Are anarchists leftists? What even is 'the left'/'leftism'?

Submitted by Scallywag on July 13, 2015

I don't understand why anarchists disassociate from 'the left'. It doesn't really matter to me too much, but since usually people that ditch the left/right spectrum invoke instead bullshit about 'occupying the centre-ground of politics' and straying neither too far to the left or right, then I am bit reluctant to ditch the term. Also I am not really sure about this, but don't some fascists like 'third positionists' also do this.

The left to me always encompassed ideologies and beliefs that are socialist, that are concerned about the exploitation that arises from wage labour, that seek freedom for the working class and seek to better the conditions of humanity and also have a humanist and internationalist perspective. I considered anarchism to belong to that tradition, although I know it places us alongside social democrats, liberals and etc, but I don't think any of them other than anarchism are really committed to those goals and none of them other than anarchism can deliver on them.

Don't really want to give up the term, because I think most people understand it to mean something along the lines of what I described, and like the term libertarian it seems to me like a word we have to win.

EDIT: I mean I don't think anarchism is at all synonymous with 'the left' unlike the term 'libertarian', but I think its a leftist tradition, and I think we have to win over the left, direct it towards anarchism and expose all the leftist tricksters including those that merely want some unachievable 'moral' kind of capitalism

JoeMaguire

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by JoeMaguire on July 13, 2015

Presenting politics as political factionalism of the left and/or the right is totally a-historical when we think about the mode of production or how oppressive a particular state is. Its also not a very materialist way of understanding where class interests lie.

Our political cause is essentially workers power, which, when you take into scope the various regimes that have ruled in the name of workers, presents us with problems in terms of terminology. Socialism and 'the left' are almost meaningless. Another way of imagining it is that we are anti-political, because politics from the Greek word is about making civic wide decisions and we're about devolving power so there is no state-citizens paternalism.

Leftism, is just another way of denoting that workers are exploited through the state, rather than through say a mixed economy or private enterprise as under capital. Its a straight up term of abuse, because it denotes that the recipient can't see beyond the state.

You might find Sylvia Pankhurst useful on this. She tries to explain why the Communist parties were reformist crap.

Scallywag

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Scallywag on July 13, 2015

Fair enough, I'll stop using the term if most others don't for good reason. Also I edited the OP just to say that I don't find 'the left' synonymous with anarchism if it seems like I was implying that, but that I thought it was something we should try and win over, only because I think there are a lot of misguided leftists that most likely do mean well. Forgot mods have to approve edits to OP's though. Also I like the anti-political thing, explains why I hate politics but are political in the anarchist sense.

Khawaga

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Khawaga on July 13, 2015

I both use the term and I don't. When I speak to ppl outside of our sect, I'll use leftist but if I get to know someone or have time to explain my politics proper I'll explain why I don't consider myself or anarchism as part of the left. After all, we are so etimes trying to communicate ideas and if that's the case we'll fail if we use our own specialized language.

Spikymike

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Spikymike on July 14, 2015

I mostly take the same approach as Khawaga in everyday conversation with less political friends and fellow workers (at least as far as not arguing against others calling me left-wing), but on this site and when trying to distinguish my own political point of view with others in the wider radical political milieu I still take more-or-less the same view as expressed more outrightly in the old UK Subversion group here:
http://libcom.org/library/revolutionary-alternative-left-wing-politics

no1

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by no1 on July 14, 2015

Left vs Right comes from which side of the French king members of the états généraux were sitting before the French revolution - those on the right were monarchist, those on the left were in favour of the republic. In other words, both were in favour of the state. Obviously all this was a long time ago, and most people aren't really aware of it, but that doesn't mean it's not relevant, because the underlying assumption still persists that the whole spectrum of conceivable politics need to be enacted through the state. That's still true, whether it's social-democrats, liberals, leninists, greens, whatever.
In the beginning I found the whole hostility to the word 'leftist' on libcom pretty irritating and offputting, and like Khawaga and Spikymike, I have no problems using it depending on who I'm talking to. But I think one of the most important things we need to get across is that worthwhile political changes can only be achieved through direct action outside and against the state, parliamentary democracy and the various structures of class collaboration, and that means questioning the left vs right thing.

Fnordie

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fnordie on July 14, 2015

Weird, I've never heard the term questioned outside of post-left theory and Bob Black and crap like that. Makes sense, though. I think "revolutionary/reactionary" sounds a bit Ye Olde Timey but is more descriptive.

Flint

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Flint on July 14, 2015

Leftist a pejorative.
Anarchist is a pejorative.
Leftist Anarchist is a double pejorative.

jojo

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by jojo on July 15, 2015

Flint

Leftist a pejorative.
Anarchist is a pejorative.
Leftist Anarchist is a double pejorative.

"Leftist" is a pejorative because leftists only want to reform and hang onto capitalism, while using Marxist and radical sounding verbiage to hid their true intentions from workers.

"Anarchist" can be a perjorative because"anarchism" Is an umbrella term that may include anyone with some kind of apparently "radical" position but who doesn't necessarily want, or see the need, to get rid of capitalism. cf. a variety of threads on this site.

"Communist" is a pejorative term when it refers to Stalinist politics as in N.Korea and China, amongst others.

"Left Communism" isn't a pejorative term yet though some might like to make it one. Left Communism, like politically class conscious anarchistm, really understands in some depth that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself, and not of some self-appointed leaders.

Auld-bod

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Auld-bod on July 15, 2015

I feel those anarchists who reject being part of the ‘left’ and that the ‘class war’ exists outside of the usual political terminology of ‘left versus right’ are playing into the hands of their enemies, who have insisted that anarchism is an ethereal doctrine.

I reject both of these ideas. Historically anarchism has been part of the worker’s movement against capitalism and as such been identified with the left. To argue that anarchists disagree with those who would use the state is obvious.

I’ve been to several meetings where worker’s struggles for better conditions have been condemned as ‘leftist’. To me this stinks of ivory tower defeatism. If you use this terminology be aware of the shit-bags who share your lexicon.

LinksRadikal

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by LinksRadikal on July 15, 2015

Auld-bod

I feel those anarchists who reject being part of the ‘left’ and that the ‘class war’ exists outside of the usual political terminology of ‘left versus right’ are playing into the hands of their enemies, who have insisted that anarchism is an ethereal doctrine.

I reject both of these ideas. Historically anarchism has been part of the worker’s movement against capitalism and as such been identified with the left. To argue that anarchists disagree with those who would use the state is obvious.

I’ve been to several meetings where worker’s struggles for better conditions have been condemned as ‘leftist’. To me this stinks of ivory tower defeatism. If you use this terminology be aware of the shit-bags who share your lexicon.

How is it possible to connect this "ethereal" character of one's politics with incessant insistence of actual class war, which by far happens outside the parliament (in fact, this I believe is paradigmatic in our current historical period) and only relates to it with explicitly political class struggles which pose demands on changing the legislation?

What you're arguing about, deriding defensive struggles as "leftist", is just nonsense (meaning, those people are out of this world since they can say such things). But political terminology, and this particular dispute over terms, is a different matter. Some people self-consciously state that "leftism" is tantamount to political representation of the working class and oppressed minorities. Now, communists don't advocate for better political representation, in fact, they don't advocate political representation at all.

Auld-bod

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Auld-bod on July 15, 2015

LinksRadikal #11

What you’ve written is unrelated to the meaning of my post.

LinksRadikal

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by LinksRadikal on July 15, 2015

Auld-bod

LinksRadikal #11

What you’ve written is unrelated to the meaning of my post.

I don't think it is. You said that disassociating themselves from "leftists" amounts to "playing into the hands of their enemies, who have insisted that anarchism is an ethereal doctrine".

Now, the topic here is terminology; but I disagree even if you're talking about organizing practices here. I don't identify as an anarchist, but I strongly believe that a clear demarcation between pro-revolutionary groups and reformist ones (e.g. those who can't see political representation as a) fundamental political mechanism for capital and b) an obstacle to demolish for the revolutionary working class) is vital for communists' practical endeavors. Collaboration on small scale initiatives and local affairs needn't be written off as a matter of principle. I think this idea of "ideological purity" or "ethereal doctrine" is particularly harmful for both anarchists and Marxists who would pursue this kind of clarity in drawing the class line, in political and practical terms.

As for terminology, I think I made myself clear? Some of us in the pro-rev millieu use "leftism" among ourselves in this way, to denote reformists of various kinds.

EDIT: Incidentally, the term "reformist" has also shifted in semantic scope so that now it denotes any even vaguely pro-working class politics which is still based on accepting exploitation as immutable fact.

Chilli Sauce

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on July 16, 2015

I don't knowe - to some extent we have to be willing to talk to people in terms they'll have some frame of reference. So, generally, I'm happy to call myself a socialist when talking with friends or workmates. With other anarchists, however, I think it's pretty reasonable that we differentiate ourselves from "the left" - including the authoritarian socialists, the trade unions, and the social democratic parties.

In any case, really, I hope my politics come through in my actions. It's a lot easier to come to terms with any scary ideological labels if people know what your politics mean in action.

Scallywag

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Scallywag on July 16, 2015

Auld-bod

I’ve been to several meetings where worker’s struggles for better conditions have been condemned as ‘leftist’. To me this stinks of ivory tower defeatism. If you use this terminology be aware of the shit-bags who share your lexicon.

Yeah I feel the same way about some of the stuff pages like 'greatest moments in leftism' posts, sometimes to me it does seem like ivory tower defeatism and laughing at the defeats of misguided leftists stupid enough to believe parties like Syriza can bring change. I mean just cause we didn't expect electoralist strategies to work doesn't make it any less of a defeat for the working class. I've no problem with making fun of leftist parties and politicians and obviously we need to argue why these strategies won't work, but when we laugh and say I told you so then some of it does seem cynical and bitter to me.

ocelot

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by ocelot on July 21, 2015

There clearly is a defineable left-wing discourse that accepts capitalism as a system of class struggle that will continue either until the working class gets the upper hand or manages to abolish capitalism altogether (depending on the broadly reformist vs radical/revolutionary left-wing spectrum, roughly).

People outside of the broad left-wing perspective do not use concepts like class struggle, capitalist offensive, etc.

So generally when I hear people using left-wing discourse (class struggle, etc) and the using "leftist" as a sneering swearword, all it tells me is that the speaker is some variant of ultraleft sectarian. In that specific sense the terms "leftist" and "ultraleftist" as accompanied by *eye roll*, mark out two mutually hostile tribes within the left-wing milieu.

As the OP mentions, the "neither left nor right" trope, is generally confusionist, either from a "new right" crypto-fascist third positionism, or a "new politics" babble by the likes of Podemos, M15 et al.

Entdinglichung

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Entdinglichung on July 21, 2015

ocelot

As the OP mentions, the "neither left nor right" trope, is generally confusionist, either from a "new right" crypto-fascist third positionism, or a "new politics" babble by the likes of Podemos, M15 et al.

"neither left nor right but ahead" was a popular slogan among Greens in Germany, France, etc. during the 1980ies

Scallywag

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Scallywag on July 21, 2015

Thought of another way of thinking about this, would you all regard 'anarcho-capitalists' as right wingers?

I mean they might also make the same argument that the left/right spectrum is exclusive to statist politics and so reject it, but I would say they are right wingers since their ideology comes from free market capitalist ideas and thinkers obviously regarded as being right wing.

Anyway don't political concepts evolve overtime anyway, so where once left and right referred to ways of governing now there are ideologies on the left and the right that reject the state?

EDIT: Although of course just cause there are right wingers who reject the state, doesn't make them anarchists. I'd say there are no right wing anarchists.

Juan Conatz

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on July 22, 2015

"As the OP mentions, the "neither left nor right" trope, is generally confusionist, either from a "new right" crypto-fascist third positionism, or a "new politics" babble by the likes of Podemos, M15 et al."

Exactly. If this terminology issue is primarily over association with undesirable political tendencies, what people say instead often associates them with undesirable political tendencies. Tbh, the use of 'leftist' as a swear word on libcom has always been annoying to me and reminded me of primitivist misanthropes and 1980s windbags like Bob Black.

radicalgraffiti

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by radicalgraffiti on July 22, 2015

ocelot

So generally when I hear people using left-wing discourse (class struggle, etc) and the using "leftist" as a sneering swearword, all it tells me is that the speaker is some variant of ultraleft sectarian. In that specific sense the terms "leftist" and "ultraleftist" as accompanied by *eye roll*, mark out two mutually hostile tribes within the left-wing milieu.

and when i hear "ultraleft sectarian" i know the speaker is a trot or similar who upset at being criticized for their anti communist bullshit.

Sister Ray

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Sister Ray on July 22, 2015

Scallywag

Thought of another way of thinking about this, would you all regard 'anarcho-capitalists' as right wingers?

I mean they might also make the same argument that the left/right spectrum is exclusive to statist politics and so reject it, but I would say they are right wingers since their ideology comes from free market capitalist ideas and thinkers obviously regarded as being right wing.

Anyway don't political concepts evolve overtime anyway, so where once left and right referred to ways of governing now there are ideologies on the left and the right that reject the state?

EDIT: Although of course just cause there are right wingers who reject the state, doesn't make them anarchists. I'd say there are no right wing anarchists.

I find a helpful of thinking about these distinctions is to use two axes, political compass style. One is right/left, the other is authoritarian/libertarian. Then we can place certain tendencies into the extreme corners of the graph. Fascism is authoritarian right, 'Anarcho'-capitalism is libertarian right, Stalinism is authoritarian left and finally Anarchism is libertarian left.

autonomice

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by autonomice on July 22, 2015

Leftist is pejoratively used for someone who is obsessed with building the party, subverting any working class activity in order to boost their own organisation.

In that sense, leftism is a state of mind, an obsession with an organisational form which will bring about socialism. Leftists are haunted by ghosts, tormented by the spirits of the paris commune and the russian revolution. Their only satiation and the only way they can renew their life energy is by the recruitment of new souls to help them build the party. The younger and more naive these souls the better. Decades of party building has a negative effect on the appearance of the older leftists leaving them appearing tired with dead eyes. The only time their appearance changes is when they catch sight of a young vulnerable ripe for harvesting by the party organism, Their skin tightens, their pupils dilate and their sagging posture straightens, this makes the idea of decades of servitude to the party more palatable and is a trap used to lure young souls in. Words are spoken, gifts are given, promises made.
This is not an entirely exaggerated description. Integral to leftism is a religious and spiritual this isn’t acknowledged much because it’s embarrassing, rather it is covered over by talk of cults.

Will be the election of Jeremy Corbeyn offer leftists reprieve from the evil spirits that torment them daily?

ocelot

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by ocelot on July 22, 2015

Sure I'd say that ancaps are right-wingers. Basically any ideology that believes that optimal social relations are to be achieved through the maximum liberation of market forces (a.k.a capital's self-valorisation) is right-wing.

edit: in response to #18 by Scallywag above

Agent of the I…

2 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Agent of the I… on February 19, 2022

I subscribe to the traditional left/right spectrum, as opposed to the political compass, which I believe is completely wrong. The latter's libertarian/authoritarian axis is mistaken in my view. There are no such thing as libertarian right wingers. And authoritarian socialism is an oxymoron, while libertarian socialism is a tautology (although I do still describe myself as a libertarian socialist). The compass' economic axis just divides into two halves; capitalism at one end, socialism at the other. Overall, the compass is very simplistic and doesn't really understand ideologies.

The traditional spectrum supposes people fall into three main ideologies; conservatism on the right, liberalism in the center, and socialism on the left. This is the view you get in the work of Immanuel Wallerstein and most scholars on this topic. I think it's important to emphasize that by socialism here means rejection of capitalism in favor of a cooperative social order. Reformists would not be considered leftists even if we organize with them. If you really think about it, anarchists are the only genuine leftists historically and it's nothing to be ashamed about.

scallywag

I considered anarchism to belong to that tradition, although I know it places us alongside social democrats, liberals and etc, but I don't think any of them other than anarchism are really committed to those goals and none of them other than anarchism can deliver on them.

It doesn't place them alongside social democrats or liberals. Social democrats are center-left more specifically, while liberalism is the ideology of the entire center. The latter divide into three main groups; social liberals who are center-left (interchangeable with social democrats), classical liberals who occupy the radical center (or the very middle), and conservative liberals whom are center-right.

Scallywag

2 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Scallywag on February 19, 2022

Agent of the International

The latter's libertarian/authoritarian axis is mistaken in my view. There are no such thing as libertarian right wingers. And authoritarian socialism is an oxymoron, while libertarian socialism is a tautology (although I do still describe myself as a libertarian socialist).

Yeah I agree that authoritarian socialism as well as libertarian capitalism are oxymorons, and I agree too that socialism meaning libertarian should be obvious.

Seen as its only really anarchists that would think this though I think its helpful to have the libertarian/authoritarian axis, because "authoritarian socialism" and right wing "libertarianism" do actually exist. I mean it doesn't make sense to put the words together when you go by our definitions, but they still exist as ideologies. Having the libertarian/authoritarian axis means we can then say to authoritarian socialists that its not just about socialism vs capitalism the socialism has to be free and likewise can say to "libertarian" that they are anything but because they are not socialist.

Also it feels like I made this thread a few months ago noy in 2015! 2015 feels like yesterday, how have I become so old suddenly!

Agent of the I…

1 year ago

Submitted by Agent of the I… on February 7, 2023

Having reread this thread, I'm actually surprised by how many posters don't believe anarchists or libertarian communists are leftists, or that leftists are proper socialists. I mean, I came across another old thread where a distinction is made between leftist anarchists and communist anarchists, and it is implied that the latter are superior. Similar comments regarding the Left can be found throughout libcom as some of you have already noted.

To me, it just comes down to how you define the Left and who is included and who is not included. As I said in my post above, and which Scallywag agrees with, the Left refers to socialists. There's no need to add the adjective "revoluationary" or "radical." Leftists, if they are genuine socialists, are those who aim to abolish capitalist society in favor of a cooperative social order. The Left doesn't include reformists such as social democrats or liberals, even though in our experiences, those are who we sometimes organize with. There is no such thing as a reformist left.

The Left probably does not even include the so called authoritarian "socialists," who I feel we don't have to account for, in which one way of doing so is by creating a two axes political compass. Maybe some of you might disagree and I would like to hear your thoughts on the matter. The real divisions in the Left are those you see in anarchism and syndicalism, in terms of tactics and goals. Perhaps I am making the Left synonymous with our traditions, but that is how I see it from a historical perspective.

We also don't have to account for right wing "libertarians"; they don't really pose a problem for a traditional political spectrum. They are either on the Right, or on the Center if you believe they are rebranding of classical liberalism. I don't really engage with them, so I can't really tell.

Joakim

1 year ago

Submitted by Joakim on February 20, 2023

This new article deals with the difference between class organizations, like unions and tenants organizations, and leftist groups like political parties and anarchist affinity groups:

https://libcom.org/article/brilliant-forgotten-idea-class-union