Sunday, 6 February 2011

Taming the Trots: Anarchism’s Sisyphean Task

I think Bammy’s earlier ‘Eat Me ...’ commentary and trademark artistic flourish regarding the NSSN is pretty spot on but still misses the wider issues somewhat (we might also do without his recent fetish for dubbing people ‘schoolmistresses’).

I only went to one NSSN meeting – in Leicester some time ago – and generally, I thought it was quite positive (aside from the quasi-nationalistic posturing of the ‘No to EU’ bods). However, the fact remains that this grouping has once again descended into authoritarians vs. libertarians with the former employing force of numbers to dominate and the latter forced to withdraw. I think we all know that it won’t be long before the SP get bored and hop onto another bandwagon (likely taking the SWP with them whatever the current situation) but a shame that they’ll suck the life out of the NSSN before they do.

As I said in my talk at the last NAN (see ‘A Question of Degrees’ elsewhere on the blog), I think we’ve got to break our own boom and bust mentality and also, move on from this idea that we’ll somehow be able to guide the Trots or at least, use their recruiting skills to bring workers/students over to the ‘side of the angels’. As I further noted at the NAN, I also think it’s a mistake to assume that people will automatically see us a different from the Trots and other authoritarian leftists.

Elsewhere on this blog, Bammy identifies the miners’ struggle as militant but not radical and that’s just the position we keep putting ourselves in – protesting about the current system but not giving people any REAL alternative. And let’s face it, we shouldn’t have to work too hard to come up with something more appealing than the prevailing mainstream, whether it happens to be wearing its capitalist or ‘socialist’ clothes.

Of course, the reality is that we do have to work hard, both in the literal sense and the wider social/political sense, and workers are often tired and disillusioned - not just by work but also by constant attempts to mould us into model citizens of a present (capitalist) or future (state socialist/capitalist) authoritarian state. It’s hardly surprising that a majority seem so easily seduced into the ‘aspirational’ consumerist apathy of the wage/welfare slave even though the legacy of those home-owning, savings-laden, consumption-addicted baby boomers has proved not to be one of continued and equal affluence for all. In fact, the so-called ‘cultural revolution’ was less about class equality and more about transforming ‘workers’ into ‘consumers’ and ‘human resources’ - a programme of Friedmanite rebranding that reached fever pitch under ‘Blatcherism’ and must surely have reached its pus-infested end with the Con-Dems.

I really believe that making people aware that they can actually do things for themselves is the real heart of this issue and this starts with opting out of capitalism/nationalisation/state socialism via independent community energy, water, food and education schemes. I don’t mean the Greenpeace way of making grand individual gestures like fitting an expensive and essentially pointless wind turbine to the side of your house, or buying organic beans air freighted in from Africa, but community micro-generation schemes involving biomass (wood and waste), free water supplies/better waste management, local food schemes/networks and free (in all senses of the word) education for all.

Instead of lauding the Spanish anarchists for what they did all those years ago, we should be taking their example and abandoning the Greenpeace way for what might be called, with a perhaps hint of cliché, ‘the Durruti way’ – ‘not afraid of ruins ...’ and all that!

Utopian? Perhaps. But the point is that fighting the current system by trying to make IT change isn’t working – the SWP/Respect/the Stop the War Coalition are still lauding 2 million out on the streets against the war but that was 2003 and Iraq is a bigger mess than ever, Afghanistan more so and life for you average Jo looking pretty bleak in the rest of the world too.

Like the miners, we won’t win by just being militant, we’re only going to win by being radical as well. What have we got to lose? We keep going into these party-orientated collective endeavours and convincing ourselves that things are going to be different but they never are and it descends into the same old People’s Front of Judea/Judean People’s Front crap. Come on, it’s not like a precedent for this wasn’t set years ago when Marx and Bakunin went handbags at twenty paces.

Very few of us shirk from proclaiming ourselves anarchist, libertarian communist or the many other labels we have adopted to distinguish ourselves from the four legs good, two legs bad/better’ herd but maybe this obsession with labels is starting to weigh us down as much as our obsession with history, taming the Trots and internal squabbles might be said to have done. Whether we like it or not, anarchism has been bastardised to represent all that the brainwashed masses find scary about daring to question whether they need government and the labour market to survive.

The Trots et al like to portray anarchists as a minority, which in the big scheme of things we probably are but so are they, as are Tories, Liberals, Labourites, Greens or whatever. Most people aren’t politically active or affiliated to any particular party or ideology and perhaps that’s because politics and ideology often appear disempowering by their very nature, i.e. they generally suppose that one person is more qualified that another to decide what is socially and perhaps more worryingly, ‘morally’, acceptable.

In her response to Bammy and the dissident NSSNers, Linda Taaffe talks of mud slinging, taking the ball home and proclaims that:

’A few stones hurled at us by those with bruised egos will not deflect us from this course.'

Accusations that dissenters within the NSSN have opened themselves up to by getting drawn into the same tired old tit-for-tat formula with the vanguardists yet again.

But perhaps this isn’t just about the need to distance ourselves from the insidiousness of the vanguard, whether it be elsewhere on the left or the pseudo-egalitarianism of mainstream civic culture and ‘Big Society’ – perhaps we also need to distance ourselves from labels, ideologies and ‘politics’ to some extent too. Ok, we shouldn’t feel compelled to stop calling ourselves anarchists because it offends the delicate sensibilities of other leftists and the misinformed mainstream but if we’re not prepared to actually show people, with practical examples, what makes us different, we might have no other choice.

To my mind, there’s nothing wrong with slinging mud and throwing stones when the target is legitimate (although Linda Taaffe should surely know that under anarchism the ball would be a communal asset and couldn’t, in theory, be taken home) but it might now be high time that we used the stones and mud at our disposal not for throwing but to build a real alternative.

1 comment:

bammy said...

Rachel says:

'The Trots et al like to portray anarchists as a minority, which in the big scheme of things we probably are but so are they, as are Tories, Liberals, Labourites, Greens or whatever.'

In this case Linda Taaffe I think realised that the syndicalists on the NSSN steering committee were the biggest group after the Socialist Party. In this case the syndicalists and particularly Dave Chapple as Chairman operated as a sheild for the SWP members on the officers group by threatening to resign if the Socialist Party tried to purge the SWP officers. Hence the situation here was more like the CNT defending the POUM from the Stalinists. The Socialist Party approach in this case was to win over the anarchists/ syndicalists in their conflict with the SWP. I think the libertarian movement need to understand this situation more clearly.