Views in brief

March 5, 2009

Misconceptions about anarchism

PAUL D'AMATO'S "Refusing to be ruled over" is a very interesting column that brings a few important issues to the fore.

First, it is obvious from the article that many who call themselves "anarchists" do not understand anarchism. There is a reason why the father of anarchism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, started calling himself a "federalist" toward the end of his career.

In the modern day, this misconception of what anarchism stands for is even more pronounced. The author mentions valid examples, such as the refusal to recognize the worth of labor movements, the striving towards vegetarianism and the focusing on personal lifestyles, rather than on social change. I wholeheartedly agree that these are futile efforts to induce the social change we need, though on a personal level, they are as valid as anything else.

I would argue, however, that the examples given do not fit with the spirit of anarchism. Did Emma Goldman think that labor movements were not important? Who organized the Haymarket protests, and who were thrown in jail unjustly? Anarchist organizers.

It is also worth mentioning that the soviets, the Russian collectives that drove the Russian Revolution, were organized on anarchist principles. Later, Lenin had to subjugate them to party rule, but some argue (Daniel Guerin for example) that it was the visceral revolt of the soviets that made the Russian Revolution possible. There is also the example of Nestor Makhno in Ukraine.

There are aspects of the Spanish revolution and the indecision of the CNT that may need to be discussed and indeed criticized. Their flip-flopping on voting is one of the problems worth considering. However, one also needs to be clear that the economical strangulation caused by Communist/Stalinist (pro-Russian) leaders had a very direct and devastating effect, and is largely responsible for the collapse of the anarchist revolution.

One also needs to list the armed crushing of the anarchists in May 1937. Juan Comorera and Vincente Uribe (both Stalinists) were instrumental in organizing a resistance against anarchists, and in diverting food supplies from workers in order to crush resistance (for more detail, see Daniel Guerin's Anarchism and Noam Chomsky's Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship).

Accusing anarchist philosophy, or "the renouncement of power" according to Trotsky, of the demise of the Spanish anarchists would be a largely misguided effort. To quote G. Munis, a Spanish Trotskyist: "This was one of the most inspiring episodes of the Spanish Revolution. The peasants reaffirmed their socialist beliefs in spite of government terror and the economic boycott to which they were subjected."

I believe that the core anarchist teachings of Bakunin, Proudhon, Goldman, R. Rocker, Korotikin, Pannekoek and others cannot be accused of lacking in vision, or of being utopian. Whether modern pseudo-anarchists understand that is a different story.

I agree with the author, however, that I am not aware of an anarchist organization that is decently functional in the U.S. (as compared to socialist organizations, such as the International Socialist Organization, the Democratic Socialists of America or the Socialist Party). But one only has to look to Greece to find that the anarchist movement is still alive and well.
Alexi Goranov, Cambridge, Mass.

Libertarian socialism, not lifestyle anarchism

I THINK Paul D'Amato misses, perhaps intentionally, the fact that anarchists--not lifestyle anarchists, but libertarian socialists, i.e., authentic anarchists--seek to develop a way of struggle that is reflective of their ideals, but also create a threat to the powers that be ("Refusing to be ruled over").

I'm not talking about vegetarianism or collectives being a driving revolutionary force, as you simplify it. I speak namely to currents such as anarcho-syndicalism and social ecology (with its emphasis on municipalism).

The majority of anarchists I know are not satisfied with simply squatting, not paying rent etc., but know that an injury to one is in fact an injury to all, and so none are free until all are free. Therefore, they see the need to struggle and create strategies that will help us create the classless society that we always dream of.

I don't agree with a lot of your article, but I do agree that individualistic approaches to social injustices amount to something very similar to capitalism--just replacing the suit and ties with dreadlocks and black T-shirts. This is to say that anyone who sees injustice in our society and decides to "fall out" or go live off in a commune somewhere forgets about everyone else who suffers, and is no different from those that cause the suffering. It takes a fair amount of privilege to do this.

I see your article as an unnecessary attack, however, on anarchist comrades. If you wanted to make your point, an attack on individualism in general would have been better instead of this seemingly sectarian piece, which further divides leftists across the spectrum. You do not do enough here to defend or credit the social movements that anarchists have played a major role in.

I recommend you read some Rudolf Rocker, and also check out Murray Bookchin's "Social anarchism or lifestyle anarchism." Perhaps it would also do you some good to re-read some of Errico Malatesta's works.
Greg Rodriguez, Edinburg, Texas

All you need is love--and tax shelters

I LOVED Eamonn McCann's column on the hypocrisy of Irish rock star and tax cheat Bono ("Humanitarian or tax cheat?"), but I have to take issue with one small point.

Eamonn writes, "In the day of the Beatles, it was peace and harmony to the tune of 'All You Need Is Love.'" But back in 1966, George Harrison penned "Taxman," perhaps my least-favorite Beatles' song, complaining about the high taxes he had to pay.

At that time, in the UK, the highest marginal income tax rate was 95 percent ("There's one for you, nineteen for me"), and within a few year,s Harrison and Ringo Starr were both living as tax exiles outside Britain. Paul McCartney, on the other hand, was so wealthy he told an interviewer "I'll
just stay in England and figure out some way to pay these taxes."

But it's also worth remembering that, influenced by the political movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s, John Lennon wrote "Power to the People" and "Working Class Hero," and asked us to "imagine no possessions" in a world without greed and hunger.

I'm still a fan of the early U2 albums of the 1980s, but I'm waiting for a new political upsurge that will sweep Bono onto the ash heap of history.
Phil Gasper, Madison, Wis.

The contradictions of the Church

I DISAGREE with Mike M. that Eamonn McCann's portrayal of the Catholic Church is "unfair" ("An unfair portrayal of the Church").

Overall, the Catholic Church--I mean the Pope and the official hierarchy--has been a reactionary force of oppression. It directly fought against many progressive ideas and movements, including but not limited to the Enlightenment, rationalism, secularism, abolitionism, science, socialism, women's rights and LGBT rights. It has also given direct support to fascism, coddling right-wing dictators like Italy's Benito Mussolini, Spain's Francisco Franco and Chile's Augusto Pinochet.

There have been many noble individual Catholics. Various members of the Jesuit order of priests were militant abolitionists. Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero was assassinated for his radical criticisms of U.S. imperialism and his active struggle for the rights of the poor.

The broader Liberation Theology movement in Latin America did much the same thing and often experienced similar tragic results. Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement were committed to civil rights, anti-militarism and socioeconomic justice. Philip and Daniel Berrigan, brothers and ordained priests, used civil disobedience to combat the Vietnam War and nuclear weapons.

However, the Church leadership's historical role has been ugly, and it's therefore unsurprising that it would welcome an anti-Semitic bigot into its ranks. Marxists should oppose the Catholic Church as an official institution--while being careful to distinguish it from individual members of the Church.
Tom Stone, Ewing, N.J.

Bank of America and EFCA

THANKS FOR the "heads up" regarding Bank of America's opposition to and active work against the Employee Free Choice Act ("The enemies of unions and the lies they tell").

This was the final straw--in addition to their duplicity regarding Merrill Lynch bonuses and charging the unemployed workers to withdraw direct deposit unemployment benefits. I withdrew all my funds from Bank of America this afternoon and gave the branch manager a strongly worded letter on these issues.

Keep up the good work!
Patrick Evans, from the Internet