Neo-Anarchism: The Reformist Alternative

Yes! This critique sums up what’s wrong with the mainstream anarchist movement.
Why are these reformist tactics used? Because the neo-anarchist, like their Social Democrat and Leninist forbears, never really broke with liberalism. Today’s new ‘anarchist’ is simply the same old reformist but only dons a different costume and speaks a slightly different language: a liberal wearing a black bandana in order to prove the existence of some sort of radicalism that was never there. Though this reformism passing itself off as radicalism may seem like a harmless occurrence, it is in fact a deleterious development. When a revolutionary situation arises, it will undoubtedly be these anarcho-liberals who will fight to defend capitalism and the state, and they will do this under the guise of radicalism. Just as ‘Marxism’ was called into existence to destroy the revolution and contain the spontaneous movement of the workers, ‘anarchism’ has now been called into existence to perform that same task in the future. Thus, the most dangerous assault on anarchism today is not from outside, it is from within: its ranks are being filled with liberals who are attempting to pass themselves off as radicals. Because of this, the whole nature of anarchism today is changing. Revolutionary tactics are being exchanged for reformist ones – often times with the approval of a few so-called leaders of contemporary anarchism (everyone knows them, we disdain to mention our self-appointed “anti-authority” authorities), revolutionary critique is being replaced with a lifestyle, class analysis is being replaced by sectarian identity politics, and anarchism, just like Marxism before it, is being carefully prepared as an ideology designed to save capitalism.

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  1. The new ‘anarchist’ supports the reactionary idea of self-determination for nations by unthinkingly waving a Hezbollah or Iraqi flag at a demonstration (in this particular case, literally nothing has changed from the “anti-imperialism” of the Leninists).


  2. A broken clock is still right twice a day.


    Actually, I’ve long held that if there’s any wedge issue that might serve as a basis for reconciliation for the numerous anarchist factions, anti-imperialism might be the issue. However, I have also become less confident in that position over time.

  3. “The new ‘anarchist’ supports the reactionary idea of self-determination for nations by unthinkingly waving a Hezbollah or Iraqi flag at a demonstration (in this particular case, literally nothing has changed from the “anti-imperialism” of the Leninists).”

    This guy supports the workers as some great revolutionary class and seems to have some delusion that the blue collar class is just waiting to join together, abolish capitalism and the state, then setup a worker’s paradise. I hate to say burst his bubble, but these types are usually the most reactionary elements in society, light years more than any new anarchist.

    Also his castigation of them for holding to individualism seems to put this author more closer to a Leninist than to any classical anarchist. At seems to me that all their attacks on individualism was on the inadequacy of the liberal notion of the individual and not attacking autonomy of the individual himself (which this is against). Indeed, his referring to their outlook with concern for the autonomy of the individual as bourgeois is one of the worst authoritarian leftist smears. I wonder what this author would think of the person who wrote this (It was not written by a member of crimethinc)

    “The individual is the true reality in life. A cosmos in himself, he does not exist for the State, nor for that abstraction called “society,” or the “nation,” which is only a collection of individuals. Man, the individual, has always been and, necessarily is the sole source and motive power of evolution and progress.”

    Lastly, I don’t myself think very highly of many of the types he/she’s referring to and a lot of his/her’s criticisms are valid imo, but a lot of this is just mudslinging. I hardly see how such types could be seen as reformist, the kinds of anarchists he is referring to are not the types who are rushing into the voting booths and breaking windows (whatever one thinks of it) is hardly reformist though it may very bell be useless at best and counterproductive at worst.

  4. I agree that essay had a very old leftist, “workerist” flavor to it. What I thought was helpful about the article was its critique of the failure of left-anarchists to identify themselves with anything outside the standard liberal paradigm, essentially relegating themselves to the status of just another branch of left-liberalism. I don’t really want the left-anarchists to stop doing the things they do now (with some exceptions, like their attacks on free speech) as much as expand their horizons a bit.

  5. More thoughts:

    In the past, some of the more thoughtful and reasonable people in the left-anarchist milieu (yes, there are such people) have asked me questions like: “Why do you hate us so much?” or “What should we be doing that we’re not doing?”

    My response is that for all of my criticisms of the left-anarchists, I essentially agree with them most of the time on most issues. The main problems I have with them are their failure to formulate a viable strategy for actually undermining the state itself, and their failure to develop concrete proposals for what a workable alternative might be. Additionally, the main weakness they have is their totalitarian, quasi-religious mindset that refuses to honestly consider ideas or recognize possible legitimate issues outside their own usual ideological boundaries. For instance, if they followed some of their own professed anarchist principles to their logical conclusion, they would likely see that much of the populist-right has many of the same ideas or at least similar ideas to their own. That’s the path I pursued and that’s how I developed the views I have today.

    Instead, whenever they encounter ideas outside their own circle, they seem to simply zero in on anything they don’t like or agree with and often exaggerate such matters, while ignoring the other 85% of ideas they might be inclined to agree with if they thought about it a bit. There is a long list of issues that the populist and libertarian sectors of the Right bring up that are entirely compatible with the traditional anarchist paradigm. Even with the stuff that’s more difficult to reconcile with anarchism, there’s the broader anarchist concepts of decentralization or voluntary association. These are concepts that were central parts of classical anarchism but which modern anarchists seem to have thrown under the bus.

    For instance, on all of the leftist identity politics issues, it’s not like I’m expecting them all to become, for example, white nationalists and start opening American Renaissance chapters. But instead of waging vigilante crusades against groups like American Renaissance, a more mature and reasonable approach might be to actually recognize the rights of such groups to free speech and free association, to possibly consider any legitimate such issues such groups might raise, and to consider constructive ways of dealing with issues involving irreconcilable differences between competing political groups in an anarchist meta-polity.

    That’s how I do it. For instance, I agree with left-anarchists on virtually all foreign policy issues, most class/economics issues, most legal issues, and the majority of social issues. While I agree with their general economic outlook, I do think they need a much more workable and concrete economic program. Fortunately, Carson has done much to correct that problem. I agree with their Chomskyite critique of US foreign policy. No problem there. I think the neo-isolationism of the palecons is the practical solution to that question. Left-anarchists are among some of the best critics of the police state and prison industrial complex. I’m on the same page with them there as well. But when they start defending things like the welfare state and public schools, they seem to me to be turning their backs on anarchist principles and becoming social democrats. They ignore the historic role of the welfare state in pacifying workers’ movements and strengthening the position of capital by expanding the state. And schools are simply prisons for juveniles.

    I think their views on immigration are a bit myopic. I understand their positions as I used to hold the same views myself. Either way, I’m willing to agree to disagree on the question. I’ve suggested that immigration policy be a local matter where places like NYC and San Francisco can be “sanctuary cities” all they wish, and I favor organizing immigrant labor as part of the class struggle. Even on the issues where I criticize them most, for instance, their militant race-gender-gay-etc identity politics, I still agree with them half-way. I just think they have complete blinders on when it comes to the way that cultural leftism is being used to expand state and institutional authority to totalitarian levels. It’s not like I’m in favor of actual oppression of minorities, women, gays, transexuals, etc. I support movements like black nationalism, black anarchism, Nation of Islam, Lakotah Republic, third wave feminism, sex worker rights, prisoners rights, indigenous peoples movements, et. al.

    For me, the whole point of anarchist ideas like federalism or decentralism or voluntarism is that these allow people who otherwise hate each other to peacefully co-exist. I really just cannot understand why suggesting that in an anarchist civilization some communities and institutions will be more or less liberal or conservative than others, or that different economic arrangements might co-exist, or that regional cultures might vary widely from one another, is such an objectionable thing. That just seems to be how all societies work.

    The bottom line is that left-anarchists will never be a credible threat to the ruling class so long as they remain painted into their ideological ghetto.

  6. Exactly. It’s hard to break from the left’s perspective of defending public education but not only is it necessary, but there are many movements that are already building alternative education structures. This is where I see serious strife between traditonal leftists and African American radicals.

    An example:

    And why I don’t see many left-Anarchists (including APOC) defending CIBI:

  7. Opposition to state-run education is what I have found to be one of the primary points of contention between anti-statists and leftists. I think there are two different kinds of leftists on this question.

    There are some who are no doubt sincere in believing that without statist education only the children of the elite will have access to quality education, or any education at all, and hence the masses will return to their pre-modern state of illiterate slaves and serfs. But I think there are other leftists who see state-run education as the means of inculcating the ideology of the state into the people. Further, I think the universalism of leftists comes into play also. They see the public school as a place where people of all cultural, religious, racial, ethnic, class, gender, yadda, yadda, backgrounds happily come together in the spirit of democracy. It’s the same pathetic argument I’ve actually heard liberals and leftists use in favor of the military draft.

    My view is that education should be decentralized and whether it would be “private” or “public” is largely a matter of local preference or even semantics in some cases. Plus, different kinds of cultural groups should have their own schools reflecting their own needs and interests: different religions, ethnic groups, political groups, etc. Of course, when I mention this idea to liberals they are horrified and start talking about “divisiveness” and “segregation” and all that. As if we should all want “inclusiveness” and “unity” under the rule of the almighty state presumably controlled by liberal elites like themselves.

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