anarcho-leftism & the politics of libcom (2013)

head in sand

On 27th October 2012 the UK anarchist scene had its annual gathering of those who claim to oppose the state. The cop collaborator, John Drury (who, as we’ve seen, has provided the state with innovative ideas for reforming its practice and its image), and his Aufheben gang, was provided with a stand and no-one confronted him27. Jolly nice day, jolly good show. Joseph Kay, Libcom admin’s chief defender of Drury, and a sometime contributor to Aufheben, gave a little talk appreciated by the benignly tolerant anarchists.  Whilst it would be incorrect to tar all anarchists with the same brush, tolerance for the intolerable has long been an aspect of anarcho-leftism. For example, Paul Mason, of BBC Newsnight fame, was invited to the anarchist bookfair a couple of years ago, and not insulted by the far too polite “libertarians” who amassed there. Some even felt some vicarious fame by having a friendly chat with him. After all, Libcom, and other anarchos, often refer to him uncritically. But with the ruling class internationally assaulting the working class as almost never before, what was important was to maintain a show of opposition that excluded dealing with the collaborators and recuperators within their midst. Drury and Aufheben (or, indeed, Lefty cadres whose celebrity careers help develop the BBC’s image of “free speech”) aren’t the only form of complicity with the enemy, though. Politics – in part, the art of putting forward an abstract program to be followed by partisans and the art of manipulatively falsifying those who oppose such a practice – is what unites all the phoneys and con-men of whatever persuasion: above all, this kind of politics is the enemy within.

When the TPTG initially put up their first “Open Letter to the British internationalist/anti-authoritarian/activist/protest/street scenes (and to all those concerned with the progress of our enemies)”28, on Libcom, Libcom admin immediately took it down and then, after people complained (because of the reputation that the TPTG have for sober analysis, and the fact that Libcom had always hosted TPTG articles) put it up with a picture of Pinnochio and said it contained untrue smears and allegations. After endless complaints from neutral posters they felt pressured to withdraw the picture, though they continued to have the “untrue allegations” smear even though there were innumerable links to articles written or co-written by Drury that clearly showed that these were no mere allegations. Despite claiming to be an open forum for anti-state anti-politics, Libcom admin has shown, in the Aufhebengate scandal, its political clique mentality which up until then had remained diffuse and obscure.

“Surveillance has an interest in organizing poles of negation itself, which it can instruct with more than the discredited means of the spectacle, so as to manipulate, not terrorists this time, but theories” .(Thesis XXX, Commentaries on the Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord)

Whilst Libcom do not in any way consciously manipulate radical theory in order to intensify toleration for the state, it is clearly one of the results of what they have done in this case. What they imagine subjectively they are doing is irrelevant: the road to reformed capitalist hell is paved with “radical” intentions. Here a guy, in his participation in past radical active opposition to the state, has clearly used his research to help the state, to reform its strategies, and will try to continue to do so. This is in some ways worse than the Mark Kennedy/Mark Stone cop infiltrator of the activist milieu. Whilst subjectively Kennedy/Stone certainly traumatised his lovers and friends, and led to some arrests, one expects this shit behaviour from the filth. What he did was logically consistent with his choice to serve the ruling class. What is not at all logical is for those who ostensibly desire an opposition to the ruling class to give new ideas to their enemies that could only have arisen out of their direct participation in some forms of radical activity. Whilst the Kennedy/Stone case affected dozens of individuals, the team of which Drury is a part potentially affects millions. And it’s worse in the sense that the UK “libertarian communist” milieu (as a whole, not necessarily as individuals) doesn’t give a toss about this, at least in any publicly decisive manner. So much so that Drury, unlike Stone/Kennedy can continue as normal, as if nothing has happened.

What is not at all logical is for those who ostensibly desire an anti-state revolution to support and justify this piece of shit, or to do nothing about him, and so encourage others doing likewise. In fact those who defend him have become just as bad as him, lying29 in order to rubbish genuine opposition. Doubtless there are some things more indicative of the old-style authoritarian communism than Joseph Kay saying of the TPTG’s publicising of the texts authored by JD: “They published information they knew to be false, as a lengthy email was sent to them in August”30but it still sounds like another way of saying : “They published information they knew to be false, as the Central Committee had ruled it to be false in August”.

After 5 or 6 weeks of persistent gang-like denial of the obvious (including the absurd notion that the Drury, Stott and co. team’s ideas had no material effect whatsoever), they were able to dismiss the whole affair as “a massive waste of time” (Joseph Kay). Politics as a method of influencing people by means of lies remains at the heart of this affair, aimed at imposing silence. Libcom admin then went on to shut down thread after thread on this affair, leaving only one with the obscure title “Why this article has been removed?”31, and banned various people either temporarily or permanently, according to whimsical subjective criteria (e.g. the dismissal of someone as a troll in order to ignore something valid in their post, or insults censored as “flaming”, when often similar behaviour on the part of someone close to admin or part of it went unchecked) and deleted various posts without even saying they’d been deleted. I am reminded of Lenin’s “You can stand here with us, or against us out there with a gun in your hand, but not within some opposition….We’ve had enough opposition.” Obviously the comparison with an armed conflict between state and anti-state forces is hyperbole, but the viciousness of the ideological manipulation in an epoch where ideology is often a far greater debilitating force than military might is pertinent. Of course, there is nothing wrong with a website deciding what on it should be said and discussed and what shouldn’t, but this has to be made explicit and clear; Libcom wanted the appearance of open access (a bit like the BBC) whilst maintaining a hidden agenda close to Solfed and to the ideological middle class that form the majority of admin and their fellow travellers. Above all, they want the appearance of being anti-state, but in this basic definition of being “libertarian” have proved themselves utterly self-contradictory (Lenin, too, in State and Revolution just before the Bolshevik seizure of state power, presented himself as a bit of a libertarian and many anarchists were temporarily taken in). One libcom fellow traveller even complained that since we didn’t live in the S.E. of England and didn’t really know JD, that what he did didn’t concern us. Even though JD’s team’s suggestions have been taken up internationally by cops, these “internationalists” panic themselves into a hastily cobbled and politically convenient localism at the first sign of an external attack (a bit like Kropotkin on the eve of WWl).

The diplomatic roles developed by libcom admin have even found themselves excusing polite dialogue with the former Chief Adviser on Strategy to Tony Blair, Matthew Taylor32 , and an obnoxious journalist, sometimes writing for the Daily Mail33, who then went on to attack the August riots of 2011 in the most racial terms, was a constant contributor to libcom and a close friend of some of admin (specifically, Brian Whelan, whose article on the riots is no longer available on the internet and whose unpleasant and vapidly cynical comments over the years on libcom have now also been disappeared). But then, the UK anarchist scene as a whole (individuals are another matter) has long made its peace with the ruling show. For example, the elder statesmen of the anarcho-celebrity world (Bone & Wright) could seriously consider standing in bourgeois elections when the previous entire history of anarchism had, as a minimum common agreement, a contempt for such circuses. Populism inevitably leads to such degraded compromises.34

In previous pre-World War epochs, most of the statist sections of the old workers’ movement, and many of the more libertarian sections also, could only conceive of an “egalitarian” “democratic” version of this society as the outcome of a successful revolution. This demand for “equality” in epochs where the material base of genuine scarcity and the exclusion of proletarians from the now commonplace kinds of compensations previously offered exclusively to the rich had a certain logic (owning a car, let alone a computer, was obviously very far from the possibilities of most proletarians). Combined with a more obvious rigidity of hierarchical relations, these tended towards a greater narrowing of people’s vision. With the post WWll growth of “consumerism”, this demand for an “egalitarian” “democratic” version of capitalism began to be recognised by those with a radical critique as a demand for equality of alienation. Now that neo-liberalism has increasingly repressed the Keneysian logic of a non-austere balance between production and access to “consumer power” and hopes to usher in a thoroughly modern version of 19th century forelock-tugging austerity, most dream of a return to “the good old days” of the welfare state and Keynesian economics – most notably, a State-promoted increase in spending power and the apparently greater margin of freedom given by State benefits35. Likewise, over 20 years of counter-revolution, and the unprecedented colonisation of people’s minds by dominant ideology, has tended to shrink many “anti-authoritarians” ‘ vision to merely a self-managed form of this society.

scaffold

But few would go so far as to claim, as Libcon admin and their cheerleaders have consistently done, that “after the revolution” there will still be specialists-in-order (anarcho-cops) and, as leading admin Fall Back called for, “far more complex, modern, well resourced kinds of ‘prisons’ with more progressive aims than currently exist…”communist prisons” …would be a place where people who had broken laws would be forcibly detained”.36 To talk about communist prisons being entirely different from capitalist prisons is like saying the communist State will be entirely different from the capitalist State: here “anarchism” joins Leninism. Incarcerating anti-social leftovers of the mad alienation of class society (the recalcitrant ex-cops, ex-screws, politicians, rapists, paedophiles, etc.) all in the same hellhole is obviously idiotic. If elements of communal constraint are necessary they will have nothing to do with the brutal repressive reality of prisons throughout history. To think that we’d call such forcible restraint a ‘prison’ is like calling ‘workers’ councils’ (or whatever term you’d like to imagine the future fantasy society to be) ‘the State’ or ‘the government’. This is not just a question of semantic terms but of a break with hierarchical notions and practices of social control. Killing scum is not the same as capital punishment. Forcible restraint is not the same as prison. A margin of rationing (where scarcity is not forced by capitalist property relations but comes about because of, for example, differences between different geographical areas) is not money. Obviously in this future possibility there will be some way of punishing people who act in ways the community they’re part of find unbearable. But it’s not just semantics that separates, say, “grounding” a teenage kid from the idea of putting him/her in prison, but a general attitude that you want social relations to constantly experiment with changes that have some healthy result. If we talk about the abolition of the State that also means abolishing specialists in social control; the task of determining the methods of making it clear to people that certain behaviour is unacceptable will be the task of the whole of the anti-hierarchical community. To ground this in the past and present: what punishments have we received or given that we considered changed a situation for the good? What punishments during intense moments of class struggle have changed situations for the good? What punishments are we prepared to mete out to those we consider beyond the pale? To anyone not clogged up with dominant perspectives, prison isn’t an answer to any of these. But if the Libconmen/women have anything to do with this possible society, it will mean an extension of their “libertarian” methods of dealing with ideas they find uncomfortable (i.e. the fog of censorship that pervades their site) to more consequential means of punishment – “self-managed” cops and screws. In all previous revolutions, many of the ‘radicals’ of the past became the politicians of the future. See Danny Cohn-Bendit: the seeds of his later officially accceptable power were already partly there in his desire to be a spokesman of a movement whose most radical aspects involved acting for yourself37. If you don’t take risks for yourself, then what can you do to speak up for (not the same as speaking for) others who do?

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Can you imagine telling a young person involved in the anti-cuts demos or the riots, someone beginning to develop a critique of the system, “here have a look at our magazine, we’ve also got a web site with forums and a library, we are anti-capitalists and anti-state, oh yeah one of our members works with the police but don’t worry about it everything’s ok, he’s really on our side”, who the fuck is going to take you seriously?”

Dinosavros38(November 4th 2011)

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One of the reasons Leninism is more widely seen as discredited, after the fall of East European state capitalism, is not because of the ideology of political organisation, but of the misery of the political parties aiming to take over the state. However, the use of confining debate and conflict to what is a priori defined by – in this case – libcom admin as “acceptable”, i.e. acceptable to a politics whose perspective is primarily for others, has something in common with Leninism. And if people are so imbued by the ideology of this society, even were there to be some kind of revolution with little significant transformation based on the interaction of the point of view of the masses of individuals, a self-managed version of this society would very likely be increasingly advocated, a more modern version of the statist version of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Though it would be impossible to be clear about what this would entail in any specific detail, one can imagine a bit by projecting current attitudes into a kind of democratic “Workers’ Councils” future. For example, we can see in the present (and some of the attitudes towards Aufhebengate express this) that there are plenty of “libertarians”/”anarchists” (whatever) who mostly merely follow and imitate, who want to be a part of a scene above all, who don’t want to develop their own intelligence, confidence and inititative, who often defer to the intellectuals they trust and thus, by sheer lazy lack of critical vigilance, succumb to the articulate experts, who could well have hidden agendas.

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To see Lenin as outside his historical precedents is to conveniently see him as a fairly unique abberation and not a result of the weaknesses of the revolutionary movement before him, which is also reproduced today and in the last 30 years or more, amongst many anarchists, left communists, ultra-leftists, situs, etc.

Revolutionaries in the 1st International helped create the basis for the political monstrosity of Leninism when they, despite Marx’s “the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself”, decided that the workers by themselves couldn’t destroy capitalism without leaders and without concentrated centres of class consciousness. Whilst a specifically international worker’s association was an original innovation for its time, with historical reflection, what is clear is that organising the organisation constantly interfered with the need to decide what to organise. Bureaucratic specialisation – secretary, treasurer, etc. – as an innate part of this “organisation building” was a practice which was in some ways imitative of the political organisations of the bourgeoisie in form at least, though obviously not in content. What is clear is that organising the organisation constantly interfered with the need to reflect and decide on what to organise; the desire to organise a collective image substituted for concentrating on this essential question – what activity is worth organising together. From then on, all those boring “Where we stand”s, “Minimum definitions of a revolutionary organisation”, etc., intended to propagandise a set of “correct” but fixed and ready-made criticisms and abstractly unite people around these unnuanced positions. However, one of their hidden aims was, and is, to protect the adhesion of the collectivity by narrowly setting out limits (in particular, purely “objective” criteria) to the permissable critiques of the individuals adhering to this collectivity. Here we can see the link between the 1st International and most of the subsequent experiments with revolutionary organisations. One of the main aims of the 1st International was to win over/seduce/entice/recruit the masses with openly reformist ideas separated from a critique of capitalism as a whole; only once inside the party would the workers learn the whole of the truth as revolutionaries saw it. Typical politics: a mediated and hierarchical view of revolution where political consciousness separates means and ends and hierarchically patronises “the workers”. Battles over the organisation between Marx and Bakunin (Marx easily being the greater manipulator) became battles over the possession of the revolutionary movement (which at that time was primarily considered in terms of those who explicitly considered themselves ‘revolutionaries’). But if neither of the two main traditions of the 1st International – marxism and anarchism – had concerned themselves with getting followers and alligning their different camps, then the essential questions of international solidarity, of international communication and other forms of self-organisation, could have been addressed without such political manoeuvres (a symptom of this nowadays manifests itself in the various milieus as a sneering contempt for anybody who’s not into the particular dogma of that scene, dismissing not just what is obviously narrow and reductionist in an opposing dogma, but also what partial truth it may contain, what makes it attractive to those hoping to oppose this world).

However, this is not just a question of a rivalrous attitude in attempting to influence others, but also the fact that the centre of this desire to influence was not based on firstly influencing themselves, undercutting their own complicity with alienation, with hierarchical power and the commodity form. In this upside down perspective, the idea is first of all to win othersto the cause. This manifests itself today and in Lenin’s time with a more crude politico mentality: ‘ordinary’ workers fight for themselves – for their own self-interest, but ‘revolutionaries’ are other-directed, caught up in political roles, fighting to gain adherents to their ideas. One can see this contradiction in one of the bits of propaganda by Solfed (which a majority of Libcom admin belong to) after the August riots, in which they condemned rioters for burning cars because it prevented people from going to work; at the same time, they’d put out posters, at the anarchist bookfair, celebrating May ’68 with burning cars on them39. Too much of anarcho organising involves amassing partisans who can spout the correct line, rather than developing their own autonomous initiatives, rather than organising activities directly without mediating them with an Organisation (obviously it’s more complex than that but that’s essentially the problem with ‘revolutionary organisations’ ). In Lenin’s case the ‘hierarchically correct line’ led to the State and to State capitalism and to Stalin’s brutal primitive capital accumulation. But, although the content of anarchists’ and other revolutionaries’ critique rightly condemns the monster created from that part of Marx’s inconsistent ideas which believed in the State as a neutral tool, they still have an other-directed role which thinks that they have already rebelled but now it’s up to others to revolt. Marx said “the educators must be educated”, a radical idea that led in the late 60s to “the revolutionaries must be revolutionised”. That’s still the problem today, and Lenin’s influence is in part to blame (but let’s not go overboard on this blaming: it’s first of all the other-directed political mentality that’s to blame).

As the Aufhebengate scandal unfolded, there were some who regretted the fact of what seemed like an internecine struggle, that “communists” have far more in common than they have significant differences. But whatever you call yourself is largely irrelevant: it’sin the practical struggle against our alienation, the world and our comportment in it, that we express our desires for a different world, and that can include those who do not call themselves communist/ anarchist/ libertarian/ situationist/ autonomist/ marxist or whatever as much as those who do. Those who are complacent, resigned and who unnecessarily reproduce hierarchical relations and strengthen contradictions within the margin of choice their lives have are supporters of this society whatever they call themselves. Such an attitude runs counter to the historical experience of the movement that has described itself as “communist”. On the most basic level, history – of above all the 20th century – is littered with examples of people who called themselves “communist”, “socialist” or “anarchist” which they weren’tin any way or degree. Labels tend to create an inner and outer definition of yourself that allies yourself with those who adopt the label, and oppose those who don’t, when the reality is that regardless of the label you adopt or avoid adopting, it’s on your acts and their consequences, on how you embody your ideas in practice (including what you say or write) – not on whether you in theory support or oppose this, that or the other.

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“The site probably is more boring. It’s also a lot better as a political forum”.

Fall Back (one of libcom admin) on the changes in Libcom Blog since Aufhebengate40.

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The question is not to abolish the split between politics and daily life; it’s necessary to criticise politics within daily life itself, where it started from, and only afterwards came to dominate daily life in the form of the State, the parties and all the various representations. …Thus , the critique of politicians and of politics shouldn’t limit itself to a crude anarchistic attack on “political men”: it only makes full sense in its application in daily life itself, to the politicians of daily life, just as it has already been applied to the politicians of organisation. The politics of and in daily life is the last possible expression of the State – i.e. daily life and its relations led in a way similar to the way in which the State or a commercial business (it comes to the same thing) are led. And it’s no threat to Capital if, at the moment that the old separated politics can no longer impose itself on people and make them carry on like sheep, it searches for a way to maintain itself – this time in the heart of daily life itself.

Thus, it’s necessary to stop understanding “revolutionary” politics as it wants to be understood, that is to say in the so-called struggle it proposes to lead against the dominant society, which is merely the external justification for the necessity of its existence: politics is less a relation between two opposing sides than above all a relation within each side.”

Joel Cornualt, Pour le passage de la decomposition a des constructions nouvelles, 1978.

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The Libheben scandal in one sense marks the unconscious acceptance within the ‘libertarian communist milieu’ of the idea that you can fight alienation with alienated means. In an epoch in which old-style Leninism is utterly discredited, the new forms of representation of the communist project stand against proletarian subjectivity in the form of recuperators of this subjectivity. They talk of people fighting and speaking for themselves but only to keep up appearances. They talk of “the critique of daily life” as just a correct line, an ideology opposed to other ideologies.Their diffuse hierarchical mentality is a subtler form of the more obviously outmoded rigidity of old style manipulative political rackets . From little acorns of petty manipulative politics, mighty oaks of counter-revolutionary machinations grow.

There were some who hoped that Libcom would reflect a bit on their opportunism, subvert it openly and practically and move on. Somehow we doubt it. For one thing, it would require one or two of those who are either part of admin or close to it to break ranks and take the risk of integrity, to break with their indifference. To take some individual inititative seems scary, particularly considering the flak you get. So the status quo continues, driven by the boring momentum of habit. Continued participation on Libcom until there’s a significant confrontation with what they’ve chosen to repress is a lazy compromise too far. In the past one could genuinely feel that participation on the widely-read Libcom Blog, however eclectic its perspectives, was a way of publicising critiques that would otherwise get little airing (I even came top of the Libcom Blog parade for 2010 for a couple of articles on the social movements in France in the autumn). And Libcom undoubtedly have an excellent library. But an excellent library isn’t much of a reason to comply with their fundamentally flawed flounderings. Continued participation would be a bit like writing in The Sun: collaboration with collaborators undermines what one has to say – the medium becomes the message, and implies support for libcom admin’s hopelessly self-contradictory politics. In strikes, riots, occupations “eclecticism” is inevitable – you partly get on with people because you have to for the fight to advance – and, as long as the momentum of the situation is maintained, that’s a fine thing – differences are aired and have both a positive and negative aspect. But when it’s clear that some people just want to “speak radical” , to maintain an image of “rebellion” and avoid practical conclusions, ending up supporting what they’d claimed to oppose, then tolerance either reaches breaking point or ends up suffocating everything by changing “critique” into some abstract game.

libcoma

libcoma

In Thesis 101 of Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, he quotes – “ ‘In all previous revolutions,’ wrote Rosa Luxemburg in Die Rote Fahne of 21st December 1918, ‘the combatants faced each other openly and directly ― class against class, program against program. In the present revolution, the troops protecting the old order are not fighting under the insignia of the ruling class, but under the banner of a ‘social-democratic party.’ If the central question of revolution was posed openly and honestly ― Capitalism or socialism? ― the great mass of the proletariat would today have no doubts or hesitations.’ Thus, a few days before its destruction, the radical current of the German proletariat discovered the secret of the new conditions engendered by the whole process that had gone before (a development to which the representation of the working class had greatly contributed): the spectacular organization of the ruling order’s defense, the social reign of appearances where no “central question” can any longer be posed “openly and honestly.” The revolutionary representation of the proletariat had at this stage become both the primary cause and the central result of the general falsification of society.”

In this epoch, where those who contest this society no longer have any pretensions to wanting, or illusions in, a political party, it would seem that this particular lesson from history has been, for the most part, learnt by those fighting this society – most of whom recognise there’s no externally organised hope that could save them. Nevertheless, milieus, scenes, cliques have substituted for political parties, which have generally been more about providing a social network than merely the simplistic way of getting some ready-made meaning and superficial connection with history that political parties provide. In this, the revolutionary role – the representation of being on the side of the proletariat whilst not beginning with opposing your own complicity with this society – is still rife. Obviously the direct consequences of JD’s representation of proletarian critique is not of the same immediate magnitude as the killing of a Rosa Luxemburg or a Karl Liebkecht of our epoch, at least not for now; but the uses of such crowd psychology is being shown in Oakland, Wisconsin, London, Paris and elsewhere, where the cops sometimes use the strategy advocated by Drury, Stott and Reicher. In this epoch the defeat of a global social movement (in which ideology and its practical applications – both from the State and the ruling society and within the revolutionary camp itself – play a significant part) means rooting out Drury and co.’s little contribution towards such a defeat and its horrific consequences. Combining peace police and war police, openly supported and advocated by these scum, within the social movements developing, have already helped arrest loads of people.