manarchy #3 - response to the responses

Submitted by libcom on October 29, 2005

Our article from a few weeks ago entitled, "Stick It To The Manarchy" generated a lot of response and enthusiasm. We have a response to the criticism, clarifying a few points along with our analysis of the dialogue.

People offered both positive and negative criticism, and we have learned through this process. We feel this dialogue is a vital element of a movement dedicated to challenging oppression. We do not claim that we are the most knowledgeable on these issues, and we certainly haven't escaped the oppressive mindsets the system is based on. We make assumptions that contribute to oppression, but we are actively working to first recognize and then change these assumptions in ourselves. We are not claiming authority, or insisting that we are right. Rather, we are sharing our thoughts in order to engage in a learning process that involves the greater community. This is why response is so important. This is not a process we can do alone.

Our criticism of manarchy and its implications is our way of contributing to the dialogue. Competitive, aggressive, elitist, and exclusive behavior is contrary to our understanding of anarchist ideals and practice. "Manarchy" is the term we use to describe this behavior because it exemplifies traditional male gender roles. Many people are uncomfortable with the use of this word because it suggests, contrary to our understanding, that only/all men exhibit manarchist behavior. Because we are not saying that manarchist behavior is inherent to any particular sex, some people have questioned the importance of associating it with a specific gender. However, the conduct we describe is the same behavior that men have traditionally used to hold and justify their positions of power in a patriarchal society. The word itself is not central to our point, and we are happy to hear suggestions for alternatives.

People frequently pointed out that women can act militantly. We agree. There are many dedicated women who effectively use militant tactics. Simultaneously, women are not exempt from what we call "manarchy." In our previous article, we should have made this more clear.

People's criticisms were based on our lack of clarity as well as a more obvious mistake. After quoting Slip's analysis about "no compromise", we used the "universal" pronoun "his" for an ungendered quote. This word choice reinforces the very sexism and exclusion that we are trying to dismantle. We are thankful that Slip responded, and pointed out that we "are trapped in [our] own confines of maleness as well." We apologize and will strive to make sure it doesn't happen again.

We do not believe that militant behavior is specific to men, nor any category of age, race, or economic status. However, many people misinterpret our message. For example, in Dave Hill's response he quotes us as saying, "many women, people of color, young and elderly do not have what it takes [to participate in the manarchist revolution]." A few sentences later he asks, "Is it productive here to take all women, people of color, young and elderly out of your analysis of 'manarchy'? are 'manarchists' only white men?" (NYC Indy Media). Dave takes our "many" and reinterprets it as "all." This word switch significantly changes our intention by taking an observation and turning it into a generalization about sex, race, and class and it's relationship to behavior. As we said above, anybody can act militantly. In our previous article, after our discussion of the term "warrior", which the dictionary defines as "a man", we say "we urge the warrior to direct his or her negative energies at the system." Yet, we've seen that most people who act exclusive, competitive, and macho at mass actions - the people who direct negative energies towards other people in the movement - are white, male, and often middle class. This is why we use the word "many". This belief could be because of our backgrounds and we invite people to share their observations.

A few responses questioned our criticism of the term "warrior". We recognize that the term can be used in an empowering way. On the other hand, as one collective writes, "As to your views on 'manarchism', they seem to correspond very closely to our general criticism, discussed and elaborated more than a decade ago, of the development of the so-called 'street-fighter' political (sub)culture, its roots, interdependencies and consequences. We also call it 'anarchist Ramboism', and identify its roots partly, just like you, in the macho culture of the bourgeois society," (e-mail). The question is, are we reclaiming "warrior" and revolutionizing its meaning or is "warrior" merely a way to justify manarchist behavior?

When we were writing the article we defined who we are in order to show where we are coming from. Among other things, we said that we are anarchists, march in the Black Bloc, and are supportive of direct action. This way, readers would understand that we are writing a critique from within the movement. We also felt pressured to "prove" ourselves by listing our militant history, but this would have fallen into the same trap that we are criticizing. Because we didn't dwell on our militant history, many people who responded assumed we are pacifists, "fluffy," and/or against militancy, despite our saying, "we are not critiquing militant tactics, nor are we critiquing people who use them." Some not only assumed things about us, but judged us according to those assumptions. We wonder how our argument would have been received if we had said that we've collectively been to jail 4 times for 13 days, hit with batons 17 times, pepper-sprayed 5 times, tear-gassed once, de-arrested 5 of our comrades, broken 2 windows, led 1 police charge, and told a cop to "fuck off" at least 212 times.

We support aggressive tactics if they are strategically useful. We are fully aware of and endorse tactical purposes of the black bloc including obscuring identities and supporting those who are willing to break the law. However, we do see a problem when people use aggressive tactics and then hold them up as trophies in order to claim authority, or in order to indulge their own self-image as better radicals. Our definition of manarchy includes "acting macho, holier-than-thou, and elitist," but it is possible to be militant without being manarchist. As we said, we have observed a specific type of militancy that displays manarchist behavior and is based on "battle wounds", "toughness," "purity", "insulting allies", and not acting in solidarity with people who use different tactics. However, we agree with Slip that there is a "need of militancy, defiance, and fundamental subversion of the system."

To clarify our position on no-compromise, we feel that no one should compromise one's ideals. If you think you can survive without compromising tactically, then do it. However, don't ostracize others for their tactical choices. We're skeptical that anyone can "not compromise." How are we going to get to the next mass action without compromising? Train-hopping, stealing gas, bio-diesel, and bicycling are not options for everyone. This is why we question the abundant declaration of "no-compromise", and this is why we need a movement that supports tactical diversity.

Constructive criticism is an integral part of building a large, effective, and revolutionary movement. Dialogue is important because it forces one to reconsider one's beliefs as well as learn about other perspectives, evolving the politics of our movement. One should consider what the specific critique accomplishes and aim to not only improve the politics of our movement but to also increase its numbers. There are some potential problems in this process; one wants to speak one's mind, but doesn't want to alienate people. Thus, one must frame criticisms carefully in ways that don't compromise the message and at the same time don't insult potential allies.

We also want to point out that although self criticism is very important, the movement should not get so caught up in it that we lose sight of our goals and targets. While building a society without oppression, we need to find a balance between internal dialogue and actually changing the structures of society.

In reading responses, we found our emotional reaction was often determined by the way others framed their argument. Many criticisms enabled us to seriously consider whether aspects of our position were flawed. On the other hand, many insulted us. In these cases, there's a part of us that gets mad and wants to dismiss the entire response. It's difficult to be told that we are wrong and or to be discounted as if we are not committed to anarchist ideology. We are doing our best to not get offended, to admit our faults, and work to improve ourselves.

Through this process, it became clear to us how important it is to clearly outline and explain criticisms to each other. For example, we were told "how dare you pontificate from the privallige of your college room about the actions taken by those most affected by the brutallity of everyday living under capitalism,"(email). Referring to our status as college students does not address the actual content of the respondent's criticism, and we feel it is not constructive to invalidate our entire argument because of who we are. Similarly, one person responded by signing: "go to hell," (nyc indymedia). We understand our position may anger people, and while we support self-expression, insults do not help us reach an understanding of each other's convictions.

We also received several sarcastic messages. For example, "Heretoo!," at NYC-Indymedia, mockingly writes, "We must exclude all manly men from the movement. We must establish quotas for inclusion of feminized males. All males seeking entry into the movement must either prove their femininity, or be administered adequate amounts of estrogen until such time as that they can prove that they are as wise, intelligent and all knowing as oracles who penned this article. All males presently in the movement must begin a self flagellation process on the basis of their gender immediately." While such responses may be attempting to give a useful critique of our article, they result in alienating us from their messages. From the sarcasm, we understand that "Heretoo!" does not like what we say, but we don't come to a deeper understanding of the differences between our perspectives.

Moreover, insults create an air of aggression and hostility. This encourages a climate where we not only tell allies to "fuck off" but generally dismiss people and consider them unimportant. One correspondent writes "The snarky responses your piece is getting on Indymedia are just more evidence of the need to challenge the entrenched machismo of many activists" (e-mail). Our critique of manarchy is like our critique of sarcastic and purposely insulting feedback. We find them to be alienating, divisive, and counterproductive. With this dynamic, being in a consensus meeting, doing jail solidarity, and putting our bodies on the line in order to protect people is nearly impossible.

In addition to the way we were criticized, we sometimes had a hard time understanding the criticisms. "Methree" writes: "And some of the aforementioned perpetrators were not only male but white too! Oh the horror! Yes! 'WHATEVER WORKS' Right on.! What doesn't work: 'politically correct racism' and stagnating the movement with outmoded 'identity politics." (NYC Indymedia). We understand that "Methree" takes a different position than we do, but we don't understand what s/he's talking about. In order to improve we need to know what it is we are doing, why it is bad, and how we can fix it. For example, it would be useful to have identity politics defined, see evidence of our "politically correct racism," and hear arguments against or for "whatever works."

More disturbing are the responses that deny our experience that manarchy exists. In these cases, critics reinterpret the examples we give. Anarchocommie writes:

As to the person who claimed that anyone who is not willing to get beat up, should not be in a black bloc... I do not believe I was at whatever meeting you are referring to, yet I suspect that the rationale behind this persons statements were as follows: the point of a black bloc (from a tactical perspective) is to protect the identities of those who are in them, since most people there are more willing to engage in actions outside of the constraints of the law, and which can generally be described at confrontational...I think this was the speakers point, not that we should all want to get beat up, simply that we must recognize it as a possibility and be willing to protect each other and at the same time, engage in those confrontational actions" (Indymedia).

Anarchocommie discounts our experience of manarchy and responds as if we are inventing this type of behavior, but our examples are based on first hand experiences. We've seen this behavior in people we work with as well as ourselves. However, Anarchocommie finds it hard to believe that manarchist behavior exists. Thus, in pure speculation s/he reinterprets a quote from a meeting that s/he knows nothing about. S/he takes our experiences and makes it sound as if we couldn't possibly understand what the activist at the meeting had said, discounting our experiences. Judging from the responses to the article, we aren't the only ones who witness manarchist behavior. We are certainly prepared to debate whether the examples we give are accurate, but that is not our point. We are saying that manarchy occurs and we want to stop it. The examples are as much to explain what we mean by manarchy as to expose the flaws of specific behavior. If people dogmatically discount the existence of our examples, they are simultaneously ignoring our message.

We are pleased to have found such a large forum to discuss these issues. As a movement, we must be self-critical as a means of growth. We are excited by the opportunity to dialogue with many new people. We do not think that public discussion should replace one on one conversations. Unfortunately, we have not had time to personally respond to the majority of comments that were emailed to us. We appreciate the personal responses and hope to be emailing people soon.

Let's keep this discussion going.

In Solidarity,
Maggie, Rayna, Michael, and Matt,
The Rock Bloc.
c/o Student Action Collective
Annandale, NY 12504-5000
[email protected]

The original article along with comments can be found at the following sites:
In order to protect the identities of people who emailed us, we did not give their names.