Filed under: Anarchist Movement, Publication
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The Lexicon series, a project of the Institute for Anarchist Studies (IAS), aimed to convert words into politically helpful tools—for those already engaged in a politics from below as well as the newly approaching—by offering definitional understandings of commonly used keywords. This project was designed as an active intervention within the Occupy Movement. Wanting to keep that project alive, we are again releasing the PDF.
Anarchism: AT ITS CORE, ANARCHISM IS INDEED A SPIRIT—ONE THAT CRIES OUT AGAINST ALL that’s wrong with present-day society, and yet boldly proclaims all that could be right under alternate forms of social organization. There are many different though often complementary ways of looking at anarchism, but in a nutshell, it can be defined as the striving toward a “free society of free individuals.” This phrase is deceptively simple. Bound within it is both an implicit multidimensional critique and an expansive, if fragile, reconstructive vision.
Colonialism: COLONIALISM CAN REFER TO A TRANSNATIONAL PROCESS OF DOMINATION, the policies by which it is carried out, and the ideologies that underwrite it. Modern colonialism has taken various forms since the Iberian, British, and French (and later German, Belgian, and Italian) incursions into Asia, Africa, and the Americas—whether for armed trade, armed missionizing, or armed settlement—began to escalate from the late fifteenth century onward.
Gender: GENDER IS A SYSTEM OF CATEGORIZING OURSELVES AND EACH OTHER (including bodies, desires, and behaviors) running through every aspect of culture and society, and intertwining with other categories and hierarchies (race, class, sexuality, age, ability, and so much more). Various aspects of biology (for example, genitals, chromosomes, and body shape) are interpreted to mean that human beings naturally belong in one of two categories: male and female. But if we look more closely, we might question the nature of gender. Biology, human and otherwise, is wonderfully diverse.
Power: POWER IS ONE OF THE MOST ELUSIVE ASPECTS OF POLITICAL SPACE. People are said to seek, hold, exercise, or lord it over others. On the Right, it is thought to be a reality that has to be seized. The world is a place where power speaks. Better it be ours than theirs. On the Left, power is often considered something dirty. It is something we must rid the world of if we are to achieve peace and equality.
White Supremacy: BIOLOGICALLY SPEAKING, THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS RACE. As hard as they’ve tried, scientists have never been able to come up with an adequate definition of it. Yet the social and political effects of race are very real. Race is like a dollar bill—a human creation rather than a fact of nature that has value only because people say it does. And like money, people give race “value” because it serves a function in society. That function in the United States is to suppress class conflict. In the United States, the system of race (what we now call “white supremacy”) emerged in the late 1600s to preserve the land and power of the wealthy. Rich planters in Virginia feared what might happen if indigenous tribes, slaves, and indentured servants united and overthrew them. Through a series of laws, they granted the English poor certain rights and privileges denied to all persons of African and Native American descent: the right to be excluded from enslavement, move about freely without a pass, acquire property, bear arms, enjoy free speech and assembly, change jobs, and vote. For their part, they respected the property of the rich, helped seize indigenous lands, and enforced slavery. In accepting this arrangement, the English poor (now called “whites”) went against their class interests to serve their “racial” ones, and thereby reinforced the power of the rich.