This post is inspired by an email exchange I had
with the one of my regular readers regarding my background as an
anarchist and why I'm now a communist who identifies with the
Marxist-Leninist-Maoist tradition. [Note that this regular reader is
part of community that produces excellent blogs that can be found here, here, and here.] Since I still have comrades/friends who identify as anarchist, I figured why not write a post about my anarchist past...
When I was intitially politicized, and became involved in student activism, I was an anarchist. Or maybe, at first, a quasi-anarchist
who was sympathetic to, because of my parents and uncle, liberation
theology. A strange combination perhaps, but one that somehow made
sense to me at the time. Of course, the more involved with
undergraduate activism I became, an involvement that culminated in the
2001 FTAA protests in Quebec City at the end of my BA, the more
theoretically anarchist I made myself. When I began my MA I was a
confirmed anarchist familiar with Goldman, Bakunin, Bookchin, etc.
Generally speaking, and like most radical
activists of my generation, I saw communism as an authoritarian dead
end. Believing I was more radical than the old marxist left, and
unaware that many of my critiques of communist movements were actually
rightwing critiques veiled as left, I was a typical self-righteous
activist: outside history, confident that my individualistic
understanding was beyond reproach. Sometimes I cringe when I think of
my younger self, especially when I contemplate my partner’s more
critical perspective (and patience with me), along with many of the
vacuous positions I argued. [Here I really need to credit my partner
for my politicization, for many of the theoretical paths I took––this
was the prime influence behind what I chose to read and investigate,
And yet anarchism has been the default radicalism at the centres of
capitalism for decades. The Soviet project failed, the Chinese
Revolution followed, and it is much easier to ascribe these failings to a
failure of ideology––to complain of Party authoritarianism, naive to
the fact that we are echoing liberal complaints about collectivism––than
investigate the complex and historical reasons for this failure.
Convenient narratives were available: Stalin the moster, Mao the even
worse monster (a claim once again promoted by the right). We could
believe we were questioning everything, while we were also refusing to
question ideas and history that we assumed were common sense.
Even so, there are still things about anarchism that make sense: the
rejection of heirarchy and authority is wise in the face of cults of
personality; the utopian belief in the creative potential of masses to
reject tyranny protects us against resignation; the suspicion of those
people and organizations that claimed to speak for heterogeneous
In my MA, however, I began to discover that anarchist theory was
generally far less sophisticated, far less developed, and far more
myopic than the marxist tradition. My first slog through Capital
(only the first volume at that time––I read the second and third in the
summer between my MA and PhD), along with readings from other marxists,
was very enlightening. Not that I was prepared, during the first year
of my MA, to abandon anarchism. I was also reading a lot of
post-colonial and contemporary anti-racist literature that in my mind
complimented anarchism because it rejected marxism as eurocentric. Then, at the end of my first year, I read Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and discovered that the historical materialist tradition was not, as I had initially and naively assumed, simply eurocentric.
It was during the second year of my MA, when I was working on my Masters
thesis, that my allegiance to anarchism began to disintegrate. I
encountered the Autonomist Marxist tradition, along with the
Situationists and Deleuze and Guattari, which was my "gateway drug" to
marxism. Nick Dyer-Witheford, Harry Cleaver, early Antonio Negri and
other Italian workerists proved that I could keep the spirit of
anarchism while shedding its theoretical shell. Autonomism, after all,
rejects vanguardist praxis, the party form, the need to sieze state
power, and all of the "authoritarian" aspects of marxism my anarchist
self found abhorrent.
My reasons for eventually abandoning autonomism, however, were caused by reading Hart and Negri's Empire.
Excited that Negri had co-authored a new book on contemporary
struggles, I was excited to read his thoughts in this regard.
Unfortunately, since I was at that time generally ignorant of
contemporary anti-imperialist political economy, I could not properly
understand what Empire was critiquing. Even still, the
jargon-laced theorization of a centre-less capitalism just struck me as
wrong––especially in the post-9/11 universe where it seemed clear, or at
least I thought it seemed clear, that imperialism did possess centres.
And so began, through an investigation of political economy, my descent
into what may or may not be an "orthodox" marxism. Soon I was reading
Samir Amin, probably the greatest living anti-imperialist political
economist, and becoming equipped to understand just why Empire was
wrong. Two years into my PhD, because of Amin and other radical
political economists, I was reading Lenin and Mao and critical histories
of the Russian and Chinese Revolutions. The activist and academic
community I found myself engaged with at that time (and am still engaged
with) allowed for many theoretical and practical encounters. The steep
(yet also privileged) reading/studying/cognizing requirements of my
doctoral dissertation, along with the activist work I was doing at the
time (both in and outside my labour union), contributed to my changing
political views. In any case, rather than continue boring anyone who
has bothered to read this far in an onerous post, I won't waste time
describing an inventory of my route to where I am now.
Suffice to say, the 20 year old version of me would probably not like
the 32 year old version of me very much; the 25 year old version of me,
though a little closer, would probably think he was smarter and more
philosophically sophisticated––as does everyone who begins their PhD in
philosophy until they (hopefully) realize that grad school is filled
with similar minded 25 year olds, or until (even more hopefully) they
are corrected and humbled through their engagement with a healthy
political community. These previous selves (that, in many ways, prove
Hume's point about the fiction of continuous consciousness), would
probably be quite horrified that their future self ended up defining as a
Maoist, or at least a Maoist-influenced, communist. But it was my
anarchist self that was also drawn to aspects of Maoism, such as the
mass-line and the whole "bombard the headquarters" furor in the GPCR.
Just as it was my autonomist self who was drawn to the notion of
revolutionary theoretical innovation through world historical
Communists, especially very ortho-communists, sometimes like to call
anarchists "infantile" and anarchism an "infantile disorder",
referencing Lenin of course (and more in a polemical than a theoretical
manner it should be pointed out). For me, in some ways, it was more of
an infantile developmental stage than a "disorder." Nor do I think it's
wrong, at least in my context, to think of anarchism as infantile––not
that I think any of my anarchist comrades/friends are infantile, I just want to examine how the analogy applies to my experience. No analogies are perfect, but what the hell...
Children engage with the world with wonder, as if everything is new, and
their minds are not yet set in ruts and patterns that may limit their
consciousness. Certainly children are uncritical, but they are also
undogmatic. (Again, no analogy is perfect: I realize that a lot of
anarchists, who claim they are anti-authoritarian, are also prone to a
very uncritical dogmatism and sublimated authoritarianism.) Another
commenter on this site once asked me to consider the problem of
psychological investment in my theoretical position: do I want certain
struggles to fail because I am invested in a particular view of history
and must defend it at any cost? The point is well taken, and I want to
write a post on this in the future, and speaks to this analogy.
Children are not psychologically invested in specific positions; they
are still largely open to the future.
If anarchism is "infantile" then maybe ortho-communism is the equivalent
of a grumpy old man who shakes his cane at the young'uns. We can also
speak of communisms that are the equivalent of arrogant students who
think they know everything. Or communist theoretical positions that are
also "senile." And maybe the spirit of anarchism is good for marxists,
even us marxists who believe in concepts of the party, to retain.
Anarkism och marxism går utmärkt att förena - som Daniel Guerin gjorde i sin bok. Man tillför anarkismen den dialektiska historiematerialismen och tar bort det auktoritära draget hos marxismen med rådssocialismen. Situationisterna lyckades bäst med denna syntes, och den autonoma rörelsen likaså. Så slipper man att bli renegat.
Staffan / Konst och Politik
Etiketter är för ideologer. Var inte en ideolog
Etiketterna står artikelförfattaren här för. Anarkismen är inte en ideologi utan en rörelse och en filosofi. Trodde jag du visste, jag vet det åtminstone, @.
Konst och Politik
Jag menade artikelförfattare
OK, då är vi överens.