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Saturday, August 30 2014 @ 01:12 AM CDT

Against Exaggeration

Anarchist Opinion

We’re excited that anarchists in Atlanta are writing on a more regular basis, and that there are now several outlets for such writing. One of these outlets is the blog section on the SWARM website. The first SWARM blog entry is a piece entitled, “Breaking with Delusion: Musings for Life Beyond the Left”, and we’d like to continue the conversation started in that piece here. We want to echo the expressed desire for constructive and critical debate and analysis, and appreciate any effort towards this purpose that was put into “Breaking with Delusion…”.

Against Exaggeration

“Left” Noun : In politics, the portion of the political spectrum associated in general with egalitarianism and popular or state control of the major institutions of political and economic life.

We’re excited that anarchists in Atlanta are writing on a more regular basis, and that there are now several outlets for such writing. One of these outlets is the blog section on the SWARM website. The first SWARM blog entry is a piece entitled, “Breaking with Delusion: Musings for Life Beyond the Left”, and we’d like to continue the conversation started in that piece here. We want to echo the expressed desire for constructive and critical debate and analysis, and appreciate any effort towards this purpose that was put into “Breaking with Delusion…”. Having said that, the tone and content seem to detract from the stated purpose, at times coming off as veiled attack, and also being riddled with holes in logic. We hope to address some of these issues in our piece here, and hope that the authors of “Breaking…” will continue the discussion and help us in bridging the gaps between their perspective and ours.

“Breaking…” begins with the fact that a discussion had taken place at an earlier Atlanta Anarchist Assembly about whether anarchists were a part of the Left. After the introductory narrative, it gives the above definition, as a clear and basic definition of the Left. This was to stabilize and counter the idea that apparently some had put forward that the Left was nebulous and enigmatic, hard to define. The authors chose to start with this definition as one they accepted of the Left, but their subsequent musings fail to ever even reckon with the specifics of this definition again.

We’re not representing, or defending, a particular camp or tendency–and certainly not the Left in totality. Just plain anarchist suits us fine in terms of identification. “Left anarchist” is not a term we find useful for any purpose, usually having been used by “anarcho-capitalists” to describe actual anarchists. We agree that we needn’t stubbornly hold on to the Left as a term or concept, as there is a good argument to be made for it being outdated in general as a useful designation. For example, we’re sure the liberal democrats and Stalinists of the world like being grouped on the same side of the field with anarchists about as much as we anarchists enjoy being grouped with them. But to attack the Left without substance is of no use either.

To us it seems that this is symptomatic of the post-left dialogue in general. It seems to want to address problems of the Left but actually reproduces them, if not exaggerates them.

Some of the problems that seem to be ascribed to the Left are overemphasis on organizational form, the perceived necessity of bringing numbers of people into the movement, the attempts to get everyone to learn and agree to use specialized language, authoritarianism by “movement managers”, and more.

However, what would you call it when a tendency does nothing but question the legitimacy of all organizational forms that are not informal friend groups, if not a preoccupation with organizational form? What is a dialogue in which supposed political critiques are cloaked in word games borrowed from obscure late 20th century philosophies, and in which the exchanges are often aimed only at fellow members of the milieu, if not a specialization of language and privileging of anarchists in the milieu over the “masses”?

In the entire piece, which is quite long, there is much dealing with the Left’s view of the “masses”, the attitudes of so called social managers, views of the state, problems with social and pro-organizational anarchists having preconceived notions of struggle, critiques of the failures and maneuvers of the authoritarian Left, as well as some notes on good anarchists and bad anarchists. Never once does the piece systematically take apart the definition of the Left the authors went out of their way to reproduce at the beginning of the essay. In fact, they seem to agree with it, even in their disowning of the assertions of those who said the Left was nebulous.

In “Breaking…”, the authors wrote: “That the Left is an umbrella term for those who struggle for egalitarianism, justice and other familiar terms or phrases regurgitated by the general activist milieu. We disagree with our comrades here but we would rather not engage in a game of semantics.”

Is that to say, they disagree, the Left is not an umbrella term for those who struggle for egalitarianism? It is something different, and worse? But what was the definition the author provided for us again?

“Left” Noun : In politics, the portion of the political spectrum associated in general with egalitarianism and popular or state control of the major institutions of political and economic life.

Or maybe they don’t agree with egalitarianism being a good thing that anarchists are part of. It seems to be part both, “egalitarianism, justice..terms regurgitated by the..activist milieu”. This description itself seems to be a form of disowning those concepts, but it is also raised as a possible vague definition, to which the authors disagree, and point to more specific ones. If the Left is not solely an umbrella term to cover those who struggle for egalitarianism etc…, as they beg to disagree with the comrades over, then the only real distinction between that definition and the one they chose to start with is that regarding “the political spectrum…and popular or state control of the major institutions of political and economic life”.

Again, unfortunately, the authors never really deal with their own definition again, so it is up to us to speculate. But first, we will say, although we don’t often go around introducing ourselves as Leftists , we don’t really see a problem with being part of the Left, if also a distinct force within and outside of it. In another view, anarchists are just the best and most coherent part of the Left. “We are convinced that freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice, and that Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.” -Bakunin.

But to return to the critique at hand. We believe in equality, or egalitarianism. We believe in popular control of the major economic and political institutions (although certainly in an anarchist world they would be far different from what they are now). NOT STATE control. That is the distinction. Our authors provide a description that includes “state or popular control” as part of its definition of the Left, those associated with egalitarianism. That seemingly minute difference is the seed of the entire basis of disagreement between libertarian and authoritarian socialists. But our authors don’t even note that distinction, just provide the entire definition as a totality of significance behind what “the Left” is, then fail to even address it again in their own piece.

This is what we mean about this piece being symptomatic of the post-left critique. It aims to critique the Left for being too deadening, ineffective, and focused on its own reproduction, but doesn’t even accomplish the point of the piece in the 18 pages it produces, and is at least as convoluted, specialized, and alienating as the language of the Left, be it authoritarians or pro-organizational anarchists.

Again speculating, if the points of critique with the definition lie with a critique of egalitarianism, this is trying at best. Yes, egalitarianism has a history and potential of state misuse, but individualism has a history of capitalist tyranny, the reason anarchism is so powerful is it weds these two concepts in a meaningful way. And individualism need not be considered outside the left either. The notion of individualism being a right wing value is a fairly modern, and heavily American, concept.

If the critique is with the notion of popular control, one has to wonder what it is they want instead? We imagine a poetic answer about the liberation of desire; but, how that plays out in real life is much more difficult to understand than workers councils and community assemblies. Or if the problem is with there even being “major institutions of political and economic life”, it is hard to imagine how that plays out either. Decentralized and completely bottom-up, sure. We are in favor of decentralized politics and economics, where local control is most important, and federated for larger necessary functions. But institutions of some sort not existing at all is hard to imagine, outside of primitivism.

These are all questions. We honestly don’t know, we don’t mean to to put ideas or words in their mouths, we are only speculating based on our reading of this and other pieces in the post-left tradition, and the fact that “Breaking…” doesn’t deal with these issues that it purports to.

Let’s change gears a little bit. We’d like to offer some quotes:

“Those who regard Marxism-Leninism as religious dogma show this type of blind ignorance. We must tell then openly, “Your dogma is of no use,” or to use an impolite formulation, “Your dogma is less useful than shit.” We see that dog shit can fertilize the fields and man’s can feed the dog. And dogmas? They can’t fertilize the fields, nor can they feed a dog. Of what use are they?” (Mao Tse-tung, Feb., 1, 1942 in Stuart Schram, The Political Thought of Mao Tse-tung).

“… for the anarchist, there is no difference between what we do and what we think, but there is a continual reversal of theory into action and action into theory. That is what makes the anarchist unlike someone who has another concept of life and crystallizes this concept onto political practice, in political theory”

– Alfredo Bonanno

Anarchists, and post-left anarchists, are not the only people to deal with practice and theory and their proper placings. We’ll take Bonanno over Mao any day, but the point is, these ideas are not new, the frustrations are not unique, and nothing about that explicitly places them outside of the Left.

We in Heat Index are experimenting with the best way to struggle as much as anyone else, and make no claim to any special knowledge. And we certainly aren’t making ourselves beholden to a particular model or method written in stone, nor are most anarchist groups who either adopt or are given a label of this or that specific tendency. It is a danger, getting caught up in obsessing over organizational form, but not one that’s unique to any particular tendency within anarchism. After all, even folks organizing with an informal affinity group model have to agree on some things before moving forward.

The need for critique and evaluation is real, the need for posturing and positioning is nil. So, overall, while we appreciate much of “Breaking…” for some of it’s critiques of the Left at large, we think there’s little of substance in terms of a way forward for anarchists. But let’s keep the conversation going and try to be more explicit in terms of what we think is working/could work, and why. We can all certainly do better at communicating with each other, making our visions clear, and figuring out how and if we can move forward together.

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http://www.heatindexatl.info

Heat Index is a group of anarchists in Atlanta–we’re all involved in various projects around town, including the IWW, the Atlanta Solidarity Network, anti-fascist organizing, anti-gentrification, and others. With this blog we hope to present our thoughts and analysis on various issues in Atlanta and beyond through an anarchist lens–and in so doing clarify and develop our positions and strategies, to make our struggles more effective. We welcome discussion and hope that this blog can play even the smallest of parts in helping to create an atmosphere of collaborative critical evaluation within the Atlanta anarchist milieu.

http://www.heatindexatl.info/archives/447

the SWARM article: http://swarmatlanta.org/breaking-with-delusion-musings-for-life-beyond-t...

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