Last summer (2022), a friend of mine in the US suggested I take a look at an odd type of contemporary anarchism, that is on the internet, more precisely on Reddit. It is anti democracy anarchism. My friend asked if I have run into this current in Sweden (where I live).
This fall I have taken a look at three Reddit places, together comprising hundreds of thousands of members.
The anti democracy anarchists even reject direct democracy in syndicalist unions as “majority tyranny”. Libertarian forms of delegation (what is called council or base democracy) is rejected as “government”. Federalism is dismissed as “state in disguise”. Of course any kind of legal justice is rejected. The proposed solution is often armed individuals that are free to kill killers etc.
A pattern runs on repeat on Reddit. Some non-anarchists or dissenting anarchists claim that some form of democracy is good. Then a choir of anarchists repeat that anarchy means no rulers, therefore anarchy says no to a people’s rule.
I wonder if these folks would cross a picket line in the name of individual sovereignty?
The oddest thing is that these anarchists quote Bakunin, Kropotkin and other social anarchists. They don’t belong to right-wing militas or quote anarcho-capitalist gurus.
So, have I run into this current in Sweden? No. Perhaps it is a US phenomenon? Perhaps only a Reddit club? I don’t know. What’s the situation in your countries?
Some individualists are…
Some individualists are against all forms of mass organisation and collectivism, and therefore would reject democracy.
As socialists, I would argue the furthest we can go is a critique of democratism (fetishisation of democracy; democracy as the sole source of legitimacy; the view that socialism is radical democratisation of existing society), rather than a rejection of all forms of democracy.
Democratic methods of decision-making will necessarily and inevitably be incorporated in our movements and future society, but the ideology of democratism has been used (historically) to undermine class struggle and proletarian revolution (most notably during the Spanish revolution).
Reading list of communist…
Reading list of communist critiques of democratism:
Well said Craftwork! Funny…
Well said Craftwork!
Funny thing though that these anarchos usually insist they are communists. When anarcho-syndicalists point out that their unions practice various forms of democracy, the anarchos dismiss them as liers, entryists etc. Maybe it is an art installation?
I am sympathetic to the …
I am sympathetic to the "anti-democracy" anarchists though you have to divorce that with the individualists that reject all forms of organisation. Not knowing which reddit users you're referring to, and knowing how terrible those subreddits are for actual discussion, I don't want to presume too much of your or your friends experiences with them.
However the contemporary anarchist tendency of framing anarchism as the best kind of democracy, or the most direct democracy, or whatever, is comparatively recent. Anarchist texts from the late 1800s to early 1900s rarely talk about democracy positively, even in this specific sense. Émile Pouget's "Direct Action" has a whole section about how awful democracy and "democratism" is, and Ricardo Mella has an entire book called "Law of Numbers" criticising it.
The interesting thing is that both of these anarchists were also syndicalists, and Pouget himself was elected to a number of positions of responsibility in the movement. So what's the catch, were they just hypocrites? I'd say no, I think the only way it can seem like that is if you misunderstand what they're saying. Malatesta was succinct about how he understood democracy:
In other words – it's not the precise mechanism of voting that people disagree with, but more like the question of enforcement: does the majority have the right to rule over the minority? This is abstract, but in practical terms anarchist organisations have been trying to wrangle with it since forever. Should majority decisions be binding on members who disagree? Should a majority of branches dictate what another branch does? How do we arrange voting, do we do it where each branch sends a delegate who votes on their instructions, or do we do a vote where the whole organisation is like one constituency?
C4SS hosted a debate about this a few years ago. Most of the contributions aren't worth reading, but the debate between Wayne Price and Shawn Wilbur covers some of these ideas.
When talking about anarchy I tend not to frame it in terms of democracy; I just think "democracy" at this point is a meaningless word that doesn't explain very much, and that appeals to it are often misinterpreted. Democracy is at once both individualist (in that the basic unit is the individual voter as like an atom, instead of any organic collectivity) and collectivist (in that "the people" becomes an alienated version of the actual populace, that rules over them anyway). I think a break with contemporary political mores should be emphasised, which necessitates a critique of democracy along the lines of what craftwork says. With that said, I think fussing over the semantics is pointless and it's best to look at the substance of what people are saying.
I don't see the picket line example as relevant. Perhaps a more relevant one would be that Pouget talked about, when he talked about how "the majority" can hold back militant minorities. Should a minority of workers in a workplace wait until they have a majority of supporters before taking action? Or should they go ahead and do it anyway, once they're certain they'll succeed? This isn't an abstract debate either (like the anarcho-individualist trying to cross a picket line) but one that actually comes up often in modern labour law, where union bargaining, strikes etc are illegal unless they are voted for by a majority of the workers in a workplace.
Thanks sherbu-kteer for your…
Thanks sherbu-kteer for your comment and the link! I will check the link. At the moment, just a short reflection.
I think our concept of democracy is pretty straight forward if the overall value is that everyone should have the right to influence decisions that affect them. Under this umbrella various principles and procedures can be tested. A mix of direct and delegate democracy, a mix of local and central decisions, horizontal cooperation, different voting rules etc. That is, different ways to maximize the overall value.
There are of course other values too. For example a unions must have efficient, fast and flexible procedures. We don't want to spend all time in meetings, we want to implement our decisions to fight the bosses, adapt the tactic etc.
The first generation of Swedish syndicalists took a stand against democracy and trade unions, that is against bourgeois democracy and craft unions. Later on syndicalists coined their own meaning into these terms.
I am currently reading an anarcho-syndicalist classic from 1927 by the russian Maximov. He describes anarchy as an advanced democracy.
Section II, part I
"...the communal confederation, constituted by thousands of freely acting labor organizations, removes all opportunities for the limitation of liberty and free activity. It definitely prevents the possibility of dictatorship by any class, and, consequently, the possibility of establishing a regime of terror. The basic character of the communal confederation is such that it need have no fear of the widest freedom of rights for all men, independent of their social origin, so long as they work. As a result, true democracy, developed to its logical extreme, can become a reality only under the conditions of a communal confederation. This democracy is Anarchy."
As allways, agitation and education must be adapted to the cultural context. Terms like democracy may work fine in many places but not in others.
"Not knowing which reddit users you're referring to, and knowing how terrible those subreddits are for actual discussion, I don't want to presume too much of your or your friends experiences with them."
Sure, anyone who fancy can have a look. And perhaps engage in discussions in a less salty tone than my words above.
Sure, but "the right to…
Sure, but "the right to influence decisions that affect them" is the kind of thing I mean when I say the word "democracy" is mostly just meaningless these days. Even fascists might hypothetically agree with that, or Stalinists – the CPC currently has "consultative democracy" as a big part of its ideology. Of course we can specify what we mean by "influence" or "everyone" or what the definition of "decision that affects them" is, but at that point, we're better off just talking about the technical aspects anyway.
When we're talking about internal organisational structure, I completely agree that it's best to be experimental, adopt a variety of things and adapt to different organisational purposes. But, I do think the critiques of democracy by anarchists are valuable, and should be fed back into our thinking on organisation structure. A question about whether an anarchist organisation should, for instance, have majority votes that bind on minorities, is one that is hard to answer without looking back to our theory on the matter.
You got an important point…
You got an important point there fellow worker.
sherbu-kteer, above you…
sherbu-kteer, above you linked to a debate between Wayne Price and Shawn Wilbur. Wilbur seems to be the guru of anti democracy anarchists. If I am correct, Wilbur has sampled these quotes:
It is linked over and over again on Reddit as evidence of anarchism beeing categorically anti democracy.
As a response, writings and videos by Zoe Baker is posted repeatedly, for example:
Very odd debate or lack of debate. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what classical anarchists really stated or really believed. What matters is what we, in the class struggle today, find resonable.
To the extent that classical anarchists still offer good proposals and arguments today, let's use their ideas and examples. To the extent they don't, let's not.
(I should add that I don't claim that Wilbur or Baker want to be gurus. Nor do they claim to possess the final truth in the debate.)
I did like the old (post…
I did like the old (post-split, UK) Wildcat who were ultra-left anti-democratic communists. If I remember rightly their argument was that revolutionary minorities should get on with revolutionary activity without worrying about some democratic mandate. This might have been influenced by the miners' strike as there was some controversy over whether a vote should have been taken for the strike.