Anarchist Poetry, Third Installment: Wobblies and Zapatistas

In Wobblies and Zapatistas, the need for Marxism in anarchist movements and the idea of accompaniment in social engagement are in my opinion the most important things to highlight.  Staughton Lynd’s unique perspective on anarchism comes from his having been involved extensively in labor movements across the US, and so his critique of anarchist idealism focuses on the fact that it does little to speak to the working class.  He describes anarchists as “well-intentioned individuals [who] drift in a sea of vague idealism, but with little conception of how to get from Here to There.”  He feels that by incorporating a Marxist focus on the material status quo and the concerns of the working class, anarchists (who often come from social positions of greater privilege, at least as Lynd seems to suggest) would be able to get past what is presented as a naive idealism. “Most of humanity is in a different situation than footloose students and intellectuals, and is necessarily preoccupied with economic survival,” Lynd explains, and this is the problem with which he believes anarchism is faced.  Most people, rather than being inspired by abstract ideals, are concerned merely with their own day to day existences.  “How can we expect people to hunger and thirst for something new and different if they have never had even a moment to experience it, to taste it, to live inside it?” Lynd asks the idealists.  In discussing social engagement on the part of “footloose students and intellectuals,” then, he asserts the need for a policy of accompaniment.  Based on his own experiences of being of an upper middle background and setting out to become involved in working class communities, he observes that rather than entering the community with your own plan of action that the community should undertake, you must instead come with a skill that will be useful to the individuals in that community.  In other words, instead of imposing lofty intellectual ideals on individuals, you must simply offer your services and work towards a common goal.  “Accompaniment,” Lynd explains, “is simply the idea of walking side by side with another on a common journey.”.  It requires not “uncritical deference” of one person to another, but equality.  This tension between intellectual, idealist anarchists and the immediate economic concerns of the working class is what I took as the inspiration for the poems based on Lynd’s discussion.

Theory and Practice

we are footloose students
dreaming intellectuals living
between bookshelves
occupying the empty spaces
between ideal worlds and status quos
between nows and thens
heres and theres
because our feet can find
walkways that will not exist
until we seek them out
we are building our own ways forward
in darkness in unknowing surety
we are perfectionists of the boldest kind
we pitch our tents on moral high grounds
and the smoke from our fires
burns everyone else’s eyes
we are running ahead
refusing to wait for the world
to catch up because they
don’t understand
the lofty way we hold
our existences together
the way we get drunk
on manifestoes to forget
we are alone

The Accompanist

I came to you with an ideal
held out like a peace offering
and it was all I had to give because
all I am made of are
the things I have gathered from books
from years of sitting still I know things
I know things about things
I know things about knowing things
and I thought I knew what was called for
thought I knew the dark corners
where light needed to be shed and
so I came with a flash light
I came to your home while
your children whispered upstairs
I drank your coffee I used words
I no longer know the meaning of
and you took my gift and
after I left you put it in your hall closet
between winter boots and broken umbrellas
and it sat there and changed only
the place where your husband put
his shoes when he came home in the evenings




One Response

  1. […] issue of free speech. But insurrectionary rhetoric was bridged with the strategy of “accompanying” people in their demands for a better life. Millennialism and a “coming insurrection” would […]

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