I want anarchism to grow and create mass movements. If anarchism is to do this, we need to persuade lots of people to become anarchists or at the very least act in an anarchist manner. One way to do this is through anarchist propaganda. In the modern world this means producing anarchist websites, podcasts, blogs, youtube videos and fb pages. Books and zines are great but they shouldn’t be our main focus. This is because a) they reach a much smaller audience, b), in the case of books, they require more commitment from the audience than is required to read a short blog post or read a meme and can often be inaccessible to dyslexics, and c) people are reading less than they used to and we need to adapt to this or face irrelevance.
Unfortunately many anarchist attempts at producing internet propaganda are not very good. Several anarchist websites are not well designed, pleasing to the eye or user friendly e.g. anarkismo.net. While many anarchist facebook pages are terribly run and lack the kind of clear editorial line you can see on good facebook pages like Zinn Education Project. The problem with most anarchist youtubers is that the videos have really low quality production values and aren’t done in an engaging way that combines audio and visuals well. I include myself here. Anarchism is not going to gain mass appeal in the digital age unless it has a high quality internet presence.
Thankfully progress has happened and is continuing to happen. Websites like crimethinc.com and anarchistagency.com are very well designed and many anarchist websites have recently re-designed themselves and look much better than they did before e.g. afed or anarchistnews. On facebook there are a number of great anarchist pages like ‘workers solidarity movement’ or ‘working class history’. While I think youtubers like libertarian socialist rants and the stimulator are producing high quality videos that are engaging to a mass audience. Other examples, despite containing what I think are poor and overly romantic/vague messages, are crimethinc’s ‘To Change Everything’ or Woodbine’s ‘A Resolution’ videos.
But to speak to a mass audience, we not only need glossy production values. We also need the right message, language and image. At the moment, there is a definite lack of high quality, short and modern introductions to anarchism. Instead, we largely rely either on anarchist classics, such as Kropotkin’s ‘Conquest of Bread’, or on the scarily long anarchist FAQ. The problem with relying on anarchist classics is that, due to when they were written, they don’t speak directly to a modern audience concerned with climate change, gentrification, precarious work and issues of gender, race, disability and sexuality. Anarchism has historically produced mass movements because its propaganda spoke to people at the time and so we need to do the same and produce propaganda that speaks to people today. We should thus be producing introductions to anarchism that concentrate on issues such as how capitalism needs to be abolished as soon as possible for ecological reasons or how anarchism is similar to but an improvement on the current fashionable iterations of intersectionality theory.
Producing this kind of propaganda also requires the use of clear and accessible language. Contemporary anarchism, like many subcultures, has its own distinct language that can be very confusing to insiders and outsiders alike. Instead of speaking clearly and concretely we all too often hide our ideas in vague and unhelpful language. As Kristian Williams has pointed out in his blog ‘Anarchism and the English Language’ we often use language not in order to “communicate a specific idea to some real or potential readership” but “instead to indicate a kind of group loyalty, an ideological border between our side and the other side: we believe this, and they don’t. Or rather: we talk in this way and say this sort of thing; they talk in some other way, and say some other sort of thing.” In this framework language is used to “demonstrate how radical one is”, rather than to express worthwhile ideas in an easily understandable format. I agree with Williams when he writes, “The purpose of anarchist writing, I believe, is—or should be—not to demonstrate how radical we are, or to dazzle our friends with our erudition, but to improve the quality of anarchist thought, to give our ideas a broader circulation, and to use those ideas to help reshape the world. But the present state of our writing, taken as a whole, seems ill-suited to every one of these aims. It produces, instead, hazy thinking, political and intellectual insularity, and, ultimately, irrelevance.”
Speaking to a mass audience also requires the appropriate image. Much of contemporary anarchism places an emphasis on an image of militant protesters, such as photos or artwork of people in black bloc fighting the police. The problem with this as our main image (as opposed to as one of our images) is that while it makes us feel cool as fuck, it is also very off-putting and scary to someone who is not already familiar with the need for such militant tactics and who views such tactics through the lens provided to them by the mainstream media or large NGO’s. That is, it is very off-putting to most people. I think we should instead be emphasizing an image of the world we want to build, namely one of community, democracy and individual self-development. Why not instead of making people associate anarchism with people in black throwing Molotov cocktails at the police, instead make them associate it with the hand signals we use in consensus decision making or with an infoshop that teaches local kids how to look after their bicycles.