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A classic criticism of classical anarchism

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Spikymike
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Feb 17 2020 10:01

ajj again misses Ocelot's previous correct contesting of the spgb's 'strategy' (or lack of it) in contrasting their politics to those of most others on this site whether from an anarchist, libertarian, left, council or other genuine communist tradition. Still this discussion has proved a bit more interesting, in it's highlighting of some differences and similarities beyond different uses of terminology, than might have been expected from alb's misplaced posting here of an outdated piece of polemic from 1911.

alb
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Feb 17 2020 12:40

Misplaced? Where should it have been placed? Is there a section somewhere for historical documents, if you can direct me to it.

ajjohnstone
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Feb 17 2020 13:00

Spikey, just to relate that earlier exchange with this one, I highlight something that I replied to Ocelot

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Ocelot, your contribution I think made me think the most. I think I did mention that much of the SPGB politics were in response of repudiating rival theories. Syndicalism and industrial unionism was an example. I accept there was what I would in retrospect describe as over-compensation by viewing the ballot box as the primary process (and all members still accept control of political power, political action, is a necessity). However, it was never treated as the sole process to the exclusion of industrial action

I think the 1911 articles is an example of this...1911 contemporary politics led to Kohn over-compensating in his critique.

The trouble with the many I hold a sympathetic view of is that it is they and not the SPGB which have illusions of grandeur. How often have I said that neither of our traditions have any presence within the any social movement and again I raise the question of why.

Some declare the SPGB weakness is in its anti-reformism, or it's our position of leaving participation in various struggles to individual members and not make it a party-line to be imposed. Others say it is that the SPGB gives precedence to political action, rather than industrial action.

If there is truth in these claims then I would fully expect those groups who exercise different tactics to be showing more success. Has the left-wing immediate demands platforms brought a significant growth to the left? Has political party endorsements and entrism produced success?

But let me be more personal...anarcho-communists, anarcho-syndicalists, IWW or SLP industrial unionism, are just as invisible as the SPGB.

What are the problems that we and those here share alike that makes us ineffective and ineffectual, if our strategy is mistaken and their practice is the correct approach? Where are the fruits of their better analyses and action? Simple request. I do not see any. So someone please answer. If we are wrong and you are right, why are we both in the same place. Explain it to me.

Our malaise is something that goes deeper. I have suggested to my own party that we hold a dedicated conference to tap into our collective knowledge for some resolution to this dilemma. I suggested we invite non-SPGBers to such a conference for their input.

But truth be told, I have not found Libcom website participants any more open to self-criticism than my own party.

If we do not try to identify why we have so far failed as political expressions, we won't progress. We'll stagnate and again a survey of the exchanges and engagements on this website over the last couple of years, demonstrate that it is not connecting with many outside our shrinking traditions. Things around the world are indeed developing in what I hope is a positive direction but it is not due to our influence and it is independent of what we say or what we do, Spikey.

Enough doom and gloom...My glass is half-empty...fill it up with some optimism

Spikymike
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Feb 17 2020 13:52

alb, Well just misplaced on this particular site at all, with it's promotion of an outdated polemical piece, short of any useful historical context or updating and including the particular emphasis on Stirner's influence to pursue an argument with anarchists on this site who by and large reject that influence. And I'm presuming you disagree with ajj about the spgb's anarchism.

alb
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Feb 17 2020 15:07

I was afraid that that was what you meant, ie that criticisms of anarchism are misplaced on this site. I must say that there has been a change since I used to be on here before. Then there were more self-described “Marxists”, not just the boring ICC but Council Communists, Libertarian Socialists and the like. Now it seems to be more exclusively anarchist.

I would have thought that a Marxist criticism of anarchism in 1911 would have been as of just as much historical interest and relevance as an anarchist criticism of Marxists in 1911. Or, for that matter, any document from that period relating to anarchism.

There was no particular emphasis on Stirner’s influence, merely a couple of paragraphs in the introduction. Most of the article was a criticism of “propaganda of the deed” (bomb throwing and assassinations) and of the idea that capitalism could be overthrown by economic action alone (one big general strike) as well as if the suicidal tactics of the CGT under anarchist control.

As far as I can see, the anarchists here go along with these other criticisms. Perhaps that was why they chose to concentrate on the Stirner reference and to steer the discussion in that direction.

Of course as the SPGB stands and always has for a stateless as well as moneyless and wageless society it could be categorised as “anarchist”, as it was by George Walford who use to think he was insulting us by calling us the Anarcho-Socialist Party of Great Britain. Quite clever actually and a more easily understandable short-hand description than “impossiblist”.

Black Badger
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Feb 17 2020 16:45

No, alb, what’s misplaced on this site are century-old bad faith rants overflowing with deliberate misreadings and easily countered distortions. What’s misplaced on this site are scurrilous screeds promoted as self-evident fact, as if the burlesque dismissals of 1911 were somehow unimpeachably relevant to 2020. What’s also misplaced is the way you’ve made yourself a victim of the big bad anarchists, who know our own history a little better than you and your pals. What’s misplaced are your hurt feelings at being exposed as a political charlatan.

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Red Marriott
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Feb 17 2020 18:05
alb wrote:
Who'd have thought it. The SPGB plus anarchiste que les anarchistes.

Who indeed? Only someone who fails to understand the differences between parliamentarism and anti-parliamentarism. Only someone who doesn’t grasp the poverty of recycling historically illiterate hack smear jobs as the height of their Party’s theoretical product. Only someone who doesn’t realise how much that reveals about their personal slavish Party loyalty, that Party’s sectarian rivalry and its theoretical bankruptcy.

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Misplaced? Where should it have been placed?

In the dustbin of history where it belongs.

alb
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Feb 18 2020 00:12

I thought you were made of sterner stuff.

ajjohnstone
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Feb 18 2020 05:34

I can admit certain failings of my organisation and unlike a few of my fellow-members I decline to pass the blame on to my fellow-workers' refusal to heed the socialist message.

But once again and this time instead of the pot calling the kettle black, where is the evidence that any organised group on the Libcom website has performed any better than the SPGB?

Members? Readership? Website traffic?

Easy enough to call SPGBers slavish and sectarian with your own unspoken of "hostility clause" but the proof of the pudding is in the eating...and just where, as I asked before, is any sign that your groups are an indication of the way forward for the non-market socialist tradition.

Are you a growing organisation and replacing those who have fallen by the wayside with age, infirmity and death with fresh blood, or merely recirculating the same people in new versions of old groups?

Organisational splits - we have all experienced them, have we not? But what caused them all. I can only talk of the SPGB.

What spurred the last SPGB one which led to the expulsion of branches and prominent and respected writers and speakers of the SPGB, members we were hardly in a position to lose?

In their words:
The SPGB "carried a resolution calling for the immediate abolition of the State: an anarchist proposition";
that we "gave support to non Socialist democratic reform movements";
that our journal "congratulated the university students demonstrating in Tiananmen Square on their courage in facing up to the armed forces of the State";
which were all signs that the SPGB "was rapidly deteriorating into a mere anti-capitalist reform party."

Although those criticisms were wildly exaggerated, for me it wasn't a negative, as it signalled that there was indeed a new attitude within the SPGB. (As a IWW member I was no longer refused membership as Wobblies had been previously.)

I rejoined the SPGB because it was evident that it was not a monument but a movement.

For sure, it moves at a glacial speed, but evolve it does yet still retaining its core principles that has given it a longevity that so many other organisations have failed to achieve.

Any anorak can give you a long list of extinct left-wing political parties who all claimed to know the answer with their slogans and manifestoes but the most painful one surely must be the end of the SLP. And according to Fred Thompson's history of the IWW by the end of the 1950s, it had about 90 members and they mostly old-timers. It was heading also to the grave but then the 1960s happened and IWW ideas resonated with a new generation and it revived.

That reversal is why i cling on to libertarian socialism, that our respective organisations and the ideas that we present in our differing ways, will eventually relate with people who are coming to realise that present society needs revolutionary change but are still unclear in what is meant by revolutionary. Once more i return to the "Thin Red Line" and our arguments for non-market socialism.

I'll leave the decision on the way we get to it to my fellow-workers who'll not base activity on abstract theoretical principles but on practical pragmatic political action, whether through parliament or outside it, depending upon how people view it, not what "sectarian" articles from 1911 say or an anarchist or Left Communist "party-line dogma."

For me, workers will always find the most effective way to respond to political realities, they will adopt, adapt or drop methods and tactics as they see fit. But what is missing has always been a clear vision of the goal. At one time in history we did coalesced around a common aim despite our different labels...anarchist, impossiblist, labourite.

In todays world, the environmentalists are out on the streets in such numbers we have not seen engaged in politics for many decades and the only answer they are being given or hearing is the statist Green New Deal as the panacea.

It is not the age of us that is the problem, look at Sanders and Chomsky - geriatrics - but geriatrics presenting ideas that younger folk are associating with. That is our failure. We no longer are communicating with our audience. We aren't connecting with people.

Tell me why. Tell me how we can.

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Red Marriott
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Feb 18 2020 10:19

This thread is about the idiocy of posting here a crap article and the shoddy motives behind it. Your stock response to criticism is always 'yes, the Party isn't perfect but your refusal to accept us as libertarian is sectarian' (ironic in light of the Kohn article) 'and anyway your orgs aren't doing any better organisationally; can't we all get along and come up with some magic organisational formula?'.
Which is all a diversion really from specifics of this thread. So you have one Party hack posting a brain-dead anti-anarchist pile of crap and the other pleading to be accepted by anarchists as anarchist while proudly stating the supposed coherence of Party ideas. Are you even aware of the blatant insane contradictions?

ajjohnstone
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Feb 18 2020 12:12

And once again I find what appears to be some element of fear of looking in the mirror at one's own movement's inadequacies.

Rather than make any plea for acceptance or engage in a sterile exchange of invectives, what i'm saying is that if we in the SPGB are wrong, what makes you so damn sure that you are right...when there is little empirical evidence to justify such a conclusion. I'm suggesting that perhaps, just perhaps, we both hold part of the answer. But as it is, I don't hold out an optimistic prognosis for either of us, the way things are going.

If raising such an issue is off-topic then so-fucking-be-it but be perfectly clear upon who is being sectarian and slavish.

What I am very aware of, is that I encounter the exact same attitude that you are expressing from some in my own party - and if I was you, I would be very worried about that and start asking yourself why it is?

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Feb 18 2020 12:55
Quote:
And once again I find what appears to be some element of fear of looking in the mirror at one's own movement's inadequacies.

Rather than make any plea for acceptance or engage in a sterile exchange of invectives, what i'm saying is that if we in the SPGB are wrong, what makes you so damn sure that you are right.

I'm not speaking on behalf of any movement or its rightness. I'm just pointing out the historical inaccuracy, petty sectarianism and bad faith of the SPGB on this thread. And, as usual, to avoid those points you go off into vague generalisations and competitive comparisons.

Quote:
What I am very aware of, is that I encounter the exact same attitude that you are expressing from some in my own party - and if I was you, I would be very worried about that and start asking yourself why it is?

On asking myself that; why do two separate groups have a similar reaction to you, even one that is supposed to be more sympathetic? Maybe they accurately see the same faults. If you & Alb waffle and bullsh#t internally as you have here I'm not surprised you get that reaction.

Black Badger
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Feb 18 2020 14:14
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I thought you were made of sterner stuff.

well, no silly. apparently we are made of Stirner stuff...

alb
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Feb 18 2020 14:41

Hope this is not misplaced, Spikey, but this discussion reminded me of a position on "Marxism and Anarchism" from the past. So I looked up my copies of Subversion and found this from number 8, dating from 1991 (so next year, under the 30 year rule it will qualify as a hustorical document) and then found it is on this site here.

Here's some extracts:

Quote:
Indeed, we consider ourselves "Marxist" in the sense that we support Marx's method of analysis. We support Historical Materialism and Marx's economic analysis of Capitalism, and while we are very sparing with a term so misused as "dialectic", we nonetheless feel that this understanding of class struggle (and reality in general) as a dynamic process really does mark us out from many other people (including some styling themselves "Marxists").

However, this doesn't mean we accept the political practice of either Marx or the "Marxist Movement" or regard the latter as a "glorious tradition" whose torch we hold aloft.

In fact, we regard the notion of Marxist and Anarchist traditions as only holding back revolutionaries today who hold on to either of them - an important element in the development of revolutionary ideas is the rejection of past ideas in the light of the experience of history, and the 19th Century split between Anarchism & Marxism has little bearing on the class line between revolution and reaction today, as revolutionaries today need to REJECT more than they accept of BOTH traditions.

and

Quote:
On your final point about the “reunification” of the two traditions, we simply repeat what we said above. These two traditions are more negative than positive and the conflict between them is nothing to do with us. It's time to look to the Future !

So a plague on both our houses? To tell the truth, I had assumed that this was the predominating view of those on Libcom. If I had thought it was a pure Anarchist site I wouldn't have bothered since what would have been the point? I could have predicted the response.

Spikymike
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Feb 18 2020 21:24

alb, There is plenty of material and a reasonable proportion of discussion from time to time on this site from Marxist influenced sources that still gets objections from other anarchists. As is apparent to most I have no objections in principle to the spgb's posting stuff on this site and have sometimes posted links to particular articles from the socialist standard here as well when I thought them relevant to an ongoing discussion. Just thought this particular posting of yours wasn't helpful in this case. Thanks for posting the link to that Subversion text which seems sound advice even if it still leaves open much to criticise (and maybe surpass) in both traditions. Perhaps you might consider in retrospect that your posting here wasn't in that same spirit?

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Agent of the In...
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Feb 18 2020 21:21
alb wrote:
Of course as the SPGB stands and always has for a stateless as well as moneyless and wageless society it could be categorised as “anarchist”...

You are either clearly out of the loop or choose not to fully grasp and appreciate what genuine libertarians have had to say on why SPGBers are excluded from such categorisation. That they share with anarchists the same ultimate vision of a post capitalist society, and are more so explicit about it than other strands of marxism, certainly helps distinguish that politics within the broader marxist camp. But that it not the sole criteria for inclusion in anarchism. That should have been clear by now, especially if you had bother to look at that thread I linked to earlier. The added bonus of the party's leaderless organisational structure also does not suffice. If you desire to further contest this issue, please do so in that thread.

In my view, it is the SPGB's apparent emphasis on the 'classless, stateless, moneyless' vision which have gravitated a few of them to keep company with anarchists. This is probably where ajjohnstone's desire to have their party's politics categorised as anarchist stem from, failing to see the oddity of wanting to be seen of being part of a tradition which basic principals or concepts they and their party do not share and even holds disdain towards. These principals (federalism, direct action, social revolution, etc.), passed from generation to next, would be obvious indication of being of the same tradition. But the SPGBers here are committed to political action and centralism, something they share with social democrats and leninists. These are reflective of fundamental differences in how the process of social transformation is conceived.

Thus follows ajjohnstone's absurd comparing of the successes or failures of the World Socialist movement presumably with all of anarchism. I'm not sure why anyone would find it helpful to make such comparison. Don't you think the World Socialist Party of the US would do themselves a favor to look at the growth of the DSA, rather than spend time comparing themselves to the anarchist movement in the US? Your frequent reminder of anarchism's lack of impact in the world today, constantly equated to the World Socialist movement's irrelevance is a bit silly.

ajjohnstone
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Feb 19 2020 01:32

Rather than address the hard question of why there has not been any significant progress in our respective movements, (and that was the question, not a comparison with every global organisation calling itself socialist or representing itself as anarchist but those groups who use this website), it seems nobody is even willing to offer any response.

For some in the SPGB it is always going to be a matter of plodding along doing the same thing until we all die of old age

For the anarchists and left-communists, it is all about continuing to re-invent the wheel until they all die of old age.

Meanwhile, millions of youngsters are out in the streets challenging the status quo, even opposing the legitimacy of governments, and demanding some sort of change in the system.

It is pitiful, and I mean really pitiful, that none of us are facing up to the fact that scarcely any of them has heard of non-market socialism as an alternative to what they are being told are solutions.

Are we all in such a state of denial that we do not dare to ask why we are so out of touch with such a potentially receptive audience?

Sigh

Black Badger
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Feb 19 2020 04:33

nice attempt to change the subject...

ajjohnstone
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Feb 19 2020 10:11

Change the subject?

I've been trying to say the same since message #5

But you can only lead a horse to water, you can't make it drink.

Just to add to the indignation of some here, another link

https://socialiststandardmyspace.blogspot.com/2020/02/debate-is-there-co...

I draw your attention to the comment by John Crump

Quote:
"...As far as achieving a stateless society is concerned, all we have to go on is the empirical evidence. The SPGB's parliamentary approach has brought it scant success after more than 80 years, and the anarcho-communists have equally little to show for their efforts after more than 100 years. My own view is that the question of how we achieve the new society will be settled by the millions of men and women who will be the architects of the new world. It is just as pointless to attempt to lay down a blueprint now for the means of achieving the new society as it is to formulate a blueprint for the precise workings of that society. Our task here and now is to play our part in winning people over from a capitalist way of looking at the world to a communist way. The SPGB has a role to play here — and so have the anarcho-communists. I know this from personal experience, since both these currents influenced me on my way to becoming a communist."

Expressing much of what i'm thinking and saying.

Battlescarred
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Feb 19 2020 13:08

Speak for yourself AJJ, I've been out on every climate strike in London handing out anarchist communist propaganda. Didn't see the SPGB there ( or many other anarchists for that matter)

alb
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Feb 19 2020 18:20

Actually, we were giving out socialist leaflets (i.e., saying that capitalism was to blame and that the only framework within which the problem could be tackled rationally was a worldwide society where the Earth’s natural and industrial resources had become the common heritage of all humanity) at this one on 20 September in London and also in Manchester.

ajjohnstone
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Feb 19 2020 20:01

Battlescarred, I know there are many individual dedicated political activists here doing their best and I would not like to tar them all with the same brush.

Kudos to yourself.

ajjohnstone
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Feb 20 2020 00:19

“Of course, the precise details of the revolutionary change will differ from country to country depending on the political conditions (where legal ballots do not exist or cannot be trusted the workers must create our own) and it will also differ in accordance with different creative ideas about what needs to be done before the establishment of socialism which will emerge as the socialist movement grows…
… We should build on whatever ideas we have in common. It is pointless for workers who share a vision of a stateless society based on the uncompromised principles of socialism to be endlessly squabbling over the texts of the nineteenth century [or 1911 or 1987, ajj ]. If the ranks of the revolutionary movement can be swelled on the basis of principled unity it would be wrong for anyone to delay the process…”

https://socialiststandardmyspace.blogspot.com/2020/02/debate-is-there-co...

Battlescarred
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Feb 20 2020 10:32

Yeah, and misquoting Meltzer, who would never have argued for reforming capitalism

ajjohnstone
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Feb 20 2020 13:06

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbWQLLXfI2w

I think this is the bit

48 minutes into the video...

"...you have to think in terms of supporting every struggle that goes on providing it is moving towards that society otherwise it is talking airy-fairy nonsense and we will be carrying on forever..."

I think it perhaps very much over-inflating the claim that supporting reforms which may further the establishment of a new society is reformism...after all the SPGB supports certain reforms that increases the power of the workers or facilitates the advancement of socialist ideas although it does not advocate reforms as a political policy which would be reformism

alb
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Feb 24 2020 16:31

Just for the record, Ruth Kinna's chapter on William Morris and anarchism in this book mentioned on another thread gives a more balanced explanation (and reply) as to why other pre-WW1 Marxists in England framed their criticism of anarchism in the way they did.

alb
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Feb 25 2020 13:05

It's chapter 3 of this book here.

ajjohnstone
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Mar 3 2020 23:01

Coincidental to this thread is this article.

http://libcom.org/blog/what-egoism-01032020

Quote:
"I believe that is the value in egoism as a philosophy, and together with other nihilistic, postmodernist literature in philosophy, and that is why we must start reading Stirner and be free."

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Rob Ray
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Mar 4 2020 20:38
Quote:
For some in the SPGB it is always going to be a matter of plodding along doing the same thing until we all die of old age

For the anarchists and left-communists, it is all about continuing to re-invent the wheel until they all die of old age.

For some it's moaning about how shit everyone else is being and "oh why can't you be more level-headed and constructive, like me" until they die of old age.

On the general topic btw, if you read the old Freedoms from the time, ie. the main/only extant British paper of its kind in the 1890s-1910s — listed throughout as "a Journal of Anarchist Communism" — it's quite clear that Stirner, while respected as a pioneering voice and a founding force in individualist anarchism, is not in fact extraordinarily influential. He's listed by Paul Eltzbache rin the hugely popular 1900 summary work Anarchism for example as one of several leading voices of anarchism, the others being Kropotkin, Proudhon, Tolstoy, Bakunin and Godwin. Of those the three strongest influences were quite clearly Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin, who for all their many faults are very definitely not Stirnerites or individualists, and Kohn comes across as utterly absurd in attempting to make them so.

The really bonkers thing about this thread is the insistence that Stirner being an early writer gave him claim to be the founder of anarchism. He might be the founder of a strand of anarchistic thinking, but that's really not the same thing, it's like saying Hegel founded Marxism because the latter drew on some of his ideas.

Anarcho
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Mar 4 2020 20:37
Rob Ray wrote:
The really bonkers thing about this thread is this insistence that Stirner being an early writer gave him claim to be the "founder" of anarchism. He might be the founder of a strand of anarchistic thinking, but that's really not the same thing, it's like saying Hegel founded Marxism because the latter drew on some of his ideas.

It is worse than that as Stirner had absolutely no influence on anarchism until his rediscovery in the 1890s and then mostly on the Individualist-wing. In fact, he had far more influence on Marx -- although that did not stop him proclaiming Bakunin as advocating Stirnerised-Proudhonism (if I recall correctly). The notion of Stirner as being a "founder" of anarchism or the anarchist par excellent is a Marxist myth -- the real origins of anarchism lie in Proudhon and the Federalist-wing of the First International.