The Reformist Alternative

Every historical period develops its own pseudo-revolutionary ideology. Though its external forms vary with each historical moment, its essential content is always the same: this ideology, despite its ever-changing revolutionary embellishments, is nothing more than reformism presenting itself as radicalism. Its practitioners are always opportunists and charlatans, its tactics are always to deceive and confound, and its essential purpose is always to integrate and modify rather than to fundamentally alter. Whether in the form of the plodding program of social democracy, the serpentine aspirations of Bolshevik state-capitalism, or the contemporary activist infatuation with identity politics, everywhere the masses have been presented with false ideas to combat their real oppression. In our own historical moment, it has become quite clear that the term "anarchism" is positioning itself to replace these ideologies which have by now become useless to the ruling class. Thus, with the demise of the state-capitalist autocracy known as the Soviet Union, "Marxism" could no longer serve its historical role as an ossified "revolutionary" ideology and was swiftly tossed into the dustbin, to be replaced by yet another form of consumable radicalism. Its replacement is none another than anarchism, Marxism's historical twin sibling. But was this "anarchism" a continuation of the thought and practice of its devoted practitioners, such brilliant and heroic people as Bakunin, Goldman, Durruti, and the millions of men and women who fought at the barricades, self-managed their factories and collectives, and sowed the seeds for a new form of human society? Not any more than the recently deceased mutation known as "Marxism" was a continuation of such brilliant and heroic people as Marx, Luxemburg, Debord, and the millions of men and women who erected worker's councils, enacted crushing general strikes, and struggled to free themselves from their reified and passive existence as wage slaves. This new "anarchism" is nothing but the dregs of anarchism's worst elements: individualism, primitivism, anti-organizationalism, outright reformism, and terrorism manifested in random acts of violence lacking any trace of organic connection with the struggles of the working class. This anarchism is nothing but a resuscitated signifier lacking any real substance; not a theory and a practice indefatigably fighting for social revolution, but a reformist, left-wing appendage to the liberal parties of capitalism. And despite their superficial differences and blown-up theoretical disputes (animal liberation or earth liberation, and other such absurdities) the actual practice of these pseudo-anarchists reveals quite plainly that all the elements in this new wave of sham radicalism are one and the same manifestation of reformism.

The typical neo-anarchist is often times nothing more than a privileged student of ordinary intelligence who one day found the Democratic Party to be insufficiently radical (although generally "radical" enough to command their vote in a capitalist election). Instead of using this semi-awakening as a springboard towards a thorough understanding of radical thought, history, and practice, this neophyte figured that the only task left was to simply show off to the world this newfound pseudo-radicalism (often times this involved presenting or even buying a new set of commodities, a set of products that signified 'revolutionary'). The best way to prove this newborn 'radicalism' was to just fall in with the local and very isolated subculture. A subculture that, devoid of all theoretical and practical coherency, is unified only by its aesthetic: tight pants, black tattered clothes, matted hair, body odor. In this fashion, our young radical learns the first thing about neo-anarchism: the need to replace genuine radicalism with a 'revolutionary' lifestyle. Much else flows from this: dumpster-diving as an end in itself, veganism – a simple dietary choice – at once becomes revolutionary, and the desire for radical activity translates into meaningless black bloc participation (the caricature of revolutionary action in an obviously non-revolutionary situation; a purely spectacular semblance of opposition and a lingering legacy from the Weathermen and other such pitiful groups). Aside from vague catch-phrases about 'autonomy', 'community', and 'anti-authoritarianism', the neo-anarchist never develops any clear idea of what the end goal really is, and because of this confusion about the end, this individual naturally develops a distorted set of means. In other words, because these "anarchists" do not understand the actual nature of the revolution and what it seeks to accomplish, the tactics that are ultimately adopted cannot help being non-revolutionary.

In truth, these are the same tactics that reformists have always used, whatever their guise. Thus the neo-anarchist votes in capitalist elections (Bakunin, Kropotkin, and all the others roll in their graves!) while recycling hackneyed platitudes about the "lesser of two-evils" because this newly initiated radical fails to understand that parliamentary democracy can only serve the bourgeoisie, and that only factory council and popular assembly direct democracy is for the working class. The neo-anarchist staunchly believes that any trade union is better than no trade union, and actively tries to organize workers into capitalist unions without understanding that their sole reason for existence is to better integrate the working class into a failed social system, not to help bring about the revolution. These drop outs also argue against the creation of organizations, claiming that such an act would be against the principles of anarchism (as they have interpreted it), that the autonomy of the individuals will surely be compromised (thus revealing their theoretically bourgeois outlook which always starts from the abstract individual, instead of concrete human society). The anarcho-liberal abandons an analysis of capitalist society that emphasizes its basic economic composition and replaces it with the silly notion that all oppressions are completely equal (thus paving the way for multiple alliances between bourgeoisie and proletariat). The neo-anarchist mechanically thinks that 'no publicity is bad publicity' and that the media, a supposedly neutral entity, can be used as a sympathetic ally (just as the Yippies and the first SDS were so deluded as to think that they could change mass opinion through one media spectacle). The new 'anarchist' supports the reactionary idea of self-determination for nations by unthinkingly waving a Hezbollah or Iraqi flag at a demonstration (in this particular case, literally nothing has changed from the "anti-imperialism" of the Leninists).

Why are these reformist tactics used? Because the neo-anarchist, like their Social Democrat and Leninist forbears, never really broke with liberalism. Today's new 'anarchist' is simply the same old reformist but only dons a different costume and speaks a slightly different language: a liberal wearing a black bandana in order to prove the existence of some sort of radicalism that was never there. Though this reformism passing itself off as radicalism may seem like a harmless occurrence, it is in fact a deleterious development. When a revolutionary situation arises, it will undoubtedly be these anarcho-liberals who will fight to defend capitalism and the state, and they will do this under the guise of radicalism. Just as 'Marxism' was called into existence to destroy the revolution and contain the spontaneous movement of the workers, 'anarchism' has now been called into existence to perform that same task in the future. Thus, the most dangerous assault on anarchism today is not from outside, it is from within: its ranks are being filled with liberals who are attempting to pass themselves off as radicals. Because of this, the whole nature of anarchism today is changing. Revolutionary tactics are being exchanged for reformist ones – often times with the approval of a few so-called leaders of contemporary anarchism (everyone knows them, we disdain to mention our self-appointed "anti-authority" authorities), revolutionary critique is being replaced with a lifestyle, class analysis is being replaced by sectarian identity politics, and anarchism, just like Marxism before it, is being carefully prepared as an ideology designed to save capitalism.

-- Friends of Debord
23 September 2007