Big step forward for the radical movement

Craven, Jim jcraven at clark.edu
Sun Feb 3 13:10:20 MST 2002


Louis wrote:

>>Unlike modern-day social reformers, who want Nike to let inspectors
into their factories or the World Bank to forgive some debt,
anarchists explicitly oppose capitalism itself. They don't attack the
International Monetary Fund or the WEF just because their policies
exploit the poor, but because their power is illegitimate. They
envision an egalitarian society without nation states, where wealth
and power have been redistributed, and they take great pains to model
their institutions in this vein, with autonomous, interconnected
structures and consensus-based decision making. UC Santa Cruz
professor Barbara Epstein, an expert on direct action, senses that
anarchism has now become "the pole that everyone revolves around,"
much as Marxism was in the '60s. In other words, even young activists
who don't identify as anarchists have to position themselves in
relation to its values.<<

Response: Well Louis, in my experience yes and no. Yes some anarchists are
quite determined, have a fairly coherent and somewhat deep understanding of
what capitalism is about and what the system inexorably does to the mounting
numbers of victims it creates, and yes, model their ideals in terms of how
they carry-out decision-making and direct action through their collectives.
But there are also many who are simply I-want-it-all-and-I-want-it-now
narcissists and slogan mongers who have no real idea of what capitalism
really is and what it is really about; their direct actions are some kind of
narcissistic and self-indulgent Mardi-Gras-like partying with no caring
about the effects on--or real messages conveyed to--those potential allies
they really do not care about linking up with--or learning from. Some have
their own Gurus and hierarchies and cults of personality every bit as
top-down and elitist as that which they decry in other groups. Remember that
the nazi SA (Brownshirts) had some elements that called themselves
"anti-capitalist" (many drawn from the ranks of former anarchists and/or
former social democrats or even self-described "communists") and even today,
among some of the ultra-rightist militia types you can find some who call
themselves "anti-capitalist" (usually they mean "anti-Jewish bankers"). To
call oneself anti-capitalist, or even to take nominally anti-capitalist
positions is not necessarily the same as objectively being dangerous to
capitalism.

Louis wrote:

In reality, despite Barbara Epstein (whose mushy views on anarchism I
critique at:
http://www.mail-archive.com/marxism@lists.panix.com/msg25869.html),
Marxism was no such "pole" that everyone revolved around in the
1960s. The majority of activists were "New Left" radicals, who share
many of the same virtues and vices of today's rank-and-file
anarchists. These types of radicals have boundless energy for
activism, much less so for theory and patient base-building and
organization. It was only when rudimentary activism exhausted itself
that many activist veterans sought out Marxist organizations in the
60s and 70s. In the meantime, Marxists should not regard
"anti-globalization" protestors as opponents, even when they profess
some kind of belief in the eternal wisdom of a Bakunin or a Murray
Bookchin. Despite the labels they attach to themselves and those that
the Village Voice attributes to them, they are simply the rank and
file of a burgeoning mass movement, whose growth is beneficial for
all movements since it incorporates exactly what is needed across the
board--a spirit of resistance to the status quo.

Response: I generally agree with this assessment with the caveat that there
is a dialectical unity between form and content and the messenger and the
message. Sometimes the real message--and the effective outreach of the
message--can be effectively sabotaged by the infantilism, lack of
preparation, self-indulgence, superficiality, yes sectarianism and wreckless
adventurism of the "messenger" claiming to be an ally of the message. Some
of these anarchists want revolution served up like a microwave dinner:
instant returns with little real heat, substantive mass work, penetrating
analysis (which takes disciplined research and praxis) and those types are
effective allies of the very State they claim they want to smash.

Louis wrote:

Finally, if Marxism is going to be relevant to these sorts of
activists, it will have to confront the sort of "developmentalism"
that was on display here a while back, when Meera Nanda tried to
justify support for the Narmada dam in India. If these protestors
care about anything, it is the right of peasant villagers to be
protected from the kind of "primitive accumulation" sponsored by the
Indian bourgeoisie in alliance with the IMF and World Bank. For many
of us, this will require deeper thinking about Marxism, indigenous
struggles and ecology. To dispense with the unfortunate social
Darwinism that was packaged with Marxism by people like Kautsky is a
necessary first step, but much more is necessary if we are to be
successful

Response: Well yes and no again. Some or even many of the self-described
anarchists I spoke with in Seattle and elsewhere over the years had no ideas
where India really was or what was really there. If I asked them who the
"Nagas" of India are and what their struggles and conditions of life are
they would have no idea. They had some buzz words, slogans and mantras, but
many had not even read the so-called "classics" of Anarchism or any leading
"theoreticians" of Anarchism (in some ways an oxymoron). As for indigenous
struggles in general, many--not all--of the anarchists share with many
self-professed "Marxists" some abysmal eurocentrism and general ignorance
about--or tnagible concern for--the realities and struggles of Indigenous
Peoples in various parts of the world.

Chomsky, who has self-described himself at various times as an "anarchist"
and even "Left Libertarian" has, in my opinion, demonstrated some qualities
that few self-described anarchists--and even "Marxists"--demonstrate in
their work and postures: a) breadth and depth of scholarship on serious
issues employing diversity of sources (yes, including the NYT, Washington
Post etc) to read between the lines, establish some basic facts, concretely
refute commonly-held myths and "facts" and establish new "facts" even
utilizing bourgeois sources; b) writing/speaking in a style, grammar and
syntax--through diverse popular media--accessible by many of the victims he
is writing/speaking about--unlike the likes of RRPE et al engaging in ultra
"mathurbation" and esoteric theory not having much to do with concrete
issues and struggles or not being accessible/understandable by the victims
about which the articles are being written; c) willingness to engage in
substantive exchange and discourse with a wide variety of activists and
non-celebrities from diverse walks of life. He does understand that social
change and substantive struggle on substantive issues cannnot be served-up
like a microwaveable meal or through slogan-mongering and narcissistic
theatrics--something few anarchists understand or practice.

Jim C

--
Louis Proyect, lnp3 at panix.com on 02/03/2002


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