Archive for the ‘Spanish Civil War’ Category

Aren’t naked people something else? I’ll admit I get a hearty chuckle from them. But, no, I’m not thinking of the nudity that comes from sleazy, peeping-tommery, from the sordid dank-alley flasher, from the military monsters of Abu Ghraib. But, instead, I hold in mind honest, wholesome, public nudity, perhaps that streaker at the Queen’s garden party, no doubt a fine sort of chap who’s having a light-hearted bet with his pals one day and is showing off his crown jewels to Her Highness the next. He, I raise a glass to.

Enjoying the Olympics Curling

I’d like to unzip the breeches restraining my thoughts and expose a few naughty anarchist comments to the world, comments on clothes, costumes, uniforms, and the lack of such. Now, I’m certain an army of academics must have studied, analyzed and written on clothing, its role in cultural identity, its conveyance of rank and position, blah, blah. I bet a few curious professors have even been down to the nudie beach for the purpose, sirs and madams, of scientific exploration, you know. But when was the last time you heard an anarchy angle on this?

The nudists are easy to speak about, for they so obviously challenge society’s norms and the authority of the Church whose residual influence still coats our minds. The pre-Christians couldn’t have been as prudish as we. From the appearance of all that ancient art, the Greeks must have needed will-power of a Herculean proportion just to keep their togas on. And in more modern times, some “primitive” peoples hardly thought to wear a stitch at all—well, unless they were cold. Could it be that the more we layer society, the more we stack levels onto levels, growing the ponderous hierarchy, then the more we feel a necessity to add cloth and metal adornments into the mix? Robes, gowns, starched uniforms and polished Oxfords, three-piece suits with neckties, tiaras, medals, rolex watches, cuff links. Can you imagine Christ in a top hat and tails? Has the Pope ever skinny-dipped?

Nudists or naturists certainly have a liberatory spirit, not exactly of an anarchist nature but more in line with modern liberalism, a simple minority that want an additional right. But, nonetheless, they must be admired for their egality, their rejection of propriety, their ballsiness (I couldn’t resist). So, what appearances would the dress in an anarchist society have? I have three thoughts, one that I’ll dismiss right off. First, they wouldn’t wear a uniform like the Black Bloc anarchists. In this case, the uniform is part of the tactic that, I can only hope, is not a communal identity.

Second, the dress might be an assortment of working clothes. Let’s look at Barcelona, Spain in 1936. George Orwell writes in “Homage to Catalonia”, his greatest work:

The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing… Except for a small number of women and foreigners there were no ‘well-dressed’ people at all. Practically everyone wore rough working-class clothes, or blue overalls, or some variant of the militia uniform. All this was queer and moving. (Chapter 1)

It appears the attire, at least in a transitionary period, would be very workman-like. None would want to come across as the sort of individual who puts on airs. And even the fighting forces would be imbibed with this sense of (clothing) equality:

Everyone from general to private drew the same pay, ate the same food, wore the same clothes, and mingled on terms of complete equality. If you wanted to slap the general commanding the division on the back and ask him for a cigarette, you could do so, and no one thought it curious. In theory at any rate each militia was a democracy and not a hierarchy. (Chapter 5)

Third, I’ve argued before that a good example of modern anarchism at work is the free software movement (I even wrote a fairly lengthy and, I was told, lively essay on the subject.) What is the stereotypical dress of computer geeks? We might think of ill-fitting jeans and Star Trek t-shirts. But to be fair, the dress is more complex as described in the Jargon File: tie-dye shirts, hiking boots, khakis, and “a very low tolerance of suits and other ‘business’ attire.” Simply put: wear what you will.

The wear-what-you-will freedom unfortunately vanished in Catalonia just a few months after Orwell’s initial observations as hierarchy reasserted itself :

The militia uniform and the blue overalls had almost disappeared… [T]here was a definite social difference, expressed by the difference of pay and uniform. The men wore a kind of coarse brown overalls, the officers wore an elegant khaki uniform with a tight waist, like a British Army officer’s uniform… (Chapter 9)

And the revolution was over.

Clothes don’t make the person; they make the society with all its stratification, coercion and domination. Emperors need clothes. None would take orders from a man in a loincloth or less.

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Incredibly, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had a news story on Who are the Anarchists Thursday where several anarchists, including a “soccer dad” and “a midwife and a mother,” actually had a voice in front of a camera on national television. Something very significant is happening in the consciousness of society when a news story –even one of just six minutes –can appear in the mainstream media portraying this political philosophy in a favourable light. But this was before Saturday’s vandalism by the Black Bloc in protest of the G8/G20 summits in Toronto.

The media continue on their natural course of representing the positions of police chiefs, security experts, business owners, and the Prime Minister. Consequently, the Black Bloc are simple “thugs” and “criminals,” and their behaviour is violent. “Violent” is curious word considering the Black Bloc didn’t actually hurt anyone. Are the media and the PM confusing vandalism with violence?

But now a more serious question needs to be asked: have the Black Bloc been counter-productive? The average Joes and Janes, moms and dads, are not so receptive to unruly behaviour. And they are correct to be disturbed by it. Therefore it appears that the Black Bloc are, indeed, counter-productive; I won’t lose sleep over a couple burnt police cars and smashed bank windows, but you have to consider and respect your audience, the Canadian public in this case.

Having said that, however, consider one favourable outcome of the last day.

I’ve heard the word “anarchism” used on the TV more in the last 10 hours than I have in years. That’s good. Youngsters across Canada will be tapping it into Wikipedia just to see, like, what is it anyways? And what they’ll discover is that it is a legitimate political position with hundreds of years of history. They might also discover:

  • how the father of modern anarchism, Godwin, was supportive of his pioneering feminist wife, Wollstonecraft, in the late 1700’s.
  • that the Spanish anarchists were the first Europeans to fight Fascism when England, France, and the US were (in)directly supporting Hitler, Franco and Mussolini.
  • that anarchist, Bookchin, was warning us about global warming in the mid sixties.

So perhaps something good will come out of the headlines after all.

Anarchism will never be discussed in the mainstream because its core tenet that authority should be rejected is so completely at odds with every mechanism that puts men and women into power and positions of influence. Anarchism shouts out, “The emperor has no clothes!”, and then proceeds to stick a boot up his bare arse.  Naturally such an attitude is intolerable anywhere that centralized power exists –boardrooms, government bureaus, school boards, editors’ offices, places of worship, and even most employee unions.

Death of a Loyalist Soldier

It is said that anarchism has a violent past. This is quite true –most of it in self defence. In 1936, when the fascists Mussolini, Hitler and Franco were bullying their way around Africa and Europe, more than a million Spanish anarchists galvanized in resistance. Faced with the onslaught of these three dictators, with the purposeful non-support from Britain, France and the US, and with attacks by their “allies”, Stalinist Spaniards, the anarchists were rapidly crushed. We might think that their valour would be hailed across the lands, heroic songs penned for them, movies made, classrooms swelling with their stories: the first Europeans to stand up to fascism! But, alas, they are forgotten.

George Orwell fought the fascists in Spain and, although no anarchist himself, greatly admired them. His famous quote is a vital lesson to us: ‘Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.’ What does the present dictate to us?