Yesterday’s post about the M5S has got me thinking about my teenage anarchist ideals. In particular, the language about “from the base to the summit” – citizens expressing their will to their “spokespeople” in Parliament – reminded me strongly of something from the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, one of my radical heroes back in the day when I used to hop the train to Philadelphia and devour subversive texts at places like the Wooden Shoe.
In his “Revolutionary Catechism,” Bakunin declared:
The political and economic organization of social life must not, as at present, be directed from the summit to the base – the center to the circumference – imposing unity through forced centralization. On the contrary, it must be reorganized to issue from the base to the summit – from the circumference to the center…
Bakunin fled to Italy, interestingly enough, after the collapse of the Polish revolution. And it was in Napoli that he formed the “International Alliance of Social Democracy,” which would become the International Workers’ Association (a/k/a the First International). So there’s some poetic justice in the fact that this new experiment in radical democracy should be coming from Italy as well: the country my anarchist grandfather fled when Mussolini came to power.
As pessimistic as I’ve gotten about politics in recent years, I’m excited at the idea that something like this could happen in the US. After all, if a country just starting to get online can take up democracy-by-Meetup in a big way, how much more could we do it in a country where people seem to have smartphones as prosthetic attachments.
I will assert that there are no people more politically cynical than the Italians. The citizens of the US are pretty much Maoists by comparison. But I see as strong a desire here to escape the political Kabuki and have a government that actually speaks to the aspirations and concerns of the people as I do in Italy. And with the sequester and the coming of austerity to the United States, we could very well be in the same boat as the Italians sooner than we may imagine.
But who will be our Grillo?