A critique of neo-anarchism

A strategic analysis of the problem

Anarchism -- real anarchism, revolutionary anarchism -- was destroyed by the "Communists" (first the Leninists, then the Stalinists) in the 1920s and 1930s: from the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion in 1921 to the defeat of the Spanish Revolution in 1937, anarchists were "shot by both sides." Whatever remnants of anarchism that still subsisted after the 1930s were unable to deal with the theoretical and practical problems posed by modern fascism, the bureaucratization of the world and later (in the 1940s and early 1950s) the birth of prosperous, consumption-based capitalism. By 1955, revolutionary anarchism was completely dead. One might argue that it has remained dead since then, but it might be more charitable to say that it was partially revived by the various post-Marxist revolutionary movements of the 1950s/1960s (Socialisme ou Barbarie, the Situationist International, the Japanese Zengakuren and a few others).

For all too many contemporary anarchists (one might more accurately call them neo-anarchists), "anarchism" suddenly reappeared -- after an absence of almost 60 years! -- in Chiapas in 1994 and/or Seattle in 1999. But real anarchism had been dead for so long that no one would recognize it if they saw it, and neither of these two events were really anarchist, that is to say, neither of them were true proletarian movements. The former was a kind of watered-down Maoism, while the second was a concentrated or "ultra" Leftism. Nevertheless, because these events were significant and (more importantly) could be portrayed as "revolutionary" by the bourgeois press, the last 13 years have seen "anarchism" sprout everywhere. So many books are written about it, so many talks and speeches and conferences are given about it -- one might think that the State is actually tottering and about to fall! But of course, the State isn't tottering (at least not for these reasons) and anarchism, rather than being everywhere, is actually nowhere. What remains is watered-down Maoism and concentrated Leftism. Have doubts? Just look at A.N.S.W.E.R., the International Action Center, and all the other "Communist" front groups, which completely dominate this country's pathetic anti-war movement, as well as many of the pro-immigration and anti-police brutality groups, the release-Mumia groups, et al.

Note well that many neo-anarchists are completely fixated on the anarchists and anarchist movements of the early twentieth century -- endless and empty recollections of Sacco and Vanzetti, the glory days of the Spanish Civil War, etc etc -- and know absolutely nothing about any of the revolutionary events of the mid- and late-Twentieth Century. Note well the complete stupefaction when someone mentions the events that took place in East Berlin (1953), Budapest (1956), Belgium (1962), Paris (1968), Lisbon (1974), Bologna (1977), Gdansk (1980) etc. All the neo-anarchists know about is Spain and Seattle, Seattle and Spain. (Sometimes they also know about Argentina and Venezuuela, but their interest is either Zapatista chic or barely disguised admiration for Leninism.)

Over the course of the intervening period, the Left was never truly de-Stalinized (much like the old East Germany); it never really dealt with its roots in and continuing attachment to Social Democracy and "Communism." And so the neo-anarchists of today are actually Leftists who have simply learned that it is "not cool" to be Marxists and so describe themselves as "anti-authoritarians" instead. But the leopard dies with its spots and the neo-anarchists' underlying Leftism shines through in their unshakeable preoccupation with commodities, corporations and globalization, and their marginalization of the State and its much more significant crimes: concentration camps, secret prison-systems, extraordinary renditions and the systematic use of torture, et al. (Unlike the revolutionary anarchists of Spain, the neo-anarchists and other Leftists of today are also completely blind to the role that religion plays in the State's domination of this planet.)

If neo-anarchists are against the war in Iraq, they shout "No blood for oil!" as if oil -- the commodity, the oil companies, etc -- account for all of Bush/Cheney's motivations for going to war. The idea that the war was fought to strengthen the American presidency to the point of totalitarianism completely escapes them. Note as well the neo-anarchists' complete lack of interest in finding out the truth about all the various events that are cynically lumped together under the rubric of "September 11th." Like all Leftists, they are content to dismiss the 911 Truth Movement as "conspiracy theorists" and "wingnuts." Why? It speaks directly of the State and its secret/security services, which are beyond the narrow focus of commodity-obsessed "former"-Marxists.

This is why we are so relentlessly hostile to people who are stupid enough to lump "Situationism" (and its slogans) in with Leftism and/or with the art world, whether it is with institutional art or street art. The Situationist International was one of the very few groups in the world that was anti-capitalist and anti-"Communist." Despite what the contributors, editors and/or publishers involved in, say, Realizing the Impossible: Art against Authority (AK Press 2007), the situationist movement was not an "art movement." The situationists were -- especially after 1962, and even more so during and after 1968 -- a revolutionary organization that hated "artists" and Leftists as much as they hated capitalists and Stalinists.

Some practical observations

As we pushed and defended our right to critique the pseudo-Situationists, neo-anarchists and Leftists who either contributed to the Realizing the Impossible book, published it or agreed to be part of a panel that would discuss it -- we confined our comments to a single "thread" on the website of the New York City "Independent Media Center" -- something striking happened. Though all of the comments claimed 1) that the Situationist International was a marginal group, no longer worthy of attention, 2) that the events that are remembered and praised by situationists are also marginal and not worth any attention, and 3) that we personally are marginal and not worthy of any attention, these people did not ignore this thread and move on to something else, as one would fully expect from the dismissive attitudes (and ridiculously ignorant opinions) that they expressed. Quite the contrary, they kept returning to it and posting what they claimed were "comments."

It is very significant that literally none of these "comments" -- and there were several dozen of them in total -- responded to or even acknowledged the existence of our "strategic critique" of neo-anarchism. Instead, there was a stream of increasingly virulent personal attacks on us. As if to prove Guy Debord right when he wrote the following in 1978 --

Passions that are forced to remain faraway are generally malevolent. The contemporary spectator appears to perpetually watch for the fleeting occasion to make his opinion known on a great variety of things he knows nothing about, but in every case he only expresses his dominant emotions: omniform envy, ambition without means and pretension without illusion. Because these are the traits that massively express a system of production that cannot dream of making consumers more successfully than it makes merchandise. This desperate mediocrity regularly hastens to say anything at all with authority, so as to resemble the authorities, who also say anything at all. This mediocrity systematically forgets the obvious, dogmatizes from the rumors that it has itself invented and blindly talks nonsense about its own falsifications.

-- the maliciousness, bad faith and self-righteousness of these anonymous comments (which broke all the rules established by the "IMC," if not the laws against libel, as well) were far beyond any scorn we might have shown for the ignorant neo-anarchists and Leftists to whom we objected in general, not as individual people (we certainly did not mention any individual's name). Such is the "mindset" of the neo-anarchists and Leftists: push them too hard on the intellectual or theoretical levels, and they become truly vicious on the personal level. Their resemblance to Communists is striking.

It is the way that they throw mud that is truly significant: though they claim to be courageous and "moral" -- and they are certainly very moralizing -- they will not identify themselves, they will not speak in their own names, they will act like a gang of thugs. They believe they have "safety in numbers" and act as if their numbers are safe. We are convinced that any specific individual who dares to speak out against them will be attacked in this same fashion, though the content and tone of the calumnies might be different from, perhaps less gruesome than, the ones that have been hurled against us: "you are not constructive, you are negative, you undermine our solidarity, you give comfort to our enemies," etc. etc. Raoul Vaneigem was right: it is the individual as such that is shameful to the neo-anarchists, Leftists and other "collectivists," even those who speak of "the rights of individuals"; and when an individual "attacks" them, they try to shame that individual any way they can, so that the individual in question will feel humiliated and "go away." And so attack them, we say, but do not underestimate their intellectual dishonesty or their taste for blood.

11-15 April 2007
23 April 2007

(To read another critique of neo-anarchism, but written by a different author, click here.)

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