The "Anarcho-Liberal"

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Jacob Richter
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Feb 21 2012 07:15
The "Anarcho-Liberal"

http://dissentmagazine.org/atw.php?id=560

Excerpts:

Quote:
A crude overview, sure, but right in the broad strokes: the Marxist-derived Left was defeated, while social democracy reconciled to the neoliberal framework. “Anarcho-liberalism” sauntered in a weird middle ground between both camps. Its representatives had the modest ambitions of the social liberals of the center Left, but the flair for the dramatic associated with the most militant anarchists of the far Left. Take the talented Naomi Klein, the archetypical “anarcho-liberal.” At a panel hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society, Klein critiqued Milton Friedman on the peculiarly reactionary grounds that he was a “Utopian ideologue,” mentioning that she didn’t think that there was any great need for “grand projects of human freedom.” This is consistent with past statements to the effect that she wasn’t “a utopian thinker.” She continued, “I don’t imagine my ideal society. I don’t really like to read those books, either. I’m just much more comfortable talking about things that are.”

[...]

Klein is a pre-crisis social democrat, untainted by neoliberalism. But if she wants to restore the policies of “golden age” social democracy, she is going about it in an unusual way. Social democracy drew its strength from the institutions of the workers movement—parties, unions, programmatic platforms, and the degree of discipline and coherence that came along with them. But to quote from a New Yorker profile, “[Klein] distrusts centralization, institutions, platforms, theories—anything except extremely small, local, ad-hoc, spontaneous initiatives.” Small c conservative Keynesianism! Lyrical, creative, disruptive protests in pursuit of a localized variant of what the New Left considered a drab and conformist bureaucratic welfare state. The incoherence is baffling.

Some things were broadly shared by “anarcho-liberals”: an anti-intellectualism that manifested itself in a rejection of “grand narratives” and structural critiques of capitalism, abhorrence for the traditional forms of left-wing organization, a localist impulse, and an individualistic tendency to conflate lifestyle choices with political action. The worst of both worlds, the “anarcho-liberal” can neither manage the capitalist state nor overcome it, and aspires to do both and neither at the same time.

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RedEd
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Feb 21 2012 16:40

I thought this article made an interesting read. Was there anything in particular you wanted to discuss about it. If you mainly wanted to bring it to people's attention could I suggest that in future you post articles to the library. Sorry if that sounded bossy smile

Oenomaus
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Feb 22 2012 05:54

I'm afraid I cannot see how Klein is the "archetypical" "anarcho-liberal,"* given how she is not an anarchist but very much a social democrat (despite some of her merits unrelated to her politics). True to Dissent Magazine’s liberal and social democratic values, one of its writers accuses a fellow social democrat of “anarchist” deviations. Should one have any doubt as to these intentions, one need only discover that the writer of the article is a member of the Young Democratic Socialists.

While “an anti-intellectualism that manifested itself in a rejection of “grand narratives” and structural critiques of capitalism, abhorrence for the traditional forms of left-wing organization, a localist impulse, and an individualistic tendency to conflate lifestyle choices with political action” may be characteristic of the “anarcho-liberal,” the social democrat surely must fare better in the eyes of the writer of the article. After all, the social democratic party has recently “yielded, at its best, progressive neoliberalism,” and the writer of the article praises Brazil as an example because it “provides a model of market-oriented center-left governance for the developing world.”

One of the worst of all worlds, the social democrat “can neither manage the capitalist state nor overcome it, and aspires to do both and neither at the same time.”

* This is even aside from the questionable term “anarcho-liberal.” I think “anarcho-liberal” is as redundant a term as “anarcho-socialist,” given that, according to one of anarchism’s major thinkers (Rudolf Rocker), anarchism is “the confluence of the two great currents which during and since the French revolution have found such characteristic expression in the intellectual life of Europe: Socialism and Liberalism.” Liberalism very much influenced anarchism's theory, regardless of whether one sees this as a positive thing or not. Of course, the writer of the article does not care for this, but defines “anarcho-liberal” as lifestylism, individualism, and “postmodern” thought mixed in with social democracy.

the croydonian anarchist's picture
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Feb 22 2012 09:26
Oenomaus wrote:
redundant a term as “anarcho-socialist,”

Seeing as communism is a type of socialism, why is it so redundant. I would definately not define myself with that term, because of what people accossiate with the word socialist (although its probably worse to call yourself a communist, anarchist or both if you worried about public perception, but thats the language we have to work with).

Personally, I think socialism is always statist. I reject the category of "orthodox" socialism because its pretty much communism if we look at who are often considered to be orthodox socialist, i.e. marx. And marx definately was not a statist, and if you doubt that read http://libcom.org/library/marx-theoretician-anarchism

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Feb 22 2012 11:48
the croydonian anarchist wrote:
Oenomaus wrote:
redundant a term as “anarcho-socialist,”

Seeing as communism is a type of socialism, why is it so redundant.

Because anarchism is always at least socialist, we would of course say communist but as you say, that's a subgroup.

An anarchist that is not a socialist is not an anarchist. See AnCaps.

the croydonian anarchist wrote:
Personally, I think socialism is always statist.

Rudolf Rocker would say, socialism is either free or it is not at all.

Socialism is not statist. There may be "state socialism", but I think you'll find a lot of people here who'll disagree with the notion that that kind is even socialism to begin with.

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Feb 22 2012 13:57

so what do we call the statist left if not socialist ?

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flaneur
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Feb 22 2012 14:09

State capitalists, Leninists, Bolsheviks, tossers?

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Steven.
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Feb 22 2012 14:10
the croydonian anarchist wrote:
so what do we call the statist left if not socialist ?

as with communism, there are two main types there is state communism, and libertarian communism. Similarly (even synonymously) there is state socialism, and there is libertarian socialism. I for example happily describe myself as a libertarian socialist.

Our content on libcom about state socialism is all at www.libcom.org/tags/state-socialism

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Feb 22 2012 14:43
Steven. wrote:
the croydonian anarchist wrote:
so what do we call the statist left if not socialist ?

as with communism, there are two main types there is state communism, and libertarian communism. Similarly (even synonymously) there is state socialism, and there is libertarian socialism.

I think that's up to debate, but I guess this is not the right thread for that.

At least "state communism" is a misnomer if I ever saw one...

Angelus Novus
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Feb 22 2012 17:31
Oenomaus wrote:
True to Dissent Magazine’s liberal and social democratic values, one of its writers accuses a fellow social democrat of “anarchist” deviations.

I think you're missing the point entirely. The point isn't so much "anarchist deviations" so much as the fact the a lot of contemporary "anarchists" are really just classical social democrats who favor a kind of moralistic politics of direct action. There are a hell of a lot of people who just call themselves "anarchists" as a way of distinguishing themselves from both electoralism and pseudo-Bolshevik "cadre" parties. They maybe read an interview with Chomsky (who is a member of DSA) describing himself as an "anarchist", and say "That's what I am."

Not that I want to support a "No True Scotsman" fallacy in terms of who "owns" the term anarchism, I'm just saying the content of the term is fairly loosey-goosey these days.

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Feb 22 2012 17:50
Angelus Novus wrote:
They maybe read an interview with Chomsky (who is a member of DSA)

DSA ?

Black Badger
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Feb 22 2012 18:58

Democratic Socialists of America

Angelus Novus
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Feb 22 2012 19:02

Yep, official affiliate of the Socialist International in the United States. For all practical purposes really a sort of pressure group within the Democratic Party (which isn't even a real party with dues and membership).

Quote:
This means that, sometimes, even traditional reformist activity is the best way forward. Chomsky is a member (albeit "very passive") of Democratic Socialists of America, the Socialist International affiliate in the US that boasts a handful of supporters among Democrat Congressional representatives. "You can be anti-parliamentarian -- and indeed I am -- and still think it's important to deal with parliament," he says. "If you're trying to stop US terror in central America, it's sometimes very effective to lobby Congress. There are no new ideas in political strategy -- just constant educating and organising."

Source: http://www.chomsky.info/onchomsky/19940603.htm

FWIW I don't even disagree with Chomsky here. I'm just trying to point out how subject to interpretation the term "anarchist" tends to be these days.

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Feb 22 2012 20:02

Eh, Chomsky dude. His personal politics are watered down, but he's a good source of information on political affairs. Lobbying congress to refrain from imperialism is ineffective, as are peaceful demonstrations.

Naomi Klein is like blah.

Oenomaus
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Feb 22 2012 20:51

the croydonian anarchist: Railyon is correct. It is redundant to use the term "anarcho-socialist" at all because anarchism is inherently (anti-state) socialist.

Angelus Novus wrote:
I think you're missing the point entirely. The point isn't so much "anarchist deviations" so much as the fact the a lot of contemporary "anarchists" are really just classical social democrats who favor a kind of moralistic politics of direct action. There are a hell of a lot of people who just call themselves "anarchists" as a way of distinguishing themselves from both electoralism and pseudo-Bolshevik "cadre" parties. They maybe read an interview with Chomsky (who is a member of DSA) describing himself as an "anarchist", and say "That's what I am."

Thanks for your post, Angelus Novus. I definitely may have misunderstood the point of the article, but reading over the article again, I'm not so sure. If the writer of the article really was talking about how a lot contemporary "anarchists" are really simply social democrats (which I agree with as a side), then why doesn't he mention anyone who identifies as anarchist or talk about anarchists at all? Instead, he mentions Naomi Klein as the archetypical "anarcho-liberal." Of course, as he must know full well, Klein has never identified as an anarchist, but is a social democrat who might seem only superficially "anarchist" to another, more orthodox social democrat. He also argues the "anarcho-liberal" is "the iconic actor in the “anti-globalization” movement," but nowhere does he even mention the anarchist movement. As I read it, he was associating the "anarcho" part of "anarcho-liberal" with lifestylism, individualism, hatred of any left organization, etc, which, not surprisingly, many on the social democratic left associate with all of anarchism.

Common characteristics of the "anarcho-liberal" do indeed exist to a large extent among today's left, but the characteristics of the "pure" social democrat are just as pernicious. Incidentally, I am not an anarchist myself, so my intent was by no means to uncritically defend anarchism. More so, I was pointing out the hypocrisy of one who tries to do, in a sense, "criticism with a completely uncritical attitude towards itself."

Oenomaus
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Feb 23 2012 02:44

By the way, Angelus Novus and no.25, if you think Chomsky's interpretation of "anarchist" is questionable, you should really read what one "anarchist,” Starhawk, had to say in this interview:

Quote:
Margaret: I interviewed Alan Moore and he had a lot of things to say about anarchism and magic, and he was saying that people usually think about communism and capitalism are the two poles of political thought, but he thinks anarchism and fascism are more useful…

Starhawk: I think that I’d roughly agree with him. Capitalism and communism share a lot. Communism was a kind of odd hybrid of this egalitarian view of economics that got welded to this top-down view of control. And capitalism is this odd hybrid of this less-controlled view of economics but one that is based on this view of human nature that says that greed is the core of human nature, welded to systems of much more subtle control. And anarchism, in its sort of pure form, is about saying that we want to have societies that are not based on coercive power… We believe in less control and more liberty and freedom. It is opposed to that fascism that creeps into both communism and capitalism that says we must control everything.
At the same time… I’m probably actually more of a progressive democrat. Go Obama, we need more regulation, we need more government actually providing for human needs and human services, we actually need big structures to do some of the big things that need to be done about climate change while we’re evolving to the point of freedom

Margaret: I’ve been running across anarchists that identify with philosophical anarchism, with anarchism as a desired end result, but think revolution isn’t necessarily the way to get there. I suppose that’s how I would presume to identify you?

Starhawk: Yeah, I’d say at this moment, probably. Maybe it’s because in my own lifetime… having gone through the sixties, believing in the revolution, I don’t actually see it happening… I don’t see most people in the world clamoring for it, and I see a need for some big things to be done that can only be done by big structures.

Source: Mythmakers and Lawbreakers: Anarchist Writers on Fiction by Margaret Killjoy.

Apparently, to Starhawk, there is no contradiction in being a "progressive democrat" who supports Obama and an "anarchist"...

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Feb 23 2012 02:41

I think we need to start thinking bigger as libertarian communists - not trying to be too pure and failing to do anything outside the oppositionist frame we have got stuck in after the fall of the spanish revolution. If this means dealing with other structures on an ethical basis then we must, as long as we don't sell out. We need to take industrial initiative and create stuff not keep moaning about the bloody boss.

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Feb 23 2012 03:02
Ernestine wrote:
I think we need to start thinking bigger as libertarian communists - not trying to be too pure and failing to do anything outside the oppositionist frame we have got stuck in after the fall of the spanish revolution. If this means dealing with other structures on an ethical basis then we must, as long as we don't sell out. We need to take industrial initiative and create stuff not keep moaning about the bloody boss.

What exactly does that mean?

On a side note, some of the comments on this thread come off as needlessly shitting on various thinkers and tendencies for the sake of comparing their "compromised" politics with the commenters' own oh-so-pure and radical consciousness. I mean yeah, I agree, Chomsky, Klein, and Starhawk might have some awful politics, but it's really boring to harp on and has already been done to death here. I would much rather hear about people and ideas we like than those we don't, and I actually think it's a lot more important to think about viable revolutionary tactics than to point out various thinkers and tendencies who aren't revolutionary.

Oenomaus
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Feb 23 2012 04:07

Well, actually, my entire point was to criticize those who believe they have an "oh-so-pure and radical consciousness." If you do not accept self-critique, how can you possibly critique the positions of others (such as the writer of the article that this thread is about)? This has nothing to do with the fact that "Chomsky, Klein, and Starhawk might have some awful politics." So far, the discussion in this thread has been partly about how the writer of the article abused the term "anarchist" to refer to Klein, that Chomsky uses the term "anarchist" despite holding a classical social democrat position, and that, as I pointed out, Starhawk does the same except she is even farther to the right. This isn't about "needlessly shitting on various thinkers and tendencies" in the slightest, but about how the term "anarchist" is being interpreted to mean just about anything! If I was an anarchist, I would honestly be very concerned by the way "anarchist" has been interpreted. I mean, I don't think we were even obsessively focusing on it either...

You should actually read the thread instead before assuming "commenters," by which which you mean Angelus, no.25, and myself, are doing something that they aren't.

If you did read the thread, you would also note that I wrote this in the very first sentence of my first post, in reference to Klein: (despite some of her merits...). She wrote an excellent account of Jeffrey Sachs's 1985 "shock therapy" in Bolivia. Angelus and no.25 also pointed out how they liked some of the things Chomsky has said or done. But I guess, since we are holding "oh-so-pure and radical consciousness" and are "needlessly shitting on various thinkers," this doesn't matter...

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Feb 23 2012 04:04

I did in fact read the thread laugh out loud

I never said you were in fact shitting on people for the sake of looking good by contrast, I said it kind of came off that way. I don't really disagree with the criticisms being made of these people, nor with the assertion that they are not anarchist. (By the way, good of you to defend our politics from dilution at the hands of these social democratic bastards despite not being an anarchist wink )

I fail to see what yet another thread intended for critique of figures like Chomsky, Starhawk, and other "anarcho-liberals" has to offer. As I said, the subject has already been discussed at length on Libcom. Angelus is preaching to choir; I challenge anyone to find a frequent poster on this site who accepts wholesale an "anarcho-liberal" position or holds up Chomksy uncritically as the anarchist to emulate.

Yes, lots of people call themselves anarchists who aren't. We can't stop this. It is far more necessary to expound the virtues of our genuine anarchist positions (and develop the same) than to endlessly "critique" leftists.

Oenomaus
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Feb 23 2012 05:16

Sorry, tastybrain. I apologize if I was making that impression, because I was trying to do the exact opposite of what I thought you accused me of! I guess, since I haven't been on libcom that long, I haven't really seen other critiques of the various interpretations of "anarchist" by social democrats. I just tend to go off like a firecracker when people seem to force me into the box of "pure radical", where I do not belong and do not want to be. So I apologize again.

tastybrain wrote:
Yes, lots of people call themselves anarchists who aren't. We can't stop this. It is far more necessary to expound the virtues of our genuine anarchist positions (and develop the same) than to endlessly "critique" leftists.

Perhaps to steer the thread in a better direction... I would say I agree largely with you here. But it seems that one cannot expound the virtues of any position without engaging in critique of another. Would you argue that "critique" is still very necessary, but critique devoted far more to, say, capitalism and the state than anything else? Also, I feel there is a danger in solely focusing on the virtues of one's position if it ends up being rhetorical propaganda. Most of all -- and it may sound cliché -- I think communists of whatever tendency ought to address the needs, dreams, and wants of people...

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Feb 23 2012 05:54
no.25 wrote:
Lobbying congress to refrain from imperialism is ineffective, as are peaceful demonstrations.

Not going to get teh workers control either. But I don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, pressuring politicians can on occasion be useful in influencing legislation, city planning. We had a recent victory in preventing a gentrification project where I'm at by packing the city council meeting. But to have teh workers control or an end to imperialism... HA!

Angelus Novus
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Feb 23 2012 18:23
tastybrain wrote:
Angelus is preaching to choir;

I'm not sure if you actually read my post; I said I agree with Chomsky. I'm not out to denounce anybody.

Angelus Novus wrote:
FWIW I don't even disagree with Chomsky here. I'm just trying to point out how subject to interpretation the term "anarchist" tends to be these days.
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Feb 23 2012 19:20
Redwinged Blackbird wrote:
no.25 wrote:
Lobbying congress to refrain from imperialism is ineffective, as are peaceful demonstrations.

Not going to get teh workers control either. But I don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, pressuring politicians can on occasion be useful in influencing legislation, city planning. We had a recent victory in preventing a gentrification project where I'm at by packing the city council meeting. But to have teh workers control or an end to imperialism... HA!

I suppose that at the local level, putting pressure on a city council could have some efficacy on its policies, but at the state and federal level it's almost entirely futile, with the exception of some recent developments in the struggle against capital. This year's election is going to be a fucking circus, can you imagine the liberal frenzy that's going to take place? The bullshit 'lesser of two evils' strategy that will be foisted upon us, until the illusion of a benign capitalism is outright shattered by its contradictions.

Tastybrain - In my own defense, I was somewhat attempting to mitigate Chomsky's shit politics. In a similar fashion, we could all go on about how contemporary mainstream 'Marxist' parties are just as pragmatic as Chomsky.

I dunno, all this shit is depressing.

Oenomaus
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Feb 24 2012 04:02
no.25 wrote:
I dunno, all this shit is depressing.

It is incredibly depressing. I very much agree with tastybrain that no one should be obsessively focusing on the various interpretations of “anarchist” by social democrats since it’s a rather marginal issue (although, of course, I don't think either we, or Angelus, were doing that at all), but I still feel there is something rather muddled and ideological in what tastybrain posted, despite his good intentions. For instance, I assume tastybrain would not argue that if you critique "malign" capitalists, you are “shitting on capitalists for the sake of looking good by contrast.” Well, first of all, any critique is aimed at showing the superiority of one point of view regarding an issue. Otherwise, why would you do a critique in the first place? It’s not about trying to “look good,” or “look smart,” or whatever, but trying to establish the invalidity of one position and the validity of another. Probably he would not argue that “this comes across as needlessly shitting on Nazis for the sake of comparing their politics with the commenters’ oh-so-pure and radical consciousness” or that it’s not as necessary to “endlessly “critique” right-wingers.” He would not argue “it’s really boring to harp on imperialist war and has already been done to death.” But when it comes to the left wing of capital – social democrats and “anarcho-liberals,” and what they do – then it seems as though the same doesn’t apply as much.

I know tastybrain agrees with the criticisms I made, and I understand what he’s driving at, but I can’t see why we should not ruthlessly critique the left-wing of capital as much as the right-wing of capital. My guess is that it may be out of an unconscious fear of alienating “potential allies” (“leftists”) as opposed to “right-wingers”.

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Feb 23 2012 22:59

Angelus, I wasn't referring to your post about Chomsky I was referring to this post:

Quote:
I think you're missing the point entirely. The point isn't so much "anarchist deviations" so much as the fact the a lot of contemporary "anarchists" are really just classical social democrats who favor a kind of moralistic politics of direct action. There are a hell of a lot of people who just call themselves "anarchists" as a way of distinguishing themselves from both electoralism and pseudo-Bolshevik "cadre" parties. They maybe read an interview with Chomsky (who is a member of DSA) describing himself as an "anarchist", and say "That's what I am."

While I agree that there are many "anarchists" who don't deserve to/shouldn't call themselves such, I just don't think it's very useful to hash out these criticisms yet again.

@Oenomaus

Sorry, my first post was a bit confrontational. I didn't mean to accuse you of seeing yourself as an oh-so-pure radical, I simply meant some of the posts on this thread might create that impression in some people's minds. Also, I failed to take into account you are new to the site. Having been here for 4 years, I can assure you that Chomsky and the whole tendency of watered-down "anarcho liberal" politics have been criticized ad naseum (not that they don't deserve it). I suppose another thread along those lines could be useful to some people who are new to the site or have a hero-worship complex towards people like Chomsky but I kind of doubt it.

Quote:
But it seems that one cannot expound the virtues of any position without engaging in critique of another. Would you argue that "critique" is still very necessary, but critique devoted far more to, say, capitalism and the state than anything else? Also, I feel there is a danger in solely focusing on the virtues of one's position if it ends up being rhetorical propaganda. Most of all -- and it may sound cliché -- I think communists of whatever tendency ought to address the needs, dreams, and wants of people...

I agree that critique is necessary and that one cannot really rep one's own ideas without challenging the ideas of others. What I see so far is almost nothing about our ideas and a whole lot about ideas we disagree with, without really providing compelling reasons why (yes, they are "social democrats", but that's only a slur in the anarchist--and perhaps conservative-political ghetto. Someone from outside of these tendencies might not understand these so-called "critiques"; there is no reference to how social democracy will lead the working class astray, only to how these people are in fact social democrats and how some of what they say is incompatible with anarchism --- as if this in and of itself was equivalent to a "critique"!)

Your second sentence brings up a good point that I wanted to get to. Far more people believe in capitalism and the state than believe in the opportunistic tenets of "anarcho-liberalism". If we are going to mount elaborate critiques, yes, I would say it's far more important to challenge mainstream ideas than to trash other ghettoized radical sects. Maybe at some point "anarcho-liberalism" will be the main social force holding back the revolution and at that point we should critique it. But it seems to me getting people to lose faith in Obama is more important than getting them to lose faith in Chomsky.

As for your last sentence, I agree whole-heartedly, and I think that's exactly what's missing from this discussion; a clear statement of how (libertarian) communism can provide a framework for fulfilling the "needs, dreams, and wants" of the people while social democracy can only provide a silver lining in a cloud of shit. What people want from anarchists is an imaginative social consciousness, not boring denunciation of psuedo-radical figures based on their violation of this or that specific aspect of anarchist ideology.

Oenomaus wrote:
no.25 wrote:
I dunno, all this shit is depressing.

It is incredibly depressing. I very much agree with tastybrain that no one should be obsessively focusing on the various interpretations of “anarchist” by social democrats since it’s a rather marginal issue (although, of course, I don't think either we, or Angelus, were doing that at all), but I still feel there is something rather muddled and ideological in what tastybrain posted, despite his good intentions. For instance, I assume tastybrain would not argue that if you critique "malign" capitalists, you are “shitting on capitalists for the sake of looking good by contrast.” Well, first of all, any critique is aimed at showing the superiority of one point of view regarding an issue. Otherwise, why would you do a critique in the first place? It’s not about trying to “look good,” or “look smart,” or whatever, but trying to establish the invalidity of one position and the validity of another. Probably he would not argue that “this comes across as needlessly shitting on Nazis for the sake of comparing their politics with the commenters’ oh-so-pure and radical consciousness” or that it’s not as necessary to “endlessly “critique” right-wingers.” He would not argue “it’s really boring to harp on imperialist war and has already been done to death.” But when it comes to the left wing of capital – social democrats and “anarcho-liberals,” and what they do – then it seems as though the same doesn’t apply as much.

I know tastybrain agrees with the criticisms I made, and I understand what he’s driving at, but I can’t see why we should not ruthlessly critique the left-wing of capital as much as the right-wing of capital. My guess is that it may be out of an unconscious fear of alienating “potential allies” (“leftists”) as opposed to “right-wingers”.

No, of course I would never argue any of those things you say I wouldn't argue. wink There is certainly a place for "ruthless criticism of the left wing of capital", especially within radical circles (like Libcom). So yeah, fair play if you want to spend your time critiquing anarcho-liberals.

I would argue, however, (and this point relates to what I said before about critiquing the mainstream rather than other activist subgroups) that it really isn't too important. Unfortunately, the idiots who call themselves anarchists while holding anti-anarchist positions aren't likely to stop calling themselves by virtue of our "ruthless criticism" (it just sounds too sexy black bloc ). I would also argue it won't prevent misconceptions from the outside about what anarchism is. When faced with two conflicting arguments about what anarchism is, I think most non-anarchists are likely to simply lose interest (and think of anarchists as not only a tiny, weird sect arguing over ideology, but a hilariously internally divided one) rather than listening to one's argument about why anarchism is inherently anti-capitalist and anti-electoral.

I just see, IMO. far too much of this shit. Despite mocking their irrelevance, we are constantly willing to engage in exhausting, drawn-out critiques of whatever goofy, psuedo-radical sect comes our way (an-caps, etc.) It seems to me that anarchists put far too much energy into either communicating with or engaging in verbal/written combat with anarcho-capitalists, trots, social democrats, etc, etc, and far too little into communicating with/arguing with the vast majority of people who are either a-political or whose politics are vague enough to be totally critiqued to smithereens and reconstructed. And its not just anarchists; left commies go after councilists who go after mutualists who go after syndicalists and so on and so forth.

Its not that I think the failures of the political tendencies relatively "close to home" shouldn't be critiqued. Under certain circumstances I think it's essential. But to your average person who knows nothing about platformism, syndicalism, insurrectionism, left communism, councilism, and who might even be fuzzy on what the term "Social democracy" means, all of the inter-anarchist/communist critiques that constantly fly around the internet must be pretty meaningless and alienating, and must paint a very "Judean People's Front" vs "People's Front of Judea" sort of picture. I have often been accused of having "only negative things to say" and we must be mindful of how other perceive us. If you declare yourself to be totally against capitalism, the state, money, hierarchy, etc, and then also declare your implacable opposition to XY and Z movement that claims to be but isn't actually anarchist, it might come across as if you are just totally against everything.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that this sort of debate is one that is usually (and should be) internal to the movement; anarchists and closely related communists debating about who and what can be counted within our political tendency and who and what is not, what is an acceptable tactic and what makes you part of the "left wing of capital". However, it seems to me that sometimes anarchists just sort of fall into doing this ALL the time, and we end up only communicating with each other, endlessly hashing out the finer points of anarchism. Which is necessary, but we can't forget to also focus on talking to the a-political. This paper adresses many broader issues everyone is concerned about from an anarchist perspective. I would definitely show this to a non-political friend, but I would never just link them to Libcom.org. Why? Because Libcom, while it's awesome, is filled with jargon and with people who would attack them for the slightest deviation from what is acceptable anarchist doctrine.

I guess I just wish we did more talking to a-political people and less talking to each other/political tendencies we disagree with.

EDIT:
Also, I am far from immune to this. The other day I was at a meeting of a political reading group I help run. One of my anarchist friends mentioned mutualism and I was all set to start a debate with him about why mutualism is not anarchism. Another friend checked me, however, because most of the people at the meeting probably have a tenuous grasp on what anarchism is in the first place, let alone what "mutualism", "syndicalism", etc are. To have this jargony debate in front of these third parties would have been alienating and boring for them, and probably would have given credence the idea that anarchists are just idealist contrarians.

Oenomaus
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Feb 24 2012 04:33

tastybrain: No sweat about your first post. I reacted in a rather confrontational way myself in response, and I normally take care not to do that. Had I known there were many more threads on this topic, I probably wouldn't have bothered to post at all.

tastybrain wrote:
What I see so far is almost nothing about our ideas and a whole lot about ideas we disagree with, without really providing compelling reasons why (yes, they are "social democrats", but that's only a slur in the anarchist--and perhaps conservative-political ghetto. Someone from outside of these tendencies might not understand these so-called "critiques"; there is no reference to how social democracy will lead the working class astray, only to how these people are in fact social democrats and how some of what they say is incompatible with anarchism --- as if this in and of itself was equivalent to a "critique"!)

Your point is well taken. But the reason why you see almost nothing about our ideas in this thread is probably because… well, because our audience is about 5 like-minded radicals on an internet forum. That’s why it’s missing from this discussion. It isn’t as though we are speaking to thousands of garment workers from a soapbox. laugh out loud I would be more than happy to explain to someone who is, say, apolitical why I think social democracy would mislead the working class, but since I am speaking to like-minded radicals on an internet forum, I assume this would be taken for granted. Of course, if I was speaking to anyone with apolitical or mainstream political views, I would not say words like “social democrat,” “anarcho-liberal,” and so forth. Someone outside of radical tendencies would certainly be justified in thinking we are not only a weird ideological sect, but that we are plain crazy. So I wouldn't do that. After all, I’m not a member of the ICC or anything. (That was a sectarian joke. wink)

tastybrain wrote:
Your second sentence brings up a good point that I wanted to get to. Far more people believe in capitalism and the state than believe in the opportunistic tenets of "anarcho-liberalism". If we are going to mount elaborate critiques, yes, I would say it's far more important to challenge mainstream ideas than to trash other ghettoized radical sects. Maybe at some point "anarcho-liberalism" will be the main social force holding back the revolution and at that point we should critique it. But it seems to me getting people to lose faith in Obama is more important than getting them to lose faith in Chomsky.

In general, I do not think it is “more important” to challenge “mainstream ideas” than “ghettoized radical sects.” Both are very important to challenge. But if that is simply tantamount to saying more energy should be put into challenging “mainstream ideas” than “ghettoized radical sects,” then I agree with you. I would add, however, that the supposed opposition within capitalist society is more capitalist than ever and, if it is not holding back the revolution quite at this very moment, it has a strong potential to unexpectedly do so as things head down that road, just as it did in the Russian Revolution, the German Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, May 68, and many other recent periods of revolutionary upheaval. Most of the left today are within the integrated complex of social service agencies, academia and NGOs, and this includes “social democrats” and “anarcho-liberals.” They aspire to positions of reforming the existing state. If communists do not spend time showing the bankruptcy of most of the left as they do “mainstream” politics, I think this is partly their loss. But, of course, given what you have said, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

tastybrain wrote:
As for your last sentence, I agree whole-heartedly, and I think that's exactly what's missing from this discussion; a clear statement of how (libertarian) communism can provide a framework for fulfilling the "needs, dreams, and wants" of the people while social democracy can only provide a silver lining in a cloud of shit. What people want from anarchists is an imaginative social consciousness, not boring denunciation of psuedo-radical figures based on their violation of this or that specific aspect of anarchist ideology.

Well, perhaps I should somewhat revise what I wrote. I wouldn’t quite say that, "most of all,” communists (“state communist” is a misnomer as Railyon pointed out) should address the “needs, dreams, and wants” of people. Imaginative social consciousness is important, but to me, scientific and theoretical ideas, a constructive critique of political economy, a critique of ideology, and so forth, are equally important. I don’t think workers and everyday people should simply be roused by radical “prophets," as it were, but that radicals should offer them the complexities of theory that they are quite capable of understanding and developing on their own alongside of us, with or, more likely, without academia. This is why I also argued that rhetorical or moralistic propaganda can be dangerous because, besides being ineffective in itself, it often assumes that people are simply raw material to be converted by the prophets.

tastybrain wrote:
I guess the point I'm trying to make is that this sort of debate is one that is usually (and should be) internal to the movement; anarchists and closely related communists debating about who and what can be counted within our political tendency and who and what is not, what is an acceptable tactic and what makes you part of the "left wing of capital". However, it seems to me that sometimes anarchists just sort of fall into doing this ALL the time, and we end up only communicating with each other, endlessly hashing out the finer points of anarchism. Which is necessary, but we can't forget to also focus on talking to the a-political. This paper adresses many broader issues everyone is concerned about from an anarchist perspective. I would definitely show this to a non-political friend, but I would never just link them to Libcom.org. Why? Because Libcom, while it's awesome, is filled with jargon and with people who would attack them for the slightest deviation from what is acceptable anarchist doctrine.

I guess I just wish we did more talking to a-political people and less talking to each other/political tendencies we disagree with.

You make a sensible argument, and I definitely don’t think it’s necessary to engage in polemics or critiques of political tendencies we disagree with all of the time. But it will always be a competitive struggle even on the radical terrain – I wish we didn’t have to, but it’s inevitable that we will at least some of the time. And I don’t think I would even normally use the phrase “left wing of capital” as it sounds so vague as to be meaningless. What I meant to get across was that most of the “opposition” is as bankrupt as the “mainstream,” so we shouldn’t be as reluctant to critique the former as the latter.

To me, it’s not so much that we should talk to “apolitical people” more than “each other/political tendencies,” but that we should talk to anyone who is open-minded to our ideas and perspectives. So many apolitical people are so close-minded that it could may well be just as much a waste of time to talk to them. Do you think you’ll ever find many non-political people on libcom anyway, even if there was less “jargon”? And if people on libcom did attack them, then the problem is with those people who attack them, not with critiquing opportunistic tendencies per se. Likewise, it can be just as important to talk with each other/political tendencies we disagree with, because you can always learn something new and interesting that would help. Of course, the same is true as far as apolitical people as well, but my point is that we should always strive to speak to a large, open-minded audience and that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to either one or the other. I’m sure you agree with me.