Sunday, 28 April 2013

Anarchist analysis of Privilege Theory.

A Class Struggle Anarchist Analysis of Privilege Theory – from the Women's Caucus.
 
Aims and definitions
The purpose of this paper is to outline a class struggle anarchist analysis of Privilege Theory. Many of us feel “privilege” is a useful term for discussing oppressions that go beyond economic class. It can help us to understand how these oppressions affect our social relations and the intersections of our struggles within the economic working class. It is written by members of the women’s caucus of the Anarchist Federation. It does not represent all our views and is part of an ongoing discussion within the federation.
What do we mean – and what do we not mean – by privilege? Privilege implies that wherever there is a system of oppression (such as capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, heteronormativity) there is an oppressed group and also a privileged group, who benefit from the oppressions that this system puts in place1. The privileged group do not have to be active supporters of the system of oppression, or even aware of it, in order to benefit from it. They benefit from being viewed as the norm, and providing for their needs being seen as what is naturally done, while the oppressed group is considered the “other”, and their needs are “special considerations”. Sometimes the privileged group benefits from the system in obvious, material ways, such as when women are expected to do most or all of the housework, and male partners benefit from their unpaid labour. At other times the benefits are more subtle and invisible, and involve certain pressures being taken off a privileged group and focused on others, for example black and Asian youths being 28% more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white youths2. The point here is not that police harassment doesn’t happen to white youths, or that being working class or a white European immigrant doesn’t also mean you’re more likely to face harassment; the point is that a disproportionate number of black and Asian people are targeted in comparison to white people, and the result of this is that, if you are carrying drugs, and you are white, then all other things being equal you are much more likely to get away with it than if you were black. In the UK, white people are also less likely to be arrested or jailed, or to be the victim of a personal crime3. Black people currently face even greater unemployment in the UK than they do in the USA4. The point of quoting this is not to suggest we want a society in which people of all races and ethnicities face equal disadvantage – we want to create a society in which nobody faces these disadvantages. But part of getting there is acknowledging how systems of oppression work, which means recognising that, if black and ethnic minority groups are more likely to face these disadvantages, then by simple maths white people are less likely to face them, and that means they have an advantage, a privilege, including the privilege of not needing to be aware of the extent of the problem.
A privileged group may also, in some ways, be oppressed by the expectations of the system that privileges them, for example men under patriarchy are expected to not show weakness or emotion, and are mistrusted as carers. However, men are not oppressed by patriarchy for being men, they are oppressed in these ways because it is necessary in order to maintain women’s oppression. For women to see themselves as weak, irrational and suited only to caring roles, they must believe that men are stronger, less emotional and incapable of caring for those who need it; for these reasons, men showing weakness, emotion and a capacity for caring labour are punished by patriarchy for letting the side down and giving women the opportunity to challenge their oppression.
It makes sense that where there is an oppressed group, there is a privileged group, because systems of oppression wouldn’t last long if nobody benefited from them. It is crucial to understand that members of the privileged group of any of these systems may also be oppressed by any of the others, and this is what allows struggles to be divided and revolutionary activity crushed. We are divided, socially and politically, by a lack of awareness of our privileges, and how they are used to set our interests against each other and break our solidarity.
The term “privilege” has a complex relationship with class struggle, and to understand why, we need to look at some of the differences and confusions between economic and social class. Social class describes the cultural identities of working class, middle class and upper class. These identities, much like those built on gender or race, are socially constructed, created by a society based on its prejudices and expectations of people in those categories. Economic class is different. It describes the economic working and ruling classes, as defined by Marx. It functions through capitalism, and is based on the ownership of material resources, regardless of your personal identity or social status. This is why a wealthy, knighted capitalist like Alan Sugar can describe himself as a “working class boy made good”. He is clearly not working class if we look at it economically, but he clings to that social identity in the belief that it in some way justifies or excuses the exploitation within his business empire. He confuses social and economic class in order to identify himself with an oppressed group (the social working class) and so deny his own significant privilege (as part of the economic ruling class). Being part of the ruling class of capitalism makes it impossible to support struggles against that system. This is because, unlike any other privileged group, the ruling class are directly responsible for the very exploitation they would be claiming to oppose.
This doesn't make economic class a "primary" oppression, or the others "secondary", but it does mean that resistance in economic class struggle takes different forms and has slightly different aims to struggles based on cultural identities. For example, we aim to end capitalism through a revolution in which the working class seize the means of production from the ruling class, and create an anarchist communist society in which there is no ruling class. For the other struggles mentioned, this doesn't quite work the same way - we can't force men to give up their maleness, or white people to give up their whiteness, or send them all to the guillotine and reclaim their power and privilege as if it were a resource that they were hoarding. Instead we need to take apart and understand the systems that tend to concentrate power and resources in the hands of the culturally privileged and question the very concepts of gender, sexuality, race etc. that are used to build the identities that divide us.
A large part of the resentment of the term "privilege" within class struggle movements comes from trying to make a direct comparison with ruling class privilege, when this doesn't quite work. Somebody born into a family who owns a chain of supermarkets or factories can, when they inherit their fortune, forgo it. They can collectivise their empire and give it to the workers, go and work in it themselves for the same share of the profits as everybody else. Capitalists can, if they choose, give up their privilege. This makes it OK for us to think of them as bad people if they don't, and justified in taking it from them by force in a revolutionary situation. Men, white people, straight people, cisgendered people etc., can't give up their privilege - no matter how much they may want to. It is forced on them by a system they cannot opt out of, or choose to stop benefiting from. This comparison with ruling class privilege makes many feel as if they're being accused of hoarding something they're not entitled to, and that they're being blamed for this, or asked to feel guilty or undergo some kind of endless penance to be given absolution for their privilege. This is not the case. Guilt isn't useful; awareness and thoughtful action are. If you take nothing else away from this document, take this: You are not responsible for the system that gives you your privilege, only for how you respond to it. The privileged (apart from the ruling class) have a vital role to play in the struggle against the systems that privilege them - it's just not a leadership role.
 
Answering objections to privilege
So if they didn’t choose it and there’s nothing they can do about it, why describe people as “Privileged”? Isn’t it enough to talk about racism, sexism, homophobia etc. without having to call white, male and straight people something that offends them? If it’s just the terminology you object to, be aware that radical black activists, feminists, queer activists and disabled activists widely use the term privilege. Oppressed groups need to lead the struggles to end their oppressions, and that means these oppressed groups get to define the struggle and the terms we use to talk about it. It is, on one level, simply not up to class struggle groups made up of a majority of white males to tell people of colour and women what words are useful in the struggles against white supremacy and patriarchy. If you dislike the term but agree with the concept, then it would show practical solidarity to leave your personal discomfort out of the argument, accept that the terminology has been chosen, and start using the same term as those at the forefront of these struggles.
Another common objection to the concept of privilege is that it makes a cultural status out of the lack of an oppression. You could say that not facing systematic prejudice for your skin colour isn’t a privilege, it’s how things should be for everyone. To face racism is the aberration. To not face it should be the default experience. The problem is, if not experiencing oppression is the default experience, then experiencing the oppression puts you outside the default experience, in a special category, which in turn makes a lot of the oppression invisible. To talk about privilege reveals what is normal to those without the oppression, yet cannot be taken for granted by those with it. To talk about homophobia alone may reveal the existence of prejudices – stereotypes about how gay men and lesbian women behave, perhaps, or violence targeted against people for their sexuality. It’s unusual to find an anarchist who won’t condemn these things. To talk about straight privilege, however, shows the other side of the system, the invisible side: what behaviour is considered “typical” for straight people? There isn’t one – straight isn’t treated like a sexual category, it is treated like the absence of “gay”. You don’t have to worry about whether you come across as “too straight” when you’re going to a job interview, or whether your straight friends will think you’re denying your straightness if you don’t dress or talk straight enough, or whether your gay friends will be uncomfortable if you take them to a straight club, or if they’ll embarrass you by saying something ignorant about getting hit on by somebody of the opposite sex. This analysis goes beyond worries about discrimination or prejudice to the very heart of what we consider normal and neutral, what we consider different and other, what needs explaining, what’s taken as read – the prejudices in favour of being straight aren’t recognisable as prejudices, because they’re built into our very perceptions of what is the default way to be.
It’s useful to see this, because when we look at oppressions in isolation, we tend to attribute them to personal or societal prejudice, a homophobic law that can be repealed, a racial discrimination that can be legislated against. Alone, terms like “racism”, “sexism”, “ablism” don’t describe how oppression is woven into the fabric of a society and a normal part of life rather than an easily isolated stain on society that can be removed without trace, leaving the fabric intact.5
Privilege theory is systematic. It explains why removing prejudice and discrimination isn’t enough to remove oppression. It shows how society itself needs to be ordered differently. When people talk about being “colour-blind” in relation to race, they think it means they’re not racist, but it usually means that they think they can safely ignore differences of background and life experience due to race, and expect that the priorities and world views of everybody should be the same as those of white people, which they consider to be “normal”. It means they think they don’t have to listen to people who are trying to explain why a situation is different for them. They want difference to go away, so that everybody can be equal, yet by trying to ignore difference they are reinforcing it. Recognising privilege means recognising that differences of experience exist which we may not be aware of. It means being willing to listen when people tell us about how their experience differs from ours. It means trying to conceive of a new “normal” that we can bring about through a differently structured society, instead of erasing experiences that don’t fit into our privileged concept of “normal”.
 
Intersectionality and Kyriarchy
Kyriarchy is the concept of combined systems of oppression, the idea that capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, heteronormativity, cisnormativity, theocracy and other systems that we don’t necessarily have names for, are all connected, influencing and supporting each other. The word “kyriarchy” is also a handy verbal shortcut that saves having to list all the systems of oppression every time you want to explain this concept. It means everybody who’s fighting oppression of any kind is fighting the same war, we just fight it on a myriad of different fronts.
Intersectionality is the idea that we are all privileged by some of these systems and oppressed by others, and that, because those systems affect one another, our oppressions and privileges intersect. This means that we each experience oppression in ways specific to our particular combinations of class, gender, race, sexuality, disability, age etc. 6 7
Class struggle analyses tend to mark out capitalism as separate from the other systems in kyriarchy. As explained above, capitalism operates differently from systems of oppression based on identity or culture, but it would be too simplistic to dismiss these oppressions as secondary or as mere aspects of capitalism. Patriarchy, in particular, existed long before modern industrial capitalism and, there’s evidence to suggest, before the invention of money itself8, and it’s not difficult to imagine a post-capitalist society in which oppressive gender roles still hold true9. As anarchists are opposed to all systems of oppression, we recognise that fighting capitalism alone is not enough, and that other oppressions won’t melt away “after the revolution”. If we want a post-revolutionary society free of all oppression, we need all the oppressed to have an equal role in creating it, and that means listening to experiences of oppression that we don’t share and working to understand how each system operates: in isolation, in relation to capitalism and other systems of oppression and as part of kyriarchy.10
 
We're used to talking about sexism or racism as divisive of the working class. Kyriarchy allows us to get away from the primacy of class while keeping it very much in the picture. Just as sexism and racism divide class struggle, capitalism and racism divide gender struggles, and sexism and capitalism divide race struggles. All systems of oppression divide the struggles against all the other systems that they intersect with. This is because we find our loyalties divided by our own particular combinations of privilege and oppression, and we prioritise the struggles we see as primary to the detriment of others, and to the detriment of solidarity. This is why the Anarchist Federation's 3rd Aim & Principle11 cautions against cross-class alliances, but we should be avoiding campaigns that forward the cause of any oppressed group against the interests of any other - not just class. That doesn't mean that every campaign has to forward the cause of every single struggle equally, but it does mean that we need to be aware of how our privileges can blind us to the oppressions we could be ignorantly walking all over in our campaigns. We have to consider a whole lot more than class struggle when we think about whether a campaign is moving us forwards or backwards as anarchists. Being able to analyse and point out how systems of oppression intersect is vital, as hitting these systems of oppression at their intersections can be our most effective way of uniting struggles and building solidarity across a number of ideological fronts.
 
Some examples:
In the early 1800s, there were several strikes of male textile workers against women being employed at their factories because their poorer pay allowed them to undercut male workers12. The intersection of capitalism and patriarchy meant that women were oppressed by capitalists as both workers and women (being exploited for lower pay than men), and by men as both women and workers (kept in the domestic sphere, doing even lower paid work). When changing conditions (mechanisation) made it too difficult to restrict women to their traditional work roles, unions finally saw reason and campaigned across the intersection, allowing women to join the unions and campaigning for their pay to be raised.
From the 70s to the present day, certain strands of radical feminism have refused to accept the validity of trans* struggles, keeping trans women out of women’s spaces (see the controversies over Radfem 2012 and some of the workshops at Women Up North 2012 over their “women born women” policies). The outcome of this is as above: the most oppressed get the shitty end of both sticks (in this case cisnormativity and patriarchy), with feminism, the movement that is supposed to be at the forefront of fighting the oppression that affects both parties (patriarchy) failing at one of its sharpest intersections. This also led to the fracturing of the feminist movement and stagnation of theory through failure to communicate with trans* activists, whose priorities and struggles have such a massive crossover with feminism. One positive that’s come out of these recent examples is the joining together of feminist and trans* activist groups to challenge the entry policy of Radfem 2012. This is leading to more communication, solidarity and the possibility of joint actions between these groups.
The above examples mean that thinking about our privileges and oppressions is essential for organising together, for recognising where other struggles intersect with our own and what our role should be in those situations, where our experiences will be useful and where they will be disruptive, where we should be listening carefully and where we can contribute constructively. Acknowledging privilege in this situation means acknowledging that it’s not just the responsibility of the oppressed group to challenge the system that oppresses them, it’s everybody’s responsibility, because being part of a privileged group doesn’t make you neutral, it means you’re facing an advantage. That said, when we join the struggle against our own advantages we need to remember that it isn’t about duty or guilt or altruism, because all our struggles are all connected. The more we can make alliances over the oppressions that have been used to divide us, the more we can unite against the forces that exploit us all. None of us can do it alone.
The myth of the “Oppression Olympics”
The parallels that are drawn between the Black and women's movements can always turn into an 11-plus: who is more exploited? Our purpose here is not parallels. We are seeking to describe that complex interweaving of forces which is the working class; we are seeking to break down the power relations among us on which is based the hierarchical rule of international capital. For no man can represent us as women any more than whites can speak about and themselves end the Black experience. Nor do we seek to convince men of our feminism. Ultimately they will be "convinced" by our power. We offer them what we offer the most privileged women: power over their enemies. The price is an end to their privilege over us.13
To say that somebody has white privilege isn’t to suggest that they can’t also have a whole host of other oppressions. To say that somebody suffers oppression by patriarchy doesn’t mean they can’t also have a lot of other privileges. There is no points system for working out how privileged or oppressed you are in relation to somebody else, and no point in trying to do so. The only way that privilege or oppression makes your contributions to a struggle more or less valid is through that struggle's relevance to your lived experience.
 
 
A black, disabled working class lesbian may not necessarily have had a harder life than a white, able-bodied working class straight cis-man, but she will have a much greater understanding of the intersections between class, race, disability, gender and sexuality. The point isn’t that, as the most oppressed in the room, she should lead the discussion, it’s that her experience gives her insights he won’t have on the relevant points of struggle, the demands that will be most effective, the bosses who represent the biggest problem, the best places and times to hold meetings or how to phrase a callout for a mass meeting so that it will appeal to a wider range of people, ways of dealing with issues that will very probably not occur to anybody whose oppression is along fewer intersections. He should be listening to her, not because she is more oppressed than him (though she may well be), but because it is vital to the struggle that she is heard, and because the prejudices that society has conditioned into us, and that still affect the most socially aware of us, continue to make it more difficult for her to be heard, for us to hear her.
Some would argue that governments, public bodies and corporations have been known to use arguments like these to put forward or promote particular people into positions of power or responsibility, either as a well-meaning attempt to ensure that oppressed groups are represented or as a cynical exercise in tokenism to improve their public image. This serves the state and capital by encouraging people to believe that they are represented, and that their most effective opportunities for change will come through supporting or petitioning these representatives. This is what we mean by cross-class alliances in the 3rd A&P, and obviously we oppose the idea that, for instance, a woman Prime Minister, will be likely to do anything more for working class women than a male Prime Minister will do for working class men. It should be remembered that privilege theory is not a movement in itself but an analysis used by a diverse range of movements, liberal and radical, reformist and revolutionary. By the same token, the rhetoric of solidarity and class unity is used by leftists to gain power for themselves, even as we use those same concepts to fight the power structures they use. The fact that some people will use the idea of privilege to promote themselves as community leaders and reformist electoral candidates doesn't mean that that's the core reasoning or inevitable outcome of privilege theory. For us, as class struggle anarchists, the identities imposed on us by kyriarchy and the politics that go with them are about uniting in struggle against all oppression, not entrenching social constructs, congratulating ourselves on how aware we are, claiming special rights according to our background or biology, and certainly not creating ranked hierarchies of the most oppressed to put forward for tokenistic positions of power.
In the AF, we already acknowledge in our Aims and Principles the necessity of autonomous struggle for people in oppressed groups; but rather than analyse why this is necessary, we only warn against cross-class alliances within their struggles. The unspoken reason why it is necessary for them to organise independently is privilege. Any reason you can think of why it might be necessary, is down to privilege: the possible presence of abusers, the potential of experiences of oppression being misunderstood, mistrusted, dismissed, or requiring a huge amount of explanation before they are accepted and the meeting can move onto actions around them, even internalised feelings of inferiority are triggered by our own awareness of the presence of members of the privileged group. This may not be their fault, but it is due to the existence of systems that privilege them. The reason we need to organise autonomously is that we need to be free of the presence of privilege to speak freely. After speaking freely, we can identify and work to change the conditions that prevented us from doing so before – breaking down the influence of those systems on ourselves and lessening the privilege of others in their relations with us – but the speaking freely has to come first.
To equate talk of “privilege” with liberalism, electoralism and cross-class struggles is to deny oppressed groups the space and the language to identify their experiences of oppression and so effectively organise against the systems that oppress them. If we acknowledge that these organising spaces are necessary, and that it is possible for them to function without engaging in liberalism and cross-class struggles, then we must acknowledge that privilege theory does not, of necessity, lead to liberalism and cross-class struggles. It may do so when it is used by liberals and reformists, but not when used by revolutionary class struggle anarchists. Privilege theory doesn't come with compulsory liberalism any more than the idea of class struggle comes with compulsory Leninism.
The class struggle analysis of privilege
This may all seem, at first, to make class struggle just one struggle among many, but the unique way in which ruling class privilege operates provides an overarching context for all the other systems. While any system can be used as a “context” for any other, depending on which intersections we’re looking at, capitalism is particularly important because those privileged within it have overt control over resources rather than just a default cultural status of normalcy. They are necessarily active oppressors, and cannot be passive or unwilling recipients of the benefits of others’ oppression. The ruling class and the working class have opposing interests, while the privileged and oppressed groups of other systems only have differing interests, which differ less as the influence of those systems is reduced.
This doesn’t make economic class a primary oppression, or the others secondary, because our oppressions and privileges intersect. If women’s issues were considered secondary to class issues, this would imply that working class men's issues were more important than those of working class women. Economic class is not so much the primary struggle as the all-encompassing struggle. Issues that only face queer people in the ruling class (such as a member of an aristocratic family having to remain in the closet and marry for the sake of the family line) are not secondary to our concerns, but completely irrelevant, because they are among the few oppressions that truly will melt away after the revolution, when there is no ruling class to enforce them on itself. We may condemn racism, sexism, homophobia and general snobbery shown by members of the ruling class to one another, but we don’t have common cause in struggle with those suffering these, even those with whom we share a cultural identity, because they remain our direct and active oppressors.
When we try to apply this across other intersections than economic class, we don’t see concerns that are irrelevant to all but the privileged group, but we do find that the limited perspective of privileged activists gives campaigns an overly narrow focus. For instance, overwhelmingly white, middle class feminist organisations of the 60s and 70s have been criticised by women of colour and disabled women for focusing solely on the legalisation of abortion at a time when Puerto-Rican women and disabled women faced forced sterilisation, and many women lacked access to essential services during pregnancy and childbirth. Although the availability of abortion certainly wasn’t irrelevant to these women, the campaigns failed to also consider the affordability of abortion, and completely ignored the concerns of women being denied the right to have a child. Most feminist groups now tend to talk about “reproductive rights” rather than “abortion rights”, and demand free or affordable family planning services that include abortion, contraception, sexual health screening, antenatal and post-natal care, issues relevant to women of all backgrounds.14
We have to challenge ourselves to look out for campaigns that, due to the privilege of those who initiate them, lack awareness of how an issue differs across intersections. We need to broaden out our own campaigns to include the perspectives of all those affected by the issues we cover. This will allow us to bring more issues together, gather greater solidarity, fight more oppressions and build a movement that can challenge the whole of kyriarchy, which is the only way to ever defeat any part of it, including capitalism.
1 A common form of blindness to privilege is that women and people of color are often described as being treated unequally, but men and whites are not. This…is logically impossible. Unequal simply means ‘not equal,’ which describes both those who receive less than their fair share and those who receive more. But there can’t be a short end of the stick without a long end, because it’s the longness of the long end that makes the short end short. To pretend otherwise makes privilege and those who receive it invisible.” Allan G. Johnson, Privilege, Power and Difference (2006).
5 While it is important that individuals work to transform their consciousness, striving to be anti-racist, it is important for us to remember that the struggle to end white supremacy is a struggle to change a system, a structure…For our efforts to end white supremacy to be truly effective, individual struggle to change consciousness must be fundamentally linked to collective effort to transform those structures that reinforce and perpetuate white supremacy.” bell hooks, Killing Rage: Ending Racism, 1995
7 Intersectionality as a term and an idea has been developed by, among others: Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Patricia Hill Collins, Leslie McCall, if you are interested in further reading.
8 Graeber’s ‘Debt: The First 5,000 Years’ suggests that young women were used in some pre-money societies as an early form of currency or debt tally.
9 See the chapter with all the beautiful and sexually available house-keeping-cleaning-serving women in William Morris’ utopia News from Nowhere.
10 One anarchist analysis of intersectionality: http://libcom.org/library/refusing-waitanarchism- intersectionality.
11 “We believe that fighting systems of oppression that divide the working class, such as racism and sexism, is essential to class struggle. Anarchist-Communism cannot be achieved while these inequalities still exist. In order to be effective in our various struggles against oppression, both within society and within the working class, we at times need to organise independently as people who are oppressed according to gender, sexuality, ethnicity or ability. We do this as working class people, as cross-class movements hide real class differences and achieve little for us. Full emancipation cannot be achieved without the abolition of capitalism.” http://www.afed.org.uk/organisation/aims-and-principles.html
12 See Chapter 7 of The Struggle for the Breeches: Gender and the Making of the British Working Class by Anna Clark.
13 Selma James, ‘Sex, Race and Class’ 1975

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Anarchist federation on Leftwing sexism.

Sexism, Power and the Left

Trigger warning: general discussion of rape and sexual abuse in socialist organisations. | Written in a personal capacity.

saints of socialism

I’ve always thought the story of John MacLean was inspirational, despite the fact that he was never a libertarian communist.* But, a cult was created around him which didn’t so much critically draw out the good things he stood for but turned him into something else. MacLean became The Great Leader, and an image of the type of working class man who’s meant to save us and dies trying. This idea of socialism as a very male, patriarchal, top-down movement, embodied in one man, has been repeated so many times it’s farcical.

Of course, I don’t mean to simply equate MacLean or James Connolly, who I have some time for, with other such icons as Che Guevara, who was a complete authoritarian, or more recent examples like Hugo Chavez, a successful political manager who passed reforms and also fought autonomous working class organisation and indigenous communities. But wherever there’s a tendency to canonize these figures, it reinforces our enthralment to the past and its ideas, freezing them rather than moving beyond them, and it raises up representatives of real living, messy, anonymous class struggle, all to be conveniently used for present day attempts to impose statist, hierarchical solutions for change led by, almost always, Great Men.

yournewleader
Start printing the T-shirts: Nicolás Maduro set to replace Chavez.

Cults like these are a reflection of, and end up propagating both hierarchical forms of organisation and patriarchy.

Struggles in the Left

It was a long time in coming but at the anti-Bedroom Tax demonstration in Glasgow an important division in the Left in Scotland clearly came out into the open. I’m talking about the heckling of Dave Sherry, one of the speakers at the end, by people from different political groups or none who all see themselves as feminists or pro-feminists. Sherry, as a member not just of the SWP but also that party’s Dispute Committee, was directly involved in covering up the rape by a senior party figure of a younger member. What happened and its background is explained in full here.

It was absolutely right that Sherry was openly challenged when given a public platform. It was also really encouraging that socialists, anarchists and others were united in shouting him down. I’m only sorry I missed my chance of heckling him because I was at the other side of George Square when it happened. But I’m sure there will be other opportunities of opposing SWP speakers in the future.

This wasn’t an isolated incident, however, but part of wider developments where both misogyny and hierarchy have been closely linked.

tommyexploitsmaclean
Tommy exploiting the Cult of John MacLean in his own attempt to be the next Great Man.

The old authoritarian Left, after having lost much of its credibility, recognises the importance of the anti-Bedroom Tax campaign and has been trying as usual to put itself in a position of leadership in order to control it and regain political influence and power. Tommy Sheridan, out of prison for perjury, is back in the media spotlight as the face of the anti-Bedroom Tax campaign and, after everything he’s done, still manages to muster enthusiastic support from his fan club. He briefly got himself elected secretary of the interim committee of the West of Scotland Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation, before being forced to resign because of his divisive role. But don’t count him out just yet.

Sherry was allowed to speak because those involved in the SWP, Solidarity party, and CWI Scotland engineered it, and they quickly closed ranks in defending him and his actions from the hecklers. Likewise, Tommy Sheridan, Great Leader of Solidarity, is supported in turn by the SWP and the CWI and they are all keen to give him a prominent place in public talks and the media.

These parties are parasites on already-existing struggles, and it’s no coincidence that they have all been actively involved in giving a place to misogyny in some form or another.

The problem that won’t go away

I agree with many of the points Mhairi McAlpine made in her article on the constant re-occurrence of sexism and sexual abuse in socialist organisations from Gerry Healy to George Galloway. Why does it keep happening? We live in a patriarchal society where misogyny is prevalent, men who gain influence in a party are able to manipulate lovers for their own ends and then marginalise and intimidate them, all men benefit from patriarchy and defend those, often in a position of power, who are called out.

But I think that we should also explore the structure of these organisations: the fact that they were all hierarchical parties.

Tommy Sheridan is in the position he is, as a socialist celebrity, because he was given power. From his days in Militant he was made the figurehead and spokesman of the anti-Poll Tax campaign – apparently speaking on behalf of all the grassroots groups who fought the Poll Tax, whether they liked it or not – and then in the SSP was at the centre of the party’s electoral strategy. He was good in the media, he got votes and was encouraged to get as much publicity as he could. In other words, he was undoubtedly given a status and influence above ordinary members. There were and are a lot of good comrades in the SSP, but the criticisms people are making about Tommy now were already around long before the party was split over his scandal and lying. Those women and men who opposed him afterwards were absolutely in the right, but now that he’s trying to make a comeback maybe it’s time to look again at the context of his rise to influence.

Is it really surprising that manipulative, egoistic men are most successful in power politics?

Whether it’s in electoralism or controlling a small top-down party like the SWP, men not only find their way to the top and stay there but patriarchy shapes the operation of power and influence, just as it does in wider society. Sure, there are prominent female leaders too, but they often end up doing just as much to defend male leaders, as happened in the SWP or with Solidarity.

What’s the answer? I’d obviously disagree with those who argue that the aim should be another electoral, hierarchical party that replaces misogynist male leaders with pro-feminist leaders.

Patriarchy is one form of power over others, of hierarchy. We want to get rid of it altogether just like we want to get rid of ableism, white supremacy, heteronormativity and capitalism itself.** As anarchists we’d see this as being interconnected and that the organisations we build and the struggles we’re involved in need to be concerned with all these things. Those most directly affected by an oppression, should be the ones to lead the struggle against it, and organise separately whenever they see fit, but those not directly oppressed should be just as much concerned with, for example, pro-feminism and educating themselves about it, and not just leave (pro-)feminism to self-identifying women.

In all cases, though, we shouldn’t pass on responsibility for challenging oppressions or exploitation to representatives to do it on our behalf but through structures that we ourselves build and control. It’s entirely self-defeating to fight against people having power over us through means that contribute to people having power over us!

The Occupy movement might be pointed out as an example of how non-hierarchical organising doesn’t necessarily lead to pro-feminist spaces. It’s debatable to what extent Occupy was actually non-hierarchical, since it was started and maintained by a small number of activists who had the time and were able to live out in camps in the city centre, and who would tend to have control. AFed members that I’m aware of were never involved in Occupy in Scotland because of the many problems we saw with it, from its unclear demands and means to bring them about, to being dominated by liberal not anti-capitalist ideas as well as a toxic mixture of conspiracy theories. At the very least, though, Occupy was an attempt at non-hierarchical or grassroots organising that led to the creation of incredibly unsafe spaces where sexual abuse was widely reported both in the US and here in Britain. The nature of Occupy camps meant they were likely to be places where people were at risk anyway, but importantly the movement had no concern for adopting clear safer spaces policies and pro-feminism was conspicuous by its absence.

I don’t think there’s an easy solution to genuinely challenge something like patriarchy but I would definitely argue that it requires non-hierarchical modes of organising – by which I don’t mean ‘jazz hands’ and endless hours of consensus, but decision-making that’s directly democratic and effective – along with safer spaces policies, those directly affected having their own spaces and platforms, and a clearly pro-feminist stance adopted by everyone. The structures we need don’t come ready-made but are developed through experimentation.

But, to be clear, sexism and misogyny is something that affects all organisations even those that actively try to challenge it and have structures that aim to ensure that control isn’t given to a minority. It’s something we have to constantly try to deal with and that we all need to get better at.

athousandflowers

Lastly, I wanted to point out a new Scottish feminist and queer blog, A Thousand Flowers, and I think it’s awesome. I might not agree with absolutely every point or article but it’s an interesting and vibrant site and the fact that it exists is really positive for anyone in the pro-feminist, non-authoritarian Left today.

*Check out Nan Milton’s biography which gives an excellent insight into radical Scottish history. Anarchist Guy Aldred, who worked with MacLean, was also one of the first people to write about him. My argument isn’t that we should stop commemorating figures like MacLean, but to be highly critical of how he is used and to what ends in the present. I would say the exact same about libertarian communist figures like Emma Goldman, Durruti and so on. In many other cases, though, I think icons of the past or present need to be ditched altogether.

** There’s an excellent introduction to privilege theory and intersectionality written by AFed’s Women Caucus: A Class Struggle Anarchist Analysis of Privilege Theory.




My comments:-
  1. I oppose the SWP just like this author.I think it's hierarchical.The fact this rape issue has come about shows that the SWP has been authoritarian for a long time, it's no coincidence.And we know from articles that it's carried out purges. I'm anti-SWP despite knowing nice-ish people in it.But it does feel cult like.And evangelical.
  2. I agree hero worship is dangerous.Maclean is a huge example.
  3. Tommy Sheridan is an arse.
  4. I'm glad he gives Chavez and Guevara a metaphorical kicking!



 

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Maurice Brinton on Power in our society.

A Question of Power


1969




Published: in Solidarity Leaflet, July 1969
Transcribed: by Jonas Holmgren
Proofed: by George Poulados





Few of us run our own lives. This is because we have no control over the main decisions that affect us. These decisions are made by small self-perpetuating minorities. This situation cannot be "democratically" changed. What our rulers call "democracy" is a system which operates for their own protection. As long as their "democracy" is not seriously challenged, their dominating position in society is secure.

Their threatened use of violence is intended to frustrate any challenge. It is implicit in the large police force, the courts, and the armed forces which they control. The limited freedom that their "democracy" allows us is further restricted or curtailed altogether whenever they think their power is seriously threatened.

They hold the power to maintain their power. This is key to their security. They determine the kind of education provided, and the ways and means of providing it. By controlling what and how people are taught, those who rule us seek to preserve the structure of existing society. Children are educated first through the family - i.e. through the already-conditioned parents. Then the education factories (schools and universities) take over. Their aim is to produce people conditioned to fit into this rat-race society.

Workers created trade unions and political parties to change all this. But gradually adopting similar patterns of organization to those of their oppressors, and by concentrating the struggle almost solely on improving working conditions and living standards, the original revolutionary intentions have been bypassed. Working people have gained considerable material advantages but they have lost control of their own organizations. Today the hierarchies are in control. They can neither be removed nor brought back to the initial aim of freeing people.

Those who dominate production dominate society. So long as they have their kind of industrial stability, control will remain in their hands. This control enables them to continue deciding what is to be produced, who is to produce it, where, when how, and in what quantities. All this conflicts with the interests of the real producers - the workers. Those who run our lives continually seek ways of blurring the conflict and of manipulating workers into accepting that management alone is capable of making these decisions.

The union hierarchy assists them in this fraud. While acting as middlemen in the labour market, the union bosses do all they can to frustrate any awareness in workers of their own ability to run industry. In fact, so-called working class organizations are today an essential part of the set up. The formation of new unions or parties would not solve the problem. In today's conditions, they would suffer the same fate as the old ones.

But the system is contested. There is a constant struggle in which the objective is self-management. In a large majority of disputes, workers have taken real democratic decisions to act without the consent of the union bureaucrats (so-called unofficial strikes). This is one of the signs that our rulers' "industrial stability" is under strain. The strain is also visible in the education factories, where students are increasingly demanding the right to take decisions on fundamental issues. There are many other signs of the crisis that is affecting every aspect of this society.

Solidarity participates in the struggle wherever possible. We try to expose the true situation. We seek to strengthen the confidence of working people in their own ability to manage their own lives - at work and outside of it. People's reliance on others to do things for them has led to defeat after defeat. It is time for victories! Victories depend on people consciously taking action themselves. To help in the development of this consciousness is the only reason for the existence of Solidarity.
 
-Maurice Brinton.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Some good quotes on strategy.


"If we get caught up in brooding on evils, if we let the sickness and ugliness of this society pervade even our rebellion against it, we forget what we are fighting for and end up losing the very capacity to love, to create, to enjoy."-Ken Knabb.
 
"Nothing undermines authority like holding it up to ridicule. The most effective argument against a repressive regime is not that it is evil, but that it is silly"-Ken Knabb.
 
"At demonstrations in Italy in the 1970s the Metropolitan Indians (inspired perhaps by the opening chapter of Lewis Carroll s Sylvie and Bruno: Less Bread! More Taxes! ) carried banners and chanted slogans such as Power to the Bosses! and More work! Less pay! Everyone recognized the irony, but it was harder to dismiss with the usual pigeonholing."-Ken Knabb.
 
 
"Humor is a healthy antidote to all types of orthodoxy,
left as well as right. It s highly contagious and it reminds
us not to take ourselves too seriously. But it can easily
become a mere safety valve, channeling dissatisfaction
into glib, passive cynicism. Spectacle society thrives on
delirious reactions against its most delirious aspects.
Satirists often have a dependent, love-hate relation with
their targets; parodies become indistinguishable from
what they are parodying, giving the impression that
everything is equally bizarre, meaningless and hopeless."-Ken Knabb.

"In itself, voting is of no great significance one way or the
other (those who make a big deal about refusing to vote
are only revealing their own fetishism). The problem is
that it tends to lull people into relying on others to act for
them, distracting them from more significant
possibilities. A few people who take some creative
initiative (think of the first civil rights sit-ins) may
ultimately have a far greater effect than if they had put
their energy into campaigning for lesser-evil politicians"-Ken Knabb.


"In the name of realism, reformists limit themselves to pursuing winnable objectives, yet even when they win some little adjustment in the system it is usually offset by some other development at another level. This doesn t mean that reforms are irrelevant, merely that they are insufficient."-Ken Knabb.
 
"To suppose that a series of reforms will eventually add up to a qualitative change is like thinking we can get across a ten-foot chasm by a series of one-foot hops."-Ken Knabb.
 

"The best projects are those that are worthwhile for their
own sake while simultaneously containing an implicit
challenge to some fundamental aspect of the system;
projects that enable people to participate in significant
issues according to their own degree of interest, while
tending to open the way to more radical possibilities.
Less interesting, but still worthwhile, are demands for
improved conditions or more equal rights. Even if such
projects are not in themselves very participatory, they
may remove impediments to participation."-Ken Knabb.
 
"total critique means that everything is called into
question, not that everything must be totally opposed.
Radicals often forget this and get caught up in
outbidding each other with increasingly extremist
assertions, implying that any compromise amounts to
selling out or even that any enjoyment amounts to
complicity with the system. Actually, being for or
against some political position is just as easy, and
usually just as meaningless, as being for or against some
sports team."-Ken Knabb.
 
"This spirit is well exemplified by those Italian workers who have gone on strike without making any demands whatsoever. Such strikes are not only more interesting than the usual bureaucratic union negotiations, they may even be more effective: the bosses, uncertain of how far they have to go, frequently end up offering much more than the strikers would have dared to demand. The latter can then decide on their next move without having committed themselves to anything in return."
 
"As in May 1968, when the more developed countries are
threatened with a radical situation, they usually rely on
confusion, concessions, curfews, distractions,
disinformation, fragmentation, preemption,
postponement and other methods of diverting, dividing
and coopting the opposition, reserving overt physical
repression as a last resort. These methods, which range
from the subtle to the ludicrous,(9) are so numerous that
 it would be impossible here to mention more than a few."-Ken Knabb.


"Any vestige of hierarchy within a radical movement will
be used to divide and undermine it. If there are no
cooptable leaders, a few will be created by intensive
media exposure. Leaders can be privately bargained with
and held responsible for their followers; once they are
coopted, they can establish similar chains of command
beneath them, enabling a large mass of people to be
brought under control without the rulers having to deal
with all of them openly and simultaneously."-Ken Knabb.


Only at certain moments are people together enough to
revolt successfully. The more lucid rulers know that they
are safe if they can only disperse such threats before they
develop too much momentum and self-awareness,
whether by direct physical repression or by the various
sorts of diversion mentioned above. It hardly matters if
the people later find out that they were tricked, that they
had victory in their hands if they had only known it: once
the opportunity has passed, it s too late."-Ken Knabb.

"Modern revolution has the peculiar quality that the exploited majority automatically wins as soon as it becomes collectively  aware of the game it is playing. The proletariat s opponent is ultimately nothing but the product of its own alienated activity, whether in the economic form of capital, the political form of party and union bureaucracies, or the psychological form of spectacular conditioning. The rulers are such a tiny minority that they would be immediately overwhelmed if they had not managed to bamboozle a large portion of the population into identifying with them, or at least into taking their system for granted; and especially into becoming divided against each other."-Ken Knabb.

 
"...spontaneous action of masses is everything. All that individuals can do is to clarify, propagate, and work out ideas corresponding to the popular instinct, and, what is more, to contribute their incessant efforts to revolutionary organization of the natural power of the masses - but nothing else beyond that; the rest can and should be done by the people themselves. Any other method would lead to political dictatorship, to the re-emergence of the State, of privileges of inequalities of all the oppressions of the State - that is, it would lead in a roundabout but logical way toward re-establishment of political, social, and economic slavery of the masses of people. "-Mikhail Bakunin.


"For us, as revolutionaries, meaningful action is whatever increases the confidence, autonomy, initiative, participation, solidarity, egalitarian tendencies and self-activity of the masses, and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, cynicism, differentiation through hierarchy, alienation, reliance on others to do things for them, and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others, even those acting on their behalf."-Maurice Brinton.

"Such is the true meaning of workers' candidatures to the Parliaments of existing States, and that of the conquest of political power by the working class. For even from the point of view of only the town proletariat to whose exclusive profit it is desired to take possession of political power, is it not clear that the popular nature of this power will never be anything else than fiction? It will be obviously impossible for some hundreds of thousands or even some tens of thousands or indeed for only a few thousand men to effectively exercise this power. They will necessarily exercise it by proxy, that is to say, entrust it to a group of men elected by themselves to represent and govern them, which will cause them without fail to fall back again into all the falsehoods and servitudes of the representative or bourgeois regime. After a brief moment of liberty or revolutionary orgy, citizens of a new State, they will awake to find themselves slaves, playthings and victims of new power-lusters. One can understand how and why clever politicians should attach themselves with great passion to a program which opens such a wide horizon to their ambition; but that serious workers, who bear in the hearts like a living flame the sentiment of solidarity with their companions in slavery and wretchedness the whole world over, and who desire to emancipate themselves not to the detriment of all but by the emancipation of all, to be free themselves with all and not to become tyrants in their turn; that sincere toilers could become enamored of such a program, that is much more difficult to understand."-Bakunin.

"It follows that we don't regard any of these countries as socialist and that we don't act as if we had lurking suspicions that they might be something other than what they are: hierarchically-structured class societies based on wage slavery and exploitation. Their identification with socialism - even as deformed variants - is a slander against the very concept of socialism (abortions, after all, share some of the attributes of their parents). It is moreover a source of endless mystification and confusion. It also follows from this basic assessment that we do not support China against Russia, or Russia against China (or alternatively the one and then other), that we do not carry NLF flags on demonstrations (the enemies of our enemies are not necessarily our friends), and that we refrain from joining sundry choruses demanding more East-West trade, more Summit Conferences or more ping-pong diplomacy.  In every country of the world the rulers oppress the ruled and persecute genuine revolutionaries. In every country the main enemy of the people is their own ruling class. This alone can provide the basis of genuine internationalism of the oppressed"-Maurice Brinton.

"Socialism cannot be equated with the "coming of power of parties claiming to represent the working class". Political power is a fraud if working people do not take over and retain power in production. If they achieve such power, the organs exerting it (Workers' Councils) will take and implement all the necessary political decisions. It follows that we don't advocate the formation of "better" or "more revolutionary political parties whose objective would remain the "capture of state power". The Party's power may grow out of the barrel of a gun. The power of the working class grows out of its management of the economy and of society as a whole.
Socialism cannot be equated with such measures as the "nationalization of the means of production". These may help the rulers of various class societies to rationalize their system of exploitation and solve their own problems.."-Maurice Brinton.
 
"It follows that we reject analyses (such as those of every variety of Leninist or Trotskyist) who define the main crisis of modern society as "a crisis of leadership". They are all generals in search of an army, for whom recruitment figures are the main yardstick of success. For us revolutionary change is a question of consciousness: the consciousness that would make generals redundant"
-Maurice Brinton.
 
"When we refer to the "traditional parties of the left" we don't only have in mind the social-democratic and "communist" parties. Parties of this type have administered, administer and will continue to administer exploitative class societies. Under the title of "traditional parties of the left" we also include the trad revs [traditional revolutionaries], i.e. the various Leninist, Trotskyist and Maoid sects who are the carriers of state capitalist ideology and the embryonic nuclei of repressive, state-capitalist power.
These groups are prefigurations of alternative types of exploitation. Their critiques of the social-democratic and "Stalinist" or "revisionist" left appear virulent enough, but they never deal with fundamentals (such as the structure of decision-making, the locus of power, the primacy of the Party, the existence of hierarchy, the maximization of surplus value, the perpetuation of wage labour, and inequality). This is no accident and flows from the fact that they themselves accept these fundamentals. Bourgeois ideology is far more widespread than many revolutionaries believe and has in fact deeply permeated their thinking. In this sense Marx's statement about "the dominant ideas of each epoch being the ideas of its ruling class" is far more true than Marx could ever have anticipated"-Maurice Brinton.
 
"As far as authoritarian class society (and the libertarian-socialist alternative) is concerned the trad revs are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Those who subscribe to social-democratic or Bolshevik ideology are themselves either victims of the prevailing mystification (and attempts should be made to demystify them), or they are the conscious exponents and future beneficiaries of a new form of class rule (and should be ruthlessly exposed). In either case it follows that there is nothing "sectarian" in systematically proclaiming opposition to what they stand for. Not to do so would be tantamount to suppressing our critique of half of the prevailing social order. It would mean to participate in the general mystification of traditional politics (where one thinks one thing and says another) and to deny the very basis of our independent political existence."-Maurice Brinton, As We Don't See It ,1972.
 
"When we talk of "man's positive self-consciousness" and of "his understanding of his environment and of himself we mean the gradual discarding of myths and of all types of false consciousness (religion, nationalism, patriarchal attitudes, the belief in the rationality of hierarchy, etc.). The precondition of human freedom is the understanding of all that limits it. Positive self-consciousness implies the gradual breakdown of that state of chronic schizophrenia in which - through conditioning and other mechanisms - most people succeed in carrying mutually incompatible ideas in their heads. It means accepting coherence, and perceiving the relation of means and ends. It means exposing those who organize conferences about "workers' control" ... addressed by union officials elected for life. It means patiently explaining the incompatibilities of "people's capitalism", "parliamentary socialism", "Christian communism", "anarcho-Zionism", "Party-led 'workers' councils' ", and other such rubbish. It means understanding that a non-manipulative society cannot be achieved by manipulative means or a classless society through hierarchical structures. This attempt at both gaining insight and at imparting it will be difficult and prolonged. It will doubtless be dismissed as "intellectual theorizing" by every "voluntarist" or "activist" tendency, eager for short cuts to the promised land and more concern with movement than with direction"-Maurice Brinton.
 
"Linked to our rejection of revolutionary myths is our rejection of ready-made political labels. We want no gods, not even those of the Marxist or anarchist pantheons. We live in neither the Petrograd of 1917 nor the Barcelona of 1936. We are ourselves: the product of the disintegration of traditional politics, in an advanced industrial country, in the second half of the twentieth century. It is to the problems and conflicts of that society that we must apply ourselves"-Maurice Brinton.
 
"When we say that socialist society will be "built from below", we mean just that. We do not mean "initiated from above and then endorsed from below". Nor do we mean "planned from above and later checked from below"-Maurice Brinton.
 
 In terms of the development of socialist consciousness how a struggle is waged and what it is about are of fundamental importance. Socialism, after all, is about who takes the decisions. We believe this needs stressing, in practice, from now- Maurice Brinton.

"We are not pacifists. We have no illusions about what we are up against. In all class societies, institutional violence weighs heavily and constantly on the oppressed. Moreover the rulers of such societies have always resorted to more explicit physical repression when their power and privileges were really threatened. Against repression by the ruling class we endorse the people's right to self-defence, by whatever means be appropriate.
The power of the rulers feeds on the indecision and confusion of the ruled. Their power will only be overcome if confronted with ours: the power of a conscious and self-reliant majority, knowing what it wants and determined to get it. In modern industrial societies the power of such a majority will lie where thousands congregate daily, to sell their labour power in the production of goods and services.

Socialism cannot be the result of a putsch, of the capture of some Palace, or of the blowing up of some Party or Police Headquarters, carried out "on behalf of the people" or "to galvanize the masses". If unsuccessful, all that such actions do is to create martyrs and myths - and to provoke intensified repression. If "successful", they would only substitute one ruling minority for another, i.e. bring about a new form of exploitative society. Nor can socialism be introduced by organizations themselves structured according to authoritarian, hierarchical, bureaucratic or semi-military patterns. All that such organizations have instituted (and, if "successful", are likely to continue instituting) are societies in their own image.

The social revolution is no Party matter. It will be the action of the immense majority, acting in the interests of the immense majority. The failures of social-democracy and of Bolshevism are the failure of a whole concept of politics, a concept according to which the oppressed could entrust their liberation to others than themselves. This lesson is gradually entering mass consciousness and preparing the ground for a genuinely libertarian revolution.

9. Because we reject Lenin's concept that the working class can only develop a trade union (or reformist) consciousness it follows that we reject the Leninist prescription that socialist consciousness has to be brought to the people from outside, or injected into the movement by political specialists: the professional revolutionaries. It further follows that we cannot behave as if we held such beliefs."- Maurice Brinton.
 
" The trade unions and the traditional parties of the left started in business to change all this. But they have come to terms with the existing patterns of exploitation. In fact they are now essential if exploiting society is to continue working smoothly. The unions act as middlemen in the labour market. The political parties use the struggles and aspirations of the working class for their own ends. The degeneration of working class organizations, itself the result of the failure of the revolutionary movement, has been a major factor in creating working class apathy, which in turn has led to further degeneration of both parties and unions"-Maurice Brinton.

"No ruling class in history has ever relinquished its power without a struggle and our present rulers are unlikely to be an exception. Power will only be taken from them through the conscious, autonomous action of the vast majority of the people themselves. The building of socialism will require mass understanding and mass participation. By their rigid hierarchical structure, by their ideas and by their activities, both social-democratic and Bolshevik types of organizations discourage this kind of understanding and prevent this kind of participation. The idea that socialism can somehow be achieved by an elite party (however "revolutionary") acting "on behalf of the working class is both absurd and reactionary" -Maurice Brinton.

“The theory of statism as well as that of so-called ‘revolutionary dictatorship’ is based on the idea that a ‘privileged elite,’ consisting of those scientists and ‘doctrinaire revolutionists’ who believe that ‘theory is prior to social experience,’ should impose their preconceived scheme of social organization on the people. The dictatorial power of this learned minority is concealed by the fiction of a pseudo-representative government which presumes to express the will of the people.”-Mikhail Bakunin.
 
"This fiction of a pseudo-representative government serves to conceal the domination of the masses by a handful of privileged elite; an elite elected by hordes of people who are rounded up and do not know for whom or for what they vote. Upon this artificial and abstract expression of what they falsely imagine to be the will of the people and of which the real living people have not the least idea, they construct both the theory of statism as well as the theory of so-called revolutionary dictatorship.
The differences between revolutionary dictatorship and statism are superficial. Fundamentally they both represent the same principle of minority rule over the majority in the name of the alleged “stupidity” of the latter and the alleged “intelligence” of the former. Therefore they are both equally reactionary since both directly and inevitably must preserve and perpetuate the political and economic privileges of the ruling minority and the political and economic subjugation of the masses of the people.
Now it is clear why the dictatorial revolutionists, who aim to overthrow the existing powers and social structures in order to erect upon their ruins their own dictatorships, never were or will be the enemies of government, but, to the contrary, always will be the most ardent promoters of the government idea. They are the enemies only of contemporary governments, because they wish to replace them. They are the enemies of the present governmental structure, because it excludes the possibility of their dictatorship. At the same time they are the most devoted friends of governmental power. For if the revolution destroyed this power by actually freeing the masses, it would deprive this pseudo-revolutionary minority of any hope to harness the masses in order to make them the beneficiaries of their own government policy."-Bakunin.

 
 "
These elected representatives, say the Marxists, will be dedicated and learned socialists. The expressions “learned socialist,” “scientific socialism,” etc., which continuously appear in the speeches and writings of the followers of Lassalle and Marx, prove that the pseudo-People’s State will be nothing but a despotic control of the populace by a new and not at all numerous aristocracy of real and pseudo-scientists. The “uneducated” people will be totally relieved of the cares of administration, and will be treated as a regimented herd. A beautiful liberation, indeed!

The Marxists are aware of this contradiction and realize that a government of scientists will be a real dictatorship regardless of its democratic form. They console themselves with the idea that this rule will be temporary. They say that the only care and objective will be to educate and elevate the people economically and politically to such a degree that such a government will soon become unnecessary, and the State, after losing its political or coercive character, will automatically develop into a completely free organization of economic interests and communes.

There is a flagrant contradiction in this theory. If their state would be really of the people, why eliminate it? And if the State is needed to emancipate the workers, then the workers are not yet free, so why call it a People’s State? By our polemic against them we have brought them to the realization that freedom or anarchism, which means a free organization of the working masses from the bottom up, is the final objective of social development, and that every state, not excepting their People’s State, is a yoke, on the one hand giving rise to despotism and on the other to slavery. They say that such a yoke – dictatorship is a transitional step towards achieving full freedom for the people: anarchism or freedom is the aim, while state and dictatorship is the means, and so, in order to free the masses of people, they have first to be enslaved!

Upon this contradiction our polemic has come to a halt. They insist that only dictatorship (of course their own) can create freedom for the people. We reply that all dictatorship has no objective other than self-perpetuation, and that slavery is all it can generate and instill in the people who suffer it. Freedom can be created only by freedom, by a total rebellion of the people, and by a voluntary organization of the people from the bottom up."-Bakunin.


"
Nothing is more dangerous for man's private morality than the habit of command. The best man, the most intelligent, disinterested, generous, pure, will infallibly and always be spoiled at this trade. Two sentiments inherent in power never fail to produce this demoralisation; they are: contempt for the masses and the overestimation of one's own merits.

"The masses" a man says to himself," recognising their incapacity to govern on their own account, have elected me their chief. By that act they have publicly proclaimed their inferiority and my superiority. Among this crowd of men, recognising hardly any equals of myself, I am alone capable of directing public affairs. The people have need of me; they cannot do without my services, while I, on the contrary, can get along all right by myself; they, therefore, must obey me for their own security, and in condescending to obey them, I am doing them a good turn.

Is there not something in all that to make a man lose his head and his heart as well, and become mad with pride? It is thus that power and the habit of command become for even the most intelligent and virtuous men, a source of aberration, both intellectual and moral."-Bakunin.

"All work to be performed in the employ and pay of the State– such is the fundamental principle of Authoritarian Communism of State Socialism. The State having become sole proprietor–at end of a certain period of transition which will be necessary to let society pass without too great political and economic shocks from the present organisation of bourgeois privilege to the future organisation of the official equality of all–the State will be also the only Capitalist, banker; money-lender, organiser, director of all national labor and distributor of its products. Such is the ideal, the fundamental principle of modern Communism. "-Bakunin.

"But in the People's State of Marx, there will be, we are told, no privileged class at all. All will be equal, not only from the juridical and political point of view, but from the economic point of view. At least that is what is promised, though I doubt very much, considering the manner in which it is being tackled and the course it is desired to follow, whether that promise could ever be kept. There will therefore be no longer any privileged class, but there will be a government, and, note this well, an extremely complex government, which will not content itself with governing and administering the masses politically, as all governments do to-day, but which will also administer them economically, concentrating in its own hands the production and the just division of wealth, the cultivation of land, the establishment and development of factories, the organisation and direction of commerce,, finally the application of capital to production by the only banker, the State. All that will demand an immense knowledge and many "heads overflowing with brains" in this government. It will be the reign of scientific intelligence, the most aristocratic, despotic, arrogant and contemptuous of all regimes. There will be a new class, a new hierarchy of real and pretended scientists and scholars, and the world will be divided into a, minority ruling in the name of knowledge and an immense ignorant majority. And then, woe betide the mass of ignorant ones!

Such a regime will not fail to arouse very considerable discontent in this mass and in order to keep it in check the enlightenment and liberating government of Marx will have need of a not less considerable armed force. For the government must be strong, says Engels, to maintain order among these millions of illiterates whose brutal uprising would be capable of destroying and overthrowing everything, even a government directed by heads overflowing with brains."-Bakunin.

".. consider that Marx is a very serious revolutionary, if not always a very sincere one, and that he really wants to uplift the masses and I ask myself–Why it is that he does not perceive that the establishment of a universal dictatorship, whether collective or individual, of a dictatorship which would perform in some degree the task of chief engineer of the world revolution–ruling and directing the insurrectional movement of the masses in all countries as one guides a machine–that the establishment of such a dictatorship would suffice by itself alone to kill the revolution, or paralyze and pervert all the people's movements? What is the man, what is the group of individuals, however great may be their genius, who would dare Into flatter themselves to be able to embrace and comprehend the infinite multitude of interests, of tendencies and actions, so diverse in each country, province, locality, trade, and of which the immense totality, united, but not made uniform, by one grand common aspiration and by some fundamental principles which have passed henceforth into the consciousness of the masses, will constitute the future social revolution"-Bakunin.

"The idea that socialism can be achieved by an "elite" party, however "revolutionary" acting on behalf of the working class, is both absurd and reactionary. Solidarity does not present itself as yet another "leadership" but merely as a tool of struggle."-Maurice Brinton.
 
""The emancipation of the working class is the task of the workers themselves". The working class cannot entrust its historical task to anyone else. No "saviours from on high" will free it. The class will never achieve power, its power, if it entrusts the revolutionary struggle to others. Mass socialist consciousness and mass participation are essential. The revolutionary organization must assist in their development and must ruthlessly expose all illusions that the problem can be solved in any other way.
Moreover the working class will never hold power unless it is prepared consciously and permanently to mobilize itself to this end. All previous attempts by the working class to delegate power to specific groups, in the hope that such groups would exert power "on its behalf" have resulted in the formation of bureaucracies and in the economic and political expropriation of the working class. Socialism, unlike all previous forms of social organization, requires the constant, conscious and permanent participation of the great majority"-Maurice Brinton.
 
“the emancipation of the working class is the task of the workers themselves”. We would do well to remember those words as we struggle against austerity, as there’s no shortage of would-be vanguards vying to substitute themselves for mass collective action.
The most obvious of these are the various Leninist/Trotskyist parties, who are openly vanguardist in theory and practice (derived mostly from the writings of Lenin). Leninist theory states that the working class is by itself unable to achieve the required consciousness to challenge capitalism, and so requires a political party led by professional revolutionaries to lead it – a vanguard party. The concept of leadership is very important. Trotsky himself wrote that “the historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership” and this perspective continues to inform his contemporary followers."-Brighton Solfed.

"This means that vanguardist politics of the Leninist/Trotskyist kind aims essentially at securing leadership of various campaigns and organisations. The clearest recent example is the attempts to unseat NUS President Aaron ‘Despicable’ Porter. The problem here is that the mass, direct action and social disobedience witnessed at Millbank and subsequently in London and across the country has already bypassed Porter and made him irrelevant. So to channel that energy back into replacing Porter with a member or fellow traveller of some Trotskyist party is to recuperate the movement, to go from mass, self-organised direct action back onto the terrain of representative politics, where action once more becomes the preserve of privileged actors – the ‘revolutionary leadership’ of the vanguard party. The proliferation of anti-cuts fronts, all calling for unity whilst splitting off under the leadership of the different Trotskyist parties has to be understood in the same light."-Brighton Solfed.

"Vanguardism lives by sucking the life out of mass movements, and lives the more the more it sucks. But Leninists/Trotskyists are only the most obvious, because they are self-described, kind of vanguardists. Vanguardism also exists in the form of radical liberal activism, often aping the language of anarchism."-Brighton Solfed,Beware all vanguards!


"However, the clarity and self-evident transparency that Pouget saw in the term ‘direct action’ has given way with the later emergence of a rival conception which in many ways is the opposite of the anarchist one. This radical liberal version is best summed up by an oft-quoted maxim by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Here instead of mass, collective, working class action we have individual, exemplary action by ‘committed citizens’. A clearer example of the gulf between anarchism and liberalism would be hard to find.

It is this liberal version of direct action that also ends up in vanguardism. Once more the task of social change is taken away from the workers themselves and entrusted to a group of specialists acting on their behalf. However, instead of a vanguard party, here the specialists are “committed activists” willing to sacrifice themselves to arrest and police brutality for the cause of justice. There is no doubting the sincerity, and often courage of such activists. But such a mode of action is nonetheless vanguardist – activists are substituted for the working class in our emancipatory struggle.

This has practical implications for anti-cuts struggles. The liberal conception of direct action promotes tactics which privilege individual actions, often favouring ‘accountable action’ where arrest ceases to be an occupational hazard but part of the objective. Activists encourage people to glue themselves to crime scenes and get criminal records which can seriously hamper employment possibilities. For full-time activists this isn’t a problem (whether they scrape by on the dole or are personally wealthy enough to not need a job). And many students don’t realise the consequences further down the road – consequences which apply disproportionately to working class students lacking the connections of their more affluent peers.

Encouraging people to sit down and be beaten by police is rationalised as providing outrageous footage – a sign of the righteousness of the cause, no doubt informed by a Mead-style misreading of the history of US Civil Rights and Indian Independence struggles (which were won by mass struggles, not individuals martyring themselves). In fact police violence is explained by protestors not being passive enough – the cries to ‘sit down, sit down!’ effectively blame the victims of police violence. The youths who fight back against the police don’t ‘get it’. Lacking the ‘correct’ consciousness, they should leave it to the specialists in social change."-Brighton Solfed.