Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Dec 6 06:52:50 MST 1999

Look, this discussion about anarchism has an awfully abstract quality. We
are not talking about philosophy. We are talking about a movement that died
long ago. The IWW was a great organization, whose anarcho-syndicalism was
completely appropriate given the state of the working class movement at the
turn of the century. It was raw, spontaneous and easily combustible. But it
could not lead to long-term gains such as an industrial union because it
was trying to combine two contradictory aspects, the need for economic
defense and the need to transform society along socialist lines.

When the Russian Revolution took place, the two tasks were separated.
Organizing drives to build industrial unions were led by Communists and
Trotskyists, many of whom, like SWP founder James P. Cannon, had been IWW

There is no anarchist movement today. There are rather small circles of
people in major cities who socialize and put out pamphlets and leaflets on
an occasional basis. Most of them consist of aging radicals who never
hooked up with a Marxist group in the 1960s. But, except for haphazard
flings with squatters' fights, these small groups have never--I repeat,
never--have been involved with the major class battles of the past 50
years. The civil rights movement, the antiwar movement (both Vietnam and
Central America), the fight to democratize the unions, the gay movement,
the woman's movement have in nearly instance been led by organized Marxist
groups or independent Marxists working with non-ideological progressives.

What you have instead is a very broad tendency for young people new to
radical politics to dub themselves "anarchists" because they are alienated
by capitalism but who have never really thought in a systematic way about
the cause of their alienation and how to bring it to an end. I used to run
into them all the time at peace demonstrations selling my stupid Militant
newspaper. "What's that?" "This is a socialist newspaper with excellent
coverage of national and international struggles". "Naw, man. I'm an
anarchist. All systems suck." This was usually from a 21 year old man in a
tie-dyed t-shirt, sucking on a reefer. Five years later this "anarchist"
would be at a law firm most likely.

The more serious problem that anarchism poses today in this highly
problematic anti-WTO type protests is that they don't seem interested in
democratic decision making. It doesn't fucking matter what people in
Greenpeace or Rainforest Action Network or a steelworkers local voted on at
a coalition meeting. It doesn't matter that the greens and the labor
movement have been raising funds, phonecalling and leafleting for a year
straight. These anarchists make their own rules. If the majority doesn't
approve, that's too bad. That's a big problem for a movement that aspires
to change society, for without democratic decision making socialism is not

Louis Proyect

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