My Problems With Anarchism April 28, 2005 by RedStar2000
An anarchist at RevLeft raised some criticisms of this early piece I wrote...
A New Type of Communist Organization
Thus provoking this response.
The organization must first of all be communist. Every member must have an understanding of basic Marxist concepts--especially the primary goal of abolishing the capitalist ruling class and building a communist, classless society.
Most (though not all) anarchists simply dismiss Marx as "irrelevant" or even "one of the enemy". They conflate Marx and Lenin as readily as any Leninist and assume that Lenin did "what Marx told him to do" (and Stalin did what Lenin told him to do, etc.).
To put it mildly, this is very foolish. If you don't seek to understand why 20th century Leninism was a spectacular failure, then you risk repeating all the errors they made...even under "the name of anarchism".
As I noted at the NYC IndyMedia site, the word "anarchism" is not an ideological condom that confers protection from "Lenin's Disease".
It's true that my conception of "Marxist principles" differs considerably from the "Marxist-Leninist consensus" that is still unfortunately widespread...I'm doing all in my power to challenge that "consensus". I want to get rid of what Marx himself called the "superstitious awe of authority". Likewise, I want to eliminate all the "dialectical" mysticism. I think Marxism, if it is to fulfill its potential, must rest on a solid empirical foundation...like any other science.
This might mean, should it happen at all, that a "neo-communist movement" would begin with only a few people or a few scattered collectives. People who are revolutionaries but who are (1) dissatisfied with the fuzziness and the faddishness of anarchism and (2) flatly unwilling to accept the servility of Leninism.
Not surprisingly, such an approach tends to attract the ire of Leninists and (some) anarchists alike. They don't seem to care much which box they can put me in...but they both yell at me to "get in one of the boxes, dammit".
The only difference here is that the state, being one of the main obstacles to this “primary goal” has been completely ignored by Redstar.
Actually, I've written quite a bit of material about the "state"...though perhaps very little about it as an abstraction.
In brief, my opinion is that we should try for a stateless society on "day one" after the revolution. But if that turns out not to be practical, then a "Paris Commune" kind of "state" would be the only acceptable alternative.
The Leninist/Stalinist/Maoist "hyper-state" is simply out of the question.
You see, I don't know (and neither does anyone else!) what the precise conditions will be in the next era of proletarian revolutions. So, I don't know "how much" we can do "right away" and how much will "take longer".
We should do as much as we can as quickly as we can...and then see how things work out.
The state is the main contention between anarchists and Marxists in terms of theory and more importantly tactics. To ignore such a fundamental question in a paper proclaiming to be an idea for a “New Communist Organisation” is quite careless.
The document in question was about organization...not any sort of outline of the theoretical principles of that organization except as they related to "how it would work".
I have noticed, of course, that some anarchists and some Marxists like to "fuss at each other" about the nature of the "state" in an abstract way -- is it merely a ruling class "tool" or does it have some role to play that's "independent" of classes altogether? Since serious anarchists and serious Marxists both agree that it's a social form which humanity will dispense with at the earliest opportunity, the "controversy" between them has a kind of ceremonial and even ritualistic aura about it.
In tactical terms, Leninist parties (especially as they age) have demonstrated a strong tendency to descend into parliamentary cretinism (and to denounce "a-political" anarchists for refusing to eat that shit). Here, I think the anarchist contempt has been historically justified...but note that some anarchists have nevertheless followed Leninist dietary leadership.
What is it about anarchism or the anarchist movement which Redstar dislikes? Is he afraid of the stigma surrounding the name or the dogmatic approach taken to the state?
Anarchism, like Communism, does suffer from a "stigma" -- we had a whole thread not long ago discussing the possibilities of a "new name" for a revolutionary movement.
And dogma is always an irritant...unless it's one of your own, of course.
But what really bothers me about anarchism is that anyone can "be one" and say or do "anything they like".
Except eat meat or smoke cigarettes or wear shoes or...well, some other weird-ass crapola that I am too old and cranky to put up with.
In short, anarchism is permeated with "life-style-ism"...and while it's "ok" to vote for a capitalist prick like Kerry, Lucifer Help You if you confess that tofu tastes like wet cardboard!
There is a small anarchist collective in the (medium-sized) city that I presently live in...their main activity, as far as I can tell, is building and repairing bicycles (and presumably riding them). Well, that's nice. I wish them all the best.
But it doesn't really have anything to do with the things that I am interested in.
Advertising ‘New Communist Organisations’ to young people disillusioned or unknowledgeable is confusing and counter-productive.
I have "advertised" nothing...except my view that "what exists" is not good enough.
You may dispute that if you wish...but I think the weight of the evidence is clearly on my side.
We need unity, not division and we need people to get fighting.
If I had a dime for every time I've heard that, I'd be in the ruling class and wouldn't have to concern myself with all the political stuff at all.
What it always means is: "stop arguing and do what I want you to do."
Once again, no.
I have to ask what is the point of having membership requirements and probationary periods if there is not going to be duties and obligations?
Because I expect a group of people like this to "know what they're about" and not just be "groupies". There's no need to impose artificial "duties" or "obligations" on people who are or who want to become serious revolutionaries...they will do what "needs to be done" because they are serious and dedicated.
Contemporary Leninism assumes that party members are "children" who "need constant supervision" to "make sure" that they're doing what they've been instructed to do and not "getting into mischief".
I propose a revolutionary movement of grown-ups.
Redstar should pick either anarchism or [a] vanguard party.
And a third time, no.
What I have come to find is that Redstar's ideas are not new...
Yes. I have frankly borrowed (or stolen) what I perceived to be useful ideas without regard to their source. I think that is something that all of us need to do..."without fear or favor".
I do not think there will ever be "redstar-ists" -- but I hope that there will someday be a whole lot of people who will approach political questions in the way that I have tried to do.
Be skeptical! Be critical! Don't just accept people's chosen labels at face-value! Try to figure out what's really going on!
And listen to the worm of doubt, for it speaks truth.
First posted at RevLeft on April 1, 2005
It seems to me that encouraging people to define their own systems and what works for them is fundamental to Anarchist (or leftist) thought.
It's true that this practice has been nearly, though not completely, universal among anarchists.
Only a minority of anarchists -- the platformists, primarily -- actually seem to want anarchism to mean something specific.
What's been the outcome of this approach? It seems to me that it's meant that anyone can say or do anything and still call themselves an "anarchist".
And mostly be accepted by other anarchists as an "anarchist comrade".
So when the neophyte asks, "what's anarchism?", the most accurate possible reply is "whatever works for you".
As far as I know, only the primitivists and the "anarcho-capitalists" have been rejected as fakes by most anarchists.
But don't forget the "Celebrity Anarchists for Kerry" last fall. One of them -- a woman who calls herself "Starhawk" (or something like that) -- picked up a favorable reference in crimethinc's latest (and otherwise very good) analysis of the successes and failures of demonstrations (I posted a link to it in the Practice forum).
How did that happen? How can you be an anarchist and at the same time tell people to vote for a capitalist prick like Kerry?
Some people suggest that revolutionaries "must choose" between some puffed-up Leninist "great leader" (hi there, Bob!) "or" wade into the swamp of confusion that presently characterizes anarchism.
That's a rotten "choice"!
There are, I think, serious and effective anarchist groups that do get things done...and if you're lucky, you'll find one of those.
But you've got to hunt for them. (Tip: avoid any group that upholds veganism.)
You see, "lifestyle anarchists" can be just as dogmatic and overbearing as any Leninist; the difference is that Leninists are usually dogmatic about important stuff...lifestyle anarchists are often dogmatic about trivia.
Among them, it's not so much "do your own thing" as it is "do our thing...or hit the road, Jack."
Leninists, of course, "got it wrong"...and no sensible person wants to climb into the coffin with that stinking corpse.
But if this is really going to be "the anarchist century", then serious anarchists are going to have to decide what anarchism really is...and what it isn't.
Anarchists need a coherent paradigm...otherwise they'll remain a sub-culture that some will admire and others disdain, but that no one will take seriously when revolutionary opportunities arise.
Once upon a time, in Spain, they had a paradigm or at least the makings of one.
Now, they don't.
First posted at RevLeft on April 1, 2005
I couldn't pass this one up...
Non-lifestyle anarchist: "I'm hungry... Let's eat at McDonald's."
The sensible reason not to"eat" at McDonald's has nothing to do with politics...the "food" is shit!
There is a definite anarchist movement out there focused on collective labor organizing. Just to be sure, not all anarchists are "crimethinc travel kids." I am not a kid (deep into my 30's) and there are many others who aren't. There are these people.
My understanding is that some American trade unions are indeed hiring syndicalist kids to do "labor organizing" (the hours are very long and the pay is very low)...but those kids are not doing syndicalist organizing but just ordinary "bread & butter" business unionism.
And here is an article from your link...
Power, Subjectivity, Resistance: Three Works on Postmodern Anarchism
I did not read it closely...but it seems to me that in theoretical terms, anarchism is evolving into another post-modern, subjectivist "ethical option" or even "moral option".
That is, anarchism "has no basis" in objective reality which, in the post-modern paradigm, is "unknowable" anyway.
Whatever this is, it's no foundation for proletarian revolution.
There is a typical pattern of ideas and values that they hold that would make someone called an anarchist. They are usually anti-state, anti-hierarchy, anti-centralization, pro-decentralization, pro-consensus forums, pro-people's councils, etc. And they share some basic tenets and agreements with Marxist's such as they are anti-capitalists, anti-slave/wage labor, anti-imperialists, anti-class division, etc.
Yeah...sort of. But you really never know. When someone says they're "an anarchist", you don't have too much of an idea of what they'll say next.
A lot of this comes from the fact that anarchists have "values" -- the "paradigm" that they "do" have is a "moral one".
A "cry of outrage" is not a materialist analysis. It doesn't tell you anything about what has happened or what could happen.
That's what a revolutionary paradigm is supposed to do -- allow us to figure out "what's going on" and what we can do next to change the world.
Without it, you end up saying something like "if everyone would just be nice, then the world would be a better place".
Well, it would...but that's not how things work.
First posted at RevLeft on April 1, 2005
And I almost overlooked this one...
Anarchism book release party Wed April 6th
Book release party for I Am Not A Man, I Am Dynamite! Friedrich Nietzsche and the Anarchist Tradition edited by John Moore, with Spencer Sunshine (Autonomedia).
Many people will think of this book’s proposal, to join anarchism and Nietzsche, as audacious. Nietzsche is still linked in many peoples minds to fascism, and anarchism to simplistic notions of political or social organization. However, anarchism — the political project which aims at the abolition of all forms of power, control and coercion — remains entitled to appropriate the work of one of the greatest iconoclasts of all time. Although Nietzsche was rather harsh on his anarchist contemporaries, he nevertheless shared with them a vision of the total transformation of everyday life.
Yes, Nietzsche was indeed "rather harsh" on his anarchist contemporaries.
OVER-MAN AND THE COMMUNE
What next? "Blood and Iron: Otto von Bismarck and the Anarchist Tradition"???
You folks see what I'm getting at here?
First posted at RevLeft on April 2, 2005
Marx's theory is no different in principle, really. His whole theory and magnum opus Capital and Communist Manifesto rests on the same "cry of outrage" at the moral/ethical antithesis of justice and fairness to cause a material analysis of it. He laid it out empirically and scientifically, but the crux of it to show that it is objectively morally unjust, suggesting it should be revolted against and overthrown, with the working class having to relate subjectively to revolt against it. It has to mean something to them personally to act against it collectively.
Certainly one can read Marx's works as "cries of outrage" against an objectively unjust social order that should be overthrown.
But Marx just doesn't say that it "should" be overthrown but that it will be overthrown -- that the evidence, in his eyes, points towards the inevitability of the overthrow of capitalism...something that will happen as a consequence of the very "laws" by which capitalism operates.
Capitalism creates within itself "the seeds of its own destruction".
I think a lot of people (certainly not just most anarchists but even a lot of people who call themselves communists) find this "hard to swallow".
It "violates" free will.
And because of that, Marxism is seen as "authoritarian".
Although Marxism does not constrain the behavior of any given individual at any given time, it does assert that large numbers of people over lengthy periods of time are highly probable to behave in certain ways and not in other ways.
And many people "don't like" like this view or "meta-narrative", for lots of different reasons.
But without it or something like it, the anarchist is "in trouble" when faced with the question why?.
That is, why would people who have lived in and adapted to hierarchy ever choose to live without it?
One can say that it's "a moral decision" -- people are "good" when they have the chance to be and anarchism offers greater opportunities for "good" behavior than hierarchal societies.
One can also argue that it's "a rational decision" -- people are rational when they have the chance to be and anarchism offers greater opportunities to behave rationally than hierarchal societies.
Those are not necessarily "weak" arguments; there's clearly evidence in favor of both of them.
Yet I find them "incomplete" and even, in a way, "wistful". If those arguments were really sufficient in and of themselves, then there's no reason that we should ever have developed class society or hierarchy at all. If people lived in a classless society 50,000 years ago, why did we ever move away from that?
Why should the "bad guys" (hierarchs) have won out then or ever? It just doesn't make any sense in terms of the anarchist "narrative".
It seems to me that there are two historical possibilities in the coming decades of this century.
1. Anarchism will appropriate Marxist materialism and thereby become a genuine meta-narrative in its own right. It will dump the life-stylists and focus on proletarian revolution.
2. Marxism will appropriate anarchist anti-authoritarianism and thereby become a fully liberating meta-narrative. It will dump the Leninists and focus on the self-emancipation of the proletariat.
Either outcome is fine with me!
At this point, I'm inclined to wager on the second outcome as being the more likely...but I would not be horribly shocked if the first outcome turned out to be the one that actually materialized.
It is the present situation in what passes for the revolutionary movement in these dark days that is clearly inadequate and unsatisfactory.
Choosing "which way" to be wrong always is.
First posted at RevLeft on April 2, 2005
I read the Red And Anarchist Network statement of principles and must admit that much of it is quite good.
My impression is that they are anarchists who are attempting to appropriate the best of Marxism (rather than the other way around).
And then I ran into this...
ANIMAL LIBERATION & VEGANISM
The cause for discrepancies between proletarians and animals is capital's utilization of class infighting to draw attention away from itself.
That's both subjective and nonsensical.
"Class infighting" is, I think, much more a by-product of how capitalism functions than it is a result of conscious capitalist intent. Capitalism begins by dividing workers into employed and unemployed...with the threat of catastrophe hanging over the heads of the latter. Other divisions (racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc.) can be used to sharpen this fundamental division between the employed and the unemployed...but they are "add-ons" to what already exists and would exist even if capitalists themselves were completely free of all parochial prejudices or malicious intent.
The difference between proletarians and animals is that animals are born to eat and be eaten -- they are not sentient entities. (Possible exceptions: higher primates, dolphins, whales.) An animal's normal life (completely free of any human intervention) is to eat plants or other animals until it is attacked by a stronger animal, killed and eaten itself. Animals are "oppressed" by nature itself.
The human ability to engage in rational thought does not appear to be replicated among animals of any kind...except on the simplest level.
Careful observation will reveal many "proto-human" characteristics among the higher mammals and even birds. They clearly display "emotions" that humans recognize as similar to their own. They also display social behavior that may be at the roots of some human social behavior -- though this is a very hot controversy among scientists.
But this does not make them "proletarians".
The liberation of animals is necessary in the struggle to overthrow capitalism.
No it isn't. It's completely irrelevant to the overthrow of capitalism. In fact, the "liberation" of animals is a meaningless phrase.
To venture to use animals is to stimulate overproduction, an unstable economy, and disaster with which to further exploit and manipulate the already exploited and manipulated.
Overproduction and instability are normal in a capitalist economy and would exist even on a planet without any animals at all.
RAAN supports and encourages all those who have made efforts towards matching their lifestyles with their revolutionary goals (that is, those who have refused to take part in the horrific system of animal consumption).
Will RAAN then undertake a campaign of extermination against cats, dogs, and other predators who enthusiastically "take part in the horrific system of animal consumption"?
All of this should not be taken to mean that RAAN is made up entirely of vegans, or that only vegans are welcome in it.
Meat-eaters are "Class B" members. That's generally what a statement like that turns out to mean.
Communism is not the application of a universal moral code, or the creation of a uniform society, and there would be no state or similar mechanism to impose, say, veganism, even if many people thought it desirable.
A useful warning. If there were a mechanism for imposing veganism, some of those folks would "think it desirable".
We can say with confidence though that the status quo would be untenable, and that there would be a radical transformation of the relations between humans and other species.
This may be one of those apparently "fuzzy" declarations that groups sometimes make when they don't want to alienate people and yet also want to "clue in" the "folks in the know". It really tells lefties who are also vegans that veganism is going to be the rule -- while not actually saying that in plain words to lefties who think veganism is just silly.
So...I give RAAN a C+ -- they're taken some steps in the right direction but clearly have a lot more thinking to do.
First posted at RevLeft on April 2, 2005
The "problem" of the Socialist Party U.S.A. is, of course, its long tradition of reformism. It's been more than 80 years since the SPUSA has played a significant role in revolutionary politics.
The Direct Action Tendency in the party would appear to want to reverse that tradition, at least within limits. It may possibly be a case of reformism "borrowing" some of youthful anarchism's "combative spirit".
Nothing wrong with that, of course. A more "combative spirit" can lead to more radical critiques of the capitalist system...and that's always a good thing.
The difficulty of being a "left tendency" in a liberal organization is that you are constantly faced with contradictory objectives.
1. You are "supposed" to build the party "as a whole" and not just your tendency.
2. But if you do that, the likelihood is that you'll recruit more members that oppose your tendency than who will support it -- there are more reformists in the present period than there are revolutionaries.
Thus an extremely delicate "verbal dance" is required whenever a DAT person talks to a potential recruit for the SPUSA. You have to try and get across the idea that the SPUSA is the "best option" available but not nearly as "good" as it "will be" when the DAT wins control of the party.
I've been through this...and found it to be both exhausting and futile.
Indeed, I suspect a similar dance is required even within the DAT itself.
"How much of our real ideas can we express without getting hassled by the reformist majority of the SPUSA?" I would imagine this would be a real strain...and take up a lot of time and energy that would be better spent elsewhere.
Consider this from the DAT statement...
We are the tendency that seeks to foment democratic revolution from the bottom up by building that revolution in the streets.
Does the phrase "democratic revolution" sound odd to you? It should. Revolution is "an authoritarian act" (as Engels pointed out). It's the violent seizure of power by one class from another. It's not done by a vote or by consensus but by force of arms.
The Spanish anarchists in the areas they controlled did not conduct a referendum -- "Anarchism or Fascism?" -- they killed the fascists whenever they found any.
However, this curious wording may not be a reflection of DAT's real views...but rather a delicate phrasing designed to short-circuit the ire of the SPUSA leadership (and probably most of its membership).
Then there is a larger question; fighting for your distinct outlook within an organization where you are likely to remain a permanent minority is debilitating...unless the organization itself is a very dynamic one.
The "faction fights" in SDS were (at least in the view of many) exhilarating because they were perceived as an extension of the dynamism of the whole organization. They "meant something" (or at least that's what we thought while we were going through them).
Whatever struggles take place between the DAT and the SPUSA's reformist majority (if any) must have a surrealistic character...the party has no significant political presence (to my knowledge) and one can only wonder what it means to the participants to "win".
Frankly, I suspect that the only way for the DAT to develop its potential is to leave the SPUSA. It doesn't really gain anything by remaining within the old party and possibly loses a lot.
What form the DAT would take after it's departure is speculative...I don't think it should try to become a "party" because I think the whole idea of "left parties" is obsolete. (People should remember that political parties are an invention of the bourgeoisie.)
But at least the DAT would have "room to breathe" and develop its ideas without concern for "what the party will say".
It's ironic that the DAT should refer to SDS's Port Huron Statement -- the kids at Port Huron wanted to say more but were constrained by SDS's relationship to the reformist League for Industrial Democracy.
It was when SDS broke away that it really began to move.
First posted at RevLeft on April 3, 2005
Spain had no institutionalized system of industrial-labor relations. Employers hired thugs to kill union militants and union militants formed hit-squads to strike against their exploiters. It was an industrializing pre-capitalist nation without any functioning institutions associated with the democratic liberal state.
Quite so...but we in the "west" have now had such "democratic liberal state" institutions for quite a while. And it's pretty clear that they have "functioned" against us!
Most young working people, as far as I can tell, have simply lost interest in official trade unions...they don't "make any difference" in people's lives. The minimum wage law and the 40-hour work week (with time-and-a-half for overtime) are increasingly unenforced...and a huge number of workers are excluded by law from coverage.
It seems to me that one of the things that anarchists can do is to point these things out in a creative and forceful manner. The "liberal democratic state" and its mechanisms of "conflict resolution" is an enemy of the working class...and should be plainly attacked as such.
And here lies the rub, I am not sure that collectivization holds the same appeal to US workers living in the 21st century as it did to Spanish workers and peasants in the middle of the 20th.
At the moment, I'm sure it doesn't. The question should be: is that going to be true "from now on"? And what could anarchists do to change that?
As a "crusty old Marxist dinosaur", one of the things I admire about many anarchists is their creativity -- thinking of new ways to both educate people about the real nature of this society and in using direct action against the bastards who run it.
I think of this (rightly or wrongly) as the real revolutionary heart of anarchism...and I'm disappointed that it doesn't beat as strongly as it once did.
First posted at NYC IndyMedia on April 7, 2005
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|The traditional outlet for such feelings is found in various superstitious cults...one or another fundamentalist sect that proclaims "the end is near". But in our more secular age, it's perfectly possible to use "Nature" for such a purpose. The perception that oil is "running out" and technological civilization will "collapse" invites visions of pre-capitalist utopias that dazzle the naive.
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