More Anarchistic Than Thou

A reply to “Anti-Fascist News“:

An uninformed lay person reading the pathetically ignorant and barely literate bromide against Attack the System recently issued by “Anti-Fascist News” would hardly know anarchism is a vast tradition in modern political philosophy with roots in the radical Enlightenment more than two centuries ago. Further, history provides examples of many anarchist prototypes extending back for thousands of years (Peter Marshall’s magisterial work “Demanding the Impossible” ably demonstrates this point). However, our critics at “Anti-Fascist News” would have everyone believe that the sum total of anarchist traditions have never been more than a sectarian brand of anarcho-communism derived from the left-wing of anarchism as it was in the 1930s. This is akin to a modern Protestant fundamentalist insisting that the entire Christian tradition consists of nothing more than seventeenth century English Puritanism (no offense to Puritans).

While I am an admirer of the anarcho-communist tendency within classical anarchism of the early twentieth century, there is certainly no reason why anarchism should be exclusively and forever defined within the confines of these limited parameters. As a reading of even the most elementary level book on anarchism will indicate, anarchism is in fact a collection of many varied and diverse currents just as, to use the Christian analogy once again, the Christian faith consists of many thousands of traditions, sects, and denominations that have existed throughout history and throughout the world today. As John Zube has ably demonstrated, there are indeed many readily identifiable traditions within anarchism, some of which maintain a paradoxical relationship to each other. Of course, it is true that there will always likely remain sects within anarchism that refuse to recognize one another as “true” anarchists, just as there are sects of Protestants and Catholics, Sunni and Shiites, who refuse to recognize each other as “true” Christians or Muslims.

However, among the focuses of Attack the System is the creation of a kind of meta-politics that recognizes and aims to synthesize many varied currents within anarchist, libertarian, anti-statist, decentralist, anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, and anti-imperialist traditions in a way that aims to establish a new meta-ideological and meta-strategic paradigm that is capable of serving as an antithesis to the universal hegemony of global capitalist monoculture. Such a project necessarily involves transcending ordinary divisions of the kind that normally define the conventional Left and Right. A corollary to this effort is the recognition that different tendencies present divergent narratives that maintain their own appropriateness within their particular contexts. In other words, different forms of anarchism and overlapping philosophies present ideas that are relevant to particular people involved with specific struggles within the context of their own circumstances.

For example, it is entirely appropriate that anarcho-syndicalists are primarily interested in issues that pertain to workers, anarcha-feminists in issues that pertain to feminists, queer-anarchists in issues that pertain to queers, anarcho-pacifists in issues pertaining to resistance to militarism, black anarchists in issues pertaining to African-Americans, and eco-anarchists in issues that pertain to environmentalists. The wider pan-anarchist meta-political paradigm favored by Attack the System certainly does not insist that any particular hyphenated tendency, subterranean ideological strand 🙂 or sub-tendency renounce its preferred economic system, identity orientation, or favorite social cause. However, the position of Attack the System is that anarchism should not be limited to a focus on issues that are generally favored by leftists. For example, anarchists should not merely focus on demographic conflict within particular societies. As I have written elsewhere:

On this question, the radical left typically puts the cart before the horse. It is well and good to defend unpopular minorities against genuine oppression and to agitate for the ongoing expansion of civil liberties. But it is strategically foolish to adopt an antagonistic stance towards towards the traditional and majoritarian culture of the working masses by attempting to pit varying demographic groups against one another in the form of blacks against whites, women against men, gays against straights, immigrants against natives, tree-huggers against loggers, animal lovers against meat-eaters, eco-freaks against small property owners, peace creeps against veterans, hippies against blue collar workers, poor Appalachian whites against Jewish bankers or whatever.

Instead, a more holistic and meta-political approach would involve a wider geopolitical outlook that was perhaps primarily related to formulating analyses of, for example, conflicts between American imperialism the various global opposition forces (BRICS, Resistance Block, resistance nations in Latin America, “rogue states,” non-state actors), between liberal European civilization and conservative Islamic civilization, between the East and West, and between the Global North and the Global South. Likewise, when examining the internal politics of individual states it might be appropriate to examine ways in which statism and corporatism engage in oppression and exploitation across conventional boundaries of class, race, gender, region, cultural identity, and so forth.

It is also necessary to criticize leftist as well as rightist forms of political authoritarianism. Indeed, the tradition of leftist authoritarianism extends as far back as the legacy of the Jacobins of the French Revolution, and extends through the entire history of the First International, the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, and so on. A mere three decades ago, more than a third of the world’s population lived under explicitly leftist dictatorships, and these dictatorships are widely recognized by historians as having been among the most genocidal and democidal in history, with the number of casualties they inflicted perhaps totaling as high as 100 million. Yet we see no mention of this in the screed issued by “Anti-Fascist News” when their hysterical references to “genocide” appear. And, in fact, it is also true that many so-called “anti-fascists” explicitly identify as Communists, and at times utilize a hammer and sickle as an insignia. Therefore, the claims of the “anti-fascists” to be principled opponents of oppression by totalitarian states is not to be taken seriously, but merely regarded as a form of reactionary leftist opportunism.

A wide range of issues also exist that should reasonably be of interest to anarchists besides those issues that normally appeal to leftists (such as “racism, sexism, and homophobia”). For example, why are anarchists not actively involved in the defense of the right to keep and bear arms? Indeed, anarchists should be joining the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America and seeking leadership positions in such organizations. Why are anarchists not supporting the home school movement, organized tax resistance, issues related to local sovereignty, opposition to compulsory education, the interests of small farmers and the self-employed, resistance to classist zoning regulations, alternative medicine, and a wide range of other anti-statist, anti-corporate issues that fall outside of the leftist paradigm? Above all, why are anarchists not actively working to defend the freedoms of speech, association, and religion, due process, academic freedom, and scientific inquiry that are among the most fundamental achievements of modern societies? These have been persistently subject to attack in the name of ostensibly “progressive” political correctness, and not a few anarchists have been profoundly complicit in this.

Of course, what the “anti-fascists” seem to object to the most is the position maintained by Attack the System that identity politics formulated by groups that are disfavored by leftists are legitimate. Attack the System does not oppose the maintenance of identity politics by African-Americans, Native-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Arab-Americans, Asian-Americans, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, the LGBTQ umbrella, feminists, atheists, vegetarians, vegans, immigrants, environmentalists, the elderly, young people, disabled people, fat people, ugly people, students, gamers, drug users, sex workers, slut walkers, street gangs, prison inmates, or Star Wars fans. Likewise, Attack the System does not oppose the maintenance of identity politics by Protestant evangelicals, Catholic traditionalists, adherents of Eastern Orthodoxy, Mormons, Europeans, Caucasian-Americans, Southerners, Midwesterners, Catalans, Scots, Basques, Russians, Englishmen, Irishmen, Scientologists, Moonies, the white working class, WASPs, yuppies, men, social conservatives, cultural traditionalists, ethnic preservationists, Euro-pagan tribalists, gun owners, meat eaters, tobacco smokers, rednecks, military veterans, motorcycle gangs, survivalists, metal heads, or aficionados of classical music.

The most common objection that is raised to this perspective by the Left is the claim that many in the former category of social groups represents oppressed or subordinated classes of people, while many in the latter category represents hegemonic or “privileged” categories. Obviously, there is a considerable degree of truth to some of these claims in a historical sense, depending on the group in question and the specific historical context, but such claims are increasingly dubious within the context of contemporary demographic, cultural, generational, socioeconomic, and political realities. Sorry folks, but Barack Obama’s America is not the America of Dwight Eisenhower or even Ronald Reagan, let alone Andrew Jackson, and this will be increasingly true in the years and decades ahead, particularly as WASPs lose their historic demographic majority in the United States, and become just another minority group like everyone else (and therefore reasonably entitled to an identity politics of their own).

Lastly, there is the need for anarchists to think strategically. The ambition of Attack the System is to forge a society-wide pan-decentralist consensus, and this means appealing to the entire range of cultural and ideological currents that hold some degree of interest in such concepts, whether out of conviction or for tactical purposes. While such a perspective would certainly be of benefit to more “conservative” social sectors that desire separation from the wider liberal paradigm, it would also be of benefit to honest leftists that are genuinely seeking to overthrow the present imperialist plutocratic regime, as I have written elsewhere, and to minorities that are genuinely seeking self-determination (by, for example, ridding their communities of racist occupational police forces and adopting a system of self-policing). And the primary beneficiaries of the overthrow of the American empire, the principal ambition of Attack the System, would be the millions of not exactly white people around the world that threatened with slaughter by the empire that Attack the System has identified as its primary enemy.

As for some of the sillier claims made by “Anti-Fascist News”:

“Literally, every single traditional anarchist that Preston likes to prop up on his website, Attack the System, consider themselves primarily of an anti-capitalist tradition.  Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, and even Pierre Joseph Prodhoun and Max Stirner, were all violently anti-capitalist.”

It is unclear where the claims that Attack the System is a “pro-capitalist” tendency originate from. This is interesting considering that many conventional conservatives and libertarian-capitalists consider us to be socialists or even Marxists. Attack the System is not a tendency that is primarily oriented towards economic issues, and a variety of economic perspectives are included under the ATS umbrella. My own economic views are fairly similar to those of Kevin Carson, Will Schnack, or Larry Gambone (I also agree with Gambone’s assessment of Rothbard), and I even wrote an award-winning article some years ago attacking corporate plutocracy.

“While many traditions have split from the surface political forms of this, the foundational ideas have remained the same.  Rudolph Rocker brought these ideas into the workplace, Emma Goldman elaborated them into gender and sexual liberation, and as they came up through the 20th century they adapted to the struggles against oppression from different oppressed identities…

Anarchism, at its core, has always been an idea about the smashing of social and political hierarchy, embedded in capitalism and enforced by the state.  It is not that anarchists are opposed to the state just because it is a bureaucratic machine, but instead because it enforces ruling class interests and are created in the image of that class.  To be opposed to the state is because of its role in capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy.  There is literally no connection then to “national anarchist” ideas that are based around the idea that white people are somehow an oppressed class, which is against all common understanding of power and history.  There is no role for bigotry, anti-Semitism, the oppression of women and queer people, or for the rich to maintain their wealth…”

There was plenty of political incorrectness among classical anarchists. The anti-Semitism of Proudhon, Bakunin, and Duhring, the anti-feminism of Proudhon and Most, the homophobia within Spanish anarchism, the support of Kropotkin, Tucker, and Faure for the World War One, Rocker’s later support for the Cold War, the Christianity of Tolstoy, the conservative Catholicism of Dorothy Day, Goldman’s Nietzscheanism and skepticism of women’s suffrage, Landauer’s folkish nationalism and Bavarian regionalism, the support of West Coast tendencies within the IWW for the Chinese Exclusion movement, Proudhon’s French patriotism and sympathetic view of racism in the Western hemisphere, Bakunin’s pan-Slavic nationalism, the nationalist orientation of the massive Chinese anarchist movement of the early twentieth century, and Kropotkin’s apparent admiration of Mussolini, are just a few examples. It is not that any of these were necessarily good ideas, but are instead illustrations that the anarchist tradition is not as untainted according to contemporary PC standards as “Anti-Fascist News” would seemingly claim. But the point is that many of the luminaries of historic anarchism might well have felt quite at home at the National Policy Institute or the H.L. Mencken Club. 🙂

“In a recent presentation at NPI, Preston embarrassed himself as he went on to show how white nationalism was compatible with anarchism.  In his stuttery twang…”

Well, I suppose I could claim a microaggression there if I actually cared about such things.

“…he spit out his idea of “totalitarian humanism,” which is one of his charming notions that the left forces their ideology of “humanism” on the right.  His use of these types of labels is a way of creating a mirage about the fact that he is playing with pre-school ideas about how the world works, where by any attempt to confront racism and domination is somehow the real oppression.  To do this it doesn’t require any deeper analysis about white supremacy, heteronormativity, or what people of oppressed classes have actually experience in their lives.  Instead, Preston can rail against Political Correctness as the true evil, which I’m sure is much worse than the crisis of sexual assault happening against women worldwide or the vicious cruelty of de-regulated capitalism on the working class.”

Oh, cry me a river of crocodile tears. I have thoroughly documented how what I call “totalitarian humanism” is the self-legitimating ideological superstructure of contemporary Western liberal democratic capitalist regimes. In trying to trace the origins of PC, it seems to represent the convergence and cumulative effect of a range of historical, cultural, and ideological forces. There is the legacy of Christian “slave morality” (see Nietzsche), Protestant pietism and Puritanism (see Rothbard), Enlightenment universalism and egalitarianism, Marxist eschatology and dualism, progressive Christian revisionism (the “social gospel,” see Paul Gottfried), critical theory (see Lind on the Frankfurt School), Gramscianism, black Marxism (DuBois), American Stalinism (Allen and Ignatiev), Western Maoism (Weather Underground), a general backlash against the legacy of European colonialism, the American and South African racial caste systems, and Nazism, WW2, and the Holocaust, the growth of therapeutic, consumer culture within the context of a post-scarcity managerial society, and the rise of a left-wing capitalist class from outside of the traditional Western elites, which includes the newly rich generated by newer high-tech industries (like media and computers), the coming to power of elites among traditional outgroups (racial minorities, women, homosexuals), and the hijacking of all of these by the state as a means of creating a self-legitimating ideological superstructure and moralistic posture to mask imperial hegemony (see Chomsky on “military humanism”) in the tradition of liberal imperialism. But the most important point for anarchists is that totalitarian humanism, at least in its more extreme manifestations, is simply the latest trend in left-wing authoritarianism, in the tradition of Jacobinism, Blanquism, Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism, and Maoism.

“In Preston’s most recent book, named Attack the System, after his own website, he put a big American flag on the cover alongside a few bullets.  Do you think that anarchism is unique to America as a country?  Do you think that the imperial state of the U.S., built on slavery and exploitation, and crystalized in the flag, is somehow anarchist?  What do you think most anarchists would see when they see your claims of a “new anarchist perspective” emblazoned in front of the American flag?”

It takes a special kind of mind to accuse me, of all people, of an excess of patriotism or of being an apologist for American imperialism. Ironically, my book is about as “anti-American” as they come. Noam Chomsky looks like a flag waving “USA! USA!” jingoist compared to me. In fact, the actual subject of my most recent presentation at the National Policy Institute was a comprehensive critique of American imperialism. Indeed, I have found that it is on the “far right” of domestic American politics where an “anti-American” analysis of international geopolitical relations is the most welcome.

The bottom line is that the task of revolutionary struggle against the state, the global plutocratic super class, and the Empire is far too important and too challenging to be placed in the hands of recycled Commies and over privileged undergraduates hiding away in their “safe spaces” with their crayons and coloring books, desperately seeking to avoid being “triggered,” and crying over this or that “microaggession.” However, the many traditions within anarchism continue to offer much of value with regards to political theory, economics, ecology, social criticism, organizational methods, styles of activism, and the like. It is not the philosophy of anarchism but the character and competence of many present day anarchists that is sorely in need of revision.

3 replies »

  1. “Of course, it is true that there will always likely remain sects within anarchism that refuse to recognize one another as “true” anarchists, just as there are sects of Protestants and Catholics, Sunni and Shiites, who refuse to recognize each other as “true” Christians or Muslims.”
    I mean, this is kind of the core of the problem – in that these people are not interested in ideas or ends, they are interested in group emotional solidarity and mud-slinging. I can’t even understand people like this, it’s a total mystery to me; I mean I get the social aspect abstractly but not how they can be so stupid and oblivious.

    It really doesn’t matter what you call ‘anarchist’ or not, it’s totally fucking irrelevant. If I don’t happen to accept their economically retarded untermenschen wank they say I am not an anarchist, then I say that is because anarchism is gay nonsense for Unicorns.

    Further, the general point that people and ideologies often have intractable differences, and that there is no ‘correct’ solution to value variations, is something you’ve been pushing but that I seriously don’t think many people CAN get. Humans are mentally wired to go full retard about morality and group identity and, while you are right that AnComs and AnCaps might be able to coexist as long as they concentrate on The Enemy they will never do so, because The Enemy is a background feature they’ve become accustomed to, while blaming their shitty lives on rich white people or whatever is far more satisfying and, in fact, the only reason most people have political opinions.

  2. I came across the article that this is a response to recently. It really is a classic example of confirmation bias. The “no you’re not an anarchist” is the so obnoxious, do they not see the irony in that? Be a non-conformist in OUR way?

    That sweeping generalisation that the biggest proponents of 19th century anarchism were virulent anti-capitalists particularly annoyed me. And it is clear that by capitalism they simply mean markets and voluntary exchange. Do they not know that Stirner translated Say’s work on capitalism? Do they not know that Voltairine de Cleyre was opposed to communism and was very pro-competition? Are they willfully ignorant of Benjamin Tucker and Lysander Spooner? Do they ignore the fact that (their obvious idol) Marx thought it necessary for capitalism to reach it’s absolute limits before the big alternative would reveal itself?

    This as a brilliant and well-researched rebuttal, I salute your efforts.

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