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+3 votes
Most countries in the West are dealing with increased levels of legal and illegal immigration. This is causing tension. I know this is not current 'conventional' radical thinking but I believe it would be better if we helped fix the broken countries so people don't have to leave.  And I don't mean help by exploiting natural resources, creating debt traps, I mean mutual aid on an international level. And maybe we sometimes need to use violence to help topple dictatorships. Why should people be forced to flee their homes and we do nothing to solve the problems they face?
by (250 points)
many people here will probably say something along the lines of "it's not our place to fix other people's problems, we can't even fix our own," and "people can only fix their own problems" (no one can define someone else's problem for them, etc). also, helping people has little to do with nations or borders, but a lot with distance (different terrain) and culture.

i would say both those things, for example. but beyond those, there might be an interesting conversation about what are the limits of mutual aid, what is mutual aid, exactly, or just in general, how we can best help each other, and how we help without knowing for sure what will be helpful. (support that helps one person hinders another. how can we tell without knowing the people involved?)

also, welcome to 101, james. :)
i agree with many of the things being said, but overall my attitude to this question is "fuck countries", that's too much garbage for me to deal with!
Hi Dot, thank you for your kind welcome. I am trying to work this out in my own mind. Thank you for sharing your own thoughts. I guess my bottom line, from a mutual aid perspective, is we should help people, where needed, of course based on them wanting help. However, a beaten wife will often say she does not want help and someone else might say well it is a cultural thing, beating your wife is ok for 'them'. Or that it is someone else's problem, or I can't even get my own act together, who am I to interfere in someone else's problems. Or maybe from an Anarchist point of very better to remain in an abusive relationship if the only alternative is relying on the State / Government for help? Sorry, we are talking about international mutual aid, but just using spouse abuse to help clarify. Do we help someone in need or not, whether it is a neighbour being abused or a fellow worker in China or Salvador. And how far would / should we be prepared to go. If this was 1936, how many of us would travel to Republican Spain, pick up a rifle and fight Fascism in the trenches? How many of us would have volunteered to fight Nazism or Japanese imperialism? Or would we have taken an isolationist stance, not our problem, let them sort it out themselves. Is Anarchism isolationist? Has it become isolationist? From readings of the early writers I have always felt Anarchism is about freeing the world, helping all workers. These are my thoughts.

Now need to get on with my day job! Thanks for listening. James
Dude, I get where you are coming from. But if I want to make a difference now seems I need to work within the current reality, within the current structures. Sure, hopefully in the future things will be different. But for now there are countries, and bad people, and suffering and so much garbage to deal with. So do I turn away or do I do something to make things better with the very limited resources I have? Even Nechayev had a plan to make things better. He had his plan despite / because of all the garbage. Again, I am just trying to wrap my head around this stuff. I appreciate your point of view. Thanks. James
someone you know who is being abused doesn't really map to international issues, right? but we can work with that for a bit, just to play it out.

a. women in abusive relationships might not want to leave for a variety of reasons, including 1. that they still get something out of the relationship, 2. that they disagree that it's abusive, 3. that leaving would be more dangerous for them than staying (for a variety of reasons, including partner dynamics, as well as state or border-related ones).  this gets to my point that it can be easy to think that we have the answer to a better way to live when we look at other people's lives, and sometimes we do and sometimes we don't. how well do you know this woman and/or her partner? how well do you know her situation, her vulnerabilities, what she wants? those are relevant questions, yea?

b. that analogy doesn't address the concern about distance (of various kinds, geographic and cultural), which makes it even harder to understand problems, much less find solutions.

c. the examples you list of international activity (you don't have to go back to civil-war spain, when people are doing the same thing in rojava right now) don't seem to have made things better, right? i mean, they were heroic, and praise-worthy, and it changed people's lives, and probably saved some people's lives who we're happy about, but it didn't change the international scene, it didn't make anarchy in spain or wherever... i'm not saying it wasn't worth doing because spain isn't an anarchist utopia, but i am asking what is your goal? what is it that you're thinking international interventions do along anarchist lines (anarchist to me means not recognizing borders, and people determining our lives for ourselves, not being represented by other people, etc etc). of course there are lots of different kinds of anarchist, so YMMV. :)

finally: i'm not being an isolationist, so i'd prefer you not label me with that. isolationists believe in staying inside their borders and working on issues as a nation. i'm explicitly saying no to nations and borders, but acknowledging the significance of distance and culture, right?
Dot, thank you for coming back to me. I have avoided being involved in chat / Q&A sites up until now because there is so much room for misinterpretation and misunderstanding. I am not particularly sophisticated in theories of anarchism, but a long, twisting (twisted?) journey has led me here. I am hoping this is the place to 'put stuff out there' to help me focus my own thinking. To bounce ideas and thoughts off other folks without getting burnt at the stake for perceived heresy!

When I mentioned isolationism it was a rhetorical question, 'is anarchism isolationist'? Not is Dot an isolationist. I have been really getting into this site in the last few weeks, and there seems to be a lot of talk. I guess I am looking for ideas / validation / thoughts on concrete day-to-day actions to make things better. Good to get into the theory, but then how to put it aside and take action? For many reasons the CNT-FAI and the International Brigades did not change much in Spain, in the medium term anyway, and if history is any anything to go by nothing much will probably change in Kurdistan. Or the rest of the Middle East. Or sub-Saharan Africa. So as anarchists what do we do? Work inside the system to make change? Do we refuse to work in the system because we don't acknowledge the system? Do we make excuses for inaction because there are so many variables? Does every individual who considers themselves to be anarchists just make their own call and do what they want?  These are rhetorical questions. A number of times in my life I witnessed women being abused by the guys who they were with (boyfriends? husbands?). For some reason always on train platforms or inside trains. In all instances everyone else turned away. But someone had to stand up and stop the violence. So I did. I was not being a hero, just someone had to step in, to do the right thing, as Orwell would have said to show common decency. Nobody else did. I didn't know the background, the history. But I couldn't stand-by, no time to ask questions. I had to call the guy out, tell him to stop. Luckily I have not yet been knifed, shot, beaten or told to f-off by the women who were being slapped around. And I would have done this for anyone, woman, man, gay, straight, trans, black, white, etc. It was just the right thing to do. Or does every anarchist have a different definition of what is right? What does anarchist theory say about genocide? Bad under all circumstance but might be ok if it was against Wall Street bankers?

I guess the point of my original post, from an anarchist point of view, should we intervene when we see bad things happening (acknowledging background, distance, history, culture, etc.)? Whether protesters being shot in Nigeria or arrested in Hong Kong, peasants being driven off their land in Bolivia or religious minorities in the Middle East suffering genocide? What does anarchist theory say about this? I just see inconsistencies (protests against capitalism in western cities but little said by anarchists on global issues, totalitarian governments abroad, etc.) and I am trying to make sense of it. The domestic violence angle was trying to take a global issue and using an example to make is a local issue. Do we take action or turn away? If I see someone being beaten by a partner, what appears to be abuse (sexual, racial, whatever), would I step in as an anarchist, even I don't know the background? If I see a foreign government oppressing its people, forcing them to flee, should anarchists step in / take action? Or is the nature of anarchism that every individual just makes their own assessment takes action or not according to their own interpretation of anarchism? Do all anarchists make their own call on what is 'good' and what is 'bad'? Is there nothing in anarchism so obviously bad that most agree we should stand against it? Against Wall Street bankers but not so much against foreign totalitarian regimes committing cultural and religious genocide?

Hope this make sense. Again, this is the stuff swirling around in my head. Really, I am grappling with what is anarchism, day-to-day anarchism. Maybe I am looking for a simple answer that does not exist.

Dot, thank you for taking the time to read and reply to my posts. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. James
sure - it makes lots of sense. and i will make this be my last response for a while to give other people a chance to catch up and say things too.

i think this is a good place to talk to other people about how to decide whether something is anarchist or not. but i also want to say that there are plenty of good things to do that would not be what i call anarchist. is it good to intervene in someone being hurt? frequently, yes. for a variety of reasons that may or may not involve the person being hurt (i intervene because i would have a hard time living with myself if i didn't). does that make it anarchist? not necessarily. pondering whether something is an anarchist thing to do or not can encourage us to think more deeply about better ways to intervene, as well as simply whether to or not.

to continue the limited analogy of domestic violence. i did have a neighbor who would beat up his girlfriend. i didn't know them or like him, nor did i know anyone else who knew them. so i put up flyers around the neighborhood about services that were available to survivors of abuse. i'm not saying that was a particularly great option, but it was non-confrontational (which is sometimes better for the survivor than more direct intervention). again, just a limited example.

ok. nice to have you thinking these things through with us. ttyl.
James, in the end I don't think anarchists need to have a strict set of rules for how other people can be treated, for example, there wasn't anything wrong with you stepping up for the woman on the train, yet there's nothing wrong with not doing anything about it either. In the end reality (referred to as "karma") will teach you to act different ways and not other ways. For example, if that guy pulled out a knife and tried to stab you, I'm sure you would react to a similar situation differently in the future.

I tend to look at a country as basically just being an idea, in the U.S. the idea of america tends to either be this cheesy becan of liberty and diversity, or this monstrous empire of slavery and colonialism. The idea of "america" is also a symbol for so many different types of real-life behavior, so my purpose of saying fuck countries is to point out that there's often nothing I can do about anything.

As far as isolationism, my understanding is that's as much of an economic idea as much as a decision to go war. Since isolationism as a national policy is -- a national policy -- then in reality it mostly pans out to be irrelevant to anarchists. You can be against a war but not be in favor of isolationism, you can advocate a localist plan for activities (for example, making a currency that can only be used in your home town as some activists have done) but that doesn't have much to do with isolationism.
The locals likely wouldn't view westerners coming there to "help fix their country" positively. Trying to intervene by using one person's idea of mutual aid and morals onto another group probably wouldn't go over too well either. Attempting to topple or toppling dictatorships tends to cause large amounts of people to try to flee the area for many reasons.

Doing stuff like that is paternalistic and infantilizes the people it's being done to among a host of other things. No offense or anything, but "helping to fix" this or that groups sounds pretty similar to the white savior complex.
zubaz, are you saying that there is no helping other people if they're too far away? how far is too far?

what about some kinds of intervention makes it "white savior complex" vs something appropriate?

what do you think people *can* do to assist others in other places? like, people send money, food, medical supplies to victims of earthquakes, etc. people travel to places to use their skills too... what makes that bad rather than good?

if people are asking for help, then what makes it paternalistic to help them? if someone is running towards you and they're on fire, can't you assume that they'd like help? (to start yet another analogy... lol)
i think zubaz was targeting the "helping to fix" language in particular, I both agree and disagree with them...white savior complex is the idea that white people are burdened to help out their "inferiors". I mean, i agree that wanting to help other countries leads to that psychology in some cases, but it's also just natural for humans to want to help each other when they are in danger or having a bad time of things.
Dot, thank you for engaging with me on this. I think the flyer idea was excellent, I would not have thought of that. J
Thank you Nihilist, I appreciate you coming back to me on this. J
Zubaz, this is good stuff, thank you. Talk of 'white saviour' complex is a thing now, and depending on how the folks you are working with perceive you you can be a comrade showing solidarity, a dumb schmuck conned into open their wallet or you can can been seen as a 'white saviour', and maybe other stuff in between. In my experience if you work with people as equals, if you are genuine, if your motives are clearly not exploitative and if you have a real interest in the community you are working with, I have found it is possible to work together with folks of many different races without accusations of being a white saviour. If the people you are working with like you colour is not an issue, if they don't like you then they can hang anything they want on you - racist, white saviour, etc. I have had to work with racists of all colours! Seems to me the issue is just about how one goes about it and what are one's motives.
motives are certainly important, but also consistency. if one cares about a group of people so much then presumably one will be working with them and having relationships with them, over time, which speaks to the distance question. to use the comparison that you brought up, it would mean becoming friends with the survivor of violence, not just intervening in a single (or even multiple) instance of the violence, right?

also, it's great to have someone new stay with a conversation long enough to really get at some of the ideas. thanks for that :)
friendship: now THAT is an interesting concept when it comes down to this question....
Hi Dot, until now I have not wanted to engage folks on the internet because of the opportunity for misunderstanding, etc. All comments are basically like sound bites. Without context, without an understanding of who is making the comments, their background, experiences, etc. it is hard sometimes to anchor what is being said, for me anyway.

When I spoke earlier of times when I stepped in on seeing women being slapped around the context was that I have been lucky to grow up and live in places where there were no guns on the street and, until relatively recently, young men were not so stabby. And before I stepped in I always did a quick mental risk assessment to decide if I could get away with it - would the women want me to step it, would I be seriously injured if I did. I did not grow up in the States.

I have also mostly lived and worked abroad in the last 35 years of my life. So I have been lucky to have the opportunity to work with folks in Asia, mostly, but also LATAM, Africa and Europe. In some cases, although not all, I have been on the ground long enough to develop relationships with local folk. They were built on common ground / understanding. I was genuinely interested in the places and I could make connections. I could never click with the rich folks I often dealt with, they could suss out immediately my background was working class. But with working class locals or folks in the villages I could click, I could labour with them, help them fix machinery / vehicles, I knew what it was to be skint and having to work from a young age. So that was how I could build relationships and friendships in far away places.

To your point on working with survivors of violence / domestic violence, I had a struck by lighting bolt moment is my late 20s when I discovered most of the women I knew had suffered some form of abuse or attempted abuse in their lives, in some cases when they were very young. I was pole axed. I just didn't know it was so prevalent. I never saw it growing up. I can only do what I can do. Being an old, slightly rough around the edges, white guy, women would not naturally gravitate towards me for support. But in my own family and amongst my relatively small circle of close friends and my wider network of contacts and acquaintances I would of course do anything I could to provide support. And friendship of course.

To close the circle I am at a point in my life where I have decided enough talk, discussion and reading (although books and reading is my only real vice), I need to make things happen in my own limited way, with the limited resources I have. I spend a lot of time in countries that we might say are 'developing'. I don't think people should be forced, through economic, political, security reasons to leave their homelands by their own governments, often in cahoots with big western businesses. So my thoughts are how to work with folks to create environments where they can be free to lead their lives as they want. I was keen to know the anarchist view on this. Seems to me there is really not an 'anarchist view' as such, which is ok. I will just carve my own thing out.

Hi Nihilist, I am not sure what uppercase THAT means, something positive or negative? To my mind to get things done one needs to develop relationships and the best relationships include friendship, usually based on common understanding, common viewpoint, common background, common experience. I keep reading affinity groups are the basis of anarchist organisation and action, and about communes / communities of anarchists and federations of anarchist groups. Surely these structures could only work if the relationships had some element of friendship. Same with mutual aid, locally or internationally, seems to me. We can only do what we can do. And our causes should be the ones we can identify with, where there is common ground. If you are a struggling farmer in Minnesota maybe you easily find common ground with an exploited farmer in Bolivia and that might be the beginning of some sort of mutual aid? If you are a group of domestic violence survivors in Manchester maybe there is the common ground to form a relationship with a similar group in Soweto, maybe books and experiences are exchanged, maybe donations are collected to rent temporary housing, maybe the Soweto group asks the Manchester group to arrange letter writing campaigns to the South African embassy in London to insist the government take more action to protect women from violence? Or to force UK government to pressure South African government?  It can be a two way, equal relationship of mutual aid. Based on common ground and experience, which surely would include some element of friendship?

nice to know more about you.

there are anarchists who will tell you that there is an anarchist answer, but this is definitely not the site for that :)  here we acknowledge the diversity.
"And maybe we sometimes need to use violence to help topple dictatorships."

since all government is dictatorial at most levels, you must mean universal civil war!!!! ;-)

but seriously, the u.s. tends to use violence to overthrow "democracies", not dictatorships. if/when they oust a dictator, it is likely to replace them with one that has u.s. approval.

i'm not sure how you can "fix broken countries". how are they "broken"? what would it mean to "fix" them?

i remember maybe 25 years ago, i saw some woman from a "broken" (taking liberties there) african country in an interview. apparently there was some sizeable effort from u.s. people to "fix" shit. that woman hit the nail on the head imo:

(butchered from memory, no doubt)

"We don't want or need - and will fight - you coming over here to 'save' us, or fix our problems. On the other hand, if you would like to work WITH us to help solve our problems, we're all for it."

she was pointing out how condescending, presumptuous, undesirable and useless that "savior" complex is.

so to relate that to the question, i think the best way to help is to let them have their own autonomy, and if they want help, they can ask for it. i have no problem with offering help if it looks to me like someone needs it, but it will always be their choice.

"Why should people be forced to flee their homes and we do nothing to solve the problems they face?"

do you see this "we" as cops of some sort? that sentence seems to place the u.s. in the position of "world police", aka team america. why do you assume responsibility for people you have nothing to do with? it seems a bit patronizing to me. it makes sense to observe, listen, communicate. if they want help, they can ask for it. if you think they need help, you can ask them.
Hi funkyanarchy, thank you for posting, you make some valid points. Maybe I should have been more careful in the language of my original question!

I guess I was prompted to ask the question looking at the current spate of immigrant crossings into the UK over the English Channel. The general 'left' view is all immigrants should be welcomed. The general right view is immigration should be controlled by the government. Within most western societies there are divergent views, this causes tensions. Some say accepting illegal immigrants is still 'white saviour' complex. Others ask why should immigrants feel they need to leave their homelands, why should they be forced by corrupt governments, run off their lands by greedy multi-nationals, etc.

So, maybe if we wanted to help people in need, such as illegal immigrants, maybe a better option is helping them to create safe places to live in their homelands. Accepting if they ask for the help and want the help, etc.

So, yes, what is the best way to help folks (if they want it / ask for it) in their own countries, people who are living in dangerous, violent, un-free, countries? People being exploited, oppressed, killed, disappeared, by their own governments?

Of course any help should be based on being asked, giving choices, the local folks are in complete control. But some folks have been beaten down over generations and don't even know there are alternatives. They don't even know help is an option. Sometimes you cannot ask the people, because there is a government official standing next to them. If the peasant says his community needs help he disappears. So how to start a dialogue with the people without putting them in more danger?

When I said 'we' I was meaning we people who are in a position to help, even in small ways, and also the anarchist community. Certainly not the US government (I note this site is a bit US-centric!)! I see people claiming to be anarchists taking action against McDonalds for clearing rain forests in the Amazon, but I don't see anarchists offering to help indigenous people suffering because of it. The locals don't have to accept the help, but I don't see people claiming to be anarchists offering (maybe they are, I have just not seen any of them).

An on toppling dictatorships. They exist in a number is places. Should they be allowed to exist? If an exploitative, capitalist multi-national should be destroyed why shouldn't a dictatorship? If violence can be used against multi-nationals, why not against dictatorships? Was the war against fascism / Nazi German an acceptable use of violence? Should the world have united against Pol Pot? Would that have been an acceptable use of violence, to help save 1 million people from genocide? I don't recall the Khmer people having much of a chance to ask for help or engage in a dialogue about choices, there was generally a member of the KR standing next to them with an AK47 when the foreign journalists were in town.

And then we have the Xigurs in China. Those that have been able to escape the concentration camps have been asking for help. I just don't see stuff like this on the anarchist radar. Hence my confusion and original question. I get breaking windows of a Starbucks in Seattle, I understand why folks claiming to be anarchists do it. But I don't understand why anarchists are not protesting outside Chinese consulates against what amounts to Xigur genocide.
if i were you i would assume from now on that anarchists are protesting everywhere there is a protest, whether they get noticed or not.

ironically and perhaps more to the point, protesting is not an anarchist pastime. one of the core tenets of anarchist thought is direct action, explicitly referring to not requesting government intervention, since we don't accept governments as legitimate or valid. direct action encourages us to meet our own and each others' needs -- like opening up squats for immigrants as they famously have done in greece, rather than asking the government to house or feed or defend people.

according to us, no governments, whether dictatorships or democracies, "should be allowed to exist." and anarchists around the world are doing what we can to not allow them. which may not be much, but that's a different question.

note: i'm wondering if this thread would be more usefully broken up into smaller questions--like:
why don't anarchists attack china and other dictatorships? (they do)
what counts as an anarchist attack? (big question)
are anarchists attacking things, and supporting things, i don't hear about, (yes, they are) and why might that be? (media blackouts, incoherent anarchists, anarchists frequently don't like to talk to the media because of lies and security, etc)

james, your points and concerns are spot on, imo. others have already expressed some of what i would, so i'll just let my thoughts roll.

the fact that living beings (not just humans) are consistently and horrifically oppressed, controlled, enslaved, broken, destroyed, etc, is undeniable in today's world. how to deal with that when you are a thinking, feeling individual is... a dilemma for most, to put it mildly. i think a good part of that dilemma is the disconnect between what individuals think/feel/want/are capable of, and the ubiquity/power of authoritarian institutions that exist and operate in almost complete opposition to individual autonomy.

whether it is a nation/state or a massive corporation makes no difference to me, other than possibly strategy and tactics. borders and immigration are just aspects of authoritarian control tied to the concept of the nation/state. if you haven't read it, i suggest "the continuing appeal of nationalism" by fredy perlman (

i doubt there is a single "best" way to help others that want and ask for it. each situation needs to be addressed in its own context. but i guess when you talk about toppling a massive corporation or government (again, i see all gov as dictatorships to varying degrees), you are talking about an "enemy" that has virtually infinite resources and support.

my approach would typically be to try to address the problem at its root. to me that points to civilization and mass society. but most people seem to see those as necessary, if not positively desirable. and so i would look at what is possible in the particular context being addressed. the idea that anyone could create a "safe space" - especially in distant locations - is questionable at best. helping them leave that area may be a useful approach. but as you point out, allowing people to leave does not make them safe, it merely removes them from one set of oppressors. and places them closer to others.

i do not see a viable solution at the macro level. at the level of individuals and their relationships, i think solutions need to come from them, based on their context (existing and desired).
bottom line: if the problem can only be seen in the context of nations and borders, then the solution is likely to be based on those same concepts. which is, needless to say, not anarchistic in any sense i am interested in. if, on the other hand, individuals and affinity groups decide to take direct action in ways that can circumvent (or, ideally, destroy) the power of the state, i am all for it.
not a particularly useful response, i know. but i'm glad to see someone new here engaging with these issues.

james, if you care to, take a look at comment #5 on that thread on it addresses a different subject (coronavirus), but i think there are some interesting points in there to chew on. specifically regarding anarchistic behavior and larger, widespread issues of concern.

dot. ¯\(°_o)/¯ no, I'm not saying that at all. (-_-) I don't understand how you arrived at that interpretation. 8-|  I'm commenting on the question about anarchists trying to fix brok countries so the people don't have to migrate, not on the comments. 8^| Westerners have gone to other areas with their perceived noble intentions of trying to "fix" the "broke" areas and end up doing something different that wasn't helpful. It's no a secret. The bat is in the bag. The people of the brok area would be suspicious of the intentions. Probably not too pleased. James' question didn't say anything about peoople in the brok galaxy far, far away... sending a distress signal/asking for help. Perhaps the white savior complex comment was a bit harsh, useless, and not nice thing to write to James. Perhaps vibes of the poem The White Man's Burden: US vs Phillipines would've been more appropiate.

yo zubaz. yea, i got what you were saying. my questions were trying to get you to a) deconstruct the jargon you were using, and b) maybe respond to the questions in good faith -- like, james is getting at something that does deserve some thought, even if his question has a lot going on and waves some red flags (so to speak).

but it's all good.

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