Monday, March 1, 2010

Anarchism and Citizenship

Being left-liberal with a general anti-statist bent, one would think that I would be a natural fit for anarchism. Certainly I sympathize with some of anarchism's core values and criticisms of the status quo. But I want nothing to do with the contemporary anarchist movement in America, because it is the most worthless, ineffectual, anti-intellectual wing of the left.

Which is not to say that I have no respect for historical anarchism. Anarchists played a major role in the fight for the eight hour workday in 1880s Chicago, for example. Many of America's greatest social critics, from Thoreau to Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, have been either explicitly anarchist or anarchistic in their view of society. And perhaps the greatest, and in my opinion, the noblest, of all the failed proletarian revolutions that litter the early history of European capitalism was the revolution in Spain that coincided with the Civil War of '36 to '39, which was generally anarchist in character. Firms were collectivized and controlled democratically, the resultant savings were passed on to the consumer, and by and large a functioning, largely voluntary, anarchist society existed in northern Spain in the first year of the Civil War.

Obviously, for an ideology such as anarchism to be taken seriously, there must be an extremely thorough theoretical foundation for that ideology's imagined new society. No revolutionary ideology can be seriously entertained by thinking people if there is not even the recognition of this one essential necessity. And there used to be serious dialogue to this effect amongst the radical (and crucially, largely working-class,) anarchist intelligentsia. The Spanish Revolution was the culmination of six decades of practical, programmatic thinking within the Spanish anarchist movement.

However, one will search in vain in the modern anarchist movement for even the recognition of the importance of elaborating upon the anarchist idea of working-class revolution. In fact, there is minimal concern with the working-class itself. Instead of practical, empirical thinking, there is endless debate on anarchist websites such as, on the need for "diversity of tactics," which translates to "throwing rocks at cops." They can hardly even be considered "radical," because their radical thought rarely extends beyond protest. That their protests usually descend into violence serves to obscure the impotence of their actions amongst anarchists, who frequently conflate their protests with revolution. It would be charitable to call this mindset "existential;" a better word would be "worthless."

The modern American anarchist is not radical. In fact, he can hardly be considered a leftist because there is an almost total disdain on his part for making his movement a mass movement, which is the principle concern of actual leftists. Actual leftists seek to politically empower their friends, neighbors and co-workers, with an eye toward achieving the total emancipation of the masses from all class distinction. The American anarchist, being a libertine, deliberately obscures the question of class which is supposed to be absolutely central to leftist politics, because he himself is thoroughly petty-bourgeois in his outlook towards life. The class question is thus of little utility for him.

One is led to question, then, what exactly constitutes the modern American anarchist's politics. The answer is fairly simple. His is the politics of confrontation. He concerns himself with combatting what he loosely understands to be repression by breaking windows and smashing shit. Politics are merely tangential to this central concern. His politics exists only insofar as it gives him the excuse to riot. And he loves the riot. It is thrilling to him; it is what he lives for. It allows him to break through the shell of his middle-class existence for a fleeting moment and live on the other side of the law, outside of the safe confines of the shelter of his upbringing. In a word, he is a supreme narcissist because his politics are tailored to suit his own psychological needs.

Evidence abounds throughout anarchist literature. For example, from an article by the highly influential publishing collective CrimethInc entitled "Your Politics Are Boring As Fuck":

"For how many of you is politics a responsibility? Something you engage in because you feel you should, when in your heart of hearts there are a million things you would rather be doing? Your volunteer work—is it your most favorite pastime, or do you do it out of a sense of obligation? Why do you think it is so hard to motivate others to volunteer as you do? Could it be that it is, above all, a feeling of guilt that drives you to fulfill your 'duty' to be politically active?…

…You actually do us all a real disservice with your tiresome, tedious politics. For in fact, there is nothing more important than politics. NOT the politics of American "democracy" and law, of who is elected state legislator to sign the same bills and perpetuate the same system…But the politics of our everyday lives…When you involve yourself in politics out of a sense of obligation, and make political action into a dull responsibility rather than an exciting game that is worthwhile for its own sake, you scare away people whose lives are already far too dull for any more tedium…

…Join us in making the 'revolution' a game; a game played for the highest stakes of all, but a joyous, carefree game nonetheless!"

So there you go. Politics shouldn't be thought of as a "responsibility," because that's boring. Political action shouldn't be judged by the concrete impact it has on society, but by how "exciting" it is. Can there be a more distilled example of selfish, emotional infancy? I'm sure the millions of Spaniards who gave their lives for the anarchist ideal would love to be harangued about how they should have made their movement more fun. But this is what anarchism has degenerated into. Anarchism has become antipolitics. And all of this dovetails easily with the prevailing norms of society, of instant gratification, of selfish individualism, of anti-intellectualism.

My theory is that CrimethInc is a front group for the FBI whose purpose is to de-fang what would otherwise be the most radical wing of the left. It would make perfect sense. Everything that CrimethInc publishes is so stupid, so inane, so ultimately reactionary that it's impossible to think that any self-respecting leftist could be behind it. Everything about CrimethInc seems deliberately calculated to encourage lazy, nonchalant, willful impotence in its readers. This is a publisher that encourages its readers to dumpster-dive rather than suffer the indignity of getting a job. That claims that deodorant is a capitalist plot to kill the "animal within." Can any thinking person take such nonsense seriously? Anarchists can. To quote George Orwell, they are "fiddling while Rome burns, and unlike the enormous majority of people who do this, fiddling with [their] face to the flames."

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