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My Anarchist Past and the "Infantile" Analogy

This post is inspired by an email exchange I had with the one of my regular readers regarding my background as an anarchist and why I'm now a communist who identifies with the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist tradition.  [Note that this regular reader is part of community that produces excellent blogs that can be found here, here, and here.]  Since I still have comrades/friends who identify as anarchist, I figured why not write a post about my anarchist past...

When I was intitially politicized, and became involved in student activism, I was an anarchist.  Or maybe, at first, a quasi-anarchist who was sympathetic to, because of my parents and uncle, liberation theology.  A strange combination perhaps, but one that somehow made sense to me at the time.  Of course, the more involved with undergraduate activism I became, an involvement that culminated in the 2001 FTAA protests in Quebec City at the end of my BA, the more theoretically anarchist I made myself.  When I began my MA I was a confirmed anarchist familiar with Goldman, Bakunin, Bookchin, etc.

Generally speaking, and like most radical activists of my generation, I saw communism as an authoritarian dead end.  Believing I was more radical than the old marxist left, and unaware that many of my critiques of communist movements were actually rightwing critiques veiled as left, I was a typical self-righteous activist: outside history, confident that my individualistic understanding was beyond reproach.  Sometimes I cringe when I think of my younger self, especially when I contemplate my partner’s more critical perspective (and patience with me), along with many of the vacuous positions I argued.  [Here I really need to credit my partner for my politicization, for many of the theoretical paths I took––this was the prime influence behind what I chose to read and investigate, described below.]

And yet anarchism has been the default radicalism at the centres of capitalism for decades.  The Soviet project failed, the Chinese Revolution followed, and it is much easier to ascribe these failings to a failure of ideology––to complain of Party authoritarianism, naive to the fact that we are echoing liberal complaints about collectivism––than investigate the complex and historical reasons for this failure.  Convenient narratives were available: Stalin the moster, Mao the even worse monster (a claim once again promoted by the right).  We could believe we were questioning everything, while we were also refusing to question ideas and history that we assumed were common sense.

Even so, there are still things about anarchism that make sense: the rejection of heirarchy and authority is wise in the face of cults of personality; the utopian belief in the creative potential of masses to reject tyranny protects us against resignation; the suspicion of those people and organizations that claimed to speak for heterogeneous movements.

In my MA, however, I began to discover that anarchist theory was generally far less sophisticated, far less developed, and far more myopic than the marxist tradition.  My first slog through Capital (only the first volume at that time––I read the second and third in the summer between my MA and PhD), along with readings from other marxists, was very enlightening.  Not that I was prepared, during the first year of my MA, to abandon anarchism.  I was also reading a lot of post-colonial and contemporary anti-racist literature that in my mind complimented anarchism because it rejected marxism as eurocentric.  Then, at the end of my first year, I read Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and discovered that the historical materialist tradition was not, as I had initially and naively assumed, simply eurocentric.

It was during the second year of my MA, when I was working on my Masters thesis, that my allegiance to anarchism began to disintegrate.  I encountered the Autonomist Marxist tradition, along with the Situationists and Deleuze and Guattari, which was my "gateway drug" to marxism.  Nick Dyer-Witheford, Harry Cleaver, early Antonio Negri and other Italian workerists proved that I could keep the spirit of anarchism while shedding its theoretical shell.  Autonomism, after all, rejects vanguardist praxis, the party form, the need to sieze state power, and all of the "authoritarian" aspects of marxism my anarchist self found abhorrent.

My reasons for eventually abandoning autonomism, however, were caused by reading Hart and Negri's Empire.  Excited that Negri had co-authored a new book on contemporary struggles, I was excited to read his thoughts in this regard.  Unfortunately, since I was at that time generally ignorant of contemporary anti-imperialist political economy, I could not properly understand what Empire was critiquing.  Even still, the jargon-laced theorization of a centre-less capitalism just struck me as wrong––especially in the post-9/11 universe where it seemed clear, or at least I thought it seemed clear, that imperialism did possess centres.

And so began, through an investigation of political economy, my descent into what may or may not be an "orthodox" marxism.  Soon I was reading Samir Amin, probably the greatest living anti-imperialist political economist, and becoming equipped to understand just why Empire was wrong.  Two years into my PhD, because of Amin and other radical political economists, I was reading Lenin and Mao and critical histories of the Russian and Chinese Revolutions.  The activist and academic community I found myself engaged with at that time (and am still engaged with) allowed for many theoretical and practical encounters.  The steep (yet also privileged) reading/studying/cognizing requirements of my doctoral dissertation, along with the activist work I was doing at the time (both in and outside my labour union), contributed to my changing political views.  In any case, rather than continue boring anyone who has bothered to read this far in an onerous post, I won't waste time describing an inventory of my route to where I am now.

Suffice to say, the 20 year old version of me would probably not like the 32 year old version of me very much; the 25 year old version of me, though a little closer, would probably think he was smarter and more philosophically sophisticated––as does everyone who begins their PhD in philosophy until they (hopefully) realize that grad school is filled with similar minded 25 year olds, or until (even more hopefully) they are corrected and humbled through their engagement with a healthy political community.  These previous selves (that, in many ways, prove Hume's point about the fiction of continuous consciousness), would probably be quite horrified that their future self ended up defining as a Maoist, or at least a Maoist-influenced, communist.  But it was my anarchist self that was also drawn to aspects of Maoism, such as the mass-line and the whole "bombard the headquarters" furor in the GPCR.  Just as it was my autonomist self who was drawn to the notion of revolutionary theoretical innovation through world historical revolution.

Communists, especially very ortho-communists, sometimes like to call anarchists "infantile" and anarchism an "infantile disorder", referencing Lenin of course (and more in a polemical than a theoretical manner it should be pointed out).  For me, in some ways, it was more of an infantile developmental stage than a "disorder."  Nor do I think it's wrong, at least in my context, to think of anarchism as infantile––not that I think any of my anarchist comrades/friends are infantile, I just want to examine how the analogy applies to my experience.  No analogies are perfect, but what the hell...

Children engage with the world with wonder, as if everything is new, and their minds are not yet set in ruts and patterns that may limit their consciousness.  Certainly children are uncritical, but they are also undogmatic.  (Again, no analogy is perfect: I realize that a lot of anarchists, who claim they are anti-authoritarian, are also prone to a very uncritical dogmatism and sublimated authoritarianism.)  Another commenter on this site once asked me to consider the problem of psychological investment in my theoretical position: do I want certain struggles to fail because I am invested in a particular view of history and must defend it at any cost?  The point is well taken, and I want to write a post on this in the future, and speaks to this analogy.  Children are not psychologically invested in specific positions; they are still largely open to the future.

If anarchism is "infantile" then maybe ortho-communism is the equivalent of a grumpy old man who shakes his cane at the young'uns.  We can also speak of communisms that are the equivalent of arrogant students who think they know everything.  Or communist theoretical positions that are also "senile."  And maybe the spirit of anarchism is good for marxists, even us marxists who believe in concepts of the party, to retain.


  1. Goddamnit, I just wrote a large comment and my blogspot had a seizure...anyway:

    I enjoyed reading about personal journey from anarchism to Maoism, as it mirrors many parts of my own journey to what I call "critical Maoism" or "pro-Mao Marxism-Leninism."(

    One thing that did not come in my story that does parallel part of yours was my reading of Hardt and Negri's "Empire." When I was dabbling in the post-Trotskyist "socialism from below" trend I was also doing some digging into autonomist Marxism (I read Cleaver's "Reading Capital Politically" and other works) and Negri was one of the giant floating heads in the sky, so I decided to dive into his work.

    When I read "Empire" and "Commonwealth" (I never read "Multitude") they read like works of fiction, especially "Empire," in the post-9/11 world. I find it extremely disheartening and I began to move away from that kind of political thought.

  2. I hate it when large comments get deleted. Yesterday I was writing a super large comment to "Fritz" that was a point-by-point response to his "critique" on the limits of spontaneity post, but then it was deleted because my computer froze. Which led me to a post a not-as-good reply instead.

    Yeah, I enjoyed reading about yours way back when I read it for the same reasons: it did seem similar. I was thinking about it again when I was half way through this entry...

    I never read Multitude either, nor did I read Commonwealth. After Empire, as I indicated, I was delving into Amin and folks connected to Amin which was so so much more concrete and explanatory. I think "Reading Capital Politically" [aside from some of the historical claims made in the intro] is still a great book, though.

  3. I defaulted back to just Radical Feminist when I came to the same conclusions; that Anarchism is myopic and infantile. I don't know where I'll go from here, maybe not anywhere as I am completely disillusioned with men and the stronghold they have over their women (intentionally possessive) in movement.

    It is the Blanket Statement nature of Anarchism that, I've come to believe, makes it so theoretically dead. What theory is there to update when you pretend that your movement is "inherently" everything. It is beyond reproach.

    Meanwhile we have Nina Power, Anwyn Crawford, and to some extent even Laurie Penny: All Marxists who are evolving theory and keeping at least one radical not-specifically-feminist tradition alive and relevant to women.

    And none of that is even getting close to the allowance for individualists, outright Capitalists, "Market" Anarchists and the fucking Post-Left pedophile cult. Fucking fuck. It's exactly as you say, a critique from the right masked as from the left.

  4. I like how you put it in the second paragraph: "[w]hat theory is there to update when you pretend your movement is 'inherently' everything." This does lead it, as you've indicated, to acting as if it's beyond reproach: especially when they say, well anarchism can be anything so if you have a; problem with *that* anarchism that's just them (Nietzscheans pull the same crap when you trash Nietzsche because they think Nietzsche can be anything).

    As much as the Cell 16 separatist types are criticized still, they did have a point about needing a separate movement. Oh, and the "anarchists" on the bottom aren't even worthy of that label: yuck.

  5. I swear, y'all must hang around some different anarchists than I do! Most the anarchists I know contemplate deeply, have complicated critiques of American capitalism and life under the state. They pilfer Marxists ideas here and there, when they're useful, but feel no obligation to take the crap.

    With regard to my specific collective, we have had no trouble at all integrating a variety of tendencies, including race traitor politics, elements of autonomist Marxism, primitivist critiques of civilization, class struggle anarchism and insurrectionism. It's actually pretty easy when you realize you have no obligation to adhere to the bad ideas as well as the good. Too often we reify a group of ideas. Communism, in particular, is guilty of this. There's a saying that I have heard, although I don't remember where: communists name their tendencies after people and anarchists name them after tactics, or ideas. There's something to that, I think, and it involves reification of ideas.

    I also think that just because the right makes a criticism of authoritarian communism, that therefore it means we should not. I suppose I am particularly open to this because I live in a state with a strong right libertarian current and many of their critiques of state communism are valid. I think it is red-baiting that sets apart the right wing attacks, and we naturally can not make such accusations even if we wanted to.

    I have seen this argument about right wing criticisms deployed before and every time it is used by manipulative communist sects that want to shut down their critics and, at the same time, pry open the door to their bankrupt and disingenuous popular frontism.

    In Phoenix, we have had this conflict in particular with the Maoist RCP here, a joke of a cult, which has attempted several times in the last ten or eleven years to implant cadre here in Arizona, most recently when they wanted to opportunistically piggy back on the migrant struggle this summer over SB1070. We sent them packing each time. We don't want their kind around here and I think we're better off for it. All they bring to the table is a desire to orient around the pathetic squishy middle, a dead end to be sure.

    Continued below...

  6. In our collective what we use in these situations is a practice known as fanaticism. It is the attack on the middle. We don't seek to persuade the political middle, we seek to eliminate it. The middle is the territory from which to co-optation and the sell-out emerge. We seek specifically to polarize arguments along lines the cause a falling out on one side or another of an issue, within a context of a larger struggle. Specifically, we use something we call "fractures and fissures" in this process, seeking, in addition to attacking the middle, to develop wedge arguments that split the opposition as well and reframe debate. We have done this quite successfully against the libertarian right in this state.

    I say this not to toot our own horns here, but to say that I think anarchism is quite capable of immense depth and investigation. Like I said earlier, perhaps it's just the fact I organize where I do that I don't really see much of the silliness you describe. Indeed, for every ridiculously naive anarchist I have encountered, I have encountered the same number of self-congratulatory communists, secure in their theories because they have some guy's name attached to them. Meanwhile, the question of struggle in the US (where I live) remains unsolved.

    In my opinion, the ideas that will attract will be those that are militant, uncompromising and sufficiently take into account the particular character of white supremacy in the US while at the same time dealing squarely with the spreading emptiness of human life in our highly technologized society. The demands that come from that movement won't look like the ones we're used to seeing. They may not involve workers wanting to take over their workplaces. They may just as likely want to occupy them only long enough to set them on fire. Conditions change, capitalism changes, and our movement and those who compose them change as well, and we learn. Getting too stuck on the old guys can be a real problem. That's not an anti-intellectual argument, but it is perhaps an argument against the stodgy elitism that so many self-satisfied Marxists seem to elude these days.

  7. Hmm... I wasn't really seeking to bash anarchism entirely in this passage, but just my anarchist past. I do have a lot of close comrades who still see it in the way that you see it, but I also think that it has massive problems as a coherent theory. As I maintain, theoretically and practically, there are world historical revolutions that have developed theory: anarchism might borrow from these, but I still feel that it is limited - obviously we disagree here, and I know I won't convince you (not that this really matters in some ways as anti-capitalists, mind you), because I have long debates about this with my anarchist comrades. Personally I think it's a dead end but I could be wrong... However, there are reasons (as I was generally indicating) why I think this that your intervention in some ways confirms.

    Moreover, anarchist theory (as much as so many anarchists may say differently) often demonstrates the same stodgy elitism that you ascribe to marxism. I think anarchofeministcrafts said it well above when she spoke about it being about everything which also resulted in nothing - borrowing in a banquet fashion does not necessarily create coherence. I was all about borrowing as well, but in doing this I often misrepresented and badly contextualized things. Not saying that you're doing this at all, but just that this is clearly a problem with a sometimes incoherent, tactics-without-cohesive-ideology position.

    The comment about reifying a group of ideas is somewhat problematic, I think. Communist theory developed from a scientific analysis of capitalism and then from world historical revolutions. Reification means giving social relations a phantom objectivity, "social relations become things" (marxified by Lukacs from the original vague liberal definition of Weber's), and I generally feel that anarchism does this just as much as bad communism. Maybe more so (but this is just my opinion) because it refuses to understand how revolutionary praxis emerges, and universal developments of this praxis, emerge from world historical struggle. And so concepts are supposed without a concrete analysis of a concrete situation: that is the definition of reification. Yes capitalism and the movement do change, but we have to understand the conditions of change and how to learn from failures and setbacks. This can only be done with a (totalizing?) dialectical and historical materialist examination... It also can only be done by understanding those massive successes that fundamentally changed the world. Things are not just disconnected: it is possible to speak of a universal history, otherwise there is no point of speaking of anything, let alone a revolutionary subject.


  8. Also, anarchists can be just as self-satisfied as marxists. It's kind of a problem with left sectarianism in general: between marxists, anarchists, and anarchists and marxists. I dont think the criticism of rightwing critiques was meant, either by myself or some of the other commenters, to be some sort of communist manipulation: this is just a fact, and both anarchists and communists are guilty of hiding right critiques in left language. Personally I think anarchists do it more because of a general holier-than-thou righteousness, something very first world and pseudo anti-authoritarian.

    In my opinion we need to take seriously that the best critiques of capitalism, as well as the greatest anti-capitalist revolutions, emerged from coherent communist theories and that just to treat them as a smorgasbord, and to ignore the foundations, dodges a strong historical materialist critique. There are reasons that communism is still the main rallying cry for the most radical movements world wide (and that goes for the most radical elements in the middle eastern intifadas right now) and that it has best developed the critiques for even race and gender. I don't pick and choose from physics or biology, mixing it up with parascience, and I now refuse to do the same with political theory.

    As for your comments about the RCP USA I would agree. Although I'm Canadian based, I do look south of the border at the RCP as some sort of weird Maoist cult. Actually, I wouldn't even call them "Maoist" anymore: the Afghanis mockingly call them "post-Maoist" and many of us, even more mockingly, call them "Avakianists." I don't think they constitute the "middle" but they sure as well, at least these days (they do have a radical history), constitute something cultish. I might have a fundamental disagreement with your anarchist orientation, but screw these disagreements here: your fanaticism with marxist cults is very well placed.

  9. I would say that the argument that "communism is still the main rallying cry for the most radical movements world wide" is a bit of the old problem of working backward from an assumption in order to prove it. A better way to say it might be to say that communism is still the main rallying cry of communist movements worldwide. Of course, it's much less impressive sounding that way. I would also say that people who seek to lead and manage peoples movements are often attracted to communism, but, again, that's something else, too.

    People worldwide rally behind a wide variety of ideas when they struggle. In my opinion, the most radical people are the ones who are fighting against the state and capitalism while rejecting the old communist desire to organize into parties to seize power, and are building autonomous movements at the grassroots that hold such parties accountable, to the extent they accept them. These generally indigenous uprisings in central and south america look a lot more like anarchist movements than communist movements. It seems to me more and more that the anarchist forms of organizing and objectives are more and more becoming the standard and communist theory is lurching increasingly towards them, attempting to integrate those points and forms into its analysis, without of course using the anarchist name or acknowledging its history precisely because the grown up Marxists are afraid of such an association.

    I think when one takes from one set of ideas and ditches the rest, one isn't picking from a smorgasbord because the ideas we're talking about share a common ancestry and interact with each other. Also, no theory has a monopoly on an idea. Plus, one problem with the reification of ideas is that it does the opposite of that -- it forces someone to take on all the ideas, crap or not, within a defined ideology, which is problematic to say the least, and, in my opinion, leads to the kind of arrogance one sees from the various strains of Marxists, supremely confident that their particular theory, often validated as it is by the universities, etc, is the smart and responsible one. I've seen more people attracted to Marxism because it is supposedly more "serious" (i.e., for reasons of personal identification) than because it offers solutions. After all, one can make quite a comfy university career that way.

    But, in truth, there are jerks in every group, so that's not really the point. The problem I see much more often is a tepid, scientism amongst Marxists. The assertion of scientific revolution is problematic indeed to me and seems just as often to represent a rear-guard maneuver to shore up the assertion that one's ideas are serious or radical. The refreshing thing about anarchism is its demand at all times for the total overthrow of society. One rarely encounters that kind of thing amongst communists. Far more often it is the communist who is counseling caution than arguing for the step into the breach.

    And, of course, anarchists assert and I think are correct that the political forms that the communist generally puts forward replicate the relations of the state and capital. In the end, this is why they never abolish the social relations they set out (in theory) to overturn. As science of capitalism, communism itself never breaks from capitalist relations and again and again makes the playing field safe for the imposition of capitalist relations. We see this time and time again -- far too often to take seriously the claim to being scientific about abolishing it. This is kind of what I mean about the RCP. I don't mean they are the middle, what I mean is they orient towards the middle, as do so many communists I know.

  10. Clearly we're coming at this from different angles, so I doubt we're going to end up agreeing. I'm very familiar with the arguments you've made because I used to make them and was very, very invested in them. But here's the problem:

    1) when I said that thing about the most radical movements worldwide, I didn't mean it in the way you rearticulated it. My point is more along the lines that anarchism does not have even close to the same cache in third world movements, except for the ones you've also tried to claim as anarchist - and this is dubious at best. So for example when activists/organizer from places in Asia who are good comrades of mine would come here and have to deal with anarchist arrogance, and be told that the same things you're saying above, they would see this as first world chauvinism;

    2) My attraction to marxism was not only because it was more "serious" but that it just has a more coherent body of theory that anarchism does not have and never has had. But does this mean that the anarchists have not been right where the communists are wrong? Of course not: your point about communists counseling caution is well taken and I would argue that the majority of communists in North America have dropped the ball when it comes to political tactics, have become reformists and left the hard work to the anarchists, or anarchist style organizing, who have been politically better on the ground.

    3) And yet anarchism lacks ideological unity and this is a serious issue. The understanding of how to build a socialist society is just something that is lacking in anarchist praxis where it can never see beyond the destruction of the state and what needs to be done in the aftermath. Because

    4) Of it's understanding of the state, an understanding that you clearly agree with in the last paragraph where you confuse "state" and "capitalism." Clearly this is not the case because there are states that are not capitalist - the state obviously has been around before capitalism. So you cannot imply that the existence of a state means the existence of "capitalist relations" - the state is the machine that permits the maintenance, either coerced or socialized, of the mode of production's social relations be they capitalist, tributary, etc. Moreover the state needs to be turned into a machine to suppress the return of the capitalist class...

  11. [cont]

    5) In fact, because you seem to conflate state and capitalism, you say that communist movements have never broken from capitalist relations and that is just not true. In both the Russian and Chinese Revolutions capitalist relations were broken and it was through the imposition of a revolutionary state that this happened. Furthermore, the understanding that the ruling class wanted to return was proven correct because they did return and the revolutions were overthrown. The mechanisms of suppression were what failed (Stalinist purges in Russia, the failure of the GPCR in China), but how could you even have any way to prevent the return of the ruling class and its ideology without a revolutionary state? Mao's understanding of how ideology lingered and would possibly lead to capitalist restoration was behind the GPCR, and it's an understanding that is very important: the ideology of the previous society will remain and if you smash the state without preparing for this people are not just going to be radicalized all by themselves: this is utopian and people are not just blank slates who are secretly revolutionary - we're socialized to think in certain ways and there are default ideologies.

    6) I agree that anarchism's demand for the total overthrow of society is refreshing. Again, I think the communists in North America have definitely failed when it comes to on the ground organizing. The RCP Canada (not the same as your RCP, and actually quite opposed, though I wish they'd change their name), along with various other groups up here, have been changing that. They were the ones who said, though, that communists in North America have a gap between theory and praxis, something the anarchists don't have... But

    7) I dont think it's "rare" to encounter communists who believe in the total overthrow of society. (To be fair, you may define "total" as smashing the state and not turning it into something to prevent counter-revolution, and here again we would disagree... But I think communists in the North American context only pay lip service to this and wouldn't even support this type of overthrow.) In North America, and most specifically in the US, communism has become in many sectors a caricature of itself. This is probably because of cold war ideology and Americanism that has resulted in anti-capitalists who see communism as bankrupt, and "communists" who aren't really anti-capitalists. Elsewhere communism has not lost its cache and this is not simply because I'm working backwards - I would suggest that anti-communist Americanism (more of a problem in America as well than here in Canada) makes the assumption that it has no cache elsewhere and people are not drawn to its banner, most specifically in Africa and Asia. Communist movements there have a history and are taken seriously - sure there are revisionist communist movements there as well, but communism is still treated as utterly viable and not simply because it has been imposed. Perhaps this is because anarchism, or anarchist forms, have not been introduced... Perhaps.

  12. And I should add that my post was generally about the validity of my anarchist past and how it was important. Funny that some of these comments are longer than the post itself!

  13. I think we're getting into tired and familiar territory for Maoists vs. anarchist discussions. As you say about some of my arguments, I am likewise familiar with the argument about the state being necessary for the suppression of the counter-revolution, but as someone from a tendency that has generally been imprisoned and killed by the revolutionary state, I'm sure you'll understand why I am unconvinced by this argument. It seems much more about the leadership of the revolutionary state consolidating its power and attacking it's left wing. Of course, we'll disagree on that, so perhaps we should leave that thread where it is.

    One other thing, though: I do not conflate the state and capital. I listed them together because I naturally see bringing down the state as a necessary condition for human freedom, likewise with the destruction of capitalism. I know that the state preceded capital, but I also know that the state exists to protect its ruling class. This, of course, is why anarchists and communists bang heads on the question of the state, as I know you know. Again, I understand your position but see little evidence for it myself. Again, maybe this is a question of perspective (as I said, being an anarchist and having a history of being the target of revolutionary red repression). Maybe we leave that where it is, too, because we are obviously both convinced of our own positions.

    As for capitalist relations under communism, I still see them in the form of the wage, the maintenance of capitalist production and the organization of work, the replacement of the capitalist with the party in the question of ownership and management of property. Etc, etc. I realize that the communist will generally say that the goal is to transform those relations, but there is so little being written on this by revolutionary communists that I am left with the history to fall back on, and that history is far from inspiring for someone interested in the complete transformation of life. The closest we get to this within Marxism in my opinion is the autonomists, which is pretty good, but generally not representative of communist currents as practiced by "serious Marxists" in my opinion, even if I consider them quite interesting. And, of course, they were quite influenced by anarchists and, naturally, their own history of wishy-washy and bankrupt communist parties. Still, the overall problem of the reimposition of capitalism generally is a problem that communists have to deal with and although I am familiar with the various arguments and explanations for why this happened, I don't see a lot useful there for my politics. Again, we probably just have to disagree here, but I wanted to state my position.

    Continued below...

  14. Finally, perhaps a more interesting question is what would "left" anti-capitalist revolutionary movements be like if there were no Marxists? I mean, from my perspective, not having communists around instantly makes the Spanish Civil War look very interesting. Also, the various uprisings in Europe in the 60's and 70's (up to Portugal, let's say) begin to look interesting as well. Likewise, I am very interested in the uprisings against Stalinist domination. The demands and the organizations the workers, etc, made offer insights as well, I think. I think this question can offer another way to look at communist parties in revolutionary struggle. Dealing with the reality of communist parties, as an anarchist, is one question, but it is often quite frustrating when communists point to anarchism's lack of "successes" (conceded for the sake of argument) like China, Russia, etc, when in fact so much communist energy is spent attacking and marginalizing anarchist organizing. I think this is why I am interested in a lot of this theory around whether anarchy ought to be situated on the left or not. A break with that, I think, makes the field of battle look a lot more clear, in my opinion, elucidating allies and enemies where perhaps these relations were previously obscured. I should not that in saying that, I am not arguing for an inclusion of anarchism on the right. Naturally, I would reject that as well.

    Anyhow, I find these much more interesting questions than where you and I disagree, informed as we are, on the state, the party, etc. Those are old arguments and, as you said, we are not likely going to convince each other.

  15. Good points, and obviously as you say we're not going to convince each other... arguments and debates in these areas tend to go around and around, though they do lead to fruitful thinking on both sides. Moreover, they're definitely more productive than arguments with reactionaries (who now I just try not to argue with).

    One thing, though, since you mentioned the Spanish Civil War. I think the revolutionary potential there was very interesting and great: it's also interesting to note that the anarchist ideologues (like Durruti) were realizing that the state needed to be seized and turned into an instrument against the previous ruling classes. Rather than argue that this proves the Leninist thesis, however, it is interesting to wonder what that state seizure, performed by a predominantly anarchist movement, would look like had the anarchists come to this realization earlier and pursued it as anarchists rather than communists. Perhaps there was possibility for a world historical revolution there, one that would solve past problems and produce new ones, that would have been a great success. Perhaps the potential for success there, on the anarchist front, remains unrealized.

    As for spending energy attacking/marginalizing anarchist organizing, I have never done that, nor have my commie comrades/friends in my social context. In fact, since a lot of our friends are anarchists, and we respect them greatly, marginalizing their work would be extremely problematic. I argue against anarchism in debates, for the reasons you're familiar with, but at the end of the day an anti-capitalist is my comrade. And, as I indicated above, my problems with theoretical unity aside, along with some of the other person-to-person problems symptomatic of a lot of anarchist movements, I feel that anarchists have generally done better in NA when it comes to actual praxis.

    As for not situating anarchism on the left, my past social anarchist self would find this a non-argument. I still think the Bob Blacks of the world are a bunch of lifestyle anarchists and that anarchism *is* "the left" and in fact is sometimes more left, and even more properly left, than people who call themselves communists.

  16. My computer doesn't always cooperate with blogger (which is quite frustrating!), so I'm going to resend this in case there was an error. If there wasn't feel free not to approve it.

    I want to make clear that I did not claim indigenous organizing for anarchists. I said it often looks more anarchist than communist. That's an important distinction, I think, because since the nature of a lot of my organizing and that of my collective is in cooperation and solidarity with indigenous peoples and revolutionaries in my region, I have always been careful to leave the comparison at just that -- a comparison. I would never claim indigenous organizing for the eurocentric anarchist tradition, even though many indigenous revolutionaries I know likewise make the comparison. They're a natural comparison, I think, but indigenous organizing has its own history and forms which are quiet independent of anarchism.

    Also, while I'm at it, I want to make it clear that I'm not talking about your energies with regard to attacking anarchists, I am speaking about revolutions and major insurrectional breaks. I'd love to expand on why I think breaking with the left is worthwhile, but I'll do that another time. I wouldn't claim it as a universal, to be applied everywhere, but here in Arizona it has proved a quite useful way of approaching the struggle and the groups that make it up. Of course, one thing PCWC is trying very hard to do is to develop a regional anarchy, reflective of our own local history and struggles.

    Always enjoy the discussion.


  17. "Finally, perhaps a more interesting question is what would "left" anti-capitalist revolutionary movements be like if there were no Marxists? I mean, from my perspective, not having communists around instantly makes the Spanish Civil War look very interesting."

    I feel the same about not having men around. Maybe then Mujeres Libres' anti-prostitution anti-free love stance would still be considered relevant to anarchists today instead of the same old strawmen re: sex-negative, polyamory, anti-prostitution, anti-porn, etc.

    But because there *were* men and that helped along with Anarchism's anti-intellectual nature (of being Inherently Feminist, Anti-Racist, and so on) women get the continued suffering and oppression of sitting by while Very Important Anarchist Men hash out the importance of porn and prostitution and even have the fucking chutzpa to *tell* women polyamory and sexuality are a part of the liberation process.

    It is a terrible thing to be an Anarchist woman and have to suffer 100 year old arguments 'cos every fucking Anarchist on earth thinks Emma Stupid Fucking Goldman is the only woman who ever existed.


    I know that people say "Anarchism would be great if it weren't for all the Anarchists." I used to agree with this. But I think the theory itself is anti-intellectual and fosters and attracts the white male supremacist who doesn't want to think too hard about his position.

  18. Phoenix Insurgent: Just as I figured you weren't assuming that I had these ideas about anarchists, I also didn't assume that you had the same notions about indigenist movements that are demonstrated by other anarchists. I apologize if that's how I came across; I do enjoy your contribution.

    Anarchofeministcrafts: your point is very well taken. We could also ask, a la Hisila Yami, what the actually existing and past communist movements would have looked like without the male leadership and exclusion, at certain key points, of women. In fact, her argument is that the exclusion of women in the leadership is actually one of the prime factors contributing to counter-revolution.

    Also, the importance Anarchist Men place on polyamory as part of liberation, that you so well critique, seems also like a symptom of the broader left that is infected with the same patriarchy. Radical marxists in some circles make the same supposedly "feminist" arguments.

    What, De Cleyre and Lucy Parsons existed? No they didn't: it was only Emma Goldman! Yeah, she was the only name that was touted in anarchist circles for a long time, just as Rosa Luxemburg was the only name touted in Marxist circles. And lo and behold, there are hundreds and hundreds of other women out there in these traditions who have been severely marginalized. It's interesting to investigate the reasons why certain names were pushed over others, as you are doing (and have done on your own blog to some extent)... Not that these pushed names aren't important, but why pushed at the exclusion of others?

    Am intrigued by your last paragraph: would like to hear more of how this statement fosters anti-intellectualism and white/male supremacy.

  19. Oh, I just meant state (and to an extent, though to a greater one in Marxism, class) reductionism. Proudhon being "the first anarchist" and all that. If a white guy feels like the pressure is too on to be anti-hierarchal in his personal life he can always take a breather and recast everything back to state reductionism.

    White men can be off the hook for everything because in their minds they don't have to do anything, if only the state would be smashed, voila, no patriarchy! (Marxist version = capitalism causes patriarchy, though admittedly I have no answer for why that hasn't fostered the same anti-intellectual environment as Anarchism but if I had to guess I'd guess it's for the same reason that Marxism is itself relevant to anarcho-communists and that is that it is both historically dogma-shattering and adaptive--but I am also more ignorant about Marxism, maybe you know?).

    All male politics are problematic, but until Anarchism gets itself a Nina Power or even someone who can speak meaningfully on hijab like stupid Badiou Marxism will easily leave it in the dust in the mind of at least this feminist.

    The existence of contemporary female Marxists with contemporary theory who aren't being shut out of the discussion is what has lately given me the real world correlation between Anarchism and anti-intellectualism. It is something that patently doesn't exist in Anarchism--and in fact quite the opposite does in the form of reactionary anti-feminist propaganda (the current essay getting all the love is The Limitations of Anti-Sexism which the name alone, disgusting right? But should you ever hate yourself enough to google that and read it, well, prepare to write Anarchists off forever).

    David Graeber still believes that Somilia, just by being stateless, is Anarchist. He never even dares to ask or ponder aloud about women or rape or queers or marital environments. If it were any political school of thought it would be shockingly intellectually bankrupt, but it is Anarchism so we're pretty used to it.

  20. Sorry I didn't reply to this immediately: after I published it, I was forced into emergency mode with a situation caused by slumlord bullshit...

    And then I wasted time, because I could not resist, reading "The Limitations of Anti-Sexism" and found it, well, as limited as the limits it ascribes to "anti-sexism." It was a strange piece, and rather shocking in its assumptions regarding feminism and structural misogyny: clearly the author isn't intending to support misogyny, but in many places it reads like the most liberal understanding of sexism and patriarchy. Even the use of Butler is slap-dash at best - and though I have problems with Butler's theoretical/philosophical commitments (the post-structuralist decentering of the subject preventing any coherent understanding of oppression and anti-oppression), I think Butler would have problems with the way she is being used. The "possibility of losing our sexiness and sensuality"??? Very odd misdirection: again, Butler herself would question the use of these terms and how they foreclose on radical identity. The author's strange use of Beauvoir is equally problematic: I think Beauvoir––a radical feminist, anti-colonialist, and marxist-sympathizer, as well as brilliant philosopher - would have serious, serious problems with the way she has been appropriated. And since when did serious feminism only desire the release of women: the best feminisms have never been liberal, but this essay begins with the assumption that feminism=liberalism. Is there something we're missing from the context? Maybe, but I can see this being used in other contexts in extremely dubious manners...

    Now I'm grumpy from reading it. Argh.

    In any case, the theoretical tradition of marxism that has a rich history of dealing with other intersecting oppressions, such as gender and race, is also one of the reasons that I was drawn into the marxist realm. I remember being at an event once, at the end of my anarchist rope and gravitating towards marxism via autonomism, when an anarchist was arguing with a marxist and saying: "what has marxism ever done for women? You're all about class." The marxist replied that the first time abortion and birth control were legalized and state funded was in Russia directly after the revolution, the second time in China directly after the revolution, and then went on to speak about the gains made by women in those places - not perfect gains, but still well ahead of the rest of the world at the time. (Later I would discover that Cell 16 was reading Fanshen and promoting it for an understanding of feminist struggle.)

    That argument still sticks with me, along with other similar confrontations, especially since my anarchist comrade could not think of a reply to the marxist woman who had made the point - she hadn't even expected there to be an answer. I was shocked by this lack of concrete understanding of history in the politics to which I still ascribed: it became yet another reason (there were so many that if I wrote them all down in that short post above I would go on forever) to convict me to actually study the history of revolutionary struggle rather than make strange blanket assumptions. Kind of like (hahaha) people like David Graeber shouldn't make idiot assumptions about Somalia that no Somalian radical progressive would ever ever ever make.

  21. I really tuned into your last comment. I remember my mother, a female tradesperson (and huge supporter of Mao), explained to me when I was a kid that one of the reasons she was attracted to communism was the gains which were made by women in the Soviet Union and China. She also mentioned that communism appealed to her because of the inspiration and support liberation movements in Africa and Latin America gained from the Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions. One the first historical accounts of this support I heard from Ma was the Cuban intervention in Angola which she told me had a major impact on her and inspired her to complete her apprenticeship training despite the huge obstacles she had to face.

    For her, as a female of colour, communism was a galvanizing ideology and force to be reckoned with. She asks the same question when dealing with ideological opponents: "what did you or your mode of thinking ever do for us?"


  22. These were definitely important moments... Of course, we should also be cognizant of the failures in these areas as well - and maybe sometimes the anarchist tradition, at least the critical anarchist tradition, can help remind us of this. We are taught, as Mao constantly claimed after all, by failures and setbacks.

  23. Yes, and, I, like you, consider the left-anarchists as comrades.

  24. I think I got some of my thoughts jumbled on the way from thinking them to expressing them here and it's been bugging me. But I am not very good in this format so trying to clarify them now would just result in further jumbling. Suffice to say that I think Anarchists are both too often state reductionists but also combine theory and praxis that engenders an anti-intellectual environment. But not necessarily that state reductionism causes anti-intellectualism, rather that it can be a useful tool of the willfully ignorant. Ok! Stopping here! Maybe I will have to blog about it with more clarity someday.

    But I was remembering also that you made reference to counter-revolution being in part the result of non-inclusive revolution. And it reminded me that (I think it was) Gay Gullickson has said similar of the French revolution--that women's rights going disregarded is what led to women becoming such a strong reactionary force post-revolution, resulting in the return of the Catholic stronghold.

    I feel guilty now that I led you to that essay because here is where I admit I've never read more than three sentences of it. The rage becomes blinding by the fourth. But you are correct in the typical Anarchist framing of feminism as liberal. Which if I'd heard it once or twice would say demonstrates vast ignorance but I've come to believe it demonstrates malicious intent and hatred of women. It is not a coincidence, in other words, that Anarchists reiterate this nonsense to each other without one ever cracking the spine of a book.

  25. You should blog about that: sounds like there's lots there.

    Good point about the French revolution. The Paris Commune on the other hand, as Butch Lee has often pointed out, did have a feminist dimension. At the same time, however, there was a lack of inclusion at certain levels of leadership which contributed to radical paralysis. Still, some of the radical revolutionary women militants (like Louise Michel) definitely felt empowered, regardless of the limits that rightly need to be criticized.

    Don't feel guilty about leading me to that essay! I think it's good to read up on these debates, even the ones that piss me off, to keep up with things. Good to know what people are mentally referencing when they make these sorts of arguments, as well as the obvious limits of these arguments (as revealed in that essay). Hell, I even read noxious reactionary literature cuz it's good to know your enemy. (It does contribute to a lot of headaches, though.)

  26. I'm pretty late to the party, I've been looking through your blog, as I'm trying to broading my horizons with a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist perspective from the horses mouth to avoid falling into ignorance and myopia. This piece is an interesting read I must say, and I can't help but find it amusing that your personal journey seems to be an inverse of my own. My own being characterized by my own disillusionment in the party, the vanguard, and the state.

    That said, you've brought to my attention that I am not nearly as well read as I should be, and should seek to fix this. Thank you for that.

    1. Well my anarchism probably began from a normative disillusionment of the party ideology, or just outright rejection, that was inherited uncritically. But yes, there are good reasons to be disillusioned with parties just as there are good reasons to be disillusioned by anti-capitalist praxis of all types in general (from burn out, from the shitty state of the mainstream left, etc.) but individual disillusionment, as well as bad parties, do not prove that a concept is erroneous when, in actual fact, it was established through class struggle as a scientific concept. The question, as I see it, is how to make sense of the historical limits reached by the Marxist-Leninist party and figure out what it means to understand a "party of the new type" (as they used to say) that goes beyond the limits of Leninism without, for all that, abandoning Leninism. I've written a bunch on a new return to this concept and why it is vital, so feel free to hunt down those articles and comment.

    2. I didn't mean to imply that it proves the ideas erroneous, just that I personally do not feel that it's a tenable method of establishing socialism.

      That said, I will make an effort to check out those articles. I'm always up for a different perspective.


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