THE ANARCHIST TENSION
I haven’t read the entire thing, and I think forcing myself to do so would be very much against the point contained within. But I feel like the title alone gets to the point. There’s something deeply personal about anarchism. Rather than a structured theory of history like marxism, anarchism has that Fight Club feel to it – anarchism is about feeling the whole rest of the world pushing down on you from the outside, as a hostile force, and returning fire with a fuck you I won’t do whatcha tell mee, pushing back in every direction. While most of my political theories remain largely marxism-that-is-compatible-with-anarchism, I find this emotional vibe alone to be reason to take up the old label again. I am an anarchist. I am against the system because the system is against me. It’s personal. I feel it every day – every second.
ALL POWER TO THE IMAGINATION
Marxists can get so dogmatic, analytic, intellectual, and systemic that it becomes impossible to even have new thoughts. If perfection breeds conservatism, then marxists need to, once more, pull a Fight Club and disrupt themselves. A periodic existentialist re-evaluation of your ideas is as necessary for mental hygiene as brushing your teeth.
Marxists are often the grumps who serve the sad-but-necessary role of reminding people that certain forms of struggle are just not yet possible or intelligent. Insurrection, for example. So we find other, lower-intensity forms of resistance to engage in. But by acting as the reality principle of social movements, marxists sometimes miss the fact that conditions have shifted in our favor and that new, more aggressive tactics are now possible. I don’t necessarily mean riots; maybe now we could start running candidates where it was previously just not worth the resource investment.
Because anarchists are always chomping at the bit to escalate the intensity while marxists are typically reminding people that it’s really not the insurrection yet, anarchists tend to win the day when circumstances have shifted and an escalation in tactics is appropriate. For example, many socialists initially dismissed Occupy Wall Street as a “voluntaristic” action by a few that was ridiculous because nobody would camp for very long. They might have been correct about the camping, but before Occupy fizzled out, it pretty much went globally viral, making many city governments feel physically threatened, and resulted in riots in many places.
As another example, while many marxists dismiss civil disobedience as a foolish anarchist fad for people who have no long-term strategy, actually it isn’t always bad. Yes, it can get in the way of building a broad movement by creating an implied hierarchy of heroes vs. “passive” crowd, but actually sometimes it’s necessary. When? I’m not here to give you a schema, just think for yourself and figure out when it’s good for yourself. But here’s one example: Wisconsin. Maybe you can think of others. Maybe you should just think creatively and independently.
For all the Trotskyist prattling about “transitional demands,” actually I think transitional demands are very simple. They are about expanding the imagination. Obviously you need to back up the checks that your mouth tries to cash – you need to prove that America is wealthy/productive enough to actually afford things like universal healthcare, abolishing tuition, massive redistribution of wealth, etc. But no really, let’s dream wildly about the way the world could be, the way our lives could be, and place that directly into our political demands when we protest or demonstrate or talk or whatever.
There’s a quote by some dude, Bakunin I think, “Freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice…Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.” Don’t hold me to it, I wasn’t there and I don’t blog to make myself do more research. Point is, he’s right.
There is a tremendous lack of discussion of direct democracy in the USA’s political culture, even the US Left. Socialists often make noises about believing in workers’ self-management, but don’t really acknowledge how they’re going to have to do the heavy lifting of popularizing direct democracy before workers’ councils can even be a concept in most people’s minds. It seems that the groups most willing to discuss direct democracy are anarchists and especially anarcho-syndicalists.
The anarchist principle of self-governance is pretty much the corrective for almost everything that has ever been wrong with bolshevism. Some nitpickers might say “true bolshevism was always about self-governance” but if I said true Christianity was always about kindness and not child rape, you might see my point about how labels can get abused regardless of good intentions at the beginning. It becomes difficult to say “Stalinism is not true bolshevism” when so many people describing themselves as bolsheviks have either been Stalinists, Russian ultra-nationalists, or these days, orthodox Trotskyists who are dangerously close to Stalinism anyway.
When you have a nationalized economy without effective democratic control over that economy, it’s not anything deserving of the word “socialism.” Having formal voting power, having formal workers’ councils while the KGB breathes down your neck threatening to send you to the gulag for saying the wrong thing, doesn’t count. I really don’t care about the ortho-Trot arguments that nationalization is somehow magically workers’ property, while workers are ground beneath the gears and the apparatchiks enjoy their nice places and cars. I don’t care about their sophistry, insisting that the theory of state capitalism violates the Gospel of Marx and Trotsky, as if the mission of human self-liberation centers around quoting dead people while ignoring clearly-existing but yet-unnamed structures of economic class and political power. As Trotsky himself said in Revolution Betrayed,
If a ship is declared collective property, but the passengers continue to be divided into first, second and third class, it is clear that, for the third class passengers, differences in the conditions of life will have infinitely more importance than the juridical change in proprietorship. The first-class passengers, on the other hand, will propound, together with their coffee and cigars, the thought that collective ownership is everything and a comfortable cabin nothing at all.
Yes, I adhere to the left-revisionist deviation that a workers’ state must actually be controlled by workers.
NO REALLY – FUCK AUTHORITY – AND YES THAT MEANS YOU, PARTY HACKS
Everyone knows it, no one wants to admit it – there is something deeply wrong about how contemporary socialist/”Leninist” organizations deal with having paid staff. Everyone knows it, no one wants to admit it – the way things are done now breed a culture of party hacks. It is important to be anti-authoritarian within resistance organizations, not just in society broadly, and the organizations which claim to be anti-authoritarian are no exception.
Even if a group is organized to be “democratic,” the conferences where the democratic decision-making is performed are generally dominated hard by the paid staff of the organization. It’s not just that they control the formal procedures. It’s also that, after the same paid staff are in office for decades, an informal culture within the organization arises. That unwritten rule says, “The only statements to take seriously are ones from the leadership; the rest are to be answered either with knee-jerk condemnation or awkward silent non-response.” If you think this doesn’t apply to you, watch your own thoughts and behavior at your next political meeting (party hacks aren’t the paid staff; they’re the people who never question the paid staff). I think it is impossible to ever remove these decades-long “cadre” (a word pretty much defined to mean “anyone who has been around a while and agrees with the leadership perspective”). I think they are so entrenched, so hostile to being removed, because they have worked in a socialist organization for so long that their job history would make it impossible to do anything else. You may think it’s necessary to build up people who have practice doing something, but I think it’s more important to spread those skills and experience out to have true democracy. I think given the way the SWP leadership closed up around and defended Marty Smith from charges of sexual assault demonstrates how this decades-long clique becomes just that – a clique, with all the organizational implications that implies. It begins to act as a faction campaigning within the organization, rather than just a leadership that administrates necessary functions and is free to send mixed signals by being internally divided on various issues. This dynamic is obviously clear to anyone who has been following the crisis in the British SWP, though oddly enough it applies to some of the very organizations that have been giving encouragement to the SWP dissidents.
This isn’t just about being an anti-authoritarian for the sake of it. In fact I think it’s necessary to keep an organization alive. If you’re in an organization and you fall into the passive routine of going through the motions, selling your papers and holding your meetings, without any evaluation of your success, and you just go on doing it for years without any traction, this can literally spell death for an organization. You need to constantly be applying critical thought and results-evaluation to your own efforts. You need to completely liberate yourself from dogma or leadership pressure as you do this. You need to be organic, to have a sense of the spirit of the times, perhaps borrowed from your leadership but also self-created by the process of being on-the-ground, hitting the sidewalk and the coalitions, trying to organize and educate.
Every organization could use a little more anarchy.