where's my icepick?

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LimoWreck
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Sep 15 2007 18:48
where's my icepick?

The June 2007 edition of Socialist Alternative magazine features a polemical article by Mick Armstrong entitled, “Is There Anything Radical About Anarchism?” In this article, Armstrong attempts to persuade the readers of Socialist Alternative against anarchism and for the form of Marxism espoused by the Socialist Alternative organisation. The reader is not encouraged to consider any grey area, but to believe that the issue is black and white: anarchism has nothing radical to offer, and Armstrong’s version of “revolutionary Marxism” has a monopoly on truth.

Let’s test that theory, shall we?

Armstrong’s approach to the very well-trod anarchist vs. Marxist controversy is to engage in polemic—anarchism or libertarian socialism is wrong/bad, and Marxism or authoritarian socialism is right/good. You have to choose one or the other; nothing is left open-ended, nothing is left open for free and honest debate between equals who respect the right of the other to disagree. You either agree or you don’t. If you do agree, you’re in. If you don’t agree, then there’s something wrong with you—you must be stupid, or prevented from thinking rationally by some petit-bourgeois infantile disorder, or something. “Those seeking to genuinely challenge capitalism,” Armstrong writes, “must reject anarchism and commit themselves to revolutionary Marxism.” You’re not allowed to sort of like bits of anarchism and sort of like bits of Marxism and make up your own mind, that’s not how fair-dinkum, no-bullshit revolutionaries really think. You’re either with Armstrong, or against him, because that’s how people who are opposed to political injustice and oppression think—any fool knows that.

At its core, from the point of view of anarchists, the issue is one of libertarianism versus authoritarianism, libertarian socialism versus authoritarian socialism. From the point of view of anarchists, the issue is one of means and ends, and anarchists argue that in any free society, the two must be consistent with one another, for the means employed determine the ends achieved. One cannot under any circumstances become free by training in the methods and habits of slavery. Armstrong knows this as well as anyone, and knowing also that no rationale exists for authoritarianism other than to protect the economic and social privileges of elites, before he even begins his article he shifts the goalposts, so to speak, to suit himself. This appears to be why he chooses to write in a polemical style. Once we recognise this, we may begin to understand something of his reasons for choosing polemics over debate.

The rest is at http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dhbsnk8s_5f7spjr ....enjoy

Caiman del Barrio
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Sep 15 2007 21:00

Well it's so much that I reject Trotskyism on moral terms, I just don't think their ideas are practical and kinda immaterialist. Why would a bureaucracy or hierarchy surrender its privilege and what's the point in retaining it exactly? It just seems kinda...weird.

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Anarchia
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Sep 15 2007 23:33

A friend of mine (also a Melbourne anarchist) wrote a reply to this too:

Quote:
Anarchy: Against Capital, Against the State

Every year or two, usually as a result of some media spectacle which has less-indoctrinated members asking all sorts of silly questions, Trotskyist groupuscules are forced to issue a statement clarifying exactly why they’re ‘right’ and “anarchism” is ‘wrong’. Almost invariably, this involves blowing the dust off an earlier issue of the Workers’ Mop & Bucket, and republishing the pro forma letter contained therein; said letter clarifying exactly why they were ‘right’ and anarchism was ‘wrong’ at whichever point in time the last minor incident occurred.

Is there anything more tedious?

Perhaps. My first nomination is the latest installment in this dreary series, titled, in the rhetorical fashion that Trotsykist writers apparently believe is mandatory (and for all I know may in fact be included in chapter one verse one of The Leon Trotsky Bumper Book of Party Rhetoric) ‘Is there anything radical about anarchism?’ (Socialist Alternative, No.117, June 2007). It’s written by Mick Armstrong, who’s been involved in this particular brand of politicking since the 1970s… and who has a strange aversion to Kiwi anarchists, and spies them lurking, like Spiny Norman, around every corner…

But that’s another story.

Introduction

Invariably, in the post-WWII period, some form of ’socialism’ has gained a following among Australian university students, especially among those repelled by the horrors of global capitalism: environmental destruction; ‘Third World’ poverty; imperialist wars; rampaging transnational corporations; their parents. In the wake of the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, and the abandonment of any pretence of allowing radicals to eke out a career in reformist Labor parties — and in the absence of a better idea — joining a Trotskyist party can appeal to some fraction of these same repulsed students; especially those who imagine themselves wearing leather jodhpurs and heroically leading — or in some other fashion orchestrating — the exercise of collective forms of action by the working class.

Anarchists, on the other hand, have generally got more smarts. And smarts, unfortunately, is one thing lacking from Mick’s critique, one which, as suggested above, adopts a highly conventional — which is to say unoriginal — approach, and whose chief criticisms consist of the following:

According to Armstrong, “anarchism” is:

1) ideologically incoherent;
2) politically naive;
3) deeply antagonistic to working class people and their interests and;
4) centred on the pursuit of a particular ‘lifestyle’ under capitalism.

In essence, ‘anarchism’, it is argued, is little more than a radical form of bourgeois liberalism.

The rest of it (plus plenty of links) is at his blog, SlackBastard

anna x
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Sep 16 2007 00:34

There were posters from SA around my uni in Brisbane recently spruiking a discussion being held about this topic. With student politics at my campus at least being dominated by Socialist Alliance folk it seems a little weird that they would be targeting anarchists for their recuitment drive.
gregg red n black star

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LimoWreck
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Sep 16 2007 03:24

don't anyone actually read the article and give me feedback or anything....you know

Mike Harman
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Sep 16 2007 10:32
Asher wrote:

According to Armstrong, “anarchism” is:

1) ideologically incoherent;
2) politically naive;
3) deeply antagonistic to working class people and their interests and;
4) centred on the pursuit of a particular ‘lifestyle’ under capitalism.

'anarchism' isn't, but loads and loads of anarchists are. I think your friend SlackBastard bends the stick too far the other way, and why the fuck does he quote Zerzan, twice? Or for that matter praise Bob Black's 'dissection' of Social Anarchism and Lifestyle Anarchism?

tigersiskillers
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Sep 16 2007 12:12
Mike Harman wrote:
Asher wrote:

According to Armstrong, “anarchism” is:

1) ideologically incoherent;
2) politically naive;
3) deeply antagonistic to working class people and their interests and;
4) centred on the pursuit of a particular ‘lifestyle’ under capitalism.

'anarchism' isn't, but loads and loads of anarchists are. I think your friend SlackBastard bends the stick too far the other way, and why the fuck does he quote Zerzan, twice? Or for that matter praise Bob Black's 'dissection' of Social Anarchism and Lifestyle Anarchism?

Especially as Zerzan and Black tick all the above boxes between them.

Mike Harman
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Sep 16 2007 12:41

Here's the original (sic) article by Mick Armstrong: http://www.sa.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1342&Itemid=106

Mike Harman
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Sep 16 2007 13:02

OK well having read the original and both responses, I'm very, very disappointed.

Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism does in fact cite quite a few "lifestyle anarchists" - ones who are very popular still, including Hakim Bey and Bob Black (not to mention Zerzan), so the idea that they're some kind of concocted phantom is really wrong-headed and appears to be based on only reading Bob Black's polemic. To deny that these people exist is to play into Armstrong's hands - he identifies some of the shittest aspects of contemporary anarchism and attempts to apply them to the entire history of anarchist theory and practice. Rather than come up with counter-examples, we see Zerzan quotes, Bob Black held up against Bookchin, a completely uncritical approach to both summit protests in general and the black bloc in particular - in other words all the arguments are precisely on Armstrong's own terms.

SlackBastard starts alright with:

Quote:
More importantly, Mick’s approach fails to engage in any real sense with anarchism, either as ideology or as movement, and in either its historical or contemporary forms. In short, Mick is a bad Marxist, and adopts an ‘idealist’ rather than a ‘materialist’ approach to his supposed object of critique.

But then fails to provide counter-examples from the past - no Makhno, no Spanish Civil War, just references to the Autonome and a passing mention of Emma Goldman and Bakunin - again defensively and without recognising they both had their own significant weaknesses.

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Joseph Kay
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Sep 16 2007 13:16

yeah i think any defence of anarchism has to start with acknowledging much of it is unmitigated crap (as is most marxism fwiw), but pointing out only a cunt argues against the worst of his opponents position not its best.

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LimoWreck
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Sep 16 2007 13:39
Mike Harman wrote:
OK well having read the original and both responses, I'm very, very disappointed.

Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism does in fact cite quite a few "lifestyle anarchists" - ones who are very popular still, including Hakim Bey and Bob Black (not to mention Zerzan), so the idea that they're some kind of concocted phantom is really wrong-headed and appears to be based on only reading Bob Black's polemic. To deny that these people exist is to play into Armstrong's hands - he identifies some of the shittest aspects of contemporary anarchism and attempts to apply them to the entire history of anarchist theory and practice. Rather than come up with counter-examples, we see Zerzan quotes, Bob Black held up against Bookchin, a completely uncritical approach to both summit protests in general and the black bloc in particular - in other words all the arguments are precisely on Armstrong's own terms.

Yeah I missed out on the counter-examples. Oh well, next time. I wrote about lifestyle anarchism from the point of view of the tendency of trots to regard anything done "before the revolution" or that otherwise doesn't aid the workers' vanguard to seize control of the state as inherently reformist—or in this case, "lifestylist." I don't even think Zerzan, Bob Black et al even come into it. What it's about is Trots wanting to dissuade people from trying to think for themselves and to take steps in the here and now to change their lives so as to live more in accordance with their political principles. If people want to become vegetarian then I say be vegetarian—it makes about as much difference as signing a fucking petition.

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LimoWreck
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Sep 16 2007 13:40
Mike Harman wrote:
OK well having read the original and both responses, I'm very, very disappointed.

But in any event we're doing the best we can out here in the antipodes.

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@ndy
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Apr 23 2010 09:31

Hola,

I'm the SlackBastard in question. In response to catch:

Quote:
'Anarchism' isn't [ideologically incoherent etcetera], but loads and loads of anarchists are. I think your friend SlackBastard bends the stick too far the other way, and why the fuck does he quote Zerzan, twice? Or for that matter praise Bob Black's 'dissection' of Social Anarchism and Lifestyle Anarchism?

I don't dispute the fact that a number of people who call themselves anarchists are ideologically incoherent, naive, anti-working class or most interested in pursuing a particular lifestyle; whether that's merely some, many or most I don't know, but in any case I don't believe the answer to that question to be particularly relevant in this context. The point, obviously, on which you and I agree, but which Mick disputes, is that 'anarchism' is necessarily all of these things. As to why I quote Zerzan, twice, the answer to this question is revealed in the nature of the quotes themselves, which are to do with examining the relationship between theory and practice; in this case, in the life and times of Karl Marx. In his diatribe against 'anarchism', Mick extols the virtues of Marxism, and excoriates anarchists for their presumed failings, particularly in relationship to their 'lifestyles', which are argued to be at the centre of anarchist thinking and practice. In response, among other things, I wanted to examine 'The Practical Marx' (as Zerzan titled his essay). Perhaps this reveals some profound flaw in my thinking, but if there is one, you haven't mentioned it. Instead, you appear to be appalled by my mere referral to something which he happened to author. Which is fine, I don't insist that you appreciate any of Zerzan's writings, but I don't consider this fact to be relevant to the use to which I put one of his essays. As for Bob Black, I don't "praise" his work, I merely note that he has already responded to Bookchin. In other words, I consider the 'lifestyle anarchism' versus 'social anarchism' debate to be tired, old, and not especially useful.

Quote:
...Armstrong... identifies some of the shittest aspects of contemporary anarchism and attempts to apply them to the entire history of anarchist theory and practice. Rather than come up with counter-examples, we see Zerzan quotes, Bob Black held up against Bookchin, a completely uncritical approach to both summit protests in general and the black bloc in particular - in other words all the arguments are precisely on Armstrong's own terms.

Yes and no. Yes, there are 'shit' aspects of contemporary anarchist practice, and Armstrong alludes to them -- kinda -- and yes, he does appear to take these as embodying an historical legacy. However he does more than just this. For example, he quotes Bakunin and Goldman, distorts these quotes and, by extension, their ideas and their contribution to anarchist thought. In this case, the 'counter-examples' I provide are examples drawn from their own work. Secondly, he refers to a whole range of dispositions -- such as not driving a car or not eating at McDonald's -- as if these and related 'lifestyle choices' could somehow be said to constitute the sum total of anarchist practice. (For reasons of mundane political opportunism, he also chooses to place these in the context of the Australian environment movement.)

On my completely uncritical approach to summit protests in general and the black bloc in particular, I don't think that's true. Instead, what I've attempted to do is respond to Armstrong's highly jaundiced and propagandistic account of these events and formations. Further, the context for Armstrong's article is crucial to understanding its significance, and that context is a protest against the G20 in Melbourne last November. At this protest, 'anarchists' were blamed for a number of minor acts of vandalism, including the smashing of a police van window. Immediately following this event, Armstrong issued a public statement, denouncing those involved, and calling on 'the left' to completely isolate those presumed responsible. He even claimed that he personally new the names of at least 20 of the guilty parties (Kiwi anarchists), and that in addition to what he essentially claimed were psychotics from Aotearoa, these 'anarchist crazies' also consisted of hooligans from England, Germany and Sweden: foreigners, all. Since that time, the police have engaged in a massive hunt for those responsible. Think Poll Tax riot, on the one hand, and the response of Militant, on the other, on a much smaller scale, and transferred to the Antipodes. The article to which I'm responding was written following the production of this initial statement, and I go to some lengths to respond in the way that I have for these reasons. Finally, it's in the nature of any rejoinder that it must try to address the substance of the text to which it is meant to be a reply...

Quote:
But then fails to provide counter-examples from the past - no Makhno, no Spanish Civil War, just references to the Autonome and a passing mention of Emma Goldman and Bakunin - again defensively and without recognising they both had their own significant weaknesses.

Yes, it's indeed true that I make no reference to Makhno or the Spanish Civil War; on the other hand, neither does he. Further, in reference to the Autonomen, I provide a link to the text of what is, to the best of my knowledge, the most complete account of the movements in Germany and Italy available in English; interested readers are free to explore this account, or even to ask me for further references, which I would be happy to provide. As for Makhno and the Spanish Civil War, my reply to Armstrong is obviously lacking in this department, but my blog is not: again, any interested reader can either explore further or ask. Either way, I don't believe this absence makes a significant difference to my argument, but feel free to tell me why you think this to be the case. Finally, the passing mentions of Bakunin and Goldman are anything but, and I happily admit to recognising both had their weaknesses; where do I suggest that they didn't? I would have thought this was obvious.

Joseph K writes:

Quote:
yeah i think any defence of anarchism has to start with acknowledging much of it is unmitigated crap (as is most marxism fwiw), but pointing out only a cunt argues against the worst of his opponents position not its best.

I'm not sure I understand this statement.

Mike Harman
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Sep 16 2007 18:13
@ndy wrote:
Hola,

I'm the SlackBastard in question. In response to catch:

Quote:
'Anarchism' isn't [ideologically incoherent etcetera], but loads and loads of anarchists are. I think your friend SlackBastard bends the stick too far the other way, and why the fuck does he quote Zerzan, twice? Or for that matter praise Bob Black's 'dissection' of Social Anarchism and Lifestyle Anarchism?

I don't dispute the fact that a number of people who call themselves anarchists are ideologically incoherent, naive, anti-working class or most interested in pursuing a particular lifestyle; whether that's merely some, many or most I don't know, but in any case I don't believe the answer to that question to be particularly relevant in this context.

Well like most straw-men, Armstrong's article has an element of truth in it, we agree on that, I think ignoring that is sticking our heads in the sand to be honest.

Quote:
The point, obviously, on which you and I agree, but which Mick disputes, is that 'anarchism' is necessarily all of these things.

Well I've got little interest in defending "anarchism", in the same way I don't give a shit about "Marxism" - both have been expressions of real class movements towards abolishing capital at various points, and both have been very, very far from that as well.

Quote:
As to why I quote Zerzan, twice, the answer to this question is revealed in the nature of the quotes themselves, which are to do with examining the relationship between theory and practice; in this case, in the life and times of Karl Marx. In his diatribe against 'anarchism', Mick extols the virtues of Marxism, and excoriates anarchists for their presumed failings, particularly in relationship to their 'lifestyles', which are argued to be at the centre of anarchist thinking and practice. In response, among other things, I wanted to examine 'The Practical Marx' (as Zerzan titled his essay).

Well two reasons. 1. that Zerzan, as the best known primitivist of all, is the epitomy of Armstrong's article - given he'd like us all to un-learn language and re-wild etc., two that there are plenty of decent marxists you could've quoted as well - German and Dutch councilists, through the post-war splits with Trotskyism and onwards.

Quote:
As for Bob Black, I don't "praise" his work, I merely note that he has already responded to Bookchin.

Well Bertrand Russell already responded to Marx, doesn't mean it was any good.

Quote:
In other words, I consider the 'lifestyle anarchism' versus 'social anarchism' debate to be tired, old, and not especially useful.

Well I think lifestyle anarchists are best ignored, since they're irrelevant to anything remotely worthwhile, but it's fun every so often. But then the "anarchism vs. Trots" is tired old and useless as well. If groups are putting forward either bourgeios liberal or social democratic positions, then it's worth taking them apart every so often, but it shouldn't be the highest of anyone's priorities.
I don't know the details of the G20, but the "spikey/fluffy" "black bloc/trot march" dichotomy is a false one, and I didn't get that impression from your rejoinder. Yes Trots try to hijack these events and do all kinds of dishonest shit, but the answer to this is to orientate ourselves to actually existing class struggle rather than these simulacra.

Quote:
Yes, it's indeed true that I make no reference to Makhno or the Spanish Civil War; on the other hand, neither does he.

Yeah I know he doesn't, that was my point.

Quote:
Joseph K writes:
Quote:
yeah i think any defence of anarchism has to start with acknowledging much of it is unmitigated crap (as is most marxism fwiw), but pointing out only a cunt argues against the worst of his opponents position not its best.

I'm not sure I understand this statement.

That the majority of what passes for anarchism and Marxism is complete shite, and our best chance of not repeating the legion mistakes of these two movements is to salvage what we can from each, whilst being extremely honest with ourselves about their failures and be prepared to jettison vast amounts of what has been done in both their names. That the opposition isn't between anarchism and marxism, but between communism (understood as the real movement which abolishes the present state of things, not "Communism") and social democracy (plus sometimes right wing liberalism). Both anarchism and Marxism have contributed plenty to both sides, so defending one against the other is missing the point.

Mike Harman
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Sep 16 2007 20:57
guydebordisdead wrote:
I wrote a quick reply to that for anarkismo when people started publishing Armstrongs piece in Ireland.

Is there an Irish section of his sect? It's hardly worthy of republishing (or for that matter no less than three responses), damn.

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@ndy
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Sep 18 2007 15:09

Hola,

In response to 'catch': First, that there are elements of truth to Armstrong's article is, as I see it, beside the point. As a whole, in other words, the article is a very poor critique of 'anarchism'. Successful or not, to establish that was my intention in writing a reply. A more elaborate examination of the contribution of anarchism to revolutionary thought was not.

Secondly, I'm happy to accept that you've no interest in defending "anarchism" or "Marxism" as such, and however these might be defined. That said, and as an aside, I don't believe that either ideology may be reduced to simply being "expressions of real class movements towards abolishing capital at various points", or, moreover, that this is how they may best be understood, or that this constitutes the only real point of interest with regards either, whether understood as ideologies or as social movements. But really, that's not the subject of either Armstrong's article or my response to it.

Thirdly, inre to Zerzan: a) Armstrong makes no reference to Zerzan, and as such I'm not convinced that Zerzan actually constitutes the epitome of his critique (he makes no reference to primitivism, for example); and b) the quotes I use have nothing to do with primitivism, and everything to do with Marx. I'm also aware that there are a large number of Marxist thinkers -- German and Dutch councilists, for example -- I could have quoted. But I chose Zerzan's essay for particular reasons, some obvious, some not. Armstrong claimed, for example, that Marx had “considerable experience of the disastrous impact of anarchists on the early working class movement”. I wanted to challenge the notion that anarchists had this effect, partly via reference to the evolution of Marx's own thought, and the extent to which his own practice tended to place him among some of the least revolutionary tendencies in late nineteenth century European workers' movements. Beyond this, I wanted to suggest that engaging in revolutionary rhetoric is one thing, the manner in which this sentiment expresses itself in daily life, another.

Fourthly, inre to my citing Bob Black's critique of SALA, you write "Well Bertrand Russell already responded to Marx, doesn't mean it was any good". Which is true; but my point in citing Black was to suggest that this issue has already been canvassed within anarchist circles, and could be read as being not at all new, but reflective of debates within anarchism and within other revolutionary or allegedly revolutionary doctrines and movements going back many years. In other words, 'What is to be done?'. And while I haven't read either Bookchin's text or Black's response for some time, I think Black's response is worthy precisely because it rejects the false dichotomy of 'social' versus 'lifestyle' anarchism...

Anyway, I'm not sure there's much point to this back and forth. Anyone is free to comment directly on my blog, and given that in the last three months only a tiny handful of people have bothered to do so, I don't think Armstrong's article or my response to it is one of the burning issues of our time, especially for those who live outside of Melbourne, and who for that reason fail to appreciate the context and for whom the lies and distortions of a Trotskyist sect based in my hometown have very little consequence, if any.

Cheers,

@ndy.

Mike Harman
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Sep 18 2007 17:29
@ndy wrote:
Hola,

In response to 'catch': First, that there are elements of truth to Armstrong's article is, as I see it, beside the point. As a whole, in other words, the article is a very poor critique of 'anarchism'.

On that we agree.

Quote:
Thirdly, inre to Zerzan: a) Armstrong makes no reference to Zerzan, and as such I'm not convinced that Zerzan actually constitutes the epitome of his critique (he makes no reference to primitivism, for example);

Primitivism is the epitomy of lifestylism.

Quote:
Fourthly, inre to my citing Bob Black's critique of SALA, you write "Well Bertrand Russell already responded to Marx, doesn't mean it was any good". Which is true; but my point in citing Black was to suggest that this issue has already been canvassed within anarchist circles, and could be read as being not at all new, but reflective of debates within anarchism and within other revolutionary or allegedly revolutionary doctrines and movements going back many years. In other words, 'What is to be done?'. And while I haven't read either Bookchin's text or Black's response for some time, I think Black's response is worthy precisely because it rejects the false dichotomy of 'social' versus 'lifestyle' anarchism...

The dichotomy is there. It's not the most important division in revolutionary theory and history by any means, but nonetheless I think the break with lifestylism has been quite important over the past ten years in re-orientating people towards the class struggle.

By the way you know BB is a snitch right?

Quote:
who for that reason fail to appreciate the context and for whom the lies and distortions of a Trotskyist sect based in my hometown have very little consequence, if any.

Well every year the SWP has something slagging off anarchism (usually Pat Stack(?) at their Marxism thingy), although Pat Stack's essays are generally funny rather than just hatchet jobs (anarchists are all petty artisans etc.), so I can appreciate it happens. I just don't think the original article was worthy of a response.