History and rebellion

For an anarchist the real history of any country is the history of those people who find themselves in conflict with the government, a conflict which is often unexpressed except in the acts of those who are fed up to the point of rebellion. There is no period in the history of any land when many of the people haven’t found their interests different from those of the state. There is no period in the history of any country where some of the people are not in outright revolt for the right to control their own lives. It is true that sometimes it seems to be only a trickle but at other times it reaches floodtide proportions.

United States history as presented in textbooks is aimed at government funded high schools and universities. In the history they present, full accounts of those who have opposed the government are generally repressed. Many incidents of real peoples’ history are omitted. Others are treated briefly and summarily dismissed. Those involved in genuine protest or rebellion are often referred to as misled, misfits, or madmen.

In most history books there is an elitist bias which romanticizes leaders, kings, generals, politicians and dramatizes their role without mentioning the struggles of the common people for the necessities of life and control over their own existence. Most history books, whether of a liberal bourgeois or “Marxist” bent, ignore, the real struggles of the people and instead glorify this or that government and its leaders.

There is a great need for good anti-establishment history, for the return of that which has been repressed. This is not to say we need to view history as spectacle for our entertainment, or as an escape from reality into the glories of the past.

If history has any use it is for the living, for examples and encouragement, to show us what is possible. In history can be found models of the way things might be done to change the future, and models of what has failed, and errors not to be repeated. The resurgence of the repressed in history can give strength to the anarchist, the radical and those who would struggle for control of their day to day lives. If we learn well from history we know we are not alone, we have never been alone, and the future is ours if we make it so. It is for the living generation to fulfil the repressed and forgotten attempts at rebellion, at revolution, at taking possession of our own lives.

From: from the introduction to Shay's Rebellion. Chicago: Solidarity, October 1973..