« When I cook for the Occupy the City movement in London I contribute to change the world. » A guy interviewed on RFI radio.
The following is an extended version of my brief intervention at the AWL’s congress [22-23 October 2011].
I would like first to thank the AWL for its invitation. As far as I know, the AWL is the only organisation in the European Far Left which is trying to seriously debate with other reformist or revolutionary currents. I don’t share the AWL’s dogmatic reverence toward Leninism and Trotskyism but at least we have something important in common : the belief that discussions can be useful and fruitful as long as they are not led along sectarian and slanderous lines. So I acknowledge your effort to deal with other currents of thought, even when I disagree totally with you.
Anarchist comrades should remember the virtues of political debates as Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre, to quote only two famous examples, participated to debates with socialists (marxists) and were won over… anarchism through such debates !
So this is not where our disagreement regarding today’s « anarchism » lies. It seems to me that your articles in Workers Liberty were too much centered on « old-style » 19th-century anarchism and not on today’s diverse, confused, libertarian and anarchist currents. (A traditional anarchist told me once that libertarians – « libertaires » in French is a broadly accepted term among the leftwing intelligentsia – were soft-core anarchists, generally in their 40’s or 50’s, almost reformist, and anarchists were young hardcore revolutionaries…)
Publishing in France a journal (Ni patrie ni frontières) which, for almost 10 years, has published many anarchist and Marxist texts together in the same issue and on the same theme to stimulate debate and political reflection, I have had the occasion of meeting many young « anarchists » in book fairs, conferences, etc. What stroke me is how much (generally) they ignore « their » classics : Proudhon, Bakounine, Stirner or Kropotkine. There are certainly much more points to be discussed but I would like in this article to underline only five.
1. Trotskyists when they discuss with young « anarchists » today should realize that they did not receive, and dont value, the same « training ».
Trotskyists generally are trained in « Party schools » where they learn about the history of the workers movement and learn the basic laws of Marxist « science ». At least that was the tradition until the 70’s and 80’s in France in Trotskyist groups. And in general the Trotskyist press still puts the stress on the importance of a historical culture – whatever biased it is. That has also happened (among anarchist lines, obviously) in the Spanish CNT before World War II, or in some traditional anarchist groups before the 1960s, but this is no more true as far as I know in Europe. Young European « anarchists »’ political culture is much more diverse : it derives from all sorts of radical or marginal films or documentaries, semi-political comics and music, from the no global movement litterature, from all sorts of tiny booklets reproduced in « infokiosks », etc.
I must also say that for those anarchists with a solid background in revolutionary history, there is absolutely no forgetting nor is there is the slightest wish to minimize the deeds and thoughts of the historical figure known as Leon Trotsky. You are not going to persuade these anarchists about anything concerning Kronstadt 1921 or Nestor Makhno, because the role of Trotsky in suppressing these revolutionary movements is both well known and well documented. The Trotskyists’ lies, slanders, and distortions about these historical episodes mean that anarchists with a grasp of the historical record will be immune to your overtures, and with good reason. They see classical Trotskyism as part of the problem, and in no way part of the solution.
2. Trotskyists should realize that young « anarchists » today want ACTION NOW.
And by « action now » they don’t mean a long « primitive accumulation » of militants (or cadres) to build the Party, a process traditional Trotskyists fancy so much. The most « physical » and sometimes « macho » anarchists want to confront physically the cops, to throw Molotov cocktails, to smash the face of fascists, to destroy the headquarters of some bourgeois party, etc. The more « peaceful » ones (but it can also be the same as the first ones) want to build new human relationships here and now. That means organizing squats or communes ; questioning the gender relationships now and not in a distant future, under communism ; cultivating vegetables to have a healthy food and build collective links ; recuperating good food in supermarkets dustbins to distribute it and/or cook it ; cooking food for homeless or poor people ; supporting illegal workers struggles concretely ; occupying unemployment agencies ; organizing unemployed or precarious workers ; creating cooperatives ; discussing all sorts of ways of changing their daily life here and now.
3. Trotskyists should realize that young « anarchists » are not looking for an explaining-everything science as Trotskyists are.
They have a spontaneous distrust of « Marxist-Leninist » Stalinism (which is a rather good thing) but they also think Marx, Lenin and Trotsky are boring guys who lived 70, 100 or 150 years ago and can’t deal with today’s realities. They obviously hate Lenin and Trotsky for Cronstadt, the repression of anarchists in Russia, etc., but more than everything they are not looking for a coherent, scientific point of view as Trotskyists loudly claim to be. They are inspired by different, heterogeneous, economic, sociological ideas, which seem to you, Marxists, totally incoherent and sometimes even reactionary. They can be inspired by postmodern, confused multiculturalist, trendy intellectuals, as well as by obscure vegan or pre-ecologist thinkers. But you can be often fooled because when they write about « economy » (which every Marxist knows is not a separate reality but interlinked with human social relations) they often use a vague Marxist vocabulary which may lead you to think they are easy to « win » to your beloved Marxist Science. A total illusion.
Generally, the anarchist press values much more « anecdotes » about private life, small-scale experiences, than most Trotskyist newspapers. Young anarchists value more creative forms of propaganda : street theater, humorous videos on the Net, large cultural events, which they think are as effective as traditional meetings, newspapers, or leaflets. This is linked with the tradition of the « ateneos » (sorts of cultural centers-libraries, etc.) in the Spanish CNT.
4. Trotskyists should realize young « anarchists » want to be active in their own milieu, own district, own living place or work place and see concrete results of their action now.
That means they dont give a damn about selling papers or distributing leaflets if it’s not linked to a concrete change in people’s life. It means that they dont fancy going miles away from their home to distribute leaflets to people they have never met. Or if they do go far away, it’s much more to learn about unknown realities than to propagate a specific ideology to supposedly ignorant workers, peasants or oppressed people.
What they do and propose, even on the base of confused slogans and politics, resonates among young precarious workers or students, influenced by the no global ideology (the « Indignados » is a good example) and they are like a fish in water in these social movements because they dont want to impose an ideology (even if in fact they have a confused one).
5. Trotskyists should also know that young anarchists have a different view of militancy as regards their professional status.
Trotskyists traditionnaly tried to get jobs in big factories and big companies. And they have succeeded sometimes to get positions inside the trade unions bureaucracy in the public sector or less often in the private sector. Young anarchists are often very precarious as all the members of their generation, work in call centers, temporary jobs, and not so keen to work in big factories or companies which anyway are downsized everywhere at least in Europe. That may also explain why they are not interested in long-term strategies in building tendencies inside trade unions, in trade union routine, and much more in direct action in their neighborhood, more than at their workplace which is always changing. There also some anarchists (not all of them of course, because some anarchists have… Trotskyist tactics of infiltrating the trade union bureaucracy) who think that trade unions represent barriers and breaks on forms of self-organization among workers, and in many cases are overtly hostile to any autonomous currents that have emerged among radical workers.
This little article may give you the impression that young « anarchists » are hot-blood, hyper sensitive, empathic and funny individuals, while Trotskyst are cold blood, insensitive, indifferent and boring persons.
Well there is a bit a truth in these mutually shared clichés. So if Trotkyists want to discuss seriously with today’s young anarchists they (as well as their organisations) should start by questioning themselves a bit…. Well a lot in fact, along the lines I have just described. Who knows, something interesting may happen…
Y.C., Ni patrie ni frontières
P.S. Thanks to David for his inspiring commentaries.