Monday, June 15, 2009

The State of The Movement and the State

Among the many delusions of the Left in America today, one stands above the rest. Worse than the 9/11 conspiracy theories, more aggravating than primitivists, more annoying than arrogant paper-sellers who are convinced that they alone are the vanguard, more destabilizing to the movement than those who confuse libertinism with Anarchism, more castrating than any other trend, is the belief that a classless society can come about without a socialist state.

In particular this view is espoused most famously by Anarchists. Anarchists with little or no understanding of what they stand for, what they want, the history or philosophy of their movement, or with any experience in a serious campaign with the intent of winning power for the powerless.

In essence anarchists who are unwilling or unable to think through the contradictions in the actions of their own movement. They will tell you they oppose all states, bourgeois or socialist, and will at the same time use the methods of the state- violence- in Black Blocks and Earth Liberation Front actions. They will speak positively of the violence used by the EZLN or the CNT/FAI, but will never stop to think about them as a state.

Anarchists need to ask themselves, “what is the state?” In strictly political science terms, the state is a organized monopoly on the use of legitimate violence. What the violence is used for, who it is used by, how it is used, where and why it is used, is what defines the character of a state. Whether it is a state for the people, or a state for the elite. Today the US government is essentially defending the interests of its dominant class- the bourgeoisie. However, much of the activity that Anarchists participate in could be considered that of a state rival to that of the bourgeoisie's, a state that simply is not in power.

Part of what Anarchists are doing in their condemnation of socialist states is confusing Social Democratic methods- running in elections, reform, policy changes, with the creation of a socialist state. While I feel that at times electoral campaigns and reform can build the movement, it is not the only part of movement building. Many leftist movements around the world have gone from being legal electoral groups to illegal guerrilla groups and back again, depending on the political situation. In Lenin's terms though, the socialist state is one that evolves out of the class struggle. It is not rank opportunists seeking political office, but rather the unions who fight the bosses. That class struggle can take place in the streets, in the workplace, and even in the ballot box.

Another fallacy with their argument is the confusion of short term tactics with long term strategy. It's easy to see why many anarchist make this mistake, they are impatient and want a new society now. It's understandable. However, social change rarely happens overnight, and when it does come swift and fast, it often has roots that go back years. It takes time to build organizations, to change people's minds, to create alternative social structures. There are innumerable obstacles that the opposition will throw up to slow and stop us. Obstacles that will require a progressive state that is fighting for the interests of the people.

I would compare it to anti-sweatshop activists who wear clothes made in sweatshops. They have little choice, there are few clothes not made in sweatshops and you have to wear clothes in public. Hence you make compromises. Same with the food you eat that was likely picked in poor working conditions. I don't want to, but I often have to temporarily accept the world as it is to make it the way I want it to be. Likewise radicals can use a socialist state to push for a classless society.

Another part of the anarchists confusion might be simply semantics. They have retired scary sounding phrases like 'the workers state', 'dictatorship of the proletariet' and 'vanguard' for new ones such as affinity group spokescouncils and bottom-liner that mean very close to the same thing. For example the most famous living Anarchist, Noam Chomsky has stressed that people's movements need to sustain pressure against those in power. Why not call that pressure an incipient state? When a union goes on strike and fights for the rights of all people to have a decent job, many Anarchists support them, but few of them call the action that of an incipient workers state.

Much of Anarchists anti-state stand is sheer hypocrisy or stupidity. If the FBI raids a movement house or infoshop and seized documents, Anarchists and progressive activists would be outraged. However, when animal rights activists raid an animal testing lab and seize documents, no one considers it part of a new state being born in the day to day struggle of the people against exploitation.

Consider this experience. When I was in college I attended the protests in Miami against the Free Trade Area of the Americas. While there I would often help out at the convergence center. I volunteered to be a guard, making sure no cops were allowed in the center. After the protest, there were many people in jail, and there was an effort to raise funds to bail them out. I was sitting out side the convergence center, when I was told by the person coordinating the security for the center that bail money was missing, and that I was not to let anyone in or out, and to search the bags of anyone who passed by. Apparently an impromptu spokescouncil had decided on the draconian patriot act like measures. Yet, no one that I know of from that event referred to the actions of the spokescouncil as a state.

To their credit, these Anarchists are some of the most militant sectors of the progressive movement in the US today. One could call their actions reckless, but one can also call them courageous. The Animal Liberation Front has freed thousands of animals, while the Earth Liberation Front has demonstrated it's anti-car agenda with ferocious militancy. The Black Block has stricken fear in the heart of business districts all over the country.

Outside of their more militant actions, Anarchists in the US have sparked a cultural revolution. They have encouraged rebellion against unjust hierarchy and promoted counter-cultural values with a DIY attitude and punk music. They have lived lives with little compromise, refusing to sell out and get corporate jobs. They have fed the hungry and poor with groups like Food Not Bombs.

After the collapse of bureaucratic socialism in the Soviet Union, and the protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, many thought that Anarchist ideas might have some credit. That there might be an opportunity to build a progressive social movement in the US based on Anarchist ideals. Anarchists had been some of the best critics of states which claimed to be run by workers, while actually being run by political party functionaries. Anarchists had been some of the best critics of the false vanguardism of much of the US left, paper sellers who claim to know the correct path towards revolution and yet have little respect among the people they claim to lead.

Which is perhaps why this delusion of theirs is worse than all the others. Because the Anarchist movement in America has so much potential that is being wasted. Once they accept the need for a socialist state to organize against big business, all their other incorrect ideas will become straightened out. They will then stop seeking to drop out of society, and begin to attempt to change it.

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