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By Errico Malatesta
Anarchy is a word that comes from the Greek, and signifies, strictly speaking, "without government": the state of a people without any constituted authority.
Before such an organization had begun to be considered possible and desirable by a whole class of thinkers, so as to be taken as the aim of a movement (which has now become one of the most important factors in modern social warfare), the word "anarchy" was used universally in the sense of disorder and confusion, and it is still adopted in that sense by the ignorant and by adversaries interested in distorting the truth.
We shall not enter into philological discussions, for the question is not philological but historical. The common interpretation of the word does not misconceive its true etymological signification, but is derived from it, owing to the prejudice that government must be a necessity of the organization of social life, and that consequently a society without government must be given up to disorder, and oscillate between the unbridled dominion of some and the blind vengeance of others.
The existence of this prejudice and its influence on the meaning that the public has given to the word is easily explained.
Man, like all living beings, adapts himself to the conditions in which he lives, and transmits by inheritance his acquired habits. Thus, being born and having lived in bondage, being the descendant of a long line of slaves, man, when he began to think, believed that slavery was an essential condition of life, and liberty seemed to him impossible. In like manner, the workman, forced for centuries to depend upon the goodwill of his employer for work, that is, for bread, and accustomed to see his own life at the disposal of those who possess the land and capital, has ended in believing that it is his master who gives him food, and asks ingenuously how it would be possible to live, if there were no master over him?
In the same way, a man whose limbs had been bound from birth, but who had neverless found out how to hobble about, might attribute to the very bands that bound him his ability to move, while, on the contrary, they would diminish and paralyze the muscular energy of his limbs.
If then we add to the natural effect of habit the education given to him by his master, the parson, the teacher, etc., who are all interested in teaching that the employer and the government are necessary, if we add the judge and the policeman to force those who think differently -- and might try to propagate their opinion -- to keep silence, we shall understand how the prejudice as to the utility and necessity of masters and governments has become established. Suppose a doctor brought forward a complete theory, with a thousand ably invented illustrations, to persuade the man with bound limbs that, if his limbs were freed, he could not walk, or even live. The man would defend his bands furiously and consider anyone his enemy who tried to tear them off.
Thus, if it is believed that government is necessary and that without government there must be disorder and confusion, it is natural and logical to suppose that anarchy, which signifies absence of government, must also mean absence of order.
Nor is this fact without parallel in the history of words. In those epochs and countries where people have considered government by one man (monarchy) necessary, the word "republic" (that is, the government of many) has been used precisely like "anarchy," to imply disorder and confusion. Traces of this meaning of the word are still to be found in the popular languages of almost all countries.
When this opinion is changed, and the public are convinced that government is not necessary, but extremely harmful, the word "anarchy," precisely because it signifies "without government," will become equal to saying "natural order, harmony of needs and interests of all, complete liberty with complete solidarity."
Therefore, those are wrong who say that anarchists have chosen their name badly, because it is erroneously understood by the masses and leads to a false interpretation. The error does not come from the word, but from the thing. The difficulty which anarchists meet in spreading their views does not depend upon the name they have given themselves, but upon the fact that their conceptions strike as all the inveterate prejudices which people have about the function of government, or "the state," as it is called.
Before proceeding further, it will be well to explain this last word (the "State") which, in our opinion, is the real cause of much misunderstanding.
Anarchists generally make use if the word "State" to mean all the collection of institutions, political, legislative, judicial, military, financial, etc., by means of which management of their own affairs, the guidance of their personal conduct, and the care of ensuring their own safety are taken from the people and confided to certain individuals, and these, whether by usurpation or delegation, are invested with the right to make laws over and for all, and to constrain the public to respect them, making use of the collective force of the community to this end.
In this case the word "State" means "government," or, if you like, it is the abstract expression of which government is the personification. Then such expressions as "Abolition of the State," or "Society without the State," agree perfectly with the conception which anarchists wish to express of the destruction of every political institution based on authority, and of the constitution of a free and equal society, based upon harmony of interests, and the voluntary contribution of all to the satisfaction of social needs.
However, the word "State" has many other meanings, and among these some that lend themselves to misconstruction, particularly when used among men whose sad social position has not afforded them leisure to become accustomed to the subtle distinction of scientific language, or, still worse, when adopted treacherously by adversaries, who are interested in confounding the sense, or do not wish to comprehend it. Thus the word "State" is often used to indicate any given society, or collection of human beings, united on a given territory and constituting what is called a "social unit," independently of the way in which the members of the said body are grouped, or of the relations existing between them. "State" is used also simply as a synonym for "society." Owning to these meanings of the word, our adversaries believe, or rather profess to believe, that anarchists wish to abolish every social relation and all collective work, and to reduce man to a condition of isolation, that is, to a state worse than savagery.
By "State" again is meant only the supreme administration of a country, the central power, as distinct from provincial or communal power, and therefore others think that anarchists wish merely for a territorial decentralization, leaving the principle of government intact, and thus confounding anarchy with cantonical or communal government.
Finally, "State" signifies "condition, mode of living, the order of social life," etc., and therefore we say, for example, that it is necessary to change the economic state of the working classes, or that the anarchical State is the only State founded on the principles of solidarity, and other similar phrases. So that if we say also in another sense that we wish to abolish the State, we may at once appear absurd or contradictory.
For these reasons, we believe that it would be better to use the expression "abolition of the State" as little as possible, and to substitute for it another, clearer, and more concrete --"abolition of government."
The latter will be the expression used in the course of this essay.
We have said that anarchy is society without government. But is the suppression of government possible, desirable, or wise? Let us see.
What is the government? There is a disease of the human mind, called the metaphysical tendency, that causes man, after he has by a logical process abstracted the quality from an object, to be subject to a kind of hallucination that makes him take the abstraction for the real thing. This metaphysical tendency, in spite of the blows of positive science, has still strong root in the minds of the majority of our contemporary fellowmen. It has such influence that many consider government an actual entity, with certain given attributes of reason, justice, equity, independent of the people who compose the government.
For those who think in this way, government, or the State, is the abstract social power, and it represents, always in the abstract, the general interest. It is the expression of the rights of all and is considered as limited by the rights of each. This way of understanding government is supported by those interested, to whom it is an urgent necessity that the principle of authority should be maintained and should always survive the faults and errors of the persons who exercise power.
For us, the government is the aggregate of the governors, and the governors -- kings, presidents, ministers, members of parliament, and what not -- are those who have the power to make laws regulating the relations between men, and to force obedience to these laws. They are those who decide upon and claim the taxes, enforce military service, judge and punish transgressors of the laws. They subject men to regulations, and supervise and sanction private contracts. They monopolize certain branches of production and public services, or, if they wish, all production and public service. They promote or hinder the exchange of goods. They make war or peace with governments of other countries. They concede or withhold free trade and many things else. In short, the governors are those who have the power, in a greater or lesser degree, to make use of the collective force of society, that is, of the physical, intellectual, and economic force of all, to oblige each to their (the governors') wish. And this power constitutes, in our opinion, the very principle of government and authority.
But what reason is there for the existence of government?
Why abdicate one's own liberty, one's own initiative in favor of other individuals? Why give them the power to be the masters, with or against the wish of each, to dispose of the forces of all in their own way? Are the governors such exceptionally gifted men as to enable them, with some show of reason, to represent the masses and act in the interests of all men better than all men would be able to act for themselves? Are they so infallible and incorruptible that one can confide to them, with any semblance of prudence, the fate of each and all, trusting to their knowledge and goodness?
And even if there existed men of infinite goodness and knowledge, even if we assume what has never happened in history and what we believe could never happen, namely, that the government might devolve upon the ablest and best, would the possession of government power add anything to their beneficent influence? Would it not rather paralyze or destroy it? For those who govern find it necessary to occupy themselves with things which they do not understand, and, above all, to waste the greater part of their energy in keeping themselves in power, striving to satisfy their friends, holding the discontented in check, and mastering the rebellious.
Again, be the governors good or bad, wise or ignorant, how do they gain power? Do they impose themselves by right of war, conquest, or revolution? If so, what guarantees have the public that their rules have the general good at heart? In this case it is simply a question of usurpation, and if the subjects are discontented, nothing is left to them but to throw off the yoke by an appeal to arms. Are the governors chosen from a certain class or party? Then inevitably the ideas and interests of that class or party will triumph, and the wishes and interests of the others will be sacrificed. Are they elected by universal suffrage? Now numbers are the sole criteria, and numbers are clearly no proof of reason, justice, or capacity. Under universal suffrage the elected are those who know best how to take in the masses. The minority, which may happen to be the half minus one, is sacrificed. Moreover, experience has shown it is impossible to hit upon an electoral system that really ensures election by the actual majority.
Many and various are the theories by which men have sought to justify the existence of government. All, however, are founded, confessedly or not, on the assumption that the individuals of a society have contrary interests, and that an external superior power is necessary to oblige some to respect the interests of others, by prescribing and imposing a rule of conduct, according to which each may obtain the maximum of satisfaction with the minimum of sacrifice. If, say the theorists of the authoritarian school, the interests, tendencies, and desires of an individual are in opposition to those of another individual, or perhaps all society, who will have the right and the power to oblige the one to respect the interests of the other or others? Who will be able to prevent the individual citizen from offending the general will? The liberty of each, they say, has for its limit the liberty of others: but who will establish those limits, and who will cause them to be respected? The natural antagonism of interests and passions creates the necessity for government, and justifies authority. Authority intervenes as moderator of the social strife and defines the limits of the rights and duties of each.
This is the theory; but to be sound the theory should be based upon an explanation of facts. We know well how in social economy theories are too often invented to justify facts, that is, to defend privilege and cause it to be accepted tranquilly by those who are its victims. Let us here look at the facts themselves.
In all the course of history, as in the present epoch, government is either brutal, violent, arbitrary domination of the few over the many, or it is an instrument devised to secure domination and privilege to those who, by force, or cunning, or inheritance, have taken to themselves all the means of life, first and foremost the soil, whereby they hold the people in servitude, making them work for their advantage.
Governments oppress mankind in two ways, either directly, by brute force, that is physical violence, or indirectly, by depriving them of the means of subsistence and thus reducing them to helplessness. Political power originated in the first method; economic privilege arose from the second. Governments can also oppress man by acting on his emotional nature, and in this way constitute religious authority. There is no reason for the propagation of religious superstitions but that they defend and consolidate political and economic privileges.
In primitive society, when the world was not so densely populated as now and social relations were less complicated, if any circumstance prevented the formation of habits and customs of solidarity, or destroyed those which already existed and established the domination of man over man, the two powers, political and economic, were united in the same hands -- often in those of a single individual. Those who by force had conquered and impoverished the others, constrained them to become their servants and to perform all things according to their caprice. The victors were at once proprietors, legislators, kings, judges, and executioners.
But with the increase of population, with the growth of needs, with the complication of social relationships, the prolonged continuance of such despotism became impossible. For their own security the rulers, often much against their will, were obliged to depend upon a privileged class, that is, a certain number of cointerested individuals, and were also obliged to let each of these individuals provide for his own sustenance. Nevertheless they reserved to themselves the supreme or ultimate control. In other words, the rulers reserved to themselves the right to exploit all at their own convenience, and so to satisfy their kingly vanity. Thus private wealth was developed under the shadow of the ruling power, for its protection and -- often unconsciously -- as its accomplice. The class of proprietors arose, and, concentrated little by little into their hands all the means of production, the very fountain of life -- agriculture, industry, and exchange -- ended by becoming a power in themselves. This power, by the superiority of its means of action and the great mass of interests it embraces, always ends by subjugating more or less openly the political power, that is, the government, which it makes its policeman.
This phenomenon has been repeated often in history. Every time that, by military enterprise, physical brute force has taken the upper hand in society, the conquerors have shown the tendency to concentrate government and property in their own hands. In every case, however, because the government cannot attend to the production of wealth and overlook and direct everything, it finds it necessary to conciliate a powerful class, and private property is again established. With it comes the division of the two sorts of society, and that of the persons who control the collective force of society, and that of the proprietors, upon whom these governors become essentially dependent, because the proprietors command the sources of the said collective force.
Never has this state of affairs been so accentuated as in modern times. The development of production, the immense extension of commerce, the extensive power that money has acquired, and all the economic results flowing from the discovery of America, the invention of machinery, etc., have secured the supremacy to the capitalist class that it is no longer content to trust to the support of the government and has come to wish that the government composed of members from its own class, continually under its control and specially organized to defend it against the possible revenge of the disinherited. Hence the origin of the modern parliamentary system.
Today the government is composed of proprietors, or people of their class so entirely under their influence that the richest do not find it necessary to take an active part themselves. Rothschild, for instance, does not need to be either M.P. or minister, it is enough for him to keep M.P.'s and ministers dependent upon him.
In many countries, the proletariat participates nominally in the election of the government. This is a concession which the bourgeois (i.e., proprietory) class have made, either to avail themselves of popular support in the strife against royal or aristocratic power, or to divert the attention of the people from their own emancipation by giving them an apparent share in political power. However, whether the bourgeoisie foresaw it or not, when first they conceded to the people the right to vote, the fact is that the right has proved in reality a mockery, serving only to consolidate the power of the bourgeoisie, while giving to the most energetic only of the proletariat the illusory hope of arriving at power.
So also with universal suffrage -- we might say, especially with universal suffrage -- the government has remained the servant and police of the bourgeois class. How could it be otherwise? If the government should reach the point of becoming hostile, if the hope of democracy should ever be more than a delusion deceiving the people, the proprietory class, menaced in its interests would at once rebel and would use all the force and influence that come from the possession of wealth, to reduce the government to the simple function of acting as policeman.
In all times and in all places, whatever may be the name of that the government takes, whatever has been its origin, or its organization, its essential function is always that of oppressing and exploiting the masses, and of defending the oppressors and exploiters. Its principal characteristic and indispensable instruments are the policeman and the tax collector, the soldier and the prison. And to these are necessarily added the time serving priest or teacher, as the case may be, supported and protected by the government, to render the spirit of the people servile and make them docile under the yoke.
Certainly, in addition to this primary business, to this essential department of governmental action other departments have been added in the course of time. We even admit that never, or hardly ever, has a government been able to exist in a country that was civilized without adding to its oppressing and exploiting functions others useful and indispensable to social life. But this fact makes it nonetheless true that government is in its nature a means of exploitation, and that its position doom it to be the defense of a dominant class, thus confirming and increasing the evils of domination.
The government assumes the business of protecting, more or less vigilantly, the life of citizens against direct or brutal attacks; acknowledges and legalizes a certain number of rights and primitive usages and customs, without which it is impossible to live in society. It organizes and directs certain public services, such as the post, preservation of the public health, benevolent institutions, workhouses, etc., and poses as the protector and benefactor of the poor and weak. But to prove our point it is sufficient to notice how and why it fulfills these functions. The fact is that everything the government undertakes is always inspired with the spirit of domination and intended to defend, enlarge, and perpetuate the privileges of property and of those classes of which the government is representative and defender.
A government cannot rule for any length of time without hiding its true nature behind the pretense of general utility. It cannot respect the lives of the privileged without assuming the air of wishing to respect the lives of all. It cannot cause the privileges of some to be tolerated without appearing as the custodian of the rights of everyone. "The law" (and, of course, those who have made the law, i.e., the government) "has utilized," says Kropotkin, "the social sentiments of man, working into them those precepts of morality, which man has accepted, together with arrangements useful to the minority -- the exploiters -- and opposed to the interests of those who might have rebelled, had it not been for this show of a moral ground."
A government cannot wish the destruction of the community, for then it and the dominant class could not claim their wealth from exploitation; nor could the government leave the community to manage its own affairs, for then the people would soon discover that it (the government) was necessary for no other end than to defend the proprietory class who impoverish them, and would hasten to rid themselves of both government and proprietory class.
Today, in the face of the persistent and menacing demands of the proletariat, governments show a tendency to interfere in the relations between employers and work people. Thus they try to arrest the labor movement and to impede with delusive reforms the attempts of the poor to take to themselves what is due to them, namely, an equal share of the good things of life that others enjoy.
We must also remember that on one hand the bourgeoisie, that is, the proprietory class, make war among themselves and destroy one another continually, and that, on the other hand, the government, although composed of the bourgeoisie and, acting as their servants and protector, is still, like every servant or protector, continually striving to emancipate itself and to domineer over its charge. Thus, this seesaw game, this swaying between conceding and withdrawing, this seeking allies among the people and against the classes, and among classes against the masses, forms the science of the governors and blinds the ingenuous and phlegmatic, who are always expecting that salvation is coming to them from on high.
With all this, the government does not change its nature. If it acts as regulator or guarantor of the rights and duties of each, it perverts the sentiments of justice. It justifies wrong and punishes every act that offends or menaces the privileges of the governors and proprietors. It declares just and legal the most atrocious exploitation of the miserable, which means a slow and continuous material and moral murder, perpetrated by those who have on those who have not. Again, if it administers public services, it always considers the interests of the governors and proprietors, not occupying itself with the interests of the working masses, except insofar as is necessary to make the masses willing to endure their share of taxation. If it instructs, it fetters and curtails the truth, and tends to prepare the minds and hearts of the young to become either implacable tyrants or docile slaves, according to the class to which they belong. In the hands of the government everything becomes a means of exploitation, everything serves as a police measure, useful to hold the people in check. And it must be thus. If the life of mankind consists in strife between man and man, naturally there must be conquerors and conquered, and the government, which is the means of securing to the victors the results of their victory and perpetuating those results, will certainly never fall to those who have lost, whether the battle be on the grounds of physical or intellectual strength, or in the field of economics. And those who have fought to secure to themselves better conditions than others can have, to win privilege and add domination to power, and have attained the victory, will certainly not use it to defend the rights of the vanquished, and to place limits to their own power and to that of their friends and partisans.
The government -- or the State, if you will -- as judge, moderator of social strife, impartial administrator of the public interests, is a lie, an illusion, a Utopia, never realized and never realizable. If, in fact, the interests of men must always be contrary to one another, if, indeed, the strife between mankind has made laws necessary to human society, and the liberty of the individual must be limited by the liberty of other individuals, then each one would always seek to make his interests triumph over those of others. Each would strive to enlarge his own liberty at the cost of the liberty of others, and there would be government. Not simply because it was more or less useful to the totality of the members of society to have a government, but because the conquerors would wish to secure themselves the fruits of victory. They would wish effectually to subject the vanquished and relieve themselves of the trouble of being always on the defensive, and they would appoint men, specially adapted to the business, to act as police. Were this indeed actually the case, then humanity would be destined to perish amid periodical contests between the tyranny of the dominators and the rebellion of the conquered.
But fortunately the future of humanity is a happier one, because the law that governs it is milder.
Thus, in the contest of centuries between liberty and authority, or, in other words, between social equality and social castes, the question at issue has not really been the relations between society and the individual, or the increase of individual independence at the cost of social control, or vice versa. Rather it has had to do with preventing any one individual from oppressing the others; with giving to everyone the same rights and the same means of action. It has had to do with substituting the initiative of all, which must naturally result in the advantage of all, for the initiative of the few, which necessarily results in the suppression of all the others. It is always, in short, the question of putting an end to the domination and exploitation of man by man in such a way that all are interested in the common welfare, and that the individual force of each, instead of oppressing, combating, or suppressing others, will find the possibility of complete development, and everyone will seek to associate with others for the greater advantage of all.
From what we have said, it follows that the existence of a government, even upon the hypothesis that the ideal government of authoritarian socialists were possible, far from producing an increase of productive force, would immensely diminish it, because the government would restrict initiative to the few. It would give these few the right to do all things, without being able, of course, to endow them with the knowledge or understanding of all things.
In fact, if you divest legislation and all the operations of government of what is intended to protect the privileged, and what represents the wishes of the privileged classes alone, nothing remains but the aggregate of individual governors. "The State," says Sismondi, "is always a conservative power which authorizes, regulates, and organizes the conquests of progress (and history testifies that it applies them to the profit of its own and the other privileged classes) but never does it inaugurate them. New ideas always originate from beneath, are conceived in the foundations of society, and then, when divulged, they become opinion and grow. But they must always meet on their path, and combat the constituted powers of tradition, custom, privilege and error."
In order to understand how society could exist without a government, it is sufficient to turn our attention for a short space to what actually goes on in our present society. We shall see that in reality the most important functions are fulfilled even nowadays outside the intervention of government. Also that government only interferes to exploit the masses, or defend the privileged, or, lastly, to sanction, most unnecessarily, all that has been done without its aid, often in spite of and opposition to it. Men work, exchange, study, travel, follow as they choose the current rules of morality or hygiene; they profit by the progress of science and art, have numberless mutual interests without ever feeling the need of ant one to direct them how to conduct themselves in regard to these matters. On the contrary, it is just those things in which no governmental interference that prosper best and give rise to the least contention, being unconsciously adapted to the wish of all in the way found most useful and agreeable.
Nor is government more necessary for large undertakings, or for those public services which require the constant cooperation of many people of different conditions and countries. Thousands of these undertakings are even now the work of voluntarily formed associations. And these are, by the acknowledgment of everyone, the undertakings that succeed the best. We do not refer to the associations of capitalists, organized by means of exploitation, although even they show capabilities and powers of free association, which may extended until it embraces all the people of all lands and includes the widest and most varying interests. We speak rather of those associations inspired by the love of humanity, or by the passion for knowledge, or even simply by the desire for amusement and love of applause, as these represent better such groupings as will exist in a society where, private property and internal strife between men being abolished, each will find his interests compatible with the interest of everyone else and his greatest satisfaction in doing good and pleasing others. Scientific societies and congresses, international lifeboat and Red Cross associations, laborers' unions, peace societies, volunteers who hasten to the rescue at times of great public calamity, are all examples, among thousands, of that power of the spirit of association which always shows itself when a need arises or an enthusiasm takes hold, and the means do not fail. That voluntary associations do not cover the world and do not embrace every branch of material and moral activity is the fault of the obstacles placed in their way by governments, of the antagonisms create by the possession of private property, and of the impotence and degradation to which the monopolizing of wealth on the part of the few reduces the majority of mankind.
The government takes charge, for instance, of the postal and telegraph services. But in what way does it really assist them? When the people are in such a condition as to be able to enjoy and feel the need of such services they will think about organizing them, and the man with the necessary technical knowledge will not require a certificate from a government to enable him to set to work. The more general and urgent the need, the more volunteers will offer to satisfy it. Would the people have the ability necessary to provide and distribute provisions? Never fear, they will not die of hunger waiting for government to pass a law on the subject. Wherever a government exists, it must wait until the people have first organized everything, and then come with its laws to sanction and exploit what has already been done. It is evident that private interest is the great motive for all activity. That being so, when the interest of every one becomes the interest of each (and it necessarily will become so as soon as private property is abolished), then all will be active. If they work now in the interest of the few, so much more and so much better will they work to satisfy the interests of all. It is hard to understand how anyone can believe that public services indispensable to social life can be better secured by order of a government than through the workers themselves who by their own choice or by agreement with others carry them out under the immediate control of all those interested.
Certainly in every collective undertaking on a large scale there is need for division of labor, for technical direction, administration, etc. But the authoritarians are merely playing with words, when they deduce a reason for the existence of government, from the very real necessity for organization of labor. The government, we must repeat, is the aggregate of the individuals who have received or have taken the right or the mean to make laws, and force the people to obey them. The administrators, engineers, etc., on the other hand, are men who receive or assume the charge of doing a certain work. Government signifies delegation of power, that is, abdication of the initiative and sovereignty of everyone into the hand of the few. Administration signifies delegation of work, that is, the free exchange of services founded on free agreement.
Latest of evidence of human life goes back to at least 80,000 years back and much farther if we include neanderthal and other earlier specie such Australopithecus as one of our ancestors.
Human history is indeed a history of progress, a quest for mastery over nature. Its simultaneously a history of growing consciousness, of accumulated knowledge and its imitation. This is as old as humanity itself and this process will live as long as humanity lives.
While talking about history, scholarly circles divides whole period of human history into two categories. History and Prehistory. Briefly history is the period that covers the time spam from first human settlements which emerged in area we call Levant(its arc which connects Iraq, Syria, Lebanon into Israel, what we also Fertile Crescent) in modern world. In fact in its much tighter and acceptable definition, it covers the time period from first civilization, which emerged in modern day Iraq approximately 4000-4500 years back(Mesopotamian Civilization). All that happened before is dubbed into a second category, prehistory. Prehistory has this comprehensible negative connotation as age of wilderness and barbarism, for if history is a history of material progress and growing consciousness, breaking prehistorical period from historical period, make it a period, that seems like static, which not much happening in it, as it happened in history.
The fact that only a chapter or two is entertained to prehistory in history of the world books, and how the whole scholarly attitude towards that period directly or indirectly conspire to associate such notions as backwardness and barbarism with prehistory has one fateful consequences. There is genuine political fall out of it.
Man lived without any institutional authority for thousands of years before civilization. All institutionalized authority is the product of civilization. It started when some of our ancestors tempted by the growing wild grains and other crops, and how this mode of food was much easier to obtain and secure, felt it more in their interest to settle down than to chase animals. Eventually, as agriculture progressed, and man started producing extra food, what we can call surplus wealth, because food was only wealth at that time, it led to social differentiation. First was the differentiation in occupations. As some people got free from managing for the food because food was in surplus and could be stored, started doing other type of work, which eventually led to the creation of crafts and other works etc. Al though this was indeed a tremendous success of mankind but it did not come without a cost. It came at the cost of liberty. The increasing surplus eventually led to the creation of classes within human society. Those who could control more food could also control people and impose their will.
Such a hierarchy which has been the hallmark of human politics and political consciousness of last 5-6 thousands years came with civilization. We live in a world where hierarchy feels natural as the only suitable political order. This is because we don't really know if man has ever lived without authority. We are unaware of the fact that for thousand of years, man in hunter gathering societies, and even in early small settlements was very much living in an egalitarian non hierarchical social and political order. By consigning prehistory to a category of redundant field, as something to be considered as exotic not to take inspiration from, and with negative connotations attached to it has caused this massive lapse in people thinking about imagining alternative political order. Man takes inspiration from history. History that we study does not let us take any anti authoritarian inspiration. For all history we read is history of kings, conquerors, aristocrats, statesman etc. All history is the history of authority told by authority.
The fall out from this hegemonic status of history against prehistory is real. We just can not imagine the world in any other way than the way we know it has existed. The fact is that the man has indeed lived in a very different way and for a very long time. And such world was not barbaric nor was it essentially of life in it short brutish and nasty. The longest phase of art took place in prehistory during the time of second ice age from 20,000 BC to 10,000 BC. This is longer than the life of civilization itself. How can we say that world was without any art so there is no inspiration we can take from it? That world did not have most of the diseases that we have. Indians who lived in Americas were pretty much in prehistory when Columbus arrived there. Interestingly they did not have most of the diseases which civilized man had and approximately 80 percent of Indians died due to such transmitted diseases because they had no immunity against them. And one can take so many pages to write about things which were part of the social and political lives of our ancestors and have very positive consequences for human life and its still relevant to take inspiration from them.
Purpose of this writing is not to elevate one phase of human history over the other. Our history is one. Al though man has made tremendous material progress in last 6000 years. But it did not come without a cost. And most importantly, looking at so much material progress that has taken place, it does not necessarily means that what happened before settled life by default becomes a "negative" thing we are not supposed to take take inspiration from. My inspiration from freedom come from prehistory. For when i say life without authority is possible, its prehistory which provides me a living example for it. Something which study of history, with all its material development, would not let you image. For, along with material development, history of last six thousand years is also a history of war, murder and genocide.
(Umanità Nova, n. 137, September 20, 1921)
I expressed to the jury in Milan some ideas about class struggle and proletariat that raised criticism and amazement. I better come back to those ideas.
I protested indignantly against the accusation of inciting to hatred; I explained that in my propaganda I had always sought to demonstrate that the social wrongs do not depend on the wickedness of one master or the other, one governer or the other, but rather on masters and governments as institutions; therefore, the remedy does not lie in changing the individual rulers, instead it is necessary to demolish the principle itself by which men dominate over men; I also explained that I had always stressed that proletarians are not individually better than bourgeois, as shown by the fact that a worker behaves like an ordinary bourgeois, and even worse, when he gets by some accident to a position of wealth and command.
Such statements were distorted, counterfeited, put in a bad light by the bourgeois press, and the reason is clear. The duty of the press paid to defend the interests of police and sharks, is to hide the real nature of anarchism from the public, and seek to accredit the tale about anarchists being full of hatred and destroyers; the press does that by duty, but we have to acknowledge that they often do it in good faith, out of pure and simple ignorance. Since journalism, which once was a calling, decayed into mere job and business, journalists have lost not only their ethical sense, but also the intellectual honesty of refraining from talking about what they do not know.
Let us forget about hack writers, then, and let us talk about those who differ from us in their ideas, and often only in their way of expressing ideas, but still remain our friends, because they sincerely aim at the same goal we aim at.
Amazement is completely unmotivated in these people, so much so that I would tend to think it is affected. They cannot ignore that I have been saying and writing those things for fifty years, and that the same things have been said by hundreds and thousands of anarchists, at my same time and before me.
Let us rather talk about the dissent.
There are the “worker-minded” people, who consider having callous hands as being divinely imbued with all merits and all virtues; they protest if you dare talking about people and mankind, failing to swear on the sacred name of proletariat.
Now, it is a truth that history has made the proletariat the main instrument of the next social change, and that those fighting for the establishment of a society where all human beings are free and endowed with all the means to exercise their freedom, must rely mainly on the proletariat.
As today the hoarding of natural resources and capital created by the work of past and present generations is the main cause of the subjection of the masses and of all social wrongs, it is natural for those who have nothing, and therefore are more directly and clearly interested in sharing the means of production, to be the main agents of the necessary expropriation. This is why we address our propaganda more particularly to the proletarians, whose conditions of life, on the other hand, make it often impossible for them to rise and conceive a superior ideal. However, this is no reason for turning the poor into a fetish just because he is poor; neither it is a reason for encouraging him to believe that he is intrinsically superior, and that a condition surely not coming from his merit or his will gives him the right to do wrong to the others as the others did wrong to him. The tyranny of callous hands (which in practice is still the tyranny of few who no longer have callous hands, even if they had once), would not be less tough and wicked, and would not bear less lasting evils than the tyranny of gloved hands. Perhaps it would be less enlightened and more brutal: that is all.
Poverty would not be the horrible thing it is, if it did not produce moral brutishness as well as material harm and physical degradation, when prolonged from generation to generation. The poor have different faults than those produced in the privileged classes by wealth and power, but not better ones.
If the bourgeoisie produces the likes of Giolitti and Graziani and all the long succession of mankind’s torturers, from the great conquerors to the avid and bloodsucking petty bosses, it also produces the likes of Cafiero, Reclus and Kropotkine, and the many people that in any epoch sacrificed their class privileges to an ideal. If the proletariat gave and gives so many heroes and martyrs of the cause of human redemption, it also gives off the white guards, the slaughterers, the traitors of their own brothers, without which the bourgeois tyranny could not last a single day.
How can hatred be raised to a principle of justice, to an enlightened spirit of demand, when it is clear that evil is everywhere, and it depends upon causes that go beyond individual will and responsibility?
Let there be as much class struggle as one wishes, if by class struggle one means the struggle of the exploited against the exploiters for the abolition of exploitation. That struggle is a way of moral and material elevation, and it is the main revolutionary force that can be relied on.
Let there be no hatred, though, because love and justice cannot arise from hatred. Hatred brings about revenge, desire to be over the enemy, need to consolidate one’s superiority. Hatred can only be the foundation of new governments, if one wins, but it cannot be the foundation of anarchy.
Unfortunately, it is easy to understand the hatred of so many wretches whose bodies and sentiments are tormented and rent by society: however, as soon as the hell in which they live is lit up by an ideal, hatred disappears and a burning desire of fighting for the good of all takes over.
For this reason true haters cannot be found among our comrades, although there are many rhetoricians of hatred. They are like the poet, who is a good and peaceful father, but he sings of hatred, because this gives him the opportunity of composing good verses... or perhaps bad ones. They talk about hatred, but their hatred is made of love.
For this reason I love them, even if they call me names.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Kevin Carson of Anarchist Libertarian think thank Center for Stateless Society discusses communal property using village commune model in this very interesting paper.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
In this, a rather very disturbing documentary, Nafeez Ahmad, challenges the notion of Industrial civilization and very concept of Industrial progress. After years of research on causes of violence, Nafeez Ahmad, a British scholar, produced this documentary which tells us that violence is not aberration, like, its not a hangover from man's barbaric part, but a very much part of modern civilization, due to the crisis embedded in Industrial civilization and modern capitalism. The crisis does not come from without, rather, its the very forces of Industrialization, destruction of planet and depletion of resources that is putting people at each other throat.
An excellent interview of Gideon Levy, an Israeli journalist, endearing truth than any notion of "national interest" . A must read by anyone interested in understanding the situation in Occupied Territories narrated by an Israeli. This interview was originally published in The Independent on 24TH OF September 2010.
Gideon Levy is the most hated man in Israel – and perhaps the most heroic. This “good Tel Aviv boy” – a sober, serious child of the Jewish state – has been shot at repeatedly by the Israeli Defence Force, been threatened with being “beaten to a pulp” on the country’s streets, and faced demands from government ministers that he be tightly monitored as “a security risk.” This is because he has done something very simple, and something that almost no other Israeli has done. Nearly every week for three decades, he has travelled to the Occupied Territories and described what he sees, plainly and without propaganda. “My modest mission,” he says, “is to prevent a situation in which many Israelis will be able to say, ‘We didn’t know.’” And for that, many people want him silenced.
The story of Gideon Levy – and the attempt to deride, suppress or deny his words – is the story of Israel distilled. If he loses, Israel itself is lost.
I meet him in a hotel bar in Scotland, as part of his European tour to promote his new book, ‘The Punishment of Gaza’. The 57 year-old looks like an Eastern European intellectual on a day off – tall and broad and dressed in black, speaking accented English in a lyrical baritone. He seems so at home in the world of book festivals and black coffee that it is hard, at first, to picture him on the last occasion he was in Gaza – in November, 2006, before the Israeli government changed the law to stop him going.
He reported that day on a killing, another of the hundreds he has documented over the years. As twenty little children pulled up in their school bus at the Indira Gandhi kindergarten, their 20 year-old teacher, Najawa Khalif, waved to them – and an Israel shell hit her and she was blasted to pieces in front of them. He arrived a day later, to find the shaking children drawing pictures of the chunks of her corpse. The children were “astonished to see a Jew without weapons. All they had ever seen were soldiers and settlers.”
“My biggest struggle,” he says, “is to rehumanize the Palestinians. There’s a whole machinery of brainwashing in Israel which really accompanies each of us from early childhood, and I’m a product of this machinery as much as anyone else. [We are taught] a few narratives that it’s very hard to break. That we Israelis are the ultimate and only victims. That the Palestinians are born to kill, and their hatred is irrational. That the Palestinians are not human beings like us… So you get a society without any moral doubts, without any questions marks, with hardly public debate. To raise your voice against all this is very hard.”
So he describes the lives of ordinary Palestinians like Najawa and her pupils in the pages of Ha’aretz, Israel’s establishment newspaper. The tales read like Chekovian short stories of trapped people, in which nothing happens, and everything happens, and the only escape is death. One article was entitled “The last meal of the Wahbas family.” He wrote: “They’d all sat down to have lunch at home: the mother Fatma, three months pregnant; her daughter Farah, two; her son Khaled, one; Fatma’s brother, Dr Zakariya Ahmed; his daughter in law Shayma, nine months pregnant; and the seventy-eight year old grandmother. A Wahba family gathering in Khan Yunis in honour of Dr Ahmed, who’d arrived home six days earlier from Saudi Arabia. A big boom is heard outside. Fatma hurriedly scoops up the littlest one and tries to escape to an inner room, but another boom follows immediately. This time is a direct hit.”
In small biographical details, he recovers their humanity from the blankness of an ever-growing death toll. The Wahbas had tried for years to have a child before she finally became pregnant at the age of 36. The grandmother tried to lift little Khaled off the floor: that’s when she realised her son and daughter were dead.
Levy uses a simple technique. He asks his fellow Israelis: how would we feel, if this was done to us by a vastly superior military power? Once, in Jenin, his car was stuck behind an ambulance at a checkpoint for an hour. He saw there was a sick woman in the back and asked the driver what was going on, and he was told the ambulances were always made to wait this long. Furious, he asked the Israeli soldiers how they would feel if it was their mother in the ambulance – and they looked bemused at first, then angry, pointing their guns at him and telling him to shut up.
“I am amazed again and again at how little Israelis know of what’s going on fifteen minutes away from their homes,” he says. “The brainwashing machinery is so efficient that trying [to undo it is] almost like trying to turn an omelette back to an egg. It makes people so full of ignorance and cruelty.” He gives an example. During Operation Cast Lead, the Israel bombing of blockaded Gaza in 2008-9, “a dog – an Israeli dog – was killed by a Qassam rocket and it on the front page of the most popular newspaper in Israel. On the very same day, there were tens of Palestinians killed, they were on page 16, in two lines.”
At times, the occupation seems to him less tragic than absurd. In 2009, Spain’s most famous clown, Ivan Prado, agreed to attend a clowning festival on Ramallah in the West Bank. He was detained at the airport in Israel, and then deported “for security reasons.” Levy leans forward and asks: “Was the clown considering transferring Spain’s vast stockpiles of laughter to hostile elements? Joke bombs to the jihadists? A devastating punch line to Hamas?”
Yet the absurdity nearly killed him. In the summer of 2003, he was travelling in a clearly marked Israeli taxi on the West Bank. He explains: “At a certain stage the army stopped us and asked what we were doing there. We showed them our papers, which were all in order. They sent us up a road – and when we went onto this road, they shot us. They directed their fire to the centre of the front window. Straight at the head. No shooting in the air, no megaphone calling to stop, no shooting at the wheels. Shoot to kill immediately. If it hadn’t been bullet-proof, I wouldn’t be here now. I don’t think they knew who we were. They shot us like they would shoot anyone else. They were trigger-happy, as they always are. It was like having a cigarette. They didn’t shoot just one bullet. The whole car was full of bullets. Do they know who they are going to kill? No. They don’t know and don’t care.”
He shakes his head with a hardened bewilderment. “They shoot at the Palestinians like this on a daily basis. You have only heard about this because, for once, they shot at an Israeli.”
I “Who lived in this house? Where is he now?”
How did Gideon Levy become so different to his countrymen? Why does he offer empathy to the Palestinians while so many others offer only bullets and bombs? At first, he was just like them: his argument with other Israelis is an argument with his younger self. He was born in 1953 in Tel Aviv and as a young man “I was totally nationalistic, like everyone else. I thought – we are the best, and the Arabs just want to kill. I didn’t question.”
He was fourteen during the Six Day War, and soon after his parents took him to see the newly conquered Occupied Territories. “We were so proud going to see Rachel’s Tomb [in Bethlehem] and we just didn’t see the Palestinians. We looked right through them, like they were invisible,” he says. “It had always been like that. We were passing as children so many ruins [of Palestinian villages that had been ethnically cleansed in 1948]. We never asked: ‘Who lived in this house? Where is he now? He must be alive. He must be somewhere.’ It was part of the landscape, like a tree, like a river.” Long into his twenties, “I would see settlers cutting down olive trees and soldiers mistreating Palestinian women at the checkpoints, and I would think, ‘These are exceptions, not part of government policy.’”
Levy says he became different due to “an accident.” He carried out his military service with Israeli Army Radio and then continued working as a journalist, “so I started going to the Occupied Territories a lot, which most Israelis don’t do. And after a while, gradually, I came to see them as they really are.”
But can that be all? Plenty of Israelis go to the territories – not least the occupying troops and settlers – without recoiling. “I think it was also – you see, my parents were refugees. I saw what it had done to them. So I suppose... I saw these people and thought of my parents.” Levy’s father was a German Jewish lawyer from the Sudetenland. At the age of 26 – in 1939, as it was becoming inescapably clear the Nazis were determined to stage a genocide in Europe – he went with his parents to the railway station in Prague, and they waved him goodbye. “He never saw them or heard from them again,” Levy says. “He never found out what happened to them. If he had not left, he would not have lived.” For six months he lived on a boat filled with refugees, being turned away from port after port, until finally they made it to British Mandate Palestine, as it then was.
“My father was traumatised for his whole life,” he says. “He never really settled in Israel. He never really learned to speak anything but broken Hebrew. He came to Israel with his PhD and he had to make his living, so he started to work in a bakery and to sell cakes from door to door on his bicycle. It must have been a terrible humiliation to be a PhD in law and be knocking on doors offering cakes. He refused to learn to be a lawyer again. He became a minor clerk. I think this is what smashed him, y’know? He lived here sixty years, he had his family, had his happiness but he was really a stranger. A foreigner, in his own country… He was always outraged by things, small things. He couldn’t understand how people would dare to phone between two and four in the afternoon. It horrified him. He never understood what is the concept of overdraft in the bank. Every Israeli has an overdraft, but if he heard somebody was one pound overdrawn, he was horrified.”
His father “never” talked about home. “Any time I tried to encourage him to talk about it, he would close down. He never went back. There was nothing [to go back to], the whole village was destroyed. He left a whole life there. He left a fiancé, a career, everything. I am very sorry I didn’t push him harder to talk because I was young, so I didn’t have much interest. That’s the problem. When we are curious about our parents, they are gone.”
Levy’s father never saw any parallels between the fact he was turned into a refugee, and the 800,000 Palestinians who were turned into refugees by the creation of the state of Israel. “Never! People didn’t think like that. We never discussed it, ever.” Yet in the territories, Levy began to see flickers of his father everywhere – in the broken men and women never able to settle, dreaming forever of going home.
Then, slowly, Levy began to realise their tragedy seeped deeper still into his own life – into the ground beneath his feet and the very bricks of the Israeli town where he lives, Sheikh Munis. It is built on the wreckage of “one of the 416 Palestinian villages Israel wiped off the face of the earth in 1948,” he says. “The swimming pool where I swim every morning was the irrigation grove they used to water the village’s groves. My house stands on one of the groves. The land was ‘redeemed’ by force, its 2,230 inhabitants were surrounded and threatened. They fled, never to return. Somewhere, perhaps in a refugee camp in terrible poverty, lives the family of the farmer who plowed the land where my house now stands.” He adds that it is “stupid and wrong” to compare it to the Holocaust, but says that man is a traumatized refugee just as surely as Levy’s father – and even now, if he ended up in the territories, he and his children and grandchildren live under blockade, or violent military occupation.
The historian Isaac Deutscher once offered an analogy for the creation of the state of Israel. A Jewish man jumps from a burning building, and he lands on a Palestinian, horribly injuring him. Can the jumping man be blamed? Levy’s father really was running for his life: it was Palestine, or a concentration camp. Yet Levy says that the analogy is imperfect – because now the jumping man is still, sixty years later, smashing the head of the man he landed on against the ground, and beating up his children and grandchildren too. “1948 is still here. 1948 is still in the refugee camps. 1948 is still calling for a solution,” he says. “Israel is doing the very same thing now... dehumanising the Palestinians where it can, and ethnic cleansing wherever it’s possible. 1948 is not over. Not by a long way.”
II The scam of “peace talks”
Levy looks out across the hotel bar where we are sitting and across the Middle East, as if the dry sands of the Negev desert were washing towards us. Any conversation about the region is now dominated by a string of propaganda myths, he says, and perhaps the most basic is the belief that Israel is a democracy. “Today we have three kinds of people living under Israeli rule,” he explains. “We have Jewish Israelis, who have full democracy and have full civil rights. We have the Israeli Arabs, who have Israeli citizenship but are severely discriminated against. And we have the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, who live without any civil rights, and without any human rights. Is that a democracy?”
He sits back and asks in a low tone, as if talking about a terminally ill friend: “How can you say it is a democracy when, in 62 years, there was not one single Arab village established? I don’t have to tell you how many Jewish towns and villages were established. Not one Arab village. How can you say it’s a democracy when research has shown repeatedly that Jews and Arabs get different punishments for the same crime? How can you say it’s a democracy when a Palestinian student can hardly rent an apartment in Tel Aviv, because when they hear his accent or his name almost nobody will rent to him? How can you say Israel is a democracy when… Jerusalem invests 577 shekels a year in a pupil in [Palestinian] East Jerusalem and 2372 shekels a year in a pupil from [Jewish] West Jerusalem. Four times less, only because of the child’s ethnicity! Every part of our society is racist.”
“I want to be proud of my country,” he says. “I am an Israeli patriot. I want us to do the right thing.” So this requires him to point out that Palestinian violence is – in truth – much more limited than Israeli violence, and usually a reaction to it. “The first twenty years of the occupation passed quietly, and we did not lift a finger to end it. Instead, under cover of the quiet, we built the enormous, criminal settlement enterprise,” where Palestinian land is seized by Jewish religious fundamentalists who claim it was given to them by God. Only then – after a long period of theft, and after their attempts at peaceful resistance were met with brutal violence - did the Palestinians become violent themselves. “What would happen if the Palestinians had not fired Qassams [the rockets shot at Southern Israel, including civilian towns]? Would Israel have lifted the economic siege? Nonsense. If the Gazans were sitting quietly, as Israel expects them to do, their case would disappear from the agenda. Nobody would give any thought to the fate of the people of Gaza if they had not behaved violently.”
He unequivocally condemns the firing of rockets at Israeli civilians, but adds: “The Qassams have a context. They are almost always fired after an IDF assassination operation, and there have been many of these.” Yet the Israeli attitude is that “we are allowed to bomb anything we want but they are not allowed to launch Qassams.” It is a view summarised by Haim Ramon, the justice minister at time of Second Lebanon War: “We are allowed to destroy everything.”
Even the terms we use to discuss Operation Cast Lead are wrong, Levy argues. “That wasn’t a war. It was a brutal assault on a helpless, imprisoned population. You can call a match between Mike Tyson and a 5 year old child boxing, but the proportions, oh, the proportions.” Israel “frequently targeted medical crews, [and] shelled a UN-run school that served as a shelter for residents, who bled to death over days as the IDF prevented their evacuation by shooting and shelling... A state that takes such steps is no longer distinguishable from a terror organisation. They say as a justification that Hamas hides among the civilian population. As if the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv is not located in the heart of a civilian population! As if there are places in Gaza that are not in the heart of a civilian population!”
He appeals to anybody who is sincerely concerned about Israel’s safety and security to join him in telling Israelis the truth in plain language. “A real friend does not pick up the bill for an addict’s drugs: he packs the friend off to rehab instead. Today, only those who speak up against Israel’s policies – who denounce the occupation, the blockade, and the war – are the nation’s true friends.” The people who defend Israel’s current course are “betraying the country” by encouraging it on “the path to disaster. A child who has seen his house destroyed, his brother killed, and his father humiliated will not easily forgive.”
These supposed ‘friends of Israel’ are in practice friends of Islamic fundamentalism, he believes. “Why do they have to give the fundamentalists more excuses, more fury, more opportunities, more recruits? Look at Gaza. Gaza was totally secular not long ago. Now you can hardly get alcohol today in Gaza, after all the brutality. Religious fundamentalism is always the language people turn to in despair, if everything else fails. If Gaza had been a free society it would not have become like this. We gave them recruits.”
Levy believes the greatest myth – the one hanging over the Middle East like perfume sprayed onto a corpse – is the idea of the current ‘peace talks’ led by the United States. There was a time when he too believed in them. At the height of the Oslo talks in the 1990s, when Yitzhak Rabin negotiated with Yassir Arafat, “at the end of a visit I turned and, in a gesture straight out of the movies, waved Gaza farewell. Goodbye occupied Gaza, farewell! We are never to meet again, at least not in your occupied state. How foolish!”
Now, he says, he is convinced it was “a scam” from the start, doomed to fail. How does he know? “There is a very simple litmus test for any peace talks. A necessity for peace is for Israel to dismantle settlements in the West Bank. So if you are going to dismantle settlements soon, you’d stop building more now, right? They carried on building them all through Oslo. And today, Netanyahu is refusing to freeze construction, the barest of the bare minimum. It tells you all you need.”
He says Netanyahu has – like the supposedly more left-wing alternatives, Ehud Barak and Tzipip Livni – always opposed real peace talks, and even privately bragged about destroying the Oslo process. In 1997, during his first term as Israeli leader, he insisted he would only continue with the talks if a clause was added saying Israel would not have to withdraw from undefined “military locations” – and he was later caught on tape boasting: “Why is that important? Because from that moment on I stopped the Oslo accords.” If he bragged about “stopping” the last peace process, why would he want this one to succeed? Levy adds: “And how can you make peace with only half the Palestinian population? How can you leave out Hamas and Gaza?”
These fake peace talks are worse than no talks at all, Levy believes. “If there are negotiations, there won’t be international pressure. Quiet, we’re in discussions, settlement can go on uninterrupted. That is why futile negotiations are dangerous negotiations. Under the cover of such talks, the chances for peace will grow even dimmer... The clear subtext is Netanyahu’s desire to get American support for bombing Iran. To do that, he thinks he needs to at least pay lip-service to Obama’s requests for talks. That’s why he’s doing this.”
After saying this, he falls silent, and we stare at each other for a while. Then he says, in a quieter voice: “The facts are clear. Israel has no real intention of quitting the territories or allowing the Palestinian people to exercise their rights. No change will come to pass in the complacent, belligerent, and condescending Israel of today. This is the time to come up with a rehabilitation programme for Israel.”
III Waving Israeli flags made in China
According to the opinion polls, most Israelis support a two-state solution – yet they elect governments that expand the settlements and so make a two-state solution impossible. “You would need a psychiatrist to explain this contradiction,” Levy says. “Do they expect two states to fall from the sky? Today, the Israelis have no reason to make any changes,” he continues. “Life in Israel is wonderful. You can sit in Tel Aviv and have a great life. Nobody talks about the occupation. So why would they bother [to change]? The majority of Israelis think about the next vacation and the next jeep and all the rest doesn’t interest them any more.” They are drenched in history, and yet oblivious to it.
In Israel, the nation’s “town square has been empty for years. If there were no significant protests during Operation Cast Lead, then there is no left to speak of. The only group campaigning for anything other than their personal whims are the settlers, who are very active.” So how can change happen? He says he is “very pessimistic”, and the most likely future is a society turning to ever-more naked “apartheid.” With a shake of the head, he says: “We had now two wars, the flotilla – it doesn’t seem that Israel has learned any lesson, and it doesn’t seem that Israel is paying any price. The Israelis don’t pay any price for the injustice of the occupation, so the occupation will never end. It will not end a moment before Israelis understand the connection between the occupation and the price they will be forced to pay. They will never shake it off on their own initiative.”
It sounds like he is making the case for boycotting Israel, but his position is more complex. “Firstly, the Israeli opposition to the boycott is incredibly hypocritical. Israel itself is one of the world’s most prolific boycotters. Not only does it boycott, it preaches to others, at times even forces others, to follow in tow. Israel has imposed a cultural, academic, political, economic and military boycott on the territories. The most brutal, naked boycott is, of course, the siege on Gaza and the boycott of Hamas. At Israel's behest, nearly all Western countries signed onto the boycott with inexplicable alacrity. This is not just a siege that has left Gaza in a state of shortage for three years. It's a series of cultural, academic, humanitarian and economic boycotts. Israel is also urging the world to boycott Iran. So Israelis cannot complain if this is used against them.”
He shifts in his seat. “But I do not boycott Israel. I could have done it, I could have left Israel. But I don’t intend to leave Israel. Never. I can’t call on others to do what I will not do... There is also the question of whether it will work. I am not sure Israelis would make the connection. Look at the terror that happened in 2002 and 2003: life in Israel was really horrifying, the exploding buses, the suicide-bombers. But no Israeli made the connection between the occupation and the terror. For them, the terror was just the ‘proof’ that the Palestinians are monsters, that they were born to kill, that they are not human beings and that’s it. And if you just dare to make the connection, people will tell you ‘you justify terror ’ and you are a traitor. I suspect it would be the same with sanctions. The condemnation after Cast Lead and the flotilla only made Israel more nationalistic. If [a boycott was] seen as the judgement of the world they would be effective. But Israelis are more likely to take them as ‘proof’ the world is anti-Semitic and will always hate us.”
He believes only one kind of pressure would bring Israel back to sanity and safety: “The day the president of the United States decides to put an end to the occupation, it will cease. Because Israel was never so dependent on the United States as it is now. Never. Not only economically, not only militarily but above all politically. Israel is totally isolated today, except for America.” He was initially hopeful that Barack Obama would do this – he recalls having tears in his eyes as he delivered his victory speech in Grant Park – but he says he has only promoted “tiny steps, almost nothing, when big steps are needed.” It isn’t only bad for Israel – it is bad for America. “The occupation is the best excuse for many worldwide terror organisations. It’s not always genuine but they use it. Why do you let them use it? Why give them this fury? Why not you solve it once and for all when the, when the solution is so simple?”
For progress, “the right-wing American Jews who become orgiastic whenever Israel kills and destroys” would have to be exposed as “Israel’s enemies”, condemning the country they supposedly love to eternal war. “It is the right-wing American Jews who write the most disgusting letters. They say I am Hitler’s grandson, that they pray my children get cancer… It is because I touch a nerve with them. There is something there.” These right-wingers claim to be opposed to Iran, but Levy points out they vehemently oppose the two available steps that would immediately isolate Iran and strip Mahmoud Ahmadinejadh of his best propaganda-excuses: “peace with Syria and peace with the Palestinians, both of which are on offer, and both of which are rejected by Israel. They are the best way to undermine Iran.”
He refuses to cede Israel to people “who wave their Israeli flags made in China and dream of a Knesset cleansed of Arabs and an Israel with no [human rights organisation] B’Tselem.” He looks angry, indignant. “I will never leave. It’s my place on earth. It’s my language, it’s my culture. Even the criticism that I carry and the shame that I carry come from my deep belonging to the place. I will leave only if I be forced to leave. They would have to tear me out.”
IV A whistle in the dark
Does he think this is a real possibility – that his freedom could be taken from him, in Israel itself? “Oh, very easily,” he says. “It’s already taken from me by banning me from going to Gaza, and this is just a start. I have great freedom to write and to appear on television in Israel, and I have a very good life, but I don’t take my freedom for granted, not at all. If this current extreme nationalist atmosphere continues in Israel in one, two, three years time…” He sighs. “There may be new restrictions, Ha’aretz may close down – God forbid – I don’t take anything for granted. I will not be surprised if Israeli Palestinian parties are criminalized at the next election, for example. Already they are going after the NGOs [Non-Government Organizations that campaign for Palestinian rights]. There is already a majority in the opinion polls who want to punish people who expose wrong-doing by the military and want to restrict the human rights groups.”
There is also the danger of a freelance attack. Last year, a man with a large dog strutted up to Levy near his home and announced: “I have wanted to beat you to a pulp for a long time.” Levy only narrowly escaped, and the man was never caught. He says now: “I am scared but I don’t live on the fear. But to tell you that my night sleep is as yours... I’m not sure. Any noise, my first association is ‘maybe now, it’s coming’. But there was never any concrete case in which I really thought ‘here it comes’. But I know it might come.”
Has he ever considered not speaking the truth, and diluting his statements? He laughs – and for the only time in our interview, his eloquent torrents of words begin to sputter. “I wish I could! No way I could. I mean, this is not an option at all. Really, I can’t. How can I? No way. I feel lonely but my private, er, surrounding is supportive, part of it at least. And there are still Israelis who appreciate what I do. If you walk with me in the streets of Tel Aviv you will see all kinds of reactions but also very positive reactions. It is hard but I mean it’s…it’s…what other choice do I have?”
He says his private life is supportive “in part”. What’s the part that isn’t? For the past few years, he says, he has dated non-Israeli women – “I couldn’t be with a nationalistic person who said those things about the Palestinians” – but his two sons don’t read anything he writes, “and they have different politics from me. I think it was difficult for them, quite difficult.” Are they right-wingers? “No, no, no, nothing like that. As they get older, they are coming to my views more. But they don’t read my work. No,” he says, looking down, “they don’t read it.”
The long history of the Jewish people has a recurring beat – every few centuries, a brave Jewish figure stands up to warn his people they are have ended up on an immoral or foolish path that can only end in catastrophe, and implores them to change course. The first prophet, Amos, warned that the Kingdom of Israel would be destroyed because the Jewish people had forgotten the need for justice and generosity – and he was shunned for it. Baruch Spinoza saw beyond the Jewish fundamentalism of his day to a materialist universe that could be explained scientifically – and he was excommunicated, even as he cleared the path for the great Jewish geniuses to come. Could Levy, in time, be seen as a Jewish prophet in the unlikely wilderness of a Jewish state, calling his people back to a moral path?
He nods faintly, and smiles. “Noam Chomsky once wrote to me that I was like the early Jewish prophets. It was the greatest compliment anyone has ever paid me. But... well... My opponents would say it’s a long tradition of self-hating Jews. But I don’t take that seriously. For sure, I feel that I belong to a tradition of self-criticism. I deeply believe in self-criticism.” But it leaves him in bewildering situations: “Many times I am standing among Palestinian demonstrators, my back to the Palestinians, my face to the Israeli soldiers, and they were shooting in our direction. They are my people, and they are my army. The people I’m standing among are supposed to be the enemy. It is...” He shakes his head. There must be times, I say, when you ask: what’s a nice Jewish boy doing in a state like this?
But then, as if it has been nagging at him, he returns abruptly to an earlier question. “I am very pessimistic, sure. Outside pressure can be effective if it’s an American one but I don’t see it happening. Other pressure from other parts of the world might be not effective. The Israeli society will not change on its own, and the Palestinians are too weak to change it. But having said this, I must say, if we had been sitting here in the late 1980s and you had told me that the Berlin wall will fall within months, that the Soviet Union will fall within months, that parts of the regime in South Africa will fall within months, I would have laughed at you. Perhaps the only hope I have is that this occupation regime hopefully is already so rotten that maybe it will fall by itself one day. You have to be realistic enough to believe in miracles.”
In the meantime, Gideon Levy will carry on patiently documenting his country’s crimes, and trying to call his people back to a righteous path. He frowns a little – as if he is picturing Najawa Khalif blown to pieces in front of her school bus, or his own broken father – and says to me: “A whistle in the dark is still a whistle.