprised to hear what you say about DSA, and I’m also open to hearing other experiences. (You can tell that I personally haven’t been drawn to check them out further.) I am very interested in the Scandinavian model, however — any readings of 1,000 words or less you can recommend for me to get my feet in the water with that model to become a bit more knowledgeable?

  • Richard Modiano

    “I’d love to hear how other Buddhists have engaged politically and any lessons they can share. Like, for instance, is there a Buddhist anarchist (or socialist) group that’s actively organizing anywhere? Or Buddhists within other campaigns? How’s that going?”

    Jeff, I don’t know of any specifically Buddhist anarchist or socialist formations in the US. Anarchist formations tend to be decentralized although there are some organizations with a national presence such as Food Not Bombs and Cop Watch. These groups are locally controlled and loosely affiliated.

    I’ve been a member of the Industrial Workers of the World since 1974 (the union just celebrated its 108th birthday this week), and today the IWW organizes the working poor and the “precariat”. Our recent success is the creation of the Starbucks Workers Union http://www.starbucksunion.org/. And since this discussion started with a reflection on Gary Snyder’s essay, Fellow Worker Snyder lined up with the IWW in the early 1950s and still holds a red card.

    A famous IWW motto is “An Injury to One is an Injury to All”, very Buddhistic in my view. I don’t know how many Buddhists belong to the IWW but the union is horizontally structured and controlled by the rank and file.

    The founding idea of BPF was to bring the peace movement to Buddhism and Buddhism to the peace movement. In my experience it’s been easier to bring Buddhism to the peace movement, or for me the labor movement; a lot of American Buddhists are middle class folks, particularly convert Buddhists, and have little awareness of working class issues. In my sangha I’m among half a dozen or so people who fit the description of the working poor. My “communist” beliefs are well known and accepted as a harmless eccentricity. I haven’t had much success with bringing anyone from the temple into BPF.

    By contrast, my Buddhist affiliation hasn’t hurt me in the IWW or with any of the anarchist outfits I’ve worked with. In fact, some people have shown an interest in the Dharma as a result of talking with me. Usually someone notices the mala that I wear around my left wrist and asks me what it’s for, and I tell them.

  • Richard Modiano

    Mushim, for once a Wikipedia entry is concise and accurate (though using the term (“Nordic Model”): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nordic_model

  • Bezi

    in my experience, organizing with World Can’t Wait, International ANSWER et al, there’s been a palpable and seemingly inpenetrable sense of ideology-driven limitation in left-activist spheres. Eventually I would get into these tortuous debates with my fellows (i.e. Sunsara Taylor) consisting essentially of – don’t we need to focus at some point on a politics beyond pure materialism? No! So-and-so was emphatic about whoompty whoomp, everything’s pure dialectic. But what about exeriences that are subjectively demonstrative of a transpersonal reality just as real as materialism? No matter. If I can’t see it, I don’t believe it. If you can’t point to it in the physical world, it’s not political…

    um, no. The air we breathe can’t be pointed to, yet it’s very political. That horrifying 24-hour smog from burning irreplacable rainforest in southeast Asia can’t be pointed to (because it’s freaking everywhere for one thing) but exemplifies the materiality of the so-called immaterial. When I would have these dustups, younger activists would TOTALLY get it, chiming in sympathetically on my side… but the leadership was entrenched and adamant. Hella stuck in 1904?!! I eventually had no choice but to disengage from a lot of organizations this way. Calcified ideology. It was like these folks really couldn’t get down to the extremely fluid and non-linear unfolding of history. Rather, it progressed in algorithmic, teleological (ironic for how avowedly atheistic these folks are) exactitude.

    No it DOESN’T! (lol)

    What I’m enjoying about this thread is that it puts me in the mind of what seems hopeful about what I understand of anarcho-syndicalism. Our dear old Noam of course is the most prominent face of it, but David Graeber (one of the cats claiming to have formulated the ‘Occupy’ concept) has also given some really potent insight into the possibility of an activism model complimentary to Buddhism in it’s welcoming of “a wide range of tactics” based explicitly on what’s most expedient in any given moment. I can get down to that! One of the hurdles though – and no small one – is something Bob said

    >> My basic gripe with Buddhism is that American Buddhists are too American. Dumb, deaf and blind to the realities of our global empire. <<

    Huh. Well I'm glad somebody else said it. Sanghas of color are routinely marginalized in this country, distressingly consistent with the (blindly and deliberately) racialized politics of the US. Some people are flipping out about surveillance. More were flipping out about 9/11. In my milieu, panic and paranoia were and are less pronounced for a single, simple reason – black people have been exposed to spying and indiscriminate violence from the very beginning. Bro. Cornel West has some damning truth to spit about this subject… going in rugged and raw on it. To me, it's weird but also right there – just the same way many people of color don't have the free time or financial resources to attend a $4000.00 retreat promising "personal revolution / deep community", they also don't get to retreat from the onoing reality of institutionalized racism that impacts dimension of their lives both seen and unseen.

  • Richard Modiano

    “in my experience, organizing with World Can’t Wait, International ANSWER et al, there’s been a palpable and seemingly inpenetrable sense of ideology-driven limitation in left-activist spheres. Eventually I would get into these tortuous debates with my fellows (i.e. Sunsara Taylor) consisting essentially of – don’t we need to focus at some point on a politics beyond pure materialism? No! So-and-so was emphatic about whoompty whoomp, everything’s pure dialectic. But what about exeriences that are subjectively demonstrative of a transpersonal reality just as real as materialism? No matter. If I can’t see it, I don’t believe it. If you can’t point to it in the physical world, it’s not political…”

    The World Can’t Wait is a front organization of the Party of Socialism and Liberation (a split from the Worker’s World Party) and ANSWER is a front of the Revolutionary Communist Party, both doctrinaire Leninist outfits (the latter is Maoist.)

    Leninists of all tendencies (Maoist, Stalinist and Trotskyist) share the same philosophical premises: human thoughts and ideas are derived from the specific economic circumstances within which humans find themselves. Consciousness is merely a reflection of material conditions. (A very un-Marxian notion by the way.) Human society is determined by “objective economic laws” and these laws can be comprehended by a trained elite of professional revolutionaries (the Party.) Human society can thus be guided by these professionals in accordance with the “laws of the dialectic.”

    Because the average worker is conditioned by “false consciousness” she must be guided by the trained cadre who’s in command of the correct Party line. In ANSWER and the World Can’t Wait key leadership positions are held by reliable Party members with a few token non-Party members invited to sit on the steering committee or to chair some sub-committee or other. Needless to say, there is nothing anarchist about this arrangement.

    As for dialectics, Nagarjuna is one of the greatest dialecticians of all time! Marxist dialectics also differ from the Leninist version. According to Marx, humanity is constantly changing nature; existing circumstances and surroundings are constantly being altered by human ideas and actions, and humans are in turn altered by changes in material reality. This interpenetrating relationship is dialectical.

    I stay away from Leninist organizations which in practice are top-down, rigid and manipulative. Here in Los Angeles there are some anarchist groups, particularly Revolutionary Autonomous Communities composed almost entirely of working people of color with a respectable age range, from teenagers to 70 year olds, men, women. gay, straight and transgendered, a mix you don’t find among Leninist organizations (as late 1998 the RCP declared homosexuality a bourgeois deviation!)

  • Bezi

    yup. It’s too bad because Hegelian dialectic can be a really effective way of parsing out what’s going on in the material world – and even in the psychospiritual realm to an extent – if you don’t allow the exercise to rip you out of experiencing firsthand what the hell really IS poppin off. It’s a method I’ve gotten a gang of useful insights from but at the same time I see it lends itself pretty readily to intellectual diarrhea (sp?). Monkey mind at the realest level. What was comedy and ironic was that I would be using polemics and dialectic to argue for a transpersonal element in human history that couldn’t be accounted for in homo economicus. And they Just…Could…Not….Get Down to it! When I started experiencing their muscle tension and agitation in my own body, I knew I had to be out.

    Kind of poses a fantastically occult question – given what we now know about consciousness, epigenetics, mind/body inseparability, neuroscience etc. – how much primordial revolutionary energy over the centuries was actually sapped as a result of tedious, tension-riddled internal ideological hairsplitting and (soul) withering leftist critique of self and everybody else?

    of course we have no way of quantifying such a thing (lol) but it’s just ill to think about…

    Ahh, Nagarjuna. That’s my DUDE. He TOTALLY had dialectic sewn before the Gernans. What I love about his approach was the way it drove what was essentially the Socratic method to its outer limits. Out Greeking the Greeks a lil’ bit are we? Noyce! ~ Okay, how could it be THIS if THAT is true? And if THAT is true concurrently with THIS, then what? I don’t know, there’s just something extremely appealing – im not sure what – in defining what is by systematically stripping away everything that isn’t. Not only is it very clever, but it may well appeal to my own self-satisfied, ever-so-slightly-smug inner curmudgeon. Persistent little misanthropic bugger he is…

    Arthur Conan Doyle comes to mind as well

  • Jeff

    Yes, Richard, Leninists can be dogmatic, authoritarian, and stiflingly materialist, but you have to admit they’ve made some damn fine revolutions over the past hundred years. At the same time, some would paint anarchists as flash-in-the-pan dilettantes who are better at staging spectacular events than building durable movements, but I am fired up by your creative passion and deeply democratic instincts, which are essential to counter centralist tendencies.

    None of us radicals have a corner on the truth. We’re a long way from revolution in America and I suspect rebels of many stripes will need to adapt our “correct” strategies as real conditions evolve. It wouldn’t hurt, here in the belly of the beast, to be open to alliances with all the honest partners we can get!

    Perhaps engaged Buddhists can broker peace among the squabbling sects on the left? Of course, this could only happen if we have some credibility as active participants in ongoing campaigns for social change, but not if we are merely content to drop famous names and big words on the BPF site. Can we turn our probing intellects and spiritual common sense to breaking down outmoded ideological attachments and creating progressive unity on the streets and in the workplace? Who else will if we don’t?

    Bezi, it’s so cool to have your humor and insights up in here! (but please tell me you were just playin’ when you mentioned air pollution as an example of immaterial reality because you can’t point to it…)

  • Bezi

    not playing exactly but sort of thinking of an obvious example of something both real and invisible, like air, then getting caught up in visions of that ghastly brown smog over Singapore because of the forest clearing fires in Indonesia. So I added in that part at the end, and umm.. yeah. I read it back and was like: ‘what was my point, now?’ But it was already up. Whoops. Disregard

  • Richard Modiano

    “Leninists can be dogmatic, authoritarian, and stiflingly materialist, but you have to admit they’ve made some damn fine revolutions over the past hundred years. At the same time, some would paint anarchists as flash-in-the-pan dilettantes who are better at staging spectacular events than building durable movements”

    Jeff, in my 45 years on the US Left I have yet to meet a Leninist who was not dogmatic.

    As for Leninist revolutions, far from being socialist revolutions they are in practice nationalist revolutions. Contrary to what Leninist idealists would have us believe, Leninism is not the ideology of international socialism. Instead it’s the ideology of revolutionary nationalism fueled by the desire to rd the nation of domination by foreign capital. Leninism does not describe the transition from capitalism to communism; it’s actually a method of moving a neo-colony from feudalism to state capitalism and thence to bourgeois capitalism, from the rule of big landlords to the rule of the state bureaucrat and finally the private capital owner. It’s a system born of the contradictions of a dying feudal system and a rising capitalist system which is too weak to take its place.

    Far more significant for socialism is the 18 months of the Spanish Revolution and the 6 weeks of the Hungarian Revolution neither of which were Leninist revolutions. As for the October Revolution , it ended when the soviets were reduced to rubber stamps for the Party and workers’ control was suppressed in the factories, about 36 months (and the counter revolution was cemented with the suppression of Kronstadt in March 1921.) The high point of the Chinese Revolution was the short lived Shanghai Commune.

  • Jeff

    Richard, I’m always impressed by your broad knowledge of politics and Buddhist history as well as your involvement in IWW. Brilliant!

    A few thoughts about 20th century revolutions: like the others, the Spanish and Hungarian revolutions were also national in focus, as they had to be. I do agree that workers’ and peoples’ councils are the ideal basis for true democracy and that their dissolution after power is consolidated ultimately led to the undoing of popular sovereignty.

    To describe what happened in Russia after 1917 as “Leninism” is a little unfair – Lenin was dealing with social and material realities in his own country and hoping that Germany and other nations would soon follow suit. To say that the Soviet Union and China wound up travelling down the road of state capitalism because of what Lenin thought is like saying that the Spanish revolution failed because anarchism is an inherently flawed political ideology. Drawing lessons from history ain’t that easy. Many mistakes were made in all these first attempts to bring power to the people, and massive attacks by forces of reaction scuttled idealism very quickly, always a bad omen. Fortunately, we will have other chances to get it right.

    I’m definitely not trying to say Lenin was correct about everything or even most things. Marx wasn’t always prescient, nor Bakunin, neither Nagarjuna, and, dare I say it here, not even Buddha. It would be nice if we could just accept somebody’s philosophy as God’s absolute and final truth, but it looks like humans are going to have to keep cobbling together the bits and pieces that make sense in living good lives and in interpreting and acting positively on world events.

    I AM trying to say that while conjecture and debate are necessary aspects of societal change and spiritual development, in neither area are they sufficient to get us very far without testing those thoughts in day-to-day engagement. I have grown more by trying to follow the precepts than by reading commentaries on them, and I have learned more about politics by participating in movements than by pledging allegiance to one or another ideologue.

    BPF is a wonderful crock-pot of ideas and inspiration – thanks, Dawn & Katie!

  • Richard Modiano

    Thanks for the kind words Jeff.

    “To say that the Soviet Union and China wound up travelling down the road of state capitalism because of what Lenin thought is like saying that the Spanish revolution failed because anarchism is an inherently flawed political ideology. ”

    As matter of fact the most trenchant critics of the Spanish anarchists argue that it was the betrayal of anarchist principals by the leadership when they joined the government that led to the revolution’s defeat at the hands of the liberals, right wing socialists, Stalinists and fascists. Indeed, some of the anarchist veterans of the revolution believed that the anarchist refusal to massacre all their ideological enemies when they had the power to do so (as the Bolsheviks did in Russia) was a defect of anarchist ideology. Perhaps the anarchist belief that ends and means are of a piece is a serious flaw for a revolutionary ideology since apparently the only guarantee against counter revolution is massive repression, at least if we go by the examples of Leninist revolutions.

    To further compare the October Revolution with the Spanish Revolution, the working class did not take power in the Russian Revolution and never held power in it. The principal soviets were quickly brought under the control of the Party intelligentsia and were used by the Bolsheviks as a trampoline to put the Party in control of the state. (I’m over-generalizing to some extent, since there were some soviets that were fairly grassroots and that were an authentic expression of collective worker power, like the soviet in Kronstadt. But there was no worker power at the national level in Russia.)

    By contrast, the program of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists for power consisted of three parts:

    1. Regional and national worker congresses, elected from base assemblies, election by these congresses of regional and national defense councils, to run a unified militia

    2. Direct workers’ management of entire industries unified through industrial federations, and united through the worker congresses.

    3. Free municipalities as the basis of control over social services and consumer decision-making as the popular channel for grassroots planning.

    The first two parts could be considered a taking of power by the working class, but part 1 was carried out only in the region of Aragon; in the other parts of Republican Spain the Socialist and Communist Parties succeeded in blocking implementation.

    Some aspects of decisions pertaining to a given industry will affect people other than workers. This is why those others, such as users of the service or communities affected by its operations also have their own bodies through which they can develop proposals about what they want and they are to be served.

    In any case, my larger point is that Leninism is a petty bourgeois ideology unsuited for revolutionary purposes in an advanced capitalist society, the proof being that such revolutions have only successfully taken place in underdeveloped nations dominated by foreign capital. In 1936 Spain was far more industrialized than Czarist Russia on the eve of the revolution, with an industrial proletariat of about 5 million (out of a population of 26 million) 4 million of whom were organized in the CNT, UGT or smaller unions.

    “I AM trying to say that while conjecture and debate are necessary aspects of societal change and spiritual development, in neither area are they sufficient to get us very far without testing those thoughts in day-to-day engagement.”

    I agree completely. Anyone from a meditative tradition of Buddhism can aver that practice changes consciousness. The same goes for revolutionary consciousness. Activity comes first, and in the course of activity consciousness will change. It’s a liberal pipe dream to suppose that you can talk people into having revolutionary ideas before engaging them in revolutionary activity.

  • Bezi

    “The World Can’t Wait is a front organization of the Party of Socialism and Liberation (a split from the Worker’s World Party)”

    Is that right… hm. When Sunsara Taylor started crowing about exactly who their fearless leader was, this person whose singular word was immutable revolutionary law – one Robert Avakian (I can only imagine some of the facial expressions out there) – I was like “say word?” THIS cat? I remember seeing graffiti scrawled on the sides of liquor store walls in my hood as a kid in the Roxbury (Boston) ghetto – this had to be the late-1970s – saying “Stop Drinkin’ / Start Thinkin’ – Bob Avakian Says Support The RNA (Republic of New Afrika)”. I was about 9 or 10 and I recall being intrigued by such a notion… probably like many of the starry-eyed youthful political novices in 1935 Spain… or for that matter, 1958 Cuba, 1916 Russia, Congo 1959, etc. He’s err… pretty elusive tho’ (lol). It took for Youtube to be developed decades later before I ever saw the man. I attended a screening of his Revolution: Nothing Else film at the behest of a cat I know from the World Can’t Wait days who’d defected but maintained that narrow, reductionist/materialist bourgeois mentality. Avakian has powerful things to say. But I have no idea what real-world applications, if any, his teachings have had. Can anyone speak to that?

    Finding out one of my all-time favorite authors George Orwell was a partisan of the Spanish Revolution for me put 1984, Animal Farm and later Down and Out in Paris and London into context. Seeing Picasso’s “Guernica” for the first time immediately put me in the mind of the 1968-1972 period of Civil Rights *shaking head*

    “I AM trying to say that while conjecture and debate are necessary aspects of societal change and spiritual development, in neither area are they sufficient to get us very far without testing those thoughts in day-to-day engagement.”

    This statement speaks to why I was so impressed and heartened to hear a particular anecdote about a tactic employed by German anarchists which redeemed the movement in my eyes to an extent after the ‘black-box’ or ‘black guard’, or however they called it, operations during Occupy. These Germans, they provoked the police as per usual, and just as they were closing in, the activists all stripped down and en masse jumped into a nearby lake, splashing around naked. Wow. NOYCE! It’s like… what now? You gonna wade in the water and arrest hundreds of squirming, dripping wet, giggling youngsters having a party? Now THAT’s what I call “diversity of tactics”. There’s just something about that action which humanizes the revolutionary impulse so deeply and accurately that it makes my eyes mist over. I can see Buddha nodding in approval. Take the action most in alignment with the liberation of all sentient beings…

  • Jeff

    Bezi, you got it right: Bob Avakian’s RCP is involved in The World Can’t Wait, and it’s ANSWER that’s a “front organization for the Party of Liberation and Socialism” (as Richard puts it).

    I have a couple of friends in RCP – in the SF Bay Area, their major campaigns are Stop Patriarchy (protect abortion rights, defend same-sex marriage, oppose pornography, support LGBTQ issues) and fighting the racist court/prison system (end mass incarceration, prison torture, and free passes for murderers of black and Latin youth such as Trayvon Martin). Despite some misgivings about the personality cult around Avakian, I think the RCP is doing some positive organizing. As are anarcho-syndicalists, Trotskyists, gender identity activists, and Green environmental reformers! The members of most of these small radical groups are deeply committed and compassionate yet have a visceral mistrust of other small radical groups, especially those whose political ideology most closely resembles their own.

    Although I’m not naïve enough to think the American left will hold hands and sing “We Are The World,” I am hopeful that we can overcome enough of our conditioned antagonism to work more collaboratively against the vast evil perpetrated by the global ruling class. Of course, I haven’t figured out quite how this will happen, but maybe your idea of everyone jumping in a lake together (after constructive debate and open self-criticism) has some merit. Maybe BPF could sponsor a retreat! ;-)

  • Richard Modiano

    Thanks for correcting my mistake about the RCP Jeff.

    “The members of most of these small radical groups are deeply committed and compassionate yet have a visceral mistrust of other small radical groups, especially those whose political ideology most closely resembles their own.”

    That certainly describes the Leninist factions. I remember the “Trot Wars” of the 1970s in New York City. This was a three-way struggle between the Socialist Workers Party and its youth group the Revolutionary Student Alliance (these outfits were the orthodox Trotskyist formations back then) the Spartacus League (a fanatical purist Trotskyist outfit) and the RCP and its youth group the Revolutionary Student Brigade (briefly re-named the Attica Brigade at one point.) The Sparts and the RCP youth disrupted SWP and RSA meetings, the Sparts went after the RCP and RSB, and they all took turns trashing each others tables and stealing each others newspapers. It was a sorry spectacle. (Later on the nutty National Caucus of Labor Committees became involved.)

    In my experience the M-Ls are uncompromisingly hostile to religious/spiritual beliefs but willing to work with liberal religious organizations up to a point, and the RCP is virulently hostile to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence.

    Far more congenial are pacifist organizations like Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the American Friends Service Committee and grass roots organizations like Korean Immigrant Workers Association , the Black Riders Liberation Party, and the Bus Riders Union here in Los Angeles (along with Food Not Bombs, Housing Not Bombs and Cop Watch.) I think these organizations do a lot more good than any of the M-L parties.

  • Bezi

    Oy! Oy! The young Spartacists! Jeez. I was once one of them too in Boston. First time I read their (our?) newspaper, I kinda freaked – “THIS is what I’m on about now?” Always an argument… boy did they EVER love arguments. Never realized how many red and pinko outfits I’d been a part of till’ this moment. I must want change or something…Too bad these cats seem to be capable of everything BUT changing (thus change)

    Something happens fairly regularly whenever I get into a conversation like this: someone, clearly a hardcore rationalist, tells me that they’re not all “we are the world” naiive or, even more charmingly, a “kumbaya” vocalist. Really? Really. It’s sort of like – just gotta be about some starry-eyed (and black-related) idealism with no practicality in the “real world?” lol

    I just wrote an essay touching on contemplation of realism and idealism which I’m hoping BPF might put up (hintidy hint hint)… In the meantime:

    “free passes for murderers of black and Latin youth such as Trayvon Martin” – PLEASE tell me your peeps are not really into giving those out…

    uh. Yeah, we could probably all use a retreat, perhaps structured with some sort of authentic communication/deep listening discussion format.

    I’m not trippin’ by the way. Bringing these things up may be instructive for whatever the next time might be, here or elsewhere.

  • Jeff

    I agree that deep listening is needed. For example:

    I did not say “We Are The World” was naïve. It is a powerful, altruistic message, and some of the millions of dollars it raised actually went to feeding the Ethiopian people. I said it would be naïve to expect the numerous, endlessly bickering sects on the American left to show the kind of unity of purpose that brought artists together to sing that song. Which is too bad, because if we radicals & Buddhists could let go of some of our tightly held prerequisites for collective struggle, we might have a better chance to defeat the imperialism that leads to African famines in the first place.

    My sisters in the RCP are trying to “END…free passes for murderers of black and Latin youth.”

    However, I will cop to rational, scientific thinking when applied to suitable problems in the “real world” and interconnectedness for everything else. Peace.

  • Bezi

    >>> Although I’m not naïve enough to think the American left will hold hands and sing “We Are The World,” <<<

    I copied and pasted this directly from the post in question. The 'hold hands and sing' part seems to me to correlate the song to naivety, non-pragmatism… to imply that WATW is the opposite of realistic leftism. In discussions I've been in, that song and "Kumbaya" have been used interchangeably to denote starry-eyed nonacceptance of realpolitic – never by people of color, interestingly. hmm…

    Anyone following this thread might've peeped I'd had a flash of insight about being more a part of leftist/anarchist/Leninist organizing than I'd really done the math on yet. Nothing in my experience has led me to a conviction that a spontaneous ring of choiring humanity will happen either. My approach to spirituality (and that term is a tad corny to me, I have to say) has been empirical and experimental. When I awakened on retreat at Vipassana, I had experiential proof of the nonmaterial interconnectedness of all phenomena. This certainly cast leftist ideology in a new light… a much less vital one. Matter of fact, one of the things that endears me to Buddhism is that it IS so empirical.

    again, I ain't mad… it's all just dialoguing

  • Richard Modiano

    “I just wrote an essay touching on contemplation of realism and idealism which I’m hoping BPF might put up (hintidy hint hint)…”

    I’d like to read that essay Bezi.

    From a Marxist perspective idealism and realism or materialism are not opposed because they exist in a dialectical relationship, they interpenetrate.

    For myself, I take a poetic view and cultivate negative capability as John Keats described it: Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason–.

  • Bezi

    just submitted it Richard. They totally do – three ‘isms’ completely lacking in substance…

    (literally and…?)

    in 2009 I wrote a sprawling tome on my personal philosophy: alternate realism. I guess if I’m any ‘ist’, it’d be an alternate realist, which – yeah – greets the reality of cognitive dissonance with equanimity and a necessary dose of humor…

  • Richard Modiano

    ” if we radicals & Buddhists could let go of some of our tightly held prerequisites for collective struggle, we might have a better chance to defeat the imperialism that leads to African famines in the first place.”

    If Marxist-Leninists/”Democratic Centralists” choose to spend their lives building the vanguard party, let them get on with it; if they can raise the general level of political consciousness while they’re doing it, fine— but they shouldn’t delude themselves that the party/organization they are building, with the ideology, ethics and morality they are promoting, will turn out to behave differently from any other political party/power elite throughout recorded history. Of course things are different today — materially and technologically — from what they were in 1917, but power politics and the behavior of party “politicians” and cadres, left, right and center, remain a constant.

    And Jeff, whenever I see “peace” as a sign off in Buddhist discussions it usually means “pissed.”

  • Jeff

    It seems to me that as history lurches along, revolutions have come closer and closer to actually transferring power from small elites to larger groups of people. So far, the promise of every revolution in human memory has been betrayed, but the end to exploitation of all men and women (not just free white male property owners) was an explicit ideal of the socialist upheavals of the 20th century, and in my mind, that’s progress.

    Did elitism and corruption erode the democratic roots of early post-revolutionary China and Russia because the leadership was Marxist-Leninist? I’m not sure, but it’s a valid and important question. Did the anarchist leadership in Spain “behave differently from any other political party/power elite” when they “joined the government that led to the revolution’s defeat?” Richard can answer this question better than I, but every movement needs leadership, and strategic decisions in wartime are often made without strict adherence to founding principles, sad to say.

    Learning why things went wrong is vitally important for present and future revolutionaries. Coming at it from a Buddhist perspective yields unique insights, and I have been inspired to delve into anarchism by this discussion – I’m reading a history of the subject by Robert Graham currently. I suspect that a political program that makes sense to and captures the imagination of the multitudes in this century will not look exactly like any of those from the last, but I have confidence that it will succeed better.

    At the same time, even though “middle class” Americans are gradually getting a taste of austerity in the last few decades and especially the last few years, we are not Egypt, Greece, or Turkey. There are not hundreds of thousands of people in the streets and general strikes and such. Revolution in the US is not around the corner.

    As an activist with no Party affiliation, I am mainly concerned about building a strong movement for social change that challenges capitalism as the economic basis for every aspect of our lives. I hope that Buddhists of all progressive political persuasions will simply begin to speak out and act up with many other sisters and brothers at work, at home, and in our neighborhoods for social justice and a healthy planet. We’ll have time to figure out the shape of the next revolution as we go.

    Peace (just means peace).

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