There are many branches of political thought to which people subscribe. While some obscure or outdated philosophies still have lip-service given to them in passing during our mainstream education I am somewhat disappointed that one long, noble and constantly adapting school of thought often goes unspoken. Even to those who follow its course, the words themselves are often obscured behind alternate terminology or guarded like some True Name that can be used to weave a curse against you. What is this pariah of political philosophy of which I speak?
Examined individually each word has been tarred by the mainstream media for over a hundred and twenty years. Anarchism: Black. Bomb throwing. Rioting. Smashing. Rag-tag. Destructive chaos. Communism: Red. Authoritarian. Poor. Centralised. Militaristic. Controlling order.
Given the above perceptions why would anyone describe themselves as an anarchist or a communist? Is using the two in conjunction a contradiction? What about the people seen using these terms that meet the popular expectations? I’d like to clear up a few facts about what anarchism and communism are and then explain why we should not only accept the term anarchist communist in private or as a historical curio, but be open about identifying it as a way to live life in the here and now.
Say what you mean & Mean what you say
Anarchism is the branch of socialism that holds that the individual should have full agency over the decisions they make so long as they effect nobody else. Hierarchical, exploitative and oppressive systems of control should be removed, while horizontally organised egalitarian systems of free association and mutual aid are created in their place. Anarchists try to work in a way where the means by which they act reflect the ends they wish to achieve (and so reject reformism, vanguardism and party politics).
Communism is the branch of socialism that states that private property is exploitative as it prevents the each person’s needs from being met. As any current endeavour relies on so many actions taken both in the past and both directly and indirectly in the world around you, no value judgement can every properly quantify or qualify the work you undertake in comparison with another. As such we should expect each to work according to their abilities, and provide everyone with supplies according to their needs.
As you can see anarchism is anything but chaotic and there is nothing in communism which mandates massive bureaucracies or authoritarian dictatorships. The two concepts, while not necessary mutually inclusive, are not only complementary but where once closely related up until the split in the First Internationale. They are reliant on one another for either to be enacted successfully, as can be seen on one of my favourite quotes from Mikhail Bakunin:
“We are convinced that freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice, and that socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.”
What Bakunin is postulating is that “anarchism” or “communism” taken outwith the context of egalitarian socialism is a recipe for disaster. Was he right?
While I don’t want to get into a game of “I’m a better anarchist than you”, there are a whole bunch of groups that describe themselves as anarchists but are not only are incorrect, but should be called out for appropriation of a term that they do not understand or embody. These philosophies all contain the contradiction of stating that they want egalitarianism while encapsulating some unavoidable form of oppression or exploitation.
Anarchists who want police protection from their slaves (apologies to Kim Stanley Robinson). “An-Caps”, or to give them their proper title “Capitalists”, want an end to the oppression of the state and think that once it has been removed that the exploitation required to drive capitalism will magically disappear. Their poorly constructed arguments seem to be an indicator of how corrupting capitalism is as the dominant cultural norm: people are able to tell that the system is broken but are unable to see beyond capital as the economic process by which we meet our needs.
No Gods but Yahweh, No Masters except for our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ??? In much the same way as An-Caps are a testament to the deep psychological scars our dominant economic culture leaves behind, Christian anarchists cannot let go of the cultural oppression of the church. They cherry pick the nice bits of the bible and rely on ignorance or poor logic to cover up all the horrific, manipulative, creepy and violent things Jesus is purported to have done. That is all before they even think to examine their reasons for belief in one set of supernatural tales from the past over any other. That said they are Mostly Harmless, unlike the other groups I describe here.
Crypto-Fascists using black bloc tactics. Plain and simple. If you spot one of these peeps and they aren’t for being talked out of their politics then kick the living shit out of them. No Pasaran!
When those pesky morals are getting in the way of a good noncing you can call yourself a post-left anarchist and pretend it is all ok, right? Post-leftists are those flakes that get in the way at occupations and squats, talking about how class is so 19th century and that we need to destroy a lot of our cultural normative to be truly free. Heck, I think some of the writing by post-leftists is okay, but while anarchism should look to destroy our current dominant society it needs to be done at the same time as creating a new world built with the best of our principles. Floating on a sea without a moral compass just leaves us in a chaotic maelstrom where predatory individuals go unchecked.
Primmos. They have a lot of the same problems as post-leftists and nationalists while also retaining tribal hierarchies and wanking over the idea of destroying modern civilisation. Not to be confused with the ecological focus of green anarchism.
It would be a waste of my time and an insult to your intelligence by reeling of the litany of failed hierarchical, authoritarian and inhumane communist projects of the twentieth century – if anyone really wants me to talk about that then comment bellow. What I will say is that not one of them was communist in nature. The only two groups that want to think of Cuba, North Korea or the USSR as communist or socialist are the rulers of the state itself (to keep the population in line and give the rulers the air of legitimacy), and their capitalist opposite numbers (to give them an enemy to rail against and to undermine socialist progress in their own domains of control). Noam Chomsky has a good bit to say on this (so hit that link yo!)
Some people have decided that the terminology of the past is now a “dead brand” or hide their politics inside terms they feel will be more readily accepted. Libertarian socialists may have an air of historical accuracy but creates undue confusion and by abandoning the language of anarchist communism, hiding the key ideas and text from others who seek it out. Platformists are de facto anarchist communists and so publicly stating you are one without the other is somewhat insincere. Open Marxism and Communiszation are Marxist currents that have come to terms with the shortfalls in what Marx had to say but then create new tendencies to avoid using the word anarchism; to me it appears that they don’t want to conceded the argument that split the first international and so instead they reinvent the wheel by giving new terminology to old anarchist concepts and so start from a point that anarchist communists have since moved beyond. To the anarchists that ask me “Why are you a communist as well?” I normally reply that they are communists too, and once they get over all the propaganda of the capitalist states and authoritarian left they tend to agree.
Another important thing to note is that even if you don’t call yourself an anarchist communist, as soon as your methods start to work they will be recognised for what they are and you will be ignored and isolated, ridiculed and shunned, or violently repressed. By identifying as an anarchist communist you gain the benefit of showing a historical linage that goes back longer than any Leninist or Trotskyist group, has a more coherent, adaptable and critically examined political outlook than your critics, it acts to reclaim the terms anarchist and communist from both their enemies who would slur the terms and those who appropriate then shit on them, and it garners solidarity through shared identity.
Lets start kicking it old school!
So, you have taken a bit of time to reflect on your politics and can admit to yourself that they are anarchist communist in nature. Brilliant! However, anarchism is all about the politics not being something remote from the day-to-day of your actions, so what can be done to reflect your outlook in your actions?
Not as an “activist” per se, but make your anarchism an active part of your life. Undertake steps to prefigure the change you want to see: Direct Action for solving problems, Direct Democracy when organising with others, look towards Recomposition of the class, and keep your eye on Full Communism as the goal. While you don’t have to kick down the door, screaming out The Internationale and waving your red & black flag, when you are following anarchist methodology and someone asks where you get your ideas from then don’t shy away from telling the truth… and not some lame assed half-truth like “oh it is horrizontalism”. Be open and say “this is anarchism”. People aren’t stupid. They know the media lies and that politicians have an agenda that doesn’t include our best interest. They will possibly be a little surprised, maybe even make a comment about how what you are doing not lining up with what they thought an anarchist was, but they will accept it and in the future remember that anarchism equals hard graft without the need for fanfare (every time that bus would stop an ISG organiser would pester the driver to ensure the banners were on the “right side” to advertise their group), dishonesty and corruption, or the delusion that selling a paper is a revolutionary praxis.
When challenged on something others see as problematic in your behaviour take note of that knee-jerk defence that kicks in and look beyond it. Think over things with the best of your morals/philosophy and be ready to revise your position. When we fuck up then we should put our hands up, listen and try to understand what we did wrong, then be open about discussing strategies to try and avoid it happening again. Even then be ready to fuck up some more, it happens.
When supporting campaigns against types of oppression that are not suffered directly by yourself then keep in mind it is not our place to act as leaders or to be given a special space in the spheres occupied of those being oppressed Instead we need to take the spaces where we are already active and change them from within (fem men quote). Red Emma taught me that oppressed groups must lead and inform their struggle and Bell Hooks taught me that cultural context is important.
Join a wider group which shares your politics and can help develop your abilities in a friendly environment, and provide solidarity and support when you need it. Here in Britain there are several organisations that can fulfil this purpose.
I would contend that the Anarchist Federation is the primary organisation for any anarchist communist in Britain to be part of. It is organised using a federated, directly democratic structure and has a strong set of Aims and Principles which members accept upon joining. This gives a strong platform of tactical and theoretical unity to work from and means that you don’t have to compromise on the big points. Now is also a great time to join as the last few years have been a time of rapid growth and the lessons, teething troubles and splits that come with that have been weathered. Like having a local group which you are part of to punch above your weight in a “union if individuals”, so too does having this kind of federation allow local groups to punch above their weight. It is also federated to IFA-IAF and so can call upon other federations, groups and individuals across the world to help with projects.
Anarcho-syndicalism is the kissing cousin to Anarcho-communism, so much so that we even share the same flag (while Kroporkin and Rocker shared a flat together in London – get too it ararcho-slashfic writers!). In the UK there are two main org’s that scratch that itch: SolFed (explicit in their anarchist roots), and the IWW (implicit in their methods). It can really depend where you are based which you should involve yourself with, as both have local branches that vary in the level of action they take and the politics they profess.
Local synthesist groups such as Dundee Anarchists and Stains Anarchists can be just as good, and members of the above organisations are usually involved in them, however they do have the potential to be short-lived or be less focussed in the actions they take, thought this is not always the case and they can provide a good taste into organising.
If theory without action is more up your street there are groups such as The Commune, or if you like some long-winded bitching from the sidelines that ironically criticises precisely what your group is doing when you see it in someone else, there is Collective Action.
None of the options given above are mutually exclusive and “dual-carding” in several of these groups is common. Personally I’m in the Glasgow AF and the Wobblies and in the past have involved myself in the wider Glasgow Anarchists organisation meet-ups.
Get talking with yourself and others by hooking into the wider anarchist communist culture either on-line or in print. Read articles, books, zines and blogs. Post comments on line and in chat forums when you think it could be productive. Go to larger gatherings and make friends. Three good places to start would be LibCom for the articles, Anarchist Memes for the funnies, and AK Press for the books.
Defend our anarchist communist heritage from those who would sideline, obfuscate or belittle it. Our politics are better and stand up in comparison to other modes of thought as they include in their base the mechanisms for review, correction and adaptation. Don’t be shy in challenging not only the fascists and parliamentarians, but also liberals, Marxists, dodgy “anarchists”, conspiracy theorists, or right-wing “libertarians” when they spout spout some nonsense.
If someone wants to get into a debate over peculiars of your politics vs. their politics then keep in mind that there are three good reasons for debate (taken from Russell Glazier at The Atheist Experience). First, and possibly the most rewarding, is those debates where there is sincerity from both parties to listen to and understand the other side and perhaps revise your own position. Second is the fact that you know the other person hasn’t got any interest in changing their point of view, but there is an audience who you can demonstrate the substance of your ideas to and the other person id the perfect foil to work off of. Finally there are those times you have an idea you want to get tested as sometimes you need the hot flames and icy water to make the best steel. Pick the battles you involve yourself in. There is no need to go to every “debate” on Anarchism vs. Marxism that the SWP set up (and trust me these things are almost always a set up).
Lastly, make sure you are living your life and not just existing. If getting involved in things is going to have a negative impact on your mental or physical well being then don’t do it! Carry the seed of the new world in your heart and do all the small things that will help it grow for you. If you are getting involved in the ways I suggest above then I highly recommend reviewing your actions and ensuring that you make sure you are realistic about sustainability of the level of activity you undertake.
If structures don’t exist to provide the support you need, and you are in a position to do so, then help build those structures. Safer spaces and community accountability should be primary elements of any organising. Communicate any help and support you need from others, as well as the boundaries on things you will not be part of.
Life should have a bit of fun in it and so be sure to have some interests away from the campaigning and organising that can sometimes seem overwhelming. Just because something needs to be organised doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable or have a social aspect to it. Also make sure our groups are inclusive and listen on those rare opportunists someone voices ways to do this.