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Response to Gavin’s “Why I am no longer an anarchist”

Cat in a cage with a bird looking in.The following text is a response to the article “Why I am no longer an anarchist” published on 3 August by Gavin Mendel-Gleason here.

I don’t aspire to respond to every point made in that text, but to develop points which I think are interesting in developing a clearer understanding of anarchist principles and philosophy than Gavin was able to find in his time in the WSM, to our collective discredit, it should be said, at least as far as the pedagogical role of the organisation is concerned. It is a personal response rather than the result of any collective discussion by the WSM.

Gavin’s text begins with sections on “Pre-history” and his initial experiences “In Ireland” which I am going to pass by, being as they are more by way of introduction to his own starting points than raising the central questions of political theory I want to address.

Passive Support

In the section on “The Single Issue Campaign” Gavin recounts his discussions with James about past community campaigns. Specifically the anti-Bin Tax campaign which predates both Gavin’s and my own entry into Ireland and Irish anarchist politics. James’ account is that, despite central involvement, much hard work and some recognition of participants at the time, the WSM did not succeed in retaining any real advances in either organisational capacity or increased influence after the end of the campaign. By contrast, in Gavin’s view, the Socialist Party did make “advances” in turning the profile achieved during the campaign into electoral gains. The train of thought he then follows is worth reproducing in length, as it is important for what follows from it:

The critical value in the electoral strategy was that after the campaign died, passive support could still be maintained. I was struggling with how we might marshal passive support, and there didn’t seem to be any real way that we could turn our single issue campaigns into more permanent success.

Anarchism appeared to harbour not simply an antipathy towards elections and electoralism but a more generalised distrust of any type of passive support. Attempting to gain passive support was considered on an axis from near irrelevant to elitist and sometimes even bordering on evil.

While I agreed about the many tactical problematics that anarchists mentioned with respect to elections, this revulsion at passive support made no sense to me. It seemed as if there was a belief that the most politically obsessive people would somehow generalise their obsession to the whole of society, an idea which seemed totally improbable.

Part of this probably also came from the demographic of the membership, people who did not have heavy family obligations such as children which would make more passive support and only occasional activity a pre-requisite.

The notion of “passive support” here is the central problematic around which much else turns. The big difficulty here centres on the multiple meanings of passive support and the way Gavin fails to distinguish between them and their different implications, both for single-issue campaigns, mass organisations and the specific political organisation.

In brief, passive support, as outlined above, ranges from the constraints of time poverty (as in the example Gavin gives of family obligations) and dependency on others to do things for you, either through lack of confidence and organisational experience or capacity, or, more problematically, through being content with political activity being a specialised task that others do on your behalf in return for votes in elections or the occasional couple of quid for a campaign or party membership card.

This last form of passivity is a scourge pretty much everywhere, but is a particularly pernicious curse in Ireland, due to the historical legacy of the development of political clientelism from the aftermath of the Civil War up until the present day. Much can be, and has been, written on this topic, but here is not the place to rehearse that material.

To fail then to distinguish between support from people who are sympathetic to the aims of the specific political organisation and are interested in developing their own capacities to act, even within the limits that time poverty or other life constraints may impose upon them, and the support of those who don’t really care whether your particular political allegiance is to the Pope, Chairman Mao or Cthulhu, so long as you “deliver the goods” for them and the local community, in exchange for the odd vote now and again, is fatal to any serious project for social transformation in Ireland (or elsewhere).

The problem, particularly in Ireland, is that electoralism tends to garner support of the latter disengaged kind, in preference to the former more engaged kind. The electoral gains that the SP made in the wake of the Bin Tax were not from people who had suddenly became sympathetic to their particular brand of Trotskyism, or even socialism in the broadest sense. But those who respected the commitment of activists who had (voluntarily) gone to jail over the tax and seemed to show genuine willing to fight for the little guy/gal in the locality.

What was definitely true at the time of the LEDL proposal, was its observation that contrary to the “ladder of engagement” that most voluntary and NGO organisations aim for, the WSM had a “cliff of engagement”. There was literally nothing between full membership and total commitment, and no relationship or engagement at all. Since that time the organisation has re-conceptualised the relationship between membership and non-members through adoption of a “spheres of engagement” model taking inspiration from various sources, whether the aforementioned ladder of engagement or the FARJ’s “Concentric Circles”, and with the aim of breaking down this “cliff of engagement” problem. However the key here is the engagement content. We still see no utility in the pursuit of un-engaged passive support of the kind electoralism mostly orients to, either in the strategically specific context of organisational dualism, or in the broader vista of radical social transformation.

Finally before moving on from this point, there appears to be a misunderstanding around the strategy of organisational dualism contained in the comment that there was “a belief that the most politically obsessive people would somehow generalise their obsession to the whole of society”. It is not the aim of the specific political organisation to generalise itself to the whole of the working class (note the substitution of society for class in the original) in the absence of autonomous and combative mass organisations, both workplace and community-based. It is these latter bodies which will ultimately have the historic task of seizing control of the streets, land and means of production and organising production, distribution and consumption directly.

The principles and practices of the specific organisation only have relevance to the mass of the class to the extent that they begin to encounter the problems of making workplace and community organisations serve their own needs rather than reproducing new self-serving bureaucracies. Clearly we are a good distance from that process being underway at present. And of course in its absence any specific political organisation will be dominated by political obsessives and will have at most marginal influences on social development. But that is not to say that the organisational dualist strategy is simply to generalise from the specific political organisation in its isolated and semi-sectarian form. Or the illusion that it would be even possible to do so, albeit undesirable.

Six of the best?

The subsequent section on “The structure of the ideology” is the most politically interesting, so we shall spend some time on going through it in detail.

Gavin begins by outlining six points that he thinks are the most salient structural points in his perception of the anarchist ideology. In short they are: 1. Prefiguration 2. Horizontality 3. Decentralisation 4. Revolutionary 5. Anti-State 6. Anti-capitalist. His selection of these six is a little idiosyncratic, but as there is no defined doctrinal form of ideological principles, outside of the “Points of Unity” section of the wsm constitution, most individual wsm members or ex-members would probably come up with slightly different lists, if asked. We’ll go through these point by point as they merit detailed consideration.

1. Prefiguration – The idea that our manner of organising is intimately related to the end outcome. Not only do ends not justify means, but the ends will have a similar character to the means.

Although the word itself is of relatively recent origin from the early 1980s, the basic concept is part of anarchist principles going back to the Sonvilier Circular of 1871. However it is often misunderstood in the utopian sense that Gavin attributes to it here – i.e. the connection being one of intimacy and similarity of character between ends and means – tending to the utopian error of seeing them as one and the same – “be the change you want to see” in the Gandhian formula. This has never been true for a movement that historically, like the rest of the left, sought to attain the future goal of a classless society by building an antagonist working class counterpower in the present. That the anarchist workers movement attempted to block or mitigate to the greatest extent possible, the recreation of class differences and hierarchies within its ranks, was not an obstacle to its success, but part of its source in those places and eras where it became the dominant force in the class struggle. Of course contemporary anarchism exists as a sect-like shadow of its former existence as a mass movement, and suffers from the ideological deformations of that condition, including vestiges of 1960s style utopianism, but these sub-cultural accretions need to be distinguished from the efficacy of the underlying principles themselves

Prefiguration distinguishes itself from utopianism on the one hand and instrumentalism on the other by a grasp of the distinct-but-not-separate relationship between ends and means.

To the instrumentalist the relationship between ends and means is external, that is to say they are entirely separate. From that position, that the forces that determine the final ends are entirely unconnected to the means by which they are attained (an entirely undialectical and anti-materialist perspective, n.b.), any anxieties people may have over means employed can be only be due to misguided moral scruples, whether due to “bourgeois moralism” or “un-materialistic attachment to anarchist ideology” (usually buy-one-get-one-free in the endlessly unoriginal state socialist literature). There is also invariably a co-morbidity of the instrumentalist perspective with the fetishism of power. The latter provides the standards of “efficiency” which creates the external viewpoint from which means can be judged – being otherwise indistinguishable given their lack of determinative effect on the desired ends that justify all.

The fetishism of power is key to understanding the line that separates libertarians from the state power-worshipping left, whose side Gavin has now crossed over to (as other of his recent writings such as A Social Democratic Manifesto for Ireland will amply attest). Given that it shapes pretty much all of his logic, its worth briefly outlining that here.

Power is not a thing, like a TV remote that can simply be taken and used to change channel from neoliberal austerity to Socialist Network News. Power is an effect that is exercised on people to, in turn, change their activity to affect that of others, and so on. Within the social network of interacting human action and power effects, we need to distinguish (at a minimum) at least two types of power. In European latinate languages this distinction is already part of the language (pouvoir/puissance, potere/potenza, etc). In English the word power is confusingly used for both constituted power (power-over) and constituent power (power-to). Constituent power or “power-to” is our creative and productive power, our capacity to do things, to make lasting changes on the environment or people around us (potentially both positive or negative from an ethical judgement point of view – constituent power is not a moral or normative concept). Constituted power or “power-over” is the fetishised form of power as command over constituent power produced by the expropriation of the latter and based on the materially-grounded relations of society (e.g. wage labour commands the power-to of the cop to swing a baton to the command of his or her institutional and political masters). There isn’t really the space here to go into a fuller exposition of the political economy of power, but hopefully that sketches the significant distinction between its two forms.

Instrumentalism is then the fetishism of power – the belief that only constituted power really exists. Or that to be efficient, constituent power must first transform itself into constituted power by forming organisations and institutions that can confront the constituted power of capitalist institutions on its own ground and match it, if not replace it, or even take it over. The fetishism of power leads thus to “symmetrism”.

Symmetrism is the belief that in order to effectively contest the enemy, and ultimately defeat them, it is necessary to mimic their institutional forms and “fight fire with fire”. If the Brits have an army, the the Irish liberation struggle must form an army, complete with top-down military command, associated parliamentary political parties, and so on. Hence Irish republicanism is trapped forever in the doomed loop of mimicking the institutions of British rule in Ireland, all the better to be entrusted with the “poacher turned gamekeeper” comprador role of the running of them later on. Round and round it goes, the futile merry-go-round of power fetishism. It’s a simple failure of transformational logic. Transformation means getting something different. Doing what you know best (and appears to work best in current circumstances) doesn’t get something different, just more of the same. Instrumentalism is orthogonal to transformation.

As in fact, is utopianism. If the instrumentalists believe that constituted power is the only real or effective form of power, utopianism has the opposite problem. It holds that constituent power is directly determinate of social reality in the here and now, in a direct, unmediated way. In other words, if we want to transform society from its present condition to follow different values, then all we need to do is start acting as if we lived in that alternative society, and through our example, encourage others to do the same. Once enough people follow the new behaviour the social transformation will be complete. Revolutionism (more of which in a bit) is precisely the rejection of a naive utopianism that not only confuses the destination with the way of getting there, but believes that end and means are one and the same thing.

If both instrumentalism and utopianism are orthogonal to transformative action, then prefigurative practice tries to trace the diagonal, so as to make forward progress genuinely possible. The class war is always asymmetric warfare. The means may not directly resemble the kinds of practices that will reproduce the new relations, once transformation has been effected, any more than an acorn may resemble a fully grown oak tree. But they must be congruent with the transformation to be achieved. And just because an artificial christmas tree is bigger and more “tree-like” than an acorn, does not make it a “transitional stage” that makes a useful stepping stone towards an oak tree by dint of glueing on bark and oak leaves in some “transitional period”.

2. Horizontality – That we should attempt to remain as non-hierarchical in our relationships as possible. This principle leads further to radical direct democratic demands, and radical support for liberal social values and egalitarian social relations.

As a word “horizontality” is even more recent than “prefiguration”, having only been coined in 2001 in the Argentine crisis of that year. However, unlike the latter, it’s attribution as a key aspect of anarchist principles of organisation and power is more ill-fitting. Especially when taken in conjunction with the next alleged principle:

3. Decentralisation – Decentralisation is seen as the antidote to centralisation. Here, centralisation is deemed as the original sin of the Bolsheviks which prefigured the degeneration of the revolution in a pro-state non-horizontal direction.

In fact anarchist views on organisation have remained relatively consistent in promoting the principle of federalism from the days of Bakunin to the present. Yes it’s certainly true that the section on Federalism in the Platform begins:

“Anarchism has always denied centralised organisation, both in the area of the social life of the masses and in its political action.”.

But it continues thus:

“The centralised system relies on the diminution of the critical spirit, initiative and independence of each individual and on the blind submission of the masses to the ‘centre’.”

Clearly the de-centralisation being talked of here is the democratic refusal of blind authority, of the very kind that Gavin professes allegiance to at multiple points in the document. Federalism is explicitly also the recognition of the need for “specialisation of function”, i.e. operational autonomy for groups with particular interests or skills that we will look at again in a minute. In fact there is a contradiction between asserting (falsely) the need for centralisation of decision-making power for organisational effectiveness (in the fetishist valorisation of power-over above power-to) and simultaneously asserting (correctly) the need for initiative and autonomy and specialisation of function. Unless, of course, like bosses everywhere, you think that the only specialisation that really matters is that of wielding expropriated power-over.

4. Revolutionary – The only sure method of changing society is social revolution. The anti-electoralism of anarchism, and the belief in the illegitimacy of the state leads to a need for an alternative method of change from reform and the ballot box.

Here we have the imputation of moralism overriding pragmatism. Anarchists are not forced into revolutionism by a moral rejection of state as “illegitimate”, but rather by the pragmatic consideration of the incapacity and impotence of the state to effect the radical transformation necessary to replace capitalism with communism. As already discussed above, the anarchist acceptance of the need for revolutionary transformation is a rejection of the utopian notion that the embryo of the new society can simply be “immaculately” conceived – free from the “stain” of capitalist social relations – in the here and now, gestate within its interstices and gradually expand to bring the New Jerusalem without need for rupture or conflict, by the power of example alone and the appeal to universal reason. There is nothing less “moralizing” and more pragmatic than the acceptance of the need for revolution.

5. Anti-state – Anarchists have anti-state in the name.

An oddly short commentary on this particular principle. One that is symptomatically silent on criticism and also factually incorrect. The greek -archos means “leader” not “state” (acracy is the nearest you would get to a Greek word for anti-state and was in fact used by a number of Spanish anarchists in the classical period). Anarchy literally means ‘without leaders’ – not in the sense that anarchist military units refuse to elect leaders (for example) but rather that the unquestioning obedience to a leader whose authority is beyond question, is rejected as fatal to any self-emancipatory project. “No Gods, No Masters” is a concept simple and direct enough that many otherwise politically unengaged people have embraced it without mistaking its content. Gavin’s error in thinking that Anarchism defines itself, ab origine, as anti-state really reflects his own political progression to embracing electoralism and social transformation via seizing control of the state, and believing that this is the foundation of his break with anarchism. Not so, as we will see shortly.

6. Anti-capitalist – The domination of capital was seen in various degrees to constitute a tyranny, though often times (by perhaps a majority of the membership) this tyranny was seen as merely on par with other types of oppressions.

Well anti-capitalism certainly is a core value of both the WSM and any anarchism worthy of the name – that is true. Whether it is one of the values that Gavin has moved away from is not actually clear in this particular text, but that is a question we will return to at the conclusion. On the question of whether “the tyranny was seen [by perhaps a majority of the membership] as merely on a par with other types of oppressions” I have to admit I have no way of knowing the inner minds of the whole membership. But I’ve certainly not seen any evidence that this is the case and it is certainly not the currently formally agreed politics of the organisation. I take the point that there can sometimes be a wide divergence between the written, formally adopted politics of the organisation and the personal beliefs of members, but that is an argument for greater specificity in political positions and more frequent review of them by the membership. Which is contrary to the broad left “lowest common denominator” political direction that Gavin is currently advocating as the way forward. So here there is a mismatch in his stated reasons for departure and actual direction of travel. A lack of correspondence between identified problem and proposed solution that haunts this document as a whole in fact.

The world turned upside down

But the oddly brief nature of his final two principles are then explained by the comment that follows immediately after the listing of the six principles.

The final two points however are somewhat more derivative than the others and demonstrated quite a bit of variation. Anti-statism and anti-capitalism, can for instance, be considered derivative of horizontalism.

Here we have the world turned upside down. Anarchism is historically and essentially a tendency of revolt against capitalism emerging from the workers movement. What could be the motive for the inversion of the genealogical relation between anti-capitalism and anti-statism?

In the context of this specific text it serves two purposes. The first is the conventional state socialist accusation of anarchists being obsessed with opposition to the state. An accusation made to distract attention from the anarchist critique that the instrumentalisation of the state as a means of overcoming capitalism has been historically and empirically demonstrated as a failure, time and again, without a single exception. If this is what Gavin means by “materialism” it is a profoundly anti-historical one.

The second is precisely to deflect attention from the fact that the real point at issue in this argument is about capitalism, not the state. Anarchists are not revolutionist as a result of their anti-statism, but anti-statist (and also revolutionist) as a result of their anti-capitalism.

Gavin’s implication is that any anarchist that put anti-capitalism above anti-statism would ultimately be forced by pragmatism to abandon the latter in pursuit of the former. This is in fact the opposite of the truth. Anarchists reject electoralism, state action and Bernsteinian reformism because we don’t see the possibility of any of these strategies of achieving our communist goal of the self-emancipation of the working class from enslavement to capital. We don’t see self-emancipation as the only “acceptable” form of emancipation, but the only possible one in our situation. A point we touched on above in our discussion on the role of “passive support” in social transformation.

Before moving on to address some of the other points Gavin has raised in this section of his text, some reflection on this section should be made. It is clear that if, after several years of membership and activity with the WSM, Gavin remains relatively unfamiliar with the basic philosophy and principles of anarchism – despite having read all the position papers – then clearly there is a failure in the pedagogical function of the organisation in transmitting the “fundamentals”.

Partly this is due to a historical reluctance by anarchists to reduce the philosophy and principles of the ideology to a simplified doctrinal form. The very notion of doctrine brings unwelcome resonances of the dogmas and catechisms of the Church. Across the political divide we witness also the unedifying spectacle of pious Marxists arguing about the economic significance of the correct exegesis of some shopping list that Marx scribbled on the margins of a newspaper he was reading on the lavatory – or so it too often seems. Yet the original (and infamous) wsm “required reading list” of god knows many books you had to read before applying to sit the exam for full membership, also smacks too much of the Irish civil service entrance exams and seems no more appropriate for a specific political organisation. For the purposes of pedagogical clarity, we may well need to create a new “Anarchist 101” which will deal with some of the topics discussed above in a concise, even if simplified, form.

Organisational dualism

Returning to the text then, Gavin goes on to talk about the general platformist or organisational dualism strategic schema. Rather than discuss this strategy on its own merits Gavin instead stages a diversion by dropping a couple of mostly inaccurate barbs against the WSM.

The first is that “many people were probably not even aware of the stated strategy…” which is just basically snark, all the more so for not being true (the strategy is outlined in the 8-point core principles of the constitution which you have to understand and agree with to join).

The second allegation is that “…and many of those that were did not think it was a good strategy, though there were some exceptions…” and goes on to name a number of individuals who had a particular notion of the dual organisational strategy – namely restricting union activity to mainstream unions like SIPTU. A particular interpretation of the strategy that many other members rejected in favour of pursuing syndicalist activity through the anti-social partnership IWU. Between these two positions there was disagreement, but both were different potential implementations of the same strategy.

Similarly, for those student members who pursued their mass organising activity within the rank and file groups like FEE (Free Education for Everyone) within the student union, or those activists who chose the main focus of their social insertion as community-based organising in the Campaign Against Home and Water Taxes, were all equally engaged in operating according to the dual organisationalist strategy.

But even if the membership of the organisation genuinely were not effectively engaged in implementing this strategy in a coherent way, that would be a reflection on the effectiveness of the organisation, but not of the strategy itself.

Rather than critiquing the basic especifist or dual organisational strategy on its own merits though, Gavin uses his few quick throwaways as a means of sidestepping that issue and returning to his critique of his chosen “six principles”, and specifically revolutionism, based on the allegation that this was “the [real] binding ideology of the wsm, in practice”. Which is not true, but this appeal to the right to dispense with theory in light of practice allows him to return to an – ironically – theoretical terrain on which he is more at ease. Unsurprisingly given that it is primarily his own construction for this very purpose. But to reiterate, if anyone is looking for a rigorous critique of platformism, especifismo or the dual organisationalist strategy of social transformation, you will not find it here in Gavin’s apologia.

Revolution & the state

What we have instead is a couple of points about supposed ambiguities around the questions of revolution and the state.

The “ambiguity” around the question of revolution boils down the supposed contradiction between revolutionary violence and prefiguration, given the goal of a society free from organised violence and authoritarian dominance. To a degree this is merely an extension of the misunderstanding around prefiguration as opposed to utopianism that we looked at above. In addition there are serious tensions between libertarian politics and the organised use of violence, but all the more reason to promote libertarian politics so as to be aware of these problems.

In passing, it has to be said, that in the experience of this author, in the recent contemporary period in the UK and Ireland, leaving aside republicanism, the most sustained involvement of the left in organised violence was in the anti-fascist struggle. A struggle in which the majority of active participants were anarchists and the vast majority of the authoritarian state socialist left, who worship bureaucratic butchers like Trotsky and Lenin, and fantasise about military command, were abstainers. Hence the idea that the authoritarian left have anything to teach anarchists on matters military is a pathetic prejudice. In fact it is salient that those with the most experience in the use of organised political violence, are the ones with the greatest respect for its irreducibly problematic aspects and the need for strong discipline and libertarian principles, precisely to counteract these issues.

On the second point about the state, as we have already seen Gavin inverts the foundational relationship between communism/anti-capitalism and anti-statism in anarchist ideology. And I use the word ideology in a similar way to the FARJ – to mean the set of analyses, philosophy and values proper to a political tendency in the proletarian movement – and not in the puerile sense of certain orthodox Marxists who call their own ideology “scientific socialism” and everything else “false consciousness” and “ideology” as a synonym of same. (Frankly any capital-M Marxists who accuse others of “ideology” in this derogatory sense, are profoundly lacking in self-awareness or any sense of irony, given their general manner of banging on about the correct interpretation of Marx or Lenin’s sacred scriptures).

Returning to the matter of supposed ambiguity of anarchists around the question of the state. Despite agreeing with Gavin that all left debate around the state generally suffers from a lack of rigorous definition of what is implied by that term, nonetheless there is not necessarily a contradiction in anarchists being opposed to privatisations, for example. Anarchist opposition to the state is to the possibility of using it for the self-emancipation of the proletariat, as already noted. There is no contradiction between that and being opposed to the privatisation of natural resources or what used to be called natural monopolies (infrastructure, water, utilities) before the market fundamentalists rewrote the economics textbooks. Any more than there is a contradiction in having the abolition of wage labour as a goal and defending workers wages in the here and now through workplace organisation and industrial action.

The public service debate and communism

Gavin goes on from these supposed ambiguities or contradictions around the role of the state, to the following observation:

“César De Paepe, an early anarchist, had run into a similar problem when debating with other anarchists about whether we would have administrations on questions of public goods, such as roads, lighting and public health. Eventually he capitulated to reason and said he was for a workers state if having these things was synonymous with having a state.”

First an important point of historical accuracy. César de Paepe was not an early anarchist, he was a collectivist. As such he lead the collectivist charge against the Proudhonists in the First International. The collectivist party within the International included both the followers of Marx and Bakunin, but at that stage de Paepe far outshone them both. The circumstances of the 1872 “split” in the International left all the different tendencies and groups that were unwilling to swallow Marx’s unilateral seizure of power (everybody except the German-speaking sections, New York and the Marxist side of the original Geneva split) together in the (retrospectively) so-called “anti-authoritarian” International.

It was the subsequent debate between Bakunin’s Swiss followers and de Paepe that both eventually solidified a specifically “anarchist” tendency, and prompted the latter to break with Bakunin and collectivism – covertly until after his death – and progress to anarchist communism.

The “public service debate” as it became known, between de Paepe and Schwitzguebel, exposed a contradiction, not within anarchism, but within collectivism. The logical unfolding of which led indeed to an inevitable fork in the road: the choice between either the retention of the principle of the wage (collectivism) and the acceptance of a tax-funded public sector for the provision of public goods and services (particularly health – de Paepe was a doctor who unlike most of his bourgeois contemporaries gave freely of his skills to help poor workers, leading to his own tragically early death); or, alternatively, to the recognition that the escape from the state and class society (recognising Bakunin’s prophetic insight that a “workers state” would be nothing other than a new class society) required the abandonment of the wage and adopting the common property of the results of production – or communism.

To say de Paepe “capitulated to reason” in accepting the “workers state” as a necessity for the provision of public services, without the correct context, says two things. First of all the false identification of de Paepe as an anarchist who “saw the light” and characterising the anarchist position of rejecting the state as means to self-emancipation of the workers as one based on “unreason” (presumably based on irrational or romantic “moralism” as previously seen). Secondly, that de Paepe’s acceptance of the state was not tied to his allegiance to the collectivist principle of the wage – i.e. to his anti-communism.

This latter point matters because Gavin’s text is symptomatically silent on the question of communism. After all, if communism is the shared goal, then a critique of anarchist strategy can be based on efficacy in attaining that goal. However, if communism is no longer the goal, then really the text should be entitled “Why I am no longer a communist”, if it is to be fully honest.

Given Gavin’s recent rapprochement and enthusiasm for various European Eurocommunist parties, who may take badly to such a title, given their notion of Communism is a certain nostalgia for the old framed portraits of Stalin and Togliatti still gathering dust on the wall, such circumspection may seem politic. However, in the debate with the anarchist and libertarian communist movements, this question of the abandonment of communism is key.

Projectuality

So much for de Paepe. Gavin goes on to note that when questioning different members of the WSM there turned out to be a wide range of conceptions as to the kind of institutions and processes by which a post-capitalist society would be managed. Not only public services but many other questions affecting many more than the numbers in an immediate locality. Such as environmental questions etc.

It is very true that given the relatively restricted human resources available to the organisation relatively little has been done on this “projectual” (in Alternative libertaire’s sense of projecting forward to imagine potential organisational forms and principles to solve the problems of future post-capitalist society) front. Partly this is due to the obvious political objections to small, self-selected groups coming up with blueprints for the future in isolation from the mass of people who will have to make and live in it. But partly it is also a question of priorities given the competing demands of social insertion and political activity in the here and now, pedagogical requirements of spreading the basic action principles and philosophy of libertarian practice, and so on.

One of the practical issues raised by Gavin is the question of “specialisation of function” – specifically the default practice that all members of the branch need to be involved in every discussion and every vote on every matter that other members of the organisation are actively involved in, even if they have no personal involvement or particular interest. In a sense this is a hangover of having grown from a much smaller organisation where that was the only practical way to operate. It is also a legacy from the dual genealogy of direct action activist groups and the micro-left that much of wsm and other anarchist group practices inherit from.

Again in our recent re-organisation the group has moved towards a form of more decentralised “operational federalism” whereby working groups have more initiative in discussing and making decisions autonomously, reporting the results to the rest of the organisation through the mechanism of the Delegate Council for oversight and accountability. However, this is not so much due to issues of experience or competence – after all one of the reasons to join political groups is to gain experience and learn competence – but more a recognition that above a certain organisational size it is a waste of peoples time to have to sit through detailed discussions on topics that they are not specifically engaged in. The experience of having to sit passively while watching others participate in a discussion you can’t contribute to (or in some cases, entirely follow) is both alienating and boring. Given how much of our daily life is already taken up with alienating and boring activity, it is a priority for voluntary groups to avoid reproducing this as much as humanly possible.

Oddly, Gavin picks up on the Delegate Council as another example of preceived WSM organisational failing. This is apparently due to its failure to act as a Central Committee in the manner of the top-down leadership bodies of authoritarian socialist groups. Obviously it goes without saying that this behaviour is by design. But it should be pointed out that there is a direct contradiction between the advocating the need for “specialisation of function” and the kind of top-down micro-management by the centre characteristic of Central Committees. The fact that the two issues follow directly one after the other in the text appears to show a lack of joined-up thinking in Gavin’s critique.

Anti-universalism and the retreat from class

There are other points, but in the interests of brevity (already a lost cause, in fairness, but still…) we’ll pass on to just pick up on one final comment towards the end of this section in Gavin’s text.

I realised it would not be possible to win the argument against extreme horizontalism, anti-statism, anti-universalism, the lack of attention to the need for passive support or any of these propositions which I disagreed with…

It is specifically “anti-universalism” that stands out as an anomaly here in a close reading of the text. It appears nowhere else, before or after this point and as such is likely a marker for what is being left unsaid in the text. It leads us perhaps towards a clue for the disappearance of class and class struggle not only in this text, but in Gavin’s current social-democratic writings as a whole. In this he is following his new idol Kautsky who famously wrote the “maximum programme” gloss of Marxism to the SPD’s Erfurt programme without mentioning the class struggle once, other than in the title itself.

In 1986 Ellen Meiksins Wood wrote a classic book entitled “The Retreat from Class” looking at the phenomenon of the disappearance of class from the discourse and politics of the Eurocommunist parties that Gavin and his colleagues around the Spirit of Contradiction blog are interested in forming links with. Although Meiksins Wood’s extended essay was brilliant on the dissection of the “what” and the “how” of this process, her propositions on the “why” were ultimately less satisfying. Despite her pointing towards certain external causes (Maoism, Althusser/Poulantsas, middle class electoral opportunism, etc), the suspicion remained that there was some more immanent process at work in the retreat from class by the various different branches of official Third International Marxism. But the mystery was what could explain how a politics that initially defined itself more than any other in relation to the working class and its interests, could progressively transform itself into a denial of class and promotion of a universalist “progressive” project?

The subject of historical change

The concluding section “Finding a Road Forward” looks towards the way forward in Gavin’s chosen direction of building the neo-Kautskyite mass social-democratic party, which needn’t concern us too much here. However it does include this significant statement on objectives.

“The path forward is going to have to pay careful attention to the subject of historical change. Marx’s initial hypothesis was that the working class was in a relationship with the means of production in capitalism which would allow it to take control. The party form and trade unions presented a pathway which allowed a big socialist movement to develop.

It is unlikely that we can recover the exact same formula as occurred before, but whatever happens we will have to be paying attention to the same fundamental problems: what is the subject which can bring about socialism; how are they able to find a material basis in which to grow their movement; and what ideological character will be required to cement this group in such a way that it can face a confrontation with capital.”

Here lies the nub of the matter. The agency of social change is the class struggle. However this does not mean the working class is the subject of historical change, because class is a condition not a subject. A subject can possess things, but the working class is the condition of being dispossessed, to say that “it” can possess things is a category error. This is probably the biggest problem with the language of class that it doesn’t make clear the difference between those who use it in a reified way – a subject that can change social conditions by seizing constituted power, the means of production etc – and those who use it to refer to the relation of alienation, dispossession and conflict internal to the capitalist social dynamic. This is an unfortunate feature of human language with its innate tendency to anthropomorphic or pathetic fallacy inherited from the days when our ancestors personified the natural forces around them as spirits or gods.

Here we find the solution to Meiksins-Wood’s mystery. Why does the reification of class as the subject of historical change lead to the retreat from class? Simply put, because the search for agency in the form of a collective subject necessarily falls back on representation and thence to universalism. The representative figure of the historical subject, becomes the universal subject. And given that you cannot be both a member of the particular condition of the dispossessed class and a part of the universal subject at the same time, the subject of social change has to take form as something external to the class – whether the vanguard party, the mass party, the revolutionary union, libertarian municipality or other – which has universal claim on our allegiance as the privileged vehicle of the salvation, not of a particular class, but humanity as a whole.

Here also we find the source of that lasting tension or antipathy towards the claims of particular oppressions of women, gays, blacks, etc. on the part of those like the old-time official Communist parties, whose loyalty is to this messianic representational figure. What the champions of intersectionality mis-identify as “class fundamentalism” is arguably more the allegiance to the idea of a monolithic historical subject whose very universalism is threatened by the claims of particular identities.

If, by contrast, class is not a subject, with a collective identity and apriori interests, but a condition, then there is no necessary ontological contradiction between the proliferation of a multiplicity of intersecting oppressive subjectifications and a common situation of dispossession. This was the original progressive core of the idea of multitude – the multitudinous subjectivities of the class – before it was, ironically, re-appropriated by Negri in his ceaseless search for the new subject of history.

Which counterpower?

Here, finally, we are faced with two mutually exclusive conceptions of proletarian counterpower. On the one hand we have the instrumentalist conception of “workers power” as that portion of constituted power re-appropriated by the historical subject – as constituted in its chosen messianic-organisational form, e.g. the mass party – and set against the power of the capitalist class. In this first conception the nature and substance of both capitalist and working class power is the same. It is merely the vector, the political direction, that is contrary. We could call this a merely programmatic counterpower

In the second conception of counterpower, the constituent power-effect produced by proletarian activity/resistance is contrary, in its very nature, to the constituted power of state and capital. If power is the production of an effect, the effect of proletarian counter-power is to block, disrupt and ultimately destroy the reproduction and exercise of constituted power. That is not to say that the recomposition of a new proletarian counterpower, adapted to the new conjuncture, does not also involve the construction of new organisations and institutions. But the latter are not substitutes for the class itself, as a constituted-power, monolithic “subject of history”.

In a wider context we can say that without a countervailing force to capital, then the argument between reform or revolution is in many ways like two bald men arguing over a comb. Also, with the possible exception of those who believe in the immiseration theory that “the worse the better”, reforms do not pose a threat to revolution per se (unlike the converse). The real difference in the here and now is to which model of building counterpower actually has a chance of effectively doing so. If as the parent of two young boys Gavin, like many others, wants to see enough social improvement in the short term that they might have a future when they grow up other than the curse of emigration currently afflicting our society (not to mention accelerating environmental destruction) then to fail to have sympathy with that aim would be monstrously reprehensible. But that still leaves the question of whether the unconventional goal of the counterpower necessary to achieve any kind of real change at all, can be attained by the conventional means of yet another broad left electoral vehicle. The anarchist understanding of capital, power and politics is that it will not be and cannot be.

Addendum

As an addendum because Gavin doesn’t talk much in “Why I am no longer an anarchist” about what goals he now is now aiming for, I include a few selected quotes from other of his articles written contemporaneously to that text (emphases added).

“If the effect of electoral politics is to mean anything, it must mean standing on a socialist platform with ameliorative reforms in the here and now which improve peoples lives by virtue of a collective and cooperative enterprise to do so. No individual politician no matter how well intentioned can change the structural dimension of the problems in Ireland. Indeed it will be hard enough to do so even with a majority in the Dáil.

Review and Analysis: Patterns of Betrayal

“Instead [this orientation] looks to a long and patient programme, of a long march through the institutions, building up productive alliances of working class institutions, of slowly winning the population over to support for socialism. In the event that ruptural conjunctures do occur, it is this strength of institutional bonds and the share[d] aim that will allow success.”

ibid.

The ability to seize control of capital is relative to the internal productive autonomy that any region can actually realise.”

The European Monetary Union and the Left

“Some institutions of the EU are at least partially democratic – indeed the Europarliament is more powerful than the Reichstag to which the SPD was elected in Germany in prior to WWI. That there are elections held to positions in the European Union makes it a potential site of struggle, not just for political power but for legitimacy.

It is also true that these elected positions do not provide direct control over much of the European Unions technical apparatus, including the European Central Bank. Nevertheless, the fact is that such issues are now beyond the scope of individual member states to control, and since the levers are EU-wide, we must get there to be able to pull them.

ibid

“If we are really going to deal with the problems of capital, we will want to deal with both national and international capital collectively and cooperatively. The potential to bring industries under social control, to use the state to finance cooperatives and trusts that help to build up a cooperative sector the ability to regulate working conditions in a way that doesn’t simply give way to competition from neighbouring countries all require an institution on the scale of the EU. The possibility of passing regulations for a move to a 4 day week for instance are within the realm of possibility at the scale of Europe. Such a change could reduce unemployment, precarious labour and improve the bargaining hand of workers. Such changes would likely be objectively impossible at the level of the nation state.”

ibid.
“It is clearly difficult to take a straightforwardly Europositive position to the EU as it is currently arranged. The same truths can be told of each of our individual nation states whose bourgeoisie and political leadership seem only too happy to oblige the current neo-liberal austerity programme. And yet, the left does not generally find itself in such paralysis when faced with this truth at the level of the nation state, deeming that it is a [site] of struggle. There are excellent reasons to be involved with local politics from the municipal up to the state level, but the same is true at the European level. The notion that the European institutions should be the focus of the European left is not to be considered a right-wing policy – it is the only approach that gives us the potential to conquer capital.”

ibid.

“While it is necessary to take the long view in terms of a socialist transformation, it is critical that we engage with a wider layer of people to try and move forward to reverse austerity. Needs dictate that we provide a coherent programme for getting out of the terrible austerity budgets which are being imposed.”

A Social Democratic Manifesto for Ireland

“Social partnership is a complicated issue for progressives. “

ibid.

“The European Union has become an effective tool for the delimiting of state powers where they have come into conflict with capital. However, because it is constituted in this way now does not mean that we should reject attempts to seize and democratise it. We could easily reject attempts to act in parliament in the Irish state by the same logic.”

ibid.

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13 Responses to Response to Gavin’s “Why I am no longer an anarchist”

  1. Ilan Shalif says:

    On the margin of Paul Bowman text on Gavins critique:
    There are two points excused on limited “resources” that were not developed in the specifist/platformists wrighting: The first is the reluctance to make explicit how we think will be the structure of the libertarian communist world commune of grass communities direct democracy. The other one is to state it more specific how our present organization and struggles will lead to the world revolution.
    Though it needs some brain work and understanding of the processes of change in people minds that will lead to the revolution, and some system approach to the post revolution society, it is not so hard to do after overcoming the reluctance to face these two subjects.

  2. modulus says:

    Regarding this response, a few points:

    1) While my own reading of comrade Gavin’s work doesn’t indicate any retreat from working class politics or communism–slurs about eurocommunist reformism aside–I won’t go into detail as I think he can defend himself perfectly well. However, I want to point out that I’m seeing a lot of extremely forced interpretations on things based on the tiniest terminological choices that most often mean nothing. This response isn’t a unique case, and that’s why I’m pointing this out, because it is a general problem: I would not advise drawing strong conclusions on the basis of a single choice of words.

    2) Regarding genealogy, it’s undeniable that, historically, anarchism arose as a working class movement and a vehicle against capitalists. This, however, doesn’t preclude the possibility that its modern incarnation has drifted towards a more generic struggle against hierarchy and power as abstract categories, detached from class politics.

    3) There are many terminological quibbles on the response that I will not go into detail about, such as the claim that horizontalism isn’t a core anarchist value because it’s a new word (exempli gratia). I’ll point out that the notion of horizontalism is far older than the word, and articles such as The Tiranny of Structurelessness criticised these positions decades ago already. Such points detract from the article, in my view.

    4) Centralism. I’m afraid federalism is itself a form of decentralisation. Transaction costs preclude it from attaining the efficiency of a properly centralised administrative machinery, and there is no law of physics–or human organisation–which fates the latter to undemocratic outcomes.

    5) Specialisation. It’s good to read there have been organisational changes tending towards the creation of better more specialised organs. Regarding the necessity or convenience of central administrative organs, my position is that while every cook can govern, not every cook can govern at once, and, in all likelihood, not every cook wants to govern. People are interested in a limited domain of issues, and asking them to acquire the necessary knowledge to make sensible decisions outside it is a pretty big imposition that’s unlikely to be generalisable to society.

    6) Passive support. The latest point links to the notion of passive support, in that such a conception of society that relies on everyone participating on every decision would result in civic exhaustion, not to mention certain serious scaling problems that arise pretty much directly from cybernetics. Hence the role for passive support. This is not the only reason one desires to maintain it though, but because at most times people are not engaged in politics to the extent of taking action, but in times of rupture what action they take can be–and often is–determined by the position they had hitherto passively supported. Likewise, passive support leads to higher levels of political culture, to greater chances that at any given time one of the passive supporters will activate, and, ultimately, much can be done with the people’s passive acquiessence, even when their active participation has not been attained.

  3. Indigo says:

    After reading Gavin’s account of his conversion to social democracy after his period of activism in the WSM of Ireland, I cannot help but wonder about certain issues that affect the Anarchist milieu. It was interesting to read his whole account, with all his reasons properly supported and all the questions raised about the activities of that specific organization, but which can be applied to similar groups as well.

    Given there was a critique of the platformist view, I find it even more pressing to raise these questions.

    When reading about society and the revolution that workers would bring about after taking arms and fighting the State apparatus, the possible ways to pass from scarcity to redistribution of resources and the building up of production again in a more egalitarian way — there has never been (or at least it was utterly assumed and taken for granted, as far as I’m concerned) a possible scenario for the things that could occur should such revolution go astray. It’s as if things would go its natural course once the old system is buried and the new-found freedom is discovered and implemented by the vast majority of the population.

    We are talking a situation in which people have resorted to autonomy and self-management to survive. I have seen that here in Buenos Aires, when in 2001/2002 popular assemblies swarmed the neighbourhoods and there was an urgent need to resist at the fringes of a crippled and corrupt State (more than ten years ago…). Yet, that was not a revolution, and those assemblies gave in to the powerful hand of the ‘popular State’, and ended up being co-opted by it, along with the majority of the groups that were at the forefront of self-organization.

    Now, I have always wondered, what happens with the rest of the populace (the poor, the criminal, the mafiosi, the opposition groups)? I have always read they would simply come along and join the ranks or simply would not have much influence to exert, and eventually would see the bigger picture. And here I’m talking about the global South, which has a very different reality than the North. Would they sheepishly follow those who are the forefront of it all?

    Let’s suppose that society revolts upholding the banners of land and freedom, of mutual aid and solidarity, of grassroots democracy and horizontalism; in short, of Anarchism. Are we to believe that such a state of affairs would last for long? I guess you can see that in many of the recent uprisings worldwide. The hand of the State and of oppposition forces is fierce on its crackdown, enough sometimes to even stifle these revolts.

    Taken to a larger scale…I simply cannot reconcile the thought of revolt towards our ideals with the thought of a wide part of the population wishing exactly the opposite, and fighting as fiercely as us.

    I suppose I may be a little jaded, and perhaps, since situations like the ones proposed are vast in their complexity, you could even call me naïve. But I’m talking of a revolt in a city populated by a large part of people immersed in blind consumerism and individualism, in neglect towards the other, in carelessness and debauchery. I’m not asserting we should have an answer to everything (or that we even do), but neither that we should leave things to their own fate or avoid a meaningful and constructive debate about them so as to establish ways to potentially deal with them should they ever occur as we may have foreseen them.

    What would happen to all those who will insist in bringing the old status quo back from the dead, who would barricade in their wealth and power, and even request international intervention, be that military or else?

    I believe that the proper organization from below, from the workers in their own environment, through intrasigent unions and with a grassroots perspective, could help tackle these issues, and help bring about the proper redistribution of wealth.

    But I keep on wondering whether these simple objetives, fought for over a hundred years, are not merely lazily posed, with the thought that this will not occur in the immediate future, but in a hundred years, at that. Or, if ever.

    Most of the compañeros would be absolutely against the resort to violence as a strategy in itself, and perhaps you may feel I’ve lost hope in the power of the people, but we are talking about a revolution or some political awakening in which we’d have the upper hand. Some may say it will be a gradual thing, but the truth is that in the meantime the conditions don’t get any better, or any more ripe.

    I know we cannot impose Anarchism to the people, but merely show them there is another way, and that that way is based on human desires, equal to all, and not the designs of a particular party or State.

    But every day I watch the passivity of the people around me, the absolut frustration that “all politicians are corrupt” and the subsequent suicide with blatant tints of conscious ignorance at the ballot-box, and it simply makes my stomach turn.

    My biggest issue, if you will, with Anarchism is the constant idolizing of past events as if times had not changed one bit. The Spanish Revolution may have been a milestone, but it’s dead. Here in BA we had the “anarquistas expropiadores”, with the likes of DiGiovanni and others…but they are dead. The romanticism of theories, figures, events of yore leads us to a dead-end.

    I think that there is this sense of barricading oneself in a particular frame of mind (be it platformism, individualism, or whatever) and not being open to all angles of perspective, which leaves us midway of actually accomplishing true victories, and even having desertions like Gavin’s, however supported based on his own conclusions out of his experience. Perhaps a new perspective may be needed, a more realistic one that encompasses not only our current needs, but also the plausible needs of the “afterwards”.

    Also, I believe that the chances of success would rise considerably if the vast majority of people would engage in the struggle completely. That is harder to accomplish, given that we have our own lives to live, our own personal ambitions and desires, and that we want to enjoy life as any other person would, whilst fighting for our beliefs in the best way we consider fit. The problem that arises here and always is one of general concensus — and let’s not even talk about consensus with the rest of the population, whose degree of knowledge varies dramatically.

    It’s not a critique per se, though I would like to hear your opinions. I know that one does what he/she can, but I think that if we want to bring the status quo down, we ought to be more radical. In the end, though, this may be more ‘utopical’ than the ‘utopia’ itself.

    I think Gavin raised very important questions that, though speaking of a particular group, could very well apply to any other, in any part of the world.

    To sum things up, I would like to know, please, whether any of you have ever wondered about these issues before, and whether you have come up with useful guidelines to implement, or simply let it all to sort itself out.

    Thank you.

    Indigo, from Buenos Aires.

  4. Gavin Mendel-Gleason says:

    “If, by contrast, class is not a subject, with a collective identity and apriori interests, but a condition, then there is no necessary ontological contradiction between the proliferation of a multiplicity of intersecting oppressive subjectifications and a common situation of dispossession.”

    Of course there is no ontological contradiction – it’s precisely what we have now. A vast fracturing of people on a vast array of subjectivities who see all of their sundry conflicts as particularlised.

    Class recomposition is precisely the elimination of these barriers and the realisation of common struggle being mutually beneficial. It is the generation of a collectivity – a collective subject.

    The entire notion of building a movement around a constellation of subjectivities is itself a subjectivity, but a subjectivity of agreeing to be internally fractured, of maintaining barriers to commonality and collectivity. It enters into the same prison it hopes to escape from.

    It’s not an accident that this theorisation of a movement towards failure happened during a period in which the PCI were experiencing serious problems. It is a common feature of many of the theories that tend to spring up during the decay of a movement. We are now beyond decay – well into a stage of humus. We don’t need a theory of decay, we need a theory of growth.

    In terms of representation and universality, this is again a paranoia of anarchism – that we can’t trust anyone with any responsibility whatsoever and therefore must try to dissolve everything into a protoplasm. It is a borderline misanthropic philosophy.

    Instead of worrying about accountability and mechanisms to facilitate trust and trustworthy behaviour, all practical avenues are closed off in favour of rejecting a common identity and recognition of our condition, in favour of rejecting mutual-aid, of rejecting cooperation, of celebrating our own impotence and eschewing the delegation of any responsibility. It is, quite frankly, infantile.

  5. Paul Bowman says:

    Thanks folks for considered and thoughtful responses. In comparison I’m afraid my reciprocation will be fragmentary.

    @Ilan – while I agree its not so hard to address questions related to projectuality, etc., I was talking specifically in the collective context of a group. Left to my own devices, in isolation then I probably would concentrate more of my personal research and writing on these topics. However in the context of a collective process, what matters is the needs of the collective in the here and now and there are currently more pressing priorities in terms of self-constitution and praxis, challenges for social insertion in a relatively barren social context, etc, for our group. Secondly a properly collective work on projectuality is clearly going to be superior to any individual effort, but the collective has to first be created and grow to a certain richness of internal diversity and vitality to sustain such a project.

    @modulus picking three points:

    “…the claim that horizontalism isn’t a core anarchist value because it’s a new word (exempli gratia). I’ll point out that the notion of horizontalism is far older than the word, and articles such as The Tiranny of Structurelessness criticised these positions decades ago already”

    The Tyranny of Structurelessness criticised informalism, which is not the same thing as horizontalism. In general I think there is an error made by people who too easily decontextualise the term from the historical experience of Argentina 2001 and then, from a position of ignorance, project into it, rather like a rorshach blot, their own prejudices as to what it should mean. AFAIK the only English-language text I’ve come across that tries (however incompletely) to look at horizonatalism in its historic context is Marina Sitrin’s book, but perhaps there are now better works available in Spanish. In any case federalism is not horizontalism. Speaking of which…

    “I’m afraid federalism is itself a form of decentralisation. Transaction costs preclude it from attaining the efficiency of a properly centralised administrative machinery…”

    Much as I bow before your neo_Weberian technological rationality, I do so firmly tongue in cheek, and ask you the following question: In my youth I grew up in France and Switzerland (mostly the latter). Both of which are broadly similar in being relatively prosperous Western European liberal democratic capitalist countries. But in the particular, they are very different when it comes to centralisation and federalism. France (particularly at the time in the 1970s) was incredibly centralised – everything, but everything, had to go through Paris. For my father to transfer money from his account in the Credit Agricole in the little rural village in Haute Savoie where we lived, to my mother’s account, the transaction had to go via Paris, and consequently took about 2 weeks. By contrast Switzerland is possibly one of the most federalised countries in the OECD (if not the world) with the lions share of your income tax going to the local Canton, then your local Commune, and the central Federal administration coming a distant third. Yet for all the size and expense of the Swiss bureacracy, you would have to say compared to the utter shambles of the byzantine French bureacracy, the Swiss bureacracy, federalised as it was, was frighteningly efficient from an end-user perspective. The question then, is according to your scientific apparatus, which of France and Switzerland is more “properly centralised” and how do you measure “efficiency” and transaction costs? I look forward to seeing your figures and argumentation for this case study. :P

    “…at most times people are not engaged in politics to the extent of taking action, but in times of rupture what action they take can be–and often is–determined by the position they had hitherto passively supported.”

    The problem is, that historically a good proportion of the people conditioned to passive dependency on a particular party, when faced with times of rupture – and the concomittant failure of that party to provide any clear solution (in the absence of more than passive support) – have tended to gravitate towards a substitute “strong leader” who can sort things out on their behalf, in the manner they’ve become accustomed to. This is a decidedly non-trivial problem.

    @indigo – your comment appears to me to be in some ways diametrically opposite to modulus’, not so much in content as in form or maybe affect. Whereas with modulus I feel I am playing chess (he advance pawm/proposition I counter, repeat…), your comment appears to me more by way of a tapestry. In that if I was to simply pick out individual threads and respons to them one by one, in isolation, I would somehow have
    done violence to the whole.

    To answer your last question, I have indeed wondered about these issues, issues of rupture, transformation, projection, recomposition, getting from here to there, etc, and continue to struggle with them. I wouldn’t say I have the answers yet, but I have some ideas. I also, inevitably, have experience on the negative side – i.e. the people I have watched, during my nearly 3 decades in political activism, go down certain roads and where they have ended up. Patronising though it is to say so, yet Gavin is far from the first to embark upon the “long march through the institutions” or the first I’ve watched tread that dreary path. Naturally he believes “this time is different”, but then so did all the others – they couldn’t have done it, otherwise.

    In terms of the problem of opposition during and after the transition, there will obviously be a need for people to collectively provide for their basic needs, and security is one of these. A citizen’s militia and the social mechanism necessary to make it subject to the needs of the wider polity will be a fairly indispensable requirement. I don’t see getting a socialist elected to be the new Interior Minister and asking the police to be nicer to be a realistic means of achieving this. One potential solution in my opinion would be to have “national” service, like Israel and Switzerland, where young people between secondary and tertiary education, would be drafted in cohorts to do basic military and neighbourhood security detail training. Duties would then be shared out by rota of cohorts (possibly in mixed-age formations) to both share out the “dirty work” and prevent the formation of a permanent body of “specialists” of violence or policing, potential sites of corruption and/or alienation from the polity.

    Regarding “those who will insist in bringing the old status quo back from the dead, who would barricade in their wealth and power”. I’m not sure how they would barricade in their wealth once money is abolished and the land and means of production socialised. To exert power is first of all to be able to hire people to do your bidding. If there are no people who need to sell themselves and no money to buy them with, even if there were, how does one exert power, other than by perhaps religious means? Even so, if we find people who consistently find ways of inflicting harm on society motivated by political opposition, then ultimately exile is a possible sanction.

    Regarding “the rest of the populace (the poor, the criminal, the mafiosi, the opposition groups)”. Clearly the poor are central. Especially in the context of the Global South you mentioned, any strategy that deals in a narrowly syndicalist way, with only that section of the class who have formal employment in the legal economy of capitalist enterprises and the public sector, is doomed to failure. The revolution must succeed in the barrios if it is to succeed at all. If the revolution can provide the poor with not only their material needs, but their dignity and the power to use and manage their own productive power, then it has a chance for their loyalty, otherwise it has no right to it.

    If that can be achieved, then the question of addressing the problem of the criminal, the mafiosi and other “anti-socials” becomes possible. What engrains the gangs in the neighbourhoods is the dependency poor people have on the money their destructive drug trade and other criminal industries bring. Once the economic imperatives that defend them are removed, the remaining incalcitrant parasites can be dealt with – by the community they previously preyed on.

    I appreciate I only answered one of your questions and there are many others, but comments need to be shorter than articles, mostly, so I’ll leave it at that, as an example that these questions can be usefully discussed and solutions are at least imaginable.

  6. Paul Bowman says:

    My previous comment (appears to be still waiting moderation at the time of writing?) passed Gavin’s in the ether. So this is in response to that.

    “If, by contrast, class is not a subject, with a collective identity and apriori interests, but a condition, then there is no necessary ontological contradiction between the proliferation of a multiplicity of intersecting oppressive subjectifications and a common situation of dispossession.”

    Of course there is no ontological contradiction – it’s precisely what we have now. A vast fracturing of people on a vast array of subjectivities who see all of their sundry conflicts as particularlised.

    Class recomposition is precisely the elimination of these barriers and the realisation of common struggle being mutually beneficial. It is the generation of a collectivity – a collective subject.

    Class recomposition is the transcendance of these barriers, to aspire to eliminate them as a precondition for achieving some measure of collective unity is either utopian (i.e. you consider that the barriers are merely subjective, with no basis in material social relations) or “stageist”. Either way it erects conformity to a representational universal figure as a precondition to collective endeavour. As my mate Mick used to ask at the periodic SWP public meetings on “Black and White, Unite and Fight” – “You say that, and I like the sound of it, but I want to know, who is supposed to be uniting with who, and on whose terms?”. The problem with universal figures is who gets to define what universal actually is – because the particular is always defined negatively as the “other” to the universal. It’s no surprise that the universal always turns out to be the white heterosexual male, if all the “particular” groups – women, blacks, gays, etc – are to unite with the “universal” party on that basis, then no-one should be surprised at the resulting unrepresentative nature of the representative party.

    But the problem is not just in terms of oppressive subjectifications like gender and race, but to do with the technical composition of the class in its differing roles in social production. There is huge diversity here, in terms of education, self-confidence, articulacy, skill “capital”, precarity, economic power over social production based on privileged location, etc. You can’t recompose the class around the public sector workforce, just because they happen to be more unionised than the rest of the class, and more ideologically inclined to state-intervention based solutions, despite what most of the Irish left appear to think.

    Yes, in everyday language its easiest to say that the recomposition of a collective counterpower is the recomposition of a collective subject. But the problem comes when this is linked to the reified concept of the historical subject. Its the mediation of the representational figure necessary to make the former into that latter that is at issue here.

    In any case, I am glad to hear that you still consider class recomposition to be a desireable political aim, as there is no sign of that in your Social Democratic Manifesto, for e.g.

    It’s not an accident that this theorisation of a movement towards failure happened during a period in which the PCI were experiencing serious problems. It is a common feature of many of the theories that tend to spring up during the decay of a movement. We are now beyond decay – well into a stage of humus. We don’t need a theory of decay, we need a theory of growth.

    The PCI were not “experiencing serious problems” they were cheerleading capitalist development and attacking worker resistance to the bosses. They were on the wrong side of the class struggle. In the clashes on the streets of Italy in the 1970s, the security stewards of the PCI used to beat their pickaxe handles on the cobbles to the chant of “Staline!, Béria! Guépéou!” (GPU) before beating the young worker and student protestors bloody. I think the “serious difficulties” here are ones of basic political perspective here, to be frank. Also I find it bizarre that you appear to indentify Autonomia with “culturalism” or identity politics.

    In terms of representation and universality, this is again a paranoia of anarchism – that we can’t trust anyone with any responsibility whatsoever and therefore must try to dissolve everything into a protoplasm. It is a borderline misanthropic philosophy.

    Instead of worrying about accountability and mechanisms to facilitate trust and trustworthy behaviour, all practical avenues are closed off in favour of rejecting a common identity and recognition of our condition, in favour of rejecting mutual-aid, of rejecting cooperation, of celebrating our own impotence and eschewing the delegation of any responsibility. It is, quite frankly, infantile.

    I’m afraid the paranoia here is yours. There is no connection between what my text says about universalism and representation that has anything to do with trusting people with responsibility. Discussion is impossible on the basis of strawmen. The elevation of strawmen is an infantile approach to debate.

  7. Gavin Mendel-Gleason says:

    If everyone saw all categories and dynamics from the same angle, there wouldn’t be any disagreement. What we have here is not a strawman at all, but my opinion about what I perceive as an inability to deal with some very real problems that I posed with respect to the necessity of delegation of responsibility, which is in fact representation. I believe the retreat into highly theorised accounts regarding this problem is essentially because it is not soluble within the framework which you are using.

    As regards the PCI, the PCI was experiencing problems in my estimation for many different reasons. They were a real movement with real problems. Italy was backwards, corrupt and had come out of a period which was highly undemocratic due to a successful fascist movement. The communist helped defeat them in the war. The communists had saved democracy from the liberals who would have founded a monarchy. They helped to radically improve the situation of the working class in Italy. There was a big upswing in struggle in the late 60s and early 70s and the PCI did not in all cases act perfectly. Being big and important is like that, you get chances to screw up. The anarchists in Italy by contrast were irrelevant. The operaista only barely less so.

    Now, when we talk about being on the right or the wrong side of the class struggle, you immediately refer back to the subjectivities that you claim to eschew. I think you have created yourself a philosophical Ouroboros. It’s clearly your own subjectivity.

    Now, myself, I have no problem both identifying class as an analytical tool and the subject which I would like reconstructed. I think movements can have pained relationships with these boundaries, and indeed the analytic category itself is complex, relational and porous. To expect it otherwise is unrealistic.

    There is a strategic philosophical difference on the question of what conditions are necessary for socialism to exist and what is required for the collective administration of production. You have turned these from strategic and tactical questions and elevated them to the point where you claim I’m countenancing a retreat from class, trying to promote anti-communism and all sorts of other claims which I could for instance claim are strawmen.

    They however are not strawmen, they have to do with your world-view that anything which is not sufficiently anarchist is essentially the same thing as capitalism. Now, I think that world view is not very useful, but it’s nonetheless not due to an intentional mischaracterisation.

    Similarly, I am not attempting any mischaracterisation of your views with respect to representation. I really do not have the foggiest clue how you expect to deal with questions like how we administrate a large complex of productive capacities in a way that involves no representative action. To me it seems literally like imagining oneself in a star trek future which simply does not exist and is – hence – infantile in the sense of being the imaginations of a child.

    I have spent some time trying to understand these questions: questions of production, of representation, of movements etc. Much of the time I inspected these was in the WSM. I think it’s fair to claim that I was quite open about ideas, and quite interested in learning. It seems to me it was not merely a misunderstanding on my part that I have failed to see concretely how people expect to deal with these questions. In my opinion the future organisation of workplaces etc can be made a whole lot more democratic and we can change the way that investment occurs such that is much more responsive to needs and does not revolve around valourisation. However, to do that we will need institutions, people who are competent in a vast array of different tasks and we will need to move from where we are now to there in order to get it.

    Further, we need to establish quite clearly legitimacy. This problem is probably the most ignored aspect by anarchists. If you expect to have a population that does not devolve into a complex civil conflict, you’ll need most people to believe that you have at least demonstrated that most people are willing to go along with societal change. The best way to establish such a legitimacy is to poll the people about what they think. Trying to kick off insurrection without elections will doom you to accusations of being a very sectional interest.

    As far as I can tell, what is counterposed to these slow methodical approaches is apparently a ruptural sudden communism. One that does not come from a mass movement, that does not involve any change in peoples consciousness and education, which does not demonstrate popular legitimacy, which does not involve experimentation of various different cooperative approaches over a long scale. I can’t help but think this is a rapture for socialists.

  8. Paul Bowman says:

    So I’ll take the first and last 2 of the paras from the above as they both deal, imo, with the question of power and counterpower.

    What we have here is not a strawman at all, but my opinion about what I perceive as an inability to deal with some very real problems that I posed with respect to the necessity of delegation of responsibility, which is in fact representation. I believe the retreat into highly theorised accounts regarding this problem is essentially because it is not soluble within the framework which you are using.

    Representation is not the delegation of responsibility. Seriously, this is 101 stuff about the difference between direct and electoralist democracy, the difference between a delegate and a representative.

    In a federalist system delegates are entrusted with a limited mandate to convey the decisions, fears and hopes of the members they represent to the delegate body. In that framework there can be greater or lesser degrees of autonomy to adjust or even in extremis, override their mandate in response to information provided by other delegates or dramatic turns of events. But whatever leeway delegates are given to do this does not free them from answerability (including immediate recall and other sanctions) from their members who retain the right to reverse any decision that has gone against their mandate.

    By contrast, when constituents elect a representative they surrender (alienate) their decision making power to the representative and have no say whatsoever in what the representative does with it until the defined (usually lengthy) period of time has passed and the opportunity is given to alienate their power once more to another representative, equally free to do what the hell they please with the constituted power appropriated from the disempowered constitutents.

    It seems to me your problem is not with responsibility – after all the national officer positions in the WSM, such as the post of National Secretary which you once held, come with lots of responsibilities but very little decision-making power – but with the lack of freedom a representative has to commit the body he or she represents to a course of action without regard as to the wishes of his or her constitutents. That is the freedom of what authoritarians call “real power” (revealing phrase), freedom from accountability.

    NB This meaning of representation in the practical decision-making sense should not be confused with the distinct, albeit not entirely unconnected, concept of representation in terms of subjectivity or interests – e.g. a person “standing” for a whole group in the sense of being expected to feel the same feelings, fears, hopes, oppressions, etc that an average survey of that group would return.

    Further, we need to establish quite clearly legitimacy. This problem is probably the most ignored aspect by anarchists. If you expect to have a population that does not devolve into a complex civil conflict, you’ll need most people to believe that you have at least demonstrated that most people are willing to go along with societal change. The best way to establish such a legitimacy is to poll the people about what they think. Trying to kick off insurrection without elections will doom you to accusations of being a very sectional interest.

    Its not simply legitimacy, its also credibility. Imo the best way to establish both is to have viable mass movements based on the active principles of direct democracy, direct action and direct solidarity that a large number of the class have either direct experience or through family connections, of providing “the goods” in terms of successful outcomes in the class struggle. Its not simply about the movement having the “right” or legitimacy to initiate radical change, but whether people believe there’s a chance they can succeed.

    As far as I can tell, what is counterposed to these slow methodical approaches is apparently a ruptural sudden communism. One that does not come from a mass movement, that does not involve any change in peoples consciousness and education, which does not demonstrate popular legitimacy, which does not involve experimentation of various different cooperative approaches over a long scale. I can’t help but think this is a rapture for socialists.

    You always finish with the most emotive and unreasonable point don’t you? Last time it was anarchists being against cooperation and mutual aid (!), now its the wsm and other class struggle (not only platformist) anarchists being advocates of insurrectionist putschism. Really there’s no point starting your comments with a huffiness about being accused of strawmanning if you always end with a last para of provocative nonsense. This is a bad habit you should learn to avoid if you want to acquire the political skills to actually build a mass party, rather than just polemicise on the internet about one. Tsk!

    So, slow methodical approach to building a mass movement based on changing peoples consciousness and education which builds counterpower, popular legitimacy and involves experimentation with various different cooperative projects and approaches over a long scale…. Yes, absolutely. Sounds like dual organisationalism to me. The aims are not in question. What is at issue is the means by which such a movement is built and what principles of action and organisation it is built on. Direct democracy or electoralism? Direct action or lobbying the government/capitalist class for reforms? As I made clear in the final section of my reponse above.

  9. Gavin Mendel-Gleason says:

    “Representation is not the delegation of responsibility. Seriously, this is 101 stuff about the difference between direct and electoralist democracy, the difference between a delegate and a representative.”

    I was well schooled in the anarcho-Jesuitical arts, being able to find hair-splitting semantic difference between such things as governance and the state, and representative and delegative democracy. In practice these finer points dissolve into thin air when we come up against the reality of organisations as we shall see.

    Take for instance delegates to an assembly. If there is a motion raised at the assembly, how is it that that person deals with the motion, do they then go back from whence they were delegated? Do they use their better judgement? Are they a mule for votes, or is there some deliberation that can usefully happen amongst the delegates, and how many times do they return to people for clarification about whether the decisions were acceptable after deliberation.

    In the extreme all people have become part of a mass assembly through a very inefficient human vote mule, and all people deal with all questions – a patently impossible approach when scaled up. Hence delegation with a level of authority delegated to the delegate is a form of representation. How you want to deal with accountability is really the only serious question.

    There is further a problem in that the delegative route so widely espoused by anarchists had a strong tendency to be both prone to gaming, and is undemocratic. Namely, the use of local bodies which send delegates is less democratic than an election or selection by lot from the pool of candidates than delegating from a number of varying sized local units (All power to the soviets? Not so fast). This problem is seriously exacerbated when we are forced to go to bodies of delegates which must themselves send delegates.

    Gaming of this system is also quite easy, allowing various locals to be invented with delegates sent from them with notional votes. This may not be a serious concern in an anarchist organisation, but it will become a real scourge when anarchists attempt to replicate the model in the broader public sphere.

    Going without representation is simply impossible in practice. An organisation needs spokespeople. Trying to pretend a spokesperson is merely a delegate completely ignores the fact that they will say what they say on record in a way that can not be recalled. Again, the paranoia is averted only by the continuous repetition of carefully rehearsed mantras – something that the more Jesuitical anarchists have yet to teach their anti-organisationalist cousins and hence are continually under scrutiny for having drifted into the enemy camp.

    Now, the imputation that I have merely changed camp because I thought the National Secretary role did not give me enough power to commit the organisation to whatever mad machinations I intended for the organisation looks somewhat paler in light of the fact that I had already representative power.

    The imputation underlies what I think is a core problematic of anarchism, the tendency to see all other strategic and tactical approaches as being based in ill intent. I’m not simply a socialist of a different colour, no, I’ve moved into the camp of power hungry, state-worshipping, Stalinists. Maybe, I did so because I was somehow ill informed, ill taught, or resistant to understanding the correct line, maybe I’m just malevolent.

    My final point was not a mere emotional point – or mere polemic. There are tendencies within anarchism which have taken seriously mutual aid, cooperation, and the building of mass struggle in institutions – most notably syndicalism – an interstitial and slow building approach. But these are not the arguments with which I’m dealing from you. Indeed, de Paepe and the collectivists are mere anti-communists, as are nearly the whole of the syndicalist movement.

    Lastly, you would like to draw a stark contrast between electoralism and mass activity, but the facts on the ground can not allow you to do so. The PCE for example has a vastly greater activity in direct action in the anti-eviction campaign then any anarchist group in Europe has in a serious direct action which helps to get people involved. They do so on a principle that help with anti-evictions means taking part in the movement itself – that is – on a principle of mutual aid. There was a notable expropriation of a grocery store which was engaged in by the local village in Spain – and yet was made possible and legitimated by the fact of having an elected Mayor join in the action.

    The attempt to pretend that only anarchists can engage a mass base for the transformation of consciousness for struggle is not only silly, it’s counter-factual. The anarchists have not done this – indeed they have done vastly worse.

  10. Paul Bowman says:

    Well I think “3 strikes and you’re out” is not a bad rule of thumb for how long to continue a comment thread back-and-forth. Technically this is my fourth comment, but it’s my third one in direct dialogue with Gavin. I’ll make this my last one because all good things must come to an end, and I really need to get on with writing my next piece for the Irish Anarchist Review, as my deadline is looming…

    I was well schooled in the anarcho-Jesuitical arts, being able to find hair-splitting semantic difference between such things as governance and the state, and representative and delegative democracy. In practice these finer points dissolve into thin air when we come up against the reality of organisations as we shall see.

    Take for instance delegates to an assembly. If there is a motion raised at the assembly, how is it that that person deals with the motion, do they then go back from whence they were delegated? Do they use their better judgement? Are they a mule for votes, or is there some deliberation that can usefully happen amongst the delegates, and how many times do they return to people for clarification about whether the decisions were acceptable after deliberation.

    In the extreme all people have become part of a mass assembly through a very inefficient human vote mule, and all people deal with all questions – a patently impossible approach when scaled up. Hence delegation with a level of authority delegated to the delegate is a form of representation. How you want to deal with accountability is really the only serious question.

    Gavin if you think you can make the distinction between direct and indirect/representative democracy disappear by claiming it as a figment of anarchist imagination or paranoia, you are sadly mistaken. The distinction between the two has been made from the Enlightenment onwards by the founding fathers of modern bourgeois liberalism, like Montaigne and Rousseau. Naturally they emphasised the fundamental limits on accountability placed by indirect, representative democracy as a virtue – all the better to reassure the bourgeoisie that the great unwashed could not use it to impose their needs on society and deprive them of their property.

    Now, as you know from the practice of the WSM, and indeed as I already mentioned in my previous comment, it is our practice (like many other libertarian communist groups) to empower our delegates to DC with a certain leeway to modify or change their mandate (usually to deal with details for practical implementation, but occassionally due to new info or changed circumstances) so the delegates can get decisions boxed off. This “flexible mandate” (as it’s termed in the WSM) does not amount to authority, however much you twist the language. The use of the flexible mandate is subject to review by branch members during the report-back from DC and can be contravened if it goes against the collective will of the branch (in practice this almost never happens, as the delegate is aware they will face review and rarely reads the feeling of the branch on a matter that poorly). All of this you know already. A representative, once elected, however, is not subject to review or recall and can use their voting power (appropriated from their constituents) as they see fit, regardless of the will of their electorate. I repeat the point because repetition never hurts when getting important points across.

    There is further a problem in that the delegative route so widely espoused by anarchists had a strong tendency to be both prone to gaming, and is undemocratic. Namely, the use of local bodies which send delegates is less democratic than an election or selection by lot from the pool of candidates than delegating from a number of varying sized local units (All power to the soviets? Not so fast). This problem is seriously exacerbated when we are forced to go to bodies of delegates which must themselves send delegates.

    Again, there is a big problem with your account here. The article you link to by Modulus simply explores the well-known gerrymandering problem (e.g. 3 groups of 3, majority delegation -> (2+ 1-)= +, (2+ 1-)= +, (3-) = – ==> 2d+ 1d-; four outvote five) without even stumbling across the entirely obvious solution. i.e. that delegates bring both for and against votes and these are aggregated so that the total reflects the for/against/abstain votes of the membership as a whole, regardless of branch size. That’s not the big problem with your statement. The big problem with your statement is that as an ex-National Secretary of the WSM who, for his sins, had to sit through a number of DCs, you already know this. What’s more, you know that I know that you know this. Which means that in our exchange on this forum you are not addressing me alone, but playing to the audience to a certain extent – that’s not necessarily a problem – and that you are being a little less than candid – which is a problem really. The fact that you didn’t think I would pick up on this I find a little mystifying. I can only really put it down to my pet theory that Facebook is rotting the minds of our youth and encouraging a style of hasty, slap-dash, “in-the-heat-of-the-moment” argumentation that falls apart under more considered dissection. Obviously this is not a problem on FB and Twitter due to the real-time, quick-fire, transient nature of the medium, but again these are extremely self-sabotaging habits to be acquiring at this stage in your career. More diligance young Padawan, if you hope to grow up into a proper Sith lord :).

    Gaming of this system is also quite easy, allowing various locals to be invented with delegates sent from them with notional votes. This may not be a serious concern in an anarchist organisation, but it will become a real scourge when anarchists attempt to replicate the model in the broader public sphere.

    Notional votes are a way to game any voting system, including electoralism (as in the old “vote early, vote often!” saw). Even our existing capitalist societies see the worth of investing time and resources in our existing limited voting systems. In Switzerland, my alma mater, they eventually saw the need to invest in a more sophisticated voting/legitimation system, due to the lack of any of the normal national unifying axes of common language, religion, or ethnicity. Switzerland’s “direct democratic” system of all government acts/laws requiring approval by referedum, a system routinely defined as “unaffordable” or “unworkable” by ignorant politicians in most countries, works perfectly well at its chosen task (without threatening the staid, bourgeois and decidedly right-wing character of the country). The “affordability” of a decision-making structure is really relative to how important the task required of it is. To step in a slightly-leftfield direction, the investment in sophisticated cybernetic control mechanisms and increased participation in planning and decision making, is considered a worthwhile investment in such solidly capitalistic enterprises as Toyata (see the Toyota system, for e.g.). The usual authoritarian left hand-wringing that anything more sophisticated than a system requiring hands in the air, pen and paper, approved slates and decision making by central committees in back-rooms as being “unaffordable” and “unworkable” should be treat with the contempt it deserves. If decision-making is part of social production then there’s no reason not to apply the appropriate resources and technology to it – and we have the technology. The bitcoin algorithm, as you yourself pointed out to me over a year ago, regardless of its current “goldbuggery for geeks” role, represents a non-centralised, peer-to-peer verification system, that could equally be applied to verifying votes or production manifests as anything else.

    My final point was not a mere emotional point – or mere polemic. There are tendencies within anarchism which have taken seriously mutual aid, cooperation, and the building of mass struggle in institutions – most notably syndicalism – an interstitial and slow building approach. But these are not the arguments with which I’m dealing from you. Indeed, de Paepe and the collectivists are mere anti-communists, as are nearly the whole of the syndicalist movement.

    de Paepe was not “merely” an anti-communist. He was an important, if not the leading figure in the First International, and his personal commitment to treating the poor led him to penury and an early grave, as I previously mentioned. He is in many ways a heroic and sorely neglected figure in the late 19th century development of the Socialist movement. Neglected because he doesn’t fit into the sectarian historiographys or either ortho Marxists or anarchists. In fact it was I who introduced you to him, however you obviously didn’t read up on either him or the period enough to know that he was no anarchist. The point is, he was not a communist – an neither are you. That may seem like a moralist or normatively loaded statement of excommunication, but it is not. The need for communists to continually draw the line between what is communism and what calls itself communism but really isn’t is not a sectarian obsession but an existential necessity. In parts of Africa now a new strategy for combatting marial mosquitos is underway – the release of genetically engineered sterile female mosquitos. The strategy is effective, unable to tell the few fertile female mosquitos from the mass of sterile simulacras, male mosquitos mate with the evolutionary dead ends and the population is slowly decimated. This particular strategy may be new(ish) from insect pest-control perspective, but in the social task of combatting dangerously radical ideas like communism and democracy (that now have to be qualified by prefixes such as “libertarian”, “real”, “direct”, etc, for this very reason) its as old as the ideas itself. So the need for communists to clearly delineate “not-communism-even-though-it-says-it-is” is the war against sterile mosquitos, if you like.

    Lastly, you would like to draw a stark contrast between electoralism and mass activity, but the facts on the ground can not allow you to do so. The PCE for example has a vastly greater activity in direct action in the anti-eviction campaign then any anarchist group in Europe has in a serious direct action which helps to get people involved. They do so on a principle that help with anti-evictions means taking part in the movement itself – that is – on a principle of mutual aid. There was a notable expropriation of a grocery store which was engaged in by the local village in Spain – and yet was made possible and legitimated by the fact of having an elected Mayor join in the action.

    The attempt to pretend that only anarchists can engage a mass base for the transformation of consciousness for struggle is not only silly, it’s counter-factual. The anarchists have not done this – indeed they have done vastly worse.

    I am glad that the PCE feels the need, under the pressure of the legacy of Spanish anarchism, to adopt anarchist principles of direct action (if not direct democracy, n.b.). But I have no illusions that it would occur in the absence of such competitive pressure – as indeed it does not in other countries where such is lacking (take the Communist Party of Ireland, no take it, please… boom, boom!). However your last sentence makes no sense, even in a context limited to the contemporary situation, given the role of certain Spanish anarchist groups in organising mass bases in particular areas. Unless by “vastly worse”, you mean simply that they currently mobilise far lower numbers than the CCOO – that I grant you. But again, their presence exerts a competitive pressure on the CCOO to be far more militant than the equivalent Stalinist unions in other European countries.

    Anyway, that’s enough from me. Last word goes to Gavin, which is only fair seeing as its his blog (ok, with others) and he had the good grace to host my response in the first place. I’m outta here.

  11. modulus says:

    Thanks for your responses, Paul, and sorry to have taken so long. The notion of horizontalism is quite broadly deployed by anarchists hereabouts in a way that, to me, is indistinguishable from that criticised on ToS. In sum, horizontalism has come to mean opposition to any functional form of organisation with chances to get things done. Regarding federalism, which is somewhat related:

    There are centralised systems that work well and badly, just as there are decentralised systems that work well and badly. The question, in my view, is that a centralised system will, all else equal (important here!) have more data to reach a decision, as well as more resources to analyse the data, and so on. Where there are synchronisation points–two or more things must happen at once to avoid errors–it sometimes makes sense to functionally decentralise, but keeping always to the same protocol. Federalism entails that different entities within the federation are free to realise different protocols and reach different decisions–or federalism would mean nothing. This leads to more transaction costs in reaching agreement, as all federal systems show in the way they must coordinate. So we can’t simply compare a federal and a central state and wonder at which works better, but instead consider: would the federal state work better centralised, or would the central state work better federalised?

    In essence, for all decision problems there is an ordered set of solutions. If different entities take different solutions. The utility of centralisation lies in choosing the optimum one, and in choosing one and only one. This leads to an optimal choice, which is better than several optimal choices in dispensing with coordination costs and achieving synergy and economies of scale. For instance, there are many potentially good way to plug an appliance to a wall socket. The ideal state of affair is to choose, from the best possible solutions, a single one to be used everywhere. The European Union hasn’t even gone as far as that yet, and thus we see the need for adaptors, different production chains, and manifold inefficiencies.

    Last, I would point out that passive support does not have to be equivalent to passive dependency. Nor does it have to stay passive support forever. Yes, political clientelism and “what have you done for me lately” are serious, non-trivial problems, but I very much doubt the only feasible approach to them lies in eschewing all forms of passive support altogether.

  12. James O'Brien says:

    Paul wrote:

    Kautsky who famously wrote the “maximum programme” gloss of Marxism to the SPD’s Erfurt programme without mentioning the class struggle once, other than in the title itself

    There are two documents at issue here:
    1. The Erfurt Programme itself, which was divided into two sections: a brief theoretical exposition of the principles of what you would call orthodox Marxism and a section on the demands which they saw as necessary to open the way to socialism. If you are referring to that first theoretical section, the ‘class struggle’ is in fact mentioned:

    Ever greater becomes the number of proletarians, ever more massive the army of excess workers, ever more stark the opposition between exploiters and the exploited, ever more bitter the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, which divides modern society into two hostile camps and constitutes the common characteristic of all industrialized countries.

    Assuming you do not insist on the precise verbal formula of ‘class struggle’ there are other instances of the same concept expressed differently, e.g. ‘the struggle of the working class’:

    The struggle of the working class against capitalist exploitation is necessarily a political struggle. Without political rights, the working class cannot carry on its economic struggles and develop its economic organization. It cannot bring about the transfer of the means of production into the possession of the community without first having obtained political power.

    It is the task of the Social Democratic Party to shape the struggle of the working class into a conscious and unified one and to point out the inherent necessity of its goals.

    2. If, on the other hand, you are referring to Kautsky’s book length commentary on the Erfurt Programme, which was published under the title The Class Struggle, then the exact verbal formula of ‘class struggle’ appears, at least to my rough count, more than two dozen times.

    This excludes variations of concept, e.g. ‘industrial struggle’, or ‘political struggle’, which Kautsky identifies as the highest form of class struggle. See in particular section 5: http://marxists.org/archive/kautsky/1892/erfurt/ch05.htm

  13. Indigo says:

    Thank you for the reply.

    Though this comes quite late, I’d like to say a few more things.

    Those who call our ideas ‘utopian’ may do so because they cannot grasp the idea of self-determination, of autonomy, of self-management in a capitalist system as a way to fight back. Therefore, they simply dismiss the idea as rubbish – or chaos and violence, when there is a response to government repression and abuse.

    The way I see the realization of Anarchism in any given society as utopian is based on the fact that popular support is critical, and as we know, there is a vast majority of people who oppose to such ideas (in different degrees, due to ignorance or conviction) and will do anything in their power to fend off any attempt to change the status quo. The opposition to the Iraq invasion (‘war’ is too good a word for such crime) comes to mind. Millions of people marching on the streets, and yet, the bombs went flying and, ten years on, the blood is still being spilled.

    Thus, to violence from above, the violence from below. Armed struggle is, to me, essential to Anarchism – a sine qua non feature that must be acknowledged and embraced and which should come accompanied by the immense effort many activists do in raising awareness by other means. I see no other way of actually changing things, because absolutely no one will give up their riches without a fight. This entails a danger of leading to civil war, but it’s unlikely if the aims of our struggle are made clear, and we can prove it is possible to live this way, in an anarco-communist kind of way (via expropriation of factories, self-management, etc).

    So, yes, I’m proposing a kind of guerrilla-style endeavour to bring down the state of things and start doing what we struggle for, without stopping what we do.

    My personal problem is that, in this time and age, I lack confidence in the people, in the masses. There have been waves of upheavals and uprisings that, despite their enormity and seriousness, failed to actually take root in the vast majority of people and propel them to take action as well – regardless of the fact that the common man has been touched by social and economic issues too, call them austerity measures, or whatever. I don’t mean to belittle any uprising at all, but the everyday yoke of capitalism makes some people waiver, and even forget what they have so hard fought for before (I’m citing Argentina as an example here).

    And, on top of it all, there’s the venomous influence of opposing views and perspectives on the general public. You may say, okay, we cannot be fooled that much anymore – sure, but it took two wars and countless interventions and killings for the UK and US public, for instance, not to buy their government lies again and avoid supporting a war on Syria.

    “We carry a new world in our hearts.” That’s great. And I think that if we have the ability to influence our immediate circle of friends/family/acquaintances with our ideas, that is good enough. But the endless discussions about even changing the way society thinks… or bringing the system down… I don’t know, I think about military invasions by imperialist powers and that just blows all ideas away.

    I believe that new ways of viewing and analyzing Anarchism have to be employed and discussed – and, although not to forget, rather leave the hundred-year old textbooks where they belong. The adoration some people have for such or such writer or thinker becomes annoying when discussing the scheme of things.

    ‘Democratic’ institutions and governments will exist for quite a long time. Secession and establishment of an anarchist haven is not the solution either, be it in the form of country-wide or province-wide, or city-wide strongholds. Yet barricading oneself in such or such branch of anarchist thought makes no headway either. Why? Because the discussion tends to stray from the actual problems, to the way we face those problems through the glass of this or that line of thought.

    The diversity of approaches should make us stronger, not weak, in front of our enemy. Intestinal struggles do not help at all. Thus, if we cannot even agree among ourselves, how can we expect to gain support and have people agree with us?

    We want the workers, the people to emancipate themselves – well, I have strong doubts about that if it is not accompanied by the destruction of the system, that festers liberty of thought and action with ignorance and dependance.

    I don’t view the role of anarchists as mere agitators – which, along with many leftists, is the role the State and capitalism tends to grant to; a niche we fill to perfection, coexisting in relative ‘peace’.

    We must pose a real threat to them, so big that no prison, no ban, no slander or libel can bring us down. And that threat comes with support from the base and a tangible intent of armed attack.

    I do not have a penchant for violence, but I think that unfortunately that is the way it goes.

    Indigo, from Buenos Aires.

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