AnarchistNews.org. Aug 5:
The following is a comment from Black Orchid Collective, written in direct response to “Between the Leninists and the Clowns”I appreciate some of the criticism in this piece as well as the comments. I’ll also repeat Nate in saying that I am friends with folks in Black Orchid and also feel some political kinship or overlap.
A couple of things. The Wildcat has absolutely nothing to do with the Occupy movement, either in origins or form. The space has been happy to host many events and provide space for Decolonize/Occupy discussions and community organizing, but it is incorrect to attach it to this swath of activity you mention. It’s actually pretty frustrating and makes me feel dismissed and invisible.
Wildcat did not manifest by some kind of zeitgeist fevered imagining of the newly uprising 99% . The space was started and is collectively run by people from anarchist spaces and infoshops like Autonomia, M11 and L@s Quixotes. We knew the last space would likely be shut down as early as June and at least a couple of us committed to reopen somewhere else. I mention this seemingly minor point because it takes a fair amount of time, money and work to start a space and keep it open. I feel like anarchists and anarchist projects (including participation in Occupy) are continually the recipients of dysfunctional love: one minute we are the darlings and everyone loves our 10th & Union / [insert other liberated space], or our crazy GA hand gestures and anti-authoritarian processes (it was anarchists who introduced these things), or our propaganda/ posters or spaces or whatever, but the next minute we have to be denounced for being too unorganized, being bad/violent protesters, etc etc, the usual things anarchists are accused of doing.
I think criticism is crucial and welcome useful critiques. That said, I feel like anarchist projects and organizers have a lot of fair weather friends. When we are the darlings, our ideas and work is frequently co-opted or everybody and their brother is attaching themselves to our projects and temporarily redefining their own work and organizations, even when our anarchist principles and organizing style directly contradicts their own formations and theoretical background. Temporarily being the key word there. I have seen some interesting changes in tune from people over the past couple of years as far as different individuals’ and organizations’ support for Seasol. I personally attribute this to solidarity networks or this particular group being more in vogue or novel at a particular time, because while we have grown and improved in some respects, our basic model and activity has not changed at all.
Also I think there is more fluidity and flexibility in the prevailing anarchist tendencies and more political overlap than outside organizations and critics realize. For instance, I know anarchist bookworms who spend most of their time on radical bookstores/infoshops who also like to go nuts in the streets every once in a while and who also come out to picket lines or Seasol actions. I can think of others who spend time on co-operative housing or guerrilla gardening who also support militant anti-prison organizing. I can think of several people who may or may not describe themselves as insurrectionists who have worked as union organizers. (Not to give the wrong impression, they would very likely denounce this now.) I could go on and name dozens of supposedly “outlier” examples of people who don’t fit neatly into these political boxes. My point is that anarchists come from a lot of different backgrounds and theoretical trajectories and most of us are still actively developing as people and political (or anti-political) actors. Mistakes are commonly made and outside oppressive dynamics of capitalism and civilization are of course frequently being reproduced.
What we do have in common is rejection of authoritarian structures, would-be leaders and elite castes of political or cultural experts. Just because one can spot informal cliques or elitist tendencies in what appears to be an insurrectionist action or temporary formation, does not mean that was everyone’s goal or that some people don’t actively fight it. I would also argue that there is a difference between secrecy and exclusive selection of comrades/insurgents/whateever as temporary tactic to plan more risky actions and is much more fluid than some would give credit. I can’t speak for others, but I’d be surprised if anyone else self-identifying in this tendency would state that this kind of exclusiveness is the goal rather than a temporary or one-time formation because of a particular strategy. Some would probably not have any criticism of elitism and actively pursue it, either in late night actions or isolated commune-building but I and others disagree with that as a sole activity. So what? There is no finished product or perfected methodology, a mythological uniform one, especially. I’ve seen so many people change and evolve their ideology or organizing the past couple of years and I have no desire to lock somebody into a tight theoretical box. I appreciate the different tactics and strategies being employed and am not looking to any one person or group for guidance or dogmatic adherence to one form. Hopefully others can say the same.
Really the caricaturization of anti-organizational anarchists including insurrectionists is inaccurate, as many people who participate in temporarily elitist or secretive actions are also doing a ton of organizing and propaganda alongside all kinds of other people. Painting in such broad strokes renders people invisible who actually did a lot of outreach at Occupy and are currently doing community building type work and frequently support everyone else’s projects. The tight knit nature of some people’s crews is also just a byproduct of less active times when not a lot of organizing was going on and people had to stick together. It’s served useful in that there is very strong loyalty and trust between a lot of us and we’ve set up very solid ways of handling emergencies like jail and court solidarity that are extremely effective and that we’ve shared broadly with Occupy and other folks over the years. It’s nice to know you can make a phonecall or two and mobilize several dozen people at 7am or can come up with money to support arrestees or projects pretty quickly. This doesn’t mean people favor a cadre model but rather that there are strong bonds among a fluid network of equals who all have varying levels of activity at different times. The leaderless social network is very useful and also makes us completely incomprehensible to the pigs and state who just don’t understand how we work.
If someone doesn’t want to pass out their amazing beyond-revolutionary insurrecto flyers to the “mouth breathing masses” or do some other thing I think is useful, whatever, maybe they will next year, or maybe not. (Ridiculous exaggerated caricature intentional as example of most obnoxiously elitist nihilist you or others may be trying to invoke as a strawman.) I’m okay with that because I am for autonomous, non-coercive action and organizing. I don’t want to pressure or trick someone into working on a project or planning an action with me by pretending to be more open or flexible about things I actually feel strongly about but then force them to only do things one way.
For instance, The Wildcat is explicitly anarchist and anti-authoritarian. We don’t pretend to be all things to all people in order to get more financial or social support. However we also actively encourage people to come to events regardless of their politics as long as they can respect the space. I think this is a good example of honest open organization which avoids sectarianism.
Another example of your claim of anarchists secretly embracing unofficial leadership I’d like to refute would be in Seasol. There have definitely been issues with unintentional concentration of power and unofficial leaders but it has never been some nefarious plot but rather, in my opinion, the usual reproduction of outside oppressive forces. 100% anti-authoritarian anti-oppressive organizing is currently impossible. That doesn’t change the fact that that should be our goal, in fact it’s even more important to keep that aim in mind, no matter how far off we are from achieving it. Just because there are examples of unofficial leadership or power dynamics in Seasol doesn’t mean that the most people in the group are fundamentally opposed to that or are trying to beat it back, even in themselves sometimes.
Spotting examples of oppressive authoritarian behavior in anarchist circles or organizations is a terrible argument for encouraging more of the same, except better or more expertly formed.
The fact is, I will never want any number of leaders, no matter how friendly or how many anti-oppression statements they put out. I just want anyone confused about this to understand: I am opposed to all authority and hierarchy. I am opposed to cadres because they further these things by focusing on a group of would-be experts who have the right analysis that needs to be shared with me and the rest of the beaten down masses. Direct experience and participation with struggle in your own life fought by you (and hopefully your friends, coworkers, other tenants or busriders or farmers or rape survivors etc alongside you) is much more meaningful than participation in cadres or even worse passive reception of unidirectional cadre transmission of the one true theory or methodology.
Let’s look at who most often forms and joins cadres and study groups: mostly college educated middle class white people. Having people of color and working class people join doesn’t change the inherently oppressive dynamic of such formations which rely on the expertise of academics past and present, the vast majority of whom are white men of bourgeois privilege and education with little real life understanding of struggle. What’s worse is the way people outside the cadre are viewed and treated, even processed to test how ready or receptive they are to these amazing new ideas (sarcasm) that said geniuses have come up with and how useful each person may or may not be in furthering the aims that these self-appointed revolution experts have come up with. Why continue to follow in these fuckers’ footsteps? I am always going to be distrustful of such a model, no matter how much I like the people involved or how well intentioned I believe them to be.
That sounded pretty harsh and I know that these worst examples of cadre style organizing are not indicative of the Black Orchid folks I know, in that I realize you guys do try to listen to others and take differing viewpoints into account. That said, that manipulative dynamic of viewing the masses as revolutionary resources or “rev units” and being opportunistic or disingenuous in how cadres join other struggles or groups is part and parcel of the cadre model. Both history and personal experience has taught me and many other people, anarchists or not, this eventuality.
Lastly, there is no “anti-vanguard” vanguard. That doesn’t make sense linguistically or historically. Reclaiming vanguard is a worthless and destructive undertaking. Arguments for a vanguard would make more sense if we were in the middle of an actual armed uprising, although I would still argue against it. As it stands, it makes no sense to be advocating for this.
All that aside, I am in the camp of wishing there was more organization. I am used to working on anarchist projects that though totally decentralized and leaderless are much more organized than Occupy endeavors have been, with members more ideologically committed. However, this is where we are at consciousness-wise right now. There are too many newly radicalized people to expect too much more at the moment. I feel like some patience and long term relationship building is in order. I wouldn’t be where I was if different people and circles hadn’t been patient with me and tried to help me in a non-judgemental and (mostly – I’m a woman and patriarchal dudes abound) non-creepy/authoritarian way. We can help other people develop but still learn from them and do it in a way that brings them up to speed and equalizes the playing field as quickly and transparently as possible. It’s hard and all of us including myself do it wrong constantly, but fighting oppression in our organizing is hard and will be a lifelong battle which we must recommit to fighting every day. If we aren’t constantly replacing ourselves, we won’t survive. That’s kind of Nature 101.
I hope we are all learning from mistakes and get better and better at bringing in new people and sharing skills and ideas in a non-authoritarian way. I hope our spaces get better over time and are more inclusive. I hope more solidarity networks and similar models pop up that do it more successfully than those existing today. I hope something like Occupy continues and evolves into something more powerful with more sophisticated ideology and a strong anarchist practice. I hope we really do see an insurrection in our lifetimes in this country. I hope we figure out how to become truly international and organize in solidarity with people the world over to destroy nations and borders and end genocide and petty inequalities that oppress people.
Seeing these things manifest will take work and flexibility and humility and limitless patience. I view this as not only a lifetime but a multi-generational endeavor. I don’t think we can afford to take any shortcuts or make compromises and should avoid embracing authoritarian models and practices every step of the way. The things worth doing in life are often the most difficult and frustrating or scary but ultimately most satisfying. The things most of us want: personal freedom, true intimacy / love (*both individually and communally), and creative expression currently are out of reach and one must jump hurdle after hurdle of capitalist bullshit and socially and class constructed walls to reclaim our basic humanity and express these parts of ourselves. When the ends are so necessary and so critical not only for our happiness but for our survival, we can’t compromise them with the wrong means.
I guess this is a request to non-anarchists to just take us or leave us, at least when it comes to the question of leadership and authority. Ongoing debates and discussion are healthy and anarchists definitely need to hear outside criticism. However no anarchist worth their salt is going to being convinced to embrace hierarchy or authoritarian tactics, no matter how dulcet the tones, and by virtue of this, I would question and encourage you to question anyone who does. I am by the way including in this people who don’t really call themselves anarchists (good for you, anarchism as identity is worthless) but subscribe to anarchist ideals.
I can’t speak for anyone else but I don’t need any leaders and I don’t want to join any cadres. (If anything I am doing resembles those things, please tell me, though chances are I am already fighting against those tendencies.) If it is frustrating to organize with anarchists, I’m sorry but it’s messy trying to organize in a non-authoritarian manner when the capitalist, racist, sexist environment around you is so oppressive and hierarchical. It’s all the more important that we keep trying. The only power I’m interested in is collective power formed by those affected by whatever common condition in a non-coercive, flexible and decentralized way.
My analysis of people advocating cadres or leadership in the current time here in Seattle, not historically, is that they are not evil power hungry megalomaniacs but rather they are being impatient, not being honest about current potential for revolution or militancy and/or looking for shortcuts or methods that will make them feel like they are being productive or successful. Unless we master time travel, we are kind of forced to acknowledge current conditions and work with what we have. Seattle in 2012 is just not going to be as sexy as Spain in the 30′s, Paris 1792, 1968 everywhere, or Egypt last year. Maybe there will be a crazy transformation tomorrow, you can never tell, but for now we should be real about current material realities and work with those. We just have to keep on trucking and be ready when conditions are right. Part of being ready for me is making sure we aren’t allowing ourselves to unwittingly develop into this new world’s authorities. I might be in a minority in that I actually believe revolution is possible and that capitalism’s days are numbered and there are a million ways to live other than this one. The last thing I want is to develop a select group of people into experts or leaders who are going to spring into positions of power after the revolution. The new world doesn’t need them.