Sunday, August 27, 2006

"Lessons for the Anarchist Movement of the Israeli-Lebanese War"
The above is the title of a recent article by Wayne Price on the Anarkismo site (see links on this blog). The author takes, as is usual for anarchists, quite a moralistic tone. He speaks of a variety of left positions from "the liberals" who basically support the US and Israeli governments but "wanted them to clean up their acts" through to the so-called "radical Left" who "became a cheering squad for Hezballah, as well as Hamas, as it had for the fundamentalist-led resistance in Iraq".
The author then goes on to say that anarchists have generally recognized the "reactionary nature of both sides in the war", but he also goes on to say that "many have tended to equate the two sides, to treat them as equally bad". This is a bad thing !, or so he says. Price goes on to a discussion of various types of "non-class" issues in which anarchists come down on one side or the other and says that national liberation is one such struggle in which anarchists must "be on the side of the oppressed" while, of course, "being in political opposition to the misleaders of that people". If this reminds you of Trotskyist "critical solidarity" you are dead on. It is that very same thing, though translated into anarchist terms.
Not that this is wrong. To a large extent it may be very right, but it lacks realism. As I said it is couched in moralistic terms. What does such "solidarity" mean when outside of a few large organizations such as the Spanish CGT the attitude of anarchists, in "solidarity or otherwise" has no effect on the actual course of events ? If advocated by even a small minority of anarchists in a country under attack, such as Lebanon, it makes a lot of sense. Such people are engaged in a political struggle to propagate their ideas in their society, and publically announcing positions that look like treason to their people is like having a "malignant dogmanoma tumour". It shows that dogma has invaded the central nervous system and is replacing brain cells.
But the same could also be said of American anarchists who fixate on the evils of their country's imperialism. Very few anarchists, even ex-Trotskyists like Wayne Price, understand the whole concept of "revolutionary defeatism" as practiced by such masters as Lenin or, less skillfully, by the historical Spanish anarchist movement. Skillful practitioners of this tactic understand that there is nothing moralistic about it. They understood that it was to be useful in a situation where the suffering of the people in the country in which they operated, suffering due to foreign wars, could be translated into rebellion against the government that ordered the war.
Certainly Lenin, and to a lesser extent the Spanish anarchists, made noises about "national liberation", but neither ever considered the idea important enough to become a major focus of their propaganda. Neither did they make it a touchstone of "moral rectitude" that would determine one's commitment to the cause of either Bolshevism or anarchism.
That, unfortunately, is what Wayne Price proposes to do. He is to be commended for ending his article with the recognition that "the world is a complex place, with much interconnection and overlapping of systems of oppression" and that "we need concrete analyses of each situation". But perhaps we don't need "analysis" so much as we need intelligent planning. Wayne is an American anarchist. What does his advise consist of but to dog-tail the American left in its constant knee jerk reaction to oppose any adventure of the US government and to make excuses for the foreign opponents of these adventures.
This secret is revealed in Wayne's stunning assertion that both WW 1 and WW 2 were nothing but "wars among imperialist states"-where not choosing sides was applicable. World War Two- stop and think a minute. This says....."that all the opponents of the USA and Israel are better than the allies in WW2, that Nazi victory is preferable in all cases to any American victory anywhere and at any time.
It means a lot of such things, and I'd bet that Wayne wouldn't believe them in his better moments. What it does mean, however, is that Wayne, like too many anarchists, has chosen his audience from amongst the debris of "the Left". Not the general American population !
Only "the left" believes that have a "sophisticated analysis" of each and every event in politics is cosmically important, and that thinking out such an "analysis" and publishing it in obscure websites and journals- or yelling its slogans during two hours of a small demonstration- is action, in solidarity or otherwise. I would like to suggest that ceasing to act like American leftists is a key part of actually beginning to address normal people.
It is NOT remiss of an anarchist organization to NOT have a convoluted position on each and every war or other events. . Should a anarchist organization be "in solidarity" with an "oppressed people" it is far more effective for them to send one single quarter to an aid group that is unaffiliated with any political organization in the country that has been attacked than to spend hundreds of hours in debating and thinking and thousands of dollars propagating the "correct line" that evolves from this. Let the outsiders keep on guessing about "which side you are on". In too many cases all that you prove is that you are on the side of domestic opponents (such as the American left) who have thoroughly discredited themselves by a constant assumption that they are morally and intellectually superior to the ordinary person.
This puts you in the strange position of assuming that Nazis are better than the American government and that one should be neutral towards them but always opposed to any action of the government that most Americans still see as their own.
This fantasy is a moralistic one in that it tries to stake out a moral position of being seen to be on the side of the angels, no matter how that side is defined rather than assessing the practical possibilities of the time and place. Revolutionary defeatism is of use if it can conceivably lead to a revolt against the rulers of one's own country. Otherwise it is useless posturing to an audience- the left- that will never appreciate you anyways.


aragorn said...

This is a very smart post and response to Wayne's nascent Trotskyism (but more importantly to Trots within the milieu generally).

Larry Gambone said...

Good post. I call the tendency for the left to take a position on everything "programatic diahrrea".