Comment on the Accusations against Michael Schmidt
Response to Charges that He is a Fascist as Well as an Anarchist
For months there has been a heated discussion over charges that Michael Schmidt, author of well-known books about anarchism, is actually a fascist and "white nationalist." Now that the main statements are out on both sides, I have been waiting for an evaluation by some panel of reputable anarchist activists and theorists. As this has not happened, I am publishing my own conclusions.
When I first read the accusation that Michael Schmidt was a fascist and racist, I was astounded. I had met him and read his writings on anarchism. It seemed unlikely that he was really a fascist. Yet the people at AK Press, who had made the charge, were serious, sincere, anarchists, who had made great contributions to the movement (and had published one of my books). I could not believe—and do not believe—that they acted out of malice (against one of their own authors?). And I knew that people do strange things (consider the history of Ignacio Silone, the Italian socialist and author). So I have read all the accusatory research of Alexander Reid-Ross and Joshua Stephens (as agents of the AK Press Collective) along with Schmidt’s statements of defense, as well as many of the side comments. I have been waiting for some panel of respected anarchists to make a balanced judgement. Since this has not (yet?) happened, I will put out my own conclusions (so far).
The original accusation, by the AK Press Collective, was: “Michael Schmidt was an undercover fascist….We have received and compiled what we consider to be incontrovertible evidence that Michael Schmidt is a white nationalist trying to infiltrate the anarchist movement.
In effect, this charge of being “an undercover fascist [and] white nationalist trying to infiltrate the anarchist movement
” has been withdrawn. It is no longer repeated. The gap in time from the original accusation to its de facto
withdrawal has been unconscionable.
Instead, Schmidt is now charged with being both a (subjectively) sincere anarchist as well as some sort of fascist. Reid-Ross now writes, “His anarchist writings were never in question: the problem is that, in the usual style of National Anarchists, third positionists, and other neo-fascists, he has sought to combine anarchist ideas with those of fascists and white supremacists.
” This “combination” is supposedly due either to Schmidt’s holding a contradictory theory (as do the “national anarchists,” etc.), or to being psychologically mixed-up, or both.
The question is not whether Schmidt is a nice person or an obnoxious one. It is not whether his version of anarchism is the best one. (Personally I am in general political agreement with him, with some disputes—but this is irrelevant here.) Also the issue is not whether as a white person he has been influenced by racism and whether his work is sometimes affected by it. Of cause he has and it is (what else?). This is not an excuse for anyone but something to be watched out for. He is not accused of being a poor anarchist but of being a fascist.
Evidence for the Accusation
Reid-Ross and Stephens cite various pieces of evidence against Schmidt. This includes some racist assertions in a withdrawn document, jewelry and tattoos he may or may not have, the names of his dogs, and comments which anonymous people say he has made. There are various things he has written under his own name, as an anarchist or as a journalist. The meanings of these writings relies a great deal on how we interpret various statements and formulations.
The main evidence against Schmidt has always been the comments he has posted on fascist/white supremacist web sites. For approximately ten years he had generated a stream of comments which were vile, disgusting, racist rants. These were not under his own name but under assumed personas. The comments were not directed either to anarchists or to the general public but to the fascist milieu. There is no evidence he did any organizing among the fascists or that he tried to organize anarchists to become fascists.
He claims that the comments were made in order to establish his bona fides to the fascists, in order to do journalistic research. In fact, many anti-fascists have “trolled” fascist sites to get information. However, the quality of Schmidt’s comments were so vicious, yet thorough, that they raised questions about his actual motives to many people.
Reid-Ross and Stephens concluded, “…There is nothing in his online activity that, in principle, anyway, conflicts with a (perhaps staggeringly overzealous) long-con for the sake of investigation.
” But they do not accept this conclusion because Schmidt’s editor at the time of most of his writings—whom Schmidt had claimed would back him up—does not support his claims of editorial permission. In fact, his former editor expresses a great deal of personal hostility toward Schmidt! Schmidt responds that the editor must have forgotten. In any case, it is unclear whether the editor’s remarks refute the possibility that “in principle” Schmidt may have been carrying on a “long-con” against the fascists.
Evidence Against the Accusation
The main evidence against the accusation of racism and fascism is Schmidt’s decades of activity as an anarchist—his work with anarchists of various classes, nationalities, and races, to organize an anarchist movement in South Africa and elsewhere. And the series of articles, pamphlets, and books (some quite lengthy) he wrote promoting anarchism. These activities and writings were done under his own name, in his own person, addressed to a public interested in anarchism.
It is for this reason, if none other, that Schmidt’s accusers have dropped the original complaint that he is an outsider, a non-anarchist, really a fascist and racist, who was “trying to infiltrate the anarchist movement.
” Instead Reid-Ross now writes, “His anarchist writings were never in question.
” (This isn’t true but never mind.)
Reid-Ross then writes, “…The pages of his defense that are devoted to his anarchist pedigree…are mostly beside the point.
” No they are not. For several reasons.
The main thrust of Schmidt’s work (together with Lucien van der Walt) has been to reject the conception of anarchism as a European or Euro-American program. In Black Flame and elsewhere, he has consistently argued that anarchism as a movement has been an international phenomena. “Anarchism and syndicalism played a crucial role in…fighting racial prejudice and discrimination, and developed into a multinational and multiracial movement that contributed to the history of unionism, peasant movements, and the Left among people of color.
” (Schmidt & van der Walt, Black Flame; 309)
Anarchism, he writes, has been fought for by many nationalities, races, and peoples, and on almost all continents. He argues that it is arising again, throughout the world, among the world’s peoples and the international working class. This is not a view which is consistent with a “white nationalist” concept of “national anarchism.”
Similarly, in Black Flame, Schmidt and van der Walt discus the national liberation struggles of oppressed nations. They neither cheer on the movements’ nationalisms nor do they oppose the struggles of the oppressed peoples (in effect, capitulating to imperialism). Instead they propose that anarchists “participate in national liberation struggles in order to…displace nationalism with a politics of national liberation through class struggle.
” (310) This too is inconsistent with white supremacy.
Schmidt’s writings also clash with the anti-democratic historical trend in anarchism. Many anarchists, in the past and present, have counterposed anarchism to “democracy.” Some have seen anarchism as a program for superior individuals to be free of domination by “common people.” George Woodcock summarized: “No conception of anarchism is further from the truth than that which regards it as an extreme forms of democracy…. Anarchism advocates the sovereignty of the person….Anarchism, far from being democracy carried to its logical end, is much nearer to aristocracy, universalized and purified.
” (Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements; 33-34) A great many other anarchists may be quoted making similar statements, e.g., “Anarchism, then, represents not the most radical form of democracy, but an altogether different paradigm of collective action
.” (Uri Gordon, Anarchy Alive!; 70)
Imagine if Schmidt had written such a statement! Instead, what his Black Flame says is, “Anarchism would be nothing less than the most complete realization of democracy—democracy in the fields, factories, and neighborhoods…based on economic and social equality.
(I am not—repeat NOT—claiming that Woodcock [or Gordon] is a fascist! This would be like someone arguing that since I am known for writing that anarchists can learn from aspects of Marxism, such as its political economy, then I must be a Stalinist.)
In short, to claim that Schmidt’s anarchist writings are “beside the point,” is indeed to miss the point. While Schmidt may have made all sorts of errors in his theorizing, there are key areas, central to his work, in which he adopted a view of anarchism which was as far away from fascism as possible.
The original charge that Michael Schmidt was a fascist-racist infiltrator into the anarchist movement has been abandoned. It should never have been made.
The other charge is of somehow being both pro-anarchism and pro-fascism. It is primarily based on Schmidt’s postings to fascist sites. It is contradicted by his history as an anarchist organizer, activist, and scholar. Much of his writings are far from what might be expected from a fascist sympathizer, in their internationalism and support for workers’ democracy. Considering the rule of being innocent until proven guilty, I would give Schmidt a Scottish verdict of “Not Proven.” I believe that AK Press should continue to publish Schimdt’s books, which have been so useful for the anarchist movement.
*written for www.Anarkismo.net