Recently an anarchist who I don’t respect or like accused the collective with which I associate of drawing a definition of anarchism that excludes from the anarchist movement anyone who doesn’t embrace the precise ideology of the collective. The accusation is wrong, but instead of addressing this particular slander I’d like to use it as a jumping off point for discussion of the anarchist movement and its practical boundaries.
Much of the discussion about anarchism on the anglophone Internet is concerned with what “anarchism” is. Any anarchist who has spent any time on any forum that defines itself as associated with “anarchism” has read or participated in this debate. Laissez-Faire Capitalists, anti-state Liberals, white-racists, mens-rights fanatics, Randian anti-socials, woo-worshiping hippies, and various other reactionaries claim the term. As socialists who are firmly rooted in the historical tradition of libertarian socialism it’s easy to tell ourselves that these people are not anarchists given their lack of opposition to capitalism. This doesn’t mean they haven’t become part of the anarchist movement, however. At this point the label “anti-state” has been successfully conflated with “anarchist” in the minds of most people. The association of anti-capitalist movements with anarchism has become secondary.
The traditional anti-capitalist anarchist movement has always had a tension within it between socialist outcomes and anti-state ideology and practice. We oppose party politics but our agitation was instrumental in extending universal suffrage and more recently, in defending it. We want to demolish the state and yet we attempt to radicalize the defense of the welfare state from neo-liberal assault. Lately it feels like the reactionary focus on “anti-state” as the sufficient condition of anarchism has exacerbated this tension within the anti-capitalist anarchist movement. There has been an up-tick in calls to abandon any sort of agitation that includes an outcome that creates a stronger welfare state, or that results in stronger state intervention in the capital markets, or higher taxes. The increase in this sort of rhetoric is the result of a strong push by left-libertarians to capture the anarchist movement. Left-libertarianism was not historically anarchist, was not particularly involved with libertarian socialists until a few decades ago, and is in my opinion rather opposed to what anarchist ideology stands for. These people use leftist rhetoric to justify free market policies. They have strong contacts with the propertarian anti-state right. They are mostly white dudes with absolutely no interest in or solutions for the struggles of women and people of color. Yet they are now an important part of the anarchist movement. They are, in fact, beginning to set the tone among anarchists. This has significant ramifications for those of us who are radical anarchists.
The fact that reactionaries, capitalists and their anti-state fellow travelers are now part of the anarchist movement is problematic enough. What of socialists who are clearly anti-capitalist but are dismissive of struggles against patriarchy and racism? Even radical anarchists have an enormous problem with class reductionism. The vast majority of the anarchist movement is white and male and lives in the first world. Often, calls for acknowledgement of feminist or anti-racist struggle is dismissed as “against the working class” or something “in addition to the working class struggle.” How absurd this is when the majority of the global working class is neither white nor male and does not live in the first world! The anarchist movement does not take the struggles of these oppressed classes seriously. Little provision is made to seriously combat the structures that oppress women, people of color, and queer and transsexual comrades within the movement. Tokenism is common. The effect of this is obvious: Anarchism remains a white man’s movement. So long as this is the case it will fail to become a serious revolutionary movement.
So what do we anarchists have? We have a movement dominated by self-identified anarchists who are either openly reactionary or who are radicals who refuse to fight patriarchy and racism. This is, to put it mildly, a problem.
I see three channels in the movement. One, non-radical anarchists. Two, radical but patriarchal and racist anarchists. Three, wholly radicalized anarchists who are either fighting patriarchy and racism alongside capitalism and where capitalism intersects with those structures or who are honestly trying to do this. The third category is tiny.
A good comrade of mine recently said that she did not know that there were anarchists who were not radicals, and it blew her mind when she learned that they existed. Her solution is simple. She looks for comrades who exhibit the traits in category three above and ignores whatever label they otherwise use to define their revolutionary ideology. A revolutionary is a comrade, so to speak.
Radical anarchists need to focus on building a movement of revolutionaries who are committed to fighting capitalism and its attendant oppressions. We need to reject all calls to tone down our rhetoric or soften our ideology so that we can appeal more to white men. Our rhetoric and our organizational focus needs to be on radicalizing the poor, the woman, the person of color, the queer, the disabled. Right now this movement is doing the opposite. Those who accuse us of wanting to define them out of the movement are utterly wrong. You don’t share our goals, you don’t share our tactics, you are in the way. We don’t want to define you out of the movement, we want to push you out of it.