On using questionable tactics in struggle

Anarchists used some objectionable tactics in their fight against Fascism. I explain why this is counter-productive.

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I was reading what happened to a holocaust denier on Friday and while I couldn’t avoid getting a bit of schadenfreude out of it, it did create a feeling of discomfort on account of the actions used by the antifa in this case. This is in fact something that has been bothering me about the actions of the more active elements of the Anarchist movement but in a way that I was not certain what to make of it.

I understand and wholly agree with the sentiment to counter fascist, racist, sexist and all other similar mentalities but I also understand that the means we use to do so will colour the ends we achieve and will affect our chances to achieve them in the first place. So while such ideologies must be eventually extinguished, there’s many ways to go about doing it. Just because any way promises to achieve the same result does not mean its ethically equal to all the others.

For example, defeating the anti-semite movement could be attempted in one of these ways or any combination of them: Legally banning all anti-semite expression and ideas, assaulting and/or killing all anti-semites, ridiculing and  refuting anti-semite arguments, fixing the root causes of anti-semite sentiments (needs for external scapegoats to hide the results of capitalist exploitation), mutual aid to prevent any direct acts by anti-semites etc. While the effectiveness of any of those tactics is debatable, it is far more important to ponder on the ethical aspect of choosing any particular one for anarchists.

You see, even if a legal ban or assaulting anti-semites was more effective, it would still not be a good choice of means due to the way it colours the ends. By being open to assaulting and/or killing anti-semites, you implicitly support such an act as valid response to ideas you disagree with. Even if such an act was successful, you would still end up in a future society where assaulting and killing the people’s who’s ideas you find abhorrent is a morally permissible act. Such an idea would quickly devolve in a “might makes right” situation where the most powerful party would simply extinguish opposing ideas by force. This is certainly not what we wish to live under. Not only because the anarchists might not be the “winning side” but whatever the result might be, it will certainly not be Anarchy.

In a similar vein we can evaluate almost any other means we might think of using to defeat such ideologies. Legal banning? It would certainly lead to a society which would require a top down enforcement agency (i.e. a police force) and a centralized law making party which decided on the laws for everyone else. In other words, it would lead to supporting a centralized and powerful state, something which I’m certain is something not many of us wish for.  What about ridiculing and refuting? Well at worst this would lead to a society where ridicule of absurd ideas is widespread (making at least for a funnier society) while refutations (and the critical thinking they require) would be valued. Certainly this result sounds better. Mutual Aid to oppose and stop abhorrent acts (say harassment of semites by anti-semites)? Then that would lead to a future society where mutual aid is more widespread and people rely on each other to lend assistance against acts they commonly oppose. A very good approach towards Anarchy don’t you think?

So taking a look at the article above we see that the Antifa used two tactics in this case. One was to figure out where David Irving was planning to give speeches and then call those establishments and warn them that they are hosting holocaust deniers and neo-nazis. Unless lying was used to get them to cancel the events (eg. claiming that Irving was planning something violent) this is a pretty good tactic by itself as it promotes direct action. The second one however was more ambiguous. Antifa hackers cracked into his web servers and managed to compromise his website, emails and other information. Then they proceeded to destroy his website and spread the info everywhere. I think that was wrong.  Like before, this promotes the idea that hacking and destroying someone’s server/website because you disagree with them is a morally acceptable and this is certainly something I do not wish to see becoming widespread.

And if we do not wish any of those acts to be done against us, we cannot go ahead and do it ourselves to others. I certainly would not like to see the Division by Zer0 brought down by some fascist hackers as an Anarchist target and I would then rightly condemn such an attack and all those who did it or cheered for it and I would hope that many others (Anarchist or not) would do the same. However were the Antifa who did those attacks or the One People’s Project who supported them to be hacked then any such condemnation coming from them would be seen as hypocritical. “Why do you complain?” would the fascists ask “Did you not do the same not a long time ago? Did you not support such means as an acceptable way to fight back?” and they would be right (to say that, not to hack). The Antifa can’t then claim that they are allowed to do so because their opponent is anti-semite scum. This will only make sense to those who already accept that against and only against anti-semite scum everything goes, in other words, it would be preaching to the choir.

To all this I expect some to say that the Fascists do this or that all the time. Doesn’t that then justify us fighting back with a similar intensity? Can’t we fight fire with fire if we’re justified? The answer again is to realize that we do not have the same ends as the fascists and thus utilizing the same means makes no sense and most likely be counter-productive. You see, the fascists use violence, harassment, suppression of free speech and bullying tactics because they do really aim for a society which would be characterized by such behaviour. Of course they cannot realize what they will achieve if they are successful but we should. It’s thus imperative to not do what the fascists do, no matter how effective it seems in the short term.

Not only can we not judge the effectiveness of any such act accurately but we can immediately see that such acts go against all that we’re trying to achieve anyway. Not only is it likely that anarchist ways (e.g. mutual aid) will be far more effective in the long term by making non-anarchist more positive to our cause but it will also mean that any success we have will not have unintended consequences causing far greater harm (such as legitimizing violence or hacking against people we disagree with).

“But Db0” I imagine some saying “Anarchist tactics are not as effective as fascist (or state, capitalist, etc) tactics. We’ll never achieve anything”. As I explained above, the “effectiveness” of an act is quite difficult to judge and certainly the dominance of an idea or tactic is not enough to judge it as a success. What we can easily figure out however (and history is ample proof of that) is that you cannot discard a social rule by using said social rule to do it. You cannot use the state to dismantle the state. You cannot dismantle capitalism by becoming a capitalist. You cannot abolish slavery by becoming a slaver and you cannot stop bullying by being a bully. This is why reformist and state socialism fails so abjectly. And this is why any such tactic, no matter how “effective” is doomed to failure. Even if against all odds it manages to achieve its short term results, the long term consequences will be far more harmful and more than likely perpetuate rather than abolish what it’s trying to destroy.

The general rule of thumb then not more complex than the Golden Rule: Do not do what you wouldn’t like others to do to you. It is not difficult to understand why this works when you realize that whatever you do serves as an approval for others to do the same. It thus makes no sense to aim for Anarchy and on the other hand promote acts which would go counter to the workings of such a society.

To put it more simply: If you don’t think any particular act should be commonplace, don’t do it.

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Email: Divided between Communism and Anarchism

A reader contacts me about his dichotomy between communism and anarchism. I think his PoV deserves some more publicity as it points, I believe, to a common question most outside the scene have.

red red red flags
Image via Wikipedia

Recently someone sent me an email letting me know that he likes the content of the Division by Zer0 (Thanks!). Along with his email, he sent some of his own musings which I found interesting enough to deserve some extra publicity. So I got his permission to post them on the blog. Enjoy.

Why I’m divided between “communism” and “anarchism”

By Scott

I have been, for the last few years of my life, moving radically leftward, from my rather innocuous beginnings as a “Trotskyist” to simply a “Marxist” to being labeled a “Left-Communist” to where I am now, which is on the fence between “communist” and “anarchist”. Both sides have their influences; the “communist” side has given me a strong respect for Marx’s historical analyses, as well as his critiques of the Capitalist system, among other things, while the “anarchist” side has given me the example to live by, for many anarchists are “lifestyle” anarchists, living their lives as withdrawn from the capitalist system as possible. Their world-wide actions (notably the recent “unrest” in Greece, along with the French riots a few years ago) have made world powers shake with fear, governments almost collapse, and the entire world watched as cars burned and the streets were controlled by police no more.

So what am I to do?

I believe that the best solution is simply to ignore these labels and be reminded of what is important: ending capitalism’s reign of terror. All who oppose the horrors of capitalism must work together under that banner, not as “communists”, not as “anarchists”, but as people who believe in the survival of humanity, and who believe that humanity cannot survive under the conditions of imperialism, oppression and slavery. What you want to add to that (from environmentalism to animal rights to “power to the people” to whatever else) is up to you. But we who oppose capitalism must not be divided by these ideological differences. Even the most dogmatic of communists from the same party cannot agree on everything, so why should we try? Instead, we should act. An action carries only the message that is put behind it, and a Leninist and an anarchist can both protest against imperialism in the 3rd world. They can both protest against the treatment of workers in many workplaces. They can both agree that community activism is a good thing. So why can’t they work together? We’ll sort out our differences (in a comradely fashion) when capitalism is no longer our enemy. Until that time, though, we must focus on our common struggles.

Truth is that I’ve had similar thought myself but the more I read and interact with Marxist-Leninists, the more stark the differences become between us. While theoretically what Scott says seems reasonable, the problem appear very soon once one tries to actually cooperate as it’s all a matter of how each movement tries to go about bringing down Capitalism.

The biggest difference imho is how one side (M-L) wants a vanguard party to lead the struggle while the other wants the revolution to occur through spontaneous and decentralized actions of the workers. There can be no agreement on this point. Anarchists cannot commit to promoting a vanguard party and M-L very often refuse to support and occasionally oppose struggle which is not led by them.

It is exactly because the methods by which we try to achieve the future society will make or break the revolution that there can be no cooperation when there’s a fundamental difference in tactics. It is exactly because the difference in tactics between Anarchists is not fundamental that they generally cooperate while on the other hand distance themselves from Marxist-Leninists and Rothbardians.

So as nice it would be for all of us to cooperate to bring about a better world, there’s also a reason why this doesn’t generally happen. The best we can do instead is patiently explain and convince people that our tactics are the ones that can work.

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Why talking about Communism matters

Spreading the ideas of Socialism and Communism has always been important but it’s never more important than at the time of a systematic crisis of Capitalism.

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DB0: If you remember Orgthingy, he was the contributor to the Division by Zer0 who wrote an article on socialism a month or so ago. Today he returns to discuss a bit of why the Socialist society can only based on democratic principles and why we need to promote. Orgthingy is not a natural English speaker so please try to read more into his sentences if it doesn’t immediately make sense.

Many have told me already that Capitalism is a “Natural system therefore loved by society”. First of all, it’s not natural at all. It’s a fairly new system that emerged just few centuries back in Europe, brain-washed the people then democratically got applied (at least in countries like UAE and Kuwait, but Capitalism democratically emerging isn’t the case in most of the world I guess).

[DB0: I have to disagree with Orgthingy here, as he is taking a very simplistic view of the rise of Capitalism. Capitalism didn’t brainwash the people just like that. The state helped the capitalist mode of production take hold, by protecting the bourgeoisie from proletariat aggression and by always siding with the Capitalist on legal challenges. As the mode of production spread and people’s rebellions (e.g. the Luddites) failed to stop it, eventually the got used to it. So it wasn’t democratically applied, but rather brutally forced on peasants and artisans.]

Most of this blog’s regular readers already know that Capitalism offers inequality and contradicts with democracy, yet people these days seem to like it as most  are ignorant of the ‘bad’ aspects of it). Now if you do similar techniques, like educating people on Socialism and Communism, through schools or any other way, then you’d end up with a fully-democratic move towards this economic system and ‘country’ since you’re not forcing ((forcing, even if they don’t clearly know what Socialism and Communism really are, would be against people’s will, therefore contradicts with democracy and idea of revolution which needs support of majority of the people)) any of the two ideologies onto people.

This was of course a simple and theoretical view, since in reality it would be much more complex to achieve having a communist/socialist society. Capitalism unfortunately is a ‘changing-proof’ kind-of system ((by that, it means it’s hard to reform a bourgeois state apparatus into communist or socialist ideologies)) and prevents that from happening. Simply put, capitalists have the money and power.  For example they use expensive mass advertisement for their political campaigns (and unsurprisingly win); They’ve got the money/power, therefore media would not spread the idea of communism and socialism, but actually oppose it as much as possible ((Dbo: This is a bit simplistic really but the main idea is right)).
Thus without the people’s support, a ‘democratically’ emerging communism and socialism is impossible, as the capitalist-propaganda model will break even through a revolutionary spirit. A Revolution of minority can only fail.

[Db0: This is not strictly true. While a revolution without popular support will fail, during times of severe downturn, such as a period of economic crisis, the spark of a revolution can be lit by a minority uprising and this can quickly spread elsewhere. People who were neutral may become supportive, and those who were a bit opposed may become neutral and silent consentors. But one has to remember that the current system is indeed maintained by a minority rule. The minority of the state and the capitalist class. To overcome this, a socialist revolution would probably just need to have a somewhat larger minority than that]

What has to be done then? You may be wondering what should we do to get Socialism/Communism into power. First of all, don’t lose hope. What we need to do is get people’s attention, especially now since we’re in a recession (like what I’m doing by writing this article). Second: Communists and Socialists all around the world should focus on education (not necessary through media, but L’Humanite is a great example of ‘communist-media’) of what Socialism and Communism really are and free their minds from propaganda of the capitalists.

Socialists/Communists all over the world, unite! Educate those who don’t know!

Db0: The idea of Orgthingy is basically very similar to what my tactic is, although I do not limit myself to Socialism only. The whole point of this site is to spread my ideas around. I believe that each of us is incapable of changing the world by himself but small actions in concert would be enough. I would be happy to know that I’ve managed to convince two people to not only espouse Epicurean/Anarchist/Communist thoughts, but to also attempt to convince two more people themselves.

For all of us, it is vitally important to promote grassroot informational campaigns and word-of-mouth “advertising” of what we espouse. And it’s not enough to simply do it behind close doors in a forum of our peers and bask in the groupthink, like some Rothbardians like to do. We must go out, on open ground and challenge others and ourselves (to defend our ideas). Doing this will not only give our voices a chance to be heard by the silent majority, but strengthen your own arguments and give a much needed confidence.

So don’t be afraid of dialogue. Go out, challenge and be challenged!

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