As Ruth Kinna reminded us lately in issue 11 of Dope magazine, John Lydon of the Sex Pistols has openly confessed that he was never an anarchist. And nobody anywhere was actually surprised. Anarchy — like sex, revolution and rock ‘n’ roll — sells. The Malcolm McLaren Money Machine had very little to do with anarchy, but punk’s DIY ethos certainly did. DIY is perfectly illustrated by the famous Tony Moon illustration created (just to fill space) for the punk zine Sideburn (often wrongly attributed to the more famous Sniffin’ Glue), which features guitar Tab sketches for A, E and G chords and reads:
“This is a chord. This is another. This is a third. NOW FORM A BAND.”
Despite what authoritarian propaganda and fake rebels like Lydon would have you believe, anarchy is the most creative of all political philosophies. Even those anarchists who really do “wanna destroy”, as butter-selling Johnny Boy liked to sing, are only interested in destroying the current socioeconomic system so that human beings can reach their full, innate, creative potential. The hackneyed image of the bomb-toting anarchist is not only a century out of date, but was largely a construction of authoritarians. Yes, some 19th Century anarchists advocated ‘propaganda by the deed’, but so did the suffragettes and many other darlings of the revisionist liberal left. The bomb, so undemocratic by its very nature, is much more likely to be wielded by authoritarians; not least of all by the authoritarians who are actually in power. There is hardly a day that goes by that the dominant Western states aren’t bombing somebody.
The most famous quote regarding anarchism and destruction is Buenaventura Durruti’s statement that “We are not in the least afraid of ruins.” But this is itself a celebration of creativity. Taken in its original context it reads:
“It is we who built these palaces and cities, here in Spain and America and everywhere. We, the workers. We can build others to take their place. And better ones. We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing in this minute.”
The great trick of capitalism is that it has convinced us that we — the builders of the world! — somehow need them — the parasitic greedheads! — in order to survive. Through rule of force (and blunt conditioning during your formative years) they convince you to exchange your creativity and time (the two most precious things that you possess) for survival tokens (money), which they promptly take back from you using a myriad of scams. Not only is it a confidence trick, but it is a trick which intentionally saps confidence. The greatest obstacle to autonomy is a lack of faith in our own abilities. A faith which is further undermined by the paternalism of the authoritarian left and the class war waged by the authoritarian right. Who in their right mind would overthrow a system while they still believed that that system played an instrumental part in their very survival?
This is why the punk DIY ethic is so important to anarchy. Yes, it is anti-consumerist, but it is also pro-confidence. I used to be involved with a food-focused guerrilla gardening project called Doncaster Urban Growers (DUG). One of our members used to say that gardening is a gateway drug, once you start growing your own food you begin to realise how many of life’s essentials can actually be undertaken in a DIY fashion. The more you can do for yourself, the less power others hold over you. Especially the powers wielded by capitalism. The more self-reliant you become, the less potent the threats of a system which says: “Do as we demand, or do without.” I may never own (nor wish to own) a Maserati , but I grow the tastiest (OK, possibly the only…) yacons in South Yorkshire.
Another important lesson which is learned quite quickly, is that, despite the thrill of newfound independence, you cannot do everything on your own. And nor would you want to. Take it from someone who has done both, the only thing better than growing and eating your own tomatoes is collectively growing and communally eating our own tomatoes. From growing food to hacking tech, I love to do as much as I can for myself. Every act of independence is a ‘fuck you’ to capitalism and the state. But it takes time and effort to do things well, and the beauty of diversity is that some people excel at certain things more than others. The simple and unquestionable truth that individualists and the right choose to ignore is that independence has to be a collective endeavour. It takes a village to build autonomy.
The power of punk isn’t to be found in it’s (often quite naff…) music, it is found in the community which was built around that music. The punk zine, cheaply produced and often acquired for the donation of a few stamps, connected people to the scene even if they were living in a small village miles away from the live gigs and squats. This created a sense of belonging and unity, even if you remained physically alienated. This is also why the 90s/00s anarchist eco publication SchNEWS (who’s double-sided, A4 design could be downloaded and cheaply printed by practically anyone) was a much more efficient and powerful tool than (the highly centrist) Extinction Rebellion’s Hourglass; despite the fact that advances in technology should now make it easier to create a higher-quality, decentralised, autonomous media network (but that’s another article in itself).
The right, of course, have their own tricks to create a sense of unity. Nationhood and patriotism are a strange and powerful glue (so powerful that every land has adopted the same (rather ridiculous) trappings of flags, anthems and national dress to reinforce a shared identity. But the fairytales of nationalism are negative in their construction, creating a false sense of ‘them and us’ to distract from the true nature of our oppression. A sleight of hand which the bigots and greedheads are all too happy to use to their own ends. Despite creating a global economic system, the dominant powers loathe and fear true internationalism. They need us to fear, envy and hate people from other lands so that we will happily compete with them for exploitative work, and go to war with them if a situation proves unprofitable for the greedheads. War itself, of course, is a very profitable game.
A truly autonomous people have little need for conflict (except maybe to defend their autonomy). As the history of colonialism shows, land-grabs and looting are the product of greed, not scarcity. A very important lesson which the DIY ethic teaches us is that this is a world of abundance, and that scarcity is a deliberately manufactured situation. When people begin to do things for themselves they are often struck by the same observations… pride and satisfaction in the fact that “I/we did that.”; realisation that the product of their own creativity is often of better (or at least more interesting…) quality than that which is produced through capitalism: “I’ll never go back to supermarket tomatoes.”; and, despite the inevitable ups and downs of any creative process, the inevitable “Well that was easier than I thought.”
Conversely, while teaching you that things are not as complicated (or beyond your grasp) as the capitalists and bureaucrats would have you believe, you are also made aware of how much time and energy goes into the things which you take for granted. Not the time and energy of the corporate parasites, but the time and energy of everyday people around the world who are in exactly the same boat you are. So DIY also gives you respect for the millions of kin who collectively put food on your table, clothes on your back and culture in your brain. In terms of culture, anarchy is the only political philosophy which isn’t seeking to offer a one-size-fits-all solution to the world’s ills. The central tenets of anarchy have existed in every culture throughout history. Anarchy does not seek uniformity or absolutes, it recognises strength in diversity. The cultural gene pool is like any other, it needs diversity to survive.
Over eighty years have passed since the death of Buenaventura Durruti, and the bourgeoisie are still “blasting and ruining their own world”. Sadly it is our world too, and as they “exit history” they seem all too happy to take life as we know it with them. As in Duritti’s time, the crisis of capital has seen a swing towards fascism. Then as now, global reactionary forces conspired to crush anything which threatened power and the status quo. Only then, the working class were better organised and the people of Spain had far greater confidence in their ability to self-organise. But this confidence didn’t come out of nowhere. There had been over fifty years of free schools, social centres, syndicalist unions and other counter-capitalist endeavours. Aka, fifty years of DIY culture.
We may not have fifty years, but technological advances have allowed us to communicate and disseminate skills and knowledge faster than ever. The technologies of the Fab Lab and techniques such as permaculture and hydroponics also allow us to set up relatively cheap and highly autonomous production methods for all our needs. So let’s build DIY anarchy at every level in every land. As individuals, as communities, as countries. From food to shelter, clothing to culture, let us satisfy our needs and our desires outside of their crumbling system. Build resilience in your community while linking up with communities around the world. Build a network of mutual aid, solidarity and autonomy. The worst that can happen is that we seed skills which will become essential if the worse happens. The best that can happen is that we realise the world that we carry in our hearts.