Scott Wilson: Carne Ross has made an accessible accidental anarchist film

27/07/2017
Idlemild

Carne Ross’s new documentary follows a man disillusioned by the status quo, looking to put power back into the hands of the people

ACCIDENTAL ANARCHISM sounds as far away from The Sex Pistols as it’s possible to be without starring on a Mumford and Sons record. There’s a Britishness to an accidental radical view – “I’m an anarchist, and I’m ever so sorry.” It’s not the punk bile spat from Johnny Rotten’s now somehow even more rotten mouth.

It’s the situation Carne Ross found himself in. He became disillusioned with governmental politics after his time working in the British Foreign Office. At times it was ineffective, at times callous. Western handling of the middle east post-9/11 was the final straw, especially after the treatment a respected colleague, weapons expert David Kelly, received at the hands of the government.

Ross has now released a documentary film called Accidental Anarchist, in association with Creative Scotland. Presumably his anarchism is accidental because he felt pushed into the ideology rather than pulled. The government had let him down repeatedly, and he had greater faith in the power of the people than those elected by the people.

With no offence meant, it’s unlikely Carne Ross’s name comes with an alluring marketability. I hadn’t heard of him. I follow enough anarchists on Twitter, accidental or otherwise.

In the same way Ross found himself left with only anarchism, others have been forced into it, abandoned by governments either figuratively or literally.

Accidental Anarchist in turn is more of an advert for a different way of doing things. For all of the scaremongering by those who benefit from the status quo, there’s very little extreme about what Ross finds appealing. What is shocking is that it often thrives when alternatives have been exhausted. In the same way Ross found himself left with only anarchism, others have been forced into it, abandoned by governments either figuratively or literally.

Occupy Wall Street is the most mainstream example of what Ross considers anarchism. Criticised as a movement for having confusing goals, it at least operated without hierarchies, each member’s voice valid and equal. It proved its mettle as a community during Hurricane Sandy, where its existing network banded together to provide for those lacking provisions, assembling much faster than governmental aid and charities. People want to help other people.

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Anecdotally, Ross hears of a woman who says she always thought the government would be there to protect her in times of devastation, such as Hurricane Sandy, only to realise that’s not true. It’s not difficult to imagine that had the documentary been released a few months later, Grenfell Tower occupants would be voicing similar concerns. Like with the tragedy that struck New York City, it’s the people of Lancaster West Estate that looked after (and are still looking after) the people in need, and not the government.

One of my own personal hang-ups with anarchism is the apparent belief that people are inherently good, and that they will naturally help one another. My cynicism says otherwise. Ross interviews Noam Chomsky and expresses the same concern, to which Chomsky replies that the optimistic belief at the core of anarchism is also present in our current ideology: “It relies on the optimistic view that if we have leadership, it’ll be benign. The evidence of history is overwhelmingly against that.” Quite.

Political ideologies outwith the mainstream are often left to academics, radicals, and students’ late-night Twitter accounts. Ross lays it out nice and simple – we can provide, assist, and create, without the government and without impenetrable terminology.

The documentary continues, taking in a village in Spain where houses are being built by villagers who only find out which house is theirs after construction is complete so that all houses are built equally. He considers the YPG and YPJ anarchist too, and nearby communities who have been forgotten by the government or cut off by terrorist regimes.

For a position considered to be radical, it’s presented as the most cooperative and human. The grassroots nature of many of these examples requires far more face to face interaction than today’s neoliberal lifestyle entails. Respect is fostered, even between families who have reason to hate each other.

Where anarchism appears to succeed, so too is it small in size. Communities have organised effectively, but not on a massive scale. Ross now works as an independent diplomat, also the name of his non-profit organisation that effectively freelances legal and diplomatic advice. He has taken a government role and removed the governmental aspect.

As a documentary it’s attractive in its accessibility. Political ideologies outwith the mainstream are often left to academics, radicals, and students’ late-night Twitter accounts. Ross lays it out nice and simple – we can provide, assist, and create, without the government and without impenetrable terminology.

If recent shifts in political landscapes have taught us one thing, it’s that the status quo isn’t working. In its place is something oftentimes more aggressive, on both sides of the political spectrum. Film is meant to provoke and inspire, and Accidental Anarchist functions as an anarchist pamphlet, placed into the hands of people running low on options. ‘Extreme’ ideologies face backlash from the left and right so the film’s very existence is punk rock, even if Ross is more inquisitive and hopeful than The Sex Pistols.

Maybe it will provoke and inspire, and if it leads to #OccupySauchiehallSt, you can bet CommonSpace will be there.

Accidental Anarchist: Life Without Government aired on Sunday 23 July on BBC4 as part of Storyville, and can be viewed on the iPlayer.

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