In Sri Lanka, protestors have occupied a patch of ground in the shadow of five-star hotels and luxury apartments for over 50 days now, in what is called GotaGoGama. It means [the President’s name] Go [village]. This community has no particular permission to be there and is democratically organized literally from the ground up. There is no leader, there is no one in charge. The government sent a mob to bust it up on May 9th, but again it has re-formed.
People in this community don’t call themselves anything, but what they’re doing vibes with one definition of anarchism. As Noam Chomsky explains, “Anarchy as a social philosophy has never meant “chaos” — in fact, anarchists have typically believed in a highly organized society, just one that’s organized democratically from below.”
Indeed, GotaGoGama is highly organized. There is housing of sorts, food, a library, tent universities, medical facilities, and a rotating cast of people and events. These are people who advocate for complete system change, while elites try to undercut them within a system that’s increasingly deranged.
I went to visit a friend there and speak to a few of his friends about anarchy, as expressed by Leo Tolstoy (who also didn’t label it either). I’m styling this text as ‘Anarchy For Anarchists’, but in truth it’s about people defining their own reality, an act which defies definition. That’s an experiment happening in Sri Lanka right now, and it was an interesting place to read Tolstoy’s work from 120 years ago, talking about the same urge to be free.
These are my notes from the conversation we had, which is a chapter by chapter summary. The book is short, and I highly recommend reading it for yourself. I don’t agree with or understand everything Leo is talking about, but it certainly makes you think.
People call you anarchists. They say that if we listen to you we will have anarchy in the country. So what is anarchy, and is it even bad? Today I will read to you from Leo Tolstoy’s 1900 book, the Slavery Of Our Times. There are 15 chapters and you should read the book. I’ll summarize it a bit here.
I. Fuck Economists
Chapter 1—“GOODS-PORTERS WHO WORK THIRTY-SEVEN HOURS”
Leo starts his book by visiting the railway, where men load goods for 37 hours at a time. He said:
“It was true that for money, only enough to subsist on, people considering themselves free men thought it necessary to give themselves up to work such as, in the days of serfdom, not one slave-owner, however cruel, would have sent his slaves to”
For money, people do work that is more cruel than the work slaves do.
In Sri Lanka, our economy was kept going by people doing very cruel work. Women plucking tea. Men and women working as passport slaves in the Middle East. People making garments and working in the free-trade zone.
Chapter 2—“SOCIETY’S INDIFFERENCE WHILE MEN PERISH”
Tolstoy spoke about garment factories in Russia. He said “during twenty years, to my knowledge, tens of thousands of young, healthy women — mothers — have ruined and are now ruining their lives and the lives of their children, in order to produce velvets and silk stuffs.”
This is what Tolstoy called the slavery of his times. And we still live in those times.