The Decline of Anarchism in the 20th Century

No Gods, No Masters – Part 3

Directed by Tancrede Ramonet (2017)

Film Review

Part 3 covers 1917-1939 and uses the terms anarchist and libertarian interchangeably.

For fifty years prior to World War I (see Why Social Studies Never Made Sense in School: The History of Anarchism and The Vital Role of Anarchists in the Russian Revolution) anarchism was the backbone of social change, not only in Europe, the US, China and Japan, but throughout Latin America.

The decline of the anarchist movement would start with World War I, which killed one-third of working men in the countries that participated. Brutal crackdowns against anarchists (mainly in the Soviet Union and the US) in the final years of the war would further decimate their numbers. The US wars against the trade union movement (carried out by the Department of Justice with the help of the Italian Mafia) were unprecedented in global history.

The birth of Bolshevism during the Russian Revolution would also serve to displace anarchism. Not only did Lenin brutally suppress Soviet anarchists, but he would appropriate the anarchist anthem (the Internationale) and many anarchist slogans and teachings. In the US and Western Europe, growing numbers of trade union organizers turned to communism for inspiration, rather than anarchism.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Mussolini and other European fascists also appropriated anarchist symbol – as they simultaneously gunned down and imprisoned members of the anarchist resistance.*

With the crackdown against anarchism in their own countries, many US and Soviet anarchists emigrated to France, where they formed a new international collective under the leadership of Ukrainian anarchist Nestor Makhno. This collective focused most of its energy on Spain, where more than a million** anarchists had been organizing for revolution for 70-80 years.

In addition to covering the tragedy of the US government frame-up and execution of Italian-born anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, most of Part 3 covers the Spanish Revolution (aka the Spanish Civil War).

This documentary provides a comprehensive outline of the role of Stalin, Spanish communists and Spain’s so-called republican government in launching the counterrevolution that would hand the last remnants of the Spanish republic over to fascist dictator Ferdinand Franco.

A worker-run film company filmed much of the actual Spanish Revolution, offering rare insight into what a true worker-run revolution looks like.


*In the US, the right wing also appropriated the term libertarian.

**See Anarchism and the Spanish Civil War

 

 

 

Was Silk Road Founder Framed?

The Deep Web

Directed by Alex Winter (2015)

Film Review

The Deep Web is about the January 2015 trial of the alleged founder of the Silk Road website Ross Ulbricht. In addition to exploring Ulbricht’s background and the history of the Silk Road, the documentary also lays out some pretty revealing evidence US District Judge Katherine Forrest disallowed at trial. Ulbricht was sentenced to life imprisonment for drug sales, money laundering, hacking and engagement in a continuing criminal enterprise (kingpin charge). The filmmaker clearly believes Ulbricht was denied a fair trial.

The film begins by explaining what the Dark Web is, ie the unindexed records on the Internet. The Dark Web, which is thousands of times larger than the visible Internet, includes millions of bank records, as well as private and government administrative records. It also includes illicit sites like Silk Road.

Silk Road was created in 2011 by combining two cryptographic technologies: TOR (an open source technology originally developed by the US military), a browser that allows a user to access the Internet anonymously, and bitcoins, a cryptographically generated currency which, unlike bank-generated currency, is virtually untraceable.

Silk Road Founded as Political Statement

Silk Road didn’t actually buy or sell drugs. It simply provided a secure eBay-type marketplace where buyers and sellers could link up anonymously. Over time Silk Road developed an extremely tight knit user community that participated in the site’s political forums. One of the lead administrators, who took the screen name Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR)*, always maintained that Silk Road was less about selling drugs than making a political statement. DPR presented himself as a free market libertarian and talked a lot about resisting state efforts to control every aspect of our lives. All the Silk Road administrators were unified in their desire to end the war on drugs** and the extreme violence associated with it.

This fundamental nonviolent stance was reflected in their refusal to accept sellers offering products or services that caused people harm, such as prostitution or child pornography.

The Cryptoanarchist Movement

The Deep Web also provides interesting background on the radical cryptoanarchist movement that would eventually lead to the emergence of Wikileaks, Anonymous and Silk Road. A primary goal of this movement has been to create a world where the government can’t spy on everything we do. Members feel they have an implicit duty to develop encryption tools that non-tech savvy Internet users can employ to protect their privacy and anonymity.

Before the FBI shut it down in 2013, Silk Road had over one million registered users. According to cops, judges and FBI and DEA agents filmmakers interviewed, the site accomplished its goal in reducing violence associated with the drug trade.

Judge Disallows Evidence of FBI Crimes

The defense Ulbricht attempted to present was that he founded Silk Road but wasn’t Dread Pirate Roberts, as the prosecution claimed – that the individual using this screen name had taken over the website and framed him.

In March 2015, two federal agents were indicted (after a nine month investigation) for infiltrating Silk Road and stealing and extorting millions in bitcoins from Silk Road clients. These agents had high-level access to administrative functions of Silk Road, thanks to an administrator they arrested who turned informant. These federal agents had the power to change access to administrator platforms and passwords and to change PIN numbers and commandeer accounts, including that of DPR. They also had the means to manipulate logs, chats, private messages, keys, posts, account information and bank accounts. And they had the motive to alter data in order to cover up their own actions and point guilt elsewhere.

Judge Forrest barred Ulbricht’s attorney from presenting any of this evidence at trial.

She also disallowed evidence the FBI had illegally hacked into Silk Road’s servers in Iceland without a warrant – a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure. If her ruling is allowed to stand on appeal, it sets a dangerous precedent for allowing evidence resulting from illegal government hacking to be used at trial.


*Dread Pirate Roberts was a fictional character in the novel and movie The Princess Bride. In both, when the original Dread Pirate Roberts dies, his successor takes up the alias.
**The libertarian think tank Cato Institute has taken the position that the US should legalize all addictive drugs as Portugal has done. See The Cato Institute and the Drug War

For an update on Ulbricht’s appeal and to donate to his legal defense fund (like I did) go to
http://freeross.org/

The Cato Institute and the Drug War

cato

A visit to the Cato Institute website can be a mind bending experience. Imagine my astonishment on discovering that that my views on drug reform are virtually identical to those of an conservative think tank.

The Cato Institute’s position is that the US should legalize – not decriminalize – all addictive drugs. They justify their viewpoint based on two comprehensive studies: the 2010 Drug Prohibition White Paper by Miron and Waldcock and the 2009 Drug Decriminalization in Portugal. by Glenn Greenwald (that’s right, the same  progressive Guardian columnist who first published whistleblower Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations in 2013).

An $88 Billion Windfall for Taxpayers

In addition to citing numerous studies showing that criminalization of drug abuse worsens the drug problem, the White Paper calculates that the US could save $41.3 billion dollars from legalizing addictive drugs, as well as collecting an additional $46.7 billion in revenue from regulating and taxing drugs of addiction. The difference between legalization and decriminalization is that drug smugglers and suppliers are still prosecuted under decriminalization. This, according to Cato, makes full legalization more beneficial to taxpayers, as permitting legal production and distribution of drugs allows them to be taxed.

The following is a brief breakdown of the financial benefits of drug legalization:

Savings

  • State and local savings: $25.7 billion
  • Federal savings: $15.6 billion
  • Savings from legalizing marijuana: $8.7 billion
  • Savings from legalizing other drugs of addiction: $32.6 billion

Tax Revenue

  • Projected revenue from taxing marijuana: $8.7 billion
  • Projected revenue from taxing other drugs of addiction: $38 billion

 

The Portuguese Experiment with Decriminalization

Drug Decriminalization in Portugal describes the Portuguese experiment with decriminalizing all addictive drugs in 2001. According to Greenwald, full legalization wasn’t an option, owing to international treaties Portugal had signed. Under the 2001 law, police issue citations to addicts, rather than arresting them. They then have 72 hours to report to a Dissuasion Commission, which can order a range of sanctions, including “absolution” (a finding that no drug abuse has occurred), a verbal warning, suspension of drivers and professional licenses, bans on visiting high risk locales or associating with known drug abusers, on-going monitoring for proof of abstinence, prohibition against foreign travel and suspension of welfare benefits.

Outcome studies show that the new law has resulted in surge in drug treatment in Portugal. Prior to 2001, the main barrier to treatment was addicts’ fear of arrest and prosecution. There has also been a clear reduction in drug abuse in the pre-adolescents and adolescents – a formative age group for behavioral patterns that are key determinants of future drug abuse.

The prediction by law and order proponents that decriminalization would lead to a massive increase in drug abuse never eventuated. Portuguese drug abuse rates, once among the highest in Europe, are now among the lowest. The other dire prediction, that druggies from all over Europe would flock to Portugal to get loaded, also proved unfounded. As of 2006, 95% of drug abusers receiving citations were Portuguese and 0% were from other European Union countries.

Cato, by the way, has found a way to save taxpayers another $180 billion by legalizing 8.3 million illegal immigrants. Go figure.

photo credit: guillermogg via photopin cc