Anarchist: Out And Proud

Keir Snow of Liberty and Solidarity wrote recently, in an article on their website(link), that Anarchism is a brand which has been sullied by the mainstream press and the establishment so much over the last century and a half that it is a waste of effort to ‘reclaim’ it. That the time and resources required to alleviate the damage that has been done to the name far out strips the resources available to anarchists in the UK. I disagree with him on a number of key points, I’ll leave aside the oddness of using market speak in political conversation and address his points.

‘Non-leftists’, he claims, when asked to describe what an anarchist is would describe an “insurrectionist, black-clad Molotov thrower”. An image that no doubt he feels would be informed by the summit hopping protests of the late twentieth and early twenty first. Is this however the case? I seriously don’t think so and I wonder if Keir has actually done any research on this or whether he is making a sweeping assumption viewed through lenses already informed by a leftist perspective? It would be interesting to see even the most basic of research on this carried out, even an afternoon out with a questionnaire would be enlightening.

In all my political activity over the last decade and a half I have always been up front about my politics as an anarchist and the only time I have ever had a reaction other than either positive or inquisitive has been from leftists, often even from anarchists who seem afraid of the word. Most people don’t have a preconceived idea of what anarchism is and if they do then they are normally more inquisitive than anything being as the person they are talking to, who has just referred to themselves as an anarchist, is a regular person who wears cardigans and eats cheese and everything.

Keir also claims that on the left anarchists are “widely viewed as being ultra-leftists opposed to organisation”. Whilst this may be true that a large section of the left propagates this misnomer I wonder on reasons for Keir’s use of this term ‘Ultra Left’. It is one often aimed at anarchists and other communists who are suspicious of trade unions in their role in the management of labour and are extremely doubtful of their revolutionary capacity, entrenched as they are in acting as a pressure valve for class tensions. It is not simply anarchists that are ultra left but council communists and autonomous Marxists. I for one am quite happy to be considered ultra left by a left wing that has failed the working class time and again and wasted countless years in the dead end of partyism and pitiful attempts at vanguardism.

The suggestion that to ‘reclaim’ the brand of anarchism would take a massive dedication of resources is also not accurate. If ‘anarchism’ were a company this would be so. Its not, it is a political ideology and a mode of social organisation. The ideology, and the form of organisation, are propagated and promoted through activity at a grass roots level in communities and workplaces. Not through high impact advertising campaigns. The parents fighting to save their school, or the workers on the picket line, don’t learn about anarchists and anarchism through glossy ads or TV commercials. They learn about it when they find out the woman who has gotten out of bed at 5a.m. to be with them at the picket is an anarchist or when the man helping them occupy their primary school happens to be an anarchist. That’s the kind of advertising ad execs have wet dreams over and that is exactly how the brand of anarchism is reclaimed.

He says that should we abandon the name then people fear that our politics would be watered down, diluted somehow. That is not the worry I have with avoiding using the name. The worry I have with disguising our politics is that at some point the people we are working with will find out we have been obfuscating the truth, that we have been lying. This will either make them think we are ashamed of our politics or, worse still, put us in the pigeon hole with politicians and all the other leftist sects who want something from them.

There is a worry as well about not being explicitly anarchist in our organisation. Organisations can easily be saturated with people whose political ideas diverge massively from the original ideology of the organisation. Is an anarchist organisation mostly made up of liberals and/or Trotskyists an anarchist organisation? Not if it has any form of real internal democracy as this will soon mean that the ideology of the organisation begins to reflect the make up of the organisation. We need only look at the ‘politics’ of the SWP and how they have changed over the years with their ‘recruit them all’ policy meaning the party has become suffuse with ‘well meaning liberals’ attracted by the radical rhetoric*. We can see similar with the Climate Camp which hid its anarchist roots so well that the anarchists involved in forming the camp are having to reclaim it from lentil munching Monbiot fans.

To conclude, anarchism and anarchy do not have to be reclaimed nor do they need a publicity campaign to reinvigorate the brand image. The actions we take in our communities and workplaces, putting our money where our mouth is, will do a far better job at dispelling myths and promoting our politics. Obfuscating our politics will only result in us being branded as dishonest or ashamed of our politics.

*Not to imply that the SWP has internal democracy but allowing the party to be swamped by all comers has inevitably leaddown the path of liberalism they are set upon.

Disclaimer-tastic: this is entirely my personal opinion and not necessarily that of any organisation I am a part of.

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Posted on March 8, 2010, in Anarchism, Politics and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Alistair Davidson

    Not using the word “anarchist” is not the same as disguising or lying about your actual politics!

  2. In terms of research I concede I have not conducted a proper Market survey, and my assertion of Anarhism’s image is based primarily on anecdotal evidence, with all the flaws and biases that that entails. However, given there is no proper research on this (largely because no one in the anarchist movement seems to see marketing as important) we need something to go on. I think a good test is doing a google image search for “anarchist”, the results seem to confirm my assertion: http://images.google.co.uk/images?q=anarchist
    (The image I used in the article was the top image hit for “anarchist” that wasnt teh flags from wikipedia)

    With regards to be honest, I think Al makes the critical point, I’m advocating dropping the brand name, not the politics. I am to the core a syndicalist and always will be.

    With regards to ultra-leftism, I suspect on this one we will have to agree to disagree, I think your characterisation of the unions is wide of the mark and indeed “ultra-left” (in a bad way :-P) but this is probably a debate best saved for other times. I do think however its a little hypocritical to slag off the rest of the left (being as it is ten times at least the size of the anarchist movement) for a lack of achievement given the anarchist movement in the UK has achieved sweet fuck all over the last fifty years.

    To be continued after my dinner…

    • “to slag off the rest of the left”

      How long will it take for L&S to comprehend that anarchists are NOT apart of the Left? We despise the capitalist institutions of the unions as much as bosses and cops.

  3. I take your point about political dilution, and L&S certainly doesn’t have a policy of recruiting anyone and every one, but again, no one is advocating hiding our politics, I’m just advocating making them more accessible by junking a brand identity that gets in the way of our message.

  4. I am of the opinion that it doesn’t matter what we call ourselves “they” will always find some way to link us to the ruin of cities and the desolation of homes.

    OTOH, neologism and label experimentation is an anarcho-pastime.

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