A critique of AWA as non-specific sectarianism by Rage Against Capital
Since the rise of things like “Anarcho-capitalism” and the modern mutualist/”Left-Libertarian” movement social Anarchists have had to deal with something calling itself “Anarchism Without Adjectives”. Now this term has some historical relevance in the social Anarchist project, however it has since been disconnected from it’s original meaning and offered up in a kind of vague and moralistic manner. Many people who identify with this label come to the view that making any prescription of how the revolution will or should unfold is “authoritarian”. This leads to platformists and syndicalists like myself being viewed as soft Leninists, or Bolsehviks by said people even though both tenancies broke from the Bolshevik and Leninist line. This has left a lot of room for so called “ancaps” to continue their failed campaigns at hijacking political Anarchism for the far right with many of them cloaking their right wing ideology in a thin veil of pragmatism. They usually say something like “Well, we should probably try both Anarchist/Communism and Anarcho-Capitalism to see what works”. These people take on the label of “Anarchist Without Adjectives” when really they are just glorified ancaps. Anacaps already state that if social Anarchism works for many people then they will “let” it prosper. These people have essentially the same “voluntaryist” methodology as ancaps do and often advocate identical views of the market as sacrosanct.
This all means that AWA as it’s called leads to what Kropotkin might call “authoritarian individualism” where adherents reject any kind of social preparation for a revolutionary change in society and instead posit that the only way to do things that is consistent with Anarchist politics is essentially letting the chips fall where they may. If you cross this absolutist form of individualistic politics you are immediately branded as a “Leninist”, “Marxist”, “Bolshevik”, “authoritarian”, ect..
I want to give some historical context so that we can understand AWA fully which it’s modern day advocates seem not to be able to do.
Beginnings Without Adjectives:
AWA was first synthesized by Fernando Tarrida del Marmol in 1890 as a response to particularly, sectarianism among Communist Anarchists and Collectivist Anarchists. Fernando, probably rightly, was tired of the ongoing debates between collectivists and communists, and wanted to square the gap by eradicating both methodologies in favor of a uniform Anarchist methodology which would be based not on preparation for the social revolution, but on performing social struggle and the social revolution in the here and now, Fernando thought that different tenancies within Anarchist thought that attempted to draw up any kind of plan for the future would end up in sectarianism. This new methodology that Fernando proposed never caught on anywhere in the Anarchist scene, and in my humble opinion that is probably a good thing.
There are many problems with Fernando’s proposal, it is a-historical, dated, contradictory, and idealist.
Fernando based his whole proposal off the experience he had among the Communist and Collectivist debates and ignores nearly all of Anarchist history outside of such, his proposal completely overlooks individualist Anarchism, and Mutualism, plus the debates among Anarchists that have historical significance outside of the ones that he himself had observed. As a result there is no way that Fernando’s proposal could possibly serve as a unifying Anarchist method given that it completely overlooks whole bodies of Anarchist thought.
Fernando also failed to account for (like anyone adapting their analysis to the specific time period) the new tenancies that would emerge in Anarchist thought, and the falling out of old tenancies. Anarchist Communism eventually surpassed both Mutualism and Collectivism as it served the interests of the working class more efficiently then either of the other two. Mutualism has made a resurgence with neo-mutualist blogs and publications, but is no longer an active political tenancy and much of the neo-mutualist strand of thought fails to even be Anarchist attempting to synthesize class struggle Anarchism with neo-classical economics. Much of this right-wingification of mutualism can be seen in Kevin Karson’s work which you can find here: http://www.mutualist.org/. However some of the neo-mutualism crowd has stuck to the old tradition, this is what is called the”Neo-Proudhonian” sect of mutualism which often contends that mutualism does not have to advocate market forms of production. Here are some relevant links: http://mutualisminfo.blogspot.com/
http://mutualist-anarchist.blogspot.com/. I do not wish to portray that I agree with this sect of Neo-Mutualism, or that I “approve” of it, they have their own definite problems and in my opinion, mutualism should be left to the past and not be given a revival. However, this sect is the most consistent with the old tradition of mutualist thought.
Collectivism however has not seemed to make a resurgence, it seems completely absent from the modern international Anarchist movement. I have only met a few people online who consider themselves Collectivist Anarchists. I have seen no contemporary Anarchist organization to this day that identifies with the tradition.
There was also the development of Tuckerite, individualist mutualism which was essentially a form of moralistic bourgioes theory that dipped it’s toes in the socialist pool. I could go on. If Fernando’s proposal ever actually served as a workable model for the movement, it certainly doesn’t anymore.
Contradiction and Idealism:
Fernando ultimately failed to asses the materiel reality of Anarchist methodology and practice which lead him to develop a disconnected and contradictory theory of Anarchist organization. He rejected that one could develop pre-figurative ideas of how an Anarchist society would work but in identifying with Anarchism he himself did this, his Anarchism lead him to openly state that he desired a federative, free-society where things are owned in common and on this basis he rejected his own principle of social struggle in the here and now. Unfortunately the capitalist class works off a materiel plan for how it expects society to push forward and how it enforces it’s interest and influence. Because of this we must have a concrete plan for the elimination of the capitalist class if we are to create a decent society, this means replacing the institutions that the bourgioes thrive off with institutions that we have drawn up, which we know will provide a world that allows us to control our own lives.
Voltairine de Cleyre:
Voltairine de Cleyre is often associated with AWA, I have never seen her use the word to describe herself or anything she believed, but she certainly had a methodology that some what fits with the AWA mantra. The way she viewed Anarchism was pluralistic in that she sought to include all relevant strands of Anarchism at any given time which in her time were the mutualists, communists, collectivists, tuckerite individualists, and what she called “Anarcho-Socialists” which seems to just mean social Anarchists. She had many disagreements with these forms of Anarchism which she made clear, especially with Communist Anarchism which I will not get into here. However she envisioned a non-sectarian social set up that would allow all strands of Anarchistic thought to be openly practiced which in her view would eventually lead to the “best kind of Anarchism”, meaning the kind of Anarchism which satisfied the needs of the public, becoming the predominantly practiced form.
The ultimate problem with her Anarchism was that it couldn’t make tactical and theoretical distinctions that are needed to produce an Anarchist social movement. To develop an Anarchist social movement one needs to work out a clear set of tactics as distinct from other sets of tactics and a clear set of goals as distinct from other sets of goals. Cleyre is essentially ignoring the problem of tactical and goal oriented issues and for no real reason assuming that things will just eventually work themselves out in the most coherent and efficient way possible. To use a widely used quote from Karl Marx; “the emancipation of the working class is the work of the working class itself”. This goes for all oppressed groups and communities as only the oppressed in society have a direct interest in the overthrow of oppression, without the development of specific and distinct tactics and goals that further the interests of the oppressed the oppressed cannot liberate themselves.
What’s Left? :
Today AWA is really just a vague adulation of “diversity of tactics” that aims to crush out any form of politics with a concrete plan. The historical rots of AWA have been forgotten for much more practical organizational forms in the international Anarchist movement, ones that tend to either center around Syndicalism or Especifismo Platformism. Modern AWA is usually reserved for methodologies that are only really found on the internet and don’t have any real experience in real world organization, one could imagine the cartoonish situations that would be produced if this mantra of alienating anyone with a specific plan was actually enacted in organizations. The only people that would end up being allowed into said organizations would probably be post-leftists who openly push the idea that there is no plan for a free-society to be drawn up. Ultimately this term today has little meaning and should only be looked at in it’s historical context, people on the internet who actually think you can have a communist and capitalist mode of production sitting side by side interacting with a barter Island economy need not be taken seriously.
Anarchist Communism Or Barbarism:
The historical and ideological failure of anything toting the AWA line is yet more evidence that what we need is a militant Anarchist-Communist movement that aims to abolish all forms of oppression and actively struggles against them. We can not leave the specifics to be ironed out later, at least not all the time. It is true that often the biggest advances in working class organization come from the activity of the working class on the ground, spontaneously, but it is also true that these advances are put to use and developed through conscious theory and practice that aims to put forward a specific plan. What we need is a careful balance between spontaneous discovery, and a specific plans of action, aiming to plan out everything we do is obviously completely ridicules, however, waving any and all planning off as “sectarian” or “Bolsehvik” is equally ridicules. In my opinion, only Anarchist Communism can provide the basis for such a balance of practice and theory.