Debating Anarchist Tactics: Left Only, or Beyond Left and Right 5

What follows is the transcript of a debate that I had on this question with a left-anarchist/libertarian socialist on a social media forum. His comments are in italics and my response are in standard font.

A defence of anarchism as (1) libertarian socialism, and (2) an anti-hierarchical and inclusive philosophy of society.
Any set of ideas which permits hierarchies of power or exclusion of people based on nationhood, race, gender, or sexuality is categorically not anarchist – despite what they may call themselves.

This includes laughable ideologies such as “anarcho”-capitalism and national-anarchism; both promoted by effing lunatic Keith Preston of Attack the System. http://antifascistnews.net/2015/11/23/putting-it-to-rest-what-you-want-isnt-anarchism/

The full debate is linked to here if anyone is interested: https://ntna.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/antifa-vs-anarchism/

Plus this latest installment in response to a commenter on AnarchistNews dot Org. : https://attackthesystem.com/…/the-legacy-of-anarchist…/

Personally I don’t see why you even feel the need to self-identify as an anarchist. This “pan-secessionist” stuff is clearly a different thing altogether.

Anarchism is the underlying philosophy and ideological backdrop. Pan-secessionism is merely a tactical concept (like a general strike, an electoral campaign, or guerrilla insurgency).

The problem is what it seeks to create with that “tactic” isn’t anarchism (voluntary non-hierarchy), but a bunch of smaller forms of archism, with some actual forms of anarchism among them.

The idea is to overthrow imperialism, capitalism, and overarching states by means of dissolution. The universal triumph of pure anarchism is a much broader and longer term project. A more intermediate objective is the forging of a society-wide pan-decentralist consensus rooted in the principle of self-determination for all.

The various forms of monarchism, racial separatism, and capitalism promoted don’t exactly further self-determination by those who bear the brunt of them.

You’re assuming that all people everywhere prefer libertarian values for themselves, and they clearly don’t. Compulsory anarchism hardly seems anarchistic. For example, there are some in the Hawaiian independence movement who wish to restore their traditional monarchy that existed before the US invasion in the late 19th century. I would say that is a decision for the Hawaiians to make for themselves. Racial separatism is a prevalent undercurrent in African-American self-determination movements.Again, that is a decision for the parties involved to make for themselves. “Capitalism” is an elastic concept. I don’t find all forms of capitalism to be inherently objectionable even from an anarchist point of view. There’s a difference between good Lysander Spooner individualists and the Ayn Rand cult, for example, and still more difference between even vulgar an-caps and state-capitalist plutocrats.It’s the same way “communism” spans the spectrum from intentional communities and hippie communes to more formalized collectives like the kibbutzim to the government of Cuba.

I see all that as largely irrelevant.

“Self-determination” in the broad sense you describe is not a good thing. I don’t see the point of achieving some kind of formal liberation from a centralised/hierarchical power-structure if what replaces it is merely another such power-structure but on a smaller scale.

Maybe that smaller scale makes it slightly less bad. That’s largely immaterial.

Even if one were to adopt the ethic “whatever they choose for themselves I’ll accept”, that wouldn’t mean anarchists should support it AS ANARCHISTS.

The question should not be “is it less bad than what we have now?”, but “does it further the dissolution of hierarchical power and the values of decentralism, mutual aid, and unity-in-diversity.

Many of the little archies being supported are in fact a step backwards in that regard.

“I don’t see the point of achieving some kind of formal liberation from a centralised/hierarchical power-structure if what replaces it is merely another such power-structure but on a smaller scale.”

The point is the overthrow of the global plutocratic super class which has managed to centralize control over wealth on an unprecedented scale. About 150 corporations now dominate the world’s economy. Some of these have more wealth and power than individual nation-states. The other big issue is the need to overthrow the American imperialist empire which now has unprecedented military and cultural power resulting in the infliction of death and suffering on peoples all over the world not to mention the imposition of a cultural homogenization.

“Even if one were to adopt the ethic “whatever they choose for themselves I’ll accept”, that wouldn’t mean anarchists should support it AS ANARCHISTS. “

Self-determination has to be a principle of anarchism. Otherwise we merely become “anarcho-imperialists.” Self-determination does not imply uncritical acceptance but merely respect for authentic diversity even if one is inclined to disagree.

“The question should not be “is it less bad than what we have now?”, but “does it further the dissolution of hierarchical power and the values of decentralism, mutual aid, and unity-in-diversity.”

Both are important. It’s not a question of either/or. Indeed, I would argue that the tactical concepts of “pan-secessionism” and other ideas our camp promotes are means towards such ends as “decentralism, mutual aid, and unity-in-diversity.” All three of these concepts are at the heart of our position at Attack the System.

“Many of the little archies being supported are in fact a step backwards in that regard.”

That’s a rather bold claim. The idea that the possibility of, say, the proliferation of communes representing “conservative” values, such as religious monasteries and ethno-centric communes, is a regression from global capitalism and liberal imperialism would seem to be a rather myopic perspective.

To use your own words, it’s not an either/or.
We shouldn’t have to choose between throwing our lot in with racists and religious lunatics on one hand and the global neoliberal superstate on the other.

I can see the logic of anarchists working WITHIN diverse struggles oriented around, say, national liberation, but only to try to push them in a more anarchistic direction.

Anarchism, as a method, has always been about teasing out what libertarian elements are already latent within a given situation/culture/idea-set, trying to push them to the forefront and make them predominant.

This however, is something qualitatively different: the method is simply tactical alliances of the enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend kind with those who not only have zero commitment to a voluntary non-hierarchical society, but would find such a thing repugnant.

Even if an anarchist would see tonnes of smaller archies outside the global neoliberal superstate as a means-to-an-end – with the final goal being a genuine voluntary, non-hierarchical, cooperative order covering he whole planet – MOST of those smaller archies themselves would not see it that way. They would view their monarchies, racial supremacist enclaves, religious communes as permanent fixtures with no aspiration to move in the direction of an inclusive/horizontalist society. Meaning actual anarchists are back to square one.

This is especially the case with “voluntaryist” proposals involving “private defence agencies”. (States which they refuse to acknowledge as states)

With the popular classes still subordinate to a propertied elite in much the same way as before – having to carve out little spaces of freedom and equality within the capitalist death-machine and according to their rules.

“We shouldn’t have to choose between throwing our lot in with racists and religious lunatics on one hand and the global neoliberal superstate on the other.”

I think you’re overemphasizing that aspect of our approach to a great a degree. Considerations of that type are maybe one percent of our overall strategy. The general trend worldwide, or at least in the core, has been towards greater cultural liberalization. The existence of the reactionary tendencies that you describe merely represent a reaction to those trends. Meanwhile, the development of a firm oppositional stance by such sectors can only have the effect of weakening the overall grip of the overarching neoliberal system. Lastly, the more objectionable certain cultural, political, or demographic sectors are, the better it is that they develop a decentralist and separatist outlook (i.e. mutual self-separation). Here’s a wider exposition on this argument: https://attackthesystem.com/why-the-radical-left-should…/

“I can see the logic of anarchists working WITHIN diverse struggles oriented around, say, national liberation, but only to try to push them in a more anarchistic direction.”

Yes, and the first struggle of that type is against the neoliberal international capitalist order and the American imperialist empire.

This is placing too much focus on opposing what exists now (on a global scale) and not enough on building what should exist (on a local scale).

“Anarchism, as a method, has always been about teasing out what libertarian elements are already latent within a given situation/culture/idea-set, trying to push them to the forefront and make them predominant.”

Yes! Exactly. That’s what our perspective is all about, i.e. attempting to push the anarchistic, libertarian, decentralist, anti-statist, anti-imperialist, or anti-authoritarian tendencies within all movements, subcultures, demographics, etc to the forefront, and towards the purpose of developing a society wide consensus, however imperfect or incomplete, towards such ends.

Takis Fotopoulos supports something similar: arguing that libertarian socialism cannot be achieved until all countries pull out of the neoliberal order and regain economic and political/cultural self-reliance – which he sees as the material and social basis for building libertarian socialism in the long term.

The problem is that he seeks to do so by forming – as an intermediate stage – a second global “pole” to the neoliberal order called the “Eurasian Union” centred around Russia (which he holds has the material capacity to achieve self-reliance very quickly) and all other nations opposed to neoliberalism.

The problem is that this could – for the majority of those affected – wind up just as authoritarian, if not more so, than what exists now, if theocratic statists, state socialists, or other totalitarians managed to use it as a vehicle for their respective ideologies.

Pan-secessionism has similar problems. Even if ideally used as a vehicle, long-term, for creating anarchism, it would most likely be used to create newer forms of authoritarianism.

“This however, is something qualitatively different: the method is simply tactical alliances of the enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend kind with those who not only have zero commitment to a voluntary non-hierarchical society, but would find such a thing repugnant.”

Again, we’re talking about a continuum, not a zero sum game. The adoption of, for example, decentralism or mutual aid or “unity in diversity” as tactical concept rather than a principled one by a wide range of otherwise “conservative” sectors still furthers the interests of decentralism, mutual aid, and unity in diversity, although in a de facto rather than de jour sense.

“Even if an anarchist would see tonnes of smaller archies outside the global neoliberal superstate as a means-to-an-end – with the final goal being a genuine voluntary, non-hierarchical, cooperative order covering he whole planet – MOST of those smaller archies themselves would not see it that way. They would view their monarchies, racial supremacist enclaves, religious communes as permanent fixtures with no aspiration to move in the direction of an inclusive/horizontalist society.”

But an order has been established in such a scenario where power is more dispersed and where cracks of freedom are better able to grow and be cultivated. This is how the scientific revolution, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment eventually emerged from the otherwise static order of the Middle Ages.

This is especially the case with “voluntaryist” proposals involving “private defence agencies”. (States which they refuse to acknowledge as states)”

I agree the theory behind PDAs is potentially problematic. I’ve had debates about that with an-caps actually. But again, we’re talking about a spectrum. Anarchist militias of the kind favored by many an-coms and an-syns, for example, are also a kind of de facto PDA.

That’s the problem I see with your approach, some ideologies have ZERO libertarian/decentralist/mutualistic tendencies latent within them to be developed into something more anti-authoritarian and inclusive.

Monarchism, racial separatism, capitalism, etc are such ideologies.

An alternative approach I would recommend (which will be outlined more fully in a book I’m writing) is the creation of a two-tier international alliance of (1) left-wing nation-states opposed to neoliberalism and G7 dominance, and (2) explicitly libertarian socialist/anarchist confederations such as the Zapatista municipalities and Rojava cantons – and hopefully other such examples.

Cooperation with democratic socialists who aren’t fully libertarian socialists makes sense from a tactical perspective. They are easiest to push in a decentralist and liberatory direction. This is not the case with racists and religionists and capitalists who seem superficially to have a decentralist thrust, but are only truly decentralist with regard to the existing global neoliberal superstate.

“With the popular classes still subordinate to a propertied elite in much the same way as before – having to carve out little spaces of freedom and equality within the capitalist death-machine and according to their rules.”

The plutocracy doesn’t exist independently of the state. We’ve published a range of material about this in the past. I even wrote an award-winning essay on this question at one point. The question is one of concentrated versus dispersed power: political, economic, social, legal, military, etc.

“This is placing too much focus on opposing what exists now (on a global scale) and not enough on building what should exist (on a local scale).”

Again, this is a false dichotomy. The objective is to develop tactical concepts like pan-secessionism while simultaneously cultivating localized struggles against local power elites. For example, in the US, while we’re building pan-secessionism to overthrow the American empire and US federal government we also need to work on taking down the municipal governments of the major cities which are centers of the police state and crony-capitalism.

This is looking at it in too simple a way. Certain forms of dispersed (but still authoritarian) power can in fact be harder to fight, and more difficult to carve out freedom from, than more formally centralised structures of rule.

Take for instance the Ottoman Empire. One of the most brutal and centralised examples of power in recent memory. But they also largely left certain populations alone, unmolested to a large extent. With the Empire’s breakup into many scattered colonial states, power was more dispersed, but people suffered greater degrees of brutality and repression overall.

Same with the decentralised Taliban versus the U.S.-imposed centralised government in Afghanistan.

“Takis Fotopoulos supports something similar: arguing that libertarian socialism cannot be achieved until all countries pull out of the neoliberal order and regain economic and political/cultural self-reliance – which he sees as the material and social basis for building libertarian socialism in the long term.”

I am not familiar with Fotopoulos although I am aware of this general theory which, while imperfect and not without its problematic aspects, does indeed represent a blueprint for a more multipolar order which as the very least would have the effect of further fracturing the international capitalist forces.

The very fact you used the term “crony-capitalism” indicates a belief in a form of capitalism that isn’t crony.

“An alternative approach I would recommend (which will be outlined more fully in a book I’m writing) is the creation of a two-tier international alliance of (1) left-wing nation-states opposed to neoliberalism and G7 dominance, and (2) explicitly libertarian socialist/anarchist confederations such as the Zapatista municipalities and Rojava cantons – and hopefully other such examples.”

That sounds interesting. I will certainly have to read your book when it comes out. However, comparable dangers are present, such as the cooptation of the confederations you mention by the nation-states you describe, which has been a major part of the history of the Left in Western countries (i.e. popular movements with libertarian thrust being coopted by social democratic and neoliberal parties), and the re-direction of such movements towards explicit authoritarianism (seen the entire history of the relationship of the libertarian left with Leninism).

“Take for instance the Ottoman Empire. One of the most brutal and centralised examples of power in recent memory. But they also largely left certain populations alone, unmolested to a large extent.”

I’d argue more for the model of the Holy Roman Empire, which as Voltaire is supposed to have said, was “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.”

“With the Empire’s breakup into many scattered colonial states, power was more dispersed, but people suffered greater degrees of brutality and repression overall.”

But that didn’t involve any genuine decentralization or self-determination. It merely replaced the Ottoman empire with the European colonial empires, and it came about due to the defeat of the Ottomans in WWI.

“Same with the decentralised Taliban versus the U.S.-imposed centralised government in Afghanistan.”

That’s comparing apples and oranges. The Taliban were a direct outgrowth of the mujahideen, a proxy army organized by the West and the Gulf States whose ideology and, often, personnel and leadership were imported into Afghanistan from Saudi Arabia.

“The very fact you used the term “crony-capitalism” indicates a belief in a form of capitalism that isn’t crony.”

It’s a matter of semantics. I’m talking about the alliance of state and capital into the kind of plutocratic power elites that dominate modern liberal societies (see C. Wright Mills), not Tucker’s individualist anarchism or Molinari’s radical classical liberalism or “Manchester liberalism” or agorism. As I said before, the spectrum of market economics represents a continuum as does “communism.”

Pan-secessionism really amounts to little more than a tacit agreement by contending political and cultural forces to stay out of each others’ backyards while recognizing the existence of a common enemy. This is a thought experiment about this concept that I developed a while back: https://attackthesystem.com/…/taking-the-ats-philosophy…/

It’s outlined pretty thoroughly in our statement of purpose as well: https://attackthesystem.com/statement-of-purpose/

 

5 comments

  1. I haven’t finished reading, but I’ll comment before I go to bed. So far, I completely agree with you Keith. The only way we are going to progress is if we unify with anyone who is against the global powers that be. I don’t understand how the left can preach tolerance but then be intolerant to ideologies they disagree with. Guess what left? That’s called intolerance. And being intolerant of ideologies you disagree with is only going to result in bitter conflict, if somehow the American Empire were to collapse. If the Empire dies, you have to let different groups of freely-associated people form their own communities with the values that they adhere to, or else it won’t work. We’ll end up slaughtering one another if someone tries to make their particular ideology sacrosanct, to be obeyed by everyone else. I haven’t finished the article, but you ought to ask him what he would do to those who disagreed with his social, libertarian anarchism (or whatever it is) if the empire collapsed. If his society is non-hierarchical and decentralized, it would have to become a hierarchical, centralized dictatorship to force non-adherents to adhere.
    The only way it will work is if everyone agrees that you can form your own society, with whatever belief system you want, as long as you don’t infringe upon other communities. So you think white-separatists are racist. Does it even matter if, in this hypothetical future, their community is all white and leaves everyone else alone. If their entire community is all-white than there will be nobody of color in their community to be discriminated against. Because people of color will be in their own sovereign community, that shares the same values they do (And that may very-well be a black-separatist community.) And the same goes for all ideologies. And that’s the way it has to be, because otherwise there will be a brutal war, and out of that will most likely come tyranny. There are 7 billion people on this earth, which means their are likely 7 billion different opinions and ideas for how a society should function. You can’t try to force one on everyone, it won’t work without bloodshed.

  2. Your links dont work properly. also the italics vs standard fonts (they vs you) at some points make no sense. could you please review the post and correct them? thanks

  3. The post needs to be reformatted because it’s all fucked up. 5 links go to Facebook. The conversation is in the middle isn’t in italics and it’s repeated at the end. You are drunk bro.

  4. Reading Tr00 Anarchists just makes me hate them. The whole ‘anti-hierarchy’ shit is literally nonsense, it is in fact impossible under any circumstance where everyone doesn’t agree; and likewise with the inegalitarian thing, nobody has a choice to be ‘egalitarian’ if they wanted to, equalizing along one dimension disrupts it along others.

    These people are fucking religious cultists who lack serious opinions.
    The laughable ‘anarcho-capitalists’ may have some rose-tinted ideas about American history or the automatic benefits of capitalism, but they do seem to have a grasp on economics and political science that doesn’t come from a fucking cereal box or some religious cult’s propaganda screeds.

    I agree with stuff I read in Bakunin, etc. but these guys were wildly inegalitarian, elitist, radical, anti-compromise and directly opposed to the sort of boss-baiting workerism that typifies the present brainless Anarchist movement. While most people who criticize capitalism are doing so on the basis of pet definitions, bad economics and hidden value judgments the critique of the inane, emotion-based ludditism of most self-proclaimed ‘anarchists’ is ridiculously easy. Does anyone with a brain in their head not see how these primitivist gaytards would be crushed and ground up by industrialized societies? They’re fucking stupid, and they’re using terrible secularized arguments derived from Protestant theology.

    And, just like modern liberals, they’re totally braindead ignorant of how much they sound like the whiney cultist Christian faggots complaining that their personal crazy cult isn’t mainstream, and insisting that everyone would be into their homoerotic fantasy versions of society if only teh man wasn’t oppressing them.

    Modern anarchism is just as religious as 19th century anarchism, only dumber, and dominated by fake-radical housepets.

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