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Anarchism and Radical Governments

category international | anarchist movement | opinion / analysis author Saturday February 28, 2009 05:26author by Larry Gamboneauthor email redlionpress at hotmail dot com Report this post to the editors

How should anarchists relate to revolutionary or left-wing populist governments? Should they denounce them out of hand? Should they join in the movement? What are the traps to avoid? This is an important question as radicalized populations are creating movements which give rise to alleged progressive governments. As capitalism goes into ever-deeper crisis we can expect more of these movements to develop.
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Anarchism and Radical Governments

Anarchism is more influential and wide-spread than at any time in the last 70 years. And the movement continues to grow and develop. This does not necessarily mean that we will become the predominate tendency. Even during anarchism's previous zenith – the years immediately after World War One – we had to share the stage with other socialist currents. The most important and far-reaching anarchist movement – that of Spain in 1936 – saw the formation of a united front involving the CNT-FAI, the left-communist POUM and rank and file militants of the Socialist trade unions.

It is safe to claim that social change – let alone social revolution – will involve a number of different tendencies, of which anarchism will be one, and not always the predominant one. Anarchists will work together with the other tendencies which promote self-government and self-management, in essence, all tendencies that in some manner or other support the popular struggle. This notion is not a controversial issue among us. We are already working along side other tendencies in the environmental, peace, anti-fascist and anti-capitalist movements.

The problem comes for anarchists when the pressure of social movements gives rise to populist, democratic socialist or “revolutionary” governments. Examples of these are to found in Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador. How do we , as resolute anti-statists, relate to governments, which in some manner, reflect and act according to the needs and desires of the social movements and the working population? How we react to these situations can be fraught with danger to our movement.

In the past, anarchists have reacted in two opposing and erroneous ways. One might be called “liquidationalism”. Here anarchists give up their distinct program and dissolve themselves into the governing “revolutionary” tendency. During the Russian Revolution, thousands of anarchists joined the Bolsheviks or formed-Bolshevik inspired organizations in their respective nations. Needless to say, the Bolsheviks did not enact our program! After The 26 July Movement made its turn toward the Communist Party, and Cuban anarchists were suppressed, many anarchists outside Cuba tended to ignore the plight of their comrades out of solidarity with the Cuban Revolution. Liquidationalism means giving up on anarchism entirely, in exchange for a bit of social progress, and sometimes not even that.

I think that liquidationalism comes about through anarchist weakness. There had been few attempts at anarchist revolution prior to 1917, and anarchism had “growing pains.” Bolshevism seemed to show the way. The early 1960's were the nadir of the anarchist movement and a lot of anarchists looked for anything to be optimistic about, and Cuba seemed to fit the bill. Since anarchism today is a growing force, I do not see liquidationalism as a major problem, though, of course, one never knows for sure.

Sectarianism is the other error. Surprise, surprise, democratic socialists and populists are not anarchists! We cannot expect them to carry out our program, but we can expect them to carry out the aspects of their own program that help the populace. If they do this, should they be condemned as enemies as evil as the corporatists and oligarchs? What do the people think when anarchists damn these reformers ? Sectarianism separates anarchists from the mass of the populace, who cannot understand why erstwhile revolutionaries are condemning the very actions which are improving their lives. What is even worse, is when sectarianism leads to propaganda imitating the reactionaries. According to the sectarian, the glass is never half-full, it is always empty. Should reaction triumph, the sectarians will be tortured and killed along with the other tendencies, and their sectarianism will remain as a bitter taste in the mouths of a defeated people. (1)

This is most particularly the case in Latin America where the mobilization of the populace immediately leads to polarization between the masses and the oligarchy and its supporters. If the oligarchy gains the upper hand in this struggle the result is the suppression of popular movements, torture and massacre. To think that one can stand aside during this polarization, or that it is "only a struggle between bourgeois factions and doesn't concern us" is to live in a dream world.

One cause of sectarianism is fetishizing the alleged or actual lessons of the past. The Bolsheviks turned on their anarchist allies, so too, Fidel Castro. Wherever Stalinism took over, anarchists and other radical tendencies were eliminated. From this tragic history comes an unspoken view that any revolution or government led by Marxists, real or alleged, will end up following this pattern. But history does change not merely repeating itself like a rubber stamp. Stalinism is not some Platonic Form, hovering in the cosmos, just waiting to manifest at the first outbreak of revolutionary change.

The alternatives to Stalinism – Trotskyism, democratic socialism and anarchism – were too weak in the 1940's and 50's. Stalinism was hegemonic at this time. But people learn what works and what doesn't. What was once seen as a viable model for revolutionary change – the one party state plus nationalization of productive wealth – is no longer seen as an answer. It does not create the sort of society that anyone wants.

The movement away from the hegemony of the Stalinist model began in the late 1960's. The Unidad Popular government of Chile attempted to create socialism, through a democratic process. The Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua did not go in a Stalinist direction. Rather than suppressing all tendencies but their own, they favored a multi-tendency democracy – even for the right-wing, a kindness that was not acknowledged.

What then should anarchists do in the face of new revolutionary or progressive regimes that work to some measure in the interest of the population? First off; Our loyalty is to the people, not the government – or any government. If the people support a progressive government it is because that government is responding to their wishes. A direct frontal attack on such a government – until it truly begins to work against its supporters – is futile and creates a wedge between us and the people.

We should remain non-committal, as long as the government somehow acts in the popular interest. When it deviates from that path, we criticize. But there is also a way of criticizing that is not off-putting to the people. That method is one of positive re-inforcement. To never cease bringing up the need for direct democracy and self-management. If the progressive government is reticent to go beyond words, our unending needling on these points will be a powerful criticism, yet will not be seen as a negative attack. Our goal should be to push the progressive government, from below, to either the breaking point where it exposes its reactionary other face, or to where it begins to dissolve itself into popular power. And if this process cannot be pushed to its libertarian fulfillment, we must win a strong base among the people, in the unions, neighborhoods and social organizations, to defend our gains and build a base for the next step in the struggle.

We must involve ourselves with the populace, if the people win some measure of self-government and decentralization, we should be there, pushing these measures to the full. If the revolutionary government encourages coops, we should form them or join them, making sure they are autonomous and democratic. Should reactionaries attempt to re-establish their rule through a coup, electoral fraud or invasion, we must be at the forefront of the resistance, not as government lackies, but as supporters of the popular movements the reactionaries will destroy if they regain power. Our slogan should not be “Defend our Government”, but “Defend the People ... our Neighborhoods, Trade Unions, Cooperatives etc.” At no time must we ally with reaction, even verbally, no matter what our differences with the progressive government.

Personal Experiences

In 1972 a social democratic government (NDP) was elected in British Columbia for the first time. At the same time, we were trying to build an anarchist movement. There were maybe 25 or so people interested in anarchism, half of whom belonged to our group. The NDP government introduced "green belts" to protect the environment and agricultural reserves to protect the farm land from developers. They raised welfare from $95 a month to $160 and created a form of decentralized democratic control of the welfare system. They abolished beating children in school and other repressive legislation. Rather than denouncing them for supposedly co-opting the environmental movement and community control, which sectarians would have done, we said nothing. To ourselves, we were pleased with what they did and were too busy trying to create an anarchist movement to spend time attacking them, which would have been the flea denouncing the elephant anyway.

What did happen was that half our group became so entranced with the progressive actions of the government they wanted to join the NDP as a bloc and push for further community control. When we refused, the liquidationalist faction broke away and joined on their own. We denounced them and for some time there was bitter hostility between the two groups. The anarchists that remained went on to create the Vancouver anarchist milieu which exists to this day. As for the "NDP anarchists", we eventually became friends again and they remained sympathetic to anarchism, also to this very day.

In retrospect, liquidationalism arose because people did not have a full understanding of anarchism. The experience of the sectarianism found in the left sects generated an over-reaction in the opposite direction. We also had no older, more experienced comrades to help us. We were re-inventing the wheel, so to speak. We were correct not to attack the NDP, but erred in not educating our membership as to the differences between social democracy and anarchism.


1. During the campaign to overthrow Allende, the CIA funded a strike of truck drivers. The sectarians of the day crowed about the strike as an example of "class struggle" against the wicked Allende reformists.

author by Akai - ZSPpublication date Sat Feb 28, 2009 20:29author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Some statements here seem nothing more than populist fetishes. What does it mean that if "the people' choose somebody it's because they are making reforms to their benefit? This is a sweeping generalization and a democratic myth. By this logic, the anarchists should stay quiet about pseudoreformers because the people "won't understand them"? What else should we resign from because the so-called "people' won't understand?

And while it may be true tha social democratic reformists will not repress like the Stalinists of yore, they will still keep the apparatus of repression in tact. In addition, they are likely to make half-ass reforms which keep capitalistm and the elites in tact, or even strengthen their power in the name of "people's power".

For more insight on that, I'd recommend El Libertario.

author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.publication date Sun Mar 01, 2009 00:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks Larry very much for putting this article together... I think it is actually quite important to give a thought to some difficult circumstances we face in Latin America and anywhere really when building alliances or becoming part of a wider movement... Anarchism role is unique in the people's movement and we need to fulfill it to the full, that means, at no point we can give up our flag. But on the other hand, we cannot be isolated from the broader people's movement. This, in real life, poses an enormous tension. Alliances are necessary and we know that we have to build up alliances with people that will have disagreements with us (if they did not have disagreements this should be a redundant discussion for we would all be anarchists!). Sectarians justify their isolation by claiming that there are no "perfect partners"! Too bad that not all of the world are anarchists, but that's never gonna happen and we need to learn to deal with it in a way that allows us to work for a libertarian change in society in real terms and not just to expect, with a sort of a religious faith, the conversion of the masses...

So what happens when this broader social movement finds itself with an elected government coming from the left, representing a number of demands that the working class feels strongly about them, etc.? To that question I think your article gives some important insight. As you say, it is not anarchists relating to the government, but how they relate to the people that largely identifies with that government... as you mention, the only way to do it in concrete terms is by actively participating in the social movements; co-optation is not an argument for us to step to the side. Call it "populism" if you wish, but I genuinely do not see any other way of staying relevant for the people.

Kevin mentions an important point in some other thread: the most important thing is to move debate beyond the father-figure of the "revolutionary" leader, to the terrain of class struggle. This is true not only for "progressive" governments, but for all of the organisations and movements in which we participate where the hegemony is in the hands of authoritarians. Sometimes I feel that our criticism of the leaderships (whether they are governments, trade union bureaucracies, etc.) resemble a trotskist approach to politics: everything is the fault of the polit-bureau, of the leadership, of the bureaucrats, etc... when reality is far more complicated than that: so what if the rank and file identifies with the bureaucrats (as it is obviously the case in Ireland, for instance, with trade unioninsts)? do we really expect authoritarians to carry out an anarchist programme from above? Then why do we cry "treason" when they are behaving as statesmen? The problem often is not just the leadership (that would be so easy) but often the problem is the whole of the movement-building! This is not solved by hollow and pointless denunciations, as if we should be surprised that others do not act like anarchists! This is only solved through actual practice and the understanding that only anarchists will be able to carry out their programme by building it from the grassroots alongside the ordinary folk. This is not solved as Larry says neither by liquidationism nor by sectarianism.

There are no easy, straight forward, definite answers to any of this problems and we have to think more seriously about this issues, understanding that, at the end of the day, this is quite an empirical problem. But your article is a good contribution to that much needed debate -I get scared of the amount of relevant discussions we never have in anarchist cricles only because they do not sit that well with "anarchist politics" understood in the most simplistic terms. As if not talking about something made the problem go away!

ps. Laure, your reaction makes me wonder if you really read the article and if you read it, if you took a minute to reflect on it before coming out with such a predictable diatribe. In the times we are living, I think so much critical thought is needed, we need to polish worn out dogmas, easy-assumptions and distrust of our comfortable certainties. The XXth Century proved that none of the revolutionary movements (anarchism included) was able to change society in the way they predicted... if we really want to stop being a religious sect and turn into a proper revolutionary movement with the ambition of changing the world for better, we need to challenge our own views and strengthen healthy aspects in anarchism and question those aspects which are weak...

author by mollymew - Molly's Blogpublication date Sun Mar 01, 2009 05:50author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I tend to agree with José (Hi Pepe). It should be noted that Larry and I have disagreements over the situation in Venezuela, and that he has criticized some of the items I have posted over at Molly's Blog (http://mollymew.blogspot.com) . What does this mean ? It means, as José said, that these matters are inevitably highly "empirical". There is no one size fits all solution. As anarchism grows, as it hopefully will, it will be faced with more and more similar situations. How do we react in various situations ? I hope NOT with simplistic rhetoric. The situations of "leftist governments" certainly have to be approached from a perspective of "class analysis". I am a proponent of what people around Parecon describe as the "three class analysis" WITH attention to the class interests of the "coordinators", as they style them. I prefer the term managers. This leads to a natural suspicion of anything and everything that is proposed by the traditional left.
However, and it is a BIG however, each and every situation has to be looked at from the perspective of what can be gained for the values that we hold given inevitable limitations. I think that this is the main point of Larry's article, and I also think that he has given a pretty accurate picture of the "general rules" for such situations. In specific instances people may disagree with each other, as Larry and I do about Venezuela and El Libertario.
I do not, however, want to spend the years remaining to me preaching a doctrine that has no practical application whatsoever in the real world. If I did I'd join the primmie and post-leftist crew or found my own religion disguised as politics(and make good money out of it). Compromises and "artful dodging" are inevitable. What Larry is trying to elucidate is the attitude that an anarchist movement that can actually DO SOMETHING should take about certain questions. I'd submit that we are already at that point of effectiveness in some countries, and that a proper way of conducting ourselves could being us to that point in many others. Is this the great and glorious anarchist revolution ? No, but it is a recipe to make anarchism something more than a mutual admiration society.

author by Akai - ZSPpublication date Sun Mar 01, 2009 07:45author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The question posed is one of so-called "radical governments". The point in the text about not "confronting the government" is very close to saying that we should not really oppose them, as if in some Hegelian logic they were a necessary step in the development of anarchism.

It is also said that somebody feels they are teaching a doctrine that has no practical application. Luckily many people seem to know what the practical applications can be and the fact that this has to be spread from below. This is our challenge to bring to people: to show them that the government is unnecessary and people are capable of organizing themselves on many levels of life.

I would think even the commentators above would agree with this but this idea that we shouldn't confront them frontally but "push the progressive government, from below, to either the breaking point where it exposes its reactionary other face, or to where it begins to dissolve itself into popular power" - what does that even mean? Are you actually saying we should get the state to "wither away"?

author by Larry Gambonepublication date Sun Mar 01, 2009 14:41author email redlionpress at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

What I am trying to do is find away that anarchists can relate to an existing popular movement, while remaining independent, yet without ending up as a small ineffectual group nattering away on the sidelines. I should add that what I have suggested would not apply to a situation where anarchism has an impact already,. (Say like Spain today) but where we do not yet have mass influence. (virtually everywhere else.) Nor would it apply to the situation with a regular social democratic party in power. What is important is the existence of a progressive or potentially revolutionary mass movement. Nor should what I propose be seen as being somehow “moderate.” We should be the foremost expression of popular power and self-management, no way we water down our program. What I am trying to get across is a more subtle form of propaganda work. You don't need to be “in someone's face” or “put all your cards on the table” all the time. It is the content of our program that is important. I see this as being a kind of contemporary Magonist concept.

It is not easy to write about because, it is not a “black and white” thing. Though I have only written about this idea recently, it is rooted in my political practice for the last 25 years or so. The membership of popular movements I am involved with have a broad range of left wing ideologies. I work to develop what we have in common, yet never hold back talking about direct democracy, self-management etc. – the heart of anarchism. At the same time, I do not spend any energy attacking other groups. Everybody knows where I stand, yet I am respected and have influence. I would be written off as a nut and no one would listen to me if I started attacking any of the parties the other members belong to.

I hope this has clarified things a bit...

author by Kevin S.publication date Sun Mar 01, 2009 14:48author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This is a huge topic and there is a lot to say on many different issues, so this will probably be both too long and inadequate, but anyway... Personally, I am inclined more to agree with Akai. But I do think this needs a more thorough assessment than a short write-off, because it is a crucial debate that needs to happen, plus there are a couple good points in the article worth noting. So here we go.

Larry starts on a good enough premise, that anarchists inevitably must work with other (non-anarchist) people on one project or another, and indeed our relationship to governments (radical or not!) is tightly interwined with our relationship to "the people" or popular masses supporting those governments. He also provides an okay starting point to analyze the "anarchist response" to this, in terms of "liquidationism" and "sectarianism" as the two extremes. The framing is somewhat limited, in that it really doesn't capture the complexity of how anarchists have tried and still try to answer this dilemma. In the case of Venezuela, Jose linked an old article in the discussion on El Libertario, which summed up the main attitudes of anarchists there regarding Chavez & Co. (see article here http://www.anarkismo.net/article/839 ):

"".... we were able to distill three fairly distinct sorts of anarchist responses to Chavismo, which could be labeled the lesser evil approach, the makes no difference attitude, and the grand distraction analysis.

A number of anarchists we encountered, in both small towns and larger cities, held the view that Chavez was better for Venezuela than the opposition would have been. These people were clearly still anarchists – they opposed Chavez and his policies, but they believed that an opening had been created that held the possibility of fundamentally radicalizing the population as a whole. Their strategy was to push the populist and socialist tendencies of Chavismo to their furthest extremes, where the Chavista leadership would be likely to repudiate the logical conclusions of their own rhetoric. The intended result seems to be a popular uprising in support of the best aspects of Chavismo, but against Chavez and his core leadership.""

**This is the first view (the "lesser evil approach" as labeled by the authors), and I think it coincides fairly closely with Larry's argument in this article. Basically, the anarchists become a kind of "semi-faction," one might say a caucus or a tendency within the larger "popular movement" mostly sharing its social aspirations and accepting pro tempore the "popular" legitimacy of the progressive government. It is not quite a "critical support" (in the sense of Chavistas who criticize Chavez) nor outright "liquidationism" -- it is more like a strategic "half-way liquidation" that ends up banking everything on a kind of mass mutiny against "popular leaders." (Some would call this "entryism" which, as I understand it, is a strategy favored by some Trotskyists and maybe Stalinists. I was even accused of "entryism" once over a sentence about separating politicians like Obama from their popular supporters, even though I never said anything about "entering" the rank-and-file movement, which I would be against.)**

""The second anarchist analysis we encountered was best represented by two comrades who were our hosts in Caracas at the beginning and end of our stay. They argued that Chavez was on the whole neither better nor worse than the opposition would be were it in power. In essence, they said, the masses of Venezuelans were wasting their time debating for or against Chavez, when in fact the true class interests of the majority cut across these divisions. From their perspective, a sizeable majority of the Chavista rank and file was potentially open to anarchist analysis and action, while a substantial portion of the anti-Chavista popular base was similarly accessible, despite the apparently stark divisions between the two movements.

The third major anarchist perspective on Chavez was also represented by members of the CRA [publishers of "El Libertario"], although this analysis seemed to be less popular [than the second analysis] in the group overall. According to this view, Chavez is actually worse for Venezuela than the opposition would have been at this historical juncture. The argument here is two-fold, both economic and political. First, due to his popular persona as a radical reformer and anti-imperialist, only Chavez could have forced through the range of petroleum and other resource concessions to multi-national corporations that have been approved in the past few years, because these same maneuvers would have faced massive opposition had they been proposed by the traditional parties that make up the opposition. Second, Chavez has been able to use his social reforms (literacy programs and the like) to cover for a massive centralization of political power in the hands of the presidency, where the opposition would have been confronted as authoritarian extremists had they attempted the same power grab.""

These are, then, the "makes no difference attitude" (second view) and the "grand distraction analysis" (third view) according to the authors. The second one has some definite value in that (unlike the first one) it undermines the authority of the big parties while trying to mobilize the masses at the base. (A similar approach has tremendous value in the U.S., something which, oddly enough, Barack Obama did a fairly good job at himself in his own bourgeois-political way.) Basically, it similar to the "apolitical" or "anti-political" line, which, as I mentioned in a comment on the other thread, is at best a provisional response to anarchists' political marginalization. However, an obvious criticism of this is that, in fact, there IS a big difference. I agree with Larry's related comment about this (although it was directed at "sectarians"):

""According to the sectarian, the glass is never half-full, it is always empty. Should reaction triumph, the sectarians will be tortured and killed along with the other tendencies, and their sectarianism will remain as a bitter taste in the mouths of a defeated people.... This is most particularly the case in Latin America where the mobilization of the populace immediately leads to polarization between the masses and the oligarchy and its supporters. If the oligarchy gains the upper hand in this struggle the result is the suppression of popular movements, torture and massacre. To think that one can stand aside during this polarization, or that it is "only a struggle between bourgeois factions and doesn't concern us" is to live in a dream world.""

The third view (or "grand distraction analysis") is more complicated, but put short, it has a lot of merit to it as an objective assessment of the regime's assimilating role, but it does need to be tempered or it can become a dangerous disregard for reactionary threats and also can sometimes be exaggerated to the point of discrediting their argument (as some observed, to varying degrees, in the recent article by "El Libertario"). This is where, in my opinion, Larry's argument is sorely lacking and why I tend to agree with Akai. Basically, this sort of "push the movement further" line is, for one thing, extremely naive about the different influences (anarchists as opposed to leaders, or more abstractly "libertarian and authoritarian" -- but that does not quite sum it up) in these movements, and basically could work if, contrary to Larry's line of reasoning, we assumed that those leaders would blatantly betray or sell out their program causing some sort of internal rupture. But that misses the whole point, again, and frankly does not give enough credit to talents of a leader like Chavez or Castro, not to mention underestimates their supporters.

More on this later (probably in a day or two). Sorry to be abrupt.

author by José Antonio Gutiérrezpublication date Sun Mar 01, 2009 22:47author address author phone Report this post to the editors

No one is stating, as far as I see it, that the State will wither away. The struggle againts the State is at all times a revolutionary task, but the struggle against the State is no mere act of opposition to it: it requires a period of preparation, of organisation, of social construction. That's what in Latin America is often referred to as building popular power, that is, creating an alternative from the rank and file -otherwise the Bolivian phaenomenon can happen, that you topple a number of governments while the State remains intact!

I want to insist on the empirical nature of this debate: it needs to be put in context. What can a small and minority movement do to be relevant to the ordinary folk? Certainly the CNT in Spain during the time of the Republic had the option of being an actual alternative, in the way the Ecuadorian tiny anarchist movement do not have it today. Likewise, in Venezuela anarchism is a peripheral political force that up to the arrival of Chavez to power was more concerned with organising punk gigs and talking about the benefits of a vegetarian diet than with the daily problems of the working class. How make it relevant then? I don't think there's an easy answer for this, but I know how to make anarchism irrelevant.

Once I talked to a Venezuelan who was part of the majority of working class folks that supports Chávez... when I asked him about his position on Chávez he gave me the most concrete answer you can expect: he just showed me his teeth and said, "they are perfect now, it was the first time I saw a dentist in my life, thanks to president Chávez". If I tell that man, "Chávez is worse than all presidents before, because he is crushing the autonomy of people's organisations, he is an authoritarian caudillo, etc." or if I start talking that "statistics from this or that NGOs show me that the health services are actually deteriorating, etc." I can expect from this man an equally graphic and concrete response: he would just give me the two fingers and tell me to FO. That's the bottom line: how can you ignore improvements that have actually happened under a populist regime? It is perfectly understandable why this man supports the government in the absence of any other option! He would only have time for my criticisms if I give credit to the improvements that have happened, and if I state clear that my problem with Chávez has nothing to do with his teeth! If I say "yes, this is all fine, we appreciate that, but without an autonomous people's movement there is a risk that all this will end in nothing, etc." If anarchists don't participate in the social movement, if anarchists are not at the front line of struggles against the bourgeoisie, if they do not do "the walk" it is quite understandable why people will not have time for their "talk". It is not a programme of liquidationism, of surrendering your programme, but a matter of knowing how to present it to the people, a matter of strategy.

On the other hand, the middle class has not probably improved an awful lot and therefore that could be your only objective audience, but forget about that man of the "teeth" and millions like him. Definitely it is a matter of knowing your place also: I have more in common with him or with peasant organisations that support Chávez than I have with the Venezuelan middle class (the most rabid, fanatical, snobbish and disgusting biggots you can imagine!). But when you see anarchists marching with the right-wing students movement, which is ferociously anti-socialists and which marches to protect their individual privileges (not the system, which they know is not under serious threat), you start wondering how much do you have in common with those anarchists.

An analogue situation was lived in Chile during the time of Allende: reformism was a dead-end strategy, the populist government distrusted more the workers autonomy than the army (with fatal consequences for itself), etc. But when the Catholic university students marched against the government, there was no place for anarchists in that march. When the lorry drivers and the copper miners trade unions were bought by the CIA (as it is well established) to di-stabilize the government, there was no place for anarchists there. The bourgeoisie can get particularly "militant" in Latin America whenever they see their privileges threatened and they can resort to "popular" methods of struggle. Anarchist cannot fall into this trap by abusing the common place that anarchists are against government, as if they were not against anything else.

But with polarization, the working class also gets militant: in Chile they developed the industrial networks and a number of grassroots alternatives that were, in fact, autonomous from the government, in spite of the presence of political parties from the government in them and in spite of their open support for Allende. They provided potential for anarchists to push their programme, they provided an alternative for an autonomous force that would have gone beyond reformism, that would have created in real terms an alternative to the State, and that could have crushed the Pinochet-reaction. Unfortunately, no revolutionary force (the anarchists were tiny) had the vision to develop this forms of alternative institutions created by the people on struggle. At the time the real discussion was not if you were with Allende or against Allende: indeed, that was a distraction from where the real discussion was -what was the actual role of those people's organisations, only to support the government or to become in themselves a space for people's power? Unfortunately, no political organisation saw it that way (what makes me fear the limits of spontaneity and see that anarchism as a politically organised factor is a necessary force in revolution). There's an interesting docummentary available in English called "the Battle of Chile" that deals with these issues from the point of view of the workers involved in those experience at the time it was all happening. There you can see that, opposite to what Kevin assumes when discussing the argument of "pushing the movement further", there were actually strong contradictions within the "Allende" supporters and there were conflicts with the grassroots workers that, because of the polarization, ended up being supportive of Allende anyway. Not even the most skilled leader in government will be able to cope with these contradictions that are inherent to the reformist project. I do think that anarchists have to be prepared for the time when these contradictions emerge, but this brings us back to another problem: that anarchism needs to move beyond the politics of mere opposition, and needs to become an alternative. Otherwise, people will always be left to chose between capitalism and populist reformers (some more honest than others, but all a dead-end to the revolution). Or worse, to choose between a populist leader or a military dictatorship...

I wrote an article (unfortunately in Spanish and Portuguese only) on the Reformist government and Pinochet raise to power from an anarchist perspective http://www.anarkismo.net/article/9846 It deals with the Chilean situation, not with the general problem as Larry does.

author by Larry Gambonepublication date Mon Mar 02, 2009 00:12author email redlionpress at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

No I am not implying that the state will "wither away". Though I am not sure of all the future possibilities of revolutionary change. (I make no claims of being a prophet.) I do think a movement can be pushed from below to create a situation of dual power.

I also would like to see critics discuss their alternative strategy to having anarchists remain a tiny, ineffectual group, unconnected with the working class and standing on the fringes denouncing everyone. If you can come up with a better idea than I have, I will gladly adopt it. My only concern is making anarchism a relevant force among the populace.

author by Akaipublication date Mon Mar 02, 2009 02:37author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I think this is an interesting thread but there are still some things here which I would argue with or which are not clear.

Larry, you seem to be mixing up two issues which I think need to be separate: how to involved anarchism in popular movements and what do you if you have a so-called radical government. Keep in mind that the latter was your title but part of your text and comments relate to the former issue.

You wrote:
What I am trying to do is find away that anarchists can relate to an existing popular movement, while remaining independent, yet without ending up as a small ineffectual group nattering away on the sidelines.

This question, I believe should be separate from the issue of radical governments because creating or acting in popular movements can take place without a revolutionary government.

This is the question which you say you are most interesting and this is one that probably interests almost all the readers of this page. I believe this issue should not be at all mixed up with the question of government.

This is where of course we need to be able to work with a wider populace on concrete issues, provided this can grow into a democratic and grassroots movement without goals contradictory to what we believe in. The biggest challenge in these movements may just be getting them going, depending on your local situation. And I think that many anarchists are involved in exacting these types of movements, if they exist in their locations - although not all of course. Here of course we should be able to work with a wide range of people, try to promote anarchistic ideas regarding process and, if possible, work to introduce new ideas - which may require a more subtle approach.

In so far as working together with others is concerned, there may be some problems if there are far-right groups involved or political parties or even a few members of these, if their main goal is to do recruiting on the basis of the movement. I only mention this because Larry mentioned other groups in movements he works in. Surely people can work together on common goals, but there have to be certain ground rules first. The outcome of this or even the sensibility of it will be variable. In terms of people from political movements working in popular movements, it may certainly look different in the case where these political groups are based on grassroots activism or where they are based on electoralism and are in countries where they are in power or have a realistic chance of being in power.

This question is, as far as I see it, quite different from the one you posed, which is about so-called revolutionary governments and about governments which give benefit to people in general.

I mentioned El Libertario quite deliberately because I've seen some comments of Larry's on different discussions which looked to be pro-Chavez. On reading the discussion, I understand his position to be rather like "well how can we CRITICIZE" or as Jose Antonio seems to be arguing "how can you tell the guy whose teeth got fixed that Chavez is no good"?

Yet it is our task to point out the shortcomings or even "diversions" of the so-called revolutionary governments.

In the worst case scenarios, these so-called revolutionary governments will use the constant bogey-man of the "alternative" or the "ones getting ready to take over power' to assign themselves power, suspend democracy and repress popular movements in the name of protecting "progress". THIS is actually what we see again and again.

As far as "the common man" who people suppose only see if their plates are full and their teeth fixed, there is quite a problem with this. In Russia, as long as the petrodollars were flowing and some concrete material benefits were given to "common people" the nation was ready to back Putin wholeheartedly. All the time he manages to scare people with the bogey-man of the oligarchs, the foreign companies, etc. - but at the same time he is the head of all the oligarchs, the master thief, the assigner of concessions to international capital.

There is not an exact parrallel between someone like Putin and Chavez, but there are similarities. (And Putin is clearly a hero to Chavez.) But the challenge is the same: how to speak to people about their leaders.

Well, I think that NOT speaking to people in an upfront way, not challenging people's perceptions or pretending our "great revolutionary leaders' should be trusted is no strategy at all. Obviously, there is much art in giving convincing arguments to people, but we can't approach people as if they are incapable. Of course some people will inevitably prove unreceptive. This shouldn't be a reason to avoid the challenge though.

I appreciate Kevin's rather informative run-down of the different positions on Chavez; I think it will be useful for readers considering the issue.

Jose Antonio concretely mentions anarchists in the opposition marches with the right-wing. Of course, this is the problem with broad-based opposition movements and protest movements: if you concentrate on what you are against, you don't concentrate on what you are for. In the same way, anarchists have been together with totalitarian leftists in marches. Of course it does not have to be that you take the opposite side in such conflicts, nor does it have to be that all anti-Chavez protesters are right-wing. Sometimes it's worth creating an alternative opposition.

Finally, I personally think the second and third anarchist analyses mentioned are of more value than the first, which is usually no way forward.

author by Larry Gambonepublication date Mon Mar 02, 2009 07:09author address author phone Report this post to the editors

No, Akai, the title is there for a reason. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article we do mass movements rather well. Anarchists are involved in the anti-war, anti-poverty, Indigenous, immigrant, work place and environmental struggles along with others of different tendencies. The problem comes when a mass movement gives rise to a government, anarchists historically have tended to go either liquidationalist or sectarian.

But perhaps it is a matter of style more than strategy, I will grant you that much. It is a slow process to become implanted within, or to gain the ear of, the rank and file of an existing movement. The first year or so I am involved I just listen or ask questions. I never tell anyone what to think or do, unless they ask me my opinion and then I will phrase it as a suggestion and not an “ought” or “must”. Standing on the outside and shouting denunciations wins only the workers contempt. It is their respect you must win, and the only way you gain a person's respect is by treating them with respect. Denunciations, especially those based on half-truths or “what might be” win no friends. Workers despise sects, period.

As I have mentioned before there is an implicit form of criticism, through the positive expression of the anarchist program, which is far more effective. One example. I was in a workers demo of about 25,000 people in Montreal against anti-worker legislation. It was called by the three union federations. I knew it was just a “let off steam” exercise by the unions. I wore a humourous placard attacking the government that made people laugh, carried the flag of my union and handed out a leaflet I wrote. It went along the lines (paraphrased as it was in French) of “Great demo eh? Good to see us all out in the streets. But I wonder if demos are enough? Remember how we won back in 1972? Yes, it took a general strike to get the government to back down. Maybe we need a general strike now. And remember that we won in '72 because we occupied the workplaces, so maybe what we need is a general strike involving occupations. What do you think?” Not a word attacking the union strategy. Had there been, I would have been verbally abused. But it was in fact a devastating critique of the union strategy, but implicitly. Not an iota of hostility from the workers.

author by José Antonio Gutiérrezpublication date Mon Mar 02, 2009 07:39author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I'm not sure if, in the context of countries were left-wing populists are in power on the basis of people's demands and with the support of the popular movement, it is that possible to clear-cut divide social movements from the government. I don't think you could analyze the social movement under the UP government in Chile, for instance (1970-73) and treat it as something completely different to what was happening in the government: the political parties in government tended to have strong links with organisations and often you found your own comrades, people that belonged to your trade-union, etc. in positions of government. I'm actually about to publish an interesting interview to Oscar Olivera, a well-known Bolivian trade unionist, on the difficulties of finding yourself struggling against your former comrades... and the challenges faced because of the context of polarization in Bolivia, and the high levels of support for Evo Morales reforms. This is an instructive interview as, again, is a highly empirical testimony from a libertarian perspective (libertarian in a very loose sense of the word) and of someone with vast experience in social movements.

While working on social organisations, I have no problem to work with whoever as long as there are clear and limited goals (in the homeless peoples associations we worked with in Santiago, in Chile, there was the odd right-winger or government supporter, and that was fine). The problem is when in moments of polarization those social organisations, as all of society, gets highly politicized and when you don't get just the odd right-winger, but actually, that the movement is hegemonized by the far-right and that its aims are no longer just reforms or an improvement in this or that, but a reactionary goal. This is what happened with the students movement in Venezuela, that became a stronghold of reaction. I'm not saying libertarians should quit, quite the contrary: libertarians have be there but to face the reactionary agenda of the "leaders" in a clear way. But there is no room for anarchists in marches, or demonstrations whose clear and sole objective is to push forward their reactionary agenda. Likewise, though I agree that anarchists should be there with the people in the social organisations hegemonized by the left, I think there's no room in anarchists in demonstrations to support Chávez. But you don't see anarchists flags in marches of support of Chávez; you do see them though when the students march for their reactionary agenda.

Laure equals marching with totalitarian left-wingers with marching with the far-right. Let me disagree on that. Though I understand he's coming from Poland and therefore his perception of the Stalinist left is different to mine coming from South America (where Stalinism never did oppress us), still socialists of all types would share certain things in common, in spite of the massive differences. Class struggle (all of them say to represent the working class), all of them say to wish the revolution (though they mean different things by that), are against capitalism (eventhough authoritarians may confuse socialism with State capitalism that for them is a "stage" in direction of full communism, etc.) and we share a tradition. Eventhough they have ended up becoming dictators and in government they have repressed anarchists and other dissidents, our discussion and tension has always being because we are, broadly speaking, in the left -and you always aim to conquer their base of support, whose desires are not very different from those of our base of support (welfare, freedom, etc. often they do not realize that the authoritarian path is a dead end road). Whereas with the right wing the situation is quite different: they do not even speak of ending capitalism, they do not acknowledge class struggle, they are reactionary movements, not revolutionary ones, and they have never been remotely involved in organising the people for the struggle for their immediate needs, as anarchists and marxists of all types have been. The case of Makhno is very clear: he could ally with the Bolsheviks (eventhough he was betrayed in the end, and eventhough he was never comfortable of doing so), but an alliance with the Whites would have been unthinkable. When I see anarchists that are unable to differentiate left from right, I get the creeps, to be honest with you.

I agree with Laure that the possiblity of the populist governments to repress the libertarian "dissent" does exist: the risk of the "state of exception" does always exist as long as there is a State (not only left-wing governments can repress anarchists, all governments can). This is as true for social-democrat, liberal, or right-wing governments. We need to be alert for that at all times. But it is easier to repress a people that are at the fringes and with no real presence among the masses than an anarchist organisation that actively participates with the people in their organisations. If you deliberately marginalize yourself from the masses and if you deliberately march alongside those defending their privileges. don't expect much sympathy from the bulk of the people.

I think Laure misunderstands the point being made when he discusses something nobody, as far as I'm aware, is arguing: "Well, I think that NOT speaking to people in an upfront way, not challenging people's perceptions or pretending our "great revolutionary leaders' should be trusted is no strategy at all." No one is discussing that. We have insisted that at no point should we surrender our flag, at no point should we stop defending the people's autonomy, at no point should we aim to attack government intervention. The problem is quite another: should we attack at all times the government, even if it pushes measures that benefit the people? (this does not only apply to populist governments, but it is particularly sensitive with populist governments for they do more popular measures than others: as a sidenote, I remember reading Chilean anarchists from the '30s denouncing as a government imposition the programme of vaccination for children proposed by the radical government of that day... no wonder, that time was one in which anarchism was at its lowest!) should we stop pushing forward measures like agrarian reform only because the government started promoting them? That's what I refer to when I say that criticism has to be relevant and you can't fall in exaggerations that may be used to discredit your valid views.

Again I insist: the problem is not, as Laure poses it to be, as a matter of criticizing or not criticizing governments. The problem is how do you do it when sensitivities are very touchy, when you have a high level of polarization (and the evident risk of a coup or a fascist dictatorship looming with the reaction, remember the neighbour of Chávez is Uribe, and between them there's a huge difference that you can actually measure with the respective body count) and understanding that the best criticism anarchists can do is building an alternative among the masses, infusing libertarian thought and practices among the people. But before the talk, you have to do the walk with them -everyone with experience in a trade union or any other social organisation knows that trust is something you gain only with time and perseverence, not with grand inflammable speeches. Most people do not want just hollow rhetoric: they want results of political involvement, and our challenge in many countries in Latin America is not only to prove that anarchists where right on "real socialism", or that anarchism is a much more beautiful utopia than leninism, our real struggle is to prove that anarchism is more effective. People want to have their teeth fine, people want to have healthy lives, people want to have enough food on their tables and I really think there is nothing wrong with that. I want that myself!. And I think that dismissing this as "politics of the stomach" is elitist and shows how far removed anarchism has been from the lives of real people. Actually, when you have kids, you get far more serious about the "reform" side of revolutionary politics. But anarchism can provide one extra-thing that other left-wing movements can't provide: empowerement, making you actor in your own life, bringing sovereignty over your own self by making you part of the decision making process of society. And that's something we never have to forget... but don't dismiss the lentils!

ps. By the way, when I pointed that these are difficult questions I had in mind the Uruguayan anarchist movement, that was shattered by the election of Tabaré Vásquez, eventhough in his case, he does not even resemble in the slightest way a reformist like Chávez or Morales, or even Correa in Ecuador (he's more of a Lula type).

author by José Antonio Gutiérrezpublication date Mon Mar 02, 2009 07:50author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I have not seen Larry's comment, and certainly I agree he says it much better than I do, but the line of arguments is the same as mine: how to tell things in an intelligent way. I get frustrated when I see comrades attacking the trade union bureaucracy with more fervour than they would attack their own boss while spending no time in doing work to get the rank and file of their trade union active, while doing no work of persuasion to their non-unionized workers, while doing no effort to build an alternative for the bureaucracy. The way to combate the bureaucracy is not writing many pamhplets against them no matter how well written and periodical they are; neither is to yell insults at them whenever they speak in public -the most you can get from this is scorn and being seen as a lunatic. The best way to fight them is actually winning the workers to your own constructive programme.

I think that Larry sums it all up too well when saying "Standing on the outside and shouting denunciations wins only the workers contempt".

author by Kevin S.publication date Mon Mar 02, 2009 17:35author address author phone Report this post to the editors

There is too much here to reply to completely, but I will do my best. There have been good points made on each side, and there are some limitations as well. I want to try and underline these key points as I see them, and limit criticism to where it helps in doing so.

I agree with Jose and Larry that there is not always a simple line to be drawn between "popular movements" and "popular governments" (deliberately distinguished from "radical" or "progressive" - more or less comparable to "revolutionary" in its dynamics although not necessarily in content), as Jose showed in the example of Chile, as today is seen Venezuela and even more so in Bolivia ... add to that extremely complicated situations like Cuba 1959, where the anarchists were completely unequiped for what happened despite there historically important role in the labor movement. My own observation has been that, between these cases, Chile is the richest in terms of its comparisons, lessons on every side, and the possibilities it pointed to (not to make a side point of the tragedy it ended in -- all the more relevant, if bitterly so, to the point about reactionary threats etc. etc.). Venezuela today, whatever its similarities to Chile 1970-3, seems a bit more of a case of hegemonic populism that also much more authoritarian overtones than the UP's project in Chile (although there were plenty in 1970-3 who thought Allende wanted a dictatorship, or at least his "colleagues" did ... actually, he was apparantly influenced in his by an anarchist shoemaker from Italy). (Actually, according to an interview in one documentary, he was influenced in his youth by anarchist shoemaker from Italy -- talk about a stereotype!)

I do give credit to Larry for emphasizing relating directly to the "movement" (i.e. the rank and file) rather than bogging down in flat denunciations of the "leaders" that rarely get across coherently to their base. Anarchism will never be a powerful popular movement unless we can sway the masses away from bourgeois demogoguery. Maybe a helpful comparison is with the Palestine debate, as it was noted there the importance of the First Intifada to establish a direct relationship between "ordinary" Palestinians and Israelis at the "grassroots" level. Without that relationship, do not expect an impact on the masses since they will never hear coherently the "propaganda" spouted in our own little circles. Unfortunately, that dialogue at the base-level is affected heavily by our relationship to the parties and/or governments supported by that base. But I think it is dangerous to simplify our strategic or rhetorical approach on way or the other, between "pushing" or "criticizing" (or even "denouncing") mass movements, because in truth "popular movements" are not an abstraction nor a neat model that always looks or works the same -- some are super-authoritarian leaning and not to be treated lightly (consider right-wing "popular movements"!), others are a mixed bag needing healthy criticism, and still others are definitely on the right track, so to speak, and simply need to be supported and "pushed." Furthermore, "common tactical objectives" are simply not enough basis for tactical unity at some level, as in the case Jose mentions of anarchists participating in reactionary-led student protests against Chavez. The idea that being against the State is sufficient reason to support an "anti-government" protest that clearly has a ruling-class orientation and no meaningful connection to the lower classes (fundamental to our social struggles), is either laughably ridiculous or frighteningly lunatic (take your pick).

An obvious theme of each side in this debate, although not exactly the "official topic," is the problem of recuperation from any direction. The example of anti-government strikes in Chile, funded by the CIA, is an obvious case of the ruling classes (bourgeois, oligarch, imperialist) reorganizing their power in an "oppositional" context, by resorting to sabotage tactics at every level. (The ruling classes in Chile truly waged "total war" against Allende, so deep was their fear, using everything from financial disruption, to political assaults, to funding strikes etc. etc. all attempting to make Chile "anarchic" as a necessary condition for military intervention. Allende's understandable, but disastrous, policy was to discourage "anarchy" to the point of relying on the army to restore order!) But then, we also have to beware of recuperation by the "new" ruling class as we fight beside its mass supporters against reactionary forces. All in all, it is a superbly awkward situation, hence the "great dilemma" (which goes without and everyone knows it, so forgive my repeating it).

Personally, despite some obvious limitations in each and some obvious tensions between them, I think if acted on effectively, the "three views" of the Venezuelan anarchists mentioned in the other article could actually be fairly complementary as strategic approaches. That Chavez & Co. are effectively recuperating the popular struggles is obvious, and needs to be pointed out forcefully from an autonomous anarchist political perspective. But that those struggles in themselves are critical, that they need to be not "denounced" but rather "pushed from below" to break free of governmentalism, and that they are the most probably basis for a "new revolution" is also obvious enough, and this inevitably means to some degree accepting the presence of Chavistas in those struggles ... GRANTED that the anarchists must fight tooth-and-nail against subordination of those struggles to the government's policies. And last, it is also true that there is some common ground to be established (although much, much less so in a country like Venezuela, with the stark class differences at work, as opposed to the U.S. where it is much more varied) outside the influence of party politics, and in such a difficult context of polarization and politicization of mass movements, "apolitical" work can be a valuable setting for anarchists to have a social presence not dominated by the political parties. (I talked in more detail about "polticization" and "apoliticism" in a comment on the Venezuela article, so I will not go into it here any more.)

I agree more or less with Larry's emphasis on a "positive program" instead of denouncing everybody left-and-right, which only comes across to some people as sectarian and maybe a little bit crazy. I encountered a multitude of "socialist" groups (mostly Trotskyists) during a protest at D.C., who were all full of denunciations, and basically were all split-offs from the same party (Socialist Workers Party, who are a little more serious, and also, no longer officially "Trotskyist" ... very complicated), constantly on and on about their disagreements with this-or-that grouping (one group was a split-off of a split-off of SWP) and almost completely lacking any "positive program" of any value. The SWP themselves were the only ones I could take seriously. (Of course I never joined, being I did not share their politics, although I did subscribe for awhile to their paper "The Militant", which was a good paper.) Personally, in the case of Obama (which has some similarity in terms of mass mobilizing etc. although clearly not "radical"), my own arguments have focused one a simple point: Obama is a politician, and no matter how "good" or "bad" he is as a politician, while appreciating some improvements he makes (and criticizing his problems), my own sights are set clearly and absolutely on the people's social struggles against the bourgeoisie and their State. While it harder in a case like Venezuela or Chile to make that distinction, it is still there objectively and subjectively, and our immediate task is one of seizing and creating space for autonomous social struggles. So if there is a valuable struggle being fought which involves supporters of this-or-that party, we can intervene in that struggle while making clear our autonomous stance as anarchists, and at the same time fight for the autonomy of the people in struggle without demanding they immediately adopt an anarchist program or something of the like -- which, obviously, would be hypocritical as an intrusion on the people's autonomy!

TO CONCLUDE... (at last!)
So, to sum up here, anarchists have to intervene autonomously at the same recognizing and fighting for the people's autonomy in their social struggles. That does not, and cannot mean, even tacitly or quietly approving of statist politics in those struggles. On the contrary, intervening as autonomous political actors and fighting for their social autonomy, is a concrete attack against statist politics in those movements on the basis of "positive" practical work among the masses. In that general context, there are times when it is necessary and crucial to denounce or criticize the intrusion of statist-"revolutionary" parties on the movement as a concrete attack on their autonomy (which, in itself, does not even quite amount to attacking the government, only the government's intrusions), and at other times it is makes more sense to "push the government" in the sense forming concrete demands toward the government in much the same way a union does toward an employer (be it "private" or "public"), basically making direct conquests from the State. But the only means to fight recuperation in all of these struggles, either by the "opposition" or by the government (radical or not), is if anarchists have a coherent political line and a "positive program" -- which only happens if the anarchists are effectively organized somehow, at least informally. But I do agree with Akai, this demands also (but not exclusively) directly confronting the statist parties and arguing upfront for our views, sometimes outside the movements through "propaganda" and sometimes inside the movements through direct agitation or when confronting the State's intrusions. I think Larry's main mistake is in under-emphasizing that kind of confrontation, or even diluting into a practice of "make my views known and then carry on as usual," which is fine for earning other people's respect but does nothing to make anarchism a more powerful, direct influence (as opposed to only acting through some sort of "medium" like advocating for direct democracy, direct action etc.), or as Jose mentioned, to make anarchism a politically organized factor that is not limited to spontaneity.

author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.publication date Mon Mar 02, 2009 19:51author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I think that there's a great value in discussing the criteria for people's involvement and, generally speaking, of tactics and strategy as we are doing... the empirical nature of these questions however means that a "one size fit all" solution is impossible, and as we keep coming back with concrete examples, it results obvious that there are many concrete issues anarchists are to take into account when making their tactical decisions (nature of the social organisations, hegemonic forces, strategy of the reaction, etc.). If the discussion does not refer to concrete examples it is easy to get lost in subtle linguistical problems, etc. I don't think in the generals we are disagreeing that much, it is how do you put tha into practice what will prove more often than not problematic. I think that the most important thing to keep in mind is the need for anarchists to think in programmatic terms (a programme, concrete proposals, not "pie in the sky" rhetoric). I also think it is important to make that the core of our politics in order to gain some political initiative and not being just an opposition force that passively responds to the initiatives of the "big leaders".

I want to point out a number of important issues at a comment Kevin made on the comparisons between Allende and Chávez, that may be relevant to understand the broader picture of left-wing populism in LAtin America...

1. The only similarity between Allende and Chávez is that both of them chose to build a reformist project in the road to socialism from within the institutional framework of capitalism as we know it. And both face a similar reaction (oil-based in Venezuela, Copper-based in Chile) that in case of triumph will certainly be a complete disaster for the people and a human tragedy of unimaginable proportions.

2. There are important differences though: while Allende was the main defender of the Constitution, Chávez first task was to change the Constitution what gave him more of a room to maneouvre... this probably was possible because discredit of the institutions was far more widespread in Venezuela than in Chile at the time.

3. Secondly, the raise of Allende to power was the result of a 50 year old strategy of the left, combining the participation in institutions with the hegemony in the social movement. Allende was an organic product of this movement; Chávez was a response to a sentiment of disillusion with traditional politics and was seen as an outsider to the traditional politics represented by Christian Democrats and Social Democrats.

4. There was no serious institutional crisis in Chile, and Allende indeed was representative of a firm left wing tradition made flesh in consolidated parties with hundreds of thousands of militants, like the Communist and Socialist Party (Allende belonging to the latter, which was more to the left than the CP back then). Chávez does not had a proper party behind him, and there was no firm tradition of politics to which he adscribed. This has many implications:

a. That Allende, no matter how charismatic he undoubtedly was, was never a "caudillo" in the way Chávez is (let alone the military background of Chávez). This largely explains why Chávez appears as more of an "authoritarian" type.... one expressed a long standing tradition, the other created one filling a big gap in the Venezuelan "democratic system".

b. In the absence of established second-in-commands, clear party programmes and traditions, he has a big room to maneouvre and often he has had to improvise as he goes along (what makes him look more of an erratic character than Allende).

c. I think this is the main difference between reformism in the period from the '30s to the '60s in Latin America and the current wave of reformers (the so-called pink tide): that the latter are born as a response to a generalized crisis of poolitics and institutions, born out more of loose movements than parties as we used to understand them (That's the case of Correa, Morales and Chávez -with important differences between them as well: Morales standing over one of the most politicized people of the Hemisphere with a strong tradition of grassroots organising but a very poor tradition of party politics and with traditionally very little margin for participation in racist Bolivian institutions; with Chávez filling a gap and creating a mass movement where previously there was nothing even comparable; and with Correa standing somewhere in between. It could be argued that an early "symptom" of what was to come in politics in Latin America came actually in Haiti, with the election of Arisitide, a figura that shares much in common with the style of politics of the above mentioned leaders).

5. The context was very different indeed, although two factors bring the respective dose of paranoia into politics: Cold War in the case of Chile, War on Terror in the case of Chávez. Both international contexts largely helped shaped domestic events.

ps. Yes, the first political education of Allende was by an Italian born anarchist who lives in Chile for most of his life anyway... as most anarchists he was a bit of a jack of all trades, being at times a shoemaker, others a carpenteer... he always moved in the anarchist trades though. His name was Juan Demarchi, he died in 1939 and all of the left, but mostly the Socialist Party, paid tribute to a man who was quite influential in his time. Indeed, a lot of anarchists after the dictatorship of Ibanez in 1927-1930 helped form the Socialist Party and that's why the party was never that orthodox -although in no way you could consider it libertarian, it was certainly more radical than the CP.

author by Akaipublication date Tue Mar 03, 2009 00:12author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This topic has gotten a bit too wide and unwieldly to respond to all the points worth discussing. I will just add a few comments.

I think that the line between a popular movement and a popular government is crystal clear: government refers to the elected representative appartus which governs all subjects inside national boundaries. A popular movement may support or even give rise to a candidate or party getting into power, but a popular movement does not have the same capacities as the state. (Albeit some local movements can take on state like qualities, This is another question) If we do not agree that statism is the best form of social organization, then we can always point out what's wrong with the state and point out our alternatives. To do this sometimes requires arguments which support our claims that the state, even the workers state, is not fine. And if somebody is in power they can be criticized from two angles: just for being part of the state, or for concrete problems with his/her rule or politics.

As mentioned, presenting a positive program is the way for anarchists to go. I believe it's not only important but essential; for me there is no movement at all without it. But this doesn't have to mean being so reticent about one's own ideas or laying criticism where criticism is due.

Again I think Larry is jumping around in ideas since I would separate the issues. He says that he IS talking about revolutionary governments but returns back to anecdotal testimony from union demos in Canada. If he insists on mixing up the two things (which seems to me essentially a method of deliberately trying to obfuscate the difference between popular movements and so-called popular governments) I would take a moment to address this point as well.

Generally, almost all of the more radical unions (in relative terms) in Poland have directly benefitted from criticizing other unions and winning over their dissatisfied members. There is no one rule as to the reaction of working people. There's no use in creating a sweeping category of people labelled "workers" and then assuming that all the people you stick with that category think the same.

In general, if we go out on a mass demo or meet people involved in a conflict, we have different leaflets, material etc., depending on the situation. Sometimes we relate to the demands, but through in some other demands, sometimes we support the demands, sometimes we agitate for worker self-management but sometimes for directly controlled unions, sometimes even against a policy of a particular union. And you might be surprised but yes, sometimes people think we're unrealistic, a few bureaucrats give us dirty looks, but many, many times, the rank and file AND EVEN SOMETIMES OTHERS in the union are very supportive, talk a lot with us, make contact, etc. I could write about many incidents, but enough to say, listening to people is important, but it doesn't mean you have to agree with them, pretend you agree with them or avoid certain topics at all times. Of course there may be times when it could be prudent, but I'd avoid the overgeneralizatios.

(PS, maybe you know that one more than one occasion, somebody from some union has been fucked over by the union bureaucrats and come to us because we said something about these problems before. It's possible to mobilize and work with dissident factions within unions - and these people KNOW something is wrong and are waiting for like-minded individuals. )

So to sum up that issue, we all want to put forward a positive program only there seems to be a different perception of the value of criticism.

About Chavez, I think there is a lot to say and it would be better to treat this separately. I think the issue of revolutionary government also is partly lost in other issues here.

To Jose Antonio, although I agree with some of your points, I'll only comment on what I don't agree with. Throughout the history of the anarchist movement, as we have seen and as has already been mentioned, certain segments of the anarchist movement have tended to go with the "we're all in the same leftist camp" line, usually with disastrous consequences. You mention Makhno and the Bolsheviki and of course you are right that from a certain logic, the Makhnovists could choose to cooperate with them, but never with the Whites. Problem is that it was also a mistake, a very costly one. We all know this... but pver and over the same thing repeats with different actors. I think a very relevant thing to look at would be the anarchist response to the Cuban revolution. And here I don't mean the Cuban anarchists.... but the foreign ones who, until the late 70s as far as I remember, were practically accusing the Cubans in NY and Florida of being like CIA agents. I saw some of the articles / debates at the time, and really it was just depressing how anarchists got caught up in this Castroist revolution bullshit.

Although I agree with Jose Antonio's sentiments about the right wing and their total disgustingness, I cannot be very enthusiastic about the statist left. However, just to through a bit of a spanner in the works, since you mentioned that people who don't know the difference between the left and right make you sick, it has to be recognized that this distinction is not as neat and clear to people as leftists would want it to be.

I mean, you can try to tell me whether the famous program of Solidarity for a self-managed workers' republic was right or left. It of course argued for the restitution of capitalism but contained many social points which led some people to identify it as rather left-leaning. But really it was a result of some populist mixing of right-wing free market ideas, with social democracy plus church conservatism. The legacy is that today you get a pro-market, pro-American, pro-privatization wokers' movement fighting for some workers' rights, giving up others, but in some ways more pro-social than the left which is always trying to be pro-business and make coalitions with neo-liberals.

And what about a union like Aug. 80 and their political arm, the Labour Party which was in an electoral coalition with fascist third positionists a few years ago and reinvented themselves as a "leftist party", retaining most of the right-wingers in very high positions? It seems like the ideal of what the Germans call the Querfront. Some argue it is radical left, some say its populist with a mixed program... different segments of the left and anarchist movement disagree on it.

Further, the nazis and fascists are of course divided into the corporatists, the free-market types and the anticapitalists. There are, not only here but in many countries in Europe, nazis who are talking about class war and leftists who are claiming that class war is irrelevant.

As I said, this makes for a confused situation. I would agree with your comments about the left and the right, except that I am extremely wary of left authoritarian groups and keep my distance from the worst of them and the parties. Certainly I understand that these political divisions can look different outside of Europe, but even in the Western hemisphere we sometimes see this.

Sorry, I see this is slightly off topic, but I'll keep it in the comment.

I personally wouldn't go to anything organized by the rightwing (except to heckle them) although I've been called a "sectarian" here by folks in the anarchist movement who go to these rightwing populist or third positionist things and think they can covert people or who sometimes get involved with them in some coalition or protest. As far as the Venezuelan anarchists on the student parades are concerned, I'm not sure that the situation is as black and white as you claim it is in terms of presenting it as being completely rightwing. One guy in our group is originally from Venezuela and his father teaches in the university there and he was visiting here so we got a chance to hear from somebody who was outside these movements a bit but could actively observe them. He didn't seem to share that view. So I cannot judge the situation exactly being I've heard conflicting opinions. I could only hope that the anarchists would clearly distinguish themselves and their demands form the rightwingers.

author by Kevin S.publication date Tue Mar 03, 2009 10:37author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I want to say again, I largely agree with Akai's argument, although I also think Jose made an important point that the left-wing tradition in east Europe is today a different story from left-wing populism and socialism in Latin America. One obvious weakness of Larry's article is that it rather anrrowly samples the main concrete, historic examples to back his argument, but then applies very generically to any case, anywhere, of "radical governments" in relation to workers or "the people." I somewhat agree with Akai's criticism of overly blurring the line between "popular movements" and "popular governments," but I also do insist that the distinction is not necessarily so clear to the rank and file of a popular organization who support the government, in a case like Chile or Venezuela, or in a case like Bolivia where Morales came directly out of the popular movement and closely identifies with it. (I am not too familiar at all with Ecuador, so I won't comment on it.) Jose also mentioned Haiti -- this is indeed a case that much more important than it is typically given credit for, which is not helped by sloppy comparisons of Aristide with Duvalier. Given it is such a massive subject in itself, I tend to avoid discussing it as in-depth as I would maybe like, given I have studied it much more thoroughly than the other examples named.

Another important problem in Larry's article, which I didn't have time to get into earlier, is his simplification of anarchists mistrust of Marxists or "suspected Marxists." He wrote:

""One cause of sectarianism is fetishizing the alleged or actual lessons of the past. The Bolsheviks turned on their anarchist allies, so too, Fidel Castro. Wherever Stalinism took over, anarchists and other radical tendencies were eliminated. From this tragic history comes an unspoken view that any revolution or government led by Marxists, real or alleged, will end up following this pattern. But history does change not merely repeating itself like a rubber stamp. Stalinism is not some Platonic Form, hovering in the cosmos, just waiting to manifest at the first outbreak of revolutionary change.""

This is an unbelievably sloppy depiction that, for one thing, shows a dangerously limited understanding of this phenomenon that undermines Larry's argument altogether as being naive. The first thing to understand is that the historical pattern of Leninists turning against anarchists, is only a very particular manifestation of the larger pattern of counterrevolution by the "revolutionary government." The only fact that made it stand out in its time, and has kept doing so since, is the unusually "anarchic"or ultra-revolutionary rhetoric of "proletarian revolution" that led so many anarchists to underestimate the super-authoritarianism of the Bolsheviks. But it is important to understand that Leninism is only the most extreme version of this phenomenon, and indeed the political conditions that created Bolshevism were the long, bloody history of bourgeois-revolutionists turning against their erstwhile popular allies. This had happened again and again in the French Revolution, the revolutions of 1848, the Paris Commune, the Russian revolution of 1905. Lenin especially (but also Marx etc. etc.) pointed to this history repeatedly in discussing the "proletarian dictatorship" to explain how the proletariat needed to wield absolute power against the bourgeoisie. (Lenin's "theses" on bourgeois democracy and proletarian dictatorship, at the Third International's first congress, reads on every line with all the rage and fury of the betrayed masses against bourgeois treachery, almost identical sentiments to the anarchists'.) But, by accident or purpose, the Bolsheviks learned nothing from this spectacle of bourgeois-revolutionists murdering "ultra-revolutionaries" except to do the same thing with even more fury. As far as Lenin was concerned, the anarchists were traitors to the "proletarian dictatorship," ultra-leftists in the service of reaction.

So to underestimate this phenomenon by ascribing narrowly to "Stalinism" (which had no part, anyway, in the Bolsheviks' "liquidation" of the anarchists in the civil war), is an unbelievably dangerous thing to do. Now, this does get back directly to Jose's remarks about Allende. One thing that was notable about the Allende-Popular Unity project, was a definite attempt to make a social revolution without repeating the grave error of the "proletarian dictatorship." Obviously, there are many influences that made "revolutionary" socialism in Chile exceptionally concerned with democracy -- local conditions, the "lessons of history," and even anarchist influences on the workers' movement. But it also made an error, in swinging not to libertarian anti-statist revolution, but rather to the "peaceful democratic road" (i.e. bourgeois-electoral road) to socialism, despite the revolutionary thinking that was quite different from more traditional social-democrats. The result is that they still learned very little from the spectacle of "revolutionary" governments suppressing the rebellious masses, except to do it more "peacefully" and "democratically," without nearly preparing itself enough for the actual threat of reaction. So, the "popular government" that was so afraid of "anarchic" popular organizations, did more for the reaction than any factory or street agitator! (Even Kerensky went as far as "arming the people" to fight the old army, although it was admittedly much less complicated than in Chile to do so....)

author by Larry Gambonepublication date Wed Mar 04, 2009 02:41author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Kevin, I could have gone into the historical background but I was trying to keep the essay short. As for Stalinism, it has been the main form by which revolutions have been betrayed during my life time. Furthermore, Chavez as a potential Stalin is a common slander. The point is there is no “iron law” by which revolutions “devour their children” or the revolutionaries turn on their supporters and crush them. How a revolution turns out depends on a number of internal and external factors. The Costa Rican Revolution of 1948, the Bolivian Revolution of 1952 and the Sandinista Revolution of 1979 did not attack and repress their supporters. Sectarians take what might be for what is. You cannot assume that you know how the future will turn out because in the past certain things tended to happen. A rigid, almost Platonic view of history both bolsters and becomes the rationalization for sectarian practices. This is not to say we should throw all caution to the winds – once again like in liquidationalism vs. sectarianism it is a matter of finding a middle path. We should be aware that a revolutionary populist govt. may turn on us, but also that it is not a given, that it depends upon conditions. (Conditions that would be worth exploring.)

author by Larry Gambonepublication date Thu Mar 05, 2009 03:25author email redlionpress at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Unfortunately much of the response to this article has gotten bogged down in secondary matters. Such as the reality of the situation in Venezuela, my real or alleged lack of historical insight and confusing analogies. I don't see where this has much bearing on the question of how we should act. I would like to re-emphasize what I wrote only applies to specific circumstances 1. a radical/populist/reformist government that has grown out of, or is backed by, a mass movement of workers and peasants. 2. Where we have no mass base.

There is no disagreement about the need to influence such people, and we are in accord that we should avoid losing our identity. Disagreement is over the level or type of criticism we should engage in.

Just to clarify matters. I am NOT saying we should keep quiet or uncritically accept what a mass-based populist govt is doing. What I am saying that this criticism must be framed in such a way that it does not alienate the mass movement and leave us on the sidelines irrelevant and despised. It is better to aim criticism where the populist govt does not live up to its own program – few rank and file members are "true believers", and are not at all adverse to criticizing an organization that waffles on it policies. But the best form of criticism in terms of advancing anarchism is the implicit or positive form, which is reiterating our program. The contrast between a program of genuine self-management and governmental half-hearted measures will have far deeper impact than negative propaganda. Of course, this implies that anarchists actually have a program rather than a vague wish list.

I have come to this position through experience in working within non-anarchist organizations such as trade unions and community groups. Indeed, every anarchist I know, other than a small minority of "crazies", acts in a similar manner within such groups. To say that there is a difference between such organizations and the mass movements giving rise to a radical govt. is to ignore the possibility that these unions and community groups are the very ones that would give rise to or back a populist govt in Canada, should that unlikely event occur.

Does anyone really think they can build an anarchist movement through having ten people stand on a street corner shouting denunciations at the tens of thousands who march by in a quest for a better life? How do you avoid the extremes of liquidationalism and sectarianism? If my attempts at finding a middle path between the two seem unsuccessful, then please come up with an alternative. If you can, I will support it.

author by Kevin S.publication date Sat Mar 07, 2009 15:03author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Fair enough, Larry, let's talk about these particular conditions you are mentioning. You pose the question of how to act where (1) "a radical/populist/reformist government that has grown out of, or is backed by, a mass movement of workers and peasants" and (2) "we have no mass base".... To supplement, you say: "We should be aware that a revolutionary populist govt. may turn on us, but also that it is not a given, that it depends upon conditions. (Conditions that would be worth exploring.)" So let's confront these three issues directly.

But before continuing, I want to briefly re-emphasize my historical point. First, that Stalinism "has been the main form by which revolutions have been betrayed during my life time" [i.e. Larry's life time] means little in terms of learning the "lessons" of history, except that Stalinism has indeed been the more common form of "betrayal" in recent history, but also you are clearly focusing on a somewhat limited sample of "revolutions" in a narrow sense. For one thing, if I only used my own lifetime as a guide, then "Stalinism" would irrelevent and the "main forms" betraying revolutions would be nationalism and ... populism (which there has been plenty of to deal with, but not so much of Stalin & Co. in my experience). For another thing, you are also neglecting the tradition of accomodation and "quiet betrayal" by social democracy. "Stalinism" proper, in fact, is not the "main form" but rather one particularly violent factor that had a big role Spain and maybe a couple other cases, mostly a mixed-up and confusing role in the third-world revolutions (including Cuba), secondary role in China, and was not even the "main form" in Russia, if "Stalinism" is used in a meaningful sense.

My point about the bourgeois revolutions was to show how the pattern of "betraying" revolutions neither starts nor ends with Lenin or Stalin (i.e. not their ideological product) but rather is an integral part of revolutionary struggles -- which should be obvious enough for anarchists, given our critique of authority and the State. So, as for the "conditions" for radical governments to "turn on us" ("us" mean anarchists, the revolution, the people ...?), it is simple enough -- "disorder," disobedience, "anarchy." Remember, again, from the viewpoint of the "revolutionary government" it is the anarchists who "betray" the revolution by disobeying "its" leaders! Once a "revolutionary" has power, they are quick to notice "traitors" stirring up trouble and disorder that is not in the interest of the authorities, "revolutionary" or not. Anarchists have always been the first to take the heat for "disorder" because we consistently defy authority and tell the people to turn against (betray) "their" governments. "Radical" goverments will, of course, "turn on us" if we are making trouble for them -- if they don't, it is because there is no threat from us or the people! Do you think if there been mutiny at Kronstadt, or if the Makhnovists had supported the Bolshevik regime, that the Red Army still would have massacred them? Do not forget the CNT-FAI accomodated itself into authority a lot like other movements, and likewise turned against those "uncontrollable" anarchists disobeying the authorities.

I will continue this later and discuss your main points more directly. Meanwhile, let me say again I do think this is an important discussion and appreciate your contribution to it, regardless of some disagreements and despite me being hostile at times.

author by Kevin S.publication date Sun Mar 08, 2009 14:41author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Back to my reply ... Larry, you say:

"I am NOT saying we should keep quiet or uncritically accept what a mass-based populist govt is doing. What I am saying that this criticism must be framed in such a way that it does not alienate the mass movement and leave us on the sidelines irrelevant and despised. It is better to aim criticism where the populist govt does not live up to its own program – few rank and file members are "true believers", and are not at all adverse to criticizing an organization that waffles on it policies. But the best form of criticism in terms of advancing anarchism is the implicit or positive form, which is reiterating our program. The contrast between a program of genuine self-management and governmental half-hearted measures will have far deeper impact than negative propaganda. Of course, this implies that anarchists actually have a program rather than a vague wish list."

This seems to me to be the basic thread of your whole argument, and it has some merits but also serious limitations. Something I suppose you will agree with at its basics, is the simple fact anarchists have to get used which is that we are not a very popular movement and we might as well assume this is going to be the case for a long time. But this must not lead to a defeatist attitude, either giving up on mass struggles or backing down on our program to take a more "pragmatic" line that is more accomodating to the status quo. I do not think "liquidationalism vs. sectarianism" quite captures this dynamic, although it does have some application. I agree with you about actually having a program (something I constantly refer to), and that "negative propaganda" is no substitute. But you miss the point by saying it is best to criticize radical governments for failing on their own program, as though that were the main point! Maybe this applies in a few exceptionally radical cases, such as the Bolsheviks and "soviet power," but not ordinarily. Even the other "Communist" regimes never had the same dose of radicalism that the Bolsheviks had, including Che Guevara (who was far ahead of most conventional Marxists, in my opinion), nor are most "populist" regimes anywhere near that radical.

Your mistake is in glossing over these "popular governments" as outcomes of some popular movement or other, as though by coming out of a popular movement automatically puts it in charge of that movement. You do not distinguish a "popular" electoral ticket from a social movement, so there is no distinction between mass support for the government and mass-organizing of people who might support or even identify with the government. Of course, as anarchists, we have to fight at every step against state-consolidation of popular organizations, so of course we should criticize flat-out both the regime and the "popular movement" every time it steps on their autonomy. So unless "autonomy" is very specifically part of the government's program (which has not been the case in Haiti or Venezuela, nor, as far as I know, in Chile -- not sure about Bolivia), then that right there is huge point away from your preferred approach to criticism.

Personally, I think the best way to not be made irrelevant by a "popular government" is to make that government and its "popularity" irrelevant as far as we are concerned, aiming "square and true" at autonomous social struggles against the ruling classes and creating a base of popular power that defies the State's discretion. So, when you ask:

"Does anyone really think they can build an anarchist movement through having ten people stand on a street corner shouting denunciations at the tens of thousands who march by in a quest for a better life? How do you avoid the extremes of liquidationalism and sectarianism? If my attempts at finding a middle path between the two seem unsuccessful, then please come up with an alternative. If you can, I will support it."

... Frankly, the only way I know of to make anarchism relevant by persistent, disciplined struggle (in theory and in action) for social autonomy and popular power. The "middle path" slogan seems to me to miss the point, in much the same way that other "dual-extremes" and "middle paths" tend to do. The point is, simply, to fight for the people's autonomy (including our own) and to push relentlessly against the ruling classes and their State. So, I think it is a big error to focus criticism on the government "waffling on its policies" (although this definitely has its place) instead of working to isolate it altogether from control over the "popular movement."

author by Larry Gambonepublication date Tue Mar 10, 2009 02:55author email redlionpress at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

I don't think you are hostile – you are honest about your position. I appreciate the time you have taken to debate this with me. Remember, I am not trying to create some new dogma, merely to engage in exploring possibilities given a new situation for us. I certainly don't think I have all the answers, but think the question needs to be raised.

In reference to past revolutions and how they “turn on the anarchists” you are treating history as a rubber stamp. There is nothing inevitable here, no iron law, as long as some level of democracy exists. In all countries with some level of democracy anarchists exist, propagandize and organize. The authorities don't like us, but they don't stamp us out either, to do so would expose their underlying undemocratic nature. If you follow the logic of the iron law position, we should be opposed to revolutions because we would be its victims, indeed being a revolutionary anarchist would be an act of masochism.

If we can't have anarchism, the next best thing is a democratic socialist/left-social democratic/populist state which is democratic enough to not suppress us, allowing us to push from below. Like the conditions we already face, and the actions we engage in, in all countries but those that are true despotisms.

I never said we should water down our program, and would be absolutely against any such thing. I am talking about how you approach people – propaganda and organizational techniques. You get absolutely no where attacking and insulting people, which is what sectarians do. Where a left government, (or union, or community group) fails to live up to those aspects of its program that are important to the people, this is where you can engage in negative propaganda. Their supporters are already angry and starting to mutter complaints. This can be the “thin edge of the wedge” for you, allowing you to introduce your own program as an alternative. You could not make this connection with these people, if you came on to them with propaganda that appears too abstract, dogmatic, utopian or dishonest.

What I am talking about is not electoral politics but a mass movement. (I thought that was evident) A mass movement is not just support for an electoral ticket, but exists on its own. In Equador and Bolivia mass movements have propelled reform govts to office. In Venezuela a reform govt was put into office by a mass movement and helped extend that movement while in office.

"aiming "square and true" at autonomous social struggles against the ruling classes and creating a base of popular power that defies the State's discretion.” is precisely what I have in mind. It is not a matter of end, but means.

Yes, in some situations there are black and white choices – one is either dead or alive, pregnant or not pregnant. But in most other complex situations there are more than two choices. Following the implications of what you state, we are limited to either giving up or acts of terrorism or passively accepting what people say or shouting insults. There is an alternative other than liquidationism or sectarianism, just in the name way there is an alternative to the two false dichotomies I just gave. I have already described through previous examples of how to approach people, so I won't repeat myself.

One thing, in spite of my concern with sectarianism, I am not particularly worried about our impact or lack of it on the development of libertarian socialism. The funny thing about anarchism is that our ideas are way more popular than we are. Vast numbers of people are interested in worker coops, syndicalism, localism, decentralism, direct democracy etc., who are not anarchists. There is the old joke about the biggest Communist Party being the Ex-Communist Party, I would say the biggest anarchist movement is the semi-anarchists. Maybe libertarian socialism will develop without us, or in spite of us.

A Note
Sectarian thought involves;
1. Grossly exaggerating differences. Two groups alike as peas in a pod to outsiders may differ on minor doctrinal or tactical points. For the sectarian the opposing group becomes a sell-out, traitor, fascist, liberal etc.
2. Demonization. Liberals and social democrats are deemed stalinists or fascists or potentially so. No matter what, your opponent is always wrong and an evil bastard, to boot.
3. Lawyerism. One treats ones opponents like building a case in a law court, piling up all the negative examples and ignoring the positive ones. The half full glass is always deemed empty.
4. Conceit – as in “We are sincere. No one else is.”
5. Exaggerated extrapolation – such and such happened in the past, therefore it will happen again. One takes “what might be” for “what is.”A Reply To Kevin

author by Kevin S.publication date Fri Mar 20, 2009 13:24author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Sorry it has taken me awhile to respond.

Larry...

I agree it is pointless coming up with a "new dogma" and, as you say, it is worth exploring possibilities in "new" situations. I really don't think the dynamics you are exploring here are particularly new, but still, it is more than worth considering. Now, you say:

In reference to past revolutions and how they “turn on the anarchists” you are treating history as a rubber stamp. There is nothing inevitable here, no iron law, as long as some level of democracy exists. In all countries with some level of democracy anarchists exist, propagandize and organize. The authorities don't like us, but they don't stamp us out either, to do so would expose their underlying undemocratic nature. If you follow the logic of the iron law position, we should be opposed to revolutions because we would be its victims, indeed being a revolutionary anarchist would be an act of masochism.

You are misconstruing my point. It is not a "rubber stamp" in which history repeats itself; nor was I talking so much about "turning on the anarchists" as putting a lid on revolutionary struggles. There is nothing too surprising at all to think that governments, "radical" or not, would not generally let any "popular movement" destroy their own power (i.e. the government's) and are perfectly willing to "turn on" those movements in the event that they do so. The legacy of anarchists being squashed by "revolutionary" governments is a but logical consequence of "revolutionary"-statism. I never said it was an "iron law," simply the overwhelming tendency to which there is a long and bloody history to testify, and has less to do with anarchist ideas than defiance of established power. Again, do you think the Red Army would have massacred the mutineers in Kronstadt or Makhno's partisans if they had not defied them in the first place?

Quite against your own logic, this does not by any means lead to us "opposing" revolutions but rather to demanding "permanent revolution," to use a Marxist phrase -- that is, to a constant struggle against state power, as a flip-side to the struggle for autonomy and popular power.

You say:

If we can't have anarchism, the next best thing is a democratic socialist/left-social democratic/populist state which is democratic enough to not suppress us, allowing us to push from below. Like the conditions we already face, and the actions we engage in, in all countries but those that are true despotisms.

This is only half-way true, in the sense that the best likely outcome of our efforts, ordinarily, is to pressure the authorities "from below" to make changes. But to frame our activity as a simple "push from below" is, in my opinion, definitely "watering down" our program to the point of no distinction from, say, a social-democrat or liberal platform. It is a blatant concession to the state's authority. Not to say you can't still "push" with some effect, but as I see it, better to leave such projects to the liberals and socialists, and focus our own efforts on "the Revolution" and frame our activity by that program.

You say:

Where a left government, (or union, or community group) fails to live up to those aspects of its program that are important to the people, this is where you can engage in negative propaganda. Their supporters are already angry and starting to mutter complaints. This can be the “thin edge of the wedge” for you, allowing you to introduce your own program as an alternative. You could not make this connection with these people, if you came on to them with propaganda that appears too abstract, dogmatic, utopian or dishonest.

That has a place for sure, but it is not a program. It seems to me like you are asking anarchists to be more like a caucus or a sub-faction in the "popular" establishment than like revolutionaries. Again, as if it is not referred to enough, I would point to the "masochism" of the Spanish anarchists who preferred to leave the "popular government" intact and put a lid on "uncontrollable" elements defying that government!

Also, it is a bad idea to lump a "left government" in with unions or "community groups" as though it had the same significance for anarchists. This is exactly what I mean when I say that you do not effectively distinguish a "popular" ticket from a autonomous movement. Relating to individual supporters of the government in an autonomous organization is different than relating to the government itself or to organizations that support the government.

You say:

Following the implications of what you state, we are limited to either giving up or acts of terrorism or passively accepting what people say or shouting insults. There is an alternative other than liquidationism or sectarianism, just in the name way there is an alternative to the two false dichotomies I just gave.

I don't think you are following my words or implications too closely if you can extract that kind of choice. I have been strictly consistent in my argument, that anarchists should fight tooth-and-nail against bourgeois-statist influences and "push" the people to do the same. That implies two things, quite different from the "implications" you pointed to above: (a) that we do not back down one inch from our anti-statist position, instead always agitating to the people to defy the bosses and the state alike; (b) that we make every effort to radicalize the people, pushing the line of debate and turning criticism of bosses and the state into outright defiance.

On your note about sectarianism, the last point on "exaggerated extrapolation" is, again, misconstruing this point. You keep attributing this stereotyped "iron law" reasoning to any argument that refers past experience (history) rather than speculate its way out of need for such experience by hypothesizing some "new situation" that is somehow exceptional compared to all the other cases. Of course, history does not repeat itself like a broken record! But to take a long, painful, even embarrasing history of revolutions and struggles over several centuries and toss it aside as somehow irrelevant to our own times, which are the direct outcome of that history, is plain stupidity. To follow your logic to its implications, would lead us to repeat the old "new state" line. Indeed, I am told many times by non-anarchists that what I call for is simply "another kind of state" and I would do better to drop the anarchist label. But again, I refer to the hard lessons of history to understand this issue. What do you think the whole theory of state & revolution is based on?

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