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What follows is an effort to make sense of the reasons for this attraction. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, anarchism anchored the militant, radical side of the U. Though there were anarchist organizations, most importantly the anarcho-syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World IWW , organization was not a strength of the anarchist movement, as it was, later, of the Communist movement.

Anarchist identity was not linked to membership in any organization in the way that Communist identity was later linked to membership in the Communist Party. Despite such differences anarchism occupied something like the position within the broader left that Communism later came to occupy. The leadership of the nineteenth century Knights of Labor, the first large national labor organization, wavered in relation to working class militancy.

Alongside them, a small anarchist labor movement upheld a consistent militancy, which contrasted with the stance of the Knights of Labor. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the frequent slides of the economy into depression encouraged widespread anti-capitalist sentiment among U.

But in the early years of the twentieth century growing prosperity opened up the possibility that skilled workers, at least, could gain more stability. The AFL renounced its former gestures towards radicalism, proclaimed itself concerned only with wages and workplace conditions and in relation to broader issues willing to respect the power of capital.

A radical alternative to the AFL emerged first through the Western Federation of Miners and other labor organizations, which engaged in militant struggle and were open to socialist and anarchist perspectives. The IWW, formed by these organizations and others, adopted an explicitly anarcho-syndicalist perspective, organized the unskilled, foreign-born, and black workers ignored by the AFL, and stood for militant, radical trade unionism.

Egalitarian Politics in the Age of Globalization

The socialist left divided along the same lines as the labor movement, with some leaning toward the IWW, some toward the AFL. The Socialist Party included a left wing that supported the IWW and its militant approach to class struggle and a right wing that supported the AFL and was inclined towards electoral politics. The IWW conducted a series of brilliant, often successful, organizing campaigns, but IWW locals were often short-lived.

The Bolshevik Revolution also led to a split in and the subsequent decline of the Socialist Party, and to the ascendance of the Communist Party within the U. In the twenties, thirties, and forties, anarchism was supplanted by Marxism, which became the leading form of left thinking. The Communist movement was able to create strong organizational structures, and was also more able to resist corporate-led attacks and attempts at legal repression, than the IWW and other anarchist groups had been.

The vulnerability of anarchism to attack, and the greater ability of the Communist Party to resist attacks, were illustrated by the case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, anarchists unjustly accused of a payroll robbery and murder in The leadership of the Sacco-Vanzetti defense campaign was expanded to include communists, socialists and liberals, at the urging of prominent anarchist Carlo Tresca, who recognized that anarchists alone would not be able to mobilize mass support.

By , when Sacco and Vanzetti were executed, anarchism had ceased to be a major tendency within the U. This was partly due to the attraction of Bolshevism, but also partly due to the assimilation of immigrants in the United States. Previously the major constituency for anarchism, by the late twenties, most immigrants who might have at one time followed anarchism had turned to communism, socialism or liberalism. Foster, were both anarcho-syndicalists before they became Communists. Their political histories are emblematic of a broader trajectory in the history of the U.

The decline of anarchism was unfortunate for the Communist Party and for the rest of the socialist left, which could have benefited from the anti-authoritarian perspective and moral critique that anarchists might have provided.


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In the forties and fifties, anarchism, in fact if not in name, began to reappear, often in alliance with pacifism, as the basis for a critique of militarism on both sides of the Cold War. The Communist Party supported the anti-fascist allies in the Second World War, while many anarchists and some socialists refused to serve. Within the movements of the sixties there was much more receptivity to anarchism-in-fact than had existed in the movements of the thirties.

In the thirties, Communists, radical trade unionists and others demanded state action on behalf of working people and the poor, and succeeded in pushing the New Deal toward the left. In a context in which the left was, with some success, demanding a shift in the orientation of the state, anarchism had little place. But the movements of the sixties were driven by concerns that were more compatible with an expressive style of politics, with hostility to authority in general and state power in particular.

Relatively few sixties activists called themselves anarchists or, for that matter, anything else. Especially in the early sixties, many activists rejected all ideologies and political labels. Nevertheless, many activists were drawn to a style of politics that had much in common with anarchism. Many of them, if asked what left tradition they felt closest to, would probably have named anarchism.

Civil rights struggles in the South pointed to the discrepancy between democratic values and the policies of those in power. The civil rights movement won the right of blacks to vote, and thus transformed the South, largely through the use of nonviolent direct action. Anarchist ideology was not a factor in the development of the civil rights movement.

But the beliefs of many Christians, that shaped the civil rights movement, had in common with anarchism a deeply moral approach to politics and a focus on direct action as a tactic. A generation of young activists in the North drew inspiration from the civil rights movement and wanted to adopt its style, but they were too firmly secular to identify with Christianity, and besides, many of them were Jews.

In the emerging student movement in the North, the Christian orientation of Southern blacks translated into a politics with a moral base and a style that revolved around expression.


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  • The early New Left, like the civil rights movement, was concerned with the gap between the words and deeds of those in power, in particular the contradiction between the ostensible liberalism of the Democratic Party and its pursuit of the Cold War. The war in Vietnam turned what had been a relatively mild critique of liberalism into an angry radicalism, which regarded the liberal state as the enemy. By the late sixties, political protest was intertwined with cultural radicalism based on a critique of all authority and all hierarchies of power.

    Anarchism circulated within the movement along with other radical ideologies. The influence of anarchism was strongest among radical feminists, in the commune movement, and probably in the Weather Underground and elsewhere in the violent fringe of the anti-war movement. In the late sixties, a messianic mood, a sense that victory could come any moment, swept through the movement.

    This was linked to a tendency to equate radicalism with militancy, to rapidly escalating standards for militancy, and to a tendency to equate militancy and radicalism with violence, or at least with threats of the use of violence. In the late sixties and early seventies, the movement was pervaded by rage against the war and the culture that had produced it, and wild fantasies of immanent revolution, fantasies regarded by those who held them as realistic views of what the movement could accomplish.

    In fact, movement activists rarely initiated violence.

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    But something like madness took hold. In response perhaps to the continuing international terror represented by the Vietnam War, violent fantasies swept the movement, frightening many people out of political activity. The radical movement of the late sixties and early seventies mostly collapsed when the war in Vietnam came to an end.

    The end of that movement more or less coincided with the end of the draft and the exit of the baby boom generation from the universities. It was followed by a downturn in the economy which was taken as a warning, by many young people who had participated in the movement, that it was time to resume their careers or at least find some stable means of making a living. The generation of students that followed was smaller, more cautious, and had no unifying cause. In the late seventies activists influenced by a perspective that drew from anarchism, pacifism, feminism and environmentalism initiated a movement against nuclear power, which they hoped would go on to address other issues, eventually becoming a movement for nonviolent revolution.

    They created a distinctive style of politics by drawing the concept of the affinity group from the history of Spanish anarchism, the tactic of large-scale civil disobedience from the U. The nonviolent direct action movement, as it called itself, conducted campaigns against nuclear power and nuclear arms. The version of anarchism that circulated within the movement called for egalitarian community based on small, autonomous groups. The commitments to nonviolence, and to decision making by consensus, were intended to shield the movement from the problems that had plagued the anti-war movement of the late sixties.

    Groups in various parts of the country held large, dramatic protests which helped to mobilize public opinion first against the nuclear industry and then against the arms race, and a small army of activists gained experience in non-violent civil disobedience. Mass civil disobedience demonstrations became the signature of the movement, and inability to move beyond this tactic became a liability. In each campaign a point was reached at which the size of civil disobedience protests leveled off because the maximum number of people willing to be arrested on that issue had become involved.

    At this point it would become clear that civil disobedience protests alone could not overturn the nuclear power industry, or the arms race. The problems of the nonviolent direct action movement were compounded by its rigid adherence to decision making by consensus. The decline of the nuclear industry in the late seventies and the de-escalation of the arms race in the mid-eighties brought these campaigns to an end.

    The approach to politics developed by the nonviolent direct action movement has outlasted the movement itself. The current anti-globalization movement has roots in the nonviolent direct action movement, with which it shares a structure based on small autonomous groups, a practice of decision-making by consensus, and a style of protest that revolves around mass civil disobedience.

    Each of the major organizations of the nonviolent direct action movement began with great promise but soon went into decline, in large part due to the structural and ideological rigidities associated with insistence on consensus decision-making and reluctance to acknowledge the existence of leadership within the movement.

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    This raises a question for the anti-globalization movement: will it share the fate of the nonviolent direct action movements of the sixties, seventies, and eighties, or will it gain the flexibility that will allow it to evolve with changing circumstances? The anarchist sensibility has made important contributions to the radical tradition in U. It has brought an insistence on equality and democracy, a resistance to compromise of principle for the sake of political expediency.

    Anarchism has been associated with efforts to put the values of the movement into practice and to create communities governed by these values. Anarchism has also been associated with political theater and art, with creativity as an element of political practice.

    Anarchism and the Anti-Globalization Movement

    It has insisted that radical politics need not be dreary. But the anarchist mindset also has its doctrinaire side, a tendency to insist on principle to the point of disregarding the context or likely results of political action. In this regard the anarchist sensibility has something in common with the outlook of Christian radicals who believe in acting on their consciences and leaving the consequences to God. The moral absolutism of the anarchist approach to politics is difficult to sustain in the context of a social movement. Absolute internal equality is hard to sustain.

    Movements need leaders. Anti-leadership ideology cannot eliminate leaders, but it can lead a movement to deny that it has leaders, thus undermining democratic constraints on those who assume the roles of leadership, and also preventing the formation of vehicles for recruiting new leaders when the existing ones become too tired to continue. Within radical feminism a view of all hierarchies as oppressive led to attacks on those who took on the responsibilities of leadership.

    This led to considerable internal conflict, and created a reluctance to take on leadership roles, which weakened the movement. Movements dominated by an anarchist mindset are prone to burning out early. Despite its problems, the appeal of anarchism has grown among young activists, especially within what is generally called the anti-globalization movement. The movement might better be described as against neoliberalism, or against U. But these are cumbersome phrases. So, like most people, I describe this as the anti-globalization movement.

    The most dramatic moment of the anti-globalization movement thus far, at least in the United States, was the mobilization against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in late November and early December of In the series of demonstrations that took place over the course of several days, the young, radical activists who engaged in civil disobedience were greatly outnumbered by trade unionists and members of mostly liberal environmental organizations.

    But it was the young radicals who blockaded the meetings of the WTO, fought the police, liberated the streets of Seattle, and whose militancy brought the attention of the media to a mobilization that would otherwise have gone relatively unnoticed outside the left. The alliance that formed in Seattle between young radicals, the trade unionists and the liberal environmentalists was loose, and it has become even looser since then.

    Egalitarian Politics in the Age of Globalization | SpringerLink

    It is the young radicals who have pushed the anti-globalization movement forward. The anti-globalization movement includes the countless individuals, groups, and coalitions that have joined in demonstrations—-in Seattle and elsewhere—-against the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, and the two major parties that support the existing international order. It includes the organizations—-many of them the same ones—now mobilizing in this hemisphere against the Free Trade Area of the Americas. It overlaps with the anti-corporate movement.

    Second, we want to study inequality and its effects on economic growth — not only on the growth of the mean, like GDP per capita , but along the entire income distribution: for the poor, the middle class and the rich. This, unlike the first reason, is a very instrumental reason: we want to find out whether inequality helps or retards economic progress. Common sense, some heuristics and empirical evidence suggest that neither of the extremes — that all incomes are the same, or that inequality is extremely high — are desirable.

    The former might stunt incentives to work hard, study or take risks, meaning economic growth will suffer: communist economies are a case in point. The latter might imply perpetuation of inequality across generations, where people who do not work or study still remain on the top of the pyramid thanks to the wealth of their parents, while those with talents are stuck at the bottom because they cannot pay for school, for example. Latin America is, broadly speaking, a good example of this extreme. So the objective is to find out what types of inequalities may be good for growth for example, inequality due to differential effort and what are not inequality due to gender, race or parental wealth.

    Finally, we need to look at the relationship between inequality and politics. In every political system, even a democracy, the rich tend to hold more political power. The danger is that this political power will be used to promote policies that further cement the economic power of the rich. The higher the inequality, the more likely we are to move away from democracy toward plutocracy. The implicit theme in all three reasons is that nuances are important.

    In each case, we are dealing with a continuum: justification of inequality is not black or white, and nor are our conclusions about its effect on growth or democracy. There is also a spillover from one sphere to another: suppose that more equality is good for democracy, but bad for economic growth of the poor. How do we work around these trade-offs? Such problems are not likely to be solved theoretically, nor once and for all. They will have to be dealt with empirically.

    And this is why the new and up-and-coming areas of inequality studies will benefit enormously from Big Data. As often happens in history, this interest has fortuitously coincided with much greater availability of data to study such heterogeneity.