Adil Hossain for BeyondHeadlines
When Arnab Goswami quotes Webster’s dictionary to define ‘anarchism’ in Times Now in a TV debate with former journalist Ashutosh (representing AAP) you know that now it’s not just a word anymore, but something ‘that nation wants to know’. It all started with Delhi’s democratically elected Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s proud declaration that he is an anarchist and desires to spread anarchy in the Home Minister’s office if the later doesn’t punish police officers accused of dereliction of duty. It is at his behest that today anarchism has entered in the public discourse like never before. It is very much apparent that media and most people constantly using the word ‘anarchism’ in a negative sense, akin to disorder in polity, volatility in political situation. It is indeed unfortunate that Mr. Goswami, a former social anthropology student himself also parroted the same notions.
So is Kejriwal an anarchist as he had declared himself during the recent Railbhavan demonstration? The answer is both yes and no. I am quite tempted to explore this question because I was myself taught by David Graeber, one of the leading voice of anarchism in the world today just a year ago. Terming himself as an anarchist anthropologist, in a tête-à-tête with me he said,
Most people don’t think that anarchism is a bad idea, they think it’s insane. Everybody thinks it’s Utopian to have no police, no law and let society run on democratic cooperation. As I told you, my father fought in the Spanish civil war and he was posted in Barcelona as an ambulance driver. At that time, the city was run for a long time on anarchist principles with no government at all. So in spite of the international propaganda against anarchists, he knew that the system could actually work.
So according to him, anarchism is not about disorder but very much about order itself. Probably the association of anarchists in the world war first has made us believe that anarchists are nihilist lumpens hell-bent on causing chaos, destruction and violence. But many anarchists like Graeber persists that such belief is far from the truth. Probably they would have wished Arnab Goswami to quote Encyclopaedia Brittanica rather than Webster’s dictionary where celebrated anarchist Peter Kroptokin defines ‘anarchy’ as,
The name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government—harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being.
So if you stand in the queue and get your railway ticket without pushing around people, you are acting as an anarchist. Or if you are a part of a society or club or any other voluntary group where decisions are not being imposed by a leader but taken on the basis of general consent, then you are part of an anarchist organisation. Yes pinch yourself! There are two elementary assumptions in anarchist ideology. The first is that human beings are, under ordinary circumstances, decent and reasonable entity capable of organising themselves without needing to be told how. And second that power corrupts and people with power will eventually abuse their authority so organisations like state, military, corporates and all creates a vicious circle of power itself to maintain their authority.
So if one judges Kejriwal’s recent actions considering these conceptions I believe that he is far from being an anarchist. The premises of the protest were very much about recognising the authority and its power over the police force in New Delhi. Kejriwal called himself anarchist by equating it with disorder. No doubt that going by this thought, he is very right that poor face anarchy everyday. But probably real anarchists won’t be happy with such mainstreaming of the very idea they hold dear.
But Kejriwal is also an anarchist on some other parameters. If we listen to his views on power and position, he seems to be a believer of anarchist critique of today’s society like many. In most of his election speeches, he stressed that power indeed corrupts people. He contended that most politicians are selfish, greedy who don’t really care about public interest. He also thinks like many anarchists who believe that our present economic system is more likely to reward people for selfish and unscrupulous behavior than for being decent, caring human beings. The only difference that Kejriwal and anarchists have is on their political outlook. One argues that for course correction we need to enter the system and others believe that the solution lies in outright rejection of the system itself.
Kejriwal episode provided us with a great opportunity to discuss various anarchist movements in the world (e.g. Occupy Wall Street movement) and the merits and demerits of the present political discourse in our country. Instead it focused on the action of the one man and media blitzkrieg continued unabated without locating the criticisms on real theories. Probably nation should know now why our TV debates becoming so shallow every other day.