An open letter to Socialist Worker on autonomism and the fight for change

My first encounter with anarchism?

An open letter to Socialist Worker newspaper in response to possibly the most ill informed smear of anarchism I have ever seen: "Autonomism and the fight for change" by Estelle Cooch.

I can rarely be bothered to address the numerous smears of anarchism by the Trotskyist press. However I felt that this one really took the biscuit just in terms of the absolute ignorance of the author, and bashed this out quickly1:

Dear editors,

I write in response to Estelle Cooch's article "Autonomism and the fight for change" in SW issue 2246, 9 April 2011.

Of all the frequently inaccurate articles on anarchism in the socialist press, I'm afraid that this one surpasses them all in terms of its level of complete baloney. I note with concern that this article is meant to be the first in a series looking at the ideas of anarchism and autonomism. However from the first sentence it is clear that the author knows absolutely nothing about either.

I will address it in the order in which it appears.

My first real encounter with anarchist ideas, although I didn’t know it at the time, was at school when I was part of organising a student walk-out against the Iraq war.

One group of friends wanted only a small number of pupils to walk out, and to daub anti-war graffiti on a rival school.

The majority of us, however, argued that our success would depend on the number of students who walked out together. We tried to win a majority using posters and leaflets.

Eventually we were proved right. And more students walking out also meant we could provide solidarity to students who were victimised.

Now the mistake here is that this was not her first encounter with anarchist ideas. There is no evidence of any sort of anarchism here. What she had an encounter with here was a group of kids who wanted to graffiti something. Arguing against a mass walkout is completely contradictory to any kind of anarchism. And indeed, anarchist schoolkids did participate in and help lead anti-war walkouts in their schools. See this contemporary discussion by pupils in the Anarchist Youth Network for example.

In situations like this, anarchists can appear very radical—let’s take the small group we’ve got and go for it! Marxists, in repeating the importance of “mass action” which involves more than just a small group of activists, can seem a bit tedious by comparison.

Again - she is not referring to anarchists here, but just most likely some antisocial kids she has dubbed "anarchists". When I was on strike with half a million council workers back in 2008 over a sub inflationary pay rise I didn't say to my co-workers, hey let's not bother trying to get everyone out let's go over the road and tag that library. I went round, spoke to people, including agency workers and non-union members arguing for solidarity. And in the end my team was one of the strongest in my council, with one of the highest union densities, 100% of union members out and several agency workers and non-members refusing to cross picket lines.

We are hoping to build on this for our upcoming strike against job cuts.

On the contrary, small group vanguardism has been characteristic of many Marxist and Leninist organisations, such as the Red Army Faction, which is much criticised by anarchists.

Many activists now call themselves “autonomists”, and more are influenced by autonomist ideas.

I would dispute that that many call themselves "autonomists" or that those that do are more influenced by autonomist ideas, but moving on…

Autonomism shares many of the characteristics of anarchism. Its main idea is a rejection of organisation.

This is completely false. Firstly, it implies that the rejection of organisation is a characteristic autonomism shares with anarchism. Whereas in fact the exact opposite is true. As leading anarchist Errico Malatesta always said: "anarchism is about organisation, organisation, organisation".

Secondly, autonomism does not reject the idea of organisation in the slightest. And I ask Estelle what her source for claiming that.

The author basically seems to have no idea of what anarchism or autonomism actually are. For starters autonomism is something which has come out of Marxism and Leninism! I would recommend her having a read of Steve Wright's Storming Heaven for an induction.

It believes small, imaginative groups of radicals should act on behalf of the masses.

No it doesn't. If anyone claims the contrary, where are their references/evidence?

It says the creation of “autonomous” spaces like occupations allows us to carve out alternative societies within the system.

Now I get an idea of where the use of "autonomist" is coming from. In fact this sort of "autonomous spaces" politics is espoused by some individualists, but is derided by the vast majority of anarchists and autonomists.

Usually, differences between Marxism and autonomism rest on three points: leadership, political parties and the state.

This isn't right either, but I want to keep this letter short so I won't go into it here.

When it comes to leadership, autonomists reject the “leadership” of capitalist society, where the wealthiest Eton toffs are in charge. So do we.

Actually, I think that the description of our capitalist leaders as the "wealthiest Eton toffs" is actually laughably juvenile, and not at all an accurate description of the situation we are in. "Socialist" leaders from working-class backgrounds are pushing through austerity measures the same as the Conservatives here, as would Labour if they were in power.

And they are also right that the “leadership” offered by trade union and labour leaders is not always a pretty picture.

This is something of an understatement…

When union officials leave behind the drudgery of everyday work, they can lose touch with those they represent.

This is a gross simplification of the forces at work which set union officials against the working class. The main issue is the unions' structural role in contemporary capitalism as negotiators on the sale of labour power. But again, this is another discussion.

But this is not what Marxists mean by leadership. Leadership exists at every moment in history. The person who argues for strikes, the person who shouts “push” against a line of riot police, the person who picks up the stone to throw at Israeli tanks—they are all leaders.

Of course, anarchists have no problem with this type of leadership.

In some university occupations, autonomists argued that voting is hierarchical and creates “leaders”, so all decisions should be agreed by everyone using consensus decision-making.

Again, I don't know on what basis Estelle is calling these people "autonomists". But using consensus decision-making is not something which is inherently anarchist at all - many anarchists have written extensively against it, for example here.

The question of leadership leads directly to the question of parties. Autonomists rightly reject the corrupt, undemocratic parties in parliament.

But a revolutionary party aims to bring together workers’ different experiences to come to a general strategy for fighting back. The capitalists have a high level of organisation—we need to organise together if we are to challenge them.

As stated above, anarchists of course do believe in organisation. What we are against is workers attempting to use political parties to conquer state power.

One important form of capitalist organisation is the state. The state is a tool the rich minority use to maintain their class rule, sometimes violently.

Autonomists and Marxists often disagree over what to do about this.

The autonomist John Holloway, author of Change the World Without Taking Power, argues that “you cannot build a society of non-power relations by conquering power”.

He suggests that small “cracks” in capitalism can be revolutionary without directly confronting the state. But the problem is that the state is hugely oppressive—we cannot afford to ignore it as Holloway suggests.

The revolutionary Vladimir Lenin said, “The state is a product of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms.”

It will attempt to crush any threat to itself, as we can see in Libya. To build a revolution that will last, workers have to smash the capitalist state.

The first problem here is is that again the author has not done her reading. John Holloway is a Marxist. And I (and most anarchists) would not agree with everything he says. (See this review of Change the world… for example)

Anarchists would agree that we need to smash the state. The problem with Leninism is that Leninist parties have not attempted to smash the capitalist state, but instead have taken it over and attempted to use it to institute socialism. In every instance this has had disastrous results, and instead of socialism it has resulted in state capitalism. 2

Ultimately, however, autonomism cannot be a successful strategy for ending the horrors of capitalist society. Karl Marx identified the key to overthrowing capitalism—the mass power of the international working class.

As for this, the author has absolutely no idea what autonomism is, and so can't really make that first statement, and as for the second, we would of course agree with old Charlie on that wholeheartedly.

Yours sincerely,
Steven Johns
Local government worker and a member of libcom.org and the Anarchist Federation

Posted By

Steven.
Apr 7 2011 12:04

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rooieravotr
Apr 7 2011 13:21

Grin. I read that article yesterday, and had a similar reaction as Steven - combined with the wry feeling: 'and I have been part of the SWP's Dutch sister organisation for almost 20 years...' Steven's response demolishes the rubbish quite nicely, fortunately.

By the way, the author of this SW article may be ill-informed or bad-intentioned, I don'nt know. But SURELY amongst the editors of this paper, there are people who KNOW this article contained falsehoods and distortions. The article is nog just stupid. The article is deceitful. This is conscious policy to make anarchism look bad, because they fear anarchism's attraction amonst their readers (in that sense it is a back-handed compliment to anarchism!). Probably they believe that these readers are more ignorant, have even done less reading, than the author of the article. In that sense, it is an insult as well.

Steven.
Apr 7 2011 13:33
rooieravotr wrote:
Grin. I read that article yesterday, and had a similar reaction as Steven - combined with the wry feeling: 'and I have been part of the SWP's Dutch sister organisation for almost 20 years...' Steven's response demolishes the rubbish quite nicely, fortunately.

By the way, the author of this SW article may be ill-informed or bad-intentioned, I don'nt know. But SURELY amongst the editors of this paper, there are people who KNOW this article contained falsehoods and distortions. The article is nog just stupid. The article is deceitful. This is conscious policy to make anarchism look bad, because they fear anarchism's attraction amonst their readers (in that sense it is a back-handed compliment to anarchism!). Probably they believe that these readers are more ignorant, have even done less reading, than the author of the article. In that sense, it is an insult as well.

thanks for the comments.

But yes, although in general the Party full timers I have spoken to don't seem to be the sharpest tools in the box, or the most well-read you would think that however many years or decades working full-time for a socialist group they would have come across sensible anarchism (even if they had only just read Homage to Catalonia they would know it was bullshit)

Steven.
Apr 7 2011 14:18

Cheers, I will drop her a line. I posted this as a comment on the article on the socialist worker website, but I know they won't publish it

Harrison
Apr 7 2011 15:28

SWP are running a series of talks on 'Anarchism and autonomism: Does the movement need leaders?' and 'Marxism and anarchism'. less so than last time i checked the event section of their site http://www.swp.org.uk/meetingsandevents , but it seems like they are running a concerted smear against libertarians so as to retain the influx of new members that the student protests and other events have caused.

Devrim
Apr 7 2011 15:34
Steven. wrote:
An open letter to Socialist Worker newspaper in response to possibly the most ill informed smear of anarchism I have ever seen

I read it and thought it wasn't that bad, not in that it isn't pretty awful, but there is a lot of competition out there. I have read far worse.

rooieravotr wrote:
By the way, the author of this SW article may be ill-informed or bad-intentioned, I don'nt know. But SURELY amongst the editors of this paper, there are people who KNOW this article contained falsehoods and distortions. The article is nog just stupid. The article is deceitful. This is conscious policy to make anarchism look bad, because they fear anarchism's attraction amonst their readers (in that sense it is a back-handed compliment to anarchism!).

I think that this must be the case. Surely somebody must know. That said I think that the level of ignorance about anarchism in the overwhelming majority of Marxist organisations is immense. It is hardly surprising when they are reading stuff like this.

Devrim

Steven.
Apr 7 2011 15:42
Xander wrote:
Why not contact her and ask her to debate her half arsed article - s.e.cooch@lse.ac.uk

that e-mail address bounces

Harrison
Apr 7 2011 16:00
Devrim wrote:
I think that this must be the case. Surely somebody must know. That said I think that the level of ignorance about anarchism in the overwhelming majority of Marxist organisations is immense. It is hardly surprising when they are reading stuff like this.

the leadership want to keep their militants in the dark...
oh well, at least the SWP refusing to genuinely theoretically confront a foreign idea will cause some of their members to eventually discover that they have been completely lied to

Awesome Dude
Apr 7 2011 16:25

The Trots are running scared of social anarchists and other anti-vanguard communists because the recent student movement openly adopted mass direct action tactics we happly cheer lead. I think the influence of libertarian communism is starting to show its' teeth in arenas that were usually 100% trot dominated. From the students movement, National Shop Stewards Network to migrant and low waged workers organisations engaged with business unions (last year against the staunch advice from Trots, key organisers in unite the union cleaners branch left for the IWW with a considerable number of workers). We should soon expect more than slanders from that corner. They have a history of working with the state security apparatus inorder to incapacitate the "counter revolutionary" competion.

Devrim
Apr 7 2011 16:28
Harrison Myers wrote:
the leadership want to keep their militants in the dark...

But the leadership now are the members who grew up being 'kept in the dark'. I would be a little surprised if not amazed to find out they didn't actually know anything about contempary anarchism.

Go you think they actually know anything about the AF and SolFed because I very rarely see one of these sort of articles on anarchism that mentions them.

Devrim

petey
Apr 7 2011 17:34

fyyi this is getting hammered on urban too

alan on tyneside
Apr 7 2011 17:47

Excellent response Steven & thanks for taking the time to make it.

People like Chris Harman, Callinicos & John Charlton are still in key positions in the SWP aren't they? Of course they know that this is a lying piece of complete crap; that's what they do. The amazing thing is that its so inept.

But there again they are probably not thinking straight after 26th March; all that effort put into all those tedious stalls all the way along the route of the march and the bloody anarchists go & grab all the publicity; all those potential 'recruits' lost!

Shit! What shall we do now? I know! We'll urge people to vote Labour without illusions, call for a general strike and start publishing loads of made-up bollocks about the anarchists; we might hang on to a few of the more gullible younger members that way!

Doubt it. I was a member of the SWP when I was a youngperson and as I'm not the sharpest spanner in the toolbox; it took me a couple of years to suss them completely, (whereupon I was promptly expelled for arguing & not doing as I was told). I can't see it taking anything like as long for the current generation to work it out. Welcome comrades!

Devrim
Apr 7 2011 17:56
alan on tyneside wrote:
People like Chris Harman, Callinicos & John Charlton are still in key positions in the SWP aren't they? Of course they know that this is a lying piece of complete crap; that's what they do. The amazing thing is that its so inept.

As Harman has been dead for a couple of years, I think, but am not entirely sure that it is unlikely in his case.

Devrim

klas batalo
Apr 7 2011 18:21

okay so i am across the sea. but i've seen similar accusations. i think most of this happens because they are critiquing students who are mostly either reformist anarchists or take reformist versions of autonomism as their starting point even if dressed in "insurrectionary" rhetoric. for instance most of the people that are into the neo-autonomist/post-situationist stuff like tiqqun in the states were previously a bunch of anarchist without adjectives single issue activist types. their idea of revolution is creating autonomous spaces via occupying schools and spreading anarchy (smashy smashy) and living communism (alternative lifestyle communism within aforementioned autonomous spaces) at least in the states since the ISO (SWP UK equivalent) are mostly located in the universities, this is what they come across. but they are also starting to get really nervous about for the first time ever having to interact outside the schools with social anarchists and libertarian communists. we've literally been told by some cadre, "well we've never come into contact with serious revolutionary anarchists before…"

proletariat ryan
Apr 7 2011 19:11

I'm a college student from Manchester and I was out in London on the 26th, as well as one the 9th of Dec, and was part of the black bloc and I did notice how organised some of it was which surprised me initially because I had just wrongly presumed Anarchists didn't believe in organisation. I spoke to a few people and back at the squat and stuff and started to grasp certain things, but I was hoping someone could just lay out some basic stuff but in a bit of detail for me. This article interested me because, I'm sure many of you will be glad to hear, the SWP tried recruiting me the other day and I turned them down lol, but thats only because I want to know all the alternatives before I commit to any form of Ideology.

rooieravotr
Apr 7 2011 19:18

Even as a put-down of lifestyle anarchists/ autonomists/ 'smashy smashy' people, the SW article is unfair and insulting (to them, and to the intelligence of the reader).

LBird
Apr 7 2011 19:23
proletariat ryan wrote:
This article interested me because, I'm sure many of you will be glad to hear, the SWP tried recruiting me the other day and I turned them down lol, but thats only because I want to know all the alternatives before I commit to any form of Ideology.

Well, ryan, you've come to the right place, because quite a number of posters here have been in the SWP, including myself for two years. Although, you should note that not all who reject the SWP and all its evil works have become Anarchists (yet!). I presently categorise myself as a Communist, Libertarian and Marxist.

And don't forget, you're already committed to an ideology of some form, by socialisation, so really you're, quite correctly, waiting before you change ideology!

Wellclose Square
Apr 7 2011 19:46

The SWP has a long track record on this sort of thing - their pamphlet Socialism From Below was very much pitched at anarchists, judging from one local activist waving it under my nose some while back - I didn't like what I saw...

alan on tyneside
Apr 7 2011 19:47
Quote:
As Harman has been dead for a couple of years

@devrim; oops! Are you sure that this information is not still restricted to the Central Committee?

Quote:
I was hoping someone could just lay out some basic stuff but in a bit of detail for me.

@proletarian ryan; much easier if you ask specific questions mate. Glad you liked the organisation though; I've even noticed some tents joining us recently:

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-t8QetWMq7hc/TZinM3tXKVI/AAAAAAAAASo/jO6ldr2dcFQ/s1600/2011-04-03+Trafalgar+Sunday+Blackberry+018.jpg

(from arbolioto's blog of Saturday's Trafalgar Sq. occupation): http://arbolioto.blogspot.com/2011/04/trafalgar-tahrir-vigil-is-successfully.html?spref=tw

Joseph Kay
Apr 7 2011 22:07

just to partly echo sabotage, some elements of the SW piece have an element of truth. there is a general preference for consensus in the student movement, but that's a reaction to vanguardists manipulating, bullying, railroading through majority votes (often by driving less politico people out of the room through filibuster boredom or (passive-)aggression, condescension, one party speaker after another etc). i mean i'm very criticial of consensus decision making, but the motives behind its current popularity are worth taking seriously.

also a lot of 'autonomism' is anti-organisational in the tyranny of structurelessness sense, leading to cliques and informal hierarchies, and there is a tendency towards 'autonomous spaces' kinda politics that sees spaces as an end in themselves (an improvement on personal liberation, but a fairly limited form of collective liberation/lack of disruptive intent). That's probably the Tiqqun influence ('communes') meeting residual radical liberal TAZ sentiments. But of course it's still spectacularly dishonest to take some of the weaker elements of the student movement and present them as characteristic of two political currents the author's clearly ignorant of.

fwiw, spoke with a load of SP members tonight about direct action. they were really surpised we were talking about class-based actions, mass workers actions etc, expected us to just talk about black blocs. A couple of the older members were aware such class-based anarchism existed, but a lot of the younger members did seem genuinely surprised that anarchists are interested in class struggle organising. i'd imagine there's a similar dynamic in the SWP; there's no way a politics academic like Callinicos is ignorant of anarchism, but typical members probably just have their pre-existing prejudices reaffirmed by the party hierarchy.

Joseph Kay
Apr 7 2011 22:08
Wellclose Square wrote:
The SWP has a long track record on this sort of thing - their pamphlet Socialism From Below was very much pitched at anarchists, judging from one local activist waving it under my nose some while back - I didn't like what I saw...

yeah that's really quite Orwellian; Trotsky = 'socialism from below', anarchism = 'socialism from above'

slothjabber
Apr 7 2011 22:14

I think it's more that 'Trotskyism = socialism from below' while 'Stalinism = socialism from above'; and they thought it would appeal to Anarchists.

Joseph Kay
Apr 7 2011 22:20
slothjabber wrote:
I think it's more that 'Trotskyism = socialism from below' while 'Stalinism = socialism from above'; and they thought it would appeal to Anarchists.

if it's the Hal Draper one i'm sure it takes the time to put the boot into anarchism too. maybe it's a different pamphlet.

lostlost
Apr 7 2011 23:42

i would now call myself a revolutionary libertarian communist.im also aging,not very well and experiencing deterorating health but currently trying to come to terms with those profound change sin personal reality/experience,not coping very well,and not liking it.at the same time trying to re-orient to a revolutionary left,which apart from rare occassions has become less visible.i do not mean to boast in saying i have ashockingly long experience as a trades unionist,campaign activist,revolutionary and worker-but am horrified by the crass and esoteric sectarianism of too much of the left.

i think too much of our language is sectarian and like none of us speak a proper language just aj argon.and we dont even speak to each other.im not soft on "lets all pretend we get on"but with so many tasksw out in the real world,we ought to seek to work together when3ever and however we can and try to debate and discusss that drawers the maximum benefit for us all.
i would not call myself an anarchist but thagt does not prevent me acknowledging the self discipline,courage and real ability of those in the so called black block at the cuts demonstration.i do not need to share the detail of their position to feel it is defensible as a stand,a position,and dare i suggest in relation to courts.

i am trying to find out if those arrested have support and access to the resoures they need to conduct a defence.i have written about this elsewhere.

i would welcome sharing ideas and experiences and working with comrades in study and to defend and change our communities and our future-for a society which meets hum needs,ends exploitation and enabkles eaqch to live and participate at least from each accoring to their labour to each according to their need and as quickly as posible from each accoriding to theiur ability to each according to their need.if we need any kind of state we need to transform it not simply to occupy it.

do contact me.
lostlost.

Awesome Dude
Apr 8 2011 01:26
Joseph Kay wrote:
But of course it's still spectacularly dishonest to take some of the weaker elements of the student movement and present them as characteristic of two political currents the author's clearly ignorant of.

It's what trots just love to do every now and then. But it's interesting noting all the attentions libertarian communism is receiving from that miserable corner.

Awesome Dude
Apr 8 2011 01:32
slothjabber wrote:
I think it's more that 'Trotskyism = socialism from below' while 'Stalinism = socialism from above'; and they thought it would appeal to Anarchists.

Surely not after anarchists read about this.

rooieravotr
Apr 8 2011 03:42

'Socialism from Below' is an SWP pamphlet by David McNally, if I remember correctly... The Draper thing is called 'The Two Souls of Socialism'. Both distort anarchism, along similar lines. However, I remember having read somewhere that McNally later admitted some of his errors here. In his case, maybe it was an honest mistake. Draper, however, who is not ignorant and whose work on Marx is impressive, is another matter. He must have known that he did distort things. Pushing both things by an organisation with people among the 'cadre' who should know better is deceitful.

Ramona
Apr 8 2011 08:37

Steven this is great, really good response to their article, like others have said it seems like a knee-jerk attempt to smear anarchism in the wake of student and anti-cuts actions.

Joseph Kay wrote:
just to partly echo sabotage, some elements of the SW piece have an element of truth. there is a general preference for consensus in the student movement, but that's a reaction to vanguardists manipulating, bullying, railroading through majority votes (often by driving less politico people out of the room through filibuster boredom or (passive-)aggression, condescension, one party speaker after another etc). i mean i'm very criticial of consensus decision making, but the motives behind its current popularity are worth taking seriously.

All the anti-cuts meetings at Edinburgh Uni, before we occupied last term and since, have been run by consensus, but it's not the anarchist students pushing that necessarily. Lots of non-aligned socialist and left-wing students who've been involved in all kinds of groups and campaigns are really into consensus here, we've had plenty of discussions about its pros and cons but it's by no means an "anarchist" thing as Steven has pointed out. Its been working pretty well in Edinburgh so far, the SWP-members in the group have all been happy enough to use it, and as Joseph says it's more about not wanting one group of people to dominate than any ideological opposition to voting.

slothjabber
Apr 8 2011 09:57
Joseph Kay wrote:
slothjabber wrote:
I think it's more that 'Trotskyism = socialism from below' while 'Stalinism = socialism from above'; and they thought it would appeal to Anarchists.

... i'm sure it takes the time to put the boot into anarchism too....

Oh, I agree, I'm not saying that I think the SWP is or was really conducting a charm offensive (even, capable of conducting a charm offensive). I'm quite certain that the jist of it is 'you think you're anti-Stalinist? Well our guy was murdered by Stalin, was yours? You might think you're anti-Stalin but you're just petty-bourgeois populists with a bad attitude, if you're really into socialism from below join the Trots!'

I well remember being harrangued by SWPers in my callow youth when I would walk through town wearing my little black star. 'You just create a situation where the Fascists can take over!' they'd shout. 'Yeah, like Kronstadt!' I'd think, but not say it, because they were bigger than me.

johng
Apr 8 2011 10:37

There has been a bit of dialogue with those from the anarchist tradition in International Socialism: http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=729&issue=130

As someone who is a socialist I found this piece by an anarchist very useful and I very much hope it sparks a proper debate. I think both socialists and anarchists (there are of course socialist anarchists and libertarian communists) have a tendency to use the terms 'communism' or 'anarchism' as methods of identifying deviations within their own ranks which has produced argumentative traditions which are less then helpful (ie that is an anarchist deviation comrade'). Typical reflexes involve attributing epithets like infantile to anarchists or on the other hand seeing Marxists as liars who secretely want to put everyone into the gulag (more simply they are liars). Neither is very helpful in gaining understanding about what are rival traditions of dissent with deep roots in our history and the struggles of the working class. In reality both traditions have their problems: Trots need to reckon with the degeneration of the Bolshevik revolution whilst anarchists need to explain their marginalisation in contemporary culture when compared to the now almost forgotten influence of anarchist writers and thinkers on the mainstream labour movement in many parts of the world earlier in the 20th century. Trots of course have this problem as well, but they have the advantage of being able to point to their failures as an explanation. Anarchism is not generally associated in the popular mind with monstrous tyrannies, and its complete marginalisation is therefore puzzling, and in some senses probably fuels some of the elitist tendencies which even anarchists acknowledge (in the same way that the isolation of trots tended to fuel sectarianism and ironical reproductions of authoritarian patterns of organisation).

Its is also true that sometimes both sides have problems distinguishing between what some people sometimes do and judgements about the whole tradition they are discussing. Sometimes though both sides should reckon with what are inevitably surface stereotypes. I don't think non-stalinist leninists are neccessarily sectarian control freaks. On the other hand plenty are like that and sometimes even the best behave like that and it does no good me becoming offended with someones actual experiance. On the other hand people do sometimes have negative experiances of anarchists as well. Generally I think if your deeply committed to a tradition and not insecure about it, you can learn something about the strengths and weaknesses of that tradition by taking on board the views of even those who are quite hostile to you. I think there is much to be learned from the anarchist piece published in International Socialism although I disagree with much in it. In particular I think the points about the importance of avoiding double standards are very telling and apply well to someone from my own tradition.

More substantively given that anarchism at various points in the 20th century was a very important aspect of working class life and struggle, any of us who defend the proposition 'the emancipation of the working class is the act of that class' ought to know more about it then a few scattered and often misguided polemics (often, as with Trotsky's defensive pieces on Kronstadt, we now know written in very strained and peculiar circumstances: They are responses to Serge who Trotsky had been told was a GPU agent by someone we now know WAS a GPU agent, and was concerned that it was a GPU plot to get him deported and/or refused entry to anywhere: to take it as a definitive statement as some trots do is therefore hasty, and somewhat contradicted by some of his other writing which is much more reflective about some of the barbarities of the revolution), this ignorence being something I think those of us who are socialists sometimes fall into (It is incredible how little I know about the mass working class movements which had strong anarchist components for example. It may be true that there is some general truth about the marxist argument that anarchist movements existed where capitalism developed weakly and did not sink deep roots, but this hardly excuses me of ignorence of these actual movements and their history).
Even if that were not so, sectarianism is a form of self harm. It damages socialists as socialists. Its not something that only matters if you want to have an alliance with someone. Its an evil in itself. I think sometimes the same thing applies to anarchists. The really interesting thing is to work out how different the principles we believe in really are. Its quite hard to find sensible discussion about this. Usually there is some kind of argument about what one group of people once did, outraged denials and then counter-denials. It would be good if it were possible to have deeper discussions. I don't have good experiances with this on-line though.

Anarcho
Apr 8 2011 10:53
rooieravotr wrote:
'Socialism from Below' is an SWP pamphlet by David McNally, if I remember correctly... The Draper thing is called 'The Two Souls of Socialism'. Both distort anarchism, along similar lines. However, I remember having read somewhere that McNally later admitted some of his errors here. In his case, maybe it was an honest mistake.

Yes, he did -- I mention this in my critique to his pamphlet:

Reply to errors and distortions in David McNally's pamphlet "Socialism from Below"

McNally later admitted:

Quote:
"I dissent from Draper's one-sided critique of anarchism . . . Draper is not fair to some of the currents within social anarchism. I also reject my own restatement of Draper's interpretation in the first edition of my booklet Socialism from Below" [David McNally, Another World Is Possible, p. 393]

Better late than never... but was the original an "honest" mistake? Well, if he had spent even 5 minutes reading anarchist works then he would never have written his original pamphlet...