My dear friend and Catalan speaker Jan Hartman has translated the review of “The Leaderless Revolution” that was published on Catalanweb a few days ago. I am naturally biassed but I found it an extraordinary discussion of the application of anarchist ideas to Catalonia’s independence struggle. It is also of course striking because Catalonia is one of the only places ever to experience anarchist self-government in practice.
Carne Ross is, without a doubt, a peculiar person. If we didn’t live in such convulsive times in Catalonia – where we awake every day to new media horror stories – perhaps we could dedicate ourselves with more calm to what we can learn from figures like him and draw useful conclusions relevant to the Catalan process.
We accept that almost certainly the book arrives a bit late for us Catalan independence-seekers. Ten years ago we certainly would have benefited more, as this would have helped us get our independence process, that is currently cruising along, off the ground. Nevertheless we can still extract many useful things from reading “The Leaderless Revolution” now. Consequently with the individualism that this book promotes don’t think that just reading these lines saves you from needing to read this book. You really should read it because it’s very well written: with clear flow, thoughts and objectives. It is absolutely transparent.
The book is a tribute to anarchy. That doesn’t mean we should be thinking about the familiar Orsini bombs, burning down statues of saints or churches. Quite the opposite. The term “anarchy” in our country is profoundly contaminated, and probably justifiably so. But there are other meanings for anarchism that – parting from the principle of non-violence – are really interesting. The founding fathers of the American nation were also anarchists, as were those promoting cooperatives and, to some degree, the Israelis living in a kibbutz. Self-organization and the challenge to established norms are forms of anarchism. Thus the Catalan independence process is pure anarchism, since by definition it defies existing laws and the existing status quo, and because the most recent qualitative advance came from civil society.
From anarchy comes individualism in the terms of classic liberals. We don’t need to wait for political parties or some other collective actor to do the work for us while we are watching television. From that perspective, then every revolution is doomed. But it doesn’t mean that every individual launches his own war. It’s the opposite – and the actions of Catalan civil society, in this sense, are priceless – but we all need to internalize the idea that individual actions can be important. Ross uses the metaphor of the “Mexican wave” in football stadiums. They always start with somebody, who for intrinsic chaotic motives gets up off his seat. Such an individual action sets off a chain of massive imitation: without rules, without whys: they generated it, that’s all. The lesson we need to learn is that if we want to be fiscally non-submissive or just to try to convince others around us of anything, then we cannot expect others to do it for us. We are the only ones who can do it. Then perhaps we can set off our own Mexican wave. In any case the actions we take need to be evident: only then will others get up out of their comfortable chairs.
In the best traditions of Tolstoy, history is made up of small anecdotes that are the fruit of individual actions. If Peter II of Aragon hadn’t had a gigantic debauched party the night before the Battle of Muret we probably wouldn’t be here today. Think of the death of Alexander the Great. How the world would have changed if he also had not participated in his own mortal spree. If Pere Navarro (note: leader of the Catalan Socialist Party) had just fought for a few more votes he’d be leader of the Catalan opposition today and our independence message would be much more difficult to explain abroad. We can’t deny that strange historical forces are often at work, and these small anecdotes can have long-term effects on us all. Mola and Sanjurjo died in accidents and Franco took over. Hitler, by pure chance, wasn’t killed various times during World War I. Those are just a few of thousands of such examples.
The Dangers of 2.0
This is a profoundly controversial subject. If you are reading these lines it is because you, like me, are addicted to technology. Communication 2.0 (Twitter and such) offers immeasurable benefits that Jaume Clotet perfectly defined in a Tweet not exempt from irony: “Social media are the caves of the Vietcong for Catalan independence.” However, the danger of 2.0 lies in the fact that many people think they have done enough for Catalan independence by simply retweeting something, or writing it in a blog. But that’s not enough. The Catalan revolt, like all revolts, will be won or lost in the streets. Ross makes it very clear that citizens need to meet, discuss, and act. In fact, his main thesis is that the so-called diplomacy and democracy 2.0 are neither, and in fact are nothing more than a way for those in power to give citizens a false sense of control. He’s probably right: new media, old applications.
As for how we convince those in favor of maintaining the union, we all know that we need to get up and out, basically digging in the quarry for independence. There’s one chapter of the book that I would like to focus on for a minute: a lot of research shows that in order to win over the opposition a face-to-face discussion or witnessing an ideological debate are far more effective than cold calls and door-to-door canvassing. Thus those who think that TV3 (note: the Catalan government’s public TV channel) should invite fewer people in favor of union to their discussion programs are completely wrong. But, in reality, are you won over by the discussions filled with pro-Spain union supporters? No, right? So then how on earth do we think that discussions filled only with pro-independence Catalans would be any more convincing to the unconverted?
The Means Are The End
Perhaps chess lovers will be disappointed, but they are not always a good example to follow. Let me explain. Many Spanish and Catalan politicians carry out certain activities expecting a certain global reaction. Over the past few weeks the CNI (National Intelligence Center) leaked to various Catalan newspapers reports allegedly done by a detective agency on bugging activities they had carried out at the behest of the ruling party, thereby hoping to damage the independence process. The final effect of these leaks isn’t yet known, but they will probably boomerang. Why? Because politics isn’t a chess game where the players make moves entirely based on other moves by their opponents. Since Mendelbrot we should have understood that complex political actions often produce paradoxical results. That is to say that over the medium and long term, political manipulations often come back to hit those who carry them out in the face. The solution is simple: act with transparency and towards good ends. In short, a Kantian perspective. That might seem naive, but it’s as simple as it is certain. As one chapter title says, quoting Gandhi, the means really are the end.
Finally, the objective – the target – have never been better said. Actually there is a chess metaphor that can be applied to all revolutions, and it definitely applies to “ours.” the game ends when the king dies. There really is no other objective and that should be clear from the start. We cannot forget it or relegate it. Every action that does not directly or indirectly contribute to the objective is sterile and haphazard. But the king never dies with the opening move, rather he is caught in an ambush, usually caused by the infantile mistake of a rival.
Often civil society as well as individuals lose their way and relegate the very objective that mobilized them originally in favor of secondary ones. These then get converted into the primary objectives and everything stops making sense. This is a fatal error, but one that is often repeated. Just like modern management techniques regarding company objectives, they need to be clear, explicit, and achievable. We must dedicate ourselves to them, and that’s all. Ross formulates some new action principles and notes that they need to be regularly revised.
Finally, let me make a comment on the title. I don’t interpret it as meaning that a revolution should not have any leaders. Ross continually talks about this. I do think that in many cases individuals need to act as if we had no leaders. That’s the only way we can take on the individual responsibility necessary to stop us from giving up, and so we realize what is needed at every turn. Leadership often puts people off: a new paradoxical effect. In fact, life overflows with paradoxical effects.
I honestly believe that we are fortunate. Our revolution, our independence, already has these effects. We have a civil society that is understood, we have active individuals, strong and honest leaders. It would appear perfect. But don’t you believe it. Pep Guardiola (note: former Barça football team player and coach) always overestimated his rivals in every pre-game press conference. Why? Because that was the best way to tense up his team and motivate them. Perhaps Pep doesn’t know it, but he’s a true anarchist.