Left/Post-Left Anarchism vs. Keith Preston, Part 2

The second part of The Brilliant’s discussion of yours truly. Listen here.

The host’s comments:

“I have been wanting to talk about the line between tribalism and nationalism for years but it is a challenge. All sides take the conversation very seriously ON THE INTERNET whereas my experience IRL isn’t quite the same. I’ve found people willing to joke and tease each other about the categories that do and don’t exist and our participation in them. I’ve found the hyperbole of tough guys, banning, gatekeeping, and racist bullshit to be quite rare in the corporal world. Not as much in the ether.

Right-anarchist Keith Preston sent me a copy of a very interesting (and disturbing) magazine called Tribes that points straight at the issue calling itself a “National Anarchist magazine.” I did a conversation with KP where I tried to tease out the issue of how you can discuss nation in any meaningful way without discussing race (or the nation state tbh) and here is what he had to say about it.

I simply described myself as a “racial atheist,” meaning I have no racial beliefs. And then he was like “But these folks do….” and I simply said that there are many people who do not have racial/ethnic beliefs in the N-A milieu, and those who do are very diverse in terms of their perspective on those issues, and that people of color were among the N-A milieu as well.

To which I’d respond, why call yourself a national anarchist at all? How is a nation defined (especially if you use it in the sense that the Tribes editorial does as in nation = tribes)? I’d then laugh at the use of the term atheist in the same breath as race. You can claim all humans are of the same biological race (and I’d agree) but to say that “Race does not exist” is laughably stupid.

But let’s not get distracted. If the post-modern definition of a nation, or a tribe, is possible, which I’m not sure it is, the place where it was articulated best was in the 80’s by the (not)anarchist, (not)utopian book bolo’bolo. Filled with a world where alco-bolos and les-bolos live together in perfect harmony. Let’s talk about this body of ideas in a context we share… which obviously doesn’t involve KP.

In this two episode block we discuss our discomfort with KP’s approach (the first two episodes focus on the nationalism question in the context of bolo’bolo, the third on the context of bolo’bolo itself) and ask how to discuss nationalism at all in a modern (ie dramaful) context.”


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  1. Thank God they didn’t post the actual interview which was the whole basis for the podcast. One sided struggle sessions lamenting someone’s imagined secret agenda gleaned from a conversation no one else can hear, makes for truly illuminating discourse. The world was saved from fascism and the brilliant geniuses remain certified good guys, safe from an antifa bitchslap.

    This kind of hyper self conscious’ moralistic hand wringing is a mental handicap disguised as thoughtful trepidation. The Preston brand ATS philosophy is very simple to understand. It’s probably simpler than the entire catalogue of anarcho-suffixes. ATS is essentially just an umbrella for the biggest possible tent conglomeration of anarchist and radical anti state movements, in a strategic alliance of sorts to undermine centralized authority and create a decentralized order of autonomous regions or associations. That’s it. What separates ATS from other modern leftist poisoned anarchist ideology is that it actually prioritizes usurpation of the state while remaining agnostic or indifferent as to what particular internal arrangements each emergent fiefdom or association may take, as opposed to indulging some universalist egalitarian fantasy. This means that some areas or groups could contain bad men having bad ideas doing bad things, that might be very far from kosher according to certain sensibilities. I fail to see how this could be anything but inevitable collateral damage when entertaining anarchism…otherwise you might as well fight for control of a powerful state to impose your vision on everyone.

    I’m not necessarily sold that ATS is actually viable (though I realize it’s more of a tool or approach than a fleshed out blueprint), but it’s certainly MORE serious than so much utopian pontificating. Well guess what? Destroying the federal government and radically reshuffling the social order is pretty serious business. A task with extreme costs, liabilities, and tradeoffs, which I think Keith is refreshingly unique in acknowledging unflinchingly.

    If you think this is scary stuff and can’t stomach opportunistic alliances with anyone who doesn’t walk your impossible to satisfy pc tightrope of what constitutes a proper, non-“synthetic” identity, or appropriate basis for tribal affiliation (like anyone would ask your permission)…honestly, just stop pretending you’re an anarchist. You want an exclusive social club to circle jerk off into with some niche lifestyle management thrown in. Because you don’t want what you think you want. When the cataclysm hits, you’re liable to end up as beef jerky and bone jewelery for some other tribe lacking your paralyzing moral dilemmas.

    NAM and ATS have obvious overlap, even if not the same. Some people affiliated with NAM are big on the ethnic/racial aspect of their identity and see it as the basis for tribal affiliation of some sort, with ideas about what that means varying among individuals. Some don’t. That’s not a particular interest of Keith’s or focus of ATS. I find it very silly to not take people at their word on this most of the time…especially those who have written hundreds of essays and half a dozen books promoting a political philosophy in agonizing detail…in any case, why have a conversation at all if you’re going to start with the assumption of bad faith out of hand? You end up sounding like a fundamentalist Christian trying to sniff out evidence of demonic possession.

    There are obvious problems and legitimate questions over such a seemingly contradictory moniker as “National Anarchism.” To what extent race is an essential ingredient of nationalism, is the question he may have been trying to tease out. Tribal anarchism might even be a better label in some ways, beyond mere semantic and moral quibbling. Never heard of this bola bola but with a name like that no wonder it’s languishing in obscurity.

    I’d peg Preston as a Russian asset promoting internal dissolution in the U.S. long before crypto-fash or the anarcho-gateway drug to racism, of all things. 😄

  2. I’d say that sums it up just about perfectly.

    Btw, the “Bolo bolo” book is available here: http://sfbay-anarchists.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/bb_3.pdf and here: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/p-m-bolo-bolo

    This is the author: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Widmer

    When I heard the male speaker’s description of “Bolo bolo” that was apparently read from the back cover of the book, I was like, “Yeah, that sounds just like ATS or N-AM. So what’s the problem?” And when I explained what “Bolo bolo” was to some of the N-AM folks they had the same reaction.

    Also, this is the cult they’re talking about in the latter part of the podcast: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajneeshpuram

  3. Yeah, it’s interesting that they’ve now done 2 1/2 podcasts devoted to yours truly, but can’t just play the original interview, lol. Some of the things they say in these I agree with, and think are insightful. Some things I disagree with. At times, they say things about me or N-A that are just factually wrong. For instance, I was never a member of the Love and Rage organization. I was at their founding conference in Chicago in 1989, but at the time Love and Rage was a news journal. It didn’t become a political organization until later, and I was never a part of that. I did break with them after that conference and was critical of them in various anarchist publications afterward. The problem I had with Love and Rage wasn’t that they were anti-racist, though I did criticize their manifesto as being merely a laundry list of leftist causes, most of which had little to do with anarchism per se. The issue was that they seemed to me to be a Leninist effort to co-opt anarchism given the behavior and ideology of some of the participants, such as members of the Revolutionary Socialist League (a former Trotskyist organization that converted to anarchism en masse) and this guy out of Minneapolis, Christopher Gunderson, who struck me as a Bob Avakian wannabe. I was young then, in my early 20s, and had only been around the anarchist milieu for about a year and a half at that point. With the benefit of hindsight, I think I was generally right about Love and Rage, because later Gunderson tried to push them toward Maoism, although I was wrong about some of the RSL folks, because they were the ones that actually resisted that.

    In the podcasts, they keep saying that I “didn’t want to talk about race” but the interviewer never asked me any questions like “Where do you stand on the ‘Jewish question’?’ or “Do you think there are biological differences between races?” or “Do you think blacks are genetically inferior?’ or “Do you think white privilege exists?” or “Do you think African-Americans are treated unjustly by the police?” or “Should the government have an open borders immigration policy?” or any of that stuff. Not that I would have wanted to spend a lot of time on that stuff anyway, any more than I would have wanted to discuss papal infallibility or biblical inerrancy, largely because I see the ideas of N-AM or ATS as being more about moving past this kind of stuff rather than obsessing over it like so many leftists and rightists do. And not that it would matter, either. If I gave standard liberal/left answers to questions like that, they would think I am just telling them what they want to hear. If I gave right-wing sounding answers, they would say, “Aha! Told you so.” If I gave some kind of middle of the road or neither fish nor fowl answers, they would say I was dodging the question. But from what I recall no real hardball questions were even asked.

    But of anything they have said so far, what I found most interesting was their dismissive attitude toward my argument that opposing US foreign policy should be a priority for anarchists, which seems appropriate given that the US government is not merely the government of the USA but the de facto government of the world, and presently the world’s leading death machine. At one point the female speaker ridicules that idea as a kind of Christian-like moralism (“Why do we need to care what the American state is doing to other societies?”) and then compares that with “what they are doing to us” as if anything going on in the US is comparable to what the US and its allies have done to Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Palestine, Central America, Mexico, etc.

    The closest thing to any of that in the US is the system of mass incarceration, so if someone wants to oppose that it seems the goal would be to overthrow the institutions that are actually causing it (i.e. federal, state, and local governments, and a range of private sector institutions). But they seem more worried that someone somewhere is going to form a “whitopia” version of “Bolo bolo” or whatever. For all the talk of “privilege” you hear from these sectors, it has always seemed to me that many of them (and without necessarily referring to The Brilliant folks per se) are in fact the products of First World middle-class privilege. Interestingly, the anarchists and libertarians seems to be the worst of all when it comes to these things. I don’t generally have these problems with “tankies,” Shiites, or even alt-right/neo-fascist types.

    • Exactly. Who’s the real racist or nationalist here? The people so focused on their 1st world angst they’re totally indifferent to the largest death machine in world history slaughtering millions of mostly brown people around the globe, or the guy who’d rather focus on that instead of the white upper-middle class virtue signalling circle jerk so popular among the miseducated set. I swear, the universities have masterfully neutralized real opposition to the system…an entire generation lobotomized by cheap sophistry, the supposed anarchists bohemians just as much as the striver class sell outs.

      The vocal inflection of the hosts say about as much as the blather. Dead giveaway.

      It’s too bad because there’s as much rebelious energy floating around now as there’s ever been in my lifetime. Imagine it pointed in the right direction.

      • Have you seen this landmark study that came out within the last few weeks? https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a70a7c3010027736a22740f/t/5bbcea6b7817f7bf7342b718/1539107467397/hidden_tribes_report-2.pdf

        It largely confirms many things I had always thought. For instance, “political correctness” is actually very unpopular. A super-majority of people of all races, classes, politics, etc. dislikes it. The exception is “progressive activists” who are only about 8% of the US population, and predominantly white, educated, relatively affluent people (i.e the left wing of the upper middle class, no real surprise there). And something like 30% of “progressive activists” actually expressed a negative view of PC.

        At the same time, the “far right” is even less popular, and only constitutes about 6% of the population. About 1 in 5 are normie conservatives (i.e. the standard middle American, family oriented, church going types). But about 2/3 of Americans are in the “exhausted majority” category who dislike the establishment but also dislike extremism on the far left and far left. So the usual red/blue tribal civil war really only exists on the margins and among contending factions of the elite.

        Right now, much of the political stuff that I find interesting is going on outside the US. For instance, I gave a talk in Mexico a couple years ago where I discussed quasi-anarchistic currents that are emerging all over the place (e.g. the Bookchinite insurgents in Rojava, the Pirates in Iceland, the Liberland project and other intentional societies, the stateless communities that are emerging in Mexico, lots of other stuff), and my presentation was very well received. I did a much more extended presentation on these themes at N-AM this year.

      • “It’s too bad because there’s as much rebelious energy floating around now as there’s ever been in my lifetime. Imagine it pointed in the right direction.”

        Yeah, recently I was rereading some of the stuff I wrote back in the early 2000s, and it’s interesting how many of the things I predicted have happened.

        • What I have generally found is that for all their denunciations of “big government,” most conservatives, not a few libertarians, and nearly all alt-right/lite types hate leftists and immigrants more than they hate the government. And the same is true on the other side of the fence. For all their denunciations of “capitalism,” “the establishment,” “the man,” “the ruling class,” “the pigs,” etc. most leftists hate social conservatives and racists more than they hate the power elite. However, while internally fractious, the power elite is still self-interested enough to put up a united front against all of us, and different factions of the elite play to these kinds of divisions to create a constituency for themselves. Hence, the GOP country club corporatists, Texas oil barons, and Manhattan Zionists pretend they actually have something in common with rednecks, and Wall Street investment brokers, Silicon Valley techno-oligarchs and Hollywood media moguls pretend they have some in common with hippie eco-freaks and transexual prostitutes. And those on the ground who fall for this are dupes and fools.


  4. I’m starting to wonder whether these people’s minds have been turned to mush with all of the ‘radical theory’ they’ve evidently imbibed? This woman in particular can’t even seem to finish a sentence! Extremely fragmented; endless hair-splitting that goes precisely nowhere. And the ridiculousness of their spending so much time on (incoherently) critiquing an interview that nobody else can hear is apparently lost on them.

    Speaking as the editor of Tribes (no, Troy Southgate was not the editor, but one could be forgiven for thinking so), I’ll also add that my memory of its contents contradicts a number of statements made about it in the podcasts. I’d have to listen a third time to note down all such points, which is something I’m unsure I’m capable of doing.

    My hope was that the conversation might progress towards more meaningful themes such as these:

    “I thought the new revolutionary paradigm was going to be revolutionary difference as well as solidarity. Instead of the one-world model of Communism and progressive socialists of the 19th Century, we were now going to accept that people could be different yet also have solidarity across those differences. And I don’t see that happening, well I don’t see it taking off as much as I was so looking forward to in my anti-pessimist moments.


    Either people are clinging to the old 19th century progressive model, in the anarchist-mileu, or they’re neo-primitivists online. That seems to be the major thing, here in America anyway.


    What I want is for everyone to be different and everyone together. I’m proposing a new revolutionary paradigm based on difference and solidarity rather than sameness and separation. Or, as in Communism, sameness and solidarity, and that’s not a very viable model. We don’t like it anymore. That’s why Zapatismo helped me to arrive at this position. They said look, we’re half-Mayan peasants and that’s the way we like it. At the same time, this is revolution, and we want to express our solidarity with everybody else who could be in a similar situation. They didn’t want people to come down and become weekend Zapatistas, because that’s part of the old model that doesn’t work. They wanted Zapatismo, or something like Zapatismo, to spring up here, there and everywhere.”

    – Peter Lamborn Wilson

    Alas, it appears that such pronouncements fell on deaf ears within the post-left anarchist milieu.

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