Tag Archives: Authoritarianism

Creeping Authoritarianism

The crew "Stench" from the 7th Sea CCG. An undead human crawling towards the camera. It is green and rotting.

It’s generally sad when I get disappointed by fellow anarchists online, but I don’t make a big deal out of it always However, sometimes, I feel a need to point out where I see a failing –  when there is a salient point to be made on an issue. Such is the case with the recent interaction I had in /r/anarchism.

The story so far

/r/anarchism has until now been fairly laissez-faire in moderation, something which changed somewhat after the The Great /r/anarchism Shitstorm of 2010 when it was accepted that oppressive speech and people would be removed from the premises. However, it was commonly accepted that all other aspects of moderation, save combating outright spam, would be left to the organic moderation of the community.

One month ago, one of the newer mods in the team, wanted to start manually removing so-called reposts, by which they meant the same story published on different webpages and posted to /r/anarchism within a short amount of time from other versions of it. They asked the community for comments and the general sentiments was that they should remains hands-off about it and that was that.

Yesterday, as I was reading a post about some anarchistic rants from Eric Raymond, I noticed this mod had left a single comment saying “No platform”. I decided to check if that meant what I thought it did, and sure enough, that post had been moved by said mod to the spam filter. Alarmed, I checked the recent additions to the spam filter and found it half-full with reposts (as well as similar “No platform” removals1 ) that this mod had started doing, pretty much since the community asked them to remain hands-off.

I kinda exploded about it on /r/metanarchism, not so much about reposts being removed, but about the mod acting unilaterally and despite the decision reached in the past. My tone led this mod to try and troll me, and in the process revealed just what an authoritarian sentiment they hold, and how little they regard the people in the community they moderate.

More specifically, when challenged on the fact that they are not only removing the agency of the community and disregarding democratic decision-making, they replied with two very telling phrases.

Sit down and shut up.

This is significant because it sets the tone of the discussion. The mod is taking the clear role of the authority figure which reinforces the fact that lately, whatever this mod has wanted has been done despite all opposition.2 So I needed to be told my place obviously, a trend which continued throughout the thread by the mod in question continuously mocking my concerns.

What an opinion to have for one's comrades...

Then they followed with this very telling comment:

It became apparent to me after having to beg to edit the sidebar that people around here tend to oppose things or sit on their ass if you ask, but go along with them if you just do them.

This must be the most cynical justification of authoritarianism I’ve seen. And from a self-professed anarchist no less! This is practically saying that the mod consider their comrades weak-willed and apathetic, so they’ll give lip service to democratic processes but will go through with their plan anyway since nobody is going to stop them anyway. I noted the quote in the thread, which only elicited more mockery from the mod in question, while everyone else just twiddled their thumbs.

It is no wonder that this mod has started acting as if /r/anarchism is their personal fief.

So since then, I’ve been trying to explain to people, that it doesn’t matter how small or trivial the act of authoritarianism was. The problem is that it was a unilateral act that went against what people expressed they wanted. People kept trying to argue with me that “deleting reposts is no big deal, and why should we not do it anyway?” which is frustratingly beside the point.

It doesn’t matter if removing reposts is not a significant act. It matters that this mod cynically rams through their own preferences and anarchists just let him do it. Of course the same people then argued that since people don’t bother to show up and argue the point, then obviously removing reposts is “not a big deal” and round and round we go.

To perhaps make it more understandable why allowing some people to act this way is problematic, I wanted to tell a little story which might make an apt analogy and the point I’m making more obvious:

A story of leftovers

Imagine if you will, a large community with communal kitchens and dining areas. After each meal, the leftovers are left in a pile in the kitchen and there are also a few people in the community who use them for various purposes. Some make compost out of vegetable leftovers, while others make soups out of meat leftovers such as bones.

Now imagine also that there are a few others who really dislike seeing those leftovers hanging there for hours until the ones who wish to use them come around to collect them. After a while, they make a meeting to discuss the situation. They would like to throw them away immediately with the normal garbage. The meeting is not very large because most people don’t care about leftovers, but some who collect them and some who want to throw them away show up, as well as some who don’t feel strongly about it either way.  Various arguments are made for and against, with the ones who want to throw them away mentioning that  they are unseemly, smelly or unhygienic while the ones who collect them make the case that those effect are very minor and easily avoidable while there are others benefits. After some back and forth on this issue, within this small meeting, the general sentiment is that most people don’t mind the leftovers staying around until they are collected and everyone leaves it at that.

People in the community go on with their lives and nobody really thinks about the issue anymore. However one of people who was the most vocal about getting rid of the leftovers, starts going around throwing away the leftovers when they notice them anyway. They don’t throw all of them away, and they always leave a small cryptic post-it note somewhere in the kitchen area that is fairly easy to miss. The people who gather them don’t really notice it other than simply finding less leftovers around.

Eventually one finds the post-it note and starts to investigate. They go through the normal garbage and notice a large quantity of leftovers in them. Enraged, they call another meeting about it and call-out the one throwing the leftovers away: “Why did you start doing this, when we agreed to let us handle it?”. Various people from the old and new meeting arrived to see what all the fuss was about.

The answer comes back: “But leftovers are unseemly and smelly.” Some people in attendance murmur in agreement, some of the ones collecting the leftovers start explaining again why they want them, and the discussion on if the leftovers should be stored or thrown away starts again. Only this time, the framing is different. This time the ones collecting them need to provide a reason to convince people to let them do it, and they need to find enough support to peer-pressure the one doing it unilaterally to stop. They will also need to get into confrontation about it which is not worth it for something so minor. “Why are you making a big deal out of this? They’re only leftovers!” Those who didn’t want leftovers lying around don’t speak up because they got what they preferred now. And unfortunately, not many care about leftovers anyway, so most remain on the fence or don’t provide any input at all.

The real problem was ignored.

The issue here was not on whether leftovers should be collected. The issue was about one person who put their personal preferences above everyone else. The fact that most were apathetic enough about it to let them is part of the problem, not the justification! At the end of this hypothetical story, the people who were doing something harmless were alienated from their own community. Their wishes, their decision-making, their agency were diminished. In the future they will not even go to such meetings. “Why bother”?

The one who disregarded them and did their own thing anyway? Now they think their comrades are weak-willed and pushovers. And next time they try to ram their preferences though, they’ll find even less opposition as more and more people are alienated. If anyone raises concerns about previous such incidents, they’ll silence them through mockery. “Yeah, fear my hygienic authority. Imma coming for your garbage!”. Those who get their way while in the minority will go with it, because, “why not?”, while those who are against it, even when they know there’s more of them, will be the silent (perr-pressured if necessary) majority, going through with it just to avoid confrontation and belittlement.

Authoritarianism starts to creep in. Some people learn that they can manipulate their more confrontation-averse, apathetic, or facilitating comrades to their own ends and realize that disregarding the wishes of others works better. The ones whose wishes are disregarded will defer more and more from decision-making and may even internalize this behaviour. Soon enough you have an authority-leader figure and followers. And unless the authority figure does something egregious, they will only increase their unofficial influence.

Reaction

I fully expect to be further mocked for this piece. “All this though about doing something as beneficial as removing spam?”, some will disingenuously asset, once again missing the point I’m making:

Authoritarianism and hierarchy does not always assert itself in one fell-violent-swoop. These sentiments creep into even the best-intentioned communities and rot them from within. Until a point comes where people either finally wake up and a splinter occurs, with the previous authority figures retaining control of the space along with those who’ve internalized the unsaid hierarchy most, while the rest go and found a new community and vow never to succumb to the same traps…until new people join and everyone grows lax once more.

It’s easy to declare vigilance against the obvious authoritarians and entryists who are painfully obvious to everyone. It’s much more difficult to be vigilant to all the small erosions coming from trusted friends, who are getting just a bit too comfortable in being seen at the leader. The stories of anarchist communities being subverted this way and eventually imploding or dissolving are numerous. Some times there’s a happy end with the petulant authority figure being expelled (and sometimes even being found out to have been an agent provocateur), but even then, the wounds done to the community are deep. Sometimes fatal.

The reason I’m starting to call out people on these apparent trivial things is not because I’m a slave to process or “stickler to procedure” as the mod in question described me. The reason I’m doing this is because I am concerned of authoritarian tendencies. No matter how small and no matter if I personally agree with the end result. The price, the rot within, is never worth it.

Authoritarians don’t like being called on their shit, and self-professed anarchist authoritarians even less and will always attempt to divert the discussion to discussing the merits of their perspective, rather than the problems of their tactics. People avert to conflict, or convenienced by the apparent end result, or just looking for lulz will indulge them and join on the assault, ridicule and marginalization of those of us raising attention to the small violations of anarchistic principles. I’ve seen it time and again, coming from all people in positions of authority. Ridicule comes first. If this doesn’t work, then they fight you, clean or dirty. Already some people in /r/anarchism are trying to paint me as a concern troll for raising issues like this, regardless of the fact that I’ve been here active in this community longer than they have. Read the thread above to see just how absurd the accusation basis becomes later on.

But putting the idea out there that I’m concern trolling and repeating it is a rather ingenious tactic. Repeat the lie often enough and then the idea will stick…somewhere. Soon enough, calling me a concern troll will not immediately sound so absurd. “Haven’t they been called a concern troll multiple times in the last few months?” the subconscious will remark.

Oh, and did I mention that it just so happens that lately they’ve started banning concern trolls in /r/anarchism?

And to pre-empt some people, no, I am not a martyr, nor I consider myself one. I am not looking to get myself banned to make a point, nor am I trying to bring down /r/anarchism. What I am is disappointed that a community that is theoretically made of a larger concentration of anarchists than most, not only lets the small violations pass, but they mostly don’t care for a democratic decision-making process. I am dismayed that when a mod cynically refers to their comrades as weak-willed sheep to be led around and shamelessly admit that they do so, nobody bats an eyelid. I am alarmed that there is so little vigilance…

Am I giving too much thought to the going-ons of a small online community on the net, compared to the grand scheme of things? Perhaps. But I find that the “grand things” tend to mask the small ones until it’s too late.

To put it another way: When you’re battling pigs on the street daily, it’s difficult when you come home to notice or be upset about some guys throwing away your leftovers…

  1. The same moderator has also expressed explicit desires to remove “anarcho”-capitalists from the discussion, something which was historically tolerated in /r/anarchism for the purposes of open discussion. []
  2. For example, someone requested that I be added as a mod again, this had significant support, but this particular mod blocked it on the ground that I would prevent mods from acting too much. Obviously they meant that I would stop them from doing what they just did, which I would. The request then moved to modified consensus, which was supported by 10 people and blocked by this one mod. The last request to make the mods follow the rules of their own community, also fell flat []

The kind of anarchist who hates me on reddit

This has been a common trait of almost all the ones who have expressed their intense dislike towards me1 since the Great /r/Anarchism ShitStorm of 2010, while I was acting as a mod, and even now where I’m not.

Case in Point.

Even more hilarious is that about half a dozen of those most vocal about me being too “liberal”, ended up transforming into authoritarian Marxists of various strains.

I find it very disconcerning that many self-professed anarchists will support some of the most authoritarian decision-making styles, if it will “get things done”, without ever thinking of the costs. As if a movement which based itself on hierarchical and authoritarian “get things done” mentality would somehow transform into a democratic and mutual aid society after those things had been done.

  1. for not being “anarchist enough”. I was also hated by many on the other side of the coin for supposedly facilitating authoritarians []

Authority from your enemies does not justify Authority coming from you.

Predictably, my last piece got the attention of the Angry Marxists who reacted with a focused polemic on myself, trying desperately to paint me as the enemy because I oppose their tactics. Given that they consider their own tactics as the  only means to freedom for the oppressed, naturally they would call me a “liberal counterrevolutionary”.

There’s so much disingenuousness with this piece that it becomes humorous. From calling me the “chief moderator” of /r/anarchism1, to claiming that their group knew “what needed to be done to fix /r/anarchism for the marginalized groups”2, to claiming that now that they are gone, /r/anarchism has discussions on if marginalized groups are human3, to linking to my own post about questionable tactics and claiming that I “defend the rights of fascists”4

But I’m not doing to go into so much trouble in deconstructing their usual dishonest interpretations as I do have a salient point to make, which they brought up by saying the following.

“Banning,” so his argument goes, its malignant subtext brought clearly to the foreground, “is authoritarian. Let us ignore the authoritarian violence that oppressed people face every day and the million ways in which they are pushed further out into the cold by the strong arm of privilege.

This is a prime example of everything that is and was wrong with these people and why I was calling them authoritarian when they proclaimed themselves as “anarchists”. They consider that because authoritarian violence is being used against oppressed people every day, this somehow justifies authoritarian violence (or other means) from our side as well but not only does this not follow, but it goes against everything anarchism is about! Just because your opponent using some specific means, does not justify those means! This catastrophic flaw in their reasoning is exemplified with the very next phrase.

Authority is only unacceptable when it is turned against the oppressor

They attribute this as a quote, one assumes to me, which only further proves my point about their egregious dishonesty, given that I’ve never uttered any such thing. It’s obvious that they have completely misunderstood what I’m saying and put their own words into my mouth to prove their point, but in the process they only manage to betray their own ideological mistakes.

Authoritarianism is unacceptable always. Not only when it’s turned against the oppressors, or the oppressed. The fact that I would have to state this clearly to someone who self-identified as an anarchist for 10 years just shows that someone was very confused for a long time.

You will not dismantle authoritarianism with more authoritarianism, any more than you would oppress towards freedom!

I hate to repeat myself but “This is Anarchism 101 people!“. Your tactics colour your end results. If your tactics are authoritarian, then naturally the end result will not be anarchism. It might be state “socialism” that would oppress the whole working class on behalf of a new bureaucratic ruling class, or something else to that extent. If your tactics are all about violence and killing those you deem to be your enemies, then your end result will be a violent society (will it be socialistic? Who knows. Perhaps in name but probably it would end up as simple warlordism).

It is no wonder than a self proclaimed “anarchist” who loved to advocate authoritarianism and unchecked violence as the solution to oppression, would end up having an eventual break with anarchism. No shit. They never understood anarchism to begin with5! How some can go for 10 years calling themselves anarchist and never understanding (never mind advocating) actual anarchism is beyond me.

It is precisely because these people have a complete misunderstanding of what fighting against oppression requires that points out the bankruptcy of their ideology. When you have declared that the only possible solution is to kill your opposition, anyone who would check yours tactics is an opponent and needs to be killed (which is incidentally why the Angry Marxists are chock full of violent rhetoric). When you have declared that the only possible solution is to oppress the “reactionaries”, anyone who disagrees with this tactic is a reactionary that needs to be oppressed. It’s a self-perpetuating circle, with those who self-proclaim themselves the most radical at the top, controling the state violence and labeling people as counter-revolutionaty deserving a bad end. In sort, soon enough you’ll be repeating the Soviet Union purges of the early 20th century.

And this is why Anarchism gets so much hatred from the Angry Marxists and other Authoritarians like them. Because even though we agree on the end result and we are struggling to bring about the liberation of all oppressed classes (by the classes themselves), we do not support the same tactics. And not supporting the same tactics for an Angry Marxist is the pinnacle of betrayal. For the Angry Marxist’s tactics have been declared the only liberatory ones, therefore not following those tactics is not liberatory, therefore you are supporting the continued oppression, therefore you are a reactionary, therefore you need to be “shot in the neck and thrown in a ditch”.

It is for this reason that they misunderstand the anarchist call for appropriate tactics as a “constant call to restrain ourselves, to hold back, to wait, to watch our tone, to focus on the ballot, to put aside any thought of revolution.” It is easy to use rhetoric like  this but it is untrue. Nobody wants to police your tone or make you hold back, but people are pointing out that your tactics are flawed. They will not bring about the end of oppression, they will reinforce it. They will not bring about the end of violence, they will perpetuate it. If I say to an anarchist “Don’t kill that politician, it will not bring about a revolution”, it is not the same as telling them to “put aside any thought of revolution”, anyone with a modicum of integrity can see the difference in these two sentences. But for some reason, dogmatic authoritarians seem incapable of making the distinction.

Anarchists do not want to police your tone, or focus on the ballot, or make you wait until after the revolution or any such nonsense (in fact, it is Marxist who have a history of making these requests), but they do ask that you consider using tactics that are compatible with Anarchism to achieve your goals. Authoritarians like the Angry Marxists think that they need to oppress in order not to be oppressed, and naturally they find the anarchists against them. They then use this as proof to claim that they prevented from throwing off their own oppression, when in reality it is just opposition to them oppressing others.

  1. Blatantly untrue. I exercise as much, if not less, power than the other mods and I limit it to what mandates I have receive []
  2. completely ignoring all the other members of marginalized groups that outright and strongly contradicted them in larger numbers []
  3. Blatant lie. We have no such arguments in /r/anarchism, nor had we ever. While nobody can prevent an obscure discussion between two people in some deep thread that nobody noticed, this is far from saying that “entrenching the rights of misogynist men, capitalists, homophobes, cissupremacists, and racists there, turning it into a place where the voices of the oppressed are always being overpowered by the same tired arguments about whether or not we are human“. This is just a complete and outright lie, which is unfortunately quite common from this group []
  4. which even a cursory reading would show that is about tactics and means, and not “rights”. []
  5. Btw, I love how they say that they don’t have a problem with all Anarchists and they have some Anarchist friends. Reminds me of the “I have a black friend” argument in all its cringeworthiness. []