An essay by Larry Giddings
Larry Giddings was born on October 6, 1952, and has been an anarchist revolutionary for his entire life. On August 21, 1971, Larry was wounded during a shoot-out and arms expropriation with four other comrades in Los Angeles. He was arrested and served 7 years in jail. After he was set free, Larry lived in a food and prisoner support collective in the Bay Area and soon resumed clandestine acitivities with the aim of helping to liberate jailed comrades. On October 14, 1979, Larry was again wounded and captured, along with comrade Bill Dunne (an anti-authoritarian POW in Marion federal prison), during the liberation of a comrade from a Seattle jail. Larry was convicted of aiding an escape, the shooting of a police officer, conspiracy, and bank robberies (to garner funds for clandestine activities). Despite serving two life terms, Larry has remained an inspirational anti-autoritarian political figure who continues to write and struggle for a better world. The following is an essasy written by Larry which describes his anti-authoritarian politcal outlook:
From within the primal ooze of social-political labelling I have, for a number of years, chosen “anti-authoritarian” as my own. Those that prefer specificity have argued that this term is not descriptive enough and does not declare a “particular” poltical evolution. Bandits, rebels, street gangs, “free speechers”, Jeffersonian constitutionalists, untutored and politically unsophisticated teenagers in rebellion, anti- communists, undiscplined rabble, counter-culturists, libertarian socialists, democratic socialists, social democrats, council communists, syndicalists, anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-marxists, anarcho-communists, anarcho feminists… and more, can all be considered “anti-authoritarian”. Oh, just so you think I forgot, anarchists, little ‘a’, and big ‘A’ are considered anti- authoritarians. “Why can’t I use one of the more ‘acceptable’ labels, one with a more distinctly ‘left’ connotation?”, they ask.
Unfortunately, I found the term – anarchist – lacking as well. I’m not alone in this observation. The term “autonomist” has appeared in recent decades as a response to the perceived differences between “classical” anarchists, and younger more contemporary anti-authoritarian activists. In Europe, the original organizations of many thought to be extinct political ideologies are still alive. Small, they may be, but they are still around. So, younger anti-authoritarians/anarchists felt compelled to develop different organizational methods and their label. Similarly, having described myself as being part of the anarchist persuasion during the early ’70s, it has been a circuitous route to the term anti-authoritarian.
“Anarchist”, is generally accepted to mean: without authority, or without ruler. In that sense, especially – without ruler – I am, most certainly, an anarchist. However, life isn’t nearly so simple, and, as with most other labels, the term – anarchist – has become “value laden”. Which means that when people read or use the term – anarchist – they readily identify it with particular ideological, social, historical images they have carefully or unconsciously filed in their brains. For the unconscious, the greatest majority of people, it represents everything from bearded bomb-throwing radicals, to pipe-smoking armchair idealists. For those with some political and historical knowledge, those who carefully file their definitions, an anarchist is someone that doesn’t believe state power is the object of struggle with the dominant social order but, a socially responsible and autonomous humanity – is – the object of struggle.
At this point, the waters become rather murky. There are nearly as many definitions of anarchy as there are anarchists! Labourists and syndicalists view the General Strike as the jumping off point in the creation of a classless, racismless society; to others, a committment to the removal of technology, and anti-industrialism is the mark of a “true” anarchist. Any support for a national group or “nationalist” movement precludes one from being an anarchist, to others. Situationists, post- Situationists, social ecologists, social anarchists, anarcho- marxists, Christian anarchists, pagan anarchists – fill in the blanks. All definitions of “true” anarchists are based on good analysis.
Excuse —– me!!! As a poor, mostly self-educated, imprisoned, non-dues paying member of any organization, or adherent to a specific anarchist “program”, I conceded. O.K.!! Maybe I am not really an anarchist. Maybe, I should take a step backward and, dipping into the primordial ooze of labelling, find something not so insulting to true anarchists. So, I did. A friend, some years ago, suggested that I was an “eclectic” anarchist; since, I do believe that good ideas can come from most anywhere and good people even moreso. Then, there is the term “autonomous”.
“Autonomous”, in the European sense, has been used to describe non-communist party dominated socialist and communist groups, as well as the ever more popular “autonomes” of Germany. The autonomes include many perspectives in its non-ranks. The term – autonomous – is still largely unknown in the u.s. So, anti- authoritarian was the term that seemed to work best. Like most of us, my journey began as a “rebel”, pure and simple. Against family, against school, against “adults”, against most anything that got in my way of achieving some personal enjoyment and development in life. I left “home”, left school, and dropped-in to the world at a large, to find all the impediments multiplied. Firstly, I recognized “ageism” as a repressive cultural force. Secondly, I left the “family”, as an incubator of the state, was the most repressive institution. Thirdly, the state, the enforcer of economic disparity and manager of all other institutions, the inhibitor of change, was the target of my rebellion.
Within the structure of the state, I swiftly recognized the police and “criminal justice” system as the immediate arm of state authority. I was very clear on this when I was 14, 15, 16 years old. I had read lots of history, been active in street actions in Germany and preparing for armed action in the u.s. from 16 to 17 years of age. There was no doubt in my mind that armed revolution was needed to affect any real change in this system. I had learned, all too well, as the son of a career army sergeant, that force was the only thing that the state understood. Living near Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Annapolis, I witnessed – all too often, the results of “peace demonstrations” and sit-ins, and civil rights marches, not to mention anti-war demos. Discussion was out of the question. I wasn’t willing to lay down and let the state, or anyone else, beat me bloody, attack me with its dogs and shoot me, without fighting back.
My less than perfectly executed expropriation of arms, to pass out to liberated prisoners and a good number of 16-18 year olds, much like myself, in L.A., in 1971, landed me in prison for 7 years. I spent those years evaluating myself and my actions and my goals. I had recognized a youth movement, armed youth including Black Panthers, Brown Berets and American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) activists, and others, and headed in the same direction. But, I had not worked closely with any of them. Mistrust between groups of activists, separtism: political and cultural, active campaigns by various police agencies (including the F.B.I.’s COINTELPRO program), served to support our already deeply taught “need” to function as separate communities. Except for fairly isolated events, such as the occupation of Wounded Knee, this idea of the necessity of racial/cultural separtism remained a dominant theme, especially in the armed revolutionary communities. Ideologically, I proclaimed anarchism as a goal. In practice, I operated nearly as separately as nationalists. Still, I rejected dictatorships of any kind.
In prison, from ’71 to ’78, I read, like a lot of prisoners. Amongst that mass of printed words, I began to read “feminist” literature. It was easy to identify with many issues raised by feminists. As the oldest son of working parents, I had been responsible for the care and keeping of house and brothers. Don’t you know I hated being trapped, both as a servant and as a youth, with virtually no rights in this society. Children were, and still are, “property” of their parents, genetic parents or otherwise. The “law” treats them equally shabby. This study of women’s writings and political analysis led me to recognize “gender” as a special category of social/political relations, other than economic class and age. Likewise, feminists pointed out, correctly, that it had been women who have provided the backbone and sustenance of nearly all movements.
In the anarchist community, ecological issues, childcare and education, healthcare, the anti-war/anti-nuclear movements, anti-racism and prison abolition have been issues fought for – daily – by women. As the numerically largest class of poor, single women with children – of all races – bare the brunt of the state’s oppression. They struggle with these issues, whether they are “popular” or not. While men often “struggle” for a short period of time, and then abscond, women, especially those with children, have no choice but to continue to confront the state in all its forms. Also the women’s movement of the ’60s and ’70s reaffirmed and expanded the concept of the “affinity group”, an anarchist form of organization, in which small groups of compatible people function in a largely egalitarian manner – without hierarchical “command” structures.
In prison, I swiftly observed racial separation as a constant source of misunderstanding, and felt all such “separatism”, national, or otherwise, as divisive. We could not change this society, as anarchists, or anything else, while observing and participating in tacit agreement with social and cultural apartheid – u.s. style. It was in these years I rediscovered a favourite historical period of mine. Instead of just an isolated period of “history”, my experiences led me to realize the deeper social and political significance of the “Seminole Wars” of the early 1800s. This committment to a consciously multi-cultural, non-nationalist struggle, rather than an amorphous anarchism, propelled me to enter a collective that reflected that committment upon my parole in 1978.
This collective held property in common, supported prison abolition and prisoners’ needs, women’s struggles, and members were from a variety of cultures and races. Study of revolutionary political material was a constant and reflected the various origins of those involved. Anarchists, Marxists and socialists of several varieties, lived, worked and struggled for individual growth and with each other, as well as against the state. It was an “eclectic” community.
Twenty months after parole, I was captured in Seattle, for the attempted liberation of a prisoner. Once again – I was in prison. My time on the streets had gone much too fast. While recognizing other groups and struggles as necessary, I had focussed on a fairly narrow spectrum of activity. No strong alliances had a chance to grow in such a short time. The continuing destruction of the small armed “left” groups in this country and my personal experiences, caused me to look more closely at the relative isolation of many peoples and struggles. An anarchist, global revolution against the nation-state formation, must begin somewhere. It must survive to struggle. I began to re-evaluate my thoughts, actions and focus. Once again, I returned to the study of the Seminole formations. In doing so, I found a greater commitment to Indigenous, Native American, Indian struggles was necessary.
Recognizing genocide, colonialism and ongoing destruction of Indigenous People and their ideas as a historical fact, is one thing, implementing that knowledge in a meaningful way – is another. Rather than just acknowledging that genocide and colonialism exist, we need to actively struggle against it, now. Many Native Americans may not call themselves “anarchist”, but many are, clearly, anti-authoritarian in views and practice. Instead of relying on European historical example, they rely on their long Indigenous history. Recognizing that much of what modern and 18th and 19th century activists call – anarchism – is in a large way a result of interaction between European intellectuals and Native American societies – is of paramount importance in this process. Closer interaction with and support of Native struggles clearly added “self-determination and autonomy” for Native people to my list of goals, along with the recognition that they have historical reasons for wishing to organize separately.
Feminism, Women’s Studies, gender as a special category of oppression, led me to identify and accept struggle against other specific forms of oppression as valid. Recognition that Black/New Afrikan, Puerto Rican, Mexicano Peoples, and others also share specific and different historical, intellectual and social realities, swiftly followed. This recognition, in other than just an abstract way, is not “truly” anarchist, I have been informed on many occasions.
However, I would hold that the Seminole struggles were anti-authoritarian in practice, and perhaps even anarchist in reality. Rather than a mere ideological/philosophical position of “globalism”, or a theoretical “anti-capitalism”, or “alternative economy”, or “utopian” multi-racial/multi- culturalism, — they actually practiced, lived, loved and fought with those principles in the real world. Unlike many European based anarchist, and anti-authoritarian movements and struggles, which attempted to deny their own cultural imperatives, those that struggled in the Seminole way acknowledged and accepted their own special relations and histories. Rather than a false – universalism – one which excluded those that sought autonomy within their own movement, they practiced a true one. Rejecting a “romantic” view of Native American struggles is a requirement before learning the lives and struggles of People as real. If, we tear away the mythology and romantic view of “Indians living with nature”, we find a revolutionary movement in the Seminole. A movement evolving out of the “Red Stick” movement shortly preceding it, as well as the social political struggles of Europe in regard to wars, growing industrialism and the social theories and movements in England and France, there can be little doubt that the Seminole knew of these struggles. Seminoles had alliances with every class of people in the young united states, especially among the anti-slavery/abolitionist movements, allies in Europe, and the Caribbean. Furthermore, Florida was still a Spanish colony, though, in reality, the Spanish dominated only a few towns and some coastal areas.
A number of Seminoles fought in battles and struggled with others as far north as Connecticut. Native Americans had been kept as slaves in Georgia and the Carolinas, at some points it was considered “illegal” to have Afrikans enslaved, but “legal” to enslave Indians. Their legal status shifted back and forth. But, the link between the “cimmarones” (Spanish for: wild and runaway), Maroon communities and others became stronger as they helped more and more people to escape from bondage and build a new society, one which might eventually be able to free territory in other areas, including Central America and Venezuela. Cimmarones became known as Seminoles.
De-centralized, participatory communities, multi-cultural and separatist communities, autonomous decision making and plans of action, caused the Seminole allies to be an incredibly committed and versatile foe to the u.s. The u.s. government’s actions against this grouping was the most costly ever fought here, except for the Civil War of the 1860’s. Some bands, ones that refused to submit, still exist. Others fled to the islands, migrated and mixed in with local populations, or were removed to Oklahoma, as members of the Seminole People. Still others escaped the reservation and fled to Mexico, where they waged a running war with the u.s. for decades more. Some bands still live in Mexico.
In my attempts to translate these events and my own experiences, I have observed the following: whether I recognize non-anarchist, nationalist, separatist struggles, or not, they are in existence. By ignoring their existence, because of some principle of – pre-agreement, a requirement that these struggles reflect my own notion of a non-nation-state future and multi- cultural struggle, I am ignoring history and the reality of their day to day lives. By ignoring their existence, and ignoring their struggle against what are most often our mutual oppressors, I ignore my own desire for a non-nation-state future. “Globalism”, de-centralized social and economic systems, non-nation-state formations, will only come about through struggle. Through struggling together, trust and confidence in our ability and commitment to our dreams, is communicated. “Globalism”, must come about through mutual understanding. It will not be imposed. A culture of anti-authoritarian struggle is necessary.
Anarchism, as a body of literature and activity which opposes centralized state domination of social political life, is growing ever larger. In recognition of the vastness of the sea of material available and the swamp of views represented, I have used the label – anti-authoritarian – to keep the door, so to speak. There is every reason to allow people to grow and learn and make additions to anti-authoritarian theory and practice. If we narrow our movement to some narrowly defined “true” anarchism, we have excluded many of those we wish to, or claim to wish to, communicate with. Young people, in particular, are much more open to the need for a multi-cultural practice than those of my own generation, for instance. It matters less, to me, that young activists understand every nuance of the struggles between historical anarchism and marxism, in its intricacy and confusion, than their day to day practice of an anti-authoritarian nature. None of us, not one, were suddenly endowed with all of this information. To expect young, or old, activists, to suddenly understand what took many of us decades to compile, or even to agree with it, is ludicrous, to say the least. In fact, it is from this new generation of activists that a new language of global struggle will emerge. The assuredly “Euro-centric” language and practice of anti-authoritarian/anarchist theory, is in for a very healthy, and long-overdue, infusion of life.
In effect, I would rather be called anti-authoritarian and spend my time and energy struggling to build a non-nation-state world, than to argue to infinity about the definition of a “true” anarchist. Either -anarchism- has the ability to retain an evolutionary approach to problems, analysis and struggle, or it will be rejected by yet another generation of activists, in favour of quick-fix, short-term, pseudo-democratic and authoritarian alternatives. Those that wish to trap themselves in an ideologically suicidal classicalism, may do so. I, for one, reject that crystalization of thought and practice, which would doom the fertile and living body of knowledge and experience we call anarchism, and, yes, anti-authoritarian.
Let us practice globalism. Let us be real, sincere, and effective allies to each other. Whether active in anti-nuclear, ecology, anti-racism, squatting, prison abolition, anti- colonialism, cultural movements, women’s movements or others it is time to recognize each other. Practice the knowledge we have confidence in. Confidence. A lack of fear that contact with “others”, somehow – unlike ourselves, will destroy us, or take away our knowledge, change us. Confidence will build flexibility. False confidence and fear, create rigidity. Can we reaffirm anarchism’s roots by becoming anti-authoritarian? I hope so.
Now you know Why I am an Anti-Authoritarian.