Free Association is Not Fascism: How Many Times Does it Have to be Said?

Fascists are divided into two categories: the fascists and the anti-fascists.” – Ennio Flaiano,

Recently, I’ve reading Shane Burley’s “Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It.” (An interview with Burley is available here.)Works of this kind are becoming a small cottage industry, although these authors seem to be in the habit of rewriting each other’s books, as they all essentially say the same thing. The general party line among these writers is that fascism is on the rise, reinventing itself in newer and ever more insidious forms, and seeking to embed itself in not only mainstream institutions, but even the radical Left, for the purpose of undermining and destroying All Good Things.

In other words, the “anti-fascists” have formulated what amounts to an inversion of what the anti-Semites believe about the “Jewish conspiracy.” An interesting experiment would be to take a collection of writings by anti-fascists, and edit them in a way that left them unchanged except to remove all mention of the word “fascist” and replace it with “Jew, and then subsequently take a collection of writings by anti-Semites and replace all references to “the Jews” with “the fascists.” Such an exchange of terminology might well make for an almost seamless fit.

For many years, I have been endlessly amused by these people, and I owe them a certain amount of gratitude. Because of the “anti-fascists,” I am currently about ten times more “famous” than I otherwise would be. Some of these folks have relentlessly promoted my work for a good number of years, and I’ve always found it interesting that people who otherwise hate my guts are functioning as my guerrilla marketing team.

I started AttacktheSystem.Com 17 years ago as an anarchist-themed alternative politics website for the purpose of moving anarchism away from the familiar doctrinaire leftist fundamentalism that dominates much of the anarchist milieu, and creating a forum where anarchists can engage with the entire range of alternative politics, culture, and philosophy. But, to paraphrase Max Stirner, “our anarchists are very pious people,” and there were and continue to be some in the anarchist milieu who are more concerned about rooting out heresy than engaging with ideas. While many anarchists prefer an anarcho-sectarian approach, I prefer to embrace the entire legacy of anti-authoritarian and anti-institutional thinking. While many anarchists are obsessed with ostracizing perceived moral lepers, I am interested in engaging with people and ideas from all over the place.

A fundamental conflict between my approach of that of some of these critics seems to be rooted in the application of the venerable anarchist concept of free association. I more or less hold to the dictionary definition of anarchism. For example, the Wikipedia entry on anarchism defines anarchism in the following way:

Anarchism is a political philosophy that advocates self-governed societies based on voluntary institutions. These are often described as stateless societies, although several authors have defined them more specifically as institutions based on non-hierarchical or free associations. Anarchism holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful.

While anti-statism is central, anarchism specifically entails opposing authority or hierarchical organisation in the conduct of all human relations. Anarchism is usually considered a far-left ideology and much of anarchist economics and anarchist legal philosophy reflects anti-authoritarian interpretations of communism, collectivism, syndicalism, mutualism or participatory economics.

Anarchism does not offer a fixed body of doctrine from a single particular world view, instead fluxing and flowing as a philosophy. Many types and traditions of anarchism exist, not all of which are mutually exclusive. Anarchist schools of thought can differ fundamentally, supporting anything from extreme individualism to complete collectivism. Strains of anarchism have often been divided into the categories of social and individualist anarchism or similar dual classifications.

That’s pretty good. The question that remains is one of how to apply these ideas in practice. Even the most basic literature on anarchist theory reveals that there is no consensus among anarchists concerning what kinds of social arrangements a stateless society might have. Being a pluralistic anarchist, I generally favor an approach whereby the state simply gets out of the way, and people are able to organize themselves in any way they see fit, whether politically, culturally, economically, or socially. But this is not good enough for some our pious anarchists, not too mention the “anti-fascists” (many of whom are Communists), because with freedom of association some people might do bad things. The criticisms of myself and others with similar ideas offered by Shane Burley, and depicted in the screen shot below, are fairly representative.

Screenshot (2)

On one hand, Burley fails to explain what exactly is so awful about the ideas that he is attacking in these paragraphs from his book, particularly when compared with the actually existing states that we currently have. Given the choice between the American Empire and the Global Corporatocracy on one side and what Burley is describing on the other side, I for one would simply ask, “Where do I sign up?”

However, as is the norm with these kinds of writers, Burley presents a very reductionist and caricatured version of myself and others with similar views. While these “anti-fascist” types try to portray us as “anarcho-fascists” in reality a more appropriate label might be “anarcho-Star Trekists” in an analogous sense. The Star Trek entertainment franchise postulates a future universe ordered on such principles as “infinite diversity in infinite combination” (pluralism), the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of those states-of-being each individual society holds in greatest esteem” (self-determination), and the “prime directive” (mind your own business).

The position of ATS and other similar tendencies simply involves the idea of applying the principles of free association to the nth degree. We are “free association absolutists” just as the ACLU are (or used to be) “free speech absolutists” and the Gun Owners of America are “2nd Amendment absolutists.” What seems to most irritate the “anti-fascists” about this idea is that with freedom of association some people might choose to associate in politically incorrect ways, e.g. the White Guys’ Club, the He-Man Woman Haters’ Club, the God Hates Fags Club, etc. in the same way that there are no doubt many right-wingers who would be similarly appalled by the Race Traitors’ Club, the Sluts’ Club, the Flag-Burners’ n’ Bible-Burners’ Club, the Satanic Club or the Drugs n’ Porn Club.

Of course, from an authentically anarchist perspective, the proper response to these criticisms is, “That’s just too damn bad. Fucking get over it.”

However, some anarchist critics try to have their cake and eat it too by attempting to add on a range of qualifiers concerning who counts as a “true” anarchist and who does not (in the same way that religious communities have similar qualifiers, e.g. “only tongues speakers go to heaven”).

One qualifier is that anarchist associations and communities must not only be voluntary and based on the principle of free association, but must also be non-hierarchical. But the traditional anarchist critique of “hierarchy” was oriented towards criticizing institutions that were organized on the basis of compulsion such as the state, economic monopolies that are created or supported by the state, a state-imposed theocracy, and patriarchal family relations that are legislated by the state. One could theoretically extend the critique of “hierarchy” to the point of saying that a birdwatchers club with a president and vice president is blasphemously practicing “hierarchy,” but what would be the point? And the idea of “compulsory voluntary non-hierarchy” would seem to be a contradiction in terms.

Of course, many anarchists postulate the idea of organizations that are internally organized as a “direct democracy,” and that are subsequently federated by means of “recallable delegates.” or by shunning organization of any kind other than highly localized affinity groups. I was involved in a number of religious organizations that were organized in this way as a child and adolescent, and a number of leftist organizations that were organized in this manner as a young adult. Each time it was the same story, i.e. groups of assholes arguing over all kinds of tidbits of theological or ideological minutiae, and these groups were generally no more internally permissive than more formal or “hierarchical” organizations I have belonged to. Maybe it would be better if all religious communities were internally organized on the Quaker or Anabaptist model rather than the Vatican model, or if all political organizations were organized like the IWW as opposed to a conventional political organization such as the NAACP, but so what?

Another claim is that anarchist communities and associations must be “inclusive.” Of course, anyone who has spen time around the general anarchist milieu knows how exclusionary anarchists actually are. I generally like to cite this comment made by a former an-com some years ago as an illustration:

I used to be an anarcho-communist. Actually, I started out as someone who was vaguely sympathetic to mainstream libertarianism but could never fully embrace it due to the perceived economic implications. I eventually drifted to social anarchism thanks to someone who’s name I won’t mention, because it’s too embarrassing.

After hanging around them for a while I realized that, for all their pretenses, most of them were really just state-socialists who wanted to abolish the State by making it smaller and calling it something else. After about a year of hanging around Libcom and the livejournal anarchist community, I encountered people who, under the aegis of “community self-management”, supported

  • smoking and alcohol bans
  • bans on currently illicit drugs
  • bans on caffeinated substances (all drugs are really just preventing you from dealing with problems, you see)
  • censorship of pornography (on feminist grounds)
  • sexual practices like BDSM (same grounds, no matter the gender of the participants or who was in what role)
  • bans on prostitution (same grounds)
  • bans on religion or public religious expression (this included atheist religions like Buddhism, which were the same thing because they were “irrational”)
  • bans on advertisement (which in this context meant any free speech with a commercial twist)
  • bans on eating meat
  • gun control (except for members of the official community-approved militia, which is in no way the same thing as a local police department)
  • mandatory work assignments (ie slavery)
  • the blatant statement, in these exact words, that “Anarchism is not individualist” on no less than twelve separate occasions over the course of seven months. Not everybody in those communities actively agreed with them, but nobody got up and seriously disputed it.
  • that if you don’t like any of these rules, you’re not free to just quit the community, draw a line around your house and choose not to obey while forfeiting any benefits. No, as long as you’re in what they say are the the boundaries (borders?) of “the community”, you’re bound to follow the rules, otherwise you have to move someplace else (“love it or leave it”, as the conservative mantra goes). You’d think for a moment that this conflicts with An-comm property conceptions because they’re effectively exercising power over land that they do not occupy, implying that they own it and making “the community” into One Big Landlord a la Hoppean feudalism 🙂

So I decided that we really didn’t want the same things, and that what they wanted was really some kind of Maoist concentration commune where we all sit in a circle and publicly harass the people who aren’t conforming hard enough. No thanks, comrade.

Of course, it is also true that these “anti-fascist” folks really don’t care about “exclusion,” anyway. As I mentioned, many of them are Communists, state-socialists, and social democrats, and even the anarchist contingent among them seems to be little more than dupes and useful idiots. What they are really concerned about is “exclusion” on politically incorrect grounds, while insisting on retaining the right to “exclude” whomever or whatever they want for themselves. Therefore, an Anarcho-Marxist Politically Correct Commune=Good, Conservative Religious White Folks Enclave=Horrible, and People of Color Racial Separatist Community=Understandable Because History Except That Ikcy Homophobia Part.

However, much of this “debate” is for naught. While it is certainly true that some people might prefer to live in ethnically, racially, religiously, politically, sexually, etc. exclusionary communities given the freedom of choice to do so, the meta-politics of a civilization organized on the principle of free association (i.e. anarchism) would come much closer to resembling the Mr. Spockian ideal of “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” than, for example, the Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, Orania, or Kiryas Joel. A better model might be to review the endless array of culturally, religiously, ethnically, professionally, academically, occupationally, or politically themed organizations that are listed in the Yellow Pages of any major city, or the list of organizations found on the campus of a large university.

No doubt the “anti-fascists” regard themselves as heroic freedom fighters, and as regular Sophie Scholls who deserve a pat on the back for doing their part to prevent the next wave of genocides (all the while including hammer and sicklers in their ranks). Fortunately, they are as politically irrelevant as their neo-Nazi tribal enemies.


3 replies »

  1. On the contrary, anti-fascism is enjoying a bull market in activism funding. The EU does a better job of providing them resources, but the neolib progressive elements in the US similarly aid their operations in America. Their vital role as progressive paramilitary will only grow in political importance. While their numbers may not be able to match the more organic reactionary prole movements, spurred by demographic pressure, they will continue to enjoy the patronage of the neoliberal elite and such a resource disparity will allow them to punch well above their weight without much fear of commensurate consequence.

    • I have frequently heard it claimed that antifa are merely ground troops that are being funded by elements within the left-wing of the elite. I have looked for evidence of that and have generally come up short. The closest I have been able to find is possible funding of the Political Research Associates (a kind of minor league SPLC) by the Ford Foundation. The PRA features a number of writers like Spencer Sunshine who seem to have ties to the antifa. I have yet to find any evidence of any Sorost-backed groups funding antifa or anything like that, as is often claimed.

      I have also seen claims from leftists that elements among the right-wing of the elite are funding the far right as well. I can’t find much evidence of that either (unless you count the “far right” as Tea Party-type groups and their descendants).

      Here is a crucial issue that most radicals and mainstream partisans alike seem to miss. The “establishment,” including its left and right factions, are “conservative” in the sense that they don’t want a lot of disruption going on because they want to maintain control and preserve the system for the long haul. Radicals from the far left can and do get arrested, put in jail, raided by the police, etc. The “system” has no more use for eco-terrorists, animal rights terrorists, revolutionary Marxists, anarchists, black separatists, etc than it does for neo-Nazis, militiamen, or Christian Reconstructionists. The approach of the SPLC represents the perspective of the left-wing of the elite, not the antifa; Just like David Horowitz’s Discover the Networks project represents the perspective of the right-wing of the establishment, not the sovereign citizens.

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