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Friday, July 29, 2011

More Anarchy from the Moot

A regular reader asks:
How can there be such a thing as a "left anarchist"? Isn't anarchy just extreme libertarianism? I've never been able to figure them out. Just what exactly is it that they want? And why do they always appear at ANY progressive protest & behave like meth-crazed agent provocateurs? Their over-the-top violence ALWAYS ends up undermining & discrediting these protests. It's a mystery why they get so much sympathy from the left. I find them to be a pointless nuisance, and I just wish they would just fuck off for good.
Definitely anarchism has a richer pedigree on the left than the right, though perhaps not a longer one. Actually, the right-wing libertopians are (depending on your perspective on them) either exposing a deep problem always already inhering in any left-anarchic positioning or are simply misreading and distorting the left-anarchic ethos in their rather facile fashion. I'd say there was some truth in both of those perspectives, actually, but I incline to the second. (I'm giving you a little latitude in your declaration about anarchists always being disruptive and extreme -- I know where you are coming from, since this whole discussion arises from exchanges some of which are of the kind you are responding to, still I don't doubt you know that your statement is an overgeneralization, and that the many sympathetic anarchists in your company at demonstrations and discussions who are not disruptive have likely not attracted your notice precisely because they have not behaved the way you disapprove.)

You know, one of the pre-eminent figures of left-anarchy in the world today is the great Noam Chomsky, and he has said:
[I]t only makes sense to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in every aspect of life and to challenge them. Unless a justification for them can be given, they are illegitimate and should be dismantled to increase the scope of human freedom. That includes political power, ownership, management, relations among men and women, parents and children, our control over the fate of future generations... I have always understood to be the essence of anarchism[,] the conviction that the burden of proof has to be on authority and that it should be dismantled if that burden cannot be met.
I find it very easy to affirm all of this, but since I think many who would not think of themselves as anarchists at all (and with good reasons) but as liberals, democrats, peace workers, and so on would affirm what Chomsky is saying here as much as I would, I can't say that I see why approval of Chomsky's attitude here, then, makes me someone who wants to "Smash The State" in the least, rather than, say, to liberalize it, or to democratize it, or to deploy it in the service of non-violence (through the institutionalization of successions of leadership via regular election, through the maintenance of alternatives for the non-violent adjudication of disputes like courts, through the re-distribution of plutocratic concentrations of wealth via progressive taxation, through the amelioration of susceptibilities to corruption and abuse via separation of powers, subsidiarity of federalization, accountability to a free press, enumerated rights, elections and juries, through the maintenance of a legible scene of informed nonduressed consent via the provision of general welfare, public education, basic healthcare, basic income guarantees -- at the very least minimum wage guarantees -- paid for by means of taxes and fees, through the circumvention of abusive and fraudulent externalization of costs and risks inhering in mass-industrial production via socialization of commons and public goods, and so on).

It is all very well to say assertions of authority bear a burden of proof -- but what standards define that burden? who agrees to them? what about those who do not? just what is the scene in which this justification is offered up and adjudicated? Surely far too many of the questions that would presumably distinguish the anarchist-left from much of the rest of the left (plenty of it quite as radical as the anarchists are) are circumvented rather than addressed in Chomsky's enormously attractive declaration of anti-authoritarian principle.

Given this, how useful is Chomsky's formulation as a specifically anarchist proposal after all? -- I'm afraid I must say I think it is not very helpful finally at all. And, given this, is it typical in this weakness of other efforts at general anarchist formulations in this vein? -- I'm afraid I must say I think it is indeed rather typical of the problem (and, frankly, Chomsky's formulation is among the clearer ones available). Still, I'm far from denying my sympathy with what Chomsky says -- I daresay I am closely allied to Chomsky in this as in many other political positions -- hence the title of the post (Why I Am Still Not An Anarchist -- Or Am I? Part One and Part Two) and the reflections that accompany it.

1 comment:

myst101 said...

Of course Chomsky's ideas are easy to affirm, but impossible to realize. Maybe that's what I find so annoying: people who get so side-tracked by naive, unrealistic ideas and fantasies that they destroy more practical progressive action.

BTW, anarchists aren't the only ones guilty of this. The greens are too, especially the ones who voted for Nader in FLORIDA in 2000.