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

My first encounter with anarchism?
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.

Author
Submitted by Steven. on April 7, 2011

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

  • 1 Disclaimer: this article is intended to point out the flaws in the SW article as opposed to going to the differences between anarchism and Trotskyism in general. Plenty of other articles on libcom do this already. A more reasoned response to a more reasoned article on this subject is also worth a look here: http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=729&issue=130
  • 2 See The Bolsheviks and workers control and What was USSR? for more information.

Comments

rooieravotr

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by rooieravotr on April 7, 2011

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.

Submitted by Steven. on April 7, 2011

rooieravotr

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.

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on April 7, 2011

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

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Harrison on April 7, 2011

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

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Devrim on April 7, 2011

Steven.

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

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

Submitted by Harrison on April 7, 2011

Devrim

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

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Awesome Dude on April 7, 2011

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.

Submitted by Devrim on April 7, 2011

Harrison Myers

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

alan on tyneside

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by alan on tyneside on April 7, 2011

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!

Submitted by Devrim on April 7, 2011

alan on tyneside

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

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by klas batalo on April 7, 2011

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

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by proletariat ryan on April 7, 2011

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

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by rooieravotr on April 7, 2011

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

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by LBird on April 7, 2011

proletariat ryan

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

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Wellclose Square on April 7, 2011

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

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by alan on tyneside on April 7, 2011

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?

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

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on April 7, 2011

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.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on April 7, 2011

Wellclose Square

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

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by slothjabber on April 7, 2011

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

Submitted by Joseph Kay on April 7, 2011

slothjabber

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

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by lostlost on April 7, 2011

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.

Submitted by Awesome Dude on April 8, 2011

Joseph Kay

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.

Submitted by Awesome Dude on April 8, 2011

slothjabber

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.

Submitted by rooieravotr on April 8, 2011

'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

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Ramona on April 8, 2011

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

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.

Submitted by slothjabber on April 8, 2011

Joseph Kay

slothjabber

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

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by johng on April 8, 2011

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.

Submitted by Anarcho on April 8, 2011

rooieravotr

'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:

"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...

Submitted by Anarcho on April 8, 2011

rooieravotr

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.

In a word, yes -- the SWP has a long track record of these kinds of articles. I recently posted by reply/letter to one by Pat Stack from 2000:

The SWP versus Anarchism

More or less the same nonsense -- and Stack was (is?) a leading member of the SWP! The only real difference is that this new article does not mention Bakunin or Kropotkin!

So there is a policy to make anarchism look bad -- and it dates back decades (I went to a SWP meeting on anarchism in 1988 and it came out with the same rubbish).

Submitted by Awesome Dude on April 8, 2011

Ramona

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.

It's interesting that consensus voting is being used as a tactic to prevent domination by one or more groups, rather than it being fetishised as it is in a lot of anarchist circles. I recently attended the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts meeting in London which used consensus decision making at lot. Though it has to be said the chair exercised a lot of power and the regular organising core seemed to comprise of trots. But if these are tactics that prevent a situation like the one recently in the NSSN than the pros and cons need to be discussed.

Ed

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Ed on April 8, 2011

slothjabber

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.

That sounds like the absolute, hands down, weirdest Grange Hill episode I've ever heard of.. ;)

Just say 'no'..

Spikymike

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Spikymike on April 8, 2011

It's really encouraging to see new posters like 'johng', 'lostlost', 'proletariat ryan' and many others getting interested in the broad libertarian communist politics of this site and with such a well expressed non sectarian and enquiring approach.

Whatever political tradition, or none, people may arrive from, it's where we go together that's important and in the cut and thrust of debates and discussions, as well as the varied cross section of library material, I hope you will find something worthwhile and all stick around to both learn and contribute to our collective effort.

If you like what any particular poster happens to say you can check out their 'profile' for common origins, recomended authors, groups and web sites and could consider adding to your own profile over time.

LBird

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by LBird on April 8, 2011

Joseph Kay, post#23,

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.

JK, I followed the link you provided, and found this explanation of 'Anarchism'.

Hal Draper

The basic reason is the same: Anarchism is not concerned with the creation of democratic control from below, but only with the destruction of “authority” over the individual, including the authority of the most extremely democratic regulation of society that it is possible to imagine. This has been made clear by authoritative anarchist expositors time and again; for example, by George Woodcock: “even were democracy possible, the anarchist would still not support it ... Anarchists do not advocate political freedom. What they advocate is freedom from politics...” Anarchism is on principle fiercely anti-democratic, since an ideally democratic authority is still authority.

Could you comment upon this? Is this a valid characterisation of all Anarchism? I would suppose that 'Class Struggle Anarchists', like SolFed and AF, wouldn't agree with this: it seems to me more an assault on 'Individualist Anarchism', given what I've read (and liked) on these boards about 'Anarchist Communism' and Anarcho-Syndicalism.

Rob Ray

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Rob Ray on April 8, 2011

Woodcock was heavily connected to and part of the milieu around Freedom Press as it was run by Vernon Richards, which tended towards a form of liberal pacifist libertarianism which made it popular and influential in the 1960s and 70s at one point, but from the standpoint of anarchism as a historical strand was largely an anomaly.

While Woodcock was a prolific writer, and undoubtedly a very good one, did some excellent research at times and got his name about I'm not sure how "authoritative" he can be considered to be. He declared social anarchism to have died in the 1930s for example and believed the hippies were reinventing the concept for the new era. History has fairly definitively proven him wrong I think.

Having said so, what Woodcock is saying there is being fundamentally misrepresented. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can find the full quote referenced here, which shows his view in context and is worth reading just to see how Draper is twisting things. I'll pull out another quote from the same piece a couple of pars down:

Anarchists believe that a political or governmental organisation of society is incompatible with justice and liberty. They contend that society should be based on the free co-operation of individual men and women in fulfilment of their common functional and economic needs.

...

Where, however, anarchism has existed as a social movement, its exponents have always envisaged the necessity for organisation, but a free organisation rising organically from the needs of man. Anarchism preaches freedom of the individual, but freedom cannot be isolated in society. A man’s freedom is reciprocal, depending on the freedom of others, and therefore anarchism preaches that the concept of justice is as necessary as the concept of freedom, for without justice there can be no true freedom, just as without freedom there can be no real justice.

And in the same book he outlines his view of how a society should be organised:

the anarchist believes in the decentralisation of the administrative function. Affairs must be managed by the people they concern. Thus each man will manage the affairs that concern him alone, each family the affairs that concern itself, and so on to the commune and the town, the factory and the farm. Society will be organised as far as possible in the small autonomous units of this type that will be federated, the factories by industry, the communes by region, for the co-ordination of common affairs.

The really pathetic thing here is that there's plenty of crap anarchist writing out there, yet Draper is still reduced to misrepresenting someone!

Joseph Kay

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on April 8, 2011

Edit: cross-posted with Rob Ray.

Well, it's bollocks. Finding radical liberals calling themselves anarchists and basing a critique of anarchism on them is the precise equivalent of yelling 'Gulag!' at anyone who mentions Marx. I mean individualist anarchism doesn't really exist today. How many people have read Stirner? And what gets called individualist anarchism - lifestyle politics, 'autonomous spaces' etc is still concerned with the creation of democratic control from below, even if that means squats run by consensus, self-managed social centres etc.

The Woodcock quote is probably out of context, and he was anyhow more of a radical liberal. There's a well established anarchist critique of democracy from Pouget to Malatesta, but all of those have posited a stateless, directly democratic society run along federal lines, with mandated delegates in place of 'democratic representatives' etc. Insofar as democracy is the representation of people in the state, anarchists oppose it. but that's a million miles away from being opposed to democratic organisation from below: the Paris Commune for instance, celbrated by Marxists, was quite influenced by anarchist ideas of federalism.

And frankly any Trot talking about 'democratic control from below' needs to read some history from non-party sources. Trotsky only saw initiative from below as the wave which the party could ride into power; "Without a guiding organisation, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston-box. But nevertheless what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam." He never allowed that workers could direct things themselves - that was his job as the enlightened Party leader.

johng

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by johng on April 8, 2011

Comrades may be interested in the full text version of the article which I'm sure will be as interesting to anarchists as it is to me as an old trot. I think the author identifies a real problem in dialogue between our traditions: we're so busy contesting our own tradition that we can't see the other.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/52500332/FINAL-LONG-van-der-Walt-debating-power-revolution-…

johng

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by johng on April 8, 2011

comrades may also be interested to know that this discussion has polarised quite a lot of socialists. I tended to think the article in SW wasn't too clever, some thought it was ok and practical, others thought it sectarian, others thought people were too defensive about critically discussing one of our own articles which was a bit duff. my one criticism of anarchists on all this was this (I had complained about the paucity of good academic writing on anarchism):
One reason for mentioning academic writing is a serious but understandable defect with a lot of anarchist responses to socialist ignorence of their tradition. They will tend to get very upset about misrepresentation of the detail about what bakunin said, or ignorence about the statements of kropotkin etc, or what precisely happened in 1936 in Barcelona. The difficulty is that this kind of detailed knowledge of texts or histories can only be got in one of two ways. One is participation in an actual tradition (preferably a living and not a dead one), a tradition which debates the present in relationship to the past, produces journals, books, articles etc. One can, as an outsider, research a tradition like this of course. But its quite hard. On the other hand you can read academic books (or at the very least academic editions of anarchist writings, with historical introductions etc which allow you to, make some kind of judgement about the significance or otherwise of a particular text, argument or event for the tradition). In general Marxists have been better served in this respect then anarchists. And the extraordinary, and to some extent mysterious, crisis of anarchism makes the situation worse in terms of available literature. So its both understandable but also annoying to be lectured about our ignorence of anarchism. That ignorence is part of the historical problem which its partly the responsibility of anarchists to address. On the other hand I would argue that given that histories connection to working class history, we maybe ought to have been historically more interested in all this then we are."

I also concluded in the end that trots had a better understanding of why they were a bit crap then anarchists did. and that this should be emblazoned on the banners of the vangarde as it went forth in ideological battle with anarchists. In the end its probably our biggest advantage...(long discussion of why anarchism was so marginalised: one comrade had the interesting idea that anarchism as a mass current never adequately dealt with reformism: anarchism as a mass current tended to flourish were the state was not prepared to issue reforms and/or were the main reformist tradition was middle class In these circumstances reformism could be presented as straightfowardly bosses propaganda. This did not work well in situations were a serious section of the working class was involved in reformist political organisation. This might explain the eclipse of anarchism without therefore falling back into cliches about anarchists having all been petite bourgoise or on the other hand 'backward'.

Rob Ray

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Rob Ray on April 8, 2011

Very simple solution to that though, if you want to do an explanation of what anarchism is and its main tendencies represent, in the strand which is strongest and most relevant to those of the left group you are part of, ask them.

The AWL have been quite cordial with SolFed, but rather than ask for a discussion piece in a comradely manner they get someone who either doesn't know very much (quite possibly in part for the reasons you outline), or who is malicious, to write something which is hugely misleading.

And when the SWP respond to interest within their ranks/the periphery in anarchist ideas, rather than ask some anarchists to do a debate piece they get someone who even in the most generous of spirits clearly knows fuck all to write something up. And in the case of Draper there's not even that excuse - it took me about five minutes to find the same passage he must have read and to show he was being misleading in a way that could only be deliberate.

That's something which anarchist groups sometimes do as well, for sure, but I don't think it's adequate to paint it as Leninists simply being shakey on the detail.

rat

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by rat on April 8, 2011

I don’t suppose the SWP are using the label Autonomism to refer to autonomist Marxism?
Sometimes Autonomism is used in relation to protests, demos and social centres by anarchists.
It seems that somewhere along the line the term has become synonymous with a European protest scene. How did that happen?

I’m going to have to look into autonomist Marxism by reading some of the many texts that Libcom has in the library. After some of the shorter articles, Storming Heaven by Steve Wright will have to be read?

Khawaga

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Khawaga on April 8, 2011

I don’t suppose the SWP are using the label Autonomism to refer to autonomist Marxism?
Sometimes Autonomism is used in relation to protests, demos and social centres by anarchists.

The impression I got was that the author doesn't realize there is a distinction. If she just bothered to dig a bit she should realize that autonomism is just Harry Cleavers label for post-operaismo, which has very little to do with autonomia. Probably she read only the wikipedia article were the two are horribly (con)fused together.

Steven.

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on April 8, 2011

Year zero, she seems very confused. Initially she seems to talk about basically individualist anarchists, who might bandy about the word autonomous a bit. But later on she quotes an autonomist Marxist - John Holloway.

I edited in a quick footnote disclaimer stressing that I wasn't going to go into detail about what the differences between anarchism and Marxism are (especially as I pretty much am a Marxist), as it has been done to death by better writers than me.

Joseph Kay

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on April 8, 2011

Yeah today 'actually existing autonomism' has little to do with Marxism (although some in the milieu are very into hip post-Marxist theory, the milieu is by no means defined by it). Seems to be a mish mash of radical liberalism, trendy french communist theory and various flavours of anarchism. I'm not sure exactly when the cross-over happened, but I think post-Seattle a lot of activisty types read Negri, possibly some Cleaver etc, and became aware of the German Autonome etc.

Submitted by martinh on April 8, 2011

johng

....this kind of detailed knowledge of texts or histories can only be got in one of two ways. One is participation in an actual tradition (preferably a living and not a dead one), a tradition which debates the present in relationship to the past, produces journals, books, articles etc. One can, as an outsider, research a tradition like this of course. But its quite hard. On the other hand you can read academic books (or at the very least academic editions of anarchist writings, with historical introductions etc which allow you to, make some kind of judgement about the significance or otherwise of a particular text, argument or event for the tradition). In general Marxists have been better served in this respect then anarchists. And the extraordinary, and to some extent mysterious, crisis of anarchism makes the situation worse in terms of available literature. So its both understandable but also annoying to be lectured about our ignorence of anarchism. That ignorence is part of the historical problem which its partly the responsibility of anarchists to address. On the other hand I would argue that given that histories connection to working class history, we maybe ought to have been historically more interested in all this then we are.".

I think there's something to this, but a lot less than there used to be, and it also depends on what language you are using. The majority of the world's anarchists don't speak English. A lot of the most useless tendencies within anarchism are over-represented among those who do. Anarchists anyway tend to prioritise action over theorising, though to be fair there are plenty of libertarian marxists who do the opposite.
However, overall there are so many more resources available now that can be found with a few keystrokes and are certainly available to anyone at the LSE! (This site being a very good example). Many more of the anarchist thinkers of the past 150 years are now available in English - in the past decade I think there's been new stuff by Guerin, Makhno, Arshinov, Skirda, Malatesta, Flores Magon published, as well as general books like the anarchist FAQ, Black Flame and Damier on anarcho-syndicalism and the IWA. A full translation with detailed annotation of Peirats is now in English. And there are very lively discussions etc, that can be found here and elsewhere. I think the ignorance argument is definitely wearing a bit thin.
There's also the fundamental dishonesty - as one of the previous posters mentioned, young SP members were surprised to find SF members support mass working class action. They are led by people who worked with the predecssor of SF, the DAM, in the anti-poll tax campaign (and they really didn't enjoy being stood up to). They know what we are about and choose to misrepresent it.
Of course it happens the other way round, but not to the same degree.

Regards,
Martin

klas batalo

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by klas batalo on April 8, 2011

i also sometimes think they just attack autonomism/autonomous marxism because that way they can take a go at anarchism and libertarian tendencies with out seeming as sectarian

"see people we're attacking other marxists not you"

Gerostock

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Gerostock on April 8, 2011

Estelle is probably resentful that despite the predictable, aggressive attempts of the SWP to commandeer political movements, the only shoots of socialism to emerge from the student movement have been libertarian. The SWP responded to the latest crisis of capitalism by more determinedly hemorrhaging the last of it's members. It belongs in a museum.

I don't think the article was worth a response. It's very unlikely that someone who spent decades in socialist movements could be so ignorant.

Submitted by rat on April 9, 2011

Joseph Kay

I'm not sure exactly when the cross-over happened, but I think post-Seattle a lot of activisty types read Negri

I remember a sense of this a long time back...
I think, around the Mayday stuff of 1998-2001, some AF comrades along with other anarchists got into Negri and connected with the social centre scene, for want of a better terminology, and then left the organised anarchist groups. Around that time, I was interested in the ideas but didn't follow-up on reading more about the various currents. Of course now I can via Libcom. I was influenced by Echanges et Mouvement, thanks to Anarchist Communist Federation comrades.

Chilli Sauce

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on April 9, 2011

Great article Steven. Once NLSF writes this response the AWL, Libcom might just have to create a tag 'responses to Trot distortions about anarchism'....

Submitted by Harrison on April 9, 2011

Gerostock

the only shoots of socialism to emerge from the student movement have been libertarian.

that true isn't it, i reckon its just derived from a gut feeling of: fuck being told how to protest by a clearly ineffectual authority, we can make our own decisions.

Gerostock

I don't think the article was worth a response. It's very unlikely that someone who spent decades in socialist movements could be so ignorant.

i think its worthwhile, as we have evidence that we accurately respond to criticism, and are prepared to engage in rational communication, unlike the SWP.

Chilli Sauce

Once NLSF writes this response the AWL, Libcom might just have to create a tag 'responses to Trot distortions about anarchism'....

i think that would be a really good idea

rooieravotr

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by rooieravotr on April 9, 2011

I think the response to the SW article was worthwhile. Not because the article 'deserved' it, but because the response can help others in responding to this kind of crap. It helped me (I am planning to write a response myself, for my Dutch-language blog). And the discussion it is bringing on here on libcom makes sense, including the contributions of johng which are well worth reading and responding to, and which prove that not all trotskyists are unable and/ or unwilling to respond in an honest and sensible way. He and I (a former trotskyist turned anarchist) disagree, but with his contributions, there actually is something valid to disagree about and discuss.

That said, yes, ignorance within trotskyist organisations about the anarchist tradition is a big factor. And here, trotskyist organisations are to blame. When a new member asks the 'cadre': "give me advice, what should I read on Marx", you'll get an answer like 'well, read the Communist Manifesto, the Civil War in France, maybe, Wage Labour and Capital; read Callinicos' The revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx'. In other words: You want to know Marx? Read Marx and Marxists! A perfectly sensible attitude.

However, ask the same hypothetical cadre person: 'What should I rerad on anarchism?', and chances are that you get answers like: "read Marx and Engels on Anarchism", "read the latest ISJ piece on anarchism; on Spain, read Felix Morrow; on Kronstadt, read Trotsky "Hue and Crye about Kronstadt", on Bakunin and Proudhon, read Draper. Rarely do you hear: "on anarchism, read Guerin or, yes indeed, Woodcock; on Kronstadt, read Ida Mett; on Spain, read Gaston Leval and Murray Boockchin; on Bakunin read... Bakunin! No, you want to know anarchism? Then read the Party Line on anarchism! Instead of: On anarchism, read anarchists. The latter makes sense. That should be obvious, but among trotskyists in practice, it too often isn't. Therefore, Trotskyist knowledge about anarchism is often second-hand, one-sided, knowledge. This is no good preparation for a sensible debate.

There is another peculiar thing as well: cadre members are treated very much different from 'ordinary' members and sympathizers. The latter have to make do with crap pieces like thye SW article, which editors must KNOW that are deceitful. The cadre, however, is supposed to read the ISJ. In that magazine, there is a reasonably open and serious discussion on anarchism, in which one of the writers of Black Flame gets the opportunity to reply to SWP criticisms. The cadre is suppused to think, and allowed to think things throught; the rest is supposed to swallow, follow and toe the line, as expressed in silly SW pieces. That may not be a conscious decision, but it IS how it works in practice. And it encourages stupid mistakes, ill-will and worse, to which anarchists, thoroughly provoked, tend to reply in kind. Ofcourse, there is bad anarchist anti-marxist polemics as well. But there is a difference in attitude towards each others' traditions, in which the advantage, mildly speaking, is not on the trotskyist side.

@ndy

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by @ndy on April 11, 2011

Fwiw...

Yeah, the article by Estelle Cooch is not very good. Or, to put it another way, it's kinda bad: it's crude, ill-informed as well as being confused, and treats 'anarchism' in a manner similar to what Lenin done back in the day: as an infantile disorder (or in this case, a juvenile one). But I think the article needs to be understood as being addressed to a particular audience and aimed at achieving a particular effect: convincing Student Grant--especially those who've recently joined the party, or are thinking of doing so--that exploring these other political alternatives is a waste of time. The SWP's monthly and journal publications articulate a more nuanced dismissal of the party's libertarian rivals.

In any case, the SWP/iSt espouses 'socialism from below'; what some anarchists maintain actually forms the core of (if it is not actually synonymous with) anarchism. As others have pointed out above, Hal Draper's essay on the subject ('The Two Souls of Socialism') appears to form the ideological basis of this position, periodically re-articulated by folks like David McNally and others belonging to this particular, neo-Trotskyist skool.

And yeah: the faulty nature of these claims has been exposed on numerous occasions by anarchist critics; the WSM, among others. A useful, and more recent, critique of Draper's concept--'Marxism, Anarchism, & the Genealogy of “Socialism From Below”' by Tom Keefer (Upping the Anti, No.2, 2005)--is available here:

http://uppingtheanti.org/journal/article/02-marxism-anarchism-the-genealogy-of-socialism-from-below/

The relationship between anarchism, autonomism and autonomous / autonomist Marxism is a whole other story... but, contra johng, I think the last few years has seen the publication (in English) of some really interesting and useful contemporary academic and popular writings on anarchism. One example that springs to mind is Uri Gordon's Anarchy Alive.

Submitted by rat on April 9, 2011

Joseph Kay

trendy french communist

I'm guessing that this could mean Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari? But Maybe that's wide of the mark? Or Socialisme ou Barbarie? I don't know so wouldn't mind some pointers.

The subject of the thread may lead to two discussions going on at the same time. But the SWP's neo-Trot distortion of revolutionary anarchism and the subject of autonomist Marxism is still interesting to find out about.

Joseph Kay

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on April 9, 2011

by trendy french communists i was thinking Tiqqun, Invisible Committee et al. But yeah Deleuze/Guattari probably fall into that category too.

@ndy

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by @ndy on April 10, 2011

PS.

Which Anarchism? Which Autonomism? Between Anarchism and Autonomist Marxism (Heather Gautney)
http://slackbastard.anarchobase.com/?p=12332

Through a Glass Darkly: Alain Badiou’s critique of anarchism (Benjamin Noys)
http://slackbastard.anarchobase.com/?p=12086

Chilli Sauce

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on April 10, 2011

So, I was reading my Stalinist in-laws' copy of the Young Communists League's "Resistance" magazine (I know, I was on the john) and they have the exact same line on autonomism as simply an individualist distraction from needing an "accountable" and "democratic" leadership.

Submitted by @ndy on April 11, 2011

Chilli Sauce

So, I was reading my Stalinist in-laws' copy of the Young Communists League's "Resistance" magazine (I know, I was on the john) and they have the exact same line on autonomism as simply an individualist distraction from needing an "accountable" and "democratic" leadership.

Great minds think alike.

JoeMaguire

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by JoeMaguire on April 11, 2011

Fools never differ.

With Sober Senses

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by With Sober Senses on April 12, 2011

The conflation of anarchism and heterodox Marxism is I assume a way of applying their off the rack critiques of anarchism (which are shit) to the latter. This is a neat way of avoiding actually have to deal with people like Negri, Holloway etc directly, who, whatever you may think of them, are much better at their Marx than the SWP line. Indeed one of the local IS franchises has recently lumped Negri, Holloway and Harvey together and then in a few lines declared that all three have written off the working class - which seems to be the basic line of their shitty critique of anarchism.
This is important in the, at least in Australia, the IS groups often have lost their members to different heterodox Marxism such as the various flavors of post-operaismo. That was my experience and the experience of a number of friends.
The duplicity is that if you read Callincos' writings he actually agrees with Negri on class composition (cf. his chapter in ‘Lenin Reloaded’). This never filters down to the cadre on the ground.

welshboy

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by welshboy on April 12, 2011

Part two of 'Challenges to Marxism' deals with Post-Modernism.
http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=24484
Only skimmed the article but it seems to be about as well researched as the one on Anarchism.

@ndy

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by @ndy on April 13, 2011

Maybe the series could be re-titled... something like "Estelle Cooch: Undergraduate Essays in Political Philosophy"?

Steven.

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on April 13, 2011

Oh snap!

Mike Harman

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Mike Harman on April 14, 2011

Are undergraduate essays really that bad? Looks more like A level or GCSE to me.

Arbeiten

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Arbeiten on April 14, 2011

The article on 'Post-Modernism' was an atrocity! The author could have at least read one of the philosophers they lambast.....

rooieravotr

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by rooieravotr on April 14, 2011

I have long had a similar hostile attitude against postmodernism as the one expressed in that SW article. I would be helped by an article that points out the distortions in this article, in the same way as Steven did with the thing on autonomism. On the anti-autonomist thing I could easily spot the distortions myself, on the postmodernism thing I am much less confident (simply because I just don't know enough). I am fully prepared to believe that the SW postmodernism article was an atrocity as well, but I am unable to make that case myself, and would like some clarification.

@ndy

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by @ndy on April 15, 2011

Again, fwiw...

If 'postmodernism' is understood to mean what Estelle Cooch says it does -- among other things, ironic detachment from a world beyond control and the ideological bedrock of the University, as well as a term used to describe a society without a manufacturing base -- then I think this hostility is perfectly understandable. On the other hand, if postmodernism is understood to mean or to refer to a good many things, and is a term that has been used by quite a range of people (many of whom are actually in -- sometimes profound -- disagreement with one another), the concept as a whole may be worth a closer look. In other words, like 'anarchism', or 'Marxism', or 'socialism', or 'freedom', or 'democracy', or so on (ad nauseum), postmodernism has been subject to many different readings. The main problem with her essay, I think, is that it's essentially a polemic: postmodernism is bad, mmmkay? A more straightforward approach would be to provide a standard definition of the term, to look at some of the ways in which it's been interpreted, to discuss the ideas of some of its key thinkers, to indicate, perhaps, how these differ from modernist or non-postmodernist approaches (in this context, 'Marxism'), and to suggest some further reading.

Which, I suppose, is a rather long-winded way of saying that if the ideas of people like Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard and Michel Foucault, whatever their relationship to postmodernism, are interesting and therefore worth investigating, they're worth examining directly rather than by way of the haphazard writings of an undergraduate neo-Trotskyist. Certainly, a better (and far more entertaining) denunciation of the whole edifice was made years ago by John Zerzan:

http://www.primitivism.com/postmodernism.htm

Otherwise, Fredric Jameson's (1984) essay 'Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism' is a classic statement of rejection --

http://classweb.gmu.edu/sandrew3/misc/nlr142jameson_postmodernism.pdf

-- the most relevant points of which are republished on marxists.org --

http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/jameson.htm

-- while Terry Eagleton (another thinker Estelle cites) has some more to say on 'postmodernism' in After Theory (especially Chapter 3: 'The Path to Postmodernism').

*shrugs*

Khawaga

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Khawaga on April 15, 2011

Mike

Are undergraduate essays really that bad? Looks more like A level or GCSE to me.

In Canada they are often much much worse. Kids today can't even write properly let alone put together an academic essay.

punkmar77

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by punkmar77 on April 16, 2011

And the beat goes on and on, I have to agree with some of you that hopefully the brighter of these folk will soon grow tired of blatantly ill-researched disinformation and will move on.

rooieravotr

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by rooieravotr on April 16, 2011

I have to agree with some of you that hopefully the brighter of these folk will soon grow tired of blatantly ill-researched disinformation and will move on.

I think this type of moving-on is not just to be hoped for, but to be actively encouraged. Part of the reason lots of younger people get stuck with trotskyist groups is the fact that they are much more visible, much more out-going, out-reaching, than the libertarian left. We are not as visible, so newly radicalising people become members of an Trotskyist/ IS tendency group, not because they sympathize with trotskyism so much, but simply because they SEEM the only game in town. That, at least, is my impression from the Netherlands (being one of those who finally 'moved on'from trotskyism/IS politics towards anarchism)

Arbeiten

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Arbeiten on April 16, 2011

If you have got a problem with so called 'post-modern' theory then dig in by all means. But do it properly. That article sets up a straw man in order to say 'so basically, listen to us, don't actually even bother read Lenin or Trotsky or Marx, let alone postmodernists, listen to us'. It's like a shortened down version of Callinicos' book from the 80s 'Against Postmodernism'.

I just feel the whole term 'postmodernism' is too much of a broad brush stroke. I don't think you can lump the likes of Foucault and Baudrillard into the same category.

Arbeiten

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Arbeiten on April 16, 2011

oh and before i end up in a the eye of the shit storm for seeming like the protector of so called post-modern theory I would like to add that I have my own dislike of much of it (read Derrida's book on Marx recently. It was probably the worst book I ever read on Marx). I just prefer to read a critique that doesnt read like it was written for two year olds, by two year olds

@ndy

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by @ndy on April 17, 2011

@Arbeiten:

You sound just like a guardian of so-called post-modern "theory", one for whom Hegel's argument that there's A Big Fat Theory that will enable humanity to understand and change the world and march and sing and emancipate ourselves is silly: just another "narrative" or "story", probably no better than the Harry Potter series. The only reason you deny the existence of factories is because your head's stuck, either in the clouds or in the pages of some book (probably written by some Frenchman, probably named Jacques, who probably thinks people are really dead or something).

And so on and so forth.

Arbeiten

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Arbeiten on April 17, 2011

i dunno man, I think my posts sound like your last post that called for a direct examination of Derrida's texts you closet literary theorist you!

@ndy

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by @ndy on April 17, 2011

Oh right.

The "truth" is all "relative" to you post-modernists.

My penultimate post clearly states that reason and truth are not illusions (as Deleuze argues) and manufacturing industry has not disappeared (as Derrida maintains) and language doesn’t cause oppressions (as Lyotard claims) and we don’t need postmodern irony (as Foucault postulated) and while you may assert that “every discourse is valid” and "we can never truly know" what happened on this thread although he can seem "a bit tedious" by comparison unlike you and the literary theorists you defend Marx did not reject organisation and the mass power of the international working class and anyway Holloway is on crack and to ignore the state or Lenin may be appealing but we need to organise together if we are to challenge the wealthiest Eton toffs.

wojtek

11 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by wojtek on July 9, 2012

Did anyone read this at the time, it's hilarious! :lol:

WHY AUTONOMISTS ARE JUST WRONG AND SHOULD BE DRIVEN FROM THE LEFT

In the first of a series of ill-advised and unfounded articles on the bits of the left he doesn't like, ERASER HOOCH shows why Lenin is right and autonomism is wrong.

'My first experience with anarchists was in pre-school. While many of the other children were all able to fit the brightly coloured pegs through the different shaped holes, there was this one kind, who was clearly an anarchist, who insisted on pushing the pegs up his nose. Marxists, on the other hand, call for mass action, the only true way to mobilize all the workers. In the recent student movement we've seen people making decisions without a central committe. Clearly witchcraft. There has been a use of occupations as an open 'space' where students look to create an 'alternative'. Many organizers have taken to calling themselves 'autonomists'.

Autonomism and anarchism sound a bit similar and I see no reason to check. In Italy in the 1980s autonomists like Antonio Negri used to run around sucking the blood of workers and trying to outlaw the colour red. They are there reasons our revolutions failed - I assume they did not seek out the single answer for all our problems: mass organization of the working class. As a revolutionary called Lenin once said: “1) autonomism 2) ???? 3) failure”. And that was LENIN remember, so we know it was clearly correct. John Holloway, an autonomist, says something in response, but what does he know? Fuck him. Marxism as I see it has provided us with the only true answer and that is to continue in the same rut we have done for 60 years hoping for some kind of revolution to emerge.'

http://www.scribd.com/doc/59243320/FLR2

Steven.

11 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on July 9, 2012

Ha ha great

Entdinglichung

11 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Entdinglichung on July 10, 2012

even better: http://thegreatunrest.net/2011/04/21/new-weekly-smirker-out-today/