Archive for June, 2012

There is a lot of talk about politics and revolution in my neck of the woods these days. The “Maple Spring” seems to still be underway, a little more quiet since most students have gotten jobs for the summer, but people are still fighting for change and trying to make sure that their voices do not disappear. I find it all really interesting, I mean, we have all had this political awakening in our lives, for me it was punk rock and the anti-globalization movement of the early 2000s. Lately I have had more and more discussions about this student uprising, the occupy movement, sovereignty, and even the economic crisis happening in Europe as the Union slowly crumbles as countries are not able to survive in a system that was supposed to only bring prosperity. People seem to be waking up, and getting their political chops if you will; debates flare up in some unlikely places and I must admit that I love to egg people on or just reject anything that is suggested to me (thanks punk rock for making me want to say fuck everything!). I have been told by a lot of people that I am too radical in my views, that I should instead follow certain politicians who are clearly taken advantage of an opportunity to get votes from people who want a victory at any price, that by switching the person in charge all should fall into place.

First of all, why not? Why not demand the impossible? Why do we insist in trying to find solutions in a broken system that is clearly not working and is not planning on being fixed anytime soon. I am sick of the famous, different face same system bullshit, people want revolution than let’s do just that! This is what I am loving about the global insurgence; Occupy might be losing momentum, the “cares rouges” have also, but that does not mean that this is not a good time to start a true revolution, one where each individual can be a part of without necessarily claiming to belong to a certain group or ideology! Let’s take the power away from the few that control the majority, one insurrection that is really inspiring me right now is what is happening with the student movement in Mexico. What is being dubbed as the “Mexican Spring” is a student movement that is not fighting solely tuition hikes like most student movements in the past, they are fighting for achieving media democracy. They are demanding that media be democratized and de-corporatized, their goal is to knock out one of the core pillars, corporate television, that props up the corrupt political class. All these stories and discussions that I have been having have made me reflect on what my political position actually is, if someone were to ask me on the street what my political position was I would answer “-“.

After reflection and a lot of thought, I am a philosophy student by trade so I seriously dig that shit, thinking rules! So my answer would be: Existentialist anarchism with an Individualist anarchism tendency. I am sure some of you might be scratching your heads trying to figure it out, let me show you why this totally screams me! Those of you who know me well, probably already get it, but here is my best attempt to put my politics in a box! I believe that existentialism forms a philosophical ground for anarchism, there is a close like between the existentialists’ stress on the individual, free choice, and more responsibility and the main tenets of anarchism. My main influences, or the people who helped me shape my political vision are Nietzsche, Kafka, and Camus (of course!); I owe these philosophers a great debt of gratitude in helping open my mind and the opportunity to work out different questions that I had swimming around my head.  So let me explain what I find that they all brought to the mess that is my political position. Before we dive into the existentialists, let me briefly explain the Individualist tendency.

Individualist anarchism refers to the tradition of thought within the anarchist movement that emphasizes the individual and his or her will over external determinants such as groups, society, traditions, and ideological systems. It is not a single philosophy but refers to a group of individualistic philosophies that can sometimes come into conflict. They can all pretty much agree that the individual has the right to govern himself, all external government is tyranny. As we can see, existential anarchism is very close to this base, it is logical that I would believe in both these schools of thought.

Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the first philosophers considered fundamental to the existentialist movement, even though the movement only existed after his death, which is also when his works became known. While alive, Nietzsche was frequently associated with anarchist movements and proved influential for many anarchist thinkers, in spite of the fact that in this writings he seems to have a negative view of anarchists. This was the result of a popular association during this period between his ideas and those of Max Stirner (another very well-known anarchist thinker , known for his idea that advocates concrete individual existence, or egoism, against most commonly accepted social institutions—including the notion of State, property as a right, natural rights in general, and the very notion of society—which he considers mere spooks or essences in the mind). Nietzsche’s Übermensch was representative of the freedom of people to define the nature of their own existence, as well as the desire for a new human who was neither master nor slave. Nietzsche idealized individual invents his or her values and creates the very terms under which they excel, all the while taking no regard for God, the State, or the social behaviour of herds. Nietzsche was thus able to show the clear commonality between anarchists and existentialists, and thus his draw from both movements.

Franz Kafka attended meetings of a Czech anarchist, anti-militarist and anti-clerical organization and who ofter cite the influence of anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin during these various meetings. Kafka’s work is most often about surreal and alienated characters who struggle with hopelessness and absurdity, themes that are cornerstones to existentialism, and at the same time presented critiques of the authoritarian family (Metamorphosis) and bureaucracy (The Trial), which he had strong views as institutions. Family life was a battleground, he viewed parents as persecutors, and that all they wanted to do is drag one down to them, back to the old days from which one longs to be become free and escape. This view of the family is said to have been influenced by Otto Gross, and Austrian anarchist and psychoanalyst, who blended Nietzsche and Stirner with Freud in developing his own libertarian form of psychology, one that stated that the human potential was frustrated by the authoritarian family. Kafka would also define capitalism as a bureaucracy as a system of relations of dependence where everything is arranged hierarchically and everything is in chains; in the end the chains of tortured humanity are made of the official papers of ministries.

Camus did reject the term existentialist, but he is considered to be an integral part of the existentialist movement. He concerned his works with facing what he called the absurd and how we should act to rebel against absurdity by living and opening up the road to freedom without transcendent reality. He was associated with the French anarchist movement, he was introduced to the Anarchist Student Circle as a sympathiser familiar with anarachist thought. He wrote for anarchist publications like Le Libertaire, La revolution Proletarienne and Solidaridad Obrera, he also stood with the anarchists when they expressed support for the uprising of the 1953 in East Germany. He would also become allied with the anarchists in 1956, in support of the workers’ uprising in Poland and then a year later with the Hugarian Revolution.

It is clear that the most substantial expression of his existentialist and anarchist positions are in his work The Rebel. For Camus, as for Nietzsche, rebellion should not delve into nihilism, and as Stirner would say, it should be distinct from revolution. It is not a lonely act, and does not destroy human solidarity but affirms the common nature of human beings. The experience of the absurd, that suffering is individual, but when it moves to rebellion, it is aware of being collective. The first step of the individual is to recognize that he or she shares such alienation with all human beings. Rebellion thus takes the individual out of isolation :”I rebel, therefore we exist”. At the end of the book Camus celebrates the anti-authoritarian spirit of history and comes out in favour of anarcho-syndicalism as the only real alternative: “Trade-unionism, like the commune, is the negation, to the benefit of reality, of abstract and bureaucratic centralism.”

I know that it is a lot to chew, but seeing that this notion of the anti-authoritarian struggle has been around for a long time and keep shifting and changing with time; all I know is that thanks to these dudes I have a much more convicted perspective and have taken what they have taught me and I have continued the evolution of these thoughts to help me make sense of this world and to give it some meaning. I still strongly believe that governement is a system of violence and oppression; it insures to oppress women with it suppression of their rights, maintains a systematic racist policy that insures that all minorities are denied their rights, that wages a war on its poor and ensuring that their is no possibility of advancement for them to better their lives, that enforces its imperialist goals abroad with capitalism and war. The list could go on, but I think that I might actually leave the last words to Chumbawamba (yes its the band from the ninetees with “I Get Knocked Down”, but they were actually a cool punk band with good things to say in the eighties…):

“Capitalism and Imperialism are dirty words. So our leaders and their advertising agencies fished around and stole a couple of words from here and there. Words like ‘Freedom’, and ‘Truth’… and thereon used them to describe every aspect of their unfree, dishonest government. The principles which the American state stands for have nothing to do with “freedom and democracy for theirs” – the US system and its European lap-dogs stand for the murder, oppression and exploitation of both its own citizens and people elsewhere.
Don’t forget it.” – Chumbawamba

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Remember where you were the first time that you heard that first punk rock song? The first official punk song that I heard was We’re Only Gonna Die by Bad Religion, I had however  heard many metal covers of punk classics like Last Caress/Green Hell by Metallica. The first song by a punk band though belongs to Bad Religion, and I will always remember where I was and the feeling that came over me. I was at my friend Brandon’s house and he had taken a dub tape from his brother’s room, the sense of urgency just wanted to make me go out there and fuck some shit up! That summer afternoon forever changed me and began the journey that I have been following ever since for truth and change. It got me to thinking, what is the true essence and purpose to this social movement? As we all know, here in North America at least, it has pretty much been co-opted and become just another flavour/option in your closet. We are now caught up in debates over what is “real” punk and whatever commercial radio is telling us what punk is, I’m looking at you the Sum 41’s and Simple Plan’s of the world, so what is this real punk that was so dangerous 35 years ago? This weekend is the 35th anniversary of the Sex Pistols’ arrest because of their attempt of playing their version of God Save The Queen down the Thames river on a boat, it was at this moment that punk rock’s political snarl had never been louder. You will not hear of these types of actions in the US and the UK these days, the birthplace of the punk rock movement, the snarl has become nothing more than a whimper.

Look to Moscow, where three women have been detained and face up to seven years in prison because their band, Pussy Riot, staged an anti-Putin “punk prayer” in a cathedral. Amnesty International now classifies them as prisoners of conscience. Next is Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where six months ago officers hauled more than 60 punk off to re-education camps, sheared off their Mohawks, removed their piercings and forced them to bathe, change clothes and pray. Or Iraq, where human rights groups report that dozens of emo kids, the followers of punk’s tender-hearted offshoot, have been slain by extremists since February, when the government’s interior ministry released a statement equating emo style with devil worship. Burmese punk bands have to practice in secrecy to avoid arrest. Rebel Riot told a German magazine Der Spiegel, “In Burma, punk is not a game.” At the top of Cuba’s dissident music scene, Porno para Ricardo play nose-thumbing punk anthems despite years of police harassment, including lead singer Gorki Aguila’s latest arrest in February. Members of the Iranian punk rock band The Yellow Dogs have recently won asylum after fleeing from Tehran two years again, where playing rock music is punishable by flogging, fines, and jail time.

I am then remembered of the last time that I was down on the Bowery in Lower Manhattan, when I was shocked to see a high-end menswear boutique with 1 000$ jackets hanging against brick walls covered in seditious scrawls and yellowing concert posters.  The bored-looking clerk sitting on a small stage that looks like a replica from a club, but this use to be a club: the former home of CBGB, the club where American punk was born, now a temple for commerce and nostalgic kitsch! A visit at the ancient site will leave most a little depressed. While punk’s heirs around the world continue to defy autocrats, risking their freedom to stand against social injustice and economic polarization, it has been years since British and American punk has had this raw influence. There are still bands out there that sing for change and standing up against the system, but these voices are getting more and more silent in the former scenes. It seems that even the Occupy movement has been co-opted by major label artists trying to make a buck, Miley Cyrus with her Occupy Wall Street flavoured video for “Liberty Walk”, Jay-Z’s Rocawear profited by selling 22$ “Occupy All Streets” T-shirts; which he never donated any profits to the Occupy movement and they called fouled, he did not even blink. What this means is that, if you don’t print your political message on a T-shirt, your message won’t sell. It should be said that the Sex Pistols don’t sell either, not that Universal is not trying when they reissued “God Save the Queen” as a 7-inch to celebrate the anniversary mentioned above and to cash in on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Fans even tried to push it up the charts, which flopped, but the refrain – “No future, no future, no future for you!” – seems relevant as ever thanks to the global economic crisis and widespread unemployment happening in North America and Europe.

Punk today belongs more to Russia and Iraq, Myanmar and Indonesia, than it does to its birthplaces. Like any movement steeped in dissent and nonconformity, punk’s moral force grows with government suppression. As authoritarian regimes crack down on rebel rockers, their efforts to censor subversive voices often backfire by attracting attention from international media and human rights activists. I am sure that you are maybe wondering how can we inject punk with that moral force that we all felt during the first summer of musical discovery?

Living in Montreal, I am feeling some social unrest in my city and feeling like it is reaching a boiling point; and I have no idea how it is going to end honestly. People protesting the F1 Grand Prix for their blatten disregard for human rights, their glorification of the objectification of women, and this being a party for the rich by the rich. People are getting fed up with the further widening of the gap between the rich and poor, and they are starting to stand up to tell us that it will no longer stand. The whole student protest mouvement is much too complicated to briefly mention here, go check it out for yourself on the internet (just don’t trust solely the major media outlets and look around), see what this all about. Briefly, it’s about people entering the work force already drowning in debt and never being able to get out of it. But since the implementation of Law 78, it has become everyone’s fight for human rights and their rights to protest their government, I mean even the UN is saying that it’s not cool and they are keep an eye on the situation. It was even responded by the Education Minister who told the UN to fuck off and that they have other things to worry about like Syria instead, I am curious to see how this is all going to end. This weekend there has been about 30 arrests by day at the Grand Prix celebrations and scenes of blatten police brutality. So what is the state of punk in Montreal?

The Pussy Riot detainees have inspired protests and fundraisers in Berlin, Krakow, London, Melbourne, Prague, San Francisco and beyond. They’ve made headlines around the world. Expected to face a judge on charges of “hooliganism” in the coming weeks, the bandmates will soon be performing on a larger stage than they ever could have imagined. A global audience will be watching their trial. Some of us wish our own countries still made music that could rattle the windows in, say, the White House or on the streets of Montreal. Real punk — cheeky, risk-taking, rude, sloppy punk — belongs to fighters. Let’s hope they remind the rest of us how it’s done. I have always lived my life by asking “What would Joe Strummer do?”, and I think that he would tell me to take to the streets and inject punk with the fight that made it so great!


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