Contemporary Anarchism Reply

An interesting discussion of anarchism from a Trotskyist perspective.

By Eric Kerl

International Socialist Review

IN DECEMBER 2008, Time magazine ran the headline, “Could Greece’s Riots Spread to France?”1 The article was accompanied by fiery images of anarchists battling police on the streets of Athens. Four months later, Britain’s Telegraph newspaper fretted that a planned march against the G-20 meetings in London, “could be hijacked by anarchists who are known to create so-called ‘black blocs’—tight, hard-to-break units which can smash through police lines.”2 More recently, student resistance to the economic crisis facing colleges and universities in the United States has sparked debates with anarchists who propose a maximum strategy to “occupy everything” and yet, “demand nothing.”3

Since the advent of the global justice movement of the 1990s, anarchist ideas have had a renaissance, and continue to attract growing numbers of adherents, despite detractors in the mainstream media and political repression from the police. For the social movements of the past decade, the broad ideas of anarchism have defined the political landscape. These ideas express themselves in a multitude of ways: from consensus based decision-making models, activist collectives, spokes councils, and affinity groups to black bloc tactics at demonstrations and targeted property destruction (bank windows, ATMs, Starbucks, parking meters, etc).

While the black-hooded anarchist rioters of global justice demonstrations remain the media’s favorite spectacle, anarchists of all types are currently debating new tactics, political shifts, and reassessments of the anarchist tradition. Importantly, strains of contemporary anarchism have offered convincing critiques of the lifestyle approach to social change, rehabilitated the legacy of syndicalism, reoriented to class struggle, and initiated new ways of relating to the working class and social movements. At the same time, other anarchists have mounted vicious attacks on the organized political left and activism in general.

This article is an attempt to explore these new developments and seek common ground with the best aspects of today’s anarchism. Further, this article will analyze the shared assumptions of these disparate strains of anarchist thought and offer a Marxist critique of anarchism’s historical, as well as present, shortcomings.

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