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Interview with Joe Toscano, Anarchist Media Institute

Dr. Joe Toscano, of the Anarchist Media Institute, is a well-known libertarian activist. A medical practitoner and surgeon, he has run the Anarchist World radio show on 3CR since 1977 and producted a weekly newsletter, the Anarchist Age Review, since 1991. He was a chief organiser of the 1986 Australian Anarchist Centenary Celebrations. One of the most prominent recent campaigns he has been involved in is founding and promoting "Defend and Extend Medicare", Australia's public health system, through decentralised community groups. The groups attracted not only the criticism of the government's health minister (and now opposition leader) as well as briefing papers on the activists by "a senior intelligence official".

The Isocracy Network raised a number of questions with Joe, which he responded en bloc Firstly Joe, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed on The Isocracy Network. Can you give our readers a brief background on your own activities and that of the Anarchist Media Institute? You're an anarchist, you are not enrolled to vote, and yet you stand as a candidate for Federal parliamentary elections and as the Lord Mayor for Melbourne. You have probably received some criticism, both by from fellow anarchists and from mainstream politicians. Why do you do this? Politically, you've advocated delegative and direct rather representative and indirect democracy, and collective rather than representative decision-making. A serious criticism of this model is that majorities can - and often do - oppress minorities. What are the limits of collective action in your view? What about economically models of organisation? What is your perspectives on anarchist economic organisations, such as mutualism, or commonwealth approaches, such as Georgism? Finally, what are the priorities of activity for an politically-involved anarchist today?

Thanks for all the questions from isocracy. Instead of working through them methodically, I’ll answer them as a narrative which I hope will answer all the questions you asked.

I subscribe to the idea that an anarchist is someone who wants to create and live in a society without rulers. The challenge facing anarchists is what institutional, political, social and cultural structures need to be put in place to achieve this. Inequalities of power and wealth lie at the heart of most hierarchical relationships. The struggle to create a society without rulers would result in the creation of a society where wealth and power is shared equally.

The sharing of power and wealth forms the two major principles of association of an anarchist community. Direct democracy is based on the idea people make decisions and use delegates with limited mandates to carry out those decisions. Direct democracy isn’t, as most people seem to think, majority rule. In a direct democratic society both majority and minority decisions can be carried out in parallel. The majority cannot negate the minority’s wishes. Societies based on direct democratic principles make decisions on what is produced, how it is produced and how resources are allocated. It does not make decisions about limiting an individual or minority’s freedoms to live within that community because they do not follow a particular path.

Inequalities in wealth lead to the creation of powerful hierarchies. In an anarchist society – a society without rulers, wealth is held in common. That doesn’t mean people share toothbrushes, what it means is that everyone, irrespective of who they are and what they do, shares in the common wealth – common storehouse economies. Use determines ownership, while you use something it is yours, once you no longer need it it reverts back to the common pool. Nothing I have said so far I believe is too controversial.

What I am about to outline may make a few people choke on their cornflakes. For far too long anarchism has been hobbled by ideology and historical precedent. Hyphen-anarchism dominated 20th century anarchist thought and action. “Anarchists don’t marry, they don’t vote, they don’t stand for election and they don’t own property, area few anarchist sacred cows”. Activists during the 20th century divided themselves as class anarchists, anarcha feminists, anarcho syndicalists, anarcho primitivists, anarcho communists, anarcho individualists etc. etc.

Today some anarchists still seem to confuse strategy and tactics with principle. The central principle shared by all anarchists is woven in the original meaning of the word anarchos – without rulers, not without rules. The Anarchist Media Institute was formed in 1986 after the Australian Anarchist Centenary Celebrations that were held in Melbourne from the 1st – 4th May 1986 to act as the interface between the fourth estate and the Libertarian Workers for a Self-Managed Society, an anarchist group formed in Melbourne in 1976. Over the last 24 years the Anarchist Media Institute has made anarchist ideas accessible to many people in Melbourne, Victoria and Australia that had no contact with the ideas.

One of the many strategies we have used is to use Parliamentary elections to promote Direct Democracy as an alternative to Parliamentary Rule. We were involved in Don’t Vote and Vote Informal electoral campaigns between 1976 to 1992. Since 1992 we have stood candidates in Federal elections to highlight the lunacy of parliamentary rule. Would I personally take a seat in Parliament in the unlikely event of being elected on a radical ticket, promoting direct democracy and using locked up superannuation funds as seeding funding for collectives and co-operatives? I would if I could use parliament to promote its dissolution. The whole purpose of the electoral campaigns is not to get elected but to influence people to grapple with new ideas and concepts at one of the few times they are thinking politically.

I am 58, am not on the electoral roll and have never voted in a State or Federal election although voting is compulsory in Australia. I can legally stand as a candidate because of a quirk in the Australian constitution. My ambition is to drag as many anarchists kicking and screaming into the 21st century and free activists from the ideological straight jacket that many still refuse to discard. It is essential as many anarchists as possible join the 21st century and use all the means available to them to form a voluntary co-operative society based on direct democratic principles where wealth is held in common.

As the world moves from a period of abundance to scarcity, as the four horsemen of the apocalypse – increasing population growth, finite resources, increasing greenhouse emissions and capitalism, an economic system based on the creation of ever increasing profits irrespective of human, social and environmental costs create social, political and cultural conditions that will lead to barbarism if not checked. The importance of creating a community that harvests the collective wisdom of the community to deal with the disasters that a reliance on hierarchical institutions have created cannot be understated. The 21st century is the Anarchist century because the things anarchists have been saying and struggling for, for so long, long hold the key to solving the problems created by the triumph of private and state capitalism during the 20th century.


Follow-up remarks by Dr. Toscano in Anarchist Age Weekly, Issue 876


Josh Gordon’s interesting article “Just. Say. No”, Sunday Age 28/3, highlights the Achilles heel of parliamentary democracy. Every three years Australians are forced by Australia’s electoral laws to give a signed blank cheque to a parliamentary representative to make decisions for them for the next three years. Whichever political party wins office attempts to push their legislative agenda through parliament during the next three years while the Opposition will do whatever they can to obstruct and frustrate the government’s legislative agenda.

It would be hard to imagine a more cumbersome and counterproductive political model. Irrespective of who has the political authority to steer the ship in a parliamentary democracy, the Opposition tries to steer the ship in the opposite direction. To compound matters, real power in a parliamentary democracy rests in the hands of that small section of society that owns the means of production, distribution and exchange whose interests invariably take precedence over the interests of the electorate.

Considering how obstructive and counterproductive the parliamentary system is, it is time that serious thought was given to raising direct democracy as an alternative to parliamentary rule. In a society based on direct democratic principles, people don't elect parliamentary representatives to make decisions for them. They make decisions and then appoint or elect delegates to co-ordinate and carry out those decisions at a regional and national level. What at first glance may seem to be a time consuming process harvests the collective wisdom of the community and uses that wisdom to co-operatively solve the
problems we face as a community and a nation. Taliban Tony Abbott’s theatrics highlights the sooner parliament is replaced by a federation of community and workplace councils based on direct democratic principles, the sooner Australians would be in a position to make and implement political decisions that would address the problems that parliament never seems to be able to address in a representative democracy.

Q. “Is a non-violent anarchist revolution an impossible dream?”

A. The history of revolution is littered with the bones of those who died trying to achieve change. An anarchist revolution is primarily a social revolution that in part can be achieved without overt confrontation with those who exercise power. Problems arise when the interests of the emerging anarchist movement clash with the interests of the ruling classes and the State. An anarchist revolution is dependent on people making the decision to change how they live by challenging the authority of those who exercise power over them. When individuals and small groups overtly challenge the power of those who exercise economic control and the institutions that help them maintain their power they cannot hope to successfully overcome forces which exercise a monopoly on the use of force without being subjected to

The compact between the State and its citizens is based on the unwritten contract the State provides security in exchange for a monopoly on the use of force in a defined geographical region. The State’s disciplinary arm the police, the armed forces and paramilitary groups maintain authority through the use of legalised violence. Faced with such an overwhelming armed opposition the chances of a non violent anarchist revolution that goes beyond individuals changing their behaviour and forming collectives and co-operatives within the confines of the nation states they live in occurring are Buckley's and none.

The only way a non-violent anarchist revolution could occur is through mass action based on street protests and occupations that are held simultaneously throughout the country. Faced with popular mass action for egalitarian social change, it is possible the critical point could be reached where many of those men and women who make up the state’s disciplinary arm side with those who are taking mass action: when members of the state’s disciplinary arm side with those who want change, the state’s capacity to regain control through the use of violence is challenged. Such a situation has occurred in the past in France ’68, the Russian Revolution 1917, the Spanish Revolution 1936 and the Paris Commune in 1871. In these situations mass action resulted in a temporary violence free social revolution that had a positive impact on the lives of millions of people.

Problems arose when those people who had been displaced from power through mass action were able to appeal to surrounding nation states and the church to launch a counter revolution against those who had temporarily regained their freedom that resulted in unparalleled levels of violence being used on those who had temporarily freed themselves from the clutches of the ruling classes and the state. Although at first glance the chances of a violence free anarchist revolution occurring are Buckley's and none, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to create the social conditions that could result in egalitarian social change occurring without the personal and community damage caused by those sections of society that traditionally exercise power trying to reassert their authority by the use of violence.

For the real-deal heck out :

Anarchy in your definition sounds a lot like communism. I don't know why anyone would want to have a common share of everything in the way you described. I don't think it needs to make a huge hierarchy to have ownership especially if sharing is encouraged. I just feel that sometimes people to need to have ownership of something. It's not necessarily a bad thing just sometimes necessary.

I think Toscano's view of anarchism, based on the above, is founded on two main principles (a) co-operatives, acting in concert through voluntary federations and (b) delegates with automatic recall rather than parliamentary terms.

From Anarchist Age Issue 923

Q. “What are the four cornerstones of an anarchist society?”
A. Direct democracy, the idea people make decisions and elect or appoint recallable delegates to carry out those decisions has always been a cornerstone of anarchist theory. If you want to build a house you need three, preferably four, cornerstones for a building to stand up right. It’s the same with anarchism direct democracy is a tool that can be used to make decisions it is not the be all and end all of anarchism. An anarchist society based solely on direct democracy, like a building built on one cornerstone, is doomed to fail.

An anarchist society is essentially a society without rulers. Power and wealth ultimately determines who calls the shots in any society. In anarchist society – a society without rulers, wealth is held in common to ensure no one person or group can exercise power because of the wealth they control. That makes two cornerstones. The third cornerstone in an anarchist society rests on people accepting the idea in a constitution or principles of association that power and wealth needs to be shared to create an anarchist society. If a significant number of people do not accept these principles of association anarchists would need to use force to impose their will on a restive population. This would make them a new ruling class. No significant agreement, no third cornerstone.

The fourth corner stone flows from the acceptance of the first three. In an anarchist society the colour of a person’s skin, culture, language, sexual orientation, gender, age and whether they believe or don’t believe in a God makes no difference as far as their fundamental rights in an anarchist society are concerned. Accepting these cornerstones gives people the opportunity to build a society that allows them to survive and possibly prosper as seven billion people move from a period of relative abundance to scarcity.

Why is it that Religious Institutions do not pay their share of Taxation - The underclass and all other persons, Businesses pay their share of Tax so why allow the Religious Institutions get away without paying their share. They have an abundance of Prime land, Building, etc which could feed the Poor and destitute. PLEASE EXPLAIN. Thank you

Religious institutions should be classified the same as any other voluntary community organisation; like sports and social clubs etc. This would mean they would be subject to the same taxation regimen.